Saturday 23 December 1916 – We Lost 334
The assault on Magdhaba in the Sinai is made by the 1st and 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigades, the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade supported by three batteries of horse artillery. Australian aircraft attack the Turkish defenses at 06:30 and by drawing fire help to reveal the location of the machine guns and trenches to the Light Horse.
The main line of the attack is made from the north and east by the camel brigade. On their right, in reserve alongside the wadi is the 1st Light Horse Brigade. On the left are the New Zealanders and then the 3rd Light Horse Brigade which attacks from the north. The 10th regiment of the 3rd Brigade is sent around to the east and south to cuts off any retreat by the garrison. This move is made in time to capture a fleeing column of 300 Turks.
Early reports indicate the garrison is evacuating ahead of the attack so General Henry George “Harry” Chauvel orders the 1st Brigade to make a mounted advance. As the regiments come under artillery fire they break into a gallop. As they come under machine gun fire from Redoubt No 2 it becomes clear that Magdhaba is still being defended so the light horsemen take refuge in the wadi. On all fronts the attackers have now gone to ground under heavy fire from the redoubts. Chauvel contemplates abandoning the attack and goes so far as to contacting his superior (General Philip Walhouse Chetwode) to seek approval for a retreat. However, a combined bayonet charge on the critical Redoubt No 2 by the camel brigade and the 3rd regiment of the 1st Light Horse Brigade, which in the relative cover of the wadi is able to close to within 100 yards of the defenses, resulting in the capture of the position. With a foothold in the defensive ring, the balance now swings towards the attackers.
The camel brigade and 3rd Light Horse continue across the wadi to capture Redoubt No 1 where the Turkish commander is also captured. The 10th regiment having now swung all the way around to the south and the 2nd regiment from the west make mounted charges against the southern Redoubt No 5 resulting in its surrender. Attacking from the east, the New Zealanders and the 8th and 9th regiments of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade have dismounted and advance on foot for about a mile against the No 3 redoubt. As the other redoubts begin to fall the attackers are able to make a bayonet charge and after a brief fight capture the position. With all redoubts under Allied control the remaining defenders are rounded up by 16:30 while very few of the Turks are able to escape. Magdhaba represents the first significant battle of the Palestine campaign by mounted troops waged at a distance from base, 23 miles from an assured supply of water.
- Captain and Adjutant Mervyn Bournes Higgins (Australian Light Horse) an Olympic rower is killed at age 29.
- Lieutenant Maurice Alfred Harding (Wellington Mounted Rifles) is killed at El Arish at age 26. He is the Captain of the Palmerston Football Club.
Today’s losses include:
- The Captain of the Palmerston Football Club
- An Olympic rower
- A man whose brother will be killed in March 1918
Today’s highlighted casualties include:
- On the Western front Driver Arthur Whitbread (Royal Engineers) is killed at age 22. His brother will be killed in March 1918.