Sinai campaign 1916 map

Sinai campaign 1916 map

You can also download a hi-res copy as a pdf (2 mbs).

While most of New Zealand’s military units were transferred to the Western Front in early 1916 after withdrawing from Gallipoli, the 1800-strong New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade joined the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) in the Sinai campaign. The goal was to prevent Ottoman attacks on the Suez Canal, a vital transport link between Britain and its empire.

The EEF’s commander, Lieutenant-General Archibald Murray, argued that the canal could best be defended by going on the offensive and seizing control of the Sinai Peninsula from the Ottoman Turks. He proposed building a railway and water pipeline (the black dotted line on the map above) from the canal eastwards to a forward staging base at El Arish. This engineering feat, begun in April 1916, would facilitate the transportation of forces required for a campaign against the Ottomans, and provide necessary supplies in the arid desert environment.

The only major battle of the Sinai Campaign occurred in early August 1916 near the oasis town of Romani, where a 16,000-strong force from the Ottoman Fourth Army attempted to destroy the advancing railhead. The failed attack is depicted by the broken green line. British aerial reconnaissance and effective defensive preparations proved decisive in winning the battle, and from then on the EEF advanced across the desert without further serious opposition.

El Arish was abandoned by its Ottoman defenders in December 1916, and from there the Anzac Mounted Division and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade launched an audacious and successful attack on the garrison at El Magdhaba. Following this defeat the Ottomans withdrew from all remaining outposts on the Sinai Peninsula except Rafa on the Sinai-Palestine border. After a day of fierce fighting on 9 January 1917 Rafa was captured, and the entire Sinai Peninsula was in the hands of the EEF.

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