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Wednesday, 5 August 2009
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, 9th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account
Topic: AIF - 3B - 9 LHR

Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

9th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

 

9th LHR men sorting through rifles captured at Hamissah.

 

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 Romani and is extracted below.

Darley, TH, With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, Adelaide, Hassell Press, 1924, pp. 43 - 47.

 

CHAPTER XI ROMANI

For some months past it had been known that the enemy were collecting a large force in the vicinity of Bir-el-Abd, whilst smaller parties were scattered amongst the hods energetically developing the water supply. A daring raid had been carried out on the Yeomanry Camp at Qatia and heavy casualties inflicted.

At that time, the British line in this sector ran from Mahamdiya on the Mediterranean, South, covering Romani to Katib Gannit, thence in a series of strong posts to protect the light railway from Kantara to Romani, with headquarters at Kantara.

In the early days of August, reconnoitring patrols were sent out daily in the direction of Hod-el-Arras, Hod Jehierat and Hod Abu-Samara, with special instructions as to searching for water.

At dawn on the 4th August the enemy delivered a heavy frontal attack in a determined effort to seize the railhead at Romani. The attack was so sudden and fierce that for a time they made good progress, and the Light Horse holding the point at which the thrust was directed were forced back by sheer weight of numbers. Their splendid discipline and determination, however, held them together and the enemy were gradually forced to withdraw. Heavy fighting continued throughout the day, but towards evening they withdrew to reorganise.

On the morning of the 4th August, orders were issued to the effect that the Brigade would march out at 8.30 a.m. and would travel as light as possible. No news had reached us of the commencement of the enemy attack, and although an early move had been expected, this short notice took everyone by surprise, arid caused the greatest excitement.

For eight months the Regiment had been practically in standing camps, looking forward to the time when the enemy would come within striking distance, and the long-looked-for moment had apparently arrived. 

Everywhere was bustle and excitement, and the instruction to travel light was certainly carried out, as many did not even take a jacket or spare shirt, expecting that a few hours would see them back in the camp which they had gone to so much trouble to make comfortable. They were, however, destined to receive a rude shock, as it was many weeks before they saw a standing camp again.

Only one hour's notice was given, and in that time supplies of rations, forage, and ammunition had to be drawn and issued, and [43] arrangements made as to the stores which were to be left behind. Still, at the stated time the Regiment was on parade, fully equipped to move, with a strength on parade) of 21 officers, 415 Other ranks, and 459 horses. All Wheeled transport was left behind also 115 men and 87 horses under the command of Lieut AH Nelson.

First orders stated that the Brigade would march via Hod el Arras to Romani, but after proceeding about two miles the direction of the march was changed to Hill 70 which had been held by the New Zealanders. Hill 70 is on the main Kantara-Qatia caravan route, 10 miles north of Bally Bunion, and about seven miles east of the Suez Canal. The Brigade reached Hill 70 at 11.30 am and halted until 5 p.m. Immediately on arrival, the Brigadier left by motor to report to the G.O.C of the sector, and on his return the Brigade moved to Dueidar, arriving at 10 pm and bivouacking for the night.

The point was found to be held by the New Zealanders and Scottish Horse, who found the outposts. During the march, frequent gun flashes had been noticed on our left and information came to hand of the desperate attack made on the line. Desperate fighting was stated to have taken place on a long hill, covering the camp, afterwards named “Mount Royston" after that splendid old soldier, Brigadier General Royston, who, a few days later, was appointed to command the 3rd Light Horse Brigade.

At 4 am on the following morning the Regiment moved out from Dueidar as advance guard to the Brigade followed by the 10th Light Horse, the intention being to attack Hod el-Enna in conjunction with the 5th Light Horse Regiment. On arrival at Bir-el Nuss we gained touch with the headquarters and one squadron of the New Zealand Mounted Rides, who informed us that the enemy attack on Romani had been broken up, and that a number of prisoners and guns had been taken. As was only to be expected, this information caused general rejoicing, and seemed a good omen for the future. A good well having been found in this Hod, the horses were watered and fed, the men also taking the opportunity to make a good meal.

At 9 a.m. the advance was continued in the direction of Hod El Enna, but on receipt of information to the effect that the enemy had vacated that place, the direction of march was altered to Bir Nagid and Hod Hamissah. During this move junction was made with the New Zealanders on our left. At about noon, the advance patrols came in touch with a portion of the enemy rearguard, about one mile west of Bir Nagid, who opened fire, but a few minutes later surrendered to our men.

On moving towards Bir Nagid, the sand plainly showed that large numbers of men and camels had passed towards the east. We accordingly increased our pace as much as the heavy sand would allow and soon came into sight of a string of camels loaded with [44] ammunition. These were promptly shot down, but the drivers escaped. The ammunition (about 40,000 rounds) was captured. The main portion of the enemy rearguard which had taken up a position along a line of sand hills, about two miles N.E. of Bir Nagid, opened a heavy fire on “A” Squadron at 12.40 p.m.

Information was brought in that about one thousand of the enemy were occupying a position covering Hamissah, and orders were immediately issued for the Regiment to deploy for action, "A" Squadron in the centre with two troops of "B" Squadron on each flank, whilst "C" Squadron were to make a wide detour to the south with the object of outflanking and enfilading the enemy's position. "A" and "B" Squadrons advanced to within 700 or 800 yards and dismounted, sending their horses to cover. They then opened a brisk fire and pushed forward as opportunity offered.

At 1 p.m. a message was sent to Brigade Headquarters at Nagid, asking that one squadron be sent in support as the whole Regiment was by this time heavily engaged. In the meantime the enemy, seeing the movement of "C" Squadron, began to withdraw in an easterly direction. The led horses were therefore signalled up, and "A" and "B" Squadrons mounted and pushed forward to the foot of the ridge, where they dismounted and went in with the bayonet.  A sharp fight took place, and Lieut. Ayliffe’s troop captured two officers and 63 men, unwounded, also many sets of arms, and a quantity of stores and equipment. Various other troops captured prisoners in this melee, and when a count was taken the total was found to be 308, of which the Brigade scouts captured 27.

The enemy continued to retire towards a strong position, held by machine guns, covering Hamissah, and at 1.30 p.m. "A" Squadron of the 10th Light Horse arrived under the command of Major Olden. The Inverness Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, had by this time got into position, and quickly put a section into action. This was the first time they had been in action, and their target was a camel convoy carrying machine guns and ammunition at a distance of about 3,000 yards. In spite of the fact that range-taking instruments could not be used, the gunners got on to their target with the first shot, and made splendid practice, their shrapnel being timed to perfection. This somewhat annoyed the enemy, who immediately opened fire on the battery, sending over salvoes of six inch howitzer shells, and the guns were forced to withdraw.

At 2.30 p.m. the remainder of the 10th Light Horse came up and worked round the right flank in conjunction with the Brigade Scouts and "C" Squadron of the Regiment, a number of prisoners and machine guns being captured during the movement.

It was noticed that the enemy machine guns were under the command of German officers and non-commissioned officers, and in one instance, when a party of Turks put up the white flag, a German NCO was seen to shoot the surrendering Turks. At another time [45] when the Brigade Scouts and a troop of the 10th Light Horse under Lieut. J Lyall were collecting prisoners, a German NCO opened fire with his machine gun on a party of the enemy who were in the act of surrendering. This German no doubt stopped, for the time being, the surrender of about 100 Turks.

During the whole of the engagement the enemy guns made good shooting, our small casualty list being chiefly due to the fact that they were firing high explosive shells which buried themselves in the sand before bursting, with the result that the force of the explosion was almost neutralized by the sand. Cases were frequent where shells fell within six or eight feet of men without any worse effect than the inconvenience of being covered in a shower of sand.

As the Regiment continued to advance, the enemy gunners shortened their range, with the result that when it halted the shells fell amongst their own troops, one shell reaching their ammunition convoy with disastrous results. At the end of the day’s fighting it was found that the bag of the Brigade amounted to a total of 10 officers and 415 other enemy ranks, whilst seven machine guns and large quantities of stores had been captured. Although the prisoners appeared to be in good condition they were evidently beginning to feel the strain of having marched on foot through the deserts of the Sinai Peninsula. During the latter part of the retreat march they had been badly fed and were short of water. In fact the only food the writer saw in the possession of this batch of prisoners was dates collected from the neighbouring Hods.

During this engagement Lieut. A. D. Palmer had two machine guns supporting the Regiment and did excellent work, but late in the day he received wounds which unfortunately ended fatally.

At 6.30 p.m. orders were received to fall back on Bir Nagid when the Brigade would bivouac for the night, the 8th Light Horse finding outpost duties. After dark the Brigade left Nagid and moved about two miles in a north-westerly direction where it halted and placed an outpost furnished by the Regiment. At 4 a.m. on the 6th, the Regiment left for Hod EI-Enna to water the horses, but as the guide failed to find the track through the high sand dunes the Regiment returned to Nagid where it halted, horses and men enjoying a well-earned meal.

At 3 p.m. the Brigade moved to Hod Abu Daren, where it camped for the night. The enemy had continued to fall back after the engagement at Hamissah and contact was not gained during the day, but during the march the Brigade was shelled from the north-east with heavy shells, evidently fired at long range, whilst enemy Planes dropped light bombs on the convoy.

At dawn on the 7th, the 8th Light Horse moved off, supported by the Regiment, and shortly after daybreak, about one mile east of Hod Es Sagia, gained touch with the enemy, who brought a very heavy fire to bear. The 9th Regiment moved up in close support [46] and dismounting, sent the horses back to the Hod, one squadron at a time to war. This move was evidently seen by the enemy, who kept up a heavy shrapnel fire both on the troops and on the Hod during the watering. At 2 p.m. the Regiment took over the line from the 8th Light Horse, who moved back to water, having suffered a number of casualties during the early part of the day.

The Inverness Battery occupied a ridge to the west of Hod Es Sagia, close to the ruins of a wonderfully well-preserved ancient temple, of which the tops of the pillars and capitols alone stood above the sand, the remainder having been buried by the drift. The Battery did excellent shooting against the enemy convoys, etc., and made them very careful as to their movements. During the afternoon a force, believed to be New Zealanders, was seen to make an advance about two miles to the north, and to become heavily engaged. After dark the Regiment fell back on Abu Daren and established a line of outposts for the night.

 

Further Reading:

9th Australian Light Horse Regiment, AIF
 
9th Australian Light Horse Regiment, Roll of Honour 

Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916 

Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, 9th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 27 October 2009 9:57 PM EADT

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