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The Reckoning

“I swear on the cross of my Lord Jesus, and by the holy iron which I hold, that I give you my fealty and pledge you my loyalty. If ever my hand is raised in rebellion against you again, then I ask that this holy iron may pierce my heart.”

“You are my home now.”

“I want ye so much I can scarcely breathe. Will you have me?”

First Battle of Gaza

British soldiers resting between marches on March 25, the day before the battle.

March 26 1917, Gaza–The fall of Baghdad had emboldened British war planners for their prospects against Turkey.  Despite having stripped the area of many troops two months earlier, the British approved an attack into Palestine in late February.  The British still had numerical superiority in the area, and the railway and water pipeline from Egypt had now completely crossed the Sinai–though water would still prove a major restriction for operations in southern Palestine.

The British planned an assault on Gaza, similar in pattern to their progress through the Sinai to Rafah in the previous months.  Led by camelry and cavalry, the British would surround the Turkish position and attempt to quickly force them to surrender before the British ran out of water or Turkish reinforcements arrived.  The British planned to attack on the morning of March 26; however, an unexpected and unseasonable fog delayed the movement of troops and attacks could not begin until right before noon.  Nevertheless, the British infantry made substantial gains and were on the verge of cracking the Turkish positions by evening.

However, British commanders, far away from the front lines, were not aware of these successes, and had received intelligence of approaching Turkish reinforcements, and began to order a retreat that evening before the cavalry would run out of water.  The order was not adequately communicated to all units, causing substantial chaos, and the British lost around 4000 casualties over the course of two days’ fighting, substantially more than the Turks.

Dispatches back to London, however, greatly exaggerated the extent of Turkish casualties, making it seem that the British had won a definite victory.  In response, CIGS Robertson ordered a continued advance, hoping that Jerusalem would soon be captured, a task that was likely infeasible.

Today in 1916: Inter-Allied Conference in Paris
Today in 1915: Russians Press Austrians in the Carpathians

Sources include: Eugene Rogan, The Fall of the Ottomans; Roger Ford, Eden to Armageddon.