Topic: AIF - 5B - ICC
The Battle of Magdhaba
Sinai, 23 December 1916
ICC, AIF, Unit History Account
In 1976 George F and Edmee M Langley produced a unit history about the Imperial Camel Corps called: Sand, Sweat and Camels - The Story of the Australian Camel Corps, in which included a section specifically related to the Battle of Magdhaba and extracted below.
Langley, GF & EM, Sand, Sweat and Camels - The Story of the Australian Camel Corps, (Melbourne 1976), pp. 74 - 76 :
As no organization as a Camel Corps Brigade had ever existed before, it can be understood that the staff had to build up establishments in men, arms and equipment as experience and foresight prompted them. As new articles of equipment had to be carried on camelback, this meant experimenting in suitable saddlery and loading methods. Not the least troublesome article of equipment was the portable latrine. Quite easy for units having field carts but a task beyond the art of the ordinary individual to load on a camel general feeling expressed by those who had to cope with this problem, that the law laid down by Moses was still good enough.
Magdhaba, twenty-five miles inland from E1 Arish, was the first real taste of a pitched battle for the Camel Corps. Riding as a parallel column to the Light Horse, the Imperial Camel Corps was able, without pushing their beasts, to keep to the march schedule set for the operations. This was the first occasion when the two types of mounted infantry had covered the same distance under the same condition The manner in which the camels covered mile after mile at a steady pace, losing comparatively little distance and arriving at the destination ready to do just as much again, gave promise of the good work that could be done by the Brigade in the improving terrain.
The scene on 23 December 1916 had the appearance of a field in peace time, and the quiet and non-appearance of the enemy heightened this impression. A circle was completed around the Magdhaba position and the 1st Australian Light Horse and the Imperial Camel Corps had made some progress towards the first defence works but had still not come under fire. Brigadier General C. Cox, with the object of coming to grips as soon as possible, initiated a mounted movement with his Brigade past the advanced lines of the Imperial Camel Corps adding a further touch of parade ground war to the battle. This illusion was soon dispersed as the Turks opened fire on the fast advancing Light Horsemen who made their way back into the wadi. Their acts had stung the enemy into revealing his position, and the defence of the Turks having been revealed, the attack was taken up in earnest.
The battle lasted eight hours. The nearest redoubt was taken and this marked the first success of the Imperial Camel Corps against an entrenched body. The actual final rush was done in true peace training style, with this exception, that there seemed to be no prearranged signal. A long line of New Zealanders, Light Horsemen and Cameliers bore down on the last of the trench system. Before it was reached the Turks had jumped up and were standing unarmed ready to be taken. W. T. Massey, one of the British war correspondents, described the capture of Magdhaba:
As a brilliant stroke, made under extraordinarily arduous conditions which resulted in an overwhelming defeat of the Turkish garrison by the mounted troops of the Desert Column, and a victory far more far reaching than the capture of 1,300 prisoners would indicate. This swift, fierce and irresistible attack has produced one of the most important effects of the campaign in Egypt. The sudden rush of mounted troops, twenty-five miles from El Arish, a distance which by all previous experience of desert warfare was considered impossible in a single night, has had an immense moral influence on the Turks! Their calculations in northern Sinai were completely upset — thus the victory at Magdhaba, which added fame to the Anzac Mounted Division and proved the sterling value of the Imperial Camel Corps drawn from British Yeomanry and Colonial regiments, may be regarded as one of the most important battles of the Campaign in Eastern Egypt.
Magdhaba was a success, but there was a time early in the piece when General Chauvel actually had proposed a withdrawal. A troop of engineers who had been dropped at Lahfan, 14 miles from Magdhaba, failed to find water, so there was no other water, nearer than En Arish if the well at Magdhaba remained in Turkish hands. At the same time came news of the success of the 3rd Australian Light Horse and the Cameliers, and Chauvel ordered the attack to be pressed forward at all points. Water for man and beast was no problem to the Imperial Camel Corps and their five gallon fantassies gave drinks to many a Light Horseman whose water bottle had long been emptied beside the thirteen hundred prisoners, four mountain guns and three Krupp guns with a big store of ammunition, rifles and machine guns were gathered in. From now onwards the Imperial Camel Corps was to take part effectively in the future operations and added materially to the offensive power of the mounted divisions to which it attached.
The collection of a body of prisoners had never fallen to the lot the Imperial Camel Corps who showed little interest in the job and looked on rather amusedly at the enthusiastic Light Horsemen herding prisoners together. As a matter of fact the Imperial Camel Corps companies rallied and proceeded back to the camels without claiming one prisoner. They found out later that the Light Horse had to find an escort to take the prisoners back to E1 Arish, so they were pleased that no battalion rivalry had prompted them to gather in their share of the prisoners. They were even more pleased when they heard of the trials of the escort. After the battle the Brigade moved three or four miles down the wadi towards E1 Arish and bivouacked there for the night, moving back to E1 Arish on Christmas Eve.
Citation: The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, ICC, AIF, Unit History Account