The Ottoman Army's fight For Gaza
One of the subjects that has stayed in the shadows of Ottoman history was the “Gaza Combats” that were fought on the Palestinian front during World War One. With the aid and support of the Palestinian women, the Ottoman solders defended Gaza with great dedication and bravery.
The Anzacs at Gaza
The Ottoman Army, in order to put pressure on the British and to be able to control the Suez Canal launched the unsuccessful “Suez Campaign”, were pulled towards Gaza-Tellus-Saria-Sebi and established their self-defence line from here. The weakening of the Ottoman army in these areas helped prepare the British, Palestinian and Syrians to advance on them.
General Archibald Murry after a years effort moved forward with the British and the Anzacs taking advantage of the rebellion of Sharif Hussein. Their goal was to take over Jerusalem and Palestine and cut their tie to Syria, Iraq and the Arab Peninsula.
The Gallipoli regiment in Gaza
The Ottoman troops under German Admiral Von Kress were weak and with little provisions.
The Anatolian and Iraqi reinforcements were on their way, and at this point the troops who fought at Gallipoli were sent to Gaza. With enhancements on both sides, the “First Battle of Gaza” against the British began on the 26th March 1917 and lasted for 7 months 11 days. Starting suddenly the raids by the black infantry of Britain used air attacks, fleets, armoured cars, planes and cavalry. The Ottomans were victorious in these attacks under these conditions due to their bayonet thrusts.
The arrival of the first troops from Gallipoli aided in this initial victory. Their presence psychologically affected the British troops. At that time Falih Rifki Atay in his work named “Zetindagi” noted: “The British were tired and during the deserted attack, attacked the Gaza army twice. They attacked and demolished the city threw cannonballs a number of times. After the devastation of Gaza, the incredible troops that saved it would go down as the best name in history”.
This particular regiment saved Gaza from troops that were at least four to five times more experienced than them. After a metal rainstorm that would making anyone lose their mind during the “Battle for Gaza” , one of my friends asked one of the soliders “D you think they will come back, what do you think?” to which he replied “They can't, They saw our regiment”.
Despite the strength of their army, the British who had no choice but to withdraw also began their “Second Gaza Campain” on 17th April. By this time the difference between the Ottoman army and the British army had begun to be evident. Whilst the British had been able to dig canals through the desert to provide drinking water and ample provisions, the Ottoman soldiers were deprived of this. Despite this advantage, the Ottomans soldiers successfully defended the front resulting in heavy casualties for the British army.
Explaining the Gaza Battles, Falih Rifki Atay observred and wrote in his letters that: “I three letters of a friend who participated in the most difficult battles of the Gaza Battles. He said, “If only you knew how comfortable I was in Gaza. I believe that in the time of war I have no other consolation apart from being at the front. In front of Gaza there are small mountains and is a small one that looks like a small dominant on. On that small mountain there is the tombe of Sheikh Ali Mantar as well as two trees that have no leaves. The Gazans bury their most important person around the sacred land of this tomb. In short, this ledge called “Mantartepe”, has the unforgettable, “Battles of Gaza” name on it. Between our front and the enemy's front, this was the most convenient observation point. We dug eight tunnels under the graves of the Arabs, and the brave observation officers would go through these tunnel to administer the cannonballs being shot.
In the Second Battle of Gaza, the British all but destroyed the Sheikh Ali Mantar peak with heavy fire from both air and see. With a terrying sound, the missiles stirred the earth with dust all around just a few metres short of the top of the peak, making it look like a volcano on fire, drowning in dust, glowing and black smoke everywhere. We lost count of the number of times that pieces of the tomb, gravestones, trees and rocks pelted us as well as the bones of those who had been asleep, buried for years. The Mantar peak had caused so much suspicion that after they had left theat on the movement of the rocks the British pelted the peak with even more bullets. Those officers who were on watch on the Sheikh Ali Mantar peak watching and observing were the actual heros during the battles of Gaza”.
Those at the front and the Ottoman public were overjoyed and pleased with the outcome while the British thought it was nothing but a fiasco. General Murray paid for the failure by being removed from his position and was replaced by General Allenby. During the recovery period Allenby tried to make up for the missing elements in their army whilst the affairs of the Ottoman army that had a high morale and pscyhologically were in a better state, was starting to go wrong. The burden of the reinforcement troops and the disagreements between the Front Commander and the Commander-in-Chief had started to war them out.
Amir Faysal's betrayal and the loss of Gaza
In order to seek revenge for the defeat of the first two battles and in order to save the Gaza front, General Allenby, after completing their supply shipments, initated plans for the “Third Battle of Gaza”. At this time, Emir Faysal, one of the sons of Makkan Sharif Huseyin with military forces under his control collaborated with the enemy to betray the Ottoman army. On the 6th November 1917 with heavy bombardments from the sea, land and air gave way for the British to advance onto Gaza. Having also felt the betrayal of the spititual brotherhood, the Ottomans could no longer hold onto the Gazze-Tellu's-Seri'a-Biru's-Sebi line and evacuated Gaza. This repaired the damage that was caused by the previous two defeats and ensured the success of occupying Jerusalem.
İsmail Hami Danişmend, İzahlı Osmanlı Tarihi Kronolojisi, c.4, İstanbul, 2011.
Falih Rıfkı Atay, Zeytindağı, İstanbul, 1943.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Kasım 2014, 06:44