Classic History Books


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

On the 22nd Nebi Samwil was thrice attacked. British and Indian troops were holding the hill, but the
Turks were on the northern slopes. They were, in fact, on strong positions on three sides, and from El

Burj, a prominent hill 1200 yards to the south-east, and from the wooded valley of the wadi Hannina,

they could advance with plenty of cover. There was much dead ground, stone walls enclosed small

patches of cultivation, and when troops halted under the terraces on the slopes no gun or rifle fire could

reach them. The enemy could thus get quite close to our positions before we could deal with them, and

their attacks were also favoured by an intense volume of artillery fire from 5.9's placed about the

Jerusalem-Nablus road and, as some people in Jerusalem afterwards told me, from the Mount of Olives.

The attackers possessed the advantage that our guns could not concentrate on them while the attack was

preparing, and could only put in a torrent of fire when the enemy infantry were getting near their goal.

These three attacks were delivered with the utmost ferocity, and were pressed home each time with

determination. But the 75th Division held on with a stubbornness which was beyond praise, and the

harder the Turk tried to reach the summit the tighter became the defence. Each attack was repulsed with

very heavy losses, and after his third failure the enemy did not put in his infantry again that day.

The 75th Division endeavoured to reach El Jib, a village on the hill a mile and a half to the north of Nebi
Samwil. The possession of El Jib by us would have attracted some of the enemy opposing the advance of

the Yeomanry Mounted Division on the left, but not only was the position strongly defended in the

village and on the high ground on the north and north-west, but our infantry could not break down the

opposition behind the sangars and boulders on the northern side of Nebi Samwil. The attack had to be

given up, but we made some progress in this mountainous sector, as the 52nd Division had pushed out

from Dukku to Beit Izza, between 3000 and 4000 yards from El Jib, and by driving the enemy from this

strong village they made it more comfortable for the troops in Biddu and protected the Nebi Samwil

flank, the securing of which in those days of bitter fighting was an important factor. It was evident from

what was happening on this front, not only where two divisions of infantry had to strain every nerve to

hold on to what they had got but where the Yeomanry Mounted Division were battling against enormous

odds in the worse country to the north-west, that the Turks were not going to allow us to get to the

Nablus road without making a direct attack on the Jerusalem defences. They outnumbered us, had a large

preponderance in guns, were near their base, and enjoyed the advantage of prepared positions and a

comparatively easy access to supplies and ammunition. Everything was in their favour down to the very

state of the weather. But our army struggled on against all the big obstacles. On the 23rd the 75th

Division renewed their attack on El Jib, but although the men showed the dash which throughout

characterised the Division, it had to be stopped. The garrison of El Jib had been reinforced, and the

enemy held the woods, wadi banks, and sangars in greater strength than before, while the artillery fire

was extremely heavy. Not only was the 75th Division tired with ceaseless fighting, but the losses they

had sustained since they left the Plain of Ajalon had been substantial, and the 52nd Division took over

from them that night to prepare for another effort on the following day. The Scots were no more

successful. They made simultaneous attacks on the northern and southern ends of Nebi Samwil, and a

brigade worked up from Beit Izza to a ridge north-west of El Jib. Two magnificent attempts were made

to get into the enemy's positions, but they failed. The officer casualties were heavy; some companies had

no officers, and the troops were worn out by great exertions and privations in the bleak hills. The two

divisions had been fighting hard for over three weeks, they had marched long distances on hard food,

which at the finish was not too plentiful, and the sudden violent change in the weather conditions made it

desirable that the men should get to an issue of warmer clothing. General Bulfin realised it would be

risking heavy losses to ask his troops to make another immediate effort against a numerically stronger

enemy in positions of his own choice, and he therefore applied to General Allenby that the XXth Corps -

 

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