4/5/1918 Turkey in the ascendant as the British retreat across the Jordan

British and Australian forces have crossed the Jordan and established themselves in the town of Salt, preparatory to an attack on Amman. But the Turks are somehow wise to their plans, counter-attacking the Allies in great numbers. The British have been hanging but are in increasing danger of being cut-off and forced to surrender. Realising there is no longer any prospect of taking Amman, Allenby gives his men permission to withdraw. They slip back across the Jordan, abandoning Salt to the Turks.

The balance of forces in Palestine and Transjordan now seems to be moving in favour of the Turks. Allenby has to send his best troops to France, where they are needed to meet the German spring offensives. The failure at Salt has discredited the British, as has the publication by Soviet Russia of the Sykes-Picot agreement to partition the Middle East. With the Turks now in the ascendant they see a surge in enlistment from the Arabs of Transjordan as local notables send men to join the winners’ army.

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Retreating across the Jordan (Wikipedia: Second Transjordan attack on Shunet Nimrin and Es Salt)

30/4/1918 Another British attack across the Jordan goes awry #1918Live

In Palestine Allenby has been ordered to prepare his best troops for despatch to the Western Front, where they are needed to face Ludendorff‘s spring offensive. However the British general is determined to have one last crack at Amman in Transjordan before he has to go on the defensive. Today Australian and British troops cross the Jordan and secure the town of Salt, in preparation for an attack on Amman itself.

But then things begin to go wrong. German and Turkish forces materialise out of nowhere to launch an unanticipated counterattack of unexpected strength. Liman von Sanders, the German commander of Turkey’s forces in Palestine, has somehow got wind of Allenby’s plan, through treachery or the interception of British wireless messages.

The Australians and British find themselves heavily outnumbered and in danger of being cut off. Reinforcements are quickly sent across the Jordan to their aid, but there is no longer any prospect of capturing Amman: the expeditionary force is fighting for its survival.

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map (Wikipedia)

18/4/1918 Transjordan: Arab failure at Ma’an

Arab rebels have been attacking the Turkish-held town of Ma’an in the Transjordan region. French artillery support for the rebels has been ineffectual but al-Askari, the Arab commander, has nevertheless pressed the attacks over the last few days, capturing the railway station and several lines of Turkish trenches. The fighting has been tough on both sides, with the Turkish defenders unnerved by being cut off from the outside world: some of garrison’s officers suggest that the time has come for a negotiated surrender. However the Turks’ hand is forced by the town’s civilian population, who fear pillage the hands of the Bedouin followers of the Arab rebels. They arm themselves and join forces with the Turks, revitalising Ma’an’s defence.

Al-Askari now decides that enough is enough and calls off the siege of Ma’an, ordering a retreat before his army is completely shattered. The losses he has endured have been heavy, with his force suffering nearly 300 casualties, a drop in the ocean of blood on the Western Front but losses of an unprecedented scale for the Arab rebels. The blow to Arab morale is considerable.

15/4/1918 Transjordan: with ineffectual French help, Arab rebels attack Ma’an #1918Live

In Palestine Allenby is considering one last push on Amman before he has to send off his best troops to the Western Front. Meanwhile his Arab allies are staging their own operations in the Transjordan region. They have already cut the railway line to the north and south of the Turkish garrison town of Ma’an. Now they attack the town itself, supported by French artillery.

The Arabs manage to storm the railway station but find it hard to make any further progress. As well as the strength of Turkish resistance, the Arabs are hamstrung by the surprising ineffectuality of their artillery support: almost as soon as the battle begins the French reveal that they have run out of shells. This angers the Arabs, who suspect that the French are deliberately being half-hearted in their support in order to prevent the Arabs from pressing their claims to Syria. Nevertheless Jafar al-Askari, the Arabs’ commander, resolves to continue the assaults on Ma’an hoping to win an impressive victory over the Turks.

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Jafar al-Askari (Wikipedia)

30/3/1918 Britain retreats from Amman #1918Live

British Empire forces have been attempting to take Amman, which Allenby wants to secure before he is obliged to send his best troops off to the Western Front, where they are needed to help withstand Ludendorff‘s spring offensive. Back home in Britain people may think of the Middle East as a perpetually dry zone of aridity, but the last few days have seen the area around Amman buffeted by a series of rain storms. Conditions have been so poor that several of the British have died of exposure on the march.

After reaching Amman the British have been trying to storm the town. They have inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy but they have been unable to dislodge the Turks from their defences and have taken heavy casualties themselves. With there being no immediate prospect of the Turks throwing in the towel, the British decide to retreat. As they withdraw, closely pursued by the Turks, they are joined by the civilian population of the town of Salt. The people here had welcomed the British when they arrived last week. Now they fear the Turks’ vengeance and flee with whatever of their goods they can carry.

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Refugees from Salt crossing the Jordan

27/3/1918 Allenby pushes towards Amman while he can #1918Live

Since the fall of Jerusalem, British progress in Palestine has slowed. Allenby has been attempting to move forward in the Transjordan region, hoping that by doing so he can bypass the strong Ottoman defences in the hill country west of the river. His men have advanced across the Jordan and taken the town of Salt, preparatory to advance on Amman, for the Turks a vital centre on the railway linking them to their garrisons in Medina and other points to the south.

Today though Allenby receives some bad news from London. The success of the German offensive in France has led to a desperate need for fresh troops there. Allenby is ordered to adopt a defensive posture and to prepare his best troops for despatch to France; they will be replaced by new recruits from India, who will require extensive training before they can be sent into battle with the Turks.

Allenby’s men are already preparing for the final advance on Amman. Perhaps they will be able to take the town before he has to send them off to the Western Front.

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British troops on the march (Wikipedia: Battle of Amman)

21/2/1918 Falkenhayn, unlikely saviour of Palestine’s Jewish community #1918Live

British progress in Palestine has slowed somewhat since the capture of Jerusalem. Allenby‘s focus now is on advancing through the Transjordan region rather than directly up through Palestine itself. As a prelude to this, his men are advancing towards the Jordan river. Today they capture the ancient city of Jericho, said by some to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the world.

Meanwhile Allenby’s enemies are reorganising. When Falkenhayn arrived in the Middle East to head the Turkish Yildirim group, Enver Pasha (Turkey’s war minister and paramount leader) had hoped that he would lead the recapture of Baghdad. Instead he found himself unable to prevent Allenby’s advance into Palestine. Now Falkenhayn is dismissed. His successor is Liman von Sanders, the German general who had commanded Turkish forces at Gallipoli. Liman von Sanders has worked with the Turks for some time now; unlike more recently arrived German officers he understands the importance of treating Turkish officers with respect.

Falkenhayn has one achievement to his credit from his time in Palestine: the salvation of the region’s Jewish community. The Jewish minority there comprises a long-standing indigenous community together with more recently arrived Zionist pioneers. Turkish leaders, particularly Djemal Pasha, the Middle Eastern proconsul, had become convinced that the Jews were inveterately disloyal and were aiding the Allies. Djemal decided to deport the entire Jewish community from the region. Falkenhayn realised that such a deportation would effectively mean the community’s extermination, as the previous deportation of Armenians from Anatolia had done. Fearful of the consequences of such an action, Falkenhayn was able to block the removal of the Jews.

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Erich von Falkenhayn (Wikipedia)