September 19

This Day in History

World War I

Sep 19, 1918:

British offensive begins in Palestine

On September 19, 1918, British forces in Palestine renew their offensive against the Turkish lines north of Jerusalem, beginning with the capture of Megiddo, the city mentioned in the Bible as the site of the Battle of Armageddon.

After leading the British forces in a successful campaign in Palestine and capturing Jerusalem in December 1917, the regional commander General Edmund Allenby lost many of his infantry troops to the Western Front when the Germans launched their massive spring offensive in 1918. Meanwhile, after a change of command—Erich von Falkenhayn was replaced by Otto Liman von Sanders—the German and Turkish forces in the region dug in, resisting several British attacks and even regaining some ground by the summer. After new units arrived from India, however, Allenby’s forces were up to full strength, and the general prepared to launch a new offensive in September.

Beginning with a midnight bombardment on September 19, the British troops in Palestine went on the attack, executing a classic feint maneuver: after directing one attack up the Jordan Valley as a diversion, Allenby switched the force of his offensive to the west and up the coast, using the aerial superiority of the Royal Air Force and the Australian Flying Corps to block the Turks from seeing the movement of his cavalry and other troops. As Allenby reported, the attack met with smashing success: "On the north our cavalry, traversing the Field of Armageddon, had occupied Nazareth, Afule, and Beisan, and were collecting the disorganized masses of enemy troops and transport as they arrived from the south. All avenues of escape open to the enemy, except the fords across the Jordan between Beisan and Jisr-ed-Dameer were thus closed." Megiddo fell with little resistance the same day, and the aerial bombing of roads, railways and troop formations in the area over the following week disrupted all Turkish and German operations. From September 20 to September 21 alone, Allenby’s troops took some 7,000 Turkish prisoners. As the demoralized Turks retreated northward and eastward, they were attacked by more Allied aircraft. General von Sanders was forced to flee Nazareth as well, still wearing his pajamas.

The British attack at Megiddo set off a string of victories that led straight through the rest of the month, including the fall of both Beirut and Damascus to British control. Barely a month later, Turkey sued for peace, signing an armistice with the Allies on October 30, 1918. Made a British viscount in October of 1919, Edmund Allenby paid tribute to his victory in Palestine, taking as his title "First Viscount Allenby of Megiddo."

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