The Australian Light Horse
|"It was growing dark, and the enemy trenches were outlined in fire by the flashes of their rifles. Beyond, and a little above them, blazed the bigger, deeper flashes of their field guns, and our own shells burst like a row of red stars over the Turkish positions. In front, the long lines of cavalry swept forward at racing speed, half-obscured in clouds of reddish dust. Amid the deafening noise all around, they seemed to move silently, like some splendid, swift machine. Over the Turks they went, leaping the two lines of deep trenches, and, dismounting on the further side, flung themselves into the trenches with the bayonet."
- Lieutenant-Colonel R.M.P. Preston
The 800 men of the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade looked out at the imposing walls of the desert fortress of Beersheba. Between them and their distant objective lay four miles of wide-open, coverless terrain – a veritable shooting gallery for the thousands of rifles, machine guns, and heavy artillery pieces that garrisoned this strategically-important city. Their mission was simple – charge forward, attack the town, and capture it intact. Blitzing on horseback towards a few dozen automatic weapons amounted to little more than a crazy suicide mission, but no one present on this day questioned his duty. Every man aligned on this fateful battlefield knew that this would be his final charge, and his finest hour. They were determined to make sure it was one that would be remembered for years to come.
With the clusterhump of World War One slowly grinding down to a giant disgusting bloody halt in Western Europe, the Allies were hoping that a major victory against the Ottoman Turkish Empire in Palestine would break through the stalemate and turn the tide of war in their favor. Success on the Palestinian Front, however, would hinge on the capture of Beersheba. Situated on the extreme right of the Turkish flank, and therefore a critical target, this heavily-defended town was also home to nineteen full-functioning water wells. In case you didn't know, Palestine is about as hot as Lucifer's balls, and with the British headquarters situated 200 miles away in Cairo, Egypt, supply problems were a total pain in the nuts. Drinkable water was at a premium in the British Army, which was kind of a problem. Without it, you know, people kind of tend to die horrific, excruciating deaths, and the Brits were kind of trying to avoid that if at all possible.
The element of surprise was on their side. The Turks certainly had to suspect an attack would be coming on this crucial strategic position, but they couldn't have predicted the direction of the attack. You see, Beersheba is located on the edge of a giant goddamned desert, and the Turks correctly assumed that nobody in their right freaking minds would ever have been foolish/suicidal enough to ride through the white-hot, searing sands of Palestine and attack the fortress from the desert side. Unfortunately for the Turks, nobody has ever accused the Aussies of being in their right minds – these tough-ass bastards spent all day riding sixty miles through the harsh, unforgiving Judean Desert, and this evening they were prepared to attack the town from the side the defenders least expected.
Still, even from this angle the Turkish defenses were more formidable than an axe-swinging Minotaur, and the Light Horse wasn't exactly designed (or equipped) for the sort of utterly balls-out mission they were soon about to undertake. You see, cavalry in World War I worked great in terms of getting soldiers from place to place quickly, but most sane people didn't still fight on horseback. The general tactic was to ride to the scene, get off the horse, and fight as regular infantry. If it helps, just think of the horses as giant hair-covered Humvees that yell really loudly and crap all over the place. Hell, the men of the Australian Light Horse didn't even carry lances or sabers or anything. For this mission, these crazy warriors simply sharpened and polished their SMLE Pattern 1907 Bayonets – two-foot long blades more akin to Short Swords +1 than a proper cavalry saber – and psyched themselves up about spending Halloween 1917 going Michael Meyers on their long-time foes.
Now the Turks had encountered British cavalry before, but only in their aforementioned function as dismounted infantry. So when the Turkish and German commanders at Beersheba saw the Aussies amassing in the desert, their orders were simple – wait for these jerks to get off of their horses, and then ram some hot lead up their urethras at high velocities. So 800 Australian cavalrymen galloped forward, spurring on their epic mounts, pushing it to the limit (and also to the max), and the Turks held. And held. And held. As the cloud of dust and the thunderous sound of hooves grew louder, and the shocked defenders caught the glint of the evening sun reflect off the blades of the badass Australian sword-bayonets, a sickening feeling welled up in the pits of their stomachs – they had realized all too late that these crazy psychos rapidly charging towards them had absolutely no intention of stopping until they'd reached into the eye-holes of the city's defenders and manually turned their faces inside-out.
The Turks began firing wildly at the crazy nutjobs with the giant swords, desperately trying to fend off the insane onslaught before they found out first-hand what it was like to be disemboweled with a weapon that had been obsolete since the days of William Wallace. But the Aussies are freaking crazy, and they just didn't even give a crap. These men came from a murderous land filled with ultra-venomous creatures, wombats, killer arachnids, man-killing trees, and stinging platypuses, and they faced more perilous danger than this pretty much every time they went out into the woods to take a leak. The men of the Australian Light Horse were more than ready for whatever insane crap the Turkish Empire could fling at them, and they didn't even flinch as machine gun bullets and artillery shells ripped past their heads. They charged through blistering heavy weapons fire, their only goal to reach the enemy trench line with their appendages intact enough that they could swing their bayonets and cause some massive carnage.
With a tremendous crash the horses leapt over a row of barbed wire, and then somehow vaulted across two rows of enemy trenches (no small feat of awesome in and of itself – these trenches were four feet wide by ten feet deep, and filled to the brim with angry Turkish riflemen). As soon as they'd passed through the machine guns' field of fire, the Aussies leapt down from their horses and dove headlong into the Turkish fortifications, bayonets at the ready. Hordes of crazy Aussies brutally slashed their way through the defensive positions, hacking at the shocked defenders with their short swords and basically ruining the lives of anybody unfortunate enough to be standing in their path. Turkish morale was smashed, and after a quick and incredibly bloody knife-fight, Beersheba was firmly in the bloody-soaked hands of the Australian Light Horse.
Of the 800 cavalrymen who participated in this unbelievable charge, the Australians suffered just 31 troopers killed and 36 wounded. They captured 750 Turks, 9 artillery pieces, 3 machine guns, and tons of other munitions and supplies. Even more importantly, they seized 17 of the 19 wells intact, recovering 90,000 gallons of fresh, drinkable water from the town. In addition to giving the army a chance to stave off death by dehydration, victory at Beersheba turned the Ottoman flank, allowing the British Army to eventually roll up the enemy forces and defeat them once and for all. Jerusalem fell two months later, and all of Palestine crumbled soon afterwards. The defeat in Palestine caused the Ottoman Empire to drop out of the war, and ultimately caused the destabilization and collapse of a 500 year-old Empire dating back to the days of Hayreddin Barbarossa. With the stalemate still holding strong in the West, this was a major moral victory for the Allies as well as a military one. The Great War would be over within a year.
Nowadays there is some debate as to whether launching the balls-out cavalry charge at Beersheba was the most tactically brilliant move the Allies could have undertaken during the Palestine Campaign. Many revisionist military historians with too much time on their hands complain that this insane charge was a lot of wasted effort (historians just love to argue about hypothetical nonsense), and that this crazy suicide attack could have just as easily have blown up in everybody's faces. Sure, while galloping full-speed towards a half-dozen machine guns might not have been the smartest idea anyone ever came up with, nobody in their right minds could ever doubt the bravery or toughness of the men of the Australian Light Horse – these guys were stone-cold hardasses who took a seemingly-foolhardy suicide attack and turned it into the last great cavalry charge in history.
The Light Horse Charge at Beersheba
History of War: Beersheba
Bevin, Alexander. How Great Generals Win. W.W. Norton, 2002.
Cowley, Robert and Geoffrey Parker. Reader's Companion to Military History. Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
Hughes, Matthew. Allenby and British Strategy in the Middle East. Taylor & Francis, 1999.
Laffin, John and Mike Chappell. The Australian Army at War. Osprey, 1982.
Preston, R.M.P. The Desert Mounted Corps. Kessinger, 2007.
Tucker, Spencer and Priscilla Mary Roberts. World War I. ABC-CLIO, 2005.
Whitaker, Julie. The Horse. Macmillan, 2007.
Woodward, David. Hell in the Holy Land. University of Kentucky Press, 2006.
The Complete List
About the Author