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Monday, 13 October 2008
The Battle of Beersheba, Palestine, 31 October 1917, Falls Account, Pt 1
Topic: BatzP - Beersheba

The Battle of Beersheba

Palestine, 31 October 1917

Falls Account, Pt 1

 

The Capture of Beersheba, 31 October 1917

[Click on map for larger version]

[From: Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, Sketch 3 facing p. 50.]

As part of the Official British War History of the Great War, Cyril Falls; George MacMunn; and, Archibald Frank Becke, were commissioned to produce a commentary on the Sinai, Palestine and Syrian operations that took place. In 1930 their finished work, Military operations: Egypt and Palestine,  was published. Their book included a section specifically related to the battle of Beersheba and is extracted below.

Falls, C.; MacMunn, G.; and, Becke, AF, Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, (London 1930), pp. 48 - 52:

 

THE ATTACK OF THE XX CORPS.

[48] It was a cold, still night, precursor of a hot and breathless day. Over the troops' left shoulders the bombardment of Gaza, more than twenty miles away, was rumbling, and the horizon flickered with gun-flashes till breaking day concealed them. From the Turkish trenches in front there came not a sound. Then, at 5.55 a.m., the XX Corps' own artillery set about its work. The ground, after the scorching heat of summer, was dry as powder and bare of vegetation; there was no breath of wind; so that after an hour's bombardment the Turkish defences were screened in a dense cloud of dust. At 7 the bombardment was stopped for threequarters of an hour to permit the murk to clear a little and the observers to locate their targets. Visibility did not much improve during the pause, but from what could be seen of the wire it was by no means all cut. Br.-General Da Costa decided that further delay would prove more costly in the long run than an immediate assault, and got Major-General Shea's permission to carry it out after a final intense bombardment of ten minutes, beginning at 8.20. At this hour the 2/22nd London advanced against Point 1069 itself and the 2/24th against the works just north of it. The wirecutting parties cut the necessary gaps while the barrage was still upon the Turkish trenches 30 yards ahead, and within a few minutes the works were captured with 90 prisoners, the brigade having so far suffered about one hundred casualties.

While this attack was in progress the leading brigades of the 74th Division advanced in conformity with the 181st Brigade, coming as they topped the successive low cliffs [49] under accurate shrapnel fire, which inflicted heavy loss upon the 231st Brigade on the right. Direction was hard to keep upon ground which, though extraordinarily rough and broken, had few easily distinguishable features. The 231st Brigade (Br.-General C. E.Heathcote) edged off slightly to its right, forcing the 230th (Br.-General A. J. M'Neill) on the left to fill the gap with two supporting companies of its right battalion, the 10/Buffs. As the troops neared the enemy's entrenchments machine-gun fire slowed down the advance, but by 10.40 the 231st Brigade was within 500 yards of the front line, and the 230th, the left of which was slightly refused, about 400 yards further off. Batteries now moved forward to positions from which the wire covering the main defences could be cut.

The sun was well up when the new bombardment began; the stones which bestrewed the ground were already burning to the touch, and the hillsides radiated heat. At 11.40 Major-General Shea told Major-General Girdwood that the wire on his division's front appeared to be cut and asked how soon he would be prepared to attack. Major-General Girdwood replied that he could not see whether or not the wire on his front was cut, but that the 74th Division would go forward when the 60th was ready. General Chetwode then ordered the assault on the main line to be launched at 12.15 p.m., at which hour the bombardment was to increase in intensity.

The four brigades, 179th, 181st, 231st, and 230th, advanced swiftly, to a great extent screened by the dust and smoke of the bombardment. In every case but that of the 181st Brigade their attack was carried out by two battalions in first line. The 181st Brigade had three battalions in line, the 2/22nd London remaining in the captured position at Point 1069. Dispositions varied slightly, but those of the 2/14th London, which are recorded in detail, may be taken as typical. It had two of its four companies in first line, each on a front of two platoons, the companies in two "waves," each of two lines - 50 yards between lines and 100 yards between waves. Where the troops were attacking salients in the enemy's position there were two further waves in similar formation 300 yards in rear, formed from the remaining companies. The troops advancing against re-entrants were not thus supported and were echeloned slightly in rear.

[50] During the period of waiting several parties of Turks had been seen withdrawing, and when the assault reached the trenches resistance on the 60th Division's front was never very determined. The loss of Point 1069 had without oubt demoralized the enemy here. The 2/15th London, right battalion of the 179th Brigade, suffered somewhat severely from the fire of a machine gun, but when that was captured all resistance was over The 2/13th London of this brigade then passed through the other two battalions and its leading company attacked two field-guns beyond the final objective with Lewis-gun fire, drove off the detachments, and captured the guns. All the 60th Division's objectives were in its hands before 1 p.m.

The 74th Division had a less easy task. Major-General Girdwood had ordered the artillery to lengthen range very slightly and thus turned the dust, which had prevented observation of fire, to advantage; for it formed a screen behind which the infantry was enabled to cut the wire. The two Welch Fusilier battalions of the 231st Brigade met with stout resistance. In one post which fought to the last Corporal John Collins of the 25th bayoneted fifteen Turks. [Note: This N.C.O, when displayed remarkable gallantry and leadership during the period battalion was lying under heavy fire, and had repeatedly carried wounded men back to cover. After the incident recorded he advanced with a Lewis Gun section beyond the section and covered the consolidation of the captured postion. He was awarded the Victoria Cross.]  These two battalions suffered nearly two-thirds of the casualties of the whole corps and took three-quarters of its prisoners. All objectives were captured within a few minutes of those of the 60th Division.

It was now uncertain whether or not the works north of the Wadi es Sabe were held. To the 230th Brigade there appeared to be little or no movement in them, but there was some long-range fire from that flank, and patrols of Smith's Group were also shot at when they approached the wire. Major-General Girdwood obtained permission from General Chetwode to attack these trenches from the south with the 230th Brigade while the 5th and 6th R.W.F. of Smith's Group attacked them from the west. The operation was first ordered to take place at 6 pm. and then postponed till 7 p.m., but even then Smith's Group reported that the two [51] battalions under its orders could not get into position by that hour. Br.-General M'Neill was therefore instructed by Major-General Girdwood to carry out the attack alone, so as to avoid altering the artillery programme already arranged. The 16/Sussex advanced at the appointed time and occupied all the enemy's trenches up to the Beersheba-Tell el Fara road with little difficulty. The works had, in fact, been evacuated, and the only resistance was from a handful of snipers. An abandoned battery was captured by the Sussex.

Beersheba itself had by this time fallen to the Desert Mounted Corps, so that the XX Corps had no further task. The 60th and 74th Divisions bivouacked on the battlefield behind a line of outposts. The 53rd Division, to which the battalions in Smith's Group had been returned, remained to cover the flank in the positions which it had occupied during the action, still with the 30th Brigade under its orders. The remainder of the 10th Division, which had moved up to Goz el Basal during the afternoon, bivouacked there.

In the course of the day 419 prisoners, 6 guns, numerous machine guns, and a quantity of material of all sorts had been captured by the XX Corps. The Turkish defences were excellently sited and deeply dug. With good wire they would have been formidable, but, lacking a strong obstacle in front, the garrison was too weak and too little resolute to make a serious resistance, except at isolated points. Nor was the weak Turkish artillery able to give it much assistance - though it punished the 231st Brigade severely early in the day - for the British heavy guns, well served by their observers during the preliminary bombardment, kept down its fire and destroyed its observation posts.[Note: The attack afforded one interesting testimony to the importance of concealing work while actually in progress. Early aeroplane photographs of the defences showed a large hole dug on the top of Point 1069, with open cable-trenches radiating from it. The next photographs showed the hole covered, and the trenches filled in but still clearly visible. The final ones showed that the observation post had been carefully, but uselessly, camouflaged. Orders were given that particular attention should be paid to this observation post and the trenches, which were still visible, during the bombardment. After the battle it was found to be a dugout with a steel roof and trap door at the top. A headless Austrian artillery officer was lying inside.] The British casualties had been suffered chiefly from shrapnel and machine-gun fire during the preliminary bombardment [52] and while the troops were closing to within assaulting distance of the trenches. They amounted to 136 killed, 1,010 wounded - including wounded-including a high percentage of walking cases - and 5 missing.


Further Reading:

Falls - the fall of Beersheba

"Put Grant straight at it."

The Battle of Beersheba, Palestine, 31 October 1917

Australian and New Zealand Roll of Honour

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Battle of Beersheba, Palestine, 31 October 1917, Falls Account, Pt 1

Posted by Project Leader at 9:50 AM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 8 October 2009 4:57 PM EADT

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