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ANZAC Mounted Division Captures Amman

25 SEP 1918: World War I and the ANZAC Mounted Division captures Amman. The capture of Amman came during the final days of the fighting in Palestine, as British Empire troops routed the Turkish armies and won a series of decisive victories. In September, following months of reorganisation, the training of new troops and formations and the building up of supplies and ammunition, British General Edmund Allenby was ready to launch the final campaign. In great secrecy, the cavalry was moved to the coastal flank, leaving the Anzac Mounted Division in the Jordan Valley. The bulk of Allenby’s forces was massed on the extreme left, having moved by night and with British air superiority keeping German pilots at bay. Turkish intelligence was unaware of the British movements, while the Turkish dispositions were being carefully plotted by the Royal Air Force, with 1st Squadron AFC being conspicuous in the mapping.

At dawn on 19 September, Allenby’s infantry, supported by an air and ground bombardment, broke the Turkish line at its coastal end. At 9 am, Chauvel sent the 4th and 5th Cavalry Divisions through the lines and along the coast, then across the Carmel range to reach the plain of Esdraelon, 50 kilometres behind the Turkish front, before dawn on the 20th. By evening the two divisions reached Nazareth, where General Liman von Sanders, the former commander on Gallipoli now commanding the Turkish forces in Palestine, had his general headquarters. Sanders and his staff managed to escape just in time.

The Australian Mounted Division was Chauvel’s reserve. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade reached Jenin by the evening of 20 September in a position to catch the main part of the retreating Turkish centre. Lieutenant Peter Doig and his troop, seeing an outlying camp, instantly charged it, capturing nearly 2000 Turks and Germans. Another troop, under Lieutenant Reginald Patterson, on the suggestion of Lance Corporal Thomas George, bluffed nearly 3000 Turks into surrender. By morning 8000 Turkish prisoners were held by the 3rd Light Horse Brigade at Jenin. Doig and Patterson were awarded Military Crosses and George the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The 4th Cavalry Division severed Turkish communications with the Jordan Valley by capturing Beisan. The railway line behind the Turkish centre was destroyed by the 5th Light Horse Brigade. Aerial bombing of Turkish signal centres blacked out news of the British breakthrough. The Turkish 8th Army on the coastal flank was completely destroyed, while the 7th Army, under Mustafa Kemal in the centre, was routed. Many troops from the 7th Army escaped across the Jordan River before this gap was closed on 23 September. Chauvel sent the 4th Light Horse Brigade to take Semakh on the southern tip of Lake Tiberias. It was captured on the evening of 25 September; most of the 100 enemy dead were Germans, and several hundred Turks were captured. Tiberias, on the western side of the lake, was taken several hours later. Semakh was 60 kilometres from Deraa, a crucial railway junction, the capture of which would cut off both the survivors of the 7th Army and those of the 4th Turkish Army east of Jordan. The railway north and south of Deraa had been blown up by Arabs just before the offensive.

On 23 September Chaytor’s force, including the Anzac Mounted Division, advanced from the Jordan Valley. They captured Amman on the 25th, including the 4th Army’s 2500 strong rearguard. The main body had escaped the day before, but the remnant of the Turkish army from Arabia, 5000 strong, surrendered to the Anzacs on 29 September. In nine days Chaytor’s force, at a cost of 139 casualties, had captured 10,300 prisoners and 57 guns.

The advance to Damascus was a task for the cavalry. The Australian Mounted Division, followed by the 5th Cavalry, was to pass to the west of Lake Tiberias and then north-east towards Damascus. The 4th Cavalry was to move east of Lake Tiberias to Deraa junction and then north along the railway to Damascus. Also joining the march to Damascus were Arab forces that had first revolted at Mecca in the Hejaz area bordering the east side of the Red Sea in June 1916. They were supported by British arms, gold and liaison officers, the most famous being Captain (later Colonel) TE Lawrence. The Arab revolt has been portrayed in the filmLawrence of Arabia and Lawrence’s memoirs The Seven Pillars of Wisdom remains a World War I classic. However, his healthy ego and judgmental writing style does make one wonder about the ironic comment he claims Chauvel made to him, that Arab soldiers were not saluting Australian officers. Photo: New Zealand Mounted Rifles crossing the River Jordan. More;

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