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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, 9 January 2008
The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Gullett Account
Topic: BatzP - Rafa

The Battle of Rafa

Sinai, 9 January 1917

Gullett Account

 

The following is extracted from the book written by HS Gullett called Sinai and Palestine,  Chapter XV, Rafa. 

 

Rafa

While Magdhaba was being fought by the mounted troops, and during the fortnight which followed, Sir Philip Chetwode took energetic steps to make the occupation of El Arish secure against any counter-stroke which might be attempted by the enemy. Sir Archibald Murray estimated that the enemy might have 50,000 men available for an assault on the head of his column. The British force at El Arish was now in a similar position to that in which the Turks had found themselves when they advanced in July to the Katia oasis. Between El Arish and railhead there was a stretch of thirty miles of heavy sand almost devoid of wells; while now the Turks, if they chose to attack, had a sound watered route to advance over. As the brigades of the 52nd Infantry Division came out of the desert, they at once set to work to ensure the new position with entrenchments.

On the morning of December 22nd ships of the British Navy had appeared off El Arish-a very welcome sight to the light horsemen-and at once began cleaning up the enemy mine-fields. By the morning of the 24th stores were being landed on the beach and on a pier which had been constructed by the Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train. From the beginning of the Sinai campaign, when the pilots of the Royal Naval Air Service, taking flight from their mother ship the B F I ~Aluclirrc in the Mediterranean, had been Murray's only air force, till the termination of Allenby's victorious march to the Taurus Mountains, the British Navy gave material assistance to the troops ashore. Its monitors, which had made possible the feint of a landing at Cyprus, had bombarded the Turks during the Battle of Romani; at El Arish it began to play an invaluable part in the operations by the transport of supplies to the advancing army. From this time on, as the long fighting march was continued, and the land forces, preceded by their mounted troops, entered port after port along the enemy's coast, the soldiers were cheered on the morning following each conquest by the sight of significant grey ships stealing in to greet and ration them from the sea.

Cold winds and rainstorms attended the last week of the year, and the Christmas season was passed by the light horse brigades in active preparation for further operations. The harsh desert life had sharpened the men's appreciation of the simplest luxuries, and the distribution of gifts to them by the representatives of the Australian Comforts Fund had a heartening effect which probably exceeded the fondest hopes of the Australian donors. Some of the regiments had received their "Christmas billies” on the eve of the march to Magdhaba, and the troopers had attached them to their saddles to supplement the limited rations. As they had advanced at the gallop before dismounting for action, many of the billies worked loose, and Christmas puddings, tins of bulli, packets of chocolates, and similar dainties were strewn thickly over the approach to the battle-ground.

On the 27th General Murray, whose visits to the front were not frequent, and who was unknown by sight to most of his men, came to Chetwode's advanced-headquarters at El Arish. After consultation, it was decided to press the advance as rapidly as possible along the coast, and so by indirect pressure compel the Turks to retire from the Sinai highlands. As a preliminary step it was resolved to raid the Turkish force in position at El Magruntein, close to the old Egyptian police post at Rafa. Aeroplane reconnaissance and photographs enabled accurate sketches to be prepared of the enemy's defences; and on the evening of January 8th, Chauvel marched out with the 1st and 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigades, Chaytor's New Zealand Brigade, and the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the Camel Brigade. Chetwode, who decided to supervise in person the conduct of the fight, moved with the column, and kept the 5th Mounted (Yeomanry) Brigade under his own direct control. This brigade, with Australian officers from the 1st Light Horse Brigade as guides, led the column as far as the native village of Sheikh Zowaiid, which was reached shortly before midnight and swiftly enveloped to prevent the Arabs from warning the Turks at Kafa. The New Zealanders then headed the night advance upon the Turkish position.

Although the light horsemen had already felt, when they reached the Wadi el Arish, that Sinai was behind them, it was on this ride to Rafa, after passing Sheikh Zowaiid, that they really cleared the outskirts of the desert and found themselves upon the pleasant rolling country of southern Palestine. The Negib, or south land, is fertile only by contrast with the harsh uplands of Judea to the north and the sandy wastes of Sinai to the south. Its undulating, treeless surface contains about 1,200 square miles lying roughly between the Wadi Ghuzze and the desert fringe of Sinai. The soil is light, and becomes more fertile towards the north; but, thanks to the phenomenal regularity of the winter rains, it is, so far as its limited capacity permits, one of the most dependable pastoral and agricultural regions in the world. Unfailingly in November the thirsty sun-dried land is refreshed with a downpour sufficient to start the native grasses, and to let the natives proceed with their crude cultivation and the sowing of the early crops. Then for about six weeks the country is blessed with ideally tranquil days of sunshine, and the land is clothed with swiftly-springing crops and pastures and a great glory of delicate wild flowers. About the end of the year, usually in the week of Christmas, the main wet season commences, and heavy rains fall frequently until about the beginning of March. There are diminishing showers during March and April; then comes the dry season, and up till November rain is rarely known.

As Chetwode's force on the evening of the 8th advanced from El Arish to Sheikh Zowaiid, a distance of about fifteen miles, the sky was clear and the air sharp. British and, Australian aeroplanes patrolling to the east had kept enemy aircraft at a distance, so that both the concentration and the march were concealed from the Turks. Chauvel, with Anzac Mounted Division and the Camel Brigade, cleared Sheikh Zowaiid at 1 o'clock in the morning of the 9th to ride the remaining ten miles to Magruntein (which lies about a mile to the south of Rafa) before dawn. Before reaching the scene of operations a considerable Bedouin encampment, believed to be hostile, was rushed by the New Zealanders in accordance with orders, and thirty armed Bedouins were speedily made prisoners without interrupting the progress of the column. The New Zealanders, working wide of Magruntein on the south, were by daylight in position to the east or Palestine side of the Turks. The cordon was swiftly drawn, with the 1st Brigade on the left of the New Zealanders, so as to attack from the east; then the 3rd Light Horse Brigade with the Camels on their left to attack from the east and south, and the 5th Yeomanry Brigade ready to complete the gap between the Camels and the New Zealanders' right.

Dawn had disclosed a new and gracious world to Chauvel's men. When darkness fell on the evening of the 8th, they were still riding over a land of desert sands, a land less harsh to the eye and firmer tinder foot than the desert of Sinai, but still destitute of vegetation. But, as the night wore on, the horses were hungrily reaching for the first green grass they had eaten since leaving the Delta of the Nile; and at daylight the troopers looked round on a rolling expanse of tender pasture splashed with patches of young barley, and sprinkled brilliantly with poppies, anemones, iris, and a wealth of other wild flowers. Jaded as they were after the night in the saddle, all rads were intoxicated with delight, and only vigorous riding prevented the desert-worn walers from halting to graze.

Seldom since long-range weapons came into use has a prospective battleground been disclosed in such clear detail to an attacking force. The enemy occupied a bare, irregular knoll with its slopes running gradually down for about a mile to the level of the surrounding plain on the east, west, south, and to the foot of the coastal sand-dunes on the north. The position had its summit in Hill 25s on the eastern side; to the south-east of that was another knob almost as high, marked by a solitary large tree. Except for this tree, scattered patches of early barley about nine inches high, and the tender winter grasses and mild flowers, the area was naked of vegetation or cover.

As the light became clear, the Turks discovered the long columns of horse and Camels moving rapidly to perfect the envelopment; the confusion which followed confessed their surprise. There was an immediate and disorderly rush of troops to their numerous earthworks, so that the light horsemen had a full view of their preparations for battle. But the discomfiture was not altogether one-sided. From the air-photographs Chauvel had prepared for a strongly defended position more or less in the open. But neither he nor Chetwode had expected a task so discouraging as that now disclosed to them. "When daylight broke," said Chetwode in his subsequent dispatch to Dobell, "the ground was seen to be almost entirely open and devoid of cover, while the immediate neighbourhood of the works was almost a glacis. I confess I thought the task was almost beyond the capacity of dismounted cavalry to carry through."

To the south and east of the position, and between Chauvel's brigades and the enemy, was a large scattered Bedouin encampment, whose people had been engaged in trade with the garrison and also in the cultivation of the surrounding country. These degenerate gipsy children of the great tribes of old would seem to have inherited a consciousness of all the armed hosts which for thousands of years have marched and fought upon their ancient countryside. They were indifferent alike to the sudden coming of strange troops, and to modern weapons and vehicles of war. Men and women at work in the fields would seldom trouble to cease their labours to look at the advance-guard of the British army, breaking for the first time into their district. During the engagement at Rafa some of the men continued to follow their crude ploughs on land between Chauvel's batteries and the Turkish trenches. Possibly, however, this indifference was studied and deliberate, for no sooner had each engagement ceased, than they swarmed like carrion-crows over the battleground.

By 7 o'clock the enemy garrison had been isolated by the cutting of the wires leading to Khan Yunis and Shellal. Twenty minutes later, as the brigades were completing their arrangements, the Royal Horse Artillery and the Hong Kong and Singapore Battery began registering their ranges for the bombardment preliminary to the attack, which was timed for 10 o’clock. The Turkish defences consisted of three groups of earthworks, A, B, and C, and a large strong redoubt on Hill 255, the whole making a rough square with one of its corners to the north.

Most of these earthworks were plainly visible to Chauvel's horsemen, as from their position out on the plain they waited for the order to advance, and the gunners as they opened fire had the rare satisfaction of laying on to their targets over open sights. At 10 o’clock the New Zealanders rode forward from the east, with the works C4 and C5 as their objective. Simultaneously the 1st Light Horse Brigade, also mounted, advanced from the east and south-east and closed towards the works C1, C2, and C3; while the men of the Camel Brigade, obliged as usual to leave their camels further back, marched on foot against the B earthworks from the south.

The 3rd Light Horse Brigade was temporarily held by Chauvel in reserve, nor did Chetwode at once commit the Yeomanry Brigade. A stimulating preliminary success was gained almost immediately by the New Zealanders. Soon after 10 o’clock parties of Turks endeavoured to escape from the main position by the track to Khan Yunis; the Canterbury Regiment with an enthusiastic dash galloped down upon them at the Rafa Police Post, and, continuing its rush, rode over a machine-gun emplacement 300 yards to the west. The Turks, demoralised by the yelling horsemen, surrendered without a fight, and six Germans and two Turkish officers and 163 other ranks were captured. This gallop also gave the Canterburys possession of a line of half-completed enemy works running from Rafa towards the south-east. At the same time the Auckland Regiment pressed in on the left of the Canterburys, while the Wellingtons on the right cleared the sand-hills between the enemy and the sea. The New Zealand Brigade as a whole then began slowly to close on the entrapped garrison. For some time the line steadily made progress against shrapnel, machine-gun, and rifle fire from the vigilant, well-placed enemy.

Very early in the fight the two reserve brigades (3rd Light Horse and Yeomanry) were thrown in, and by 11 o'clock all were engaged. The 1st Light Horse Brigade, on the left of the New Zealanders, was diverted somewhat to the right against works C4 and C5, in their endeavour to keep touch with the New Zealanders. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade advanced against C3 and C4 on the left of the 1st, while the Yeomanry Brigade was ordered to deploy against B1 and B2 on the left of the Camels. As the dismounted attack became general, with the successive waves of riflemen still about 1,000 yards from the enemy trenches, the seriousness of the British task was vividly disclosed. The circle was yet far too wide for contact; each brigade was more or less isolated, with its flanks exposed; and the admirable placing of the enemy posts left most of the British troops open to enfilade fire. For a time the Turks shrewdly withheld their lire, and all the regiments made rapid progress until they came within about half-a-mile of the earthworks. Then the Turks opened vigorously with all arms, and Chauvel's men, still beyond charging distance, were held by a hail of lead which each moment increased in intensity and deadliness. From time to time the horse artillery was advanced at the gallop to fresh positions, while the Indians of the Hong Kong and Singapore Battery gallantly man-handled their guns forward. All day the gunners shot with fine precision at the exposed targets; but, although they harassed the enemy riflemen, the material effect of their light weapons upon the earthworks was insignificant.

The extreme caution displayed at most stages of these dismounted attacks, and the relatively light casualties usually suffered, may be somewhat puzzling to those who have served only with infantry. But the explanation is simple. A light horse line is a slender striking force, and leaders dare not commit it to a decisive charge unless the odds of battle are strongly in its favour. A premature assault against a strongly placed enemy, as at Rafa or Magdhaba, might in a few minutes have ended in the complete destruction of the attacking regiments.

Cox had commenced his advance with the 1st Light Horse Brigade by marching the 1st Regiment under Granville against works C1, C2, and C3. With about 2,000 yards to cross after leaving their horses, the regiments made good headway until the men reached the sunken road about 800 yards east of Cox towards which, as we have seen, they had been drawn in their efforts to keep touch with the New Zealanders on their right. At 11 o'clock the 2nd and 3rd Light Horse Regiments were sent in on either side of the 1st. Cox's sector was particularly exposed, especially on its left, where the 3rd Regiment suffered severely. The three regiments pressed on slowly by troop and squadron rushes, until the 10th Light Horse Regiment of the 3rd Brigade made contact with the 3rd Regiment under Colonel Fulton, when the pace was stimulated, and in places the advance was carried to within 400 yards of the enemy's defences. Between 1 and 2 o'clock the 1st Regiment rushed a small outlying trench, killed several Turks, and took twenty four prisoners. Here Major T. E. W. W. Irwin and thirteen men were wounded and one man was killed. At about the same time the 2nd also overran an enemy post and secured twenty prisoners. But the Turkish redoubts constantly enfiladed the Australians, and soon the 1st Brigade was definitely arrested. Orders were given to dig in, but the men had only their bayonets and the ground was hard, so that this work was slow and the cover gained but slight. For more than three hours the regiments held their positron, with the exception of a slight retirement which Cox decided upon for the 3rd, and which was carried out in perfect order. The strength and confidence of the Turks at this time were shown by their endeavour to exploit what they perhaps took to be the beginning of the general British retirement. As the 3rd Regiment fell back, the Turkish riflemen stood up and opened rapid fire. But they were at once observed, not only by the 1st and 2nd Regiments, but also by the 9th and 10th on the left, and were promptly forced down by the good shooting of riflemen and Lewis gunners.

The experience of the 9th and 10th Regiments of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, and the 1st Battalion of Camels under Langley, was similar to that of the 1st Brigade. Langley led the 1st Battalion under cover of a ridge until he was within 700 yards of the " B " group of defences. The 15th Company (New Zealand), which was that day attached to the 1st Battalion, and was led by Captain J. G. McCallum formed the firing line. Attempting to cross the ridge, McCallum's men were caught by a withering enfilade fire from the " C " works on his right, and McCallum fell mortally wounded. Lieutenant H. A. J. Linford was killed at about this time. Pending developments in the other sectors, Langley was ordered to halt behind the crest, where his battalion was without a target, and for about four hours remained out of action. At 2 o'clock the left flank of the 5th Mounted Brigade joined up with the right of the New Zealanders, and the circle was complete. But it was practically stationary; and, with only a few hours' daylight remaining, the outlook was liked neither by Chetwode, whose headquarters were four and a half miles away, nor by Chauvel, who from an elevated position to the south had a clear view of the operations. General Royston, of the 3rd Brigade, at about this stage impulsively galloped right round the whole position, but saw no such opportunity as he had seized so effectively with the 10th Light Horse at Magdhaba.

At no stage in the advance were the brigades able to establish sustained superiority of fire. When the several regiments were halted, they could, with their rifles and machine-guns, supported by the batteries, keep the enemy fairly quiet; but immediately the pressure was taken off to enable the squadrons to advance in succession, the Turks stood boldly up above their parapets and re-asserted their mastery. Moreover, the munition reserves had been left at Sheikh Zowaiid, ten miles away, and were slow in coming forward. As a consequence the New Zealand Brigade had four machine-guns out of action in the early afternoon; and soon after 3 o'clock the Inverness Battery, which was attached to that brigade, fired its last shell and was sent back to divisional headquarters. Chetwode at no stage contemplated an expensive fight to a finish. The Turks at Rafa numbered only about 2,000, and, even if they were not overthrown, it was practically certain that they would speedily retire further east. The British had all or nearly all their mounted troops engaged, and, with the prospect of an early general advance into southern Palestine, heavy losses among the horsemen could not be afforded at that stage.

The Turks and the assaulting circle therefore settled down at short range to a prolonged duel of small arms. Even lying flat as they were, the British were clearly visible to the enemy on the higher ground. Intensive fire was maintained to keep the Turks off their parapets, and the machine and Lewis gunners, working right forward with little or no cover, ceaselessly skimmed earthworks, and were of incalculable value. Casualties were kept remarkably low, although the heroic stretcher-bearers, moving fearlessly in the open, were a constant target, and two squadron leaders of the 3rd Regiment, Major C. Mills' and Major L. A. Lewis, were wounded as they walked about cheering their lines. Happily the mountain guns of the enemy were compelled to extend their activities all round the menacing circle, and in consequence their fire was never concentrated and seldom accurate. As at Magdhaba, it was a stern fight against the approaching darkness, with Chauvel and Chetwode seeking complete victory at the lowest possible cost. And, as at Magdhaba, Chauvel knew that the capture of one strong earthwork in the enemy system would give him the key to the whole situation. He therefore waited with his usual patience, while his regiments crouched within attacking distance, alert for the opportunity to spring.

General Smith, of the Camel Brigade, recognising that progress was for the time impossible on the sector allotted to him, decided early in the afternoon to extend his line to the left and engage "B" group of works from the south-west. Major Bassett undertook these operations with two companies of the 2nd (British) Battalion. Acting on a suggestion from Langley, Smith then ordered Major H. J. Huddleston, with two companies of the 3rd (Australian) Battalion and one company of the 2nd (British) Battalion, to work round on the west, between Bassett's men and the yeomanry, with a view to an assault with the bayonet against RI, the main redoubt of that system, The movement was promptly effected, and Huddleston, an Imperial officer and a heavy giant of a man, made ready for the charge, while the Hong Kong and Singapore guns, man-handled forward by the Indians under heavy fire, came into action against B1 at a range of only 1,500 yards, and immediately reduced its volume of machine-gun and rifle fire. At almost the same moment the Camels received from Huddleston the preliminary order to " charge on the whistle," the New Zealanders on the other side of the battleground were being pulled together by their officers for a similar charge against the main redoubt on Hill 255.

As at Magdhaba, victory was almost thrown away by a premature order for a general withdrawal. A detachment of the 8th Light Horse Regiment under Lieutenant L. A. W. Macphers0n.l and parties of the Wellingtons had been sent to watch the country to the east and north-east for enemy reinforcements from Khan Yunis and Shellal. Shortly before 4 o'clock a force estimated at two battalions was observed four miles west of Shellal moving from Weli Sheikh Nuran on the rear of the Anzac Mounted Division, and half-an-hour later the patrols towards Khan Yunis reported another body about 500 strong advancing from the north east. These reports were endorsed by the British airmen, who, however, estimated the Turkish reinforcements at 2,500. At that time Chetwode's attacking troops were everywhere at a standstill; his last reserves were committed, and the enemy was coming up rapidly behind Cox's brigade and the New Zealanders. Chetwode, therefore, after discussing the situation with Chauvel by telephone, decided at 4.25 to break off the fight and withdraw. The 5th Mounted Brigade was at once pulled out; and Chetwode accepting failure, mounted his horse and began his ride back to El Arish. At the same time the order to withdraw was issued to the brigades of Anzac Mounted Division.

But the order, although received by some of the brigades, fell on regardless ears, for at that moment both the men of the Camels and the New Zealanders were out in the open with fixed bayonets in a prolonged uphill charge for the Turkish trenches. It is impossible to distinguish between the merit of these two superb advances. Chaytor had received direct intelligence of the approach of the enemy's relief force, and decided in the brief time remaining to bring the struggle to a test with the steel. Redoubt 255, on which the brigade was to march, stood out clearly nearly a mile away from the New Zealand line, on the crest of an absolutely naked grassy slope. All officers recognised that they were engaged in a contest against time; they led their men up the hill at a great pace, but still did not find it easy to keep in advance of the eager troopers. It was a wild tempestuous rush rather than a steady arid precise advance of the kind in which British regular infantry so often excels. As the men went forward, heavy rifle and machine-gun fire was concentrated on the redoubt, until (in the words of the brigade report) it was "smoking like a furnace." But despite the hail of lead the Turks, resisting with fine courage, could be seen standing up to take aim with their rifles. As usual, however, when the Ottoman was flurried, his shooting was poor, and the New Zealand casualties were extremely light. When about 800 yards from the position the line was consolidated. The New Zealanders then charged up the slope in two grand rushes, and leaped yelling at the trenches. The Turks, menaced with the bayonet, made only a feeble resistance before they surrendered. Their casualties had been heavy. The trenches were strewn with dead and wounded, in some places two and three deep. The New Zealand Brigade in the whole day's operations had only seventeen men killed, and nine officers and eighty-four men of other ranks wounded.

While the New Zealanders on the north were sweeping irresistibly up the long rise to 255, Major Huddleston, on the south, closely followed by the impetuous Camels and supported by fire from the machine-guns, was charging in an equally bold fashion up the bare slope leading to the work B4. In the first rush Captain G. A. Smith of the 12th Company (Australian), was killed at the head of his men. The line went on with gathering speed against heavy fire, although, as the Camels closed, the enemy shooting became erratic and ineffective. When 200 yards away Huddleston's men could plainly see the Turks fixing their bayonets; accepting the challenge with a great roar, they rushed at the stronghold. But as they reached the trenches the Turks raised a number of white flags, and a moment later the panting assailants, who were almost too exhausted after their long charge for further effort, were shaking hands with the enemy all along the line. Many times during the campaign there were similar examples of this instinctive incapacity of the Anzacs to sustain their battle-fury for a moment after the fight was won; again and again, when the enemy had taken full advantage of his trenches, and continued shooting until the last possible second, he was spared as soon as he dropped his rifle. With all their zest for battle, the men from the two young Dominions were never bloody killers. Huddleston captured five Turkish officers and 219 unwounded men of other ranks, while his own losses were Captain Smith and nine men killed, and thirty-nine wounded.

The storming of these two earthworks was immediately followed by the collapse of the whole enemy resistance. The New Zealanders pushed on strongly towards other entrenchments, but the Turks in them surrendered; similarly, as Huddleston's men prepared for further advance, the enemy raised white flags. Cox's regiments of the 1st Brigade were quick to appreciate the significance of the determined advance of the New Zealanders. As soon as they were seen in the open, the three light horse regiments rose and dashed forward at the " C " group of earthworks, and the 10th and 9th Regiments on their left, who could see both the New Zealanders and the Camels, joined in the general assault. At the same time the 5th Yeomanry Brigade returned to participate in the closing stages of the struggle. The remaining redoubts were speedily overrun without serious opposition although scattered hursts of rifle fire continued until the fall of darkness. In view of the menace of enemy reinforcements from the east, it was decided immediately to evacuate the battleground, and the main force retired upon Sheikh Zowaiid, where the brigades bivouacked for the night. The field ambulances of Anzac Mounted Division remained on the battleground, covered by two regiments of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, under Lieutenant-Colonel L. C. Maygar, V.C., of the 8th Regiment. The Turkish reinforcements withdrew when they discovered the fall of the position, but early in the morning of the 10th a force of cavalry and camelry made a spirited but fruitless attack upon Maygar's two regiments.

All day the British and Australian airmen hovered over the fight, and for the first time on this front used wireless to direct the fire of the batteries. One of the observers was Lieutenant Ross Smith, who had fought at Romani in the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, and was now mastering the new service in which he was to have so remarkable a career.

The total British casualties at Rafa were 71 killed and 415 wounded. The enemy had 200 killed, and 168 wounded and 1,434 unwounded 'Turks were made prisoner. The trophies included four mountain guns and a number of machine-guns.

Nearly all the British wounded were carried off the battleground during the progress of the fight; sand-carts were provided for their transport, and arrangements for their treatment worked smoothly. On the fall of the position all possible relief was given to the wounded Turks and the ambulance men were active all through the night. At dawn the Bedouins swarmed over the field; an hour later it had been stripped as clean of fighting material as the surrounding country. Uniforms and boots were torn savagely from the dead, and even from any of the Turkish wounded who still remained on the ground; afterwards it was found that even the graves had been opened by the wretched natives in their lust of gain. All through the campaign, British policy pandered foolishly to these degenerate roaming Arabs of western Palestine. Firm punishment for gross offences at the outset would have saved infinite trouble later on and the loss of many good Australian and British lives by murder. But the Foreign Office, entirely ignorant of the quality of these people, insisted that the army leaders should treat them as respectable practising Moslems, kin to the Arabs of the Hejaz and of the same faith as the Moslems of the Indian Empire; and instructions were given that special care must be taken not to offend their susceptibilities. The Bedouins, who were almost entirely without either moral or religious principles of any kind whatever, readily took advantage of the situation. For more than two and a half years they continued to engage with impunity in thieving and more serious crimes against the British forces, and to bring false charges against the men to the sympathetic ears of British staff officers.

At Rafa the 7th Light Car Patrol, a British unit under Lieutenant W. H. P. McKenzie a young New Zealander, came into action for the first time on the front. The patrol, made up of six Ford motor-cars, each carrying a machinegun, pushed boldly forward over the level ground in support of the Yeomanry Brigade, and its mobility and effective shooting gave promise of the remarkable work these units were to play as the campaign moved to the north. The 1st Australian Light Car Patrol was at this time engaged under Captain E. H. James on the western desert, but was afterwards brought to Palestine. The two patrols which in reconnaissance and other operations often advanced considerably ahead of the mounted troops, and constantly engaged in sporting little fights against great odds, became heroes in the eyes of the Australians and New Zealanders. They were in the thick of many open fights, and also served the army in other capacities. After the fall of Rafa, McKenzie removed his guns and assisted in the transport of the wounded; they frequently succoured stranded airmen; later they became the favourite escort of General Allenby in his many advanced and thorough reconnaissances of enemy positions.

 

 

Further Reading:

The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917

The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Roll of Honour

The Palestine Campaign, 1917 - 1918

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Gullett Account


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Saturday, 8 January 2011 8:12 AM EAST
The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Desert Column War Diary Account
Topic: BatzP - Rafa

The Battle of Rafa

Sinai, 9 January 1917

Desert Column War Diary Account

 

Desert Column War Diary, 9 - 10 January 1917.

 

The following is a transcription of the War Diary of the Desert Column, of their role at the Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917.

 

9 January 1917

El Arish

Track laid to 155.350.

An enemy aeroplane flew over EL ARISH dropped bombs and then flew West over Sheikh Zowaiid and the force attacking Rafa. Later two enemy aeroplanes dropped bombs on Sheikh Zowaiid and on our troops at Rafa.

On the night of 9th/10th the Force bivouacked at Sheikh Zowaiid (on returning from Rafa) in accordance with the plan attached. Up to the time of arrival of main body outposts were commanded by Captain DAY, 3rd L.H. Brigade, and consisted of 1 troop Light Horse and 2 Troops Yeomanry with details of camel convoy escorts told off as inlying piquets. The rearguard with prisoners reached Sheikh Zowaiid at 2300. Desert Column order No. 11 was issued. Copy attached as Appendix.
 
10 January 1917

El Arish

A composite squadron with No. 7 Light Car Patrol proceeded to Rafa to clear the ground and bring in the wounded. The cars continued their work until about 1330 when Turkish troops could be seen advancing about 3 to 4 miles away, besides numerous Arabs.

(A copy of that report of OC No. 7 Light Car Patrol is attached as Appendix.)

Instructions regarding the formations of the Headquarter Units of the Camel Brigade were received and circulated to all concerned.

 

War Diaries

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

Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, AIF War Diaries of the Great War, Site Transcription Policy 

 

 

Further Reading:

The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917

The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Roll of Honour

The Palestine Campaign, 1917 - 1918

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Desert Column War Diary Account


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Sunday, 9 January 2011 4:28 PM EAST
The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Desert Column War Diary Account
Topic: BatzP - Rafa

The Battle of Rafa

Sinai, 9 January 1917

Desert Column Order No. 10

 

Desert Column Order No. 10.

 

The following is a transcription of the War Diary of the Desert Column, of their role at the Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917.

 

Desert Column Order No. 10

by

Lieutenant-General Sir PW Chetwode, Bt., CB, DSO, Commanding Desert Column.

7th January 1917

Reference: Map Sinai Peninsula, Sheet North H-36/E-III, 1:125,000
 

Map segment referred to in the descriptions of the Rafa action
 
[Click on map for larger version.]

 

Information:

1. The enemy are holding an entrenched position near El Magruntein, sketches from air photographs have been issued.

There is also believed to be a small enemy camp on the frontier east of the C Group of works (marked on sketch).

There is also a large encampment about Shokh el Sufi, believed to be Arabs whose attitude is probably hostile.


Intention

2. The enemy will be attacked by the Mounted Troops of the Desert Column as soon after dawn on the 9th January as possible.


Moves

3.
(a) At 0100 the A & NZ Mounted Division and ICC Brigade, under the orders of Major General HG Chauvel, CB, CMG, will leave Sheikh Zowaiid and move via points 210 and 280.

(b) The rate of march will be such as to ensure the column being clear of the cross roads at point 210 by 0400 and of those at point 250 by 0500.

(c) The 5th Mounted Brigade (less one squadron) will move parallel to and on the North of the ICC Brigade as far as point 210.

(d) Column Headquarters will move with 5th Mounted Brigade.


Objectives

4.
(a) A & NZ Mounted Division.

At point 250 the A & NZ Mounted Division will detach a Brigade to round up the Arab Camp, disarming the men and collecting them under guard about point 250 where they will be taken over by an escort to be detailed from the ICC Brigade.

The remainder of the Division will move north-east to a position from which they can:

(i) Deal with camp east of the C Group of works;

(ii) Attack works C and the Reduit from the east and south-east.


(b) The ICC Brigade.

The ICC Brigade will follow the A & NZ Mounted Division and move on to a position from which they can attack Works B from the south-east in conjunction with the attack of the A & NZ Mounted Division, or, if works B are unoccupied assist in the attack on Works C at the discretion of the GOC A & NZ Mounted Division. Both Groups of Works being thus taken in flank and rear.

(c) The 5th Mounted Brigade

The 5th Mounted Brigade (less on Squadron) will move from point 210 to a point on the Rafa road about 2 miles to teh north-east neart the word "of" in "Patches of Cultivation" where it will come into reserve.

They will detach one squadron to observe the main Rafa and Darb um Abad roads.


Hour of Attack

5. The main attack on Works B and C will be launched by GOC A & NZ Mounted Division after such reconnaissance and artillery preparations as he may consider necessary.

He will make detachments:-

(a) To protect his right flank and rear;

(b) Towards Rafa to out the telegraph wire and observe towards Khan Yunis.

Pursuit

6. Should the enemy have retired or commenced to retire the A & NZ Mounted Division will at once take up the pursuit on parallel lines, the 5th Mounted Brigade will take up direct pursuit and the ICC will concentrate and move towards Rafa and come into reserve.

The pursuit will not be continued beyond Khan Yunis without orders from Column Headquarters.


Aeroplane Cooperation

7. Contact aeroplanes will be instructed to drop their messages at the A & NZ Mounted Division Headquarters first and Column Headquarters second.

Observation planes will be detailed to work with the RHA.


Medical

8. The DDMS will make arrangements for the provision of a few EP Tents to be opened at Sheikh Zowaiid on the morning of 9th for the reception of such wounded as are unable to accompany the force back to El Arish.


Prisoners

9. If any prisoners are taken bolts will be removed from their rifles and the men will be made themselves to carry back their rifles and equipment to Sheikh Zowaiid. In the event of guns falling into our hands, the HA Batteries must arrange to drag them back to that place also.


Communications

10 A cable will be laid from Column Headquarters to Headquarters A & NZ Mounted Division by Column Signals.


Headquarters

11. Column Headquarters will be in the neighbourhood of point 250.
 

War Diaries

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

Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, AIF War Diaries of the Great War, Site Transcription Policy 

 

 

Further Reading:

The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917

The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Roll of Honour

The Palestine Campaign, 1917 - 1918

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Desert Column Order No. 10


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Sunday, 9 January 2011 4:25 PM EAST
The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, The Desert Column Order of March details
Topic: BatzP - Rafa

The Battle of Rafa

Sinai, 9 January 1917

Desert Column Order of March details

 

The Desert Column Order of March details

 

The following is a transcription of the War Diary of the Desert Column, of their role at the Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917.

 

Rafa Raid

Assembly

1. By 1530 on the 8th January the mounted troops of the Desert Column will be assembled in column of Brigade masses facing east with the leading Brigade in line with the 1st Light Horse Brigade Headquarters on the Arish - Sheikh Zowaiid Road.

The 5th Mounted Brigade leading, then the A & NZ Mounted Division following.

The ICC Brigade (less 1 Company at Lahfan) in rear.


Order of March

2.
(a) At 1600 the head of the main body will pass the 1st Light Horse Brigade headquarters and proceed by El Burj to Sheikh Zowaiid, moving in column of Brigade on as broad a front as possible.

Advanced Guard

Commander, Brigadier-General BA Wiggin, Commanding 5th Mounted Brigade.
5th Mounted Brigade.

Main Body

Desert Column Headquarters
A & NZ Mounted Division
ICC Brigade (less 1 company)
1st Line Transport (Ammunition Section only) in order of march
Field Ambulance
DAC (Divisional Ammunition Column)

(b) Baggage sections of 1st Line transport will join their own convoys, which will move off in rear of the DAC (Divisional Ammunition Column).

GOC, 1st Light Horse Brigade will tell off 3 Officers who know the country about Sheikh Zowaiid to report to Advanced Guard Commander at position of assembly.


Rate of March

3. The rate of march will be such as to ensure the head of the Main Body reaching Sheikh Zowaiid by 2200.

Halts will be made from:

(a) 1650 to 1700

(b) 1845 to 1900

(c) 2045 to 2100


Outpost

4. On arrival at Sheikh Zowaiid a cordon will immediately be placed round the village by one squadron of the Advanced Guard Brigade and no communication whatever will be allowed to pass between the town and the surrounding country. This squadron will take up a line at least 2 miles east of the village and will remain in position until dawn when it will again be at the disposal of the GOC 5th Mounted Division.

5. At Sheikh Zowaiid the force will off saddle, and feed.


Supplies

6. Troops will leave el Arish with their rations and forage for the 9th and will, on the conclusion of the operation, return to Sheikh Zowaiid where a convoy bearing rations and forage for the 10th will beet them. This convoy will be formed in two parts allotted to A & NZ Mounted Division, and 5th Mounted Brigade. Formations will be responsible for the provision of escorts and guides.



Water

7. AA & QMC, A & NZ Mounted Division will be responsible for the allotment of watering areas and wells for men and horses on the return of the force to Sheikh Zowaiid. He will also allot bivouac areas about that place to be occupied by the troops on the night 9th/10th.


Medical

8. During the advance of troops the DDMS (Deputy Director Medical Services), Desert Column will arrange for the erection of EP tents for the accommodation of those wounded who are unable to return with the force to El Arish.

9. APM (Assistant Provost Marshal), A & NZ Mounted Division will make such arrangements as he considers necessary for the reception of such prisoners as may fall into our hands - until they can accompany the force back to El Arish on the 10th.


RFC (Royal Flying Corps) Cooperation

10 From 1400 till 1545 the RFC will patrol the air over the position of assembly to prevent hostile reconnaissance from observing the massing of the troops.

11. A staff officer from the A & NZ Mounted Division, 5th Mounted Brigade and ICC will report to Column Headquarters at position of assembly at 1530 to set watches.

7th January

 

War Diaries

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

Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, AIF War Diaries of the Great War, Site Transcription Policy 

 

 

Further Reading:

The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917

The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Roll of Honour

The Palestine Campaign, 1917 - 1918

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, The Desert Column Order of March details


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Sunday, 9 January 2011 4:21 PM EAST
The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, The Desert Column, Chetwode Letter
Topic: BatzP - Rafa

The Battle of Rafa

Sinai, 9 January 1917

The Desert Column, Chetwode Letter

 

The Desert Column, Chetwode Letter

 

The following is a transcription of the letter of General Chetwode from the War Diary of the Desert Column, about their role at the Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917.

 

Headquarters
Desert Column
17 January 1917
To

Headquarters
Eastern Force

I forward herewith a descriptive diary of events of the affair at Rafa, together with sketches and plans of the enemy works.

When daylight broke the ground was seen to be almost entirely open and devoid of cover, while the immediate neighbourhood of the works was almost a glacis.

I confess that I thought the task was almost beyond the capacity of dismounted cavalry to carry through, and it is difficult for me to express my admiration for the dash and gallantry with which the thin dismounted lines, with little or no depth, kept up the forward impulse, and finally stormed the enemy position.

This result was largely due to the close support and good shooting of the RHA (Royal Horse Artillery) and the Hong Kong and Singapore Battery under Colonel JF Laycock, DSO, CRA, A & NZ Mounted Division, and the "B" Battery, HAC (Honourable Artillery Company).

When all behaved so well before the enemy, it is almost invidious to select  one unit or formation for special praise, but I am sure all who witnessed the action will agree that good as the work was, by the ANZAC Mounted Division, the ICC and the 5th Mounted Brigade, that of the New Zealand Mounted Brigade under the able leadership of Brigadier-General EWC Chaytor, CB, stood out, and that their brilliant assault and capture of the Reduit, finally broke the enemy resistance.

I have again to express my indebtedness to Major General HG Chauvel, CB, CMG, commanding the A & NZ Mounted Division, to whom the conduct of the main attack was entrusted and who handled his troops with conspicuous success.

The complicated arrangements for the march, the approach, and the withdrawal, all conducted in the dark, worked without a hitch, under the direction of Colonel VM Fergusson, DSO, and Major SH Kershaw, General Staff, Desert Column.

Colonel CG Powles, DSO, AA & QMG, A & NZ Mounted Division, made all the arrangements at Sheikh Zowaiid for the return, feeding and watering of the tired troops in the dark and the reception of the wounded. It is enough to say that no one was kept waiting a moment.

The RFC (Royal Flying Corps), under Colonel Joubert, did yeoman service, with the artillery, by offensive action from the air, and in keeping me continually informed as to the situation and the movements of neighbouring hostile forces.

The devotion of Colonel HM Downes, ADMS, A & NZ Mounted Division and his staff, who were operating and attending to the wounded for 36 hours continuously maintained the best traditions of their Corps.

I am much indebted to Major CL Barlow, DSO, Intelligence Officer, for guiding the Column to the exact spot indicated to him, and for his assistance in dealing with hostile Arabs and others.

Philip W Chetwode
Lieutenant General
Commanding Desert Column

 

War Diaries

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

Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, AIF War Diaries of the Great War, Site Transcription Policy 

 

 

Further Reading:

The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917

The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Roll of Honour

The Palestine Campaign, 1917 - 1918

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, The Desert Column, Chetwode Letter


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Saturday, 15 January 2011 7:35 AM EAST

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A note on copyright

The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre is a not for profit and non profit group whose sole aim is to write the early history of the Australian Light Horse from 1900 - 1920. It is privately funded and the information is provided by the individuals within the group and while permission for the use of the material has been given for this site for these items by various donors, the residual and actual copyright for these items, should there be any, resides exclusively with the donors. The information on this site is freely available for private research use only and if used as such, should be appropriately acknowledged. To assist in this process, each item has a citation attached at the bottom for referencing purposes.

Please Note: No express or implied permission is given for commercial use of the information contained within this site.

A note to copyright holders

The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre has made every endeavour to contact copyright holders of material digitised for this blog and website and where appropriate, permission is still being sought for these items. Where replies were not received, or where the copyright owner has not been able to be traced, or where the permission is still being sought, the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre has decided, in good faith, to proceed with digitisation and publication. Australian Light Horse Studies Centre would be happy to hear from copyright owners at any time to discuss usage of this item.

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Australian Light Horse Studies Centre

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