Topic: AIF - 1B - 2 LHR
The Battle of Rafa
Sinai, 9 January 1917
Bourne, 2nd LHR Unit History, Account
Inspecting the trenches at Rafa, February 1919
In 1926, G. H. Bourne published a history of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment during the Great War called: NULLI SECUNDUS" - The History - of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment Australian Imperial Force - August 1914 - April 1919. The book included a chapter on the work performed by the 2nd Light Horse Regiment during the Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917 which are extracted below.
Nicol, G. H., NULLI SECUNDUS" - The History - of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment Australian Imperial Force - August 1914 - April 1919, (Tamworth 1926), pp. 39-41:
The enemy held two very strong posts near Rafa and Weli Sheikh Nuran, and these required our next attention -- being distant front El Arish, 21 and 28 miles respectively. Accordingly a reconnaissance of the former was made by the 1st L.H. Brigade on December 30. We arrived at Sheikh Zowaiid before dusk and just in time to allow Brig General Cox and his escort to ride towards Magruntein and carry out the reconnaissance. The main enemy position was found to be on this latter place, and about 2 1/2 miles SW of Rata. The garrison was estimated at about 1,000. We camped for a few hours at Sheikh Zowaiid (one of the coldest night we experienced) and started back to El Arish before daylight. The enemy's patrols had not observed us; but of course they soon heard all about us from the Bedouins, who had done a thriving trade with us in fowls and eggs during our halt.
Orders to attack Magruntein were prepared immediately the reconnaissance report was received; and, as at Magdhaba, the mounted troops of the Desert Column, strengthened by the addition of 5th Cavalry Brigade (Yeomanry), were detailed for the duty. The following artillery was attached - Inverness and Ayrshire Batteries, Somersets and HAC, Hong-Kong and Singapore Mountain Battery. The whole was under command of Major-General Sir P. Chetwode -- Major-General Sir Harry Chauvel being in charge of Anzac Division.
The above Column moved from El Arish at 1700 on January 8, 1917. An all night march enabled us to surround the position from south and east, considerably before daylight , and then occurred an unavoidable delay, owing to the necessity of rounding up hostile Bedouins.
The N.Z.M.R. Brigade had furthest to go, and accompanied by a political officer, they were instructed to search the Police Post and huts of Rafa for documents, before advancing on Magruntein from north west. 1st Brigade attacked from north and were first in action - the Camel Brigade attacked from the east and the Yeomanry from the south. The 3rd Brigade (less 8th Regiment) was ultimately sent in between 1st Brigade and the Camels. The 8th Regiment was sent to keep the enemy force at Weli Sheikh Nuran under observation and to intercept probable reinforcements. The 1st and 2nd Regiments were sent in first -- 3rd Regiment being Brigade reserve. It was now after 0900 and the enemy had a magnificent field of fire. We were fortunate in being able to reach a road running parallel with our advancing line, and which was sunken in a few places, thus affording the only available cover; from there we attempted to develop superiority of fire, waiting till our guns could knock out the particularly well posted and his fire very accurate. The distance the N.Z.M.R. Brigade had to cover had been underestimated and it seemed a long while before they got up on our right. The Camel Corps were getting a rough time like ourselves, and the Yeomanry had been forced to withdraw. There was no weight in our attack anywhere, and lack of coordination resulted in wasted efforts by individual units. No progress had been made at 1700. A Turkish force was then reported to be advancing from the north and a Regiment was detailed to intercept and engage it.
The situation appeared so critical that General Chetwode ordered withdrawal, believing he had been defeated. The order reached us through Division and Brigade Headquarters. Had it been obeyed, we would have had to abandon some of our wounded. By the greatest good fortune, however, this was prevented. The N.Z. Brigade had not then received the order and continued to press on, and a few 'Turks fearing the bayonet in the dusk surrendered. This was the signal for us to press on too, and the information that we were advancing and with good prospects was immediately communicated by the C O. to the Brigade Major, and by him to Divisional Headquarters. The order to withdraw was therefor cancelled and a general advance ordered, with complete success. The 2nd Regiment telephone was the only one in the line that was working, thanks to the energy of Lieutenant Letch, our Signalling officer, and of Signaller Mercer who had kept it repaired under fire during the day. This enabled the essential information to be transmitted to Divisional HQ. The guns having ceased fire, the enemy relieving force knew that Magruntein had fallen. They therefore withdrew. The task of removing the wounded and clearing up the field was a long one. The 8th Regiment was detailed as rear party; the remainder leaving at midnight for Sheikh Zowaiid, where we had a couple hours of sleep.
Many of us held the opinion that the position could have been galloped in the dark before the Turks were aware of our presence; and probably with far fewer casualties than we suffered.
The enemy had been taken too cheaply. It was thought that the appearance of horsemen right round him would bluff him into surrendering. (It was time we knew "Jacko" better than that). The result was we had no strength to press an attack anywhere in daylight. In the dark a bayonet advance against Magruntein would have settled the matter in 15 minutes.
Had we pulled out, the moral effect would have been serious.
The Column and Divisional Commander; had the Brigade paraded when we got back to El Arish and thanked us for our work at Magdhaba and Rafa.