23 December 1916 – Advances in Egypt

Four days ago the air detachments in Egypt were concentrated for the impending operations against El Arish. The Fifth Wing head-quarters transferred to Mustabig from Ismailia and 67 (Australian) Squadron RFC and 14 Squadron RFC are also there.

Early on the morning of 20, as preparations for the advance were completed, an air observer came back with news that the hospitals and tents had been moved from El Arish, and that the town had been evacuated. In the afternoon, a further reconnaissance reported that the Turks had abandoned their positions at Maghara.

This being the case, the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division and the Imperial Camel Brigade set off for El Arish immediately.

Yesterday morning, air observers reported that the town was completely encircled by the mounted troops and that no resistance was being offered. El Arish was subsequently found empty of Turks, and today the first ship are unloading supplies at the port.

Air reconnaissances revealed that the bulk of the enemy forces from El Arish had retreated south-east along the Wadi el Arish, and that a considerable body was encamped at Magdhaba.

On this information, Lieutenant-General Sir Philip W. Chetwode, commanding the Desert Column, decided on 22 December to advance on Magdhaba with his main mounted forces.

On the same day the Turkish camps were attacked by ten BE2c’s from 67 Squadron and by three from 14 Squadron. A total of six 100lb. and 126 smaller bombs were dropped on the camps and many hits were made.

This morning, in preparation for the attack on Magdhaba, aeroplanes flew over the Turkish positions and drew fire from various points along the bed of the Wadi el Arish, a useful indication of the places held by the enemy.

Early air reports also gave the welcome news that there were no signs of reinforcements on the move. At 1000 another message was dropped, suggesting that the Turks were withdrawing, and to prevent their escape orders were at once given to the 1st Light Horse Brigade to move straight on Magdhaba.

They met with heavy fire, and it was clear that no evacuation of the Turkish positions had taken place, The air observer had been misled, most likely by demoralised troops fleeing the bombardment

The British attack pressed on and, by 1630 all organized resistance had been ended and the Turkish garrison, 1,282 strong, with a great quantity of ammunition, was captured; the British losses were 146 (22 killed).


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