October 31  This Day During World War l

October 31, 1917 – The Battle of Beersheba was fought on 31 October 1917 when the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) attacked and captured the Yildirim Army Group garrison at Beersheba, beginning the Southern Palestine Offensive of the Sinai and Palestine campaign during World War I. After successful, limited attacks from the south-west by infantry in the 60th (London) and the 74th (Yeomanry) Divisions of the XX Corps in the morning, the Desert Mounted Corps attacks launched by the Anzac Mounted Division eventually dominated the north-eastern defences during the late afternoon. Shortly afterwards, a mounted infantry charge by the Australian Mounted Division’s 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments (4th Light Horse Brigade) with rifles slung across their backs and bayonets in their hands, was followed by a dismounted to attack by part of the force. They captured the last remaining Ottoman trenches defending Beersheba. The remainder of the light horsemen continued their charge into the town, to capture the garrison in the process of retreating. After the EEF defeats at the first and second battles of Gaza in March and April 1917, the victorious German General Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein (commander of the three divisions of the Fourth Army) was reinforced with another two divisions. Lieutenant General Philip Chetwode (commanding the EEF’s Eastern Force) began the Stalemate in Southern Palestine, defending more-or-less the same entrenched lines held at the end of the second battle and initiating regular mounted reconnaissance into the open eastern flank. In June the Fourth Army was reorganised when the new Yildirim Army Group was established, commanded by German General Erich von Falkenhayn; about the same time, the British General Edmund Allenby replaced General Archibald Murray as commander of the EEF. Shortly afterwards he reorganised the EEF so he could directly command three corps, in the process deactivating Chetwode’s Eastern Force but giving him command of one of the infantry corps, and renaming Chauvel’s Desert Column, the Desert Mounted Corps. As the stalemate continued through the summer in difficult conditions on the northern edge of the Negev Desert, EEF reinforcements began to strengthen the divisions (which had suffered more than 10,000 casualties in the two battles for Gaza). While the primary functions of the EEF and the Ottoman Army during this time, was to man the front lines and patrol the open eastern flank, both side conducted training of all units. By mid-October, while the battle of Passchendaele continued on the Western Front, the XXI Corps maintained the defences of the Gaza sector, Allenby’s preparations for the manoeuvre warfare attacks on Beersheba, the Ottoman defensive line, and the subsequent advance, were nearing completion with the arrival of the last reinforcements. Beersheba was defended by lines of trenches, supported by isolated redoubts on earthworks and hills, which covered all approaches to the town. The Ottoman garrison would be eventually encircled by the two infantry and two mounted divisions as they (and their supporting artillery) moved forward after the 60th (London) Division captured the redoubt on Hill 1070 to bombard the main Ottoman trench line. A joint attack by the 60th (London) and 74th (Yeomanry) Divisions followed when all their objectives were captured. North-east of Beersheba, the Anzac Mounted Division cut the road from Beersheba to Hebron (which continued to Jerusalem), and in the afternoon the main redoubt and defences on Tel el Saba (east of the town, overlooking the eastern approaches to the town) was captured. With the 3rd Light Horse Brigade sent to reinforce the Anzac Mounted Division and the swords of the 5th Mounted Brigade in corps reserve, the only brigade available (the 4th Light Horse Brigade) was ordered to capture Beersheba. These sword-less mounted infantrymen, galloped over the plain with their only weapons of mounted attack, bayonets in their hands since their rifles were slung on their backs. They rode towards the town, defended in this sector by a redoubt and entrenchments on a mound south-east of Beersheba. While the 4th Light Horse Regiment on the right jumped trenches before turning to make a dismounted attack on the Ottoman infantry (in the trenches, gun pits and redoubts on rising ground), most of the 12th Light Horse Regiment on the left, rode across the face of the main redoubt to find a gap in the Ottoman defences. These squadrons rode through the gap over the railway and into Beersheba to capture the fleeing garrison and the town, completing the first step of an offensive which would see the EEF capture Jerusalem six weeks later. 

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