Friday, 1 July 2016

A tough day at El Mughar

After driving the Turks out of Gaza, General Allenby continued to put pressure on the Turkish 7th Division in the hills to the north and north East. The hill villages were good defensive positions for the Turks, but Allenby was determined not to give them time to dig in and make them impregnable!

The 155th Brigade, holding the right flank of the 53rd Infantry Division, was ordered to advance with all haste. The Scots of the brigade had spent an uncomfortable night in Beshshit after the assault of the previous day. There was on;y one well and the Turks had partially destroyed it as they abandoned the position. Men and horses, alike, were thirsty. They had to push on for water.

Allenby had quickly reorganised the 155th brigade after it's successful assault of Beshshit the day before. They needed to push on to take the hill villages of El Mughar and Katrah -before the Turks had time to entrench. Anyway, both villages had better wells ... and the brigade needed water, and fast! In the last hour before dawn, the 155th moved down out of Beshshit to the edge of the Wadi Jamus - the line for where the assault would kick off.

The assault of the 155th Brigade begins in ernest. Kick off time is 05:00 with the first glint of dawn on the horizon.

... and on they marched in the first light of day!

Any element of surprise now lost, the pipers of the Royal Scottish Fusiliers rang out in the morning air despite the dry mouths all round!

A squadron of the Australian Light Horse galloped up to ensure a connection was maintained between the left flank of the 155th Brigade and the 5th Mounted Brigade to their left.

Turkish lancers sweep onto the plains hoping to neutralise the support being provided by the Australian Light Horse .

The British left found itself well in advance of the right flank due to delays caused by the broken ground of the Wadi Jamus. The order was given to press home the assault on El Mughar in the hope that the left flank would soon catch up.

British artillery registration was first rate during the initial assault. The town square of El Mughar screamed with HE and shrapnel that decimated the troops of the 20th Alay who were lining the cactus hedges.

Having scaled the slopes to El Mugha, the Royal Scots laid down heavy rifle fire against the remaining Turkish defenders.

After the initial lack of momentum for their assault, the ANZACs cornered the Turkish lancers behind El Mughar and put them to flight.

By mid morning, the British left closed on El Mughar despite scattered gun fire taking its toll. 

The ANZAC mounted infantry swept around the walls of El Mughar, putting the Turkish cavalry to flight (and a flighty bunch of 'Damned Sodomites' they were!). Withering fire from the Royal Scots cleared the village square. A Bolus of the 20th Alay had already routed - would the remnants be able to hold out in the mud huts to the rear of the village?

The morning had seen a successful assault on El Mughar, now the 155th Brigade tuned its attention to the stalled right flank. As the signallers of brigade HQ established contact, the order to advance and assault Katrah galvanised the battalion commander into action.

As the assault turns to Katrah in early afternoon, the concentration of Turkish defenders started to take a toll on the advancing British infantry.

The musketry of the Royal Scots Fusiliers had cleared El Mughar but the troops had lost the impetus to make the final assault on the village.

As the brigade's assault reaches it's high water mark, Turkish and British artillery began to take a heavy toll in the centre.

Katarrh held out all day without looking like falling.The concentration of troops would certainly have suffered had more British artillery support been available.

British casualties were heavy.

The casualty count for the Turks was likewise heavy. Notable was the loss of two Alay commanders and the routing of a Tabur from the 20th Alay.

The final capture of El Mughar and the failure of the assault on Katrah suggests the game concluded with a draw. With reinforcements, the British would surely take Katrah the next day, if the Turks didn't slip away or reinforce their position overnight.  Neither side can claim a strategic victory at this stage.

Mentioned in dispatches:

There were some units a that deserve special mention for gallantry and poltroonery. 

The Pasha Bashers of the 2nd Tabur of the 20th Alay. The 20th Alay was decimated in the defence of El Mughar but the 2nd Tabur held out in the mud huts until the village was lost. In the face of an earnest assault by the Royal Scots Fusiliers they still managed to charge out  behind a stone wall and wipe out an entire company of the attackers.

Was it poltroonery or was it incompetence? The elements of the 155th Brigade MG Company under Captain Harry Flashgun, never made it out of the marshland at the end of the Wadi Jamus beneath the British start line.

The 1/4 Kings Own Scottish Borderers deserve special mention and a smattering of VCs for their determined frontal assault on the hill village of Katrah. Having reached within 400 yards of the objective, the withering machine gun and rife fire from the 21st Alay halted their advance the battalion having suffered over 600 casualties. 

The Turkish 21st Alay inflicted serious damage on the British right and centre throughout the second half of the assault.  A special mention is deserved for the right flank of the Alay that was nearly wiped out on the south-western slopes of Katrah. They may have fallen like flies, but they took just as many with them.

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