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Tuesday, 24 February 2009
The Light Cars in the Libyan Desert
Topic: AIF - Cars

1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF

THE LIGHT CARS IN THE LIBYAN DESERT

APPENDIX No. 2.

 

The following summary was extracted from: Bean, C.E.W., The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916, Official History, Volume III:-

Appendix 2 – The Light Cars in the Libyan Desert.

 

APPENDIX No. 2.

THE LIGHT CARS IN THE LIBYAN DESERT

Although the main force of the Senussi had been beaten in the Sollum campaign, the Nile valley farther south continued to be threatened by congregations of tribesmen in the neighbouring oases. There is said to be evidence that not only the Senussi, but the Sultan of Darfur and possibly the Turks were working upon a concerted plan, It thus became necessary to safeguard the western edge of the Nile valley. The part played in this by the light horse and the Imperial Camel Corps has been mentioned in Volume VII

The British Official History states :

The Imperial Camel Corps (which, the authors say, "was predominantly Australian") was the backbone of the defence of Egypt from the west. But the use of camelry in war is ancient. and it was the internal-combustion engine which now completely altered the situation.

The reference is to the motor-car patrols, which were of two types - light car patrols of Ford cars, and light armoured motor batteries of Rolls Royce cars and tenders. It was to this service that Murray sent the Australian light-car patrol, which arrived in Egypt in the middle of 1916. This unit consisted of three armoured cars of the heavier type, armed with Colt guns; the bodies had been built by the members of the unit themselves in Melbourne to the plans of their commander, Captain James.

On August 15th they were sent from Ismailia to Minia, with the 11th and 12th British Light Armoured Car Batteries, they patrolled the line of blockhouses to the Baharia oasis which in October was re-occupied by a force under Major-General Watson. The Colt guns of the Australian cars worked well enough, but, though all the drivers were accustomed to bush driving in Australia, their cars proved much more difficult to work in sand than the British Rolls Royces. Apart from the possibility of breakdown in the desert - to which both cars and aeroplanes were liable - there was no great danger in the work.

On December 3rd the unit was ordered south. Its cars and guns were returned to Cairo, but the personnel went by railway to the Kharga oasis, which the British had re-occupied in April. Here cars and Lewis guns were taken over from a British unit. Extra drivers and some despatch riders (with motor-cycles) joined, and the unit became No. 1 Australian Light Car Patrol. Its first duty was to escort General Watson to the Dakhla oasis (reoccupied since October, 1916). At the end of the year the unit was employed in discovering new routes from the southern end of that oasis to Kharga, the ancient track (Darb el Gubari) being too flinty for tyres. A more southerly route was soon found - leading through a pass in some rocky hills, beyond which was firm sand allowing motors to travel at high speed to Kharga, which was their goal.

Meanwhile, all the important oases had been re-occupied except Siwa, where the Senussi himself was located. Hearing that he proposed to withdraw thence to Jaghbub, Sir Archibald Murray decided to raid Siwa from Matruh. This was done at the beginning of February, 1917, but the Senussi escaped. It was while these plans were in preparation that the Australian patrol, then at Dakhla, was asked to discover a route from Dakhla direct to the Kufra oasis, 400 miles to the west in the centre of the desert. The oasis had never been approached from this direction, access having always been from Cyrenaica in the north. Three cars started, with two despatch-riders. But the surface was found to be soft drift-sand; the cars had to be worked in low gear and constantly pushed. One broke down at the 80th mile, and a second when nearing the 200th. The country ahead, seen from a high hill, showed no sign of improvement, and the attempt was therefore abandoned. The patrol returned to Dakhla oasis just as its last water-can was emptied. A second attempt was about to be made when the unit was sent to Palestine.

The British, who were now raiding the Senussi's camps from the north in conjunction with the Italians, and destroying his ammunition, in April, 1917, made terms with Sayed Idris, the Senussi's cousin (and son of his predecessor). This leader was now recognised as occupying the Senussi's position; Sayed Ahmed himself was in August, 1918, smuggled by an Austrian submarine to Constantinople, where he for a time took a prominent part in the Pan-Islamic movement.


Further Reading:

1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF, Contents 

Australian Light Horse Order of Battle - Outline 

The Australian Light Horse - Structure

Australian Light Horse Order of Battle

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Light Cars in the Libyan Desert

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Monday, 13 April 2009 9:43 PM EADT

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