#OTD – Charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba
The charge of the 4th Australian Light Horse at Beersheba late in the afternoon of 31 October 1917, is remembered as the last great Australian cavalry charge. The assault on Beersheba began at dawn and involved the infantry divisions of the British XX Corps with artillery and air support. Despite repeated attacks, the Allies were unable to capture the town by mid afternoon.
With time running out for the Australians to capture Beersheba and its wells before dark, Lieutenant General Harry Chauvel, the Australian commander of the Desert Mounted Corps, ordered Brigadier General William Grant, commanding the 4th Light Horse Brigade, to make a mounted attack directly towards the town.
Chauvel knew from aerial photographs that the Turkish trenches in front of the town were not protected by barbed wire. The Australian Light Horse was to be used purely as cavalry for the first time. Although they were not equipped with cavalry sabres, the Turks who faced the long bayonets held by the Australians did not consider there was much difference between a charge by cavalry and a charge by mounted infantry.
The Light Horse moved off at the trot, and almost at once quickened to a gallop. As they came over the top of the ridge and looked down the long, gentle open slope to Beersheba, they were seen by the Turkish gunners, who opened fire with shrapnel. But the pace was too fast for the gunners. After three kilometres Turkish machine-guns opened fire from the flank, but they were detected and silenced by British artillery.
The rifle fire from the Turkish trenches was wild and high as the Light Horse approached. The front trench and the main trench were jumped and some men dismounted and then attacked the Turks with rifle and bayonet from the rear. Some galloped ahead to seize the rear trenches, while other squadrons galloped straight into Beersheba.
The 4th and 12th Light Horse casualties were thirty-one killed and thirty-six wounded; they captured over 700 men. The capture of Beersheba meant that the Gaza-Beersheba line was turned. Gaza fell a week later and on 9 December 1917, the British troops entered Jerusalem.
The Australian victory at Beersheba marked one of the last great charges of mounted troops in history, the Australian Light Horse Brigade captured the town and secured crucial water wells. Their victory marked the beginning of the end of the war in the Middle East.