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Today's Honour Roll

October
3
Today's Honour Roll recognizes 444 Australians who fell on this day in history.
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Name Date of Death Conflict
MITCHELL, Charles Scott 3 Oct 1918 World War 1
BALE, William James 3 Oct 1918 World War 1
NIGHTINGALE, Howard 3 Oct 1944 World War 2
COXON , Frederick Edwin 3 Oct 1917 World War 1
DAVIES, Reginald Sydney (DCM) 3 Oct 1918 World War 1

Battle of Megiddo - 1918 Apocalypse

Battle of Megiddo - 1918 Apocalypse

By Ned Young


An aerial view of Tel Megiddo, the modern site of the ancient city of Megiddo
Pinterest Account Abdullah

In the Book of Revelations, Armageddon (the Greek spelling for Megiddo) was fabled as the meeting place for “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty”,[i] a battle that would end the present age of humanity. In 1457 BC, Egyptian forces, lead by Pharaoh Thutmose III, overran a Canaanite coalition force on the plains of Megiddo, leading to a seven-month siege of the city.[ii] The eventual Egyptian victory re-established their dominance in the Levant, and expanded the Egyptian Empire to its greatest ever size.[iii] The details of the campaign are accepted as the first reliable records of a battle in history, and also marked the first use of body count records.[iv] A seldom spoken about battle in 1918 is also named after the city of Megiddo, and was just as decisive as the Egyptian victory some 3,300 years earlier.


A relief in the Karnak Temple showing Pharaoh Thutmose III slaying Canaanite captives after the Battle of Megiddo (15th Century BC)
Olaf Tausch, available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Karnak_Tempel_15.jpg

After their victory in the Battle of Romani, the Allies had steadily established dominance in the Middle East, capturing Gaza, Beersheba and Jerusalem by the end of 1917. This was achieved under the command of General Sir Edmund Allenby, nicknamed ‘The Bull’ for his emphasis on disciple and abrupt interactions with subordinates.[v] Chosen for his experience with mounted troops in the Boer War, Allenby took control of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force from General Archibald Murray after two failed British attacks at Gaza in early 1917. Also in Palestine in 1917 was the Desert Mounted Corps (renamed by Allenby from Desert Column in August), made up of the ANZAC Mounted Division, the Australian Mounted Division and the Yeomanry Mounted Division, with infantry formations attached where required. These personnel were commanded by Lieutenant-General Henry George (Harry) Chauvel, also a veteran of the Boer War with particular knowledge of the light horse. His troops quickly made a name for themselves in the Battle of Beersheba, playing a critical role in the famous mounted infantry bayonet charge.


Portrait of General Chauvel mounted on his charger in Damascus, 21 October 1918
AWM B00326

With the Ottoman Army vulnerable after their string of defeats in 1917, Allenby wished to resume operations in Palestine as quickly as possible. His plans were interrupted by the German spring offensive on the Western Front, and Allenby was ordered to send vast quantities of reinforcements to France and Belgium. Approximately 60,000 officers and men, as well as the entire tank force, were removed from Allenby’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force.[vi] Meanwhile, the Ottoman’s were reorganising their forces, with German General Otto Liman von Sanders (commander of the Ottoman defence during the Gallipoli Campaign) replacing General Erich von Falkenhayn. Liman ordered his men to dig in in the Jordan Valley rather than retreat further north.[vii]

Once Allenby’s force returned to full strength, supplemented by British Indian Army Cavalry Divisions and the newly formed 4th and 5th Cavalry Divisions,[viii] he began planning what would be the final Allied offensive of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. Allenby planned to break the Ottoman line at the western (coastal) end, where terrain was favourable for cavalry. He feared that, if the Ottoman’s became aware of his intentions, they could thwart the attack by withdrawing troops at the coastal sector. In a manoeuvre akin to his Egyptian counterpart Pharaoh Thutmose III, who deceived the Canaanites as to the route his army would take to Megiddo,[ix] Allenby decided to persuade the Ottoman’s into believing an attack would be mounted from the Jordan Valley.[x] He did so by moving personnel eastward during the day, using mules and vehicles dragging harrows to stir up dust and create the illusion that a large number of troops were moving across the valley.[xi] By night, these men would be returned to base in lorries to repeat the process again the next day. Dummy camps and horse lines were erected in the Valley, and a hotel in Jerusalem was used as a fake headquarters.[xii] All the while, the majority of Allenby’s forces were secretly heading towards the coast under the cover of darkness, with the Royal Air Force and Australian Flying Corps holding any German pilots capable of noticing the illusion at bay.[xiii] At the same time, the air forces were mapping every move of the Ottoman Army.[xiv] Open fires in the coastal camps were forbidden, and kitchens were forced to use solidified alcohol to prevent smoke.[xv]


A row of dummy horses set up in the Jordan Valley
AWM B02667

Though the intricate deception tactics employed by Allenby did not convince Liman to concentrate his entire force on the eastern flank, it did give the Allies a near five to one infantry advantage on the eastern flank, as well as a significant artillery advantage.[xvi] When the attack was mounted in the early hours of 19 September 1918, the Ottoman’s were caught off guard. Employing a lifting barrage with 385 artillery guns, 60 trench mortars and two Navy destroyers off the coast,[xvii] the British-Indian Infantry took less than five hours to break through the Ottoman line.[xviii] Dust clouds caused by the incessant shelling made it difficult to advance, forcing them to rely on compasses to navigate.[xix] Nevertheless, the initial objectives were quickly captured, and by the end of the day, the Allies had advanced as far as the plain of Esdraelon, 50 kilometres behind the Turkish front.[xx]

Due to the overwhelmingly successful opening attack, the Allies were able to encircle the Seventh and Eighth Ottoman Armies on the 20th, disrupting their evacuation routes. Chauvel’s Desert Mounted Corps were instrumental in securing the path through Mt Carmel, which allowed passage for the 4th Mounted Division to capture Afulah and Beisan, the 5th Mounted Division to attack Nazareth, and a brigade from the Australian Mounted Division to occupy Jenin.[xxi] The Australians also destroyed the major railway line at Jenin, further preventing the Ottoman retreat.[xxii] General Liman von Sanders and his staff managed to escape from their headquarters in Nazareth moments before its capture.[xxiii] The RAF and Australian Flying Corps maintained their dominance in the air, inflicting significant casualties on the retiring Ottoman forces, to the point where droves of soldiers were forced to abandon their equipment in search of cover.[xxiv] Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence (who would later be popularised as Lawrence of Arabia) wrote of the retreat: “the RAF lost four killed. The Turks lost a corps”.[xxv]


The town of Jenin after its capture on 22 September 1918
AWM B00259


Turkish prisoners rest at Tul Keram after capture by the Australian Light Horse
AWM B00253C

The capture of Amman on 25 September 1918 secured victory for the Allies. Chaytor’s Force, led by New Zealander Major General Edward Chaytor, blocked all lines of retreat from Amman, forcing the surrender of over 5,000 Ottoman soldiers from the decimated Ottoman Fourth Army.[xxvi] This ended what was, in Chaytor’s words, a victory so complete it had “seldom been known in all the history of war”.[xxvii]

The capture of Amman allowed the 5th Mounted and Australian Mounted Divisions to proceed directly to Damascus, fighting in multiple minor actions as they advanced. Damascus and its 20,000 prisoners from the Ottoman Fourth Army fell to the Allies on 30 September 1918 with no resistance.[xxviii] The following day, Ottoman Minister of Marine Affairs Rauf Bey and British Admiral Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthrorpe signed the Armistice of Mudros aboard the HMS Agamemnon, ending the war in the Middle East.[xxix]


The Australian Light Horse enter the town square in Damascus, 2 October 1918
AWM B00316

The Ottoman Armies were completely annihilated by the Allies. Over 75,000 prisoners were captured, along with 360 guns.[xxx] Just 6,000 of the Ottoman’s Seventh and Eighth Armies initial 35,000 men managed to evade capture or casualty.[xxxi] The Allies lost just 782 men, with a further 382 missing and 4,179 wounded.[xxxii] According to Australian Prime Minister William Hughes, “in the history of the world, there never was a greater victory than that which was achieved in Palestine”.[xxxiii] Although the name ‘Megiddo’ may not accurately capture the battle’s location, it is fitting that such a decisive victory be remembered as the Armageddon of the war in the Middle East.


References:

[i] Revelations 16:14, Holy Bible, New International Version.
[ii] Cline, E 2002, The Battles of Armageddon: Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley from the Bronze Age to the Nuclear Age, University of Michigan Press, Detroit, p. 21.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Dupuy, T 1990, The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare, Da Capo Press, Boston.
[v] National Army Museum 2022, ‘Edmund Allenby: The bull’, National Army Museum, viewed 14 September 2022, <https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/edmund-allenby>.
[vi] Bruce, A 2022, The Last Crusade: The Palestine Campaign in the First World War, John Murray Publishers, London, p. 204.
[vii] Erickson, E 2001, Ordered to Die: A History of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, p. 195.
[viii] Perrett, B 1999, Megiddo 1918 – The Last Great Cavalry Victory, Osprey, Oxford, p. 24.
[ix] Cline, E 2002, The Battles of Armageddon: Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley from the Bronze Age to the Nuclear Age, University of Michigan Press, Detroit, p. 18 – There were three possible routes the Egyptian Army could take into Megiddo. The most direct route was through a narrow ravine, which would force troops to travel in single final and could be easily repelled by the enemy. After being informed by his general to take one of the two safer routes, Pharaoh Thutmose III decided to take the direct route, believing the Canaanite Army would mobilise around the two safer routes on the assumption the direct route would not be used. He was proven correct, and his Army faced very little resistance while crossing the ravine.
[x] Desplat, J and Hay, G 2018, ‘Apocalypse Then: the Battle of Megiddo, 1918’, The National Archives, viewed 15 September 2022, <https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/apocalypse-then-battle-megiddo-1918/>.
[xi] Powles, C 1922, The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine: Official History New Zealand's Effort in the Great War, vol. 3, Whitcombe & Tombs, Auckland, p. 234.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] Department of Veterans’ Affairs, ‘Megiddo: Allenby’s Masterstroke, 1918, AWM London, viewed 15 September 2022, <https://www.awmlondon.gov.au/battles/megiddo>.
[xiv] Ibid.
[xv] Desplat, J and Hay, G 2018, ‘Apocalypse Then: the Battle of Megiddo, 1918’, The National Archives, viewed 15 September 2022, <https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/apocalypse-then-battle-megiddo-1918/>.
[xvi] Hart, B 1970, History of the First World War, Pan Books, London, p. 437.
[xvii] Falls, C 1930, Armageddon, 1918, J.B. Lippincott Publishing, Philadelphia, p. 37.
[xviii] Department of Veterans’ Affairs, ‘Megiddo: Allenby’s Masterstroke, 1918, AWM London, viewed 15 September 2022, <https://www.awmlondon.gov.au/battles/megiddo>.
[xix] Desplat, J and Hay, G 2018, ‘Apocalypse Then: the Battle of Megiddo, 1918’, The National Archives, viewed 15 September 2022, <https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/apocalypse-then-battle-megiddo-1918/>.
[xx] Department of Veterans’ Affairs, ‘Megiddo: Allenby’s Masterstroke, 1918, AWM London, viewed 15 September 2022, <https://www.awmlondon.gov.au/battles/megiddo>.
[xxi] Hart, B 1970, History of the First World War, Pan Books, London, p. 438.
[xxii] Department of Veterans’ Affairs, ‘Megiddo: Allenby’s Masterstroke, 1918, AWM London, viewed 15 September 2022, <https://www.awmlondon.gov.au/battles/megiddo>.
[xxiii] Ibid.
[xxiv] Desplat, J and Hay, G 2018, ‘Apocalypse Then: the Battle of Megiddo, 1918’, The National Archives, viewed 15 September 2022, <https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/apocalypse-then-battle-megiddo-1918/>.
[xxv] Baker, A 2003, From Biplane to Spitfire: The Life of Air Chief Marshal Sir Geoffrey Salmond KCB KCMG DSO, Pen and Sword Books, Barnsley, p. 136.
[xxvi] Department of Veterans’ Affairs, ‘Megiddo: Allenby’s Masterstroke, 1918, AWM London, viewed 15 September 2022, <https://www.awmlondon.gov.au/battles/megiddo>.
[xxvii] Desplat, J and Hay, G 2018, ‘Apocalypse Then: the Battle of Megiddo, 1918’, The National Archives, viewed 15 September 2022, <https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/apocalypse-then-battle-megiddo-1918/>.
[xxviii] Hart, B 1970, History of the First World War, Pan Books, London, p. 439.
[xxix] Karsh, E 2001, Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, p. 327.
[xxx] Department of Veterans’ Affairs, ‘Megiddo: Allenby’s Masterstroke, 1918, AWM London, viewed 15 September 2022, <https://www.awmlondon.gov.au/battles/megiddo>.
[xxxi] Cutlack, F 1941, The Australian Flying Corps in the Western and Eastern Theatres of War, 1914–1918 - Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, p. 168.
[xxxii] Ibid.
[xxxiii] Department of Veterans’ Affairs, ‘Megiddo: Allenby’s Masterstroke, 1918, AWM London, viewed 15 September 2022, <https://www.awmlondon.gov.au/battles/megiddo>.