April 17th in German History: The Second Battle of Gaza

Machine gun corps Gaza line WWIb edit2.jpg
Ottoman machine gunners preparing to defend against British attacks.

April 17th is another date in German military history. On this day in 1917, the Second Battle of Gaza began as the British expeditionary force began the next phase of its Palestine campaign. The battle saw British, and British Imperial, troops attack fortified positions defended by soldiers of the Ottoman Empire. The battle is not just part of German history because it was, along with the Ottomans, part of the Central Powers in WWI. The Ottoman forces were commanded by a German general and the German Air Force provided air support to the Central Powers during the battle. That the Ottomans required a German general and the German Air Force shows just how far they had declined relative to the European Powers by this time. The Ottoman Empire largely lacked competent officers, with a few notable exceptions, and possessed little advanced heavy industry. As such, it was unable to build a large air force and the nation only ever had around 90 planes at any point during the war. As such, the Ottomans relied on German military officers for the training of troops and the commanding of many military operations.

Under German leadership, Ottoman forces had strengthened fortifications around Gaza in the three weeks since the First Battle of Gaza which nearly ended in a British victory. In the build up to the battle, both sides conducted Ariel reconnaissance and there were a few small-scale area battles. The British also conducted an artillery bombardment on the defending positions, but this was unable to inflict enough damage on the strong points or lines of the defenders to force them out of their positions. The first assaults with infantry and tanks began on the 17th. Although the British were able to make some small gains and even break into the Ottoman trenches at times, they suffered such heavy losses that they were unable to hold their gains against counterattacks. The Ottomans were also able to capture several British tanks. The Ottomans attempted several small attacks to take advantage of the losses the British suffered. The British were, however, able to repel these with relative ease and so prevented the Ottomans from following up their defensive victory. The official casualty count for the British was 6,000 killed, wounded, and captured although this figure is likely an intentional underestimate and other estimates range as high as 17,000. The Ottomans lost anywhere from 82 to 402 killed and around 1,300 wounded, along with 200 priors. The battle boosted Ottoman moral, which had suffered due to previous military failures and with economic hardship resulting from the war.

Following the Second Battle of Gaza, there was a six month long stalemate in the region that has come to be known as the Stalemate in Southern Palestine. The British were, however able to eventually break the Ottoman lines and capture Jerusalem in December of 1917. The Second Battle of Gaza was certainly a victory for the Ottomans and the Central Powers in general, but it only delayed the military collapse of the Ottomans. While Ottoman soldiers performed well in multiple battles, the nation as a whole was simply not strong enough to fight a full scale modern war. In the end, the Ottomans simply lacked the military skill and necessary industry to match the British and also fight against the Russians and the Greeks at the same time. Only with German support did they last as long as they did, and once Germany began to falter there was no hope for an Ottoman victory.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: