Classic History Books


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

offer a difficult obstacle, and, if the defenders were armed with bombs, it would be hard for attackers to
retain the trenches in front of them. There was much dead ground below the entrenchments, but the

defences were so arranged that cross fire from one system swept the dead ground on the next spur, and, if

the hills were properly held, an advance up them would have been a stupendous task. The Turk had put

all his eggs into one basket. Perhaps he considered his positions impregnable - they would have been

practically impregnable in British hands - and he made no attempt to cut support trenches behind the

crest. There was one system only, and his failure to provide defences in depth cost him dear.

Looking eastwards from Kustul, the Turkish positions south of the Jaffa-Jerusalem road, each of them on
a hill, were called by us the 'Liver Redoubt' (near Lifta), the 'Heart Redoubt,' 'Deir Yesin,' and 'Khurbet

Subr,' with the village of Ain Karim in a fold of the hills and a line of trenches south-west of it running

down to the railway. Against the 74th Division's front the nature of the country was equally difficult.

From Beit Surik down to the Kulonieh road the hills fell sharply with the ground strewn with boulders.

Our men had to advance across ravines and beds of watercourses covered with large stones, and up the

wooded slopes of hills where stone walls constituted ready-made sangars easily capable of defence. The

hardest position they had to tackle was the hill covering Beit Iksa, due north of the road as it issued from

Kulonieh, where long semicircular trenches had been cut to command at least half a mile of the main

road. In front of the 53rd Division was an ideal rearguard country where enterprising cavalry could have

delayed an advance by infantry for a lengthened period. To the south of Bethlehem, around Beit Jala and

near Urtas, covering the Pools of Solomon, an invaluable water supply, there were prepared defences, but

though the Division was much delayed by heavy rain and dense mist, the fog was used to their

advantage, for the whole of the Division's horses were watered at Solomon's Pools one afternoon without

opposition from the Urtas garrison.

December 8 was the date fixed for the attack. On December 7 rain fell unceasingly. The roads, which had
been drying, became a mass of slippery mud to the west of Jerusalem, and on the Hebron side the Welsh

troops had to trudge ankle deep through a soft limy surface. It was soon a most difficult task to move

transport on the roads. Lorries skidded, and double teams of horses could only make slow progress with

limbers. Off the road it became almost impossible to move. The ground was a quagmire. On the sodden

hills the troops bivouacked without a stick to shelter them. The wind was strong and drove walls of water

before it, and there was not a man in the attacking force with a dry skin. Sleep on those perishing heights

was quite out of the question, and on the day when it was hoped the men would get rest to prepare them

for the morrow's fatigue the whole Army was shivering and awake. So bad were the conditions that the

question was considered as to whether it would not be advisable to postpone the attack, but General

Chetwode, than whom no general had a greater sympathy for his men, decided that as the 53rd Division

were within striking distance by the enemy the attack must go forward on the date fixed. That night was

calculated to make the stoutest hearts faint. Men whose blood had been thinned by summer heat in the

desert were now called upon to endure long hours of piercing cold, with their clothes wet through and

water oozing out of their boots as they stood, with equipment made doubly heavy by rain, caked with

mud from steel helmet to heel, and the toughened skin of old campaigners rendered sore by rain driven

against it with the force of a gale. Groups of men huddled together in the effort to keep warm: a vain

hope. And all welcomed the order to fall in preparatory to moving off in the darkness and mist to a battle

which, perhaps more than any other in this war, stirred the emotions of countless millions in the Old and

New Worlds. Yet their spirits remained the same. Nearly frozen, very tired, 'fed up' with the weather, as

all of them were, they were always cheerful, and the man who missed his footing and floundered in the

mud regarded the incident as light-heartedly as his fellows. An Army which could face the trials of such

 

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