A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Battle of Romani, August 4-5, 1916: Part II

In yesterday's Part I, we discussed the forces engaged and the initial deployments before the Battle of Romani in the Sinai a century ago. The advancing Ottoman and German force had been closely tracked by the British in their trek across Sinai, thanks to the new tool of aerial reconnaissance. the  The Turkish force had an extended logistical line, while the British fortifications were at the railhead of the line they were building across Sinai, and could be quickly rushed reinforcements from Qantara on the Canal. They had had the time to fortify the defensive position at Romani. While the Turco-German force slightly outnumbered the British Imperial forces (mostly ANZACs), they faced the challenges of being on the offense and far from potential reinforcements. Both the head of the German Military Mission, Liman von Sanders, and the local German commander on the scene, Kress von Kressenstein, complained about the decision to advance against the well-entrenched British forces.
As the British lines were anchored on the left by the sea, the Turkish attack was aimed at turning the right of the lines, in the desert. The hope was to drive in the flank and attack the rail line.

This was exactly what Harry Chauvel expected. Initially his main force consisted of the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade; the 2nd Brigade was scattered in outposts and on patrol.

At around midnight on August 3/4. the Turkish advance force suddenly encountered the Light Horse on the right of the line. Fire was exchanged, and the Turks fell back to regroup. They began an organized attack around 1 AM. Through the night the Turks advanced, and the 1st Light Horse was forced to steadily fall back to a sand ridge they called Wellington Ridge. Various dunes and sandhills had been given names (Mount Meredith, Mount Royston) which appear in the battle narratives.

With first light around 4:00, it became clear that the 1st Light Horse was in a tenuous position, with its right being outflanked. At 4:30 Chauvel ordered two regiments of the 2nd Light Horse into the line to the right of the 1st, extending the flank. He also moved troops from the left of the line to extend his right, replacing them with troops of the 52nd (Lowland) Division, a British Territorial (or Yeomanry) unit intended got home defense. The Ottoman 32nd and 39th Regiments continued to try to outflank the Australian right, while the 31st Infantry pushed forward against the Territorials. As the morning wore on, the Light Horse were forced to fall back until they threatened to reach the ANZAC camps. But the horse artillery of the Light Horse stopped their advance. The Australians were reinforced by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and the 5th Mounted Yeomanry, with the 42nd (Lancashire) Division of Territorial troops arriving by train.

As the day wore on and the Anglo-ANZAC line was reinforced, the Turkish and Germans, who had no reinforcements available or convenient railroad, and ho had marched all night and fought all day in August in the Sinai with little water, found their advance blocked and many began to surrender. By evening, the reinforced ANZACs and British counterattacked against enemy positions on the sandhill they had named Mount Royston.

As darkness fell, the battle had clearly shifted to the British side, By the next day, the reinforced British and ANZAC force would swell to some 50,000, vastly outnumbering their adversaries.

Tomorrow: Pursuit.

No comments: