Topic: AIF - NZMRB - CMR
Bir el Abd
Sinai, 9 August 1916
CMR Unit History Account
Colonel Charles Guy Powles along with Officers of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles produced in 1928 a collective work called The history of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles 1914-1919, in which included a section specifically related to the battle of Bir el Abd and is extracted below A copy of this book is available on the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Association website..
Powles, CG ed, The history of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles 1914-1919, 1928.:
The heat since leaving Hill 70 on the morning of the 4th had been steadily increasing, and officers and men suffered severely, several having to be evacuated to hospital. The 7th was a replica of the 6th, the enemy being driven back to Negiliat, whence he made great play with his guns. "We were on the move again by 3.30 a.m. on the 8th, but the enemy had again withdrawn, and was now holding a strong position at Bir el Abd. The Regiment remained all day at Debabis and finally bivouaced there for the night. This spell was very welcome to all.
Next morning, August 9th, all available mounted troops were on the move before daylight. The Turks were reported to be holding Bir el Abd in strength.
The attack was to be made from the west and. south-west, and the 1st and 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigades combined were to attack the north flank of the enemy. The 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade was ordered to pass south of the enemy, and then come into action from the direction of Salmana, thereby cutting his line of retreat, and menacing his rear. At 5.30 a.m. our advanced regiment, Auckland Mounted Rifles, was fired on, and the 8th Squadron went up in support of its left. Almost at once they were heavily engaged, and the two remaining squadrons of the Regiment came into action on the left of the 8th Squadron. The Regiment's right flank now rested on the old caravan route, the left feeling round towards the 2nd Light Horse Brigade.
The 8th Squadron pushed steadily on driving the enemy off a low sandy ridge facing east. The 1st and 10th Squadrons advanced at the same time, finally securing the high ground west of Bir el Abd, the Canterbury Regiment being on the left of the "Old Road" and the Aucklanders on the right of it, and later the 5th Light Horse Regiment, still temporarily attached to the Brigade, came up on the right of. the Auckland Regiment. The main Turkish defences could now be seen. They consisted of a series of entrenched redoubts with rifle pits in front. Later it was found that all these redoubts were connected by telephone with their artillery — three batteries of 77 mm. and one 4.2 battery and several 5.9 inch howitzers.
Against these the Anzac Mounted Division had only four batteries of 18 pounders.
The Turks had about 6,000 men in the line against our total of about 3,000 dismounted rifles. They were mostly reinforcements from El Arish who had not been engaged at Romani, while our men were suffering from extreme physical exhaustion.
The task before the British force was therefore formidable and the only chance of success was, as at Katia, that the 3rd Light Horse Brigade should succeed in beating down the enemy's extended left flank and in shaking the Bir el Abd defences by threatening the Turks communications.
Up till now their artillery had been annoying, but did not cause much damage, but once the high ridge facing the Oasis was crossed our men were in full view of their gunners. The 8th Squadron were in the most exposed position and suffered severely. Lieutenant Menzies, signalling officer, was killed, and Major Hammond and Lieutenant Blakeney dangerously wounded.
Early in the fight the Turks began to disclose their strength. Soon after 6 o 'clock they advanced with the bayonet in their first counter attack, but were stopped by the Canterburys and Aucklanders, aided by the splendid shooting of the Somerset Battery, which, as usual, fought with the N.Z.M.R. Brigade.
The line was again advanced until the Canterbury and Auckland Regiments were well down the forward slopes leading to the wells, but by 10.30 a.m. the enemy guns showed increased activity, severely handling the combined 1st and 2nd Light Horse Brigades on the left.
The Warwickshire Yeomanry now came up to reinforce the N.Z.M.R. Brigade, and the increased activity apparent among the Turks indicated that they were making every effort to get away their supplies and transport.
Shortly before noon came the second counter-attack, and the full force was received by the Regiment, but every man held firmly to his ground, and by accurate and deliberate fire, aided most effectively by the fine shooting of the machine guns, the successive waves of enemy infantry were shattered.
By 2 p.m. the enemy's counter-attack was in full progress along the whole of the line, and both the Light Horse Brigades on the left and the 3rd Light Horse Brigade on the right began to give round, the regiments retiring for about a mile under heavy punishment with every available man in the line. As the Turks recognised the possibility of overwhelming the British force, their gun fire gathered intensity until it reached a degree of severity unknown either at Romani or on Gallipoli.
The New Zealand Brigade was now in a very difficult position in being well down the forward slopes with both flanks exposed, and had it not been for the accurate shooting of each individual man, backed up by the machine guns and the Somerset Battery, the entire Brigade would have been overwhelmed.
65 At 5.30 p.m. General Chauvel ordered a general withdrawal. It was recognised that this would be a difficult task, but. provided the horses could be reached, the heavy ground would save the regiments from a hand to hand encounter with superior forces of the enemy's fresh troops. As soon as the movement was perceived the Turks assaulted strongly, and such was the position of the N.Z.M.R. Brigade that General Chaytor decided that the better course was to hang on until dark.
Just at dusk after a very heavy attack which fell chiefly upon the Aucklanders, the latter withdrew with the 5th Light Horse Regiment and the Yeomanry, leaving the Canterbury Regiment as rear guard.
A great fight had been put up by the machine guns, and under their cover the Regiment slowly withdrew. Lieutenant Gordon Harper, the gallant commander of the section of guns attached to the Regiment, was mortally wounded and brought out with great difficulty by his famous brother Captain Robin Harper, O.C. Machine Gun Squadron, who had all guns available playing on the advancing Turks, breaking up their attack when within 100 yards of the New Zealand position.
As has been already told, Captain Hammond of the 8th Squadron had been wounded earlier in the day. Though suffering from illness on the morning of the battle and recommended for evacuation to hospital, he insisted on remaining with and leading his squadron, and fought his men with great brilliancy and determination throughout the long day.
Colonel Findlay, on hearing that Captain Hammond had been severely wounded and could not be moved, worked his way up to the firing line, and, though managing to escape the heavy machine gun and rifle fire, was wounded in the hand by a piece of the shell which mortally wounded Lieutenant Gordon Harper. The care and evacuation of the wounded was an exceedingly difficult task, and much praise was due to the M.O., Captain R.
Orbell, and his stretcher bearers, for the excellent work they performed throughout these trying days. Visual signalling was out of the question at Bir el Abd, but the signallers carried out all that was required of them as runners; and for the maintenance of communications throughout the day R.S.M.
Denton deserves great praise, and as a runner Trooper Graham Scales did yeoman service.
The Brigade withdrew to Debabis, carrying back the wounded, who were sent to Railhead at Romani by camel cacolets, and suffered extremely from the jolting.
Citation: Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Unit History Account