Newspaper article Sunshine Coast Daily (Maroochydore, Australia)

Desert Troops' Bold Attack; ONE Hundred Years Ago Today, Turkish and German Forces Carried out a Daring Plan to Seize the Suez Canal. in Part 12 of Our Centenary Milestones Series, We Look at the Build-Up to the Failed Attack and the Consequences for the Anzacs of Underestimating the Turks' Abilities in War

Newspaper article Sunshine Coast Daily (Maroochydore, Australia)

Desert Troops' Bold Attack; ONE Hundred Years Ago Today, Turkish and German Forces Carried out a Daring Plan to Seize the Suez Canal. in Part 12 of Our Centenary Milestones Series, We Look at the Build-Up to the Failed Attack and the Consequences for the Anzacs of Underestimating the Turks' Abilities in War

Article excerpt

Byline: Christina Ongley

AS THE first contingents of Anzac troops were busy preparing for a European war, another storm was brewing closer to the home of their Egyptian training base.

The Suez Canal, then a 160km-long man-made construction connecting the Red Sea to Port Said on the Mediterranean, had long been of strategic importance to Egypt and the British forces that occupied it.

Not only did it provide supply and shipping access from one sea to the other, it was also a vital transport link between the British and the Anzac forces travelling to the front via Egypt.

But the vast Sinai Desert to the east of the canal was unoccupied by Britain, and Turkish leaders were cooking up an ambitious plan to cross the barren landscape and seize the crucial waterway.

Ever since Christmas of 1914, rumours had abounded of a planned Turkish assault on the canal, but according to official Australian war historian Charles Bean, few believed they were actually capable of it.

"The crossing of the Sinai Desert is a vast undertaking. The Turks could not hope for much success without heavy guns... (and most British officers) doubted whether the Turks could possibly bring them across the desert," Bean wrote in his Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918.

"Many Englishmen... were convinced that the threat was made in order to detain British troops in Egypt."

Nonetheless, British commanders decided to shore up their defences on the western side of the canal, hoping to use the water itself as a border for protection should any conflict occur.

They centred their canal defences around three main points - Suez in the south, Kantara in the north, and Ismailia in the middle - and created a number of other smaller posts along the remaining stretches.

In early January 1915, the 3rd Field Company of Australian Engineers was called on to help build trenches and floating bridges along the canal.

A fortnight later came the intelligence Turkish troops had entered the Sinai Desert in significant numbers, under the command of "Young Turk" Djemal Pasha, with German support.

Although the approach itself came of little surprise, Djemal had made one unexpected move. …

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