[Editor: This article, regarding the Battle of Beersheba (1917), which took place during the First World War (1914-1918), is an extract from A Brief Record of the Advance of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under the Command of General Sir Edmund H. H. Allenby G.C.B., G.C.M.G., July 1917 to October 1918 (1919). The first section of text was taken from despatches from Edmund Allenby (a British general) to the UK’s Secretary of State for War; the second section of text was taken from the maps section at the end of the book.]
Capture of Beersheba, Oct. 31.
7. On the evening of Oct. 30 the portion of the eastern force, which was to make the attack on Beersheba, was concentrated in positions of readiness for the night march to its positions of deployment.
8. The night march to the positions of deployment was successfully carried out, all units reaching their appointed positions up to time.
The plan was to attack the hostile works between the Khalasa road and the Wadi Saba with two divisions, masking the works north of the Wadi Saba with the Imperial Camel Corps and some infantry, while a portion of the 53rd (Welsh) Division further north covered the left of the corps. The right of the attack was covered by a cavalry regiment. Further east, mounted troops took up a line opposite the southern defences of Beersheba.
As a preliminary to the main attack, in order to enable field guns to be brought within effective range for wire-cutting, the enemy’s advanced works at 1,070 were to be taken. This was successfully accomplished at 8.45 a.m., after a short preliminary bombardment, by London troops, with small loss, ninety prisoners being taken. The cutting of the wire on the main line then proceeded satisfactorily, though pauses had to be made to allow the dust to clear; and the final assault was ordered for 12.15 p.m. It was successful all along the front attacked, and by about 1 p.m. the whole of the works between the Khalasa road and the Wadi Saba were in our hands.
Some delay occurred in ascertaining whether the enemy still occupied the works north of the road; it was decided, as they were still held by small parties, to attack them from the south. After a preliminary bombardment the works were occupied with little opposition by about 7.30 p.m.
The casualties were light, considering the strength of the works attacked; a large proportion occurred during the advance towards the positions previous to the assault, the hostile guns being very accurate and very difficult to locate.
Meanwhile, the mounted troops, after a night march, for part of the force of twenty-five and for the remainder of thirty-five miles, arrived early in the morning of the 31st about Khasim Zanna, in the hills some five miles east of Beersheba. From the hills the advance into Beersheba from the east and north-east lies over an open and almost flat plain, commanded by the rising ground north of the town and flanked by an under feature in the Wadi Saba called Tel el Saba.
A force was sent north to secure Bir es Sakaty, on the Hebron road, and protect the right flank; this force met with some opposition, and was engaged with hostile cavalry at Bir es Sakaty and to the north during the day. Tel el Saba was found strongly held by the enemy, and was not captured till late in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, attempts to advance in small parties across the plain towards the town made slow progress. In the evening, however, a mounted attack by Australian Light Horse, who rode straight at the town from the east, proved completely successful. They galloped over two deep trenches held by the enemy just outside the town, and entered the town at about 7 p.m., capturing numerous prisoners.
The Turks at Beersheba were undoubtedly taken completely by surprise, a surprise from which the dash of London troops and Yeomanry, finely supported by their artillery, never gave them time to recover. The charge of the Australian Light Horse completed their defeat.
A very strong position was thus taken with slight loss, and the Turkish detachment at Beersheba almost completely put out of action. About 2,000 prisoners and thirteen guns were taken, and some 500 Turkish corpses were buried on the battlefield. This success laid open the left flank of the main Turkish position for a decisive blow. (See Plate 5.)
[Editor’s note: The following section, including the map (Plate 5), was taken from the maps section at the end of the book.]
On the night of Oct. 30-31, the XXth Corps moved forward to positions of deployment, and by dawn was in position ready for the attack. At the same time, the Desert Mounted Corps (less the Yeomanry Mounted Division) moved from its concentration area about Khalasa and Asluj to positions about Khashim Zanna ready to attack Beersheba from the east, in co-operation with the XXth Corps. The moves to the final positions were aided by the bright moon, which rose shortly after sunset.
The plan of attack was for the 60th and 74th Divisions to seize the enemy works between the Khalasa road and the Wadi Saba, while the defences north of the wadi were masked by the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade and two battalions of the 53rd Division. The Anzac Mounted Division, Australian Mounted Division, and 7th Mounted Brigade were to attack the defences of the town from the north-east, east, and south-east.
At 0555 on the morning of Oct. 31, the artillery of the 60th and 74th Divisions commenced to bombard the enemy’s positions on a front of some 4,500 yards. Some 100 field guns and howitzers took part in the bombardment, while twenty heavy guns were engaged mainly in counter-battery work. At 0830, the 181st Infantry Brigade advanced to the assault of Point 1070, an advanced enemy work which was captured within ten minutes. The guns now moved forward in order to cut the wire of the enemy’s main line of defence, and at 1215 the main assault was launched, the attacking troops from right to left being the 179th, 181st, 231st, and 230th Brigades. By 1330, all objectives had been gained and soon after an outpost line was established.
The enemy was, however, still holding out in his positions north of the Wadi Saba. While a brigade of the 53rd Division threatened these from the west, the 230th Brigade, 74th Division, attacked them from the south at 1900 and found no difficulty in occupying the works, as the enemy had evacuated them during the preliminary bombardment.
Meanwhile, the Anzac Mounted Division reached Bir el Hammam and Bir Salim abu Irgeig, their first objective, with only slight opposition, by about 0800. Resistance now stiffened considerably, but Tel es Sakaty was captured by 1300 by the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade and by 1350 this brigade was astride the Hebron road. The strongly held position of Tel es Saba was captured by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, assisted by the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade by 1500. By 1800 the Anzac Mounted Division, plus the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade (Australian Mounted Division) attached, reached the line Bir el Hammam-Bir es Sakaty-Point 1020-Point 970.
The Australian Mounted Division reached Iswaiwin by 1100 and at 1600 the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade moved forward to attack Beersheba. The brigade galloped over successive lines of trenches in the face of severe machine-gun and rifle fire, and succeeded in occupying the town by about 1800.
The 7th Mounted Brigade assisted in turning the defences on Ras Ghannam and reached Beersheba about 1830.
The enemy troops holding Beersheba consisted of the 27th Division, an Arab formation of poor moral, but stiffened by battalions from the 16th and 24th Divisions.
The defence of Beersheba had been entrusted to the IIIrd Corps, and of its tactical handling by its commander, Ismet Bey, the following criticism by a German staff officer is of interest:—
“The battle control of the IIIrd Corp3 appeared deplorable: even before the commencement of the decisive infantry attack, all reserves had been thrown in.”
To face Plate 5.
A Brief Record of the Advance of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under the Command of General Sir Edmund H. H. Allenby G.C.B., G.C.M.G., July 1917 to October 1918 (2nd edition), London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1919, pp. 2-3, 131-132 [another copy of the same book is available]
The photograph of General Sir Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby appeared opposite the title page of the book; the section “Capture of Beersheba, Oct. 31” on pages 2-3, and the map (Plate 5) on page 132 (not numbered), with the text accompanying the map on page 131 (not numbered).
Beersheba = a city in Israel
Edmund Allenby = Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby (1861-1936), 1st Viscount Allenby, a British general who commanded British and Commonwealth forces during the First World War (1914-1918); he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshall in 1919
See: “Edmund Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby”, Wikipedia
moral = an alternative spelling (rarely used) of “morale”: the emotional or mental condition of an individual or a group of people, which determines their level of confidence, cheerfulness, and optimism, significantly affecting their courage, discipline, enthusiasm, zeal, and willingness to endure hardships; loss of morale can effect the capacity of people to maintain belief in themselves or others, or in an institution, movement, or objective (especially used regarding the morale of military personnel, or of people during wartime)
wadi = a river, stream, or watercourse in North Africa or the Middle East which is dry except during the rainy season; a ravine, defile, gorge, gully, passage, or valley containing a stream bed or river bed which is dry except during the rainy season (also spelt: wady; plural: wadies)