The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
[General Allenby's Triumph: How The Turks Were Smashed]
A fortnight after General Allenby flung his artillery bombardment at the enemy line the great Turkish and German force in Western and Eastern Palestine had been destroyed. Our prisoners amounted to close upon 80,000. Of the 4th, 7th and 8th Turkish Armies south of Damascus only a few thousand footsore, hunted men escaped. Practically every gun, the great bulk of the machine guns, nearly all the small arms, and transport, every aerodrome and its mechanical equipment and nearly every aeroplane, an intricate and widespread telephone and telegraph system, large dumps of munitions and every kind of supplies—all of these had in 14 swift and dramatic days been stripped from an enemy who for four years had resisted our efforts to smash him. It is a military overthrow so sudden and so absolute that it is perhaps without parallel in the history of war. And it is still more remarkable because it was achieved at a cost so trifling.
It was a stupenduous result gained by a very simple scheme. The strategy was strikingly bold, but perhaps the most impressive thing about General Allenby's triumph was the superb manner in which his plan was carried through. The campaign went with a bang from the moment the line was broken until Damascus was taken over 150 miles distant. It galloped all the way. There was never a moment of indecision, never a semblance of fumbling. Here was an army of British and Indians at its best, every man efficient, every man enthusiastic. The scheme was obviously the conception of a confident leader of horse. General Allenby is a cavalryman, and he had under his command the most powerful cavalry force in the war. And he knew the quality of his mounted force. All of the Australians and New Zealanders' and Yeomanry were engaged in the great 60 mile drive northwards from Gaza last year, and most of them had been in the saddle in this country for two and a half years. The splendid Indian cavalry had been with, us for many months and had given many examples of their dash and love of battle. Again and again during the summer their advanced patrols had galloped down bodies of Turks, and their terrible use of the lance in those little actions had a highly useful effect on Turkish nerves. The cavalry was General Allenby's special weapon for, the, campaign, but in addition he had a substantial and, very fit infantry force of veterans. He had, too, a particularly brilliant lot of airmen, and in his supply services he possessed a vast organisation of railway, motor, camel; horse, mule and donkey transport which had already" performed miracles over country varying from the desert to the mountains, and which was jin the highest degree efficient arid resourceful.
Altogether the British Army was, when the campaign opened, as near to perfection as any force, perhaps, ever was. All ranks were veterans and yet all were moved by that spirit which an army feels when confident of victory and happy in its leaders.
This was the scheme. We faced the Turks on a 50 mile, line running roughly from the Mediterranean coast at a point about 12 miles north of Jaffa south-eastwards across this Plain of Sharon, thence eastwards over the Mountains of Samaria at a height of 1500 to 2000ft, and falling to 1000ft: below sea level, as it crossed the Jordan Valley and terminated in the foothills
of the Mountains of Giliad. The Sharon Plain sector was about 15 miles in length, across Samaria 15 miles, and the stretch in the Jordan Valley about 18. The Turkish position was a strong one. On Samaria, or the Central Palestine Range, south of Nablus, he had ideal defensive country, rugged and broken, and yet well served from the rear with railway communnications leading back on the north-west to Haifa and to the north-east and Turkey across the Jordan at Beisan and by way of Damascus; while he had also good roads to Haifa and to Damascus by way of Nazareth.
General Allenby took no chances. He follow ed the sound principle of fighting under the best possible conditions. By clever and greatly successful bluff the Commander-in-Chief finally delivered his smashing blow at an unexpected point of the Turkish line. The enemy was led to believe the British offensive would fall on the eastern sector. While a huge force of cavalry, artillery and infantry was being smuggled by night marches to the Plain of Sharon on the west, active and amusing camouflage preparations were being made in the Jordan Valley. For instance, many new dummy camps were brought into existence, and large numbers of realistic canvas horses were introduced. Mules drawing sledges were driven about in the dust to suggest heavy traffic. Fast's Hotel at Jerusalem, which is being conducted by the Canteen Board for officers, was ostentatiously emptied of its inmates, two sentry boxes appeared at the entrance, and the whisper was started in the bazaars that General Allenby's advanced headquarters were to be in the hotel for the expected offensive. Simultaneously the Arabs east of the Jordan made realistic sham preparations for an attack on Amman out on the Hedjez, They put down a big base, engaged in bold reconnaissance and cut the line between Amman and Damascus. The deceit of the enemy was complete. We know now that he expected and prepared for the blow on the east, and was stiffening his defences there until a few hours before our bombardment opened over near the Mediterranean.
The airmen played a great part in this hoodwinking. During the eight weeks preceding the offensive the German air service was practically driven out of the air. Fifteen machines were destroyed and forced down and enemy aerodromes were bombed, and so absolute was our ascendancy that not an enemy plane was seen over, the threatened sector for eight days before the offensive began. Still more interesting is the fact, that in those days so critical for the enemy, the Germans established an aerodrome over on the Hedjez railway from where they proceeded to bomb and harass the Arabs. The bluff was everywhere effective.
Blind as to our movement of troops, and mistaken by 50 miles as to where his line was to be assailed, the enemy's plight was further accentuated by the destruction of his communications on the very evening of tlie bombardment. Pulling out at night from their shant camp near Amman, the Arabs rushed away up north and cut the railway and telegraph communications between the great Turkish base at Damascus and Deraa. This left him on his whole front without supplies for the fight. Other telegraph lines further west were severed at the same time.
A bomb from an Australian plane on the night before our advance destroyed his great forward telephone exchange at Nablus and dislocated all his lateral communications, When our guns opened at dawn on, September 19th. the position of the Turks was already desperate.