The Royal New South Wales Lancers
|Battle Honour 15th|
Australian members of the Imperial Camel Corps
After the Es Salt raid, the allied forces had withdrawn again to the western side of the Jordan. March saw the onset of spring rains, the Jordan was running high, and in some places in flood. The bridges were for the most part destroyed, and fords impassable. The engineers were called upon to bridge with the bridge at Hajfa being constructed by 1st Field Squadron Australian Engineers (commanded by Captain E.J. Howells MC) with a squadron of the 3rd Light Horse as working party.
After crossing the Jordan, they faced a stiff climb out of the valley. This was a terrible climb for the Camel Brigade. Immediately after leaving the foot-hills Brigadier General Smith was obliged to dismount his force, and all night the men of the three battalions dragged their camels up the mountainside. The men hauled and urged; the camels slipped and fell, but still fought steadily on. The brigade straggled in single file almost from the valley to the plateau. “The camels were carried up by the men” Smith was quoted as saying. No less fine was the performance of the Egyptian drivers with the pack-camels which carried supplies and explosives.
On the morning of 27 March 1918 General Chaytor in command of a force of two Light Horse Brigades, and the Camel Brigade, ordered the assault on Amman. At that point the Camel Brigade was described as a force of 3,000 rifles and a mountain battery of 11.5 pounder howitzers. The Turks were defending Amman with a force of 4,000 troops.
In the assault on the city, the 1st (Australian) and 2nd (British) battalions of the Camel Brigade were to make a direct frontal attack at the centre. As the brigade rode into rang, it was lightly shelled by Turkish artillery. The Turks were satisfied with their position and wanted the attackers to come close.
The camels were left behind the last ridge, and with the 7th Light Horse Regiment, the cameliers advanced on foot. Not a Turk was visible, a few shells burst among the advancing troops. At a distance of 600 metres, the Turkish machine gunners opened fire. The advance across open fields was gallant, the men marching in successive waves with perfect steadiness under fire, they penetrated as far as a waddy at the foot of the main position. There they were stopped by blinding machine-gun fire.
The 4th ANZAC Battalion of the Camel Brigade under Lieutenant Colonel Mills (Later CO 15th ALH and 1st LH (NSW Lancers) had been sent to the railway line south east of Amman, and at once began the destruction of the line. The Allies had surrounded Amman; and Es Salt had been taken by 3rd ALH.
On 28th March1918 at 13:00 Amman was attacked again. The 1st, 2nd and 4th Battalions of the Camel Brigade attacked from the South East. The 1st and 2nd were halted as they reached the broken ground just short of the position they reached the day before. The force held their positions, moving to the defence.
The attack was resumed at 02:00 on 30th the three battalions attacked dismounted with bayonets. The result was again inconclusive.
As with the “raid” to Es Salt, a withdrawal was again ordered.
In the Camel Brigade 6 officers and 40 other ranks were killed, 7 officers and 280 other ranks were wounded.
By this time the senior Allied commanders agreed that the men of the Camel Brigade would be far more valuable if mounted on horses. After consultations with the Australian Government, the Australians of the brigade became the 14th and 15th Light Horse Regiments. To the Australian Regiments was added a French colonial regiment of Saphis and Chasseurs d’Afrique. They became the 5th Australian Light Horse Brigade. The commander was Brigadier-General George Macarthur-Onlsow promoted from CO of the 7 ALH. The New Zealanders of the Camel Brigade became the machine-gun squadron of the new brigade. The British battalion retained their camels and were sent to operate against the Hejaz Railway south-east of the Dead Sea.
Summarised from H.S. Gullett, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Vol 8, 1923, by John Howells – NSW Lancers Museum, 2001.
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