The First Battle of Gaza – 26/27 March 1917
Although the initial role of the EEF was to defend the Suez Canal and keep it open for Allied shipping, the overall aim of the campaign had shifted since 1915. Now it was clear that the EEF would be fighting an offensive campaign to defeat the Ottoman Forces and bring down their empire in the Middle East.
Capturing Gaza was an important first step. Part of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries, the city’s strategic location at a crossroads of trade routes and markets meant it controlled access to the north and west. Supported by German and Austrian units on the ground and in the air, the Ottoman forces in the area were commanded by General Kress von Kressenstein.
The Finsbury Rifles played a supporting role during the ill-fated 1st battle of Gaza . 162 Brigade of the 54th (East Anglian) Division remained in reserve, protecting the forces who were acting as a screen for those divisions actually attacking Gaza. However, they came under fire and supplies of food and water did not reach them or the other battalions in the brigade. According to their respective war diaries, the 1/10 London (Hackney Rifles) had only one bottle of water per man for 30 hours while the 1/5 Bedfords consumed their iron rations.
Foggy weather as well as poor communication played a part in the outcome of the battle. This painting by James McBey, an official war artist gives an impression of how such weather affected visibility.
Date: 22 to 23/3/17
Training + Backing Parades – Usual Routine
Batt. proceeded to Rafa 0800 by Route March arriving 1300
Batt. On outpost duty night 24/5. Orders received to move
Batt. Proceeds to In Seirat via Khan Junis where day spent in bivouac arriving In Seirat 2200.
Location SEIRAT Date: 26/3/17
Batt. Proceeded at 0630 to El Meshrefe for day moved out at 2000 to outpost line Tel El Ahmar and dug in.
Location: Tel El Ahmar Date: 27/3/17
Digging continued on outpost line which was consolidated under heavy shell fire which continued throughout the day resulting in 18 men wounded. Sudden orders received on about 1900 that force would withdraw at about 2200 and proceed to bivouac in SEIRAT. Throughout the period Batt was away from front, with difficulty supplied with rations and water entailing heavy work on ranks day and night.
Batt. resting in bivouac.
Batt. part of new outpost line – started digging operations.
Digging a defensive position. One Company on outpost duty.
One Company on outpost duty. Remainder of Batt.training + fatigues.
Batt. Reserve. Bde Divine Service.
Date: 2 to 7/7.4/17
Batt. finding various guards duties also Companies for work in connection with coming operations. Batt. also covering Companies for other troops working obey(?) and outpost Line.
Brigade Divine Service. 17 Other Ranks arrived from Division Base. 2 Companies on duty, ie one digging in pipe line and one covering Troops working beyond Outpost Line.
One Company performing Covering duties, remainder of Battn on Training. Usual Camp Routine.
Two Companies employed on Work and Covering Troops. Remainder of Batt Training.
One Company employed on field works, remainder of battn training a Draft of 41 other Ranks reported from Base Depot.
Batt Training. One Company on Bde Fatigue Work.
Batt Training. One Company acting as Covering Party to RE
Batt Training. One Company engaged on Field Work under RE.
Bde Divine Service and Usual Camp Routine. Operation Orders received for forthcoming attack.
Batt engaged preparing for Operations against GAZA.