100 Years ago tomorrow, Field Marshal Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby entered Jerusalem as its conqueror. General Allenby was 56 years old when he took command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) in June 1917. Little of his work on the Western Front would suggest he would prove a master of desert warfare. Within days of arriving in Palestine, the new commander of the EEF would dispel any misgivings regarding his capacity for independent command. As Australian Sir Henry George Chauvel, commander of the Desert Mounted Corps (DMC), described the EEF's change in command climate: "Allenby went through the hot, dusty camps of his army like a strong, fresh, reviving wind." He saw his mission as one of clearing Palestine of any Ottoman forces. After organizing his forces, he was ready to mount offensive operations in the fall.
The Third Battle of Gaza (31 Oct–7 Nov) exhibited Allenby's talent for orchestrating a combined arms operation while concurrently managing the problems of transport, supply, and deception. The battle had not been without lessons. Chauvel's Desert Mounted Corps suffered a number of casualties from German aircraft, revealing the vulnerability of exposed troops in a desert environment. The rough terrain east of Gaza proved difficult for both the mounted units and their supporting logistical assets. Allenby gave little pause and pursued the Turks northward as they retreated toward Junction Station (See map below.) Commanding the skies and bombing and strafing retreating columns almost at will, aircraft from the RFC made the pursuit a harrowing experience for the enemy. By 14 November, Allenby occupied Junction Station and effectively split the Turkish forces in half.
|Map of the Sector
The Third Battle of Gaza exhibited Allenby's talent for orchestrating a combined arms operation while concurrently managing the problems of transport, supply, and deception. By 5 November, the evacuation of Gaza began in earnest. Allenby gave little pause and pursued the Turks northward as they retreated toward Junction Station. Commanding the skies and bombing and strafing retreating columns almost at will, aircraft from the RFC made the pursuit a harrowing experience for the enemy. By 14 November, Allenby occupied Junction Station and effectively split the Turkish forces in half.
Jerusalem Welcoming Its Conqueror at the Jaffa Gate
(This Depiction Is Grander Than the Actual Event)
With the Turkish Seventh and Eighth Armies isolated from one another, Allenby next set his sights on Jerusalem, which Lloyd George had ordered taken by Christmas. Moving as rapidly as supply lines would allow, the EEF made good progress against a stiffening Turkish defense. Counterattacks increased in number and intensity. As one commentator noted, "The Turkish troops fought with a remarkable gallantry and succeeded at some points in gaining a footing in the outer line of the British defenses." By 8 December the Ottoman lines began to crack and, on the next day, they withdrew northward. On 11 December 1917, Allenby made his formal entry into the city—the first Christian leader to do so since 1187. He was ordered not to make a spectacle of his arrival as the Kaiser had in 1898, but it was a dramatic moment, nevertheless.
German military advisor General Kress von Kressenstein later wrote: "From a purely military point of view, the loss of Jerusalem was of no importance, but the moral effect of its capture, after having been in Turkish hands for 700 years...was a severe blow to the prestige of the Caliphate and of Turkey." Events on the Western Front, however, would slow down Allenby's advance in the spring of 1918. The German offensives on the Western Front would draw off a number of his best units. It would not be until later in the year that he could restart his drive to defeat the Turks, which he would do so brilliantly.
Sources: Over the Top, July & August 2010