After his victory at Gaza Allenby has pushed into Palestine, capturing Ramlah and Lydda and then most recently the vital port of Jaffa. His men have advanced some 80 kilometres and taken around 10,000 prisoners. Now the winter rains begin to arrive, making the conditions for mobile warfare considerably more difficult.
Allenby faces a choice: should he stop now, consolidate his positions, and then renew his offensive in the spring, or should he press on now, hoping that notwithstanding the rains he will be able to capture Jerusalem from the still disorganised Turks before the year’s end. Allenby decides to press on, hoping to seize the opportunity his victory has given him.
Meanwhile in Mesopotamia the British have also been pressing the Turks, but now they suffer an unfortunate blow. Maude, their commander there, who had overseen the recapture of Kut and the fall of Baghdad, dies suddenly of cholera. He meets his end in the same house in Baghdad that Goltz, Germany’s then commander in Mesopotamia, had died in last year. Maude’s death gives the Turks in Mesopotamia a breathing space, though it is inevitable that sooner or later the British there will renew their offensive.
New Zealand troops accepting surrender of Jaffa (Wikipedia: Battle of Jaffa)
Frederick Maude (Wikipedia: Frederick Stanley Maude)
While Allenby advances into Palestine the Arab rebels of Sharif Hussein of Mecca are attacking the Turks further to the east. The rebels have expanded out of their base in the Hejaz region of Arabia and are now raiding northwards. At Allenby’s request, a raiding party including British liaison officer T.E. Lawrence has launched a long distance raid into Syria, far from the rebels’ base, with the intention of cutting the railway intersection at Deraa. The plan is perhaps too ambitious: the raiders are unable to successfully attack Deraa, though they are able to cut the railway further to the south. While the raid may not have fully succeeded, it warns the Turks that the rebels are able to strike far to the north, forcing them to divert troops to garrison duty that could otherwise be deployed to Palestine.
Arab rebels (HistoryNet: Creating Chaos – Lawrence of Arabia and the 1916 Arab Revolt)
After capturing Beersheba, Allenby turned his attention to his main target: Gaza, the gateway to Palestine. Yesterday his men attacked the lines between Beersheba and Gaza. Although these positions were weakly defended the Turks put up a strong resistance, with the British and their Commonwealth allies suffering greater casualties than expected. But the brave Turks are unable to contain their enemies. The British advance makes Gaza untenable; it is abandoned and falls to the British today. Reduced to rubble by British artillery and with its civilian population evacuated, the town resembles one of the many confusing ruins of antiquity to be found in this part of the world.
The fall of Gaza puts the Turks into a difficult position. They are struggling to form a new line further to the north but their forces are in disarray and Falkenhayn‘s Yildirim group is still not fully deployed. For his part Allenby is determined to press on now while he has momentum, hoping to capture Jerusalem before the year’s end.
Gaza after its capture (Digging Around In History: Beersheba and Beyond – Palestine 1917) [I particularly recommend investigating this treasure trove of privately taken photographs from 1917 in the Middle East]
map (Wikipedia: Third Battle of Gaza)
While Allenby presses the Turks in Palestine, Maude continues to do the same in Mesopotamia. Maude’s efforts are seen as something of a sideshow in London and he is not receiving the resources that are at Allenby’s disposal, but that is not stopping him from making gains against the enemy. Continuing their advance up the Tigris, today Maude’s men take Tikrit, albeit after a tough battle with the Turks. Maude hopes now to continue his advance as soon as possible, in order to capture and secure the Mesopotamian oilfields.
British West Indian troops in Mesopotamia with Turkish prisoners (Africans And West Indians At War: British West Indies Regiment)
After taking Beersheba, Allenby begins the next stage of his Palestinian campaign. Gaza is already being devastated by his artillery. Now he launches some infantry assaults on the town. These are feints, designed to trick the Turks into thinking he is planning a frontal assault there. He also has his cavalry manoeuvre beyond Beersheba, to give the impression he is planning a direct advance on Jerusalem.
Allenby’s tricks work. Falkenhayn‘s Yildirim force is now arriving in Palestine, a strong Turkish army commanded by Germans. Men from this force are despatched to defend Gaza and Hebron, on the road to Jerusalem. But the line between Beersheba and Gaza is left weakly defended. And it is here that Allenby plans to attack.
Australian cavalry (Goulburn Post: Six NSW high school students to travel to WWI battlefields)
map (Wikipedia: Third Battle of Gaza)
After he took over in the Levant, Britain’s Allenby was ordered to secure Jerusalem by the end of the year. This is no easy task. Previous British efforts to invade Palestine have been blocked by tenacious Turkish resistance at Gaza. Turkish defences there are strong and although the British outnumber the enemy Allenby suspects that another frontal assault will fail. He opts for an indirect approach, targeting Beersheba, which is further inland and less strongly defended by the Turks. Allenby hopes to take Beersheba and then turn the Turkish line.
To deceive the Turks, the British have spent the last few days subjecting Gaza to an intense bombardment. In the meantime they have moved men up to face Beersheba in secret. Now they blast the Turkish defenders with a devastating bombardment, after which the infantry move forward. But although battered, the Turks fail to collapse, containing the British advance.
If Beersheba does not fall by sunset then Allenby will have to abandon the battle. He needs the town’s wells and without them his men will not have enough water to fight on. The infantry are blocked but fortunately for him he has sent an Australian cavalry force on a flanking march to attack the Turks from the north east. With only an hour to go before sunset they launch a desperate cavalry charge, the largest of the war thus far. The Australians rip through the Turkish lines and push on into the town. As night falls the Turks begin to withdraw, leaving Beersheba and its wells in British hands.
The charge (possibly) (Australian Reserve Forces Day Council: The Charge at Beersheba 31 October 1917)
Gaza-Beersheba dispositions (Wikipedia: Battle of Beersheba)
Map of marches and attacks (Wikipedia: Battle of Beersheba)