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With the British Army in the Holy Land

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With the British Army in the Holy Land
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Author(s): Henry Osmond Lock
Date Published: 2012/09
Page Count: 140
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-929-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-928-3

The Great War in the Middle East

Those with any interest in the First World War know that its principal field of conflict was in Europe, where from the English Channel coastline to the Balkans it became a grinding stalemate of attrition. However, this was a war between imperial powers and during the nineteenth century, to one degree or another, each had gained and secured dominions and colonies all over the globe. Thus the war truly did embrace the world. Each side had its allies and Germany had forged close ties with the now declining Turkish Ottoman empire. The Turkish influence spread over the Middle East around its own homeland, into Mesopotamia and through Syria to the Holy Land. All combatants were aware of the value of the Suez Canal in Egypt as a route to the east. It was a vital lifeline for men and material to be defended or taken at all costs. The stage was inevitably set for one of the Great War’s most interesting ‘sideshow’ campaigns. The Palestine Campaigns are particularly interesting to military students because they were fought over hard terrain—often desert—and because in a time of wire and trenches this was a comparatively fluid campaign that gave opportunities for the last great manoeuvres of cavalry ever to take place on the field of battle. This concise account was written shortly after the war by an eyewitness to many of the events described and thus is an excellent entry point for those for whom the history of this theatre of war has become a subject of new interest.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

Shortly after dawn, our heavy artillery opened the ball by shelling the advanced posts of the enemy. At seven o’clock the whole line moved forward. Our first objective, a prominent knoll, was 4,000 yards away, and no previous opposition was expected. Having assumed the appropriate formation before crossing the crest, we moved forward in “artillery” formation, that is to say, in lines of platoons in file. For the non-military reader, it should be explained that this is the formation in which troops are considered least vulnerable against artillery or distant rifle and machine-gun fire. Great care was taken to ensure that direction was maintained, an officer with compass being specially detailed for this purpose, and that touch was not lost with the units on either flank.<br>
A battery of field artillery had been detailed to support the advance of this battalion; the forward observation officer went forward with the infantry; the battery, less one section temporarily left behind, moved forward close behind us to a previously selected position from which the Deir Ballut Ridge would be within easy range. A section of machine gunners moved forward close behind the leading companies. In a fold of the ground, some 1,400 yards short of the first objective, the infantry shook out into lines of skirmishers. They continued their advance, and occupied the knoll which was their first objective without opposition.<br>
Meanwhile, after a concentrated bombardment on the left, the first and second of the enemy’s forward posts were captured without serious opposition; it appeared probable that these had been occupied mainly for observation and that his principal resistance was to be offered upon the Ballut Ridge.<br>
After a short halt on the first objective, to conform to the time-table, we moved forward again in the same formation against our second objective, a ridge which seemed to overlook the Wadi Deir Ballut. We still met with no opposition, until we put our heads up over the ridge, when we were greeted with a torrent of bullets from machine guns posted on the opposite side of the wadi. This wadi, it will be remembered, was to us terra incognita. The first thing to be done therefore was to make a hurried reconnaissance, and decide on the best method of getting down and across. It was found that the descent was almost a sheer precipice, and that we had not one but two wadis to cross; a smaller tributary wadi, scarcely marked on the map, forming, in fact, a rather serious obstacle.<br>
Carrying out such a reconnaissance, upon a forward slope, under machine gun fire from across the wadi, was none too easy. It had been intended that the leading company, which took the ridge, should at once open covering fire across the wadi, whilst the company following should pass through them and cross the wadi under cover of their fire. However, the difficulty of taking up suitable positions for seeing the target, and the extremity of the range (about 1,500 yards), made it inadvisable for the infantry to fire. But the machine gunners attached to us soon brought their machine guns into action, while our artillery f.o.o. took up a position on the ridge from which he could fire his guns to good effect.<br>
About this time, away to our left, developed the attack on Mejdel Yaba. This village occupies a commanding position overlooking the plain, and, in Crusading days, was a fortress. That phase of the battle proved an artillery action pure and simple. The whole artillery of a division, with several heavies added, was concentrated on that luckless spot. It afforded a spectacle not soon to be forgotten. When the infantry arrived, they found the work all over; the Turks had all been killed by the bombardment or fled from the village, most of the latter having been cut off and killed by our machine guns. Before leaving, the Turks had taken the precaution of interviewing the headman of the village and cutting his throat.<br>
To return to our own corner of the picture, under cover of the fire of our own artillery and machine guns the first company went forward. Slipping down that mountain side was a veritable case of running the gauntlet. But, once the bottom of the first wadi was reached, some cover was afforded for a breather. Almost in front of us, on the far ridge, lay the village of Deir Ballut, on which the enemy evidently intended to base their strongest resistance. On our left, the infantry were making a good pace; on the right they were held up, but, seeing us going forward, they pushed forward too, so that pressure might be maintained all along the line. The enemy had organized his defences and placed his machine guns with great skill.<br>
The slopes of the wadi were too steep for good shooting straight down the slope. So he had taken full advantage of the curves and hairpin bends of the wadi to place his machine guns in position sweeping the spurs and giving each other mutual support. Our leading company lost no time in getting to work. They dumped their packs and set out at once to storm the ridge. Meanwhile, our infantry advancing on the left, had taken some of the enemy machine guns in flank, forcing them to withdraw, which materially assisted the advance of the leading company. And so the leading company, closely followed by companies in support, established itself on the ridge.