Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1919
Chapter Twenty-Eight — The Advance on and Capture of Damieh Crossing
The Advance on and Capture of Damieh Crossing
At midnight on the 21st the Column advanced from Kherbet Fusail, with the Auckland Mounted Rifles as advanced guard, along the line of a Roman road which runs north and south, that regiment being ordered to cut the Jisr Ed Damieh-Nablus Road and to secure the crossing at Damieh before daylight. The Wellington Regiment to seize El Makhruk and occupy the roads leading to the north and west; the C.M.R. to be in reserve; the 1st Battalion B.W.I. to follow the column.
Before dawn the troops were in the vicinity of the objectives mentioned, and a little later interesting developments arose: the Brigade became engaged on three sides and Turks were reported on the fourth. General Meldrum decided to attack immediately. The advanced guard was then astride the Nablus-Damieh Road, from which point the three squadrons of the A.M.R. pressed forward and occupied strategic positions in the vicinity, its 3rd Squadron encountering considerable opposition before reaching the bank of the Jordan River, where it occupied a position overlooking the crossing.
1. Barrel bridge over the River Jordan. 2. Mar Elias Monastery, midway between Jerusalem, and Bethlehem. 3. W.M.R. returning to the Jordan Valley after raiding Amman. Jordan River in the distance.
Major C. L. Sommerville,
A gallant soldier, who died at Jericho on 2nd April, 1918, of wounds inflicted the preivous day at Ain Es Sir.
The 2nd and 9th Squadrons remained at Makhruk, but the 6th Squadron pressed forward and occupied Tel El Mazar, which lies 2000 yards north-west, where it captured additional quantities of stores, explosives, and equipment. Thus was history repeated, for, as recorded in the Bible in the Second Book of Kings, it was along the Wadi Farah that the Syrians fled, after defeat leaving their transport, stores, and equipment.
Soon after daylight tie 1st B.W.I.'s joined up with the column and were placed in reserve with the C.M.R. Regiment. The batteries had meantime selected emplacements and were pounding the enemy positions at Jish Ed Damieh.
At about seven o'clock a force of 500 Turks, with two mountain guns, was reported to be advancing down the Wadi Farah. against the left of the Wellington line. The position of the column at this time was unique. In addition to the 500 Turks advancing down the Wadi Farah against it on the left flank, an enemy counter-attack with 1200 troops was developing on the right flank at Jish Ed Damieh. In the rear at Talat Amrah the Turks were attacking the 2nd B.W.I. Battalion and endeavouring to capture the road to cut off the column; and at the same time a captured staff officer of the 53rd Division divulged the fact that a force of two battalions of infantry was only three or four miles distant on our left rear. It was necessary, therefore, to act promptly. In order to watch the left rear, a small party of the C.M.R. was posted on a hill half a mile south of the column's headquarters. The B.W.I. at Talat Amrah were within call of support from Chaytor's Force Headquarters at Mussallabeh, and consequently caused no anxiety. The column's reserve consisted of the C.M.R., less one troop, and three companies of B.W.I. troops.
The 10th C.M.R. Squadron was ordered to reinforce the left of the W.M.R. line, and by eight o'clock the Turks in the direction of Wadi Farah were repulsed to the hills in a north-westerly direction, from which position they intermittently shelled the W.M.R. The latter's line then became firmly established, and the C.M.R. Squadron was recalled to the reserve.
At the same time the enemy was delivering a counter-attack against the A.M.R. near Damieh Crossing, and a C.M.R. Squadron page 226 and one company of the B.W.I, were sent to reinforce the A.M.R. lines, with the result that the Turkish forward move was checked. Continuous pressure was then brought to bear on the Turks, and finally the A.M.R. and B.W.I. captured the Damieh crossing by a brilliant bayonet charge, the enemy being driven for some distance to the east of the river. All objectives had then been taken, and after these had been consolidated the column camped for the night. Swarms of mosquitos enveloped the bivouacks, and sleep was well nigh impossible, owing to the persistent attacks of these pests.
The capture of El Makhruk and Damieh was the result of a series of particularly brilliant movements, all of which were accomplished with precision. To the latter quality must be attributed the overwhelming defeat which was inflicted on a numerically superior force. Immediately preceding dawn on the morning of the 22nd, large bodies of the enemy were adjacent to Makhruk and Damieh Crossing; in fact, the column was practically surrounded many miles from assistance. The hills in the vicinity afforded excellent positions for the enemy to defend, and they dominated the approaches to the crossing, whilst the River Jordan was lined with enemy troops. The capture of the Nablus-Damieh Road and Makhruk, with four hundred prisoners, and the early attack on the Damieh Crossing completed the penetration of the centre of the enemy forces. It destroyed their cohesion and prevented any possibility of their uniting for defensive purposes.
Hesitation or delay by the Column during the night would have entailed heavy casualties. It was essential to penetrate the enemy positions silently under cover of darkness. This was accomplished, and when daylight appeared complete success was gradually but effectively secured.
The Column's captures included 786 prisoners, six guns (including two eighteen-pounders which had belonged to the H.A.C., lost in May). nine machine guns, several automatic rifles, also tons of stores. In addition, heavy casualties were inflicted.
The Occupation of Es Salt
On the morning of September 23rd it was evident that a general retirement of the Turkish IVth Army had begun, and in order to reap the full fruits of the victory the N.Z. Brigade, with the Indian Battery attached, was ordered to follow it up. Leaving the 6th W.M.R. Squadron and a B.W.I. Battalion to hold the Bridgehead at Damieh, the Brigade advanced across the Jordan page 227Valley in intense heat towards Es Salt with the C.M.R. as advance guard. Opposition was encountered among the foothills of the mountains of Moab, but it was quickly overcome, the column wending its way in single file up-the steep and rocky hill face to the plateau three thousand feet above. Under the glare of a tropical sun, the climb was exhausting to all except the mules carrying the guns and ammunition of the Indian Mountain Battery, these wonderful little animals appearing to revel in the difficult country. One mile west of Es Salt a strong redoubt was located, but by skilful manœuvring the advance guard outflanked it, and the Turks therein surrendered without putting up a fight.
The town of Es Salt was taken at 4.20 in the afternoon. In the town and along the road leading thereto evidence of the deadly effect of the bombs of our airmen could be seen. Dead Turks and animals lay scattered amongst the remains of abandoned transport vehicles, which in many places blocked the traffic. A search was made for prisoners and records, and the Brigade bivouacked for the night, after having picketted the town.
The Brigade's captures for the day's operations included:—Five hundred and thirty-eight prisoners, two 4.2 Howitzers, one 77-MM. gun, four machine guns, two automatic rifles, also large quantities of stores and ammunition. Our casualties were nil.