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The New Zealanders at Ayun Kara 14 November 1917


TerryK
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The following summary is based on a chapter in my recently-published book entitled ‘Devils on Horses: In the Words of the Anzacs in the Middle East 1916-19’ (Exisle Publishing).

After the breaking of the Gaza-Beersheba line, the Turkish 7th and 8th armies withdrew northwards ahead of Allenby’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF). On 14 November 1917, Brigadier-General Meldrum’s New Zealand Mounted Rifles (NZMR) Brigade was told to capture Ayun Kara, on high ground in front of the railway and road linking Jaffa to Jerusalem.

The 9th (Wellington East Coast) Squadron led the way on foot up a low ridge, defended by Turkish infantry and machine gunners. Supported by covering fire from machine guns and the 2nd (Wellington West Coast) Squadron, they captured the first enemy position in a bayonet charge at 12.30 p.m., killing 20 Turks and capturing two machine guns. The squadron swept on to take the second line of enemy trenches and two more machine guns at 1.30 p.m. They were prevented from securing a hat-trick at the next row of trenches by heavy enemy fire.

Meanwhile, the 3rd (Auckland) Squadron galloped up the forward slopes of an adjacent ridge. The 11th (North Auckland) Squadron and two troops of the 4th (Waikato) Squadron galloped towards a group of Turks. Heavy fighting ensued as the Aucklanders tried to dislodge the Turkish defenders in front of them. Not long afterwards, patrols scouting along the western sand dunes spotted a large number of Turks assembling in orange groves in a basin behind the ridge. The 11th and the 3rd squadrons attacked, coming under heavy fire. They were reinforced by all the cooks, signallers, gallopers, horse holders and batmen from regimental headquarters.

A heavy Turkish counter-attack launched from the basin against the Wellington regiment at 2.30 p.m. was wiped out by massed machine gun and rifle fire. With the support of an artillery battery in the gardens of Richon le Zion, the Turkish attack was renewed across the entire front at 2.45 p.m. Several hundred Turkish soldiers reached 50 metres from the Auckland defensive line before Vickers machine guns on either flank stopped them within a few dozen metres of the line.

When the hard-pressed Auckland regimental commander asked Brigadier-General Meldrum for reinforcements, Meldrum told his old Wellington regiment to do what it could to help. Captain Arthur Herrick galloped two troops of the 2nd Squadron across 2500 metres of open ground towards a rocky knoll. In fierce hand-to-hand fighting, the New Zealanders killed the defenders and captured the machine gun, which they then turned on nearby enemy machine gun posts. With the capture of the knoll, the enemy pressure on both regiments eased. The 9th Squadron conducted another bayonet charge to capture the final position on the main ridge. A final Turkish attack on the Aucklands and Wellingtons at about 4 p.m., was stopped by a counter-charge and by enfilade machine gun fire from the flank. The Turks withdrew in disarray. By 4.45 p.m. the fighting was over.

162 Turkish corpses were counted on the battlefield and about 250 Turks were wounded. The New Zealanders gathered in their own wounded men and consolidated their positions after dark, bringing all their machine guns up into the line. Much of the fighting at Ayun Kara was conducted at very close range and because the New Zealanders fought in the open, their casualties were heavy. The exact losses are not known but the Ramleh War Cemetery contains the graves of 49 New Zealand men who died between 14 and 16 November 1917.

The enemy force at Ayun Kara was thought to number between 1000 and 1500 men, supported by 18 machine guns and an artillery battery. It seems that the Turks at Ayun Kara had the limited objective of stopping the New Zealanders, to allow the Turkish main body to achieve a clean break and escape across the next river to the north. With little evidence of any attempt by the Turks to outflank the New Zealanders, it seems clear that the destruction of the NZMR Brigade was not their aim. On the New Zealand side, good links between the assaulting regiments, the use of mounted movement to rapidly exploit fleeting opportunities, and the magnificent machine gunners made the difference at Ayun Kara.

After the mauling of its 3rd Division by the New Zealanders, the Turkish 8th Army withdrew to the north bank of a river a few kilometres north of Jaffa called Nahr el Auja. This allowed the Anzacs to cut the Jaffa–Jerusalem road and capture Ramleh, Ludd and Jaffa without further fighting.

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