Classic History Books


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

Time was all-important. December and January are the wettest months of the season at Jaffa, and after
heavy rains the Auja valley becomes little better than a marsh, so that a small amount of traffic will cut

up the boggy land into an almost impassable condition.

The XXIst Corps' plan was as follows: At dawn on December 21 a heavy bombardment was to open on
all the enemy's trenches covering the crossings, the fire of heavy guns to be concentrated on enemy

batteries and strong positions in the rear, while ships of the Royal Navy bombarded two strong artillery

positions at Tel el Rekket and El Jelil, near the coast. When darkness fell covering troops were to be

ferried across the river, and then light bridges would be constructed for the passage of larger units

charged with the task of getting the Turks out of their line from Hadrah, through El Mukras to Tel el

Rekket. After these positions had been gained the engineers were to build pontoon bridges to carry the

remainder of the Division and guns on the night of the 22nd-23rd December, in time to advance at

daylight on the 23rd to secure a defensive line from Tel el Mukhmar through Sheikh el Ballatar to Jelil.

On the right of the 52nd Division the 54th Division was to attack Bald Hill on the night of 21st-22nd

December, and on the following morning assault the trench system covering Mulebbis and Fejja; then

later in the day to advance to Rantieh, while the 75th Division farther east was to attack Bireh and Beida.

This plan was given to divisional commanders at a conference in Jaffa on December 12. Two days later

General Hill submitted another scheme which provided for a surprise attack by night with no naval or

land artillery bombardment, such a demonstration being likely to attract attention. General Hill submitted

his proposals in detail. General Bulfin gave the plan most careful consideration, but decided that to base

so important an operation on the success of a surprise attack was too hazardous, and he adhered to his

scheme of a deliberate operation to be carried through systematically. He, however, gave General Hill

permission to carry out his surprise attack on the night of December 20, but insisted that the

bombardment should begin according to programme at daylight on the 21st unless the surprise scheme

was successful.

A brigade of the 54th Division and the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade relieved the Scots in the
trenches for three nights before the attempt. Every man in the Lowland Division entered upon the work

of preparation with whole-hearted enthusiasm. There was much to be done and materials were none too

plentiful. Pontoons were wired for and reached Jaffa on the 16th. There was little wood available, and

some old houses in Jaffa were pulled down to supply the Army's needs. The material was collected in the

orange groves around the German colony at Sarona, a northern suburb of Jaffa, and every man who could

use a tool was set to work to build a framework of rectangular boats to a standard design, and on this

framework of wood tarpaulins and canvas were stretched. These boats were light in structure, and were

so designed that working parties would be capable of transferring them from their place of manufacture

to the river bank. Each boat was to carry twenty men fully armed and equipped over the river. They

became so heavy with rain that they in fact only carried sixteen men. The boat builders worked where

enemy airmen could not see them, and when the craft were completed the troops were practised at night

in embarking and ferrying across a waterway - for this purpose the craft were put on a big pond - and in

cutting a path through thick cactus hedges in the dark. During these preparations the artillery was also

active. They took their guns up to forward positions during the night, and before the date of the attack

there was a bombardment group of eight 6-inch howitzers and a counter battery group of ten 60-pounders

and one 6-inch Mark VII. gun in concealed positions, and the artillery dumps had been filled with 400

rounds for each heavy gun and 700 rounds for each field piece. The weather on the 18th, 19th, and 20th

December was most unfavourable. Rain was continuous and the valley of the Auja became a morass. The

luck of the weather was almost always against General Allenby's Army, and the troops had become

 

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