Topic: AIF - 3B - 9 LHR
The Battle of Beersheba
Palestine, 31 October 1917
9th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account
Major Thomas Henry Darley produced a unit history of the 9th Light Horse Regiment, AIF, in which included a section specifically related to the battle of Beersheba and is extracted below.
Darley, TH, With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, Adelaide, Hassell Press, 1924, pp 98 - 102.
The Beersheba and Jerusalem Operations.
Ever since the second battle of Gaza on the 19th April, the enemy had worked night and day on strengthening the line from Gaza to the foot of the Judean Hills, beyond Beersheba. This line was by the 27th October 1917 considerably strengthened and presented a formidable barrier of strong points and redoubts. The task of breaking such a line, held by a determined enemy, was one to tax the skill of any commander, and the fighting efficiency of his troops to the utmost. There appears to be no doubt that the enemy commander felt confident that he would be able to again bar our further progress.
Our force had also undergone considerable changes since the failure of the 19th April 1917. Large reinforcements had been brought up, the air force had been considerably increased, and all arms had undergone special training to fit them for their great task.
A still greater change was that we had now a Commander in Chief, who, being himself a cavalryman, knew to a fraction to what advantage a large, spirited, and resourceful body of cavalry could be put; also one who would not hesitate to take the risks so essential in an adventure of this nature. That under his dispositions the Cavalry would play a great part in the coming operations was evident to all as the time approached, and many were the conjectures as to when and where they would be sent to make the effort.
From observations recorded at the various reconnaissances it appeared to be impossible to outflank the force at Beersheba, owing to the range of hills, which seemed to close right on to the eastern side of the town, and it was evident the enemy thought the position impregnable at this point. General Allenby evidently did not share this opinion, as it was at this point that he thrust the Anzac, Australian, and Yeomanry Mounted Divisions, under the command of Chauvel, Lieutenant General Sir HG. The manner in which they carried out their difficult task reflected the greatest credit on all concerned.
At 3 p.m. on the 28th October, 1917, the Regiment with the remainder of the Brigade, less the 8th Light Horse Regiment, moved from bivouac in column of route to the Divisional starting point, two miles east of Tel el Fara, which was reached at 5.30 p.m. The march was then continued to Bir el Esani, which was reached at 11.30 p.m., and the troops bivouacked. The march had been a severe one, the tracks being very rough, the transport and pack animals beginning to show signs of the heavy work.
The Brigade rested at Bir el Esani until 5 p.m. on the 29th, when it moved to Khalasa, a distance of about nine miles. It was found that the wells had been blown in by the enemy, but a party of engineers, assisted by members of the Camel Brigade soon effected temporary repairs, and we were able to give our horses a good and much needed drink. The dust along the line of march was stifling, whilst the soft and dry nature of the track over which this large body of troops and transport passed made the work of the gun teams and transport extremely heavy.
On the 30th October orders were received for the attack which was to be delivered on the following day. The Australian Mounted Division, of which we formed part, were to support the Anzac Mounted Division, which was to proceed via Asluj along the road running north east to the Wadi el Imshaish, thence along the Wadi to the cross roads, and along the road to Iswaiwin. From this point the defences on the east and north east of Beersheba, including Tel el Saba, were to be attacked and captured.
In support of this move, the troops of the 20th Corps were to attack the enemy works on the Ras Ghannam to Ras Hablein, with a view to an advance on Beersheba from the north.
Between 9 and 10 a.m. on the 30th October 1917, a hostile aeroplane flew over Khalasa and was promptly engaged by our airmen. A spirited fight took place and was eagerly watched by the large bodies of troops in the vicinity, as on the results of this fight much depended. Hearts almost ceased to beat as the enemy aeroplane appeared to have the advantage, but by skilful use of his machine our pilot succeeded in bringing his adversary to the ground, thus preventing him from returning to his lines with the valuable information he had collected, and our attack from the east on the following day came as a most unwelcome surprise.
At 5.30 p.m. the Regiment moved with the Brigade from Khalasa, arriving at Asluj at 8 p.m. The march was splendidly organized, and the spirit of the men excellent. At midnight the march was continued to Iswaiwin, a distance of about 31 miles. Rains had recently fallen in this area, which kept down the stifling dust, and allowed the troops to arrive at the point of concentration in a much fitter condition than would otherwise have been the case.
At 9.30 a.m. on the 31st October, Ayliffe, Lieutenant SH, with his troop was despatched to the north west, and Mueller, Lieutenant GLH, due north. Their orders were to locate the enemy and report on his dispositions. Within one and a quarter hours Ayliffe, Lieutenant SH, returned and reported having found the enemy to be holding Ras Ghannam in strength. Mueller, Lieutenant GLH, pushed further north than was anticipated and did not rejoin prior to the Regiment moving. At 2 p.m. the Regiment moved to Iswaiwin to support the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade in their attack on Tel el Saba.
On moving to Bir Salim Abu Irgeig the Brigade came under heavy shell fire, but reached their position with only slight casualties. By 3 p.m. the battle of Beersheba was developing and the mounted troops on our right were closing in on the enemy positions. The right flank at this time presented a wonderful spectacle, for as far as the eye could see mounted units and horse batteries were galloping into position.
Our Artillery had opened art intensive bombardment of the enemy positions, and the thunder of the guns on our left convinced us that the 60th Division were pushing their attack. At 3.15 p.m. the Regiment moved to the closer support of the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade. The country over which the Regiment passed was slightly undulating and broken by small Wadis. The move was made in column of sections at a steady trot, the front being increased and diminished at intervals, and the direction changed frequently, when out of sight of the enemy observation posts. During the move the Regiment was heavily shelled, but reached Tel el Saba without casualty just as the position was surrendered to the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade.
Tel el Saba is one of those enormous mounds of earth, stated to have been constructed by the Crusaders for defensive purposes. This had been improved by the enemy with a complete system of trenches and bristled with machine guns; it was also supported by well placed batteries of field guns.
About 5.30 p.m. an enemy aeroplane flew over, dropping bombs on C Squadron and a section of the 3rd Machine Gun Squadron who had taken cover from gun fire behind the hill. The casualties from these bombs were exceptionally heavy, 13 being killed, three officers and 17 other ranks wounded, 32 horses killed, and 26 wounded. Amongst the wounded was Maygar, Lieutenant Colonel LC, VC DSO, a fine old soldier, and sad to say he succumbed to his injuries before he reached hospital.
As the horses had not been watered since the previous afternoon the Regiment proceeded to Wadi Saba where they were given a good refreshing drink.
Just before sunset the 4th Light Horse Brigade were seen to make a magnificent charge against the enemy trenches. Although mounted and armed with only a rifle and bayonet, they galloped clean over the enemy position, causing the utmost consternation amongst the Turks, and this charge can almost be said to have decided the day. News was received at 6 p.m. to the effect that the town of Beersheba, considered by the enemy to be impregnable, had been captured.
The Brigade was detailed to furnish the outpost line, and took up a position with the Regiment on the right, and the 10th Light Horse Regiment on the left, the 8th Light Horse Regiment remaining in support. During the night the enemy continued his artillery fire, and much trouble was caused by snipers, several of whom were captured. About an hour after sunrise A Squadron were left in the outpost line, and the remainder of the Regiment went into support. A patrol was sent out under Gregory, 1364 Lance Corporal HO, and brought back as prisoners a Turkish medical officer and five men. The medical officer spoke excellent English and informed us that the flank attack by our mounted troops was entirely unexpected and unprepared for by the enemy.
On the afternoon of the 31st October, Ragless, Captain BB, with Kildea, Lieutenant FJ; and, his troop of B Squadron, left the Regiment in the vicinity of Iswaiwin and moved to Beersheba, where, on arrival, Ragless, Captain BB, assumed the duties of the first British Military Governor of that place.
On the 1st November 1917, C Squadron escorted a party of 1,300 Turkish prisoners from Beersheba to the Headquarters of the 20th Corps at Taweil el Habari. The day was spent by the remainder of the Regiment in cleaning up operations in and around Beersheba. The Infantry took over the outpost line, and the Regiment moved to a position about one mile south east of the town, where it bivouacked.
Citation: The Battle of Beersheba, Palestine, 31 October 1917, 9th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account