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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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Wednesday, 5 August 2009
Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916, Falls Account, The end of the pursuit
Topic: BatzS - Bir el Abd

Bir el Abd

Sinai, 9 August 1916

Falls Account, The end of the pursuit

 

The Battle of Romani, 4-6 August  and Bir el Abd, 9 August 1916

[Click on map for larger version]

[From: Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, Sketch 10 facing p. 178.]

 

As part of the Official British War History of the Great War, Captain Cyril Falls and Lieutenant General George MacMunn were commissioned to produce a commentary on the Sinai, Palestine and Syrian operations that took place. In 1928, their finished work, Military Operations, Egypt and Palestine - From the outbreak of war with Germany to June 1917,  was published in London. Their book included a section specifically related to the battle of Romani and is extracted below.

MacMunn, G. & Falls, C., Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, (London 1930), pp. 194 - 199:

 

Part 5. The end of the pursuit.

The foresight of Kress in preparing successive lines of defence with each step forward was rewarded after his defeat at Romani. He had lost between three and four thousand prisoners, but he had saved all his artillery except one battery and had kept his tired troops in hand. He had fought one successful rear-guard action at Qatiya and was now prepared to meet an assault at Oghratina.

General Lawrence's orders for the 6th August directed the mounted troops (less the 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades, whose horses were unfit to move) to press forward vigorously against the enemy, who was believed to have left a rearguard of one regiment on the Qatiya line, and to attempt to cut off the retreat of men and material. The 42nd Division was to advance eastwards at 4 a.m. and occupy the line from Bir el Mamaluk to Bir Qatiya, supporting the mounted troops as required. The 52nd Division was to advance from Abu. Hamra at the same hour and prolong the line of the 42nd to the north-east. It was stated that Section headquarters would moue to Romani at noon.

At dawn the N.Z.M.R. Brigade, followed by the 5th Mounted Brigade, advanced on Oghratina, but found the enemy as well placed as on the previous day. The 3rd L.H. Brigade on the right advanced in the direction of Badieh, but the Turkish left was well secured and little progress could be made.

Meanwhile, the 42nd and 52nd Divisions had carried out their orders, but there was never the remotest chance that they would be able to support the mounted troops against the Oghratina position. The heat was again terrific, and the heavily burdened infantry - especially that of the 42nd Division, not yet hardened to desert conditions or trained in the conservation of water - suffered tortures on its march. The 127th Brigade did not reach Qatiya till evening was drawing on, and from it alone 800 men had fallen out by the way. The 125th, 155th and 157th Brigades also had many casualties from the sun. The medical services worked their hardest, but their efforts did not suffice. Next day it was necessary to employ the Bikanir Camel Corps, a detachment of Yeomanry and even aeroplanes to search the desert for the unfortunates who had fallen out on the march and now lay upon the sand, often in a state of delirium. The four brigades struggled on to the line upon which they had been directed, but that was the end of the pursuit so far as the infantry was concerned. It was now, indeed, obvious that its employment was useless in the present conditions, and, if persisted in, would cause many deaths. In the course of the day the Mobile Column had been in touch with the enemy between Bayud and Mageibra, but could make no impression on his flank.
On the 7th August the same three mounted brigades again probed the enemy's position at Oghratina, but once again found it too strong. Next morning it was discovered that the position had been evacuated, and patrols found the enemy back upon the old position at Bir el Abd, where he had first appeared three weeks earlier. On this day the Mobile Column did succeed in getting round the enemy's flank but was too weak to embarrass him seriously, and fell back at night to Bir Bayud.

To General Chauvel it appeared that there was still a possibility that a bold attack on the enemy's position would be successful, if all the mounted troops were put at his disposal. His plan, to which General Lawrence gave his approval, was as follows:-

The 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades, now restored by their rest, were to march out to Qatiya under the command of Colonel Royston, water there, march through the night to the Hod Hamada, 4 miles north-west of Bir el Abd, timing their movement so as to arrive at 3 a.m. on the 9th August. There they were to bivouac for an hour and a half, and then advance to a point 2 miles north-east of Bir el Abd, to co-operate with the N.Z.M.R. Brigade in an attack on the enemy's position at 6.30 a.m.

The 3rd L.H. Brigade was to attempt to work round the enemy's left flank and cut off his retreat;

the 5th Mounted Brigade was to be in reserve.

The scheme was in the nature of a gamble. If the enemy were demoralized, it had a chance of success; if not, very little, since it involved an attack supported by four horse artillery batteries on a prepared position held in superior strength and covered by double the number of guns, including heavy howitzers, and strong in machine guns. [The five brigades of General Chauvel's force, exclusive of horseholders, did not number more than 3,000 rifles. The enemy had probably double that number at Bir el Abd.] Yet it appeared a legitimate gamble, because the attacking troops were more mobile than the defence and could be drawn off if the task was found to be beyond their capacity.

The four attacking brigades began their advance before daylight, the 3rd L.H. Brigade leading on the right with the object of finding and turning the Turkish left. The New Zealanders in the centre advanced at 4 a.m., with a gap of a mile between them and the 3rd Brigade. The remaining two Australian brigades moved off at 5 a.m., with intention of enveloping the Turkish right while the New Zealanders gripped the centre. As these brigades came up into line, their left on the Bardawil Lagoon, there was a further gap of half a mile between their right and the New Zealanders. The four brigades covered a front of 5 miles, which, counting the 5th Mounted Brigade in reserve, gave them less than a rifle to three yards of frontage.

By 5 a.m. the New Zealanders, advancing astride the caravan route, had driven in the enemy outposts and reached some rising ground which overlooked Bir el Abd and the Turkish centre. But the enemy quickly realized how thin was the line opposed to him and at 9 a.m. issued from his trenches to counter-attack. The fire of the Somerset Battery and of the brigade machine guns checked his advance, but a hot fight for fire supremacy followed and the New Zealanders found it extremely difficult to maintain their position. The Australian brigades on right and left were likewise held up.

At 7.30 the Turks again attacked, making for the gap between the New Zealanders and the 2nd L.H. Brigade, but the breach was partially closed by a squadron of the 5th A.L.H. from reserve, and the Turkish advance came to a standstill. A little later General Chauvel, seeing that the 3rd L.H. Brigade on the right was unable to fulfil its mission of turning the Turkish flank, ordered it to close in towards the New Zealanders.

Turkish transport could be seen moving eastward from Bir el Abd; columns of smoke were pouring up from burning stores. It was therefore clear that the enemy was uneasy regarding his power of resistance. The New Zealanders redoubled their efforts, but only succeeded in advancing sufficiently to expose their line to flanking attacks, as the Australian brigades were unable to conform to the movement. By 10.30 all progress was over. Moreover, Br. General Chaytor, in view of renewed pressure on the gap on his left, was compelled to ask for assistance, whereupon the Warwick yeomanry was sent to him, one squadron dashing up at a gallop to a position on his left.

The enemy, realizing now that he could hold his position, returned to the offensive at midday, launching another heavy attack upon the Canterbury and Auckland Regiments and the squadron of the Warwicks. Again he was beaten back, but by 2 p.m. the attack had extended to the British left flank. The Ayrshire Battery, supporting Colonel Royston's force, came under very heavy shell fire and lost so many horses that for a short time it was immobilized and ran some risk of capture, the riflemen in front of it having been compelled to give ground. Eventually the guns were withdrawn, but only just in time, as Colonel Royston's troops were now retiring. A further withdrawal of the 3rd L.H. Brigade on the right made the situation of the New Zealanders critical.

At 5.30 p.m. General Chauvel gave orders for a general retirement. It has been remarked that he had decided upon the attack only because the mobility of his troops gave them an opportunity to disengage themselves if necessary. But it was now proved that for dismounted cavalry in action at comparatively short range against superior numbers to break off the fight is no easy matter. It was only their tenacity and the welcome fall of darkness that saved the New Zealanders. The Machine-Gun Squadron, under Captain R. Harper, had at the end of the action all its guns in line, some of them firing at a range of one hundred yards. Under cover of these machine guns and of squadrons of the 5th Mounted Brigade the brigade was finally able to withdraw. The British losses in the action were just over three hundred, including 8 officers and 65 other ranks killed.

General Lawrence was anxious that the force should bivouac as near as possible to Bir el Abd, in case another attack should be practicable next day. But General Chauvel, in view of the strength of the Turkish position and the exhaustion of his troops, felt compelled to withdraw to Oghratina, where the force bivouacked, leaving the 3rd L.H. Brigade out to watch Bir el Abd.

The Mobile Column had not been placed under General Chauvel's orders and co-ordination had had to be arranged through Section headquarters. Owing to failure of communications it did not directly co-operate in the action at Bir el Abd. It had, however, a sharp brush with an enemy at Hod el Bayud in the morning, the Turks leaving 21 dead on the field.

There was no further serious fighting. Bir el Abd was found evacuated on the 12th August and the enemy back upon a new position at Salmana, 5 miles to the cast, where he was engaged by the horse artillery batteries. He then drew off to his starting point, El Arish, leaving an outpost at Bir el Mazar.

 

Previous: The Pursuit on The 5th August 

Next: The Results of the Battle 

 

Further Reading:

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

Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916, Falls Account, The end of the pursuit

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 7 September 2009 6:19 PM EADT
Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916, Falls Account, The end of the pursuit
Topic: BatzS - Bir el Abd

Romani and Bir el Abd

Sinai, 4 - 9 August 1916

Falls Account, The Results of the Battle

 

The Battle of Romani, 4-6 August  and Bir el Abd, 9 August 1916

[Click on map for larger version]

[From: Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, Sketch 10 facing p. 178.]

 

As part of the Official British War History of the Great War, Captain Cyril Falls and Lieutenant General George MacMunn were commissioned to produce a commentary on the Sinai, Palestine and Syrian operations that took place. In 1928, their finished work, Military Operations, Egypt and Palestine - From the outbreak of war with Germany to June 1917,  was published in London. Their book included a section specifically related to the battle of Romani and is extracted below.

MacMunn, G. & Falls, C., Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, (London 1930), pp. 199 - 201:

 

Part 6. The Results of the Battle.

Romani was a considerable British victory. The enemy completely failed in his object and lost nearly four thousand prisoners, a mountain battery, 9 machine guns, 2,300 rifles and a million rounds of ammunition, 100 horses and mules, 500 camels, and two complete field hospitals. At Bir el Abd he destroyed a great quantity of his own stores. Judging by the number of Turkish dead found, Sir A. Murray put his total casualties at 9,000, and though according to the evidence of the enemy they were much lower, the number of prisoners alone represents nearly a quarter of the force. Liman states that the losses were one third of the force. This would be about 5,500 if only the attacking force at Romani is counted, or perhaps 6,000 if a fresh regiment believed to have been engaged at Bir el Abd is included. In contrast to these heavy losses, the British casualties numbered only 1,130, with a low proportion of killed and a very small proportion of missing.

  Killed Wounded Missing Casualties
Officers 22 81 1 104
Other Ranks 180 801 45 1,026
Total 202 882 46 1,130

 

Of these losses the majority were in the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division. It is improbable that more than about twenty of those reported missing fell into the hands of the enemy.

Nevertheless it was disappointing that the enemy should have been able to retire with his force in being and his artillery practically intact, after a complete defeat which had appeared to offer opportunities for his destruction. The causes of his escape will, it is hoped, have been made clear by the foregoing account, but it may be well to recapitulate them shortly.

In the first place, the retreat, especially the withdrawal of the heavy guns, was undoubtedly conducted with great skill by Kress and his staff. Kress's chief staff officer was apparently a Turk, Major Kadri Bey. The devotion of the troops, their extraordinary powers of endurance and of marching in the sand and heat, their swift restoration when they had fallen back on water and supplies, however meagre, constituted another important factor.

In the second place, Sir A. Murray's carefully prepared plan of enveloping the Turkish left had, as has been shown, to be modified and weakened owing to the Turkish advance through the skeleton position held by the 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades having been more rapid than had been anticipated. In the words of his Despatch,

"the result of the somewhat rapid advance of the Turks from the south was that General Lawrence was obliged to divert the cavalry originally destined to operate against the enemy's rear to strengthen the line of resistance to the north."

Br. General Chaytor, it will be recalled, first received orders to move through Dueidar on Mount Royston, to take the enemy in flank and rear, but the progress of the Turks north-east of Mount Royston made it necessary for him to swing north-east to Canterbury Hill, and his attack was eventually almost a frontal movement. Yet it is possible that had Sir A. Murray's intentions been strictly carried out, without regard to the threat to the railway, the operations of the mounted troops would have resulted in a far greater haul of prisoners, and the main force of the enemy would have been virtually destroyed. Sir A. Murray himself had never been greatly concerned for his communications, considering that the Turks would be worn out by their exertions and exhausted by the heat if they ever reached them, and recognizing that a blow against the left flank or even left rear of the enemy would be infinitely more devastating than a frontal attack.

With regard to the question of co-ordination between infantry and cavalry, General Lawrence had decided, after careful consideration, not to move his battle headquarters to Romani, and did not do so till noon on the 6th August. At Qantara he was in communication with all parts of his front and behind the troops waiting at their water supply for the counter-attack. The lines of cable communication were:-

(i) Qantara-Pelusium Station-52nd Divisional Headquarters at Romani;

(ii) Qantara-Port Said-Mahamdiyah-Romani.

The first was extremely congested and also interrupted by shell fire during the battle; the second proved slow. Communication between the 52nd Division and its brigades was excellent, that in the 42nd Division, which had recently been moved out, not nearly so good.

Had he felt that circumstances permitted him to move earlier to Romani, it is possible that the delays on the 5th August might have been reduced. At least he would have seen why his reiterated orders to advance were not more quickly obeyed. Even then it is by no means certain that the infantry could have been moved forward in time to grip the retreating enemy, owing to the difficulties of water supply and - in the case of the 42nd Division - the inexperience in handling camels. Once on the move, the British infantry proved incapable, in the intense heat and soft sand, of approaching the speed of the Turks. Indeed, Sir A. Murray, in a telegram to the C.I.G.S. on the 8th August, stated that the latter could march almost as fast as his mounted troops.

"I cannot pursue with all the vigour I should like, because my infantry and the horses of the Mounted Division are exhausted. There were 800 men missing in one brigade of the 42nd Division on arrival at Qatiya, after a short march on 6th August. I am informed by the General Officer Commanding 52nd Division that many of his men are physically quite incapable of making a sustained effort. My cavalry are hardly faster in the desert than the Turkish infantry, who are fine active men in good condition. In other respects the situation is quite satisfactory, but I should have liked to have hunted the Turks east of Bir el Abd. Considering that we are operating in the Sinai Desert in the month of August, I think you may feel assured that we are doing, and shall continue to do, all that is physically possible. Myself and all ranks have much appreciated your message."

Yet another factor, though probably of less importance, was a certain lack of co-ordination in the movements of the mounted troops. The failure of the 3rd L.H. Brigade to support General Chauvel on the morning of the 5th August was serious, as this brigade constituted his freshest troops. The fact that Colonel Smith's Mobile Column was never under General Chauvel's command has been criticised, but the point is largely theoretical. Its failure to co-operate usefully, though it was boldly handled, was, like that of the 3rd L.H. Brigade on the 5th, due to difficulties of communication, owing to the fact that it was operating so wide on the flank.

Regrettable as the escape of the Turkish main body was, the enemy had suffered heavy defeat, the full consequences of which only appeared some time later. The Battle of Romani marks the end of the campaign against the Canal. Further attacks might be projected in Constantinople, but they were always found to be impracticable. The offensive had passed from the enemy. In the next few months Sir A. Murray, advancing steadily and methodically, was to drive him back across the Egyptian frontier and advance on his heels into Palestine.

 

Previous: The end of the pursuit 

Next: Turkish and German Forces Engaged 

 

Further Reading:

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

Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Romani and Bir el Abd, Falls Account, The Results of the Battle

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 7 September 2009 6:18 PM EADT
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, 3rd LH Bde, AIF, War Diary Account
Topic: AIF - 3B - 3 LHB

Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

3rd LH Bde, AIF, War Diary Account

 

War Diary account of the 3rd LH Bde, AIF.

 

The transcription:

4 August

The Brigade less on Squadron 8th Light Horse Regiment (which joined at Dueidar) moved out from Ballybunion at 0945 for Hill 70 - Kantara, arriving at the latter place about noon. The Brigade moved out in light marching order and within two hours from receiving the order.

Inverness Battery who only received their ten ##### a few hours previously, fitted same and joined the Brigade at Dueidar before it moved on, with 3 guns and 2 wagons. The Brigade was composed as follows:

Brigade Headquarters and Supply Section;

1/1 Inverness Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, and Ammunition Column;

3rd Signal Troop and Wireless Detachment;

Field Troop Engineers;

3rd Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron (9 machine guns);

8th Light Horse Regiment;

9th Light Horse Regiment;

10th Light Horse Regiment;

3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance; and,

8th Mobile Veterinary Section.

No wagons were taken except Ambulance Carts. Camel Convoy with Ammunition and 24 hours rations and water left Ballybunion at 1000 and arrived Hill 70 at 1430. No first line transport accompanied Brigade but each man carried all his kit, 200 round small arms ammunition, unexpired portion of day's rations and one emergency ration. Brigade and convoy left Hill 70 for Dueidar at 1100, the former arriving at 2030 and the latter at 2200.

5 August

Supplies were drawn at 0300 and Brigade left Dueidar for Bir el Nuss at 0500 both the object of attacking Hod el Enna arriving at 0900, and there joined New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade. As enemy had retreated, Ammunition Column joined up and the whole Column moved on to Hamisah and general engagement took place through the afternoon. 9th, 10th Light Horse Regiments and Inverness Battery taking part with 8th Light Horse Regiment in reserve.

The 9th Light Horse Regiment attacked with 2 Squadrons and 2 Machine Guns, one Squadron in support. The 10th Light Horse Regiment and Brigade Scouts, 4 Machine Guns made a wide detour to encircle the enemy's left, which was accomplished resulting in the capture of some 439 prisoners, 3 Machine Guns with Camels and Field Cookery complete and a quantity of ammunition and rifles. At this stage an enemy howitzer battery brought heavy and effective fire to bear on our troops. At dusk the Brigade rationed and camped one mile west of Nagid for the night leaving out Officer's Patrol.


 

Roll of Honour

Roll of Honour, 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade

Lest We Forget

 

Further Reading:

3rd Light Horse Brigade, AIF

Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, 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, 3rd LH Bde, AIF, War Diary Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 18 October 2009 9:25 AM EADT
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Roll of Honour, 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade
Topic: AIF - 3B - 3 LHB

Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

Roll of Honour

3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade


Poppies on the Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial, Canberra

 

The Roll of Honour contains the names of all the men from the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade known to have served and lost their lives during the Battle of Romani.

 

Roll of Honour

 

Charles John BRUCE, 9th Light Horse Regiment, Killed in Action, 5 August 1916.
 
James Malcolm FROST, 10th Light Horse Regiment, Killed in Action, 5 August 1916.

 

Alfred William JAMES, 8th Light Horse Regiment, Killed in Action, 6 August 1916.


Thomas LITSTER, 9th Light Horse Regiment, Killed in Action, 5 August 1916.

 

Alan Dexter PALMER, 3rd Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron, Died of Wounds, 6 August 1916.

 
Andrew Mitchell SHARP, 9th Light Horse Regiment, Killed in Action, 5 August 1916.

 

Roderick William URQUHART, 8th Light Horse Regiment, Killed in Action, 7 August 1916.

 

Henry Patrick WRIGHT, 8th Light Horse Regiment, Died of Wounds, 7 August 1916.

 

Lest We Forget

 

Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Steve Becker who provided much of the raw material that appears in this item.

 

Further Reading:

3rd Light Horse Brigade, AIF

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, Roll of Honour, 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 19 October 2009 11:20 AM EADT
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Roll of Honour, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade
Topic: AIF - NZMRB

Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

Roll of Honour

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade



Poppies on the Auckland Cenotaph plinth

 

The Roll of Honour contains the names of all the men from the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade known to have served and lost their lives during the Battle of Romani.

 

Roll of Honour

 

Alexander Harold GOOD, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Died of Wounds, 7 August 1916.


Lewis MANSON, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Killed in Action, 5 August 1916.

Thomas McCAHON, New Zealand Machine Gun Squadron, Died of Wounds, 4 August 1916.

Edward Charles MORTON, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Died of Wounds, 7 August 1916.

 
Joseph George Alfred PICKENS, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Killed in Action, 4 August 1916.

 

Frederick Ormsby REES, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Killed in Action, 5 August 1916.


Ralph SUTTON, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Died of Wounds, 5 August 1916.

 

John WALKER Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Died of Wounds, 6 August 1916.

Leslie WALLACE, Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, Died of Wounds, 7 August 1916.

Mervyn Leigh WATERS, Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, Killed in Action, 4 August 1916.

 

Lest We Forget

 

 

Further Reading:

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade

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, Roll of Honour, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 21 October 2009 4:38 PM EADT

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