"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess "The Desert Column" 1932
The famous battle involving the charge of the Australian Light Horse, carried out against the fixed Turkish defences at Beersheba in Palestine, followed two failed attempts to capture Gaza. The charge was made by 400–500 troops of the 4th Light Horse Brigade, who galloped into the face of Turkish machine-gun, rifle, and artillery fire and breached the enemy defences.
It is claimed to be possibly the last large-scale 'cavalry' charge in modern history, although rumours abound of similar but less successful charges in Eastern Europe in the opening stages of World War II.
The Light Horse were not cavalry - they normally fought dismounted. On this occasion though they took the Turks by surprise by charging right into the Turkish position with bayonets drawn (as they were not cavalry they were not armed with sabres or lances). Beersheba fell to the Australian Light Horse with less than 70 casualties.
Although cavalry had been made largely redundant on the Western Front by field defences, machine guns, artillery, and barbed wire, the Middle East was a different story. Mounted mobility gave the Light Horse a huge manouevre advantage that could not be matched by infantry.
Ion Idriess' account of the charge gives a good overall impression of why and how.
. . . at last we are in for it, in deadly earnest . . . old jacko has just woken up to it that there is something doing away out on this flank. Straight north of us in old Beersheba . . . one road went the 7th Regiment, to tackle a Turkish outpost at Bin Arand. A New Zealand Regiment went up the other road, to tackle another outpost the rest of the brigades followed on behind. Both roads junctioned again near Beersheba, and the whole force was to join up at the junction.
So far as we troops knew our objective was to get behind Beersheba and stop the Turks from escaping, while the other Brigades on our left, with the infantry on their left, made a frontal attack on Beersheba itself.
All our troops got into artillery formation as we were crossing a big flat in full view of the Turkish guns…Jacko shelled us all the way. . . We got to cover and waited a while. . . The seventh were already in action. We could see the Turkish machine gun bullets splattering. Then it came our turn to give the 7th a hand. We had to gallop across a mile of flat country to where the 7th had their horses in a deep wadi under cover and dismounted for action. But for some reason or other we did not come into action. . . we watched them for some hours and they watched us . . . presently along came one of our armoured cars, spinning merrily along the old Hebron road. They got in nice range of old Jacko but he never said a word. We were just in time to gallop a man down to warn them that there were Turkish guns straight ahead…when those cars knew what was waiting for them they just turned tail, and in ten seconds time only a faint cloud of distant dust marked where those armoured cars were.
Ion Idriess and his mates observed the charge from a flank
At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe-inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points. Machine guns and rifle-fire just roared but the 4th Brigade galloped on. We heard shouts among the thundering hooves, saw balls of flame amongst those hooves - horse after horse crashed, but the massed squadrons thundered on. We laughed in delight when the shells began bursting behind them telling that the gunners could not keep their range, then suddenly the men ceased to fall and we knew instinctively that the Turkish infantry, wild with excitement and fear, had forgotten to lower their rifle sights and the bullets were flying overhead. The Turks did the same to us at El Quatia. The last half mile was a berserk gallop with the squadrons in magnificent line, a heart-throbbing sight as they plunged up the slope, the horses leaping the redoubt trenches - my glasses showed me the Turkish bayonets thrusting up for the bellies of the horses - one regiment flung themselves from the saddle - we heard the mad shouts as the men jumped down into the trenches, a following regiment thundered over another redoubt, and to a triumphant roar of voices and hooves was galloping down the half mile slope right into the town. Then came a whirlwind of movement from all over the field, galloping batteries - dense dust from mounting regiments - a rush as troops poured for the opening in the gathering dark - mad, mad excitement - terrific explosions from down in the town.
Beersheba had fallen.
Here is the link to the AWM account of the battle. Beersheba (www.awm.gov.au)