Topic: AIF - 1B - 3 LHR
The Battle of Magdhaba
Sinai, 23 December 1916
3rd LHR, AIF, Unit History Account
Frank M Blackwell and DR Douglas produced a unit history in 1950 called The Story of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment. This story included a section specifically related to the Battle of Magdhaba and extracted below.
Blackwell, FM, The Story of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment, (Adelaide 1950), pp. 77 - 80:
At 5.30 p.m. on the 22nd December the Regiment left camp (less one troop detailed to act as camel escort) and concentrates with the Brigade about a mile from the camp area until the rations arrived. The troops were not aware of the reasons and, as usual, had no idea whether the waiting time would be 3 minutes or 3 hours. They had had no evening meal, and it was only after much loss of time that those sections who were fortunate enough to have the remnants of a Jam, or milk case, decided to take a risk and boil up the quart.
The writer can well remember seen over twenty quart pots jostling for a place around a tiny fire of his making and seeing his own and section pots being edged outwards into the cold. As was often the case the tricky ones came to the boil to correspond with the order 'Get ready to mount.' The same circumstances had occurred often before, but on that occasion, if darkness had not been a cover, the desert air would have been a deeper shade of blue.
All through the whole campaign firewood for the troops was a problem, as the wood on issue was Only suitable for fixed camps and it wad a credit to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the men that, somehow or other they always got their quart pots of tea made during the marches.
It was not until 12.30 a.m. that the Brigade proceeded to the divisional rendezvous, a point two miles north west of El Magdhaba, which was known to be occupied by a Turkish force.
At 10.20 a.m. the Regiment moved off with the Brigade and advanced across an open flat on the south the telegraph line which ran from El Arish to Magdhaba. The enemy artillery came into action while this movement was in progress, during which the Regiment was on the flank. One troop was sent out at the gallop to act as ground scouts, but found impassable ground in front, and "sections left" was ordered. The 3rd Light Horse Regiment followed in rear Of the Brigade until better ground was encountered and then resumed its position on the right of the line. The enemy now brought his machine guns into action, and although the range could not be classed as effective it was sufficient to cause a change of direction.
Orders were received to move to the right and take advantage of the cover which was provided in the wadi. It was an ideal place in which to leave the horses and the Regiment moved along the wadi dismounted, "B" Squadron being in the centre, "A" Squadron to the south, and "C" Squadron on the north side of the wadi, with two machine guns on their flank. All troops were in position by 11.20 a.m., and the advance toward the enemy's position commenced.
The Turks were strongly entrenched and held a line of redoubts across the wadi, in the midst of which were a few scattered buildings. The enemy strength was estimated at 1,500.
Up to midday the time factor necessary for complete success had not been fully realized, and the advance of all units, after allowance for the broken and difficult ground, had been slow.
It was also difficult to locate the exact position of the enemy trenches from which fire was being directed on the attackers. Ultimately these were definitely located and shelled, and a more rapid advance wad made to the fork of the wadi.
"A" Squadron, on the right, was able to direct fire upon No. 1 redoubt, but the assistance they should have got from a Squadron of the 2nd Light Horse was not forthcoming, This unit having gone too far to the right where joined the 3rd Brigade.
With all machine guns in position to give covering fire an advance was made across the fork of the wadi. At 1.30 p.m. "B" and "C" Squadrons were halfway across and being covered by the fire from guns of the Imperial Camel Corps.
A white flag was noticed at this time in the enemy trenches. Bayonets were fixed and a charge made on No. 1 redoubt which was soon captured. The enemy then switched their fire on to this position, which caused many casualties to the prisoners and little to our men.
The machine guns closely followed the dismounted troops and gave valuable assistance from No. 1 redoubt until No. 2 redoubt was subdued by the combined efforts the three squadrons, assisted by two companies of the Camel Corps. This was at 4 o'clock. Fire was then concentrated on No. 3 redoubt to assist the attacking Regiment the 2nd Light Horse, and the post was finally subdued at 4.20 p.m.
During the last phase "B" Squadron had also taken the water supply without opposition. There was no further determined resistance and as dusk was already falling all speed and every effort was directed to the collection of the wounded in small groups, necessitated by the scattered nature of the attack. At each group a fire was lit for the guidance of the ambulances, an officer and four men being detailed to assist them as guides.
The enemy prisoners captured by the Regiments numbering some 50 officers and 234 other ranks, also needed sorting out and attention. The Regiment then reformed and the horses, having been collected, a move was made to where the Engineers had erected the necessary facilities for watering. It was well after 9 p.m. when the ride back to El Arish commenced.
It was a ride ever afterwards remembered by those who participated, as it was the second night without sleep, and the intervening day had been hard and strenuous with practically little to eat and drink and, in fact no time for either.
The flat and loose ground between El Arish and Magdhaba, limited in width, had already been churned up by the hooves of thousands of horses, and this return journey, with Columns Of troops riding in parallel formation, was made in a cloud of fine dust.
It was one of those rare occasions when there was little talking or smoking in the ranks. One thing only was required, sleep, and plenty of it. Scores of men had intermittent naps, of long and short duration, and often awoke to find themselves in a different troop, but the horses plodded faithfully on, and no doubt helping to keep the formation with their mates of the horse lines.
In after days many men admitted to having had strange illusions of seeing houses and hearing the barking of dogs while considering themselves awake.
Camp was finally reached at El Arish at 7 a.m. on the 24th, and the balance of the day was spent in a doubly well-earned rest, not disturbed in the slightest by the dropping of a few bombs some little distance from the camp area and some machine gun fire from the enemy aircraft.
Citation: The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, 3rd LHR, AIF, Unit History Account