Classic History Books


W.T. Massey - How Jerusalem Was Won. Allenby's Campaign in Palestine

for a renewed effort against Egypt after the failure of the attack on the Canal in February 1915. There
was an attempt by the Turks in August 1916, but it was crushed by Anzac horse and British infantry at

Romani,[1] a score of miles from Port Said, and thereafter the Turks in this theatre were on the

defensive. Some declare the Dardanelles enterprise to have been a mistake; others believe that had we

not threatened the Turks there Egypt would have had to share with us the anxieties that war brings alike

upon attackers and defenders. Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, however we regard those expeditions in the

first years of the struggle, undoubtedly prevented the Turks employing a large army against Egypt, and

the possibilities resulting from a defeat there were so full of danger to us, not merely in that half-way

house of the Empire but in India and the East generally, that if Gallipoli served to avert the disaster that

ill-starred expedition was worth undertaking. We had to drive the Turks out of the Sinai Peninsula -

Egyptian territory - and, that accomplished, an attack on the Turks through Palestine was imperative

since the Russian collapse released a large body of Turkish troops from the Caucasus who would

otherwise be employed in Mesopotamia.

[Footnote 1: The Desert Campaigns: London, Constable and Co., Ltd.]

When General Allenby took over the command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force the British public as
a whole did not fully realise the importance of the Palestine campaign. Most of them regarded it as a 'side

show,' and looked upon it as one of those minor fields of operations which dissipated our strength at a

time when it was imperative we should concentrate to resist the German effort on the Western Front.

They did not know the facts. In our far-flung Empire it was essential that we should maintain our prestige

among the races we governed, some of them martial peoples who might remain faithful to the British flag

only so long as we could impress them with our power to win the war. They were more influenced by a

triumph in Mesopotamia, which was nearer their doors, than by a victory in France, and the occupation

of Bagdad was a victory of greater import to the King's Indian subjects than the German retirement from

the Hindenburg line. If there ever was a fear of serious trouble in India the advance of General Maude in

Mesopotamia dispelled it, and made it easier not only to release a portion of our white garrison in India

for active service elsewhere, but to recruit a large force of Indians for the Empire's work in other climes.

Bagdad was a tremendous blow to German ambitions. The loss of it spelt ruin to those hopes of Eastern

conquest which had prompted the German intrigues in Turkey, and it was certain that the Kaiser, so long

as he believed in ultimate victory, would refuse to accept the loss of Bagdad as final. Russia's withdrawal

as a belligerent released a large body of Turkish troops in the Caucasus, and set free many Germans,

particularly 'technical troops' of which the Turks stood in need, for other fronts. It was then that the

German High Command conceived a scheme for retaking Bagdad, and the redoubtable von Falkenhayn

was sent to Constantinople charged with the preparations for the undertaking. Certain it is that it would

have been put into execution but for the situation created by the presence of a large British Army in the

Sinai Peninsula. A large force was collected about Aleppo for a march down the Euphrates valley, and

the winter of 1917-18 would have witnessed a stern struggle for supremacy in Mesopotamia if the War

Cabinet had not decided to force the Turks to accept battle where they least wanted it.

The views of the British War Cabinet on the war in the East, at any rate, were sound and solid. They
concentrated on one big campaign, and, profiting from past mistakes which led to a wastage of strength,

allowed all the weight they could spare to be thrown into the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under a

General who had proved his high military capacity in France, and in whom all ranks had complete

confidence, and they permitted the Mesopotamian and Salonika Armies to contain the enemies on their

fronts while the Army in Palestine set out to crush the Turks at what proved to be their most vital point.

As to whether the force available on our Mesopotamia front was capable of defeating the German

 

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