An Australian cavalryman escorting Turkish prisoners after the capture of Beersheba.
October 31 1917, Beersheba–After extensive preparations, the British launched their attack on Beersheba with a barrage at 5:55AM on October 31. British artillery inflicted heavy casualties on the Turks, whose trenches provided little protection. However, the Turkish wire remained uncut, and the remaining Turkish infantry put up a stubborn resistance. By 1PM, the British infantry had taken their objectives, but halted short of the town of Beersheba itself.
Meanwhile, ANZAC cavalry had swung around north and east and attacked Turkish positions behind Beersheba at 9:10AM. Although they surprised the Turks, who did not know they were being flanked, they were unable to break through into Beersheba. By the late afternoon, the cavalry was running out of time; they did not have enough water to fight the next day, so they would need to take Beersheba and its wells before sunset or call off the cavalry attack entirely. Half an hour before sunset, the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade charged the Turkish trenches at a full gallop. While they were poorly equipped for a cavalry charges (having only bayonets and not sabers), they still presented difficult targets due to their speed, and were able to take the first trenches at a gallop, before taking the last set of trenches in hand-to-hand combat. This was to be the largest cavalry charge of the First World War, and quite possibly was the largest cavalry charge since Waterloo.
By 6PM, the cavalry entered Beersheba, followed shortly by the infantry; some of the Turks managed to escape, but over 1500 were captured. The sudden fall of the town meant that the British were able to capture large stores of materiel. However, the Turks were able to destroy the pumping stations at two wells, and the thirsty British men and horses would be short on water for the next few days.
Today in 1916: Mood Sours Among Russian Soldiers
Today in 1915: Britain Issues First Steel Helmets
Today in 1914: HMS Hermes, Britain’s First Aircraft Carrier, Sunk by Submarine
Sources include: Eugene Rogan, The Fall of the Ottomans; Roger Ford, Eden to Armageddon.