Saturday, August 08, 2015

That Night They Ran Up Umbrella Hill, Gaza

From the official account of the actions of the Bedfordshire Regiment in the First World War on the Umbrella Hill raids, July 1917

Following the failed attempts to capture Gaza in March and April 1917, the allied army settled in front of the Turkish defences...In June 1917 General Murray was replaced by General Allenby, who's approach was entirely more methodical and deliberate than that of his predecessor...

In the period leading up to the eventual fall of Gaza in November 1917, the 5th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment was assigned to conduct a major raid on Turkish positions in front of Gaza. They held the line opposite the Turkish positions on Umbrella Hill

which would be the target of their attentions.*

The positions on the south-west sector of Gaza: Umbrella Hill can be seen at the
bottom of the map in the centre.
The first Raid -20th to 21st July 1917

Umbrella Hill was a 500 yard long trench system, around 500 yards away from the Bedfords in their trenches. The wire that protected the trenches was four feet high and four yards deep, with additional knife rests protecting the western side. The front firing trench followed the line of the crest and was supported by a support trench at the base of the reverse slope, littered with dug-outs and being connected by communications trenches.

The Umbrella Hill position

...By 8.15pm on the 20th July, the raiding party was assembled and in place, ready for "Zero Hour", which was set at 9.00pm.

At 8.55pm "two flashes in the distance were seen & after what seemed a long time two dull roars & a heavy droning noise growing louder & louder were heard, then two vivid flashes on UMBRELLA HILL followed almost at once - the tremendous crash of two 8" shells exploding shook the night". Every two minutes, this repeated until 9pm, when "a veritable inferno started". Flashes constantly lit the sky from both behind them and on Umbrella Hill as the barrage rained down on the Turkish in their trenches. The Machine Gun barrage that joined the cacophony at 9.25pm could hardly be heard, such was the din.

At 9pm, the raiders scrambled from their trenches and disappeared through the gaps in their own wire into the pitch black that was no man's land. The advance was so quick that they had to halt for one minute to avoid running into their own barrage at Beanfield, and they laid down 150 yards in front of Turkish positions. At 9.06pm the advanced screen under Lt B.W. Smythe dashed forward - despite shrapnel bursting over their heads - found the gaps in the Turkish wire and shouted the positions back to their comrades over the din of whining shells and horrendous explosions. A minute later the Bedfords fell on Front Trench, furiously bayoneting the defenders they found there before moving on to clear their assigned positions of the enemy.Captain Armstrong fixed his HQ position there as the teams loaded their rifles and went about their dreadful business of locating and eliminating the enemy.

Lt Smythe dashed across the open to Cross Cut and cleared a position of enemy machine gun teams so they could not lay an enfilading fire onto the Bedfords as they went about their work, and held the position for the raid.

The left section under Lt W.A. Shaw bombed their way along Side Trench into Silk Alley and finally made contact with the Right Section at Tassel Corner. Bombing sections were quickly pushed along Cover Alley and Side Trench. The Turks were noted as being that demoralised that in most cases they had to be bombed in their dugouts. Each dugout had between three and six men that "refused to come out or indeed to do anything except cower down on the ground". Some Turkish soldiers made a stand in Cover Alley but they were "speedily overcome".

The Right Section of the raiders under 2nd Lt R.H. Smith entered the Turkish trenches at Stay Alley, swept through Echelon Trench at the point of the bayonet and made their way to Tassel Corner but were stopped from further progress by the "congestion of troops". They climbed from the bottlenecked trench, sprinted across the open ground, and fell on Dug-Out Alley killing "a large number of Turks". As the evacuation signal went they had reached the bottom of Dugout Alley.

Meanwhile a bombing section had been working its way along Echelon Trench, where they killed over ten Turks in hand to hand combat, had taken several prisoners and put a large Minenwerfer out of action "very ingeniously".

While these four sections had been "at work killing or capturing the garrison", a party of Royal Engineer's under Lt Mendham of the 484th Field Company of the Royal Engineers had been systematically destroying the enemy sangars and wrecking the trenches. They left several heavy charges of explosives in the main Turkish dug-outs which were exploded after the evacuation by time fuses.

At 9.35pm, the raiders evacuated the trench system and sprinted back across no-man's land, leaving carnage, destruction and an extremely confused enemy firing in all directions.

On their return to the British lines, and by "sheer bad luck", the Turks put an "intense bombardment" down almost on top of the assembly area and caused almost all of the casualties, except "probably two or three killed…& perhaps 8 or 10 [of the] wounded". This caused "considerable confusion" and much of the raiding party and supporting units ran forwards to their own front lines to take cover, unwittingly running straight into the enemy barrage. Realising what was happening, Captain Christopher Miskin sprinted out through the flying shrapnel and hastily reorganised their return route into the relatively safe front trench. The several hundred men crammed into the trench to watch the barrage that covered an area between fifty and on hundred and fifty yards behind them, over a front of two hundred yards. Following some quick reconnaissance, they were moved to the flanks around Samson's Ridge and Sniper Spur, taking them away from the barrage areas. By 1.30am on the 21st, all bar the wounded had been evacuated. It is incredible that the wounded were not in the hundreds, considering that around 500 Turkish shells fell into the HQ and assembly areas that were packed with returning raiders.



6 Jul 1917 The day was spent in preparing their bivouack, resting & bathing. Routine continued & working parties as usual. Information received that a raid on Umbrella Hill would shortly be performed by this unit.

10 Jul 1917 Training for the raid began. Capt C.H. Miskin [Christopher Harold MISKIN, MC] assisted by aeroplane photos & plans commenced a replica of Umbrella Hill on which to practice. Capt H.S. Armstrong [Harold Simon ARMSTRONG, MC] commenced to train the RAIDERS. An appendix dealing with the orders issued & the details of organisation will be attached. Owing to the lengthy preparation of orders, due to the number of arms & units concerned - RFA, RE, MG units in line superior authority it was considered best to start the general training at once & to complete the details when orders were issued. A patrol of Capt Armstrong [Harold Simon ARMSTRONG, MC], LIEUT B.W. SMYTHE & 2nd Lieut R.H. Smith [Ronald Herbert SMITH] & 2 O.Rs spent about 1 1/2 hours in no man's land between our trenches and Umbrella Hill [comment; overwritten and unreadable section beginning "A suitable spot for the support..."]

11 Jul 1917 Lt.E.T. Maier [Emil Theodore MAIER, MC] commenced training the SUPPORTS. Capt Armstrong [Harold Simon ARMSTRONG, MC] continued to train raiders.

12 Jul 1917 Practice by day & night was continued by both Raiders & Supports in which good practice was made. Dugouts for Battle HQ, aid post & Sig office were started at entrance to K39 Trench. The day passed without incident.

13 Jul 1917 Raid practice by day was continued. Dugouts as yesterday. During both morning & afternoon the enemy shelled the beach with shrapnel using each time a few rounds only. No casualties were suffered by the battalion.

14 Jul 1917 Raid practice continued by day & night a rehearsal of Raiders & Supports in conjunction was arranged & went off satisfactorily

15 Jul 1917 HOLY COMMUNION 0700. 162 Bde HQ Routine work. Raiders had a rest from practice. Patrol of 2 officers 6 O.Rs went out into no mans land to SE & SW of UMBRELLA HILL and MG opened fire on the SE side. No one was encountered.

16 Jul 1917 During the morning Raid practice continued & in consequence of fresh aeroplane photos the replica, on which practice had been going on, was altered & modifications in personnel [sic] made. Some shelling took place on the beach where bathing was in progress. Three small shrapnel fell & one man was slightly wounded.

17 Jul 1917 Raid practice continued & details were discussed by the C.O. & Brigadier. In the evening a practice raid on the replica took place.

18 Jul 1917 Raid practice at night before Brigadier & GSO1 of 54th Div. Conference of left subsection group battery commanders to enable the CO to explain the infantry programme

19 Jul 1917 Raid practice continued especially with 6 new rifle sections which had been added as local reserve to RAIDERS under the orders of G.O.C. E.F. a gap of about 30 yds wide was cut on front trench of Umbrella hill by our Artillery during the afternoon. During the morning the R.S.M. & party had been at work on the dump of stores at the "place of assembly". This was shelled for a time & one Sergt was wounded. In view of this shelling being in the nature of registration, the roll call after the Raid was ordered to take place on the wire road in P.31.D.4.3 instead of at the place of assembly.

20 Jul 1917 0540 GOC 162 Bde inspected a rehearsal by the new 6 rifle sections. 0600-1100 R.S.M. & party laid out stores at place of assembly in proper dumps. These stores had been taken up by the T.O. to the entrance of K.M1 communication trench near P.31.D.4.4. The afternoon passed without incident. 1900 The whole raiding party marched arriving at the place of assembly at about 2015. Stores were issued & the party detailed in orders placed the four trench bridges in position & made the gap in our own wire. Everything was quite ready by about 2050 & all stores issued. The raiders left the place of assembly at 2055 in accordance with programme & the raid was carried through very successfully in accordance with programme


No comments: