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Saturday, 18 October 2008
The Battle of Beersheba, Palestine, 31 October 1917, Kearsey Account
Topic: BatzP - Beersheba

The Battle of Beersheba

Palestine, 31 October 1917

Kearsey Account

 

Situation at the End of October 1917

[From: Kearsey, A summary of the strategy and tactics of the Egypt and Palestine campaign, Map 3, p. 107.]

[Click on map for larger version.]

 

In 1931 Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Horace Cyril Kearsey at Aldershot was commissioned to produce a monograph illustrating the military principles described by the Sinai and Palestine campaigns. The finished work was printed by the Imperial Army in 1931 at Aldershot called: A summary of the strategy and tactics of the Egypt and Palestine campaign, with details of the 1917-18 operations illustrating the principles of war, in which included a major section specifically related to the battle of Beersheba and extracted below.

Kearsey, A., A summary of the strategy and tactics of the Egypt and Palestine campaign, with details of the 1917-18 operations illustrating the principles of war, (London 1931), pp.  20-23, & p. 67:

 

[20] Zero day was fixed for October 31st, by which time the Desert Mounted Corps and the XX Corps were to be as near as possible to Beersheba, while everything was done to contain the enemy in Gaza and to make them think that the main attack was to be against their right flank. Vacated camps were left standing, the navy was active with soundings near the coast, while wells were developed in the Wadi Ghuzze, and railway and pipe-line were pushed out in an easterly direction, and the Desert Mounted Corps and XXth Corps gradually advanced in a south-easterly direction down the Wadi Ghuzze towards Beersheba.

During this period the Turks made a reconnaissance in force. On October 27th two regiments of cavalry and 3,000 Turkish infantry with guns attacked two advanced posts of our outposts, held by the London Yeomanry of the 8th Mounted Brigade on Hills 630 and 720 near Girheir. The post on Hill 720 was overwhelmed but the post on Hill 630 held out till relieved by the advance of the 3rd A.L.H. Brigade and the 158th Brigade.

The Turks appear to have gained no information from this operation. Our preparations continued without further interruption. By the night of October 30th/31st our troops were located as follows: The Anzac Mounted Division was at Asluj; the Australian Mounted Division was at Khalasa; the 7th Mounted Brigade was at Esani. The Yeomanry Division, acting as a covering force in the centre, was at Abasan el Kebir. The XXI Corps was opposite Gaza. The XX Corps, forming part of the striking force, was disposed as follows The 10th Division and Camel Corps Brigade were at Shellal, the 53rd Division was at Goz el Goleib, the both Division l was at Esani, the 74th Division was at Khasif. The details of the attack on Beersheba were for the 74th and both Divisions to attack Hill 1070 and the enemy's works between the Wadi Saba and the Khalasa Road on a front of 5,000 yards. Part [21] of the 53rd Division covered the left of this attack. The 7th Mounted Brigade covered the right of the 60th Division.

The infantry were to be in a position about 2,500 yards from the Turks' trenches, from which they could assault their works by 0400 hours on October 31st. The mounted divisions were to be east of Beersheba early enough to attack it before the enemy realized the attack of the XX Corps. The main attack of this corps, it was anticipated, would be delivered between 1000 and 1100 hours on zero day. The G.O.C. Desert Mounted Corps was told to keep his men and horses as fresh as possible for the principal operations, in which they were to pass round the Turks' left flank and gain a position in the vicinity of the Tel Nejile-Wadi Hesi.

On October 31st the Turks were surprised by the direction of the attack of our mounted troops from the east of Beersheba after their night marches of twenty-five and thirty miles respectively. They reached their first objectives east of Beersheba, in the vicinity of Khashm Zanna by 0800 hours. By 0830 hours Hill 1070 had been captured by the 181st Brigade. Our guns were then moved forward to wire-cutting range of the enemy's main position between the Khalasa Road and the Wadi Saba. This position was bombarded from 1030 hours until midday, and then the 74th Division successfully assaulted it. By 1930 hours the Turkish defences north of the Khalasa Road were captured by the reserve brigade of the 74th Division. During these operations by the infantry, 50o Turks and six field guns had been captured.

On arrival at their first objective the mounted divisions hard to cross an open plain commanded on the north-east and south-east and flanked by Tel Saba and Tel es Sakaty. It was not till 1300 hours that Sakaty was captured by the 2nd A.L.H. Brigade. Saba did not fall until 1500 hours. The 4th A.L.H. Brigade was ordered to make a mounted attack against the trenches covering Beersheba. They were supported by "A" Battery H.A.C., and the Notts Battery, firing at a range of 2,500 yards. By 1830 hours the 4th A.L.H. Brigade had captured the Turks' trenches. Their forward squadrons galloped over the two front lines of trenches, then dismounted and attacked the occupants with the bayonet. The remainder of the Brigade galloped into the town and captured 1,100 prisoners and ten guns of the Turkish 27th Division. Also they prevented the Turks from destroying more than two of the seventeen wells in the town. The 4th A.L.H. Brigade lost 31 killed and 33 wounded.

This preliminary operation was thus completely successful owing to the fact that the Turks were surprised, and that the [22] final assault was carried through with great determination and rapidity.

Now that the Turkish left flank at Hareira and Sheria was exposed, and the XX Corps was within striking distance of it, it was essential to deliver the main attack as early as possible.

It was also necessary to contain the Turkish 3rd and 53rd Divisions in Gaza to draw their reserves in this direction, and also to hold off the troops north of Beersheba while the XX Corps had time to reconnoitre the enemy's main position and to assemble for the attack. Accordingly, the XXI Corps was to capture the line Umbrella Hill-Shaikh Hasan, on a front of 6,000 yards to a depth of 3,000 yards. The 53rd Division, Camel Corps Brigade, and Anzac Mounted Division occupied a line Bir Marrineh-Abu Jowal on November 1st. At 2300 hours on this day the 156th Brigade captured Umbrella Hill. By 0300 hours on November 2nd the 161st and 162nd Brigades attacked on a front of 6,000 yards, and by 0630 hours had reached Shaikh Hasan.

The Turks had lost heavily during our preliminary bombardment of Gaza and its vicinity since October 26th, and in consequence these attacks on November 1st and 2nd were carried out with little loss. During these days, however, the Turks were preparing for a counter-stroke north of Beersheba.

On November 3rd the 53rd Division moved towards Khuweilfeh Hill. Here strong opposition was encountered from three cavalry regiments and eight battalions. The Turks continued their attacks throughout November 4th and 5th in their attempt to drive back our covering force on Beersheba, and to induce the Commander-in-Chief to alter his plans and to make his main attack against them in the Hebron Hills. The Commander-in-Chief, however, continued with the plans and preparations for his main objective, which was to attack the enemy in the Sheria-Hareira position on November 6th. In this connection the Commander-in-Chief writes in his despatches: "Had the enemy succeeded in drawing considerable forces against him in that area the result might easily have been an indecisive fight, and my own striking force would probably have been made too weak effectively to break the enemy's centre in the neighbourhood of Sheria and Hareira. However, the enemy's action was not allowed to make any essential modification to the original plan."

General Barrow was given command of the right flank guard during the main attack. His force consisted of the 53rd Division with the Camel Corps Brigade, the Yeomanry Division, the New Zealand and 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigades. This force maintained its position, and when the both Division successfully attacked the Turks' entrenched [23] position at Sheria the enemy had no reserves left to re-establish the situation, and, in consequence on November 7th their whole defence collapsed. By nightfall on this day only their troops in the Atawineh works still held out. It had, however, been hoped that Sheria and the water in the Wadi would have been captured on November 6th. But the both Division was unable to do this. One brigade of the 10th Division was able to advance to within a mile of Hareira. The remainder of the division remained east of the Sheria-Beersheba railway. The 74th Division was a mile north-east of the 10th Division by the evening of November 6th. On that night the 75th Division captured Outpost and Middlesex Hills at 2330 hours and Turtle Hill at 0500 hours on the next day. Only the troops in the Atawineh works still held out. Also, early on November 7th, the 10th Division captured Hareira and the both Division, after capturing Tel el Sheria, advanced two miles beyond the Wadi Sharia. The cavalry now passed through the infantry to join up with the XXI Corps and to prevent the Turks at Atawineh from escaping north. Owing, however, to the difficulties of water supply the mounted troops became widely distributed when the opportunity for pursuit arrived and so the bulk of the Turkish 26th and 54th Divisions gained a position north of the Wadi Hesi before the Desert Mounted Corps was able to join up with the XXI Corps.

The Turkish retreat, however, was energetically followed up by the both Division as far as Huj. The 54th Division advanced through Gaza, and north-west of it through Sheikh Redwan to the sea, the imperial Service Cavalry Brigade advanced up to Beit Hanun, and the 52nd Division advanced up the sea coast past the 54th Division to the Wadi Hesi.

The Turks had thus been successfully driven from their naturally strong position which they had been fortifying since the first battle of Gaza.

The Commander-in-Chief gives full credit to the preparations which had made this feat possible. In his despatch of June 28th, 1919, he wrote: "I desire to express my indebtedness to my predecessor, who, by his bridging of the desert between Egypt and Palestine, laid the foundations for the subsequent advances of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. The organization he created, both in Sinai and in Egypt stood all tests and formed the corner-stone of my successes.”

 

[67]

(9) The Turks were completely surprised by our attack on Beersheba. It was necessary to gain this position by a surprise before the enemy could reinforce. It was necessary to have it in our possession, so that we could gain ground for manoeuvre for our main attack, and also to obtain the water in Beersheba. This surprise was gained by preparations designed to mislead the enemy.

By the active trench warfare in front of Gaza the Turks believed that our main attack would be against this position. Four days before the attack on Beersheba there was a continuous day and night bombardment on Gaza.

All movements of the XX Corps and D.M.C. to areas of concentration east of Shellal took place at night. Vacated camps were left standing, and the usual routine was continued in them by small parties left behind. Misleading wireless messages were sent to the Turkish stations.

Finally, when two divisions of the D.M.C., after night marches from Khalasa and Asluj of twenty-five and thirty miles respectively, reached their allotted positions east of Beersheba by 0800 hours on the morning of October 31st, the Turks were completely surprised.

Most of their troops in the observation trenches were facing south-west. The Turks had then no time to reinforce their detached post at Beersheba or to demolish the water-plant and the seventeen wells.

The Turks were still kept in uncertainty as to where our main blow was to be. The bombardment in conjunction with the Navy was continued at Gaza; and while the XX Corps was preparing for the main attack against the Sheria-Hareira defences, the XXI Corps on November 1st captured the Umbrella Hill-Sheikh Hassan line.

This confirmed the Turks in their belief that the main objective for our attack was to be Gaza. They did not reinforce the Kauwukah defences. They were surprised at dawn on November 6th, when the 60th, both, and 74th Divisions successfully attacked their Hareira positions.

 

Further Reading:

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, Kearsey Account

Posted by Project Leader at 1:01 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 8 October 2009 8:51 AM EADT

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