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First Moves

  • Armoured Train
    Armoured Train
  • Mena Matruh View
    Mena Matruh View
  • Sidibarani
    Sidibarani
  • Unjeila
    Unjeila

On 23 January 1916, General Wallace split his now reinforced Western Field Force into two mobile columns for an attack on the Senussi. Despite the all-pervading mud, that persistent rain had reduced the desert too, the operation was successful in overcoming the enemy. However, the operation was not without its problems: the Force's baggage had to be left at Bir Shola, consequently, blankets and supplies could not be brought forward to the troops; all the wagons had to be manhandled through the mud and the supporting armoured cars could not operate.

In these conditions, overall British casualties were heavier than during previous operations: one officer and thirty other ranks were killed in action and thirteen officers and 278 other ranks were wounded. The enemy's losses, estimated as being at least twice this figure, while prisoners indicated that the Senussi's morale was becoming fragile in the face of a reinforced and more capable British force.

At this point, age and ill health prompted General Wallace to retire. Major-General Peyton replaced him on 9 February 1916 in his capacity as Commander of 2nd Mounted Division. This division replaced the Composite Yeomanry Brigade, while the South African Infantry Brigade replaced the exhausted Sikhs and the New Zealanders. Crucially, additional logistic units joined the Western Field Force, meaning that the force could properly sustain protracted expeditionary operation away from their base at Mersa Matruh.

General Peyton decided he should advance along the waterless coastal strip west as far as Sollum Further improvement in logistic support was provided by the Navy, which greatly shorten vulnerable lines the lines of communication along the coast. However, the main Senussi force was now identified near Sidi Barrani and on 20 February 1916 a column made up of the 1st and 3rd South African Regiments, the Queen's Own Dorset Yeomanry, a squadron of Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars, the 1/6th Royal Scots and the Nottinghamshire Royal Horse Artillery, supported by two RAMC Field Ambulances marched from Mersa Matruh. Under command of Brigadier Lukin, following a change of weather, they set off into the desert under a scorching sun and desiccating wind. On 24 February, the Royal Flying Corps identified the Senusi just fourteen miles to the south east at Agagia and the British column eventually made contact with the Senussi, numbering 1,600 men and fourteen guns, some fourteen miles south east of Sidi Barrani. On 24 February, the main British column having closed on the Senussi made camp at Wadi Maktil.

On 25 February, the Senussi attacked the British camp at Wadi Maktil, just as Peyton's Force was themselves preparing to attack. As the Senussi force closed, they opened fire with German supplied equipment, in the form of two field guns and a Maxim 08 Pattern machine gun. However, the Royal Scots and the South Africans deployed quickly, won a fire-fight with the enemy and drove them off, suffering few casualties in the process.