Classic History Books


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

communication trenches and redoubts behind them for 3000 yards to Sheikh Hasan, which was the port
of Gaza, if you can so describe an open roadstead with no landing facilities. From Rafa Redoubt the

contour of the sand dunes permitted the enemy to construct an exceedingly strong line running due south

for 2000 yards, the strongest points being named by us Zowaid trench, El Burj trench, Triangle trench,

Peach Orchard, and El Arish Redoubt, the nomenclature being reminiscent of the trials of the troops in

the desert march. Behind this line there was many a sunken passageway and shelter from gunfire, while

backing the whole system, and, for reasons I have given, an element of defence as strong as the prepared

positions, were cactus hedges enclosing the West Town's gardens.

From El Arish Redoubt the line ran east again to Mazar trench with a prodigal expenditure of wire in
front of it, and then south for several hundred yards, when it was thrown out to the south-west to embrace

a position of high importance known as Umbrella Hill, a dune of blazing yellow sand facing, about 500

yards away, Samson's Ridge, which we held strongly and on which the enemy often concentrated his fire.

This ended the Turks' right-half section of the Gaza defences. Close by passed what from time

immemorial has been called the Cairo Road, a track worn down by caravans of camels moving towards

Kantara on their way with goods for Egyptian bazaars. But there was no break in the trench system

which ran across the plain, a beautiful green tinted with the blooms of myriads of wild flowers when we

first advanced over it in March, now browned and dried up by absolutely cloudless summer days. In the

gardens on the western slopes of the hills running south from Ali Muntar the Turk had achieved much

spadework, but he had done far more work on the hills themselves, and these were a frame of

fortifications for Ali Muntar, on which we once sat for a few hours, and the possession of which meant

the reduction of Gaza. By the end of summer the hill of Muntar had lost its shape. When we saw it during

the first battle of Gaza it was a bold feature surmounted by a few trees and the whitened walls and grey

dome of a sheikh's tomb. In the earlier battles of 1917 much was done to ruffle Muntar's crest. We saw

trees uprooted, others lose their limbs, and naval gunfire threatened the foundations of the old chief's

burying place. But Ali Muntar stoutly resisted the heavy shells' attack. As if Samson's feat had endowed

it with some of the strong man's powers, Muntar for a long time received its daily thumps stoically; but

by degrees the resistance of the old hill declined, and when agents reported that the sheikh's tomb was

used as an observation post, 8-inch howitzers got on to it and made it untenable. There was a bit of it left

at the end, but not more than would offer protection from a rifle bullet, and the one tree left standing was

a limbless trunk. The crest of the hill lost its roundness, and the soil which had worked out through the

shell craters had changed the colour of the summit. Old Ali Muntar had had the worst of the

bombardment, and if some future sheikh should choose the site for a summer residence he will come

across a wealth of metal in digging his foundations.

To capture Gaza the Formidable it was proposed first to take the western defences from Umbrella Hill to
Sea Post, to press on to Sheikh Hasan and thus turn the right flank of the whole position. That would

compel the enemy to reinforce his right flank when he was being heavily attacked elsewhere, and if he

had been transferring his reserves to meet the threat against the left of his main line after Beersheba had

been won for the Empire he would be in sore trouble. Gaza had already tasted a full sample of the war

food we intended it should consume. Before the attack on Beersheba had developed, ships of war and the

heavy guns of XXIst Corps had rattled its defences. The warships' fire was chiefly directed on targets our

land guns could not reach. Observers in aircraft controlled the fire and notified the destruction of

ammunition dumps at Deir Sineid and other places. The work of the heavy batteries was watched with

much interest. Some were entirely new batteries which had never been in action against any enemy, and

they only arrived on the Gaza front five weeks before the battle. These were not allowed to register until

 

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