Sinai and Palestine Campaign - Southern Palestine Campaign Begins

Southern Palestine Campaign Begins

With the victory at Rafa, Murray had successfully accomplished all his and the War Office's objectives; he had secured the Suez Canal and Egypt from any possibility of a serious land attack and his forces controlled the Sinai Peninsula with a series of strongly fortified positions in depth, along a substantial line of communication based around the railway and pipeline, from Kantara on the Suez Canal to Rafa.

However, within two days of the victory at Rafa on 11 January 1917, General Murray was informed by the War Office that, rather than building on the momentum created over the last two and a half weeks by the victories at Magdhaba and Rafa by encouraging him to further advances with promises of more troops, he was required to send the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division on 17 January, to reinforce the Western Front, the decisive theatre where the strategic priority was focused on planning for a spring offensive.

But just a week after the 42nd Division departed, an Anglo–French conference at Calais on 26 February 1917, decided to encourage all fronts in a series of offensives to begin more or less simultaneously with the beginning of the spring offensive on the Western Front. And so the British War Cabinet and the War Office agreed to Murray's proposal to attack Gaza but without replacing the departed infantry division or offering any other reinforcements and the attack could not take place until 26 March.

While these political machinations were running their course, the Anzac Mounted Division returned to El Arish not far from the Mediterranean Sea, where there was easy access to plentiful fresh water and supplies. During this period of much needed rest and recuperation after the demanding desert campaign of the preceding ten months, sea bathing, football and boxing together with interest in the advance of the railway and pipeline were the main occupations of the troops from early January to the last weeks of February 1917.

As the British war machine pushed on across the Sinai Peninsula the infrastructure and supporting British garrisons strongly held all the territory they occupied. By the end of February 1917, 388 miles of railway (at a rate of 1 kilometre a day), 203 miles of metalled road, 86 miles of wire and brushwood roads and 300 miles of water pipeline had been constructed. The pipeline required three huge pumping plants working 24 hours a day at Kantara, near a reservoir of 6,000,000 gallons. For local use, the pumps forced the water through 5 inch pipe to Dueidar, through a 6 inch pipe to Pelusium, Romani and Mahemdia and through a 12 inch pipe the main supply was pushed across the desert from pumping station to pumping station. At Romani a concrete reservoir contained a further 6,000,000 gallons, at Bir el Abd 5,000,000 and at Mazar 500,000 and another of 500,000 at El Arish. And with railhead at Rafa, Gaza was by then just twenty miles away, five to six hours for infantry and mounted units at a walk and 2 hours distant for horses at a trot.

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