Topic: AIF - NZMRB
The Battle of Beersheba
Palestine, 31 October 1917
New Zealand Official History Account
Just after the capture of Tel el Saba - sheltering in a wadi from Turkish artillery fire
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Guy Powles along with Major A Wilkie produced in 1922 a book called The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, in which included a section specifically related to the battle of Beersheba and is extracted below. A copy of this book is available on the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Association website.
Powles, CG, The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, 1922, pp. 59 - 75:
How the Turkish Line was Broken at Beersheba.
It was now that the benefit of the constant patrolling and reconnoitring was felt. The Turk had become so accustomed to our mounted troops riding about the plains that our preliminary movements to the south to obtain a concentration point from which to descend upon Beersheba passed unnoticed. Every care was taken to conceal these movements, however, and no marches were made in daylight. A further protection came from our air service, now far ahead of the enemy’s in speed, numbers and personnel; for our airmen kept the enemy planes away or forced them to fly so high that they apparently saw nothing.
The long line before which we had remained for the past six months extended from the sea at Gaza to Beersheba—a distance of close upon thirty miles—and was an almost continuous trench line and followed the Gaza—Beersheba road. That portion from the sea at Gaza to the great Atawineh redoubt we knew well—to our cost. From there on towards Beersheba our reconnaissances—both air and mounted—and our Intelligence Department, told us that there was a great system of trenches at Abu Hareira, where the Wadi Sharia crosses the road; that there was also another great system at Kh. Kauwukah—covering the bend in the railway and the Sharia viaduct on the railway. From there through Bir Abu Irgeig ran a continuous line of strong works to the south of Beersheba. Practically the whole of this thirty-mile line lay upon higher ground than that held by us—giving the Turk good observation and an excellent field of fire.
Beersheba itself was entirely hidden behind a range of hills running up to a height of 960 feet, and along these hills lay the enemy trenches.
General Allenby's plan was to strike at Beersheba—the enemy's extreme left—and having taken the town with its invaluable water supply, to roll up the whole Turk line back upon Gaza. To do this the XX Corps was to attack Beersheba from the west and south-west, while the Desert Mounted Corps came in from the south, east and north.
To cover these operations the XXI Corps, aided by the Navy, was to begin a heavy bombardment of Gaza and its defences 24 hours before the move against Beersheba began.
To enable the attack upon Beersheba to be so made, preparatory measures had to be undertaken some days before, to provide water for those troops taking part in the encircling movement and also to advance the front line towards the west of Beersheba—sufficiently near to enable the attack to be launched by the infantry. The preparatory measures included placing one mounted division at Asluj, one mounted division at Khalasa, amid one mounted brigade at Bir el Esani.
The mounted corps was required also to protect the advance of the XX Corps to its preliminary position on the line Abu Ghalyun—Rashid Bek—El Buggar. The water required was to be sufficient for one mounted division at Asluj, for one mounted division at Khalasa and also for two mounted divisions passing through Esani, where they would each stay one night; and finally at Abu Ghalyun (between Esani and Khalasa) water was required for one infantry brigade group. A supply depot had to be formed at Esani (and protection found for it) for the feeding of the mounted corps.
The preliminary moves therefore consisted of: (a) an advance of the front line eastward as far as the line Rashid Bek—Point 720 (two and a half miles north of the Tel el Fara—Beersheba road)—Point 630—Point 510—Point 300; (b) a gradual extension of our line southward as far as Asluj.
General Allenby says :— "It is not uninteresting to review the enemy situation at this period."
The German Staff in Palestine had, so far back as August, decided that the British would make another effort to break through on that front, and with such forces that, unless the Turks were heavily reinforced, the result could only be in favour of the British. That the weaknesses of their position were its extent and the exposed left flank at Beersheba, was fully realised by the command in the field, and during August and September repeated requests were made to the Higher Command for a shortening of the line by withdrawing from Beersheba, or generous reinforcements so that Beersheba could be held à l’outrance.
“The soundness of these demands was fully realised by the German advisers of the Turks, but there existed a policy which was a veritable millstone to those who wished to conduct the operations in accordance with clear strategic principles. This policy was directed towards the recovery of Baghdad. A composite German force had been formed, and one of the first of German soldiers—Marshal Erich von Falkenhayn—was lent for the carrying through of this undertaking’. If Baghdad was to be taken, every man and gun must be sent to Irak, and every man sent to Sinai decreased the chance of success. But to this was the unanswerable argument of those who asked that reinforcements should be sent to Sinai: “If the Sinai front is broken, Palestine and Syria will fall into the enemy’s hands, and not only will Baghdad not be retaken, but the armies in Irak will be caught like a rat in a trap, with the British across their lines of communication at Aleppo.” It was not until mid-October that this argument prevailed, and then it was too late. Troops being diverted from Mesopotamia were still on the lines of communication and the aircraft were still being unpacked and put together when the British troops attacked and captured Beersheba on October 31st, 1917.
“The German command had, however, estimated the date of the British attack with fair accuracy, which they considered would take place, owing to weather conditions, early in November. But they were totally incorrect in their estimate of its direction.
“Various circumstances made them believe that it would consist of a third and final assault on Gaza, combined with a landing to the north, which would turn their
right flank and enable the British to occupy the fertile coastal plain. To meet this all defensive work was concentrated for many weeks on the Gaza sector, and their main reserves—the 7th and 19th Infantry Divisions, were concentrated behind Gaza. Von Falkenhayn proposed, by a concentration of forces, to deliver an attack on the British right flank, and so drive General Allenby out of Palestine into the waterless and difficult country east of the Wadi el Arish. In addition to its strategical effect this would have had the political result of clearing that portion of the Turkish Empire from the invader.
“This attack was originally timed for the latter half of October, to precede and forestall the British attack. Owing, however, to indecision, general procrastination, poor transport facilities, and, above all, to the jealousy and opposition of Ahmed Jemal Pasha, G.O.C. IV Army and Governor of Syria, it had to be postponed and was eventually timed for early December.
“By October the 28th the organisation of the Turkish forces under the Yildirim Army Group into the VII and VI 1.1 Armies was nearing completion. The Headquarters of General Kress Von Kressenstein (G.O.C. VIII Army) had moved back from Huj to Huleikat, so that the former now connected to the main railway by a light line, might be used as a reserve area, and Fevzi Pasha (G.O.C. VII Army) was about to move forward his Headquarters from Hebron to near Beersheba, finally to take over the troops allotted to his command. Marshal von Falkenhayn was at Aleppo, en route for Jerusalem.
“The front had been strengthened by three fresh divisions (giving a total of one cavalry and nine infantry divisions), and an additional division was moving towards the front on the lines of communication south of Aleppo.
“The Gaza sector was a network of trenches, wire entanglements, and strongly fortified posts, conveniently sited for mutual support and cross fire, which extended to the southeast until the defences of Beersheba were reached. The German Staff appeared to have been very well satisfied as to the security of the line against frontal attack, and any second line system of defence had been almost totally neglected. A wide turning movement on the east was considered impossible owing to. the broken nature of the country and lack of water.”
The advance to the Rashid Bek line took place on October 24th by the Australian Mounted Division, under General Hodson, and was entrenched.
Early on October 27th, Points 720 and 630 were attacked by an enemy force, estimated at six battalions, two squadrons and two batteries. The line was then held by the 8th Mounted Brigade, detached from the Yeomanry Division. The enemy succeeded in occupying the tops of both hills in spite of heavy casualties caused to him during his advance. The position was very gallantly defended by the County of London Yeomanry and the 21st M.G. Squadron. The garrison of the post on Point 720 were all killed or wounded with the exception of three men; that on Point 630 held on in a support trench close behind the crest in spite of heavy casualties and though almost surrounded. It was eventually relieved by .the 53rd Division.
This gallant little affair helped materially to keep the enemy ‘s attention away from what was going on further south, and caused him to think that this was the southern limit of the expected attack.
The extension southwards was begun on October 22nd, when the 2nd L.H. Brigade moved to Bir el Esani and the I.C.C. Brigade to Abu Ghalyun.
Thenceforward work on water development was carried on at high pressure night and day. Tracks were improved and marked. The supply difficulties were successfully contended with, though much trouble was entailed in the transport, for
the whole of the country to be traversed was sandy and cut up badly with the heavy traffic.
The bulk of the work of finding and developing the water supply fell on the two brigades just mentioned, who, together with the field squadrons of the Anzac Mounted Division and Australian Mounted Division, performed wonders and earned the unstinted praise of the Commander-in-Chief (General Allenby), who, following his custom of visiting the scene of any new move and becoming personally acquainted with those about to make it, had come down to Asluj on the day before the final advance on Beersheba.
The work at Khalasa and Asluj consisted in clearing out the deep wells that the Turks had blown in and installing oil engine-driven pumps and long rows of canvas horse troughs. So completely had the Turks wrecked these ancient wells that the task of clearing them down to the level of the water (over 100 feet) was no light one.
On the 24th October the NZ.M.R. (strength 95 officers and 1878 other ranks) moved to Esani, and on the 29th to Asluj.
By the evening of October 30th, the day upon which the XXI Corps with the Navy, began the great bombardment of Gaza, the concentration of the Desert Mounted Corps was complete. The Corps now consisted of three complete divisional groups (Anzacs, Australian Division and Yeomanry Division), the 7th Mounted Brigade, and the I.C.C. Brigade, in all 11 brigades, each with its horse artillery battery — approximately 28,000 mounted men.
The units were disposed as follows — the Anzac Mounted Division at Asluj ready to encircle Beersheba; the Australian Mounted Division at Khalasa, with orders to follow the Anzacs to the vicinity of Beersheba, where it was to come into action on the left of the Anzac Mounted Division. At Bir el Esani was the 7th Mounted Brigade, and at Shellal the Yeomanry Division, with the I.C.C. Brigade at Hiseia, a few miles away.
At six in the evening of October 30th the Anzac Mounted Division moved off by a track leading up the Wadi el Imshash over the mountain range just east of Thaffha. The watershed was reached at midnight, and the advanced guard halted for two and a half hours to enable the column to close up and the track to G. el Shegeib to he reconnoitred and an enemy post there to be dealt with.
Here the 2nd L.H. Brigade took the road down to the Beersheba plains through Bir Arara and the remainder of the Division pushed down the track over G. el Shegeib, followed by the Australian Division, who had orders to halt at Iswaiwin until the situation developed.
The only wheels taken with the brigades were the guns and first-line transport (ammunition limbers and limbered wagons containing watering gear and tools). “B” eschelon (i.e., all other wagons), loaded with rations, was left at Asluj with the ammunition column, with orders to await directions. But the ammunition column was to follow on after the division at daylight on the 31st.
Camel water convoys with a small reserve of drinking water for the men were left also at Asluj in readiness to be sent up.
No. 1 Light Car Patrol (Ford cars) and No. 11 Light Armoured Motor Battery (No. 11 L.A.M.B.) were attached to the Division with orders to follow on, leaving Asluj at 5 o’clock on the morning of the 31st.
Supplies were organised as follows :—Each man carried two days’ rations for himself and one day’s forage for his horse. In addition he carried in a sandbag strapped across the pommel of the saddle a small emergency ration of grain for his
horse. “B” echelon (an improvised train of all baggage wagons) carried two days’ emergency rations for the man and one day ‘s forage for the horse.
The medical arrangements made provision for the mobile sections of the field ambulances to march from Asiuj with their respective brigades; and for all cacolet camels to march together in rear of time Australian Mounted Division.
A divisional collecting station was ordered to be formed of tent subdivisions of Field Ambulances, at points to be decided upon by the A.D.M.S., and evacuations were to be made by sand-carts and camels to the farthest point to which light motor ambulances could be brought; thence to the Australian Mounted Division receiving station at Asluj; thence to the Anzac Mounted Division receiving station at Rashid Bek by light motor ambulance; and thence to railhead near Shellal by heavy motor ambulance.
The 7th Mounted Brigade left Bir el Esani at 9.30 p.m. and came across country to the vicinity of G. Itwail el Semin on the Asluj—Beersheba road to act as a connecting link between the Desert Mounted Corps and the XX Corps, whose Tight was on the Khalasa—Beersheba road.
The Anzac Division met with some opposition on the road leading over G. el Shegeib, but this was brushed aside by the Wellingtons—the leading regiment—and by 8 o’clock in the morning of October 31st the Division had reached the line Bir el Hamman (2nd L.H. Brigade); Bir Salim Abu Irgeig (N.Z.M.R.) with the 1st L.H. Brigade in reserve behind the New Zealanders.
The Division’s next objective was the line Tel el Sakaty— Tel el Saba and the cutting of the Beersheba—Hebron motor Toad; and its final objective the line Point 1020 (two miles north-west of Tel el Saba)—Point 970 (immediately north of the town)—Mosque. The importance of finding and developing water during the operations was impressed upon all units.
About 9 o’clock the advance began, and the leading brigades were soon under a hot artillery fire from the hills on the north side of the Hebron road and the advance slowed down. The plains were found also to be much cut up by narrow and deep wadi beds, and this made rapid movement on horseback impossible.
At the same time the infantry attack from the west was proceeding satisfactorily, and their shells could be seen bursting on the hills covering Beersheba to the west.
The mission of the 2nd L.H. Brigade, besides the capture of Tel el Sakaty and the wells there and the cutting of the enemy main line of communication along the Hebron road, included protection from counter-attack from the east and north-east; and in pushing across the open plain the Brigade encountered considerable opposition. By 11 a.m., however, they gained command of the road and by half-past twelve had captured Tel el Sakaty and the wells.
Divisional Headquarters was established on the hills at Khashm Zanna, distant from Beersheba five miles and from Tel el Saba three miles; and from this position a birds eye view of the great Beersheba plain was obtained and the movements of the troops could be watched, even as one does upon a “Field Day”; and with the added interest that it was occasionally shelled by enemy batteries from the hills behind Tel el Saba.
The New Zealand Brigade began the attack on this key position, which appeared to be strongly held, at 10 minutes past nine with the Auckland Regiment in the place of honour. The Canterburys moved forward on its right with the intention of enveloping the tel from the north; and the Somerset Battery went forward with the Brigade coming into action at 3000 yards.
The plain is much broken up by the winding of wadi beds with steep banks almost un-crossable. But these in the end proved of great value giving covered approaches; and the Auckland Regiment soon worked its way up to about 800 yards of the enemy main position, where excellent cover for the horses was found. Good covering fire from here was given by the machine guns; and the regiment slowly, but steadily, worked forward.
At 11 o’clock the Inverness Battery, attached to the 1st L.H. Brigade came into action and covered the advance of the 3rd L.H. Regiment across the open plain to the south of Tel el Saba.
At this hour the Somerset Battery moved up and ranged on the tel at 1300 yards. Enemy machine guns were giving much trouble and were not located until the afternoon, when Lieut. Hatrick the Signalling Officer of the Auckland Regiment, from a concealed position in the front line, observed for the Somerset Battery and directed the fire by flag signal. A section of this Battery was moved round to the east of the tel to deal with machine guns in position on the high ground to the north of the hill. These machine guns were holding up the Canterbury Regiment.
About this time the 2nd L.H. Regiment (from the 1st L.H. Brigade in reserve) went forward under heavy fire and attacked sonic mud hilts lying on the wadi edge and which formed the southern flank of the Tel el Saba position. By half-past one the Auckland Regiment had worked its way close up to the hill. Machine guns under Lieut. Picot and supported by a troop under Lieut. Johns had secured a position from which enfilade fire was brought to bear on the enemy front trenches and eventually these guns got up to within 300 yards. During this fine advance Lieut. Johns was killed.
The Canterbury Regiment was now across the Wadi Khalil and bringing fire to bear on the rear of the position, but could not get any further owing to enemy fire from the slopes of the hills overlooking the Hebron road.
At 10 minutes past two the Aucklanders began the assault and advanced by short rushes under cover of all available guns and machine guns and at 2.40 gained the enemy trenches on a hill on the east flank of the tel, capturing 60 prisoners and three machine guns. Two of these machine guns were used with great effect on the Turks’ main position, which was rushed at three o'clock.
Tel el Saba (or the hill of Sheba) formed the “keep” of the Beersheba position in the rear of the town and its fall precipitated a general retirement northwards. But the Turk still had plenty of “fight” left and heavily shelled Tel el Saba and the adjacent wadis from the hills above the town. The advance was pressed forward on to the line 1020—970— Mosque by the 1st L.H. Brigade; and the 2nd L.H. Brigade pushed well up into the hills west of Tel el Sakaty. The 3rd L.H. Brigade from the Australian Division was sent across to reinforce the New Zealanders.
This Division had during the day come up, and at four p.m. the 4th L.H. Brigade moved forward over the plain on the left of the Anzac Mounted Division and directly upon the town, galloping over successive lines of trenches in a most gallant charge, in the face of severe machine gun and rifle fire. The plain was covered with fine dust and the spectacle of “lines of troop columns” advancing at the gallop, each with its cloud of “smoke,” as it were, enveloping it and trailing away up into the air as the troop went forward, was a magnificent sight.
This charge completed the discomforture of the Turk who had been giving way for some hours before the infantry attack from the west; and the town was soon in our hands. In the town were captured 58 officers, 1090 other ranks, 10 field guns, and four machine guns, besides a huge quantity of military stores, an aerodrome, and
much railway roiling stock. The total captures for the Mounted Corps for the day were 70 officers and 1458 other ranks.
The general situation on the morning of November 1st was as follows :—The Australian Mounted Division lay to the south-east of Beersheba with the Anzac Mounted Division immediately east and north-east of the town and the 53rd Infantry Division in the hills to the north, the three divisions occupying a line whose perimeter lay some five miles from Beersheba. To the west of the town and connecting with the 53rd Division were the 60th, 74th and 10th Divisions in that order, the last named occupying the railway line to Abu Trgeig where the railway leaves the Beersheba—Gaza motor road. From this point the line stretched away west to the old front line on the Wadi Ghuzzeh.
Along the whole of this new portion of the line the enemy was putting up a stout resistance.
The XXI Corps opposite Gaza was still pounding away at the enemy defences, aided by the Navy whose fire was directed at the town of Gaza.
So it will he seen that, though we had captured the great bastion at the end of the wall, we were faced with a new line, a bending back of the end of the wall as it were. But Beersheba gave us water and an excellent position from which to again hammer at the wall.
The next few days the role of the mounted corps was to protect the right of the XX Corps and some very hard fighting ensued as the enemy brought up his general reserve against the line Ras el Nagb—Tel Khuweilfeh.
On November 1st the Australian Division was withdrawn into reserve at Beersheba and the Anzac Mounted Division ordered to occupy the line Bir el Makruneh—Towal Abu Jerwal, to the north-east of Beersheba. This was done by nine o'clock and the New Zealand Brigade captured some prisoners and a machine gun and was relieved after dark by the 1st L.H. Brigade. For the next few days the Division carried on a mountain warfare against the Turks’ left which, with fresh reinforcements brought into the strong position at Tel Khuweilfeh and into the town of Dhaheriyeh on the Hebron road, put up a very stubborn fight. Water was the great difficulty and our troops could not have carried out these operations if it had not been for several providential thunderstorms which occurred on the two or three days previous to the advance from Asluj.
Patrols from the 2nd L.H. Brigade at one time worked their way to the east of Dhaheriyeh, within sight of the Hebron road to the north of the town, and watched there the busy motor traffic with reinforcements coming down from the north.
On November 4th the Australian Mounted Division was sent back to Karm near the Wadi Ghuzzeh for water and on the same day the New Zealanders relieved the 5th Mounted Brigade on the left of the 2nd L.H. Brigade in the hills in front of Tel Khuweilfeh. Here at Ras el Nagb the Brigade spent the next two days and experience some heavy fighting. A fine performance was put up by L.-Cpl. L. G. Greenslade, 8th Squadron, C.M.R., who was assisting another man to get in one of the wounded. The bringing in of the wounded from the firing line was a very difficult matter. There were no regular trenches and the communication from front to rear lay through a shrapnel beaten zone. Both men were hit but Greenslade succeeded in placing the man who had been helping him out of danger and then in attempting to bring in the man they were both going for, Greenslade was killed.
There was no water for the horses so they were all sent back to Beersheba, though not before 37 horses had been killed and 84 wounded. The Brigade was to have been relieved on the 5th by the I.C.C. Brigade, but the latter missed the way. in
the darkness; and the New Zealand Brigade was forced to remain in the line until the afternoon of the 6th, when they marched out on foot and came into local reserve a few miles behind the front line, with their horses still at Beersheba. Here owing to the strength of the enemy facing the 53rd Division they remained in reserve. The water problem was still to be faced and the horses went in daily to Beersheba, a distance there and back of 20 miles. The Brigade furnished one squadron as a connecting link between the I.C.C. Brigade and the 53rd Division and also furnished one regiment (the A.M.R.) to the 53rd Division.
On the 10th the Brigade withdrew to Beersheba under orders to rejoin the Anzac Mounted Division. How the Brigade Rode through to Jaffa.
To go back to the situation on November 1st, it must be remembered that the Turkish line had been thrown back on its left, but not broken. General Allenby’s plan now was to break through at the foot of the hills immediately to the north of Beersheba. This plan would cut the Turkish force in two, separating the troops in the lines on the plains, whose communications were the roads and railways running north to Ramleh, from the troops on the Judean Hills, who were supplied by the motor road from Jerusalem through Hebron.
A containing force for the Turks in the hills was formed of the 53rd Infantry Division opposite Tel Khuweilfeh, with the I.C.C. Brigade, Yeomanry Mounted Division, N.Z.M.R. Brigade and two squadrons of the M.G. squadron of the 2nd L.H. Brigade.
On the night of 6th November, the XX Corps, in a most gallant attack, broke the enemy’s trench system at Kauwukah and at daylight on the 7th the Anzac Mounted Division went through and headed north along the great Philistian plain with the Australian Division behind it, and by nine o ‘clock was crossing the Wadi Sharia immediately east of Tel el Sharia where the 60th Division was fighting heavily. By 10 o’clock the Anzacs had reached Kh. Arneidat a station on the Ramleh—Beersheba line where a huge ammunition dump was captured with many prisoners.
One of the cavalryman’s dreams was now realised. For one looked back, having passed the enemy front line by some 10 miles, and watched the great battle from the rear of the enemy position. His heavy guns at Hareira and Atawineh were firing away at the XX and XXI Corps and huge columns of smoke and dust shrouded the whole country now behind, it was the moment of a lifetime; but there was no pause for reflection, as the Division was being shelled from the Judean hills on the right, from the enemy thrown back from the Sharia lines on the front, and from the Atawineh redoubts on the left.
The Division, shorn of one brigade and with no support from the Australian Mounted Division, who were held up two miles north of Sharia, could get no further this day and bivouacked for the night near Ameidat.
During the night news came through of the evacuation of Gaza by the Turk, and orders were received to use every endeavour to cut these forces off, more especially as the enemy still clung to the Hareira—Atawineh lines. The orders included the certain capture of the wells at the Wadi Jemmameh where was known to be a plentiful supply of water. This was of the greatest importance to the Division for there was no water at Ameidat. To strengthen the Division the 7th Mounted Brigade (Yeomanry) was sent up.
From now on, to the occupation of Jaffa, the two factors which had most influence upon the advance of the mounted troops were (a) the frequent counter-attacks which the enemy made against our flanks (most of these being directed against
our right where the enemy was able to take advantage of the positions afforded him by the foothills of the Judean Mountains) ; (b) and scarcity of water.
At daylight on the 8th the advance was continued and the 2nd L.H. Brigade by a brilliant piece of work captured two guns that had been holding them up the evening before; but opposition stiffened, the enemy making a very determined stand on the Wadi Hesi, which was forced late in the afternoon. Also he made a fierce counter-attack against the Division's right which was most gallantly held off by the 7th Mounted Brigade, a very efficient Yeomanry brigade of two regiments with the Essex Battery R.H.A. (Territorial) attached.
The result of the day’s fighting was an advance of eight miles to a position due east of Huj, the Turkish Headquarters and terminus of their military railway from the coast line. Here our guns got into a position just before dusk from which a fire was kept up during the night on to the main road leading north from Huj, with disastrous effects to the retreating Turks, as next morning was shown by the litter of guns, limbers, ammunition wagons and transport of all descriptions, jumbled up into heaps with their teams shot down.
The Jemmameh wells were captured and found in good order and a great proportion of the 1st L.H. Brigade horses were watered. But the work was too important to water any but those not actually in contact with the Turk.
Late in the afternoon the Australian Mounted Division had reached Huj where the Yeomanry by a fine charge captured 30 prisoners, 11 field guns and four machine guns.
By the evening of the 8th all Turkish positions in the Gazar—Beersheba line had fallen and the enemy was in full retreat.
During the night news came through that the Australian Division could go no further for want of water and that the Yeomanry Division, which had now rejoined the corps, was held up for the same reason and that therefore the Anzac Mounted Division would have to go on without support.
At daylight the three brigades were on the move and Bureir and Simsim were soon occupied and then Huleikat, Von Kressenstein's Headquarters (the G.O.C. VIII Army), where huge supplies of war material were captured and a very fine German Field Hospital was found abandoned. By mid-day the great Arab town of Mejdel was occupied and the ancient Ascalon passed by. In the afternoon an enormous convoy was overtaken consisting of the greatest variety of transport imaginable. There were camels, pack mules, pack donkeys, carts and wagons drawn by donkeys, mules, ponies and bullocks. The wagons were of every make and description evidently commandeered from the Bedouin population. All the unfortunate animals had been driven to a standstill, so hot was the pursuit.
By night-fall the main road and rail running north from Gaza was cut at Julis and a position taken up running from thence to the sea.
On the 10th stubborn fighting took place and the Division was unable to move its right further forward, but on the left the 1st L.H. Brigade occupied Esdud (the ancient Ashdod) and obtained a footing across the Wadi Sukerier.
The water question had now become so acute that the Division had to call a halt while the Australian Division came up on its right and the 52nd Division, our old friends of the Sinai Campaign, came up and took over the line.
The Division then went across to Hamemeh where ample water was found on the beach.
Here the New Zealand Brigade rejoined the Division after a forced march of 52 miles, and of 62 miles for the Auckland Regiment which was in the line with the 53rd Division when the orders came for the Brigade to rejoin.
On the 11th and 12th the Division. rested and the “B” echelon (improvised Train) at last caught up the brigades with welcome supplies for man and horse.
On the morning of the 13th November the Division resumed its advance crossing the Nahr Sukereir, a flowing river, the first real river we had yet seen, by a fine stone bridge at Esdud, the ancient Ashdod of the Old Testament and the Azotus of the New Testament, and the town that played a great part in the time of the Crusaders—our own Richard I. captured it and fortified it in the year 1192.
On the beach there is still the ruins of an enormously strong castle built by him to defend the landing place.
The Division was reduced again to two brigades, as the 7th Mounted Brigade had been withdrawn to reserve and the 2nd L.H. Brigade sent away east to reinforce the Australian Mounted Division in its attack upon the Turkish positions covering Junction Station where the railway to Jerusalem leaves the Ramleh—Beersheba railway and takes its way up the great Wadi es Surar, called in the Book of Judges “the Valley of Sorek.”
It leads right up to Jerusalem and it was up this natural entry into the hill that the Philistines sent the Ark of God when they returned it to the Israelites.
The Division bivouaced this night close to Yehna, the biblical Jamnia, which is situated just inside the sand dune belt on the banks of the Wadi es Surar, known where it enters the sea as the Nahr Rubin.
On the 14th the New Zealanders crossed the river close to the sand dunes with the 1st L.H. Brigade on its right. By nine o’clock in the morning the village of El Kubeibeh was occupied, and pushing on, the Brigade encountered the enemy in the range groves of Wadi Hanein and on the hills between this village and the sand dunes.
On the right the 1st L.H. Brigade encountered and drove back the enemy into the Jewish Colony of Deiran (called by the Jews Rechoboth) which they occupied during the day.
By noon the situation had sufficiently developed to enable General Meldrum to attack. The Canterbury Regiment was held up on the right against the enemy in the orange groves. In the centre the Wellington Regiment was in contact with the main Turkish position where the enemy held trenches on a high ridge with a steep face to the orange groves and sloping gradually towards the sand dunes, and presenting the top of the long arm of an inverted “L” towards our advance. The foot of the “L” bent westward until it touched the sand dunes.
The Aucklanders advanced on the Wellington Regiment’s left, towards this foot, and were much troubled by machine gun fire from the long ridge against the end of which the Wellingtons were pressing.
The Somerset Battery supported the attack of the Brigade. The enemy appeared to be in fair strength and as it turned out numbered about 1500 men with 18 machine guns and one field battery. They were fresh troops brought up by our old friend of Sinai days, Kress Von Kressenstein, for the express purpose of turning the left flank of the British advance and of relieving the pressure of the British attack on Junction Station. They fought throughout the day with the greatest determination.
By half-past one the Wellington Regiment obtained a footing on the ridge and the 9th Squadron under Major Wilder, and supported by the 2nd Squadron, rushed the enemy's first position with the bayonet, and one machine gun and one Lewis gun were captured. These guns were used with great effect upon the enemy’s second position,
which was captured by another bayonet charge, and two more machine guns taken. The methodical attack on the enemy’s third position was then proceeded with. By this time the Wellington Regiment was getting well along the ridge forming the long leg to the “L” and the Aucklanders on their left were coming under fire from the enemy holding the short leg that stretched across their front to the sand dunes.
Each regiment had a section of machine guns attached and these were used throughout, well up in the firing line, in such positions, that each regiment gave covering fire to the other.
Close to the junction of the short leg of the “L” position with the long leg (the ridge along which the Wellingtons were making good progress), was a red knoll practically in front of the dividing line between our two attacking regiments. From this knoll the enemy maintained a most troublesome fire on the two regiments. Another position from which a galling fire was being received was captured by the 4th Auckland Squadron by a magnificent dash, two troops galloping right into the enemy. The boldness of this attack minimised the enemy fire to such an extent that few casualties were suffered.
The capture of this position and some high ground in the vicinity protected the left flank of the Wellington Regiment sufficiently to enable it to proceed with its attack upon the enemy’s third position on the long ridge.
The Auckland Regiment by pushing small parties up along the sand dunes, discovered, shortly after two o'clock, that numbers of the enemy were gathering in some orchards in front of the regiment in a basin formed by the head of a shallow wadi that had at one time flowed westward towards the sea, but which the encroaching sand had cut off. This basin was just over and behind the short leg of the “L” and so completely out of sight of either attacking regiments.
Every available man was hurried as far forward as possible to deal with this threatened attack, and Colonel McCarroll put into the firing line signallers, gallopers and batmen from his own Regimental Headquarters to hold on until the 3rd Squadron could be brought up. The latter advanced in magnificent style under the command of Major Twistleton. This gallant officer brought his men mounted to within a few yards of the heavily attacked line, where they dismounted and engaged the enemy. Major Twistleton here fell badly wounded, and subsequently died of his wounds.
This gallant officer was the Commander of the Legion of Frontiersmen in New Zealand. He had served with the Otago Mounted Regiment on Gallipoli with distinction. He had gone to France with the Pioneer Battalion, and after serving on the Western Front for some 12 months had come back to the Mounted Brigade —joining the Wellington Regiment just before the advance against Beersheba.
For his good work during these operations he had been given a squadron, and it was in leading his men at a critical period of this day’s fighting that he fell. He was a man of great soldierly qualities and of fearless courage, and he was a splendid horseman. He was born in Yorkshire and came to New Zealand as a young man, where he had proved to be of that stuff of which the pioneers of the British Empire are made. Simple and direct in speech, his shrewd judgment and strong practical common sense proved at all times a tower of strength to his companions.
About this time the Wellingtons captured the enemy’s third position, gaining practically the whole of the long ridge, but they were greatly troubled by fire from the red knoll already mentioned.
The Divisional Headquarters, situated on a high point called Nehy Kunda close to the village of Kubeibeh, sent word that large enemy reinforcements could be seen moving into the basin in front of the Auckland and Wellington Regiments, but
there were no reinforcements available owing to the 2nd L.H. Brigade having been taken away by the Corps to reinforce the Australian Division in its attack upon Junction Station. But every available spare man at Divisional Headquarters, including signallers not on duty, grooms and messengers from the brigades, were formed into a troop in case they were needed.
At half-past two the first enemy counter-attack began, and it fell against Wellington’s left. But being met with a heavy cross-fire from the Auckland and Wellington machine guns, it withered away. A quarter of an hour later two companies of Turks attacked the Aucklanders. This attack was a very determined one and was well supported by a battery, and at some places reached to within 15 yards of our line, where the enemy made great use of bombs. He occupied also a small hill on which all our men had been either killed or wounded, and from this position brought an oblique fire to bear upon the Auckland main position.
The enemy’s machine guns also were most active, and from the excellent positions held they continued to enfilade our troops, one gun in particular on the red knoll between the Auckland and Wellington Regiments, inflicting many casualties.
The situation was serious, and prompt action was necessary to drive the enemy from the knoll. The approach to it was devoid of cover and presented a splendid field of fire to the enemy, but it also favoured the rapid transit of mounted troops. This advantage was quickly seized, for Captain Herrick and two troops of the 2nd Wellington Squadron galloped up a long shallow approach under terrific fire to relieve the pressure. On reaching the foot of the knoll the men dismounted and rushed their objective, engaging the enemy in hand-to-hand fighting.
The fearlessness and determination of Captain Herrick so inspired his little force that the position, with its machine gun, was taken. The two remaining troops of Herrick's squadron immediately came up to reinforce, and a fine body of fire was brought to bear upon the Turks in front of the Aucklanders, whose commander quickly seized the opportunity caused by the success of the 2nd Squadron and advanced his right to a position where enfilade fire could be brought to bear into the basin. This movement was greatly helped by the Wellington Regiment, who advanced machine guns and brought up more men to reinforce their left.
It was now about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and this hot fight had been going on since half-past one.
The determined attack and stubborn defence of our men began to tell upon the enemy, and his fighting strength gave way. He was pursued with rifle and machine-gun fire, but neither regiment was in a fit state to follow him, and there were no fresh troops that could be used for this purpose. So darkness came with our men resting on the ground they had so hardly won.
Thus ended a brilliant battle, in which the Brigade had attacked and captured a strong natural position held by an enemy in superior numbers, and this enemy force was backed up by a well-concealed battery and held trenches with the aid of numerous machine guns. The enemy force was estimated at 1500 men, with 18 machine guns and a battery of artillery. The Auckland and Wellington Regiments combined would not have numbered more than 1000, and of these some 200 were in charge of the led horses; but the rapidity of the movements of the two regiments, combined with a splendid co-operation, a co-operation which continued all day and existed between each troop in each squadron, and between each squadron in either regiment, and between the two regiments.
The day’s action brought into play the full attacking powers of the mounted arm against an enemy in position. There was the mounted advance to the first fire
position by one regiment, and then its systematic capture of enemy trenches on foot as infantry with rifle and bayonet and Hotchkiss and machine guns, and its rapid reinforcing on horseback of the successive positions when captured.
With the other regiment there was the advance mounted under cover of artillery fire to successive fire positions; the rapid seizing of small tactical features at the gallop; the outflanking of the enemy position by aid of the mounted man’s mobility; and finally there was the magnificent mounted charge by which the red knoll was captured.
During the day the Canterbury Regiment drove large bodies of the enemy through the orchards of the Wadi Hanein, and by its action successfully covered the right of the two regiments fighting on the hills.
The casualties suffered by the Brigade in this action were 5 officers and 39 other ranks killed, and 12 officers and 129 other ranks wounded, 41 horses killed and 22 wounded.
The effect of this smashing of the enemy’s determined counter-attack was far reaching. The next day, November 15th, the Australian Mounted Division captured Junction Station; the 1st L.H. Brigade occupied the towns of Ramleh and Ludd, capturing large numbers of prisoners and much abandoned war material; and on the 16th the Wellington Regiment entered Jaffa, thus completing the great drive made by the Anzac Mounted Division from Beersheba to Jaffa, a distance of 65 miles in eight days.
The captures made by the Mounted Corps were 5720 prisoners and upwards of 60 guns and 50 machine guns with an enormous quantity of ammunition and war material of all kinds and railway rolling stock.
Among those killed was Captain A. Herrick, M.C., of the Wellington Regiment.
He had gained his commission on Gallipoli. Early in the Sinai Campaign he had devoted himself to the study and handling of the Lewis gun in which he became an acknowledged authority. And when the Lewis guns were replaced by the Hotchkiss he took these up with equal enthusiasm and effected many improvements in the manner of carrying this gun. He was absolutely fearless and showed a wonderful judgment in the attack. These qualities were well shown on this day. At one of the most critical moments of the Ayun Kara action he galloped his squadron right into the firing line, capturing the “red knoll” position that threatened the whole of our line. This brilliant piece of work turned the tide of battle, but at the cost of his life.
It will be gathered from the foregoing narrative that the Anzac Mounted Division was the only division able to carry on without falling back for water. This is explained by the splendid horsemastership of all ranks. It must he remembered that this division had spent twelve months in the deserts of Sinai and the lessons learnt there were never forgotten. The horses were ever the first care; and they started upon the Beersheba operations in the very pink of condition.
So remarkable was the performance put up in the advance from Beersheba to Jaffa, that an enquiry was set up upon the receipt of certain questions from G.H.Q.
For the information of horse lovers the letter and the answer sent through Desert Mounted Corps are here set out :—
G.O.C., DESERT MOUNTED CORPS.
I shall be glad if you will be so good as to let me have the following details as regards the animals of any of the units under your command during the period 1/11/17 to 31/12/17:—
1. The longest period they were continuously without water.
2. The work performed during this period.
3. Whether they fed well when they were thirsty.
4. The average number of times they were watered daily during the period specified or during any intermediate period.
5. The smallest amount of grain and fodder they received at any time and for what period.
6. The average amount of grain and fodder they received during the whole or any intermediate period.
7. The maximum amount of grain and fodder they received at any time and for what period.
8. To what extent were units able to supplement their forage locally, by grazing or otherwise.
9. When was there any noticeable change in their condition and vigour as a result of work and privation.
(Signed) G. R. BUTLER, Brig.-General.
G.HQ., Director of Veterinary Services,
1st Echelon, E.E.F.
DESERT MOUNTED CORPS.
With reference to your . . . herewith report in detail as asked for
1. (a) One cable wagon team from D.H.Q. was without water for a period of 84 hours. (b) Several regiments in the two Australian Brigades were without water for a period of 60 hours. (c) The N.Z.M.R. Brigade was without water for 72 hours.
2. By (a) above, almost continuous work, cable laying, which entailed heavy work partly over rough country. By (b) above, fast travelling and reconnaissance, averaging about 20 miles each day. By (c) above, first two days reconnaissance, averaging about 20 miles per day, remainder of period practically no movement.
3. Yes, up to 36 hours; after that, in most cases, they refused to eat.
4. During the period of advance, once per day, i.e. to 15/11/17, after that twice daily.
5. 4 lbs. grain and no bulk fodder for 24 hours.
6. An average of 9 lbs. grain with average 4 lbs. Tibbin requisitioned from inhabitants up to 17/12/17. From 17/12/17 to 31/12/17, 12 lbs. grain and average 4 lbs. haystuffs.
7. As shown in last period in paragraph. 6.
8. An average of 4 lbs. haystuff per horse was obtained from the inhabitants throughout the whole period of operations. Grazing nil.
9. Decided falling off in condition and vigour after 36 hours without water. With good food and water horses picked up remarkably, though it is to be observed that all units report that issue of grain on five consecutive days caused serious trouble. the horses suffering from diarrhoea and laminitis and losing vigour. With reference to the cable wagon team which was without water for 84 hours, though much distressed at the end of that period, these horses quickly recovered. It is to be remembered that the horses of the Division commenced operations about 26/10/17, in excellent condition, which is largely responsible for the fact that evacuations on account of debility have been extremely small, both during operations and afterwards.
(Signed) E. W. C. CHAYTOR, Major-General. Commanding, Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division..12/2/18
NOTE—The horses of one Brigade had an indifferent watering only on morning of 6th, and watering next during the action on the 8th, no more water until during the night of 10/11th. They were greatly distressed on the 10th, but by the 13th were, with the good water and rest, fit for work again, though they lost considerably in condition.
The 14th November, the day of the action of Ayun Kara, was a day of surprises, for on this day our men encountered the first white civilised people since leaving Egypt, and also made their first acquaintance with the famous Jaffa orange groves and the vineyards of Palestine.
About mid-day the 1st L.H. Brigade drove the Turks from a ridge facing Yebna, where the Division had bivouaced the night before, and breasting the rise were astonished to see in front of them, nestling in the hollow, a modern village with red tiled houses so different to the flat-topped oriental architecture our men had become accustomed to. It was a sight to make one rub one's eyes and fear that it were a dream; more especially so, as no such town was shown on our maps, which bore the words “Khurbet Deiran” (or the cistern of Deiran). We found this new garden city to be the Jewish Colony of Rechoboth, founded in the year 1890 by Russians and now famous for its almond groves.
The Light Horsemen were met by an enthusiastic crowd of Zionists—men, women and children. That evening the mayor of the town, hearing that the commander of the Division was a. New Zealander, sent across to his bivouac at Neby Kunda a huge flagon of rich wine with a message “From the Oldest Colony in the World to the Youngest,” no doubt alluding to the Israelites in their colonization of the land of Caanan.
There were many strange happenings during this day in the luxuriant orchards belonging to this village and to the neighbouring colony of Wadi Hanein. Fierce fighting with the Turk who suffered heavily had filled the villages with his wounded. There were happy meetings with English speaking Jewish Colonists, for quite a number had been in Australia at a time of distress in the history of these colonies. The story is told of a party riding in the dusk through the lanes among the orange groves, and coming to a cross roads, were in doubt as to the way. They were startled to hear a voice say with an unmistakable Yankee twang “Waal, I guess you are looking for the road.” This was the first time for two years that any of that party had heard English spoken by an inhabitant of the land. The friendly American turned out to be an American Jew who had settled down to orange growing just before the war.
Yet more strange was a little episode that occurred as the Divisional Headquarters rode through the village of Wadi Hanein, a very prosperous Jewish Colony set in the midst of luxuriant orange groves and called by the Jews Nachalat Reuben (or the heritage of Reuben). The road lay through a deep lane bounded on either side with huge mimosa hedges in full bloom and the sweet smell reminded one of Kipling’s lines about the smell of the wattle “Riding down to Lichtenburg” and one felt not a little homesick. The lane led out into an open space where crowds of white men, women and children welcomed us with loud cries of “Shallome, Shallome” and much talking in Yiddish. Suddenly came a clear cut question in excellent English from a woman, “Do you know a soldier, of the name of "-?“ An audible smile went down the little column and the Staff Officer leading suggested that there doubtless were many soldiers of that name in the Division, but that if she knew his regiment enquiries could be made. Quickly the answer came, “Yes, he is a New Zealander and is in a N.Z. Mounted Regiment, but I do not know which. I would much like to find him for he is my son.” And before any further answer could be given a burly policeman, who had been riding behind the Provost Marshal and who had been
chosen by that officer quite haphazard that morning from the Divisional Mounted Police as his horse holder for the day, rode forward and said he had a letter for a Mrs. "—" which had been given to the Divisional Police by Trooper of the Auckland Regiment about a year ago with the request that all enquiries possible be made for his mother in the villages in Palestine. And here we found her after riding 200 miles through an alien land; and she was the first white woman we had spoken to in all that ride.
Needless to say that Trooper “—‘s” CO. was at once communicated with, and the son was given leave to go to his mother.
Jaffa was taken over by the New Zealand Brigade on November 16th, when the town was surrendered to Lieut.-Colonel J. H. Whyte, O.C. Wellington Regiment.
Three days later the Navy put in an appearance and a naval officer was appointed to manage the port, such as it was, and to improve facilities for the landing of stores. But the town was administered by the New Zealanders for the next fortnight, until a representative of the director of “Occupied Enemy Territory” was appointed. It was an interesting work and fortunately the population upon our arrival was small, all but Turkish sympathisers having been expelled by Jemal Pasha eight months before. Out of a population of 50,000 inhabitants only some 10,000 remained; so the town for an Oriental one was fairly clean. It is a picturesque city, the old portion built upon and completely covering, with a veritable nest of masonry, a conical hill which overlooks the harbour. The modern city spreads round this and away northwards along the shore where it forms the modern Jewish suburb of Tel Aviv (The hill of Spring), consisting of large and well-built stone houses with beautiful gardens.
The word Jaffa means “beautiful” and indeed it is a beautiful city. The great sweep of the green orange groves comes in from the plains melting into the gardens of the town. At the foot of the old city is the solid stone quay, as sound as the day the Crusaders of old tied up their ships; and protecting this old quay from the waves of the Mediterranean lies the reef of Andromeda, and the great rock to which she was tied is still shown. Facing it is Simon the Tanner’s house, of which Dean Stanley in his classic book says, “One of the few localities which can claim to represent an historical scene of the New Testament, is the site of the house of Simon the Tanner at Jaffa.”
It was here at Jaffa that Napoleon massacred his prisoners and when he retreated it was here that he poisoned his sick.
Almost immediately after the occupation of Jaffa by the New Zealanders the inhabitants who had been expelled by Jemal Pasha began to flock back to their homes. They arrived from many villages in the plains where they had been in hiding. Many also came even from the country still occupied by the Turk. They came on camel back and on donkeys and on foot, with all the worldly goods they still possessed packed upon camels, mules and donkeys. It was a motley crowd that arrived day after day and it showed many signs of the privations of war. Food had been exceedingly scarce and many had actually starved to death. One of the most pitiable effects of war upon a civilian population was shown by an orphan’s home, which had been established in the English Mission buildings during the war. Here some 300 waifs and strays had been collected and cared for by the native staff of the Mission. But food had become so scarce during the few months before we arrived that the children had been fed on almost nothing but flour made from dhurra, a coarse native grain. Two-thirds had died and the remainder became the care of our medical people, who secured all food and blankets possible to save the poor little mites that remained. After a few days supplies
became easier and the children were put upon a good ration and warmly clad and, given plenty of blankets for protection against the cold nights.
The staff had shown great devotion to these children. They were native women trained by Miss McConachy, who before the war was in charge of the Mission School here, and who since the war had so ably carried on the Soldiers’ Club in the Ezebekieh Gardens, Cairo, and by her untiring work at the Australian Red Cross Rooms had endeared herself to every Australian and New Zealander in the Force. Much interest was taken by those who came first into Jaffa in searching for and in finding her house and in placing over it a guard.
The New Zealand Brigade took up a protective line covering Jaffa, just south of the river Auja, and connecting with the Light Horsemen who prolonged the line across the plain to the hills north of Ludd. Reconnaissances of the river were made and it was found to be deep and unfordable, except at known places. These were a ford on the sea beach where the water reached about half way up the saddle flaps; at the Jeriseh Mill, where men on foot could cross on the mill dam; and at the bridge on the main Jaffa—Nablus road there was a stone bridge, and close by it a mill dam upon which men on foot could cross. These crossings were all held by the enemy.
Citation: The Battle of Beersheba, Palestine, 31 October 1917, New Zealand Official History Account