Battle of Haifa: 23 Sep 1918

Battle of Haifa: 23 Sep 1918
New Delhi 23rd September is annually observed as 'Haifa Day' in commemoration of the capture of that city following a dashing cavalry action by the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade during the First World War. The 15th IS Cavalry Brigade consisted of three famous Indian State Forces Cavalry Regiments: the Jodhpur IS Lancers, Mysore IS Lancers and the Hyderabad IS Lancers, formed a part of the 5th Cavalry division of the Desert Mounted Corps. In the autumn of 1918, the Brigade was a part of the Allied Forces sweeping northwards through Palestine under Allenby, rolling up the remnants of the Turkish Seventh and the Eighth Armies and their German allies in the last great cavalry campaign in history.

On 23rd Sept 1918 the Brigade less the Hyderabad Lancers, was ordered to advance and capture Haifa in present day Israel. The sun-baked city of Haifa lies due north of Jerusalem on the southern shore of the Bay of Acre on the Mediterranean coast. The road and the railway leading into the town is dominated by the steep wooded slopes of Mount Carmel to the south and bounded by the swift and swampy Nahr el Muqatta or River Kishon to the north. The approach into the town therefore had to be made through the narrow defile between mountain and river, and this was well covered by fire by the Turkish gun emplacements and artillery. The Turks were strongly posted just outside Haifa to hold the defile thus formed. It was here that the enemy had established themselves, covering every part of the ground with their guns.

The Jodhpur Lancers was commanded by Major Dalpat Singh. Lt Col Hyla Holden was the special service British officer with the regiment. He chose his senior most and experienced 'B' Squadron Commander Captain Aman Singh to lead the attack and capture the defile. After the capture of the defile the 'D' Squadron under Captain Anop Singh was to attack the Mount on east of the road after passing through the defile to capture machine guns located on it. Thus the capture of the defile was the most critical operation to the whole battle.
 
To avoid this dangerous defile, it was decided to cross the Kishon and attack the town from the north-east. A Squadron of the Mysore Lancers was sent east of Haifa and another squadron was sent up from the north to silence the enemy guns on Mount Carmel. After giving this movement time to develop, the Jodhpur Lancers were ready to make a mounted attack on the Turks holding the defile from the east. In the meantime frequent patrols were sent to reconnoiter the ground and locate the enemy. No news reached about the action of the squadrons sent out earlier to silence the enemy guns.

At 2 PM Brigadier Harbord the Brigade Commander ordered the Jodhpur Lancers for the attack. The Jodhpur Lancers from a position of readiness 500 yards north-east of Beled Esh Sheikh moved forward at a trot with 'B' Sqn leading, cantered out in to open towards the stream, coming under intense fire as they crossed the Acre railway line. A previous reconnaissance of the proposed crossing point had been prevented by heavy enemy fire. Now, approaching the river it was found that the bank leading down to the water was very steep, even worse, as the two scouts in front forced their horses down the steep embankment to the water's edge they were swallowed up in quicksand. It was obvious that no crossing was possible. 

By now the regiment was out in the open with no cover, and was being raked by fire of 77 mm guns from the front and flank, and horses were falling fast. Lt Col Holden now ordered Maj Dalpat to quickly swing the regiment to the left and charge the machine guns on the lower slopes of Mount Carmel. As the squadrons reversed direction, Maj Dalpat was hit in the spine by a machine gun bullet and was felled (he died later that night on the operation table).

This was the most critical moment of the whole operation. But the leading 'B' Squadron Commander Captain Bahadur Aman Singh immediately assumed the command of the regiment, swiftly rallied and turned and galloped straight at the enemy. Getting among the machine guns, they speared the detachments capturing 2 machine guns, 2 camel guns and killing over 30 of the enemy. The mouth of the narrow defile through which ran the road to Haifa was now open.

 The 'B' Sqn galloping over the two branches of the Wadi Ashlul el Wawy, dashed into the enemy and opened the defile through which ran the main road in to Haifa, between the Wadi Selman and the mountain (through the Turkish bridge) for the passage of the rest of the regiment.
 
The 'D' Sqn under Captain Anop Singh passed through the defile and galloped up the road, wheeled half right and charged two machine guns on a Mount east of the road, capturing both. Passions inflamed at the loss of their gallant CO Maj Dalpat, the remaining two squadrons now dipped their lances to the 'charge' and thundered down the road straight into the town. So unexpected and rapid was the whole attack that the enemy did not have enough time to react to it, several Turks being ridden down in the streets.
 
Meanwhile after clearing the defile the 'B' Sqn made its way along the lower slopes of Mount Carmel, and charged into the German colony west of Haifa, capturing several machine guns and killing large numbers of Turks and Germans.
 
As soon as the charge got home the two squadrons of Mysore Lancers who had supported the attack with their fire mounted and followed at a gallop into the town. Shots were fired by Turks here and there from behind the walls of houses but the fight had practically finished as soon as the defile was crossed by the leading 'B' squadron. A large number of the enemy were still hiding in the town disguised as Arabs, those were gradually rounded up. This action is regarded as the finest cavalry charges ever made, the regiment captured a total of 700 prisoners (including 2 German and 23 Turkish officers) as well as 17 guns (2 six inch naval guns, 4 four point two inch guns, 6 77 mm guns, 4 10-lb guns) and 11 machine guns and a large amount of ammunition were collected at Haifa after the action. The total casualties suffered by our troops were 1 officer, 7 Other Ranks, 60 horses killed; 6 officers, 28 Other Ranks and 83 horses wounded.
Story First Published: September 26, 2010 12:20 IST

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