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)

9/12/1917 Jerusalem falls to the British #1917Live

Since his victory at Gaza, Allenby has been pushing northwards through Palestine. Turkish forces under Germany’s Falkenhayn are struggling to contain the British advance. A Turkish counter-attack in late November failed to halt the British, who then pressed on to the gates of Jerusalem itself.

A British assault yesterday broke through the Turkish lines, rendering Jerusalem untenable. The Turks withdraw, leaving the city abandoned. Today Jerusalem is surrendered to the British by its mayor, Hussein al-Husseini, bringing an end to 400 years of Turkish rule over the Holy City.

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Jerusalem’s surrender party and British soldiers. Hussein al-Husseini is holding the cane. (Wikipedia)

1/11/1917 Allenby prepares to strike against Gaza #1917Live

After taking Beersheba, Allenby begins the next stage of his Palestinian campaign. Gaza is already being devastated by his artillery. Now he launches some infantry assaults on the town. These are feints, designed to trick the Turks into thinking he is planning a frontal assault there. He also has his cavalry manoeuvre beyond Beersheba, to give the impression he is planning a direct advance on Jerusalem.

Allenby’s tricks work. Falkenhayn‘s Yildirim force is now arriving in Palestine, a strong Turkish army commanded by Germans. Men from this force are despatched to defend Gaza and Hebron, on the road to Jerusalem. But the line between Beersheba and Gaza is left weakly defended. And it is here that Allenby plans to attack.

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Australian cavalry (Goulburn Post: Six NSW high school students to travel to WWI battlefields)

map (Wikipedia: Third Battle of Gaza)

30/9/1917 Falkenhayn redeploys to Palestine #1917live

Enver Pasha, the most prominent of the triumvirate that leads Turkey, has formed a new army group known in Turkish as Yildirim (Lightning Force). With a German senior staff, headed by none other than Falkenhayn, the group has been assembling in Aleppo in preparation for an offensive in Mesopotamia to recapture Baghdad and turn the tables on the British there.

Djemal Pasha, Turkey’s proconsul in Syria, is concerned about the threat of a British advance into Palestine. Enver has no time for naysayers and relieves him of his command, but Djemal’s concerns are heeded by Falkenhayn. He becomes convinced that an offensive in Mesopotamia would be foolhardy when his rear in Palestine is threatened. The British have also just pushed on successfully from Baghdad to Ramadi (after their previous failure), making a Turkish Mesopotamian offensive there that bit more difficult.

Enver would not listen to his Turkish colleague but he heeds the German. With his grudging acquiescence Yildirim now begins to redeploy to southern Palestine to meet the British threat there.

24/7/1917 Lightning Force: Enver’s plan to recapture Baghdad #1917Live

In Aleppo today Enver Pasha, Turkey’s paramount leader, meets with senior military figures including Djemal Pasha, the Proconsul of Syria, and Kemal Pasha, whose star has been on the rise since the Turkish victory at Gallipoli. Enver has a big plan to reveal. He is forming a new army group to be called Yildirim (Lightning Force), combining formations commanded by Kemal and Halil Pasha with German units. The overall commander will be none other than Germany’s Falkenhayn, the former German commander in chief who recently presided over the conquest of Romania.

Yildirim’s mission is a simple one: the recapture of Baghdad. Enver hopes that by doing so Turkey’s prestige in the Middle East will be restored. His audience are more sceptical, fearing that it would be foolhardy for Turkey to launch an offensive in Mesopotamia when the British are threatening to advance into Palestine. And the Turkish officers do not relish the prospect of being commanded by Falkenhayn. The Turks are increasingly resentful of the perceived arrogance of their German allies and suspect that Falkenhayn will be cut from the same cloth as the various German officers they have had to deal with. But Enver is insistent and with Germany providing considerable financial and military resources to Yildirim they are able to call the tune.

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Enver and Djemal visiting Jerusalem last year (Wikipedia)

7/1/1917 Romania overrun

Romania’s rash decision to declare war on Austria-Hungary has proved a terrible mistake. The country has now largely been overrun by the Central Powers, her armies smashed by the implacable might of Falkenhayn and Mackensen.

Bad weather and Russian reinforcements now bring an end to the enemy’s advance. Bucharest has fallen, together with the south and centre of the country. The remnants of the Romanian army hang on in Moldavia, where they desperately hope that they can preserve the independent existence of their country.

image source (Wikipedia)

18/12/1916 Verdun finally grinds to a halt

The Battle of Verdun has raged since the Germans launched their first assaults in February. Now the French have pushed the Germans back, recovering much of their lost ground. The battlefield is increasingly in the grip of winter. After 302 days the struggle splutters to a halt.

The battle is a defeat for the Germans. They have not managed to break French morale by seizing Verdun. Nor have they succeeded in Falkenhayn’s goal of bleeding France to death by inflicting an unsustainable level of casualties. True, French casualties are enormous, estimated at 377,231 in total, of whom some 162,440 were killed. But the French wells of manpower have not run dry and they have always been able to find more men to feed the guns at Verdun. And the Germans have suffered almost as many losses as the French, taking some 337,000 casualties, of whom around 143,000 were killed.

The Germans have much greater reserves of manpower than the French, so they can better afford these losses. However the Germans have also lost great numbers of men at the Somme and are heavily engaged against Russia and in the Balkans. Attritional warfare is a dangerous game for them. Small wonder then that Hindenburg and Ludendorff are determined not to repeat Verdun.

The French also do not want a repeat of the battle. Nivelle, their new Western Front commander, made his name at Verdun, where he commanded the counter-attacks that recovered the ground lost to the Germans. He is planning to replicate these successes in a major offensive in the spring, one he hopes will smash through the German lines and bring the war to an end.

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Mountain of bones (Mental Floss)

Verdun: the World’s Blood Pump (Wikipedia; medal originally from British Museum exhibition “The other side of the medal: how Germany saw the First World War”)

map (Les Françcais à Verdun)