"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess
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Monday, 9 November 2009
The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Outline Topic: BatzS - Magdhaba
The Battle of Magdhaba
Sinai, 23 December 1916
Magdhaba, was fought on 23 December 1916 in the northern Sinai Desert, 35 kilometres south-east of the Mediterranean coastal town of El Arish and about 30 kilometres west of the border with Palestine. Following their defeat at Romani (q.v.) Turkish forces were thrown onto the defensive and retreated to Bir el Abd and subsequently Mazar, in each case abandoning their positions once attacked by British mounted troops - principally Australians and New Zealanders of the Anzac Mounted Division led by Major-General Harry Chauvel. After El Arish was vacated by the enemy and duly occupied by British forces on 21 December, the way into Palestine was barred by two principal Turkish blocking forces: at Magdhaba and Rafa.
On the night of 22 December Chauvel was ordered to move against the inland base at Magdhaba. Available to him was his mounted division, less one brigade but with the newly formed Imperial Camel Corps (and attached battery of mountain guns) taking its place. Marching in the early hours of 23 December, by daybreak Chauvel's troops had closed on the enemy-held village. As soon as the Turks' dispositions were clearly established by low-flying aircraft from No. I Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, Chauvel gave his orders. The Imperial Camel Corps was sent from the north-west directly at the nearest redoubt lying east of the Wadi el Arish, while the other brigades detoured around the northern flank, where the firm ground best suited horses, to attack from the north and north-east; one regiment was sent on a wide circling movement to the east then south to cross the wadi and take up position in rear of the enemy position.
A hard fight followed in which the attackers made slow progress crossing open ground under heavy fire. Soon after 1 p.m., upon learning that sources of water apart from the wells at Magdhaba were denied to him, Chauvel decided to call off the attack. The recall reached the commander of the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade, Brigadier-General Charles Cox, just as his troops were preparing to assault the main enemy redoubt with the bayonet. He temporarily misplaced the message until the attack was underway, and his men's success a few minutes later showed Chauvel that victory was actually at hand.
By 4.30 p.m. the Turkish garrison surrendered; few escaped. The number of enemy killed has been put at about 300 - certainly nearly 100 were collected on the field for burial and just short of 1,300 were captured. The 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment, providing the blocking force south of the wadi, alone accounted for 722 of the prisoners. Chauvel's losses were trifling: only 146 casualties, of whom 22 were killed. After setting fire to the village and leaving two regiments to clear the battlefield of dead and wounded, the remainder of the column returned to El Arish.
Preparing the dead for burial, Australians and Ottoman soldiers lay together in peace.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, p. 122.
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.
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