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The War in Syria and Palestine, 1914 and 1915

Map of Syria, Palestine, Turkey, and Mesopotamia from the Baedeker 1912 travel guide Palestine and Syria with Routes through Mesopotamia and Babylonia and with the Island of Cyprus.

Map of Syria, Palestine, Turkey, and Mesopotamia from the Baedeker 1912 travel guide Palestine and Syria with Routes through Mesopotamia and Babylonia and with the Island of Cyprus.

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November 21, 1914 to December 31, 1915

Syria/Palestine Front


The Ottoman Empire extended southwards from Turkey through Syria and Palestine along the Mediterranean coast to the border of Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula. To secure the Suez Canal when Turkey entered the war, Great Britain, which had controlled the country for decades, declared Egypt a British protectorate on December 19, 1914, deposing Khedive Abbas II in favor of his uncle Hussein Kamel. Britain gave Hussein Kamel the title of Sultan to emphasize the break with Egypt's Ottoman past. Britain also increased its forces in the country.

Connecting — via Lake Timsah, Great Bitter Lake and Little Bitter Lake — the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Suez, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean, the Canal was critical to Britain. Through it passed oil from Mesopotamia and Persia, and troops from India, Australia, and New Zealand.

A skirmish with a force of 2,000 Bedouins on November 21, 1914 alerted the British to one of the threats to their position. They strengthened their Suez Canal defenses, positioning their primary defense line on the west bank with crossing points covered by outposts on the east. Four British gunboats patrolled the Canal. At the northern end, two French warships were stationed at Port Said, and the dyke was cut to flood part of the Plain of Tina to the east. British gunships and French warships patrolled the Bitter Lakes and flooded land through and along which the canal ran.


What do you want here? Turkish and British child soldiers on the Suez Canal. After crossing the Sinai Peninsula during January 1915, a Turkish army of approximately 12,000 soldiers reached the Suez Canal on February 2, and tried to cross after nightfall, but were driven back. On the 3rd, the British crossed the canal, and struck the Turkish left flank, driving them back. By February 10, the Turks had evacuated the Peninsula.

In January 1915, Britain had 70,000 troops in Egypt, most of them Indian or ANZAC. After Turkey entered the war, the Turkish Fourth Army of 65,000 men was dispatched from Constantinople to secure Syria and Palestine. In January, a Turkish Expeditionary Force of 12,000 set out to seize the Canal, crossing from Palestine, and reaching El Arish in the Sinai desert in Egypt. After skirmishes on January 28, the Turks attempted to cross the Canal the night of February 2, but a sandstorm aided the defenders and the Turks were driven back in an action near Ismailia Ferry. After nightfall, they again attempted to cross 12 miles to the south at Toussoun, but suffered heavy losses from British machine gun fire.

With the support of land and naval artillery, British troops crossed the Canal at Serapeum the next day, February 3, and attacked the Turkish left flank. A Turkish warship aided the ground forces, but the Turks suffered heavily, and part of the army began to retreat losing 500 prisoners to the British. By the end of the day, the entire force retreated, a retreat that ended with the Turks having evacuated Sinai by February 10. After this attack on the Canal, the British positioned the Canal's primary defenses on its eastern bank and moved further east to defend its approaches against the Turks.

Turkish forces in Syria and Palestine that might have made further attempts against the Canal were thinned as troops were redeployed to the Gallipoli Peninsula to defend against the Anglo-French invasion. The Turks laid mines in the Canal and connecting waterways, but ultimately only one mine damaged a ship, the liner Teiresias, on June 30.

West of Cairo an indigenous group threatened the British in Egypt. After Italy's wresting of Libya from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, Senussi tribesmen, supported by the Turks, rose against the occupiers in a war that would last until 1931. The Senussi also turned against the British in Egypt in an offensive that began on November 14, 1915 in an attack at a British-Egyptian border post at Sollum. The Senussi attack on Sollum failed, but the British evacuated it on November 23. On November 16, a force of 300 seized the Zaura monastery at Sidi Barrani.

A Senussi column near the site of an attack on the British in Egypt. The Senussi first rebelled against Italian forces in Libya after Italy seized the territory from the Ottoman Empire. Supported by Turkey in Libya and later by Germany, the Senussi began a guerrilla campaign against the British in Egypt in late 1915, tying down 20,000 troops for over a year.

The Senussi were substantially defeated in February 1916, and the British would re-occupy Sollum in March of that year, but, through actions like those at Sollum and Sidi Barrani, the Senussi tied down as many as 20,000 troops for much of 1916 and remained active into 1917.

Egypt was a major staging area for the troops of the Dardanelles and Gallipoli Campaigns with as many as 250,000 men in the country throughout the year, many in transit, some to hospitals in Cairo and Alexandria. Empire troops were also moved to and from the East African and Mesopotamian fronts, from India, Australia, and New Zealand. Egypt would become the base of operations for the British campaign in Palestine and Syria.

By early 1916, the British had 400,000 troops in Egypt, although many were stationed there temporarily after the evacuation of Gallipoli.



Syria/Palestine Front 1916

Events contemporaneous with The War in Syria and Palestine, 1914 and 1915

Start Date End Date View
1915-03-23 Russian Conquest of Przemyśl
1914-08-04 1914-11-24 Germany Conquers Belgium
1914-08-11 1914-12-09 Austria-Hungary Invasion of Serbia, 1914
1914-09-18 1914-11-24 Race to the Sea
1914-09-28 1914-12-06 Battles of Ivangorod and Lodz
1914-10-19 1914-11-22 Battle of Flanders (Yser and Ypres)
1914-11-02 1914-11-30 Turkey and Russia Clash
1914-12-17 1914-12-19 First Battle of Artois
1914-12-20 1915-03-17 First Battle of Champagne
1914-12-24 1915-01-15 Battle of Sarikamish