"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess
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Wady Fara, an action fought on 21 September 1918 north-east of Nablus, Palestine, following Allied successes in the battles of Sharon and Nablus (q.v.), chiefly remembered for providing an early and graphic demonstration of the destructive effects of air power against ground troops. After Allied mounted troops had burst through the Turkish defensive line north of Jaffa on 19 September and pushed rapidly north towards Haifa as well as east towards Lake Tiberias, the Turkish Seventh Army in positions around Nablus faced being surrounded unless it withdrew east across the River Jordan. The main escape route was along an old Roman road which followed the precipitous valleys of the Wady Beidan and Wady Fara, much of it bounded by steep barren hills and sheer drops.
Map detailing the route taken by the Turks through Wadi Fara
Shortly before 6 a.m. on the 21st, a reconnaissance patrol of two Bristol Fighter aircraft from No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, sighted huge enemy columns streaming away from Nablus along this route. They immediately swooped down to attack, scoring five direct bomb hits on transport vehicles and expending 600 rounds of machine-gun fire into the mass of troops, horses and wagons. A Turkish retreat in this direction was fully anticipated, so that one of the Bristol machines had been specially fitted with a radio and given instructions to signal the map reference of any suitable target found. The remainder of No. 1 Squadron at Ramleh, twenty kilometres south-east of Jaffa, and the 40th (Army) Wing of the Royal Air Force-commanded by Lieut.-Colonel Richard Williams of the AFC and comprising another three squadrons of DH9 bombers and SE5a fighters - were standing by with bombs fitted (a total of 70-80 aircraft). No sooner had the scouts' report been received than arrangements were begun to send off flights of three or four machines at intervals which ensured that one group was always arriving over the target as the previous lot departed. Williams' orders were for the aircraft to bomb singly, beginning at the head of the column and moving back along it.
The attack, having begun at 6.30-7 a.m., continued until midday. The Australian No. 1 Squadron alone dropped three tonnes of bombs and expended nearly 24,000 machine-gun bullets. In addition to the aircraft under Williams' command, machines from the RAF's 5th (Corps) Wing also took part-making a total of seven squadrons which were involved in the action.
The result was as chilling as it was decisive, amounting to the complete disintegration of the bulk of the Turkish Seventh Army. The nature of the terrain allowed little movement off the road except on foot or, in places, on horseback, so that the mass of wheeled transport simply had nowhere to go. In the words of Cutlack, the official historian:
The panic and the slaughter beggared all description. The long, winding, hopeless column of traffic was so broken and wrecked ... that the bombing machines gave up all attempt to estimate the losses under the attack, and were sickened of the slaughter. In all the history of war there can be few more striking records of wholesale destruction.
When the scene was reached by British ground forces the next day the enemy materiel collected was found to total 87 artillery pieces and nearly 1,000 vehicles of all descriptions. Casualties among the estimated 7,000 Turkish troops in the column were not established, but were undoubtedly heavy. The British loss was two aircraft, one of these being a DH9 aircraft of No. 144 Squadron, RAF, which was not believed to have been a casualty of enemy fire.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 160-161.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
F. M. Cutlack (1923) The Australian Flying Corps in the Western and Eastern Theatres of War 1914 - 1918, Sydney: Angus & Robertson
Sir Richard Williams (1977) These are facts, Canberra: Australian War Memorial & Australian Government Publishing Service.
The Battle of Nablus, Palestine, 20 September 1918, Outline Topic: BatzP - Nablus
The Battle of Nablus
Palestine, 20 September 1918
Nablus, the action following the British breakthrough at Sharon (see Megiddo) on 19 September 1918 which saw the Turkish Seventh Army under Mustafa Kemal (later known as Kemal Attatürk) put to flight and forced to male a hasty and costly retreat north-east across the Jordan. After creating the gap in the Turkish defences on the coastal plain for the cavalry to pass through, the British 21st Corps wheeled north-east towards the hills to attack Tul Keram which contained the headquarters of the already overwhelmed Turkish Eighth Army. The left flank of this advance was protected and pressed ahead by the 5th Light Horse Brigade under Brig.-General George Macarthur-Onslow. Passing north of the town, the task of cleaning out the pockets of resistance was left to the infantry and the light horsemen concentrated on the column of Turks fleeing east along the road to Anebta and Nablus. By 6 p.m. the Australians had captured 2,000 prisoners and fifteen guns.
Moving during the early hours of 20 September, Macarthur-Onslow's brigade pressed on across the trackless hills northeast of Tul Keram. The purpose was to reach Ajjeh, a point on the railway line running north to Jenin, and to destroy the track to cut off this avenue of escape for Turks in the area around Samaria and Nablus. By 7 a.m. the leading Australian elements had achieved this objective. After re-assembling at Tul Keram, the 5th Brigade was ordered to resume an easterly advance the next morning down the road from Anebta towards Nablus. Troops from several British infantry divisions were already moving up against these places from the south, so that the route of the Australian horsemen effectively brought them in upon the enemy rear. Enemy resistance - already weakened by masses of troops in disorganised flight - quickly began to collapse in the face of this vice-like movement, so that by nightfall the Seventh Army was in full retreat.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 159-160.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
H.S. Gullett (1944) The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
The Battle of Menin Road, Belgium, 20 September 1917, Outline Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
The Battle of Menin Road
Belgium, 20 September 1917
'Clapham Junction', Menin Road between Hooge and Geluveld.
Menin Road, the first operation of the Third Battle of Ypres in which Australians took part, was fought on 20 September 1917. In preparation for this attack, the 1st and 2nd Australian divisions took over a portion of the front-line east of the town, on the main ridge at Glencorse Wood and a spur just north of there called Westhoek Ridge. I Anzac Corps formed the left flank of the Second Army for this attack, while north of the Australians would be three divisions of the Fifth Army-thus making for an attack frontage of thirteen kilometres.
Map detailing the area of action.
Following an intense artillery barrage, the two Australian divisions advanced at 5.40 a.m., the first time two AIF formations had attacked side by side. Moving in two bounds with a one-hour and a two-hour pause in between, they covered the 1,500 metres to their final objective and were able to secure this with minimal interference from the enemy, who were unable to deliver counter-attacks because of the British standing barrage. Despite the effective cover thus provided the infantry, the troops still had much hard fighting against pillboxes and other strong points. Enemy artillery fire was also brought to bear, and at one stage the Australians were accidentally hit by their own guns. While this battle proved the worth of step-by-step tactics, the two AIF divisions still sustained 5,013 casualties and the total British loss was between 20,000 - 27,000 men. The Germans had suffered to about an equal extent, but whereas the attackers were elated the effect on the enemy was practically crushing.
Frank Hurley's photograph of the wounded on 20 September 1917 at Menin Road, Belgium.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, p. 130.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean, (1933), The Australian Imperial Force in France 1917, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
P.A. Pedersen, (1985), Monash as Military Commander, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press.
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