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

 

CHAPTER III. DIFFICULTIES OF THE ATTACK

General Allenby's first problem was of vital consequence. He had to pierce the Gaza line. Before his
arrival there had been, as already stated, two attempts which failed. A third failure, or even a check,

might have spelt disaster for us in the East. The Turks held commanding positions, which they

strengthened and fortified under the direction of German engineers until their country, between the sea

and Beersheba, became a chain of land works of high military value, well adapted for defence, and

covering almost every line of approach. The Turk at the Dardanelles had shown no loss of that quality of

doggedness in defence which characterised him in Plevna, and though we know his commanders still

cherished the hope of successfully attacking us before we could attempt to crush his line, it was on his

system of defence that the enemy mainly relied to break the power of the British force. On arriving in

Egypt General Allenby was given an appreciation of the situation written by Lieut.-General Sir Philip

Chetwode, who had commanded the Desert Column in various stages across the sands of Sinai, was

responsible for forcing the Turks to evacuate El Arish, arranged the dash on Magdaba by General Sir

Harry Chauvel's mounted troops, and fought the brilliant little battle of Rafa. This appreciation of the

position was the work of a master military mind, taking a broad comprehensive view of the whole

military situation in the East, Palestine's position in the world war, the strategical and tactical problems to

be faced, and, without making any exorbitant demands for troops which would lessen the Allies' powers

in other theatres, set out the minimum necessities for the Palestine force. General Allenby gave the fullest

consideration to this document, and after he had made as complete an examination of the front as any

Commander-in-Chief ever undertook - the General was in one or other sector with his troops almost

every day for four months - General Chetwode's plan was adopted, and full credit was given to his

prescience in General Allenby's despatch covering the operations up to the fall of Jerusalem.

It was General Chetwode's view at the time of writing his appreciation, that both the British and Turkish
Armies were strategically on the defensive. The forces were nearly equal in numbers, though we were

slightly superior in artillery, but we had no advantage sufficient to enable us to attack a well-entrenched

enemy who only offered us a flank on which we could not operate owing to lack of water and the

extreme difficulty of supply. General Chetwode thought it was possible the enemy might make an

offensive against us - we have since learned he had such designs - but he gave weighty reasons against

the Turk embarking upon a campaign conducted with a view to throwing us beyond the Egyptian frontier

into the desert again. If the enemy contemplated even minor operations in the Sinai Desert he had not the

means of undertaking them. We should be retiring on positions we had prepared, for, during his advance

across the desert, General Chetwode had always taken the precaution of having his force dug in against

the unlikely event of a Turkish attack. Every step we went back would make our supply easier, and there

was no water difficulty, the pipe line, then 130 miles long, which carried the purified waters of the Nile

to the amount of hundreds of thousands of gallons daily, being always available for our troops. It would

be necessary for the Turks to repair the Beersheba-Auja railway. They had lifted some of the rails for use

north of Gaza, and a raid we had carried out showed that we could stop this railway being put into a state

of preparedness for military traffic. An attack which aimed at again threatening the Suez Canal was

therefore ruled as outside the range of possibilities.

On the other hand, now that the Russian collapse had relieved the Turk of his anxieties in the Caucasus
and permitted him to concentrate his attention on the Mesopotamian and Palestine fronts, what hope had

he of resisting our attack when we should be in a position to launch it? The enemy had a single

narrow-gauge railway line connecting with the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway at Junction Station about six

miles south-east of Ramleh. This line ran to Beersheba, and there was a spur line running past Deir

 

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