The bombardment of the Russian ports of Odessa, Sevastopol and Feodosia on 29 October 1914 signalled Turkey’s entry into World War I. Within a few days, Russia declared war in response to the Turkish bombardment of its Black Sea ports, and on 5 November Britain and France also declared war against Turkey.
Three months later Turkish forces crossed the inhospitable Sinai Desert and attacked the Suez Canal. The mainly Arab units of the Damascus Corps were led by the German Colonel Kress von Kressenstein. The attack was easily resisted by Indian and New Zealand troops supported by British artillery. The 7th and 8th Australian Battalions were rushed to the scene as reinforcements, but their baptism of fire would have to wait a further three months. The Sinai Desert proved a formidable obstacle to the British Empire forces, who were ill equipped to pursue the retreating enemy. The Sinai would be quiet for the twelve months following the Gallipoli landings in April 1915.
The withdrawal of Anzac and British forces from Gallipoli in December 1915 and January 1916 freed thousands of Turkish troops for other fronts and increased British concern about the threat to Egypt and the Suez Canal. The first British estimates of available Turkish troops to threaten the canal were based on pessimistic assumptions, but when the estimates were ruthlessly cut, the concern about a Turkish attack was replaced by more aggressive thinking. For the next two and a half years the British forces, continuously supported by Australian mounted troops, pushed the Turks back 650 kilometres in a campaign that culminated in one of the most brilliant cavalry operations in the history of warfare—the final Palestine offensive in September 1918 that led to an armistice just six weeks later.