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W.T. Massey - How Jerusalem Was Won. Allenby's Campaign in Palestine

Sineid to Beit Hanun from which the Gaza position was supplied. There was a shortage of rolling stock
and, there being no coal for the engines, whole olive orchards had been hacked down to provide fuel. The

Hebron road, which could keep Beersheba supplied if the railway was cut, was in good order, but in

other parts there were no roads at all, except several miles of badly metalled track from Junction Station

to Julis. We could not keep many troops with such ill-conditioned communications, but Turkish soldiers

require far less supplies than European troops, and the enemy had done such remarkable things in

surmounting supply difficulties that he was given credit for being able to support between sixty and

seventy battalions in the line and reserve, with an artillery somewhat weaker than our own.

If we made another frontal attack at Gaza we should find ourselves up against a desperately strong
defensive system, but even supposing we got through it we should come to another halt in a few miles, as

the enemy had selected, and in most cases had prepared, a number of positions right up to the

Jaffa-Jerusalem road, where he would be in a land of comparative plenty, with his supply and transport

troubles very considerably reduced. No one could doubt that the Turks intended to defend Jerusalem to

the last, not only because of the moral effect its capture would have on the peoples of the world, but

because its possession by us would threaten their enterprise in the Hedjaz, and the enormous amount of

work we afterwards found they had done on the Judean hills proved that they were determined to do all

in their power to prevent our driving them from the Holy City. The enemy, too, imagined that our

progress could not exceed the rate at which our standard gauge railway could be built. Water-borne

supplies were limited as to quantity, and during the winter the landing of supplies on an open beach was

hazardous. In the coastal belt there were no roads, and the wide fringe of sand which has accumulated for

centuries and still encroaches on the Maritime Plain can only be crossed by camels. Wells are few and

yield but small volumes of water. With the transport allotted to the force in the middle of 1917 it was not

possible to maintain more than one infantry division at a distance of twenty to twenty-five miles beyond

railhead, and this could only be done by allotting to them all the camels and wheels of other divisions and

rendering these immobile. This was insufficient to keep the enemy on the move after a tactical success,

and he would have ample time to reorganise.

General Chetwode held that careful preliminary arrangements, suitable and elastic organisation of
transport, the collection of material at railhead, the training of platelaying gangs provided by the troops,

the utilisation of the earthwork of the enemy's line for our own railway, luck as regards the weather and

the fullest use of sea transport, should enable us to give the enemy less breathing time than appeared

possible on paper. It was beyond hope, however, whatever preparations were made, that we should be

able to pursue at a speed approaching that which the river made possible in Mesopotamia. General

Chetwode considered it would be fatal to attempt an offensive with forces which might permit us to

attack and occupy the enemy's Gaza line but which would be insufficient to inflict upon him a really

severe blow, and to follow up that blow with sufficient troops. No less than seven infantry divisions at

full strength and three cavalry divisions would be adequate for the purpose, and they would be none too

many. Further, if the Turks began to press severely in Mesopotamia, or even to revive their campaign in

the Hedjaz, a premature offensive might be necessitated on our part in Palestine.

The suggestion made by General Chetwode for General Allenby's consideration was that the enemy
should be led to believe we intended to attack him in front of Gaza, and that we should pin him down to

his defences in the centre, while the real attack should begin on Beersheba and continue at Hareira and

Sheria, and so force the enemy by manoeuvre to abandon Gaza. That plan General Allenby adopted after

seeing all the ground, and the events of the last day of October and the first week of November supported

General Chetwode's predictions to the letter. Indeed it would be hard to find a parallel in history for such

 

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