To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Australian victory in the battle for Beersheba, David W Cameron’s The Charge tells the full story of one of the last successful cavalry charges in history. In the approach to take the strategic stronghold, the charge of the Australian Light Horse (ALH) was critical. The lives of all involved and the success of the entire campaign depended on the surprise and speed of their mounted attack. And success at Beersheba would have enormous ramifications for the chances of Allied victory in the Great War. Drawing from firsthand accounts, here Cameron illuminates the battlefield as the charge for Beersheba unfolds.
Trooper Arthur Moon (a 21-year-old bank clerk from Melbourne), of 4th Regiment, A Squadron, mounted on ‘Jerry’, recalled his part in the charge towards the Turkish lines: ‘At a slow trot for half a mile or so, and a squadron of what we find out later is the 12th Regiment joists up on our left, thus there are now two squadrons in line. The pace is getting hotter and Jacko realises that there is something doing. We can hear his rifle and machinegun fire, but it does not seem to be coming anywhere near us. I have a hazy recollection of a plane badly missing us with bombs. Tim Healey of C Troop is about 50 yards [45 metres] in front, acting as ground scout.’ Covering the left flank of the charge was Sergeant Doherty of the 12th Regiment, who later wrote in his diary: ‘after progressing about three quarters of a mile [1 kilometre] our pace became terrific… we were galloping towards a strongly held, crescent-shaped redoubt of greater length than our own line. In face of this intense fire, which now included frequent salvos from field artillery, the now maddened horses, straining their hearts to bursting point, had to cross cavernous wadis whose precipitous banks seemed to defy our progress. The crescent redoubt – like a long sinuous smoking serpent – was taking a fearful toll of men and horses, but the line remained unwavering and resolute.’1
The unexpected tactic of the Australians using a cavalry charge to attack their position was a shock to the Turks – including the gunners, who had trouble trying to keep the quickly advancing force within range, with the majority of shells falling behind the advance. After the troopers had covered 3 kilometres, the Turkish machine gunners in the main line opened fire, but the British artillery again was waiting and as soon as their positions were identified British shells silenced the guns. The 4th ALH Brigade historian wrote: ‘The Notts [Nottinghamshire] Battery, RHA [Royal Horse Artillery], under Major Harrison, which had then come up to the point of deployment, was ordered to open fire on the trenches. It was practically dark and impossible to take ranges, but Major Harrison opened fire and found the range with his second shot, speedily driving the enemy from their positions.’2 The troopers and their horses galloped on, and it was now the turn of the entrenched Turkish riflemen to open fire against the fast-approaching Australians as they came into effective range. The shouts and cries of ‘cooee’ of the riding men added to the excitement of man and horse.3
1. AWM PR01376.
2. Nutting (1953), p. 26.
3. Bean (1946); Farndale (1988); Smith (1993).