Battle of Ayun Kara
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The Battle of Ayun Kara (14 November 1917), also known as the Action of Ayun Kara, was fought between the forces of the British and Ottoman Empires during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the First World War.
About 9 miles (14 km) south of Jaffa some 1,500 fresh infantry troops of the Ottoman Army's 3rd Division (Eighth Army's XXII Corps) with 18 machine-guns and one field battery, under orders from Kress von Kressenstein (commander of the Ottoman Eighth Army) made a determined stand in well chosen terrain. The battlefield was located on the edge of sand dunes to the north of El Kubeibeh and west of the villages of Surafend el Harab and Ayun Kara. Attacking the Ottoman infantry division was the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade's Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington Mounted Rifle Regiments. In the centre the Auckland and Wellington Regiments' combined fighting strength was about 1,000 with 200 horse holders. On the right of this engagement the Canterbury Mounted Rifle Regiment was held up and heavily engaged in the orange groves of the Wadi Hanein near Nes Ziyona until late in the afternoon. They successfully covered the right of the Auckland and Wellington regiments pushing large bodies of Ottoman soldiers back through the orchards of the Wadi Hanein and eventually won the village. On the right of these engagements, after the 1st Light Horse Brigade had secured Yebna this brigade encountered Ottoman units defending the Jewish colony of Deiran. The brigade pushed the defenders back into the village which they eventually occupied.
To the west of the Wadi Hanein the Auckland and Wellington Mounted Rifle Regiments at first advanced quickly over the more open but hilly country, their left on the edge of the dunes with the Somerset Battery supporting them from north of El Kubeibeh. But they soon encountered a substantial entrenched infantry position of the Ottoman 3rd Division on a high ridge one side of which was a steep face to the orange groves and the other slopped gradually towards the sand dunes. The ridge formed an inverted "L," the long side reaching towards the approaching New Zealanders, while the short side bent westward until it reached the sand dunes.
By noon the situation had developed and Meldrum (commander of New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade) ordered an attack by the Wellington Mounted Rifle Regiment in the centre to gain contact with the main Ottoman entrenched position. The Auckland Mounted Rifle Regiment advanced on the Wellington Regiment's left towards the foot of the "L", but suffered very heavy machine-gun fire from the long ridge against the end of which the Wellington Regiment were pressing.
By 13:30 the Wellington Mounted Rifle Regiment had gained a footing on the ridge by rapidly capturing small tactical positions at the gallop. They achieved their objective by successive rushes driving the Ottoman defenders back from their main position. Major Wilder's 9th Squadron supported by the 2nd Squadron had rushed the first Ottoman position with the bayonet; one machine-gun and one Lewis gun were captured. These guns were used against the second position which was captured by another bayonet charge; two more machine-guns being captured. The third Ottoman position situated well along the long side of the ridge was then attacked. But Red Knoll, located close to the junction with the short leg and practically in front of the dividing line between the two regiments, poured fire directly on them all.[Note 1]
This central position was covered by an Ottoman battery which was run forward under cover of trees and opened fire at a range of 1,200 yards (1,100 m) delaying the New Zealanders' attack. Shortly after 14:00 while the Auckland Regiment was pushing small groups up along the sand dunes, Ottoman soldiers were discovered gathering in a basin in front of the Auckland and Wellington Regiments but just over and behind the short leg of the "L" and completely out of sight of both regiments. Ottoman reinforcements were also seen by ANZAC Mounted Division headquarters at Neby Kunda and reported to the attacking regiments. But there was no reserve or reinforcements available to the New Zealanders as 2nd Light Horse Brigade had been attached to the Australian Mounted Division during the attack on Junction Station the day before.
Every available man including signallers, gallopers, batmen, grooms and messengers were formed into a troop in case they were needed. The 3rd Squadron, led by Major Twistleton, galloped forward to within a few yards of the heavily attacked line; he was mortally wounded in the charge. About this time Ottoman defenders were driven back from the third position and the New Zealanders gained practically the whole of the long ridge south of the orange groves of Rishon le Ziyon. At 14:30 a counter-attack was launched against the Wellington Regiment and beaten off by enfilading cross fire from both the Wellington and Auckland Regiments' machine-guns and Hotchkiss automatic rifles.
Another counter-attack a quarter of an hour later by two companies of between 200 and 300 Ottoman soldiers armed with hand grenades was launched against the Auckland Regiment. They charged with fixed bayonets approaching in places to within 15 yards (14 m) throwing their hand grenades or bombs, in a determined effort to turn the New Zealanders' left flank. A group of Ottoman soldiers reoccupied a small hill on which all New Zealanders had been killed or wounded, firing obliquely on the Auckland Regiment's main position. The fierce intensity of the fight continued at close quarters for some time with well-sited Ottoman machine-guns handled with skill and boldness enfilading the New Zealanders. The machine-gun on Red Knoll continued to cause very heavy losses until it was captured by a troop of 2nd Squadron, Wellington Regiment, commanded by Captain Herrick (killed in the engagement), which made a mounted charge at the gallop to the foot of the knoll where they dismounted and charged up to engage the defenders in hand-to-hand fighting. With the capture of the knoll two remaining troops of Herrick's squadron came up and brought to bear heavy fire on the Ottoman soldiers in front of the Auckland Regiment.
By 16:15 fierce fighting had been going on for two and three quarter hours when a squadron of the Wellington Regiment carried out a bayonet charge against a close Ottoman position. It was too much for the Ottoman units whose fighting strength gave way. They fell back beyond Ayun Kara pursued by rifle and machine-gun fire as neither regiment was in a fit state to follow. The Ottoman 3rd Division left behind some 400 dead in front of the Auckland's position alone; although others have quoted totals of between 150 and 162 Ottoman dead. The New Zealanders captured great numbers of machine-guns (some with prismatic sights) including two Lewis guns. Their casualties numbered 175; three officers and 29 other ranks killed, 11 officers and 132 other ranks wounded with the Auckland Regiment suffering 89 of those casualties.[Note 2]
The official New Zealand historian concluded in 1922 that the engagement at Ayun Kara demonstrated the ability of the New Zealand mounted rifles regiments to rapidly attack and reinforce successive positions on horseback. During this intense engagement, the attacking power of the mounted rifle arm, against a strongly entrenched infantry position was comprehensively proven.
- See 'Action of Ayun Kara' Map above. Red Knoll is indicated by an oblong outlined in green.
- Ramleh War Cemetery contains the graves of 49 New Zealand men who died between 14 and 16 November. [Kinloch 2007, p. 226]
- Grainger 2006, pp. 172–3
- Moore 1920, pp. 88–90
- Falls 1930, pp. 177–8
- Powles 1922, p. 150
- Powles 1922, p. 146
- Moore 1920, p. 120
- Powles 1922, pp. 147–8
- Powles 1922, p. 147
- Powles 1922, pp. 148–9
- Powles 1922, p. 149
- Moore 1920, pp. 80–90
- Powles 1922, pp. 147 & 149
- Falls, Cyril; G. MacMunn, A.F. Beck (1930). Military Operations Egypt & Palestine from June 1917 to the end of the War. Official History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. 2 Part 1. London: HM Stationary Office. OCLC 644354483.
- Grainger, John D. (2006). The Battle for Palestine, 1917. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. ISBN 978-1-84383-263-8.
- Moore, A. Briscoe (1920). The Mounted Riflemen in Sinai & Palestine The Story of New Zealand's Crusaders. Christchurch: Whitcombe & Tombs. OCLC 561949575
- Powles, C. Guy; A. Wilkie (1922). The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine. Official History New Zealand's Effort in the Great War, Volume III. Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs. OCLC 2959465.