Classic History Books


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

It was always doubtful whether XXth Corps would be able to close up the gap between it and the XXIst
Corps owing to the length of its marches and the distance it was from railhead, and the scheme therefore

provided that the XXIst Corps should confirm successes gained on our right by forcing its way through

the tremendously strong Gaza position to the line of the wadi Hesi and joining up with Desert Mounted

Corps. A considerable number of XXth Corps troops would then return to the neighbourhood of railhead

and release the greater part of its transport for the infantry of XXIst Corps moving up the Maritime Plain.

This, in summary form, was the scheme General Allenby planned before the middle of August, and
though the details were not, and could not be, worked out until a couple of months had passed, it is

noteworthy as showing that, notwithstanding the moves an enterprising enemy had at his command in a

country where positions were entirely favourable to him, where he had water near at hand, where the

transport of supplies was never so serious a problem for him as for us when we got on the move, and

where he could make us fight almost every step of the way, the Commander-in-Chief foresaw and

provided for every eventuality, and his scheme worked out absolutely and entirely 'according to plan,' to

use the favourite phrase of the German High Command.

When the Corps Commanders began working out the details two of the greatest problems were transport
and water. Only patience and skilful development of known sources of supply would surmount the water

difficulty, and we had to wait till the period of concentration before commencing its solution. But to

lighten the transport load which must have weighed heavily on Corps Staffs, the Commander-in-Chief

agreed to allow the extension of the railway east of Shellal to be begun sooner than he had provided for.

It was imperative that railway construction should not give the enemy an indication of our intentions. If

he had realised the nature and scope of our preparations he would have done something to counteract

them and to deny us that element of surprise which exerted so great an influence on the course of the

battle. General Allenby, however, was willing to take some risks to simplify supply difficulties, and he

ordered that the extension to a railway station north-east of Karm should be completed by the evening of

the third day before the attack, that a Decauville line from Gamli, not to be begun before the sixth day

prior to the attack, was to be completed to Karm by the day preceding the opening of the fighting at

Beersheba, and that a new Decauville line should be started at Karm when fighting had begun, and

should be carried nearly three miles in the Beersheba direction early on the following morning. These

new lines, though of short length, were an inestimable boon to the conductors of supply trains. The new

railheads both of the standard gauge and light lines were well placed, and they not only saved time and

shortened the journeys of camel convoys and lorry transport columns, but prevented congestion at depots

in one central spot.

A big effort was made to escape detection by enemy aircraft. For the first time since the Egyptian
Expeditionary Force took the field we had obtained mastery in the air. On the 8th and 15th October two

enemy planes were shot down behind our lines, and the keenness of our airmen for combat made the

German aviators extremely careful. They had been bold and resolute, taking their observations several

thousand feet higher than our pilots, it is true, but neither anti-aircraft fire nor the presence of our

machines in the air had up to this time deterred them. However, just at the moment when airwork was of

extreme importance to the Turks, the German flying men, recognising that our pilots had new battle

planes and were full of resource and daring, showed an unusual lack of enterprise, and we profited from

their inactivity. The concentration of the force in the positions from which it was to attack Beersheba was

to have taken seven days, but owing to the difficulties attending the development of water at Asluj and

Khalasa the time was extended to ten days. During this period the uppermost thought of commanders

was to conceal their movements. All marching was done at night and no move of any kind was permitted

 

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