Battle of Katia

Battle of Katia
Battle of Katia
Part of The Defence of the Suez Canal; Defence of Egypt First World War
Soldiers in sandbag construction
1st Regiment Scottish Horse constructing a redoubt at Duidar, Summer 1916
Date 23 April 1916
Location Ogratina, Katia and Duidar east of the Suez Canal and north of El Ferdan Station
Result German and Ottoman victory
United Kingdom British Empire Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom E. A. Wiggin German Empire Kress von Kressenstein
Units involved
5th Mounted Brigade 2 battalions
1 company of 32nd Regiment
1 regiment Arab camel corps
1 1/2 batteries mountain gun artillery
1,500 3,650
Casualties and losses

The Battle of Katia (also known as the affair at Katia) was an engagement fought east of the Suez Canal and north of El Ferdan Station, in the vicinity of Katia and Oghratina, on 23 April 1916 during the Defence of the Suez Canal Campaign of World War I.[1] An Ottoman force led by the German general Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein made a surprise attack on the British 5th Mounted Brigade, which was widely scattered to the east of Romani. The mounted brigade had been ordered to the area to protect the new railway and water pipeline being built from Kantara on the Suez Canal, as this infrastructure extended out past the Canal's zone of defences into the Sinai Peninsula towards Romani. Von Kressenstein's attack was completely successful, wiping out the equivalent of a regiment. On the same day, an associated Ottoman attack on Duidar, very close to the Suez Canal, failed when it met with strong British opposition.

Von Kressenstein's force had been active in the area since the First Suez Offensive of early 1915, when three columns attacked the Canal along the northern, central, and southern routes across the Sinai Peninsula. The growing British strength made attacks on the Suez Canal difficult, and ended the dominance of the Ottoman force in the area. The Ottoman Empire's attacks on 23 April demonstrated their intention to continue opposing the British in the region.[2][3]

However, the British reaction to these attacks was to double the strength of their forces. The Anzac Mounted Division's 5th Light Horse Regiment (2nd Light Horse Brigade), followed by the rest of their brigade and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, were all sent to Katia and Romani and established a strong British Empire presence over this contested ground. Soon after, the 1st Light Horse Brigade was also sent forward, and the 52nd (Lowland) Division arrived at Romani not long after. At the beginning of August, the Battle of Romani was fought over much of the same ground as the Affair of Katia.



In 1915, Sir Archibald Murray, the British Commander in Chief of Egypt, partially addressed the threat of von Kressenstein's forces to the Suez Canal by organising the defences into three sectors. No. 1 (Southern) sector, with its headquarters at Suez, covered the area from Suez to Kabrit, No. 2 (Central) sector, with its headquarters at Ismailia, covered the area from Kabrit to Ferdan, and No. 3 (Northern) sector, with its headquarters at Port Said, covered the area from Ferdan to Port Said. The No. 3 sector also had an advanced headquarters at Kantara.[4] To support these forward defences, the British improved their lines of communication by doubling the single railway line that ran from Cairo to the Suez Canal, and also pumped water from the Nile River along the Sweet Water Canal to supply the troops and the towns on the Suez Canal.[Note 1][5]

Map of the Katia and Romani area

After the conclusion of the Gallipoli Campaign, both sides had large numbers of troops available for redeployment, and the British decided to move their Suez Canal defences from positions on the canal (where they had been during the First Suez Offensive) eastwards into the Sinai desert.[6] Murray aimed to extend the railway and water pipeline to Katia, so that a permanent forward British base of 50,000 men could be established.[7] In February 1916, he requested permission from the War Office in London to extend this infrastructure further across the Sinai to El Arish.[8] He considered that such an advance along the northern route, combined with the destruction of the central route's water sources and regular patrols from a base at El Arish, would permanently secure the Suez Canal. An advance to Katia was agreed by the War Office, but no decision was made regarding an advance to El Arish.[9]

The first shipload of rails and sleepers arrived at Kantara on 10 March and, four weeks later, 16 miles (26 km) of track stretching towards Katia had been laid[10] by the Egyptian Labour Corps and Royal Engineers.[11] There were also two new appointments: Brigadier General E. A. Wiggin took command of the Katia district on 6 April and, three days later, Major General H. A. Lawrence became responsible for No. 3 Sector of the canal defences, which covered the northern section.[12]

Meanwhile, several raids were undertaken by the Australian Light Horse and the Bikaner Camel Corps, accompanied by the Egyptian Camel Transport Corps carrying supplies, rations and ammunition.[13] The purpose of these raids was to destroy water sources on the central inland route, which had been used by the Ottomans during the First Suez Offensive in late January and early February 1915.[13][14]

To provide forward protection for the railway construction workers and the infrastructure, the 5th Mounted Brigade was ordered to move to Katia.[12][15] By early April, however, signs of renewed Ottoman activity in the area were detected and, as a result, the 5th Light Horse Regiment was ordered to reinforce the 5th Mounted Brigade; it was due to arrive at Katia on 24 April.[12]


Ottoman forces

Von Kressenstein moved to challenge the growing British presence with a force of 95 officers 3,560 other ranks comprising 1st and 2nd Battalions and one company of the 3rd Battalion, 32nd Regiment, four or six companies (a regiment) of Arab irregulars on camels, and six mountain guns comprising a 75-mm battery of the 8th F. A. Regiment and two guns of the 9th (one and a half batteries), two field ambulances and an ammunition column.[16][2][14][Note 2]

The Ottoman and Arab force travelled across the Sinai Peninsula on the northern route, which runs not far from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and nearly parallel with it. A series of oases with date palms and reliable water stretch for 15 miles (24 km) from Bir el Abd in the east to Oghratina, Katia and Romani near the Suez Canal.[17] These oases make the northern route from the Ottoman-Egyptian Frontier at Rafa to El Arish and Romani viable, and British strategists thought it possible that 250,000 Ottoman troops could cross the Sinai, and 80,000 be based permanently in this fertile area. Whoever could hold the contested ground in the area of Katia and Romani would be in a position to protect the Canal, or within striking distance.[18] The area was patrolled almost daily by Ottoman aircraft, which bombed the recently established Katia camp on 20 April, and both Katia and Romani the next day.[19]

British deployments

Map showing positions of the 5th Mounted Brigade on 23 April 1916

23 April 1916 was St George's Day and also Easter Sunday, and dawn found the 5th Mounted Yeomanry Brigade, commanded by E. A. Wiggin, scattered over a wide area. The brigade was made up of the Warwickshire Yeomanry, the Gloucestershire Hussars, and the Worcestershire Yeomanry.[20] These regiments were deployed as follows:

  • At Oghrantina there were two squadrons of Worcestershire Yeomanry (less one troop), with four officers and 60 other ranks of the 2/2nd Lowland Field Company Royal Engineers.[20]
  • At Katia were one squadron and a machine gun subsection of the Gloucestershire Hussars, along with 40 dismounted men of the Worcester Yeomanry, and details from the Royal Army Medical Corps, Army Veterinary Corps and camel transport.[20]
  • At Bir el Hamisah were the Warwickshire Yeomanry (less one squadron), and one squadron and one troop from the Worcester Yeomanry.[20]
  • At Romani, near Pelusium, were the Gloucester Hussars (less one squadron), and a machine gun subsection in reserve.[20]

At the small oasis of Dueidar 13 miles (21 km) south south west of Katia were 156 men; 120 from the 5th Royal Scots Fusiliers and 36 from the Bikanir Camel Corps, including a few Yeomanry.[12] The 4th Royal Scots Fusiliers of the 52nd (Lowland) Division were holding Hill 70, 5 miles (8.0 km) behind Dueidar.[21]

On 22 April Wiggin and his brigade headquarters, with one squadron and one troop of Worcester Yeomanry, had arrived at Bir el Hamisah from Katia.[20] Wiggin moved there in response to an intelligence report that an Ottoman force was at Bir el Mageibra some distance to the south and, with the agreement of his commander H. A. Lawrence, he prepared to launch a surprise attack.[22][19] At dawn on 23 April, Wiggin found and destroyed a large but almost empty camp at Bir el Mageibra, capturing six prisoners. He was back at Bir el Hamisah by 09:00, having covered a distance of 16 miles (26 km), when he heard news of Ottoman attacks.[20]



The oasis at Oghratina had been occupied by one squadron from the Worcester Yeomanry and a detachment of Royal Engineers 36 hours before the Ottoman attack; a second squadron arrived just 12 hours before the attack, so defensive works had not been extensive. These squadrons stood to at 04:00 in dense sea-fog, which was common at that time of year. They heard the sound of pumps operating at wells 500 yards (460 m) to their south west, and an officer who investigated found about 60 Ottoman soldiers. The Yeomanry completely surprised this small Ottoman force, opening fire and causing heavy casualties, but in following up their retreat, the Yeomanry were met with very heavy rifle fire from a much larger force. Soon afterwards, British squadrons on the right were attacked, and by 05:15 the whole camp was being assaulted from north, east and south east in overwhelming strength at a range of 50 yards (46 m) or less.[23]

The Ottoman attack began with heavy fire from light guns, machine guns and rifles.[24] Although the commander of the Yeomanry detachment had orders to retire if attacked in force, he could not leave the dismounted engineers.[23] The Ottoman attack was resisted for two hours, but by 07:45 11 Yeomanry officers and 135 other ranks were casualties. The survivors, four officers and 42 other ranks, surrendered.[23][25]


At 03:30 "A" Squadron Gloucester Hussars stood to arms and saddled up; a patrol was sent out and returned to report all clear. Soon afterwards a small Ottoman patrol fired on the Yeomanry and retired. About 05:30 heavy fire was heard from Oghratina, and a message was received half an hour later that an attack had been repulsed. At 06:30 another message reported that the attack had been renewed, and a message from Romani reported that Dueidar had also been attacked. At 07:45 another Ottoman attack at Katia was driven off.[26]

At 08:45 a patrol sent out towards Oghratina saw 600 Ottoman soldiers marching towards Katia in open order in two long lines about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) away, followed by more troops in a formed body, and cavalry advancing to the south west to surround Katia. At 09:45 a battery of mountain guns near Er Rabah opened fire on Katia from the north east, which killed or maimed some of the horses within a few minutes.[27]

Rather than retiring to Romani or to Bir el Hamisah, the officer in charge decided to stay at Katia and hope for support from Romani. The Gloucester squadron maintained rapid fire against the increasing numbers of Ottoman attackers, and just before 11:00 British reinforcements from Romani and Bir el Hamisah were seen converging on Katia.[28] Heavy fire from Ottoman rifles and machine guns continued for several hours at Katia, and the Ottomans gradually pressed in on the Yeomanry's front and flanks.[27] Eventually working their way to within 50 yards (46 m), the Ottomans rushed the squadron shortly before 15:00.[28]

At about 13:00 the Katia garrison's commanding officer had asked a captain to bring up the horse holders, as every man was needed, but the captain fainted from the effects of a wound before he reached them.[Note 3] When he came to, he saw the camp had been captured, and galloped with the surviving horses and horse holders to meet escaping Yeomanry. A total of 80 men escaped, including the horse holders and the only officer to get away from Oghratina or Katia.[29] Two officers were killed and three wounded and taken prisoner, while 17 other ranks were killed and 56 missing.[28]


At Dueidar the garrison of 156 rifles defended an area of just 450 by 150 yards (410 by 140 m) containing six small redoubts. At 04:00 a linesman was sent out to investigate a loss of communication with Katia; the commander of the garrison visited the posts under his command and sent out a patrol to the south east, ordering his troops to stand to arms. The patrol saw nothing in the mist, but at 05:17 a sentry saw a large of group Ottoman soldiers and opened fire on them. This alerted the nearest redoubt garrison armed with 50 rifles and a Lewis gun which swept the Ottoman ranks. So effective was the fire that the attackers soon fell back leaving 20 dead and wounded, while an Ottoman mountain gun battery was unable to find the British positions. At 07:00 Ottoman forces attempted to outflank the British position to the south, but were stopped by fire from a small defensive works on that flank containing one Non-commissioned officer (NCO) and six men. Shortly afterwards Ottoman soldiers repeated their attack on the south eastern redoubt. Some of them got to within 20 yards (18 m) of the defensive barbed wire, but were again routed by steady fire.[30]

British and Australian reinforcements

Wiggin ordered the Worcestershire Yeomanry to water at Bir el Hamisah and then advance on Katia, but before watering was complete they saw shells bursting at Katia, and moved off at 09:50 to reinforce the line of the Gloucester squadron on the left.[27]

The remaining squadrons of Warwick Yeomanry, after watering at Bir el Hamisah, moved at 10:30 to attack the Hod um Ugba, which was north east of Katia and half way between Bir el Hamisah and Katia. Wiggin moved off an hour later to attack the same place, and this force became engaged with Ottoman flanking troops. By 13:45 Wiggin had advanced about 1 mile (1.6 km) against very strong opposition, but soon afterwards he saw a commotion among the camels at Katia; the tents in the camp were burning and he decided that the best option was to fall back to Bir el Hamisah.[31]

Reinforcements from Romani, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel R. M. Yorke, attacked the Ottoman force to the north of Katia, but were driven off.[32] These five troops and a machine gun section of Gloucester Hussars moved out from Romani at 10:15 to intercept a column of 500 Ottoman soldiers retiring southeast from Dueidar. Shortly after leaving Romani, firing was heard from Katia, and from some high ground they could see the Ottoman artillery north of Er Rabah shelling the camp. When the Gloucester Hussars advanced towards the Ottoman artillery, it ceased fire, and 15 minutes later was seen to withdraw some distance. The Gloucester Hussars pushed some Ottoman soldiers back to the high ground south of the Hod um Ugba, where Ottoman reinforcements stopped their advance. The strength of the Ottoman attacks made a gradual withdrawal necessary, but long halts were made to enable the wounded at Romani to retire also.[31]

Unfortunately the Gloucester Hussars from Romani were not aware of Wiggin and his reinforcements on the other flank until it was too late, finally coming in sight of them at about 15:00. Wiggin had seen Yorke's force an hour earlier, but had not been able to communicate with it.[29]

Dueidar was reinforced by two companies of 4th Royal Scots Fusiliers from Hill 70 on the railway 5 miles (8.0 km) to the rear. On approaching Dueidar, a small detachment of reinforcements was sent to the south eastern redoubt. The Ottoman firing line was found to be south of the Dueidar to Katia track and 200 yards (180 m) from the principal redoubt.[30] Shortly after the mist cleared, a British aircraft dropped a message that the main Ottoman force was in retreat and that there were only about 150 rifles still attacking. A squadron of the Australian 5th Light Horse Regiment arrived at midday from Kantara, and moved off south east in pursuit of the main Ottoman force, while the garrison at Dueidar attacked the Ottoman rearguard which broke and fled, leaving behind 17 unwounded troops who were taken prisoner. The remainder of 5th Light Horse Regiment arrived at Duidar at 13:30 and took up the pursuit. They captured one officer and 31 other ranks, and killed 75 men; there were 55 British casualties.[33]


The commander of 5th Mounted Brigade decided to retire towards the Suez Canal, and the two squadrons from Romani joined him, abandoning much equipment to ride overnight to Bir el Nuss.[34] Wiggin arrived at Dueidar at 09:00 on 24 April with two squadrons.[33] The 5th Mounted Brigade had been completely surprised; its commander and his important reserve force had been out of position at a critical time following false intelligence, and could not support his regiments. The three and a half squadrons at Oghratina and Katia were decimated—almost all were killed, wounded or captured.[22][14][35] This British defeat was the first in a series of devastating setbacks; the Easter Rising began in Ireland the next day, and six days later the British garrison in Kut, Mesopotamia surrendered.[36][37][38]

The overwhelming success of the Ottoman Army's operations during the Affair of Katia demonstrated the attacking strength and determination of Kress von Kressenstein's force in 1916, and their efficient implementation of appropriate tactics, particularly timing and false intelligence. This success was underpinned by the Ottoman infantry's ability to make the gruelling march across the Sinai Peninsula and be fit enough to then launch attacks with force and determination.[39][40][41]

On 24 April Romani was reoccupied and the commander of the ANZAC Mounted Division (known also as the Australian and New Zealand or A. & N. Z. Mounted Division), Major General H. G. Chauvel, took command of the advance positions.[42] The 2nd Light Horse Brigade and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade of the Anzac Mounted Division were ordered to Romani and as they reoccupied the area, they were not opposed by any Ottoman force.[43][44][45] The 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division reinforced the garrison at Dueidar and also came under Chauvel's command.[46]

After the Affair of Katia the area was held by British forces with their main bases at Romani and Kantara. Regular patrols and reconnaissances were carried out over the oases area, until the issue was resolved at the Battle of Romani in August 1916 when British Empire forces won a decisive victory.[47][Note 4]


  1. ^ The towns on the Suez Canal are Port Said at the Mediterranean Sea end in the north, Ismailia near the Bitter Lakes approximately half way along the canal, and Suez on the Red Sea at the southern end of the canal.
  2. ^ These were four gun artillery batteries.[Erickson 2001, p. 155]
  3. ^ While fighting on foot one quarter of the yeomanry were holding the horses; a brigade was equivalent in rifle strength to an infantry battalion. [Preston 1921 p.168]
  4. ^ For a description of the period from April to August, see the 'Occupation of Romani' and 'Reconnaissances May to June 1916' subsections of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign article.
  1. ^ Battles Nomenclature Committee 1922, p. 31
  2. ^ a b Wavell 1968, p. 43
  3. ^ Bou 2009, p. 154
  4. ^ Keogh 1955, p. 34
  5. ^ Bruce 2002, p. 32
  6. ^ Wavell 1968, p. 40
  7. ^ Keogh 1955, p. 37
  8. ^ Bruce 2002, p. 35
  9. ^ Woodward 2006, pp. 33–4
  10. ^ Falls 1930 pp. 160–1
  11. ^ Bruce 2002, pp. 36–7
  12. ^ a b c d Falls 1930, p. 161
  13. ^ a b Downes 1938, pp. 555, 558
  14. ^ a b c Erickson 2001, p. 155
  15. ^ Keogh 1955, p. 38
  16. ^ Falls 1930, pp. 170, 377
  17. ^ Wavell 1968, p. 29
  18. ^ Keogh 1955, pp. 36–7
  19. ^ a b Gullett 1941, p. 82
  20. ^ a b c d e f g Falls 1930, p. 162
  21. ^ Falls 1930 pp. 161–2
  22. ^ a b Wavell 1968, pp. 43–5
  23. ^ a b c Falls 1930, p. 163
  24. ^ Gullett 1941, pp. 83–4
  25. ^ Gullett 1941, pp. 83–4
  26. ^ Falls 1930, pp. 163-4
  27. ^ a b c Falls 1930, p. 164
  28. ^ a b c Gullett 1941, pp. 84–6
  29. ^ a b Falls 1930, p. 166
  30. ^ a b Falls 1930, p. 166-7
  31. ^ a b Falls 1930, p. 165
  32. ^ Gullett 1941, p. 87
  33. ^ a b Falls 1930, p. 168
  34. ^ Gullett 1941, p. 87
  35. ^ Bowman-Manifold 1923, p. 21
  36. ^ Bruce 2002, pp. 88–9
  37. ^ "Apr 24, 1916: The Easter Rising begins in Dublin". This Day in History World War I. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  38. ^ "Apr 29, 1916: British forces surrender at Kut, Mesopotamia". This Day in History World War I. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 
  39. ^ Wavell 1968, pp. 33–4
  40. ^ Keogh 1955, p. 36
  41. ^ Gullett 1941, pp. 82–3
  42. ^ Falls 1930, p. 169
  43. ^ 2nd LHB War Diary AWM4, 10/2/15 April 1916
  44. ^ Powles 1922, p. 14
  45. ^ Downes 1938, pp. 558–9
  46. ^ Falls 1930, p. 169
  47. ^ Falls 1930, pp. 175–9


  • "2nd Light Horse Brigade War Diary". First World War Diaries AWM4, 10-2-15. Canberra: Australian War Memorial. April 1916. 
  • The Official Names of the Battles and Other Engagements Fought by the Military Forces of the British Empire During the Great War, 1914–1919, and the Third Afghan War, 1919: Report of the Battles Nomenclature Committee as Approved by The Army Council Presented to Parliament by Command of His Majesty. London: Government Printer. 1922. OCLC 29078007. 
  • Bowman-Manifold, M. G. E. (1923). An Outline of the Egyptian and Palestine Campaigns, 1914 to 1918 (2nd ed.). Catham: The Institute of Royal Engineers and W. & J. Mackay & Co. Ltd. OCLC 224893679. 
  • Bruce, Anthony (2002). The Last Crusade: The Palestine Campaign in the First World War. London: John Murray Ltd. ISBN 9780719554322. 
  • Downes, R. M.; A. G. Butler (1938). The Campaign in Sinai and Palestine (2nd ed.). Canberra: Australian War Memorial. OCLC 491410814. 
  • Erickson, Edward J. (2001). Ordered to Die: A History of the Ottoman Army in the First World War. Forward by General Hüseyiln Kivrikoglu. No. 201 Contributions in Military Studies. Westport Connecticut: Greenwood Press. OCLC 43481698. 
  • Falls, Cyril; G. MacMunn (1930). Military Operations Egypt & Palestine: From the Outbreak of War With Germany to June 1917. Official History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. 1. London: HM Stationary Office. OCLC 610273484. 
  • Gullett, H.S. (1941). The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, 1914–1918. Official History of Australian in the War of 1914–1918, Volume VII. Canberra: Australian War Memorial. OCLC 220900153. 
  • Keogh, E. G.; Joan Graham (1955). Suez to Aleppo. Melbourne: Directorate of Military Training by Wilkie & Co. OCLC 220029983. 
  • Powles, C. Guy; A. Wilkie (1922). The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine. Official History New Zealand's Effort in the Great War, Volume III. Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd. OCLC 2959465. 
  • Wavell, Field Marshal Earl (1968). E.W. Sheppard. ed. The Palestine Campaigns. A Short History of the British Army (3rd ed.). London: Constable & Co. 
  • Woodward, David R. (2006). Hell in the Holy Land: World War I in the Middle East. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813123837. 

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