Year
1917

Third Battle of Gaza

Early on the morning of October 31, 1917, Allied forces under General Edmund Allenby launch an attack on Turkish positions at Beersheba, in Palestine, beginning the Third Battle of Gaza.

After two earlier attacks at Gaza failed amid heavy Allied casualties, the British brought in Allenby from the Western Front in June 1917 to replace Sir Archibald Murray as commander of Allied forces in Egypt. Reinforcements were also called in, including Italian and French troops, to support a renewed offensive against the Gaza-Beersheba line, which stood formidably between the Allies and the all-important city of Jerusalem. By the fall of 1917, the Turkish forces along the line were presided over by the recently arrived Erich von Falkenhayn, the former chief of staff of the German army.

After moving his headquarters from a Cairo hotel to the front line in a symbolic move aimed at boosting Allied morale, Allenby prepared to launch the attack, concentrating first on amassing enough men, artillery and tanks to make victory as certain as possible. By mid-October, seven infantry divisions had been assembled, plus a cavalry unit with both horses and camels, for a combined total of some 88,000 men. Facing Allenby’s troops along a 40-kilometer-long front were the Turkish 7th and 8th Armies, numbering just 35,000 men.

For nearly a week before the attack, three artillery divisions with over 200 guns bombarded the Turks in order to trick the latter into believing that a full frontal attack—similar to the first two Allied offensives at Gaza—would follow. The bombardment was the heaviest artillery attack of the war outside Europe, featuring as many heavy guns per yard of front as during the Battle of the Somme, with aerial support from above that ensured the artillery fire hit its marks. Instead of a frontal attack, however, Allenby’s men launched a surprise attack in the dawn hours of October 31, sending some 40,000 troops against the damaged Turkish lines. Beersheba and its crucially important water supply (previous Allied attacks on Gaza had failed partially due to lack of sufficient water in the hot desert climate) were captured that same day, as Falkenhayn was forced to pull his Turkish troops back into the hills north of Jerusalem. On the heels of their victory at Gaza, Allenby’s forces would enter that holy city on December 9, meeting with little resistance.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Winfield Scott steps down

Citing failing health, General Winfield Scott, commander of the Union forces, retires from service on this day in 1861. The hero of the Mexican War recognized early in the Civil War that his health and advancing years were a liability in the daunting task of directing the Federal ...read more

Houdini is dead

Harry Houdini, the most celebrated magician and escape artist of the 20th century, dies of peritonitis in a Detroit hospital. Twelve days before, Houdini had been talking to a group of students after a lecture in Montreal when he commented on the strength of his stomach muscles ...read more

Martin Luther posts 95 theses

On this day in 1517, the priest and scholar Martin Luther approaches the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and nails a piece of paper to it containing the 95 revolutionary opinions that would begin the Protestant Reformation. In his theses, Luther condemned the ...read more

President Johnson announces bombing halt

In a televised address to the nation five days before the presidential election, President Lyndon B. Johnson announces that on the basis of developments in the Paris peace negotiations, he has ordered the complete cessation of “all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North ...read more

President Clinton stumps for his wife

On this day in 2000, lame-duck President Bill Clinton campaigns in New York on behalf of his wife, Hillary, who is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate. This was the first time a first lady actively campaigned for a Senate seat. Bill gave the speech at a dinner, sponsored by a ...read more

River Phoenix dies

On this day in 1993, the 23-year-old actor River Phoenix, who appeared in such films as Stand by Me and My Own Private Idaho, dies of a drug overdose outside a Hollywood nightclub. At the time of his death, Phoenix was considered one of the most promising actors of his generation ...read more

Hurricane Hattie strikes Belize

Hurricane Hattie strikes Belize on this day in 1961, killing more than 400 people and leaving thousands homeless. Almost half of Belize City was demolished by the storm. The storm that would become Hattie had formed two weeks earlier in the Atlantic Ocean and then moved slowly ...read more

The prime minister of India is assassinated

Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India, is assassinated in New Delhi by two of her own bodyguards. Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, both Sikhs, emptied their guns into Gandhi as she walked to her office from an adjoining bungalow. Although the two assailants immediately ...read more

Chiang Kai-Shek is born

On this day in 1887, in Chekiang province, China, Chiang Kai-Shek, leader of the Nationalist government of China from 1928 to 1949, is born. As a young man training in the Japanese military, Chiang was converted to the ideals of republicanism. Upon returning to China, Chiang ...read more