Battle of Beersheba

Battle of Beersheba
The charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba on October 31st 1917 – a painting by George Lambert.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

This was an iconic battle, one of the last great cavalry charges in history, and remains an important part of the World War One story, particularly for Australians.

In 1917 Beersheba (today’s Be’er Sheva, the largest town in southern Israel) was a strongly fortified town that was part of the Ottoman defensive line extending southeast and inland from Gaza. Turkish and German soldiers manned the line.

Two attacks on Gaza in March and April of 1917, involving forces from the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, were repulsed by the hard fighting Turks so it was decided to go for Beersheba instead, as this would allow Gaza to be outflanked and then attacked later if required. There was also the important issue of water in this desert area – Beersheba was (and is today) the location of several all-year wells that were vital to all military operations in the area.

Accordingly the British 20 Corps attacked Beersheba on the morning of 31 October but after savage fighting for much of the day little progress has been made. For the next move it was decided to use the Australian cavalry and the light horsemen of the 4th and 12th Regiments were ordered to charge.

Using their bayonets as swords the Australians raced at the Turks at full gallop and overran the defences around Beersheba through sheer speed and surprise. Horsemen charging at full pace actually leaped the trenches at the height of the attack. 

One of the Australian horsemen, Private Keddie later recalled: “we were all at the gallop yelling like mad – some had bayonets in their hands others their rifle then it was a full stretch gallop at the trenches . . . the last 200 yards or so was good going and those horses put on pace and next were jumping the trenches with the Turks underneath . . . when over the trenches we went straight for the town.”

Other horsemen then dismounted and attacked the Turks on foot, with savage hand to hand fighting breaking out across the area.

Beersheba eventually fell to the British that day and the Turks were forced to retreat further into Palestine in early November.

The British lost 171 troops killed in action and the Ottoman casualties were believed to be about 1,000 – both killed and wounded. 

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