Topic: BatzS - Romani
Battle of Romani
Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916
1st Light Horse Brigade camp at Romani
Romani, an action fought on 4-5 August 1916 in the Sinai Desert 35 kilometres east of the Suez Canal, took place amid towering sand-dunes astride the old caravan route to Palestine skirting the Mediterranean Sea. After Turkish raids had inflicted some damage to British outposts in this area during April, Romani was occupied by the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division and the Anzac Mounted Division, the latter at that time comprising two brigades of Australian light horse under Major-General Harry Chauvel. From here the mounted troops undertook a vigorous program of desert patrols, aimed at keeping the enemy away from this route to the canal and detecting any approach that was made.
On 18 July, aerial reconnaissance had discovered the presence of four large bodies of Turkish troops a few days' march beyond the line of British outposts. The next fortnight involved continual skirmishing in the midsummer heat, during which it was established from enemy prisoners that the puckish force comprised a reinforced division of 12,000-14,000 men under command of a German general, Kress von Kressenstein. During the night of 2-3 August the Turks advanced to Katia, eight kilometres south-east of Romani, and it was concluded that an attack on the main British position was imminent.
In the expectation that the enemy planned to envelop the southern end of the Romani defences, before sweeping onto the camps and railway behind than, Chauvel positioned his 1st Brigade - all that was available to him since his 2nd Brigade was out on reconnaissance-in small posts covering a frontage of five kilometres south of the 2nd Division's Lines. The Turks were in the process of forming up on their start-lines for an assault when they unexpectedly bumped into the Australians at about midnight on 3 August. After adjusting their plans, the Turks come on an hour later. In the fighting that quickly developed, the 700 rifles in Chauvel's screen of outposts were opposed by up to 8,000 Turks.
Under the weight of the unrelenting enemy pressure, the light horsemen fell back steadily. At 4.30 a.m., when it appeared that the Turks' outflanking movement must succeed, Chauvel brought in his 2nd Brigade into line on the right flank of the 1st. As the Turks continued to feel their way around the southern flank of the defence, Chauvel began moving troops from the left of his line to keep extending his right, with the 52nd Division taking over the parts of his front that had to be thus vacated. Despite these tactics, by 7 a.m. the enemy had gained a long sandhill dubbed Wellington Ridge flanking the camps. The Australians had been pushed back to a towering sand-dune called Mount Royston, their front now facing due south.
At about 7 a.m. the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and a brigade of British yeomanry, having been sent forward from reserve positions closer to the canal, were ordered into action against the enemy's now exposed flank. These forces were not in position to commence a counter-attack on Mount Royston until nearly 2 p.m. The fight continued throughout the afternoon, but by the time a brigade from a British infantry division in reserve, the 42nd (Lancashire), also neared the scene at about 6 p.m. the Turks had begun surrendering in large numbers. Meanwhile Chauvel's brigades had managed to maintain their positions in the centre, but were too tired for any further counter-stroke to be attempted.
At 4 a.m. on 5 August the 1st and 2nd Light Horse Brigades, together with adjoining infantry, advanced with the bayonet. Except at one point, Turkish resistance on Wellington Ridge was quickly subdued. With the enemy flank now crushed, Chauvel was instructed at 6.30 a.m. to undertake a pursuit using all available mounted troops. This now involved the 3rd Brigade of his own division, which had arrived from the canal zone. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade had a major success south of Katia, when a Turkish strongpoint was rushed at about 1 p.m. and resulted in the capture of 425 enemy and seven machine-guns.
Elsewhere on this front the Turkish positions proved too strong and well protected by fire, so that Katia itself remained untaken. The British forces were compelled to retire, essentially through lack of water for the horses, but during the night the Turks took the opportunity to abandon the place anyway. Thus the threat to Romani had been decisively eliminated, although the failure of the British command to turn the Turkish defeat into a rout has largely obscured the significance of the victory. The brunt of the fighting had fallen upon the Anzac Mounted Division, which suffered over 900 of the 1,130 casualties (including 202 killed) on the British side. Turkish losses are unknown but were estimated at 9,000; 1,250 dead were buried by the victors and nearly 4,000 were taken prisoner.
A poignant moment as a 3rd LHR man pays his respects to a fallen Turk.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 118-118.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
H.S. Gullett, (1944), The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
A.J. Hill, (1978), Chauvel of the Light Horse, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press.
Citation: Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Outline