chapter  3
The Third Battle of Gaza, June-December 1917
Pages 17

Allenby's assessment of the Turkish forces defending the ragged line from Gaza to Beersheba was that they were strong, well entrenched and in the process of being reinforced. To overcome this, Allenby asked for two additional infantry divisions and increased air and artillery support.3 In addition, he adopted a novel scheme for rupturing the Turkish line that involved striking with the bulk of his force at the town of Beersheba that lay at the eastern extremity of the Turks' defensive line. Therefore, at the third battle of Gaza, Allenby concentrated his infantry, cavalry and transport at Beersheba. The plan assumed that Beersheba was not as well defended as Gaza, where the Turks had been digging in since the spring battles. Once Beersheba was taken, the idea was that the mobile force at Beersheba would rapidly roll up the Turkish defensive system from the east and outflank Gaza. This battle plan overturned the earlier attacks of Murray by redirecting the focus of the EEF away from the coastal plain and out to the desert flank by Beersheba. Indeed, one of the factors that inspired the attack on Beersheba was the 'general repugnance in many minds' for another assault at Gaza after the earlier repulses in the spring of 1917.4

The plan to attack Beersheba was not Allenby's, but one he adopted on his

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Map 2: Southern Palestine on the Eve of the Third Battle of Gaza

arrival in Egypt. This was not unusual as Allenby listened to the senior officers with local expertise. Indeed, the EEF had staff officers precisely to inform and direct the commander. Lieutenant-General Sir Philip Chetwode, the commander of XX corps, and Guy Dawnay were the driving force behind the plan to attack Beersheba, rather than Gaza, which Murray had already attacked twice.s The inception of the plan to assault Beersheba came at the time of the first two battles of Gaza and both Major-General S.F. Mott, the commander of the 53rd division, and Major-General C.M. Dobell, the Eastern Force commander at the spring 1917 Gaza battles, also had a hand in the plan to attack the Turkish eastern flank.6 After considering the options available, Allenby accepted the plan to attack Beersheba. Following the war, Chetwodewrote to Clive Garsia, the GSOI with the 54th division in 1917, and someone critical of the plan to assault Beersheba, to remind him how Allenby 'very generously included' Chetwode's appreciation in his official papers, 'but I can assure you that he did not accept the plan until he had gone most closely into all possible alternatives'.7