Sinai campaign

Page 3 – Action at Katia

In March 1916 the commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF), General Sir Archibald Murray, ordered his forces to occupy the area around the Katia oasis, 40 km east of the Suez Canal. Murray aimed to shield the first section of the Sinai railway – from Kantara to Romani – from any possible Ottoman Turkish attack. Only a single British infantry division and the 5th Mounted Brigade were available. The 1600-strong brigade was made up of three horse-mounted regiments, the Gloucestershire Hussars, Warwickshire Yeomanry and Worcestershire Yeomanry. It was drawn from the British Territorial Force, which like its New Zealand counterpart was based on a model of part-time soldiering. The rest of the EEF was manning the Suez Canal defences that had been put in place after the Ottoman raids of 1915. The newly formed Anzac Mounted Division and other reinforcements for the EEF’s intended advance across the Sinai were still some weeks away from being ready for front-line duty.

Meanwhile, the headquarters of the Ottoman Fourth Army, responsible for all Ottoman forces in Sinai and Palestine, received its first reports of the British advance from the canal. In response, the Ottoman garrison at Bir el Abd was reinforced and stepped up its reconnaissance activity. The Ottoman Turks soon discovered the weakness of the British dispositions around Katia, and assembled a force of 3500 men at Bir el Abd to attack the oasis.

At Katia the troopers of the 5th Mounted Brigade were dispersed across a series of isolated forward outposts along a 42-km front. Murray’s infantry division was concentrated much further back, around Kantara and the railhead. It was intended as a reserve in the case of an Ottoman attack but could respond only if given a timely warning. At dawn on 23 April 1916 the Ottoman Turkish raiding force took the British by surprise and completely overwhelmed two of the 5th Mounted Brigade’s outposts. While the Ottoman attackers were aided by a thick sea mist that hung over the area for much of the morning, the isolation and small size of the British outposts was the key to their victory. Spread too far apart to support each other, two garrisons were picked off before troops could arrive from Kantara. The 5th Mounted Brigade lost 400 men, mostly from the Gloucester and Worcester regiments.

As the size of the raid and the extent of the defeat became clear, the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade was rushed to Kantara and on to Katia, where it arrived the following day. By now the Ottoman troops, satisfied with the blow they had struck and not wanting to push their luck any further, were heading back to Bir el Abd. Within a week the rest of the Anzac Mounted Division (including the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade) was brought up to Katia and Romani. An area the British had initially attempted to screen with 1600 horsemen was now being guarded by four times that number.

At the same time, the strategy of dispersing these horsemen across a string of isolated – and therefore vulnerable – outposts was abandoned in favour of a new approach that would be used for the rest of the Sinai campaign. Major-General Harry Chauvel, the Australian commander of the Anzac Mounted Division, ordered his brigades to operate out of single large camps from which they could dominate the surrounding area through constant and well co-ordinated patrol work. This maximised the advantage in mobility that horse-mounted troops had over normal infantry. It both made it more difficult for an Ottoman force to catch them by surprise and ensured that the brigades could put up a concentrated and powerful defence if they were attacked. As far as the Anzacs – and their British counterparts – were concerned, there would be no more Katias in the Sinai campaign.

How to cite this page

'Action at Katia', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 9-Sep-2015