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Wednesday, 5 August 2009
The Nek, Gallipoli, 7 August 1915, The First Charge at the Nek, 30 June 1915
Topic: BatzG - Nek
The Nek

Gallipoli, 7 August 1915

The First Charge at the Nek, 30 June 1915

 

 

The melancholy drum beat of mechanised death was a lesson being learned by the Turks at the urging of their German officers who stuck to the idea that dense masses of men charging win the day. One didn’t have to go back far in history to see that these ideas became redundant during the first mechanised war of the century, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. On the two main sieges, the Russians lost 10,000 men to Japan’s 50,000 men at Port Arthur while at Mukden the combatants lost 20,000 and 70,000 killed or wounded respectively. If that was too far back in history, the lessons of the Marne where the dense masses were just mown down by machine guns was still to filter through to the Turks. It would take many more wholesale slaughters of Turkish soldiers for the Turkish commanders and their German advisers to learn that those leading the assault on a position were going to suffer casualties in the ratio of 5:1 against the defenders. The 3rd LH Bde was in an excellent position to deliver that lesson although strangely enough also ignore what they taught.

On Saturday, 19 June 1915 the rest camp was over for the 9th LHR. Grudgingly they trudged their way up from Reserve Gully to Walker’s Ridge. Over the rest of the afternoon, small groups filtered into the trenches and relieved AMR.

The Regiment that entered the trenches for a second time was a mere shadow of the healthy young men of a month before. They were now debilitated by high work demands, little sleep and poor diet. Flies and dysentery followed the men sending many to the field ambulance very sick. Increasing numbers were taken to Lemnos sick with every sort of illness stemming primarily from poor nutrition and exhaustion.

Those who arrived in the trenches slept little during the day while in the evenings worked on fatigue parties. Another fortnight of over exhaustion faced the troops. Combat fatigued men often become careless and lose their sense of danger. This is when cease to undertake practices that keep them safe but instead do silly things that prove fatal.

Pte Henry Blanch from Birchip, Victoria eschewed his basic training while cleaning his rifle on Sunday, 20 June 1915. He forgot to fully check the barrel by moving the bolt vigorously in and out and thus remove the bullet from up the spout. Consequently, he accidentally shot himself in the head. While this was seen by his mates as just bad luck, for the purposes of records, his death was recorded as “Killed in action”, a euphemism that covered any number of strange deaths. By doing so it allowed his mother to collect on his life insurance policy and a small pension of £52 per year till her death, a tiny reward for the loss of her son under terrible circumstances.

While Birdwood was planning a breakout from Anzac, the Turks were preparing for their offensive. Both sides feverishly made plans independent of each other. Occasionally these preparations collided. The Turks had the jump on the Australians in terms of the advanced nature of their preparations. Turkish trenches were extended and greatly fortified while the 9th LHR was relieved from the trenches.

The last couple weeks also saw the Turks bring more artillery into position. To keep the Australians off balance and in a state of stress and fatigue, the Turks shelled the positions held by the 3rd Light Horse Brigade continuously throughout the next week. The shelling did little damage but it did keep the anxiety levels up. On Monday, 21 June 1915, the Turks introduced a new and bigger, 10-inch high explosive shell. The first time they heard the tremendous whine of the shell coming over, few realised what it was until it detonated. It was massive. The men christened the shell “Jack Johnson” after the world famous, champion heavy weight boxer with a similar punch. Some had even seen Jack Johnson win the World Heavyweight Title in Sydney on 26 December 1908, when he Tommy Burns. While the shelling caused a great deal of discomfort to the men through the sheer terror of it dropping on them, the real physical damage caused was minimal. It definitely tossed up clods of earth and so destroyed many meals and cups of tea, the latter being the most desired beverage in an otherwise bland diet so it was well and truly upsetting to lose a cuppa.

 

 

The continuous shelling eventually had corrosive effect desired by the Turks. Nerves were fraying and the men were showing the effects of the continuous stress of being at the receiving end of these devastating explosives. Finally the men broke.

On Friday, 25 June 1915 the nerves of Pte John Woods appeared to collapse. At 25 years old, Woods he wounded himself accidentally. From the description of the wound, Woods’ rifle was leaning against a trench wall with a bullet in the spout, ready for action. His left forearm was over it, possible holding onto the trench wall. The rifle discharged injuring soft tissue and passing cleanly through the arm. The damage was extensive and his use of the arm limited for many years. The action earned him a quick trip to Australia and a discharge on a permanent half pension. The truth of the incident will never be known. The scandal of the self injury had to be avoided as it would impact adversely upon the army propaganda coming out of Gallipoli and recruiting efforts.

During this period of continuous bombardment by the Turks, the men of the 9th LHR were given orders by General Russell to excavate a Secret Sap. The purpose of the sap was to serve as a surprise redoubt from which to launch an attack on Chunuk Bair, the key to the Gallipoli Peninsular from Anzac. Consequently this task was one of the key objectives within the plan devised by Colonel Skeen for an Anzac breakout from the stalemate presented by the current trench warfare everyone experienced. Back in the heady day of 25 April, a weak Australian force had captured Chunuk Bair by 6.30am and called out for reinforcements. Opposing the Australians on that part of Anzac was Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal who recognised the significance of the situation. He rounded up all the troops he could and attacked the force on Chunuk Bair. Just before the attack Kemal gave this famous speech: “I do not expect you to attack, I order you to die. In the time which passes until we die other troops and commanders can come forward and take our places.” With the cries of “Allah”, they charged onto the Australians and by sheer numbers like and avalanche, overwhelmed the position. He won the battle of Gallipoli in that single action. Now Skeen expected the 3rd LH Bde to make good this loss during the anticipated breakout.

The Secret Sap was designed to get close to the Turkish lines so allowing attacking troops to cover only some 15 metres to the enemy trenches. In this way, they would quickly outflank the Turkish defences at the Nek, the only obstacle preventing the Australians reaching Chunuk Bair, or so they believed. The geography of the site allowed an excavation to occur as it was sheltered by a low rising hump that prevented the Turks any vision on that part of the front. The 9th LHR were ordered to use this hump in disguising the construction of the sap. While construction was occurring, the plan to hide any evidence of excavation was to place the soil in sandbags and haul it to the rear of other trenches and build up paradoses. The depth of the sap was to be no more than one metre, small enough to hide a couple troops of men before an attack.

 

 

At night the construction began. Men were dragooned into working on this project. It was considered to be one of the worst at Russell’s Top. The reason for this was the fact that the sap passed through a Turkish graveyard filled with bodies from the fighting which occurred over the last month. The Turks only buried their dead deep enough to prevent any garments from flapping in the breeze. This meant that the corpses were only buried very shallow. Each fall of the pick usually brought with it the putrid ooze of a decaying corpse flowing through a hole in the ground creating a hideous puddle of human remains and stench. Trenching spades cut putrescent flesh and snapped bones in an effort to move soil. Each load went into the sandbags, which dripped as they were taken to the rear. Wherever possible, human remains were re-interred at the bottom of any fresh parados.

During the work of excavation, the only way the men were able to withstand the reeking effluvium exposed through their digging was to cover up with gas masks. It made the stench bearable but since it was hot, the men were uncomfortable wearing the masks. To them it was a choice of the lesser evils. Once the Secret Sap had been constructed, an activity that only took a few nights, the men sent there to occupy the position also needed to wear respirators. It was going to take some time for the fetid air to return to a bearable condition. In the meantime, for the men of the 9th LHR, it was like going to hell. Returning from the Secret Sap at the end of duty was a blessing revelled in by all of whom shared the miserable experience.

One sure sign of an upcoming offensive is intense artillery shelling of a position. The Turks were handing out shells on the positions held by the 3rd Light Horse Brigade as though there was no shortage of ammunition. At 6pm on Tuesday, 22 June 1915, the Turks let loose with a bombardment lasting nearly two hours. The bursting shells threw up clumps of dirt, shattered tree stumps, shredded sandbags and scattered kit bags into the air so the men could enjoy the gentle rain from the remaining shards. One shell hit a grave tossing out a couple pulverised occupants unleashing a ferocious stench. The official count was 95 high explosive shells lobbed on the 9th LHR’s trenches on Walker’s Ridge. At the end of the bombardment, the dead men were placed on stretchers, covered with blankets and placed outside the trench for burial. Graves were hard wrought out of the unforgiving soil and scrub but the job was completed by midnight. Three men from the 9th LHR, Pte William James Gribble, Pte Thomas Makin, and Pte Leslie Samuel Wilson, were buried that night. After a quick service for each man, the empty stretchers were taken down to the sea where the stretcher-bearers scrubbed the blood off the canvass in preparation for the next day’s carnage.

Wednesday and Thursday passed with some desultory shelling. On Friday afternoon at about 5.30pm a German aircraft puttered over the hills and when it reached the area around Anzac, began to loiter over the Australian trenches. During the campaign, the Australians christened any German aeroplane a “Taube” regardless of its origin, in honour of the first mass-produced aircraft the Germans employed over their lines at Gallipoli.

The mission of this Taube was to find the Australian trenches, then drop propaganda paper onto them so the Turkish artillery observers could range their guns accurately. This evening produced no joy for the pilot, as the wind was strong from the west, it blew the paper in a pretty trail over to the Turk’s trenches. The artillery had to await another occasion for ranging work.

 

 

For those lucky enough to get a piece of propaganda, it offered the soldiers in the front line a continuous banquet at the expense of the Turks provided they wandered over to the Turkish trenches. The language was extravagant and certainly enticing when it richly proclaimed: "Greedy England made you fight under a contract. You may confide in us for excellent treatment. Our country disposes of ample provisions. There is enough to feed you well and make you feel quite at your comfort. Don't further hesitate, come and surrender." The Turkish commanders could only scratch their heads in disbelief that such a generous offer was turned down with derision by the troops in the trenches. One look at the poor condition of the Turks gave cause for the front line troops to be a little suspicious and conclude that the authors of the leaflet might just not be telling the truth.

One truth the men did know was that the flight of the Taube was like the albatross to the sailor, the bearer of ill fortune. Saturday, 26 June 1915, proved to be one of ranging practice for the Turkish artillery as they fired shells at a lethargic pace. The next morning turned out to be the big one. On Sunday morning, 27 June 1915, at 5.15am the Turks opened up with 10 guns aimed at Russell's Top and Walker's Ridge. The symphony of guns included 6" howitzers and French 75's firing from Su Yatagha, a place found immediately to the east of Chunuk Bair, an area christened by Australians as the Sandpits. It was an intense barrage with fifteen shells landing on the 9th LHR’s positions every minute. When the bombardment finished at 7.15am, it was estimated that between 400 to 500 shells were concentrated on an area of about 100 square metres of trench.

The men survived the bombardment by lying on the trench floor. They were covered in dirt from cave-ins and some needed digging out. Miraculously, the 9th LHR suffered only three men wounded despite the intensity of the bombardment. It bore strong testimony to the excellent trenches constructed to protect the men. The only men who did not lay down during the bombardment were those brave few whose job was to keep looking over the trenches with the periscopes. It was an extremely dangerous job, but necessary, since bombardments like this usually became preludes to charges. The attack didn’t come that morning. It gave the men of the 8th LHR time to bury their dead and take the wounded to the Field Ambulance. They suffered far worse casualties than the 9th LHR that morning.

After the Turks, it was the Australian’s turn to fire. The observation posts of the 9th LHR noticed that just before sunrise the Turkish reliefs for the front line used a well-camouflaged communication’s trench. The weak point was discovered. There was a small tree near a low point of the trench that could only be seen at dawn. It screened the Turks as they moved forward. By aiming at the tree, some 200 metres away, there existed a strong possibility that the bullets would land in the trench. Just before dawn on Monday, 28 June 1915, twelve men from ‘C’ Squadron put this theory into practice. When the reliefs began to move through the trenches the men opened up with rapid fire often known as the “mad minute”. Then all fell silent.

In a divisional action, at 1pm on Monday, 28 June 1915, every available canon at Anzac was turned on the Turkish trenches and fired continuously for an hour. In addition to the canon fire, the men in the trenches opened fire with their rifles and tossed bombs into the Turkish trenches. This feint was aimed at assisting another British attack at Cape Helles. By giving the impression of an attack being fomented by the Australians, it was hope to draw off any reinforcements that might be on their way to Krithia to defend against the British assault. While it was all thunder and fire from the Australians, what became known as the Battle of Gully Ravine, was just another Hunter-Weston approved slaughter. The British lost some 3,800 casualties but with these lives purchased about a kilometre of coast although gains elsewhere were negligible.

Not to be passive about the shelling, the Turks responded in kind shelling Walkers Ridge with the howitzer and the 75’s from the Sandpit. Again the men tried to burrow as deeply as possible in the trenches. No where in the trenches of dugouts was deep enough. Many men had lucky escapes. But not all. The butcher’s bill for the 9th LHR that afternoon proved to be two killed, Pte Eric Gordon Clark, and Pte John Henry Hildebrand, and four wounded.

The next morning, Tuesday, 29 June 1915, the Turks went back to a desultory shelling of Walker's Ridge and Mule Gully with the shelling easing off in the afternoon.

 

 

This was an ideal time for the 9th LHR to return the favour and intimidate the Turks. The plan was to give the impression that they were about to launch an attack. It succeeded. The skittish Turks opened fire at 9pm with their rifles and canon. To add to the Turks’ confusion, the men in the trenches made a great deal of noise shouting and the like, while shooting off star shells and flares from the front trenches. The Turks kept up their firing for about an hour. Adding to the Turks’ discomfort, during the day it was windy and by 9.30pm it became so gusty that it lifted tremendous amounts of rubbish and dust from Anzac and deposited it on the Turkish trenches. The men in the front lines added to the volume of rubbish being blown over. As the wind blew and the Turks fired, the men in the trenches had a good laugh as they speculated over the discomfort the Turks might have been feeling at that time. At least, they reasoned, they had given the Turks a taste of their own medicine.

But the night was not over. By midnight a large black cloud blanketing the terrain with darkness blotted out any light from the moon. Such darkness made attack easier. The presence of Enver Pasha, the front man of the Young Turk Junta, was visiting the trenches on Chunuk Bair which overlooked the trenches of the 3rd LH Bde at Russell’s Top and Walker’s Ridge. Along with him came 1,200 hand picked Turks from the Sultan's Body Guards. They were tough soldiers who were keen to demonstrate to Enver Pasha that they too could defend the homeland and drive the infidel into the sea. While the Australians did not know any of this at midnight, a few minutes later they were about to feel the consequences of Enver Pasha’s visit which was a guaranteed an attack.

At 12.15am the Turkish artillery opened with a barrage on the trenches at Walker’s Ridge. Poor aim by the Turks meant that the shells overflew the trenches and landed harmlessly behind the men of the 9th LHR as they kept under cover. While the barrage was going on, the men didn’t know this and they just prayed that the shells would not hit them. Mercifully, the shelling lasted for about 20 minutes. The barrage moved on to other targets. As the firing eased off from Walker’s Ridge, it fell upon Quinn's Post and Courtney's Post.

Rifle and machine gun barrage erupted from Baby 700 began at 1am. The volume of fire increased rapidly as the Turks fired upon the trenches occupied by the 8th and 9th Light Horse Regiments. Over the noise of the firing, the men in the trenches at Walker’s Ridge could hear cries of “Allah! Allah!” coming from the Turkish trenches. There was no guessing as to what was about to occur. This was the call the Turks gave in preparation for an attack on the Australian trenches.

Lookouts, undertaking their perilous duty, gazed through their periscopes over the trench parapets and spied movement in front of the Turkish trenches. What the lookouts saw was a horde climbing out of the Turkish trenches. These were men from the Turkish 18th Regiment, which comprised three battalions, each containing a thousand men. Facing the men of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade was the battalion of the Sultan's Body Guards. Men from the battalion filled the communications trenches and front lines, then rose up, walking in open order, towards the trenches held by the ‘C’ Squadron of the 8th LHR. One troop from ‘A’ Squadron of the 9th LHR was immediately rushed into fire bays of the 8th LHR trenches to give additional support.

The officers blew their whistles and as many troops as possible moved onto the firing step and exposed themselves by leaning over the parapet. Others spilled over the back of the trench and so, in effect, created a double firing line. Behind the men on the firing line were helpers who would load empty magazines and pass full ones to those firing so there was no loss in volume of fire concentrated upon the attacking Turks.

Turks rapidly moved forward. Their high level of training and good leadership showed as the advance was quick and well coordinated. It took only minutes attacked some sectors with good leadership.

 

 

Quickly, one party of Turks overran Sap No 1 and proceeded to take over part of the trench occupied by ‘A’ Squadron. It took only minutes for Sergeant Harold Sullivan, an orchardist from Blackwood, to organise a counter attack. With the men of his troop he formed a bombing party. Since the trenches zigzagged, the method of clearing them was brutal and close quarters. A man would hurl a bomb around a corner and when it exploded, a couple men would race around the corner shooting with rapid fire.

Because of close quarters, this was designed to knock over anyone still standing. After the fire ceased, another two men behind would undertake a bayonet charge and secure that part of the trench. The bomb thrower would hurl a bomb around the next corner and the men who did the bayonet charge now began rapid fire. In this way, each team would leapfrog off each other and clear a trench of enemy. The danger was at the initial stage of tossing the bomb. If the bomb did not go off immediately, it gave the enemy sufficient time to move around the next corner. When the troops came round the corner for rapid fire, they could quite easily meet up with another enemy team waiting to shoot them down or charge on them with bayonets. The whole operation was fraught with danger for everyone. It was in this manner that the bombing party drove the Turks out of the sap.

Very shortly after 1.30am, a report came through to Reynell that the Secret Sap had been overrun by the Turks. All the men in the trench had successfully escaped except for Pte John Leslie Hopping, a miller from Broken Hill, was the only man in the Secret Sap who didn’t get away. They found his body later. In response, Reynell organised a counter attack from the two communication trenches, which led onto the Secret Sap. When Reynell blew his whistle, the men of ‘A’ Squadron poured through the communication trenches and into the Secret Sap. It was a quick and bloody exchange between bayonet and revolver which resulted ten Turks killed while the rest retreated towards their own trenches. At 1.45am the Secret Sap was secured from the Turks. Reynell ordered 45 men to hold it against any future Turkish attack. The nature of the Secret Sap made this a difficult order to follow. The support troops who moved up to the line found that the fire steps on the parapet were too crowded, so they were forced onto the parados, where they took up defensive positions. The unfortunate thing here was the parados had not been built up in the same manner as the other trenches and thus left the additional troops exposed to Turkish fire.

 

The Turkish attack ended at 1.50am and soon the firing died down. It was a relief to everyone. The adrenalin that had kept the men alert now flowed out and the men relaxed. There might be another attack but for the moment, it was time for a break and to smoke a pipe and chat about the experience.

Ten minutes later, much to everyone’s surprise, a platoon of about 40 Turks suddenly appeared near Turk's Point threatening the Machine Gun positions. Apparently they were from the company that attacked the Secret Sap. This platoon had been detached and passed through to outflank the Australian positions. Due to the heavy fighting, they had not been seen by anyone until they emerged from the scrub at Turk’s Point. At that moment, the men in the Turkish platoon did not know that the Secret Sap had been retaken nor that they were trapped.

The Turk’s location as they approached Turk’s Point made it impossible for the two machine guns to be of any use in the defence of the position. When the Turks finally attacked, they almost captured the machine guns. Sergeant Clifford William Ashburner, an ex-boxer originally from South Africa, was unarmed when he saw a Turk heading for a machine gun. Ashburner picked up a rifle and fired as the Turk was beginning to turn the machine gun. At point blank range the Turk was thrown off the machine gun. Ashburner grabbed the machine gun while kicking the dying Turk out of the way. He turned the machine gun on the attacking Turks and began to fire. The Turks quickly disappeared.  

Since no one had any idea of the Turk’s strength, half of ‘C’ Squadron was sent out by Reynell to defend Turk’s Point. By 2.10am, Turk’s Point was fully manned and ready for any renewed Turkish onslaught. It never came.
Curiously, at 2.10am, the Latrine Gully Cossack post sent a message to Reynell that they had captured a Turk. More alarming news came in from another Cossack post to the effect that there were a great number of enemy soldiers within their vicinity. Captain Wieck, the Regimental Adjutant was the only officer not engaged in the fighting. He pulled together Regimental headquarters staff – clerks, batmen and cooks - and set off with this odd collection to reinforce the Cossack posts. These positions were to guard against Turkish access to the Anzac artillery and more specifically a 6-inch howitzer. The Turks were not heard any more from the men at the newly reinforced Cossack posts.

Twenty minutes later, at 2.30am, without any warning, the Turks mounted another attack on the trenches. This time the men of the 9th LHR were ready and waiting. The clouds had cleared and the moon shone brightly to illuminate the Turks as silhouettes on the horizon. Kirwan flares, fabricated from pieces of hemp dipped in kerosene and thrown from the trench by hand assisted in illuminating the skyline presenting good targets for the machine gunners laying down enfilading fire. In addition to this the men in the Secret Sap fired directly on the unsuspecting Turks and the assault was ended before the Turks reached the 9th LHR trenches.

One Turkish officer observing the attack described these flares as: "What appeared to be balls of fire were thrown out by the "English" and these, it seemed lay burning in the rear of the attackers, preventing both them from returning and others from reinforcing them."

Firing died down by 3.30am but the Turks had not finished with their night’s work. In an attempt to replicate a good Australian trick, the Turks began jiggling straw dummies over the parapets of their trenches in an attempt to suggest that a new attack was emerging and so draw fire. It was a pointless exercise as the men from the 9th LHR recognised the ploy for what it was – after all, they had done this many times themselves. The only thing it draw was howls of derisive comments and wry laughter.

After the action, Reynell, together with an interpreter, crawled through the Secret Sap. It was a grisly task, as they had to crawl over many bodies of Turkish soldiers. There was no escaping the close and personal glimpse of the Turkish faces as they lay in all the hideous and contorted poses reflecting their agonising deaths. When they reached the end of the sap, the interpreter called out an invitation to any of the Turks who were injured or playing dead. The Turks were urged to surrender with the promise of good medical care if injured and protection if not. Since the Australians had a good reputation amongst the Turks of caring for their prisoners and were not known to perpetrate any deliberate cruelty, the Turks had little hesitation in responding to the call. Within minutes of the invitation, Turks slowly began to crawl into the Australian lines. Some injured were given assistance. Unsurprisingly they were relieved to be alive and out of the terrible war.

One Armenian who had his own amazing adventure, had a difficult time surrendering. During the height of the firing, he shouted out in impeccable English: “Please stop firing! I want to come in!” Initially the men suspected a trick and kept firing. A couple more calls and the men stopped shooting. The Turkish soldier crawled up to the parapet and was pulled over into the trench. His excellent English was as a consequence of his education at the American Mission in Constantinople. After explaining that he had enough of the war he went on and clarified why the attack took place. It seems as though Enver Pasha had come from Constantinople especially to see the attack that would push the Australians into the sea. He had an even more immediate story to tell. Taking Miell in tow, the Armenian went to the 9th LHR trench that overlooked a Turkish communication trench and stated that a couple days before ten men were killed at that place. Included in the casualties was their Colonel. This of course was the place where the men fired at the tree on the morning of Saturday, 26 June 1915. Now they had confirmation that their plan succeeded beyond all expectations.

During the daylight hours of 30 June 1915 there was no gunfire. The silence was overwhelming to the men. The Turkish snipers were absent so men could carry on activities which ordinarily they would have invited death. Taking advantage of this beak, the men slept. Regardless of their location, they just dropped on the ground and slept while a few guards kept watch over them, ever alert to call the alarm. However, despite the alert, there were no more attacks that day. Indeed, the Turkish offensive seemed to have petered out.

In the washup, the number of Turks killed over the frontage of the 1st and 3rd Light Horse Brigades was in the many hundreds. Due to this great number, the Turks sought an armistice in the same manner as occurred on 24 May 1915, to bury their dead. The Generals at Anzac turned the approach down flat. John Faulkner of the 8th LHR reported the event, when a letter of his appeared in the Wimmera paper of October 1915. In the letter Faulkner details the reasons for the denial when he says:
"The Turks asked us for an Armistice to bury the dead, but their request was refused as the previous Armistice (on May 24th) had been violated. Instead of just burying their dead, the Turks had sneakily brought up stores and shifted guns etc. during the lull in the fighting. Apart from that one incident, as far as I can see, the Turks always fought fairly."

Antill was pessimistic when he undertook his analysis of the battle. He recognised the courage of the men under his command in the Brigade. He had no doubts about their ability. He lets his frustration come to the fore in the summary of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade’s action when he said: “Men behaved excellently in this there first serious fight and were very cool doing good work. Fire was received until the last. Machine Guns did nothing, positions being unfavourably placed and we got no assistance whatever all night from any of our own artillery. Regiments are depleted and hard worked.”

His comments about the machine guns understated the enfilading fire that occurred as a consequence of Ashburner’s team at Turk’s Point. They made a real impact on the Turkish attack. Antill recognised this by appointing Ashburner as the machine gun training officer. It was the other machine gun positions of the 9th and 8th LHR that needed relaying to be more effective than they were during the battle.

This scathing commentary of the artillery boded ill for the future. They had to fight off the attack without any artillery assistance. The 3rd LH Bde was entitled to a battery for its own employment and yet Godley released none to help. This occurred despite pleas from Antill. The lack of cooperation weighed heavily on the mind of Antill when he was asked to assist in producing a local plan for the expected breakout. The failure of artillery support was to be a key factor in all Gallipoli battles and so haunt Antill in his preparations.

In the meantime, it was the troops in the front line trenches who suffered the consequence of these decisions. No armistice meant more corruption, stench and flies to add to the already considerable load they carried. No artillery meant an added burden. Soon Death’s hand would place more bodies upon the ragged field that comprised the Nek.

 

Further Reading:

The Nek, Gallipoli, 7 August 1915

The Nek, Gallipoli, 7 August 1915, Roll of Honour

Gallipoli Campaign

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1919

 


Citation: The Nek, Gallipoli, 7 August 1915, The First Charge at the Nek, 30 June 1915


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Friday, 6 August 2010 5:22 PM EADT
The Nek, Gallipoli, 7 August 1915, The Nek and Hill 60
Topic: BatzG - Nek
The Nek

Gallipoli, 7 August 1915

The Nek and Hill 60

 

The Nek and Hill 60

Just before the attack, Reynell tossed a few reflections around. He said: “I suppose there will be a lot of promotion, but as far as I can see my chances are nil. If the Brigade command becomes vacant they don't seem disposed to put Colonel Meill, the senior Regimental Commander, in - and unless he goes up or out, my cake's dough. Without wishing anyone bad luck there is a lot in the old toast – ‘Here's to bloody wars and sickly seasons and quick promotion’. Well some of us will be making room for others before long I guess and it's all in the game. I see big stacks of new stretchers being made just near by our bivouac.”

Stretchers were the harbingers of casualties. The number of stretchers arriving at a unit indicated what the staff officers thought would be the casualty rate for a particular attack. The arithmetic was simple. Every stretcher would carry two or three wounded men. The casualty ratio was about one man killed in action for every three wounded. A quick count of the number of stretcher told the men in advance the number of their friends were expected to die that next morning. It was not an encouraging thought. While they felt very uncomfortable about the physical manifestations of their job, the men lived with the notion.

At 3.30am, Saturday, 7 August 1915, the canons were being prepared for their work. Soon their percussions would sound the drumbeat of the battle, the pendulum of the metronome that ticked inescapably towards destiny. In the trenches, men were already standing to, alert and with rifles in hand. Cups of tea were being distributed as best as possible. It was the calm before the impending storm of hostilities that created a sense of hopelessness amongst the troops going into battle.

 

The timetable of a massacre.

4.00 – The bombardment began.

Reynell’s diary: … the artillery bombardment was a joke and such as it was not made in cooperation with the attack. There was just a desultory bombardment and then an attack.

At Turk’s Point, Ashburner’s two machine guns launch a barrage lasting for half an hour and expending 10,000 rounds.

4.23 - the "joke" of a bombardment ends.

4.28 - Turks clearly seen manning the parapets of the trenches and machine gun ranged.

4.29 – The men in the first line already know they are in for a tough time.

4.30 – The whistle blows and 150 men of the 8th Light Horse Regiment, led by Colonel White, climb out of the trenches and charge across the Nek.

Ashburner is forbidden to use his machine guns to provide covering fire for the charge in case he hits the emerging Australians.

 

 

 

 

Cyril Lawrence of the 2nd Field Company Engineers made the following note in his diary about the events of that morning. “Well simply that the boys in that section had 'hopped out' as ours had done the night before. Two seconds and the bullets began to come across, not in ones or twos either, but in showers, screaming and whining by, spitting up the dust everywhere, a man standing beside me was hit fair on a locket round his neck. The bullet must have been well spent as it did nothing except give him a bit of a shock...The only difference with this rifle fire was that it did not cease after a few minutes but continued a long while before it died down, and before that our artillery and boats opened up again... the duration of the rifle fire showed plainly that the men were not in their trenches..."

4.35 – 150 men lay dead or wounded within 30 metres of the trench. Three men made it to the Turkish trench only to die there. An observer spots a location flag in Turkish trenches and reports this to Antill.

The whistle blows and a further 150 men climb out of their trench.

4.40 – 150 more men lay dead or wounded.

Colonel Brazier, commander of the 10th Light Horse Regiment argues with Antill about sending the next line out. Antill orders Brazier to send out the third line.

4.45 - Trooper Harold Rush, 10th Light Horse Regiment, says to his friend as both men shake hands: “Goodbye Cobber. God bless you." He died a minute later.

The whistle blows and a 150 men from the 10th Light Horse Regiment climb out of their trench.

4.50 – 150 more men lay dead, wounded or pretending to be dead.

5.15 - The 4th line of the attack is called off but some troops misunderstand this direction and charge.

5.20 – 234 dead and wounded from the 8th LHR and 138 from the 10th LHR lay on the blood soaked ground of the Nek. Any movement of the wounded men brought Turkish machine gun fire to bear on the person. Some of the wounded were able to crawl back into the trenches. Others who had been lucky and not injured made their way as best as possible. For the rest, their lot was a miserable day in the sun without any hope of relief until the evening.

For the 9th LHR they suffered the loss of Lt Col Albert Miell, Sqn Sgt Maj William Edward Harvey, L/Cpl George Southwell Seager, and Pte Frederick Joseph Smith. Pte Frank Napier Drew died of wounds he received a few days later.

All up, the 3rd Light Horse Brigade lost 264 men killed as a consequence of that dreadful half an hour, some twenty per cent of the Brigade. It was a traumatic loss that would take a considerable amount of work to rebuild.
Antill summarised the event when he stated: “The positions assaulted by the 3rd Light Horse Brigade were absolutely impossible to take by frontal attack and the front comprised a Nek less than 100 yards across with cliffs on either side, the whole full of machine guns. There was no hesitation or falter amongst our officers and men, especially the 8th Light Horse Regiment who were practically wiped out.”

The British fared somewhat better. The leader of the Royal Welch Fusiliers company, Captain Walter Lloyd was killed along with ten of his comrades as they charged up Monash Gully. A number of others were wounded. In addition, the Cheshires lost seven men, making a total of 18 British soldiers killed at the Nek.

Books, movies and art have all tried to explain the charge at the Nek but no one has understood why the events unfolded as they did.

Many questions remain about this event. Why did the artillery attack end at 4.23am? Why did Colonel White lead his troops in the first wave? Were there any flags raised in the Turkish trenches? If Antill, as he states, was so opposed to the plan in the first place, why did he persist in ordering the next waves to charge?

By 4am, Birdwood and Godley already knew that the attack on Chunuk Bair had failed upon whose success the attack on the Nek was predicated. Yet they failed to call off an attack which was now rendered pointless. Without the New Zealanders exerting pressure from the north onto Chunk Bair, there was no pressure on the Turkish defences, which were now free to concentrate solely on where they expected the attack. The aimless artillery barrage let them know the exact spot as forecast by Antill. Through lack of leadership and pure negligence, Birdwood and Godley allowed the slaughter to proceed at the Nek and Pope’s. At least in regards to Pope’s, Chauvel had the leadership capacity to buck against stupidity when he refused to send any further men to their deaths after the failure of the first wave of his projected attack. This piece of sound leadership minimised many unnecessary casualties. It had no impact on Chauvel’s subsequent career so it was the correct decision.

 

 

So why was the 3rd LH Bde so different? The issue specifically related to the quality of leadership. Brigadier General Hughes, the putative commander, put himself out of the way so as to be unreachable during the attack. This effectively split the command of the 3rd LH Bde leaving two parts of the leadership unsure of what to do next. Hughes was not able to get in contact with Antill and vice versa. It left Antill effectively in command of the Brigade. In contrast, the 1st LH Bde was firmly under the control of Chauvel and he was on hand to make the assessments at the time and place necessary. He never delegated important decisions to junior officers.

In essence, Hughes abrogated his responsibility of command and gave it to Antill who carried none of the authority to the General staff, as did Hughes. The consequence was that Antill decision making ability was paralysed by many conflicting demands. He did what all incompetents do in this situation. He refused to make a decision except to affirm his orders. Antill felt trapped by circumstances and responsibilities that were far in excess of his capacity to deal with in any effective manner.

It is also important to examine the role of the Regimental commanders to ascertain if they too failed in their duty to the men. Sadly this negligence is evident.

The first officer, Lt Col White of the 8th LHR behaved in a most bizarre and irresponsible manner in leading the first wave of the assault. That there is undoubted bravery implicit in his action is without question. However, the issue is whether he should have led the first wave or delegated the responsibility. By being killed almost immediately the first wave left the trenches, there was no one in command that had his authority. White could have called off the next wave without loss of his career or risking arrest. But even if this were so, he would have been negligent to send out the next wave as it would result in more of the same – death and wounding without any result. If White was brave enough to lead his men into combat, he would also have had the character to call off the attack. However, he chose his fate but left his men to suffer in greater numbers than need be the case.

From the 10th LHR, we see that Lt Col Brazier tried to have the attack called off and specifically saw Antill for this purpose. This was when Antill went down in history by ordering Brazier to continue the assault. Brazier had his choices at this point in time. He chose to let

 

 

 

 

Antill wear the opprobrium by dodging the hard decision. White can be excused from this because when leading the first wave, he didn’t know it was going to be a massacre. Brazier does not have the luxury of this excuse. Brazier knew full well what the situation was facing his men but refused to do the right thing by his men and ordered the third wave to leave the trenches.

When the third wave was slaughtered as expected, Antill finally came to his senses and countermanded the order for the fourth wave to be launched. Brazier failed to make this clear and by sheer accident, half the fourth wave launched itself. It is unknown as to the reason. However, lack of clear direction from Brazier in a timely manner lies at the bottom of this last minutes of killing.

After the massacre, Brazier became embittered towards Antill and publicly called him a butcher. Eventually Brazier was sent home from Gallipoli with a wound. This was a noble way to ease Brazier out of command and get him out of the way. So Brazier had nothing to lose. His relationship with the senior officers was already strained and they looked for any excuse to get rid of him. He was in the position to do the right thing by his men and chose not to do so. Blaming Antill for this is disingenuous and overlooks Brazier’s own character and leadership flaws.

Since Lt Col Miell was sniped, the 9th LHR command fell into the hands of Major Reynell. If anything, Reynell believed that the attack would succeed even after the slaughter of four waves. Reynell thought he could see where everyone had gone wrong and developed his own plan of attack. He begged Antill for the chance to prove the veracity of the plan. Not even Antill was foolish enough to issue such an insane order. It was only long after the event that Reynell was able to understand why he was not given any permission to waste any further lives on a fruitless exercise. As for Reynell, he had his own opportunity to slaughter his men in another folly some twenty days later.

In the final analysis, the slaughter was basically due to Australian incompetence in command, planning and leadership. There was no one villain just poor leaders and a bad plan. For the men they had a naïve belief in their officers and the cause. It was a potent mix for a great victory or a dreadful disaster.

Antill’s reputation was destroyed. Throughout his life and even after his life, he was vilified as the pompous jackass who sent good men to their deaths. Bean led the attack in Volume 2 of the Official History. The film “1915” popularised this view. Carlyon’s book “Gallipoli” reinforces this sentiment. This accusation let others who are as culpable off the uncomfortable hook for the roles they played in making a hash of a poor plan.

The men paid the butcher’s bill for this lesson.

After the failure of the Nek attack, the 9th LHR was the only coherent unit available to prevent a Turkish counter attack should they deign to do so. In addition, the Cheshires were brought up in support of the 9th LHR.

Around 8am, at Anzac Cove, the three destroyers trained their guns on the Turkish positions near Baby 700 and the Nek, then commenced another bombardment. While not furious and more described as desultory and designed to discourage any Turkish counter attack, it lasted about half an hour. At 1pm, those unwounded men of the 8th LHR were ordered to the front and reserve trenches.

 


The Turks were not interested in counter attacking but they did want to inflict casualties. Soon after the 8th LHR men moved back into the trenches, the artillery at the back of Baby 700 began their own barrage firing their 75’s on the reserve trenches on Russell’s Top. Both the men of the 3rd LH Bde and the 8th Cheshire Regiment sustained heavy casualties.
When the bombardment ended, the men settled down to the tension of front line duty with the two elements of sheer terror and extended boredom. It was a harrowing time for the men as they listened to the moans of their comrades laying a few metres in front of them but unable to reach them. Any movement was met with a hail of bullets from the Turkish machine guns.

Allen Cameron recorded his thoughts about this time in his diary when he said: “We had some severe fighting and it turns out that we have gained little in territory or position, yet sacrificed thousands of lives. The Turkish Machine Guns just poured out lead and our fellows went down like corn before a scythe, …. Four hundred and ninety casualties in less than a quarter of an hour. Yes, it was heroic, it was marvellous, the way those men rose, yet it was murder. We are still holding Russell's Top, and the strain is telling terribly on all ranks. Whenever one looks in the direction of the Turkish trenches one sees the bodies of our own chaps in almost the same places as were the bodies of the Turks after the 30th June. Nothing can be done to get them buried or brought in except those which are very close to our own trench. The smell is dreadful. Nothing can compare with decomposed human flesh for horror. The intervening space is continually lit by flares and bombs and several bodies have been burnt thus. It seems cruel, but from a health point it is better, whoever does the burning.”

 


Reynell was promoted to command of the 9th LHR with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel making his former idle thoughts a reality. At the same time RQMS Darley, Sgt Guy Theodore Butler and Sgt John Malcolm McDonald were given field commissions as Second Lieutenants. The survivors of the 9th LHR did quite well out of the day.

The trench routine went on almost interminably. Outside the attacks of the August Offensive still raged to the north. Fighting could be clearly heard at Suvla and Rhododendron Ridge. The job of the 9th LHR was to sit in the trenches on Walker’s Ridge and absorb all the hate from the Turks. This meant sitting through whatever bombardments the Turks launched which they did on a regular basis.

Take for instance the morning of Monday, 9 August 1915 when the Turks decided to give Walker’s Ridge a thorough shelling with their artillery. Three men, 2/Lt Darley, RQMS Elias Judell, and Cpl Arthur Carrington Smedley were huddled together in their trench, a wonderfully deep trench ironically called the “Broadway” as though the word would conjure the beautiful passion of the New York theatre district rather than the squalid violence confronting them. Smedley had come to draw stores from the Quartermaster’s dugout. A large, high explosive shell burst near the group hurling Smedley some 30 metres into a communication trench called Tod Lane. Darley was flung 10 metres along the Broadway while Judell was killed instantly. Darley was the only man to recover.


The story of Smedley is one of the more curious tales of the war. Smedley was taken to the Casualty Clearing Station where Captain Follitt, the Regimental Medical Officer, did what he could to patch up his wounds. Follitt removed both Smedley’s shattered legs and patched the arm socket where it had been blown out. Smedley was then put aboard a hospital ship for evacuation to Malta. When the ship arrived at Malta, there was no Smedley nor was there anything in the hospital ship paperwork to indicate his fate. They thought he might have been shipped to England by mistake but a search throughout English hospitals proved fruitless. The Third Echelon at Cairo was requested to see if he had arrived in a hospital at Heliopolis. Again, no joy. Smedley had literally and metaphorically disappeared from the face of the earth. He was never seen of or heard from again.

Mrs Alice Smedley of Brougham Place in North Adelaide was advised on 30 August that her son was wounded but recovering in hospital. Since there was no other information, she was informed that it was obviously not a serious wound. Later on, having received letters of condolences from Smedley’s friends about the death of her son, Mrs Smedley knew this to be untrue and in early October, informed the Army through an interview with the Minister of Defence. Much to its embarrassment, the Army conducted a search of his whereabouts. Now more bureaucratic games came into play. Since Smedley was absent due to being wounded for a period greater than 14 days, he was reverted from Temporary Corporal to his substantive rank of Lance Corporal. This, of course, immediately impacted on the income Smedley’s mother, received from his pay.

 

A Court of Enquiry found that Smedley might have died on the hospital ship and was buried at sea. No one could explain the disappearance of the paperwork. It fell upon Captain McNicol in Melbourne to explain the impossible. He writes hopefully but without tact: “Though we have no evidence by an eye witness of his death, several men told us he was already in dying condition when he was carried to the beach, and he was so badly wounded – both an arm and a leg being blown off – that no one could wish him to have lived.” No parent would ever endorse that sentiment.

Worse was still to come. The Army wanted to award all Smedley’s medals to his father, a person who left the household when Smedley was 11 and never saw him again. Once more Mrs Smedley had to fight for this anachronism that gave the father precedence if there was no will or instruction to any other effect. Mrs Smedley won her battle two years later. She must have wondered about her son’s sacrifice and whether his loss was really worth it. Her words pleading with the military authorities for some dignity seem to reflect this sentiment.

 

 

Back in the trenches, routine debilitated the men. Morale plummeted. Reynell sums this up when he says: “Our losses to date are killed and wounded 150. Sick in hospital 200. We also have about 50 sick here "off duty". The effective strength of the Regiment is about 300 all ranks and nearly everyone is weak and run down and really not fit for duty. We have men go off into dead faints occasionally and the Doctor says most of the trouble is just absolute "done - upness". He calls them "Grey Faces". They are plucky and stick to it but have reached breaking point.”

After their 14 days in the trenches, the Leinsters, a New Army unit relieved the 9th LHR who remained as support for them. The men from the 9th LHR felt sorry for the Leinsters, as they appeared to be poorly trained, and even worse, poorly led. From their elevated position they could see all the attacks occurring at Suvla. As with all their rotations, rest camp was a euphemism for hard work, increased casualties and little sleep.

It was a red-letter day on Thursday, 26 August 1915. The men were marched down to the beach at Anzac with high hopes of taking a holiday at Imbros, or Lemnos. While soaking up the sun and enjoying their afternoon tea thinking about the prospect of getting off Gallipoli for a couple weeks, the men were excited and happy.

Their lolling around was just too good to be true. An hour later, orders were given to move up into the newly captured trenches in the Damijelik Hills, some six kilometres north of Walker’s Ridge. At 10pm that night, the 9th LHR bivouacked at Kaiajak Dere within touch of Hill 60, a hotly contested piece of real estate. Here they remained until 7pm, Friday 27 August 1915, when new orders arrived.

General Russell had over stretched his forces and could not defend the captured positions against the freshly reinforced Turks. The 5th Connaught Rangers had held the trenches, between Points C and D as per the Hill 60 Attack map, that day. Nightfall had come and the Turks mounted their counter attack, bombing and shooting their way through their previously lost trenches. The Connaughts were inexperienced at trench fighting and abandoned their positions at 8.30pm leaving the Turks in control of the trenches.

Orders came from Birdwood for Russell’s men to take Hill 60 at all costs. Russell called upon the only troops available, the 9th Light Horse Regiment, to act as shock troops and retake the trenches. Three parties were established for this purpose: Lieutenant Phillis and 50 men went into the frontline fire trench to assist New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade; Maj Harry Meshach Parsons, a farmer from Victor Harbor, took charge of another 100 men as an attack team; and, 25 men commanded by Captain Callary were afterwards sent to support Parsons. The last two groups were split between Parsons with 52 men to assault and bomb a Turkish fire trench and Reynell taking 75 men to cross over to the Turkish trenches and bomb their way to the New Zealanders trench.

 

 

At 11.30pm Parsons led his party bombing his way up the Turkish trench. The moved up about 100 metres but retired 20 metres and put up a barricade. The area assaulted by Parson is marked on the hand drawn map of Antill. The letters PCHMGK designates the successive progress of Parsons. “M” marks the place where Parsons’ men erected their barricade.
Next went Reynell at 12.15am. It didn’t take long for Reynell and his party to get confused. Faulty maps supplied by Coxes Headquarters ensured that Reynell would be confused by the lay of the land. When he thought he had reached the Turkish trenches, in actuality, he had stumbled upon Parson’s party as they rested from their exertions.


Reynell and his men left the trench and moved off into the direction to where he thought his raiding party should be heading to the Turkish trenches. As they crossed the open for the second time in an hour, they tempted fate one too many times. The Turkish observers couldn’t believe their luck when spotted the party a second time in the evening. This time the Turks were ready. Reynell and his men came under intense rifle and machine gun fire. The Turks also tossed bombs at them. The result was a charnel house. Men fell everywhere. The screaming of the wounded and those dying filled the air along with bullets and bombs. Major Scott chillingly summed up the result when he said: “…the party literally faded away.”  

The majority of the men actually made it to their objective known as Point N on the Hill 60 attack map. After clearing out the Turks from this segment of the trenches, the men were not safe. The Turkish defences were set up carefully so in the event of a section being taken over, machine guns could sweep the tenches with impunity. After the Turks had scrambled out of the trench, the machine gun opened fire. The result was havoc. It swept the trench inflicting many more casualties on the men. The survivors quickly jumped out of the trench and crawled back to safety during the night. First a party of five arrived at the Australian trenches, then another twenty wounded. One group attached to Reynell became hopelessly lost. Fifteen men from the party returned to the safety of Scott’s men unharmed. In an act of sheer bravery, Lt John Malcolm McDonald, a clerk from Semaphore, who had been with Reynell and returned safely, left the trenches four times to rescue wounded men.

 

 

While Reynell’s group was being shot up, things were not going well for Parsons. Using the cover of the fight against the Reynell party, the Turks mounted a counter attack and forced Parson’s men to retreat to Point C where they were able to establish a strong sand bag blockade and hold off the Turkish assault. When day broke, Parsons and his team went on the attack again and reclaimed all the trenches that were lost during the night. Then all went quiet except for the occasional sniping from both sides.

At 1am, Sunday, 29 August 1915, McDonald and a party of men bombed their way along an important trench. The result was to get the trenches held by the 9th LHR trenches joined to the 10th Light Horse Regiment. It was a coordinated action with the men from the 10th LHR working the other end of the trench.

Later in the morning the bodies of Reynell and Capt Alfred John Jaffray were recovered and brought to a clearing. At 9am the men from the 9th LHR gathered for a funeral service. It was a difficult service for the men idolised Reynell and took his loss hard. Jaffray was also popular with his men so as the padre gave his eulogy, the men made no pretence of hiding their tears.

The Turks on Hill 971, however, were not in the same frame of mind. The funeral was spotted as the men stood together listening to the padre and made a tempting artillery target. The first salvo sent everyone scattering. It was followed by a further half an hour’s shelling to let the Australian’s understand that they were not sympathetic to the loss.

The rest of the men remained in the trenches until relieved that night at 9pm when everyone moved to Sazli Beit Dere for a rest. A party of 25 was left behind. Here they met the men from C Squadron, 11th Light Horse Regiment who were attached to the 9th LHR as reinforcements. The 11th LHR was broken up with squadrons being sent to other light horse units. ‘C’ Squadron of the 11th LHR was a South Australian unit and thus natural to add them to a South Australian regiment. The CO of the 11th LHR, Lieutenant Colonel Grant, took command over the new 9th Light Horse Regiment.

"Lest we forget"

 

 

 

Further Reading:

The Nek, Gallipoli, 7 August 1915

The Nek, Gallipoli, 7 August 1915, Roll of Honour

Gallipoli Campaign

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1919

 


Citation: The Nek and Hill 60 - The massacre of the Australians

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Friday, 6 August 2010 5:20 PM EADT
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, 1st LHR AIF Unit History Account
Topic: AIF - 1B - 1 LHR

Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

1st LHR AIF Unit History Account

 

Map of the 1st LHR participation in the Sinai Campaign, 1916-17

[From: Vernon, The Royal New South Wales Lancers 1885-1985, p. 105.]

[Click on map for larger version.]

 

PV Vernon's 1985 centenary celebration of the Royal New South Wales Lancers included a section on the work performed by the 1st Light Horse Regiment during the Great War. The pages specifically related to the battle of Romani are extracted below.

 

Vernon, PV, editor, The Royal New South Wales Lancers 1885-1985, (Sydney 1986), pp. 111-3:

 

Chapter 8

Egypt and Sinai.

On July 30 the navy co-operated by shelling Ogratina with the guns of the monitors in the Mediterranean; next day the enemy had pushed his flanks closer to Romani and three aeroplanes bombed the camp and dropped steel darts, one of which was found to have gone nearly through a camel.

On the night of August 2-3 the enemy occupied Katia, a palm oasis about five miles from Romani. Next night the brigade took lip a new line of outposts from Hod el Enna to No. 1 Post, covering what had been left as an open approach for the enemy. The 1st Light Horse Regiment was in reserve, and about midnight the unit was ordered out as the Turks had made a forced march and were attacking the outpost lines. At 1.30 a.m. "A" Squadron reinforced the line held by the 3rd Light Horse Regiment on the southern slope of Mount Meredith, a prominent sandhill named after Brigadier-General Meredith, who was commanding 1st Light Horse Brigade at the time. At 1.45 a.m. "B" Squadron took up a line on either side of Mount Meredith. The night was dark but starlit, and the flashes of rifle fire showed up well against the sandhills. One troop of "C" Squadron was detailed to escort the Leicester Battery, Royal Horse Artillery. The remainder of the regiment struck a line covering the two re-entrants on the north of Mount Meredith.

The enemy was in force and the regiment came under heavy rifle and machine gun fire, also shrapnel from a mountain battery which the Turks brought well up on camels. At 10 a.m. the regiment fell back to Bir el Maler, the infantry having by this time come up. Remaining in reserve until 5 p.m., it then took up an outpost line on the south-east of the hods near Bir Abu Diyuk, casualties up to this time being Lieutenant McQuiggan and nine other ranks killed, Captains Weir (adjutant) , Fitzpatrick (QM) G. H. L. Harris, 2nd Lieutenant W. M. Nelson (signal officer) and 26 other ranks wounded. During the action enemy aircraft spotted for their guns, and dropped bombs, grenades, and a few darts, without doing much damage.

Next day, the 1st Light Horse Regiment at 4 a.m. started to drive towards Hod el Enna, with the 6th Light Horse Regiment on the left and the New Zealand mounted Rifles Brigade on the right. Twenty prisoners were taken, with one machine gun and four boxes of 18-pounder ammunition. The enemy had withdrawn 112

Royal New South Wales Lancers under pressure to Katia. At 2.30 p.m. on August 5 an attack was made on Katia by the 1st and 2nd Light Horse Brigades, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and 5th Mounted Brigade. The regiment dismounted on the western edge of the Katia swamp, occupying a frontage of 250 yards. An advance of 300 to 600 yards into the swamp was made, the enemy holding all the high ground east of Katia by machine gun and rifle fire. The dismounted strength of the regiment was only 150 all ranks and 41 horses had been killed or were missing, so at 6.30 p.m. the line commenced to withdraw and the regiment returned to Romani, both men and horses being badly off for water. During the day the camp was again bombed and shelled by the enemy.

Fatigues were sent out next day to bury the dead, and Lieutenant Max E. Wright and 20 men were sent to escort camels loaded with water and rations for divisional headquarters, which were now at Katia, since the place had been evacuated by the Turks.

At 2.15 p.m. on August 8 the regiment, now 236 strong, with "A" Squadron of the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, left Romani for Katia as advanced guard to the 1st and 2nd Brigades which were both under Brigadier-General J. R. Royston, C.M.G., D.S.O., the object being to cut off the Turks at Bir el Abd. The force moved along the caravan route to Hod el Khibba, thence in a night march, swinging off at a bearing of 22 degrees as far as the recently swollen marsh, thence on a bearing of 80 degrees to Hod Hamada and from there on a bearing of 129 degrees in order to reach a point north-east of Bir el Abd. On reaching the edge of the sand dunes north-east of Bir el Abd, the unit came under heavy fire, and was forced to deploy on a line running eastward into the dunes from the edge of a marsh, el Huag, lying north-east of Hod el Hisha. At 11 a.m. an attempt was made to straighten out the line-the Wellington Mounted Rifles, attached to the 2nd Light Horse Brigade, moved forward and occupied a hill south-west of Hod el Asal. The 1st Light Horse Regiment moved forward supporting this attack, one troop reaching the hill. As the enemy appeared to be making some advance across the. flat to the east, two troops of the regiment were moved up to Hod el Hisha, and were heavily fired on, at which time the Wellingtons were being heavily shelled on the hill occupied by them south-west of Hod el Asal. The enemy made a general advance, and orders were received at 3.30 p.m to withdraw to the north-west towards Hod Hamada, thence via Hod el Khibba to Ogratina, where the regiment bivouacked for the night. Lieutenant R. A. L. McDonald and two men had been killed, and Major DWA Smith and 13 men wounded.

 At Romani, on August 4 1916, the British had routed the Turks and destroyed half their force. It was a decisive battle in the campaign' After the actions at Katia on August 5, and at Bir el Abd on August 9 to 12, the main enemy force was withdrawn across the 50 miles of practically waterless country to el Arish, but with a strong outpost left at Mazar, 24 miles east of Abd. The Romani operations had stressed the need for the railway line and pipeline which were gradually being constructed in the wake of the army, and the G.O.C. now made a determined effort to get these completed. (By December 21, the British were in el Arish.)

 

Additional Reading:

1st Australian Light Horse Regiment, AIF

1st Australian Light Horse Regiment, Roll of Honour

Bir el Mazar, Sinai, 17 September 1916

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1919

 


Citation: Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, 1st LHR AIF Unit History Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 26 October 2009 11:55 AM EADT
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, CMR Unit History Account
Topic: AIF - NZMRB - CMR

Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

CMR Unit History Account

 

Machine Gunners at Romani

[From: Powles, The history of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles 1914-1919, p. 109.]

 

Colonel Charles Guy Powles along with Officers of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles produced in 1928 a collective work called The history of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles 1914-1919, in which included a section specifically related to the battle of Beersheba and is extracted below.

Powles, CG ed, The history of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles 1914-1919, 1928, pp. 106 - 117:

 

CHAPTER VIII.


Of the Battle called Romani, but which might have been named the Second Battle of Pelusium.

"And the Egyptians lay encamped on the banks of theNile. 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 that 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 a few miles from the wells of Romani, and it was just outside Pelusium in the year 528 B.C. that the invading Persians conquered the Egyptians. Upon this self same ground 2,500 years later, the invaders of Egypt were to be defeated in the battle of Romani.

In the early hours of the morning of August 4th orders were received to be ready to move at 8 a.m. With the Regiment as advanced guard the Brigade moved in the direction of Dueidar, and heavy firing could be heard away in the direction of Romani. It looked as though the General's batman was right, but after travelling about three mile towards the east the direction of the march was changed north towards Canterbury Post. Nobody knew why, but later it was learnt that the Turks were making a flank attack on the railway in conjunction with their main attack on Romani. and that the Brigade was to hold them, and if possible, drive them back.

Skilfully led by guides, who evidently knew every foot of the British position, the enemy had attacked in three column, one, a holding attack well backed by artillery upon the 52nd Division in their entrenched position, and the two other columns upon the open flank between Katib Gannit and the caravan route. These two columns encountered the outpost line held by the 1st Light Horse Brigade, and they attacked it about midnight on August 4th.


 

Additional Reading:

Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment

Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, 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, CMR Unit History Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 19 October 2009 10:01 PM EADT
Romani, Sinai, 4-5 August 1916, 1st LHR, AIF, War Diary Account
Topic: AIF - 1B - 1 LHR

Romani

Sinai, 4 - 5 August 1916

1st LHR, AIF, War Diary Account

 

War Diary account of the 1st LHR, AIF.

The transcription:

 
Tuesday, August 1, 1916 –
Enemy “plane” over again, continual “Stand to Arms”. Wearied the men. Regiment did not get into camp till midnight last night.

Wednesday, August 2, 1916 –
Reconnaissance again – “C” Squadron advanced guard, “B” and “C” Squadrons in firing line. “A” Squadron in support. Three casualties. “C” Squadron one NCO missing and believed captured – viz, Corporal Coutman. Enemy gaining ground slowly and occupied Qatia during night of 2 August 1916 and 3 August 1916.

Thursday, August 3, 1916 –
Enemy “planes” over camp. One case of diphtheria and seven men isolated. General health of troops good but tired. Horses standing work well considering heavy going.

Friday, August 4, 1916 –
On the night of 3rd/4th the Brigade took up a line of outposts from Hod el Enna to No. 1 Post, the Regiment remaining in camp in reserve. About midnight the Regiment was ordered out and at 0130 “A” Squadron reinforced the line held by the 3rd Light Horse Regiment on the southern slopes of Mount Meredith. A quarter of an hour later “B” Squadron went up and took up a line on either side of Mount Meredith. The Regiment less two Squadrons and one troop took up a line covering the two (2) Re-entrants north of Mount Meredith. On (1) Troop, “C” Squadron remaining in camp as escort to Leicester Battery, RHA. The Regiment came under heavy rifle and machinegun fire, also shrapnel from a mountain battery.

The Regiment fell back gradually on to Bir Etmaler about 1000 and remained in Divisional Reserve until 1700 when we moved forward and took up a line on south eastern end of hods at Bir Abu Diyuk. Enemy shelled camp and also dropped bombs, hand grenades and steel darts from aeroplanes, also turned machineguns onto camp. Casualties – Lieutenant William McQuiggin and 9 Other Ranks killed and Captain FV Weir (Adjutant), Captain AL Fitzpatrick (Quartermaster), Captain GHL Harris, Second Lieutenant W Nelson and 26 Other Ranks wounded and 3 missing.

Saturday, August 5, 1916 –
At 0400 the Regiment started to drive towards Hod el Enna with the 6th Light Horse Regiment on our left and tried to get in touch with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade on our right. During the drive we picked up 20 prisoners and on (1) machine gun and 4 boxes of eighteen pounder ammunition, and moved to Bir Abu Gulud. At 1430 commenced an attack on Qatia in conjunction with the 2nd and 3rd Light Horse Brigades and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade with the 5th Mounted Brigade on the extreme left. We dismounted at the western edge of Qatia swamp, my left being the first “A” in Qatia and occupied a frontage of 250 yards.

The line advanced 300 to 600 yards into the swamp the left being in advance owing to the right flank being held up.

At 1830 the line commenced to withdraw owing to the high ground east of Qatia being strongly held by rifle and machinegun fire.

The dismounted strength of the Regiment was 150 all ranks.

The Regiment then withdrew to Romani.

During the day the camp was again bombed and shelled by the enemy.

Casualties. One killed and one wounded in camp and two wounded near Qatia.

Sunday, August 6, 1916 –
Regiment remained in camp to rest, men and horses. Found fatigues to bury the dead. Also sent 20 men under Lieutenant ME Wright to escort laden camels to Brigade Headquarters at Qatia at 1530.



Roll of Honour
 
 
 
 
 
Lest we forget
 
 
Further Reading:

1st Australian Light Horse Regiment, AIF

1st Australian Light Horse Regiment, 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: Romani, Sinai, 4-5 August 1916, 1st LHR, AIF, War Diary Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Friday, 23 October 2009 9:00 AM EADT

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