Horses from the Desert Mounted Corps at Beersheba drinking from portable canvas water troughs
Horses from the Desert Mounted Corps at Beersheba drinking from portable canvas water troughs.
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Importance of Beersheba

Beersheba was a heavily fortified town 43 kilometres from the Turkish bastion of Gaza. It anchored the right end of a defensive line that stretched from Gaza on the Mediterranean coast.

The first two frontal attackes on Gaza, in March and April 1917, failed. The British Army re-organised before trying again. The capture of Beersheba would break the Gaza—Beersheba line and enable the British, Australian and New Zealand forces to outflank Gaza.

British attack on Beersheba

The British 20 Corps launched an attack on Beersheba at dawn on 31 October 1917.

By late afternoon the corps had made little headway toward the town and its vital wells. Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel, commanding the Desert Mounted Corps, ordered the 4th Light Horse Brigade forward to attempt to secure the position.

Australian Light Horse charge

Brigadier General William Grant responded by ordering light horsemen of the 4th and 12th Regiments to charge at the unwired Turkish trenches.

The light horsemen did not carry swords or lances, so they held their bayonets in their hands and used them as "swords".

The momentum of the surprise attack carried them through the Turkish defences.

Fall of Beersheba

The light horsemen took less than an hour to overrun the Turkish trenches and enter Beersheba.

Thirty-eight Turkish and German officers and about 700 other ranks were taken prisoner, and a supply of water was secured.

The Australians suffered 67 casualties. Two officers and 29 other ranks were killed, and 8 officers and 28 other ranks wounded.

The fall of Beersheba opened the way to outflank the Gaza—Beersheba Line. On 6 November, after severe fighting, Turkish forces began to withdraw from Gaza further into Palestine.

Sources:

Paul Daley, Beersheba: a journey through Australia's forgotten war (Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press, 2009).

H.S. Gullett, The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, 1914—1918, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914—1918, vol. 7 (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1941): 368—407.

Neil C. Smith, Men of Beersheba: a history of the 4th Light Horse Regiment, 1914—1919 (Melbourne: Mostly Unsung Military History Research and Publications, 1993).

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