Evening Post, vol XCVII, issue 127, 31st May 1919
LIBERATION OF PALESTINE
OPENING OF "THE TENTH CRUSADE"
The Rafa victory had the effect of practically clearing the Turk out of Sinai. He soon afterwards withdrew his southern forces, and from then on Sinai was to know him no more. This accomplished, preparations were at once made for what the campaigners were pleased to call "The Tenth Crusade"—the conquest of the Holy Land after centuries of Turkish misrule and oppression. Across the border the British, Australian, and New Zealand troops could see the green hills of "The Promised Land." Like the Israelites of old, they, too, looked upon it with longing eyes, for they had just completed a full twelve months in the desert, and had been schooled well enough in its trials and mysteries to wish to bid them a permanent adieu. But the mystic, trackless wastes had not been unkind to them; they had given them three pronounced victories, and had taught them the all-essential knowledge which was to bring them epoch-making successes in the coming campaign.
Those successes, however, were not destined to be immediately forthcoming. Failures, serious failures, were ahead in the form of the First and Second Battles of Gaza. Immense preparations were made for the new adventure which was arousing intense interest throughout the Christian and Moslem worlds; the opposing forces were both greatly strengthened, and by the middle of March the railhead from the Suez Canal had reached Rafa. A reconnaissance by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles on 23rd February revealed the fact that Khan Yunus, a small town about four miles on tho road to Gaza. 20 miles from Rafa., was held in strength; but pressure induced the Turks to withdraw and retire on their main stronghold, Gaza. The Desert Column had now ceased to bear its name, and from that time onwards was known as the East Force.
FIRST BATTLE OF GAZA.
The First Battle of Gaza was fought on 26th and 27th March, 1917. General Murray's plan of battle was for the cavalry and camelry to pass to the east and take up positions north of Gaza, thereby cutting off the enemy's line of .retreat, while the British Infantry Divisions assaulted the town in front. Early in the morning of 26th March the cavalry, comprising tho Imperial and Anzac Mounted Divisions, crossed the Wadi Ghuzza unopposed, and, screened by a fog, had occupied its assigned positions by 10 o'clock, capturing the commander of the 53rd Turkish Division and his staff in the process. The Yeomanry and the Camel Corps engaged the enemy further east, the latter putting up such a good fight as to practically annihilate the 3rd Turkish Cavalry Division. The Infantry attack on the town had been proceeding for some time when at 3.30 in the afternoon the Anzac Mounted Division and Yeomanry were ordered to assault from the north. The New Zealand Brigade occupied the centre, and, advancing, captured two 4.2-inch Austrian howitzers, which, they turned on the enemy and retained, in spite of desperate counter-attacks. Detachments of Australians and New Zealanders actually forced their way into Gaza itself, where they engaged in lively bayonet fighting. They, however, came under the heavy fire from machine-guns stationed in various houses, and suffered severely, those who did not fall being eventually made prisoners. The mounted men retired during the night, as also did the Infantry, and the battle was renewed on the following morning. The Turkish garrison meanwhile had been heavily reinforced, and the cavalry being without water the battle was broken off. The attacking force suffered 4000 casualties, while those of the Turks were officially estimated at 8000, including 950 prisoners. The Turks also lost two guns, captured by the New Zealanders.
SECOND BATTLE OF GAZA.
The Second Battle of Gaza was destined to end in another British failure. It was fought on 18th and 19th April, the opening moves being made on the 17th. In this battle, even more fiercely contested than the first, tanks were employed by the British for the first time. The cavalry were assigned the task of keeping off the Turkish forces in Beersheba, while the Imperial Camel Corps assisted the Infantry attack. Though the Navy assisted with big gun fire from the sea, small progress was made by the Infantry Divisions and Camel Corps when the main assault was delivered on the 19th. The New Zealand Brigade was sent in to support an attack delivered, by the 1st Australian Mounted Division and the Camel Corps in the centre; it advanced under heavy shell fire, occupied a low ridge, and held on under a hot fire for the rest of the day. During the night the British forces were withdrawn to the Wadi Ghuzze—a desert riverbed which they were to know for some months to come.
The failure of the second attempt to take Gaza resulted in General Murray being replaced by General Allenby, the future "Conqueror of Palestine." Other changes saw Major-General Sir H. Chauvel, Commander of the Anzac Mounted Division, promoted to the command of the East Force; he was succeeded by Brigadier-General Chaytor, New Zealand Brigade, who was promoted Major-General; the New Zealand Brigade command in turn went to Colonel Meldrum, who was created Brigadier-General.
NEW COMMANDER'S PLAN OF CAMPAIGN.
General Allenby, immediately upon his arrival, made elaborate preparations for overwhelming the Turkish forces. "The Tenth Crusade," which had made a false start, was now, under his leadership, to become a triumphant success. The Turks had decided to hold Gaza permanently, and spent the interval between the second failure to take it and the opening of General Allenby's offensive in strongly fortifying the Gaza-Beersheba line, a distance of, thirty miles, making it, to all intents and purposes, impregnable. With their prestige restored by the Gaza successes the Turks were well content; nothing could be done against the Beersheba flank, because, to the east arid south of this Biblical town there is nothing but a great expanse of waterless desert, and it was "quite impossible" for any attack to come from there. General Allenby's men and horses were only of the flesh, subject to the distresses of the flesh; they were not gods, who could live without water—and the Turkish knowledge was based upon centuries of experience. But such was the British General's intention—to roll up the Beersheba flank; attacking from the "void"' with his mounted troops and camelry. Meanwhile he kept the Turk’s attention concentrated on Gaza by means of local raids and a general display of activity behind the British lines. The whole plan worked as anticipated.
"THE GREAT DESERT RIDE."
The attack on Beersheba was set down for 31st October; the troops were to be concentrated in positions of readiness by the previous evening; they were to make a night march, and assault at dawn. Tho job was assigned to the East Force, which was split up into two. The first comprising two divisions, infantry and dismounted Yeomanry, together with the Imperial Camel Corps, and a cavalry regiment, was to deliver the frontal assault; while the second column, composed, of Anzac horsemen and Yeomanry was to make a wide detour into the uninhabitable desert, and deliver "the bolt from the blue." The first force moved in an inner circle, being transported by rail as much as possible. The "Void Column" started out from Sha'uth and Shellat on the night of 27th October on its great desert ride, proceeding south and east to Khalasa and Asluj, the only remaining places where water was available until they won Beersheba. On the eventful evening of 30th October the "Void Column" set out upon the last lap of this, perhaps its greatest adventure. The Khalasa force was no less than 15 miles long. Both made their wide sweep out into the arid wastes, and took up their positions east of Beersheba at 5 a.m. on 31st October, the troops from Khalasa having covered 25 miles, and those from Asluj 35 miles. Their appearance was wholly unexpected by the Turks, whose surprise may be imagined.
STORMING OF TEL ES SABA.
The Australians and New Zealanders were promptly sent into action, the Yeomanry acting as a reserve. There was a hard contest for the passage of a wadi protecting the main Turkish position, Tel es Saba, a hill 1000 feet high, which had been strongly fortified and dominated the situation. The passage was finally won, whereupon the New Zealanders, dismounted, closed upon the Tel es -Saba redoubt and captured it by storm. Several attempts had been made by detachments of Australians and New Zealanders to cross the open plain and reach Beersheba. The village of Saba at the foot of the hill succumbed, but when the moon rose again Beersheba had not yet fallen. The frontal attack by the infantry had been proceeding meanwhile with partial success, throughout the day. By 7.30 p.m., particularly in view of the lack of water, the gravest anxiety began to be felt. The Yeomanry was ordered to the assault, but there was no need for them. The 4th Australian Light Horse settled the issue by mounting their horses and charging straight for the town. They galloped, over two trenches, stabbing the Turks in them with their bayonets as they passed, and rode, cheering vociferously, into Beersheba, which immediately surrendered. The British, as an immediate result, bagged 2000 prisoners, 13 guns, and much material, including railway rolling stock. Next day, 1st November, the mounted troops were sent along the Hebron road, and had a good deal of fighting with the Turks during the following days. The New Zealanders, together with the Imperial Camel Corps, shared specially in this. On one occasion, when the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were holding a hill, the Turkish infantry with bayonets fixed, essayed a charge, only to be dispersed by the New Zealanders' machinegun fire, which inflicted upon them fully 300 casualties.
The main British attack was launched on Tel el Sheria, which was formidably fortified, on 6th November, but was not successful until the following day, when it was pressed home. It was the decisive action of the campaign. The position won, the Turkish Army along tho whole line began a precipitate retreat, abandoning Gaza with all its defences and material.
HORSES WITHOUT WATER FOR 72 HOURS.
The Australians and New Zealanders meanwhile, were sent west of the railway to harass the large forces of the enemy retreating towards Huj. Events then moved rapidly, ending in seven weeks from the date of the attack on Beersheba, in the fall of Jerusalem. This entailed long marching with great feats of endurance.
The New Zealand Brigade, after fighting for a while with the Imperial Camel Corps in the Judean Hills reached Mejdel (near ancient Ascalon) on 12th November, its horses having been for no less than 72 hours without water. The performance was so unheard of that it was officially investigated and duly established. It was capable of only one explanation—the lessons learned in Sinai.
EPIC CHARGE BY NEW ZEALANDERS.
The advance by the Australians and New Zealanders on Jaffa, the seaport of the Holy City, was continued. Yebna was occupied on the 13th. On 14th November, when the victorious invaders were approaching Ramleh and Ludd, the Turks endeavoured to finally arrest their progress by heavily counter attacking at Ayun Kara. Ramleh was then Turkish Headquarters in Palestine. The engagement, which is an epic one in New Zealand's history, was thus described by Mr. W. T. Massey, the British war correspondent:
"The Anzacs moved on Ramleh and Ludd from the south-west, meeting with considerable opposition, which was beaten off, till Ayun Kara was reached, where the enemy was reinforced by two new battalions, and made a most determined counter-attack against the New Zealanders. Running very quickly behind a somewhat strong gunfire, the Turks got to within fifteen yards of our line, attacking with bombs and rifles, when the whole line of Auckland troops, with some Wellington Mounted Rifles, rushed forward with the bayonet met the enemy with tremendous force, and smashed up the counter-attack most completely. The Turks broke and fled, leaving over 400 dead as a result of the bayonet charge alone."
The action was regarded so much as a classic operation that it was ordered to be specially written up, and the full details were sent to the British War Office for use in the future instruction of Mounted Rifles. It was one of the few realistic bayonet clashes of the war, a definite shock action in which the Southern Cross quite eclipsed the Crescent.
NEW ZEALANDERS OCCUPY JAFFA.
Ramleh and Ludd were occupied on the 15th, and on 16th November the New Zealand Mounted, Rifles captured Jaffa unopposed, and ruled its population for a fortnight or more. The populace received them with joy. While the attack on Jerusalem was proceeding the Turks attempted to force the passage of the river Auja, north of Jaffa, which was held by the 54th Division and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles. The Turks never got past, though the engagement for both sides was a nasty one. Jeusalem fell on 9th December, and General Allenby made his official entry on 11th December, his specially composed body guard being selected from the whole of the units of his conquering army, including the Australians and New Zealanders.
With Southern Palestine liberated from the Turkish tyranny, General Allenby embarked upon operations for the conquest of the northern portion, and clearing the Turks out as far north as Aleppo. His forces were further strengthened for this purpose, but the result was not to be realised as soon as was originally anticipated. The Anzacs, Yeomany, and Imperial Camel Corps were allotted the task of conquering the Jordan Valley and maintaining supremacy there, thereby protecting the British right flank. They were also charged with the duty of raiding the country east of the Jordan, rendering proportionate assistance to the King of the Hedjaz, who was fighting the Turkish Army in the south.
THE VALLEY OF THE JORDAN.
Starting on 18th February, 1918, from the ruins of Ascalon—famous as the city of the Philistines, later the chief port of Palestine, the city which was razed to the ground by Saladin and Bilbars, the last conquest of Richard the Lion Hearted—the Anzac Mounted Division plodded its way along the old Roman road to Bethlehem, the birth place of Our Saviour. The whole Division was quartered in Bethlehem that night, and moved out next day with the object of driving the Turks across the Jordan. The 18th and 19th had been spent by the Wellington Mounted Rifles in reconnoitring the country eastwards; the New Zealand Brigade accordingly led the way. It was now that the Anzacs made their first acquaintance with the Jordan Valley, one of the greatest military obstacles in the world and certainly one of the most pestiferous. The descent from the hills around Jerusalem—they range from 2000 ft and more above sea level—is steep, the floor of the Jordan Valley only l7 miles distant, through which the river flows into the Dead Sea, being 1200 ft below the level of the Mediterranean. The intervening space is interrupted by a series of ridges, presenting deep defiles and ravines in which it is difficult to secure a foothold even in the days or peace, let alone in war time.
THE FALL OF JERICHO.
Nothing daunted, the Anzacs made a long night march in single file through the mountainous country, and at daylight on 20th February the New Zealanders encountered the Turks strongly posted in the hills. A brisk engagement ensued, and it was not until night fall, that the New Zealanders succeeded in dislodging the Turks from their position.
The Turks withdrew into Nebi Musa, the alleged tomb of Moses. As soon as it was light the 1st Australian Light Horse followed the track down to the ever flowing river and occupied Jericho at 8 a.m. on the 21st February. Nebu Musa fell to the New Zealanders two hours earlier, the Turks having evacuated it.
The New Zealand Brigade sent a regiment down to the head of the Dead Sea to occupy the Turkish store-house and seize any boats that were there. On the 22nd the Division marched back to Bethlehem, leaving the Auckland Regiment to hold Jericho, which it continued to do until the Division with British troops and the Imperial Camel Corps returned to the Jordan Valley in the middle of March and engaged in the great enterprise of raiding the Hedjaz railway.
IN THE LAND OF MOAB.
This adventure extended from 22nd March, to 2nd April. On the first day the Auckland Mounted Rifles crossed the Jordan near Jericho by means of a pontoon, bridge, and by a brilliant charge cleared the eastern bank of the river, enabling the 60th (London). Division to pass over. The Anzac Mounted Division crossed at a point lower down. The next two days and nights wore spent by the whole force in climbing the tortuous mountains of Moab, of Biblical fame. Es Salt, a town with 15,000 inhabitants on the plateau of Moab was occupied by the 60th Division on the 25th. The weather throughout the adventure being very bad, the march proceeded in torrential rain and mud; the going consequently was slow. By the evening of the 27th, however, demolition parties from the Wellington Mounted Rifles were working on the railway south of Amman, and on the same day the Imperial Camel Corps advanced direct on the town. Amman, in olden days a stronghead of the Ammonites, was invested on the 28th, and was assaulted at intervals for four days in pouring rain without a breach being effected. The New Zealanders attacked hill 3039 to the south. They captured a portion of it, but were unable to drive the enemy from the northern and eastern ends. Parties of New Zealanders entered the village, but were fired on from the houses. Meanwhile six miles of railway had been blown up, and the bridge to the north had been destroyed. Finally orders were given to withdraw, which was done, the raiding force returning to the Jordan with over 700 prisoners and four guns captured from the Turks. Several thousands of Armenians and Copts from Es Salt and the immediate neighbourhood accompanied them.
SUMMER SPENT IN JORDAN VALLEY.
The Anzacs then took up the line from tho Dead Sea, up the Jordan Valley to 10 miles north of Jericho, and from that point to the Judean Heights, where they joined up with the Camel Corps and British Infantry. Owing to the disastrous turn events had taken in France, General Allenby's forces were seriously depleted, and his projected great offensive was held up until Indian reinforcements arrived from Mesopotamia and India itself. The Anzacs, in consequence, wore obliged to spend the whole of ensuing summer in the gruelling Jordan Valley, and in the process most of them fell victims to the dreaded malaria. Some of the Camel Corps meantime had joined the Hedjaz forces further south, and did particularly good work. On 30th April a second raid was made into the Land of Moab by the London Division and the Anzacs. The latter recaptured Es Salt at 6 p.m. on that day, taking 348 Prisoners, and after further fighting on 2nd May the whole force withdrew once more to the Jordan.
No further action of any importance developed until 14th July, when a strong attack was delivered by the Turco-German forces against the British right flank in the Jordan Valley. The weight of this blow, which was delivered at night, fell upon the 1st Australian Light Horse. At daylight on the 15th the New Zealand Brigade moved out to a flank for the purpose of cutting off the attackers. The movement was entirely successful, almost the entire attacking force of two German battalions being taken prisoner.
CALLING THE BLUFF ON THE TURKS.
By the end of August General Allenby's plans were complete. He designed to launch his attack on the coast, and in order to deceive the Turkish commander kept up the appearance that he was still maintaining a very large force of cavalry in the Valley of the Jordan, though, as a matter of fact, practically only the veteran Anzac Division was left. This deception was accomplished by placing dummy horses in the horse-lines as the genuine animals were removed, by having men constantly moving about, and by "keeping the home fires burning." The horse-lines being plainly visible to the Turks from the Moab heights, they saw everything yet noticed nothing. The deception worked like a charm. The Turk was taking no chances against the Mounteds who had done the impossible at Beersheba by "coming out of the blue." He was bitten badly once, and with him it was a case of once bitten twice shy. In fact, he thought so much of the Mounted "menace" composed largely of dummy horses that he actually concentrated two-thirds of his strength, on the eastern side of the Jordan.
General Allenby, on the other hand, had concentrated his strength on the coast. He launched his assault there on 18th September, gaining one of the greatest victories in history, completely annihilating the Turkish armies opposed to him, and giving him an almost unobstructed passage to Aleppo.
SURRENDER OF 10th TURKISH ARMY.
The Anzacs, having "called the bluff" once more on "Johnny Turk" and his German commanders, were now ordered to cross the Jordan for the third time, capture Amman, and sever the communications of the Turkish 10th Army, which was busy further south with the King of the Hedjaz and his Arabs. For this purpose Major-General Sir E. W.C. Chaytor, commanding the Anzac Division, had several Indian Regiments and two battalions of Jewish volunteers allotted to him. The latter were popularly known among the Anzacs as "The Jordan Highlanders." On 23rd September the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, by an extraordinarily quick march, climbed the mountains of Moab and seized Es Salt. The rest of the Division followed on the 24th, and on the 25th, as the result of heavy fighting, Amman was captured, the famous old Roman citadel, which had held out so tenaciously during the previous investment, falling to the Canterbury Mounted Rifles. Steps were immediately taken to push on down the railway line to meet the 10th Turkish Army, which was located at Kastal on the 28th.
On the 29th the 10th Turkish Army surrendered to General Chaytor, yielding him 10,322 prisoners, 42 guns, 147 machine-guns, and enormous quantities of stores and ammunition. In addition to those several thousand prisoners had been captured by General Chaytor's force in the operations immediately preceding. It was thus that the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade completed its four years of campaigning—with the crowning success of all. It was a fine finish, equally as fine as that of the New Zealand Division in France, when five weeks later it placed the permanent seal of fame on its military achievements by the capture of Le Quesnoy.
GARRISONING THE DARDANELLES
The New Zealand Mounters, like the New Zealand Infantry, also emerged from the war with the reputation that they could always be relied upon to do what they were asked to do and more. They never failed in this. It remains to be placed to their credit that they were "always in the line," only being conceded three weeks leave during the whole of three years, campaigning in Sinai and Palestine. When the armistice with Turkey was concluded, the Canterbury Mounted Rifles and the 7th Australian Light Horse were given the honour of occupying the Gallipoli Peninsula. They were shipped there without their horses, and remained garrisoning the Dardanelles forts until about January, when they were relieved.
PARTING WITH THEIR HORSES.
The war over, the Anzacs were obliged to part with their beloved horses. Those were affecting farewells of which few Anzac horsemen care to speak. Rather than permit them to be "sold into slavery" many of the men shot their faithful steeds, and for months afterwards left their hearts where they lie buried. Those horses had names. With the men their masters "Their name liveth for evermore."