Charge at Haritan
The Charge at Haritan occurred on 26 October 1918 at the end of the Pursuit to Haritan after the Capture of Damascus (1918) during the final stages of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the First World War. Two regiments of the 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade, 5th Cavalry Division, charged into retreating remnand column of the Ottoman Army's Yildirim Army Group. Subsequently six squadrons of the same brigade charged into an Ottoman rearguard position but were counterattacked and forced to retreat.
After the British Empire's victory at the Battle of Megiddo the remnants of the Ottoman Empire's Yildirim Army Group from Amman was pursued by Prince Feisal's Sherifial Force which captured Deraa on 27 September, on the right flank of the 4th Cavalry Division. Meanwhile the pursuit by the Australian Mounted Division followed by the 5th Cavalry Division of Yildirim Army Group remnants retreating from the Judean Hills, captured Damascus on 1 October 1918, many thousands of German and Ottoman prisoners and many miles of formerly Ottoman Empire territory. A remnant force of Yildirim Army Group managed to escape Damascus, to concentrate at Rayak before retreating back through Homs and Hama towards Aleppo. Huge losses in Desert Mounted Corps from sickness, delayed and depleted their pursuit from Damascus which was continued by 24 cars in three batteries of armoured cars, and three light car patrols armed with machine guns. They were supported by the 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade with the remainder of the division following with the Australian Mounted Division moving north to reinforce them. Prince Feisal's Sherifial Force successfully attacked Aleppo during the night of 25 October.
Following the comprehensive success of the Battle of Megiddo, Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff at the War Office encouraged General Allenby, commanding the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) with the idea that the EEF could do anything and asked him to consider a cavalry raid to Aleppo. Wilson added that the War Cabinet was prepared to take full responsibility for any unsuccessful outcomes.
About 19,000 Ottoman soldiers had retreated northwards by 1 October, no more than 4,000 of whom were equipped and able to fight. Otto Liman von Sanders transferred his headquarters to Baalbek and ordered the remnants of Yildirim Army Group from Haifa and Deraa to concentrate at Rayak. The 146th Regiment was the last formation to leave Damascus on 30 September. After hearing the Barada Gorge was closed von Hammerstein left Damascus by the Homs road, following the III Corps, the 24th Division and the 3rd Cavalry Division to Rayak where even remnants of the 43rd Division of the Second Army which had not been involved in fighting, were "infected with panic." Only the remnants of von Oppen's Asia Corps and the 146th Regiment marching to Homs remained "disciplined formations" by 2 October.
Lieutenant General Harry Chauvel's Desert Mounted Corps at Damascus was already 150 miles (240 km) away from its main supply base while Aleppo was a further 200 miles (320 km) away. Allenby was prepared to advance only in stages as supply and geography dictated. He estimated on 25 September that there were 25,000 enemy troops in the Aleppo and Alexandretta area.
Yildirim Army Group
Remnants of the Seventh Army commanded by Mustapha Kemal which had escaped Megiddo, Damascus and Aleppo, were now deployed to the north and northwest of that city. The Second Army of about 16,000 armed troops commanded by Nihad Pasha was located to the west in Cilicia and the Sixth Army with another 16,000 armed troops commanded by Ali Ihsan which had withdrawn from Mesopotamia was to the north-east around Nusaybin. These Ottoman forces grossly outnumbered the 5th Cavalry Division and attached armoured cars.
British Empire and allied force
This force which conducted the pursuit was made up of Prince Fisal's Sherifial Force; one column of 1,500 commanded by Colonel Nuri Bey and a second column of 1,500 commanded by Sherif Nasir, the 2nd, 11th and 12th Light Armoured Motor Batteries and the 1st (Australian), 2nd and 7th Light Car Patrols consisting of 24 armoured cars, and the 5th Cavalry Division's 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade which accompanied the armoured cars to Hamma on 21 October, while the 13th and 14th Cavalry Brigades followed in support.
The 5th Cavalry Division and the armoured cars were organised into two columns. Column "A" consisted of the Major General H. J. Macandrew's division headquarters, all the armoured cars and the 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade. The 13th and 14th Cavalry Brigades formed Column "B."
Macandrew planned to attack Aleppo from three sides on 26 October. The armoured cars were to attack along the road from the south, Prince Feisal's Sherifial forces were to attack from the east while the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade moving round to the west of Aleppo was to cut the Alexandretta road. However, during the night of 25 October, Nuri Bey's Arab Sherifial Force attacked the city from the east, and the Arab Sherifial Force commanded by Sherif Nazir advanced round the entrenched Ottoman defences, entered the city to make contact with supporters.
Aleppo was captured by these Sherifial Forces after a night of hand–to–hand fighting through the streets on 26 October, having suffering 60 killed. Macandrew arrived in Aleppo shortly after 10:00 with the armoured cars.
On 21 October the 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade were issued orders to continue the advance to Aleppo. The brigade was proceeded by seven light armoured cars, but the remainder of the division was following a day behind. On 24 October the armoured cars advance was stopped by Turkish defences near Khan Tuman. The Turks held a strong defensive line, on a ridge line to the south and west of Aleppo. The brigade was ordered to occupy a position on the Aleppo-Alexandretta road and to clear Turkish trenches on the ridge to the west of Aleppo. However when they reached the ridge line on 26 October the position had been evacuated. Intelligence from locals suggested that a force of 1,000 men with two small artillery guns were heading north out of Aleppo, so the brigade set off in pursuit. At 11:00 the leading two Jodhpur Lancers squadron and a machine-gun section reached a position overlooking Haritan to the north of Aleppo, when they came under Turkish small arms fire. Brigadier Harbord in command ordered an immediate brigade attack, the Mysore Lancers would move around to the east of the ridge and charge the village followed up by the other two Jodhpur Lancer squadrons. While the remainder of the Brigade Machine-Gun Squadron would move onto the ridge to provide covering fire, with the two other Jodhpur squadrons. The armoured cars of No. 12 Light Armoured Motor Battery arrived at 11:30 and were ordered along the main road to support the attack. As the attack started the leading armoured car developed a fault and returned to their start position, a misunderstanding resulted in the rest of the battery following them, taking them out of the attack. The Mysore Lancers had also started their advance but discovered the Turkish line was longer than expected and had to move further east, out of range of their supporting machine-guns, to get into a position to charge. At 12:00 the lancers charged the Turkish position, killing fifty men and capturing another twenty prisoners. But without any fire support from their machine-gun squadron they were unable to penetrate into the Turkish defences and were forced to withdraw to the rear, dismount and keep the Turkish position under observation. The extent of which had not until then been fully appreciated and was now estimated to be held by a force of 3,000 infantry, 400 cavalry, up to twelve artillery guns and between thirty and forty machine-guns. One group of Turkish soldiers started towards the Mysore Lancers position, but halted about 800 yards (730 m) short and started to dig new defensive trenches. Unable to progress against the larger force the brigade kept the position under observation and at 21:00 the Turks were observed to be withdrawing and had completely evacuated their positions by midnight. Just prior to that at 23:15 the 14th Cavalry Brigade arrived, setting up their own observation lines, until daylight when they took over the 15th Brigades positions. In the days battle Turkish casualties were estimated to be around 100 men, while the brigade had four British officers killed including Lieutenant-Colonel Holden, the senior Special Service Officer, attached to the Jodhpur Lancers, one Indian Officer and sixteen other ranks were also killed. Twelve officers, six of them British, and forty-four other ranks were wounded, another three other ranks were reported missing. That night the Turkish forces withdrew 20 miles (32 km) to Deir el Jemel to the north-west of Aleppo. The 5th Cavalry Division was not strong enough by itself to continue the advance and halted waiting for the Australian Mounted Division to catch up with them. However the day after their unsuccessful charge, 27 October the brigade became the division reserve and was ordered back to Aleppo.
The Jodhpur and Mysore lancer regiments of the 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade were ordered to move to the west of Aleppo at 07:00 on 26 October as part of Major General H. J. Macandrew's planned attack on Aleppo, at 07:00. The regiments with a subsection of the 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade Machine-Gun Squadron, but without artillery support advancing over a ridge to the west of the city to reach the Alexandretta road on the edge of Aleppo at 09:45 without encountering any opposition. The advanced guard; the Jodhpur Lancers continued on to arrive 8 miles (13 km) north-west of Aleppo at a ridge about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south-west of, and overlooking Haritan at 11:00. Here, as a result of being heavily fired on by enemy machine guns, they dismounted to take up a position cutting the Alexandretta road.
From this position the lancer regiments saw a 1,000 strong Ottoman column retiring north of Aleppo along the Alexandretta road at about 11:00. Despite heavy enemy machine gun fire the Mysore and Jodhpur Lancers charged the column.[Note 1]
Brigadier General Cyril Rodney Harbord in command of the 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade, ordered the Mysore Lancers round the eastern end of the ridge with a view to charging the rearguard's left flank with two squadrons of the Jodhpur Lancers in support, while subsections of the Mysore, Jodhpur and the Hyderabad subsections of the Machine-Gun Squadron reinforced the advanced guard. The remainder of the regiments continued firing from the ridge.
The Mysore Lancers advanced at the charge; three squadrons in line of squadron columns, the fourth squadron in support to capture the rearguard position held by 150 Ottoman soldiers armed with rifles and artillery. About 50 survived and 20 were taken prisoner before a far stronger Ottoman force began to attack the Mysore Lancers, forcing them to withdraw, while the two Jodhpur squadrons halted in the rear.
The Ottoman force occupied a strong position with a rocky knoll on their eastern flank which was beyond the range of the machine-guns. At first the Mysore Lancers' charge succeeded in entering the position without great difficulty but as many as 2,000 reinforcements under the command of Mustapha Kemal Pasha, the commander of the Seventh Army, strengthened the Ottoman position putting both Indian regiments "under heavy and well–directed fire." These reinforcements were probably the 1st and 11th Divisions of the new Ottoman XX Corps which had been deployed to defend Aleppo.
On being informed the Mysore Lancers would charge again the Jodhpur Lancers squadrons commanded by Captain H. P. Hornsby, moved forward to cover their rally only to be heavily fired on and forced to withdraw. Hornsby rallied the two squadrons which began to charge, but he was shot and the Indian squadron commander wheeled the squadron about when a large number of reinforcement were seen to be moving forward. During these two charges 80 casualties were suffered by the Imperial Service troops.
Fighting continued throughout the day until at about 23:00 when the 14th Cavalry Brigade arrived, the Ottoman force withdrew ending the last engagement of the Sinai and Palestine campaign of the First World War in the Middle East. "[I]t was probably only the great boldness of the 15th Cavalry Brigade which saved it from a heavy counter-attack."
While the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade withdrew to the Aleppo area where grain and meat was requisitioned, the 14th Cavalry Brigade and the 13th Cavalry Brigade conducted a reconnaissance on 27 October when a rearguard position was found 3.5 miles (5.6 km) north of Haritan which withdrew to Deir el Jemal the next day.
A Sherifial Force of Arab soldiers occupied the strategically important railway junction of the Palestine and the Mesopotamian railway systems at Mouslimie Junction on 29 October, cutting Ottoman communications between Constantinople and Mesopotamia.
The Ottoman rearguard position which had been reported by armoured cars at Deir el Jemal on 28 October had, by 30 October been reinforced 4 miles (6.4 km) beyond it, by a 25 miles (40 km) long defensive line stretching across the Alexandretta road. These positions were defended by a force six times greater than Macandrew's 5th Cavalry Division which could only keep the line under observation while waiting the arrival of the Australian Mounted Division which was on its way north from Damascus.
The Armistice which ended fighting between the EEF and the Yildirim Army Group was negotiated at Mudros and "signed on the deck of the battleship Agamemnon on October 30, 1918."
- Falls does not describe this engagement. [Falls 1930 Vol. 2 pp. 614–16]
- Wilson to Allenby 24 September 1918 in Hughes 2004 p. 186
- Wilson to Allenby received 24 September 1918 in Woodward 2006 p. 203
- Bruce 2002 p. 248
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 p. 594–5
- Bruce 2002 pp. 248–9
- Allenby to Wilson 25 September 1918 in Hughes 2004 p. 188
- Hill 1978 p. 191
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 p. 613 note
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 pp. 611, 613
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 p. 610
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 p. 612
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 pp. 615, 617
- Preston 1921 pp. 288–91
- Wavell 1968 pp. 231–2
- Bruce 2002 p. 255
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 p. 613
- Hill 1978 p. 189
- Keogh 1955 pp. 254–5
- Wavell 1968 p. 232
- H.M.S.O. 1920, p.29
- H.M.S.O. 1920, p.30
- H.M.S.O. 1920, p.31
- "Hyla Napier Holden". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
- The London Gazette: . 27 December 1918. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Bruce 2002, p256
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 p. 613–4
- Bruce 2002 pp. 255–6
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 p. 614
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 p. 615
- Bruce 2002 p. 256
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 pp. 615–6
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 p. 616
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 p. 617
- Falls 1930 Vol. 2 p. 617 and note
- Bruce 2002 p. 257
- Erickson 2001 p. 204
- Anon (1920). History of the 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade during the Great War 1914–1918.. His Majesty's Stationary Office (H.M.S.O.).
- Bruce, Anthony (2002). The Last Crusade: The Palestine Campaign in the First World War. London: John Murray. ISBN 978-0-7195-5432-2.
- Falls, Cyril; A. F. Becke (maps) (1930). Military Operations Egypt & Palestine from June 1917 to the End of the War. Official History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. 2 Part II. London: HM Stationary Office. OCLC 256950972.
- Hill, A. J. (1978). Chauvel of the Light Horse A Biography of General Sir Harry Chauvel, GCMG, KCB. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. OCLC 5003626.
- Hughes, Matthew, ed. (2004). Allenby in Palestine: The Middle East Correspondence of Field Marshal Viscount Allenby June 1917 – October 1919. Army Records Society 22. Phoenix Mill, Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7509-3841-9.
- Keogh, E. G.; Joan Graham (1955). Suez to Aleppo. Melbourne: Directorate of Military Training by Wilkie & Co. OCLC 220029983.
- Preston, R. M. P. (1921). The Desert Mounted Corps: An Account of the Cavalry Operations in Palestine and Syria 1917–1918. London: Constable & Co. OCLC 3900439.
- Wavell, Field Marshal Earl (1968) . "The Palestine Campaigns". In Sheppard, Eric William. A Short History of the British Army (4th ed.). London: Constable & Co. OCLC 35621223.
- Woodward, David R. (2006). Hell in the Holy Land World War I in the Middle East. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-2383-7.