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With the Machine Gunners in France and Palestine

Chapter I — The General Situation on Egyptian Front

page 176

Chapter I
The General Situation on Egyptian Front

From the commencement of the war the greatest importance had been attached to the defence of Egypt, which meant the safety of the Suez Canal. Turco-German intrigues had stirred up a great deal of foment on the western borders of Egypt, which was successfully quelled in the brilliantly executed campaign against the Senussi; a campaign in which two battalions of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade took part with distinction. On the Eastern Frontier, however, Djemal Pasha's Egyptian Army still remained, menacing the security of the Suez Canal—which the Kaiser once described as "the jugular vein of the British Empire." It is true that the Turks had undertaken no serious attempt on the Canal since the February, 1915 fiasco, but this was owing to the heavy calls made upon the Turkish Armies at Gallipoli, in Mesopotamia and in Armenia, where the Russians had made such wonderful progress.

The beginning of 1916 brought relief to the sorely pressed Turkish forces—Gallipoli was evacuated; soon after General Townshend surrendered at Kut; the Russian advance in Armenia was checked; the Turkish Egyptian Army began to grow, and to become a real danger to Egypt. A German staff arrived to control operations, which it hoped would strike the death blow to British prestige in the East.

General Sir Archibald Murray arrived in Cairo on 9th January, 1916, to take over command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. He saw that the only sure way of defend- page break
Squadron Camp at Marsaiid.

Squadron Camp at Marsaiid.

page break
Captured Machine Gun in Action near La Signy Farm.

Captured Machine Gun in Action near La Signy Farm.

Machine Gunners in a Captured Position

Machine Gunners in a Captured Position

page 177ing
the Eastern Frontier of Egypt was securing Sinai Peninsula, and not merely defending the banks of the Suez Canal. It is interesting to note a passage appearing in a Memorandum by General Murray at this time:—

"The work on the stationary defences was backward. Difficulties of water supply on the east bank were increased by shortage of piping. Labour troubles had delayed the progress of roads and railways. Guns had still to be emplaced, and no part of the front defence line was actually occupied by troops. Nevertheless, as there were no signs of an imminent advance on the part of the enemy, the question of the stationary defences caused me no serious anxiety, though everything possible was done to hasten on their completion. The organisation of the offensive defence, which time has proved to be paramount, was, however, a pressing matter, hitherto untouched. Practically nothing had been done towards the organisation of the mobile forces. The collection of a large number of riding and transport camels had to be undertaken at once, and a plan of campaign to be devised. Moreover, time was short, for it was plain that any offensive on a large scale by the enemy must be commenced before the middle of March. For the force under my command the only possible line of advance was along the northern line from Kantarah towards Katieh and El Arish, and the task was at once taken up of examining the possibilities of an offensive on this line, and solving the problem of maintaining a considerable force at Katieh during the summer months."

Accordingly the plans matured and were soon in operation. The scheme did not permit of a quick advance, because it had been determined to copy the same plan as Lord Kitchener had followed at Khartoum—the construction of a railroad between the advancing troops and the ever-receding base.

It should be borne clearly in mind that the campaign that eventually freed Palestine from the Turk was not begun with that definite object in view. As previously stated, its first and paramount object was the protection of the Suez Canal; its second object was to retain as many Turks as possible on the Egyptian Front to assist further proposed operations in Armenia and Mesopotamia by threatening an invasion of Palestine.