Jewish Legion

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For other uses, see Jewish Legion (disambiguation).
The Jewish Legion cap badge: menorah and word קדימה Kadima
The Jewish Legion Veteran ribbon.

The Jewish Legion (1917–1921) is an unofficial name used to refer to five battalions of Jewish volunteers, the 38th to 42nd (Service) Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, raised in the British Army to fight against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.


Jabotinsky (left) and Trumpeldor (right) in uniform

In February 1915, a small committee in Alexandria approved a plan of Zeev Jabotinsky and Joseph Trumpeldor to form a Jewish military unit that would participate in the British effort to "liberate" Palestine from the Ottoman Empire.[1] The British commander General Maxwell rejected the idea, stating that he doubted that Palestine would be invaded and that foreign nationals were not allowed in the British Army.[1] Maxwell suggested instead that a "mule corps" be formed to serve somewhere else on the Turkish front.[1] Jabotinsky rejected the idea and left for Europe to seek other support for a Jewish unit, but Trumpeldor accepted it and began recruiting volunteers from among the Jews in Egypt who had been deported there by the Ottomans in the previous year.[1] The British Army formed 650 of them into the Zion Mule Corps, of which 562 served in the Gallipoli Campaign.[1]

Gallipoli Front[edit]

Cape Helles landing map

On April 25, 1915, together with the first British, Australian, New Zealand and French troops, the Jewish Legion landed on Gallipoli peninsula. Its Commanding Officer was Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson, DSO, an Irish Protestant, and was met with heavy shelling and machine-gun fire at the shore of Cape Helles. Trumpeldor was Second-in-command; Jabotinsky served as an officer. There, a Distinguished Conduct Medal was awarded to Private M. Groushkowsky, who prevented his mules from stampeding under heavy bombardment and despite being wounded in both arms, delivered the ammunition. Trumpeldor was shot through the shoulder but refused to leave the battlefield. Patterson later wrote: "Many of the Zionists whom I thought somewhat lacking in courage showed themselves fearless to a degree when under heavy fire, while Captain Trumpeldor actually revelled in it, and the hotter it became the more he liked it..."

Official formation[edit]

39th Battalion, Jewish League, Fort Edward (Nova Scotia), Yom Kippur, 1918

Between the dissolution of the Zion Mule Corps and the formation of the Jewish Legion, Jabotinsky and Trumpeldor and 120 Zion Mule Corps Veterans served together in 16 Platoon of the 20th Battalion, London Regiment.

Finally, in August 1917, the formation of a Jewish regiment was officially announced. The unit was designated as the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and included British volunteers, as well as members of the former Zion Mule Corps and a large number of Russian Jews. On April 1918, it was joined by the 39th Battalion, made up almost entirely of Jews who were resident in the United States and Canada. The 39th Battalion was raised at Fort Edward (Nova Scotia).[2]

Thousands of Palestinian Jews also applied to join the Legion and in 1918, more than 1,000 were enlisted. Ninety-two Ottoman Jews who had been captured in the fighting earlier were also permitted to enlist. This group was organized as the 40th Battalion. The 41st and 42nd Battalions were depot battalions stationed in Plymouth, England. In his memoirs about the Legion Jabotinsky described the composition of the 5000-member Legion as: "thirty-four per cent from the United States, thirty per cent from Palestine, twenty-eight per cent from England, six per cent from Canada, one per cent Ottoman war prisoners, one per cent from Argentina."

Ultimately, in August 1917, the formation of a Jewish regiment was officially announced. The soldiers of the 38th and 39th Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, made up almost entirely of Jews from Britain, Russia, United States, Canada, and later the 40th Battalion composed of Jews from the Ottoman provinces of Palestine and other areas, served in the Jordan Valley and fought the Ottomans some twenty miles (32 km) north of Jerusalem.

Action in the Jordan Valley, 1918[edit]

In June 1918, the volunteers of the 38th Battalion began engaging the Ottomans some twenty miles north of Jerusalem. In the fighting in the Jordan Valley, more than twenty Legionnaires were killed, wounded, or captured, the rest came down with malaria, and thirty of this group later died. The Legion then came under the command of Major-General Edward Chaytor,[3] who commanded the ANZAC Mounted Division.

Besides various skirmishes, the Legion also participated in the Battle of Megiddo in mid-September, 1918, widely considered to have been one of the final and decisive victories of the Ottoman front.

The Legion's mission was to cross the Jordan River. Jabotinsky led the effort. Later, he was decorated and Chaytor told the Jewish troops: "By forcing the Jordan fords, you helped in no small measure to win the great victory gained at Damascus."


The Legion casualties in World War I[4]
Battalion Fatalities
38th 43
39th 23
40th 12
42nd 3
38th/40th 9
Transferred from
Jewish Legion

Almost all the members of the Jewish regiments were discharged immediately after the end of World War I in November 1918. Some of them returned to their respective countries, others settled in Palestine to realize their Zionist aspirations. In late 1919, the Jewish Legion was reduced to one battalion titled First Judeans, and awarded a distinctive cap badge, a menorah with the Hebrew word קדימה Kadima (forward) at the base.

Former members of the Legion took part in the defence of Jewish communities during the Riots in Palestine of 1920, which resulted in the arrest of Jabotinsky. Two former members of the Legion were killed with Trumpeldor at Tel Hai. One former member of the Legion was killed in Tel Aviv-Jaffa during the Jaffa riots of 1921. Some members of the Jewish Legion settled in moshav Avihayil. Another former member died in service in World War II.[5]


Members of Jewish Legion[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Joseph B. Schechtman (1956). Rebel and Statesman, The Vladimir Jabotinsky Story, The Early Years. New York: Thomas Yoseloff. pp. 203–207. 
  2. ^ The Struggle for the Jewish Legion and The Birth of the IDF; By Jerry Klinger
  3. ^ Bio of E.W.C. Chaytor (
  4. ^ Approximate numbers, according to Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  5. ^ S/Sgt Maurice Spero died 27-8-1944
  6. ^ Levy, Bert "Yank"; Wintringham, Tom (Foreword) (1942, reprint 1964). Guerilla Warfare (PDF). Paladin Press. Retrieved April 15, 2014.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^ "Mer, Professor Gideon". Israel War Veterans League. Archived from the original on 2007-12-25. Retrieved 2008-03-12. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Patterson, John H. With the Judeans in the Palestine campaign. Uckfield : Naval & Military Press, [2004 reprint] ISBN 1-84342-829-6
  • Jabotinsky, Vladimir. The story of the Jewish Legion. New York: Bernard Ackerman, 1945. OCLC 177504
  • Freulich, Roman. Soldiers in Judea;: Stories and vignettes of the Jewish Legion. Herzl Press, 1965. OCLC 3382262
  • Gilner, Elias. Fighting dreamers; a history of the Jewish Legion in World War One,: With a glimpse at other Jewish fighting groups of the period. 1968. OCLC 431968
  • Gilner, Elias. War and Hope. A History of the Jewish Legion. New York; Herzl Press: 1969. OCLC 59592
  • Keren, Michael and Shlomit Keren, We Are Coming, Unafraid: The Jewish Legions and the Promised Land in the First World War. Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010. ISBN 9781442205505 OCLC 700447107
  • Kraines, Oscar. The soldiers of Zion: The Jewish Legion, 1915-1921. 1985. OCLC 13115081
  • Lammfromm, Arnon, Izhak Ben-Zvi and the Commmoration of Joseph Binyamini: A Failed Attempt to Create a Site of National Heritage", Archion, 17, Winter 2013, pages 48–55, 68 (Hebrew and English abstract)
  • Marrion, R.J. "The Jewish Legion," 39th (service) battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), 1918-1919. 1987.
  • Watts, Martin. The Jewish Legion and the First World War. 2004. ISBN 1-4039-3921-7
  • "When the spirit of Judah Maccabee hovered over Whitechapel Road and — The march of the 38th Royal Fusiliers" by Martin Sugarman, Western Front Association Journal, Jan 2010.

External links[edit]