Sinai and Palestine Campaign - Southern Palestine Campaign Begins - Khan Yunis Raid

Khan Yunis Raid

The 5th Mounted Yeomanry Brigade had moved on from El Arish along the coast a few miles to El Burj on 28 January, remaining there until 22 February when it joining the Anzac Mounted Division and General Mott's 53rd (Welsh) Division at Sheik Zowaiid. The next day, 23 February the 5th Mounted Yeomanry Brigade returned to El Burj from Sheikh Zowaiid being replaced by the 22nd Mounted (Yeomanry) Brigade which had recently arrived.

The area across the border, which was soon to be discovered by British reconnaissance patrols, was a revelation to many ... it was "delightful country, cultivated to perfection and the crops look quite good if not better than most English farms, chiefly barley and wheat. The villages were very pretty – a mass of orange, fig and other fruit trees ... The relief of seeing such country after the miles and miles of bare sand was worth five years of a life."

Lieutenant Robert Wilson

On 23 February the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and 2nd Light Horse Brigades commanded by Chaytor, made a reconnaissance in force to Khan Yunis which was part of a line of strong posts held by the Ottoman Army to protect the southern Ottoman Empire. These posts, consisting of well dug trenches were located in addition to those at Khan Yunis, at a particularly strongly fortified position at Shellal, at Weli Sheikh Nuran and at Beersheba (also referred to as the Hans Yonus–El Hafir line).

Chaytor's troops forced enemy detachments from the area to retreat into the town and then surrounded and captured Khan Yunis. As a consequence of this action and the arrival of British railhead at Sheikh Zowaiid on 5 March, the Ottoman Army garrisons realised this line was too weak to be defended against increasing Allied pressure. Enver Pasa, Kress von Kressenstein and Cemal Pasa decided to evacuate Khan Yunis and the system of defences stretching to Shellal on the Wadi Ghuzzeh. The Ottoman Army retiring 14 miles (23 km) north to establish a defensive line between Gaza and Beersheba to cover any Allied advance up the coast or inland through Beersheba to Jerusalem. This withdrawal began in February and the Ottoman Fourth Army was in position in its new defensive line by mid-March 1917.

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