Year
1917

First Battle of Gaza

The first of three battles fought in the Allied attempt to defeat Turkish forces in and around the Palestinian city of Gaza takes place on this day in 1917.

By January 1917, the Allies had managed to force the Turkish army completely out of the Sinai Peninsula in northeastern Egypt, leaving British forces in the region, commanded by Sir Archibald Murray, free to consider a move into Palestine. To do so, however, they would first have to confront a string of strong Turkish positions atop a series of ridges running west to east between the towns of Gaza and Beersheba and blocking the only viable passage into the heart of Palestine. These Turkish forces, commanded by the German general Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein, numbered some 18,000 troops; Murray planned to send twice that many British soldiers against them under the command of his subordinate, Sir Charles Dobell.

On the morning of March 26, 1917, Dobell and his men advanced on the ridges under the cover of dense fog; they were able to successfully cut off the east and southeast of Gaza and deploy troops to prevent the Turks from sending reinforcements or supplies to the town. The 53rd Infantry Division, at the center of the advance, received considerable assistance from a cavalry force commanded by Sir Philip Chetwode. However, near the end of that day, with a victory in Gaza in sight, Dobel and Chetwode decided to call off the attack. The decision, attributed to the failing light and mounting casualties among the infantry troops, was nonetheless controversial—other officers believed the Turks had been on the verge of capitulating.

Though the infantry resumed their attacks the next morning, the overnight delay had given Kressenstein time to reinforce the permanent garrison at Gaza with 4,000 new troops. After confronting a renewed Turkish counterattack, aided significantly by German reconnaissance aircraft from above, Dobell was forced to call off the attack. His forces suffered 4,000 casualties during the First Battle of Gaza, compared with only 2,400 on the Turkish side.

A second assault on Gaza, launched the following April 17, was similarly unsuccessful. It was not until that autumn that British forces, under the new regional command of Sir Edmund Allenby, were able to conquer the town and turn to the next challenge: securing Palestine’s capital city, Jerusalem, which fell into Allied hands on December 9, 1917.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Salk announces polio vaccine

On March 26, 1953, American medical researcher Dr. Jonas Salk announces on a national radio show that he has successfully tested a vaccine against poliomyelitis, the virus that causes the crippling disease of polio. In 1952–an epidemic year for polio–there were 58,000 new cases ...read more

Israel-Egyptian peace agreement signed

In a ceremony at the White House, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sign a historic peace agreement, ending three decades of hostilities between Egypt and Israel and establishing diplomatic and commercial ties. Less than two years ...read more

Naval warfare gets new weapon

On this day, Italy attacks the British fleet at Suda Bay, Crete, using detachable warheads to sink a British cruiser. This was the first time manned torpedoes had been employed in naval warfare, adding a new weapon to the world’s navies’ arsenals. The manned torpedo, also known ...read more

Hue falls to the communists

The city of Hue, in northernmost South Vietnam, falls to the North Vietnamese. Hue was the most recent major city in South Vietnam to fall to the communists during their new offensive. The offensive had started in December 1974, when the North Vietnamese had launched a major ...read more

Antiwar demonstration in Washington

A group called Women Strike for Peace demonstrate in Washington, D.C., in the first large antiwar demonstration since President Richard Nixon’s inauguration in January. The antiwar movement had initially given Nixon a chance to make good on his campaign promises to end the war in ...read more

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel published

This Side of Paradise is published, immediately launching 23-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald to fame and fortune. Fitzgerald, named for his ancestor Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star Spangled Banner,” was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, to a once well-to-do family that had ...read more

American Beauty tops Academy Awards

On this day in 2000, Billy Crystal hosts the 72nd annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. An Oscar crisis had been narrowly averted a week earlier, when Willie Fulgear, a man who made his living recovering and selling discarded objects, found 10 ...read more

Deadly earthquake hits California

An earthquake felt from Mexico to Oregon rocks the Owens Valley in California on this day in 1872, killing 30 people. California, with the large San Andreas Fault running through the entire state, is a prime area for earthquakes. At 2:30 a.m. on March 26, a large quake hit Inyo ...read more

Torture chamber uncovered in Philadelphia

Responding to a 911 call, police raid the Philadelphia home of Gary Heidnik and find an appalling crime scene. In the basement of Heidnik’s dilapidated house is a veritable torture chamber wherethree naked women were found chained toa sewer pipe. A fourth woman, Josefina Rivera, ...read more