'Plan of Turkish Positions in attack on Serapeum and Toussoum'. A large-scale map ('12 ins = 1 mile') printed on paper and mounted on linen (overall dimensions 1120 × 885 mm), produced by '3rd Field Coy. A.E. 1st Australian Div. 15th Feb. 1915. Reproduced by the Survey Dept. Egypt. (683)'

'Plan of Turkish Positions in attack on Serapeum and Toussoum'. A large-scale map ('12 ins = 1 mile') printed on paper and mounted on linen (overall dimensions 1120 × 885 mm), produced by '3rd Field Coy. A.E. 1st Australian Div. 15th Feb. 1915. Reproduced by the Survey Dept. Egypt. (683)'

A detailed map of the battleground of the failed attempt by Turkish troops to invade Egypt on 3 February 1915. At the head of the map are large sketches of 'Frame of Kerosene Tin Raft in Turkish Attack' and 'Sketch of Turkish Pontoons captured at Toussoum-Serapeum 4.2.1915'. The Australian War Memorial has one of the 24 pontoons used by the 4th Turkish Army in their attempt to cross the Suez Canal in its collection. In fact, the AWM records that 'The action in which it was captured was the first in which a unit of the AIF (3 Field Company Australian Engineers) was engaged, and as such this trophy was the first captured by the army [in the First World War].... by May 1918, the Australian War Records Section was lobbying for an example to be brought back to Australia, noting that while Australian involvement by 3 Field Company Engineers was small, it was important'.

Both Charles Bean ('The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18', Volume 1, Chapter VIII: 'The Turkish Expedition against Egypt', pages 140-165), and the AWM have much to say on this attack. After Turkey entered the war on 31 October 1914, one of the first objectives of both the Germans and Turks was to strike a blow against Britain in Egypt. By January 1915, a 'Turkish force of an estimated 10,000 had travelled from Jerusalem to Kantara [on the Suez Canal], a distance of 200 miles. The force was composed of 5 percent Germans, 10 percent Turks, and 85 percent Bedouins, and was aimed at raising anti-British feeling within the protectorate of Egypt, inciting a Jihad and denying use of the canal to Allied forces. This potential threat forced the British to base up to 70,000 troops in Egypt, 30,000 of them defending the Canal. Initially, the Turks had three options: to attack from the Jordan-Mediterranean coast to Kantara, through the Sinai from Beersheeba to Ismalia, or from the south to Suez. Thus, the British were obliged to keep options open, defending all three zones along the 159 km of canal until it became obvious the Turks were marching south-west from Beersheeba, heading for the central zone, at Ismalia, straight across the Sinai Desert. Despite being initially unconvinced that the Turks could actually organise such a crossing, the British were aware of the intent; they decided to base their forces on the West Bank of the Suez, using the canal as part of the defence, bolstered by Royal Navy ships. This essentially meant giving up the Sinai. The force opposing the Turks mainly comprised of the 10th and 11th Divisions, Indian Army. The New Zealand Wellington and Otago Battalions, however, assisted in the defence. The 3rd Field Company Engineers, AIF were detached to operate searchlights and the Ismalia powerhouse, but no other Australians were involved directly in the defence. The majority of defenders were hidden by high spoil banks thrown up on [the] west bank during construction of the Suez Canal. Small parties of Turks were spotted by a French seaplane on 15 January - but they missed most of the force heading out of Beersheeba and across the Sinai. This move was unexpected, as most armies had moved along the coast. The Turks sent smaller parties to the southern & northern routes as a diversion and to keep the British guessing. The central party physically dragged their pontoons (on wagons) and artillery across the desert. Early on the morning of 3 February about 3:30 am, movements and sounds were noticed by the defenders on the eastern bank and the Indian sentries started shooting. After dying down, more sounds were noted a kilometre south. A Turkish pontoon landed on the west bank, loaded with 25 Turks. This was charged by Punjabis and all the occupants were killed; a second crossed under fire but landed with only 10 survivors - four were captured in the morning. Pontoons were raked with shrapnel and machine gun fire, killing all aboard. Many more were targeted on the east bank as their crews attempted to launch them, with heavy casualties. Witnesses noted ten or eleven damaged pontoons drifting, full of dead. Survivors tried to hide behind pontoons and make a dash for safety - many of these killed as well. Orders were given for Torpedo Boat 43 to blow up remaining intact pontoons. At the same time, unaware of the disaster, and hearing that some pontoons had already crossed, the Turkish commander sent up thousands of reinforcements. The British Territorial artillery spotted them and started shooting, as did the guns of the French battleship "Requin". An Indian counter-attack across the Canal took 250 prisoners and the attack ceased. The British had lost just on 160 men - the Turkish toll was ten times higher. The Turks retreated back across the desert. The Turkish performance at the Canal may have coloured Australian, British and Indian attitudes to Turkish fighting ability which they brought to Gallipoli, to their cost' (AWM).

Bean provides more, and pertinent, details: 'Early in January the 3rd Field Company of Australian Engineers ... had been sent down to construct trenches and floating bridges at the Canal. The British authorities at once began to discover in this company men experienced in almost any work which was needed. Within a week some were detached to manipulate searchlights, others had taken over the power-house at Ismailia [sic], others were surveying for artillery ranges or for maps, while the main body was making bridgeheads at Serapeum, Ismailia, and Kantara, and also a floating bridge for Ismailia ferry-post'.

Bean's last words are also telling: 'There was a heavy fall in the current estimate of the fighting value of the Turkish Army. This was not without its influence on future events'. Those events, which commenced on 25 April 1915 and reverberate to this day, may go a long way to explaining why this extraordinary map appears to have been unrecorded. Bean was certainly unaware of it when he wrote his history; the AWM makes no reference to it; and Trove locates no examples. In the overall history of the First World War, it may be a sideshow, completely overshadowed by the Allied invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli: everything went according to the script of this dress rehearsal, except the roles were reversed.

Item #114959

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