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Battle of Rafa, 9 January 1917

Battle of Rafa, 9 January 1917

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Battle of Rafa, 9 January 1917

The battle of Rafa, 9 January 1917, was a minor British victory that ended the Sinai campaign of 1916. On 21 December the British had captured El Arish, their main objective, from where they could both protect Egypt and threaten Palestine. Despite the objections of their German chief-of-staff, Kress von Kressenstein, two Turkish detachments remained inside Egypt. The first, at Magdhaba, was captured on 23 December 1917.

This only left a 2,000 strong Turkish force at Rafa, 25 miles east of El Arish (now right on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt). This was made up of two battalions from the 31st Regiment and a battery of mountain guns, defending a strong position at El Magruntein, to the south west of Rafa. This was made up of three groups of defensive works, backed up by a central redoubt on a hill. The position was surrounded by a clear area 2,000 yards wide.

The British dispatched a mobile column under Lt. General Philip Chetwode to attack Rafa. This column contained three of the four brigades of the Anzac Mounted Division, the 5th Mounted Brigade (Yeomanry), the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade and No. 7 Light Car Patrol (made up of six Ford cars each armed with a machine gun).

The British left El Arish late on 8 January. After a night march, they surrounded the Turkish position at El Magruntein at dawn on 9 January. Chetwode’s cavalry force was not well suited to job of storming a strong infantry position. No progress was made during the morning or during most of the afternoon. Between 3 and 4 p.m. news reached Chetwode that Turkish reinforcements were moving towards Rafa, and at 4.30, having made no progress, Chetwode ordered a withdrawal.

Just as Chetwode was issuing this order, the situation changed dramatically. The New Zealand Mounted Brigade captured the central redoubt after a bayonet charge. Soon after this the Camel Corps captured one of the three groups of defensive works. Chetwode immediately cancelled the order to withdraw. The remaining two defensive positions were soon captured.

The battle of Rafa cost the British 71 dead and 415 wounded. The Turks lost 200 dead and 1,635 captured. The British position at El Arish was now secure, and attention could turn towards a possible invasion of Palestine. The War Cabinet decided to postpone any invasion until late in 1917, after the planned spring offensive on the Western Front. Despite this overall policy, the British commander in Egypt, General Murray, soon decided to make an attempt to capture Gaza, to clear the way for the main invasion. Two attempts would be made during the spring of 1917 (First battle of Gaza, 26-27 March, Second battle of Gaza, 17-19 April), and both would end with Turkish victories.

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The Action at Rafa

The battle at Rafa, (or more accurately the 'Action at Rafa') which took place on 9 January 1917, was a small affair that rarely receives any mention in accounts of the First World War. It was, however, a victory that ended the Sinai campaign of 1916.

During 1916 British and Commonwealth forces under General Sir Archibald Murray began pushing eastwards across the Sinai Peninsula from their defensive positions adjacent to the Suez Canal. Due to the desert climate, the advance was dependent on the construction of a water pipeline to support the troops. Reaching El Arish , mounted forces captured Turkish fortifications at Magdhaba on 23 December 1916.

Above: ‘Camel corps at Magdhaba.’ The painting depicts mounted troops of the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade with the Egyptian town of Magdhaba in the distance, 23 December 1916.

Keen to push on, Murray decided to attack the Turks at Rafa , on the Egyptian-Palestinian border. Murray assigned this task to the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division which was led by Maj-Gen Sir Harry Chauvel, accompanied by Brigadier General E.A. Wiggin’s 5th Mounted Brigade and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade led by Brigadier General C.L. Smith, VC.

Above: Maj-Gen Sir Harry Chauvel (Australian War Memorial / J06708 )

Above: Brigadier General C.L. Smith, VC.

Order of Battle

The Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division included the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade (comprising 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Australian Light Horse) and 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade (comprising 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th Australian Light Horse) and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (comprising the Auckland Mounted Rifles, Canterbury Mounted Rifles and Wellington Mounted Rifles). The 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade was not engaged in the action.

The 5th Mounted Brigade comprised 1/1st Warwickshire Yeomanry 1/1st Royal Gloucester Hussars 1/1st Queen’s Own Worcestershire Yeomanry.

The Imperial Camel Corps comprised two Australian battalions, one British battalion and a mixed Australian/New Zealand battalion.

Above: Guerrilla Operations 1918: The 'Imperial' nature of the Camel Corps in 1918 mounted troops from left to right, the Australian, British, New Zealand and Indian sections.

The Action at Rafa

Just three miles south of Rafa the 2,000 strong Turkish force had constructed a defensive position at El Magruntein, on a rise known as Hill 255. Approaching Rafa on the morning of 9 January the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division and the 5th Mounted Brigade together with three battalions of the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade isolated the garrison by cutting the telegraph lines to Gaza. The New Zealanders were sent to the south with instructions to attack the Turks from the east and north. Meanwhile the 5th Mounted Brigade moved in from the west. At 7am artillery opened fire on the Turkish redoubts.

Above: Map depicting the Battle of Rafa. ( Click here for larger map ) (Source: C. Guy Powles ' The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine Volume III Official History New Zealand's Effort in the Great War.' Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington: Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, pp. 80–81.

Attack held up

Advancing across open ground, the assault was held up as the Turks were able to maintain a high rate of fire the British and Commonwealth forces began to run low on ammunition early in the afternoon.

Above: Part of the firing line at Rafa. (Source: Powles, C. Guy (1922). The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine Volume III Official History New Zealand's Effort in the Great War. Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington: Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, p73).

Aware of the approach of a Turkish relief force, plans were made to fall back to El Arish. As evening approached several units launched final efforts against the Turks. Charging from the north, three New Zealand regiments attacked the main redoubt on Hill 255, supported by the Imperial Camel Corps and the regiments of the Australian Light Horse. These attacks succeeded in overcoming the Turkish opposition who began surrendering.

Turkish Losses

The Battle of Rafa cost the Turks about 200 killed, with possibly nearly as many again wounded and about 1500 taken prisoner.

Above: Captured Turkish prisoners in a temporary compound at El Arish after having been captured at Rafa. (AWM A02391)

Still concerned about the Turkish relief column, orders were given to begin falling back towards El Arish. The Turks became wary of leaving isolated garrisons on the Sinai frontier which resulted in them abandoning their positions outside Gaza.

British and Commonwealth Losses

Although most accounts suggest that the Allied losses were only around seventy, research undertaken for this article suggests the figure is in fact over one hundred. The Western Front Association is pleased to be able to honour these men for the first time in full on the ‘Rafa Roll of Honour’. [1]

The downloadable Roll of Honour below details the graves of all the men killed in this action, the grave detailed is at Kantara War Memorial Cemetery unless otherwise stated.

The most senior officer to be killed in this action was Major Henry Clifford (photo below) of the Royal Gloucester Hussars.

A t the outbreak of war, he returned to his regiment, the Gloucestershire Yeomanry (with whom he had served in South Africa during the Boer war) with the rank of Major. In 1920, a memorial tablet to him was unveiled in Frampton Church.

Clifford's Medal Index Card is shown below. These cards can be accessed using the WFA members' link with Fold3/Ancestry (WFA membership password required).

Amongst those killed were two brothers from New Zealand, Thomas and John Graham who died on 9 and 10 January respectively.

There are some interesting personal pieces of information that can be gleaned about some of the men who fell in this action, such as the various addresses recorded for Mary Ferguson, the mother of Frederick Ferguson of the Scottish Horse

There are also two cards for Patrick Gibney. One of these stating that the 'unofficial wife' who was 'possessed of private means and did not wish to claim. '

We see that Harry Hands had a brother who was also killed in the war (not evident from the CWGC entry for Harry)

And the note on the side of the card for the pension card for Robert Scott tells us the 'widow was unmarried'

The above records form part of the WFA's Pension Record Collection - which can be accessed by WFA members through the WFA web site here

The British War Cabinet postponed the invasion of Palestine until later in 1917 because of commitments on the Western Front. Notwithstanding this policy, the British commander in Egypt, General Murray, decided to make an early attempt to capture Gaza, to clear the way for the main invasion – this led to three Battles of Gaza in March and April of 1917.

The War Illustrated dated 10 February 1917 - a month after the action - carried the illustration above - with the caption shown in more detail below. Although the facts detailed here may be dubious, the information about the 'action' was certainly passed onto the readers with great speed.

CWGC Burials and Commemorations of those killed at Rafa

The majority of those killed during the Action at Rafa are buried at the Kantara War Memorial Cemetery (click here for a link to a map of the location - which is adjacent to the Suez Canal).

Above: A headstone to a soldier of the Imperial Camel Corps at Kantara War Memorial Cemetery.

Above: Kantara War Memorial Cemetery. (Image courtesy of www.ww1cemeteries.com)

Those men from the Australian and British forces with no known grave are commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial. The missing from the New Zealand forces are commemorated on the Kantara Memorial.

Within Kantara War Memorial Cemetery there are also 341 war graves of other nationalities, many of them from a Polish hospital that was here in the Second World War. These are concentrated in a distinct Polish extension.

Article contributed by David Tattersfield

Vice-Chairman, The Western Front Association

[1] Although five of the men listed are detailed as belonging to the Cheshire Yeomanry, Pembrokeshire Yeomanry and Lanarkshire Yeomanry, these men were all members of the Imperial Camel Corps. The Imperial Camel Corps contained the 26/Machine Gun Squadron which was made up of men from the 1/3rd Scottish Horse one man from the Scottish Horse being killed at this time.

It has been impossible to say with certainty that the men from the Herefordshire Regiment and the British West Indies Regiment were killed during this attack. The balance of probability is that they were not. However, these men are named on the Roll of Honour.

There is one error on the CWGC database here: Private PG Holmes was not at this time a member 32nd Battalion AIF but was part of the Imperial Camel Corps.

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The 1917 script, written by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, is inspired by “fragments” of stories from Mendes’ grandfather, who served as a “runner” &mdash a messenger for the British on the Western Front. But the film is not about actual events that happened to Lance Corporal Alfred H. Mendes, a 5-ft.-4-inch 19-year-old who’d enlisted in the British Army earlier that year and later told his grandson stories of being gassed and wounded while sprinting across “No Man’s Land,” the territory between the German and Allied trenches.

In the film, General Erinmore (Colin Firth) orders two lance corporals, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay), to make the dangerous trek across No Man’s Land to deliver a handwritten note to a commanding officer Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch), ordering them to cancel a planned attack on Germans who have retreated to the Hindenburg Line in northern France.

2nd Regiment charging in the Battle of Rafa, 9 Jan 1917

This photograph is from an album created by Lt Thomas Gerald George Fahey who served in the Australian Light Horse in the Middle East during World War 1. This album belongs to Tom Robinson, who has kindly allowed us to upload these to our site.

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Subject World War I First World War Great War WWI Middle East Battle of Rafa 2nd Regiment Cavalry charge Light Horse ANZAC Collector Fahey, Thomas Gerald George Date 9th January 1917

Battle of Rafa, 9 January 1917 - History

Highland Games at Bedford, Easter Monday, 1915.

Community sale at Forres in May 1915.

6th (Morayshire) Seaforth Highlanders at Grantown- on Spey.

Staff and patients at Aberlour Orphanage Auxiliary Hospital.

Ocean Star, requisitioned for war duties, was sunk in September 1917.

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Operational history [ edit | edit source ]

1916 [ edit | edit source ]

Imperial Camel Corps at the Battle of Magdhaba

Battalions [ edit | edit source ]

In March 1916, after two months of training, the first camel patrols left their depot at Abassi on the outskirts of Cairo to patrol the Libyan desert. In 1915 the Senussi had attacked British and Egyptian outposts along the Suez canal and the Mediterranean coast. The resulting Senussi Campaign was largely over by then, but the patrols were to show the Senussi that the British were watching them, and to protect the border areas. Α]

Around the same time long-range patrols, each of about thirty men, went into the south and south-east of the Sinai desert to detect any Ottoman incursion into the area. When the patrols discovered Ottoman outposts, the brigade organized a company-strength raid against the outposts. The ICC undertook similar patrols in the north to protect the rail and water lines, which were vital for any British attack. ⎖]

Brigade [ edit | edit source ]

The Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) went over to the offensive in the Sinai Desert in August, winning the Battle of Romani. In support of these operations in December the brigade moved into the Sinai their first large battle came during the Battle of Magdhaba on 23 December, two days after the brigade was formed. Β] ⎖]

1917 [ edit | edit source ]

On 9 January 1917 the ICC was involved in another victory during the Battle of Rafa, which forced the Ottomans to withdraw the Sinai outposts towards Gaza. This also reduced the need for independent camel patrols across the Sinai in May the EEF consolidated the now-surplus companies into a new unit, the 4th (ANZAC) Battalion. ⎖]

The intensity of operations grew and the ICC were next involved in the Battle of Hassana, the defeats during the First Battle of Gaza in March, and the Second Battle of Gaza in April and a raid on the Sana redoubt in August. They then had a break to refit. Subsequently they participated in the victories in the Battle of Beersheba, the Third Battle of Gaza and at Battle of Mughar Ridge during October and November. By the end of the year the advance had crossed the Sinai and entered Palestine. ⎖]

ICC troops crossing the River Jordan to attack Amman April 1918

1918 [ edit | edit source ]

Early in 1918, the ICC moved to the area of the Jordan valley and took part in the attack in March and April. The First Battle of Amman was unsuccessful after three days of battle the British were unable to break through the Ottoman defences around the city and had to withdraw. The 4th (Anzac) Battalion did succeed in capturing Hill 3039 overlooking the city and managed to hold out for twenty-four hours in the face of artillery and infantry attacks, until ordered to withdraw. ⎖]

During the Second Transjordan attack on Shunet Nimrin and Es Salt, the camel brigade were assigned the western defence of the Jordan River ford at Umm esh Shert defending the left flank of the 4th Light Horse Brigade. The camel brigade was unable to support the light horsemen, which were attacked on the left flank and forced to withdraw. ⎗]

When the EEF advanced out of the Sinai and into Palestine, the change in terrain led to the disbandment of the ICC. In June 1918, the Australian troops were used to form the 14th and 15th Light Horse Regiments. The New Zealand troops formed the 2nd New Zealand Machine Gun Squadron. All three units became part of the 5th Light Horse Brigade. The six British companies remained part of the ICC for a while longer. Two of them fought with T.E. Lawrence in the Arab Revolt, and in July 1918 carried out operations sabotaging the Hejaz railway line. However, no reinforcements were assigned and the six remaining companies were reduced in strength to two before they were eventually disbanded in May 1919. ⎘]

On This Day - 9 January 1917

Theatre definitions: Western Front comprises the Franco-German-Belgian front and any military action in Great Britain, Switzerland, Scandinavia and Holland. Eastern Front comprises the German-Russian, Austro-Russian and Austro-Romanian fronts. Southern Front comprises the Austro-Italian and Balkan (including Bulgaro-Romanian) fronts, and Dardanelles. Asiatic and Egyptian Theatres comprises Egypt, Tripoli, the Sudan, Asia Minor (including Transcaucasia), Arabia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Persia, Afghanistan, Turkestan, China, India, etc. Naval and Overseas Operations comprises operations on the seas (except where carried out in combination with troops on land) and in Colonial and Overseas theatres, America, etc. Political, etc. comprises political and internal events in all countries, including Notes, speeches, diplomatic, financial, economic and domestic matters. Source: Chronology of the War (1914-18, London copyright expired)

British take trenches east of Beaumont Hamel (Ancre).

Russian advance between Tirul marsh and River Aa.

Enemy cross River Putna north and south-east of Focsani.

Asiatic and Egyptian Theatres

British carry Turkish positions at Rafa'a (frontier of Egypt and Syria) and defeat relief force 1,600 prisoners taken.

British take 1,000 yards of trenches on right bank of Tigris north-east of Kut.

Naval and Overseas Operations

H.M.S. "Cornwallis" sunk by submarine in Mediterranean, 13 lost.

"Lesbian" S.S. (Ellerman Liner) sunk.

Resignation of M. Trepov, Russian Prime Minister Prince Golitzin succeeds.

Allies present ultimatum to Greece demanding immediate acceptance of their demands of 31 December.

Battle of Rafa, 9 January 1917 - History

"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points. " Trooper Ion Idriess

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The Battle of Rafa

Sinai, 9 January 1917

Desert Column Order No. 10

The following is a transcription of the War Diary of the Desert Column, of their role at the Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917.

Desert Column Order No. 10

Lieutenant-General Sir PW Chetwode, Bt., CB, DSO, Commanding Desert Column.

Reference: Map Sinai Peninsula, Sheet North H-36/E-III, 1:125,000

1. The enemy are holding an entrenched position near El Magruntein, sketches from air photographs have been issued.

There is also believed to be a small enemy camp on the frontier east of the C Group of works (marked on sketch).

There is also a large encampment about Shokh el Sufi, believed to be Arabs whose attitude is probably hostile.

(a) At 0100 the A & NZ Mounted Division and ICC Brigade, under the orders of Major General HG Chauvel, CB, CMG, will leave Sheikh Zowaiid and move via points 210 and 280.

(b) The rate of march will be such as to ensure the column being clear of the cross roads at point 210 by 0400 and of those at point 250 by 0500.

(c) The 5th Mounted Brigade (less one squadron) will move parallel to and on the North of the ICC Brigade as far as point 210.

(d) Column Headquarters will move with 5th Mounted Brigade.

At point 250 the A & NZ Mounted Division will detach a Brigade to round up the Arab Camp, disarming the men and collecting them under guard about point 250 where they will be taken over by an escort to be detailed from the ICC Brigade.

The remainder of the Division will move north-east to a position from which they can:

(i) Deal with camp east of the C Group of works

(ii) Attack works C and the Reduit from the east and south-east.

The ICC Brigade will follow the A & NZ Mounted Division and move on to a position from which they can attack Works B from the south-east in conjunction with the attack of the A & NZ Mounted Division, or, if works B are unoccupied assist in the attack on Works C at the discretion of the GOC A & NZ Mounted Division. Both Groups of Works being thus taken in flank and rear.

(c) The 5th Mounted Brigade

The 5th Mounted Brigade (less on Squadron) will move from point 210 to a point on the Rafa road about 2 miles to teh north-east neart the word "of" in "Patches of Cultivation" where it will come into reserve.

They will detach one squadron to observe the main Rafa and Darb um Abad roads.

Hour of Attack

5. The main attack on Works B and C will be launched by GOC A & NZ Mounted Division after such reconnaissance and artillery preparations as he may consider necessary.

(a) To protect his right flank and rear

(b) Towards Rafa to out the telegraph wire and observe towards Khan Yunis.

6. Should the enemy have retired or commenced to retire the A & NZ Mounted Division will at once take up the pursuit on parallel lines, the 5th Mounted Brigade will take up direct pursuit and the ICC will concentrate and move towards Rafa and come into reserve.

The pursuit will not be continued beyond Khan Yunis without orders from Column Headquarters.

Aeroplane Cooperation

7. Contact aeroplanes will be instructed to drop their messages at the A & NZ Mounted Division Headquarters first and Column Headquarters second.

Observation planes will be detailed to work with the RHA.



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WORLD WAR 1 1914-1918

British Naval Vessels Lost, Damaged, Attacked, an update of "British Vessels Lost at Sea", HMSO, 1919. Includes all vessels identified in the individual accounts plus those in "Royal Navy Day by Day", 2005 edition

ROYAL NAVY LOG BOOKS OF THE WORLD WAR 1-ERA , 350,000 pages transcribed, all 318 ships now online, including Battle of the Falklands, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, East Africa, China Station.

Follow this link for brief details of all 318 ships.

And follow this link to the archives of transcribed log book pages - go to Vessels, type in name, click on ship, "View all Logs").

BRITISH VESSELS LOST AT SEA including Naval, Merchant Ships and Fishing Vessels, from the original "British Vessels Lost at Sea, 1914-18", published by HMSO, 1919

An enlarged and corrected version of the original is in preparation with support from Dr Graham Watson, for which my thanks:



by Date, August 1914 to December 1917 , lost, damaged, attacked, including name index for Merchant Ships sunk.

Pendant Numbers - short history by Lt-Cdr G Mason

British Shipbuilding & Repair Industries, including Royal Naval Dockyards and Research Establishments

The Key Battles of World War l

There were many, many battles during World War l across a number of fronts. The following is a list of the key battles with details of dates, which front, and a summary of why they’re notable. All of these battles caused large numbers of casualties, some horrifically high, and many lasted months on end. People didn't just die, although they did that in droves, as many were terribly wounded and had to live with injuries for years. The scar these battles carved into the people of Europe is unforgettable.

•Battle of Mons: August 23, Western Front. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) delay the German advance before being forced back. This helps stop a swift German victory.
•Battle of Tannenberg: August 23–31, Eastern Front. Hindenburg and Ludendorff make their names stopping the Russian advance Russia will never do this well again.
•First Battle of the Marne: September 6–12, Western Front. The German advance is fought to a halt near Paris, and they retreat to better positions. The war will not end quickly, and Europe is doomed to years of death.
•First Battle of Ypres: October 19–November 22, Western Front. The BEF is worn out as a fighting force a massive wave of recruits is coming.

•Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes: February. German forces begin an attack which turns into a massive Russian retreat.
•Gallipoli Campaign: February 19–January 9, 1916, Eastern Mediterranean. The allies attempt to find a breakthrough on another front, but organize their attack badly.
•Second Battle of Ypres: April 22–May 25, Western Front. The Germans attack and fail, but bring gas as a weapon to the Western Front.
•Battle of Loos: September 25–Oct 14, Western Front. A failed British attack brings Haig to command.

•Battle of Verdun: February 21–December 18, Western Front. Falkenhayn attempts to bleed the French dry, but the plan goes wrong.
•Battle of Jutland: May 31–June 1, Naval. Britain and Germany meet in a sea battle both sides claim to have won, but neither will risk fighting again.
•The Brusilov Offensive, Eastern Front. Brusilov’s Russians break the Austro-Hungarian army and force Germany to shift troops east, relieving Verdun. Russia’s greatest WW1 success.
•Battle of the Somme: July 1–November 18, Western Front. A British attack costs them 60,000 causalities in less than an hour.

•Battle of Arras: April 9–May 16, Western Front. Vimy Ridge is a clear success, but elsewhere the allies struggle.
•Second Battle of the Aisne: April 16–May 9, Western Front. The French Nivelle offensives destroy both his career and the morale of the French army.
•Battle of Messines: June 7–14, Western Front. Mines dug under the ridge destroy the enemy and allow a clear allied victory.
•The Kerensky Offensive: July 1917, Eastern Front. A roll of the dice for the embattled revolutionary Russian government, the offensive fails and the anti-Bolsheviks benefit.
•Battle of Third Ypres / Passchendaele: July 21–November 6, Western Front. The battle which typified the later image of the Western Front as a bloody, muddy waste of life for the British.
•Battle of Caporetto: October 31–November 19, Italian Front. Germany makes a breakthrough on the Italian Front.
•Battle of Cambrai: November 20–December 6, Western Front. Although the gains are lost, tanks show just how much they will change warfare.

•Operation Michael: March 21–April 5, Western Front. The Germans begin one final attempt to win the war before the US arrives in great numbers.
•Third Battle of the Aisne: May 27–June 6, Western Front. Germany continues to try and win the war, but is growing desperate.
•Second Battle of the Marne: July 15–August 6, Western Front. The last of the German offensives, it ended with the Germans no nearer to winning, an army beginning to fall apart, broken morale, and an enemy making clear strides.
•Battle of Amiens: August 8–11, Western Front. The Black Day of the German Army: allied forces storm through German defenses and it’s clear who will win the war without a miracle: the allies.

Battle of Rafa, 9 January 1917 - History

1917 : The Rage of Men

January 19, 1917 - The British intercept a telegram sent by Alfred Zimmermann in the German Foreign Office to the German embassies in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City. Its message outlines plans for an alliance between Germany and Mexico against the United States. According to the scheme, Germany would provide tactical support while Mexico would benefit by expanding into the American Southwest, retrieving territories that had once been part of Mexico. The Zimmermann telegram is passed along by the British to the Americans and is then made public, causing an outcry from interventionists in the U.S., such as former president Teddy Roosevelt, who favor American military involvement in the war.

February 1, 1917 - The Germans resume unrestricted submarine warfare around the British Isles with the goal of knocking Britain out of the war by cutting off all imports to starve the British people into submission.

February 3, 1917 - The United States severs diplomatic ties with Germany after a U-Boat sinks the American grain ship Housatonic. Seven more American ships are sunk in February and March as the Germans sink 500 ships in just sixty days.

February 25, 1917 - In the Middle East, newly reinforced and replenished British troops retake Kut al-Amara in Mesopotamia from outnumbered Turks. The British then continue their advance and capture Baghdad, followed by Ramadi and Tikrit.

Russian Revolution

March 8, 1917 - A mass protest by Russian civilians in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) erupts into a revolution against Czar Nicholas II and the war. Within days, Russian soldiers mutiny and join the revolution.

March 15, 1917 - The 300-year-old Romanov dynasty in Russia ends upon the abdication of Czar Nicholas II. In his place, a new democratically minded Provisional Government is established. Great Britain, France, the United States, and Italy rush to recognize the new government in the hope Russia will stay in the war and maintain its huge presence on the Eastern Front.

March 15, 1917 - Germans along the central portion of the Western Front in France begin a strategic withdrawal to the new Siegfried Line (called the Hindenburg Line by the Allies) which shortens the overall Front by 25 miles by eliminating an unneeded bulge. During the three-week long withdrawal, the Germans conduct a scorched earth policy, destroying everything of value.

April 1917 - British combat pilots on the Western Front suffer a 50 percent casualty rate during Bloody April as the Germans shoot down 150 fighter planes. The average life expectancy of an Allied fighter pilot is now three weeks, resulting from aerial dogfights and accidents.

America Enters

April 2, 1917 - President Woodrow Wilson appears before the U.S. Congress and gives a speech saying "the world must be made safe for democracy" then asks the Congress for a declaration of war against Germany.

April 6, 1917 - The United States of America declares war on Germany.

April 9, 1917 - The British Army has one of its most productive days of the war as 3rd Army, supported by Canadian and Australian troops, makes rapid advances north of the Hindenburg Line at Arras and Vimy on the Western Front. The expansive first-day achievement in snowy weather includes a 3.5 mile territorial gain and the capture of Vimy Ridge by Canadians. However, similar to past offensives, the inability to capitalize on initial successes and maintain momentum gives the Germans an opportunity to regroup and further gains are thwarted. The British suffer 150,000 casualties during the offensive, while the Germans suffer 100,000.

Nivelle Offensive

April 16, 1917 - The French 5th and 6th Armies attack along a 25-mile front south of the Hindenburg Line. The new offensive comes amid promises of a major breakthrough within 24-hours by the new French Commander-in-Chief, Robert Nivelle, who planned the operation. Nivelle once again utilizes his creeping barrage tactic in which his armies advance in stages closely behind successive waves of artillery fire. However, this time it is poorly coordinated and the troops fall far behind. The Germans also benefit from good intelligence and aerial reconnaissance and are mostly aware of the French plan. Nivelle's offensive collapses within days with over 100,000 casualties. French President Poincaré personally intervenes and Nivelle is relieved of his command. He is replaced as Commander-in-Chief by General Henri Petain, who must deal with a French Army that is now showing signs of mutiny.

April 16, 1917 - Political agitator Vladimir Lenin arrives back in Russia, following 12 years of exile in Switzerland. Special train transportation for his return was provided by the Germans in the hope that anti-war Lenin and his radical Bolshevik Party will disrupt Russia's new Provisional Government. Lenin joins other Bolsheviks in Petrograd who have already returned from exile including Joseph Stalin.

May 18, 1917 - The Selective Service Act is passed by the U.S. Congress, authorizing a draft. The small U.S. Army, presently consisting of 145,000 men, will be enlarged to 4,000,000 via the draft.

May 19, 1917 - The Provisional Government of Russia announces it will stay in the war. A large offensive for the Eastern Front is then planned by Alexander Kerensky, the new Minister of War. However, Russian soldiers and peasants are now flocking to Lenin's Bolshevik Party which opposes the war and the Provisional Government.

French Mutiny

May 27-June 1, 1917 - The mutinous atmosphere in the French Army erupts into open insubordination as soldiers refuse orders to advance. More than half of the French divisions on the Western Front experience some degree of disruption by disgruntled soldiers, angry over the unending battles of attrition and appalling living conditions in the muddy, rat and lice-infested trenches. The new Commander-in-Chief, Henri Petain, cracks down on the mutiny by ordering mass arrests, followed by several firing squad executions that serve as a warning. Petain then suspends all French offensives and visits the troops to personally promise an improvement of the whole situation. With the French Army in disarray the main burden on the Western Front falls squarely upon the British.

June 7, 1917 - A tremendous underground explosion collapses the German-held Messines Ridge south of Ypres in Belgium. Upon detonation, 10,000 Germans stationed on the ridge vanish instantly. The British then storm the ridge forcing the surviving Germans to withdraw to a new defensive position further eastward. The 250-foot-high ridge had given the Germans a commanding defensive position. British, Australian and Canadian tunnelers had worked for a year to dig mines and place 600 tons of explosives.

June 13, 1917 - London suffers its highest civilian casualties of the war as German airplanes bomb the city, killing 158 persons and wounding 425. The British react to the new bombing campaign by forming home defense fighter squadrons and later conduct retaliatory bombing raids against Germany by British planes based in France.

June 25, 1917 - The first American troops land in France.

July 1, 1917 - Russian troops begin the Kerensky Offensive attempting to recapture the city of Lemberg (Lvov) on the Eastern Front. The Germans are lying in wait, fully aware of the battle plans which have been leaked to them. The Russians attack along a 40-mile front but suffer from a jumble of tactical problems including a lack of artillery coordination, poor troop placement, and serious disunity within the ranks reflecting the divisive political situation back home. The whole offensive disintegrates within five days. Sensing they might break the Russian Army, the Germans launch a furious counter-offensive and watch as Russian soldiers run away.

July 2, 1917 - Greece declares war on the Central Powers, following the abdication of pro-German King Constantine who is replaced by a pro-Allied administration led by Prime Minister Venizelos. Greek soldiers are now added to the Allied ranks.

Third Battle of Ypres
July 31-November 6, 1917

July 31, 1917 - The British attempt once more to break through the German lines, this time by attacking positions east of Ypres, Belgium. However, by now the Germans have vastly improved their trench defenses including well-positioned artillery. Although the British 5th Army succeeds in securing forward trench positions, further progress is halted by heavy artillery barrages from the German 4th Army and rainy weather.

August 10, 1917 - The British resume their attack at Ypres, focusing on German artillery positions around Gheluvelt. The attack produces few gains as the Germans effectively bombard and then counter-attack. Six days later, the British try again, with similar results. The entire Ypres offensive then grinds to a halt as British Army Commander Douglas Haig ponders his strategy.

September 1, 1917 - On the Eastern Front, the final Russian battle in the war begins as the Germans attack toward Riga. The German 8th Army utilizes new storm troop tactics devised by General Oskar von Hutier. Bypassing any strong points as they move forward, storm troop battalions armed with light machine-guns, grenades and flame throwers focus on quickly infiltrating the rear areas to disrupt communications and take out artillery. The Russian 12th Army, under General Kornilov, is unable to hold itself together amid the storm troop attacks and abandons Riga, then begins a rapid retreat along the Dvina River, pursued by the Germans.

September 20, 1917 - A revised British strategy begins at Ypres designed to wear down the Germans. It features a series of intensive, narrowly focused artillery and troop attacks with limited objectives, to be launched every six days. The first such attack, along the Menin Road toward Gheluvelt, produces a gain of about 1,000 yards with 22,000 British and Australian casualties. Subsequent attacks yield similar results.

October 12, 1917 - The Ypres offensive culminates around the village of Passchendaele as Australian and New Zealand troops die by the thousands while attempting to press forward across a battlefield of liquid mud, advancing just 100 yards. Steady October rains create a slippery quagmire in which wounded soldiers routinely drown in mud-filled shell craters.

Attack at Caporetto

October 24, 1917 - In northern Italy, a rout of the Italian Army begins as 35 German and Austrian divisions cross the Isonzo River into Italy at Caporetto and then rapidly push 41 Italian divisions 60 miles southward. By now, the Italians have been worn down from years of costly but inconclusive battles along the Isonzo and in the Trentino, amid a perceived lack of Allied support. Nearly 300,000 Italians surrender as the Austro-Germans advance, while some 400,000 desert. The Austro-Germans halt at the Piave River north of Venice only due to supply lines which have become stretched to the limit.

October 26, 1917 - At Ypres, a second attempt is made but fails to capture the village of Passchendaele, with Canadian troops participating this time. Four days later, the Allies attack again and edge closer as the Germans slowly begin pulling out.

October 31, 1917 - In the Middle East, the British led by General Edmund Allenby begin an attack against Turkish defensive lines stretching between Gaza and Beersheba in southern Palestine. The initial attack on Beersheba surprises the Turks and they pull troops away from Gaza which the British attack secondly. The Turks then retreat northward toward Jerusalem with the Allies in pursuit. Aiding the Allies, are a group of Arab fighters led by T. E. Lawrence, an Arab speaking English archeologist, later known as Lawrence of Arabia. He is instrumental in encouraging Arab opposition to the Turks and in disrupting their railroad and communication system.

November 6, 1917 - The village of Passchendaele is captured by Canadian troops. The Allied offensive then ceases, bringing the Third Battle of Ypres to an end with no significant gains amid 500,000 casualties experienced by all sides.

October Revolution

November 6-7, 1917 - In Russia, Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky overthrow the Provisional Government in what comes to be known as the October Revolution (Oct. 24-25 according to the Russian calendar). They establish a non-democratic Soviet Government based on Marxism which prohibits private enterprise and private land ownership. Lenin announces that Soviet Russia will immediately end its involvement in the war and renounces all existing treaties with the Allies.

November 11, 1917 - The German High Command, led by Erich Ludendorff, gathers at Mons, Belgium, to map out a strategy for 1918. Ludendorff bluntly states he is willing to accept a million German casualties in a daring plan to achieve victory in early 1918, before the American Army arrives in force. The goal is to drive a wedge between the British and French armies on the Western Front via a series of all-out offensives using Germany's finest divisions and intensive storm troop tactics. Once this succeeds, the plan is to first decimate the British Army to knock Britain out of the war, and then decimate the French Army, and thus secure final victory.

November 15, 1917 - Georges Clemenceau becomes France's new Prime Minister at age 76. Nicknamed "The Tiger," when asked about his agenda, he will simply answer, "I wage war."

British Tank Attack

November 20, 1917 - The first-ever mass attack by tanks occurs as the British 3rd Army rolls 381 tanks accompanied by six infantry divisions in a coordinated tank-infantry-artillery attack of German trenches near Cambrai, France, an important rail center. The attack targets a 6-mile-wide portion of the Front and by the end of the first day appears to be a spectacular success with five miles gained and two Germans divisions wrecked. The news is celebrated by the ringing of church bells in England, for the first time since 1914. However, similar to past offensives, the opportunity to exploit first-day gains is missed, followed by the arrival of heavy German reinforcements and an effective counter-attack in which the Germans take back most of the ground they lost.

December, 7, 1917 - Romania concludes an armistice with the Central Powers due to the demise of Imperial Russia, its former military ally.

December 9, 1917 - Jerusalem is captured by the British. This ends four centuries of its control by the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.

December 15, 1917 - Soviet Russia signs an armistice with Germany. With Russia's departure from the Eastern Front, forty-four German divisions become available to be redeployed to the Western Front in time for Ludendorff's Spring Offensive.

Russian Czar in Captivity

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