The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
Work Of The Anzacs
Work Of The Anzacs.
In most of the operations which have cleared Sinai and Palestine of the Turk the lead has been entrusted to the veterans of the Anzac Mounted Division. In this last, and greatest campaign of all, the Division found itself away from the grand spectacular side of the enterprise.
One trusty mounted division was needed for the subsidiary but highly important work on Moab and Giliad east of Jordan, and the choice fell upon the Anzacs.
Both Australians and New Zealanders complained about their luck. But their task made one strong appeal to them. Twice before they had been across the Jordan, and twice they had come back leaving not a few of their men in enemy graves. Tne two great raids over the river early in the year were brilliantly successful as raids. Our purpose each time was achieved. But each time our men broke off the fight strongly against their inclination, and praved for the day when they would get orders to go over and see the job through and stay. Old Amman, the ancient Philadelphia, was especially coveted by our men. There last March we had fought for days over sodden ground in extreme winter weather and came away, the railway having been well broken, just after the New Zealanders had won into the town. This time Australians and New Zealanders competed in a sporting way for first entry, and a New South Wales Light Horse Regiment narrowly snatched the honour.
It is scarcely correct perhaps to call this eastern operation subsidiary.
It was in reality part of General Allenby's ambitious scheme, and on its success depended the destruction of the Tmksh Fourth Army and the fall of Damascus. The Anzacs had a waiting game to play. When the bombardmeni began on the west, over close to the Mediterranean, they had been for some weeks holding the line in the terrible Jordan Valley. Until the 7th. and 8th. enemy armies on the uplands of Samaria and on the Sharon Plain had been smashed, they had no chance of much progress. On the eastern sector, covering the foothills of Moab and the wide rolling pastures up on the tableland, the Turk was particularly strong. After our two raids he always feared that when we made the next push we would go that way, and General Alienby left nothing undone towards encouraging his anxiety. I have already told how the Arabs demonstrated in force out near Amman and of the camouflage tricks in Jordan Valley. One other pretty ruse deserves mention. Several thousand good British sovereigns were spent by the Arab force in the purchase of great quantities of horse-feed on the eastern side of the plateau. The Bedouins who sold it were told in confidence that it was intended for the big British cavalry horses which would soon be coming that way. A few hours later the confidence was extended by the Bedouins to the Turks. We know how well the deception worked, and that when the bombardment crashed down on the enemy on the Plain of Sharon he was perfecting his defences east oi the Jordan.
At the outset the Anzacs and the small infantry force operating with them, made up chiefly of the Jewish Battalions, the British West Indians and troops from India proper, had no chance of breaking out of our bridgeheads east of the river. Their orders were to keep a very close and firm touch with the enemy, and as soon as he began to withdraw in consequence of his defeat on Samaria, to demolish him. Also this Jordan Valley force, was to push northwards up the Valley and complete the cordon round the two Turkish armies in Samaria. Both missions were admirably accomplished. While the New Zealanders and infantry were advancing up the Valley the Australians were probing the strong entrenched and wired positions along the Moab and Giliad foothills across the river. As soon as the Turk moved the two Australian Brigades pounced upon his rearguard, and fought him as he climbed the narrow wady tracks up on to the tableland. Meanwhile the New Zealanders crossing away to the north at Jisred Damie, ascended the goat track which leads from there to Es Salt, and for the third time in the campaign that old stone-built town was in Australasian hands.
It was not until our men were far across the tableland and close to Amman that the enemy showed fight. There our advanced guards came under machine gun fire. But the rapid advance on the town was not broken. As the scene of the severe March fighting came into view the Australians appreciated the disaster which had so suddenly come upon the Turkish arms. In March the only possible approaches to Amman led through hurricanes of machine gun fire, together with shell from several field batteries. But now the broken foe, although he fought gamely at this particular spot, was quickly outwitted and outclassed by Light Horse manoeuvre, and soon the Australians after trifling casualties, were riding in the streets of the squalid modern village and marvelling at the glory of the ancient Roman amphitheatre. Contact with the Roman in this hour of our grand world triumph does us no harm. It subdues our vanity. In these far outposts of the old Roman Empire, on the very edge of the barbarian deserf, the massiveness of the stone work and the fine quality in the decorative carving tell vividly to the least imaginative mind of the physical achievements and the culture of our rivals in the proud task of Empire building. "The splendour that was Rome" is told far more convincingly in distant Amman and Baalbec than in the ruins of Rome itself.
The Australians took 350 prisoners in Amman and the New Zealanders another good bag as they attempted to escape to the north. But the chief and by far the most amusing exploit of the little Anzac campaign fell to a Light Horse Brigade at Ziza, about 20 miles to the south. News came through that a large Turkish force, which had been far to the south on the Hedjaz railways at Maan, was in an entrenched position at Ziza, and a regiment of Queenslan lers rode down to spy out the land, and if possible to smash them. The C. O reported that he was in touch with 5000 Turks who wished to capitulate, but in view of the great hostile force of Arabs by whom they were also surrounded, they would not lay down their arms until they were sure that the Arabs would be kept away from them. So the Colonel of the Queenslanders suggested that the whole Brigade should hurry down and assure the Turks of their safety. The Brigadier at once decided to go and the 20 miles were covered in less than three hours.
The Brigade arrived shortly before dark and an extraordinary situation was discovered. The Turks were in a strongly defended position around the village. They were made up in the main of Anatolians, regulars and the cream of the Ottoman army. Moreover, they were well armed and capable of a good fight. Our Brigade was not complete and was outnumbered by about ten to one. The Turkish commander rode out and met the Australian Brigadier. "I will surrender," he said, "if you will protect us against the Arabs." "Certainly," said the Brigadier, "the Arabs are our allies. If you surrender you have nothing to fear". But the Turkish leader would not be convinced. He demanded that the Australian force should be greatly increased before his men gave up their arms. Otherwise he would be pleased to fight. The Australian General was properly anxious to complete the surrender and save casualties.
Next morning, they laid down their arms and marched as prisoners to Amman. It was an interesting sidelight on the feeling of the Turk towards the Arabs whom he has so long governed. But it is a significant fact that in the long campaign the Arabs have taken 17,000 Turkish prisoners, and the Turks not a single Arab! To the Arab, the Turk has been an enemy in arms. To the Turk, the Arab has been a rebel, and deserving of a rebel's fate.
Ziza practically finished the Anzacs' brilliant little campaign. In all some 11,000 prisoners were taken. The total battle consualties for the Division did not exceed a few score.