Battle Honour 15th
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Jerusalem the ancient capital of Judea had been in Turkish hands since the time of the Crusades. The battle honour was awarded to units who fought in and around the city when it was taken from the Turks in November 1917.
The 15th Light Horse was not formed until July 1918 when the Imperial Camel Brigade was disbanded. The Australians who had served in it were formed into the 14th and 15th Light Horse AIF (Australian Imperial Force). Honours for battles fought by the Camel Brigade were attributed to these Regiments.
The Camel Brigade took part in the battles leading to Jerusalem.
Initially it had been decided to isolate Jerusalem by a swift advance along the Nablus road. It was in this endeavour that the mounted troops were used. The advance by Wilson’s brigade on 18 November 1917 provided a good example of the effect of an enveloping movement by mounted troops. A patrol penetrated around the enemy line at Latron – Amwas 16 kilometres west of Jerusalem, as far as Yalo, a village eight km to the east of Amwas. Next morning the 75th British Infantry Division found Latron evacuated. Knowing Yalo had fallen, the Turks feared isolation and capture. This advance ground to a standstill at Nebi Samwil, five kilometres west of Jerusalem the limit of King Richard’s advance in January 1192.
It was then decided to approach the City from the north-west as this would menace Turkish communications, compelling evacuation and save much severe fighting. However, the absence of roads and water led to the abandonment of this scheme. At a senior allied commanders’ conference at Yalo on 30 November 1917, it was decided to attack Jerusalem from the west and south-west.
The battle was noted as being fought by infantry, with little effective manoeuvre by mounted troops. The Turkish troops fought gallantly, each advance by allied forces was checked, with more and more dismounted troops needing to be assembled for the assault. At the end there were four full British Infantry Divisions (10th, 53rd, 60th, and 74th) and the bulk of the Desert Mounted Corps facing the 37th, 58th Turkish Infantry and 3rd Turkish Cavalry Divisions. Of the Turkish troops Von Pappen a German staff officer working with them wrote: “The breakdown of the army, after having to relinquish the good positions in which they had remained for so long is complete. But for this we would still be able to make a stand south of Jerusalem. But now the 7th (Turkish) Army bolts from every enemy cavalry patrol. Single men fight well but the good officers have fallen.”. It must be recognised that this was a German Officer’s appreciation and contains the type of language often used by British officers when referring to their “colonial” allies in the South African War; nonetheless it does give some understanding of the state of the Turkish Army.
Von Papen was wrong. The Turkish troops checked the Allied advance at every point. However, loss of their dominating position at Wady Surar lost them Jerusalem. However, the Turks continued to operate with military precision using Artillery to cover the City’s evacuation.
By 07:00 on the morning of Sunday 9 December the last Turkish soldier left the City. Izet Bey, the governor fled shortly before dawn by the Jericho road after handing the mayor a letter of formal surrender.
Summarised from H.S. Gullett, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Vol 8, 1923, by John Howells – NSW Lancers Museum, 2001.
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