Topic: BatzS - Romani
Battle of Romani
Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916
Falls Account, The Turkish Attack on The 4th August
The Battle of Romani, 4-6 August 1916
[Click on map for larger version]
[From: Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, Sketch 10 facing p. 178.]
As part of the Official British War History of the Great War, Captain Cyril Falls and Lieutenant General George MacMunn were commissioned to produce a commentary on the Sinai, Palestine and Syrian operations that took place. In 1928, their finished work, Military Operations, Egypt and Palestine - From the outbreak of war with Germany to June 1917, was published in London. Their book included a section specifically related to the battle of Romani and is extracted below.
MacMunn, G. & Falls, C., Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, (London 1930), pp. 190 - 194:
Part 3. The Turkish Attack on The 4th August.
The Turks were fully prepared to play the role allotted to them by the British command. The account given by Kress of his plan of attack shows that it was exactly what had been anticipated. He intended to bombard the line of redoubts with his heavy artillery but to employ only weak infantry detachments against them. His main attack was to be launched against the British right and rear.
The night of the 3rd August was mild and still. There was a slight haze, but the shimmer of the sand made it possible to distinguish objects moving at a hundred yards' distance. A shot or two fired out in the desert to the southeast had put the long piquet line of the 1st and 2nd A.L.H. thoroughly on the alert, but it was almost midnight when a post reported a large body of men to its front. It afterwards became known that the enemy had followed the 2nd L.H. Brigade in its usual evening retirement from before Qatiya, hoping to pass round the flank of the British position on its heels. The regularity of the Australians' method of patrolling exposed them to a risk of this sort.
As soon as he was assured of the Turkish advance, Lieut.-Colonel J. B. Meredith, commanding the 1st L.H. Brigade, called up his third regiment. Finding the gullies held, the enemy came to a standstill, and there was silence for an hour. Then a sudden heavy fire burst out along the whole front, and, making their way forward in considerably superior strength, the Turks were by 2 a.m. in many places within fifty yards of the Australian line.
The squadrons on the left near Katib Gannit were hard pressed, but it was against Mount Meredith, a high dune in the centre, that the full weight of the attack developed. At 2.30 the Turks charged the hillock with loud shouts. Their masses, visible against the silver sheen of the sand, offered excellent targets to magazine fire and their first assault was beaten back with heavy loss, the fallen rolling down the steep slope. But steady pressure on its flanks speedily rendered the hill untenable, and at 3 a.m. it was abandoned. The squadron to the right of it was now taken in flank and suffered considerable loss, but was ordered to hold its ground until the position in rear was occupied. At 3.30 all the Australians immediately south of the hill, having been forced back upon their led horses, succeeded in mounting, disengaging themselves, and falling back to the second position. The Turks followed up swiftly and a machine gun on Mount Meredith swept the Australian lines.
Day broke, revealing to the enemy how slenderly the position was held and to the Australians that their right was outflanked by strong forces. The second position was therefore abandoned, and the brigade withdrew slowly to Wellington Ridge, troop covering troop, and by steady and accurate fire staving off a general attack with the bayonet, which might have meant the annihilation of the defence. The enemy now opened artillery fire upon the infantry defences and the camps in rear. The shrapnel caused some loss, but the high explosive shell was smothered in the soft sand.
At 4.30 a.m. Colonel J. R. Royston's 2nd L.H. Brigade came up from Etmaler. After its return from reconnaissance, it had almost immediately been ordered to turn out in readiness to support the 1st Brigade. General Chauvel, however, relying on the latter's steadiness, [It was General Chauvel's old brigade, which he had commanded at Gallipoli.] had refused to allow the 2nd Brigade to be committed to the fight until daylight had disclosed the general situation. He now ordered two of its regiments to move up on Colonel Meredith's right. Despite the reinforcement, the enemy's pressure continued and his advance up the valley between Wellington Ridge and Mount Royston, a dune about the same height as Katib Gannit and Mount Meredith, and 24 miles west of Wellington Ridge, continually forced back the right. Between 5 and 6 a.m. the light horsemen were compelled to retire slowly from the ridge, though the 6th and 7th A.L.H. still held the western edge. Finally, at 6.15, Colonel Meredith was ordered to withdraw his brigade behind the line occupied by the 7th A.L.H. to a position north of Etmaler camp. At 7 a.m. the 6th and 7th A.L.H. retired squadron by squadron from the remainder of Wellington Ridge. The enemy did not appear on the crest until an hour later, but then poured a heavy fire into the camp, only a few hundred yards away. The fire of the Ayr and Leicester Batteries, however, quickly drove him off it, and the immediate danger was averted.
The situation was now somewhat threatening, for the enemy's outflanking movement was steadily progressing, pushing along the slopes of Mount Royston and turning the right of the 2nd L.H. Brigade. Its third regiment, the Wellington M.R., had meanwhile been thrown in. Major C. E. Turner, commanding "D" squadron of the Gloucester Hussars at Pelusium Station, saw in the distance infantry moving about Mount Royston. He had had no report as to the situation, but at once marched his squadron towards the advancing enemy. His prompt action checked the outflanking movement, which made no further progress during the next two hours. Ugly as the aspect of the battle appeared, the enemy had already virtually failed in his bold attempt. His programme had been upset by the resistance of the two light horse brigades, his troops were fatigued and having drunk the water in their water-bottles, had now to face the growing heat without any.
Meanwhile, frontal attacks had been made on the main defences, but without ever causing anxiety to Major-General W. E. B. Smith, commanding the 52nd Division. At 8 a.m. extended lines of infantry advanced against Work 4. It was evidently the enemy's intention, though his attack was mainly for the purpose of holding the British infantry to their ground, to overwhelm Works 4 and 5 with heavy artillery fire and thus make a breach for an infantry attack. The shelling was heavy and accurate, [At the day's end it was found that 108 shells had fallen inside Work 4 and 61 within the perimeter of its wire defences; 89 shells in Work 5 and 43 within its perimeter.] but the Turkish attack broke down completely 150 yards from Work 4 under the fire of the divisional cyclist company and of the supporting artillery. Subsequent attempts to advance were less resolute.
Headquarters No. 3 Section, at Qantara, had already begun to put in train the movement against the Turkish left. At 5.35 a.m. General Lawrence ordered the 5th Mounted Brigade at Hill 70 to move towards Mount Royston. The Composite Regiment at once moved off and the remainder of the brigade prepared to follow. Then, as the situation became clearer, at 7.25, General Lawrence ordered the N.Z.M.R. Brigade to advance on Mount Royston via Dueidar, picking up its outlying regiment (the Auckland) at that point, and to "operate vigorously so as to cut off the enemy, who appears to have got round the right of the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division." The 3rd L.H. Brigade at Ballybunion was ordered to move forward to Hill 70 and send one regiment to Dueidar. G.H.Q. at the same time ordered the Mobile Column to march on Mageibra.
While the mounted troops were advancing the fight became almost stationary on the front of the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division. At 10 a.m. it faced south from a point 700 yards north-west of Work 22, north of Wellington Ridge, to the sand-hills north of Mount Royston. As the line had fallen back, the 2nd and 3rd Regiments had come in between the 6th and 7th, and the order from right to left was now 6th A.L.H., 3rd A.L.H., 2nd A.L.H., 7th A.L.H., Wellington M.R. A mile N.N.W. of Mount Royston " D " Squadron, Gloucester Hussars, held its ground. The Composite Regiment, 5th Mounted Brigade, arriving in advance of the rest of the brigade, came up very opportunely on the flank of this squadron, to a position 1,500 yards west of Mount Royston, taking in enfilade a strong body of Turks attacking " D " Squadron and forcing them back to the higher slopes of the hill.
At 10 a.m. General Chauvel, who knew that the N.Z.M.R. Brigade was on its way, but had as yet seen no signs of its advance, sent a staff officer to Br.-General E. S. Girdwood, commanding the 156th Brigade, in reserve, proposing that the latter should move up his fresh infantry to relieve the 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades, whereupon the Australians, after watering their horses, would swing round the enemy's left flank and co-operate with the New Zealanders and 5th Mounted Brigade in enveloping it. General Girdwood replied, however, that it was the intention of Major-General Smith to make an attack eastward when the moment seemed favourable and that he himself was in reserve for that operation.
The orders received by the N.Z.M.R. Brigade were to move on Dueidar and operate against the enemy's flank. When these orders were issued Mount Royston was not in the enemy's hands, and the situation was different when the brigade approached Dueidar. The enemy's line had now swung round until it faced north, and a dune known as Canterbury Hill, east of Pelusium Station, was the last defensible position between it and the railway. A mile short of Dueidar Br.-General Chaytor received orders to move north to Canterbury Hill. He reached it about 11.30 a.m. and found the Composite Yeomanry Regiment in action against the Turks on Mount Royston. He was still without the 5th A.L.H., which had not received orders of recall and remained out on the Turkish left. Seeing 2,000 of the enemy entrenching on Mount Royston, General Chaytor swung right to attack that position. About the same time the 127th Brigade of the 42nd Division, sent up by rail, began detraining at Pelusium Station.
General Chauvel's brigades first found touch with the advancing New Zealanders by heliograph, and then Colonel Royston galloped across and explained the situation. General Chaytor decided to move up between the right of the Australians and the Yeomanry (which was shortly afterwards joined by the remainder of the 5th Mounted Brigade under Br.-General Wiggin) and attack Mount Royston.
Supported by the Somerset Battery, the two New Zealand regiments began an advance upon the hill about 2 p.m. But, moving dismounted over heavy sand, exposed to the fire of an almost invisible enemy, their progress was very slow. At 4 p.m. General Chaytor arranged with General Wiggin to push home the attack an hour later. Lieut. Colonel R. M. Yorke led one squadron Gloucester Hussars and two troops Worcester Yeomanry at a gallop against the southern spur of Mount Royston and took it, the enemy on the crest not awaiting the onset. Down below large numbers of the enemy were concentrated about a battery of pack guns in action. The teams were shot down by the Gloucester squadron on the crest, and numbers of Turks came running up the ridge, holding their hands up. By 6 p.m. the whole position was taken by the New Zealanders and Yeomanry, who were supported in the final stages of the attack by the leading battalions of the 127th Brigade. Five hundred prisoners and two machine guns in addition to the pack battery were taken, and the outer flank of the enemy's force was completely routed.
Just before the recapture of Mount Royston the enemy on the inner flank had made a last effort to advance across Wellington Ridge, but was driven back by artillery fire. Fresh frontal attacks were also launched upon the main defences, which can have had no other object than of preventing a British advance while the Turkish heavy guns were withdrawn. They broke down completely, the enemy apparently suffering considerable loss.
At 5.5 p.m. Major-General Smith had ordered the 156th Brigade to attack Wellington Ridge on the left of the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division and in conformity with the counterattack upon Mount Royston. A bombardment of the ridge was begun by the artillery at 6.45 and just before 7 p.m. the 7th and 8th Scottish Rifles moved south from behind Work 93. But it was now becoming dark, and on the rough ground direction was hard to keep. The 8/Scottish Rifles advanced to within a hundred yards of the crest of Wellington Ridge, but was there held up by heavy rifle fire. Br.-General Girdwood ordered the two battalions to advance no further until daylight, but to keep the enemy closely engaged all night, as it appeared to him that by such tactics he might hope to make a larger haul of prisoners in the morning than if the enemy were dislodged and scattered in the darkness.
The day's fighting was therefore over. The Turks, after a bold and skilful attack, had completely failed in their object. So far, they had not lost heavily in prisoners, but the British had at their disposal for the morrow's operations five mounted brigades: one (the 3rd L.H. Brigade) not yet engaged, two (the 5th Mounted and N.Z.M.R. Brigades) still fairly fresh, while the 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades, after twenty hours in action - but almost all that time dismounted -were still capable of new efforts. There was yet a possibility of destroying the opposing force.
The 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades spent the night on the battlefield. The N.Z.M.R. and 5th Mounted Brigades withdrew on the water supply and their supply camels at Pelusium Station, where the brigades of the 42nd Division were also assembling. The 3rd L.H. Brigade halted at Hill 70, and the Mobile Force at the Hod el Bada, 14 miles south of Romani Station.
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Citation: Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Falls Account, The Turkish Attack on The 4th August