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The Story of Two Campaigns: Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919

Chapter XXXVIII. Beginning of the End

page 222

Chapter XXXVIII. Beginning of the End.

Now comes September, the wonderful September which saw the Turk vanquished and Palestine freed. The first indication of the coming move by the Commander-in-Chief was the appearance in the Jordan Valley of dummy camps and lines of dummy horses, in the erection of which the A.M.R. took a hand. These things were for the benefit of enemy aircraft, but the Royal Air Force by this time had almost driven the Taube from the sky. An electric current went through the force as the import of these activities became apparent. "Allenby is about to strike," was whispered down the wind, and there was an atmosphere of subdued excitement along the lines and in the bivouacs. More active patrolling began. To further delude von Sanders, a programme of harassing the enemy in the valley was begun. The mounted patrols had the double purpose of finding out the enemy's strength and positions, and of drawing his gun fire. Through the hot dusty plain the little bodies of horsemen moved, and if they awakened "Jericho Jane" the British gunners thought it was an excellent day. But from the point of view of the horsemen, it was much better when "Jane" directed her attention to shelling the dummy camps. It was really entertaining to see the shells bursting over these empty habitations. Nothing gave the great deception away. As the day fixed for the commencement of the action approached, the Turks could still see great clouds of dust arising from troops coming into the valley, but they did not see the greater clouds caused by the brigades page 223which moved out of the valley at night. Within a few days it was to be proved that the enemy did not know that five infantry divisions were between the high hills on the west of the Jordan Valley and the sea, with three divisions of cavalry in the orange groves behind Jaffa, and 301 guns in position instead of the normal number of 70. One of the cavalry divisions near the coast was the Australian Mounted Division. The Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division (often called the Anzac Division) was to remain on the right flank as part of "Chaytor's Force," which included an Indian infantry brigade, two battalions of Jewish troops and two battalions of infantry of British West Indians. It was not for them to take part in the great ride to Damascus, but their work on the Jordan and then over the hills to Amman was to be none the less important.

Elsewhere has been related how at dawn on September 19 the Turkish line was broken on the coast and how the cavalry poured through like a tidal wave which nothing could stay, how they penetrated to the Jordan behind two Turkish armies, and how they swept on to Damascus. Chaytor's Force was the pivot on which the advance swung. This force had to hold the line of the Jordan River from the Dead Sea, and also to move north with the 53rd Infantry Division as it advanced on its left. To the New Zealand Brigade fell the task of moving up the valley. On the night of September 21, the A.M.R. left Musallabeh, with the 4th squadron as advance guard, and occupied without opposition Kh Fusail and Tel Es Ed Dhiab, some 10 miles north of the Wadi Auja. Patrols were sent forward, but soon they page 224encountered the enemy, who was holding a strong line covering the bridge at Mafid Jozeleh. A small force was found between the left flank of the Regiment and the right flank of the infantry on the hills, and was promptly dealt with, 20 prisoners and two machine-guns being taken. A large quantity of war material was secured during the day. That night the rest of the brigade, with the two battalions of West Indians and the 29th Indian Mountain Battery and the Ayrshire Battery, came up and joined the A.M.R.

The B.W.I's were sent to guard the right to the river and the right rear, while the Mounted Rifles Brigade continued north to secure the important bridge and crossing of Jisr Ed Damieh, and to cut the road leading from the bridge to Nablus, along which retreating Turks were expected. The march started at midnight, the A.M.R. with one section of machine-guns being the advance guard. Moving cautiously along the Jericho-Beisan road, the Regiment secured without opposition the bridgehead at Mafid Jozeleh. Thence it went forward and got astride the Nablus-Damieh road. It was found that a large force of Turks had just passed towards the bridge, and the 3rd squadron was sent after them. The 11th squadron remained on the road facing west to intercept prisoners, while the 4th squadron occupied El Makhruk to the north-east. The 11th squadron had the pleasure of capturing some enemy transport, which had no idea that the British were in the vicinity until they were in the trap. The 3rd squadron soon caught up with the force moving towards the bridge and captured a number of prisoners. A cavalry outpost line attempted to page 225hold the squadron off, but it was soon driven down to the river flat from the high ground above the bridge. The squadron held the high ground overlooking the bridge until dawn, when the enemy counter-attacked and forced the right of the squadron to retire to a strong position under artillery support. As the enemy were digging in and receiving reinforcements, the commander of the Aucklands recommended an immediate attack, at the same time asking for some assistance. This course was agreed to, and one squadron of the C.M.R. and one company of the B.W.I. were sent to reinforce the regiment. Meantime the artillery was doing some good shooting. The position held by the Turks was in the shape of a crescent with a flat top, the British line running round it at a distance of 500 yards. No weak spot being found in the enemy line it was decided that the whole line should advance, and so close in on the bridge. Lieutenant-Colonel McCarroll distributed his men as follows:—On the left, overlooking the bridge and road, one squadron and a-half with one machine-gun (these troops were not to advance, but to inflict punishment on the enemy when driven in), then came the rest of the A.M.R., less two troops, then the West Indians with one troop of the A.M.R., and then the C.M.R. squadron. The remaining troop of the A.M.R. was held in reserve. At the given time the whole line advanced, the bayonets flashing in the morning sun. Splendid covering fire was put over by the artillery, and the long-range overhead machine-gun fire was also most effectual. The Turk would not face that irresistible line of steel. Some surrendered as soon as they could, while others fled, only to be overtaken by the line on the right. The flat-footed West Indians, who had not been in action before, page 226did splendidly. They chased the Turks down the hill and caught many of them. The C.M.R. closed in rapidly from the right. One of their troops came forward mounted, but it was stopped by a cliff. It at once wheeled to the right and made down a wadi to the river, and was very useful in rounding up the prisoners. The surviving Turks poured over the bridge in disorder, and they made no attempt to destroy the bridge, which was rushed by the reserve troops and secured intact. It was a very smart operation. A total of 350 Turks were captured, besides seven machine-guns. The killed and wounded made a considerable total. The only losses on our side were: A.M.R.: 3 killed, 1 died of wounds and 1 wounded; B.W.I.: 1 wounded. The A.M.R. remained for the rest of the day on the high ground above the bridge, but a C.M.R. squadron went across the bridge and cleared the surrounding country.