Topic: AIF - DMC - Anzac MD
The Battle of Magdhaba
Sinai, 23 December 1916
General Staff HQ, Anzac MD, AIF, War Diary Account
22 December 1916
1000 - In accordance with a message received the day before the Desert Column Commander, Lieutenant General Sir Philip Chetwode, landed on the beach opposite Divisional Headquarters at 1000. On arrival he pointed out that it was most important to go after the enemy at once, who was reported to be still in the Magdhaba, Abu Aweigila - or Rafa areas, and that with this in view he had arranged for a special convoy with rations and horse feed to arrive at El Arish at 1630 that day. The three Brigades Anzac Mounted Division and Camel Brigade, less one Battalion, were to march that evening as soon as they ha drawn supplies and move via Magdhaba on Abu Aweigila and Ruafa with the object of capturing an enemy remaining there. The force to return as soon as its mission was accomplished. A convoy to be sent to meet it at Lahfan. No wells were to be destroyed, communications to be established along Turkish line or by visual if that could not be done. At the same time three companies Imperial Camel Corps were to go via Sheikh Zowai'id on Rafa with the same object, to return on completion of mission. The same arrangements to be made about communication. One company Imperial Camel Corps was to remain at El Arish for protection and escort duty.
These orders were handed to the Anzac Mounted Division.
1200 - Brigadiers were summoned to most General Chauvel at 1430. Meantime a point of concentration was fixed for the troops taking part in the expedition at the 28th telegraph pole on the El Arish - Magdhaba telegraph wire by 1900 December 22nd.
Here the convoys were to be brought and issues made to the troops direct.
1245 - At 1245 a report on the watering arrangements was received. Those in wadi were completed. Owing, however, to the non arrival of camels, the field troops had to do all the work.
1400 - At 1400 the posts on Hill 230 reported armed enemy party 20 strong 2 miles east of post. Orders were sent to try and capture them. The party however made off at once in a south easterly direction as soon as they found they had been observed.
1430 - At 1430 the conference of Brigadiers was held and orders were issued to each.
1630 - At 1630 and aeroplane report was received which put a fairly strong force at Magdhaba, with machine guns and guns. On this being reported to Desert Column the General Officer Commanding directed that the Rafa enterprise should be abandoned and all the available troops of the Anzac Mounted Division to move on Magdhaba. Aeroplanes were to reconnoitre the place at earliest opportunity and arrangements made to communicate with them from Divisional Headquarters. Some information was received from Major Barlow on Magdhaba who accompanied the force and provided the guides.
1720 - Divisional Headquarters left their bivouac at 1720 and marched to the concentration point. Considerable delay occurred owing to the Camel Convoy getting out in two by of the 156th Infantry Brigade coming through it. The result was that the force was unable to leave the point of concentration until after midnight.
23 December 1916
0045 - The Force left the place of concentration at 0045 marching in the following order:
Advance Guard - 1 Squadron, 1st Light Horse Brigade
Remainder 1st Light Horse Brigade
New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade
3rd Light Horse Brigade
Imperial Camel Corps
The going was very good and the march was timed as follows - Ride 40 minutes, lead 10 minutes, halt 10 minutes. As the night was very cold the leading was a great benefit to all. The only bad places to cross were just where the road turns out of the wadi 2 miles from Bir Lahfan crosses the road.
0350 - At 0350 the fires from Magdhaba could be seen.
0450 - The force halted in an open plain some four miles from the place. The number of bivouac fires indicated a considerable force and the brightness of the lights caused the position to seem considerably nearer than it was. The troops were dismounted and the General Officer Commanding and Staff accompanied by Brigadiers and Major Barlow went forward on a personal reconnaissance. As dawn broke and it became lighter the bivouac fires disappeared and nothing could be seen for some time but a heavy layer of smoke covering the whole valley, so that the reconnaissance took considerably longer than was anticipated. However, owing to the assistance of Major Barlow, the huts in the village were eventually located and buildings which afterwards proved to be the hospital, and a plan of attack was determined on.
0630 - Soon after 0630 our aeroplanes appeared and began o bomb the enemy. Some rifle and gun fire ensued.
0750 - The first aeroplane report was received at 0750 which reported being fired on by a redoubt on the sand dunes north east of the wadi, and also by a party of men, 50 in number, in the wadi one mile west of the stone huts. Shrapnel was also fired. Another report on the road leading south and south east from Magdhaba gave no enemy reinforcements for about 5 miles beyond Ruafa. There was, however, some movement in Ruafa camp.
0800 - A further report put 50 men in Ruafa camp but no enemy reinforcements on the road.
0822 - General Chauvel issued orders for the attack. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and the 3rd Light Horse Brigade under General Chaytor were to move north of the Magdhaba taking advantage of all cover to a point about one mile east and to attack the enemy's right rear. The Brigadier General Commanding was, however, to safeguard his own left rear, The attack was to commence as soon as the Divisional Artillery opened and to be pressed home. The Camel Brigade were to move straight on Magdhaba with centre on the telegraph line. The Commander, Royal Artillery to select a position to open fire on the enemy's position. The 1st Light Horse Brigade to be in reserve and to move south east along the telegraph line. The Brigadier General Commanding to make provision for his own protection. The position of the Division Headquarters was for the time being, on the telegraph line about 2½ miles north west of Magdhaba.
0830 - Aeroplane report was received of 200 men in the wadi between Abu Aweigila and Magdhaba.
0841 - A message was sent to General Chaytor at 0841 to report the position of his headquarters to Divisional Headquarters. The 3rd Light horse Brigade at this time were on a ridge north, by a little east, of the stone houses of Magdhaba, which by now were clearly in view.
0845 - An aeroplane reported road between Abu Aweigila and Magdhaba clear. 50 horsemen were seen in the wadi one mile west of Ruafa. 100 transport camels were seen moving west through Ruafa. 20 men were seen round a bell tent one mile south east on the sand dune from Magdhaba main camp. Horsemen were seen on roads opposite the white houses and some 50 horsemen galloping from the sand dunes south of the camp into the wadi.
The Camel Brigade were, at this time, moving direct on Magdhaba, the 3rd Battalion on foot in line and one company in local reserve.
The Hong Kong and Singapore Mountain Battery was in position on a ridge on the left of their line.
0849 - The situation was reported to Desert Column at 0849.
An aeroplane report handed to Divisional Headquarters by an airman who landed close beside them. This report stated that they had bombed the enemy's dugouts. A few Turks had gone east. There was very little movement in Magdhaba. The strongest point held by the Turks seemed to be the No. 5 Redoubt. There were rifle pits around the redoubt at irregular intervals. They seemed to be strongly manned. There were no signs of where the artillery were exactly. There were no reinforcements coming up the road but there were scattered parties retreating east. The rifle pits around No. 5 Redoubt and No. 5 itself were being reinforced. The wagons were shown as in the sketch. A rough sketch of the position was attached.
0910 - The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade Headquarters moved forward to a point ¾ mile east of Divisional Headquarters and by 0925 were established 3 miles north of Magdhaba.
0915 - A further air report was received at 0195 gave no movement except some 20 men outside on redoubt. A few men were seen on the road towards Aweigila.
0925 - A further report gave a few men marching towards northern redoubt. Small scattered parties of horsemen and camels were seen leaving Magdhaba and going east. Except for these the road was clear. Further report was received that rifle and machine gun fire had opened from the redoubts.
0930 - The 10th Light Horse Regiment and two Sections of the Machine Gun Squadron were detailed by General Royston, acting under General Chaytor's orders to move round, through Aulad Ali and Hill 345 and round the enemy's right.
0940 - General Chaytor reported the enemy retiring behind Hill 345 and said if the Camel Brigade would push on he would move on Hill 345.
0945 - An aeroplane reported party with loaded camels leaving Magdhaba going south east.
0955 - The advance of Imperial Camel Brigade continued but they had a long way to go on foot and it was of a necessity, slow. At 0955 General Chaytor directed the Canterbury Mounted Rifles on Hill 345, the Wellington Mounted Rifles on their right. Both regiments to move on Magdhaba. The Canterbury Mounted Rifles to watch the left flank and near.
The Inverness Battery came into action behind a ridge three miles due north of Magdhaba against two enemy guns whose fire was indicated by the dust of discharge. They also fired on a ridge from which fire came which opposed the Imperial Camel Brigade.
The Somerset Battery were brought into action further east to deal with the enemy should the retreat materialise. For the present they fired on parties of enemy, and the enemy guns which were forced to change positions. By General Chaytor's orders and 3rd Light Horse Brigade Headquarters with orders to support the attack on Magdhaba and envelope the enemy's right.
1000 - An airman landed near Divisional Headquarters reported verbally to General Chauvel that the enemy were making off and that there was a possibility of their escaping General Chaytor's enveloping move. There upon General Chauvel sent orders to General Cox, Commanding the 1st Light Horse Brigade to move direct on Magdhaba, passing the Imperial Camel Corps on his way, leaving the remainder of the 1st Light Horse Regiment in Divisional Reserve. He was told the enemy were reported to be going. General Cox pushed on Magdhaba on the trot, and then came under shrapnel fire. He changed direction to avoid the shells and increased the pass to gallop. The enemy, who had so far held their fire, then opened a very heavy rifle and machine gun fire on the Brigade. General Cox there on swung his Brigade to the right and gained the wadi where cover was got. He began a dismounted attack up the wadi against the enemy's left, Brigade Headquarters being established north west of enemy redoubt No. 1. Divisional Headquarters moved forward to a point on the road 2¾ miles north west of the white huts at Magdhaba from which the best view of the enemy's position was obtainable.
1030 - The attack of the 1st Light Horse Brigade up the wadi began. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade and four machine guns moved forward. The Brigade reported that there were machine guns firing from the white huts and ridge to the right. They also located two mountain guns in or near the huts. Meanwhile the Imperial Camel Corps attack, now that the Turkish plan was disclosed, was deflected half right. The Company in local reserve was brought up to the firing line and another Company was sent to extend to the left and gain contact with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade. The Hong Kong and Singapore Mountain Battery supported this attack.
1100 - The Imperial Camel Corps advanced over dead flat ground for 900 yards employing covering fire sections. The right then became held up by fire from a redoubt. An aeroplane report received that our flanking column was in contact with a hostile camel patrol, 15 strong, east of Magdhaba. Our troops, advancing on Magdhaba, were within 400 yards of the enemy. The artillery seemed to be well on the target. Progress on the left seemed to be going on. Dust prevented observation on north west of Magdhaba but the attack appeared to be held up. General Chaytor gave a report of the situation that on the left our men were well forward endeavouring to hold the enemy. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade (less one Regiment) and Auckland Mounted Rifles (less six troops) were still in reserve. The guns were driving the enemy away from their Battery. At this hour the General Officer Commanding visited General Chaytor and instructed him verbally to push in the remainder of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade.
1105 - An aeroplane reported 50 camels working up the wadi from the east towards Magdhaba. They also reported our shells were about 150 yards short.
1107 - Orders were sent to the 1st Light Horse Brigade to cooperate with the Imperial Camel Corps which was moving on the redoubt.
1115 - The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade reported that the enemy were retiring from the left. That they could not see the position of the 1st Light Horse Brigade owing to dust. The Hong Kong and Singapore Mountain Battery had moved into effective range of the enemy position, and had now moved across to the left of the 1st Light Horse Brigade where General Cox located the redoubt which was checking the advance. The Battery turned its fire on to the redoubt and the enemy position at 1,950 yards.
A message was now sent to the Commander, Royal Artillery to ask if more ammunition was required as the two Brigade Ammunition Columns were at Lahfan. One had already been called up.
1120 - A message was received from the 1st Light Horse Brigade to say that the range of our guns was correct, but that the fire should be swung to the right. This was forwarded to the Commander, Royal Artillery.
1135 - A further aeroplane report was received of numerous small parties of enemy leaving Magdhaba. None were reported to be coming in.
1150 - The situation was reported to the Desert Column. It was as follows:
New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (less Auckland Mounted Brigade) engaged with and partially enveloping the enemy's right.
The 3rd Light Horse Brigade (less 10h Light Horse Regiment) and the Auckland Mounted Rifles in reserve.
The 10th Light Horse Regiment, moving by a wide detour via Aulad Ali round the enemy left.
Part of the Imperial Camel Corps moving direct on the village, one Battalion still in reserve.
1st Light Horse Brigade working up against the enemy's left by way of the wadi.
The 2nd Light Horse Regiment had been sent by a detour to the south and was on some high ground overlooking the enemy's rear.
Our guns were in action against the enemy's redoubts but had great difficulty owing to mirage and indefinite targets and could not get better observation as ground ahead up to the enemy's position was dead flat. However, they got help from the Royal Flying Corps particularly by means of a sketch.
The Hong Kong and Singapore Mountain Battery was firing on a redoubt on their left. The enemy mountain guns were in action and a heavy rifle and machine gun fire was opened on any favourable target. The shooting of the guns was good but ineffective, that of the rifles bad, as in spite of the target given by the 1st Light Horse Brigade in their first move on the position they only had 8 horses hit and no men.
1200 - The 3rd Light Horse Brigade (less 10th Light Horse Regiment) commenced to carry out a sweep round the enemy's flank.
1230 - An aeroplane reported 300 men and camels retreating down the wadi no reinforcements were seen. This news was forwarded to the Brigades. General Chaytor gave his own situation at this hour as Brigade Headquarters 3 miles from Magdhaba on bearing of 155 degrees from Magdhaba. The Wellington Mounted Rifles were on the right of the line, with the Canterbury Mounted Rifles on their left, one Regiment of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade supporting the left of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade (less 10th Light Horse Regiment) were working round the enemy's right.
1245 - Situation again reported to Desert Column.
1300 - The 1st Light Horse Brigade reported that the 3rd Light Horse Regiment were in touch with the Imperial Camel Corps right. Their Headquarters were in the wadi, 1½ to 2 miles south west of Divisional Headquarters. They were continuing to push round the right.
1305 - Message from Captain Loveridge at Lahfan that the Field Troop left there had failed to get water. This produced the situation that unless Magdhaba was taken the nearest water was El Arish. None of the horses had had any water since the evening before.
1320 - Meantime another aeroplane report was received that the enemy were retiring in small parties towards el Moweilleh. Numerous enemy parties seen beyond Abu Aweigila moving south east down the wadi, also camels with baggage, about one Company in the redoubt at Magdhaba which was more thickly held in the north east corner.
1330 - The Imperial Camel Corps reached a broad shallow wadi 1,000 yards from the enemy's position but appeared to be unable to make further progress.
1350 - A message was received from the 3rd Light Horse Brigade asking for artillery support.
After discussing the situation with the Brigadiers of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and the Imperial Camel Corps, and in view of the fact that no progress was being made and horses had been a very long time without water and that the nearest water was at El Arish if Magdhaba was not taken which did not appear at all likely, the General Officer Commanding wired to Desert Column giving the situation and proposing to issue orders for withdrawal at a certain hour.
1355 - The situation began to improve. The 1st Light Horse Brigade reported that they had got the 1st Bridge Road of the Wadi. They had taken about 100 prisoners and were reported retiring behind the houses.
1415 - At 1415 came the report that the 10th Light Horse Regiment were making round the enemy's left.
1420 - At 1420 came a wire from the Desert Column asking if it was not possible to concentrate artillery on one redoubt and take with bayonet after dark. It was strongly urged that the fight should not be abandoned even at the cost of some horses.
A telephone communication between General Chauvel and General Officer Commanding Desert Column followed and orders were immediately issued to continue pressure and that a concerted effort would be made by all units at 1630. The General Officer Commanding Desert Column arranging that if possible horse water would be sent forward to meet the column on return journey.
1430 - A further wire, strongly urging the taking of Magdhaba was received from Desert Column at 1430, but the situation had so completely changed at this hour, however that there was no further doubt as to the result, and the situation was communicated to Desert Column.
On the right one Squadron 2nd Light Horse Regiment was now sent to reinforce the line between the 3rd Light Horse Regiment and the Squadron 2nd Light Horse Regiment working round the enemy's left.
1450 - General Chaytor reported that the enemy were apparently retiring from the north north west of the white buildings.
The 3rd Light Horse Brigade were now in touch with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade 600 yards from the enemy trenches but the advance was difficult owing to machine gun and rifle fire, and more machine guns had to be sent up. A further report came from the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade that 50 enemy had retired from trench north north west of Magdhaba.
1455 - 1st Light horse Brigade Headquarters was established at Turkish trenches 350 degrees from north east position. The enemy still held on 800 yards south of the position. The Brigade continued to push round the right. The total taken in the first redoubt was 3 Officers, 92 Other Ranks, arms, ammunition, etc.
The Imperial Camel Corps was now within 500 yards of the enemy's position.
1500 - A team with apparently a gun moving behind it moving in the enemy's position received a direct hit from the Inverness Battery at 1500.
1510 - At 1510 orders were sent back to Lahfan for a water convoy for the men to be sent along the telegraph line. One Troop, 1st Light Horse Regiment, were sent to meet it.
1515 - At 1515 an aeroplane report was received that some 500 mounted men were in the wadi one mile north of Magdhaba. 60 men were in the redoubt west of the buildings. Small party of horsemen were 1,000 yards south of Magdhaba making for that place. 15 camels 1 1/4 miles south of Magdhaba also making for it. At Abu Aweigila and Ruafa people were seen, but no one on the roads.
1520 - The 1st Light Horse Brigade and Imperial Camel Corps attacked the enemy's second position. Our Batteries ceased fire at this time.
1530 - Information was received that water convoys were on their way.
1540 - The 1st Light Horse Brigade forwarded list of prisoners. From information received from them one Battalion was south and one was north of the hospital. Khadir Bey was with the guns. Plenty of water was reported in the place, The Imperial Camel Corps advanced to attack the trenches, one more company being thrown into the assault. The Hong Kong and Singapore Mountain Battery were in action close to the wadi and gave effective support.
1600 - Redoubt No. 2 was carried by the 1st Light Horse Brigade. 150 prisoners were taken including Khadir Bey. The Imperial Camel Corps advanced to the assault with the 3rd Light Horse Regiment on their right and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade on their left. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade were in close touch with the enemy, and the 10th Light Horse Regiment, having outflanked the enemy, attacked him in rear.
1605 - General Chaytor reported that our troops held the buildings and redoubts on the left, part of the 10th Light Horse Regiment charged mounted with fixed bayonets. The enemy held on until our men were within some 20 yards in most cases. Only their bad shooting prevented heavy casualties.
1630 - By 1630, they were surrendering in small batches, though firing still continued from isolated parties until dark. Four Mountain Guns were captured in their emplacements, one smashed machine gun was found. All organised resistance was over by about 1640. General Chauvel rode down into Magdhaba as soon s it was taken and gave orders for clearing the battlefield.
Lieutenant Colonel Granville was left to carry this out with part of his own Regiment, two Squadrons of the Auckland Mounted Rifles, and one Squadron from the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. These were ordered to bivouac for the night at Magdhaba and continue the search next morning. Convoys with supplies were ordered up for the troops remaining there. The remainder, many of whom had got water in Magdhaba, were ordered to assemble at the telegraph line near Divisional Headquarters. All prisoners and captured stock also to be brought up there.
The total of prisoners etc was fount to be:-
Unwounded - 1,210
Khadir Bey, Commanding Officer of the 80th Infantry Regiment;
Izhat Bey, Commanding Officer of the 2/80th Infantry Battalion; and,
Rushti Bey, Commanding Officer of the 3/80th Infantry Battalion.
Wounded - 40
A mixed party of 30 were brought in later, with a few more brought in next day by Colonel Granville. The total came to 1,282.
There were also:
4 Mountain Guns;
1 Broken Machine Gun;
1,052 rifles (200 more were destroyed);
6 boxes of shell ammunition;
100,000 small arms ammunition;
Component parts of an oil engine;
Telephone wire and equipment;
Number of plans of reservoirs, etc;
Some Turkish orders and news;
40 horses; and,
Our own casualties were:
Casualty Officers Other Ranks
Killed 5 17
Wounded 7 117
Total 12 134
We had 59 casualties among the horses from wounds and other causes.
The Inverness Battery fired 498 rounds and
The Somerset Battery fired 108 rounds.
Divisional Headquarters and escort left at 2350 and got in at 0410 on December 24th. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and 3rd Light Horse Brigade marched back in their own time, leaving Magdhaba as soon as they had filled up from the water convoy which went to them there and drawn rations and forage at Lahfan on the way back.
Considerable assistance was rendered by the General Officer Commanding 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division in the loan of camels, fantasses, sand carts and gun teams. This latter were dent forward on his own initiative to meet the guns on their return journey.
The sending forward of horse water to Lahfan by the Desert Column Staff saved the situation considerably.
I would like to be permitted to draw special attention to the excellent work of Quartermaster Branch and the Army Supply Corps which rendered this successful action possible.
Under separate cover, I forward a list of Officers and Other Ranks recommended for immediate reward.
Citation: The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, 23 December 1916, , General Staff HQ, Anzac MD, AIF, War Diary Account