Published By John Davies
First Battle of Gaza. 26-27 March 1917
5 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers and 7 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
5 Bn and 7 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers were both in 158 Brigade, 53 Welsh Division. They served at Gallipoli until the evacuation in January 1915 and then in Egypt for the remainder of the war. In 1917 British forces went on the offensive and advanced from Egypt into Palestine and towards Jerusalem. The retreating Turkish forces dug in on successive defensive lines; the first of these was at Gaza. The First Battle of Gaza commenced on 26 March 1917 and was unsuccessful.
The 158 Brigade were in the centre and would lead the attack. The objective was to capture the high ground of the Ali Muntar ridge to the east of and overlooking Gaza. They moved to their attack positions to the south of Gaza early on 26 March. During the morning a heavy fog began to develop. At about 5.00am the brigade went forward and by about 5.30am had crossed the Wadi Ghazza and continued towards Mansura. The fog, which had covered the advance thus far, now cleared. The advance continued towards Ali Muntar the terrain was rugged and exposed. The advanced slowed and the men came under fire. By noon they reached the ridge line and by early evening had captured the position. However, with the objective secured, at 7.00pm they were ordered to withdraw and the ridge was lost. This decision was controversial and has been attributed to failing light, mounting casualties, poor communications and incorrect information but it effectively lost the day.
A second assault on the 27 March also failed and the British withdrew back to Wadi Gazza. British casualties for the Battle were 523 KIA, 2932 wounded and 512 missing; Turkish forces had 300 KIA, 1085 wounded and 1061 missing.
In the History of RWF (page 127) is an account of part of the action written by Captain Edward W Walker, 1/7 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers a fellow officer of Lieutenant Thomas ‘Captain E W Walker…on the extreme right of 158 Brigade line had managed, with Lieutenants Latham, Thomas and Westcombe, to get within 200 yards of enemy positions “I now sent back a written message to my C/O stating that with the help of supports I was in a position to assault, and asking that bombardment be lifted. I afterwards learned that the message did not reach him. This was about 14.30 hours, and I waited in the hope of support for about an hour. This delay caused many casualties, but we were not under machine gun fire. MR Westcombe was hit during this time, after excellent work. I was greatly helped by overhead MG fire from the ridge behind me and by Lewis gun with me brought up by 5 Bn Welsh Regiment. Mr Roberts from D Company here came over to me, and I found that he was suffering more heavily than I was, and could obtain no support. All the supports of his own brigade behind him had come up. Apart from a MG in a gully, which I could plainly see firing to my left, there was extraordinary little fire on our position. Just after this there was a direct hot on the MG in the gully, and the artillery bombardment seemed mostly on the foreside of the position. I saw Mr Roberts. Mr Latham and an officer of 5 Bn Welsh Regiment, and we assaulted. I was here separated from Mr Latham, who assaulted through the prickly-pear hedge, while I went up the gully to MG, which, however, offered no resistance.
I then sent parties round the trenches and turned out and collected about 20 Austrian and German prisoners some of whom were officers, and about 12 Turks. Unfortunately a second NG managed to get away into the trenches farther to the left. From where it caused us several casualties. I reported capture of hill, MG and prisoners to my C/O in duplicate but I learned that neither message reached him.
The time was, as far as I could remember, 15.50 hours, but I subsequently lost my note book. At this time, about 5 minutes after capture of the hill, I was reinforced by a strong part of 7 Bn Cheshire under Colonel Lawrence, who then took command and consolidating the position”.
The Captain and his party did not receive the order to withdraw and remained in their position until dawn when, seeing that there was no one else about, they came back.
B&O Middle East. First Battle of Gaza. 5 Bn and 7 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers. 26-27 March 1917.