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Remembered Today:

90th Anniversary of Battle of Qatiya 5 August 1916


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The Turkish attempt to defeat the Allies at Romani on 4 August 1916 failed completely, and the Turks withdrew to a fall-back position at the oasis area of Qatiya that night, leaving a weak rearguard behind. In an attempt to convert this defeat into a rout, General Sir Archibald Murray ordered a pursuit to be launched on 5 August. The British and Anzac mounted forces were to lead the advance, supported by the infantry.

The Turks and Germans left behind at Wellington Ridge were quickly rounded up before dawn on 5 August. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Meldrum, CO of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment (which was still attached to the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade) immediately called up his horses and remounted his regiment. Without waiting for orders, and taking an Australian machine gun section with him, the Wellington regiment led the pursuit towards Qatiya.

At 6.30 a.m. most of the mounted troops came under Chauvel’s command, and he was ordered to pursue the enemy without pause. At 10 a.m. Meldrum was placed in command of the 2nd ALH Brigade as a temporary replacement for the wounded Brigadier General Royston. Chauvel sent his mounted brigades forward over the ground partially cleared by Meldrum, with orders to concentrate in the low ground in front of Qatiya. Because the Anzac regiments were still scattered and some had yet to water their horses, it was late morning before the complete force was ready to attack Qatiya.

It was soon clear that the British infantry divisions could not reach the battlefield in time to assist, so Chauvel decided to launch a massed charge into Qatiya with all of his mounted brigades. The three brigades of the Anzac Mounted Division were ordered to gallop straight at the oasis, the British 5th (Yeomanry) Mounted Brigade was to attack the northern flank of the enemy position, and the 3rd ALH Brigade was to move through Hamisah and then to wheel northwards behind Qatiya to threaten the enemy’s withdrawal route.

Despite their losses the day before, the Turks still outnumbered the mounted troops about to attack them, and they still had all of their heavy guns and most of their machine guns. Between the opposing forces was a 2,000-metre wide salt swamp which was covered by German machine gunners and artillerymen in well-concealed and shaded positions amongst the date palms.

At 2.15 p.m. the attack began. The three Anzac brigades galloped forward in several extended lines towards the apparently dry salt swamp between them and the enemy. After one kilometre of exhilarating galloping, the charge ended ignominiously when some of the leading horses broke through the thin salt crust into the soft swamp below, in full view of the Turks. As the riders and horses piled up, the amazed defenders poured artillery, machine gun and rifle fire into them. The horses were hastily led into cover, where they were shelled heavily. Some horses were killed or were injured so seriously that they had to be destroyed. Surprisingly, casualties amongst the riders were light.

The attackers gained and held the western and south-western edge of the oasis area, but all efforts at a further advance across and around the swamp failed. Their artillery was out of range, and the two British infantry divisions, which started late, were brought to a halt by the deep sand and blazing heat well short of Qatiya. Without serious artillery and infantry support, the mounted regiments were too weak to capture Qatiya.

The Yeomanry attack to the north was held up by enemy artillery and machine guns, and the expected envelopment by the 3rd ALH Brigade to the south failed. With their flanks secure, the Turkish defenders at Qatiya could concentrate on the frontal attack. For the rest of the day the Anzac and British mounted regiments tried in vain to come to grips with the Turks in the tree lines of the Qatiya oasis. Turkish artillery searched for their led horses, with some success. The climatic conditions were extreme, and there was no water except at Qatiya itself. Finally, with sunset approaching, Chauvel ordered the regiments to hold on until dark and then withdraw.

The attack on Qatiya had stood little chance of success, and the casualties were heavy. Five New Zealanders were killed on 5 August, with another 58 wounded. In contrast to the jubilation of the day before, many of the men were depressed. The men and horses on both sides were exhausted. Some of the horses of the 1st and 2nd ALH brigades had not watered in 60 hours.

The 1st and 2nd ALH brigades were temporarily incapable of further effort, so they were sent back for a rest. The New Zealand and British brigades and the 3rd ALH Brigade continued the fight on 6 and 7 August as best they could. The unacclimatised infantry divisions were still unable to advance in the deep sand and extreme heat. On 7 August the three available mounted brigades tried again at Oghratina, but the enemy held them off easily with artillery fire.

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This image shows part of the date palm oasis at Qatiya.


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This shows the swamp in front of the main oasis at Qatiya. It consists of a thin crust of salt over a boggy swamp. It was into this that some of the Anzac horsemen rode on 5 August 1916. The pressure from the horses' hooves broke through the crust, bringing them and their riders to a crashing halt in full view of the enemy in the trees in the distance.


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Thanks for this excellent thread and photos. Any idea how large the area of date palms back in 1916?


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