Battle of Rafa

The Battle of Rafa, also known as the Action of Rafah, fought on 9 January 1917, was the third and final battle to complete the recapture of the Sinai Peninsula by British forces during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the First World War. The Desert Column of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) attacked an entrenched Ottoman Army garrison at El Magruntein to the south of Rafah, close to the frontier between the Sultanate of Egypt and the Ottoman Empire, to the north and east of Sheikh Zowaiid. The attack marked the beginning of fighting in the Ottoman territory of Palestine.

After the British Empire victories at the Battle of Romani in August 1916 and the Battle of Magdhaba in December, the Ottoman Army had been forced back to the southern edge of Palestine as the EEF pushed eastwards supported by extended lines of communication. This advance depended on the construction of a railway and water pipeline. With the railway reaching El Arish on 4 January 1917, an attack on Rafa by the newly formed Desert Column became possible. During the day-long assault, the Ottoman garrison defended El Magruntein's series of fortified redoubts and trenches on rising ground surrounded by flat grassland. They were eventually encircled by Australian Light Horsemen, New Zealand mounted riflemen, mounted Yeomanry, cameliers and armoured cars. In the late afternoon, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade captured the central redoubt and the remaining defences were occupied shortly afterwards.


Railway construction across the Sinai during World War I Aust OH Photo 597
Laying the railway across the Sinai

Following their victory at the Battle of Romani on 4 August 1916, the ANZAC Mounted Division with the 5th Mounted Brigade attached and infantry in support, went onto the offensive. Their advance depended on the construction of a railway and water pipeline. With the railhead about 40 miles (64 km) away, on 23 December 1916 the ANZAC Mounted Division, less the 2nd Light Horse Brigade but with the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade attached, occupied El Arish during day-long fighting at the Battle of Magdhaba.[1][2][3] Meanwhile, the 52nd (Lowland) Division, having marched from Romani, established a garrison at El Arish and began to fortify the town on the Mediterranean Sea, 30 miles (48 km) from the railhead.[1][2]

El Arish was 90 miles (140 km) by road from the nearest British base at Kantara on the Suez Canal, initially making resupply difficult. The arrival of the Royal Navy on 22 December, quickly followed by the first stores on 24 December, meant that during the next fortnight the important Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) forward base grew quickly as 1,500 tons of supplies arrived by ship. Supplies of all kinds were unloaded by the Egyptian Labour Corps and distributed by the Egyptian Camel Transport Corps. Vitally important, the supply activities at El Arish were protected by the infantry garrison and ground-based artillery, supported by the navy. On 4 January 1917 the first construction train arrived at El Arish, but it was some time before the railway, with its vast capacity to support the development of infrastructure and the supply of large garrisons, was fully developed.[1][2][4][5]

Turkish military town of Hafir el Aujah, the principal desert base, 1916
The town of Hafir el Aujah, the Ottoman Army's principal desert base

General Sir Archibald Murray, the commander of the EEF, was keen to complete the advance across the north of the Sinai, to put pressure on the southern Ottoman Army. Believing an attack would compel Ottoman forces to abandon their desert bases and outposts on the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, he ordered an advance from El Arish to Rafa, a distance of 27 miles (43 km), to begin as soon as possible.[6][7]


The Sinai and the Suez Canal zone in 1917. Note that the railway had reached Bir el Mazar.

On 28 December, Major General Harry Chauvel, commander of the ANZAC Mounted Division, ordered the 1st Light Horse Brigade to reconnoitre Bir el Burj, 12 miles (19 km) along the road from El Arish towards Rafa. The road was found to be suitable for cars and artillery, and a further reconnaissance by the same brigade two days later to Sheikh Zowaiid, 20 miles (32 km) from El Arish, reported rolling stretches of pasture, crops and poppies. A small advance guard moved ten miles (16 km) further, to within sight of the main Ottoman defences at El Magruntein, reporting "great activity" in the area.[8]

The weather cleared on 5 January, allowing a patrol from No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (AFC), to observe 2,000 to 3,000 Ottoman soldiers digging defences south of Rafa in the area of El Magruntein. Two days later, British air patrols found Ottoman garrisons in strength at El Kossaima and Hafir el Auja in central northern Sinai, which could threaten the right flank of the advancing EEF or reinforce Rafa.[6] While the British air patrols were absent on 7 January, German airmen took advantage of the growing concentration of EEF formations and supply dumps, bombing El Arish during the morning and evening. The next day the patrols from No. 1 Squadron AFC were in the air all day, covering preparations for the attack on Rafa.[6]

Lieutenant General Philip Chetwode, commanding the Desert Column, rode out of El Arish at 16:00 on 8 January towards Rafa where a 2,000-strong Ottoman garrison was based. Chetwode's mounted force was the same as that Chauvel had commanded during the Battle of Magdhaba in December, with the addition of the 5th Mounted Brigade (which had been garrisoning El Arish) and the 7th Light Car Patrol consisting of four gun cars and three stores cars.[5][9] Risking an aerial attack during daylight hours, the force began the 30-mile (48 km) journey before sunset to ensure there was enough time for the force to reach El Magruntein. For the first few miles they trekked over heavy sand dunes, which were difficult to negotiate for the doubled teams of horses pulling the guns and ammunition wagons. Once the great shallow trough, worn down by traffic since ancient times, along the Old Road or Pilgrims' Way appeared, the guns and ammunition wagons travelled on the firm middle way while the mounted units rode on either side. The vanguard of the column reached Sheikh Zowaiid at about 22:00; the Desert Column bivouacked near the crossroads to the west of the village. Here the first grass the horses had seen since leaving Australia was found on the edge of the fertile maritime plain, 16 miles (26 km) north of El Arish.[5][10]

The plan for the attack at Rafa the next morning, 9 January, was a repetition of Chauvel's successful encirclement attack at Magdhaba. The regiments and motor cars would surround the Ottoman garrison position, gallop up under fire, then dismount to attack the defenders in their treble system of trenches and field-works around the earthwork redoubts on the knoll.[6]

Attack force

The mounted units of the Desert Column involved in the attack under Chetwode's command were:

No. 1 Squadron AFC, which had been based at Mustabig during the El Arish and Magdhaba operations, moved forward five miles (8.0 km) west of El Arish to support the attack.[14]

Ottoman defenders

Rafa was defended by the Ottoman 31st Infantry Regiment (3rd Division) supported by one mountain gun battery.[15] It had been reported by British aerial reconnaissance that this force was between 2,000 and 3,000 strong.[14] They were strongly entrenched in four main positions on the high ground about Hill 255, known as El Magruntein. The central redoubt, which rose about 200 feet (61 m) to dominate the surrounding grassland, was supported by three systems of redoubts identified by the British Empire forces as A, B and C. These redoubts were linked and supported by trenches on the slopes spreading out to the south-east, south and south-west. The strong, well-prepared and well-sited redoubts and trench systems provided all-round defence with a clear view of a battlefield devoid of cover for some 2,000 yards (1,800 m). The only weakness was to the rear of the position in the north-east.[16][17][18]


The Desert Column began the final approach to attack Rafa on 9 January 1917 without any reserve ammunition for the artillery, rifles or machine-guns. The column's commander, Chetwode, had ordered all wheeled vehicles, excepting the guns, to remain at Sheikh Zowaiid. His brigadiers complied with the order, but only under protest.[5][19] It had been the intention of Desert Column Headquarters that the reserve ammunition would be sent onward after daylight, but during the battle the system broke down and this did not occur, resulting in a critical failure of the ammunition supply. In many cases, supplies were rushed forward, but failed to reach the units requiring them on the firing line.[20]

Boundary pillars on the Sinai-Palestine frontier during World War I
Boundary pillars on the Egyptian Sinai-Ottoman Palestine frontier

At 01:00 the 1st Light Horse and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigades led the Desert Column. Half a mile (0.80 km) from Sheikh Zowaiid, they encountered a hostile Bedouin camel patrol which was captured. At 06:15 the Auckland Mounted Rifle Regiment (New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade) was first to reach the boundary pillars on the Egyptian and Ottoman frontier, moving from the African continent onto Asia. These two brigades rode to a position from which to attack the Rafa defences, from the south, east and north. They were followed at 02:30 by the remainder of the ANZAC Mounted Division, part of the 5th Mounted Brigade, the Imperial Camel Brigade, and six Ford motor cars of the 7th Light Car Patrol. Two troops of the Queen's Own Worcestershire Hussars (5th Mounted Brigade) remained at Sheikh Zowaiid to protect the ammunition column, while a squadron followed the caravan road towards Rafa.[19][21][22]

By 06:45 the ANZAC Mounted Division headquarters was established 4.5 miles (7.2 km) west of Karm Ibn Musleh on the frontier to the south of Rafa and El Magruntein. The 1st and 3rd Light Horse Brigades and the artillery took up positions to the south to guard against the Ottoman garrison retreating to the south-east, with the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade located three-quarters of a mile (1.21 km) to the west. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade was about one mile (1.6 km) to the north with the 5th Mounted Brigade forming the Desert Column's reserve.[23] By 07:00 a patrol of the Wellington Mounted Rifles had cut the telegraph line running east from Rafa towards Shellal and Gaza, isolating the Rafa garrison, Chauvel had reconnoitred the El Magruntein defences and the British Empire horse artillery batteries had begun firing on the redoubts at El Magruntein.[24][25]

Just after 08:00 the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade circled northwards, moving into position for their attacks on the C4 and C5 groups of redoubts and trenches, while the 1st Light Horse Brigade moved into position to attack the C3, C2 and C1 groups. After these objectives were captured, the two brigades were to attack the central redoubt. Meanwhile, three battalions of the Imperial Camel Brigade were ordered to attack the D group of fortifications. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade formed the ANZAC Mounted Division's reserve.[26] In preparation for the attack, the divisional artillery had pre-selected targets and at 09:30 the Leicestershire, Inverness-shire and Somerset Batteries of the Royal Horse Artillery and B Battery, Honourable Artillery Company began a 30-minute preparatory barrage. Under cover of this, the attacking troops began their advance, and by 09:45 they had approached to within 2,000 yards (1,800 m) of the Ottoman entrenchments.[24]

Attack begins

Battle of Rafa map (Powles pp.80-1)
Powles' map showing the attacks on Rafa and El Magruntein

As the 1st Light Horse Brigade advanced from the direction of El Gubba, westward towards El Magruntein and the "C" group of redoubts, they encountered heavy machine-gun and shrapnel fire from German and Ottoman guns. To the south, the Imperial Camel Brigade advanced towards the B4 redoubt, and at 10:30 the 5th Mounted Brigade was ordered "to demonstrate against the works further west." When they arrived at a plateau 2,500 yards (2,300 m) from El Magruntein, the Warwickshire Yeomanry on the right was ordered to attack the B1 and B2 redoubts, while the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars were "sent to the left along the edge of the sand-dunes" to attack the right of the A1 redoubt, the most westerly of the defences. The troops dismounted to begin their attack 2,000 yards (1,800 m) from their objectives, but were immediately engaged by heavy machine-gun fire and shrapnel from two guns.[27]

By 10:00 the attack from the north, led by the Auckland Mounted Rifles and supported by two machine-guns, with the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment on their right, had ridden into Rafa as they circled around El Magruntein. Here, they quickly captured the village along with six German and two Ottoman officers, 16 other ranks and 21 Bedouins. Two troops were sent to watch for the approach of Ottoman reinforcements; one troop to the north towards Khan Yunis and one to the east towards Shellal.[27][28][29]

With the Ottoman garrison defending El Magruntein cut off from the north and east by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, orders were issued for all Desert Column reserves to be committed and the attack "pressed home."[27] By 11:00 the attacking force was deployed from right to left: the Canterbury and Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiments, two squadrons of the 1st Light Horse Regiment, one squadron of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment, the 3rd Light Horse Regiment (1st Light Horse Brigade), the 10th Light Horse Regiment (3rd Light Horse Brigade), the 1st Battalion Imperial Camel Corps Brigade and the "Warwick and Gloucester Yeomanry." They were supported by the Inverness-shire Battery covering the New Zealanders, the Leicestershire and Somerset Batteries covering the Australians and the Hong Kong Battery covering the Camel Corps battalion, while the HAC battery shelled the "C" group of redoubts from a distance of three-quarters of a mile (1.21 km).[30]

Brigadier General Edward Chaytor, commanding the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, moved his headquarters up to the boundary post one mile (1.6 km) south-east of Rafa, immediately behind the Auckland Mounted Rifles. Half an hour later, the attack was seen to be steadily progressing all along the line.[31] By 12:15 the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment had come up to the front line, between the Canterburys on the right, and the Aucklanders on the left, within 600 yards (550 m) of El Magruntein, while the 2nd Battalion of the Camel Brigade advanced to extend the line held by their 1st Battalion. Shortly afterwards, the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment linked up with the left of the 5th Mounted Brigade, completing the cordon around the Ottoman Army entrenchments. To the left of the 5th Mounted Brigade, the 7th Light Car Patrol reached the Rafa road, where they found cover from which to direct fire on to the A1 and A2 redoubts 1,600 yards (1,500 m) away. Meanwhile, the batteries had pushed forward about 1,500 yards (1,400 m) from their previous positions and "B" Battery HAC stopped firing on the "C" group of redoubts. Switching targets to the A1 and A2 redoubts, it recommenced firing at a range of 1,600 yards (1,500 m) in support of the 5th Mounted Brigade.[30]

Ammunition shortages

Ottoman defences at Rafa 1917
The main Ottoman defensive position and trenches at Rafa

Despite the initial assault, the Ottoman defenders continued to hold very strong defensive positions, with each redoubt ideally placed to provide supporting fire for others. In most places the dismounted attackers were badly exposed to this fire.[Note 1] A constant stream of fire was maintained on the Ottoman parapets to suppress the defenders and prevent them from taking aim while the attack continued. Little by little the cordon drew tighter under intense fire over the bare, gently-sloping grasslands. However, between about 12:15 and 14:15 progress slowed.[6][30]

By early to mid-afternoon supplies of ammunition began to run low. Although Chauvel called for further effort, the mistake of leaving the ammunition vehicles behind proved costly, as the attack wavered.[32][33] The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade ran out of ammunition for four of its machine-guns and the Inverness-shire Battery ran out of shells and had to withdraw.[33][34][35][Note 2]

At 14:30 Chauvel ordered a fresh effort against the C group of redoubts to begin at 15:30, while a sustained artillery barrage was to continue on these redoubts until then.[30] However, 15 minutes later, an Ottoman machine-gun officer and three German soldiers, captured by the troop of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment keeping watch towards Shellal, stated that their 160th Regiment had left Shellal on the Wadi Ghuzzeh when the attack had begun, to reinforce the Rafa garrison. Shellal was between ten and thirteen miles (16 and 21 km) or about three and a half hours away.[35] This was confirmed when two battalions were seen advancing in artillery formation, over the ridges west of Shellal towards Rafa. An additional 500 soldiers were seen approaching Rafa from the direction of Khan Yunus by the same mounted rifle regiment's northern guard.[28][36]

Final assaults

The general assault, launched at 15:30, was supported by all available guns. It made slow progress against the stubborn Ottoman defenders, who were supported by bombing from German planes, while the advance guard of Ottoman reinforcements, from Khan Yunus in the north and Shellal in the east, were attacking the two troops of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment.[30][35] Four guns of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, on the right flank, were moved to a trench before being moved forward to the sunken road. From there they maintained effective overhead covering fire, until the assaulting troops were within a few yards of the trenches. These guns were also well-positioned to provide cover if pressure by the Ottoman reinforcements from Khan Yunus and Shellal proved too strong for the two troops of Wellingtons, or if the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade was forced to retire to the coast.[37]

After steady, methodical and persistent work, by 16:00 a cloud of smoke hung over the central redoubt from rifle and machine-gun fire. The covering fire was so effective that the Ottoman defenders had extreme difficulty aiming and firing their rifles and machine-guns. It then became possible for the attacking forces to cover the last 600–800 yards (550–730 m) of smooth grassy slope in two rushes.[32][36][37] At about 16:30, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade launched its final assault on the central redoubt from the north-west, the north and the north-east. Lacking artillery support, they made determined use of machine-guns on the firing line, crossing fire to get better targets, and co-operating with the machine-guns of the 1st Light Horse Brigade to cover the advance to within 400 yards (370 m) of the main Ottoman position. They captured the central redoubt in a final bayonet charge, at the run, many of the soldiers firing as they went. From their captured position in the dominating central redoubt, they were able to enfilade other redoubts still held by Ottoman defenders.[32][36][37]

With the New Zealanders holding the dominant redoubt, the 1st and the 3rd Light Horse Brigades were able to advance and capture the remaining redoubts on their fronts. As the 3rd Battalion of the Imperial Camel Brigade approached the B group of trenches, a white flag appeared, and the B2 and the central work of B group were occupied by 16:50. They captured five officers and 214 other ranks while the Warwickshire Yeomanry captured the B1 redoubt and another 101 prisoners.[38] These successful attacks were supported by aircraft, which bombed the redoubts and trenches. The aircraft had recently been fitted with wirelesses, and during the afternoon reported the progress of the battle to the Desert Column's headquarters, assisting in command and control.[39][40] The New Zealanders remained close to the main redoubt system while prisoners were collected and sent to Sheikh Zowaiid and the four captured guns taken away.[41][42] Chetwode reported to the commander of Eastern Force, Lieutenant General Charles Macpherson Dobell, that the work of all troops engaged had been excellent, and the part played by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade had been outstanding.[43]


Turkish prisoners on the road to El Arish from Rafa in 1917
Ottoman prisoners on the road to El Arish from Rafa

During the fighting the Desert Column suffered three times the losses previously endured at Magdhaba.[43] The 487 casualties included 124 New Zealanders: 71 killed, 415 wounded and one missing.[44][45][46] Against this, the mainly Ottoman prisoners, which included some German machine-gunners, totalled between 1,472 and 1,635, with 162 of them wounded.[41][47][48] About 200 Ottoman soldiers were killed on the battlefield.[44][49]


British ambulance wagons after the Battle of Rafa in 1917
British Empire ambulance wagons returning to Sheikh Zowaiid from Rafa

Following the battle, a strong rearguard position manned by two light horse regiments, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Cecil Maygar, was established. Meanwhile, the bulk of the Desert Column returned to Sheikh Zowaiid for water and rations, arriving about midnight.[50][51] The two light horse regiments that had remained at Rafa stood guard, while the battlefield was cleared by the light horse field ambulances, whose stretcher bearers worked into the night. The 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance, covered by the 8th Light Horse Regiment (3rd Light Horse Brigade), remained on the battlefield, as all available ambulance carts and empty wagons were sent up from Sheikh Zowaiid to help transport the wounded to hospital.[42][51][52]

The ANZAC Mounted Division's field ambulance units had been reorganised before the battle, and were equipped with 10 pairs of litters, 15 pairs of cacolets, 12 sand-carts, 12 cycle stretchers and six sledges. With this, they were able transport 92 patients at a time, and they set about the task of evacuating the wounded.[53] The following morning, the 8th Light Horse Regiment was attacked by Ottoman cavalry and camel units. After a period of fighting, the attackers were forced to withdraw, leaving 14 prisoners behind. The whole of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade returned to the battlefield on 10 January with the 7th Light Car Patrol and wagons to collect captured material.[54]

El Arish bombed

During the night of 19 January, with the benefit of a full moon, German and Ottoman aircraft carried out the biggest aerial bombing raid yet, inflicted on the EEF's fast growing and important forward base of El Arish. As well as dropping bombs, these aircraft, probably the powerful new Taube Albatros D.III, swooped down firing their machine-guns into the camp. Casualties, particularly in the horse lines which were an obvious target from the air, were considerable.[55][56][57]

Murray's plans

The campaign across the Sinai desert, which had begun in August, ended with the expulsion of the Ottoman Empire from Egyptian territory. With the British victory at Rafa, the steady progress of the railway and water pipeline, and the build-up of supplies at El Arish, the EEF was able to build a firm base from which it planned to advance into Ottoman territory. To do so, they needed to capture Gaza first and subsequently the First Battle of Gaza took place in March 1917.[44][48][49]

On 19 January, British aerial reconnaissance found the Ottoman Army had evacuated El Kossaima and reduced the strength of their main desert base at Hafir el Auja.[58] However, GHQ believed the Ottoman garrisons would continue to hold onto the Nekhl area in the centre of the Sinai Peninsula, including the villages of Bir el Hassana, Gebel Helal, Gebel Yelleg and Gebel el Heitan, to maintain control over the Arab population.[59] To address the problem of Ottoman Army units in the rear of the advancing EEF, a raid was carried out by two columns of light horse and yeomanry at Nekhl. The two columns moved out from Serapeum, near Ismailia on the Suez Canal, with three aircraft in support to carry out the attack, 60 miles (97 km) to the east. However, as the columns were approaching the area on 17 February, the reconnaissance aircraft found the Ottoman garrisons had retired, and no fighting occurred.[60]


  1. ^ While fighting on foot, one quarter of the light horsemen, riflemen and yeomanry were holding the horses; a brigade then became equivalent in rifle strength to an infantry battalion. [Preston 1921 p.168]
  2. ^ Major Alexander Wilkie, Quartermaster of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment, remained at Sheikh Zowaiid with the supply convoys. But during the early hours of the battle, he was so concerned by the quantity of .303 small arms ammunition (SAA) – used by both rifles and machine-guns – his regiment had gone into battle with, that he went forward to Rafa. Upon arrival, he heard that his regiment was calling for ammunition. Seizing a cable wagon, he emptied out the signal gear and filled it with boxes of ammunition, and galloped across to the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade in time for the general assault on the redoubt, materially assisting in the final success. [Powles 1922, pp. 77–8]


  1. ^ a b c Downes 1938, p. 593
  2. ^ a b c Carver 2003, p. 194
  3. ^ Bruce 2002 p. 84
  4. ^ Gullett 1941, p. 229
  5. ^ a b c d Falls 1930 Vol. 1 pp. 263, 271
  6. ^ a b c d e Cutlack 1941, pp. 49–51
  7. ^ Falls 1930 Vol. 1 p. 271
  8. ^ Falls 1930 Vol. 1 pp. 262–3
  9. ^ Gullett 1941, p. 230
  10. ^ Powles 1922, p. 68
  11. ^ Gullett 1941, pp. 230–2
  12. ^ Powles 1922, p. 65
  13. ^ Coulthard-Clark 1998, p. 123
  14. ^ a b Cutlack 1941 p. 50
  15. ^ Falls 1930 Vol. 1 p. 377
  16. ^ Bruce 2002, pp. 85 & 86
  17. ^ Gullett 1941, pp. 230, 234
  18. ^ Powles 1922, pp. 64–5
  19. ^ a b Powles 1922, pp. 66–9
  20. ^ Powles 1922, pp. 77–8
  21. ^ Gullett 1941, pp. 231–232
  22. ^ Falls 1930 Vol. 1 pp. 263–4
  23. ^ Falls 1930 Vol. 1 p. 264
  24. ^ a b Falls 1930 Vol. 1 p. 265
  25. ^ Gullett 1941, pp. 233–234
  26. ^ Powles 1922, p. 71 and map pp. 80–1
  27. ^ a b c Falls 1930 Vol. 1 p. 266
  28. ^ a b Powles 1922 map pp. 80–1
  29. ^ Gullett 1941, p. 234
  30. ^ a b c d e Falls 1930 Vol. 1 p. 267
  31. ^ Powles 1922, pp. 71–2
  32. ^ a b c Bruce 2002, pp. 86–7
  33. ^ a b Hill 1978, p. 93
  34. ^ Gullett 1941, pp. 235, 237–238
  35. ^ a b c Powles 1922, pp. 74–5
  36. ^ a b c Falls 1930 Vol. 1 p. 268
  37. ^ a b c Powles 1922, pp. 75–6
  38. ^ Falls 1930 Vol. 1 pp. 268–9
  39. ^ Cutlack 1941 pp. 49–51
  40. ^ Falls 1930 Vol. p. 254
  41. ^ a b Hill 1978, pp. 93–4
  42. ^ a b Powles 1922, pp. 76–7
  43. ^ a b Falls 1930 Vol. 1 p. 270
  44. ^ a b c Bruce 2002, p. 87
  45. ^ Downes 1938, pp. 596–7
  46. ^ Pugsley 2004, pp. 135–6
  47. ^ Carver 2003, p.195
  48. ^ a b Powles 1922, pp. 76–7, 79
  49. ^ a b Dennis et al. 2008, p. 405
  50. ^ Powles 1922, p. 76
  51. ^ a b Gullett 1941, p. 242
  52. ^ Falls 1930 Vol. 1 p. 269
  53. ^ Falls 1930 Vol. 1 p. 274
  54. ^ Falls 1930 Vol. 1 pp. 269–70
  55. ^ Cutlack 1941, p. 52
  56. ^ McPherson et al. 1983, pp. 184–6
  57. ^ Wavell 1968, p. 70
  58. ^ Cutlack 1941, p. 51
  59. ^ Cutlack 1941, pp. 53–54.
  60. ^ Cutlack 1941, pp. 54–55


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10th (Nelson) Mounted Rifles

The 10th (Nelson) Mounted Rifles, previously known as the 1st Regiment, Nelson Mounted Rifles is a military unit based in Nelson, New Zealand. They served in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I and first saw action during the Battle of Gallipoli. As a part of the larger New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (of the ANZAC Mounted Division) they went on to serve in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

11th (North Auckland) Mounted Rifles

The 11th (North Auckland) Mounted Rifles was formed on 17 March 1911. They were mobilised during World War I as a squadron of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment. They served in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I and first saw action during the Battle of Gallipoli.

As a part of the larger New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (of the ANZAC Mounted Division) they went on to serve in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

3rd (Auckland) Mounted Rifles

The 3rd (Auckland) Mounted Rifles was formed on March 17, 1911. They were mobilised during the First World War as a squadron of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment. They served in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I and first saw action during the Battle of Gallipoli.

As a part of the larger New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (of the ANZAC Mounted Division) they went on to serve in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

3rd Light Horse Brigade

The 3rd Light Horse Brigade was a mounted infantry brigade of the First Australian Imperial Force which served in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I.

The brigade first saw action during the Dardanelles Campaign in the Battle of Gallipoli where they were noted for their charge during the Battle of the Nek. After being withdrawn to Egypt in February 1916 they were involved in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign until the end of the war. They were attached to a number of different formations being part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in 1915, the Anzac Mounted Division in March 1916 and the Australian Mounted Division in June 1917 who they remained with until the end of the war.

4th (Waikato) Mounted Rifles

The 4th (Waikato) Mounted Rifles was formed on March 17, 1911. They were mobilised during World War I and formed part of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, and served in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I and first saw action during the Battle of Gallipoli.

As a part of the larger New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (of the ANZAC Mounted Division) they went on to serve in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

6th (Manawatu) Mounted Rifles

The 6th (Manawatu) Mounted Rifles was formed on March 17, 1911. They were mobilised during World War I as a squadron of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment. They served in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I and first saw action during the Battle of Gallipoli.

As a part of the larger New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (of the ANZAC Mounted Division), they went on to serve in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

8th (South Canterbury) Mounted Rifles

The 8th (South Canterbury) Mounted Rifles was formed on March 17, 1911. They were mobilised during World War I as a squadron of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment. They served in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I and first saw action during the Battle of Gallipoli.

As a part of the larger New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (of the ANZAC Mounted Division) they went on to serve in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

9th (Wellington East Coast) Mounted Rifles

The 9th (Wellington East Coast) Mounted Rifles was formed on March 17, 1911. They were mobilised during World War I as a squadron of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment. They served in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I and first saw action during the Battle of Gallipoli.

As a part of the larger New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (of the ANZAC Mounted Division) they went on to serve in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

Battle of Rafah

The Battle of Rafah refers to any of the military engagements fought in and around Rafah, today in the Gaza Strip:

Battle of Rafa in World War I

Battle of Rafah (1948) in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War

Desert Column

The Desert Column was a First World War British Empire army corps which operated in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign from 22 December 1916. The Column was commanded by Lieutenant General Philip W. Chetwode and formed part of Eastern Force. When Chetwode took command of Eastern Force after the Second Battle of Gaza, Harry Chauvel took command and oversaw the expansion of the column to three divisions.Chetwode was appointed on 7 December 1916 to command the Column which was composed of the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division, the 52nd (Lowland) Division, the Anzac Mounted Division and the Imperial Camel Brigade's eighteen companies, six of which were yeomen. These divisions had been involved in the Battle of Romani in August 1916 and had advanced across the Sinai Peninsula. Chetwode arrived at El Arish to take up his appointment on 22 December 1916. The Battle of Magdhaba was won the next day, and on 9 January 1917 the Battle of Rafa was also won by the Desert Column, before two defeats were suffered during the First and Second battles for Gaza in March and April 1917.In mid 1917 when General Edmund Allenby took command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, Desert Column was renamed to become the Desert Mounted Corps commanded by Lieutenant General Chauvel.


Encirclement is a military term for the situation when a force or target is isolated and surrounded by enemy forces.This situation is highly dangerous for the encircled force: at the strategic level, because it cannot receive supplies or reinforcements, and on the tactical level, because the units in the force can be subject to an attack from several sides. Lastly, since the force cannot retreat, unless it is relieved or can break out, it must either fight to the death or surrender. A special kind of encirclement is the siege. In this case, the encircled forces are enveloped in a fortified position in which long-lasting supplies and strong defences are in place, allowing them to withstand attacks. Sieges have taken place in almost all eras of warfare. In modern warfare, an encircled force that is not under siege is commonly referred to as a pocket.

Encirclement has been used throughout the centuries by military leaders, including generals such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Khalid bin Waleed, Hannibal, Sun Tzu, Yi Sun Shin, Shaka Zulu, Wallenstein, Nader Shah, Napoleon, Moltke, Heinz Guderian, von Rundstedt, von Manstein, Zhukov, and Patton.

Sun Tzu and other military thinkers suggest that an army should be not completely encircled but should be given some room for escape, or the "encircled" army's men will lift their morale and fight till the death. It is better to have them consider the possibility of a retreat. Once the enemy retreats, they can be pursued and captured or destroyed with far less risk to the pursuing forces than a fight to the death. Examples of this might be the battles of Dunkirk, in 1940, and the Falaise Gap in 1944.

The main form of encircling, the "double pincer", is executed by attacks on the flanks of a battle whose mobile forces of the era, such as light infantry, cavalry, tanks, or armoured personnel carriers attempt to force a breakthrough to utilize their speed to join behind the back of the enemy force and complete the "ring" while the main enemy force is stalled by probing attacks. The encirclement of the German Sixth Army in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942 is a typical example.

If there is a natural obstacle, such as ocean or mountains on one side of the battlefield, only one pincer is needed ("single pincer"), because the function of the second arm is taken over by the natural obstacle. The German attack into the lowlands of France in 1940 is a typical example of this.

A third and rare type of encirclement can ensue from a breakthrough in an area of the enemy front, and exploiting that with mobile forces, diverging in two or more directions behind the enemy line. Full encirclement rarely follows, but the threat of it severely hampers the defender's options. This type of attack pattern is centerpiece to blitzkrieg operations. Because of the extreme difficulty of this operation, it cannot be executed unless the offensive force has a vast superiority, either in technology, organization, or sheer numbers. The Barbarossa campaign of 1941 saw some examples.

The danger to the encircling force is that it is, itself, cut off from its logistical base; if the encircled force is able to stand firm, or maintain a supply route, the encircling force can be thrown into confusion (for example, Rommel's "Dash to the Wire" in 1941 and the Demyansk Pocket in 1942) or be comprehensively destroyed (as during the Burma campaign, in 1944).

Examples of battles of encirclement:

Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC)

Battle of Cannae (216 BC)

Battle of Walaja (633 AD)

Battle of Fraustadt (1706)

Battle of Kirkuk (1733)

Battle of Kars (1745)

Battle of Isandlwana (1879)

Battle of Tannenberg (1914)

Battle of Magdhaba (1916)

Battle of Rafa (1916)

First Battle of Gaza (1917)

Battle of Beersheba (1917)

Battle of Megiddo (1918)

Battle of Suomussalmi (1939-1940)

Battle of Kiev (1941)

Battle of Smolensk (1941)

Battle of Białystok–Minsk (1941)

Battle for Velikiye Luki (1942)

Battle of Stalingrad (1942-1943)

Battle of the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket (1944)

Kamenets-Podolsky pocket (1944)

Six-Day War (1967)

Battle of Khorramshahr (1980)

Battle of Mogadishu (1993)

Battle of Misrata (2011)

Battle of Aleppo (2012–2016)

Second Battle of Tikrit (2015)

First Battle of Gaza

The First Battle of Gaza was fought on 26 March 1917, during the first attempt by the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) to invade the south of Palestine in the Ottoman Empire during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the First World War. Fighting took place in and around the town of Gaza on the Mediterranean coast when infantry and mounted infantry from the Desert Column, a component of the Eastern Force, attacked the town. Late in the afternoon, on the verge of capturing Gaza, the Desert Column was withdrawn due to concerns about the approaching darkness and large Ottoman reinforcements. This British defeat was followed a few weeks later by the even more emphatic defeat of the Eastern Force at the Second Battle of Gaza in April 1917.

In August 1916 the EEF victory at Romani ended the possibility of land-based attacks on the Suez Canal, first threatened in February 1915 by the Ottoman Raid on the Suez Canal. In December 1916, the newly created Desert Column's victory at the Battle of Magdhaba secured the Mediterranean port of El Arish and the supply route, water pipeline, and railway stretching eastwards across the Sinai Peninsula. In January 1917 the victory of the Desert Column at the Battle of Rafa completed the capture of the Sinai Peninsula and brought the EEF within striking distance of Gaza.

In March 1917, two months later, Gaza was attacked by Eastern Force infantry from the 52nd (Lowland) Division reinforced by an infantry brigade. This attack was protected from the threat of Ottoman reinforcements by the Anzac Mounted Division and a screen from the Imperial Mounted Division. The infantry attack from the south and southeast on the Ottoman garrison in and around Gaza was strongly resisted. While the Imperial Mounted Division continued to hold off threatening Ottoman reinforcements, the Anzac Mounted Division attacked Gaza from the north. They succeeded in entering the town from the north, while a joint infantry and mounted infantry attack on Ali Muntar captured the position. However, the lateness of the hour, the determination of the Ottoman defenders, and the threat from the large Ottoman reinforcements approaching from the north and north east, resulted in the decision by the Eastern Force to retreat. It has been suggested this move snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

January 9

January 9 is the ninth day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 356 days remaining until the end of the year (357 in leap years).

Queen Alexandra's 2nd (Wellington West Coast) Mounted Rifles

The Queen Alexandra's 2nd (Wellington West Coast) Mounted Rifles was formed on March 17, 1911. They were mobilised during the Great War as a squadron of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment. They served in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I and first saw action during the Battle of Gallipoli.

As a part of the larger New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (of the ANZAC Mounted Division) they went on to serve in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

Raid on Bir el Hassana

The Raid on Bir el Hassana (Hasna) occurred in the Sinai Peninsula in February 1917, during World War I. It was a minor action between an augmented battalion of the Imperial Camel Corps on the one side and a score of Turkish troops plus some armed Bedouin on the other. The raid is only notable because it occasioned the first aeromedical evacuation in the British Army, and possibly in history.

The raid was the third of three battles, if one may call it a battle, by British forces seeking to recapture the Sinai Peninsula during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I. Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) cavalry and camelry traveled into the centre of the Sinai Peninsula to attack and push the last Turkish garrisons back into Palestine.

Second Battle of Gaza

The Second Battle of Gaza was fought between 17 and 19 April 1917, following the defeat of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) at the First Battle of Gaza in March, during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the First World War. Gaza was defended by the strongly entrenched Ottoman Army garrison, which had been reinforced after the first battle by substantial forces. They manned the town's defences and a line of strong redoubts which extended eastwards along the road from Gaza to Beersheba. The defenders were attacked by Eastern Force's three infantry divisions, supported by two mounted divisions, but the strength of the defenders, their entrenchments, and supporting artillery decimated the attackers.

As a result of the EEF victories at the Battle of Romani, the Battle of Magdhaba and the Battle of Rafa, fought from August 1916 to January 1917, the EEF had pushed the defeated Ottoman Army eastwards. The EEF reoccupied the Egyptian territory of the Sinai Peninsula, and crossed over into the Ottoman Empire territory of southern Palestine. However, the result of the First Battle of Gaza had been as close to a British Empire victory as a defeat could get. In the three weeks between the two battles, the Gaza defences were strongly reinforced against a frontal attack. The strong entrenchments and fortifications proved unassailable during the disastrous frontal attacks, when EEF casualties approached, and in some cases exceeded 50 per cent for slight gains.

Sinai and Palestine Campaign

The Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I was fought by the Arab Revolt and the British Empire, against the Ottoman Empire and its Imperial German allies. It started with an Ottoman attempt at raiding the Suez Canal in 1915, and ended with the Armistice of Mudros in 1918, leading to the cession of Ottoman Syria and Palestine.

Fighting began in January 1915, when a German-led Ottoman force invaded the Sinai Peninsula, then part of the British Protectorate of Egypt, to unsuccessfully raid the Suez Canal. After the Gallipoli Campaign, British Empire veterans formed the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) and Ottoman Empire veterans formed the Fourth Army, to fight for the Sinai Peninsula in 1916. During this campaign the Anzac Mounted Division and the 52nd (Lowland) Division succeeded in pushing German-led Ottoman Army units out of the area, beginning with the Battle of Romani and pursuit in August, the Battle of Magdhaba in December, and in January 1917 the newly formed Desert Column completed the recapture of the Sinai at the Battle of Rafa. These three victories, resulting in the recapture of substantial Egyptian territory, were followed in March and April, by two EEF defeats on Ottoman territory, at the First and Second Battles of Gaza in southern Palestine.

After a period of stalemate in Southern Palestine from April to October 1917, General Edmund Allenby captured Beersheba from the III Corps. Having weakened the Ottoman defences, which had stretched almost continually from Gaza to Beersheba, they were finally captured by 8 November, after the Battle of Tel el Khuweilfe, the Battle of Hareira and Sheria and the Third Battle of Gaza, when the pursuit began. During the subsequent operations, about 50 miles (80 km) of formerly Ottoman territory was captured as a result of the EEF victories at the Battle of Mughar Ridge, fought between 10 and 14 November, and the Battle of Jerusalem, fought between 17 November and 30 December. Serious losses on the Western Front in March 1918, during Erich Ludendorff's German Spring Offensive, forced the British Empire to send reinforcements from the EEF. During this time, two unsuccessful attacks were made to capture Amman and to capture Es Salt in March and April 1918, before Allenby's force resumed the offensive during the manoeuvre warfare of the Battle of Megiddo. The successful infantry battles at Tulkarm and Tabsor created gaps in the Ottoman front line, allowing the pursuing Desert Mounted Corps to encircle the infantry fighting in the Judean Hills and fight the Battle of Nazareth and Battle of Samakh, capturing Afulah, Beisan, Jenin and Tiberias. In the process the EEF destroyed three Ottoman armies during the Battle of Sharon, the Battle of Nablus and the Third Transjordan attack, capturing thousands of prisoners and large quantities of equipment. Damascus and Aleppo were captured during the subsequent pursuit, before the Ottoman Empire agreed to the Armistice of Mudros on 30 October 1918, ending the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. The British Mandate of Palestine and the French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon were created to administer the captured territories.

The campaign was generally not well known or understood during the war. The English people thought of it as a minor operation, a waste of precious resources which would be better spent on the Western Front, while the peoples of India were more interested in the Mesopotamian campaign and the occupation of Baghdad. Australia did not have a war correspondent in the area until Captain Frank Hurley, the first Australian Official Photographer, arrived in August 1917 after visiting the Western Front. Henry Gullett, the first Official War Correspondent, arrived in November 1917. The long-lasting effect of this campaign was the Partitioning of the Ottoman Empire, when France won the mandate for Syria and Lebanon, while the British Empire won the mandates for Mesopotamia and Palestine. The Republic of Turkey came into existence in 1923 after the Turkish War of Independence ended the Ottoman Empire. The European mandates ended with the formation of the Kingdom of Iraq in 1932, the Lebanese Republic in 1943, the State of Israel in 1948, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan and Syrian Arab Republic in 1946.

Theatres of World War I

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