British Force, 40,000
Major General Sir John Maxwell, Commander
Turkish Force, 65,000
General Djemal Pasha, Commander
The German intriguants at Constantinople (Istanbul) had been occupied since the first days of the War in developing a gigantic plot having for its ultimate object a universal uprising of the 300,000,000 Muslims throughout the East. They hoped thus to end the rule of England in both Egypt and India, and destroy the British Empire.
The Muslim world, however, refused to do the bidding of the Huns. Only the Osmanli Turks, now tottering to their fall, consented to act as the Kaiser's cat's-paws. Germany had proposed, with the assistance of her Turkish allies, to take possession of the Suez Canal in the hope of separating England from India and at the same time menacing English rule in Egypt.
A Turkish Expeditionary Army of 65,000 men, under the nominal command of Djemal Pasha, but in reality led by German officers, was mobilized at Constantinople and ordered to seize the Suez Canal. The Mediterranean Sea route being then unsafe both for Turks and Germans, the Army in reaching Suez, was compelled to cross the trackless and waterless Syrian Desert, varying in width from 120 to 150 miles.
The defense of the Suez Canal had been assigned to Major General Sir John Maxwell, who had assembled an army corps recruited from the Egyptian troops. As early as November 21, 1914, a skirmish had taken place between the Suez Canal defenders and a troop of 2,000 Bedouins, in which the Arabs were repulsed.
The defenses of the Suez Canal were at once strengthened. At the north end of the canal, the dike was cut in several places in order to flood a portion of the Syrian Desert to the east and thus prevent attack in that direction. The inundation at once increased the British water defenses some 20 miles and reduced the entire British front about 60 miles. Naval patrols took over the task of guarding the Bitter Lakes through which the Suez Canal runs and the additional water areas in the North.
In the main, all British defences were arranged on the west bank of the canal, but in addition a few defence posts were built to cover ferries and other crossings. Four British gunboats — the Swiftsure, Ocean, Minerva and Clio — took stations in the canal, and two French warships assisted at Port Said, the northern end of the canal.
The Attack on the Canal
Early in January, the British observers had noted enemy preparations in Syria, where the Turks had established outposts at Khan Yunus and Auja, the terminal of the railroad from Aleppo. A week later, the Turks had pushed their advanced posts forward to the villages of El Arish and Kossaima, both on Egyptian soil.
On January 28, 1915, the vanguard of the Turkish Army advanced in two columns to the initial attack on the British line. In the North, the route from El Kantara to El Arish was temporarily cut by the Turks, but they were soon beaten back. In the South, skirmishes near El Kubic took place, but the Turks scored no great advantage.
The main army of the Turks, which had now dwindled to 12,000 men, arrived at the canal on February 2, 1915. A skirmish near Ismailia Ferry was suddenly terminated by a violent sandstorm. After nightfall, however, the Turkish Army, hauled some 30 pontoon boats to the banks of the canal at Toussoun, 12 miles below Ismailia, and attempted to cross. The British troops opened fire with maxim guns, which took a heavy toll in lives. The Turks brought several batteries of field guns into action, but failed to silence the British batteries.
Next day, the British, supported by land and naval artillery, crossed the canal at Serapeum and attacked the Turkish left flank. By late afternoon a third of the Turkish Army was in full retreat leaving 500 prisoners and many dead behind them. The guns on a Turkish warship in the adjacent lake then opened a lively fire, damaging a British gunboat. During the night, the Turks stole away, and so ended the battle of the Suez Canal. By February 10, 1915, the Sinai Peninsula was cleared of the enemy.
Prince Hassein Kernel Ascends Throne of Egypt
After the British Government had established a protectorate over Egypt, Lieutenant General Henry MacMahon was appointed High Commissioner and Prince Hassein Kernel, eldest son of Iswail, ascended the throne of Egypt with the title of Sultan.