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Saturday, 21 March 2009
1st Australian Armoured Car Section - Palestine - Part 1
Topic: AIF - Cars

 

 

1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF

PALESTINE

Part 1

 

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 1.

 

PALESTINE, Part 1

We were now in Palestine proper and settled down in billets in Richon where the Jewish villagers were doing their utmost to make us comfortable. In return we were able to give them our rations of sugar and teat, two luxuries they had been compelled to go without since the war began.

The 11th December was a red letter day for the patrol. Instructions were received to hand in the old derelicts of cars that had served us so well over thousands of miles of all sorts of country and under all sorts of conditions.
We accordingly took them (with the mud of three continents and scars from many battles) to the headquarters of 956 M.T. Company who handed us out six new Fords in their place. The old buses had done their work nobly and it gave the drivers quite a pang to part with them when it came to the point. The drivers carefully removed the name plates before handing the machines in. Each car had been carefully named by its original crews and they were always known by their names in movements.

There was ANZAC (so named because it was supposed to have been used on the peninsula at Gallipoli) and was the oldest car in the patrol. Then came BILLZAC which was generally the companion to ANZAC. OTASEL received its name from its tendency to warm the feet of its occupants and SILENT SUE because it was the quietest car in the fleet. IMSHI was so named on account of its speed capabilities. (IMSHI being the Egyptian word for clear out.) No. 6 car was generally known as BUNG. This car carried the spare ammunition and some said that this was the reason for its name, but some held that there were other reasons.

Anyhow the old ones were gone and we now had to transfer our love to the new. For a couple of days we spent our time oiling, greasing and testing the mechanical parts, tuning up engine, fitting up the machine gun mountings, also our ration and ammunition containers to the best advantage. We were now able to dispense with the condensers as owing to the cooler climate and harder ground these were not necessary for the radiators. The first job of the new vehicles was to distribute voting papers for the conscription referendum which was done on the 13th December.
During the remainder of the month the Patrol was engaged in various small movements along the front. The weather had settled down to continuous rain and was extremely uncomfortable to all those moving outside their billets. Owing to the condition of the ground and the state of the roads neither side was able to make any very big movement. The Patrol did quite a bit of escort work to and from Jerusalem along the road from Jaffa. This road which was originally built a couple of thousand years back by the Romans required extreme care in driving. The grades were very severe and the hairpin bends were too sharp for a vehicle with a long wheelbase to negotiate. Brakes on the motor cars and lorries were severely tested in coming down the 3000’ fast drop from the Jerusalem hills to the plains below. Quite a number of motor vehicles were lost and unfortunately a number of men also through brake failures. At some of the bad corners the wrecks could be seen hundreds of feet below, generally with their four wheels upper-most and the contents scattered beneath. They were there for ever and can probably still be seen by tourists where they act as a warning to fast drivers. The Jaffa-Jerusalem road in spite of its dangerous character was a very important, and practically the only route from the coast to the hills of Judea. A large volume of motor transport was continually on the road carrying munitions, stores and food for the starving population and it soon became apparent that the road would not stand the heavy traffic.

Large numbers of native labourers were engaged in repairing and rebuilding the bad patches and several steam rollers were brought up. Fortunately, there was no shortage of road metal as the country on either side of the road was practically solid rock are was strewn with boulders and spells which only had to be broken and carried a raw yards.

The women and girls from surrounding villages did a great deal of this work gathering the stones in baskets which they carried on their heads to the required places. These people were practically starving and they welcomed this work as they were fed and paid by the army authorities.

As our cars were continually journeying to and from Jerusalem along this road, we began to give serious consideration to the condition of the brakes. Although most of the British vehicles had ample braking surfaces this could not always be said for some of the cheaper type of cars used in the army and it was no exaggeration to say that sometimes a set of brake shoes would be worn out in one day's work descending these hills. Most of the accidents that took place were caused by some failure in the transmission such as broken tail shaft or universal point, faulty crown wheels and pinions.

It is unlikely that any of the members of the Light Car Patrol will forget their first trip to Jerusalem. Several of the bridges had been blown up by the retreating Turks and crossings had to be made through streams that were fortunately not too deep to negotiate with our cars. The approaches to the streams however, were extremely rough and steep and many huge boulders had to be levered aside. There was plenty of manhandling in order to get the vehicles up the steep banks of "one in one" and back to the track again. On one bridge the crown of the arch only was blown out and here we were enabled to place a couple of stout planks across the gap over which we drove in comfort. In spite of all the hard work the trip was wall worth it all. The views from the heights around Jerusalem were wonderful.

The British Headquarters had been established in a large German building on the Mount of Olives from the tower of which could be seen the blue Mediterranean to the West and twenty five miles away to the east could be clearly seen the Dead sea which appeared to be only about five miles off. This sea and the Jordan Valley with Jericho, case over twelve hundred feet below the level of the Mediterranean on the other side. The enemy still held all this country below and our batteries in a valley alongside were busy plastering him with shrapnel and H.E. while an occasional burst of one of the enemy shells in the villages alongside seemed somehow to be quite out of place with the surroundings. The weather was clear and the visibility was wonderful. The roads could be clearly distinguished through the glasses winding up the hills, thirty or forty miles away.

We were later to know quite a lot about this country from very close acquaintance when we found out that some of it at least looked much better from a distance.

The heights of Jerusalem were very cold after our long sojourn in the desert. It was now nearing the middle of winter and our drivers felt the hail and sleet very severely as there cane no protection on the cars while driving and most of them were quite glad to return to the comparatively warm climate of Jaffa and Richon after their visits to the hills.

Christmas Day was celebrated at Richon le Zion. There was comparative quiet at the front, although two days previously an engagement had taken place at Mulebbis (a village several miles out). The inhabitants turned out in force to celebrate the occasion and the famous wine cellars of the town were drawn upon for the troops who were supplied with a liberal ration of the beautiful Tokay for which the district is famous. We had a church parade in the morning and in the afternoon the inhabitants provided a free banquet. Unfortunately, it rained most of the time, but nevertheless the troops enjoyed the occasion.

Two days later, we moved away through seas of mud and water to the village of Esdud. During the month of January, 1918, the unit was kept continually busy reconnoitring the various roads and tracks along the whole front from Jerusalem to the coast, but on the 17th February, we moved with the A & N.Z. Mtd. Division to Jerusalem as a big operation was brewing on that flank. Next day we proceeded with Engineer officers to Solomon’s Poole on the Hebron Road to establish watering places for the horses and troops.

On the 20th February the division proceeded along the back road to force the way to Jericho. Our orders were to take our cars and escort the motor transport along the Roman Road to Neby Muse which overlooks Jericho. We proceeded satisfactorily for eight miles and after making a reconnaissance we found that the main road which is very precipitous and steep would be impassable for wheeled vehicles for many hours. We then went back to a rough track known as the "Pilgrims" road which we worked along laboriously for about 4 miles until we came to the hill Gebel Ektief. Here we were compelled to stop as the hill was held in force by the enemy.

We placed the vehicles under cover of a neighbouring slope and climbed a hill opposite in time to view a wonderful charge by our infantry up the slopes of Gebel Ektief.

The hill had entrenchments near the summit and we noticed that the enemy troops in the trenches at the right flank at the approach of our infantry jumped out of the rear of their trenches and ran along the top of the trench towards the other flank.

Later on we discovered that there was a sheer precipice behind them and they ran towards the other and to get away before it was too late. We were getting a wonderful dress circle view of the fight and in the excitement some of our men must have made themselves too conspicuous as a few minutes later we were plastered with shrapnel by the disgruntled enemy gunners.

Needless to say we soon left our front view seats and as the road was now comparatively clear of the enemy we proceeded to our job of getting the transport along.

 

Previous section: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - Beersheba

Next section: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - Palestine - Part 2

 

Further Reading:

1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF, Contents 

Australian Light Horse Order of Battle - Outline 

The Australian Light Horse - Structure

Australian Light Horse Order of Battle

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

  


Citation: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - Palestine - Part 1


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 13 April 2009 11:14 PM EADT
Friday, 20 March 2009
1st Australian Armoured Car Section - Palestine - Part 2
Topic: AIF - Cars

1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF

PALESTINE

Part 2

 

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.

 

PALESTINE

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.

 

Previous section: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - Palestine - Part 1

Next section: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - Palestine - Part 3

 

Further Reading:

1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF, Contents 

Australian Light Horse Order of Battle - Outline 

The Australian Light Horse - Structure

Australian Light Horse Order of Battle

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - Palestine - Part 2


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 13 April 2009 11:15 PM EADT
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
1st Australian Armoured Car Section - Palestine - Part 3
Topic: AIF - Cars

1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF

PALESTINE

Part 3

 

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 3.


PALESTINE

Before dark, according to instructions, we retired to Es Salt which we reached in time to make a comfortable camp for the night. However, before leaving our position of the night before the advance party of the infantry division had reached us and was well on its way to junction with the mounted division.

We stayed next day at Es Salt and sent messages through to Divisional H.Q. asking for orders. Next day was Good Friday which we spent (also the three following days) in driving along the Es Salt to Amman road and bringing in loads of wounded who were compelled to walk as it was not possible for the ambulances to reach them. We were able however, to give a pretty rough ride to quite a number of these poor chaps who were nearly dead with wounds, cold and exposure. Later on some of the light ambulances managed to get up into the hills and we received instructions to protect them from interference, which we did by continually patrolling the road.

The troops were having a pretty rough spin altogether. The weather was bitterly cold and wet and most of them were soaked to the skin, day and night. Some of the natives were also giving some trouble and there were rumours of retirement. All day and night the population of Es Salt and the surrounding district were slowly evacuating their homes and with their valuables packed up began to march down the long road through the hills to the Jordan Valley over twenty miles below. Word had evidently reached the villagers that we intended to retire to the valley again shortly and they were fearful of the vengeance that the Turks, on their return, would turn upon them for helping the British during the advance. The road was becoming filled with refugees and it was pitiful to see tiny children and old people quite unfit for such a journey endeavouring to do the long walk with their bundles. On the first of April we received orders to evacuate the Es Salt and return to Shunet Nimrin at the foot of the hills.

The trouble apparently was not that we could not hold our own in the hills but the difficulties of transport for supplies and ammunition were too great to keep up for an extended period. We now saw the worst side of war as we had to force our way through the panic stricken population and we could imagine what a retreat meant. Numbers of footsore and crying villagers asked for seats in our patrol cars and many of the men were quite willing to walk and let these poor people have their seats but this could not be allowed as military considerations had to come first and we had to be hard hearted and keep to our schedules. We left Shunet Nimrin at 6.30 a.m. next day and proceeded to cross the Jordan at the Ghoranyeh Bridge about an hour later while the enemy aeroplanes were making things very lively by bombing the road and bridge-head. However, we managed to run the gauntlet without suffering in any respect and joined our old comrades the Anzac Mounted Division at Jericho about 11 o'clock and learnt of the rough times they had experienced In their retirement and how the Cirsassians and Bedouins who had feted them on their advance had sniped them from every rock on their return journey. So this was the end of the first Amman Stunt.

Next morning the enemy reminded us that the war was still on by bombing our camp at daybreak from their planes. However, our chaps were so tired or else were getting used to bombs to such an extent that the majority of them would not stir from their blankets.

The enemy was beginning to get a bit cheeky and they evidently thought that as we had retired from the hills we were beaten and on the 11th April they came down from the hills and after a lot of shelling they began to attack our bridge heads on the Jordan. The Light Car Patrol received orders to take the Lewis Guns out of the cars and to reinforce the 1st Light Horse Brigade who were holding the foothills across the river. We placed our guns in the trenches under orders from the Brigade and vary soon had plenty of machine gun practise opening up at 1200 yards which was reduced later down to 500 yards range.

Next morning a large number of dead Turks were buried in front of our position so apparently the couple of thousand rounds of ammunition used by us was not all wasted. Our chaps relished the change of sitting down behind cover to do the shooting as generally the position was reversed and they were the targets. During the night the enemy retired to the hills again, sadder but wiser and it was quite a time before he picked up courage to make another attack.

After their attack on the 11th April, the enemy became very quiet and unenterprising. So a demonstration was made into his territory on the 13th and 19th to keep him busy and on the 24th the Armoured Cars and Light Car Patrols made a dash across the river and proceeded north for about 7 or 8 miles into enemy territory to have a look at his territory and dispositions. We toured around for a couple of hours and beyond provoking some of the batteries of artillery which shelled us we were not interfered with. The shelling did not affect us as the enemy discovered that quick moving motor cars make a very difficult target especially when they do not adhere to a fixed road. We returned back again to camp shortly after midday by our old pontoon bridge.

Next day we crossed the river again and this time we proceeded in a southerly direction through scrub and now country along the east coast of the Dead Sea. Our duty this time was to cover a working party who were endeavouring to salvage a damaged enemy motor boat which had been beached along the coast some miles south east of the mouth of the Jordan. We encountered about half a squadron of enemy cavalry about four miles along the coast. These men scattered to the hills on seeing our cars and as our job was to cover the working party we did not give chase and left them alone after firing a few shots to hurry them along. The working party managed to get the boat afloat and they towed it with a motor boat to Rujm-al-Bahr a rendezvous on the north of the Dead Sea.

We arrived back at Headquarters about 4 o'clock in the afternoon with several broken springs owing to the extremely rough ground covered along the coast. We found on examination that there was scarcely a sound spring on any car in the patrol so in the evening we sent off a car post haste to Richon and Ludd via Jerusalem, a trip of about 60 miles each way to fetch back a fresh supply of spring plates. We received these next evening and after a busy night we had all springs repaired and replaced the care ready for anything; but the men rather weary.

On Tuesday 30th April and Wednesday 1st May, another big attack was made on Shunat Nimrin by the infantry and further north by the Light Horse Regiments. This attack was not altogether a success from all points of view and at times things were very mixed. We were ordered to stand by with cars ready for a dash at any moment to places that might need assistance.

About noon on the Wednesday, word was received that the 4th Light Horse Regiment had been out off by the enemy, and that General Chaytor the divisional commander was motoring with his escort directly into the enemy's lines. One of our cars was told off to chase him at full speed and warn the party of its danger but fortunately we discovered that they had already been warned of the enemy's new position. Our base of operations for this two days fighting was a place known as Um-esh-Shirt and we slept in the scrub for the night. Next morning an enemy bombing squadron dropped a large number of bombs amongst our forces but did very little damage considering the large numbers of troops moving about.

We had a little more machine gun practise at the aeroplanes but with no apparent result. At 6 o'clock that evening we were all back again at Jericho as the attack was over and everything was quiet once more except for occasional shots from outposts.

Throughout the month of May the Patrol was stationed alternately around Jericho and at different points along the river front. The heat by day was very severe and almost unbearable and the dust was choking. The flies were a black mass over everything and at night the sand flies and mosquitoes took over their duties to make our lives as miserable as possible. The flies were so thick that it was absolutely impossible to get food to one's mouth without some flies going with it. In fact, many of us cut our meals down to two a day (one in the early morning before the flies were up and the other in the evening after they went to bed). One genius discovered a method of beating the flies for a midday meal. He built a small frame with sticks large enough to sit in. This he surrounded with a mosquito net into which he took his tin of jam, biscuits and mug of tea. He then proceeded to kill off the flies inside the curtain and then calmly ate his meal to the maddened buzz of the insects outside the curtain who could not reach him. After he had finished his meal others would take their turn.

The men on outpost work near the river at night time had a miserable time as the swarms of sandflies and mosquitoes would leave their faces and hands like raw beef. After three months of this misery in the Jordan valley we were given a fortnight's leave to overhaul our ears and recuperate up in the hills at Bethlehem. The cooler climate was a great relief after the uncomfortable valley but we were all very sorry when the two weeks was up and we had to return to the heat, filth and flies again on 24th June.

This time our camp was made at the base of Mount Kuruntel which was nearly ten miles from the enemy's front line. A few days afterwards we were very surprised to find high velocity shells exploding around us, as under ordinary circumstances this should have been out of range. We heard afterwards that the Turks had taken some of the long range naval guns from the old "Goeben" and had manoeuvred them overland to the hills opposite where they were enjoying themselves at our expense.

However, the range was too long for them to see what they were doing and most of their shooting was harmless.

 

Previous section: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - Palestine - Part 2

Next section: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - The Dead Sea - Part 1

 

Further Reading:

1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF, Contents 

Australian Light Horse Order of Battle - Outline 

The Australian Light Horse - Structure

Australian Light Horse Order of Battle

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 

 


Citation: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - Palestine - Part 3

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 18 July 2010 9:26 AM EADT
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
1st Australian Armoured Car Section - The Dead Sea - Part 1
Topic: AIF - Cars

1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF

THE DEAD SEA

Part 1

 

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.

 

THE DEAD SEA - Part 1



Towards the end of June the Light Car patrol received instructions to patrol the River Jordan from Hajla and Henu to the mouth, where he River enters the Dead Sea. The orders were to patrol twine daily (at dawn and in the evening before dark) and to report the result to divisional Headquarters. On either bank of the river there were clay foothills over which we soon made motor tracks. These hills commanded a good view of the surrounding country for about 10 miles and by the aid of field glasses any movement could quickly be seen. The river was nominally the dividing line between the two forces but actually the British hold both banks for most of the distance. This patrolling of the River banks meant that the unit spent a considerable amount of time travelling backwards and forwards from the camp north of Jericho to the Dead Sea which was the starting point of the line to be patrolled and in order to reduce this dead mileage we applied to have our camp moved down towards our starting point. This request was granted by Headquarters and accordingly on 12th July we were transferred to Rujm-of-Bahr on the coast and generally known as the Dead Sea Post. This new move was a very welcome one to all members of the unit. It meant that we got away from the choking and blinding suet encountered wherever bodies of horsemen were moving (end this was practically all the time near a Light Horse camp) but whet was far more welcome was the fact that we were near the water and bathing could be indulged in. We built our bivvies right alongside the water and in the morning rolled out of the blankets into the sea for our swim. The Dead yea would be a good place for non swimmers, as it would be practically impossible to drown. The buoyancy of the water is such that a person may stand in deep water and hold his arms up out of the water and the water will not rise over his neck. A swimmer used to fresher water however, will notice that it is vary difficult to get speed up. This is probably because of the density of the water and of the difficulty of keeping the feet down as they have a tendency to rise to the surface all the time. One of the chief amusements of the Place was to encourage visitors to dive into the water head first. The water was intensely bitter and if any of it went up the nose or got into the mouth the victim would probably cough and splutter for half an hour or until no managed to wash out his throat with fresh water again. If the water got into the eyes it would sting very severely for quite a while. A peculiar effect of a dive into the water was the speed with which the diver shot up out of the water again and sometimes if a parson dived straight down he shot out feet first again.

The Dead Sea Post was an ideal spot from many points of view for our camp. There was a workshop there and a forge which were extremely useful to us. One of the first things we did after being stationed there, was to remove the wheels from our cars and leave them overnight or as long as possible soaking in the Sea. Our wheels were only wooden ones (as the pressed steel wheels were not available at that time) and we had experienced considerable difficulty in keeping wheels tight owing to the extreme heat and in some cases we had narrow escapes from wheels practically collapsing altogether. The result of the soaking was to swell the wood making the spokes and felloes tight. This was not merely a temporary remedy because the brine soaked right into the wood and although the wood appeared perfectly dry in the day time, in the night air the salt would always get damp again causing the joints to swell.

There was stationed quite a fleet of motor boats at our post. They included a couple of fast six cylinder "Wolseley" speed launches each fitted with a Vickers gun. There were also some ships boats with outboard motors and later on two large Thornycroft twin screw gun boats each fitted with a three pounder were transported overland by tractors and launched near our camp. These boats greatly appealed to the men of our unit who were nearly all good mechanics and expert machine gunners and on many expeditions across the water the Dead Sea fleet was manned by the members of the Light Car Patrol who became known as the "Amphibians". Quite a lot of work was done by these boats after dark as we would then run our "agents" across the sea, land them in enemy Territory and pick them up at prearranged spots after they had completed their mission. On certain nights the boats would cruise along the enemy coast keeping watch for lights as if one of our men wished to be picked up he would light a fire under a cliff or overhanging ground so that the light would not show inland. The boat would then move quietly in towards the light and pick him up. Great caution of course had to be exercised as there was always the risk of treachery but this was never experienced. One of the agents, an old native, who appeared to be well trusted by Headquarters, had made many trips backwards and forwards and seemed to bring back a lot of information. This old chap was generally very regular in keeping his appointments with the boat, but one night he did not turn up and after the third night of cruising he was given up for lost by the crew. But about a week later the lookout reported a light some miles south of the usual position. A boat was sent down and after carefully cruising towards the light they discovered the old chap nearly dead, lying on the beach alongside a fire which he had lighted. He was carried on board and given some food and water after which he seemed to revive. He had been badly wounded in the foot and he was taken across as soon as possible to be attended to. There was a large hole in his foot where a bullet had gone through it and it was expected that the leg would probably have to be amputated. It appeared that the old fellow had been seen by some of the Turkish sentries as he was passing through their lines and they had fired at him, one shot getting him in the foot.

 

 

Previous section: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - Palestine - Part 3

Next section: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - The Dead Sea - Part 2

 

Further Reading:

1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF, Contents 

Australian Light Horse Order of Battle - Outline 

The Australian Light Horse - Structure

Australian Light Horse Order of Battle

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 



Citation: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - The Dead Sea - Part 1

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 18 July 2010 9:27 AM EADT
Monday, 16 March 2009
1st Australian Armoured Car Section - The Dead Sea - Part 2
Topic: AIF - Cars

1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF

THE DEAD SEA

Part 2

 

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.

 

THE DEAD SEA - Part 2


In spite of his wound however, he managed to get away to hide in the scrub during the day and crawled down to the beach at night lima, where he slept and rested for about twenty four hours. He put his foot into the water and left it there. The next evening he managed to crawl to a spot where he could light a fire and there he was found by the boat's crew. The doctor told us afterwards that they managed to save the foot after all.

They were afraid that gangrene had set in but it appeared that the wound was filled with almost solid salt from the Dead Sea, the healing properties of which had saved the foot.

The Dead Sea Post was quite an Interesting place from many points of view and we had numbers of episodes of various types to keep us from becoming dreary.

One morning the enemy dragged an old camel gun down the hills opposite to us and began to bombard the post at extreme range for an hour or two until pursuit was arranged and he was chased back over the hills again. The shelling did not do any harm as all the missiles exploded either in the water or in the mud behind. Another morning several of us who were standing on the water's edge wore surprised to see a large column of water shoot up into the air stout half a mile out to sea.

Some of the members of the unit (who had at one time been members of the Submarine miners Corps) immediately came to the conclusion that a mine had gone off under the water and were marvelling where it could have come from, when a few minutes afterwards another explosion was heard from behind and a column of mud from the land side shot up into the air about a quarter ff a mile behind us.

We then discovered that an enemy aeroplane was dropping bombs from a great height. He was flying so high that he could not be heard and barely seen even with the glasses. As his nearest shot was over a quarter of a mile from its target, he did not cause much anxiety to anybody.

Amongst the stuff left behind at the Dead Sea Post when captured, were all the parts of a large steam tug which had been taken to pieces at Haifa and transported overland in sections by the Germans and Turks. It must have taken a large amount of labour and time to do this as every piece had to be brought by road over the steep hills for something like 100 miles.

All the parts were there except the engines and these could not be found. These had either not been brought or had been sunk in the water. Divers were sent down to search but no trace could be discovered. The British authorities decided to assemble the boat as all the parts were so conveniently left for them, and internal combustion engines from some of the Tractors were to be installed. Some shipwrights were brought down and the frames and plates of the boat were all riveted up. When we left the Jordan Valley some months afterwards the hull seemed to be all ready for launching but we never heard whether this had ever been done.

On the 14th July (a few days after our move to the Dead Sea post) our two cars on morning patrol work at about 5 a.m. noticed movements of enemy troops some miles east of the Jordan. This information was immediately sent back to Headquarters and in the meantime parties of the enemy could be heard being engaged by our outposts. Apparently there was to be another attack on the river front. Sergeant J. T. Langley (a Bendigo boy) was In charge of the morning patrol that day and after sending back full particulars of enemy movements, he reported to the officer in charge of the lower Bridge-head asking permission to cross and engage the enemy in front. This was granted to him and he immediately took his two cars across the bridge proceeding to some hills about a mile to the east where he dismounted his Lewis guns and carried them to a spot commanding the approaches in his direction. He left his two cars below headed for the bridge ready to move off in a hurry if necessary.

Meanwhile he entrenched and waited. Shortly afterwards a column of pack horses came along and a Machine Gun Section. These were allowed to get well into range when both Lewis Guns opened on to them with deadly effect. The horses were stampeded and some of them killed.

Meantime one of the enemy machine guns managed to get into action and a duel began in which the Turkish machine guns came off worst. Some time afterwards the rest of the Patrol came up to relieve the morning men but when they arrived the ground in front was strewn with enemy debris. The remaining men of the Turkish section in front of us fled abandoning their machine guns and equipment which were captured. In that engagement we fired 5000 rounds out of our Lewis gone and two of the barrels were so damaged is the rifling owing to the continuous fire that the had to be renewed. Beyond this the only damage suffered by the patrol was some slight injury to the casing on one of the Lewis guns by an enemy bullet. The Turks retired from this attack along the line leaving large numbers of dead and prisoners.

Sergeant J. Langley was awarded the D.C.M. for his conduct during this attack and that was the end of the second big attack on the Jordan Valley. The enemy now seemed to lose all interest in us for a couple of weeks and we arranged a big cricket match between the Australia Light Cars and the Garrison of the post who consisted of English units. This was looked on as a test match and created a lot of interest for miles around. The weather of course was intensely hot us usual, out the fielders were able to have a swim in between each batsman's hand. I'm pleased to say that Australia won this test by 110 to 36 runs.

 

Previous section: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - The Dead Sea - Part 1

Next section: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - The Dead Sea - Part 3

 

Further Reading:

1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF, Contents 

Australian Light Horse Order of Battle - Outline 

The Australian Light Horse - Structure

Australian Light Horse Order of Battle

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 



Citation: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - The Dead Sea - Part 2

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 18 July 2010 9:07 AM EADT

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