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

The Fall of Damascus

page 5

The Fall of Damascus.

The few thousand Germans who were with the Turkish 7th. and 8th. Armies west of the Jordan met the same fate as their allies; nearly all were destroyed or captured. But one must give the Germans credit for a stout resistance. Throughout they fought resolutely to avert the great disaster, and if they did not continue the struggle to the death it must be remembered that they were in a most tragic situation. They handled for the most part the hundreds of machine guns which were the most formidable weapon possessed by the enemy. All the way to Damascus they fought a rearguard action. Having the great body of Turks on Samaria safe and already most of them accounted for, General Allemby decided to clear Haifa. I went in with a flying reconnaissance of armoured cars and smaller cars of the Light Car Patrol. About three miles from the town we saw the heads of a party of Turks in a strong redoubt about 200yds. from the road. The armoured cars halted and swept the Turkish parapet with their machine guns. The white flag was at once hoisted and about 80 Turks came out without firing a shot. Two miles further we came upon an Austrian battery of light field guns supported by German machine gunners. Our little probing expedition was at once brought to a standstill, and we were not sony to pull out. Next day the Indians and Yeomanry supported by horse artillery rode in to the town, and again the only opposition was from the Austrians and Germans. "We tried to cover the Turks' retreat," said a captured German officer, "but we expected them to do something, if only keep their heads. But at last we decided they were not worth fighting for."

Before Haifa fell our troops were moving swiftly east of Jordan. A Division of Indian and Yeomanry cavalry crossed the Jordan about Beisan and rode eastwards. Simultaneously the Anzac Mounted Division, forded and swam the river further south and moved on Es Salt and Amman. The Australians and New Zealanders were familiar with the country. This was their third expedition to the Plateau of Moab and the heights of Giliad. Thev knew every goat walk on the steep mountain side. This lime they were there to stay; the Fourth Turkish Army on the East was to share the fate of the 7th. and 8th. Armies on Samaria. The tactics employ ed on both sides of the river were broadly similar. General Allenby depended for success upon the speed and durability of his horses. Before the operations commenced the Turks held a defensive position which was roughly an extension of his line west of the Jordan. He was strong in the foothills of Giliad; on the mountain he had his base at Es Salt and at Amman he had a substantial force guarding a vital stage of tunnels and viaducts in his Hedjaz railways. Beyond the railway the Eastern Palestine Range flattens out on to the wide desert which extends right across to the Eu-phratfes. On the fringe of the desert was the Army of the Sheriff of Mecca, a picturesque, galloping, thrusting well-armed force. The Arabs hafrassed the Turks by day and night, repeatedly dashing in and cutting his railway and telegraph communications to Damascus. When attacked they would fade away into the wide desert and leave the slow-footed Turk in the air. As the Anzacs marched upon Es Salt and Amman the Arabs made a detour in the desert and appeared on the flank of the enemy and cut the railway north of Deraa, where the Hedjaz-line junctions with the line which supplied the Turks west of the Jordan.

Meanwhile the Indian and Yeomanry Division had crossed Eastern Palestine and was approaching Deraa, where they joined hands with the Arab army. Tnen the Arabs, the Indians and the Yeomanry sped on towards Damascus. There was still a chance of escape for about 20,000 Turks who had moved northwards of Deraa before the arrival of our forces. These struggled gamely towards Damascus where they hoped either to make a stand at that great enemy supply base or escape by railway to the north. But General Chauvel still had iri hand the Australian Mounted Division and another strong force or Indians and Yeomanry which had returned to the Jordan after the capture of Haifa. With the Australians leading, he marched from Esdraelon Plain north east across Jordan for Damascus. There ensued one of the grand races of the war. Our horses all eady tired were called upon for the heaviest work of the whole lightning campaign. Marching by Beisan the Fourth Light Horse Brigade took Semak after a stiff fight, and then co-operating with the Third Brigade, which had come down from Nazareth, occupied Tiberias. A day's partial rest during which our men swam and fished in the blue waters of Galilee, and then the Australian Division marched swiftly for the Jordan crossing a few miles south of Lake Huleh. But the enemy was now seized of our intention, and the German machine gunners put up some fine resistance.

A. L. H Patrol In Jenin

A. L. H Patrol In Jenin

Their stand at Semak was aimed to prevent us reaching Damascus before the 20,000 Turks retreating from the direction of Deraa, and also to permit of the removal of as many military stores as possible from the city. South of Lake Huleh also, the Germans fought well and delayed us for a few hours. We then ran through as far as Kuneitra, but a few miles further on were again held up by machine guns and a field battery.

The horses had covered with marching and fighting an average of 30 and 40 miles. Thousands of Australian-bred animals must have covered some 400 miles in ten days, a very fine performance when it is remembered that they carried a load exceeding an average of 250lbs and had been on short rations. Again on our ride to Damascus the excellent work of the staff was demonstrated. As the advance guard of the Fourth Light Horse Regiment (Victorian) travelling north-east came within view of the green and generous plain of Damascus, we saw some eight miles away on our right and travelling north-west, a great converging column of the fugitive Turks from Deraa. Nearly all of these we c'aptured, the Germans once more fighting well with their machine guns. But even the Germans were now almost at the end of their hopes and resistance, and on this last day before Damascus, and in the two days which followed, they abandoned their machine guns, and fled at the galloping approach of the Australian swords. That evening many thousands of prisoners were captured by the 3rd and 5th Australian Light Horse Brigades. The city was enveloped. At dusk there was the enemy tragedy in the Adana Pass which leads out from Damascus towards Beyrout. Here a coloumn many miles in length was committed into a deep and narrow and singularly beautifui gorge. The floor of the gorge is less than a hundred yards across and it is crowded with the Adana River, a rushing mountain torrent, and a railway and a road. Tne river banks are overgrown with trees and bushes; the railway and roads cross and recross the tumbling stream. On either side rise the gaunt cliffs of the desert. In this brief survey it is impossible to describe the fight between the long armed enemy column and the handful of dismounted Light Horsemen of the 3rd and 5th Brigades who were perched in pockets of ihe cliffs on either side. The Germans, working their machine guns from the tops of motor wagons and lorries, fought to the death. Three hundred and seventy officers and men were killed and fell among the dead and dying horses and the wild tumult of the chaotic column. We had scarcely a man hit. That ended the attempt to leave Damascus by the west. But the enemy was streaming out by the north along the road to Aleppo. Their run however was brief. Early next morning the Third Light Horse Brigade was in hot pursuit. The German machine gunners again attempted a rear guard but they could not withstand the charges of the elated Light Horsemen. Thousands of prisoners and hundreds of machine guns were taken by the Brigade.

But the chief honours of the morning were with the Fourth Light Horne Regiment. Soon after sunrise a squadron received orders to patrol into the city. Winding along the crooked lanes between the irrigated orchards and gardens, it came upon the great Turkish barracks swarming with troops. The Turks did not at once surrender, and the squadron leader before attacking awaited the arrival of the remainder of the regiment. Then followed a fitting termination to the wonderful and practically bloodless British ride. A few hundred Australian Light Horsemen of this one regiment before noon took nearly 12,000 prisoners in Damascus, together with dozens of field pieces and scores of machine guns. Scarcely a shot was fired. There was no formal surrender; each body laid down their arms as the Australians rode up with, theirs words.

The Victorians entered the city and joined up with the exulting Arabs. These two forces which had started hundreds of miles apart with two mountaihsystems intervening, were mingled together in the midst of the swirling, madly excited populace. To the Arabs, Damascus, was the dazzling prize, the promised reward. Here he was to proclaim and set up his government. Riding in from his tent on the desert, or his little mud village, he was in Damascus the lord of a city of 250,000 souls, the oldest city in the world and a city distinguished by the richness and strange character and beauty of its surroundings. Fired with pride, he rode the streets on his spritely desert horse, his long robes touched with brilliant patches of silks and richly woven Persian saddle bags. His gold and silver scabbards flashed in the sunlight, and he fired his. rifle freely at the skies. Ameer Feisal, the third son of the Sheriff of Mecca, who was soon to be proclaimed the new ruler, rode into the city. The Arabs of the city gave an almost fanatical greeting to the Prince.