Volume two of the War with Turkey during the Great War
This two-volume history, never before published in its own right, was written by the famous John Buchan, author of The 39 Steps, Greenmantle and others, and was originally included in a multi-volume work which covered the entire First World War. While the text appears unchanged the large number of excellent campaign maps have been significantly enlarged and numerous photographs and illustrations which were not included in the multi-volume edition have been added. Structured chronologically, the first volume principally covers the war in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), as the allies fought their way towards Baghdad, together with the ill-fated expedition to invade the Dardanelles and strike towards the heart of the Ottoman empire in Turkey itself. This second volume chronicles a mobile war in stark contrast to the stalemate of the Western Front. These campaigns, fought on several fronts, involved the horsemen of Australia and New Zealand, the Yeomanry of the British shires and the infantry of the county regiments. They saw conflict with Senussi tribes, the Arab Revolt and bitter fighting between the Turks and Russians. This Leonaur exclusive book is a fascinating account of the last war of its kind recounted by an erudite author.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The headquarters of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under Sir Archibald Murray were now at Cairo, and the Eastern Force, with headquarters at Ismailia, was under Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Dobell, the conqueror of the Cameroons. Of this the spearhead was the Desert Column, consisting mainly of Australian, New Zealand, and British mounted troops and camel corps, now under Lieutenant-General Sir Philip Chetwode, who had commanded the 2nd Cavalry Division on the French front. The immediate objective was El Arish, and during October and November much bombing work was done by the Royal Flying Corps, and there were various brilliant little cavalry reconnaissances.
Between 13th and 17th October, for example, the enemy position on the steep hills at Maghara, sixty-five miles east of Ismailia, was successfully reconnoitred after two difficult night marches. Meantime the railway was creeping on. At the end of October, it was four miles east of Bir el Abd, and by 26th November it had reached Mazar. The enemy’s advanced position in front of El Arish and Masaid covered all the water in the area, and it was necessary to accumulate large supplies at railhead in case the operation of dislodging him should prove a slow one.
By 20th December we were ready to strike, but the Turks did not await us. On the night of 19th December, they evacuated the positions which they had so elaborately fortified. Their retreat was discovered by our airmen, and on the night of the 20th Australian and New Zealand mounted troops, supported by the Camel Corps, marched twenty miles, and reached El Arish at sunrise to find it empty. The Turkish garrison of 1,600 men had fallen back upon Magdhaba. Scottish troops entered El Arish some hours later, and the frontier town which for two years had been in the enemy’s hands was now restored to Egypt. Mine-sweeping operations were at once begun in the roadstead, a pier was built, and by the 24th supply ships from Port Said had begun unloading stores. We had won the necessary advanced base for the coming major operations.
The next step was to “round up” the retreating garrison. At 12.45 a.m. on the morning of 23rd December a flying column took the road under General Chauvel, and found the enemy at Magdhaba, twenty miles to the south-southeast, in a strong position on both banks of the Wadi el Arish. Then followed a very perfect little action. The Australian Light Horse and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles moved east of Magdhaba against the enemy’s right flank and rear, while the Imperial Camel Corps attacked in front. The reserves, in order to prevent escape, swung round from the north-west.
Shortly after noon the Turkish position was completely surrounded. The mirage, however, impeded the work of the horse artillery batteries, and the entire absence of water made it clear that unless Magdhaba was carried soon the troops would have to be withdrawn. General Chauvel, accordingly, was given orders to press the attack, and by four o’clock, after a bayonet charge by a Light Horse regiment, the place was won. Our casualties were twelve officers and 134 other ranks killed and wounded; we took 1,282 prisoners, four mountain guns, one machine-gun, and over one thousand rifles.
Our airplanes reported that the enemy had entrenched himself at Magruntein, near Rafa, thirty miles north-east of El Arish; but General Dobell had to wait for supplies before he could strike a fresh blow. The new position was a formidable one, made up of a central keep surrounded by three strong series of works connected by trenches, with an open glacis in front of them. The Desert Column, under Sir Philip Chetwode, consisting of Australian and New Zealand Mounted Troops, British Yeomanry, and the Imperial Camel Corps, left El Arish on the evening of January 8, 1917, and at dawn on the 9th had surrounded the enemy.
As at Magdhaba, the Australians and New Zealanders attacked on the right from the east, while the Camel Corps moved against the front. By 11 a.m. Rafa was taken, and by 4.45 p.m. the New Zealanders had captured the main redoubt. By 5.30 p.m. the action, which had lasted ten hours, was over, and a relieving enemy column, coming from Shellal, had been driven back. Our casualties were only 487 in all, and from the enemy we took 1,600 unwounded prisoners, six machine-guns, four mountain guns, and a quantity of transport.
The two actions of Magdhaba and Rafa were models of desert campaigning, and showed the perfect co-operation of all arms. They were battles of the old type, where mobility and tactical boldness carried the day, and where from a neighbouring height every incident of the fight could be followed. The result was the clearing of the Sinai desert of all formed bodies of Turkish troops. Operations in the interior and the south, conducted by small flying columns of cavalry and camelry, had kept pace with the greater movement in the north. The British troops were now beyond the desert, on the edge of habitable country. The next objective was the Gaza-Beersheba line—the gateway to Syria.
During the last month of 1916 the western borders of Egypt were comparatively peaceful. The last flickering of rebellion was stamped out in Darfur in November, when the ex-sultan, Ali Dinar, was killed. The Baharia and Dakhla oases had been occupied without trouble, and our chief business on that frontier was that of police patrols and an occasional reconnaissance. But during January news came that Sayed Ahmed, the Grand Senussi, with his commander-in-chief, Mohammed Saleh, and a force of 1,200, was preparing to leave the Siwa oasis and return to Jaghbub.
Major-General Watson, commanding the Western Forces, was ordered to advance on the Siwa and Girba oases, with the object of capturing the Grand Senussi and scattering his following. But to conduct any considerable force over the 200 waterless miles between Mersa Matruh and Siwa would have taken at least a month’s preparation, so the task was entrusted to a column of armoured motorcars under General Hodgson. The plan was for the main body to attack the enemy camp at Girba, while a detachment should hold the Munasib Pass—the only pass between Siwa and Jaghbub practicable for camels—and so deflect Sayed Ahmed’s flight into the waterless desert.
On 3rd February the main enemy camp at Girba was attacked. Saleh resisted strongly all day, while Sayed Ahmed made off westward. At dawn on the 4th Saleh, too, was in flight, and on the 5th Siwa was entered without opposition. Meantime the Munasib detachment had occupied the pass and ambushed a party of the enemy. Sayed Ahmed was therefore forced to abandon his best route of retreat, and with his commander-in-chief make the best of a bad road to his distant sanctuary.