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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

The Samaria Smash

page 4

The Samaria Smash.

I have endeavored to show how the galloping cavalry cordon was thrown round the main enemy position on the Samaria range. Before the close of the second day our horsemen; stoutly armed with machine guns and automatic rifles in addition to their rifles and swords and lances, and further strengthened by many batteries of
Semakh Railway Station: The Scene of A Stiff Fight. (Aust. Off. Photo)

Semakh Railway Station: The Scene of A Stiff Fight.
(Aust. Off. Photo)

horse artillery, held all the roads and railways behind the Turks and Germans. The enemy was practically cut off from supplies and retreat. Worse than that, he was already irretrievably smashed by the attack on his front by the British and Indian infantry. Recoiling from this blow and hastening to reach the Esdraelon Plain before the cavalry completed the net, he was caught by our airmen in narrow mountain passes, subjected to terrible bombing and harassing machine gun fire, and forced to abandon most of his guns and transport. At the same time the Fifth Australian Light Horse Brigade, including one regiment of Frerch cavalry, was thrown in, during the first day, on his right flank about half way between the old front line and the Esdraelon Plain, The Australians, moving very fast, scattered with their swords a force several thousands strong north of Tulkeram and took two thousand prisaners, and riding on all night cut the enemy front line railwav close behind Nablus. A few hours later the Brigade assisted in the capture of Nablus

But before this the airmen had commenced their work in the passes. When the infantry first broke the line on the Plain of Sharon, many thousands of the Turks who had been on the foothills eastward of where our cavalry galloped through, endeavoured toswing round and retreat on to the highlands of Samaria. But the movement was at once detected by the airmen, who where out each morning on special reconnaissance for good targets. The Turks with their transport were seen to be heading for a narrow defile leading up from Tulkeram to Anebta. Using their wireless, the airmen called up our aerodromes where dozens of British and Australian pilots were standing by awaiting the signal. The doomed column, extending over upwards of two miles, was deep in the parses when the first flight arrived with its bombs. Beginning on the leading troops and vehicles the airmen, flying very low, had in a few minutes blocked the narrow track. Pilot after pilot, flying in perfect order, dropped his bombs, and then, assisted by the observers, raked the unfortunate Turks with machine guns. Their ammunition exhausted, the airmen sped back to their aerodromes for more bombs and belts of cartridges and returned again to the slaughter. Some pilots made four trips in the day. As the airmen attacked the column a Light Horse Brigade came up over the hills on either side of the track and caught the Turks with their swords as they attempted to escape from the bombing. Blocked in front, the battered, distracted procession closed up and telescoped. Fires broke out among themassed and broken vehicles. Still more appalling, because of the magnitude of the disaster, was the fate of a similar column between Balata and Fermeh on the way down from the range towards Beisan on the Jordan. Flying over Samaria you appreciate the opportunities which this retreating army offered to the airmen. The stony hills a re not so rugged as in Judaea, but they are still too steep to permit masses of troops to move off the narrow roads. These roads wind along beside the wadies and nearly all the way are flanked by abrupt hillsides. The Balata column represented the bulk of the enemy's forward transport. It stretched, slow-moving and in full view from the air, over seven or eight miles of the confined track. The Australian reconnaissance pilots sighted it soon after dawn and an hour later dozens of British and Australian bombers and machine gunners, flying within a few hundred feet of the ground, were smashing it to splinters. Again they began at thehead and forced the helpless drivers to pile up from the rear. For hours the bombing was continued. Here the airmen worked unaided by any other arm of the service and they had entirely wrecked or disabled the whole of the transport before the infantry came up from the south and took the dazed survivors. The broken material afterwards collected in the pass included 90 guns, 840 four wheeled and 76 two-wheeled horse and cattle vehicles, 50 motor lorries and a larire number of miscellaneous transport, such as water carts and travelling krchens. The horror of the scene during the bombardment and afterwards need not be dwelt upon. As the bombs rained down with pitiless regularity fromflight after flight of our great air force, scores of lorries and wagons were overturned and dashed to pieces as they went hurtling down from the road into the rocky beds of the wadies. Included in the column were large formations of infantry, and they and the drivers, rushing from the track to escape the bombs, were shot down by the flying machine gunners. These air attacks were repeated many times on a smaller scale on the first two days.

Rarely have the various services of an army worked in such perfect accord. The infantry drove the enemy from his front, the Australian and French cavalry at the same moment struck from the flank at his very heart at Nablus; as he attempted to retreat in good order the airmen wrecked him from the skies, and in a few hours turned his army into a shell shocked rabble with few guns or munitions and little food. Th's wretched host in their tens of thousands, urged on by officers came at last fa the outlets to the E draelon Plain. When first the cavalry galloped down upon them and they surrendered in hordes without the least attempt at a fight, we were astonished. It was not until we learned what had happened in the mountains, that we understood the tragic state of their morale.

The air force achieved a very notablevictory. Fighting against a ground force, they had not only inflicted very heavy losses, but they had incalculably lessened the task of both our infantry and cavalry. They had prevented the Turk fighting an effective rearguard against the pursuing infantry, and they had hammered him so soundly that he was incapable of any attempt to burst through the cordon of cavalry. Without this fighting work from the air General Allenby must still have won a great victory, but it would have been short of the sensational result to-day. Progress must have been much slower, ardour casualties for heavier. The airmen saved us many thousands of losses among our infantry and cavalry. This effective employment of the air service is another example of the quality of the staff work.

Already I have written of the extraordinary arrangements made for the great forward movement of every branch of the British army. Before the fight was two days old our aeroplanes were using aerodromes captured from the enemy. At one point on the march to Damascus, when we were 100 miles from our starting place, a number of airmen came up and established a flying ground abreast of our cavalry advance guard. Throughout the operations an air-post service was maintained between the leading troops and General Headquarters,
By The Sea of Calilee. (Aust. Off. Photo)

By The Sea of Calilee.
(Aust. Off. Photo)

An Australian Brigadier and a Colcnel of the Light Horse, who were in hospital far down the line when the campaign opened, surprised their troops by alighting from aeroplanes in their midst, a hundred miles from our starting, point.