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wroclaw

88 years after - touring the Gaza-BeerSheba front

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wroclaw

88 years after - A two day tour of the 2nd & 3rd Gaza battlefields

In the same occasion of the yearly ceremony in the BeerSheba CWC, the members of the local "WWI legacy association" went for a two day's tour of some of the main posts and battle scenes, for the 3rd year now.

Even though the BeerSheba-Gaza line had been a front line for more then half year, heavily fortified and developing much of the rear frontline facilities known from that war, most are long gone…

The trenches in the open plains had no chance to the summer winds, agriculture and post war British activity. The main redoubts were located in spots also used for later military and civilian purposes (many were fought/refortified in either 1948, 1956 and 1967 wars, of even in all) and some known core redoubts, located on ancient "Tell's (archaeological mounds), were excavated by archaeologists, who in their turn had removed the first stratum – the great war one (like in Tel a Saba near BeerSheba".

Impressive trench systems have survived south of BeerSheba, in areas used by the army and not suitable for agriculture, and after seeing air photographs of them, I hope to visit there next month.

Most sites offer good views of the battlefields topography – essential for those who want to understand the sources of the Gaza campaigns. The regular maps are of no match to what you could see on the field.

Now that I have explained the main differences from the "conventional" Great War battle fields, I'll try and do my best to give the proper interpretation to what I say, since those battlefields were not my main interest up until a month ago.

The tour began by going up from the small conference center, to the top of "Tel el Khuleife" – a scene of fierce and bloody fighting in the first week of Nov. 1917. The slopes of this ancient site are steep as seen.

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T8HANTS

Hi

Wonderful, please keep putting up the pictures.

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wroclaw

Tel Khuleife is a peak on a southern edge of a ridge pointing towards BeerSheba from its north. Not only did it dominate some substantial water sources, so needed for the mounted soldiers, it also offered excellent views of both the south-western edge of the Hebron Mountains on one side, and the wide plain on its west, ending in the Gaza ridge – a plain where the strong Turkish lines and redoubts were.

This picture was taken towards the west – in nearly any day this season Gaza should be seen quite easily with the Shari'a, Hureira, Caucab, Rushdi and other posts in between (but not today…).

post-7789-1131233800.jpg

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wroclaw

This picture was taken from Khuleife to the east. The mountains in front are the south western edges of the Hebron Mountains. The highest peak, about third way from the left, was known as "Ras a Naqeb" ("the pierced head" – ana Arabic name usually given to places being a major gateway into a high ridge) , another battle scene from the same Nov. week.

The valley in between, now filled with fields, was the scene of the fiercest and bloodiest battles in the part of the front. Gen. Allenby, eager to find a way to bypass the strong Turkish line west of Khuleife, spotted this valley. It is told that Lt. Col. Newcomb had noted the valley and believing it would offer a convenient way leading north, separated from the central Plaines west of Khuleife, and thus bypassing its strong Turkish fortifications, reported about it to the high command. The PEF old maps might have also misled them. The result had been that large forces were diverted to this area, mostly Anzac ones, in order to hold Khuleife and Ras a Naqeb and turn them into a base for his plan to wipe the Turkish line from East to West instead of storming it the way that caused all the mess in the 1st and 2nd Gaza.

The Turks had established themselves in Khuleife before the Anzacs had the opportunity to do so, and the following days saw a massive slaughter of the Anzac and British forces storming this position. The fiercest fighting took place in the southern part, in the right part of the picture.

The irony had been that this valley forms a dead end several miles further to the north and couldn’t have used as a bypass to Jerusalem and the center of the country. The bloody battles continued until Nov. the 7th, when the Turkish army began a total withdrawal. The BeerSheba cemetery has many tombstones with the dates and unit marks of this slaughter.

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wroclaw

This is a closest look on Ras a Naqeb, as seen from Khuleife. It was occupied by the Anzac forces, which had to be replaced quite often due to the lack of water and supply, and there they suffered several Turkish counter attacks. Ras a Naqeb offered precious views on the south Hebron mountains (where Newcomb and the high command had hoped a rebellion to start by the local population), and a stronghold against the Turkish position in Khuleife. We had also visited the place but there was a cloud of dust covering it so the needed panoramas were not taken.

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wroclaw

Lt. Col. Newcomb and his mixed force of British and Arab soldiers, had invaded the south Hebron mountains just after BeerSheba was taken in order to cause a general rebellion against the Turkish regime there (not an uncommon thing in that area). They have made up north of the large village of Dahari'a, on the main road north, bur after causing major concern to the Turks, were rounded up and made to surrender, Nov. the 2nd. It is told that a unit of German non front line soldiers was turned into a troop and took part in surrendering them. No rebellion had happened but the raid misleads the Turks to believe a massive force would go up north to Hebron by that road.

Due to security problems, the exact location where Newcombs raid had ended, could not have been reached, but this brief picture I took, on Newcombs trail just few km's south of where he was captured, gives a good impression of the arid and narrow trails where his tiny force had gone.

This road is actually further east of Ras a Naqeb.

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wroclaw

Tel Sukati and the well of Sukati (Now Tel Shoket), were the farthest point the British forces had reached just after the capture of BeerSheba. It is described as a great hill, but is actually a small one, but one that dominates the valley surrounding it. The Tell had dominated approaches to the Khuleife area and the road to Hebron, and the deep well on its southern slope, was a valuable source of water.

Today (and probably back then) it serves as a Bedouin graveyard. This is a look south towards the northern outskirts of the BeerSheba area (on the right side).

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wroclaw

The well of Sukati, is still active. These places were probably featuring most of the misery the war could offer outside the firing line. Soldiers and horses, living on ridicules ration of water, standing around a source of life with great depth and poor facilities.

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egbert

Excellent stuff!!!

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wroclaw

I could not prove it, but I believe this is the well that is seen in G. Powles's book, "The NZ's in Sinai and Palestine", with one of his typical remarks under it…

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wroclaw

Just before the first day had ended, I took advantage of the final minutes of day light, and just out of BeerShebas central bus station I took this picture.

It shows the high ridge south of BeerSheba where the first and main Turkish lines and trenches had been. The hill with the antennas is "Ras Hablin", one of the main redoubts. This is an area where whole systems of trenched were rather well preserved. Just left of the picture, on the eastern part of this ridge, the Australian 4th LH had began its charge. Not only couldn't I take a picture of that area (Sorry Ozzie maybe next time...) it is also hopelessly disturbed now with modern roads and industrial buildings. However this section resembles the 4th LH section by many features

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wroclaw

On the 2nd day, some of the main Turkish fortification's and front line facilities were toured. Today we have visited the vast plains where the heaviest and longest fighting took place. Nearly all fortifications, as I have already written, are long gone.

The first site we have visited was Tel Shari'a. This ancient site was the center of main Turkish redoubts and there are many photos documenting the Turkish soldier's life and action there. The mound itself is on the southern bank of the Grar atream – a muddy and full of bush Wadi. Even today, while most rain water and natural water sources are divided elsewhere, it is hard to cross. This was a major station of the Turkish army railway line leading north to junction station, and a 7 arch bridge had been built across the Wadi. The work done by the Turk's regarding that rail is impressive, but little had been preserved. The bridge had gone and so were the tracks. All trenches, camps and the station were slowly covered and are now vanished under corn fields.

Some fields are not yet planted, and give some clue of what was the terrain of the Shari'a redoubt back then. This picture was taken to the east with the large Khuleife ridge on the background.

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wroclaw

This is a look on Tel Shari'a from the south bank of the Grar Wadi. Right in the center we can see the ramp on which the Turkish train went, now missing its central part where the bridge was. Left to this place, some concrete pillars of the bridge are scattered and one single railway track with an inscription in Turkish in its inner part.

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wroclaw

Of the Rushdi redoubt nothing is left… Its area was turned into an airfield in 1942, and is covered with fields and some factory. This is how BeerSheba is seen from the Rushdi redoubt.

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wroclaw

The last place to be visited was Tel Seichan, better known as "Tank Redoubt". It seems no one agrees as for where this poor machine got knocked out exactly. That very place had been heavily worked on, mostly by a large water reservoir built on its eastern slopes. I was quite surprised to find out this was the alleged place, since I was well familiar with the reservoir from other times.

The place we have visited is a small and relatively high hill, with great views to all major posts. It is now a steep peak, actually east of Tel Seichan, and now missing its western slope converted into the reservoir.

This is a look from the Tank redoubt west-north-west towards Gaza. Just a finger right of the antenna is Ali el Muntar.

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wroclaw

These fields and villages, spreading south of Tank Redoubt, were the killing zone of the 2nd battle of Gaza. That’s where the tanks arrived from, after making terrible sounds and preparing the Turks and Austro-Hungarian machine gunners for the attack. Scattered human remains were found occasionally in those fields, in addition to many other ammunition and weapons.

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wroclaw

This panorama gives a general look towards east and south-east of Tank Redoubt. The whole high area covered with houses, starting at the left and ending kittle right to the smoke, was the east part of the Attawineh redoubt. The Sausage ridge, is hidden behind it.

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wroclaw

This is a more detailed picture of a northern part of the Attawineh ridge, as seen from the same place (it covers the left part of the previous picture and some parts not seen there). In the far background the Hebron Mountains are seen.

This picture shows in reality some difficulties and aspects no map can tell. The area between redoubts seems to be relatively small, but is actually large. On first site the area looks quite flat, but this is an illusion! The small streams and valleys, created a terrain with a shape of parallel waves on a non stormy sea. When you drive a car on the roads there you may see the road in front of you as straight thus assuming it is clear if no vehicle is seen… Some vehicles might be just in front but hidden at the bottom of such "wave" (these are among the most dangerous country roads in the region). The Turks, well known with the area both for being there first and also since they were not pulled back and replaced by another unit so often, made good use of this advantage. The other side, saw its planned attacks as to be taken on flat ground, and planned them according with those lines. Those small ups and downs turned to be deadly for the attackers, for they provided skillful machine gunners well measured firing zones and on the same time denied the attackers from continues eye contact with their objective. This illusion was a prime cause for the massive slaughter in April 1917.

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wroclaw

Some believe this as the place where the well known tank got knocked out and gave this place its name. On the left, where the trees are, were located the Beer trenches, known to be seen from where the tank had reached. Some details on the surrounding terrain, known from the picture, are not around… since it was about to get dark and too dusty to open my laptop, I didn’t have much time to get into this issue and it would wait for another visit…

• I saw a picture showing Kress V Kresstein and Jemal Pasha standing under the tank, but it was a bad copy. Does someone have a link for a better one?

Gook night.

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Ozzie

You've come through in abig way with these pictures. THANKYOU SO MUCH!!!

Now I'll go back and study them after I raced through them too excitedly.

Cheers

Kim

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stiletto_33853

Great pictures, thank you for sharing these with us.

Andy

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Chris Henschke

Beersheba - Hill 1070 - Ras Hablein - Tel El Saba area

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stevebecker

Thanks for the Map Chris,

Can you help with a map or veiw of the area north of Beersheba.

We are having a discussion on another webb site about what could be seen from the area of Tel el Sakaty and Tel um Butein looking south west to the charge area of the attack on Beerseba and the 4th LH Bde.

Now the area would have charged a lot by now but could someone on Tel el Sakaty seen passed the Tel el Saba to the Turkish trenches.

Can the map you have also include spot hights to better check.

Cheers

S.B

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wroclaw

I have added several map's/sketches regarding the battle on BeerSheba.

As for the first, it’s a panorama sketch, probably after a photo taken. It shows BeerSheba as seen from south-east, where the 4th LH was charging from. Many nuances of the terrain are not visible and it is on non-scale.

This sketch and its twin (of another battle) were done by the same person and added to one prints of the Hebrew translation of P. Wavels book "The Palestinian campaign". However it is not included in the English version (which is about 20 year older) and at least with second sketch, is related to a battle which Wavel don’t even tell about!

Since the local version was translated about 1950 by some major who did is as an armature, it is not following all academic reference guidelines and not mentioning the source of this pic.

The 2nd one, a panorama of the Ayun Kara battlefield, is of high value for me since it’s the only picture description of the battle I know and since I'm unfamiliar with its source (non of the NZ books I know have this pic), I could not tell of how accurate are some details in it.

If by any chance one of you knows about this, I'll be happy to hear!

The descriptions above the lines are (right to left):

Tel a Sab'a trenches

Hebron Road

4 Turkish guns

Airfield

Gaza-BeerSheba road

Hospital

Railway

20'st corps infantry

The mountains behind Tel a Sab'a, are the southern edge of the Khuleife ridge, better know as "Gerbal"

post-7789-1131744612.jpg

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stevebecker

Mate,

Can you answer my question above.

Does your map/panaramas show the veiw from the North looking south?

Thanks for any on the spot insight you have there in Israil.

Cheers

S.B

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