First Battle of Gaza - Battle - Ottoman Reinforcements Attack Mounted Screen - Evening 26 March

Evening 26 March

During the day Dobell, after talking with Chetwode decided that unless Gaza was captured by nightfall, the fighting must stop and the mounted force withdraw; the need to water the horses was a factor in his thinking. On the 26 March the sun set at 18:00 (Cairo time) and at that time the capture of Ali Muntar was unknown to Desert Column.

At 18:10 Chetwode as commander of the Desert Column decided, with the agreement of Dobell, ordered Chauvel to withdraw the mounted troops and retire across the Wadi Ghuzzeh. Just as Chauvel's order to withdraw was being despatched a report came in from Dallas that Ali Muntar had been captured but this information did not change Chetwode's mind. It was not until some time later that he was told of the retreat of the Ottoman forces from the whole ridge. At 18:35 Dobell informed Chetwode and the 54th (East Anglian) Division that he contemplated withdrawing the whole force if Gaza did not fall soon.

Despite firing some 304 shells and 1,500,000 rounds of small arms ammunition (SAA), some of the well designed trenches and redoubts of the Ottoman Army were still held and the British infantry casualties were substantial.

Chetwode's orders were to break off the action after dark and withdraw the two mounted divisions to Deir el Belah and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade to a position extending from the right of the 54th (East Anglian) Division to the Wadi Ghuzzee. This decision was puzzling to many of those fighting in and near the town, the infantry held Ali Muntar and 462 German and Ottoman army prisoners, including a general who was a divisional commander. They had also captured an Austrian battery of two Krupp 77mm field guns, along with a complete convoy.

Chetwode phoned Dallas, commander of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, to inform him of the withdrawal of the mounted troops and the need for him to withdraw his right to gain touch with the 54th (East Anglian) Division. Dallas protested, instead asking for reinforcements to close the gap between the two divisions. Dallas was under the impression that he was to make touch at Sheikh Abbas, 4 miles (6.4 km) from his right on Clay Hill while Chetwode meant that touch should be made with the 54th (East Anglian) Division's new left flank 1 mile (1.6 km) north of Mansura and not much over 1 mile (1.6 km) from the 161st (Essex) Brigade, 54th (East Anglian) Division, at Green Hill. Dallas's request for reinforcements was denied and when he prevaricated asking for time to consider the order, Chetwode gave him the verbal order; Chetwode believing the 53rd (Welsh) Division was moving its right back to gain touch with the 54th Division near Mansura.

The first units to withdraw were all slow moving wheels and camels ordered at 17:00 by Desert Column, to move back to Hill 310 via Sheikh Abbas while as late at 21:12, the 53rd (Welsh) Division still held Ali Muntar. At that time they advised Desert Column they would have to evacuate towards Sheikh Abbas due to withdrawal occurring on their right. There have been claims that the infantry were the first to retire and that due to a communications debacle the 53rd (Welsh) Division made a complete and premature retirement.

The mounted troops withdrawal was slow and difficult, not because of pressure from the Ottoman forces (there was none until dawn) but units were intermixed and dismounted troops far from their horses. One unit the 7th Light Horse Regiment, 2nd Light Horse Brigade, was nearly 4 miles (6.4 km) from their horses and all their wounded had not yet been collected. The Imperial Mounted Division remained in position to cover the retirement beginning with the artillery. Until the Anzac Mounted Division was clear of the battlefield; at about midnight, the advancing Ottoman reinforcements were held off by the Imperial Mounted Division, with the assistance of the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade and armoured motor car patrols.

No. 7 Light Car Patrol reported to headquarters Anzac Mounted Division on return at 18:40 and was ordered to return to base while Nos. 11 and 12 LAM Batteries camped in the vicinity of Kh er Reseim. At 19:05 Anzac Mounted Division's artillery began its retirement from divisional headquarters under escort and the 43 wounded from the Anzac Mounted Division and 37 wounded from Imperial Mounted Division were collected and brought to the ambulances and prisoners sent back under escort. At 19:30 the 22nd Mounted Yeomanry Brigade was moving toward Divisional Headquarters while the 6th Mounted Yeomanry Brigade drew back to a better position while Ottoman soldiers dug in on Hill 405.

Read more about this topic:  First Battle Of Gaza, Battle, Ottoman Reinforcements Attack Mounted Screen

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