|Directed by||Simon Wincer|
|Written by||Ian Jones|
|Edited by||Adrian Carr|
|Music by||Mario Millo|
|Box office||A$1.62 million (Australia)|
The Lighthorsemen is a 1987 Australian war film about the men of a World War I light horse unit involved in Sinai and Palestine campaign's 1917 Battle of Beersheeba. The film is based on a true story and most of the characters in the film were based on real people. (Elyne Mitchell wrote the novelization based on the screenplay.)
It follows in the wake of other Australian New Wave war films such as Breaker Morant (1980), Gallipoli (1981), and the 5-part TV series Anzacs (1985). Recurring themes of these films include the Australian identity, such as mateship and larrikinism, the loss of innocence in war, and also the continued coming of age of the Australian nation and its soldiers (the ANZAC spirit).
The film was directed by Simon Wincer, and several pieces of footage from the climactic scenes were re-used in the episode "Palestine, October 1917" of the television series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles . This episode, which aired in 1993, likewise focuses on the Battle of Beersheeba, and was also directed by Wincer.
The film follows four Australian cavalrymen (Frank, Scotty, Chiller, and Tas) in Palestine in 1917, part of the 4th Light Horse Brigade of the British and Commonwealth forces. When Frank is wounded and dies of his wounds, he is replaced by Dave. Dave finds himself unable to fire his weapon in combat and is transferred to the Medical Corps, where he will not need to carry a weapon, but where he will still be exposed to the fighting.
The British plan the capture of Beersheba. During an attack by Turkish cavalry, Major Richard Meinertzhagen deliberately leaves behind documents indicating that the attack on Beersheba will only be a diversion. The Australians leave for Beersheba, with limited water and supplies. They bombard the town and the 4,000 Turkish-German defenders prepare for an assault. However, the German military advisor, Reichert, believes it is a diversionary attack and advises the Turkish commander he does not need reinforcements. With time running out and water in short supply, the British command suspect any attack upon Beersheba will probably fail. However, the Australian commanders ask the British to send in the Australian Light Horse—the British consent to what they think is a suicide mission.
On 31 October, the 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments are ordered to attack the Turks. Dave and the rest of the medical detachment prepare for casualties and are ordered in behind the Light Horse. The Turks report the Australian mounted soldiers lining up to charge, however the officer in charge orders the Turks not to open fire until they dismount. The Australians begin advancing on the Turkish positions, gradually speeding up to a charge. The Turks realise too late that the soldiers are not dismounting and open fire. Artillery fire is sporadic and of limited effect and the attack so fast the Turkish infantry forget to adjust the sights on their rifles as the Light Horse get closer, eventually firing straight over the Australians' heads.
During the charge, Tas is killed by an artillery shell. The remaining Australians make it "under the guns" (advancing faster than the artillery can correct its aim for the reduced range) and reach the Turkish trenches. The Australians subsequently capture the first line of Turkish defences. Scotty and a few others take control of the guns. Chiller is wounded in the trench fight. Dave is struck by a grenade and is seriously wounded while protecting Chiller. Scotty continues to fight on into the town. When most of the remaining Turkish soldiers surrender, Reichert tries to destroy the wells, but is captured by Scotty. Overall, the attack was a success and the Australians miraculously suffered only 31 dead and 36 wounded. This effectively opened the 'door' and allowed for the subsequent capture of Jerusalem and the rest of the country. General Allenby, in deference to the Holy City, walked into the city, coming as a liberator not a conqueror.
The script was written by Ian Jones, who had long been interested in the Australian Light Horse ever since they featured in an episode of Matlock Police in 1971. He visited Beersheba in 1979 and had carefully researched the period. Simon Wincer came on board as director and he succeeded in helping secure a $6 million pre sale to RKO. Antony I. Ginnane's Film and General Holdings Company succeeded in raising the rest of the money.Simon Wincer later claimed that Ginanne, Ian Jones and himself had to put in their own money at some stage when the film looked like falling over. Well known Australian cinematographer Dean Semler was also brought in.
Despite being set in Palestine and Egypt, the film was shot entirely on location in Victoria and Hawker, South Australia. After the final day of filming had wrapped on 1 December 1986, actor Jon Blake was injured in a car accident near Nectar Brook, South Australia. He suffered permanent paralysis and brain damage.
The musical score was composed by Mario Millo. The original soundtrack recording was produced for compact disc release courtesy of Antony I Ginnane by Philip Powers and Mario Millo for Australian distribution in Australia by 1M1 Records and as a coupling with Shame on LP in the US. The movie was re-cut to a shorter length for the US release, which Wincer thought made the second half better, although he did not like the opening as much.
The German Empire flag on General Kressenstein's car features a band of red above a band of white, above a band of black; in reality, the colours were ordered black-white-red. Similarly, the Australian flag – known at the time as the "Australian Blue Ensign" – was not widely used by the Australian Army during World War I. The British Union flag was more widely used by the military, while government regulations and tradition meant the Blue Ensign was used mainly by government buildings and ships.
The film received mixed reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 67% approval rating based on 6 reviews.
Roger Ebert, reflecting other critics' opinions, stated that "I was disoriented almost all the way through the movie." but that in the climax, "I haven't seen a better action scene with horses since "Ben Hur"."An unfavourable review came from The New York Times , who stated the film was "a sort of pacifist-aggressive war adventure" and that "None of the performances are really bad, but none are very good". The Washington Post also gave the film a negative review, described it as "Mostly ... equine cinematography, a four-legged coffeetable movie about the Australian cavalry.".
The film grossed A$1,617,288 in Australia after its release in 1987 which is equivalent to 8.25 million in 2009 dollars. It was also released in Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States in 1988. It was considered a commercial disappointment, yet Wincer claims its pre-sales and television sales were about $6 million or 60% of the budget. The film won an AFI award in 1988 for Best Original Music Score and another for Best Achievement in Sound. It was also nominated for Best Achievement in Cinematography. The Lighthorsemen is included in the Australian Film Commission's Top Australian films at the Australian box office list at number 83.
The Battle of Magdhaba took place on 23 December 1916 during the Defence of Egypt section of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in the First World War. The attack by the Anzac Mounted Division took place against an entrenched Ottoman Army garrison to the south and east of Bir Lahfan in the Sinai desert, some 18–25 miles (29–40 km) inland from the Mediterranean coast. This Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) victory against the Ottoman Empire garrison also secured the town of El Arish after the Ottoman garrison withdrew.
The Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division was a mounted infantry division of the British Empire during the First World War. The division was raised in March 1916 and was assigned to the I ANZAC Corps. On establishment, it consisted of four brigades comprising three Australian Light Horse and one New Zealand mounted rifles, supported by British horse artillery. In 1917, one of the Australian brigades was replaced by a British yeomanry brigade. After April 1917, the standard order of battle was reduced to two Australian brigades and one New Zealand brigade, although the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade and other British mounted brigades were temporarily attached several times during operations.
The Desert Mounted Corps was an army corps of the British Army during the First World War, of three mounted divisions renamed in August 1917 by General Edmund Allenby, from Desert Column. These divisions which served in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign had been formed by Australian light horse, British yeomanry, and New Zealand mounted rifles brigades, supported by horse artillery, infantry and support troops. They were later joined by Indian cavalry and a small French cavalry detachment.
The First Battle of Gaza was fought on 26 March 1917, during the first attempt by the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) to invade the south of Palestine in the Ottoman Empire during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the First World War. Fighting took place in and around the town of Gaza on the Mediterranean coast when infantry and mounted infantry from the Desert Column, a component of the Eastern Force, attacked the town. Late in the afternoon, on the verge of capturing Gaza, the Desert Column was withdrawn due to concerns about the approaching darkness and large Ottoman reinforcements. This British defeat was followed a few weeks later by the even more emphatic defeat of the Eastern Force at the Second Battle of Gaza in April 1917.
The Battle of Beersheba was fought on 31 October 1917, when the British Empire's Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) attacked and captured the Yildirim Army Group garrison at Beersheba, beginning the Southern Palestine Offensive of the Sinai and Palestine campaign of World War I. Infantry from the 60th (London) and the 74th (Yeomanry) Divisions of the XX Corps from the southwest conducted limited attacks in the morning, then the Anzac Mounted Division launched a series of attacks against the strong defences which dominated the eastern side of Beersheba, resulting in their capture during the late afternoon. Shortly afterwards, the Australian Mounted Division's 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments conducted a mounted infantry charge with bayonets in their hands, their only weapon for mounted attack, as their rifles were slung across their backs. Part of the two regiments dismounted to attack entrenchments on Tel es Saba defending Beersheba while the remainder of the light horsemen continued their charge into the town, capturing the place and part of the garrison as it was withdrawing.
The Third Battle of Gaza was fought on the night of 1–2 November 1917 between British and Ottoman forces during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I and came after the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) victory at the Battle of Beersheba had ended the Stalemate in Southern Palestine. The fighting occurred at the beginning of the Southern Palestine Offensive, and, together with attacks on Hareira and Sheria on 6–7 November and the continuing Battle of Tel el Khuweilfe, which had been launched by General Edmund Allenby on 1 November, it eventually broke the Gaza-to-Beersheba line defended by the Yildirim Army Group. Despite having held this line since March 1917, the Ottoman Army was forced to evacuate Gaza and Tel el Khuweilfe during the night of 6–7 November. Only Sheria held out for most of the 7 November before it too was captured.
The Sinai and Palestine campaign of the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I was fought by the Arab Revolt and the British Empire, against the Ottoman Empire and its Imperial German allies. It started with an Ottoman attempt at raiding the Suez Canal in 1915, and ended with the Armistice of Mudros in 1918, leading to the cession of Ottoman Syria.
The Raid on the Suez Canal, also known as Actions on the Suez Canal, took place between 26 January and 4 February 1915 when a German-led Ottoman Army force advanced from Southern Palestine to attack the British Empire-protected Suez Canal, marking the beginning of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign (1915-1918) of World War I (1914-1918).
Friedrich Siegmund Georg Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein was a German general from Nuremberg. He was a member of the group of German officers who assisted in the direction of the Ottoman Army during World War I. Kress von Kressenstein was part of the military mission of Otto Liman von Sanders to the Ottoman Empire, which arrived shortly before World War I broke out. He was also the main leader for the Ottoman Desert Command Force (DCF).
The Battle of Mughar Ridge, officially known by the British as the action of El Mughar, took place on 13 November 1917 during the Pursuit phase of the Southern Palestine Offensive of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in the First World War. Fighting between the advancing Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) and the retreating Yildirim Army Group, occurred after the Battle of Beersheba and the Third Battle of Gaza. Operations occurred over an extensive area north of the Gaza to Beersheba line and west of the road from Beersheba to Jerusalem via Hebron.
Brigadier General William Grant, was an Australian Army colonel and temporary brigadier general in the First World War.
Brigadier Sir Murray William James Bourchier, CMG, DSO, VD was an Australian soldier and politician. He was Deputy Premier of Victoria from April 1935 until June 1936.
The Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment was a mounted infantry regiment from New Zealand, raised for service during the First World War. It was assigned to the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
The Battle of el Buqqar Ridge took place on 27 October 1917, when one infantry regiment and cavalry troops of the Yildirim Army Group, attacked the 8th Mounted Brigade of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) in the last days of the stalemate in Southern Palestine during the Sinai and Palestine campaign of World War I.
Antony I. Ginnane is an Australian film producer best known for his work in the exploitation field. He was head of the Screen Producers Association of Australia from 2008 to 2011.
The Battle of Ayun Kara was an engagement in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign during the First World War. The battle was fought between the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and a similar-sized rearguard from the Turkish 3rd Infantry Division, which was part of the XXII Corps of the Ottoman Eighth Army under Kress von Kressenstein.
The Stalemate in Southern Palestine was a six month standoff between the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) and the Ottoman Army in World War I. The two hostile forces faced each other along the Gaza to Beersheba line during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, with neither side able to force its opponent to withdraw. The stalemate began in April 1917 with the defeat of the EEF by the Ottoman Army at the Second Battle of Gaza and lasted until the EEF offensive began with the Battle of Beersheba on 31 October 1917.
The Southern Palestine offensive, employing manoeuvre warfare, began on 31 October 1917, with the Battle of Beersheba, during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, of World War I. After the capture of Beersheba, by the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF), the Gaza to Beersheba line became increasingly weakened and, seven days later, the EEF successfully forced the Ottoman Turkish Empire's Seventh and Eighth Armies to withdraw. During the following seven days of pursuit, the Turkish forces were pushed back to Jaffa. There followed three weeks of hard fighting in the Judean Hills before Jerusalem was captured on 9 December 1917. During five and a half weeks of almost continuous offensive operations, the EEF captured 47.5 miles (76.4 km) of territory.
The Battle of Tel el Khuweilfe, part of the Southern Palestine Offensive, began on 1 November 1917, the day after the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) victory at the Battle of Beersheba during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I. After the Stalemate in Southern Palestine a series of coordinated attacks were launched by British Empire units on the Ottoman Empire's German commanded Yildirim Army Group's front line, which stretched from Gaza inland to Beersheba. During fighting for the town, the road from Beersheba to Jerusalem via Hebron, was cut just north of the town in the southern spur of the Judean Hills. Here Ottoman units strongly defended the road and the Seventh Army headquarters at Hebron.
The Charge at Sheria took place on 7 November 1917 during the Battle of Hareira and Sheria when the 11th and 12th Light Horse Regiments charged a Yildirim Army Group rearguard in support of an attack by the 60th (London) Division during the Southern Palestine Offensive of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in World War I.