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Monday, 13 April 2009
1st Australian Armoured Car Section, AIF, Contents Topic: AIF - Cars
1st Australian Armoured Car Section, AIF
This is a transcription from a manuscript submitted by Captain E.H. James called "The Motor Patrol". It is lodged in the AWM as AWM 224MSS 209. Pictures, annotations and corrections have been added to the text.
1st Australian Armoured Car Section Topic: AIF - Cars
1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF
THE FIRST AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION
Below is a transcription from a manuscript submitted by Captain E.H. James called "The Motor Patrol". It is lodged in the AWM as AWM 224MSS 209.
THE FIRST AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION
In August 1914 when the dogs of War were let loose a number of motoring enthusiasts met together in Melbourne to talk over a scheme for building Armoured Cars for use with the Allied Armies and to form a unit to volunteer for service abroad. Cold water was thrown on the schema from almost every quarter as there was practically no information available as to what the proper design for an armoured car should be; how the guns should be mounted; what the equipment should consist of and .hat the personnel should be.
Still fools rush in where angels fear to tread and being enthusiasts they persisted. After many months of searching and enquiries from various quarters, enough information was available to enable designs to be got out. Then other obstacles cropped up. Armoured Cars were very expensive luxuries and required commodious high powered chassis to carry then. Armour plating and other expensive equipment was required. Three powerful chassis were donated for the purpose by Mr. John Young of Horsham, Mr. P. Cornwall of Coburg and Mr. Sol Green of Melbourne. Designs and specifications that were drawn up were approved and ultimately through the untiring efforts of Colonel Osborne, authority was given for the unit to be formed and got ready as soon as possible for service at the front, the Imperial Government having accepted the offer of the unit complete. The necessary personnel were soon enrolled as members of the tat. Australian Armoured Car Section and they began to get busy.
The use of the plant at the Vulcan Engineering Works, South Melbourne vas obtained and as quite a number of the section were skilled engineers they decided to make the necessary alterations to the chassis and build the armour and gun mountings themselves.
Several Melbourne firms also vary kindly gave considerable assistance by supplying valuable equipment. Conspicuous amongst these donors were the Victoria Rolling Mills, Messrs. J. A. Linacre, W. Till and W. P. Thompson & Co.
It was found that many difficulties had to be overcome, the greatest of these being the obtaining of suitable bullet resisting plate for the protection of the inmates and the vulnerable parts of the chassis. Ordinary steel plating of the required thickness would be far too heavy to be of any use at all. Many suggestions were made by individuals who were prepared to sell us all kinds of wonderful metal and processes for toughening and hardening ordinary steel plate. We insisted that there was only one test, as far as we were concerned and that was the service bullet. Many tests were made at the rifle ranges and all these bullet proof metals were found useless. We also discovered that although these merchants were positive of the qualities of their plating none of them had enough faith in it to stand behind while rifles were fired at it.
One inventor in particular was quite amusing. He had en alloy which appeared to contain a large percentage of aluminium and which ha claimed was extremely light and quite bullet proof at point blank range. He even went to the trouble of making a special helmet with which he wished the authorities to supply the troops at the front. During our tests we got one of our marksmen to try a shot at this helmet at a range of a couple of hundred yards. The bullet drilled a neat hole through the front but knocked a piece out of the back several inches square. The inventor's face was a picture when we gave him back his helmet. He apparently had no knowledge of the power of the modern 303 bullet.
Ultimately we got over our armour plate trouble as we discovered that there was a small supply in Melbourne of the special 3/32" steel plate imported from England some time previously for plating ammunition wagons. This steel is absolutely bullet proof at 500 yards and by doubling it, is proof at a much shorter range. We were fortunate in being able to purchase a supply of this and we used it in double thicknesses and in some places treble thicknesses on the vehicles. Louvres were fitted In front of the radiators. Colt Automatic gone were mounted is turrets (one on the top of each car). The turrets were revolving giving a complete arc of fire of 360o and a spare gun was carried inside each vehicle. On tests we found our cars were capable of a speed of between 50 to 60 miles per hour with their full load.
The original vehicles of the 1st Australian Armoured Car Section at a training camp, Moascar, Egypt, 1916.
The crews went through intensive courses of machine gun instruction and as the majority were very experienced motor car drivers, the personnel were in the ideal position of being able at a moment's notice to take the place of any vacancy through casualty or otherwise. Towards the and of 1915 the authorities were satisfied that the unit was well enough advanced for embarkation although it was well into 1916 before the got away on the old transport A.13 HMAS Katuna, en route for an unknown port.
The account of this boat's peregrinations and how she took eight weeks from Melbourne to Suez sometimes drifting about in the Indian Ocean with engines broken down during the monsoons which were particularly severe, would fill a book; but ultimately men and cars ware disembarked at Port Tewfik and sent by rail to join the Australian forces in Egypt.
1st Australian Armoured Car Section - THE LIBYAN DESERT Topic: AIF - Cars
1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF
THE LIBYAN DESERT
Below is a transcription from a manuscript submitted by Captain E.H. James called "The Motor Patrol". It is lodged in the AWM as AWM 224MSS 209.
An armoured car of the Australian Light Car Patrol, which was operating on the western frontier of Egypt, against the Senussi, in difficulties. The wheels sank in a patch of soft sand, and the car had to be dragged out over layers of board. Left to right: Sergeant) A Lloyd, Corporal N Bisset, Lieutenant Holloway (Imperial Army), Lieutenant EH James, Driver Oscar Hymen, Sergeant Ivan Young (inside car), Corporal G F Morgan, Sergeant H Creek, Corporal W P Thompson.
On August 15th. 1916, The Australian Armoured Car Battery received orders to entrain at Ismailia for the South of Egypt with their Armoured Care. The battery was detrained at Minis on the 17th. and immediately took part in the operations between this point and the Baharia Oasis along a line of blockhouses through the Libyan Desert over one hundred miles in length. The unit worked in conjunction with the 11th. & 12th. Light Armoured Car Batteries which were imperial unite, and were equipped with Rolls Royce Armoured Care and the new Light Vickers Machine Guns. These vehicles were the envy of the Australians who were equipped with a mixed fleet of care which while satisfactory on hard ground, gave the drivers and gunners plenty of exertion in the soft Band of the desert. The Colt gone with which the Australians were equipped, worked well and the unit did good practice with these. While the unit was stationed at Minia the members suffered severely from Nile fever and welcomed the expeditions into the desert especially when they were detailed to relieve the garrisons occasionally in the desert blockhouses, where the conditions were much more healthy although of course the heat was intense.
The work of operating the heavy cars in the desert ass extremely strenuous on account of the many very soft patches in the sand which called for skilled driving. All our drivers were accustomed to bush driving in Australia but nevertheless it was wonderful how the driving improved as they became more accustomed to the desert conditions. Efforts were made :,o lighten the care by sacrificing some of the armour plating; and other more or less unnecessary parts; and twin tyres were also devised for the rear wheels which improved the going somewhat. The cars always worked in pairs, chiefly so that there would be plenty of man power available when help was required in bed country.
The chief work of the motor unite was to patrol the desert East of the Nile as it was known that the Senussi were established in some of the oases and were in the habit of making small raids into Egypt across the Libyan Desert. These people could only travel by canals and would perhaps average about 20 miles a day, (while of course the motors could do this distance in an hour). This meant that if the motors patrolled on a line about 100 miles out, information of a raid could always be obtained about four days ahead.
When patrolling, the crews of the care would keep a keen watch on the sand for footmarks which showed up very clearly and any fresh tracks on the desert would always be followed until the people who made them were overhauled and interviewed. On September 6th. a couple of Imperial officers who were out with a car were surprised in the sand dunes near the Baharia Oasis by a party of tribesmen and were overpowered and shot. Next day a patrol car crew discovered the bodies in the sand with their emptied revolvers alongside them. Some days later the party of tribesmen were overhauled and captured by one of the Light Car Patrols.
On the 3rd. December, orders were received by the unit for all cars, guns, and vehicles, to be returned to G.H.Q. Cairo and the unit to proceed South and take over the Ford Light Cars and Lewis guns of a Light Car Patrol and the Australian unit was to take the name of No. 1. Light Car Patrol. The unit proceeded South by rail to Oasis Junction on 6th. December. Next day they travelled by a narrow gauge Military Railway which had been built across the desert to Kharga Oasis and the unit detrained at Rail head at what was known as Water Dump A. A camp was made near railhead in the sand, and work was commenced on the Ford cars which had been taken over in a very dilapidated condition and which had apparently been allowed to run almost to destruction. All ranks worked night and day for the next couple of weeks overhauling and reconditioning the vehicles also in practising on the new Lewis guns. The strength of the unit was increased by the addition of some extra drivers also some dispatch riders with motor cycles who soon became very expert with their machines on the desert.
On 18th. December the Divisional Commander and staff were escorted out to the Dakhla Oasis (about 80 miles) by a fleet of 8 care and an the following day the British flag was officially hoisted at Tenida (the capital of the Oasis) by Mayor General Watson. Two days afterwards the party returned to railhead.
On the 30th. December, we took three cars and two motor cyclists with 6 days rations, patrols &c. on a reconnaissance to discover alternative routes to the south of the Dakhla Oasis. The present route known as the "Gubari road" is a very ancient caravan route across the desert with defined tracks made by the camels' pads which have been crossing the same track for centuries. The surface is very rough anti flinty and the sharp stones caused a lot of damage to the tyros of the motors.
We spent a couple of days exploring the desert south of Mot (the most southern village of the Dakhla Oasis) and proceeded along another ancient route which runs for 220 miles due south to the Wells of El Sheb.
We travelled mostly by the aid of the compass, but discovered that the instrument was very much affected by the Magnetos of the motors and consequently had continually to be checked by stopping the cars and taken some distance away from the engine for bearings to be taken. Cairns of atones were erected in prominent positions and empty petrol tins placed on top Of these to mark routes. These Cairns would be seen for many miles as the sun would be reflected off the shiny tin. In some cases we could see these tins as fur as 20 miles away.
To the cast of the El Sheb route rune a range of rocky hills which appeared to be impassable to cross with vehicles or any description. We Climbed those hills on foot " discovered that the country was comparatively level to the east (the direction which we desired to travel). After two days searching a practicable pass was discovered through the hills about 40 miles from Mut and from this point the sere were able to travel almost due east over splendid hard sand similar to the firm send along the sea shore. High speeds could be obtained and we returned to Kharga Oasis by compass bearing after 4 days and nights in the desert.
Soma weeks later we did this route again thoroughly, spending several days surveying and mapping. We afterwards prepared a comprehensive map of the various routes and landmarks between the two Oases of Karga and Dakhla. This was subsequently forwarded to the General Officer in charge of Southern Egypt and he later wrote and congratulated the unit on the result of the work.
Early in January, 1917, we received instructions to move our camp from Water Dump A and endeavour to effect communication between the Dakhla Oasis and the Oases to the East (Kufra and Farafra).
The first named oasis was about 400 miles east of Dakhla while Ferafra was about 100 miles North East in a direct line, (but very much farther the way motors would traverse, as several ranges of very rocky mountains would have to be avoided).
We decided to try the Kufra Oasis first. It was reported that no Europeans had ever reached this Oasis. There was certainly no caravan route to the west in the direction of the Dakhla Oasis. The native caravans having always proceeded in a northerly direction towards the Mediterranean via Aujila.
The well known Explorer Harding King had made an expedition in 1911 to the South Fast of Dakhla for 200 miles partly in the direction of Kufra but had to return on account of the very heavy country and complete absence of water.
We determined to make our route further North than east. We spent a week making a dump in the desert about 80 miles out from our last camp. We buried stocks of Petrol and water in fanatis, also supplies of bully beef and biscuit here, as this was to be our jumping off point and we naturally wished to start off with a full stock. Water & petrol would be the governing factors of the journey and in order not to waste any of the precious liquid in the radiators of the care, we fitted condensers to the radiator caps and closed up the overflow pipes. The condensed water being caught in a 2 gallon patrol can and returned tat intervals to the radiator again. By this means we saved fully 75,E of the water generally lost through boiling.
Having completed our dump and got everything ready, we made a start with three Ford Cars and a crew of two men on each. Two Motor Cyclist Despatch Riders accompanied the Patrol in order to keen up communications.
Every ounce that vas not necessary was taken off the vehicles. For instance the cars had no bodies at all. The seats consisted of ration & Ammunition boxes; the cushions were the men's blankets. Two of the cars were stripped of the Lewis Guns mountings. This meant that only one car was really armed, but each car was provided with a rifle, and the crews all had their revolvers.
All the cars at the start were grossly overloaded, as of course this load would be rapidly diminished every mile traversed. It was intended to issue one of the cars as an advanced dump at a point about 200 miles from our objective and make the final dash with two cars and a cyclist.
An armoured car of the Australian Light Car Patrol, probably a Daimler 50 hp named 'Gentle Annie' by the crew and was armed with a single Colt Model 1895 Machine Gun, commonly known as a 'potato digger'.
After leaving the last wall known as "Bir Sheikh Muhammud" the character of the desert begun to change for the worse. Hitherto the sand, although perhaps soft underneath, generally had a hard crust. This meant that once a car got a start it could usually keep going. The crew would run along and push until a speed of 6 or 8 miles per hour was reached and then jump up on to the step. The nature of the ground was now quite different and seemed to be composed of very fine drift sand on the surface to a depth of about six inches. This meant very heavy going on low gear which of course was the very thing we wish to avoid, as it meant increased patrol and water consumption and reduced speed. However, we found that if one car led the way on low gear the others could follow in the tracks made, (running on top gear) as the going was much easier for the following care. Perch car now took its turn half hourly to make the road and the cyclists travelled out on either flank to ascertain if there was any improvement in the ground. Unfortunately there was no sign of improvement and after about 80 miles of this gruelling work one of the cars smashed its differential. We transferred some of the stores to the other two cars and pushed on abandoning the disabled vehicle. We travelled for another day under similar gruelling conditions when a second car caved in under the terrible strain. Things now began to look serious. The two cyclists were sent ahead to a high hill on the horizon to try out the country and they returned that night to state that there was no improvement, so it was reluctantly decided to abandon the present attempt as there was well over 200 miles to go, and try again at a later date. The second car was temporarily repaired and the patrol returned to the well at "Bir Sheikh Muhammed" just as the last water can was emptied.
The cars returned along the old tracks in lose than half the time taken in the outgoing journey, as the road improved each time a vehicle used it, consequently, a second effort should be much easier than the first. We towed in the remaining broken car about a week later and began to make preparations for a second attempt.
The experience gained in the first trip was very useful and given reasonable luck we anticipated success next time. However, the second attempt was never made as before arrangements were completed, orders were received for the patrol to pack up and move into a new and more exciting theatre of the war, and early in May 1917, we started off on the long 1,000 mile journey into Palestine.
1st Australian Armoured Car Section - Sinai Topic: AIF - Cars
1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF
Below is a transcription from a manuscript submitted by Captain E.H. James called "The Motor Patrol". It is lodged in the AWM as AWM 224MSS 209.
Men, possibly of the Australian Flying Corps, relaxing around a radio set, powered by a generator. There are a number of armoured cars, made by Rolls Royce and Ford in the background, each with a number of spare tyres attached to their sides.
On the 18th May, 1917, the patrol loaded their cars and baggage on the trucks of the little narrow gauge Military Railway at Railhead W.D.A. Everything was securely roped up for the long journey to Egypt and at 6 p.m., the little engine whistled and puffed away m its long dusty trip across the Libyan Desert. The personnel spread themselves in their cars as these were the only seats available on the train. We slept on board as comfortably as could be expected under the circumstances and in the morning had our usual breakfast of bully beef and biscuit. The next day was a never-to-be-forgotten one.
The temperature was between 119 and 120 degrees in the shade (which was difficult to find) and a genuine Khamseen (sand storm) was in full force. It seemed to us to be working itself up into an extra fury to give us a send off. The coarse grains of sand (from which it was impossible to get protection) would sting the face and hands like driving hail stones. The engine of our train was making heavy weather as it had to rise nearly 1000 feet from the Kharga oasis to the top of the scarp which was the level of the ordinary desert. The difficulty was intensified by the drift sand which covered the rails. The troops, every few miles, would walk ahead with shovels and clear the truck to give the engine a chance to get going.
Once on level ground the going was easier and the train ands better progress.
On the subject of the oases it is just as well to mention that these are not exactly what they are popularly supposed to be. The oases in the deserts in the North of Africa are merely deep depressions in the ground. Some of them are very large and are generally from 20 to 100 miles in diameter.
They owe their fertility to water which comes from the mountains in the South, from underground sources. Most oases are populated by natives who sink wells and pump the water over the depression. They cultivate date palms principally. The dates are collected, dried and sent by camel to Egypt in exchange for other merchandise.
After spending the day in the train we ultimately arrived at the Nile Valley and transferred from the narrow gauge train to the Broad gauge Egyptian State Railway's train at oasis Junction and after another night and day, in this train, we arrived at Cairo at 10 P.M. only to be immediately shunted off to the train to Kantara which we reached at 11.30 A.M. on 21st May.
We unloaded here and packed our baggage once more on to our fleet of "Lizzies" and drove across the Canal at Kantara by the pontoon bridge to the terminus of the new Military Railways to Palestine.
Once more we loaded up and entrained for the new front, getting away after a hasty snack of lunch at 1 P.M. After a day and a night on board this train, we ultimately arrived at our new destination at the new front outside Gaza. We off loaded at a place known as Khan Yunis and were immediately welcomed at the new front by an enemy plane who promptly tried to bomb the train and was greeted by the "archies" whose spent Shrapnel dropped all over us much to the annoyance of one of our drivers whose haversack and breakfast was ruined by a piece of shell case.
We moved off to our new camps which were in an old Arab orchard surrounded by prickly pears and we were told to dig dugouts for ourselves as the place was supposed to be popular with enemy aeroplanes especially on moonlight nights.
Next morning we were introduced to General Sir Harry Chauvel, the Commander of Desert Mounted Column which was reputed to be the largest body of cavalry and mounted troops ever assembled. We were inspected and welcomed by the General and his staff and were informed that the motor units would co-operate with the mounted troops in forthcoming military operations. We were to get the hang of the country as quickly as possible and learn the various routes from one end of the front to the other.
On the 30th May, with two of our machine gun cars accompanied by one car from No. 7 Patrol, 2 Rolls. Armoured Cars and 1 waggon from the 11th Light Armoured Motor battery, we took part in a reconnaissance from the Wadi Ghuzzie in an Easterly direction. About 20 miles out the country became very sandy and we decided to leave the heavy armoured oars in a commanding position and proceed further with two light Patrol care across the doubtful looking country. We ran across several of our light horse patrols who reported numerous small bodies of mounted Turks to the Fast in which direction we proceeded without encountering any of them, although they could be seen in the hills through the glasses. We reconnoitred the district for about an hour and returned to the armoured cars and then back to our camp in the evening.
During all movements such as these, we made it a fixed rule that all patrol cars must invariably work in pairs. This was necessary for several reasons. First of all in case of mechanical trouble one vehicle could always help the other out of difficulties or if necessary even tow it home.
Secondly it was also a great advantage to have the extra man power with two car crews in bad country when any manhandling of the vehicles had to be done.
Thirdly it was a great preventative of disaster. It rendered ambush almost impossible, provided the cars always kept their proper distances from each other on patrol; also in difficult crossings of creeks or depressions etc., one vehicle could generally cover the other until it was across, when the first vehicle would in turn cover the crossing of the second and so on.
This patrol throughout its existence was remarkably free from bad accidents or disasters of any description and there is no doubt that our rule of working in pairs in this fashion was largely responsible for our good fortune in this respect.
For the balance of the week we busied ourselves overhauling our engines and chassis and trying out our Lewis Guns so that everything would be ready for any emergency and on the 5th June, we moved out to the outpost camp at Tel-61 Fare and were attached to the Imperial Mounted Division. Next day we took part in an armed Reconnaissance with the mounted troops for about 8 miles towards Beersheba. No serious opposition was offered by the enemy and our force after obtaining the information required, returned to camp before 6 P.M.
On 8th June, Instructions were received that the whole patrol would be required next day for an important Reconnaissance at El Esani. we accordingly sent a couple of motor cyclists in company with one car to pick out the easiest crossings at Gorz Mabrook (a place where it was necessary to get the cars across deep wadis) as we did not wish to waste any time next day. Early next morning we nicked up the Divisional Commander, Major General Hodgson and his General staff officers and proceeded with four machine gun cars reconnoitring the whole of the Esani district for four hours while the Light Horse Regiments were making a demonstration and engaging the Turks (towards the south East) in order to distract their attention from our activities. We returned shortly after midday to camp without any untoward events except a misfiring engine which was quickly rectified.
On the 14th June we picked up the Corps Commander and staff again for another reconnaissance which was carried out this time during the afternoon in the direction of Beersheba near a place called El Buggar.
Everything proceeded satisfactorily except that an inquisitive enemy aeroplane became too interested in our movements and we were compelled to keep him bum by concentrating three of our Lewis Guns on to him until he rose to a reasonable height again. We returned to camp before dark.
[Note: Wadis. - The Egyptian name for old river beds or creeks.]
All motor movements had to be made by daylight (except well behind the lines) as of course lights were not allowed to be used in any advanced positions. Although on moonlight nights very good work could often be done after sunset.
Next day one of our cars was out of action through being driven over a deep shell hole hidden in the long grass, with the result that a front axle was badly bent. However, we built a log fire in the evening and managed to get enough heat to straighten up the axle again, so the vehicle was ready for business as usual in the morning.
On the 20th June, we took the whole patrol on another inspection of the Turkish positions this time to the North East to El Dammath and El Nagile. Much useful information vas apparently obtained by the staff. We returned to camp before nightfall without our presence even being noticed by the enemy
About this time daily reconnaissances were made of all enemy positions until the 25th June when we took part in a new type of engagement. On this date it was decided to make a big drive on "no man's land" between the entrenched positions of both forces as bodies of the enemy were secreted in various concealed places therein. Accordingly two bodies of Mounted troops operating from each end of the position to be enveloped started out at daybreak and began to gradually converge.
The gun cars of No. 1. Light Car Patrol accompanied the Mounted Troops and we left a stores car with reserve ammunition also a few important spares in a good concealed position known to our dispatch riders who could quickly find the spot if necessary. It was not to be expected that the enemy would ignore such a demonstration of force as this, and we were heavily shelled when passing the exposed positions between the Wadi Imleih to the Wadi Hanafish. However, we suffered no casualties although a few mounted men were hit.
The chief duty of the Light Car Patrol was to cover the retirement of the mounted men when the movement was completed.
We accordingly took up a position along a ridge and engaged the Turks with machine gun fire until the mounted force was well back towards our own lines when we ceased fire and packed up our machine guns and with our superior speed soon regained our own lines, picking up our stores car on the way, arriving back at our camp almost as soon as the rest of the force.
The operation was quite a success as a number of prisoners were roped in although not as many as was expected. The day's work proved how usefully motor units could be utilised in covering a retirement.
Two days after this, Brigade Headquarters discovered a new use for a Light Car patrol by sending us out to a position to draw fire.
Our instructions were to travel quickly over an exposed position making as much dust as possible as it was desired to know what sort of artillery the enemy had here. We were quite pleased to find out that our mission in this respect was not successful as we did not draw the fire.
About this time rumours had reached headquarters that gas attacks were being prepared for us by the Turks. Supplies of gas masks were issued to the various units. Gas instructors were detailed also to instruct all ranks how to use these. The men of the Armoured Car sections and Light Car patrols did gas drill along with others. No Information was available as to how the motor vehicles would behave in a gas attack or what effect the gas would have on the running of the engines so it was decided to try this out and one morning we had a full dress rehearsal. Gas masks were carefully fitted by the whole unit. The cars were lined up with full equipment and fully manned. A smoke and gas barrage was prepared in a suitable valley, and at the word go the whole unit drove quickly through the screen. On reaching the other side the cars were turned round and slowly driven back again along the same route to the starting point. All masks had been carefully adjusted and neither the smoke nor gas bad any effect. It was thought that perhaps the running of the engines would be affected by the impure air mixture passing through the Carburettors, but it made no apparent difference whatever as the motors seemed to run as steadily as usual without any misfiring being noticed. Possibly they may not have developed their full power but as the cars were not fully extended we could not tell this. One thing was demonstrated however, and that was that motor vehicles could operate in gas even if the animals could not.
During the month of July the patrol was engaged on many small stunts and reconnaissances along the whole front, but mainly towards the east. The chief object seemed to be to obtain more information about the country and roads for transport and the possibility of obtaining water for the horses and troops in the country ahead, in the event of an advance in this direction by our forces. Towards the end of the month there was a rumour that the Turks were evacuating Beersheba so we did a trip out in this direction but as we got well shelled for our inquisitiveness we did not persist, neither did we believe the rumours.
During August we were attached for duty to the A. & N.Z. Mtd. Division, Desert Mounted Corps, and later on to the Yeomanry Mounted division. It was the custom for the various divisions to relieve each other periodically for front line duly. The relieved division would move back a few miles and would have a bit of a spell from their more arduous duties. The Light am Patrols however, generally stayed with the new duty division in order to put them "au-fait" with the country and roads.
Nothing really exciting happened in August until the 23rd and 24th, when the Patrol was operating with the Yeomanry Mtd. division which was bivouacked at Rashed Bek and reconnoitring the country around Ibin Said. During these operations the Divisional Commander Major General Barrow wished to view as closely as possible some enemy works being constructed near Gnaam. The patrol oars conveyed him and other staff officers to the spot required. By keeping well separated and under cover of tile folds in the ground we managed to escape observation. However, when we left the observation point to return, our movements were evidently noticed as two shells immediately dropped beside us. The car drivers then took a track under cover of a slight rise in the ground and although this was out of eight of the enemy gunners they evidently had the range of it registered exactly for shells continued to drop r along the track about every 25 yards. The road was too unhealthy a place to motor along consequently the care had to take to the open ground. This meant travelling over very bad and bumpy country, it also meant that we were compelled to take a route which had to cross a deep wadi or creek. We traversed the side of this wadi looking for a suitable crossing for nearly half a mile till at last we discovered a possible track across and by dint of hard work with plenty of pushing end swearing all care except one were safely across. When the last car was nearly over and half way up the bank, some treacherous ground gave way with the result that the vehicle dropped to the bottom again (about a 15 foot fall). Fortunately, it dropped on its four wheels right side up. A quick examination showed a burst tyre, damaged wheel, some broken water joints and a cracked engine hanger. We hastily changed the wheel and tyre, patched up the water joints and braced up the broken hangar with some fencing wire. A rope was then fixed to the front axle and the other end to one of the ours that was across. Another ten minutes towing and pushing brought the damaged car to the top.
All the time the car was in the wadi, an attack was being very vigorously pushed by the Turks and a number of mounted men in our vicinity were being extremely hard pressed. At one time it looked as if the car would have to be burnt and abandoned but fortunately some reinforcements came up in time to push back the attack, giving us time to get everything clear away. During the whole operations of the War, No. 1 Light Car Patrol never lost a vehicle, but this occasion was the closest shave we had in this respect.
On the 4th September, we carried out an interesting experiment in conjunction with the Signal Squadron Royal Engineers, during one of the armed reconnaissances which were being conducted fairly frequently by us about this time. In these stunts, time was the essence of the contract and as much information as possible would be collected in the enemy's territory before he was able to bring up powerful reinforcements by which time we ware generally back behind our own entrenchments again. In these affairs it was very important for the various Brigades and Divisional Headquarters to be kept in constant touch with what was going on at the various points in their sectors. The moat satisfactory way of doing this was by field telephones. These however, sometimes when done by hand took a considerable time to lay and pick up again after the stunt was over.
It was decided to do it by motor car, accordingly we took the Machine gun out of one of our Lizzies and in its place mounted a large cable drum which had been prepared by the R.E. men. This drum revolved on a spindle supported by a couple of bearings, a handle was fitted for paying out and winding up the cable as the motor was driven across country.
The trial proved very satisfactory and after the stunt was over the cable was being collected while the car travelled at about 12 or 15 miles an hour and was about half in when an enemy aeroplane became interested and began to take a hand in the proceedings.
Hal Harkin, the driver of the car who was also a very expert machine gunner, was very upset at having left his machine gun behind, when the Pilot of the Aeroplane began machine gunning him from above. Two of the R.E. men endeavoured to keep the plane up with their rifles but they veto having a rough spin until another car came back to give them a hand when the plane rose and let them got back with their cable.
For the next few weeks, the Patrol spent most of its tine studying the ground and possible roads, tracks and water supply, on the Eastern flank of the force and on the 18th September, The Australian Mounted Division took over the outpost lines from the Yeomanry Mtd. Division who went back for a rest. We were now attached to the new division and things seemed to be getting busier. The raids began to go further into the enemy's lines and there was a feeling of subdued excitement in the air as if something was going to happen at any moment. Orders are received to send all unnecessary equipment and baggage back to the dumps at Rafa.
Evidently moves were contemplated so all weight was to be out down to the minimum. On the 24th September a big reconnaissance took place to Asluj (a point on the Turkish Railway line) and the whole district was reconnoitred very thoroughly and in the evening the force returned back to their old camp.
On the 30th September, we were attached for duty to the A & AZ Mtd. Division and on the 28th October the division moved forward to Asluj which now became our Headquarters. From now on things began to move feet and furiously. Most of the moves were a one at night time. The air was generally thick with dust from the continual movement of horses, troops and transport, and the car drivers were generally smothered with white dust from head to foot. All our aeroplanes became intensely busy and were continuously inn the air to prevent enemy planes from viewing what was going on in our lines.
On the 30th October, we sent a couple of cars some miles up the Beersheba road to mark the track for a night march of the cavalry who moved off immediately after sundown in order to attack Beersheba from the rear. There was no sleep for anyone that night. Columns of troops with their transport were silently passing like shadows all night long on their way up the track marked by us the day before. Desert Mounted Corps headquarters moved off from the Asluj Railway station at midnight and at 4.30 next morning, before the first streaks of dawn, the Light Car Patrol moved out on its long task of overtaking all the troops that had been passing through the night. We proceeded for 14 miles in a North Easterly direction and then turned North West behind Beersheba.
Shortly after daybreak the division was well in position behind the town and the New Zealanders attacked the hill of Tel-el-Saba which they captured after a sharp fight. [Editor's note: Tel el Saba was captured at 3.15 p.m.] At 11 a.m. we were attached for duty to the 2nd. L. H. Brigade under General Ryrie who were also hotly engaged in driving the Turks across the valley. The Turks were surprised at the flank attack which was apparently unexpected. The Australian Mtd. Division attacked the town from the other aide and Colonel Scott's men made history by galloping across enemy trenches on horseback and charging with the sword. [Editor's note: General Grant was the G.O.C. of the 4th Light Horse Brigade which actually undertook the charge. Bayonets were used as swords had not been issued.] Meanwhile General Ryrie was using the Patrol cars for making a hasty inspection of his front line.
As the General motored round his lines he probably attracted attention from snipers as plenty of odd bullets raised the duet but a quickly moving motor car makes a very difficult target from any distances and no hits were recorded
in this instance. In the evening fires were burning in the town everywhere as the enemy retreated and it was not long after that the announcement was received that Beersheba had fallen.
The men of the patrol slept beside their motors that night while the outposts kept a constant vigil for counter attacks. Next morning at 4 a.m. everybody was standing by as it was sure to be a busy day and everything was ready for moving at a moment's notice. The Patrol oars were drawn up behind Brigade Headquarters which was on a slight rise. At 7 a.m. two enemy aeroplanes appeared flying very low and began dropping bombs on any targets visible. One of these happened to be the field Hospital which suffered severely. The two planes then came straight for us apparently attracted by the groups around the Brigade Headquarters flag, and as the were flying so low that we could sea the bombs ready for us we prepared to give them a hot reception. Our cars were equipped with Lewis Guns and our machine gun car had already had considerable experience in firing at moving planes. We knew that it was useless firing at any aeroplane unless it was moving either straight towards or away from the gun. We also had learnt that it was no use firing directly at the machine but the correct thing was to send a stream of bullets directly in front of the pilot through which he must pass. We accordingly reserved our fire waiting until he was coming in a straight line towards us and a few hundred yards away. We then let him have the concentrated fire of our four Lewis Guns and every rifle we possessed. Our tactics were thoroughly successful. One plane turned sharply to the left and left us severely alone. The other one turned slightly and very nearly landed. Everyone cheered as we thought he was done. But suddenly he rose again and steered an erratic course to the left. We heard afterwards that he came down in our lines about a mile away. We found that the pilot had been shot and the observer had quickly seized the controls when the plane nearly came to earth the first time thus saving a smash. As he landed afterwards in the lines of one of the Infantry regiments they probably received the credit of bringing him down. But there is no doubt that our fusillade had done it. We calculated that at the speed the plane was flying and the rate of fire of the Lewis Guns the fuselage of the aeroplane should get about two bullets from each gun when passing through the stream of fire. This means that he would get about eight pretty effective hits as well as sundry rifle shots aimed at him. In any case, we think that everybody was pretty well relieved to see no bombs drop.
The enemy put up a pretty stout resistance with machine guns and light artillery during the rest of the day and very little advance was made. However, under cover of dark during the night he retired and entrenched in the hills. We bivouacked on the same position as on the previous night and next day (the 2nd November) we advanced with the 2nd. Light Horse Brigade for about 4 miles towards Dahariah, along the Hebron Road. We then met with very strong resistance as the road began to wind in among some very steep hills where the Turks had their artillery and machine guns posted with plenty of snipers scattered about. The Brigade Horse artillery were having a duel with the camel guns in the hills and we dismounted our Lewis Guns and leaving the cars hidden in a hollow, crept forward along the grass to a position where we thought we could get on to some machine guns bothering us. But we found it very difficult to get a target as the enemy was well entrenched. A couple of the Rolls Armoured Cars endeavoured to proceed up the Hebron Road through a defile but the enemy had dug a deep trench across a narrow part of the road leaving no available route for wheeled traffic. The cars were plastered with bullets which fell like hail on them and one of them had its engine sump punctured by a bullet which ricocheted off the road rising through the tray thus allowing the lubricating oil to run away. There was no room to turn on the narrow road and one car towed the other backwards after a couple of hours of very strenuous work. When they got back to cover every tyre had been punctured by bullets but the only casualty was one man injured by a piece of a door handle which had been struck from the outside by a bullet which forced through the door one of the broken pieces and this struck the machine gunner in the leg. The crews of these two cars had a very difficult task in getting their vehicles out of an awkward position and the rear car was drawn up alongside the disabled one to afford cover to one of the men who fixed the tow rope while the machine gunners did their best to keep the fire down.
For the rest of the day we endeavoured to keep the enemy busy with machine gun and rifle fire while some of the men of the 2nd. L.H. Brigade tried to work round the enemy's right flank in the hills which are very steep and rough at this part. Our situation on the bend of the Hebron Road was known as Igory Corner and the sniping was particularly severe there. Everything showing round the bend of the hill was sure to attract attention from the Turkish sharpshooters and machine guns. In the afternoon an ambulance waggon was so severely sniped that it was abandoned until nightfall when things quietened down considerably.
Early next morning (3rd November) we received a visit from an enemy aeroplane and kept him up with Lewis Gun fire but he must have given our position away to the Turkish gunners as we were well shelled by them about midday and we were compelled to send the cars away to better cover behind a hill further back in order to prevent them being smashed up by shell fire and we spent the rest of the day getting a little of our own back by sniping the snipers and we bivouacked under the cars for the night. The next day was Sunday, the 4th November, but it was not a day of rest. All had to stand to at 4 a.m. This hour was always the Turks Favourite time for a counter attack. It was very seldom that the enemy would attack at night time. He did not seem to like night operations and most of his attacks were made in the early hours of the morning.
As the advance on our sector was at a temporary standstill until the men on the hills had completed their outflanking there was not much use for the Armoured and patrol cars on their legitimate jobs, so we found other uses for them. Two cars were detached to bring up drinking water from some wells in the rear to the fighting men, one car was sent with six miles of signal wire to establish telephone communication between Brigade Headquarters and the 6th. Aust. Light Horse Regiment up in the hills to the right flank and this was successfully accomplished by Corporal Hymen after a very rough trip over boulders and country that had certainly never had a motor car over it before.
Next day instructions were received to join Divisional Headquarters. We obtained supplies of rations; patrol, water etc. from a dump established at Beersheba and proceeded with the division in a northerly direction after the retreating Turks, for several days and nights. The Turks were fighting rearguard actions all the way and on the 7th we pressed hard on the enemy capturing large quantities of stores and Railway. One of the patrol ogre sighted a body of 20 mounted Turks and gave chase.
We opened fire with the Lewis guns giving them a couple of magazines. The Turks then scattered in various directions. As the car could only follow one at a time and we had other important duties to attend to, we let them scatter. One car under Sergeant Langley was lent to the Camel Brigade to help their staff keep in touch with the various parts of their front which was pretty extended. Next day we made a further advance of four miles the enemy putting up a stout resistance all along the line, but still retreating. The cars got well shelled this day with shrapnel and some of the occupants almost wished they had their tin hats with them. (The drivers and gunners always preferred to wear their felt hats as the bumping of the motor cars over the rough roads knocked the helmets over their eyes, consequently they left the helmets behind.) However, fortunately none of the occupants of the cars were struck although numerous shrapnel pellets were dug out of the wood work of the motor cars that evening as souvenirs. That night we camped at Tel el Nagile, a hill where the enemy made a strong stand and during the evening we were bombed twice by our own aeroplanes who evidently mistook us for the enemy. Some of our gunners were quite annoyed because they were not allowed to return the fire with their machine guns. We complained during the night to the Air force Headquarters at being made a target for their bombs and the only satisfaction we received was to be told that we should not be so far ahead. Next day we continued the advance which began to get more rapid as the enemy became more disorganized and large quantities of transport, ammunition and guns which had been abandoned were passed from time to time. Shortly after passing through Huj we were fortunate enough to capture one of the enemy's aerodromes so we were able to refill all our tanks with patrol which had been abandoned by the Germans and we took a few drums along with us in case we should lose touch with our own supplies. That night we bivouacked with the 2nd. L. H. Brigade behind the village of Suarfie esh Sherikye and had a fairly quiet night.
Next morning, 10th Nov., we sent some of the cars back to bring up fresh supplies of small arm ammunition as owing to the rapidity of the advance it was difficult for the supplies to keep up with the mounted men. Our cars were gradually getting into a very decrepit state for want of adjustments etc., as owing to the continual movements by day and night it was impossible to give the attention to the machines that under normal circumstances they should have had. Practically all the travelling was done cross country and any roads that existed were merely tracks of hard clay. Movements at night were particularly severe on the chassis as owing to the absence of lights the drivers had to be guided by instinct more than anything else. Some of the escapes from disaster during night movements were almost miraculous and next morning we would often see where our tracks had been within a few inches of precipices and places that would make one's hair stand on end to drive over during daylight, let alone in darkness. On particularly dark nights in bad places the men would take it in turns to walk ahead and guide the drivers by the sound of their voices but generally this method of movement was too slow and we had to trust to luck. Needless to say, those on the cars would have a very rough passage as boulders or holes could not be seen until too late and it was quite a common occurrence for the occupants to be thrown out altogether. However, in the course of time, they became like flies and managed to hang on somehow no matter what the angle. This sort of work naturally was very hard on the vehicles which were tied up with fencing wire and temporarily repaired with various makeshifts. As they were gradually getting to a state that would soon be beyond repair, we received instructions to proceed to Hamama for a day and do our best to get them to a reasonable state of security. So after darkness we set off via Mejdel to do our repairs. We waited until it was dark enough to hide our movements because enemy marksmen had been particularly active that afternoon and our course for a mile or two was very exposed as it led over a ridge where there was no cover whatever. About seven p.m. we got clear away from the village, over the ridge without incident and drove steadily on for a couple of hours at a slow pace. The night was exceptionally black. There was no moon or glimmer of light whatever and we were only averaging about 8 to 10 miles an hour.
Progress was getting so slow and difficult that we were contemplating a few hours sleep leaving further travelling till some signs of dawn appeared, when suddenly, noises or angry map and a commotion sounded ahead. We stopped and walked ahead to ascertain the cause of the row and found a couple of Light horsemen escorting about 200 Turkish Prisoners back to a camp. The prisoners were beginning to get out of hand as they were very tired and thirsty and there was no water available. We arrived at the right time for the two troopers were at their wits end to keep the prisoners subdued. The escort had not had any sleep for a couple of nights so we decided to camp there and give them a hand. Fortunately we had a few gallons of drinking water on one of the care which assuaged the thirst of the prisoners who soon became subdued at the appearance of the armed patrol. We told the escort to have a sleep while our men took turns at guarding the prisoners until daylight. when we peaked up and went on our way after handing over the prisoners to their escort once more.
After a short run we arrived at our destination, Hamama via the village of Mejdel. We commenced at once to overhaul our vehicles and get them into reasonable order. Fortunately, we had a few necessary spares with which we replaced some of the most faulty units and everyone worked merrily away for about 18 hours by which time we had overcome the worst defects. The only interruption we had was a visit from a couple of enemy aeroplanes, but a few rounds from the Lewis Guns made them move on again and they left us severely alone.
Next day we received orders to join the Yeomanry Mounted division who we found at the village of Esdud which they had gust captured- The division was moving on and took possession of the village of Yebnah during the afternoon where they stayed for the night moving eastward next day towards Akir.
Next morning, 15th November, an extended battle opened up first thing end the enemy retired eastward abandoning guns and ammunition all along the line. The division pressed on and we drove into Ramleh the late German Headquarters and site of heir aerodrome. We managed to get some more petrol here. That night we slept in the building that was the German officers mess. For the next day and night we rested in an olive orchard at Ramleh where we discovered some broken German Motor cars. We managed to strip some parts each as spring leaves etc. off these and spent the day replacing broken springs etc. off our own vehicles with the good parts from the German cars. Next day we received fresh instructions to rejoin the ANZAC Mounted Division and proceeded with the New Zealand Brigade to the ancient town of Jaffa which fell during the morning and at 11 a.m. General Chaytor hoisted the British flag on the Town Ball in the presence of the local officials and inhabitants to the sound of cheering while the machine guns and artillery at the back of the town made a suitable accompaniment for the occasion.
Jaffa, Palestine, November 1917. Scene in the city shortly after it had been occupied by the Anzac mounted division. At right centre members of the Australian light horse can be seen rounding up prisoners.
With the fall of Jaffa on the 18th November, another stage in the campaign was completed. The troops were now able to rest a little and consolidate their position. One of the difficulties of the Light car units during the advance had been the problem of petrol supplies. We had been fortunate in being able to frequently replenish our tanks from supplies abandoned by the enemy during the retreat. The first thing we always did on overtaking an enemy motor lorry or car was to siphon out the petrol from the tanks into our own vehicles but sometimes we were forced to detach one of our own cars and send it back to the nearest supply depot. This would sometimes mean a long trip and by the time the vehicle returned the unit may have moved many miles in some other direction, and perhaps would take a lot of finding. However, petrol along with other supplies, was now being landed by boat at Jaffa.
The Division was now making its Headquarters at the town where we discovered a very well equipped German engineering shop with machine tools and first class equipment for repairs. Needless to say we did not waste any time in getting busy on our sadly neglected and overworked vehicles we very shortly had them quite like respectable motor cars again.
At Jaffa the rainy season struck us which was a now experience after many months of dry weather further south where the troops wore never worried by moisture except the dew at night time. Needless to say the place was very soon a sea of mud with the constant movements of horse and motor transport, so in order to prevent the occupants looking like mud figures we had to extemporise mudguards on our cars which we did with the aid of a few boards taken from packing cases and fastened on with nails and the ubiquitous fencing wire. While we were at Jaffa, the cars were sent to the various surrounding villages with proclamations which were printed in the native languages ordering the inhabitants to hand in to the authorities all the arms and ammunition etc. in their possession and explaining a few regulations that must be observed. This work was carried out under the personal supervision of Major J. Urquhart, General Staff Officer of Desert Mounted Corps, and his suspicions were aroused in one of the villages at the actions of one of the inhabitants who was dressed as a native.
Major Urquhart, who is an excellent linguist in quite a number of languages questioned this individual very closely and as his answers were unsatisfactory, we made him accompany us on one of the cars back to headquarters where we handed him over to the Military Police. We subsequently learnt that this supposed native was a Turkish officer disguised in native costume and he stayed behind in the village when his army retreated in order to transmit information of our movements back to his own people.
Needless to say he was sent away to a place where he would not cause any mischief until the and of the war.
On Sunday, 25th November, the enemy made a strong counter attack at the rear of the Town and brought artillery up to shell the outskirts but the attack was driven back. Next day a squadron of hostile aeroplanes heavily bombed the town and our Lewis Gunners had a little more machine gun practise. The following evening one of the aeroplanes got even on one of our cars driven by Sergeant H. Creek, who was out on reconnaissance work. The aeroplane came down low and following the car machine gunning all the time. Unfortunately, this particular car was not fitted with a Lewis Gun and no reply could be made, but it is understood that Sergeant Creek broke all existing motor records for that particular section of road. However, the pilot's shooting must have been bad as he did no damage beyond stirring up the duet and perhaps taking a few more chips off the body work of the car.
On December 8th, news was received of the fall of Jerusalem which was now the other end of our line which stretched from the coast at Jaffa to Jerusalem which is about 3000 ft. above sea level. The wet season had now set in earnest and it was apparent that things would probably settle down for a lull.
The unit moved into the village of Richon-Le-Zion on the Jaffa-Jerusalem road and were allotted billets by the Jewish inhabitants. The first bit of comfort since the campaign began.
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