Egyptian Expeditionary Force 1917 - 1918
Allenby's Dispatch December 16, 1917 (Part 3)
|Capture of Junction Station, Nov. 14.
The infantry, who were sent forward about dusk to occupy Junction Station, met
with some resistance and halted for the night, not much more than a mile west
of the station. Early next morning (Nov. 14) they occupied the station.
The enemy's army had now been broken into two separate parts, which retired
north and east respectively, and were reported to consist of small scattered
groups rather than formed bodies of any size.
In fifteen days our force
had advanced sixty miles on its right and about forty on its left. It had
driven a Turkish Army of nine infantry divisions and one cavalry division out
of a position in which it had been entrenched for six months, and had pursued
it, giving battle whenever it attempted to stand, and inflicting on it losses
amounting probably to nearly two-thirds of the enemy's original effectives.
Over 9,000 prisoners, about eighty guns, more than 100 machine guns, and very
large quantities of ammunition and other stores had been captured. (See PLATE
16. After the capture of Junction Station on the morning of the
14th, our troops secured a position covering the station, while the Australian
mounted troops reached Kezaze that same evening.
The mounted troops
pressed on towards Banileh and Ludd. On the right Naaneh was attacked and
captured in the morning, while on the left the New Zealand Mounted Rifles had a
smart engagement at Ayun Kara (Rishon le Zion, six miles south of Jaffa). Here
the Turks made a determined counterattack and got to within fifteen yards of
our line. A bayonet attack drove them back with heavy loss.
the advance along the railway to Ramleh and covering the main road from Ramleh
to Jerusalem, a ridge stands up prominently out of the low foot hills
surrounding it. This is the site of the ancient Gezer, near which the village
of Abu Shusheh now stands. A hostile rearguard had established itself on this
feature. It was captured on the morning of the 15th in a brilliant attack by
mounted troops, who galloped up the ridge from the south. A gun and 360
prisoners were taken in this affair.
By the evening of the 15th the
mounted troops had occupied Ramleh and Ludd, and had pushed patrols to within a
short distance of Jaffa. At Ludd 300 prisoners were taken, and five destroyed
aeroplanes and a quantity of abandoned war material were found at Ramleh and
Occupation of Jaffa, Nov. 16.
Jaffa was occupied
without opposition on the evening of the 16th. 17. The situation was now as
The enemy's army, cut in two by our capture of Junction
Station, had retired partly east into the mountains towards Jerusalem and
partly north along the plain. The nearest hue on which these two portions could
re-unite was the line Tul Keram-Nablus. Reports from the Royal Flying Corps
indicated that it was the probable intention of the enemy to evacuate Jerusalem
and withdraw to reorganize on this line. ()See PLATE 16.)
On our side
the mounted troops had been marching and fighting continuously since Oct. 31,
and had advanced a distance of seventy-five miles, measured in a straight line
from Asluj to Jaffa. The troops, after their heavy fighting at Gaza, had
advanced in nine days a distance of about forty miles, with two severe
engagements and continual advanced guard fighting. The 52nd (Lowland) Division
had covered sixty-nine miles in this period.
The railway was being
pushed forward as rapidly as possible, and every opportimity was taken of
landing atores at points along the coast. The landing of stores was dependent
on a continuance of favourable weather, and might at any moment be stopped for
several days together.
A pause was therefore necessary to await the
progress of railway construction, but before our position in the plain could be
considered secure it was essential to obtain hold of the one good road which
traverses the Judaean range from north to south, from Nablus to
The Advance into Judæa.
18. The west side
of the Judæan range consists of a series of spurs running east and west,
and separated from one another by narrow valleys. These spurs are steep, bare
and stony for the most part) and in places precipitous. Between the foot of the
spur of the main range and the coastal plain is the low range known as the
On our intended line of advance only one good road, the main
Jaffa-Jerusalem road, traversed the hills from east to west. For nearly four
miles, between Bab el Wad (two and a half miles east of Latron) and Saris, this
road passes through a narrow defile, and it had been damaged by the Turks in
several places. The other roads were mere tracks on the side of the hill or up
the stony beds of wadis, and were impracticable for wheeled transport without
improvement. Throughout these hills the water supply was scanty without
On Nov. 17 the Yeomanry had commenced to move from Ramleh
through the hills direct on Bireh by Annabeh, Berfilya and Beit ur el Tahta
(Lower Bethhoron). By the evening of Nov. 18 one portion of the Yeomanry had
reached the last-named place, while another portion had occupied Shilta. The
route had been found impossible for wheels beyond Annabeh. (See PLATE
On the 19th the Infantry commenced its advance. One portion was to
advance up the main road as far as Kuryet el Enab, with its right flank
protected by Australian mounted troops. From that place, in order to avoid any
fighting in the close vicinity of the Holy City, it was to strike north towards
Bireb by a track leading through Biddu. The remainder of the infantry was to
advance through Berfilya to Beit Likia and Beit Dukka, and thence support the
movement of the other portion.
After capturing Latron and Amnas on the
morning of the 19th, the remainder of the day was spent in clearing the defile
up to Saris, which was defended by hostile rearguards. (See PLATE 18.)
On the 20th Kuryet el Enab was captured with the bayonet in the face of
organized opposition, while Beit Dukka was also captured. On the same day the
Yeomanry got to within four miles of the Nablus- Jerusalem road, but were
stopped by strong opposition about Beitunia.
On the 21 st a body of
infantry moved north-east by a track from Kuryet el Enab through Biddu and
Kulundia towards Bireh. The track was found impassable for wheels, and was
under hostile shell fire. Progress was slow, but by evening the ridge on which
stands Neby Samwil was secured. A further body of troops was left at Kuryet el
Enab to cover the flank and demonstrate along the main Jerusalem road. Tt drove
hostile parties from Kustui, two and a half miles east of Kuryet el Enab, and
secured this ridge. By the afternoon of the 21st advanced parties of Yeomanry
were within two miles of the road, and an attack was being deliered on Beitunia
by other mounted troops. (See PLATE 19.)
19. The positions reached on the evening of the 21st
practically marked the limit of progress in this first attempt to gain the
Nablus-Jerusalem road. The Yeomanry were heavily counter-attacked and fell
back, after bitter fighting, on Beit ur el Foka (Upper Bethhoron). During the
22nd the enemy made two counter-attacks on the Neby Samwil ridge, which were
repulsed. Determined and gallant attacks were made on the 23rd and on the 24th
on the strong positions to the west of the road held by the enemy, who had
brought up reinforcements and numerous machine guns, and could support his
infantry by artillery fire from guns placed in positions along the main road.
Our artillery, from lack of roads, could not be brought up to give adequate
support to our infantry. Both attacks failed, and it was evident that a period
of preparation and organization would be necessary before an attack could be
dehvered hi sufficient strength to drive the enemy from his positions west of
the road. (See PLATE 20.) Orders were accordingly issued to consolidate the
positions gained and prepare for relief. Though these troops had failed to
reach their final objectives, they had achieved invaluable results. The narrow
passes from the plain to the plateau of the Judaean range have seldom been
forced, and have been fatal to many invading armies. Had the attempt not been
made at once, or had it been pressed with less determination, the enemy would
have had time to reorganize his defences in the passes lower down, and the
conquest of the plateau would then have been slow, costly, and precarious. As
it was, positions had been won from which the final attack could be prepared
and delivered with good prospect" of success.
20. By Dec. 4 all reliefs
were complete, and a line was held from Kustui by the Neby Samwil ridge, Beit
lzza, and Beit Dukka, to Beit ur el Tahta. (See PLATES 22, 23, &
Fighting on the Auja.
During this period attacks by the
enemy along the whole line led to severe local fighting. On Nov. 25 our
advanced posts north of the river Auja were driven back across the river. From
the 27th to the 30th the enemy delivered a series of attacks directed
especially against the high ground north and north-cast of Jaffa, the left
flank of our position in the hills from Beit ur el Foka to Bl Burj, and the
Neby Samwil ridge. An attack on the night of the 29th succeeded in penetrating
our outpost line north-east of Jaffa, but next morning the whole hostile
detachment, numbering 150, was surrounded and captured by Australian Light
Horse. On the 30th a similar fate befell a battalion which attacked near El
Burj ; a counter-attack by Australian Light Horse took 200 prisoners and
practically destroyed the attacking battalion. There was particularly heavy
fighting between E] Burj and Beit ur el Foka, but the Yeomanry and Scottish
troops successfully resisted all attacks and inflicted severe losses on the
enemy. At Beit ur el Foka one company took 300 prisoners. (See PLATE
Enemy Failure at Neby Samwil.
All efforts by the enemy
to drive us off the Neby Samwil ridge were completely repulsed. These attacks
cost the Turks very dearly. We took 750 prisoners between Nov. 27 and 30, and
the enemy's losses in killed and wounded were undoubtedly heavy. His attacks in
no way affected our positions nor impeded the progress of our
Converging Movement on Jerusalem.
by a continuance of fine weather, preparations for a fresh advance against the
Turkish positions west and south of Jerusalem proceeded rapidly. Existing roads
and tracks were improved and new ones constructed to enable heavy and field
artillery to be placed in position and ammunition and supplies brought up. The
water supply was also developed.
The date for the attack was fixed as
Dec. 8. Welsh troops, with a Cavalry regiment attached, had advanced from their
positions north of Beersheba up the Hebron-Jerusalem road on the 4th. No
opposition was met, and by the evening of the 6th the head of this column was
ten miles north of Hebron. The Infantry were directed to reach the
Bethlehem-Belt Jala area by the 7th, and the line Surbahir-Sherafat (about
three miles south of Jerusalem) by dawn on the 8th) and no troops were to enter
Jerusalem during this operation. (See PLATE 25.)
It was recognized that
the troops on the extreme right might be delayed on the 7th and fail to reach
the positions assigned to them by dawn on the 8th. Arrangements were therefore
made to protect the right flank west of Jerusalem, in case such delay
22. On the 7th the weather broke, and for three days rain was
almost continuous. The hills were covered with mist at frequent intervals,
rendering observation from the air and visual signalling impossible. A more
serious effect of the rain was to jeopardise the supply arrangements by
rendering the roads almost impassablequite impassable, indeed, for
mechanical transport and camels in many places. (See PLATE 26.)
troops moved into positions of assembly bynight, and, assaulting at dawn on the
8th, soon carried their first objectives. They then pressed steadily forward.
The mere physical difficulty of climbing the steep and rocky hillsides and
crossing the deep valleys would have sufficed to render progress slow, and the
opposition encountered was considerable. Artillery support was soon difficult,
owing to the length of the advance and the difficulty of moving guns forward.
But by about noon London troops bad already advanced over two miles, and were
swinging north-east to gain the Nablus-Jerusalem road; while the Yeomanry had
captured the Beit lksa spur, and were preparing for a further advance.
Surrender of Jerusalem, Dec. 9.
As the right column had been delayed
and was still some distance south of Jerusalem, it was necessary for the London
troops to throw back their right and form a defensive flank facing east towards
Jerusalem, from the western outskirts of which considerable rifle and artillery
fire was being experienced. This delayed the advance, and early in the
afternoon it was decided to consolidate the line gained and resume the advance
next day, when the right column would be in a position to exert its pressure.
By night- fall our line ran from Neby Samwit to the east of Beit lksa, through
Lifta to a point about one and a. half miles west of Jerusalem, whence it was
thrown back facing east. All the enemy's prepared defences west and north-west
of Jerusalem had been captured, and our troops were within a short distance of
the Nablus-Jerusalem road.