Topic: AIF - 1B - 3 LHR
The Battle of Rafa
Sinai, 9 January 1917
Blackwell, 3rd LHR, AIF, Unit History, Account
3rd LHR Officers inspecting the site at Rafa, February 1919
In 1950, F. M. Blackwell and D. R. Douglas, published a history of the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, AIF during the Great War called: The Story of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment. The book included a chapter on the work performed by the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, AIF during the Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917 which are extracted below.
Blackwell, FM. & Douglas D. R., The Story of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment, (Adelaide 1950), Rafa 1917, pp. 80 - 82:
On the morning of January 8th the Regiment received instructions to proceed with the Division to Rafa, and marched at 1700 with the Division. Major L.A. Lewis was temporarily detached from his Squadron to act as guide to the 5th Mounted Brigade. The Regiment arrived at Sheikh Zowaid at 2100, where the horses were fed, and about 0100 moved off en route for Ibn Musleh, which they reached at 0500, and here the men had breakfast and the horses were again fed. At 1030 the Regiment received orders to advance to the attack on the left of the 1st Regiment, and support them in the assault on the enemy's trenches.
Prior to making this attack a personal reconnaissance was made by all Officers at 1100, and the Regiment then formed up in Squadron lines of troop column in the following order: A Squadron under Major Lewis on the left, B Squadron under Major Brooks in centre, and C Squadron under Major Mills on the right. The Regiment moved in this formation at a smart trot to within 2000 yards of the enemy's entrenched position, where they dismounted behind a low bank, and formed up in lines of 1/2 Squadron column, with a distance of 120 yards between the lines. The horses were sent back and concentrated in a position offering cover from shell fire, but came under enemy aircraft, who attacked them with bombs and machine gun fire, but caused practically no causalities. The squadron leaders were then called up, each allotted a section, and the objective was explained.
An advance was then made to a low ridge within 860 yards of the enemy trenches, down a gradual slope, with no cover, in full view of the enemy, and early in the advance the enemy opened up with rifle and machine gun fire, but though the fire was heavy it was scattered and the range faulty. No check was made, and few casualties resulted.
On reaching the position the 2nd line immediately joined the first, and the machine guns and Lewis guns, which had been covering the advance, came up. The enemy's fire was very heavy, and it was some time before superiority of fire on our part was gained. Telephone communication by wire was immediately established along the whole line, enabling each Squadron to get touch with Regimental Headquarters throughout the whole action. Perfect communication was also established between Regimental Headquarters and the Brigade. Only three breakages of the wire from HE occurred during the action, during which time a hello was used until the wire was run and mended, which was done so expeditiously that in every case the reply message to the hello came by wire. The Squadron connections were interfered with more frequently, but were soon repaired. One signaller during these operations was killed and two wounded. This was the first time telephone connection had been used in the open battlefield and it proved entirely satisfactory.
Some trenches partly completed by the enemy were found on this ridge, and though only 12 inches deep, were the only cover available, though they could not accommodate men, were made use of Machine Gun and Lewis Gun positions. The enemy's positions were considerably higher than our own, and consequently they commanded a great field of view and fire between their trenches and the Regimental position, the ground between them being perfectly level and devoid of cover. It was consequently impossible to advance, and so heavy fire was kept continuously on the enemy's position to afford cover to the right flank, who were steadily pressing forward.
At 1300 the Regiment was reinforced by the 10th Regiment. Ammunition was brought up and quickly distributed, and orders were received to advance. This was done by short rushes, with a few men at a time, the movement a starting from the centre, and continuing until sufficient men were in position to afford in covering fire for the flanks, by which means they advanced within 400 yards of the enemy's position. Here the Regiment came under heavy enfilade fire. A Squadron on the left receiving the heaviest casualties, owing to the fact that there was no one on this left flank to support them. It was found necessary to dig in, but the ground being hard, and the only implement available a bayonet, it was some time before any protection was afforded. The Regiment remained in this position until 1600, during whichtime two Squadron Leaders were wounded (Majors Mills and Lewis, the latter seriously), and the Regiment generally suffered heavy casualties.
Great praise is due to the Regimental Stretcher Bearers for the fearless manner in which they carried out their duties under the heavy fire. Though the shell fire was heavy, it was inaccurate and caused comparatively few casualties.
At 1515 a message was received from A Squadron asking for permission to withdraw to their original position, and at the same time orders were received that a general attack had been ordered, but at 1530 no movement was visible on the left, except at very long range, and permission was granted for the Regiment to withdraw to the original position, which was done. Orders were then received to work to the right, and support the 2nd Regiment, one Squadron was left behind and the other two squadrons moved to the right, but before a proper junction could be made the redoubt at Hill 225 fell and another frontal advance was ordered, and the ground made good up to the trenches.
The led horses were brought up to this position, and orders were received to concentrate at once, as enemy reinforcements were expected. This was done, the wounded collected, and a party detailed to bury the dead and mark the graves. The Regiment's casualties were 10 killed and 49 wounded. At 0600 the Regiment moved for El-Arish, which was reached at midday, where the cooks, who had been left behind, had a meal ready for the men.
During the period of the Magdhaba and Rafa actions there were nine complete nights during which the Regiment was either fighting or advancing, which, in addition to the strenuous work during the actual fights, led to great exhaustion amongst the troops by the time the whole operations were completed. On 13th January the GOC Anzac Mounted Division addressed the troops. From this date until 10 February 1917 the Regiment, with the Brigade, remained at El-Arish, holding outpost line at night, the weather being very wet and cold at the time.