Topic: BatzSe - Senussi
Egypt, 23 January 1916
Halazin, an action fought on 23 January 1916 in the Libyan Desert on Egypt's western frontier 35 kilometres south-west of Mersa Matruh, between pro-Turkish Arabs of the Senussi sect and a British expeditionary force under Major-General Alexander Wallace. Following an indecisive action at Gebel Medwa (q.v.), there was little action on this front until the main Senussi camp was located at Halazin on 19 January by the crew of a British aircraft who reported the presence of 300 tents, including that of Sheikh Saved Ahmed (the Grand Senussi) himself.
Wallace decided to mount an attack, buoyed by the fact that many of the improvised units initially scratched together from rear details to form his force had since been replaced by properly formed battalions and regiments. In addition to a newly arrived battalion of South African infantry, he also now had several complete yeomanry units which had become available following the end of the Gallipoli campaign. Although he still had light horsemen in his mounted brigade, the Australian presence was reduced on 15 January to just a half-regiment after two squadrons left to return to Egypt.
Marching out from Mersa Matruh with both his infantry and cavalry brigades, Wallace formed camp on the evening of 22 January only sixteen kilometres from the Senussi encampment. That night there was a torrential rainstorm, which meant the advance was resumed next morning in a quagmire of mud. Conditions were so difficult that armoured cars with the force had to he sent to the rear in case they became bogged in the face of the enemy. Once combat was joined that day, Wallace also found himself confronted by a spirited enemy who put heavy pressure on both his flanks. On the left flank in particular, covered by the mounted column, the Senussi attack was so determined that at one point several companies of New Zealand infantry had to be turned about to render assistance to the cavalry. The situation on this front continued to become pressing until the infantry forming the British centre, reinforced by some light horse, broke through the enemy's main defence line. The Arabs made a general withdrawal through and beyond their tented camp, leaving behind some 200 dead and 500 wounded.
Exhaustion, and the sodden ground, again prevented success being exploited with a vigorous pursuit. The action had been hard and costly; with casualties on the British side totalling 312 (though only 21 were killed). Most of the wounded were not retrieved until the following day, being forced to spend an agonising and cold night on the battlefield. The force as a whole had a wretched night, being without food or shelter and forced to drink only muddy rainwater. The troops were withdrawn soon after the fighting ended, so enjoyed little warmth from the blaze made by the Senussi tents. The next day the 1st Australian Divisional Train, which had been stuck fast in mud during 23 January, succeeded in reaching the returning force and was able to relieve many of the shortages while helping to alleviate the sufferings of the wounded, for which it earnt special thanks from Wallace.
Although there was a return to Mersa Matruh on this occasion, as after previous engagements, the way was finally clear for the British to advance and re-occupy the Egyptian border post at Sollum (Salem). This was accomplished on 14 March 1916, though not before one final large-scale clash at Agagiya, 24 kilometres south-east of Sidi Barrani, on 26 February. The 1st Australian Divisional Train was still serving in support of the advance at the, time of this final action, but on 7 March was withdrawn back to Egypt to join in the expansion and general reorganisation of the Australian Imperial Force which was then taking place.
[From: Sydney Mail, 10 May 1916, p. 11.]
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 115-116.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean, (1929), The Australian Imperial Force in France 1916, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
Further Reading:Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920
Citation: Halazin, Egypt, January 23, 1916