Topic: AIF - 3B - 10 LHR
Bir el Abd
Sinai, 9 August 1916
10th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account
Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Charles Niquet Olden produced the unit history for the 11th LHR in 1921 called the Westralian cavalry in the war: the story of the Tenth Light Horse Regiment, A.I.F., in the Great War, 1914-1918, which included a section specifically related to the battle of Beersheba and is extracted below.Olden, A.C.N., Westralian cavalry in the war: the story of the Tenth Light Horse Regiment, A.I.F., in the Great War, 1914-1918, (Melbourne 1921).
The Inverness Battery opened fire on the enemy position early in the morning, and the 8th Regiment made a determined attack, but the enemy held on grimly and maintained his position till darkness set in. At dawn on August 8th the 10th Regiment moved forward to attack the Sagia Ridge, to find, on occupying it, that the Turks had again retreated during the night.
Touch was here obtained with the 5th Light Horse Regiment (2nd Brigade) on our left, and the advance continued. Hod Hassaniya was reached during the afternoon, and occupied as our outpost line for the night. The enemy was reported in force, occupying a redoubt and ridges in the vicinity of Mushalfat - about three miles east of Hassaniya; and this report was verified early the next day (August 9), when the 8th Light Horse Regiment, moving in advance of the Brigade, was held up here.
A reconnaissance disclosed the fact that the Turkish position at Mushalfat was one of considerably greater strength than any hitherto encountered by our people. It had been admirably selected as to terrain, and contained a formidable trench system. It was also clear that the enemy intended to offer increased opposition. His line was shorter, but the prospects of our outflanking him did not appear bright.
The sand became immeasurably heavier and more difficult to negotiate, whilst the horses, which had performed wonderfully well on scant forage and poor water, could not be expected to go on indefinitely under such adverse conditions. Consequently our attacks had of necessity to be delivered more or less frontally, and in these the Inverness Battery rendered substantial aid. With a couple of heavy horses extra per gun, the Highlanders had struggled along through the desert, and were never far behind the horsemen. Great credit is due to Major Fraser and his men for their fine effort.
On this day the Battery harassed the Turkish defences unceasingly, firing over 500 rounds of 18pd. ammunition, whilst the 8th and 9th Regiments carried on a brisk fight. But the Turks, apparently in much superior numbers to the attackers, held their ground. Indeed, towards evening they made a determined counterattack with the bayonet, and for a time it appeared that things would go hard with the 9th Regiment. The timely arrival, however, of "B" Squadron of the 10"' Regiment, under Major H.C.H. Robertson, and later on "C" Squadron under Major S.E. Grimwood, turned the scale, and they were driven back, leaving many dead. At 2 a.m. that night two troops of "A" Squadron under the Regimental Second-in-Command (Major T.A. Kidd) moved out to reconnoitre the Mushalfat redoubt, with a view to finding out if it was still occupied or whether the Turks had followed their usual custom of retiring under cover of darkness.
The party moved through our outpost line and approached close to the redoubt, when suddenly from three sides blazed the fire of between 30 and 40 rifles, at point-blank range. The party turned and galloped back at top Speed. As one man said afterwards, "It was a true-run race! We were all triers!" Men and horses fell headlong over the dunes, but by a miracle neither a horse nor a man was hit.
August 10th and 11th were devoted to continuous shelling and sniping on both sides, whilst the New Zealanders were attacking Bir el Abd. During the morning of the 11th a thrilling duel in the air took place over our lines, the first that our troops had witnessed, and to our dismay our machine was shot down by the German, apparently with the greatest ease. The superiority of the German plane was very marked, and for many months to come we were to have the humiliation of seeing our splendid flying personnel suffering under this unequal combat.
The comparison of the British machines to the German during the campaign in Sinai was as a draught horse to a thoroughbred. Our pilots were bold, daring and skilful beyond praise. There was nothing they would not attempt, no danger they would not face, in standing by and helping their comrades-in-arms on the ground below; and it was no fault of theirs that our vaunted air superiority - as advertised by the daily communiqués of that period - was a myth. And so were many fine men lost to the service in attempting to carry an impossible handicap.
On the morning of August 12th a report indicated that a force of several hundreds of Turks was moving in the direction of Hod Bayud, several miles south of Bir el Abd, probably with the object of counter-attacking our right flank.
The Regiment moved towards Bayud in a wide echelon of squadrons, but on approaching the hod it was found unoccupied, and shortly afterwards the advanced troops of the 11th Light Horse Regiment and the I.C.C. appeared in sight moving from the west.
The 10th Regiment was recalled and marched in a northerly direction on Bir el Abd, the Turks having evacuated Mushalfat during the previous night. El-Abd fell that day, Salmana shortly after, and the Turks retired to Mazar. As it was deemed inexpedient by the High Command to push further east until the line of communication was better established, the pursuit now ceased for the time being.
The units of the Brigade were withdrawn and hods allotted to each in which to form bivouacs.
Thus ended the first phase of the campaign in Sinai. The Anzac Mounted Division under General Chauvel had not only repelled the Turkish effort to seize the great waterway, but had pursued the enemy through blinding summer heat and scorching sand until the only Turks in Sinai Peninsula, for a distance of nearly 60 miles from the Canal, were prisoners in our hands.
That the attacking army was not wholly destroyed was chiefly due to the amazing mobility and stamina of the Turks, combined with their determined and skilful rearguard actions. Nevertheless upwards of 3,500 prisoners and much materia had been taken.
A captured document contained a theatrical exhortation to the Turkish Army from Von Kress - the German Commander-in-Chief on the Sinai front - to "drive the English into the sea as at Gallipoli." Whether Von Kress himself of the German High Command either intended or deemed this possible is open to doubt. The broad issue from the German point of view seemed that the more Allied troops that could be held on this front to guard the all-important waterway - in other words, the more the Canal was threatened - the less troops would be available for the Western theatre of operations. That this crafty scheme failed in its purpose is a matter of history. Not only did the British forces hold the Canal. This first phase was but the beginning of a great Crusade, destined to produce a profound influence on the whole course of the War.
Citation: Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916, 10th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account