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Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1919

Chapter Twenty-Six — The German Attack

page 214

Chapter Twenty-Six
The German Attack

On July 9th Major Dick assumed temporary command of the Wellington Mounted Rifles, vice Lieut.-Colonel Whyte, who had proceeded to the Port Said Rest Camp, the former remaining in charge of the Regiment, with the exception of ten days in camp at Solomon's Pools, till it had fought its last battle.

On the afternoon of 13th July the enemy became aggressive, his big guns violently bombarding our positions preliminary to launching an attack with the object of cutting off the 1st A.L.H. Brigade, which was then holding a narrow and exposed salient running northward in the form of a wedge into the enemy position for a distance of from two and a-half to three miles. The possession of this salient, near the Judean foothills, was essential to us for observation purposes, and for its defence the Lighthorsemen held a series of entrenched posts along its base. A German battalion faced the posts on the east, whilst a strong Turkish force faced those on the west.

During the artillery preparation the W.M.R., to the south of the salient, suffered numerous casualties in men and horses, and early next morning the Regiment had further casualties as the result of bombing by eight enemy aeroplanes.

The Germans attacked at dawn on the morning of the 14th, but, for reasons best known to themselves, the Turks, who were intended to co-operate, did not commnece to advance till some hours later.

By seven o'clock the 1st A.L.H. Brigade had become heavily engaged, the German battalion having broken through the posts on the eastern side of the salient, was attacking the line on the west, one post, called "View," having already been cut off. To ease the pressure, the W.M.R. were called upon to co-operate with the 1st L.H. under the latter's brigadier, and at 7.30 the 9th Squadron (Major Wilder) advanced, dismounted, along the Wadi Aujah to a position on the west of the salient. Meanwhile, the Turkish force on the left had entered the fight. The 9th Squadron encountered stout opposition there, and some time later the 6th Squadron (Captain Cruickshank) reinforced the left of the 9th. The two Squadrons then took up a line in the form page 215of an arc covering the enemy, and a withering fire was brought to bear on him.

At this time a scorching wind was blowing, and the sun burned with fiendish ferocity, the hospital thermometer registering 130 degrees of heat in the shade—the highest recorded by our troops in the Valley. The conditions were most trying, and it was only by keeping the pack-horses travelling to and fro with water to the firing line that our men were able to hold out. Even then, many were sick and others fainted. The plight of the Germans was worse than that of our men, for they were without water, and under the pressure which was brought to bear on them, together with the torments of thirst and the maddening influence of the abnormal heat, they soon released their hold on the isolated post.

A determined counter-attack by the 1st Light Horse Brigade and the two W.M.R. Squadrons followed: the enemy were dislodged and about 400 prisoners, including 350 Germans, were captured. A number of Germans managed to escape, but others, when attempting to get away, were shot down by the Turks, the dislike of the latter for their so-called allies being most noticeable throughout the fight.

The Turks to the north continued to hold out for some time under cover of heavy artillery fire, but later in the afternoon the situation was cleared up there by the New Zealand Brigade, which drove the enemy back.

Of the prisoners, the W.M.R. took four officers and 57 other ranks, these, with their comrades, being in a state of collapse for want of water. Some of them were delirious, and when our men offered them their water bottles, instead of drinking, the Germans hugged the bottles to their breasts and laughed and cried hysterically over them. Others, when being escorted back to Headquarters, threw themselves into the Aujah stream like maddened animals, and the escort had to ride their horses into the stream to drive the prisoners along.

It was subsequently gathered from the Germans that they and the lurks were not a happy family—in fact, they were openly hostile to each other, the Germans being disgusted with the Turks for "letting them down" and firing on them during the fight.

In addition to prisoners, the W.M.R. captured a machine gun and a Burgmann automatic rifle, the Regiment's casualties—nearly all of which were inflicted by artillery fire and bombs whilst the Regiment was in camp—being four other ranks killed page 216and one officer and eight other ranks wounded, besides eight horses killed and seven wounded.

It was noticed that the Germans possessed an abnormal number of automatic rifles in proportion to the strength of the battalion, and it is probably due to the intense heat and trying conditions that they did not make more effective use of them. Only one Wellington man was wounded during the counter-attack, whereas under normal conditions the Regiment must have suffered heavy casualties.

The Regiment remained in the Jordan Valley till the evening of 19th July, when, still under Major Dick, it moved with the Brigade to the hills near Talaat Ed Dumm, en rôute to rest at Solomon's Pools, where, on August 3rd, Lieut.-Colonel Whyte rejoined and assumed command for a few days.