26/3/1917 Britain’s advance blocked at Gaza

British forces have been hitting the Turks hard in Mesopotamia. Meanwhile in the Levant the British have also driven them out of the Sinai and are now at the gates of Palestine. Now Murray, Britain’s commander in Egypt, sends his men to attack Gaza, strongly defended by the Turks, delegating command of the assault to Dobell, his subordinate.

The British attack first with cavalry, surrounding the town. Then they begin to shell the town to destruction before the infantry move forward. The Turks do their best to hold back their attackers with snipers and machine guns but their situation becomes increasingly desperate. When Australian and New Zealand cavalry units attack Gaza from the north, the Turkish defence begins to collapse. The town’s surrender seems imminent.

But then the unthinkable happens. Dobell orders his men to withdraw from their positions around Gaza. Communications have broken down and he is unaware of how close to victory his men are. Instead he fears that night will fall and leave them in an exposed position, short of water and ammunition, vulnerable to attack by any Turkish forces coming to the aid of those in Gaza. So he orders them to withdraw to safety.

The Turks are astonished to see the British pulling back, but they quickly take advantage of the situation to launch some determined counterattacks. The British lick their wounds and prepare to attack again.

image sources:

The road to Gaza (Emerson Kent)

Prisoners of the Turks under guard after the battle (Wikipedia)

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