THE ENEMY was Turkey, Imperial German’s eastern ally. They held the line, Gaza-Beersheba.
Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Chauvel commanded the Desert Mounted Corps, and his orders were to capture Beersheba by straddling the Beersheba-Hebron Road eight kilometres north of Beersheba, capture Tel El Saba, then storm the town. He had no misgivings about his troops — they had sheer quality, leadership and experience — many had been at Gallipoli.
These men of the Light Horse were without peer. He had two Divisions, each of three Brigades. The ANZAC Mounted Division included the 1st and 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigades and New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade.
The Australian Mounted Division (Chauvel’s reserve) included the 3rd and 4th Australian Light Horse Brigades and the 5th (British) Yeomanry Brigade.
In support were the Light Batteries of the Royal Horse Artillery.
The battle was to be a three-phase operation, supported by the British. The first phase was to be a night ride into position. The second phase was to advance to Sakati, cut-off the Hebron Road to Beersheba and capture Tel El Saba. The third phase was to be the storming of Beersheba.
Phase 1 — The Night Ride:
The men of the Desert Mounted Corps carried three day’s rations. Despite great loads, the horses were touched with excitement. The bare hills of Sinai sounded to the beat of thousands of shod horses; they rode 30 kilometres through the night.
Phase 2 — Cut-off and capture Tel El Saba
After British guns opened-up in support, the ANZACs were ready to seize the road and the Tel. The 2nd Brigade moved into artillery formation, advanced through a Bedouin camp, and thundered to the road without slackening. Turkish batteries fired, but formation and ground gave them protection.
The Somerset Battery opened-up on Tel El Saba from 3,000 metres to cover the ANZAC assault. The 3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment was ordered to attack from the south-east. A spirited gallop under heavy fire brought them to within 1,500 metres of the enemy. The dismounted. The Auckland Regiment conformed the north. The Inverness Battery gave covering fire to the Somersets as they galloped to within 1,000 metres of the Tel. The ANZACS were severely punished, but they continued their advance, eventually bringing effective Hotchkiss fire onto the cliff. The prospect of the 3rd scaling the 200 metre cliff was not good, so they gave full opportunity to the Aucklanders.
The 2nd Australian Light Horse Regiment was ordered to support the 3rd. They advanced at the gallop, dismounted and rushed their horses back so quickly that the enemy thought they had retreated. They fired on the horses; this enabled the 2nd to advance unharmed. Meanwhile, the 3rd had gained the bank. The Wellingtons supported the Aucklanders — the enemy now under heavy fire.
The New Zealanders rose and dashed up the slopes with bayonets. The 3rd continued, but the Aucklanders were first in. Some Turks surrendered, others fled into town. The 2nd and 3rd gave chase, and fought-off a counter attack.
The ANZACS had secured the Hebron Road and Tel El Saba.
Phase 3 — Occupation of Beersheba:
The time had come to commit the reserve. The 4th and 12th Australian Light Horse Regiments drew-up behind the bridge. The course lay own a long, slight slope which was bare of cover. Between them and the town of Beersheba lay enemy defences. They rode with bayonets in hand. Every man knew that only a wild, desperate charge could seize Beersheba before dark.
They moved-off at a trot, deploying at once into artillery formation, with five metres between horsemen. Almost at once, the pace quickened to a gallop. Once the word was given, the lead squadron pressed forward. The Turks opened fire with shrapnel. Machine guns fired against the lead squadrons. The Royal Horse Artillery soon had them out of action. The Turkish riflemen fired, horses were hit, but the charge was not checked. The Lighthorsemen drove in their spurs — they rode for victory and they rode for Australia.
The bewildered enemy failed to adjust their sights, and soon their fire was passing harmlessly overhead. The 4th took the trenches; the enemy soon surrendered. The 12th rode through a gap and on into town. Theirs was a bitter fight. Some enemy surrendered; others fled are were pursued into the Judean Hills. In less than an hour, it was over — the enemy was finally beaten.
The disaster came. The 9th and 10th in pursuit were bombed by a lone aircraft — they suffered heavy casualties.
For days after, the Charge was the talk of the camps and messes.
The Australian Light Horse had galloped into history.
Watch a trailer of the movie “The Lighthorsemen — the Charge of Beersheba: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7dm_nbjNjE
The Bronze Sculpture (above):
This outstanding sculpture was made by Queenslander, the late Eddie Hackman (1932-2005).
In 1987, the Victoria Barracks Officers’ Mess Committee approached Mr Hackman to make a one-off bronze piece as a highlight for the Mess.
Mr Hackman suggested the “Charge of the Beersheba,” having carried-out research, including interviewing some remaining members of the 5th and 14th Light nHorse Regiments (who have since passed-on).
He also interviewed the owners of the ‘Beltrees’ property at Scone, New South Wales, where a large number of horses originated.
Hackman’s research was authenticated by the Army.
The markings on the horse at the back of the piece is the ‘Beltrees’ brand.
The sculpture was completed in 1988.
• Text from a brochure produced by the Army Museum South Queensland, Victoria Barracks, Petrie Terrace, Brisbane.
• The Army Museum South Queensland conducts Tours each Wednesday by appointment — phone Bev on 0412 868 224.