This year marks the 95th anniversary of the famous mounted charge of Australia’s 4th Light Horse Brigade into Beersheba in World War I – often said to be the world’s last victorious cavalry charge. A tour has been arranged to commemorate it.
In a heroic and decisive attack, the 4th Light Horse Brigade charged across more than three kilometres of open ground into the face of Ottoman Turkish artillery and machinegun fire to successfully capture the town of Beersheba. The action became known as the Battle of Beersheba. New Zealanders also fought in the battle, in the ANZAC Mounted Division, and a daring and successful New Zealand bayonet attack preceded the Australian horse charge.
The slouch hats of the Australian Light Horse regiments returned to Beersheba in 2007, 90 years after the 1917 battle, as 50 riders repeated the famous charge (see picture). An even larger Aussie and Kiwi contingent can be expected on the battle’s centennary in 2017. Travellers don’t need to wait till then, however, as the 95th anniversary will be commemorated in just a couple of months’ time in Beersheba, Israel, from Friday 26 October 2012 till Saturday 3 November 2012, with the actual day of the anniversary being 31 October 2012.
Tours can be booked through the Israel Travel Centre (www.israeltravelcentre.com.au), which has tailored a tour to coincide with 95th Anniversary. Group tours are available or tours can be tailored to suit any type of requirement.
In 95 years, Beersheba has grown from a southern outpost of the Ottoman Empire to the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel, with a population approaching 200,000. Often referred to as the ‘Capital of the Negev’, Beersheba maintains a Commonwealth cemetery containing the graves of Australian and British soldiers on the edge of its Old Town. There is also a memorial park dedicated to the soldiers.
The famous charge of 1917 began late in the afternoon, when the horsemen, armed with rifles and 18-inch-long (45cm) bayonets, set off at a trot. Then, using surprise and speed, they broke into a gallop straight at the Turkish trenches. Beersheba’s defences were held by 1000 Turkish riflemen, nine machine guns and two aircraft.
The speed of the attack caused such suprise that the defenders failed to adjust their gunsights, and as the horses thundered ever closer, much Turkish gunfire, including a hail of machinegun bullets, passed harmlessly overhead.
The light horsemen jumped the front trenches, dismounted behind enemy lines, turned and fought the Ottoman forces hand-to-hand with bayonets. The shock and surprise were so great that demoralised Ottoman troops quickly surrendered. One Australian, dazed after having his horse shot from under him, recovered to find his five attackers standing with their hands up, waiting to be taken prisoner.
A final irony of the charge, considered one of the most successful cavalry charges of the 20th century, is that it was not conducted by cavalry at all, but rather by mounted infantry. There were no sabres, just guns and bayonets.
The 4th Light Horse Brigade took 38 officers and 700 other ranks prisoner in the capture of Beersheba and captured four field guns. In the two regiments involved, 31 men were killed (including two officers) and 36 men wounded (including eight officers). The Turkish defenders suffered many casualties and between 700 and 1000 troops were captured. At least 70 horses died.
Written by : Peter Needham