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"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess

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Saturday, 25 October 2008
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, NZMR Unit History Account
Topic: AIF - NZMRB

Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

NZMR Unit History Account

 

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Guy Powles along with Major A Wilkie produced in 1922 a book called The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, 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, The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, 1922

 

Chapter III

The Battle of Romani.

"And the Egyptians lay encamped on the banks of the Nile which runs by Pelusium, awaiting Cambyses. The Persians crossed the desert, and pitching their camp close to the Egyptians, made ready for battle. Stubborn was the fight which followed and it was not until vast numbers had been slain that the Egyptians turned and fled." —Herodotus.

Now the ruins of ancient Pelusium are to this day to be seen some few miles from the wells of Romani; and it was just outside Pelusium in the rear 528 B.C. that the invading Persians conquered the Egyptians. Upon this self same ground 2500 years later the invaders of Egypt were to be defeated in the Battle of Romani.

The operations which now ensued and which resulted in the complete defeat of the Turks and of the final overthrow of tile German-Turkish dreams of cutting the Suez Canal and of conquering Egypt, may be described as of three phases.

In the first phase our plans were perfected; the railhead at Romani protected with strong works and manned by infantry; and the mounted troops drew the enemy on across the desert until he finally attacked our railhead.

The second phase was the Battle of Romani, which might have been called the second battle of Pelusium, and which consisted of the great Turkish attack and our counter stroke.

In the third phase, the Turk was driven hack into the desert and finally defeated in the action of Bir El Abd.

Immediately the news of the enemy’s advance was brought in by General Chaytor, there began a busy and an arduous time for the Anzac Mounted Division. At or around the wells of Romani were the 1st and 2nd Light Horse Brigades, and their work was to keep in touch with the enemy and to find out his strength and his movements. It had long been realised that if possible the Turk, when his next advance began, should be induced to come on and to attack us where we could get the support of the infantry; for by practical experience it was definitely known that under the great summer heat and on the burning sand, our infantry could not be expected to march more than six miles per day. Therefore it would be wise to induce the Turk to attack us in position, maintaining at the same time a mobile mounted force with which to strike at his flank, to cut his communications, and so surround him.

A defensive line was therefore constructed by the 52nd Division (Lowland Scots), a magnificent lot of men of fine physique, who played a good game of Rugby and were therefore soon on the best of terms with our men. They were veterans from Helles where they were under the command of Lieut-General the Hon. H. A.

Lawrence, afterwards Sir Hubert Lawrence, K.C.B., Chief of Staff to Sir Douglas Haig, and who now commanded all troops in the Romani area. This line rested its left on the sea at Mahemdia (the camp of Chabrias—that famous Athenian Admiral who conquered the Egyptian Fleet about the year 376 B.C. and landed his forces here for the attack upon Egypt) and ran along a series of sand hills protecting railhead at Romani and enclosed with its right a mighty sand hill called Katib Gannit, a total length of some six miles. But though protecting the railhead this fortified line did not include the “Old Road”—the caravan route which runs from Katia through Dueidar and so to Kantara. This was left to the Anzac Mounted Division whose distribution was now as follows :— lst and 2nd L.H. Brigade— vicinity of Romani (with the 2nd L.H. Brigade was the Wellington Regiment) ; at Hill 70 about five miles behind Dueidar lay the N.Z.M.R. Brigade with the 5th L.H. Regiment at Dueidar itself, and patrols away east along the “Old Road”—the New Zealanders with the addition of two regiments of Yeomanry and two R.H.A. batteries formed the force destine to strike at the enemy’s southern flank; further south based upon the Canal, was the 3rd Light Horse Brigade.

The 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades working from Romani took it in turn day by day to harass the enemy, to report his movements, and to draw him on. The work was exceedingly interesting but very arduous, and was carried out day after day in the scorching sun with little or no sleep.

Miniature battles between our own and the enemy’s patrols were frequent, and the prisoners thus taken were invaluable sources of information to us.

The Wellington Regiment was still attached to the 2nd L.H. Brigade and remained and fought as a unit therein through the battle of Romani and the operations following, which were preceded by those fatiguing day and night reconnaissances.

The regiment bore its full share of the fighting and earned the unstinted praise of the Australians who affectionately termed the Wellingtons the “Well and Trulies.” Moreover, at one stage in these operations, the Wellington Regiment temporarily furnished—owing to casualties—the Brigade Commander, the Brigade Major, and the Staff Captain, simultaneously for the 2nd L.H. Brigade.

On the 28th July enemy forces had entered Um Ugba— which formed an advanced salient in their position. Lieut-Colonel Meldrum who commanded the regiment and who loved a fight, asked permission to take the Hod, and for two guns to assist in the attack.

The assault was made by two squadrons who advanced under machine gun fire and the well-directed fire of the two 18 pounders, and was made at the point of the bayonet with a determination and energy that gained great praise from the Light Horsemen who witnessed it. The enemy were driven out of the Hod leaving 16 dead and 8 prisoners in our hands.

A typical day’s work at this time was as follows :— A brigade would leave its bivouac about one in the morning and would get into touch with the Turks about daylight, picking up officer patrols that were left out all night by the preceding brigade. A section of horse artillery from the Ayrshire Battery with guns mounted on ped-rails accompanied the Brigade which soon came to blows with the Turks in finding out his dispositions. After harassing the enemy all day, the Brigade early in the afternoon would begin its return to its bivouac at Romani, leaving out as before a number of officer patrols to watch the Turks. These officer patrols were of the greatest value and the timely information sent in by them on the night of August 3rd gave ample notice of the Turks’ great advance.

These tactics were so skilfully carried out that every move of the Turk was known to us; and he daily reported to Constantinople— “British again driven back towards the Canal.” By daylight on August 3rd the enemy had advanced to and occupied Katia Oasis—within striking distance of the infantry line at Romani.

Immediately in front of Katia lay our open right flank with the Old Caravan Route leading to Dueidar and the Canal. The possibility of the Turkish attack developing in this direction had been considered by General Lawrence in consultation with Divisional Commanders; and the plans for meeting such an attack fully discussed.

Having in view that the morrow, August 4th, was the last day of the Mohammedan Feast of Bairam; and that the Turks would probably attack on that day; General Chauvel decided to leave out for the night the whole of the 1st Light Horse Brigade to hold an out-post line of about 3 miles to cover all the entrances to the sandhill plateau, which formed the Romani position, and which were unprotected by Infantry posts. It was this skilful placing of the 1st L.H. Brigade by The Divisional Commander that upset the Turkish plan—causing the enemy to deploy four hours before he intended to and making one of his columns change direction in the dark, forcing it into the soft and steeply undulating sand dunes lying between Romani and Kantara.

The night was a very quiet one and very dark. At 10 o‘clock a light was seen at Katia. It was exposed four times for 10 seconds each time; then ceased; and all was quiet. Just before midnight the 1st Light Horse Brigade called up the Divisional H.Q.

by telephone and reported that bodies of the enemy were appearing in front of the outpost line, and that firing had commenced.

This out-post line had been taken up after dark on the evening of the 3rd but nevertheless withstood the enemy’s main attack from 12 midnight to 4 a.m. on the 4th, when the 1st Brigade was reinforced by the 2nd Brigade; and then the two Brigades as previously arranged, pivoting on the extreme right of the infantry position, gradually withdrew to a line which had already been decided upon, covering the right flank and rear of the Romani position.

At 3 o ‘clock in the morning some more information came in from the N.Z.

Brigade which had an officer patrol at Bir Abu Rami away out on the Old Caravan road. It appears that the officer in charge had heard the enemy approaching and had sent an N.C.O. with some men to investigate. This N.C.O. soon encountered the enemy, and leaving his patrol in observation hurried back to Bir Abu Raml to warn the party there, but he found himself in between two columns of Turks moving northwest.

He then rode quietly to one column, rode along it until he struck a gap in the transport camels, went through and made off with his information apparently unobserved. It soon became apparent that the enemy ‘s attack was made in three columns in numbers about 8000. One, their right column, attacked the 52nd Division in front. This attack was easily held off, but the 52nd Division was subjected to severe shelling during the day. The Turk centre column and his left column were most skilfully led round the open flank on the 52nd Division’s right, and on, to seize the camp and the railway. The skill and confidence with which these columns were led was explained some days afterwards when some Turkish orders were captured, signed by Lieut.-Colonel von Stotsein, Commander of the 4th Group. These orders stated, inter alia, “Bedouin guides will be required to have a certificate to be able to cross the enemy lines.” This meant that only those Bedouins who were in our pay (and supposed to be getting information for us) were to be employed. The enemy were so determined in their attack that they would undoubtedly have reached the railway but for the gallant and skilful resistance put up by the Light Horse Brigades and our Wellington Regiment. There was no moon and the Turkish masses could not be seen.

Our men could only fire at the flash of the enemy rifles and beat off his bayonet attack when it came.

As has been said, at daylight the 2nd L.H. Brigade, with the Wellington Regiment reinforced the 1st L.H. Brigade, prolonging the latter’s right. The enemy’s weight was such that the two Brigades gradually drew back until about 11 a.m. The enemy’s main attack, arrested by the well-directed fire of the R.H.A. Batteries of the Anzac Mounted Division, and by our rifle and machine gun fire, which was contributed to considerably by the 52nd Division infantry posts on the right of the Romani position, appeared then to have exhausted itself, but held its ground.

The camps as well as the firing line were heavily shelled by the Turkish guns of various calibres including 5.9” and 10.5 Cm. guns, and were severely bombed by enemy planes.

The enemy now held a line running from the Bardawil along the front of the 52nd Division entrenched position and thence bending westward through, and including, the great sandhill called Mount Meredith to the great sand dune Mount Royston (named respectively after the G.O.C. 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades). This latter position dominated the camp area at Romani and threatened the railway line.

General Royston, under whom the Wellington Regiment was serving and who was a very Knight of the old Crusaders was throughout this momentous day the most conspicuous and ubiquitous figure on the battlefield. Although wounded he rode amongst the men, for whom he always had a cheery word, encouraging them and often exhorting them to take cover, whilst openly exposing himself. It is said that he used up no fewer than 8 horses during the fighting; and a characteristic message came from him to H.Q. late in the day—” General Royston has just been wounded and has gone to get another horse.” It was just at this critical period of the day’s fighting that the N.Z.M.R.

Brigade with some Yeomanry appeared on the high ground to the west of Mount Royston, and our counter stroke began. .

To go back to the movements of this force since early dawn, at 2 o’clock on the morning of the 4th General Chaytor had been advised of the Turkish advance against Romani and moved with his Brigade towards Dueidar along the Old Caravan Route; but events moving so rapidly at Romani and the Turkish attack proving so strong and reaching so close to the railway, that when within a mile of Dueidar he was ordered to move to Canterbury Hill close to Mount Royston, where he arrived at 11 O’clock, finding Yeomanry from the 5th Mounted Brigade already in touch with the enemy on the south west of Mount Royston.

The attack on Mount Royston at once began; and some infantry from the 42nd Division began to arrive from time Suez Canal at the Pelusium railway station close by. Aided by the accurate and rapid shooting of the Somerset R.H.A. Battery the N.Z.

Brigade soon obtained a footing on Mount Royston; and by a very gallant advance in which the Yeomanry took part, the position was captured late in the afternoon; and it was occupied by the infantry, who had arrived too late to take part in the fighting. The mounted men continued to advance until darkness put an end to the fighting, capturing some 1200 unwounded Turks and a mountain battery. The prisoners were sent into the Pelusium railway station and the N.Z. Brigade with the Yeomanry fell back to the railway line to feed and water their horses while the two L.H. Brigades put out an outpost line upon the field of battle. The 3rd L.H. Brigade, which so far had not been engaged, reached Dueidar after dark.

And now began the third phase, the thrusting back of the enemy into the desert.

At 4 o‘clock in the morning of August 5th the Division began to move, advancing towards Katia. The 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades, with them the Wellington Regiment and the Ayrshire and Leicestershire batteries, captured large numbers of prisoners and quantities of material in every mile of their advance. The Wellington Regiment with the 7th L.H. Regiment and supported on the left by infantry posts of the 52nd Division, fixed bayonets and stormed "Wellington Ridge," a position dominating the camps. They encountered heavy rifle and machine gun fire, but rushing up the sandy slope with irresistible dash, they quickly broke through the Turkish front line. The enemy became demoralised and our troops pressed forward from ridge to ridge without a pause.

At noon the situation was as follows: ——Away on the right, south of the Old Caravan Road attacking the enemy in Bir El Hamisah, was the 3rd L.H. Brigade. Next came the N.Z.M.R. close up to the southwest edge of the Katia palms; on their left was 1st, 2nd, and 5th Brigades in that order; and on their left again the 52nd Division was attacking Abu Hamra.

Behind the Mounted Division came the 42nd Infantry Division marching in much distress in the scorching sand.

The Turks were making a very determined stand on the line Bir El Hamisah — Katia-Abu Hamra, using their guns to good effect and with numerous machine guns well placed in the palms fringing on the eastern side of the great flat marsh which stretched right across the front of the enemy’s position and gave them a most excellent field of fire.

A general attack was decided upon to commence at 2.30 p.m. at which hour the N.Z. Brigade, and the 1st and 2nd L.H.. Brigades advanced at the gallop over the exposed country. The 5th L.H. Regiment fixed bayonets which glittered in the sun, and the great line of galloping horses presented a magnificent spectacle—shell fire was unheeded, bullets buried themselves in the sand dunes as the horses surged over them. The advance continued until the ground became too swampy to carry the horses; and the men dismounted and went in on foot.

This mounted charge considerably shook the morale of the enemy - for in many places he displayed the white flag on the near approach of the horses.

A hot fight ensued and it was here that the popular medical officer of the Wellington Regiment, Captain Wood and his assistant Sgt. Moseley, lost their lives in succouring the wounded.

Meanwhile the 3rd L.H. on the extreme right were held up and failing to work round the enemy's right flank drew off and this led to the Canterbury Regiment getting the full force of a strong Turkish counter attack.

Darkness put an end to the battle and the Division withdrew to water the horses, leaving Lieut. Johnson with his troop of the Auckland Regiment as a listening post.

The 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades who had borne the heat and burden of the day during the long and arduous days prior to the battle, and who withstood so gallantly the weight of the enemy’s attack on the night of August 3rd and early morning of August 4th, were now so tired out that they were sent back to the bivouac lines at Romani and Etmaler. But the 5th Mounted Brigade which had been attached to the Anzac Mounted Division remained under General Chauvel's command. Orders were received to follow up the enemy—while the two infantry divisions, the 42nd and the 52nd, were respectively to advance to Katia and Abu Hamra and to hold these places.

In his cautious advance across the desert the enemy had prepared position after position and these were now invaluable to him in his retreat. He fought a very strong rearguard action well covered by his guns; and after stubborn fighting during the 6th, 7th and 8th, he was pressed back to Bir El Abd some 20 miles from the Romani lines.

Assistance to the Division was given on the south by a small flying camel column from the Ballah railhead, who harassed the Turks’ left flank working through Bir El Mageibra, Bir El Aweidia and Hod El Bayud.

The 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades, who had been resting, were now ordered up and being so few in number were formed into a composite brigade under General Royston. At daylight on August 9th the Division began its advance with the New Zealanders in the centre following the telegraph line; the 1st and 2nd Brigades on the left; and the 3rd L.H. Brigade on the right and in touch with the small flying column.

The enemy were soon encountered and were driven back on to Bir El Abd on a frontage of about 10 miles.

At 5 o’clock the New Zealand Brigade reached the high ground overlooking El Abd and there withstood a heavy counter attack by the Turks who came on in two columns of 5000 to 6000 each. But well backed up by the Somerset and Leicester batteries the Brigade firmly established itself across the telegraph line and the Old Caravan Road. By mid-day our advance had been completely checked—the Turks bringing up fresh troops and counter-attacking most determinedly. His guns were also well placed and his fire heavy and accurate.

The Ayrshire Battery which was with Royston's column was badly cut up and great difficulty was experienced in moving the guns when he was forced to retire, being obliged to give ground for nearly a mile. The 3rd L.H. Brigade after advancing well up on the right flank was also forced to give ground by the accuracy of the Turkish shell fire, but the New Zealand Brigade held on in the centre and owing to the bending back of both wings were holding a very exposed line on the forward slopes of the hills overlooking the Hod. Though the enemy by the burning of store depots and by movement which could be observed was showing great anxiety to retire, yet finding he could hold his position and that his flanks were not threatened and being reinforced with fresh troops from El Arish, he again delivered a fierce counter-attack on a frontage of about two and a half miles right to our centre. The brunt of this attack was borne by the Canterbury and Auckland Regiments, and by a squadron of Warwickshire Yeomanry, which was under General Chaytor’s command. The attack was gallantly withstood and the Turks beaten off just as darkness fell.

A great fight was put up by the machine guns. Lieut. Gordon Harper, the gallant commander of the section of machine guns attached to the Canterbury 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 upon the advancing Turks arresting their advance when within 100 yards of the New Zealand position.

This defeat of the last Turkish counter-attack took place just before dusk and continued as the New Zealand Brigade withdrew under cover of these machine guns which were supported by some Yeomanry whose troopers offered many helmets to be used as “flame extinguishers” to hide the machine gun flashes as darkness came on.

Each helmet was held over the muzzle and the gun fired through it, and it can be imagined the life of a helmet under such conditions would not be long; but it did its work effectually while it lasted.

Here also fell many gallant officers and men, among them Captain Johnston of the Auckland Regiment and Major Hammond of the Canterbury Regiment, both squadron leaders.

After Bir el Abd.

Particularly sad circumstances surrounded the death of this last officer, who was very ill on the morning of the battle, in fact he had been recommended for evacuation to Hospital, but insisted on remaining and leading his squadron; and fought his men with great brilliancy throughout the day. Lieut. A. Martin of the Auckland Regiment also was severely wounded and died in Cairo some weeks later.

He had shown exceptional ability as a “water officer,” finding and developing wells far ahead of the Main Body. On this day at Bir el Abd after conspicuous good work he fell while leading his troop.

On either side of the “Old Road” they lie, the Aucklanders on the south side and the Canterbury men on the north side — on either side of that road down which those old Crusaders under Baldwin came to oust the infidel from Egypt; and by the same road came that “man of Destiny” eager to conquer a new world for himself; and back again he hurried crushed and shamed; and fled to Europe. And earlier still came Darius and Cambyses the Persians, Alexander the Great with his Greeks, and Anthony with his Romans; and now iron trains thunder by on that selfsame road and they will know— those gallant fellows we left there—They will know that now at last the work is well and truly done.

The three brigades were then withdrawn to water their horses and to rest some few miles back.

At daylight next morning strong patrols went forward and remained in touch with the enemy throughout the day, but the horses were too tired to enable an attack in force to be made.

On the 11th no serious fighting took place, but the enemy was watched and harassed, and plans were made for an attack on the 12th. The advance began at daylight and our patrols soon reported that the enemy was retiring—Bir El Abd was found to be evacuated—and he was followed as far as Salmana, where a small rearguard was encountered.

Difficulties of transport and feeding the troops precluded the advance being carried any further, and arrangements were made to hold the country as far east as Bir El Abd.

The prisoners captured during the Romani operations amounted to nearly 5000, including 50 officers, some German and Austrians. We also captured a very large number of rifles and a camel-pack machine gun company complete, a mountain battery, quantities of stores and ammunition and two complete field Hospitals most excellently appointed. All the arms and equipment were of German manufacture and the camel-pack machine gun company ‘s equipment had been especially designed for desert warfare. Many of the rifles were of the latest pattern and made of rustless steel.

Enemy casualties were estimated at 3000.

The result of these operations was the complete defeat of an enemy force of some 18,000, of which in killed, wounded and prisoners, he lost 9000 men.

The Turk throughout displayed the greatest determination and tenacity. His strength during the rear-guard fighting debarred any serious interference with his flanks. Heavy going and lack of water for our horses assisted the enemy greatly in that they confined our movements. His guns were well served with an unlimited supply of ammunition. The fact that he had transported guns of 5.9 in. calibre across the yielding sand of the desert speaks volumes for his engineering ability. This was accomplished apparently by a large party of workmen who preceded the guns and excavated two parallel wheel tracks through the sand to correspond with the width of the wheels on the gun carriages. These tracks were then filled with brushwood which was firmly packed, and formed an excellent road along which the guns were manhandled; a truly wonderful feat. For those places in the desert where the sand was too soft for this road, strong wooden planks were carried on camels, to be put down as temporary crossings. The same thoroughness and foresight in all branches characterised the enemy's organisation throughout, due no doubt to their German leaders. The heavy guns were manned by Austrians, the machine guns by Germans.

The Field Hospitals were complete with all the instruments, fittings and drugs modern science could supply. The bid to break the Suez Canal and to conquer Egypt was a bold one and it was made by picked troops who fought a clean and vigorous fight notwithstanding the tribulation of their wonderful march in midsummer, and this justly earned the admiration of our troops. The attack upon Egypt failed and the attacking force lost at least half its numbers, but the Turkish Government thought so highly of the enterprise that it awarded a special star to the survivors.

The following extract from a captured order by Jemal Pasha is of interest:— “ARMY ORDER. 30th January, 1915.

1. Grants of money, to be given to the families of officers killed in the attack on the Canal, in addition to legal pensions. (L.T. 250 in one payment apparently).

2. Officers killed, who have shown extraordinary bravery, will be promoted in rank and the pensions of the higher rank will be paid to their families.

3. Privates, corporals and N.C.O’s. killed in the attack on the Canal who have shown great bravery will be promoted to a higher rank. The pensions attached to the higher rank will be paid.

4. When the conquest of Egypt has been completed the family of every officer and soldier killed will have a house built for it by the government in its town or village.

5. Claims in this connection must be authenticated by the A.C.

Commander.

6. This order applies to all soldiers on the line of battle or behind it.

7. It also includes officers and men disabled by wounds and rendered unable to work.

Commander of the IV Army, and Minister of Marine.

AHMED JEMAL” That these operations and the attack upon the Canal in January, 1915, were not merely raids, but were genuine and determined attempts to conquer Egypt, was amply proved afterwards when our forces were able to see the great and thorough preparations in Palestine. A new railway had been built extending the Palestine system to the Wadi El Arish, and alongside it was constructed a fine motor road. Permanent works were constructed for the conservation of water along the route; and at the Wadi El Arish enormous rock cut reservoirs were being made.

The tenacity and endurance of our own troops of the Mounted Brigades were magnificent. The battle was fought and persevered with through abnormal summer heat, regardless of long periods of thirst suffered by man and beast. The artillery and machine guns covered our advances. in defence they wrought havoc on the enemy's attack. No words can adequately express the untiring devotion of the medical officers, the stretcher bearers and the sand-cart drivers who were ever in the firing line, traversing enormous distances and doing all that lay in their power to alleviate the sufferings of the wounded.

The heavy sand precluded the use of the army ambulance whether motor or horse drawn, and the wounded were collected by the cacolet camel or by the sandcart, a two-wheeled vehicle with broad tyres on its wheels. The cacolet was a contrivance lashed to a camel’s back which carried a man on each side; but the rolling motion which accompanied the camel’s gait allows of neither rest nor ease and exacts the full penalty of pain from the unfortunate occupant. Happy indeed was the man whose wound permitted him to he lashed instead to his horse.

Sledges of wood and sheet iron were improvised to cope with the abnormal number of evacuations; but the close contact with the ground surface indelibly impressed upon the occupant of the sledge the rough nature of the country.

 

Further Reading:

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, Roll of Honour 

Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, NZMR Unit History Account

Posted by Project Leader at 8:52 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 8 October 2009 9:25 AM EADT
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Gullett Account
Topic: BatzS - Romani

Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

Gullett Account 

 

Left to right: Lt Murray, Surveyor; Mr Gullett, Official War Correspondent; Lt O'Connor, Photographer.
 
[From AWM No B01393]


Gullett, HS,  The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, 1914–1918 (10th edition, 1941) Official Histories – First World War
Volume VII.

 

Chapter XI

The Battle of Romani

All Sinai nights are brilliant and early on the night of August 3rd a low quarter-moon added to the light from the stars. The white sand, over which the outpost line of the

2nd and 3rd Light Horse Regiments extended, reflected the illumination of the heavens, and gave the peering troopers fair observation for short distances. The line of British infantry posts, commencing at Mahemdia on Lake Bardawil, ran due south to Katib Gannit, beyond which the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel D. Fulton, formed the left flank of the Australian position. Fulton's right covered the great feather-edged dune known as Mount Meredith, and the end Regiment, under the temporary command of Lieutenant-Colonel G. H. Bourne extended south from that point towards Hod el Enna.

The outpost line of the mounted troops faced almost due east over the lower foot-hills of the Romani sand-dunes. Between the British stronghold and the Turks at Katia lay four or five miles of comparatively hard, undulating country covered with innumerable little hillocks and the short prickly bushes of the desert. While the ground presented no obstacle to a rapid night march, it afforded excellent cover for advancing troops and for riflemen creeping into position against the line of the light horsemen. The Australians stood across the inlets to those narrow gullies which sloped upwards through the sand-hills to the broad-topped elevation known as Wellington Ridge. From the summit of this ridge there was a long steady fall on the northern side towards the camps at Etmaler, Romani. and railhead. Wellington Ridge, therefore, commanded the advanced British base, and the enemy, if he gained it, would be established behind the infantry posts from Mahemdia to Katib Gannit. Chauvel had suggested more than once that infantry posts should be established on this ridge; but the work had not been deemed necessary.

As the 2nd Light Horse Brigade had returned towards Romani in the night from their last reconnaissance, they had observed a Turkish following movement. But a single shot, fired, probably by accident, in front of the outpost line near Hod el Enna at 10.30, was the first indication the Australians had of the close presence of the enemy. Soon afterwards two more shots were heard; then the stillness of the summer night was unbroken until just before midnight, when Australians near Hod el Enna reported that a party of thirty Turks had approached their position, and that they could see a larger force, estimated at 500, assembling a little further out. Communication by telephone had been established along the line and linked up with the camp at Romani, and at midnight the 1st Light Horse Regiment was called up from reserve and two squadrons were immediately put into the line on the left.

Subsequent information disclosed that the Turkish plan was to follow on the heels of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade on its return from reconnaissance, to march in the darkness up the gullies leading to Wellington Ridge, and to be in position there at dawn to charge down on the Etmaler and Romani camps. Having overwhelmed the camps, the enemy would have attempted to deal with the 52nd Division and the infantry posts before serious British reinforcements could arrive from Hill 70 and Kantara. But, discovering that the entrances to the gullies were held by the light horse, and uncertain as to the strength of the unexpected barrier, the enemy's advance-guard halted and waited for further orders and for the arrival of the main force. From midnight until nearly 1 o’clock the Turks maintained their silence. Then the night was suddenly disturbed by a wild babble of shouting and the customary Turkish battle-cry of " Allah! Allah!", with " Finish Australia! Finish Australia!'' as a variation. This was followed by a heavy burst of fire along the whole line, which was immediately answered by the rifles of the light horsemen. Neither side yet had definite targets.

Firing was continued for more than an hour. Constantly creeping in, the Turks were at about 2 o'clock within thirty or forty yards of the light horse line. Still they could not be clearly seen, and the Australians, shooting with quiet deliberation, were now aiming at the flashes of their rifles. Already there had been some exciting incidents. Mounted cossack posts had been thrown out in front of the Australian line, and the Turks crept or blundered into a number of these without being observed. Some of the men were bayoneted as they attempted to mount their horses. In front of the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, two posts of eight men each, under Sergeants Bingham and Tolman3 (both Tasmanians), were almost entirely destroyed, and the sergeants were killed fighting on their ground. Major M. Shanahan,' of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment, riding round the listening posts, found four Australians who had lost their horses and had been outflanked by the enemy. Taking two of the men on to his horse, and with a trooper hanging to either stirrup, he dashed safely through the Turks in the darkness.

The strength and purpose of the Turkish attack were now unmistakable, and Meredith was quick to appreciate that his scattered, slender line must be pierced and broken. The posts ran over a number of sand-dunes "so steep that detours of up to half-a-mile " were necessary to move from post to post. Contact was precarious. Bourne therefore withdrew his right flank squadron under Major G. Birkbeck6 and sent it with two machine-guns to the support of his left. But this movement over the sand-hills in the darkness was difficult and slow, and meanwhile Shanahan on the left, and Fulton towards Katib Gannit, were heavily pressed. Shanahan was ordered to hang on at all costs, and his men, now exposed on their right flank, fought with fine tenacity. At about I a.m. the telephone wire between Bourne and Brigade Headquarters was broken; communication between squadrons was almost impossible, and from then until dawn the resistance depended upon the wits of squadron and troop leaders and the resource and resolution of the men. At about 2 o'clock Bourne threw in the last troops of his reserve squadron under Captain C. C. Stodart. The Turks, many of whom had discarded their boots to increase their speed over the loose sand, were then fiercely assailing Mount Meredith, and, although still held, were firing at point-blank range in overwhelming numbers upon the light horsemen. At the same time substantial enemy forces began to cross the front towards Hod el Enna; and it became clear that, obstructed on his first line of approach, he was aiming to outflank the Australian right and strike for the railway by way of Mount Royston. All ranks of the light horsemen were fully conscious that the safety of Romani and the whole British advanced force was in their hands. The old Gallipoli spirit was again aflame, and every man was resolved that the Turk, if he gained ground, must pay a heavy price for it. Romani was in its earlier and most critical stages almost entirely a soldier's battle.

At 2.30, after a brief lull in the attack, the enemy-who had now assembled his main flanking force, estimated at about 8,000 rifles-raised another great shouting and charged with the bayonet on Mount Meredith. The slender moon had set, and the darkness, except quite close to the sand, was intense; but the enemy was now massed and definitely located, and was giving the Australians a good target. Fulton's line had up to this time been standing firmly. Repeated attempts by the Turks to scale the almost perpendicular southern slope of Mount Meredith had been frustrated by a handful of men under Lieutenant G. P. Edwards,' of the 1st Regiment, who, posted on the crest, shot the assailants in large numbers, and sent their bodies rolling down the wall of sand. Flanking attacks, however, were more successful, and at about 3 o'clock Mount Meredith was abandoned to the enemy. The defence of the position had fallen mainly on the 1st Regiment, and Granville's men suffered severely. During the morning Lieutenant W. McQuiggans was killed, and Captain F. V. Weir: Captain A. L. Fitzpatrick, Captain G. H. L. Harris, and Lieutenant W. M. Nelson were wounded. The loss of Mount Meredith left Shanahan's squadron on the right with both its flanks exposed, but as Birkbeck had not yet completed his movement from the direction of Hod el Enna and his location was uncertain, Bourne ordered Shanahan to stand his ground. Casualties became heavy, and Lieutenant A. S. Righetti,18 of the reserve squadron of the 2nd, was killed. Shanahan's squadron, assailed on three sides, was compelled to give ground, and by 3.30 had been forced back to the led horses.

View from southern end of infantry position at Romani looking south over Wellington Ridge. The 3rd A.L.H. Regiment, which was at first holding a line beyond this ridge, was gradually driven back on to the ridge, and, at a later stage, withdrew somewhat to the north-west (left) to Hod Diuk. In the shaded dip shelter was found for the horses of two regiments during the fight.

Bourne had already selected a reserve position on the ridge behind, and now gave the order to withdraw. The situation was critical. Already the Turks, with bayonets fixed, were closing on the Australians and the horses, and a few light horsemen, encumbered by their boots and leggings in the deep sand, were taken prisoner. So close was the fighting that a light horseman, endeavouring as he believed to lift a comrade up behind his saddle, discovered that the man was a Turk. But with perfect steadiness the Australians all along the line broke away mounted from the confident Turks, and retired bearing their wounded. "The bullets," wrote Bourne, “were making little spurts of flame all round us, owing to the phosphorus in the sand. Here we experienced for the first time the moral effects of turning our backs on the enemy, and the question arose in our minds as we rode, 'Can we re-form?' The order 'Sections about-Action front!' was given as we reached the position, and was splendidly carried out. 'This high test of discipline gave us renewed confidence." Fulton's line conformed, pivoting on the infantry post at Katib Gannit, and the men, scooping out holes in the sand, settled down still full of fight and assured of reinforcements at dawn. Bourne on the right was reinforced by a squadron of Granville's 1st Regiment, and soon afterwards "to our great relief Birkbeck's party could be seen laboriously making its way through the heavy sand on our right." But the Turks speedily followed and resumed their pressure, while a machine-gun party on the captured heights of Mount Meredith swept the light horse line. Dawn disclosed the enemy in masses, and gave the Australians a rare target at close range; but it also revealed their own slender line in detail to the Turks, and they were smothered by a greatly superior weight of fire. At the same time the enemy appeared in large numbers on the right, outflanking the entire 1st Brigade, and began to enfilade both the light horse line and the led horses. The reserve position was therefore abandoned, and the riflemen, in perfect conformity, retreated slowly up the slope on to Wellington Ridge. Troop covered troop, maintaining a deadly fire with the utmost steadiness, and frustrated every effort of the Turks to use their overwhelming advantage in numbers by hand to hand fighting. Lieutenant P. S. R. Woodyatt was killed and Major Shanahan wounded about this time; but holes, speedily dug in the sandy firing lines, and the undulating surface of the ground, gave exceptional cover, and casualties were surprisingly light. Soon after daylight the Turks opened with their artillery, sweeping the line on Wellington Ridge with shrapnel, and the infantry posts and the camps with high explosive from the 5.9's. The shrapnel was at once effective, but the damage caused by the high explosive in the loose deep sand was purely local. The light horsemen were anxiously waiting for the sound of their own batteries, which, however, did not begin to fire until some time later. So confused had been the struggle in the darkness that neither side had ventured to use its artillery until after daylight. Sorely pressed, but fighting stubbornly, and, despite the loss of ground, still convinced of their capacity to hold the enemy, the men of the three regiments were cheered at about 4.30 by the sight of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade advancing to their support over the sand-hills from Etmaler. Already by their calm and dogged work in the night Romani had virtually been won.

Immediately the Turks had been discovered in front of the outpost line, the 2nd Light Horse Brigade, which at about 11 p.m. on August 3rd had returned to Etmaler, was turned out in readiness for action. At this time the brigade was under the temporary command of Brigadier-General J. R. Royston, in the absence of Ryrie, who was on brief leave in England. But Chauvel was in no hurry to commit his only reserve. He knew the quality of his old command in the 1st Brigade; hard pressed as the three regiments were, he deliberately left them unsupported throughout the night, so that he might have the 2nd Brigade intact to deal with the situation as it should be discovered at daylight. At dawn he personally led the brigade out at the canter from the palm hods at Etmaler, and moved towards the firing line. Already it was plain to him that the main menace to Romani was no longer on the front of Meredith's brigade. The danger was further west, where the strong Turkish left flank, driving in between Etmaler and Mount Royston, was marching for the railway behind the British position. He therefore ordered Royston to send the 6th and 7th Light Horse Regiments in on the right of the 1st Brigade to deny this flanking movement. The Wellingtons were not at once committed to the fight, but were thrown in soon afterwards. The Australians left their horses about a mile from the positions which they themselves were to occupy, and advanced on foot in one long line. They were heavily enfiladed as they pressed forward, but suffered very few casualties. Enemy machine-gun fire from the flank kicked up the sand immediately in front of the troops, and enemy shrapnel, bursting too high, pitched just over and fell behind them.

Able now to perceive the actual position, the Turks developed their attack with great rapidity and force. Increased machine-gun fire swept the light horse front. Artillery became very active, and at about 5 a.m. aeroplanes flew over and heavily bombed the British camps, railhead, and Anzac Mounted Division Headquarters. The Turks had lost six priceless hours; the heat was already becoming fierce; their troops, short of water and beginning to suffer acutely from thirst, were exhausted by forced marching arid hours of futile fighting in the heavy sand; and they were still denied the position on Wellington Ridge which they had expected to gain in the coolness of the night without meeting resistance. Soon after dawn they made a weak demonstration from the east against some of the British infantry posts; but this activity was designed merely to pin down the 52nd Division, and was never developed.

The two light horse brigades now engaged in a desperate attempt to deny Wellington Ridge to the enemy. Soon after 6 a.m. the Leicester Battery opened fire from near Etmaler, and succeeded in driving the enemy machine-guns off their commanding position on Mount Meredith. Other British batteries came into action a little later, and their well-directed shrapnel thinned and harassed the advancing Turkish lines. But the enemy, with his greatly superior numbers and his strong flank movement to the west, steadily made headway. Chauvel, however, recognised that, although the fight was extremely critical, the Turks were with wonderful precision conforming to his own and General Murray's hopes and anticipations. The sun and the heavy sand were now the Ottoman's most formidable enemies. Although his enveloping movement was succeeding, its progress was slow, and every minute his left flank was becoming more and more exposed to the contemplated attack of Chaytor's Section Mounted Troops from Hill 70. Provided the two light horse brigades could save the camps and railhead, it was imperative that they should not risk a hand to hand encounter, which against such odds might end in their destruction and give victory to the enemy. Accordingly Chauvel, riding about the position with that complete calm which always distinguished him in action, and giving confidence and steadiness to his staff and men, fought his gradual withdrawal without grave concern. Provided the light horse resistance was maintained, each hundred yards the Turks advanced brought them nearer to defeat. It was inevitable that, unless they very speedily won the hods and the water at Etmaler and Romani, the great assaulting wave must spend itself and perish on the burning sand.

Chauvel had shown his faith in the light horse when he left the 1st Brigade unsupported through the long hours of darkness. In that precarious retirement not a single Australian troop had been thrown into confusion. Hour after hour, fighting bitterly all the way and sometimes engaged in hand to hand struggles, the crooked, patchy line had held together, elastic but unbreakable. Not an acre of ground gained by the enemy had been gained quickly or cheaply. Almost every minute and yard of the way the Turks, with all their superior numbers, had been compelled to use each scrap of cover and to creep forward foot by foot. If daylight had subjected the Australians to heavy punishment, it had also made contact easy. The fight was still a troop-leader's and a soldier's fight, but the position was now beginning to give full scope to the staff work of division and brigade. Soon after daylight a considerable enemy body, which had crept up behind Mount Meredith, rushed over the lower slopes of the hill and reached cover in a valley at the foot of Wellington Ridge, within 300 or 400 yards of the light horse line. As the morning wore on, the Australians were heavily punished, and among those to fall were Major E. Windeyer and Lieutenant P. V. M. Ryan, of the 7th Regiment, both severely wounded. Harassed by heavy shrapnel fire, as well as by rifles and machine-guns at close range, they continued to give ground, and at about 7 a.m. the Turks gained possession of Wellington Ridge. The 1st Brigade (less the 3rd Regiment, which remained in the line) was then withdrawn to a position slightly to the north of Etmaler camp, and resistance to further Turkish progress fell for some time upon the 3rd, 6th, and 7th Light Horse Regiments and the Wellingtons, all of which were now slowly falling back by alternate squadrons. The retirement was distinguished by many acts of individual gallantry. Despite the immediate presence of the enemy, all wounded were carried back over the heavy sand. Corporal Curran, of the 7th, after bearing in a number of men, was killed while still engaged in this noble work.

In possession of Wellington Ridge, the Turks were within 700 yards of the Etmaler camp; if they could have pressed forward immediately, the crisis of the fight would have been reached. Riding along the firing line at this time Royston met Lieutenant-Colonel W. Meldrum, a dour fighter of Scotch descent, who was in command of the Wellingtons.

"You can give them no more ground,'' said Royston, "or we shall lose the camps." If they get through my line here," replied the New Zealander grimly, “they can have the damned camps." The Turks were six hours late in reaching Wellington Ridge, and that six hours had exhausted the troops and confused the tactics of their leaders. The enemy's communications were by this time disorganised, and possibly some time elapsed before he appreciated that his outflanking movement between Etmaler and Mount Royston was proving so successful in withdrawing the Australians from his immediate front on Wellington Ridge. But probably it was sheer exhaustion which caused him to halt his advance when he gained the ridge, and so gave Chauvel invaluable breathing space for nearly an hour. When the enemy won the ridge, he stopped short of the crest; it was nearly 8 o'clock before his riflemen appeared on the sky-line and began to pour a heavy fire into the camp at Etmaler. Fortunately these troops made a very definite artillery target, and the Ayrshire and Leicester Batteries were immediately laid on to them. Quickly finding the range, the British gunners swept the Turkish line and cleared the crest, and the enemy did not again show over the top until late in the afternoon. Having gained his intended point of deployment on the ridge, he was too enfeebled to exploit his advantage. After their eight hours' ordeal, the light horsemen had triumphed, and the position was safe.

With the Turks held on Wellington Ridge, and with their left flank open towards Mount Royston, the time was now ripe for Chaytor's counter-stroke. But Chaytor was under Lawrence's direct control, and Lawrence was no longer in touch with the Romani situation. Early in the morning the direct telephone-wire from the battleground to Kantara had been cut, presumably by an enemy agent, and the alternative line by way of Port Said was found to be so slow that it was practically worthless. Only after a long delay was Chauvel able to join up with Lawrence, advise him of the position, and ask that Chaytor should be ordered to advance on Mount Royston, and Antill with the 3rd Brigade on Bir el NUSS. Rut by that time Chaytor was on the march from Hill 70 to Dueidar, and his direction was twice changed before he was finally directed on Mount Royston. And, despite all the warning the Turks had given, Antill, who was moving to orders and who was in no way to blame, did not approach the Romani district until the day's fight had ceased. Unfortunately Murray's fears were proved to have been well founded: Lawrence might almost as well have been in Cairo as at Kantara.

Soon after 7 o'clock a brigade of enemy infantry and some mounted troops advanced strongly between Mount Royston and Etmaler, and General Royston reported half an hour later that the enemy was enveloping his right. At the same time the first practical assistance was received from the troops to the west, when a squadron of Gloucesters of the 5th Mounted (Yeomanry) Brigade, which was holding a precautionary position covering the railway, engaged the extreme flank of the enemy. But the menace there was still serious and Chauvel was again obliged to extend his line to meet it. As the Australians fell back from Wellington Ridge, a battalion commander of the 2nd Division had on his own initiative taken over the extreme left of the Anzac line. A little later Chauvel asked for further support from the infantry there, and about two companies were put into the fight at the critical stage when he was obliged to extend his line towards Mount Royston. Between 10 and 11 o'clock the Wellington Mounted Rifles were on the left flank of the Anzac line, which extended from the right flank of the infantry north of Wellington Ridge to the sand-hills north of Mount Royston. Next to the Wellingtons were the 7th Light Horse, then the and, 3rd, and 6th in that order. The 1st Light Horse Regiment was in reserve. The position now became stationary along the whole front, except for a slight and fruitless attempt by the Australian right to occupy Mount Royston. It was plain that, unless the enemy possessed strong reserves and pushed at once with great vigour, his whole enterprise must fail. He continued to bombard the infantry posts, which presented a very clear target to his gunners, and also played shrapnel and machine-gun fire freely on to the light horse line and rear.

Up to this time the brigades of the 52nd Division had taken no part in the engagement, except to suffer bombardment in their posts. General Smith was obeying orders and holding his north-and-south barrier. At about 10 o’clock, after the advance across Wellington Ridge had been soundly checked, and there was still no news of Chaytor's Section Mounted Troops, Chauvel came to the conclusion that the main strength of the Turkish attack was exhausted; and, impatient perhaps at seeing his men still fighting an infantry battle, when a rare opportunity was developing for the use of his horses, proposed that the 156th Brigade should take over the line from the1st and 2nd Light Horse Brigades. The 156th was at that time in reserve about two miles behind Etmaler, fresh, and far stronger in rifles than the two hard-fought light horse brigades. Chauvel's proposal was sent direct by a staff officer; the brigadier was asked to relieve the Australians, so that their horses might be watered, after which the mounted force would swing round the left flank of the enemy to cooperate with the New Zealanders and 5th Yeomanry Brigade in a general enveloping attack.

Obviously such a movement at that time must have had excellent prospects of completely destroying the whole Turkish force. But Chauvel's proposal only served to emphasise the wretched position brought about by the existence of two independent divisional commands and Lawrence's distant position. The leader of the brigade replied that he must take his orders from General Smith, who intended, when the proper moment arrived, to make a counter-attack eastwards from the infantry posts towards Abu Hamra, and that his was the reserve brigade for that movement. Chauvel, having no alternative, accepted the reply, and continued to use his men as infantry while the golden opportunity for cavalry fighting slipped away as the day advanced.

Soon after 11 o'clock the New Zealand Brigade (less the 5th Light Horse Regiment) established communications with the 5th Yeomanry Brigade, and it was clear that Chaytor, despite the delay caused by the break in the telephone wire, would arrive in time for an effective counter-stroke. Arrangements were made for an attack upon Mount Royston, which was now held by the enemy in considerable strength. Two guns of the Ayrshire Battery opened fire on the Turks in the hods on the left of the position, and the 42nd Division, which was asked to support the attack, immediately pushed forward its advanced brigade from Pelusium.

Early in the morning, when Lawrence was convinced that the main attack would be directed to the outflanking and destruction of the Romani stronghold, he had urged the 4znd Division forward to Pelusium. The 5th Light Horse Regiment under Wilson, who had orders to discover the enemy's left flank, had left Dueidar shortly after midnight and marched by Bir el Nuss towards Nagid. That place was reported clear by the advance-guard just before daylight; but soon afterwards two battalions of enemy, in all about 1,500 strong, were observed from a high ridge to the south marching northwards towards Hod el Enna. Seeing the light horsemen, this force took up a line on another high ridge, and opened fire on the Australians at an effective range with machine-guns and mountain guns. Wilson, satisfied that he had accomplished his object and definitely located the left flank of the enemy, retired on Bir el Nuss, where he received orders from the New Zealand Brigade to proceed to a point three miles along the road towards Dueidar and there await instructions. Unfortunately the regiment then lost touch with the brigade, and so was not available for the advance on Mount Royston later in the day. But the morning encounter with the enemy column at Nagid proved highly serviceable, as it satisfied Lawrence that no immediate blow was intended further to the west, besides delaying an important enemy reinforcement for two hours at a critical stage of the struggle. At nightfall Wilson, still without orders, decided to proceed to Dueidar; here he found the 3rd Light Horse Brigade under Antill, which had moved up during the day from Bally Bunion.

Although the report from the 5th Light Horse Regiment satisfied Lawrence as to the immediate safety of the Canal, his caution in holding back the 52nd Division so long had made it impossible for this urgently needed reserve to reach Romani on the 4th. While one infantry division (the 52nd) sat still in its posts right away from the Turkish attack, the other (the 42nd) was, considered as a mobile reserve, too distant to come into action.

In his endeavour to check the enemy's strong and sustained flanking movement to the west, Chauvel sent a squadron of the 6th Light Horse Regiment under Major D. G. Cross to his extreme right flank; later the balance of the regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel C. D. Fuller followed in support. As the regiment advanced to its position near Bir Abu Diuk, the troops were heavily shelled and also bombed from the air. Fuller soon had two squadrons in action with machine-guns against a body of about 2,000 Turks, who were moving past and round his front at a range of only 800 yards. Heavy casualties mere inflicted, but the enemy could not be arrested, and after a lively fire-fight the men of the 6th, who hung on until he was almost within bayonet reach, retired for about 700 yards. The 3rd Regiment was then sent round to the right of the 6th, and Fuller also had the assistance of a few infantry details who, having been in the neighbourhood overnight, had during the morning been put into small redoubts. But the Turks continued to envelop the right of the line, and the 6th Regiment was again pulled out and taken round beyond the 3rd. The enemy was now about 1,000 yards distant; he occupied low ground under the sand-hills at Mount Royston, on top of which he had established an observation post. Favoured by superior elevation, the Australians, although very extended and weak, harried the enemy whenever he showed a disposition to advance. Perhaps the Turks also overestimated the light horse numbers, for they halted and began to dig in.

The Gloucesters were now strongly placed on a knob to the west of Mount Royston, to the right front of the light horse, and they reported the enemy in strength on their front but making no effort to pass them on either side. Major J. H. Whyte, a New Zealand officer who was acting as brigade-major of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade, then got into touch by heliograph with a body of troops just becoming visible, and asked “Who are you? " The welcome response was "Chaytor." Whyte signalled "We are 2nd Brigade and Gloucesters," and then, having given the positions of the British and the Turks, asked: "Will you attack Mount Royston? " The reply came; " Advancing to attack Mount Royston."

All these movements to the right naturally left Chauvel's line very weak in front of the enemy on Wellington Ridge. The 7th Regiment was now so close to Etmaler camp that during the afternoon the cooks, under heavy fire, served the men with tea as they lay in their little holes in the sand along the firing line. But the Turks, although they reinforced their troops behind the crest, showed no disposition to advance. At about 11.30 a.m. a mountain battery had shelled Etmaler, but, the dust raised by its action having been observed, it was promptly silenced by the Ayrshire Battery. A further demonstration was made against the line of infantry posts from the east, and a little later two considerable bodies entered Abu Hamra.

But the advance of the New Zealanders now made Mount Royston the vital point of the battle, as it was clear that, if Chaytor could smash the extended Turkish flank, the whole enemy force would be in extreme danger. Chauvel's horse artillery, together with two 18-pounder batteries of the 52nd Division, were therefore directed to fire on the hods and depressions round Mount Royston, and had a material effect in checking any further enemy advance before the arrival of the New Zealanders. Chaytor's force, as it approached Mount Royston, was reduced to the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, six troops of the Aucklands, and a few squadrons of yeomanry; but he hoped that the 12th Infantry Brigade of the 42nd Division, which was on the march across the heavy sand from Pelusium, would come up in time to support his blow at the enemy's flank. As he advanced he was met by Royston, of the and Light Horse Brigade, who had all day been galloping over the battleground.

As Chauvel was the brain of Romani, so this South African veteran soldier was the fighting spirit. In the course of a number of campaigns against Boers and natives Royston had become famous as a picturesque natural leader of men. He first came among the Australians as commanding officer of the 12th Light Horse Regiment; and any resentment the troops might have felt at not being led by an Australian was forgotten in the immediate recognition of his remarkable qualities as a fighting leader and his personal lovableness. Royston was then nearly sixty years old, and massively built; but despite his years and his weight he appeared as insensible to fatigue as he was utterly careless of danger. From the moment his force entered the fight at Romani he had fearlessly ridden up and down the exposed firing line. Parties of men crouching low in the sand were cheered again and again to see " Galloping Jack," as they called him, come racing up to them with yards of blood-stained bandage from a flesh wound trailing after him. " Keep moving gentlemen, keep moving," was his constant advice to his officers. And to the men,

" Keep your heads down, lads. Stick to it, stick to it! You are making history to-day." To a hard-pressed troop on the naked flank he cried: "We are winning now. They are retreating in hundreds." " And," said one of the light horsemen afterwards, "I poked my head over the top, and there were the blighters coming on in thousands." During a fight Royston was careless of sectors and units. He was that day as active among the regiments of the 1st Brigade as among his own men. Within a few hours he galloped fourteen horses to a standstill. On his own initiative he dashed over to meet Chaytor, and in a few sentences gave the Kew Zealander a grasp of the situation.

Chaytor's task was now clear. The Turks on the flank, to the number of about 2,000, were halted on and around Mount Royston. They were held in front by the 6th and 3rd Light Horse Regiments, and were being vexed by the fire of the British gunners. The Somerset Battery, which was with Chaytor, joined in the bombardment, and early in the afternoon the New Zealanders and yeomanry, with the British infantry coming up in support, advanced dismounted on Mount Royston. As they trudged forward in the intense heat over the heavy sand of the complicated little ridges, they seldom found definite targets for their rifles; and for some hours the Turks, fighting stubbornly and shooting well, as they always did on the defensive, maintained their position. But all the afternoon the New Zealanders and the yeomanry steadily gained ground; at 6 o'clock the enemy, refusing as usual conflict with the bayonet, hoisted the white flag and surrendered in large numbers. Half-an-hour later about 500 prisoners and the mountain battery, which had been put out of action earlier in the day by the Ayrshire gunners, were captured.

Shortly before the collapse about Mount Royston, the enemy made his final effort to advance over Wellington Ridge, but, as his men showed on the crest, they were raked with shrapnel and dispersed. Chauvel had arranged for the 156th Infantry Brigade to advance on Wellington Ridge during the flank attack of the New Zealanders and yeomanry, and had given orders for the whole line of the 1st and 2nd Light Horse Brigades to advance immediately Mount Royston was captured. The infantry assault, however, did not develop; and, although the light horse line everywhere commenced to move as soon as success on Mount Royston was assured, darkness was now falling, and the position was considered too involved, and the Australians and Wellingtons too exhausted, for a night operation. Chauvel therefore decided to check the assault, and to rest on his line until daylight. But before the order was given the 3rd and 6th Light Horse Regiments on the right had advanced briskly and taken many prisoners. At nightfall the British line ran between Wellington Ridge and Etmaler to near Mount Royston.

Despite the break in communications, both Lawrence and Murray had been kept informed of the main developments of the fight. The Commander-in-Chief was quick to see the opportunity which the stand of the light horse opened to the British. One of his staff officers, telegraphing to Lawrence during the morning of the 4th, said: "The Chief is glad the enemy has committed his troops in heavy sand, and thinks you should strain every nerve to push out Douglas's infantry (42nd Division) and Chaytor's and Antill's cavalry, both striking the flank of his enveloping attack, and more especially to work round his left rear and thus prevent the possibility of the escape of this wing of the hostile force."

To this message Lawrence replied: "I am sending up Douglas's infantry as rapidly as traffic arrangements permit, but I do not expect to have more than two brigades available to operate from about Pelusium to-morrow morning, the 5th. Chauvel's cavalry have been hard pressed and fighting continuously since early last night, and since his line has been pressed back I have been compelled to send Chaytor's brigade to prolong and strengthen his right to the south of Canterbury Hill. Antill has been brought across to Hill 70 and will, if the situation permits, be able, I hope, to operate by Dueidar against the enemy's left, which appears to be entrenched about Hod el Enna. The heavy ground and the tiredness of the horses and difficulty about water supply will, I am afraid, make a bold encircling movement difficult. But as soon as the troops are in position and the situation has been cleared up more, I intend to push forward wherever possible. The enemy has been attacking the defensive line from the east strongly, and the works there have been heavily shelled. But neither these nor the attacks from the west have been pushed really home up to the present.'' Lawrence's opinion as to the attacks on the 52nd Division was distinctly at fault; and it is apparent that he was not so satisfied with the situation as Murray, and did not look upon it as one which offered an immediate opportunity for the boldest possible offensive.

As darkness fell on the day of the battle, the condition of the Turks gave them little prospect of a successful renewal of their enterprise on the morrow. Most of the prisoners taken had been without water for some hours - many of them all day - and the food in their haversacks consisted chiefly of green dates which they had gathered in the hods. After a heavy day's preparation with much skirmishing on the 3rd, they had marched and fought all night, and had been continuously moving and engaged throughout a day which was exceptionally hot even for that season on the desert. Everywhere they had been checked and severely mauled, while at Mount Royston they had been almost entirely destroyed. Many of them were suffering acutely from dysentery. Worst of all, their leaders were well informed as to the existence of substantial British reinforcements nearer the Canal, and all officers and men must have been depressed by a sense of failure and complete despair of any improvement in their position.

On the British side the position was entirely different. The troops of the 1st and 2nd Light Horse Brigades were, it is true, very much exhausted. For twenty hours the men of the 1st had been heavily and almost ceaselessly engaged, and those of the 2nd for nearly as long a time. The 2nd Brigade had already been two nights without sleep. On an allowance of one quart of water to each man, they had been lying out all day under a fierce sun, with many hurried advances and fighting retirements in loose sand, over which walking was exceedingly laborious, even without rifle and ammunition equipment. Their casualties, if not destructive, had been heavy. But at nightfall they were still incomparably better placed than the Turks. Fighting as they were. right on their camps, many of them that night enjoyed their customary hot tea and full rations; and, weary as they were, they were sustained by that abnormal strength felt by troops conscious of victory. They had held their line, stopped the enemy, and saved the position. The dramatic intervention of the New Zealanders and yeomanry had sent a thrill through their ranks, and officers and men, vigilant in their line, awaited the dawn in full confidence that the defensive stage of the struggle was over, and that with the daylight they mould sweep the Turks before them.

The New Zealanders, the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, and the 5th Yeomanry Brigade were in even better condition for a renewal of the struggle. Thus the British had five brigades of cavalry ready for action against a beaten and disorganised force. But the main British superiority over the enemy on the night of Romani lay in its infantry. The 52nd Division on its line of posts had suffered very few casualties from gunfire, and the men, not having been in action, were comparatively fresh. Moreover, they were admirably placed for movement against the Turks; for these, based on Katia, now had their main force extended far past the right flank of the British division, while the 52nd Division, 7,000 effective rifles strong. was only between four and five miles from Katia-nearer to it than the bulk of the beaten army. The 42nd Division had crossed the Canal, and was based on Pelusium. Its 156th Brigade was forward, near Mount Royston, but had not arrived in time to play a serious part in that engagement, and had suffered only slight losses.

There was little rest that night for the light horsemen. After fighting until dark, the Australians were called upon for particular watchfulness along their slender line; and the watering of horses, the issue of ammunition and water and rations to the men, and the preparation for the bayonet advance which was decided upon for dawn, kept the tired troops constantly engaged. But they had now been long enough engaged in warfare to have acquired the capacity to sleep whenever a few minutes offered, regardless of the discomfort or the excitement of the moment. Troops fighting hotly at one moment would at the next, if orders permitted, be heavily and peacefully sleeping, and that night, if very few of the officers closed their eyes, most of the men snatched brief reviving spells of unconsciousness.

The two brigade ambulances worked throughout the night to relieve the wounded and prepare all mobile cases for transport by rail to Kantara. The hospital tents were overcrowded; the wounded lay out in the open under the surrounding palms, where twinkling lights showed the movements of medical officers and orderlies dressing their wounds and giving them refreshment. The surgeons engaged in the operating tents, which were placed deep in the hods, did their work to the accompaniment of bursting shells, the splash of shrapnel pellets on the palm leaves, and the whine of the 5.9's passing over towards railhead. But the occasional shells that fell among the ambulances mere probably the result of accident. Here, as at Gallipoli and, with occasional doubtful exceptions during the whole Palestine campaign, the Turks scrupulously respected the Red Cross. Only a few days before Romani was fought a German airman had dropped a message - which chanced to fall at the door of Chauvel's tent - asking the Australians to mark their ambulances more clearly, so that they should not be bombed. This chivalrous advice was acted upon, and subsequent bombers were careful to avoid them. Notwithstanding all the notice given by the enemy of his attack, the arrangements for the transport of the wounded from railhead to Kantara were deplorable, and should have led to drastic action against the officers responsible. The Mesopotamia scandals were repeated on a small scale. No hospital trains were provided. One lot of wounded reached railhead at 10 o'clock in the morning, when there was an empty train in the siding; but, despite the protests of the medical officer in charge, this was used for the transport of Turkish prisoners, and the light horsemen were allowed to lie about for hours under shell-fire in the blistering sun. They were then taken to Kantara in open trucks, the journey of twenty three miles occupying from six to fifteen hours, during which the men were without lights or attendance. A number of officers and men who had left the ambulances in a sound condition died from sheer neglect and exhaustion. Some of them remained for two days in hospital at Kantara, almost entirely without attention or food. Responsibility for this callous incompetence lay with No. 3 Section of the Canal Defences and General Headquarters, as Australian control ceased when the men were delivered at railhead. Strong protests led to an inquiry, which confirmed the charges: afterwards there was some improvement.

The supply of water for the horses always controlled the movement of the mounted brigades. At 7 o'clock on the evening of the 4th, immediately after clearing up the prisoners at Mount Royston, the New Zealanders and the 5th (Mounted) Yeomanry Brigade were on the march back to the wells at Pelusium, their position on the flank having been taken over by the 127th Brigade of the 42nd Division. Soon after dark water was also given to as many horses of the 1st and 2nd Light Horse Brigades as could be spared.


Additional Reading:

Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1919

 


Citation: Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Gullett Account

Posted by Project Leader at 4:36 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 8 October 2009 9:31 AM EADT
Colonel Husnu, Yildirim, Page 110
Topic: Tk - Bks - Yildirim

Another entry from the book written by Lieutenant Colonel Hüseyin Hüsnü Emir, called Yildirim. Every day, one page of the book will be posted. This is Page 110.



Colonel Hüsnü, Yildirim, Page 110.

[Click on page for a larger print version.]

 

These are events that led to the capture of Beersheba, 31 October 1917.

 

Further Reading:

List of all other Battle of Beersheba accounts  on the blog

Full listing of all material about Beersheba on the blog

 


Citation: Colonel Hüsnü, Yildirim, Page 110

Posted by Project Leader at 12:36 PM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 25 October 2008 12:54 PM EADT
Diaries of AIF Servicemen, Bert Schramm, 25 October 1918
Topic: Diary - Schramm

Diaries of AIF Servicemen

Bert Schramm

25 October 1918

 

Bert Schramm

 

2823 Private Herbert Leslie SCHRAMM, a 22 year old Farmer from Whites River, South Australia. He enlisted on 17 February 1916; and at the conclusion of the war Returned to Australia, 10 July 1919.

During part of the course of his military service with the AIF, Bert Schramm kept a diary of his life. Bert was not a man of letters so this diary was produced with great effort on his behalf. Bert made a promise to his sweetheart, Lucy Solley, that he would do so after he received the blank pocket notebook wherein these entries are found. As a Brigade Scout since September 1918, he took a lead part in the September Offensive by the Allied forces in Palestine. Bert's diary entries are placed alongside those of the 9th Light Horse Regiment to which he belonged and to the 3rd Light Horse Brigade to which the 9th LHR was attached. On this basis we can follow Bert in the context of his formation.

 

The Diaries

The complete diary is now available on the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre Site at:

Bert Schramm Diary


Finding more about a service person. See:

Navigating the National Archives Service File 

 

Bert Schramm's Handwritten Diary, 20 - 26 October 1918

[Click on page for a larger print version.]


Bert Schramm

Friday, October 25, 1918

Bert Schramm's Location - Kaukab

Bert Schramm's Diary -  Things are still quiet. Rumours of a move forward but our troops are well forward from here already.

 

9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary

9th Light Horse Regiment Location - Kaukab

9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary - Orders received that Australian Mounted Division would march to Homs. Murray, 3647 Trooper MGD; and, Smyth, 902 Trooper JN, died of illness.

9th LHR AIF War Diary, 25 October

 

Darley

Darley, TH, With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, Adelaide, Hassell Press, 1924.

No Entry

 

 

Previous:  Bert Schramm's Diary, 24 October 1918

Next:  Bert Schramm's Diary, 26 October 1918


Sources Used:

Bert Schramm's Diary

National Archives Service File.

Embarkation Roll, AWM8.

Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour

Nominal Roll, AWM133, Nominal Roll of Australian Imperial Force who left Australia for service abroad, 1914-1918 War.

 

War Diaries and Letters

All War Diaries and letters cited on this site should be read in conjunction with the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, War Diaries and Letters, Site Transcription Policy which may be accessed at:

Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, War Diaries and Letters, Site Transcription Policy 

 

Further Reading:

Bert Schramm Diary

Bert Schramm Diary, Album

Bert Schramm's Photo Album

9th Australian Light Horse Regiment, AIF

9th Australian Light Horse Regiment, War Diary, Day by Day Account

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 

Citation: Diaries of AIF Servicemen, Bert Schramm, 25 October 1918


Posted by Project Leader at 11:28 AM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 9 June 2011 12:15 PM EADT
9th LHR AIF War Diary, 25 October
Topic: AIF - 3B - 9 LHR

9th LHR, AIF

9th Light Horse Regiment

War Diary, 25 October

Pro Gloria et Honore - For Glory and Honour

Regimental March -  Marching Through Georgia

 

 

The following entries are extracted and transcribed from the 9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary, the originals of which are held by the Australian War Memorial. There are 366 entries on this site. Each day has entries as they occurred from 1914 to 1919. In addition to the 9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary, when appropriate, entries from the 3rd Light Horse Brigade War Diary and other regiments with the Brigade will also appear. Entries from the unit history, Darley, TH, With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, Adelaide, Hassell Press, 1924 will also appear from time to time. The aim is to give the broadest context to the story and allow the reader to follow the day to day activities of the regiment. If a relative happened to have served in the regiment during the Great War, then this provides a general framework in which the individual story may be told.

 

The Diary

 

1914

Sunday, October 25, 1914

9th Light Horse Regiment Location -  Morphettville Race Course Camp and Broadmeadows Camp, Victoria. 

9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary - Formation of Regiment occurring at Morphettville Race Course Camp, Adelaide, while "C" Squadron is formed at Broadmeadows Camp, Victoria. 

See: Broadmeadows 1909

 

1915

Monday, October 25, 1915

9th Light Horse Regiment Location - Rhododendron Spur

9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary - Major SW Barlow and Second Lieutenant Luxmoore EM reported today. 59 Other Ranks reported as reinforcements for A, B, and C Squadrons. 34 Other Ranks also reported from hospital.

 

1916

Wednesday, October 25, 1916

9th Light Horse Regiment Location - Amara

9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary - And moved off with the column at 0730 - through Bir el Abd where Chaytor, Brigadier General EWC, acting General Officer in Command Division, took the salute. The Regiment went to Ogaratina where horses were watered and fed. The column again moved off at 1100 and arrived at Bir Etmaler at 1600. The Regiment occupying the camp previously held which the Auckland Mounted Rifles had vacated. Scott, Lieutenant Colonel WH, rejoined unit and took command.

 

1917

Thursday, October 25, 1917

9th Light Horse Regiment Location - Um Urgan

9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary - Stood to arms at 0430.

Moved off at 0700 and by 0800 had taken over day outpost line. Very little activity observed. B Squadron holding right sector with A Squadron on left sector and C Squadron in reserve.

At 0900, 6 snipers entered a large house 2,000 yards north east of Point 630 and sniped continuously for three hours on Post 630. Two high explosive shells fell on 510 at 1000. Turkish prisoners surrendered to post on 510. Heavy battery registered along Wadi Imleih and Wadi Hanafish. At 1200 small party of enemy entered Wadi Hanafish two miles dues east of Point 720. Notts Battery registering over Point 630. During the afternoon a Turkish machine gunner surrendered to post on El Buggar. One train crossed over the five arch bridge during afternoon.

All posts relieved by 4th Light Horse Brigade at 1700 when the squadrons withdrew independently to Um Urgan, watered there and arrived in bivouac at 2000.

 

1918

Friday, October 25, 1918

9th Light Horse Regiment Location - Kaukab

9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary - Orders received that Australian Mounted Division would march to Homs.

Murray, 3647 Trooper MGD; and, Smyth, 902 Trooper JN, died of illness.

 

1919

Friday, October 25, 1918

9th Light Horse Regiment Location - Adelaide

9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary - Regiment disbanded.

 

 

Previous: 9th LHR AIF War Diary, 24 October

Next: 9th LHR AIF War Diary, 26 October

 

Sources:

See: 9th Australian Light Horse Regiment, Contents
Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, AIF War Diaries of the Great War, Site Transcription Policy

 

Further Reading:

9th Light Horse Regiment AIF

Bert Schramm Diary

9th Australian Light Horse Regiment, Roll of Honour 

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: 9th LHR AIF War Diary, 25 October

Posted by Project Leader at 9:35 AM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 16 September 2010 10:24 PM EADT

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