Ottoman camel corps at Beersheba, 1915.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
During the First World War the Suez Canal was a particularly vital shipping lane, connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea and reducing the travel distance between Europe and Eastern Asia by around 7000 km by not having to track around Africa. This was of tremendous importance to trade but also carried high military significance because it facilitated the rapid deployment of naval forces in the area.
Ottoman activity around the Canal rose sharply late in January and this became a major issue for the Allies, particularly Britain, with her merchant fleet and Navy dependant on the Canal for most maritime activity in the general area.
The Sydney Morning Herald of the 29th January 1915 reported:
There is much activity along the Suez Canal. Troops and warships are assembling.
It is semi-officlally stated that a British reconnoitering party inflicted severe losses on the Turks near Mezera. The British casualties totalled 50.
Fighting occurred east of Kantara (on the east side of the Canal 28 miles south of Port Said, on the caravan track between Egypt and Syria), the British casualties numbering five.
The Turks opened fire with mountain
guns. The British patrol replied with machine guns and rifles. The Turks did not show any desire to come to close quarters.
There were small bodies of men at three other points east of the canal, but they did not come into contact with British troops.
A hydro-aeroplane dropped a bomb on a Turkish column at Birmursadad, inflicting
Merchantmen have been ordered to enter the canal in convoys. The crew and passengers are to keep below as much as possible. The ship’s bridges are protected by sandbags or steel plates.
These events were the opening skirmishes for what would become a major battle on February 2nd and 3rd, when elements of the Ottoman Fourth Army launched a full-scale attack on British forces defending the Canal.