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The Great War in the Middle East: 2

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The Great War in the Middle East: 2
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Author(s): W. T. Massey
Date Published: 2009/05
Page Count: 292
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-683-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-684-7

The conclusion of W.T Massey's Middle Eastern theatre trilogy

The final book in Massey's trilogy concerns the drive through Palestine into Syria, the conquest of Damascus and the harrying of the defeated Turkish and German forces as their broken armies retreated northwards towards and beyond Aleppo and the borders of Turkey itself. In the pages of this excellent account—written as part history, part first hand account by one who was there—the reader will find many familiar and famous figures. Here are Allenby, Lawrence, Feisal and others. Renowned regiments pass through its pages—the stalwart Yeomanry, the indomitable and cheerful Londoners, the dashing Australian Light Horse as well as the early fighter and bomber crews of the emerging air force. An essential book for those who value the impression of a campaign told with the immediacy of first hand knowledge.

The main attack, as has been indicated, was to be in the coastal sector. The 21st Corps with the 5th Australian Light Horse, 60th Division, Détachement Français de Palestine et Syrie attached, would attack the enemy's right, and when his trench systems between Et Tireh and the Nahr Falik had been captured, would advance eastwards to drive the enemy from the line Deir Sharaf-Samaria-Tulkeram. As soon as the crossing over the Falik and the marshes to the east had been cleared of the enemy by the advance of the 21st Corps, the Desert Mounted Corps (4th and 5th Cavalry Divisions and the Australian Mounted Division, less one brigade) would pass round the left of the 21st Corps and advance on El Afuleh and Beisan to cut the enemy's railway communications and block his retreat in a northerly and north-easterly direction. The 20th Corps, less the 60th Division which was allotted to the 21st Corps, were to attack astride the Nablus road to gain possession of a line south of Nablus from which they would be in a position to co-operate with the 21st Corps and to advance to the high ground north and north-east of Nablus. The date of the attack was not known when the Force Order was placed in the hands of Corps Commanders, but on 'Zero' day the 21st Corps were to start operations from Umbrella Hill to the sea. There was to be no preliminary bombardment. The infantry would advance to the assault under an artillery barrage put down at the hour the infantry left their positions of deployment. Immediately the trench systems between Et Tireh and the Falik had been gained, the Corps, pivoting on the right, would wheel to the east, clearing the Kalkilieh-Tulkeram road, and seize the high ground east of the railway between Deir Sharaf and Attara, being prepared to pursue the enemy in the direction of Jenin. One division of the Corps, with the 5th Australian Light Horse attached, would advance from the position of the captured trenches via Tulkeram and Attara, blocking the railway line between Samaria and Jenin as early as possible. The right division of the 21st Corps were not to advance further east than a line drawn north and south through Bidieh unless required to assist the 20th Corps operating on the right. <br>
During the twenty-four hours preceding the attack Desert Mounted Corps were to move to positions of readiness behind the 21st Corps front, and the cavalry were to begin advancing to the Afuleh area immediately the infantry had broken through and had secured the crossings over the Falik and the Zerkiyeh marsh. The cavalry's first objective was a line through Kakon and Jelameh to Tel ed Dhur and Hudeira, and they were to go forward with the utmost rapidity to Afuleh by the Jelameh-Sumrah and Lejjun and the Hudeira-Abu Shushe roads, and to prevent the Turks removing rolling stock by cutting the railway lines from Jenin and Haifa to Afuleh at the earliest possible moment. Then, while keeping sufficient troops in the Afuleh, Jenin, and Lejjun areas, General Chauvel was to close the Turkish lines of retreat to the north and north-west, and to send out in an easterly direction a considerable body of mounted troops to close the roads which converge on Beisan from the Jordan valley and Nablus. Two torpedo-boat destroyers were to co-operate in the attack by denying to the enemy the use of the coast road south of Haifa. The date on which the 20th Corps would begin their attack on the front Mugheir-Rafat depended on the progress of the 21st Corps,but a division had to be concentrated ready to attack by 6 p.m. on the day after the attack in the coastal sector, two groups operating on the left and right flanks converging on an approximate line Akrabeh-Zeita-Jemmain-Kefr Haris. General Chaytor's force was responsible for the defence of the front from the northern end of the Dead Sea to the Ghoraniyeh and Aujah bridgeheads, Musallabeh, and Nejmeh. It was quite possible that the enemy, to assist in the defence of his line in the Judean hills, might reduce his force in the Jordan valley, and should he do so General Chaytor might be required to advance as far as the Jisr ed Damie ford, or to send a detachment east of the Jordan to join forces with an Arab army moving from the south, but the force was not to be committed to an advance, although General Chaytor was to take measures to make the enemy believe that attacks both east and west of the Jordan were imminent, and so prevent the enemy from concentrating troops in a position from which they could attack the 20th Corps.<br>
The rôle of Desert Mounted Corps was the all-important one of getting behind the enemy, of cutting his railway communications, and, by occupying the country through which his roads passed, to prevent his escape. Theirs was a big task, and it could only be performed by cavalry in a high state of efficiency and in first-class condition. The instructions to the Desert Corps Commander laid it down that the long marches which had to be undertaken, and the necessity of conserving the cavalry's full strength, made it imperative that nothing should allow the cavalry to be drawn into the infantry fight south of the wadi Falik, and after the cavalry had made the passage of that stream they were not to be diverted from their objectives by the presence of hostile troops in the Tulkeram-Et Tireh area, which would be dealt with by the forces of the 21st Corps. The advance from the position of readiness would be regulated by the progress made by the infantry of the 21st Corps, but Desert Mounted Corps Staff was responsible for providing that the line between the Zerkiyeh marsh and the mouth of the Falik should be crossed at the earliest possible moment. In the early stage the field was to be given to the infantry, and the cavalry were not allowed to interfere with the movements of the 21st Corps, or to do anything which would mask the fire of that Corps' artillery. There was always a possibility that the enemy would endeavour to retire on Haifa, but if the Turks moved in that direction the Desert Mounted Corps was only to detach sufficient troops to keep in touch with them and to protect its lines of communication.<br>
As much of the mounted force as was possible had to be kept for Afuleh and Beisan, to gain which great vigour and rapidity must characterise their action, as it was essential that the cavalry should reach those places before the enemy could withdraw his rolling stock and material, or assemble troops for the defence of the railway. On arrival at Lejjun, General Chauvel's orders were to send a brigade south-east to Jenin to block the roads and railway passing through that place and to gain touch with the 5th Australian Light Horse Brigade, which would be directed by the 21st Corps on that town from the south if the situation permitted. From Afuleh a detachment must be sent to seize the road and railway bridges over the Jordan at Jisr Mejamie, a few miles south of Semakh on the southern edge of the Sea of Galilee, and while the railway bridge was to be prepared for demolition it was not to be destroyed so long as we could hold it. In fact demolitions on the railway were to be limited to such as could be easily repaired, as, when a further advance was ordered, the line and rolling stock in our hands would be an important factor in solving the problems of supply. The Corps Commanders, working within the instructions laid down in the Force Order, were given a free hand, but acting in conformity with the regulations framed throughout the campaign for the protection of all the Sacred Sites, General Allenby was emphatic in his orders that the City of Nazareth was on no account to be bombed or shelled during the operations. We knew perfectly well, and had long known, that General Liman von Sanders, the Commander-in-Chief of the Turkish Army, had his headquarters at Nazareth. He probably knew that the City was a sanctuary as far as we were concerned.