Topic: BatzS - Magdhaba
The Battle of Magdhaba
Sinai, 23 December 1916
In 1923, Frederic Morley Cutlack had his book about the Australian Air Force published. It was called: The Australian Flying Corps in the Western and Eastern Theatres of War, 1914–1918. This book was critically acclaimed and became Volume VIII of the Australian Official History of the Great War. This book included a section specifically related to the Battle of Magdhaba which is extracted below.
Cutlack, F. M. The Australian Flying Corps in the Western and Eastern Theatres of War, 1914–1918, (11th edition, 1941), pp. 48 - 50:
To distract the Turk’s attention from this flank, the two air squadrons on December 22nd sent five Martinsydes to bomb the important railway bridge at Irgeig, north-west of Beersheba. The bombs hit, but did not greatly damage, the bridge, which, like most solid bridges, was not very susceptible to that form of attack. Two Fokkers and an Aviatik gave battle over Beersheba, and one of the Fokkers was chased down. The same afternoon one British and ten Australian machines dropped over a hundred bombs on Magdhaba, where the Turks were strongly entrenched. The Anzac Mounted Division marched that night across the desert on Magdhaba, surrounded it, and attacked from all sides next morning. It was a long fight, for the Turkish strong-posts could not be rushed at once, and had to be subdued in detail. There were a few guns on each side, but the action was mainly one of rifle and bayonet. Australian airmen were over Magdhaba all day, dropped a few bombs, and attempted to assist the dismounted light horsemen by machine-gunning the enemy, but the targets were well concealed. Towards the end of the day it became increasingly urgent to finish the fight, for the horses were suffering from thirst, the nearest water was at El Arish, arid a second day before Magdhaba was unthinkable
The Australians succeeded dramatically as dark was setting in; a few strong-points fell suddenly, and the position was rushed in a final charge from three sides at once. The surviving garrison, 1,250 strong, was captured and the Anzac Division, after setting fire to the village, retired again during the night to E1 Arish, whole squadrons fast asleep on their horses as they trekked across the desert. Next day No. I Squadron's patrols tip the wady beyond Magdhaba found the village a blackened ruin, and El Ruafa and Abu Aweigila also deserted by the enemy. El Auja and El Kossaima, farther east and south-east, "ere seen, however, to be still strongly held
At this time No. 1 Squadron was using the old German aerodrome site of Fageira, at El Arish, as an advanced landing-ground. By mid- January the railway had gone ahead of El Arish, and the squadron moved its aerodrome from Mustabig to Kilo, 143, just west of Masaid, and five miles west of El Arish. The weather of early January was wild with sandstorms and rain squalls, and more than one pilot crashed in desert landings during these winds. On only the worst days, however, was flying stopped. The army was working hard to advance its services a few more miles so as to be clear of the desert, and was relying more and more on air reconnaissance to keep touch with the enemy and to ascertain the extent of his retreat. After El Arish and Magdhaba he elected-and was observed by the airmen on December 28thto fall back to a main position on the Gaza-Beersheba line, and this entailed the withdrawal of his headquarters from Beersheba
The weather cleared up on January 5th, and No. I Squadron's patrol observed 2,000 or 3,000 Turks digging an advanced position at Rafa. General Murray decided upon an immediate attack on this place. Air patrols on January 7th reported the Turks still at El Auja and El Kossaima on the extreme southern flank and the garrison at El Auja apparently slightly increased; but these places caused little anxiety
German airmen bombed El Arish during the morning and evening of this day, taking advantage of the British concentration there.
Citation: The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Cutlack Account