A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Turkish Attack on the Suez Canal, 1915: Part I, the Ottoman Plan

Between January 28 and February 4, 1915, elements of the Ottoman Fourth Army attempted an attack on the Suez Canal. Two weeks ago I blogged about the Anglo-French use of aerial reconnaissance to detect the Turkish movements across Sinai; over the next few days, I'll be discussing the campaign itself, beginning today with a look at the Turkish plans.

Kress von Kressenstein in Turkish Service
Djemal Pasha, Commander of the Ottoman Fourth Army based in Syria, and his VIII Corps Commander in Damascus, Djemal Bey (known as "Djemal Kuchuk" or "Little Djemal," subsequently after the language reform known as Cemal Mersinli), and his German Chief of Staff Friederich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein, planned to throw most of the Fourth Army's VIII Corps, reinforced with divisions from Anatolia, against the Canal. Kress von Kressenstein, a military engineer, designed special pontoons for the crossing of the Canal.

"Little Djemal" (Cemal Mersinli)
This force, the Ottomans hoped, would not only attempt to threaten the Canal, cutting Britain's lifeline to India, but might also provoke an uprising in Egypt against British rule. Failing that, they hoped to hold the Canal for a few days and do as much damage to it as possible.

The logistics were daunting, as the British had already sent patrols out to damage wells lest the Turks be able to use them.The historic coast road across northern Sinai via al-‘Arish was considered too vulnerable to shelling by British naval guns, so the force would move across central Sinai instead, via al-‘Auja, where Turkey had concentrated its forces. From al-‘Auja, the force would take several routes in order to reach the Canal at multiple points along its length.
Turkish Camp at al-‘Auja
The force also included a camel squadron to carry water. The map below, in modern Turkish, illustrates the advance

 It's usually estimated that the force numbered about 20,000 men.
The order of battle appears to have been as follows:

Fourth Army (Syria) VIII Corps (Damascus)

Mounted troops:
29th Cavalry Regiment and a Camel Squadron.

Engineers: 4th and 8th Engineer Battalions.


23rd Division (Homs):  68th and  69th regiments
25th Division (Damascus) with part of 25th Artillery Regiment and 73rd, 74th, and 75th Infantry regiments
27th Division (Haifa) with part of the 27th Artillery Regiment and the 80th and 81st Infantry Regiments

These units based normally in Syria had been reinforced from Anatolia by the 10th Infantry Division, with part of the 10th Artillery Regiment and the 28th, 29th, and 30th Infantry Regiments.

There were also bedouin units and some forces detached from the Ottoman forces in the Hejaz.

Next time we'll look at the British defensive plan. Below, a 1915 shot of the Ottoman Camel Corps at Beersheba:

No comments: