"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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The Battle of Bitapaka, New Guinea, 11 September 1914, Outline Topic: BatzNG - Bitapaka
The Battle of Bitapaka
New Guinea, 11 September 1914
Details of the Battle at Bitapaka
Bitapaka, the only significant action arising from the Australian seizure of German New Guinea at the start of the First World War, was fought on 11 September 1914 south of Kabakaul on the north-east coastline of the Gazelle Peninsula, New Britain. At dawn that day a joint army-navy contingent (the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force, or AN&MEF) arrived off Rabaul in ships of the Australian fleet commanded by Rear-Admiral George Patey, to demand the German colony's surrender. Meanwhile, a 25-man party of naval reservists (with about fifteen others who were to provide medical support and maintain communications) was landed at Kabakaul with orders to capture a radio station believed to be in operation at Bitapaka, seven kilometres to the south.
At about 9 a.m., as the Australians pushed inland following a jungle-edged road, two scouts surprised an enemy party of about twenty Melanesian soldiers led by three Germans apparently setting an ambush. They opened fire, wounding one of the Germans and scattering the rest. In addition to the wounded man who surrendered, the other two Germans were soon afterwards captured (one of whom turned out to be the captain commanding the Bitapaka section of the German forces). Reinforcements were called up from the beach at the same time as the advance was resumed. The Australians had only gone some 500 metres when they came under fire from a strongly held trench dug across the road. Joined here by about 50 more men from the ships, a flanking attack was launched under Lieut.-Commander Charles Elwell shortly after 1 p.m. which caused a white flag to be raised by the trench's defenders and terms of surrender requested. To this point the Australians had suffered Elwell and three men killed, and five others wounded (two fatally).
Accompanied by two Germans from the captured trench to serve as interpreters, the Australians proceeded along the road carrying a flag of truce. The Germans persuaded the garrisons of three more trench obstacles to surrender also-though not before a brisk skirmish took place at the last of these in which three Australians were wounded (one fatally) and one of the interpreters and several Melanesian soldiers killed. Another group of German-led Melanesians was encountered and disarmed before the radio station was reached about 7 p.m. This was found to have been abandoned, the mast dropped but its instruments and machinery intact. The No. 2 trench (3 Germans. 20 Natives) AN&MEF personnel killed during the day's fighting were the first Australians to fall in the First World War.
Although successful, the operation could scarcely be rated as well managed. The Australian advance had been effectively delayed by a half-trained force of native police, and plantation labourers, and this opposition had been overcome only at a cost of seven officers and men killed or died of wounds and five wounded; some Germans present later claimed that two of the Australian fatalities had been shot by their own side in the confused engagement. Against this, Bitapaka's defenders had suffered one German NCO and about 30 Melanesians killed, and one German and ten Melanesians wounded. It has been claimed that the heavy losses among the Melanesian troops were the result of the Australian practice of bayoneting all those that fell into their hands during the fighting.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 96-97.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
S.S. Mackenzie, (1927), The Australians at Rabaul, Sydney: Angus & Robertson;
Hermann Joseph Him, (1995), The Neglected War, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
The Battle of Baku, Azerbaijan, 26 August to 14 September 1918, Outline Topic: BatzO - Baku
The Battle of Baku
Azerbaijan, 26 August - 14 September 1918
The Battle of Baku, Azerbaijan, 26 August to 14 September 1918
[From: Purnell's History of the First World War, 1970, p. 2768.]
Baku, an oil port and town on the west coast of the Caspian Sea, was the scene of desperate fighting between Turkish forces and a special British unit known as 'Dunsterforce' and their Armenian and Russian allies between 26 August and 14 September 1918. In line with its goal of organising resistance to Turkish and German advances in the region, Dunsterforce - under its commander, Major-General Lionel Dunsterville - had attempted to bolster the local forces totalling 6,000 men which were holding a 20-kilometre-long defensive line across the Baku peninsula against some 14,000 Turkish troops. Apart from the small number of Dunsterforce members advising local commanders, elements of the British 39th Brigade were obtained from Mesopotamia totalling about 1,000 infantry, and one artillery battery.
Following the communist revolution in Russia, the task of Dunsterville's mission was an immensely complicated undertaking Russia's formal withdrawal from the war meant that many Russian Army units were disinclined to fight, while Bolshevik sympathies among large sections of the local populace caused the British presence to be widely viewed with suspicion and hostility. Instead of accepting the assistance of Dunsterville's 'advisers' (several of whom were Australians), local authorities largely expected the British to carry the weight of the fighting for them. Consequently, when the Turks attacked on 26 and 31 August, the Armenian levies promptly melted away or failed to give support.
After the first two Turkish assaults succeeded in making significant gains against the right flank of the town's defences, Dunsterville told the local leaders that he would withdraw his troops whenever it was necessary to save them from destruction. When he next advised them that he intended to leave Baku entirely, he was warned that any attempt to sail away from the port would be resisted. Although not intimidated by this, he decided to remain, and was encouraged by an apparent improvement in affairs during the next fortnight. When a deserter from the Turkish lines disclosed that a further assault was to he expected on 14 September, this news was awaited with greater confidence.
In the event, the Turkish attack met with the same absence of fight by the local troops: first reports that morning were of the enemy advancing at the run upon the town. The British, acting with a handful of Cossacks, stemmed the Turkish advance through the rest of the day, but Dunsterville immediately prepared to make good his threat to withdraw once night arrived. The local authorities initially acquiesced in his plans, then attempted to prevent the evacuation. Despite this, the whole of the British force successfully got off under cover of dark and was taken to Enzeli. Two Australians, Major H.B. Suttor and Sergeant A.L. Bullen, although left behind through not being notified of the departure, subsequently escaped in a refugee boat to Krasnovodsk.
Russian armoured car captured by Dunsterforce near Baku, 1918.
[Photo: S. Fallance]
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 155-157.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean (1937) The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Main German Offensive, 1918, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
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