Topic: BatzP - Khuweilfe
The Battle of Khuweilfe
Palestine, 1 to 8 November 1917
HS Gullett Account
The following is extracted from the book written by HS Gullett called Sinai and Palestine, Chapter XXIV, Tel El Khuweilfe.
The successful blow at Beersheba had effects upon the enemy even beyond Allenby's anticipations. The Turkish intelligence had made light of the flank attack, even while it was developing, and had reported " six British infantry divisions deeply echeloned" before Gaza in the closing days of October. After Beersheba the failure to sense Allenby's scheme became still more marked. On the night of October 31st von Kressenstein jumped to the conclusion that Allenby intended to strike for Jerusalem up the Hebron road along the saddle of Judea; he immediately swung three divisions of infantry from the Gaza side to the east. In committing this disastrous error he was influenced by the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade's seizure of the road at Sakati, but still more by the activities of Colonel Newcombe's Arab detachment. Newcombe, marching from Asluj some time before Desert Mounted Corps, had made a wide detour by the east, established his headquarters at Yutta, and taken up a position on high ground overlooking the road between Dhaheriye and Hebron. His force was small, and carried only three days' rations, but was stiffened by a few British machine and Lewis gunners, and was well supplied with ammunition. His mission was merely to harass the Turks retiring from Beersheba; as the road was already cut further south, at Sakati, he remained for a time in idleness, except for the capture of some motor-transport. The Turks, ignorant of the character and strength of the party, apparently took it for a strong advance-guard of Chauvel's mounted troops, and marched a force of no less than six battalions against it, three from Hebron and three from Sheria. Newcombe's men, surrounded by overwhelming numbers, resisted bravely as long as their ammunition lasted, but were reduced by severe losses, and finally made prisoners two or three days after the fall of Beersheba.
While this minor struggle was taking place, Ryrie's brigade had worked its way up the road to Dhaheriye, probing the enemy position on high ground to the west of the road. At the same time two regiments of the 7th Mounted (Yeomanry) Brigade (with the 8th Australian Light Horse Regiment attached) and the Camel Brigade had moved on what proved a very hazardous enterprise against the strong Turkish reserve flank position at Tel el Khuweilfe. All this movement, which was, in truth, little more than reconnaissance, contributed to the enemy's deception. Throughout the day of November 1st, when the last touches were being given to the preparations of Bulfin's XXI Corps for its great stroke against the enemy's extreme right flank between Gaza and the sea, Turkish troops were being hurried away from behind Gaza to meet the imagined menace on the east.
Allenby had intended that Desert Mounted Corps and XX Corps should strike north-west two days after the capture of Beersheba. Chetwode was to assail Sheria and Hareira, while Chauvel, covering his right flank, was to win Nejile and the abundant water-supplies in that district. But the problem of supplies on the flank, and especially of water, proved even more difficult than was expected. Chauvel and Chetwode were on November 1st strongly of opinion that to embark upon the next phase of the struggle immediately, as planned, would be taking excessive risks. The blow could not yet be given its full force, and scarcity of water might bring the whole movement to a premature standstill. The Commander-in-Chief chafed at the proposed delay, but bowed to the opinion of his two experienced lieutenants, and the advance was postponed for four days. Perhaps the strongest ground for an immediate renewal of the battle was the necessity for compelling the Turks to remove their deep reserves from the Gaza sector, and so ease in some measure the tremendous task which lay before Bulfin's divisions in their frontal attack against the enemy trenches on the sand-dunes. Happily von Kressenstein's miscalculation as to the British objective on the flank was already achieving that much-desired development.
Bulfin attacked in the dark at 3 a.m. on November 2nd. Nothing could have demonstrated more strongly than this assault the change which less than six months had wrought in the strength and quality of the British army. Between the beach and the impenetrable cactus hedges which guarded the face of the town on the south, the enemy had laboriously established a system of trenches about 4,000 yards long, which any leader might have deemed impregnable. With one flank protected by the sea, and the other by the cactus and the high ground around Gaza, the line ran an erratic course over the dunes; its trenches were soundly upheld by sandbags, and the trunks of thousands of palm-trees and the beams of most of the houses in Gaza had contributed to their timbering. The defences were deep, line succeeding line. Barbed-wire, so sparingly used on the Beersheba flank, was applied here in profusion; the soft sand made a cushion for British shells, and only occasional direct hits gave concern to the defenders.
The British line lay a thousand yards away, and the No-Man's Land to be crossed in the assault was loose sand, on which marching with packs was heavy and very slow; the surface was in part undulating, but many wide patches were quite level, and on them the infantry must be fully exposed to the Turkish fire. This made a daylight attack impracticable. The contemplated assault imposed on Bulfin's troops a task which would have been quite beyond the same divisions a few months earlier. But, as this engagement was to demonstrate, the transformation in individual fighting men and in battalions and brigades, so miraculously wrought in the preceding six months, was only one phase of the difference between Allenby's army and Murray's. Allenby's command was complete in all arms. No infantry, however stalwart and brilliant, could have carried the line between Gaza and the sea without the support of a great artillery barrage; and this Allenby could provide.
The initial bombardment opened on October 29th, with the dual purpose of reducing the defences and of concealing the attack on Beersheba. It was continued at intervals, and with increasing intensity, by two 60-pounder batteries. five and a half 6-inch howitzer batteries, one 8-inch howitzer battery, and the divisional artillery of the 52nd, 54th, and 75th Divisions. Two days later the navy joined in the shelling, and day and night the Turks were punished with artillery as they had never been in this or any other war. Many of the guns were directed on the enemy's batteries, and, before the infantry attacked, compelled a number of these to pull back their guns. The first essay of Bulfin's infantry was made by the 7th Scottish Rifles against a formidable position known as " Umbrella Hill." Attacking at I I p.m. on November 1st, after an intensive bombardment, the Scots fought in a fashion which must have been very assuring to the Corps commander. As the first wave, about sixty-five strong, approached the enemy wire, they were entirely destroyed by the explosion of four large contact mines. But the second wave, undismayed, went straight through. In half-an-hour the Turks had been bombed and bayoneted into silence, and the hill won.
At 3 o'clock on the morning of the 2nd, No-Man's Land was crossed from end to end by the 161st and 162nd Brigades of the 54th Division, and the front-line trench was completely captured. Very bitter fighting attended the capture of the supports, in which six tanks successfully cooperated; but the British pushed on, until they had seized Sheikh Hassan, a little settlement which serves Gaza as a port on the open roadstead. Heavy counter-attacks were decisively repulsed, and the British, after a dash of 3,000 yards on a 5,000-yard front, consolidated their new position. The enemy had been severely mauled; 1,000 Turkish dead were buried on the ground, and 650 prisoners, 3 guns, 29 machine-guns, and 7 trench mortars were captured. Nor was the fight a bloodless one for the British, who had 30 officers and 330 other ranks killed, 94 officers and 180 other ranks wounded, and 10 officers and 360 other ranks missing. The flank was not yet decisively turned; but the enemy had been jolted from a line which he believed invincible, and, although less than two miles had been gained by the British, that two-mile stretch-lying where it did, as a flanking protection to Gaza-was of vital importance. Within three days Allenby had, by a surprise attack, shattered the enemy at Beersheba, which the Turks had not thought could be approached by a powerful force; he had, by a plain, deliberate frontal attack crushed him on the sand-dunes at the other extremity of the line; and the enemy, confused as to where the next heavy blow would fall, was already in a state of dangerous vacillation and disorganisation. On the morning of November 1st the 53rd Infantry Division, with the Camel Brigade on its right, advanced to Towal Abu Jerwal, to be in a position to cover the XX Corps when Chetwode moved against the Kauwukah and Rushdi trench systems, which protected Sheria and Hareira. The move placed the 53rd with the Camels in the foot-hills about eight miles north of Beersheba, and about the same distance west of the Hebron-Beersheba road. Already the water shortage on the right flank was becoming acute; two brigades of Anzac Mounted Division were ordered to push north, between the Camels and the Hebron road, in search of wells. At the same time the 2nd Light Horse Brigade on the east of the road moved from the Sakati area towards Dhaheriye. The New Zealanders and part of the 1st Light Horse Brigade had intermittent fighting against small bodies of Turkish cavalry, but pushed on steadily through the hills to a position between Bir el Makhrune and Towal Abu Jerwal. During the day 180 prisoners and four machineguns were taken by the Anzacs; but the main purpose of the advance, which was to discover water, was disappointed. A number of wells were located, but the water was at extreme depths and in very limited supply.
There was now abundant evidence of the movement of enemy troops to the east-large bodies were moving towards a strong natural position in the hills around Tel el Khuweilfe, where good water was known to exist. To forestall the enemy at Khuweilfe, and if possible to seize and develop the water there, the 7th Mounted Brigade, with the 8th Light Horse Regiment attached, was sent forward to occupy the area Tel el Khuweilfe-Bir Abu Khuff-Ain Kohleh.
By nightfall on November 1st Chauvel was compelled to confess to grave anxiety about water. Great numbers of the horses had received a short allowance at Asluj, and since reaching the Beersheba district on the morning of the 3rst many were still without a drink. He obtained Allenby's reluctant permission to send the Australian Mounted Division back to Karm on the following day, a move which not only served to illustrate again how narrow was the margin of victory at Beersheba, but was also an important factor in the argument for delaying the next phase of the operations. The country was even more destitute of foodstuffs than of water. The bare plains and harsh stony hills had already become dusty again after the thunderstorms, and offered not a blade of grass to supplement the small ration of a few pounds of pure grain which was now the sole issue to the already jaded horses. The month of October, just before the early rains, has ever been the season of reduced wells and short supplies, not only on the plains of southern Palestine, but over the maritime plain and throughout Judea. Not without justification had the Turks believed that Beersheba was made safe by its desert environment, and that, even if their line should be broken, the British would find vigorous pursuit impossible over the country immediately behind.
The advance of the 7th Mounted Brigade and the 8th Light Horse Regiment towards Khuweilfe proved the forerunner of some very stiff and bloody fighting in that district. Having lost Beersheba, the Turks, pivoting on their strongholds at Sheria and Hareira, withdrew their left and rested it on Khuweilfe, which gave them a stout flank merging into the stronghold of the Judean hills.
The British aim was to deny them Khuweilfe, or, if that proved impossible, to drive them from the position. On the night of the 31st the 8th Light Horse under Major A. McG. McLaurin had rejoined the 3rd Brigade, and bivouacked to the east of Tel el Saba. Early on the morning of November 2nd the regiment was ordered to join the 8th Mounted Brigade, under Brigadier-General J. T. Wigan,' on the Hebron road two miles north of Beersheba. Wigan at the time had only two of his own regiments, the Sherwood Rangers and the South Notts Hussars, and recognised, as he moved towards Khuweilfe, that he had a heavy task before him. Owing to some confusion in orders, McLaurin understood that he was to be away from the 3rd Brigade for only one day; the regiment was rushed forward without drawing rations, and, as the country was too rough for wheels, the regimental water-cart was also left behind. As Wigan led his little column past Abu Jerwal, he learned from the 2nd Light Horse Regiment that the enemy was building up a stout line between Ain Kohleh and the Hebron road.
Tel Khuweilfe is a dominating, bare, flat-topped hill flanked by rough ranges on either side, but open to the south up a wide valley. It commanded the country to the west; if held by the enemy, therefore, it would be a menace to the right flank of the British infantry and mounted troops as they struck for Hareira and Nejile, but its capture by the British would leave the enemy's left flank completely open. Wigan advanced directly up the valley until he came within about three miles of the Tel; then, meeting with opposition, he sent the Sherwoods forward along the hills on the right and the South Notts over the high ground on the left. The Sherwoods met with little resistance, and made good progress, but the South Notts regiment found the enemy strongly posted about Am Kohleh, and was definitely checked. By 2 o'clock Wigan was convinced that nothing but a bold thrust up the valley offered any prospect of success. Major Shannon, of the 8th Light Horse, therefore advanced at the gallop with his squadron directly against the Tel; but, finding the fire too hot on the exposed plain, he swung into the foot-hills to the left. There he travelled rapidly over the ranges until he reached a position about 800 yards from the Khuweilfe hill, where he was joined by the rest of the regiment. Considerable enemy strength was then displayed; as the yeomanry regiments on either side had been unable to conform with the Australian advance, McLaurin dismounted his squadrons, and worked up a defensive line. After nightfall Wigan endeavoured to link up the yeomanry with the light horse. The South Notts made contact on the left, but the Sherwoods could not get forward. McLaurin was then, with his right exposed, close to a strongly held, dominating enemy position; he therefore established a small post in the valley on his open flank, and waited anxiously for the dawn. The line held by the three regiments at this time extended from a point half-a-mile to the west of Ain Kohleh through Hill 1580 to Hill 1910 (El Jabry).
All night the 8th Light Horse Regiment was under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, but, secure in their rocks, the men suffered very few casualties. At dawn it was discovered that the enemy had been substantially reinforced, and that he had in places advanced his firing line to within 200 or 300 yards of the Australians, who had now been twenty four hours without food, while their water-bottles had been exhausted early on the previous day. During the night the 53rd Infantry Division and the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade were ordered forward to ensure, as it was hoped, the speedy reduction of the opposition. The 53rd Division was to advance on the line Ain Kohleh-Abu Khuff on the left, and Cox's brigade on the line Bir Khuweilfe-Ras el Nagb on the right. At 7 a.m. the Sherwood Rangers had seized Ras el Nagb, a considerable hill in rough country to the north-east of Tel Khuweilfe. Cox pushed forward the 1st Light Horse Regiment with four machine-guns, allotting as its objective a rough ridge immediately east of Tel Khuweilfe. Every move served to disclose the strength of the enemy. Granville's men, after dismounting from their horses, advanced rapidly on foot, and covered 800 yards of rough fire-swept ground. This thrust carried them considerably beyond the troops on their flanks; but the squadron leaders, believing they would be supported, pushed on until they reached a patch of sheltered ground on the eastern side of the ridge, within 300 or 400 yards of the Turkish left flank. There they spent the day, completely isolated, and with the ground behind them dominated by Turkish fire. Their cover was scanty, and every man who moved at once became a target for the vigilant enemy snipers. Under such conditions heavy casualties among officers are inevitable. Lieutenants W. J. M: Edwards, F. A. Guthrie,' and J. R. Wright: and thirteen other ranks were killed; and Major A. A. White, Captain M. E. Wright,' and Lieutenants W. H. Gray: W. F. M. Ross and 0. N. Hayes, and thirty-nine other ranks were wounded. Major White's squadron had all its officers killed or wounded, and was at the dose of the day commanded by a sergeant.
As a rule the Turks scrupulously observed Red Cross rules; but on this day all enemy arms fired very deliberately upon three ambulances and carts which had been sent up over the exposed ground for the wounded. The carts were clearly marked with the Red Cross, the visibility was good, and the Turks were shooting at close range. In one cart most of the wounded and drivers were hit, and four horses killed. A Turkish doctor, taken prisoner soon afterwards, was reminded of this gross offence; he said he had been at Khuweilfe, and explained that the ambulance had been fired on at the urging of a German officer, who argued that the carts were probably carrying ammunition up to the Australians. At that time the position of the light horsemen was critical, and the German insisted that they should be given no possible chance of escape. During the campaign there were other cases of what appeared to be deliberate firing on the Red Cross in action; and it was remarkable that in nearly every instance the offenders were not clean-fighting Turkish riflemen, but Austrian artillerymen or German machine-gunners. Soon after the advance of the 1st Regiment, Cox took over Ras el Nagb from the yeomanry, and the 8th Light Horse Regiment passed under his command. The yeomanry were withdrawn, but the Victorians were ordered to hang on to their precarious position at all costs. The day was hot, and they were now suffering much distress from want of water; but the order was obeyed with fine spirit, and their fire-fight was vigorously maintained until their ammunition was exhausted. At I 1 o'clock in the morning a counter-attack by two companies of enemy infantry developed against Ras el Nagb, but Cox at once sent one squadron of the 3rd Regiment to reinforce the men of the 2nd, and the Turks were easily dispersed. Further British regiments were now arriving, and before 1 o'clock the 5th Mounted Brigade had taken over Ras el Nagb from the Australians. With the 53rd Division marching up from the south-west, the light horsemen were ordered to stand upon their ground; this they did without trouble until 4 o'clock, when the infantrymen on the left and the 5th Mounted Brigade on their right took over their line. At nightfall the yeomanry line ran from the right of the 53rd Division through Ras el Nagb to El Jabry, where touch was made with patrols of the
2nd Light Horse Brigade. The day's fighting had revealed considerable and increasing enemy strength, and it was clear that only careful preparation and persistent and heavy fighting would clear the Turks from the position. Lack of water was still a formidable obstacle, and the absence of supplies nearer than Beersheba prevented Chauvel from concentrating strength on the position. Each brigade, after a day on the ground, had to be withdrawn eleven miles to water, and the fighting and marching and loss of sleep were rapidly reducing the strength of the troops.
To the men of the 8th, who had been for some hours without munitions and thirty hours without water, the relief was particularly welcome. McLaurin marched at once for Beersheba, which he reached at 10 o'clock at night. The horses, which had been thirty-nine hours without water, crowded madly about the troughs at the wells, almost beyond the control of their exhausted riders. During two days and a night, in which they had been constantly fighting or riding, the Victorians had existed on one bottle of water and practically no rations. Many men drank to excess at the wells, and the result was a severe outbreak of diarrhoea.
While the fighting was proceeding at Khuweilfe, Ryrie's brigade was vainly endeavouring to bear in from the east across the Hebron road on the extreme flank. The opposing enemy force was small; but the country was extremely rough, and the Turks, securely posted on the higher ground, had all the best of the struggle. Shortly after daylight on the 1st, the 5th Light Horse Regiment, advancing up the Hebron road towards Um el Makhrune and Deir Saideh, was stopped by mountain guns and machine-guns shooting from unassailable heights. On the morning of the 2nd the full brigade tested the same route, but was held up by the Turks near Deir Saideh. The enemy guns could be plainly seen, and the Ayrshire Battery effectively shelled them into silence; but advance along the road was still impossible. Ryrie then decided to leave the 6th Light Horse Regiment to contain the enemy there, while he led the 5th and 7th on a detour by the east to menace the enemy's flank and rear near Dhaheriye. The country covered by the two regiments was broken and steep, and marching was slow. Night came down before any attack could be made. Casualties were slight, as the range was extreme and cover good; but Captain A. C. Thompson," of the 6th, was killed near Deir Saideh.
On the 3rd the turning movement by Ryrie's brigade was again attempted. But the enemy had brought reinforcements down from Hebron, some of them in motor-lorries; he had only a few guns, but these, well placed, and directed by aeroplane observation, swept the valleys occupied by the Australians' led horses; lack of water was a constant embarrassment to Ryrie, whose horses were fortunate if they had one drink a day after travelling long distances; ammunition and supplies were short, and reached the brigade only after heavy journeys over the hills at night. In fact, Ryrie's brigade was being worked to exhaustion in the mere effort to hold its ground. At IO a.m. on the 3rd Chauvel advised Ryrie that the brigade's purpose would be achieved if the line then held could be maintained; the object was to dominate the road and guard the flank, rather than to advance. During the 4th and 5th the brigade continued to demonstrate; the light guns of the Ayrshire Battery fought on persistently, but were unable to check the enemy artillery. The natives of the district appeared friendly to the Australians; but the manner in which the enemy artillery discovered and re-discovered the horses of the brigade, as they were shifted from shelter, suggested strongly that the Arabs were serving the Turks. Meanwhile the rain-pools dried rapidly, and on the 6th the brigade, after a very arduous week, marched back to Beersheba.
Meanwhile the 1st Light Horse Brigade, after fighting at Khuweilfe, reached the wells at Beersheba at 3 a.m. on the 4th, when the horses had been thirty hours without water. The New Zealand Brigade had been under orders to relieve the 5th Mounted Brigade on the Ras el Nagb line early on the 4th; but, owing to water difficulties, Meldrum was unable to leave his bivouac north of Beersheba until 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Even then his horses had received very little water since leaving Beersheba on the previous day, and went into the line already thirsty. At about 4.30 a force of some 2,000 Turks with five guns attacked the yeomanry on Ras el Nagb; but the British, aided by the rough ground, maintained their position until about dark, when they were relieved by the Canterbury Mounted Rifles. The Aucklands and Wellingtons arrived an hour afterwards. The Camel Brigade, which had advanced on the right flank of the 53rd Division, was (with the exception of the 3rd Battalion) placed for the day under the orders of the Anzac Mounted Division. The 3rd Battalion remained under the command of the 53rd Division.
The mounted brigades (including the Camel Brigade) on the Ras el Nagb sector at Khuweilfe were now under orders to hold the line, while the 53rd Division made a decisive assault from the south-west. The British infantry brigades, after their arrival on the afternoon of the 3rd, had been securely held up by the enemy. Every advance had been shattered and heavy casualties suffered; and the Turks not only were still strong, but were steadily being reinforced. The check was disappointing to the British High Command, but it continued to serve one good purpose-the flow of troops from the Gaza district towards the eastern flank was each hour improving Allenby's prospects. Chetwode was completing preparations for his great blow against Sheria and Hareira and Bulfin was ready to strike on either side of Gaza.
After a quiet night, the New Zealanders were heavily shelled at about 8 a.m. on the 5th. Two hours' bombardment followed, and the Turks then advanced against the left of the Canterburys. Two squadrons of the Wellingtons were rushed up in support, and, after a persistent effort in which his losses were heavy, the enemy was stopped, and the opposing forces remained quiet for the rest of the day.
Chetwode's attack on the Kauwukah defences (which were held by the Seventh Turkish Army) was timed for dawn on the 6th. The blow was to be struck with the 10th, 60th, and 74th Divisions, while General Barrow, of the Yeomanry Mounted Division, was to cover the right flank with a force made up of the 53rd Division, the Camel Brigade, the Yeomanry Mounted Division) the New Zealand Brigade, and part of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade. Chauvel was to be in readiness, in the event of Chetwode's success, to advance with the remaining forces of Desert Mounted Corps towards the line Jemmameh-Huj. The original order to strike for Nejile was cancelled. On the evening of the 5th the Camel Brigade took over the Ras el Nagb line in order to allow the New Zealanders to return to Beersheba to water. The 2nd Light Horse Brigade withdrew from its position along the Hebron road on the same night; but it left a few patrols in observation, and one squadron of the 7th Regiment (commanded by Major Easterbrook) was sent as escort to eight machine-guns under Captain J. R. Cain, which proceeded to the support of the Camels. The 53rd Division was ordered to capture Tel Khuweilfe on the 6th, simultaneously with the advance of the three infantry divisions against the Kauwukah system.
From first to last the Khuweilfe operations went in favour of the defenders. At the outset the British had made a false estimate of its strength; and, although reinforcements had been brought up to aid the attack, the enemy had maintained the balance in his favour by constant additions. The assault was therefore of an accidental and piecemeal character, and lacked the preparation) the resolution, and the individual leadership essential for success. The advance of the 53rd Division on the morning of the 6th was to be made in the dark, a precarious undertaking over mountainous country. At 4.20, after a vigorous bombardment of the enemy positions on Tel Khuweilfe and the adjacent hills, the 158th Brigade was to advance, maintaining a front of 1,500 yards, and assail the Turks with the bayonet. The 1/1st Herefords was on the right, the 1/6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers on the centre, and the 2/6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers on the left. The 3rd Battalion (Australian) of the Camel Brigade, under Lieutenant-Colonel de Lancey Forth, was to follow in rear of the right of the 1/1st Herefords; when the Herefords had gained Tel Khuweilfe, the Australians were to occupy the hill and cover the flank of the brigade in the subsequent advance. Unfortunately one of the infantry battalions was late in reaching the point of assembly, and the others were compelled to start without it. This caused a gap in the line, and the Herefords on the right were ordered to extend their frontage to the left. Attempting this movement, the battalion lost direction, and performed a complete left wheel. De Lancey Forth kept to his line of march as ordered, and just before dawn found his battalion isolated, with Tel Khuweilfe immediately ahead; the barrage had ceased, and any demoralisation it may have caused among the Turks was past.
In the first light of the dawn de Lancey Forth recognised that, as soon as his men were discovered, they would come under a murderous fire at close range from the Tel; he therefore moved to the cover of a low spur which ran parallel with it. As his men cleared the open ground, it was swept with enemy machine-gun fire, but the Turks were just too late. Two companies made a line behind the spur, and at once came under heavy machine-gun fire, while the remaining two companies were placed in support behind another spur 300 yards away. The commanding Tel was only 300 yards from the British front line, and the Turks endeavoured to envelop the right of the Camels, but were checked. At the same time about 200 men of the 1/1st Herefords, who had been under very heavy punishment and had lost all their officers, fell back in confusion on the left of the Camel line, abandoning to the enemy an extension of the ridge held by the Australians, which dominated the Camel line. Lieutenant E. W. Dixon, recognising instantly that, unless the Herefords held their part of the ridge, the Camel battalion must at once retire, rushed with about thirty of his men to meet the retreating infantry. Waving his hat, he led them under heavy fire back on to the ridge, and the British, responding to the gallant example, held to it steadfastly. Later in the day the Turks made a determined effort to envelop the left rear of the position. In places they broke the Hereford resistance, and endeavoured to seize a dominating hill behind the Australian position-which at this time was almost encircled by the enemy's fire and threatened with complete isolation-but the British infantry rallied finely, the enveloping movement was checked, and disaster averted.
Nevertheless the enemy by this time was sweeping with shrapnel, machine-gun, and rifle fire every approach to de Lancey Forth's men. "At about 10 o'clock,'' to quote from the official narrative of the 3rd Camel Battalion, " representations were made by the 3rd Battalion to the General Officer Commanding the 158th Brigade for the infantry to come up and drive the Turks off the ridge which they held to the left rear, and over which the infantry held the commanding ground. This, for reasons unknown, they were not ordered to do; but the 2nd Light Horse Brigade Machine-Gun Squadron were ordered to gallop up a little valley commanded by the Turks and secure the left of the ridge they held. They charged in a very gallant manner, and at once came under a murderous machine-gun and shrapnel fire; but, very gallantly led by Captain Cain, they reached their objective, at which point the hill rose so abruptly as to give cover from the Turkish firing line above and slightly to their right. They rushed their guns up the hill within forty yards of the Turks, and, although the teams were shot down almost to a man, their very gallant action caused the Turks to pause and gave the 3rd Battalion breathing-time to size up their position."
The order which committed Cain and his men to their heroic enterprise was perhaps a mistake. The machine gunners paid dearly. Lieutenant A. s. Muir and seven men were killed, and Captain Cain, Lieutenant R. B. Dixon, and Lieutenant R. C,. Owen-Jones and sixteen men were wounded. But there is compensation in the thought of the splendid dash and daring with which the mounted machine gunners raced their teams forward to almost certain destruction under a hail of fire, and in the magnificent fashion in which they served their guns within forty yards of the Turkish line. In every engagement in the long campaign this spirit distinguished the light horse machine-gun squadrons. In fight after fight their support alone made the advance of the sparse lines of riflemen possible; wherever the adventurous light horseman went, they knew that galloping close at hand were the heavily burdened pack-horses of the gunners, ready to come into action a few moments after a halt was ordered.
All day Cain's men maintained their precarious position, and by their fire had a material effect in checking the Turkish counter-attacks, which constantly threatened to sweep the 3rd Camel Battalion and the British infantry off their ground. The Turks that day fought with exceptional resolution and savagery, and British and Australian wounded and stretcher-bearers were repeatedly fired upon. De Lancey Forth's men held on under severe punishment all day and through the night. Shortly before dawn the machine-gun party was withdrawn. All day on the jth the fire-fight between the rival forces was very heavy, and at the close range the sniping was especially deadly; but about 3 o'clock the 3rd Camel Battalion received effective artillery support, and the situation was immediately eased. Towards evening a general advance was ordered. All troops had been marching and fighting without a moment's respite for more than thirty-six hours, but still the attack was made with great spirit. Lieutenant E. W. Dixon led a force of the Camels against Tel Khuweilfe. The artillery effectively cooperated, the men rushed up the slopes with bayonets and hand-grenades, and after a brief struggle the Turks fled. At the same time the 53rd Division-which had, of course, borne the full brunt of the main attack-made substantial headway. Darkness checked the onslaught, and at daylight on the morning of the 8th it was found that the Turks, whose front had been badly broken towards Sheria, had evacuated the whole Khuweilfe position.
Casualties were heavy, especially in the infantry of the 53rd Division. Among the Australians of the 3rd Camel Battalion, Captain R. W. Creswell, and Lieutenant C. H. Lyon and twenty other ranks were killed, and two officers and fifty-two other ranks wounded.
Citation: The Battle of Khuweilfe, Palestine, 1 - 8 November 1917, HS Gullett Account