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The War in Syria and Palestine, 1918

Syria and Palestine Front: Showing Cairo, Egypt, the northern Sinai peninsula, Akaba on the Red Sea, Jerusalem, Beirut, Damascus, and Aleppo. The Hejaz Railway runs north, parallel to the Mediterranean coast. From 'Palestine and Syria with Routes through Mesopotamia and Babylonia and with the Island of Cyprus' by Karl Baedeker.

Syria and Palestine Front: Showing Cairo, Egypt, the northern Sinai peninsula, Akaba on the Red Sea, Jerusalem, Beirut, Damascus, and Aleppo. The Hejaz Railway runs north, parallel to the Mediterranean coast. From Palestine and Syria with Routes through Mesopotamia and Babylonia and with the Island of Cyprus by Karl Baedeker.

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January 1 to December 31, 1918

Syria/Palestine Front

Held at Nablus

With the Central Power signing of an armistice with Russia in December 1917, and the evacuation of the Russo-Turkish front in the Caucasus, the Turkish Second Army was moved to the province of Aleppo whence it could deploy to Mesopotamia or Palestine.

German General Otto Liman von Sanders took command of Turkish forces on the Syria/Palestine front from General Erich von Falkenhayn in March 1918, and began strengthening Turkish defences. But Turkish forces had been weakened by desertions and transfers to the Caucasus (in part to satisfy War Minister Ismail Enver's fantasy of seizing Persia) and Mesopotamia. Turkish forces coordinated under Sanders's Jilderim (or Lightning) Group included the Eight Army with 39,783 men, the Seventh with 28,575, the Fourth with 21,899, and the Jordan Group of 5,223 men. Over 15,000 Germans and Austrians supported the Turks.

After taking Jerusalem in December 1917, General Edmund Allenby continued advancing. In February, the British seized Jericho in the Jordan River valley. On the night of March 8, Allenby attacked in the Judean hills north of Jerusalem, his objective being Nablus. Heavy fighting continued through the 11th. Although the British had some success, the Turkish line held.

London transferred two divisions to Allenby from Mesopotamia so he could expand his campaign, and on March 21, he struck towards Amman, east of Jerusalem. It was the same day that German Commander Erich Ludendorf launched Operation Michael, the great German offensive of 1918, and the first of five on the Western Front. Britain shifted two combat and three support divisions — many of the British troops in Palestine — to France to strengthen defences against the German advance, replacing them with Indian forces. London notified Allenby on March 27 that reinforcements from Mesopotamia were cancelled, that men and heavy artillery on his front would be shipped to France, and that he was to adopt a policy of 'active defence.'

Colonel T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, from With Lawrence in Arabia by Lowell Thomas.

Through spring and summer, Allenby trained his forces, and conducted minor raids east of the Jordan River as T. E. Lawrence — Lawrence of Arabia — and forces of the Arab Revolt conducted raids further east against the Turks and their railway between Amman and Daraa. Nearly half of the Turkish forces were fighting Lawrence and the Arabs. The British had command in the air.

In August, Sanders recorded that there were shortages of coal and wood, both required to keep trains running, of food, the lack of which increased the desertion rate, that troops had been struck by malaria and returned from patrols over the stony ground with bloody feet due to the condition of their footgear. On August 19 and 20, Sanders recorded that the British struck in the coastal dunes after heavy artillery preparation. Sanders tried in vain to get the attention of the incompetent Turkish War Minister Ismail Enver to turn from his adventures against Russia and Persia on the Caucasus front, to which Enver had shipped six Turkish divisions, over 30,000 men, to expand an empire threatened in Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia.

The Defeat of Turkey

July saw the end of the German advance and the beginning of the Allied offensives that would bring the war to an end in November. With the ultimate German failure and the success of Allied offensives beginning in July, Allenby could resume his suspended campaign. He would do so on September 19 with all his infantry and cavalry, 380 guns and 172 howitzers, over 600 trucks and tractors, and six Royal Air Force squadrons.

The offensive began with a feint towards Daraa to the east. On September 16, the RAF struck communications and the Hejaz railway. Lawrence and roughly 11,000 Arabs, many of them on horse or camel, used armored cars to attack the railway south of Daraa, destroying a bridge. They struck again with a stronger force the next day north of Daraa. Sanders, believing Daraa was the primary objective, moved troops from Haifa on the coast to reinforce Daraa.

On September 18, the Arabs attacked the railroad lines between Amman and Damascus. The next day, Allenby began the Battle of Megiddo with a bombardment beginning at 3:30 AM. Arab saboteurs had cut communications lines during the night, and at daybreak the RAF struck communications and command centers. By 10:00 AM Commonwealth cavalry had broken through the Turkish right and was advancing northwards along the coast. After two hours of resistance, the Turkish 7th Division and adjacent units had collapsed. Sanders and other Turkish commanders were in the dark about the situation as railway, telephone, and telegraph lines were cut and recut. Commonwealth infantry broke through the Turkish defenders, allowing them to advance, seize Megiddo, Haifa, and Acra, and begin attacking the Turkish Seventh and Eighth Armies from the north. The British caught a major Turkish force by surrounding it with infantry to the south and cavalry, having followed the coast for 30 miles, attacking from the north. On the right, the British struck across the Jordan River against the Turkish Fourth Army. British aircraft strafed the Turks. By the end of September 21, the British had taken 25,000 prisoners.

Northern Palestine (northern portion) from Palestine and Syria with Routes through Mesopotamia and Babylonia and with the Island of Cyprus by Karl Baedeker.

From September 20 to 22, communications from the Army Group failed to reach the Turkish 8th Army on the Turkish left near Lake Tiberias where commanders still considered the attacks on Daraa to be the primary offensive. Some Turkish forces were able to cross the Jordan moving east, but the staff of two divisions were captured, and Turkish troops surrendered in large numbers. In the following week, the Fourth Army, pursued by cavalry and Arab forces, tried to retreat to Damascus, but surrendered before reaching the city.

On October 1, the Allies entered Damascus, a city of 300,000 in Syria that Sanders had fled the day before. Lawrence had negotiated to ensure that Arabs would be the first of the Allies to enter Damascus, but Australian troops passed through the outskirts the previous day in their pursuit of the retreating Turks. The Arabs were celebrating in the streets when Lawrence drove into the city in the morning. Allenby entered the city the next day, on October 2.

British forces suffered 5,666 casualies in the Battle of Megiddo. They took 76,000 prisoners.

A map of the Russian-Turkish front from Der Weltkrieg 1914-1918, a 1930s German history of the war illustrated with hand-pasted cigarette cards, showing the Turkish Empire in Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean, Black, and Caspian Seas and the Persian Gulf. To the west is Egypt, a British dominion; to the east Persia. Erzerum in Turkey and Kars in Russia were the great fortresses on the frontier.

In September, as the Allies advanced through Palestine and Syria, the Bulgarian forces that had held the Balkan Front for over two years collapsed, the Bulgarian home front rose up, and a new Bulgarian government signed an armistice on September 29. What remained of German and Austro-Hungarian forces scrambled northwards out of Bulgaria and Serbia. Turkey was on its own, isolated from Germany and Austria-Hungary, its remaining allies.

With the loss of Damascus and his army retreating in Syria and Mesopotamia, Enver thought it best to end his adventures in the Caucasus and Persia, ordering troops, on October 2, to Mosul to forestall Commonwealth, primarily Indian, forces advancing from Baghdad. A French fleet took the port of Beirut on October 8. On October 12, French General Louis Franchet d'Esperey, commanding Allied forces on the Balkan Front, cut the rail link between Berlin and Constantinople, leaving the Turkish capital exposed. The Young Turk triumvirate that ruled Turkey and the Ottoman Empire throughout the war — War Minister Enver Pasha, Minister of the Interior Mehmed Talaat, and Naval Minister Ahmed Djemal Pasha — resigned on October 13, 1918.

As Damascus fell to the Allies, the British were closing on Mosul in Mesopotamia. Allied forces on the Balkan Front were within in striking distance of Constantinople. The Allies continued advancing north along the Mediterranean coast towards Aleppo and the junction of the railroad that led north to Constantinople and southeast to Mesopotamia, Mosul, and Baghdad. The retreating Turks were harried by Commonwealth and Arab forces that struck on October 21 and 23. The RAF attacked Aleppo as British and French ships in the Gulf of Alexandretta bombarded the coast.

A British Mark IV tank advances across the red field, star and crescent moon of a Turkish flag under a chain of grey and yellow clouds. Entitled Entente-török fegyverszünet, Entente-Turkish Armistice, it refers to the British-Turkish Armistice signed on October 30, 1918, that took effect on October 31. Original watercolor postcard by Schima Martos.

The Cabinet of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George authorized Vice-Admiral Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe, Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean Fleet, to negotiate an armistice with a Turkey that was under pressure on all fronts. By negotiating an armistice rather than a surrender, the British were able to exclude their allies from the negotiations, alarming the French who were concerned that Britain was abandoning the Sykes-Picot agreement for a division of the Ottoman Empire. The negotiations began at 9:30 AM on October 27 and concluded on the 30th.

Turkey, defeated in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine, and threatened along its European border, capitulated on October 31.

On November 9, the British occupied the forts of the Dardanelles. On the following day, they entered Constantinople.

Ultimately the British had 500,000 men in Palestine. From January 1, 1915 to the end of they war, the British suffered 554,828 casualties, 90% of them non-combat.



Syria/Palestine Front 1917

Events contemporaneous with The War in Syria and Palestine, 1918

Start Date End Date View
1918-01-01 1918-12-31 Romania at War, 1918
1918-03-03 1918-03-03 Russia and the Central Powers sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
1918-03-21 1918-04-05 Operation Michael — the Somme Offensive
1918-03-21 1918-07-17 Germany's 1918 Offensives
1918-04-09 1918-04-29 Operation Georgette — the Lys Offensive
1918-05-07 1918-05-07 Romania signs the Treaty of Bucharest, ending its initial involvement in the war
1918-05-27 1918-06-04 Aisne (Blücher) Offensive
1918-06-01 1918-07-04 Château Thierry and Belleau Wood
1918-06-09 1918-06-13 Noyon-Montdidier Offensive
1918-06-15 1918-06-23 Battle of the Piave