21/9/1918 Turkish collapse in Palestine

Allenby‘s offensive in Palestine is starting to look like a decisive victory. After the initial infantry assault smashed through the Turkish lines, Australian and Indian cavalry have exploited the victory and are pushing northwards at speed while the infantry wheels to the right to roll up the Turkish line. Many of the Turkish units in the path of the juggernaut have disintegrated. Retreating units are being relentlessly attacked by British and Australian aeroplanes.

Germany’s Liman von Sanders commands Turkish forces in Palestine. From his headquarters in Nazareth he is struggling to organise an effective resistance to the enemy. His efforts are hampered by a lack of accurate information as to the location of enemy and even his own forces, as his telephone lines have been cut.

Liman von Sanders’ confusion is underscored by the sudden arrival of enemy forces in Nazareth today. Liman von Sanders has to flee in great haste and is lucky to escape. The Allied advance is so rapid that Indian cavalrymen overrun a Turkish aerodrome at Nazareth, capturing both aeroplanes and their crews. By the end of the day the Allies have secured Nazareth as well as Nablus, with Jenin, Tulkaram and Megiddo already in their hands.

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Map & Turkish prisoners (Wikipedia: Battle of Nablus (1918))

19/9/1918 Megiddo: Allenby’s breakthrough in Palestine #1918Live

Turkish forces are expanding into the Caucasus, taking advantage of the collapse of Russian power there. This worries their German allies. The Germans have their own plans for the Caucasus and favour the establishment of pro-German client states in the region, not its absorption into the Ottoman Empire. They also fear that the Turks are putting too much resources into the Caucasus when the real danger is Allenby‘s British Empire and Commonwealth army in Palestine.

Allenby has launched a series of diversionary operations towards Deraa in Syria, with the assistance of the ever-growing regular forces of the Arab Revolt. Together with guerrilla operations by Arab raiders (assisted by British liaison officer T.E. Lawrence), these have convinced Liman von Sanders, commander of Turkish forces in Palestine, that Allenby is planning an attack in the Transjordan or Syrian regions. He transfers troops from coastal Palestine to reinforce Deraa.
The worst fear of the Germans are confirmed today. Allenby has in conditions of total secrecy concentrated a mighty strike force north of Jaffa. After a devastating artillery bombardment, the infantry attacks, forcing their way through the Turkish defensive lines on the coastal plain. The outnumbered Turks fight as best they can but are soon put to flight. And once the infantry is through the Turkish defensive positions Allenby is able to release his Australian and Indian cavalry to exploit the victory. As the cavalry surge forward towards the town of Megiddo, the cohesion of the Turkish army begins to collapse. Isolated units put up staunch resistance but others take to their heels, surrender, or exchange their uniforms for civilian clothes and abandon the army life.

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Positions at start of the battle & at midnight on 19th/20th September (Wikipedia: Battle of Nablus (1918))

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)

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)

9/1/1916 Gallipoli: Turks count cost of victory as last Allied soldiers leave

Allied forces landed in Gallipoli last April in an attempt to clear a route through the Straits for a naval assault on Constantinople. The attack failed, with Allied troops finding themselves confined to tiny enclaves. An attempt to renew the offensive in August was another failure. After that the Allies decided to evacuate from Gallipoli. Troops were shipped from the northern enclaves of Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay before Christmas.

Now over two nights the last men have been taken from the southern enclave at Helles Point. The evacuation has proceeded without a hitch, for all that the Turks were watching for any sign of the men being withdrawn. Now as dawn breaks over the peninsula they rejoice to find that their enemies have gone. Cautiously occupying the British lines (perhaps losing some men to booby traps) they find a wealth of supplies that the invaders have left behind.

The resolute defence of the Turks has won a great victory, but at terrible cost. In the whole campaign they have lost some 86,500 men killed. The losses of the Allies are smaller but still considerable. Some 20,000 British army soldiers have died in Gallipoli (of whom many are from India) and some 10,000 French. 8,700 Australians met their end in this doomed enterprise and some 2,700 New Zealanders.

The campaign has ruined the reputation of its main architect, Britain’s Winston Churchill. A year ago he was a leading cabinet minister, now he is in the trenches commanding a battalion in France. On the Turkish side the campaign has transformed Colonel Mustafa Kemal into a national hero. Although the Turks were commanded by Germany’s Liman von Sanders, Kemal captured the Turkish imagination thanks to key interventions at the start of the battle and during the August offensive.

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Turkish soldiers (David Doughty; I particularly recommend this site to anyone who wants to see stunning illustrations of the campaign)

Mustafa Kemal (left) and other Turkish soldiers (Wikipedia)

9/8/1915 Gallipoli: the Allies attack from Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay

The August Offensive in Gallipoli continues. The Allies are trying to break out of the Anzac Cove enclave.

British troops landed to the north of Anzac Cove in Suvla Bay on the 6th. They were to support the offensive and threaten the Turkish flank but they are halted by organisational failures and the lethargy of their commander, General Stopford. After days spent landing supplies and fighting minor engagements, today the Suvla Bay forces finally begin to advance. In the early hours of the morning they launch a night attack on the Tekke Tepe ridge. However, by now Liman von Sanders, the German commander of the Turks in Gallipoli, has had time to rush in reinforcements. When the British reach the ridge, after a difficult march over rough terrain, they find it strongly defended. The Turks counter-attack, charging the exhausted enemy with fixed bayonets and putting them to flight.

Further south, the efforts of the ANZAC forces (supported by Nepalese Gurkhas and Indian troops) is centred on the Sari Bair ridge that dominates Anzac Cove. If the Allies can take the ridge then they might be able to push on to the far side of the peninsula, finally achieving victory in this bloody campaign. After some bloody failures the Allies have established themselves on the Chunuk Bair peak. British, New Zealand and Gurkha troops attempt to dig in on the heights, but the stony ground is hard and unyielding. They suffer greatly from artillery fire, both that of the Turks and the misdirected shells of their own side.

All of this is taking place in furnace-like heat.

There is one bright spot for the Allies. The Turks have given up their attempts to recapture the Lone Pine position (captured by the Australians on the 6th) after a series of bloody failures. This is however of no great consequence, as Lone Pine is some distance away from the Sair Bair ridge.

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New Zealand troops advancing on Chunuk Bair (Victoria University of Wellington Library)

Australian troops in Lone Pine (The Australian)

25/4/1915 Gallipoli: the Allies land but run into problems

Turkey’s control of the entrance into the Black Sea has cut Russia’s main trade route with its western Allies. This is a problem because Russia’s weak industrial base is unable to keep the army sufficiently supplied with the materiel it needs to fight this terrible war. Seizing control of the straits leading into the Black Sea would allow British industry to equip Russian armies. And a well equipped Russian army should be able to overwhelm the Germans and bring the war to a swift end, or so the optimistic thinking goes.

A combined Franco-British naval force attempted to push through the Dardanelles and on to Constantinople on the 13th of March. That attack failed because of Turkish minefields. Fire from shore batteries prevented British minesweepers from clearing a safe path.

Once the naval attack failed the Allies realised that they would have to invade the Gallipoli peninsula to seize the Turkish forts and allow their minesweepers to clear a way through the minefields. The Allies began to prepare a ground force to land on the peninsula. The Turks also realised that an invasion was likely and began to strengthen their defences.

Now at last the Allies are ready to attack. General Ian Hamilton commands a multinational force of British, Australian, New Zealand and French troops. The plan is simple enough. British forces are to land at the southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula and march to destroy the Turkish positions on the western shore of the Hellespont. Australian and New Zealand units (grouped together as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, known as ANZAC) will land further north and march across the peninsula to cut off the Turks in the south. The smaller French contingent will carry out diversionary operations.

Things do not go according to plan. Barbed wire and determined Turkish resistance mean that the Allies suffer terrible casualties and struggle to get off the beaches.

The Turkish forces in Gallipoli are commanded by the German general Otto Liman Von Sanders. His steady manner calms nerves and prevents a panic at the top. Further south, Colonel Mustafa Kemal commands the 19th Division near where the landings are taking place. When a Turkish regiment facing the Australians and New Zealanders reports that it is running low on ammunition and in danger of being overwhelmed, Kemal orders them forward. “I do not order you to fight,” he apparently says. “I order you to die.” The Turks fix bayonets and attack; they are wiped out almost to a man, but they succeed in delaying the enemy advance long enough for other Turkish troops to occupy the high ground and contain the enemy in what will become known as Anzac Cove.

By the end of the day both sides have suffered terrible casualties but the Allies have clearly failed in their objectives. They have two separated narrow beachheads from which they will only be able to advance with the greatest difficulty. It seems they have merely replicated the the stalemate of the Western Front here in Gallipoli. The situation is so desperate that some of Hamilton’s subordinate commanders petition him to order an evacuation. But the commander is confident that the worst part of the operation is over and that perseverance will lead to victory.

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Gallipoli and western Turkey (“Anzac landings in Gallipoli”, from Australian genealogy website FindMyPast)

invasion map (New Zealand History)