Mar 022017
 

Fact File – Battle of Beersheba
  • When did it take place? 31 October 1917.
  • Where is it? Approx 50km southeast of Gaza in the Negev desert.
  • Who fought? Allied forces against the Ottoman Empire supported by Germany.
  • Allied objective? Outflank the Ottoman line defending Gaza.
  • Victors? The allies, after a courageous charge by Australian light horsemen.

Background

After Gallipoli, Australian troops took part in the defence of the Suez Canal in Egypt which was under mounting pressure from the Ottoman attacks from across the Sinai Desert. They pushed out into the Sinai, patrolling the desert and engaging in skirmishes with the Ottomans, and ultimately participated in a British offensive that pursued them across the border into Palestine. Australian, New Zealand, British and Indian troops continued their advance in 1917, with one of their first objectives to capture the Turkish bastion of Gaza.

After two failed attempts to assault Gaza, British efforts shifted to Beersheba, a heavily fortified inland town at the eastern flank of the Ottoman defences. Success would allow the allies to bypass Ottoman forces, thereby undermining the security of Gaza on the coast. Capturing the wells at Beersheba would also bring relief to some 50,000 to 60,000 allied troops and their horses who were in desperate need of water.

Australian contingent

The 4th Light Horse Brigade was formed in March 1915 and served as dismounted infantry on Gallipoli. As mounted infantry, Australian light horse units relied on sturdy, hardy mounts – (New South) Walers – renowned for their indefatigable ability to carry a rider, his rifle, bayonet, ammunition and other equipment for long distances in hot, arid conditions.

lighthorse_on-parade

Troops of the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade near Tripoli, Lebanon, in December 1918.

The courage shared by the men and their mounts was forever inscribed in the annals of history at Beersheba in Palestine, when in an effort to rout the enemy’s Gaza–Beersheba defences, they undertook a gallant charge against the Ottoman positions.

The battle

The fighting at Beersheba took place at dusk under orders from Lieutenant-General Sir Henry “Harry” Chauvel, the Australian commander of the Desert Mounted Corps. Some 800 Australian mounted infantry from the 4th Light Horse Brigade assembled six kilometres south-east of Beersheba with the 4th Light Horse Regiment on the right, the 12th on the left, and the 11th, who were on detached duty, in reserve.

Armed with their rifles and carrying drawn bayonets, they rode over a ridge and descended down gently sloping ground toward the town, where more than 1,100 Ottomans riflemen, nine field guns and several machine guns lay in wait. The Ottomans opened fire on the light horsemen as they approached and both horses and men were hit by the ensuing fusillade, but the mounted troops rode on, with members of the 4th Regiment dismounting at the trenches to attack the Ottomans on foot, while the 12th Light Horse Regiment succeeded in capturing the town.

charge-at-beersheba

A hand-coloured print sometimes considered to depict the charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba – most probably taken in 1918 during a re-enactment by the official photographer Frank Hurley.

Historic aftermath

Lasting little more than an hour, the momentum of the surprise attack carried the light horsemen through the Ottoman positions. They successfully secured the town and its wells, while taking in excess of 1,000 Ottoman prisoners at the same time. A significant victory for the allies in Palestine, the capture of Beersheba helped British forces penetrate the Gaza–Beersheba line; Gaza fell a week later, abandoned by Ottoman troops who withdrew further into Palestine.

The Australian War Memorial records the names of 31 light horsemen who died at Beersheba on its Roll of Honour. A further 36 were wounded, and at least 70 horses died and dozens more were injured. In spite of these losses, Beersheba was an outstanding success for the Australian Light Horse.

Commemorative gold coin

beersheba-gold-coin

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Australian’s courageous charge, The Perth Mint has crafted a 2017 tribute coin from 1/4oz of 99.99% pure gold. Depicting a member of the 4th Light Horse Brigade with his horse, the design includes a red poppy and the inscription THOSE MARVELLOUS HORSES.

The coin’s obverse depicts the Ian Rank-Broadley effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the 2017 year-date, and the monetary denomination.

The Perth Mint will release no more than 1,000 of The ANZAC Spirit 100th Anniversary Coin Series –Beersheba 2017 1/4oz Gold Proof Coin.

Australian-War-Memorial-logoThe Australian War Memorial logo is a registered trademark of the
Australian War Memorial TM & © 2017

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