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Battle of Megiddo
Part of World War I
Battle of Megiddo (1918) Destroyed Turkish transport.jpg
Turkish carts and gun carriages destroyed by British aircraft on the Nablus-Beisan road.
Date 19 September – 1 October 1918
Location Megiddo, Palestine
Result Decisive Allied victory
Belligerents
United Kingdom United Kingdom

France France

Arab Revolt Arab insurgents

 Ottoman Empire
German Empire Germany[1]
Commanders
United Kingdom Edmund Allenby German Empire Liman von Sanders
Ottoman Empire Mustafa Kemal Pasha
Strength
Commonwealth
12,000 mounted troops,
57,000 infantry,
540 guns
Arab
unknown
3,000 mounted troops,
32,000 infantry,
402 guns
Casualties and losses
782 killed,
382 missing,
4,179 wounded
destruction or surrender of Ottoman forces

The Battle of Megiddo (Turkish: Megiddo Muharebesi, less commonly known as the Battle of Armageddon and sometimes called the Rout of Nablus (Nablus Hezi) or the Battle of the Nablus Plain by the Turks), from 19 September to 1 October 1918, and its subsequent exploitation, was the culminating victory in British General Edmund Allenby's conquest of Palestine during World War I. British Empire forces made a massive push into the Jezreel Valley from the west, through the Carmel Ridge, then engulfed the Ottoman forces in the valley and on the River Jordan. When he was made a viscount, Allenby took the name of this battle as his title, becoming the First Viscount Allenby of Megiddo.

Allenby's operations succeeded at very little cost, in contrast to many offensives during the First World War, and were widely praised. The British made significant use of both cavalry and aircraft, a historically rare combination.

Contents

Situation from the fall of Jerusalem to September 1918

After capturing Jerusalem at the end of 1917, Allenby's forces were greatly weakened when many of his infantry units (no less than 60 out of approximately 90 battalions) had to be sent to reinforce the British armies on the Western Front after the Germans launched their Spring Offensive. Allenby's tank force was also shipped off to France, and would not return before the Armistice on the Western Front came into effect. In spite of this, Allenby tried to maintain the pressure on the retreating Turks by twice sending cavalry across the Jordan to capture Amman and Es Salt. Both attacks were defeated, although Allenby retained a small bridgehead across the Jordan north of the Dead Sea.

At the same time (effectively from 8 March), the Ottoman command changed.[2] The highest level Ottoman headquarters in Palestine was the Yilderim Army Group. (Yilderim translates roughly as "thunderbolt", and the name was taken from the nickname of Sultan Bayezid I). The Army Group had originally been formed for the purpose of recapturing Baghdad which had been captured by British forces on 11 March 1917, but had been diverted to Palestine after the British success at the Battle of Beersheba threatened the front there. The Army Group's commander was the German General Erich von Falkenhayn, who wished to continue the Ottoman retreat to shorten his lines of communication and reduce the need for static garrisons. However, he was unpopular among Turkish officers, mainly because he relied almost exclusively on German rather than Turkish staff officers,[3] and was blamed for the defeats at Gaza and Jerusalem. In February 1918, he was replaced by another German General, Otto Liman von Sanders, who had commanded the successful Turkish defence during the Gallipoli Campaign.[2] Von Sanders reasoned that continued retreat in Palestine would demoralise the Ottoman troops, ruin their draught animals, encourage the Arab Revolt to spread further north into the Turkish rear areas and also lead to all the Ottoman forces to the south in the Hejaz being finally isolated.[4] His forces halted their retreat and dug in to resist further British advances, even regaining some ground near the Jordan.

Over the following summer, Allenby's forces were built back up to full strength. Two Indian infantry divisions i.e. the 3rd (Lahore) Division and the 7th (Meerut) Division, were transferred from the Mesopotamian Campaign to replace two British divisions, namely the 52nd (Lowland) and 74th (Yeomanry), which had been sent complete with their headquarters and artillery to the Western Front.[5] Two Indian mounted divisions (the 4th Cavalry Division and the 5th Cavalry Division) were transferred to Palestine from the Western Front where there was comparatively little use for mounted troops, and were reorganised to incorporate some of Allenby's Yeomanry units.[5] Except for the 54th (East Anglian) Division which had retained all its British units, Allenby's depleted infantry divisions were rebuilt with newly-raised units from India, with three Indian battalions to every British battalion.

As this reorganisation proceeded, most of what action there was took place east of the Jordan where the Arab Northern Army (part of the Arab Revolt) was operating under the overall leadership of the Emir Feisal. Its regular soldiers (mostly former Arab conscripts into the Ottoman Army who had deserted or been captured), commanded by Jaafar Pasha, maintained a blockade of the Ottoman garrison at Ma'an after a failed attack (the Battle of Al-Samna) earlier in the year, while irregulars under Lawrence of Arabia forayed from Aqaba against the Turks' Hejaz railway. West of the Jordan, the Turks themselves mounted a brief attack at Abu Tellul near the river, but were defeated by Australian Light Horse units with heavy casualties to a German Jäger unit.

Allied plan

Allenby intended to break through the western end of his front, near the Mediterranean coast, where the terrain was suitable for large-scale cavalry manoeuvres and where British troops had seized crossings over a stream, the Nahr al-Auja, which was almost the only natural defensive position on this part of the front, during the last phases of the fighting in 1917. Once the breakthrough had been achieved, Allenby intended that the mounted troops of the Desert Mounted Corps would pass through the resulting gap in the Ottoman front lines, reach the passes through the Carmel Range before Ottoman troops could forestall them, and seize the communication centres of Al-Afuleh and Beisan, thus trapping the Ottoman armies west of the Jordan.

To make the task of this breakthrough and exploitation easier, Allenby made laborious efforts to deceive the Turks as to his intentions, as he had done at the Third Battle of Gaza. To fix the Turks' attention on the wrong end of the front, the detached Anzac Mounted Division in the Jordan Valley simulated the activity of the entire mounted corps. Troops marched openly down to the valley by day, and were secretly taken back by lorry at night to repeat the process the next day. Vehicles or mules dragged harrows along tracks to raise dust clouds, simulating other troop movements. Dummy camps and horse lines were constructed.[4] Meanwhile, a British Imperial Camel Corps battalion joined Arab irregulars in a raid near Amman, scattering corned beef tins and documents as proof of their presence. Lawrence sent agents to openly buy up huge quantities of forage in the same area. As a final touch, British newspapers and messages were filled with reports of a race meeting to take place in Gaza on 19 September, the day on which the attack was to be launched.

West of the Jordan, the Allied forces enjoyed undisputed air supremacy by this time. The squadrons of the Royal Air Force and the Australian Flying Corps outnumbered and outclassed the Ottoman and German aircraft detachments in Palestine. Ottoman and German reconnaissance aircraft could not even take off without being engaged by British or Australian fighters, and could therefore not see through Allenby's deceptions, nor spot the true Allied concentration which was concealed in orange groves and plantations.

Almost the entire Ottoman fighting strength was in the front line. As tactical reserves, there were only two German regiments west of the Jordan, and an understrength Turkish cavalry division near Amman. Further back there were only some "Depot Regiments", not organised as fighting troops, and scattered garrison units. All Turkish units were understrength and demoralised by desertions, sickness and shortage of supplies.

On 17 September 1918, the opposing armies were deployed as follows:

Ottoman Order of Battle Allied Order of Battle

Yıldırım Army Group (Otto Liman von Sanders)

  • Eighth Army (Jevad Pasha) — Plain of Sharon
    • XXII Corps (Refet Bey)
      • 46th Division
      • 7th Division
      • 20th Division
    • Asia Korps (Oberst Gustav von Oppen) also named Left Wing Group[6]
      • 19th Division
      • 16th Division
      • German "Pasha II" detachment (regiment)
    • 2nd Caucasian Cavalry Division[7]
  • Seventh Army (Mustafa Kemal Pasha) — Judaea and Jordan Valley
  • Fourth Army (Jemal Kuchuk Pasha, "the Lesser"[8])
    • VIII Corps (Jordan River) (Yasin Hilmi Bey, also known as Salman el-Hashimi)
      • 48th Division
      • Composite Division
    • II Corps
      • Ma'an and Hauran detachment
        • 62nd Division
        • Three composite detachments
      • Jordan Group (Amman)
        • 24th Division
        • 3rd Cavalry Division

Egyptian Expeditionary Force (Edmund Allenby)

  Arab Northern Army (Emir Feisal)

Opening attack

On 17 September 1918, Arabs under T. E. Lawrence and Nuri as-Said began destroying railway lines around the vital rail centre of Deraa. Lawrence's initial forces (a Camel Corps unit from Feisal's Army, an Egyptian Camel Corps unit, some Gurkha machine gunners, British and Australian armoured cars and French mountain artillery) were soon joined by up to 3,000 Rualla and Howeitat tribesmen, under noted fighting chiefs such as Auda abu Tayi. Although Lawrence was ordered by Allenby only to disrupt communications around Deraa for a week and Lawrence himself had not intended a major uprising to take place in the area immediately, to avoid Ottoman reprisals, a growing number of local communities spontaneously took up arms against the Turks.[11]

As the Turks reacted, sending the garrison of Al-Fuleh to reinforce Deraa,[12] the units of Chetwode's Corps made attacks in the hills above the Jordan, intending to further divertthe Turks' attention to this flank, although this did not fool the Ottomans. At the last minute, an Indian deserter warned the Turks about the impending main attack, but while the commander of Turkish XXII Corps wished to withdraw to forestall the attack, his superior (Jevad Pasha, commanding the Turkish Eighth Army) and Liman (who feared that the deserter was himself an attempted intelligence bluff) forbade him to do so.[4]

At 1:00am on 19 September, the RAF Palestine Brigade's single Handley Page O/400 heavy bomber dropped sixteen 112 pounds (51 kg) bombs on the Turkish Headquarters and telephone exchange in Al-Afuleh. This cut the communications between Liman's headquarters and those of the Turkish Seventh Army and Eighth Armies for the following vital two days, dislocating the Ottoman command.[13] Other aircraft also bombed Seventh Army's headquarters at Nablus and Eighth Army's headquarters at Tulkarm, crippling both formations.[14]

At 4:30am, Allenby's main attack opened. A barrage by 385 guns (with 60 trench mortars, and two destroyers off the coast) fell on the Turkish 7th and 20th Infantry Division's front-line positions. As the barrage ceased at 4:50 AM, the British infantry advanced and quickly broke through the Turkish lines.[15] Within hours, the cavalry were moving north along the coast, with no Turkish reserves to check them. By the end of the first day, the remnants of the Turkish Eighth Army were in disorderly retreat under air attack into the hills to the east, covered by a few rearguards. Jevad Pasha himself had fled, and Mustafa Kemal Pasha was unable to re-establish control over Eighth Army's troops.

The RAF prevented any of the German aircraft based at Jenin from taking off and interfering with the British land operations. Two S.E.5s, armed with bombs, circled over the German airfield all day on 19 September. When they spotted any movement on the ground, they bombed the airfield. Each pair of aircraft were relieved every two hours and before departing each pair machine-gunned the German hangars.[16]

Destruction of the Ottoman Armies

Progress of Battle, 19th to 24th September 1918

During the early hours of 20 September 1918, the Desert Mounted Corps secured the defiles of the Carmel Range. The 4th Mounted Division passed through these to capture El Afule and Beisan, complete with the bulk of two Depot Regiments. A brigade of the 5th Mounted Division attacked Nazareth, where Liman von Sanders's HQ was situated, although Liman himself escaped, and another (the Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade) captured the vital port of Haifa the next day. A brigade of the Australian Mounted Division occupied Jenin, threatening the rear of the Turkish Seventh Army.[17]

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Destruction of the Turkish Seventh Army

Once nothing stood between Allenby's forces and Mustafa Kemal's Seventh Army in Nablus, Kemal decided that he lacked sufficient men to fight the British forces.[18] With the railway blocked, the Seventh Army's only escape route lay to the east, along the Nablus-Beisan road that led down the Wadi Fara into the Jordan valley.[19]

On the night of 20–21 September the Seventh Army began to evacuate Nablus.[19] By this time the Seventh Army was the last formed Turkish army west of the Jordan and although there was a chance that Chetwode's XX Corps might cut off their retreat, the XX Corps had been delayed by Turkish rearguards and had made poor progress in its advance. On 21 September, the Seventh Army was spotted by aircraft in a defile west of the river. The RAF proceeded to bomb the retreating Turks and destroyed their entire column. Waves of bombing and strafing aircraft passed over the Turks every three minutes and although the operation had been intended to last for five hours, the Seventh Army was routed in 60 minutes. All transport, artillery and heavy equipment was abandoned or destroyed, many Turks were killed and the survivors were scattered and leaderless. The wreckage of the destroyed column stretched over six miles and Lawrence would later write that "the RAF lost four killed. The Turks lost a corps."[20]

Later operations

Over the next four days, the Fourth Mounted Division and Australian Mounted Division rounded up large numbers of demoralised and disorganised Turkish troops in the Jezreel Valley. Many of the surviving refugees were attacked and captured by Arabs as they approached or tried to bypass Deraa.

Several German and Turkish aircraft had continued to operate from Deraa, harassing the Arab irregulars and insurgents still attacking railways and isolated Turkish detachments about the town. At Lawrence's urging, British aircraft began operating from makeshift landing strips nearby from 22 September, and bombed the airfield at Deraa early on 23 September.

Liman had attempted to deploy a few rear-area detachments to hold the line of the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers around the Sea of Galilee. A charge by an Australian Light Horse brigade at last light on 26 September captured the town of Samakh, breaking this line.

Exploitation

Allenby now ordered his cavalry to cross the Jordan, to capture Amman, Deraa and Damascus. Meanwhile, the 3rd Indian infantry division advanced north along the coast towards Beirut and the 7th Indian Division advanced on Baalbek in the Beqaa Valley, where the rearmost Turkish depots and reinforcement camps were situated.

The Turkish Fourth Army had begun to retreat from Amman in increasing disorder on 22 September 1918. A British Corps-sized detachment under Major General Edward Chaytor crossed the Jordan as the Turks fell back and abandoned the crossings. The Anzac Mounted Division captured Amman on 26 September. The Turkish detachment from Ma'an found its line of retreat blocked south of Amman, and surrendered intact to the Anzac Mounted Division rather than risk slaughter by Arab irregulars.

The 4th Mounted Division moved to Deraa, which had already been abandoned to Arab forces, and then advanced north on Damascus in company with them. The retreating Turks committed several atrocities against hostile Arab villages; in return, the Arab forces took no prisoners. An entire Turkish brigade (along with some German and Austrians) was massacred near the village of Tafas on 27 September, with the Turkish commander Jemal Pasha narrowly escaping. The Arabs repeated the performance the next day, losing a few hundred casualties while wiping out nearly 5,000 Turks in these two battles.

The 5th Mounted Division and Australian Mounted Division advanced directly across the Golan Heights towards Damascus. They fought actions at Benat Yakup, Kuneitra, Sasa and Katana, before they reached and closed the north and northwest exits from Damascus on 29 September.[21] On 30 September, the Australians circled north of the city and intercepted the garrison as they tried to retreat through the Barada gorge. Damascus fell the next day. Jemal Pasha fled, having failed to inspire last-ditch resistance.

Overall, the campaign resulted in the surrender of 75,000 Turkish soldiers.

Last actions

5th Mounted Division and Arab detachments advanced north, capturing Aleppo on 26 October 1918. They then advanced to Mouslimmiye, where Mustafa Kemal (now in command of the Yıldırım Army Group) had rallied some men under XXII Corps HQ. Kemal held his positions until 31 October, when hostilities ceased following the signing of the Armistice of Mudros.

Battle honours

The successful action at Megiddo resulted in the Megiddo battle honour to be awarded to units of the Commonwealth forces participating in the battle. Two subsidiary battle honours, Sharon and Nablus were also awarded.[22]

Importance to Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith in 1918 and today has its administrative and spiritual center in the environs of Haifa. As a direct result of the events of the battle, the leader of the Bahá'í Faith at the time was rescued after death threats were made against him in case the Ottoman side was to lose. In addition, because of `Abdu'l-Bahá's preparations against famine caused by social chaos caused by war, and his generosity in sharing food stores built up, he was knighted by the British Empire, though it was a title he never used.[23][24]

In addition to the practical implications, the Bahá'ís believe the battle was one way the prophecies of the Battle of Armageddon were accomplished.[25]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ German Forces in the Ottoman Empire
  2. ^ a b Ericson (2001), p.194
  3. ^ Ericson (2001), p.193
  4. ^ a b c Liddell Hart, p.437
  5. ^ a b Perrett, p.24
  6. ^ Erickson, p.196
  7. ^ Erickson, p.196, but this unit was not noted in any Allied accounts
  8. ^ Not to be confused with Ahmed Jemal Pasha, who had earlier been governor of Syria.
  9. ^ The Imperial Service Brigades were troops raised by Indian princely states and attached to the British Indian Army for service overseas.
  10. ^ Woodward, Pat. "The Story of the 113 Crusader Squadron". http://113squadron.com/id151.htm. Retrieved 2009-03-09.  
  11. ^ Lawrence, pp. 618–619.
  12. ^ Lawrence, pp. 623–24.
  13. ^ Baker (2003) p. 134.
  14. ^ Liddell Hart, p. 436.
  15. ^ Erickson (2001), p.198
  16. ^ Baker (2003) pp. 134–35.
  17. ^ Liddell Hart, p.438
  18. ^ Mango, Atatürk, 180
  19. ^ a b historyofwar.com
  20. ^ Baker, Anne (2003). From Biplane to Spitfire: the life of Air Chief Marshal Sir Geoffrey Salmond KCB KCMG DSO. Pen & Sword Ltd. pp. 136 to 137. ISBN 0 85052 980 8.  
  21. ^ "Campaing Summary and Notes on Horse Artillery in Sinai and Palestine" (PDF). Field Artillery Journal. May–June 1928. http://sill-www.army.mil/famag/1928/MAY_JUN_1928/MAY_JUN_1928_PAGES_255_271.pdf. Retrieved 2009-06-23.  
  22. ^ Singh, Sarbans (1993) Battle Honours of the Indian Army 1757–1971. Vision Books (New Delhi) [ISBN 81-7094-115-6] (p. 166 refers).
  23. ^ Knighthood — Sir `Abdu'l-Bahá Abbas Effendi, http://www.homestead.com/watsongregory/files/knighthood.html  
  24. ^ `Abdu'l-Baha, Uplifting Words, http://www.upliftingwords.org/AbdulBaha.htm  
  25. ^ Catastrophe, Armageddon and Millennium: some aspects of the Bábí-Baha'i exegesis of apocalyptic symbolism, Baha'i Library, http://bahai-library.com/bsr/bsr09/9B3_lambden_armageddon.htm  

References

Further reading


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