Turkey in the First World War

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A Daring Commando Raid in Suez Front
by guest author Mehmet Fatih Baş

The most spectecular and yet nearly forgotten commando operation in the First World War is probably the raid on Jamsa oil installations near the Suez Canal. The raid was commanded by two Hungarian volunteers, Georg Gondos and Dr. Paul Michael Simon. Their objective was to sabotage the oil installations and the oil refinery in Jamsa. That refinery was one of the main fuel source for British navy and airforce, so a successful operation on those facilities would be a great blow against British war efforts.

Both Gondos and Simon were born in 1892 in Timisora, Hungary. Gondos was educated in civilian oil drilling techniques. Simon had completed a law doctorate. Both could speak several foreign languages fluently. Gondos used to work in Jamsa oil installations and at the outbreak of war he immediately went to Vienna and enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army. He was in the 20. Field Artillery Regiment with Simon.

In October 1914, Gondos and Simon told the Austro-Hungarian Ministry of War in Vienna about their plans to sabotage Jamsa oil installations. As Gondos had worked at those installations before the war, he knew that region very well. The Ministry of War requested some information on that area from the Austro-Hungarian Navy and eventually they approved the request of Gondos and Simon. The Ministry of War appointed two more men to assist them during their mission. These were Engineer Wienecke who was an explosives expert and Kastriner who was the publisher of German Publications Newspaper in Timisora. The four arrived in Istanbul in early November. They were now under the orders of the Austro-Hungarian Military Attaché in Istanbul. Attaché Pomianowski promised them the assistance of Colonel Kress von Kressenstein, who was the chief of the staff of the Turkish Eighth Army, under whose responsibility the mission was to be executed.

Gondos and his group of men left Istanbul on November 12, 1914 and they introduced themselves to Col. Kressenstein and Cemal Paşa on November 20 in Damascus. In order to collect more information about the area, on November 26, 1914, Gondos crossed the Sinai Peninsula with a Turkish officer and two Beduins. They returned to Jerusalem from this reconnaisance mission on December 30, 1914. The group was now under the orders of Col. Kressenstein. Dr. Simon organised the ammunition transfer from Damascus to Jerusalem.

Until the new year’s eve, Wienecke prepared the 50 km Hebron-Beersheba road so that it would be suitable for military transports. Kastriner was not a soldier, and hence he was responsible ofor the translation works for Col. Kressenstein. Gondos realized that both sides of the Suez Channel were well protected. Acoording to his first plan, he was going to demolish the oil pipelines and the feeding facilities on the both sides of the channel but this seemed to be dangerous at that time. That was why they planned to chocke the pipelines and make them useless. So they needed Wienecke no more. Wienecke stayed in Turkey and took part in some missions like laying mines in the Black Sea.

Gondos and Simon left Jerusalem at 2:00 am on January 2, 1915. They arrived Umman through Jericho, and from Umman they took a train to Maan. They arrived Akaba by camels. On January 5, 1915, two beduins joined them. Those beduins were the ones who were with Gondos in the first recon mission across the Sinai Peninsula. They arrived Kalat al Nackl in Sina on January 9, 1915. Here, Gondos tried to raise a platoon of volunteers. He was given three junior officers and ten privates by Fourth Army. The platoon was equipped with mauser rifles. They left Nackl on January 12, 1915 but they were short of camels and food. They arrived Tour on January 19, 1915 and they saw that Tour was defended by 300 men and a British cruiser in the harbor, which forced them to stop. Between January 20 and 24, they fought for the water wells in Tour. But the platoon wouldn’t survive like that, because they were short of water and food. So Gondos picked two of his men and sent one of them to Col. Kressenstein and the other to Katharine Monastery.

On the night of January 23, Gondos took a couple of men with him and secretly infiltrated into the town. They blew up the town hall and withdrew. On January 24 they tried to break in to the Quarantine area which was defended by a weak unit. But the artillery barrage of the ships in the harbor prevented Gondos to break into this area.

On the night of January 24, Gondos infiltrated into Quarantine area and picked up medicine and medical materials from a nearby pharmacy. He returned to his unit with those. Those medicine and materials were later to handed over to Turkish field hospitals. The following day, he destroyed water wells, an engined water pump and an electric engine. He added aniline paint in water, just to make the British believe that the water is poisoned. Also he burned the British tents. During the course of the siege of Tour, more beduins joined his unit by declaring their loyalty to the Sultan.

On January 25, an Egyptian soldier who has deserted the army gave Gondos the information that, there are some commercial ships in Abu Semina. On February 6, Gondos left for Abu Semina with his 20 men. They marched at night because of the threatening British ships. After two nights of march, they arrived the town.

In Abu Semina, Gondos found a local captain and asked him to take them to Jamsa. In one night drive, the group reached the oil field and Gondos totally demolished three wells himself and made them useless. He also made another well to be useless for sometime. He lost six of his men dead in that oilfield. Their return trip was more unhindered but they made their way back to Sinai Peninsula.

After Gondos left Tour, Simon too did so with the beduins under his command and after a nine-days of march, they arrived in Nackl. He took only the beduins of the Nackl province with him. So he sent some supplies for the ones who were left in Tour. Simon contacted a Turkish Camel Batallion in Nackl and made his way to Hefir with them. He learned in Hefir that, Gondos was on his way to Istanbul. So he left for Istanbul too and arrived the capital on March 25, 1915.

Gondos brought some photos of the destroyed oil wells as evidence of the success of this operation. Acording to some Turkish officers, Gondos had made this advanture just to gain fame. They also said that those photos were and stories were fake. Because of such claims, Colonel Kress started an investigation with the permission of the Austro-Hungarian Military Attaché. After the investigation, it was proved that all the documents and information given by Gondos were genuine.

Because of their great success, on September 15, 1915, Emperor Franz Joseph promoted Gondos and Simon to reserve lieutenant rank. Additionally Gondos was awarded with The Golden Bravery Medal 1. Class. Simon was awarded with The Silver Bravery Medal 1. Class.

Later, Gondos was sent on a secret mission in Balkans from which he never returned. Meanwhile, the news of about the destruction of the oil wells in Jamsa was published in Egyptian Gazette on July 20, 1916.

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