Fighting continues in Gaza


Gaza, Palestine. 1917-04. Horseholders watering horses from a well while the servicemen were away as infantry during the second battle of Gaza which took place on 19 April 1917. (Donor N. MacDonald. AWM P02041.004)

It was not going to be easy. After the first attack on Gaza, water supplies were low and the Turkish defences had been strengthened. The Allies no longer had the advantage of surprise and the gaps between Gaza and Beersheba had been closed by a series of reinforcements designed to protect the entire front.

One hundred years ago this month, Australian soldiers on horseback, some as young as 19 and many from rural country towns across Australia, fought in the second Battle of Gaza. 19 April, 1917 will forever mark the day that the Australian Light Horse again fought in the dusty plains of the Sinai dessert.

After the initial endeavour to capture Gaza failed, a second attempt was ordered three weeks later. A frontal assault supported by six tanks, 2000 artillery rounds, the Camel Corps, Imperial Mounted Division attacking on foot and the Anzac Mounted Division further to the south-east.

The British shelling had little impact, the troops barely reaching the ridge south-east of Gaza. Only one Turkish stronghold was seized by infantry.

As with the First Battle of Gaza, British soldiers outnumbered Turkish troops by a ratio of two to one. Additionally, the British had eight heavy Mark-1 tanks and 4,000 artillery rounds.

The tanks however were unsuitable for the hot desert conditions. Three were captured by Turkish forces, and then used to defend the Turkish line, despite their inferior numbers.

Three days of heavy fighting ensued with the British forces suffering a staggering loss of 6,444 men, three times greater than Turkish losses. The attacks were called off, ending the Second Battle of Gaza, again resulting in defeat for the Allies, with the city remaining firmly under Turkish control.

As a result of the second defeat at Gaza, the Allies called in reinforcements from Italian and French troops. These reinforcements arrived in time to join the third and final Battle of Gaza.

A combined artillery attack at Gaza and a charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba, the most eastern extremity of the Turkish defensive line, resulted in Gaza falling to British led forces in late November 1917.