General Allenby's first problem was of vital consequence. He had to pierce the Gaza line. Before his arrival there had been, as already stated, two attempts which failed. A third failure, or even a check, might have spelt disaster for us in the East. The Turks held commanding positions, which they strengthened and fortified under the direction of German engineers until their country, between the sea and Beersheba, became a chain of land works of high military value, well adapted for defence, and covering almost every line of approach. The Turk at the Dardanelles had shown no loss of that quality of doggedness in defence which characterised him in Plevna, and though we know his commanders still cherished the hope of successfully attacking us before we could attempt to crush his line, it was on his system of defence that the enemy mainly relied to break the power of the British force. On arriving in Egypt General Allenby was given an appreciation of the situation written by Lieut.-General Sir Philip Chetwode, who had commanded the Desert Column in various stages across the sands of Sinai, was responsible for forcing the Turks to evacuate El Arish, arranged the dash on Magdaba by General Sir Harry Chauvel's mounted troops, and fought the brilliant little battle of Rafa. This appreciation of the position was the work of a master military mind, taking a broad comprehensive view of the whole military situation in the East, Palestine's position in the world war, the strategical and tactical problems to be faced, and, without making any exorbitant demands for troops which would lessen the Allies' powers in other theatres, set out the minimum necessities for the Palestine force. General Allenby gave the fullest consideration to this document, and after he had made as complete an examination of the front as any Commander-in-Chief ever undertook - the General was in one or other sector with his troops almost every day for four months - General Chetwode's plan was adopted, and full credit was given to his prescience in General Allenby's despatch covering the operations up to the fall of Jerusalem.

It was General Chetwode's view at the time of writing his appreciation, that both the British and Turkish Armies were strategically on the defensive. The forces were nearly equal in numbers, though we were slightly superior in artillery, but we had no advantage sufficient to enable us to attack a well-entrenched enemy who only offered us a flank on which we could not operate owing to lack of water and the extreme difficulty of supply. General Chetwode thought it was possible the enemy might make an offensive against us - we have since learned he had such designs - but he gave weighty reasons against the Turk embarking upon a campaign conducted with a view to throwing us beyond the Egyptian frontier into the desert again. If the enemy contemplated even minor operations in the Sinai Desert he had not the means of undertaking them. We should be retiring on positions we had prepared, for, during his advance across the desert, General Chetwode had always taken the precaution of having his force dug in against the unlikely event of a Turkish attack. Every step we went back would make our supply easier, and there was no water difficulty, the pipe line, then 130 miles long, which carried the purified waters of the Nile to the amount of hundreds of thousands of gallons daily, being always available for our troops. It would be necessary for the Turks to repair the Beersheba-Auja railway. They had lifted some of the rails for use north of Gaza, and a raid we had carried out showed that we could stop this railway being put into a state of preparedness for military traffic. An attack which aimed at again threatening the Suez Canal was therefore ruled as outside the range of possibilities.

On the other hand, now that the Russian collapse had relieved the Turk of his anxieties in the Caucasus and permitted him to concentrate his attention on the Mesopotamian and Palestine fronts, what hope had he of resisting our attack when we should be in a position to launch it? The enemy had a single narrow-gauge railway line connecting with the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway at Junction Station about six miles south-east of Ramleh. This line ran to Beersheba, and there was a spur line running past Deir Sineid to Beit Hanun from which the Gaza position was supplied. There was a shortage of rolling stock and, there being no coal for the engines, whole olive orchards had been hacked down to provide fuel. The Hebron road, which could keep Beersheba supplied if the railway was cut, was in good order, but in other parts there were no roads at all, except several miles of badly metalled track from Junction Station to Julis. We could not keep many troops with such ill-conditioned communications, but Turkish soldiers require far less supplies than European troops, and the enemy had done such remarkable things in surmounting supply difficulties that he was given credit for being able to support between sixty and seventy battalions in the line and reserve, with an artillery somewhat weaker than our own.

If we made another frontal attack at Gaza we should find ourselves up against a desperately strong defensive system, but even supposing we got through it we should come to another halt in a few miles, as the enemy had selected, and in most cases had prepared, a number of positions right up to the Jaffa-Jerusalem road, where he would be in a land of comparative plenty, with his supply and transport troubles very considerably reduced. No one could doubt that the Turks intended to defend Jerusalem to the last, not only because of the moral effect its capture would have on the peoples of the world, but because its possession by us would threaten their enterprise in the Hedjaz, and the enormous amount of work we afterwards found they had done on the Judean hills proved that they were determined to do all in their power to prevent our driving them from the Holy City. The enemy, too, imagined that our progress could not exceed the rate at which our standard gauge railway could be built. Water-borne supplies were limited as to quantity, and during the winter the landing of supplies on an open beach was hazardous. In the coastal belt there were no roads, and the wide fringe of sand which has accumulated for centuries and still encroaches on the Maritime Plain can only be crossed by camels. Wells are few and yield but small volumes of water. With the transport allotted to the force in the middle of 1917 it was not possible to maintain more than one infantry division at a distance of twenty to twenty-five miles beyond railhead, and this could only be done by allotting to them all the camels and wheels of other divisions and rendering these immobile. This was insufficient to keep the enemy on the move after a tactical success, and he would have ample time to reorganise.

General Chetwode held that careful preliminary arrangements, suitable and elastic organisation of transport, the collection of material at railhead, the training of platelaying gangs provided by the troops, the utilisation of the earthwork of the enemy's line for our own railway, luck as regards the weather and the fullest use of sea transport, should enable us to give the enemy less breathing time than appeared possible on paper. It was beyond hope, however, whatever preparations were made, that we should be able to pursue at a speed approaching that which the river made possible in Mesopotamia. General Chetwode considered it would be fatal to attempt an offensive with forces which might permit us to attack and occupy the enemy's Gaza line but which would be insufficient to inflict upon him a really severe blow, and to follow up that blow with sufficient troops. No less than seven infantry divisions at full strength and three cavalry divisions would be adequate for the purpose, and they would be none too many. Further, if the Turks began to press severely in Mesopotamia, or even to revive their campaign in the Hedjaz, a premature offensive might be necessitated on our part in Palestine.

The suggestion made by General Chetwode for General Allenby's consideration was that the enemy should be led to believe we intended to attack him in front of Gaza, and that we should pin him down to his defences in the centre, while the real attack should begin on Beersheba and continue at Hareira and Sheria, and so force the enemy by manoeuvre to abandon Gaza. That plan General Allenby adopted after seeing all the ground, and the events of the last day of October and the first week of November supported General Chetwode's predictions to the letter. Indeed it would be hard to find a parallel in history for such another complete and absolute justification of a plan drawn up several months previously, and it is doubtful if, supposing the Turks had succeeded in doing what their German advisers advocated, namely forestalling our blow by a vigorous attack on our positions, there would have been any material alteration in the working out of the scheme. The staff work of General Headquarters and of the staffs of the three corps proved wholly sound. Each department gave of its best, and from the moment when Beersheba was taken in a day and we secured its water supply, there was never a doubt that the enemy could be kept on the move until we got into the rough rocky hills about Jerusalem. And by that time, as events proved, his moral had had such a tremendous shaking that he never again made the most of his many opportunities.

The soundness of the plan can quite easily be made apparent to the unmilitary eye. Yet the Turk was absolutely deceived as to General Allenby's intentions. If it be conceded that to deceive the enemy is one of the greatest accomplishments in the soldier's art, it must be admitted that the battle of Gaza showed General Allenby's consummate generalship, just as it was proved again, and perhaps to an even greater extent, in the wonderful days of September 1918, in Northern Palestine and Syria. A glance at the map of the Gaza-Beersheba line and the country immediately behind it will show that if a successful attack were delivered against Gaza the enemy could withdraw his whole line to a second and supporting position where we should have to begin afresh upon an almost similar operation. The Turk would still have his water and would be slightly nearer his supplies.

Since the two unsuccessful attacks in March and April, Gaza had been put into a powerful state of defence. The houses of the town are mostly on a ridge, and enclosing the place is a mass of gardens fully a mile deep, each surrounded by high cactus hedges affording complete cover and quite impossible for infantry to penetrate. To reduce Gaza would require a prolonged artillery bombardment with far more batteries than General Allenby could ever expect to have at his command, and it is certain that not only would the line in front of the town have had to be taken, but also the whole of the western end of the Turks' trench system for a length of at least 12,000 yards. And, as has been said, with Gaza secured we should still have had to face the enemy in a new line of positions about the wadi Hesi. Gaza was the Turks' strongest point. To attack here would have meant a long-drawn-out artillery duel, infantry would have had to advance over open ground under complete observation, and, while making a frontal attack, would have been exposed to enfilade fire from the 'Tank' system of works to the south-east. It would have proved a costly operation, its success could only have been partial in that it did not follow that we should break the enemy's line, and it would not have enabled us to contain the remainder of the Turkish force.

Nor would an attack on the centre have promised more favourably. Here the enemy had all the best of the ground. At Atawineh, Sausage Ridge, Hareira, and Teiaha there were defences supporting each other on high ground overlooking an almost flat plain through which the wadi Ghuzze runs. All the observation was in enemy possession, and to attack over this ground would have been inviting disaster. There was little fear that the Turks would attack us across this wide range of No Man's Land, for we held secure control of the curiously shaped heaps of broken earth about Shellal, and the conical hill at Fara gave an uninterrupted view for several miles northward and eastward. The position was very different about Beersheba. If we secured that place with its water supply, and in this dry country the battle really amounted to a fight for water, we should be attacking from high ground and against positions which had not been prepared on so formidable a scale as elsewhere, with the prospect of compelling the enemy to abandon the remainder of the line for fear of being enveloped by mounted troops moving behind his weakened left. That, in brief outline, was the gist of General Chetwode's report, and with its full acceptance began the preparations for the advance. These preparations took several months to complete, and they were as thorough as the energy of a capable staff could make them.