Topic: AIF - Cars
1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF
This is a transcription from a manuscript submitted by Captain E.H. James called "The Motor Patrol". It is lodged in the AWM as AWM 224 MSS 209. This is Part 2.
We worked our way along for another very rough two miles when we came to a very steep decline of about 1100 feet. This looked almost impossible, but we decided to try it out, so stripped every ounce possible off one of the vehicles and lowered it crown the track with the men holding it beak with ropes. We managed this successfully but decided to go on with the one hour to reconnoitre the rest of the track before bringing more vehicles down the same way. is discovered however, that a little further on the track petered out altogether and any further progress was right out of the question, so we had over an hour's hard work hauling the car back again with ropes up the steep slope. By this time it was dark, so we decided to spend the night where we were and after posting sentries, we took turns to sleep under the tarpaulins of the cars.
Everybody was moving at the first streaks of dawn and we soon packed up and moving back over the track we had taken back again to the old Roman Jericho road, and we found that the engineers had been busy during the night to such an extent that the Darts of the road which had been blown up were now almost negotiable for light traffic, so by dint of a little more of our customary pushing and manhandling, we got our Lizzies over the worst places. The previous evening one of the "Rolls" Armoured Cars of the L.A.C.B. in endeavouring to get across the Pilgrims Road got out of control owing to the severe and rough nature of the ground and got rather badly smashed over one of the cliffs. However, we heard that it was hauled up again and repaired next day. We soon reached the rocky hill by Talat-et-Dum where an old stone building (supposed to be the Good Samaritan’s Inn mentioned in the scriptures) gave us cover while we boiled the Billy for breakfast. This building belied its name as throughout the night the machine guns inside had kept up a continuous din, while the enemy gunners had made it their chief target for their artillery. We now had a large column of motor transport vehicles under our control and ante and as we were very anxious to get these to the head of the column, we only spent a few minutes over breakfast. We pushed on with about a dozen motor vehicles following us and reached Headquarters at Neby Muss by midday. The Division now pushed on and took up positions at Jericho at 2 p.m. where headquarters was established.
Apparently the enemy was aware of this fact as at 3.30 p. m. they began to drop shells there from a long range across the Jordan River.
The first shell that dropped caused considerable amusement. It could be heard whining for quite a time before it dropped. One of the natives of the village heard it coming and dropped flat on the ground. Strange to say the shell dropped in the mud almost beside him and smothered him with earth but did no further damage. The native then jumped up and ran until out of sight to the screams of laughter of the troops. One of the next shells went clean through the Radiator of the divisional Commander's car and as this was one of the vehicles under our charge, we had to got busy.
Things were getting too warm at this spot, so we moved camp to a now position about 400 yards away. We towed the general's car away and dismantled the broken parts. After dark we sent a car back along the road towards Jerusalem for about 10 miles where some advanced M.T. Stores were kept and he managed to obtain a new Radiator which he brought to us before midnight. Before daybreak the car was repaired and ready to move off with the real of the fleet at Reveille.
In the morning one half of the unit was ordered to patrol the road from Jericho to the Jordan and the other half to reconnoitre a road marked on the map from Umm-ed-Dumm to Neby Muss and the Jericho Road. We found this road to be merely a pack-horse track, unfit for wheeled vehicles. We reconnoitred on foot for a few miles and made our report and received orders to proceed to Jerusalem where we arrived at 6 p.m. setting up camp in the cold and wet, very different to the warm valley at Jericho only twenty five miles away.
This was the middle of February which was probably the coldest time of the year. For the next few weeks the patrol had vary little excitement beyond a few reconnaissances around Jerusalem Nailin and other parts of the front now extending from the River Jordan to the Coast north of Jaffa. However, on the 13th March, we received orders to make the Jordan Valley our Headquarters and this was apparently the flank where any future movements were to take place.
Ten days afterwards we crossed the Jordan River by a pontoon bridge and received orders to reconnoitre the roads from the river to the base of the hills on the Fast now occupied by the Turkish army. We found that most of the roads petered out into mule trucks once the hills were reached and only one road (that leading from Ghoragyeh where we had established a bridge-head) was suitable for wheeled transport. Next night, the A & NZ Mtd. division pushed on up the mule tracks and left their transport behind them. The man led their horses all night long up the steep hills in the rain and in the morning the division was an top of the hills pushing on towards Amman with the surprised enemy running before them.
The light car patrol received orders to proceed up the Ghoranyeh road with the infantry via Es Salt which we did. We however, found considerable difficulty in getting through the heavy columns of transport accompanying the infantry who had about six hours start of us and they had also added to the difficulties by churning the mud up along the road to the consistency of butter. By dusk we were within three miles of the town of Es Salt which had not yet been captured and as it was too dark to see where we were going there was nothing to do but camp for the night which we did alongside the mad. Beyond an occasional shot from a few snipers in the hills, we had a fairly peaceful night.
At day break next morning we were packed up and on the move again, shortly afterwards we were packed up and on the move again, shortly afterwards we drove into the town of Es Salt. Tile villagers welcomed us by firing fusillades from their rifles into the air. The villagers were very friendly to us and during the night they had prevented the Turks taking a battery of artillery away with them with the result that it fell into our hands next morning. We could not afford to waste much time in the town as. Our instructions were to push on along the road towards Amman and join our own division. We drove on along the road taken by the retreating enemy in a North Easterly direction and soon left the infantry behind. We were now acting on our own in the open land between the two divisions without the slightest knowledge of where our own division was.
The so-called road was a veritable quagmire as during the night the whole of the Turkish and German transport had ploughed it until the mud was knee deep and the continuous rain during the night had not improved it. About 2 p.m. we captured a Turkish prisoner who had been wounded and as he could speak Arabic we learnt from him that his army was about two hours ahead in full retreat. We directed him to the rear and proceeded on our way. Two miles further on we overtook two German motor lorries hopelessly bogged. The first thing we did was to syphon the petrol tanks into our own as the heavy going was using our supplies of "juice” up too rapidly for our liking. We also put the engines out of action and pushed on.
After another hour's hard pushing and driving we came in sight of a large body of transport surrounded by men. On examining them through field glasses we saw that the transport consisted of 23 German army motor lorries and a number of cars. These had been abandoned and the men around them were hoards of Bedouins busy looting. A couple of rounds from the Lewis Guns soon cleared this mob away end we shortly came up to inspect our new find. We discovered however, that the lorries and cars were all axle deep in mud and that it was almost as impossible for us to proceed ourselves. We got a little more petrol and oil and after rendering the enemy vehicles hors-de-combat, we decided as it was rapidly getting dark we had better make ourselves secure for the night.
We moved back along the road to a small hill about half a mile back which was comparatively dry which commanded a fair view of the surrounding country and here we parked our cars in a square with a Lewis gun at each corner and after posting sentries we endeavoured to take turns at sleeping. This however, was not an easy matter as every now and then loud bursts of rifle fire kept occurring from various quarters. This turned out afterwards to be fights between various Circassian and Bedouin villages who were having a little war on their own and apparently were quite disinterested in our doings.
We unfortunately did not know which of these were friendly or otherwise so had to keep all villagers at a distance. We sent a small patrol on foot under Sergeant Langley towards the east in order to get in touch with H.Q. of the Mounted Division as we estimated that owing to the distance we had come we could not be more than a few miles away from them. Our estimate was not very far out as our patrol ran across their outposts about three miles away.
The patrol informed H.Q. of our position and brought back the information that the mounted men were having a very rough time. Numbers of the wounded were dying from exposure as no ambulances were able to traverse the country. When our patrol returned in the morning they brought back instructions for us to stay in the present position for the day and before dark to return to Es Salt. Fortunately, the day was dry and we spent the time drying our blankets and salving the magnetos and other useful parts from the German vehicles. (These we handed in later on to the officer in charge of the motor workshops) During the day we got into touch with some men from the Anzac Division Signals who required petrol for the motor on their wireless outfit and we were able to spare them some of our loot for this purpose.
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Further Reading:The Australian Light Horse - Structure