Topic: BatzS - Romani
Battle of Romani
Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916
Falls Account, The Pursuit on The 5th 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 4. The Pursuit on The 5th August.As soon as he was acquainted with the situation, General Lawrence issued orders for a general advance to take place at 4 a.m. next morning. The A. & N.Z. Mounted Division was to press forward with its right on the Hod el Enna and its left in close touch with the 156th Brigade of the 52nd Division, advancing on Mount Meredith. The 3rd L.H. Brigade was to advance towards Bir en Nuss and attack the Hod el Enna from the south, keeping touch with the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division or the 5th Mounted Brigade, which, under the orders of Major-General Sir W. Douglas, commanding the 42nd Division, was to assist in linking up the right of the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division with the 3rd L.H. Brigade. The 42nd Division' was to advance on the line Canterbury Hill to Mount Royston to the Hod el Enna and drive back any opposition to the advance of the mounted troops, while part of the 52nd Division was to act in a similar manner towards Mount Meredith. The G.O.C. 52nd Division was also instructed to prepare for an advance eastwards towards Abu Hamra, which, however, was not to be undertaken without further orders from Section Headquarters. [Only two brigades were ready for the move, and the 126th Brigade remained in reserve at Pelusium Station.]
As day broke on the 5th August the 8/Scottish Rifles, which had passed the night just short of the crest of Wellington Ridge, advanced in company with the 7th A.L.H, and Wellington M.R. on their right. The attack was covered by the 7/Scottish Rifles on the left, who had during the night brought a total of 16 machine guns and Lewis guns into a position from which they were able to sweep the crest and reverse slopes of the ridge. Well as the Turks had fought hitherto, they knew now that they had been abandoned, and the lines of bayonets in the dim light were too much for their exhausted nerves. A white flag was hoisted and a forest of arms held high. Eight hundred and sixty-four men surrendered to the 8/Scottish Rifles and a great number more to the Light Horse and Wellingtons, who breasted the rise a few minutes later. In all, 1,500 prisoners were taken in the neighbourhood of Wellington Ridge. Other bodies of Turks, pinned to the ground by fire from the works further north, were likewise unable to join in the general retirement, and at 6 a.m. a further 119 surrendered to the infantry in Work 3. Most of the prisoners were in a pitiable state of fatigue and had long been without water.
While this rear guard was being rounded up it had become apparent that the Turks were in full retreat. At 6.30 a.m. General Lawrence ordered General Chauvel to take command of all the mounted troops [That is to say, of the Section Mounted Troops (N.Z.M.R. and 5th Mounted Brigades) and the 3rd L.H. Brigade, but not the Mobile Column, which was under the orders of the G.O.C. No. 2 Section.] and move in pursuit. But, as already stated, the brigades were somewhat scattered, and the troops of the 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades had to be collected and mounted. The N.Z.M.R. Brigade reached Bir en Nuss at 8.30 a.m., where it found the 3rd L.H. Brigade still watering. The latter brigade; was ordered by General Chauvel to move on Hamisah, beyond which it had been ascertained that the enemy's left flank extended, though his main body had fallen back on Qatiya. Thence, the brigade was to wheel left towards Qatiya, to co-operate in a general attack by the mounted troops. Its advanced guard moved off to fulfil this mission at 9 a.m.
The general mounted advance began at 10.30. By noon the troops under General Chauvel's command were on a line from west of Bir Nagid to south of Katib Gannit ; the 3rd L.H. Brigade on the right, advancing on Hamisah, then the N.Z.M.R. Brigade and the 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades, with the 5th Mounted Brigade on the left.
There were greater delays before the infantry divisions were on the move. In the case of the 42nd Division this was not of great importance - save that it involved a very trying advance in the heat of the day - because the division's role was only to advance to the Hod el Enna in support of the mounted troops, and it is doubtful whether it could in any event have gone further; actually the Turkish rear guard was routed and largely captured without its assistance being required. But, as a matter of fact, the first message sent to the 127th Brigade, which was to lead the advance, miscarried, and the second, despatched at 2.45 a.m., did not reach it till 5.40 a.m. [Divisional headquarters had just arrived at Pelusium Station, and there appears to have been extraordinary pressure on the single signal station there. But brigade headquarters was only 4 miles away at Mount Royston.] Nor did the brigade's first-line camels arrive till after this, and the troops had then to fill their water-bottles. The brigade marched at 7.30 a.m. and reached the Hod el Enna between 9.30 and 10 a.m., considerably fatigued. The 125th Brigade at Pelusium, delayed by the troops' ignorance of the handling of camels, moved off at 5.15 a.m. and arrived in rear of the 127th Brigade at 11.15, having suffered still more severely in its longer march.
In the case of the 52nd Division, the delay was more serious. Immediately after ordering General Chauvel to take command of the mounted troops and pursue the enemy, General Lawrence, at 6.37 a.m., sent a message to the 52nd Division instructing it to carry out the advance eastwards on Abu Hamra which had been anticipated in his orders of the previous night. On receiving this message General Smith ordered the R.F.C. squadron at Mahamdiyah, which was at his disposal, to reconnoitre while his brigades were completing their preparations. At 10.15 am. General Lawrence urgently repeated his order, but it was some time longer before the 155th and 157th Brigades were able to march. Here again the distribution of water from the camel fanatis [Fantasse, plural fanatis, an Arabic word adopted by the Army. The fantasse was a small metal tank of which each camel carried two. It had a capacity of 12 gallons. The water supply was carried by the 1st-line camels, and each division had also a camel convoy with one day's water.] was the chief cause of delay. There was delay also in distributing food to the men, and it was highly necessary that the troops should have a meal after the night's work, with the prospect of a march and possibly a battle in the sun before them. It was not till noon that the 157th Brigade, followed by the 155th, moved out from the defences, and Abu Hamra was not reached till nightfall.
Meanwhile the 3rd L.H. Brigade had gained a striking success against the enemy on the high ground west of Hamisah. The 9th A.L.H. under Lieut.-Colonel. W. H. Scott, boldly galloped to within a few hundred yards of the Turkish line and then attacked on foot under cover of the fire of the Inverness Battery and machine guns. The enemy hastily abandoned his position, but 425 prisoners and seven machine guns were captured. Unfortunately the brigade then came under fire of the heavy guns behind Qatiya, and withdrew late in the afternoon to Bir Nagid, 21 miles west of Hamisah, before receiving an order from General Chauvel to protect his right.
Between 12 noon and 1 p.m. the four brigadiers of the N.Z.M.R.B. 1st and 2nd L.H. and 5th Mounted, Brigades reconnoitred the enemy's position from a sandy ridge 2 miles west of Qatiya. Many stragglers had been passed in the course of the advance, and it seemed possible that the enemy holding the position was in a demoralized condition and that brusque tactics might result in large captures of men and guns. It was accordingly decided that the three Australian brigades should advance mounted on Qatiya while the 5th Mounted Brigade, also mounted, attacked the enemy's right flank.
The three brigades advanced on Qatiya at 3.30 p.m., the Yeomanry on the far left. Reaching the edge of the white gypsum bed which lay before them, they formed line and, fining bayonets to give at least moral effect to mounted action, advanced at a gallop, cheering loudly. But as the oasis was neared the ground became so swampy that the horses were at once checked. The regiments then dismounted and continued the advance on foot. The 5th Mounted Brigade (which was, unlike the others, armed with the sword) likewise found a mounted advance impossible owing to the intensity of the enemy's fire and was obliged to send back its horses.
Of the expected demoralization in the Turkish ranks there was no sign. Their fire was hot and well directed, while their artillery out-gunned the supporting Ayr and Somerset Batteries. By sunset the advance had ceased, seeing which, from his position 3 miles in rear, General Chauvel ordered a retirement to Romani.
When the 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades reached camp some of the horses had not been watered for sixty hours. The men of the 2nd and 3rd A.L.H. had been during practically the whole of that period in action or in the saddle. Both sides were almost at their last gasp. While the British mounted troops were moving back to Romani, men sleeping as they rode, the Turks were struggling back to Oghratina under cover of darkness.
The infantry brigades were disposed for the night as follows:-The 155th and 157th Brigades at Abu Hamra, the 127th Brigade at Hod el Enna, the 125th Brigade on its left, in touch with the 156th Brigade, which had its left on Work 21. The Mobile Column, which had found Mageibra evacuated, spent the night there.
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Citation: Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Falls Account, The Pursuit on The 5th August