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The Charge

  • The Charge
    The Charge
  • The action of the QODY at Agagia
    The action of the QODY at Agagia
  • The Charge At Agagia
    The Charge At Agagia
  • The Maxim 08 Pattern Machine gun
    The Maxim 08 Pattern Machine gun
  • P C Gregory
    P C Gregory
  • Major RGS Gordon
    Major RGS Gordon
  • Major RGS Gordon
    Major RGS Gordon
  • Corporal S G Tucker
    Corporal S G Tucker
  • Lieutenant Colonel Souter
    Lieutenant Colonel Souter
  • Trumpeter Routledge
    Trumpeter Routledge

The QODY instead, followed the Senussi's retreat about a thousand yards to the west, helping them on their way with volleys of long-range small arms fire and machine gun fire provided by their Mounted MG Section. During this time, the armoured cars had, one-by-one become stuck in the sand. By 1400 hours, however, the Senussi were in full flight, forming a mass of men about a mile long and 3-400 yards deep. At first, their rear guard of organised Senussi retained sufficient discipline to present a sufficiently credible threat to keep the yeomanry at bay but with fire from the sand hills now occupied by the South African infantry and the QODY's flanking fire the withdrawal was beginning to turn into a rout.

With their horses rested, and about seven miles from the sand hills, Colonel Souter saw his chance to seal victory through the destruction of the disordered Senussi force. Between 1440 and 1515 hours, the three squadrons of the Dorset Yeomanry, numbering 196 men, including regimental cooks brandishing their cleavers, advanced on the fleeing Senussi. The Turkish officers, however, rallied about five hundred tribesmen to form a rear guard around three maxim guns.

The QODY deployed in two ranks on a frontage of approximately six hundred yards. They adopted an open formation, with the troopers of the front rank spaced at a distance of eight yards apart but the second rank were more concentrated at four yards. Lieutenant Blaksey described the ground over which the yeomanry were to advance:

'Imagine a perfectly flat plain of firm sand without a vestige of cover, and in front of us a slight ridge; behind this and facing us were the enemy.'

Conventional wisdom would, however, suggest that mounted men versus machine guns would result in equine and human bodies littering the battlefield but the casualty rate was just one in ten. The Senussi, already rattled by seeing their somewhat ill disciplined fire fail to halt the QODY, lapsed into a desperate and inaccurate fire. One Yeoman thought that the ill-trained Senussi had, in the heat of the moment, failed to lower their sights as the range closed.

Advancing quickly over the open sandy plain, first at the trot, then at a full canter, the Yeomanry bore down on the Senussi in two waves. Their speed and lose formation served to limit casualties against lees than skilled Senussi marksmen. Lieutenant Blaksey commented about the fire effect of the machine guns:

'At first they fired very fast and then you saw the bullets knocking up the sand in front of you, as the machine guns pumped them out, but as we kept getting nearer they began to lose their nerve (I expect) and forgot to lower their sights. Anyhow, the bullets began going over us, and we saw them firing wildly and began to run.'

Closing to within a hundred yards, Colonel Souter ordered Trumpeter Routlage to sound the charge and at approximately fifty yards, the Yeomanry broke into a full thundering gallop. Most of the Senussi broke and ran; a few stood and fought but in the centre of his regiment, Colonel Souter's horse was shot down under him. Lieutenant Blaksey and some yeomen suffered a similar fate but undaunted, the yeomanry plunged in amongst the enemy, swords flashing.

'The Senussi were running in all directions, shrieking and yelling and throwing away their arms and belongings; the yeomen after them, sticking them through the backs and slashing right and left with their swords.'

The Charge
Trumpeter Routlage, Lieutenant Colonel Souter and one of the three German 08 Pattern Maxim machine guns

In completing the destruction of the enemy's combat power, there is little room for compassion until defeat is assured. However, the fight was not entirely one sided:

'Some stood their ground, and by dodging the swords, and shooting at two or three yards' range first our horses and then our men, accounted for most of our casualties.'

The melee on the open sandy plain was both protected and confused, as brave or simply desperate Senussi tribesmen fought back and shot down horses and horsemen, killing wounded yeomen if they could. The enemy commander, the Turkish commander, General Gaafar Pasha and five others, one of whom was wounded, surrendered to the dehorsed Colonel Souter and Lieutenant Blaksey. The Turkish commander was a feeble and gibbering wreck, begging for his life. He and his largely Turkish staff were tied to horses and ignominiously sent to the rear. For the Senussi, without their Turkish officers, what was described as a 'scene of terror as is quite impossible to imagine' continued. Caught out on the open ground by the charge of the Dorset Yeomanry, some three hundred Senussi were hacked down and killed. At least twice this number were wounded.

The QODY's casualties during the charge were five officers, twenty seven yeomen killed, two officers and twenty four yeomen wounded and eighty-five horses killed or wounded. Having lost a quarter of their men and a third of their horses, further pursuit was impossible, as the horses were blown and the wounded had to be collected. As darkness fell, the yeomen left the battlefield, having been unable to locate all of their dead. Overnight, the survivors had retired to a well and pond for a cold and cheerless night. The only food was dried dates, taken from camels captured by the Berkshire Yeomanry.

When dawn broke the following morning, the Regiment discovered the bodies of their remaining comrades, which had been stripped naked by the enemy and robbed of everything. Whilst the last of the dead were collected the South African infantry dug a large grave and each officer and man was reverently laid to rest, covered with flowers (wild marigolds and poppies and anemones) that are found in that part of the desert during the late winter. The South African padre and Colonel Souter conducted the service and after the burial, the yeoman set to work collecting large stones and a cairn was erected over the grave with two wooden crosses.

The infantry of General Lukin's Field Force had checked the Turkish led action in Egypt's Western Desert against the British but the Dorset Yeomanry had completed the destruction of the Senussi's military capability at Agagia through their very well timed and heroic charge, followed by a bloody melee.

Decorations awarded to those participating in the charge were one DSO, three MCs, nine DCMs and twenty-two Mentions in Dispatches.