The background to the war in 1918
Allenby’s capture of Jaffa and Jerusalem had met the expectations of those like Lloyd George who believed that on the path to eventual victory there must be an alternative to the attritional slaughter of the Western Front; but there were many imponderables in the first months of 1918. Bolshevik Russia was keen to sue for peace, allowing the Germans to transfer armies from the Eastern Front to France and Belgium and it was not yet clear when the arrival of United States’ forces would introduce a significant new factor to the Western Front. In March 1918 the Germans struck hard and as soon as the massive scale of this offensive was appreciated Allenby was warned that he might be required to spare some of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force for service in France; in the event two divisions left in April and eleven more British battalions and other units in May, a total of nearly 60,000 men. To replace them Allenby was sent an Indian division from Mesopotamia and many more Indian units recently recruited and lacking in battle experience. Much reorganisation and training was now needed to make the depleted E.E.F. capable of launching a full-scale offensive against a tenacious enemy defending well-prepared positions. Not that Allenby allowed the two Corps of the E.E.E to remain inactive. In late March and in late April XX Corps launched major raids to cut the railway at Amman and to convince Liman von Sanders – the hero of Gallipoli who had replaced von Falkenhayn – that when Allenby was ready his main thrust would be East of Jordan. Between the two Transjordan raids XXI Corps, whose left flank guarded the coast, planned an operation in the foothills East of Lydda designed to tear a gap in the enemy’s defences through which the cavalry would pour encircling his front line and capturing Tul Karm, the headquarters and railhead of the Turkish Eighth Army. The ‘Action of Berukin’ as the Official History austerely calls it1, was fought on April 9th, 10th and 11th. The 75th Division, crossing a wide no-man’s land, advanced against an entrenched enemy defending a country of ravines and steep hills. Two German infantry battalions supported by their own artillery, mortars and machine guns, as well as determined Turkish units, contested every metre of ground; any gains were fiercely counter-attacked before they could be consolidated. A few villages and hilltops were taken and held but the looked-for breakthrough did not materialise and the action was called off; the 75th Division had suffered a total of 1500 casualties.2
Over the summer, while his army was re-grouping, Allenby matured his grand strategy. Setting his sights on Damascus, Beirut and Aleppo he intended to clear the enemy not only from Palestine but also from Syria. The lesson of the ‘Action of Berukin’ was learnt; there would be no more attacks involving only one division. Allenby planned to strike the Turks on the coastal plain with such overwhelming force that there could be no doubt of the breakthrough which would enable the cavalry to rush north up the Plain of Sharon, over the range of hills which runs from south-east to north-west and ends at Mount Carmel overlooking Haifa and so down into the Plain of Esdraelon – all this to be accomplished in a ride of at least fifty miles in twenty-four hours. A series of elaborate deceptions confirmed Liman von Sanders in the belief that Allenby would attack in and to the East of the Jordan Valley, but with the concentration of his forces near the coast undetected, the onslaught Allenby launched in the early hours of September 19th, initiating what is officially named the Battle of Megiddo, achieved complete surprise. The following morning von Sanders himself was lucky not to have been made prisoner when, unaware of the depth and speed of the British advance he escaped, in his pyjamas, from his headquarters in Nazareth, on the northern side of the Plain of Esdraelon, which had been entered by a troop of Gloucester Hussars.
In France the Allies had recovered the ground surrendered in the Spring and, as the Germans retreated, reached country behind the front-line areas which had not been devastated by four years of trench warfare. In the Balkans the Bulgarians crumpled on the Salonika front and sued for peace on September 29th. Meanwhile Allenby’s cavalry ranged further northwards; Haifa was entered on September 23rd, Damascus a week later, Beirut on October 8th and Aleppo on the 26th. In less than six weeks Allenby’s men had advanced 350 miles – many units covering much greater distances – and taken at least 75,000 prisoners. Threatened by invasion from both the South and the Balkans and aware of Germany’s imminent collapse, Turkey capitulated on October 30th. The political consequences of Allenby’s victory were complex and far-reaching but these were not the concern of the majority of the men under his command, the volunteers and conscripts whose duty had been done and who now longed to return home to India, Australia, the West Indies and the United Kingdom.
Stanley Goodland in 1918: Palestine & Egypt.
From January to April 1918 the 75th Division held its place in the front line due East of Jaffa and North East of Lydda (Ludd). Each infantry battalion took its turn at the front, where no man’s land was wide and activity was confined to patrolling. The 1/5 Somersets gradually returned to full strength, though there were gaps which reinforcements and the returning wounded, now restored to health, could not fill. Stanley Goodland felt deeply the loss of his friends Gerald Banes Walker, killed in the battle for El Jib, and Harry Milsom, wounded and invalided home.
The visit of H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught provided a welcome exception to the routine of divisional duties. Stanley commanded the one hundred strong Guard of Honour at the parade on March 16th at Ramleh (now Ramla). The Duke presented medals to officers and men of the 1/5 Somersets. Major Frank Urwick received the DSO for his distinguished leadership at El Mesmiyeh in November. Captains Goodland and Timms received their MCs, RSM Windows was presented with the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Sgt Collard with the Military Medal and Bar, and Privates Cridland, Greedy, Petvin and Rowseti with Military Medals.3
The 1/5 Somersets were heavily involved in the ‘Action of Berukin,’ which began on April 9th. By 0530 hrs no 4 Company had achieved its objective, the occupation of Rafat and by 0730 nos 1 & 3 Companies had seized the ridge between Rafat and Arara. Arara is ‘a rugged hill, devoid of all vegetation … it stands out a landmark for miles around, and was a position of great natural strength.’ ‘The prominent ridge [is] fashioned principally from solid rock interspersed with enormous boulders.’ The ridge was taken ‘in the face of heavy M.G. fire, a hostile M.G. being captured by 2/Lt Franks and used to repel a counter-attack.’4 Attempts to capture the South-East peak of Arara were frustrated by the fire of three machine guns on the North-West peak and by enfilading fire from the right. Casualties were heavy. Two subalterns were killed, as were five other ranks. Among the wounded were six officers and seventy-five men.5 Elsewhere along the 75th Division front there were similar stories of merely limited objectives obtained, frequent counter-attacks by a stubborn defence which included two battalions of the German ‘Pasha II’ contingent and severe losses inflicted by well-directed machine gun, mortar and artillery fire.
When the battle was resumed early on April 10th the enemy had been reinforced and had at least six machine guns in position making the Rafat-Arara ridge untenable, so a withdrawal was made that night. On the 11th the Corps Commander, Lt Gen. Bulfin and his Chief of Staff visited the 75th Division and, having seen for themselves that no immediate breakthrough was possible ordered further offensive operations to be postponed.6
The British possession of Rafat, El Kefr and Berukin was still bitterly disputed and desultory fighting continued until September. Through the scorching summer the Somersets were either holding the forward outposts or were bivouacked in ‘rest’ areas, from which large working parties were employed in road building and the construction of a second line of defence. Artillery bombardment caused casualties. For instance at El Kefr on April 30th three men were killed and three more wounded; two more were wounded when the same village was shelled on May 27th. Night patrols were sent out, some leaving propaganda material in places the enemy was known to visit. In July the Battalion was at Deir Ballut where, on the 13th, when Stanley was temporarily in command, an estimated 600 shells were directed onto the area it occupied but the enemy’s attack on Rafat from Arara failed because ‘they were prevented by our artillery from reaching the wire’ 7 In late August the Battalion occupied the Berukin area, remaining there until September 12th, a week before Allenby’s offensive began.
Stanley’s surviving letters provide only a sketchy account of these months of hard campaigning. German and Austrian submarines continued to sink Allied ships in the Mediterranean till the end of the war; letters were damaged or lost.8 There is no reference in the War Diary to Stanley’s reconnaissance work in August but he must have been minutely examining the area in which the 233rd Infantry Brigade would be deployed in the operations on Z Day, September 19th.
Marching only by night, forbidden to light fires, moving to concealed bivouacs in orange groves, the Battalion prepared for Allenby’s greatest ‘stunt’. Two Companies were attached to the 234th Infantry Brigade with the specific task of capturing an advanced Turkish outpost covering Tabsor, about five miles inland from the coast. This mission was speedily accomplished without loss, though two men were killed and five wounded later in the day. By nightfall the re-united Battalion had advanced five miles and become part of Corps reserve.
While the British and Imperial cavalry surged North following Allenby’s spectacular breakthrough the men of the 233rd Infantry Brigade were engaged in maintaining the railway and roads in the Kalkilieh (Qalqilye) area. The most common War Diary entry for October is: ‘The Battalion continued training and bathing’. Stanley Goodland’s departure for temporary duty on the Divisional staff is duly noted, as is his return on November 9th, by which time the Battalion had moved South to Hadithe where it had spent the bedraggled Christmas of 19179. Here the news was received by wire of the German Armistice of November 11th. A party of five officers and fifteen other ranks went to Rafat-Arara to make a cemetery for those killed in the battle there. Sickness was prevalent. The Roll of Honour prints the names of twelve private soldiers who died in the last three months of 1918.10
On December 6th the Battalion was transported by train to Kantara, in the Canal Zone near to Port Said. It was one stage towards home but for Stanley, the Adjutant, the processing of demobilisation papers made for a busy Christmas.
1 Guided by Turkish nomenclature: Cyril Falls, op. cit. Part II, p.350.
2 ibid. p.357.
3 BoR, p.58.
4 2/Lt Franks was awarded the MC. Bn War Diary 22/5/1918.
5 At some stage of this campaign Major Urwick suffered a shrapnel wound. Bn War Diary for 9/4/1918, PRO WO 95 4690.
6 Falls, op. cit. part II, p.356.
7 Bn War Diary 13/7/1918.
8 28 German U-Boats were still operating in the Mediterranean in August 1918: see Halpern, op. cit. p.400.
9 see his letters, 29/10/1918, 31/10/1918 and 4/11/1918
10 BoR, pp. v-ix.
Next letter January 11th 2018
These letters have been published as
Engaged in War – the Letters of Stanley Goodland 1914 – 1919
Twiga Books, ISBN 978 09528625 2 9 £9.50 + p&p
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