February 21, This Day during the World War l

February 21, 1918 – The British capture Jericho. occurred between 19 and 21 February 1918 to the east of Jerusalem during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the First World War. Fighting took place in an area bordered by the Bethlehem–Nablus road in the west, the Jordan River in the east, and north of a line from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. Here a British Empire force attacked Ottoman positions, forcing them back to Jericho and eventually across the Jordan River. Winter rains put an end to campaigning after the advance from the Gaza–Beersheba line to the capture of Jerusalem in December 1917. This lull in the fighting offered the opportunity for the captured territories to be consolidated. Extensive developments were also required along the lines of communication to ensure that front-line troops were adequately supplied, approximately 150 miles (240 km) from their main bases at Moascar and Kantara on the Suez Canal. General Edmund Allenby’s initial strategic plans focused on his open right flank. If attacked with sufficiently large forces, he could be outflanked by an attack from the east—unlike his left flank which rested securely on the Mediterranean Sea to the west. His aim was to capture the territory east of Jerusalem stretching to the Dead Sea, where his right flank could be more secure. The area was garrisoned by Ottoman troops entrenched on hill-tops which the British infantry, Australian light horse and New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigades attacked. The infantry captured Talat ed Dumm on the main Jerusalem to Jericho road, while the light horse and mounted rifle brigades captured Jericho and the area to the south bordered by the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. The 60th (London) Division advanced with their 180th Brigade in the centre, their 181st Brigade on the left, and their 179th Brigade with the Wellington Mounted Rifle Regiment covering their right flank. At Ras et Tawil, the 2/23rd Battalion, London Regiment (181st Brigade) suffered 50 casualties in attacking some 300 entrenched Ottomans, capturing 25 prisoners and two machine guns; the Ottomans abandoned their position soon after. To the north-east of El Muntar Iraq Ibrahim, during a further advance by the 2/20th Battalion, London Regiment along a narrow ridge on the south bank of the Wadi Fara, they captured the high ground suffering 66 casualties. Meanwhile on the left flank of the 60th (London) Division, the 160th Brigade of the 53rd (Welsh) Division captured Rammun, where the 2/10th Battalion Middlesex Regiment had some hard fighting, and the heights to the south. The Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment moved from Bethlehem to the Greek monastery of Mar Saba and onto the El Buqeia plateau, where Ottoman forces were entrenched astride the Mar Saba to Jericho road south of Nebi Musa. The remainder of the 1st Light Horse and New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigades moved from Bethlehem towards El Muntar. Chetwode and Chauvel watched these operations begin from the Mount of Olives more than 2,000 feet (610 m) above sea level; by the time the light horse and mounted rifles brigades reached Jericho on 21 February they were nearly 1,200 feet (370 m) below sea level. The three infantry columns advanced: the column in the centre, the 180th Brigade, captured their objective of Talat ed Dumm on the main road from Jerusalem to Jericho. This infantry brigade moved along the Jerusalem to Jericho road towards Talat ed Dumm; they were supported by the 10th Heavy Battery and one 6-inch Howitzer of the 383rd Siege Battery. The village was captured after an hour’s bombardment. On the left, the 181st Brigade was slowed in their advance by small rearguards which showed skills in manoeuvre. The brigade was only able to advance 2.5 miles (4.0 km) to be about halfway between Ras et Tawil and Jebel Qruntul (also known as Jebel Kuruntul, the Mount of Temptation and Mount Quarantania) by nightfall, with the 231st Brigade of the 74th (Yeomanry) Division forming a reserve. On the right, the 179th Brigade column marched towards Jebel Ekteif (to the south of Talat ed Dumm); their 2/13th Battalion, London Regiment, however, faced a sheer drop of over twenty feet (6.1 m) and had to proceed across intervening ridges into parallel wadis, arriving too late for the attack. Meanwhile, two companies of the 2/16th Battalion, London Regiment from the 179th Brigade, of the 60th (London) Division were ordered to support an attack on Jebel Ekteif by the 2/15th Battalion, London Regiment. By 08:15 they had captured the advanced trenches, three companies, and fought their way up into the firing line on the summit of the hill. At 10:00 the British infantry were reported to have captured this dominating position on the Jerusalem–Jericho road, but a strong counter-attack drove them off. Jebel Ektief was finally captured at about 12:30 when heavy artillery helped the desperate attackers secure their objective. Meanwhile the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (with the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment which had returned from the 179th Brigade) led the 1st Light Horse Brigade at 03:30 in their advanced on El Muntar. The advance guard formed by the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment moved from Bethlehem along an ancient road down the Wadi en Nar to the valley near El Muntar hill, followed by their brigade and the 1st Light Horse Brigade. They zig-zagged three miles (4.8 km) down to the valley floor while Ottoman soldiers on the height of El Muntar 1,250 feet (380 m) above watched their approach. Because of the terrain they moved in single file: the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade was strung out from five to eight miles (8.0–13 km), and it was hours before the long column could deploy for the attack. By 06:00 all the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade was in the valley; the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment was attacking Hill 306 while the Canterbury and Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiments attacked Hill 288. Shortly after 12:00 a mounted advance by an Auckland squadron took Hill 288, and Hill 306 was captured soon after. They attacked Ottoman positions from Tibq el Quneitra to Jebel el Kahmum astride the Mar Saba–Jericho road. These were both occupied soon after 14:00, forcing the Ottoman defenders to fall back to Nebi Musa. But Nebi Musa was strongly held by entrenched Ottoman soldiers supported by artillery, which made it impossible to move on: the attack was postponed until the next day. Meanwhile, at dusk, the 1st Light Horse Brigade began its descent. They moved down the Wadi Qumran to the Jordan Valley, following a goat track which fell 1,300 feet (400 m) in two miles (3.2 km) to get into position to attack Nebi Musa from the rear. This journey was successfully completed by midnight. Under cover of darkness, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade advanced north along a very rough track and by daylight had reached just east of the Neby Musa position. They made a dismounted attack while British infantry attacked Neby Musa from the rear. The Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment occupied Neby Musa at daylight after crossing the gorge on foot to find the Ottoman garrison had withdrawn with their guns. When the 1st Light Horse Brigade reached the floor of the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea, 1,300 feet (400 m) below sea level, it turned north towards Jericho. A single troop of 3rd Light Horse Regiment entered Jericho at about 08:00 to find the Ottoman garrison had withdrawn. The remainder of the brigade advanced up the Jordan Valley as far as the Wadi el Auja, while the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment (New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade) occupied Rujm el Bahr on the north shore of the Dead Sea. Meanwhile the 60th (London) Division moved to the top of the cliff overlooking Jericho and the Jordan Valley from Neby Musa to Jebel Qruntul. Divisional Headquarters Staff set up their report centre about one mile (1.6 km) behind Jericho; when they were sitting down to a morning cup of tea, Chetwode and Chauvel joined them. Chaytor was sitting on the step of his car when shells fired from the other side of the Jordan River started to explode. One hit the front of his car and he narrowly escaped injury. This gun continued shelling the area at a range of over 10,000 yards (9,100 m); the British 13-pounders could get no further than 6,000 yards (5,500 m). Chetwode’s force of infantry and mounted units suffered 510 casualties during these operations.  During these three days of operations No. 1 Squadron’s aircraft completely dominated all enemy aircraft, bombing and machine-gunning Ottoman positions, and reporting to headquarters on progress and estimates of Ottoman dispositions and strength. Messages were also dropped on troops in the front line with urgent news. Considerable Ottoman reinforcements were seen to arrive at Shunet Nimrin on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and an aerial raiding formation from No. 1 Squadron bombed troop tents, marquees and a supply dump in the area. 

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