First Suez Offensive - History of World War I - WW1 - The Great War

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World War 1 Picture - Suez and Sinai region 1917

First Suez Offensive Information

First Suez Offensive

January 28 - February 3, 1915
Suez Canal, Egypt
British victory
Date: January 28 - February 3, 1915
Location: Suez Canal, Egypt
Result: British victory
: British Empire
United Kingdom
New Zealand
British India
Commanders and leaders:
: John Maxwell
: 30,000
Casualties and losses:
: 22 dead

United Kingdom
New Zealand
British India

German Empire

Friedrich von Kressenstein

Suez - Romani - Magdhaba - Rafa - 1st Gaza - 2nd Gaza - El Buggar - Beersheba - 3rd Gaza - Mughar Ridge - Jerusalem - Abu Tellul - Arara - Megiddo

The First Suez Offensive (January 28 - February 3, 1915) took place between the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I. It ended with the failure of the Ottoman forces to capture the Suez Canal.


World War 1 Picture - Suez and Sinai region 1917

Picture - Suez and Sinai region 1917

Following Egypt's entry into the war in support of the British, consideration had to be given to two possible threats; the anti-British sentiment felt by many Arab citizens of Egypt and the possibility of attack from the Ottoman Army. The former was aggravated when the Ottoman empire declared war against the United Kingdom and the West, with the intention of stirring up Arab anger in Egypt and causing a revolt. The British countered this by removing the (anti-British) head of state Abbas Il Helmi and replacing him with Sultan Hussein Kamel.

There was a real military threat evolving, with the Ottoman Fourth Army preparing a force of 20,000 men under the command of the Ottoman Minister of the Marine Djemal Pasha to take or destroy the Suez Canal, which was vital to the British war effort. Djemal Pasha was one of the Three Pashas who effectively controlled the Ottoman government. The attack on the Suez was suggested by Enver Pasha, the main leader.

To protect their strategic interests, by January 1915 the British had assembled some 70,000 troops in Egypt. Major-General Sir John Maxwell, a veteran of Egypt and Sudan, was commander-in-chief and led mostly Indian divisions, together with the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division, local formations and the I Anzac Corps. 30,000 of the troops stationed in Egypt manned defenses along the Suez Canal. The Ottomans had only three available routes to reach the Suez Canal through the roadless and waterless Sinai Peninsula:

a coastal advance that would have water supplies and usable tracks, but would be within range of Royal Navy warships
a central course from Beersheba to Ismailia
a southern track between El Kossaima and the Suez Canal

The central route was chosen as it would provide the Ottoman soldiers with proper tracks to follow once they crossed the canal.


Two Ottoman divisions plus one more in reserve, with camel and horse units, were ready to depart in mid-January. The advance across the Sinai took ten days, tracked all the way by British aircraft, even though German aircraft stationed in Palestine in turn aided the Ottomans and later flew some bombing missions in support of the main attack. The British observers had sighted the large column of troops on January 28 and British and French naval vessels took up positions in the canal and opened fire on the advancing Ottomans. Patrolling troops from each side clashed sporadically on February 2 but major action was prevented by a sandstorm.

The early hours of the following morning saw the main Ottoman attack with inflatable pontoons and rafts and then made their way to the eastern bank of the canal and into the water, to be met by Anglo-Indian machine gun fire which cut the advancing ranks of boats to ribbons and tore through the massing Ottoman troops on the water's edge. Panic soon ensued and many Ottoman troops surrendered, dashing any hopes of the attack succeeding.

At 6 a.m. a second attack was launched, this time with diversions being carried out north of the crossing point. The attack was checked by the defending British troops and the gunnery of the British and French ships in the canal. By 3 a.m. the Ottomans' attack had petered out and failed and a full withdrawal was effected. The thirsty Ottoman troops retreated to Beersheba, free from molestation by British forces.


The attack on the Suez Canal was a failure, taking 1,500 Ottoman lives with it and showing that there was apparently little interest in Egypt for an Arab revolt against the British. A larger force with more sufficient supplies would be required for any further Ottoman attacks on Egypt (see the Battle of Romani for the details of that attack). The British, although successful, came to the realization that it was too risky to rely on the Canal itself as a defence line.

The German General Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein (Djemal Pasha's Chief of Staff) led a small Ottoman force over the rest of the year, conducting raids against the Canal defenders. The idea was to keep British attention on the Ottoman army and try to increase the standing forces in Egypt (and thus decrease available manpower for offensives such as Gallipoli). In this, the Ottoman army achieved its objective because the British did keep far more forces here than they expected at the start of the war.

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Source: WikiPedia

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