Primary Documents - E W G Masterman on the Fall of Jerusalem, 9 December 1917

Sir Edmund Allenby, King Feisal and David Lloyd George in London, 1919 Reproduced below is a summary of the British-led campaign to capture Jerusalem written by the secretary of the British Palestine Society, E W G Masterman.

In his summary Masterman gave a good deal of historical perspective to those military events which led to the city's fall at the hands of Entente forces led by British General Sir Edmund Allenby on 9 December 1917; Allenby formally entered the city two days later.

In taking Jerusalem Allenby had exceeded British Prime Minister David Lloyd George's instructions to ensure the city's fall by Christmas.  The capture of Jerusalem proved a notable morale booster to the Entente Powers in rounding off what was generally regarded as a difficult year.

Click here to read Allenby's account of the fall of Jerusalem.  Click here to read the official Austro-German report into events leading to the city's fall.  Click here to read Allenby's official proclamation of marshal law.

The Fall of Jerusalem by E. W. G. Masterman Secretary of British Palestine Society

On October 26, 1917, the final preparations for the advance commenced.

The railway was pushed forward from Shellal, fourteen miles south of Gaza on the Wady Ghuzzeh, towards Karm in the direction of Beersheba.  Another branch was run to another point on the Beersheba road, El Baggar, and arrangements for watering the troops were made at Wady Asluj, sixteen miles southeast of Gaza.

These movements were not unperceived by the Turks, who made a great attack with two regiments of cavalry and some two battalions of infantry against Karm, but were beaten off with great gallantry by our London Yeomanry Brigade. T he same day a fierce bombardment of the Gaza defences was commenced from the sea.

On the night of October 30th, mounted troops were got into position on the northeast of Beersheba, while infantry in the early dawn of the 31st were marched to positions on the southwest.  The attack was commenced at an early hour, and before evening, after fierce fighting, the position was captured.

Among the outlying fortified posts was Tell es Saba, the before-mentioned site of Beersheba or Sheba of the Canaanite time.  A number of German machine gunners had to be cleared off this site.

On November 1st, the infantry moved nine miles to the north of Beersheba, and mounted troops pushed forward to within four miles of Dhaheriyeh.  Meanwhile some of our infantry moved into a position northwest of Beersheba in the neighbourhood of Abu Irgeig.

Thus the capture of the eastern end of the long fortified line of the Turkish defense was now complete.

At the western end on the morning of November 2nd, British infantry advanced and captured a hill nicknamed "Umbrella Hill," some 500 yards west of the Dir el-Belah-Gaza road and proceeded to take the whole of the Gaza first line defences between there and the sea.  In this attack they were assisted by the Tanks.

On November 6th, our infantry north of Beersheba at Ain Kohle advanced two miles to the Turkish position at Khuwelifeh, while dismounted Yeomanry and Irish and London infantry, advancing from the neighbourhood of Abu Irgeig, captured the whole of the Turkish lines up to Abu Hareira.

By nightfall a general retreat of the Turks had commenced, the British infantry and mounted troops pursuing them towards Jemmameh and Huj.

The eastern line having now completely given way, the attack on Gaza was renewed at midnight on the 6th, and the city was captured without much opposition; the British left wing - Scottish infantry - pushing forward through the heavy sand dunes with great energy the same night towards the mouth of Wady Hesy: they at once attacked the Turks entrenched on the north bank, although it was then dark, and captured the position by midnight.

Other battalions advancing along the high road further east met with most determined opposition at Deir Sincid, further east on the banks of the same wady, the enemy counter-attacking four times before being driven out.  Still further to the east mounted troops, Anzacs and others, pushed northwards from Sheria, and took Tell es Sheria the next morning at 4.30.

Meanwhile at Attawiney, some seven miles from Gaza on the Beersheba road, the Turks still made a show of resistance, but by the 8th they retired, and thus the whole line of original defence passed into our hands.

The advance now became rapid.  During November 8th mounted troops - the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry - reached the middle course of the Wady Hesy passing Tell-el-Hesy.  They captured Huj in a brilliant action, in which they took twelve guns, three machine guns, and 100 prisoners, the accumulated stores in the town having been set on fire by the retreating Turks.

After a brilliant action by the Indian Imperial Service Cavalry in Beit Hanun, the terminus of the Gaza branch of the railway was captured, with large stores of heavy gun ammunition, the retreating troops being harassed by the Royal Flying Corps with machine guns and bombs.

On the 9th mounted troops moved forward rapidly, through Askelon and El Mejdel successively, and by night reached Esdud (Ashdod) further inland; at Et Tineh, where the retreating Turks set fire to enormous stores at the railway junction, the Australians were in time to save and capture a vast booty.

On the 11th, although the mounted troops had proceeded a good deal further north, our infantry had to clear a strong body of Turks out of the village of Beit Duras, a little on the southern edge of the Wady Sukreir, along which ravine 13,000 Turks had been frantically entrenching themselves to resist our advance.

The retreat by now had become in many parts precipitate.  A correspondent wrote at this time:

I have been over many miles of battlefield, and saw everywhere many wagons and an enormous amount of undestroyed gun ammunition, in places piles of field and heavy gun shells in boxes and wicker crates.

I hear that a number of exploded dumps are to be found all over the country.

(W. T. MASSEY, in The Daily Telegraph)

The next day, after a desperate fight at Burkah, where the Turks had to be driven out of a strongly fortified post with two lines of trenches, the enemy occupied the general line from the mouth of the Wady Sukereir, twelve miles north of Askelon, running southeast to Beit-Jabrin, the line being considerably more advanced near the coast than further east.

Still further east our troops in the mountains had captured Dhaheriyeh.

The next day, November 13th, was a day of fierce fighting, the Turks making a brave and obstinate resistance to our advance along their chosen line.  El Mesmiyeh, Katrah and Mughar were each taken after heavy fighting.

Here the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Dorsetshire Yeomanry greatly distinguished themselves, and by coming to the assistance of the Scottish infantry captured 1,500 prisoners, twenty machine guns and four guns, and 400 Turks were buried after the action.

Our line was thus advanced from Et Tineh through Katrah, to Yebnah in the west.

By the 14th our troops occupied the Wady Rubin, with its narrow flowing stream, and due east of this seized the railway in the vicinity of Naameh and El Mansurah, including the junction with the central railway from the north.

The next day, the 15th, our troops after slight resistance occupied the line Ramleh and Ludd and reached some three miles south of Jaffa.  At Abu Shusheh (Gezer) the Yeomanry captured this historic site.

On the 17th, Australian and New Zealand troops captured at Ludd (Lydda) 300 prisoners and four machine guns, and later occupied Jaffa without opposition.  The area now reached was fairly thickly populated, as numbers of the fellahin had been removed there from the neighbourhood of Gaza by the Turks.

The picture of the welcome received by the troops is very delightful:

The people turned out by the Turks from Gaza and the surrounding country were trekking back with all their worldly goods and chattels packed on overloaded camels and donkeys, the women bearing astonishingly heavy loads on their heads, while the patriarchs of families rode, or were carried on the shoulders of the younger men.

The agriculturists are beginning to turn out to plow and till the fields, now they have the security of British protection.  Our troops receive the liveliest welcome in passing the villages, and in this unchanging part of the world the women sit and gossip during the process of drawing water from the well, just as they did in Biblical days, unhindered by the war's progress, though not heedless of it.  There is peace and safety for them all.

This end to extortion, oppression, and pillage under the name of requisitions has, in the short space of a week, wrought a wondrous change in the happiness and contentment of the people.

The German propaganda has failed miserably here.

British ideals of freedom are thoroughly known, and the exemplary behaviour of our troops has confirmed all previous knowledge of the work done by Great Britain for civilization.

To say that this country, which a fortnight ago was under the Turkish scourge and war, has suddenly become normal for the civil population, is not to use words of exaggeration.  In Ramleh people are practicing the arts of peace and the bazaars are busy.  Our Yeomanry are buying Jaffa oranges, vegetables, and fresh bread, a welcome change from the diet of a fortnight's strenuous times, at fair rates, the traders receiving payment in cash, an alteration from the depreciated Turkish note to which they are accustomed.

(W. T. MASSEY, in The Daily Telegraph)

Ramleh, Lydda and Jaffa and the villages around being now secured, an advance was made towards Jerusalem itself.

The historic pass through the Vale of Ajalon was followed by our cavalry, who reached Beit-Ur-el-Tanta (lower Beth-Horon) on November 18th, and worked their way in contact with the enemy four miles west of Beria; after reaching Beitunia, which commands the Northern road, they had again to fall back to Beit-Ur-el-Foka (Beth-Horon the Upper).

Meanwhile, by the 19th, infantry had with heavy fighting advanced to Kuryet-el-Enab, six miles west of Jerusalem, and Beit Likia, on the road from the Vale of Ajalon towards El Kukeibeh (Emmaus), and by the 21st the lofty dominating mountain of Nebi Samuel, the site of the traditional tomb of the Prophet Samuel, was stormed.

In trying to drive out the British, the Mosque over the tomb seems to have been destroyed, which is not remarkable, as its lofty position would have given the British a unique point of vantage.

The campaign takes on a new aspect when it turns from the occupation of the maritime plain to the investment of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem lies high up, some 2,450 feet above the Mediterranean, in the plateau of central Judea.  In the days of ancient warfare its military strength lay largely in the deep valleys almost surrounding its site, and the powerful walls rising from these valley slopes made the city almost impregnable from all sides but the north, where the absence of a valley was, in Roman times, compensated for by a triple wall.

The line of defence of Jerusalem now lies far out from the city.  From the south, in past history, the desert and the almost waterless Negeb have been such a defence that directly from this direction the inhabitants of Jerusalem might well think themselves secure.

No army of invasion, knowing that opposition awaited them on the Judean frontier, would venture across those steep and haggard ridges... Hence we find Judea almost never invaded from the south.

(G. A. Smith)

But this present war has entirely altered the conditions.  In earlier invasions the army had behind them but a waterless desert; now, thanks partly to the Turks themselves, the British Army has an excellent road from Beersheba northwards, and railway tracks connect this town southwards with El Auja, and eastwards with Gaza and the maritime plain.

As the British Army advanced very early to Dhaheriyeh they had before them a straight high road to the vine-clad valleys of Hebron.  From Hebron to the neighbourhood of Bethlehem the road traverses the ridge of the water shed, and is by no means difficult; there are no deep gorges or precipitous gulleys, and in many places the valleys open out into small plateaus.

With respect to the western approach, Judea always had natural defences of considerable strength.  The northern-most of the passes that start in the Vale of Ajalon is the one which, all through history, has been associated with great battles.

Passing from the level plains around Gezer, Wady Selman, or the Valley of Ajalon, runs northeast-ward into the mountains, and from the most eastern end of the wide valley three paths ascend into the hills.  Of these the most famous is that by the two Beth-Horons, along which historic battles have been waged of great importance.

Here Joshua fought the Canaanites and drove them in headlong slaughter to the plains.  By this route the first Crusaders reached Jerusalem in two days.  It was the great high road into the heart of the land from the earliest times to three or four centuries ago, and history repeats itself as we read that the British troops reach Beit-Ur-el-Tahta and Beit-Ur-el-Foka, the two Beth-Horons.

South of this pass is Wady Ali.  The road where it runs between high steep hills, would be quite impassable if any adequate defence was put up, and report says that it was strongly fortified.

There are, however, at points (besides the one mentioned above) narrow paths which ascend the hills and reach the high road after it leaves this valley either at Saris or a little further east at Kuriet-el-Enab.

From these places to Jerusalem the road, though rising and falling several times, is by no means impassable for an army.  After crossing the deep valley at Kulonyeh, situated in the deep northern arm of the Wady el-Suras, two routes are possible, one to the south by the old road (now much out of repair), another to the north of the main more modern road, and both converge just before the first houses of Jerusalem begin.

The third pass, Wady es Surar, has already been described, and it may be said at once that this deep winding gorge would be quite impossible as a route of military approach unless the hills on each side were first seized, and it is certain that great resistance will be offered to the Army obtaining possession to so vital a thing as the railway.

The fourth pass is the Wady es Sunt, known of old as the Vale of Elah; the higher reaches of this valley, known as the Wady es Stir, run due north and then east, reaching the hill country near Beit Sur, the ancient Beth-Zur (Josh. xv. 58; Neh. iii. 16).

This route has been used several times by armies, the most famous invasion being that of Antiochus III, who with Lysias as his general, led the Syrian Army, accompanied by elephants, up this route and defeated Judas Maccabeus at Beth Zacharya, near the Wady el-Arrub (1 Macc. vi. 32f.).

Richard, King of England, in the third Crusade, attempted this route after failing to reach Jerusalem through the Vale of Ajalon.  An attack on Jerusalem after the plateau is reached is one from the south, as contrasted with that through the Vale of Ajalon approaches from the north.

After the first rush up the plains and the rapid seizure of the western approaches to Jerusalem a necessary pause occurred while supplies were brought up and the lines of communication were improved.

It was necessary to improvise some roads into the mountains to bring up the artillery.  All this took time, while the onset of the heavy winter's rains increased the difficulties of transport.  Meanwhile the British Army held a long line running from the mouth of the river Aujeh the west - westwards and southwestwards into the hill country.

Here, the centre and most actively attacking force held the line of the Beth-Horon pass from el Burj - the site of an old crusading fort, erected by Richard Cceur de Lion, to protect this very road - past the two Beth-Horons, southwards past the great mountain of Nebi Samuel - which dominates all the country round - to Ain Kairem and Bettir.

Both these two last sites have the best springs of water in the whole district.  Ain Kairem is a beautiful little town, by tradition the birthplace of John the Baptist, and here there is a charming settlement of Russian nuns built amid groves of cypresses and other trees.  From Ain Kairem to Jerusalem there is a good carriage road.

Bettir is important as the last station on the railway as Jerusalem is approached.  It was the site of a great Jewish tragedy when (A.D. 135) the last remaining followers of the false Messiah Bar Cochba, who had raised rebellion against Rome, were besieged and finally massacred so that, it is said, the place ran with torrents of blood.  The ancient site is known as Khirbet el Yahud, the Jews' ruin.

The extreme right of the Army meanwhile occupied edh Dhaheriyeh, ancient Debir, and an extended line held the western passes between.

The western (left) end of the attacking force continued to be held back by the Nadir Aujeh - probably they only intended to protect what had been gained.  This river is the largest and southernmost of the short low-lying streams, with marshy banks liable after rain to overflow, which traverse the Plain of Sharon from east to west.

It has formed a military barrier before, as when Alexander Jannus tried in vain to fortify this line to resist the advance of Antiochus.  Several skirmishes occurred here, and on one occasion Australian mounted troops captured at Birket el Jamus, "the pool of the Buffaloes," a number of Turks.

The central attacking force was heavily engaged for several days.  At El Burj, on a ridge overlooking the pass, the Turkish forces, to the number of 600, at one time reached the thinly guarded British trenches, but were counter-attacked and almost annihilated.

Beit ur et Foka changed hands several times and eventually proved to be a place impossible to hold on either side as long as the heights around were held by opposing parties.  The lofty mountain of Nebi Samuel - the site of the traditional tomb of Samuel and by many considered that of Mizpah - dominates the country round for miles.

British troops early captured the site and entrenched themselves against the most determined attacks, the opposing forces being in places on the steep hillsides but forty yards apart.  The recently rebuilt shrine crowning the hill, which had been occupied as a place of refuge by the Mohammedans of the neighbouring village, was entirely destroyed by Turkish gunfire

It might have been more "pious" to leave it, but it would hardly have been war, as it affords the finest look-out of all.

While the Turks were heavily engaged from the west the right wing commenced to fold in from the south.  This seemed from the first to present the most favourable approach - under modern conditions. Hebron was occupied on December 8th.

This ancient city, sacred to Moslems, Jews and Christians as the site of the Cave of Machpelah where were buried Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives, lies in the Wady el Khulil amid wide spreading vine-yards, fertile fields and abundant springs.

It lies high - over 3,000 feet above sea level, and is surrounded by still loftier hills.  From Hebron to Jerusalem, though there are many "ups and downs," the road - an excellent carriage road - is mainly a descent.

The Army rapidly advanced - probably the Turks were too much occupied on their extended front to concentrate great forces on this new attack.  Bethlehem and Beit Jala, with their great forests of olive-trees, were passed and from here the approaches to the city, both from the south and - by detaching troops eastwards - front the Jordan Valley in the east, were cut.

Meanwhile the central forces had reached the northern Jerusalem-Nablus road, and the city being thus isolated it surrendered to General Allenby.  The following day he, accompanied by French, Italian and Mohammedan representatives, entered the Holy City in triumph.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. V, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

Observation balloons were referred to as 'sausages'.

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