A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Battle of Romani, August 4-5, 1916, Part I

On July 19 we discussed the Turkish advance into Sinai a century ago. This week marks the centenary of the Battle of Romani, a small but key turning point in the Middle Eastern campaign in World War I: Britain's first victory against the Ottomans after the retreat from Gallipoli and the surrender at Kut. It has also conventionally been seen as the transition between the Defense of the Suez Canal and the beginning of the Palestine Campaign.

Kress von Kressensten
The July post described the beginning of the Turkish advance, largely tracked by aircraft. The advancing column of Turkish and allied forces consisted of the Ottoman 3rd Infantry Division (31st, 32nd and 39th Regiments), veterans of Gallipoli, plus the German "Pasha" Force, including a German aircraft detachment, German light and heavy artillery and mortar, and one Austrian artillery unit. The German Forces were under the command of Freiherr Friederich Kress von Kressenstein, the German Chief of Staff to Jemal Pasha's Fourth Army. As they had advanced toward the British lines, they had established a series of defensive lines in case of falling back.

The British were under the overall command of Egyptian Expeditionary Force Commander General Sir Archibald Murray, at Cairo, and under him the commander of the northern (Number 3) Sector of Canal Defenses, General Herbert A. Lawrence, headquartered at Qantara.

But the man at the front, in the forward defense lines, was Maj. Gen. Harry Chauvel, an Australian commanding the ANZAC Mounted Division, consisting of the 1st and 2nd Brigades of Australian Light Horse with the British Territorial 52nd (Lowland) Division, and soon reinforced by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and other units.

A Young Harry Chauvel
Any readers from Down Under will need no introduction to the Light Horsemen, or to Harry Chauvel. Already bloodied at Gallipoli, where they had fought without their mounts, the Light Horse would ride into fame in the Palestine Campaign, from Beersheba to the victory at Megiddo and the capture of Damascus.
Chauvel After the War
Harry Chauvel would go on to become the first Australian to command a Corps and was later Chief of General Staff.

Kress von Kressenstein might be the Prussian professional soldier,  with a name to match, but a horse soldier from New South Wales was going to be master of the coming battle.

The British front line was at Romani, to which the British had built a rail line, and which lay near the ruins of ancient Pelusium.

By the battle, British and ANZAC forces would number some 14,000, Ottoman/German/Austrian some 17,000.

The British were entrenched with their left on the Mediterranean and the Bardawil lagoon, the main force on a ridge they called Wellington Ridge, and built a line of fortifications along sand hills to a large dune called Katib Gannit.

The action would begin the night of August 3, and develop on August 4 and 5. We'll pick up the story tomorrow.

Light Horse Encampment at Romani

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