Germany and its Ottoman allies had first attempted to seize the Suez Canal, and block this vital Allied supply route, in January 1915. A surprise attack in April 1916 at Bir Qatia demonstrated the continuing threat in the area. In July 1916, the German commander, General Kressenstein, managed to move an army of some 18,000 Ottoman and German troops to the vicinity of the Allied advance guard at Români. They attacked on the night of 3 August and almost captured the town, before a series of counterattacks and swift reinforcements pushed them back. Having failed to take the town, Kressenstein’s forces were soon running out of water in blistering heat; by 5 August they were forced into full, but orderly, retreat. The Allied forces harried the retreating enemy over the full breadth of the peninsula, securing El Arish in December as a springboard for Palestine operations.
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