Topic: AIF - 3B - 9 LHR
The Battle of Magdhaba
Sinai, 23 December 1916
9th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account
Major Thomas Henry Darley produced a unit history of the 9th Light Horse Regiment, AIF, called With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, in which included a section specifically related to the Battle of Magdhaba and is extracted below.
Darley, TH, With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, Adelaide, Hassell Press, 1924, pp. 60 - 63.
El Arish and El Magdhaba Operations
El Magdhaba is situated on the banks of the Wadi El Arish, about 23 miles, as the crow flies, from the sea. Except from a military point of view, it was a place of no importance, but standing in a natural defensive position it was well garrisoned with a view to holding up our further advance. It could also be used by the enemy as a starting place for a turning movement against our right flank. It was clear to all that no further advance could be made in our direct line until this menace to our communications was removed, and the Commander in Chief decided that the Anzac Mounted Division would efficiently carry out this duty.
At daybreak, shortly after arrival at Es Ria, the Regiment took up a position about 3,000 yards north of El Magdhaba. From this point the 1st Light Horse Brigade could be clearly seen closing in to the attack. At 9.45 a.m. the Brigade commenced to move round the enemy's right flank, whilst the New Zealanders occupied some prominent sand hills; the Inverness and Leicester Batteries, Royal Horse Artillery, being between them and the Imperial Camel Corps. These batteries immediately opened fire on the redoubts, thus enabling the advancing troops to gain ground. The enemy up to this had lain low, but he prepared to give his usual display of defensive fighting and opened heavy and accurate fire at ranges of from 1,000 to 1,200 yards.
The Regiment now took up a position on the left of the New Zealanders and was supported by the 8th Light Horse Regiment. The two Regiments dismounted and advanced in extended order. The country at this particular point was practically level for a distance of 2,000 yards, whilst the enemy trenches were on a slight rise, and so placed that their fire would sweep the whole plain. A few grassy hillocks dotted over the plain afforded slight cover, but these were few and far between. As the Regiments advanced the line was shortened by the 8th Light Horse Regiment advancing on a slightly different direction, and two troops were dropped back as support.
When about 1,000 yards from the enemy position snipers and Lewis guns were pushed forward to cover the advance, which was made by alternate rushes, troop by troop, each troop supporting the advance by rapid fire. The heavy and accurately placed fire of the enemy began to take effect, and a number of casualties occurred, but by 2.30 p.m. the line had been advanced to within 500 yards of the position, and drew the attention of the enemy gunners who opened a brisk fire with shrapnel.
The line was now straightened up and reserve ammunition brought forward for the Lewis guns. At 3.15 p.m. the line again advanced by rushes of 25 yards, whilst the batteries kept up a brisk fire on the redoubts. On arrival at 150 yards from the redoubts, the line laid low for a spell and at 3.45 p.m. bayonets were fixed ready for the final rush. At a given signal the whole line leapt to their feet, and, rushing forward with wild cheers, carried the outer trenches, many of the enemy being bayoneted before the remainder surrendered
Our machine guns, which had been in rear supporting the move by overhead fire, now came forward, and together with the Lewis guns and rifles, opened a heavy fire on the enemy position to our right thus enabling the Imperial Camel Corps and New Zealanders to advance. In the meantime the 10th Light Horse Regiment had moved round the right flank for the purpose of cutting off any attempt at escape.
The 8th and 9th Light Horse Regiments now advanced against the buildings from which rifle fire was being directed, the 8th Light Horse Regiment capturing a battery of light guns during the move. As the prisoners were being rounded up news arrived that the 10th Light Horse Regiment were hard pressed on the far side of the buildings, and McKenzie, Major KA, with 50 men were immediately sent to their support.
Royston, Brigadier General JR, called for two mounted troops, and as the horses had just arrived, these were despatched under the command of Chanter, Captain JC, but this party on arrival found that the enemy force had already surrendered to McKenzie, Major KA, and his party. McKenzie, Major KA, with C Squadron did excellent work during the day, and to them fell the honour of taking the first enemy trench.
The Royal Flying Corps was by no means idle during the day, our pilots skimming the enemy trenches frequently and doing good work with their machine guns. They also dropped a liberal supply of light bombs on enemy strong points, doing considerable damage and with good moral effect.
This was the first action in which the Lewis gun teams had used their new guns, their work showing great initiative and tactical judgment, special credit being due to McKenna, 804 Corporal B; Harley, 471 Corporal A; and, Carter, 892A Corporal WH, for the manner in which they handled their teams, reconnoitred the position, and brought effective fire to bear with economical use of ammunition. Cruddas, 397 Trooper GF; and, Fulwood, 11 Trooper AL, did splendid work in bringing up supplies of ammunition under heavy machine gun fire, whilst the stretcher bearers, Crack, 1472 Trooper AH; and, Currie, 645 Trooper AH, did excellent work amongst the wounded.
The Regiment had little time to collect prisoners, but five officers and 154 other ranks taken in the first trench were handed over to the Division. It had been stated that the enemy had destroyed their water service when all hope of a successful resistance had been abandoned, but this was found to be incorrect, and both horses and men drank to their heart's content from his abundant supply. A party was sent out to collect the wounded and bury the dead, whilst another party from one of the Brigades was sent to clear up the battle ground.
A plentiful supply of wood was found, and as the night was drawing in and was bitterly cold large fires were lighted. It was indeed a strange sight to see our men and the Turks, who one hour before had been fighting a bitter fight, sitting side by side round the fires, sharing their evening meal and cigarettes, apparently on the best of terms.
At 11 p.m. the Division moved off on the return journey, arriving at Bir Lahfan at 3 a.m., where it halted and bivouacked. The huge column of prisoners arrived at 4.30 a.m. and halted. A convoy of 400 camels had been sent out from El Arish, and at daybreak each enemy prisoner received a ration consisting of one tin of bully beef, one pound of biscuits, and one quart of water. For the purpose of distributing these rations the prisoners were paraded in line, and were told off in parties of 20, under their own officers and Non Commissioned Officers. Each party was then given 20 tins of meat and one tin of biscuits, and were marched off a short distance, where the supplies were distributed amongst the party. It is doubtful whether they had ever received such a generous ration during the whole of their desert campaign.
At daybreak the Division resumed the march to El Arish, and went into bivouac at Hod Masaid, which was reached at 9 a.m. on the 24th December 1916. The operations had been a severe test on the endurance of both men and horses, as three night marches had been done during the past four nights, with plenty of hard work during the intervening days.
That the operations were an unqualified success is proved by the fact that the whole garrison of roughly 2,000 had been captured, together with a large quantity of stores, a battery of guns, and many machine guns. The prisoners were a mixed lot, representing many tribes, but were all of fine physique. Several Germans were amongst the bag, and one black officer was seen. After a short rest and meal they were conducted to El Arish and sent to Egypt.
The work of the transport was very trying throughout these operations. When the force moved from the Wadi El Arish on the night of the 22nd December 1916, the transport camels allotted to the Brigade were collected and marched to the supply depot on the beach at El Arish by Darley, Captain TH, and loaded with further supplies. At 10 a.m. on the 23rd December 1916 this party commenced the long and trying journey to El Magdhaba, 80 per cent of the camels carrying drinking water. By continuous marching El Magdhaba was reached at 9.30 p.m., and the supplies were issued to the various units. The convoy immediately started on the return journey, arriving at Bir Lahfan at 2 a.m. where it halted. After the prisoners had been rationed the two convoys were moved back to El Arish, arriving at 3 p.m. on the 24th December 1916.
Citation: The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, 9th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account