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Fighting in the Western Desert in Visual Studio .NET
Fighting in the Western Desert
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Hardly had the British dealt with the threat to the Suez canal (see the previous section) than Lieutenant General Sir John Maxwell, responsible for the defence of Egypt, faced another threat this time from the Western Desert The powerful Senussi Moslem sect that lived there was engaged in a prolonged guerrilla war against the Italian authorities in Libya, who were allies of the British An amicable relationship had always existed between the Senussi and their British neighbours in Egypt, but that changed when war broke out The Sultan of Turkey held the office of Caliph (spiritual leader of the Moslem world), and his advice to the Grand Senussi, Said Ahmed, was that they must declare a holy war against all infidels and not just the Italians To that end, German U-boats delivered artillery, machine guns, and ammunition to deserted stretches of coastline, together with military advisers, to aid the Senussi against the British Matters began to come to a head when a U-boat sank HMS Tara, a British armed boarding vessel in the Gulf of Sollum The survivors were landed at Bardia and handed over to the Senussi A British envoy went to the Grand Senussi with a request for their release Said Ahmed regretted that he could not comply, as the Turks had left the seamen in his care as hostages He was, in fact, under the influence of two Turkish senior officers, Nuri Bey and Ja far Pasha, who pointed out, correctly, that the British were not doing at all well at Gallipoli or Mesopotamia (see later in this chapter) An invasion of Egypt, they promised, would bring about the collapse of the weakened British, particularly if the large number of Senussi supporters in Egypt rose against them Convinced, the Grand Senussi announced that the holy war had begun
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Campaigning with the Western Frontier Force
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The British garrison at Sollum beat off an attack by the Senussi on the night of 17 November 1915 and was then evacuated by steamer Next day the British also repulsed an attack on Sidi Barrani Maxwell knew that if he despatched sufficient troops to defeat the Senussi he would be left with too few to mount counter-insurgency operations, should the need arise Nevertheless, he placed a number of Territorial infantry battalions and Yeomanry cavalry regiments under the command of Major General A Wallace and designated them the Western Frontier Force Wallace managed to halt the Senussi advance after fighting a number of sharp actions west of Mersa Matruh The situation stabilised further when South African and New Zealand infantry reached the front, followed by troops returned from Gallipoli
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Part V: The First World War
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The Western Desert Gentlemen s Armoured Car Club
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The Western Frontier Force included a Royal Naval Air Service armoured car squadron formed to meet the emergency, but this saw little fighting because the winter rains turned the going into a quagmire In January 1916 the squadron went up the Nile to Upper Egypt where Senussi bands had occupied several oases The Duke of Westminster s armoured car brigade (formerly No 2 Squadron Royal Naval Armoured Car Division) replaced it, consisting of three batteries each of four Rolls-Royce armoured cars and a small headquarters, supported by an echelon of Model T Ford tenders The unit was the closest thing imaginable to a gentleman s club, as the Duke had chosen his officers and men with care Most came from cavalry and yeomanry regiments, with a leavening of chauffeurs, professional motor drivers, and mechanics
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Major General WE Peyton relieved Wallace, who was suffering from ill health, on 10 January 1916 Maxwell now felt that the Western Frontier Force was strong enough to take the offensive and ordered Peyton to recapture Sollum As air reconnaissance revealed that the main Senussi camp was located at Agagya, southeast of Sidi Barrani, Peyton led out a column to deal with this first On 26 January a hard-fought action took place at a ridge 8 kilometres (5 miles) north of the camp Some 1500 of the enemy held the ridge, supported by artillery and machine guns During the action, Brigadier General Lukin s South Africans stormed the enemy position at the point of the bayonet As the Senussi withdrew, the Dorset Yeomanry charged into the enemy mass, cutting down 300 of them, capturing Ja far Pasha, and chasing the rest across the desert The regiment sustained 58 personnel casualties, but the loss of 85 horses reduced its strength by half The British occupied Sidi Barrani on 9 March and recaptured Sollum without a fight five days later The Senussi had crossed the frontier into Libya, no doubt thinking that they were safer on Italian territory Peyton, however, was determined to destroy their field army and doubted whether the Italians would raise too many objections When aircraft reported a large enemy camp at Bir Wair, he despatched the Duke of Westminster s armoured cars to attack it (see the sidebar The Western Desert Gentlemen s Armoured Car Club ) The going was excellent, enabling the cars to close in at high speed They found that the Senussi had abandoned the camp at Bir Wair and were retreating westwards The Duke caught up with them near a well named Bir Azeiz The Senussi were holding a rocky position fronted by rough going and opened fire with their mountain and machine guns at once The cars fanned out from column into line and went straight for the enemy, maintaining a continuous fire with their own machine guns When the British shot down the enemy s
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19: The Middle East and Beyond, 1914 1918
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heavy weapons crews, the entire Senussi army broke and ran Hundreds were killed or wounded during the pursuit The booty for the British included three 4-inch (10-millimetre) guns, nine machine guns, a large quantity of small arms, and 250,000 rounds of ammunition Two of the Duke s men received superficial wounds In March, the surviving crew of the Tara, horribly emaciated, half naked, starving, and suffering from dysentery but waving and cheering, were rescued from Bir Hacheim, taken back to Sollum, and put aboard a hospital ship for passage to Alexandria On 26 July a joint operation with the Italians, supported by naval gunfire, ejected the Senussi from the Wadi Saal Lying between Bardia and Tobruk, this was a landing place at which armaments and ammunition destined for the Senussi were put ashore from U-boats The wadi contained numerous caves closed by stout wooden doors, each containing a treasure trove of munitions
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