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The Battle of Agagia

  • The Battle of Agagia
    The Battle of Agagia
  • Brigadier Lukin
    Brigadier Lukin

At 0930 hours on 26 February 1916, the British infantry advanced south, supported by the Queen's Own Dorset Yeomanry and armoured cars under the command of Major Hugh Richard Arthur, the Duke of Westminster. This new, mechanised, feature of warfare, consisted of eight armoured cars and an open Ford, crewed by a total of thirty men, with machine guns.

While on the Western Front the density of troops, machine guns and barbed wire meant that the war stagnated into trench warfare, in the Middle East the paucity of troops, hostile terrain and vast area meant that a more recognisably nineteenth century pattern of warfare still prevailed. Field Service Regulations required that:

'As the attack progresses and the enemy shows signs of retreating, the cavalry must be in a position to exploit the success to the full. The cavalry commander must keep in constant communication with the commander of the force, so that he may be in a position to anticipate orders and take advantage of fleeting opportunities of intervening in the battle.'

Early on 26 February, QODY's four squadrons (including a Bucks Yeomanry squadron), in another of their traditional roles, deployed patrols from their bivouacs and located the enemy positioned in mutual support and in depth, at Agagia. Lieutenant Blaksey described the battlefield:

'You must imagine a slight undulating plain, of firm sand, with low tufts of scrum, six or eight inches high. In front of these were some low sand hills of broken country and this was where the Senussi had made their camp.'

With the Senussi located and their positions accurately identified, General Lukin, the Field Force Commander, was able to make his plans for the attack.

A battalion of the South African Infantry Brigade, supported by a second battalion was to attack the Senussi frontally under the cover of artillery, machinegun fire and a pair of armoured cars. Meanwhile, Colonel Souter was ordered to deploy the three squadrons of the Dorset Yeomanry on the western flank supported by another pair of the Duke of Westminster's armoured cars. With little threat to the British flank, the QODY were to remain concentrated awaiting their moment.

The British infantry attack began at about 1100 hours on a frontage of somewhat over a mile, under the cover of a barrage. With the South African infantry advancing and the QODY visibly deploying to the western flank, the Senussi's Turkish advisors launched an outflanking/counter-attack on the eastern front but this was checked by an infantry company sent forward from the reserve battalion, supported by the concentrated fire of the South African Brigade's machine guns and artillery.

By 1200 hours, Brigadier Lukin's advance had closed within five hundred yards of the Senussi's positions in the sand hills and, despite the enemy fire, the infantry were continuing to close with the enemy. The infantry's disciplined and, from the enemy's perspective, relentless advance continued. Despite the Turkish officers' attempts to keep the Senussi in the firing line, they started to fall back at about 1220 hours. At this stage, the Bucks Yeomanry Squadron was dispatched from its position on the eastern flank to join Colonel Souter's command, to the west, making a total of four squadron.

At 1300 hours, Colonel Souter received a message from General Lukin, warning him that he was required for mounted action and that he was to purse and cut-off the enemy's retreat. This was in fact an example of a classic employment of light cavalry, in a role that would have been familiar to the Romans. The Yeomanry were specifically not to attack the sand hills, where they might find that they were in close country, with trenches and barbed wire, in which they would be at a severe disadvantage.