Topic: BatzJ - Es Salt
Palestine, 30 April - 3 May 1918
Es Salt, an Arab village 23 kilometres west of Amman, Palestine, which became the scene for heavy fighting between British and Turkish forces on 30 April-3 May 1918. The village had been seized before by British troops, during the raid on Amman (q.v.) a month earlier, but possession had been relinquished following the failure of that operation. This second large-scale sortie was launched because the commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, General Sir Edmund Allenby, wished to use the plateau on which Es Salt stood as the launching point for a movement against the vital railway junction town of Deraa. Command of the operation was given to Lieut.-General Sir Harry Chauvel, who had available both the Australian Mounted Division Major-General Henry Hodgson) and Anzac Mounted Division (Major-General Edward Chaytor), along with the 60th (London) Division.
Using the British infantry to attack eastwards into the foothills of Tel Nimrin, above the bridgehead held around the Ghoraniye crossing on the Jordan, Chauvel sent two light horse brigades of Hodgson's division north up the east bank of the river to seize the crucial crossing at Jisr ed Damieh, nineteen kilometres north-west of Es Salt, and prevent the movement of Turkish reinforcements from Nablus. While the 4th Brigade remained to hold this position, the other (the 3rd) was ordered to turn its attention down the track from Damieh to Es Salt itself. Another of Hodgson's brigades following along behind, the British 5th Mounted, was to turn east at an earlier track - at Umm esh Shert and by this parallel route also make for Es Salt. With the town captured, the plan called for one of Hodgson's brigades and one of Chaytor's (the 2nd Light Horse, which had been sent around the southern flank) to advance down from Es Salt into the rear of the Turkish positions opposing the 60th Division.
Initially the operation went perfectly, and by the evening of 30 April Es Salt had been seized after a brilliant fight. Thereafter serious difficulties arose which brought the plan undone. The 4th Brigade, left to guard the Damieh crossing, came under heavy pressure from the Turks early on the morning of I May and was forced back-thereby allowing some of the enemy to advance towards Es Salt and into the rear of the light horsemen holding the town. Although the Australians were reinforced by some regiments of New Zealanders and British yeomanry, the defenders were forced to give still further ground, during which nine British guns were lost to the enemy. Although the threat to the left flank of the 60th Division's advance was thus checked, the infantry were themselves making little progress during repeated attacks against the Turkish defenders in the foothills, nor could the mounted brigades moving against the rear of the enemy positions make any headway.
With the tide of battle against him, Chauvel decided on 3 May to withdraw. Not only was the enemy being strongly reinforced, but co-operation promised by elements of the Arab army raised in rebellion against the Turks had failed to materialise. Again, the retreat was complicated by a mass of refugees which came away from Es Salt with the troops and caused congestion along the roads. The operation had cost Chauvel's mounted brigades 50 killed, 278 wounded and 37 men missing; the infantry had suffered another 1,116 casualties. Apart from more than 1,000 taken prisoner, the Turks were estimated to have lost over 1,500 in killed and wounded. Despite this balanced outcome, the sortie had clearly been a failure, although it did have a valuable outcome in encouraging the enemy to believe (wrongly) that Allenby's next stroke was also planned for this area.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 145-146.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
H.S. Gullett (1944) The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, Sydney Angus & Robertson
Citation: Es Salt, Palestine, April 30 to May 3, 1918