November 13 This Day During World War l

November 13, 1917 – The Battle of Mughar Ridge took place on 13 November 1917 during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the First World War. Fighting between the advancing Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) and the retreating Yildirim Army Group, occurred after the Battle of Beersheba and the Third Battle of Gaza. Operations occurred over an extensive area north of the Gaza to Beersheba line and west of the road from Beersheba to Jerusalem via Hebron. Strong Ottoman Army positions from Gaza to the foothills of the Judean Hills had successfully held out against British Empire forces for a week after the Ottoman army was defeated at Beersheba. But the next day; 8 November the main Ottoman base at Sheria was captured after two days’ fighting and a British Yeomanry cavalry charge at Huj captured guns; Ottoman units along the whole line were in retreat. The XXI Corps and Desert Mounted Corps attacked the Ottoman Eighth Army on an extended front from the Judean foothills across the Mediterranean coastal plain from 10 to 14 November. Beginning on 10 November in the south at Summil an Ottoman counter-attack was eventually blocked by mounted units while on 13 November in the centre a cavalry charge assisted by infantry captured two fortified villages and on 14 November, to the north at Ayun Kara an Ottoman rearguard position was successfully attacked by mounted units. Junction Station (also known as Wadi es Sara) was captured and the Ottoman railway link with Jerusalem was cut. As a result of this victory the Ottoman Eighth Army withdrew behind the Nahr el Auja and their Seventh Army withdrew into the Judean Hills toward Jerusalem. In southern Palestine the wet season was approaching with another thunderstorm and heavy rain on the night of 11 November. The dark cotton soil over which the Egyptian Expeditionary Force was now advancing would not need much more rain to turn it into impassable mud. But 12 November had been fine and the roads had dried out. The rolling maritime plain was dotted with villages on low hill tops surrounded by groves and orchards. These were in turn surrounded by hedges of prickly pear or cactus, making them strong natural places of defence. In the distance to the right the spurs and valleys of the Judean Hills were visible even to the invading British Empire troops near the Mediterranean coast. On 13 November the weather was clear and fine with at first no sign of the Ottoman Army. The 20,000-strong Ottoman force was deployed to defend the Jaffa to Jerusalem railway along the Wadi al-Sarar and Al-Nabi Rubin. The battlefield was generally cultivated but with winter approaching it was bare and open. Its most prominent feature, the 100-foot (30 m) high ridge which continues north towards Zernukah and El Kubeibeh formed the backbone of the Ottoman Army’s 20-mile (32 km) long defensive position. The naturally strong Ottoman line was defended by the Eighth Army’s 3rd Division (XXII Corps) to the north, the 7th Division (Eighth Army Reserve) to the east, the 54th Division (XX Corps) near el Mesmiye and the 26th Division (XX Corps) holding Tel es Safi. Benefiting from the terrain two strong defensive positions with commanding views of the countryside were located on the ridge. They were the villages of Qatra and Al-Maghar. These villages were separated by the Wadi Jamus which links the Wadi al-Sarar with the Nahr Rubin. While the Ottoman counterattack had been in progress on 12 November, Allenby issued orders for the attack on 13 November to the commanders of XXI Corps and Desert Mounted Corps at the latter’s headquarters near Julis. The main attack was to be carried out by the XXI Corps’ 52nd (Lowland) and 75th Divisions westwards towards Junction Station between the Gaza road on the right, and El Mughar on the left. On the right flank of the XXI Corps the Australian Mounted Division’s 3rd and 4th Light Horse and 5th Mounted Brigades, reinforced by the 2nd Light Horse Brigade (Anzac Mounted Division), the 7th Mounted Brigade (Yeomanry Mounted Division) and two cars of the 12th LAM Battery, would attack in line advancing northwards towards Junction Station. The remainder of Desert Mounted Corps; the Anzac and Yeomanry Mounted Divisions would cover the left flank of XXI Corps, with Yibna as their first objective and Aqir the second. As soon as Junction Station was captured they were to swing north to occupy Ramla and Lod and reconnoitre towards Jaffa. During the first phase of the attack by infantry in the 75th Division (XXI Corps) were to capture the line Tel el Turmus–Qastina–Yazur and then seize Mesmiye. On their left infantry in the 52nd (Lowland) Division were to secure the line Yazur–Beshshit and then seize Qatra. After a pause for the artillery to be brought forward, the second phase attacks on the final objectives of Junction Station for the 75th and al-Mansura for the 52nd (Lowland) Divisions were to be made. The first phase was due to start at 08:00 hours on 13 November preceded by one hour’s bombardment. By 10:00 the 2/4th Somerset Light Infantry, 1/5th Devonshire Regiment, 2/5th Hampshire Regiment, 1/4th Wiltshire Regiment, 2/3rd and 3/3rd Gurkha Rifles (from the 232nd and the 233rd Brigades, 75th Division) were advancing along the main road. They occupied the undefended villages of Tall al-Turmus, Qastina and Yazur. The 52nd (Lowland) Division had already occupied Bashshit. The 75th Division proceeded to attack Mesmiye on a lower and southward extension of the ridge on which Qatra and el Mughar were situated with the 52nd (Lowland) Division attacking directly towards these two villages. But these attacks were held up by very strong Ottoman defences. At Mesmiye the Ottoman Army was strongly posted on high ground in and near the village, and well-sited machine-guns swept all approaches. Infantry in the 75th Division made steady slow progress; the main body of the Ottoman rear guard eventually falling back to a slight ridge 1 mile (1.6 km) to the north-east. The attack by 3/3rd Gurkhas and infantry in the 234th Brigade moved up to Mesmiye el Gharbiye and cleared the place of snipers. One company of 58th Vaughan’s Rifles suffered heavy casualties during an Ottoman attack on the flank of infantry in the 233rd Brigade. Towards dusk the final stage of the infantry assault was supported by two troops of 11th Light Horse Regiment (4th Light Horse Brigade), who galloped into action on the infantry’s right flank and gave valuable fire support. An infantry frontal attack covered by machine-gun fire drove the Ottoman defenders off the ridge, enabling Mesmiye esh Sherqiye to be occupied soon after. With Ottoman resistance broken infantry in the 75th Division pushed on through Mesmiye where they took 300 prisoners, and although ordered to capture Junction Station they halted short of their objective in darkness. The Australian Mounted Division covered the right flank of the infantry divisions. At 10:00 the 4th Light Horse Brigade moved forward but was held up by an Ottoman position covering El Tineh. The brigade was ordered at 11:50 to push forward to protect the right of the 233rd Brigade (75th Division) as their attack had succeeded and they advanced to occupy Mesmiye. In order for the 4th Light Horse to move the 7th Mounted Brigade was ordered to relieve them in the line. At 12:00 troops of the 4th Light Horse Brigade entered Qazaza 2 miles (3.2 km) south-south-east of Junction Station with the 7th Mounted Brigade on its left then only .5 miles (0.80 km) from the station. By 16:00 the 4th Light Horse Brigade was ordered to push forward to El Tineh as the infantry advance on their left was progressing. It was occupied the following morning. The Yeomanry Mounted Division, with the Anzac Mounted Division in reserve, covered the infantry’s left flank. Yibna was captured by the 8th Mounted Brigade which then advanced northwards against El Kubeibeh and Zernukah. The 22nd Mounted Brigade was held up by Ottoman units defending Aqir while the 6th Mounted Brigade (with the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade protecting their northern flank) was directed against el Mughar. At about 11:30 two leading battalions of 155th (South Scottish) Brigade (52nd (Lowland) Division) were advancing under heavy shrapnel and machine-gun fire to the shelter of the Wadi Jamus about 600 yards (550 m) from their objective. But every attempt to leave the wadi was stopped by very heavy fire from well placed machine-guns. The reserve battalion was brought up but an attempt to work up the wadi between Qatra and El Mughar was barred by heavy machine-gun fire from the villages. At about 14:30 it was agreed between the GOC 52nd (Lowland) Division and the GOC Yeomanry Mounted Division that the 6th Mounted Brigade should attack El Mughar ridge in combination with a renewed assault on Qatra and El Mughar by the 52nd (Lowland) Division. Half an hour later the Royal Buckinghamshire Yeomanry and the Queen’s Own Dorset Yeomanry, already in the Wadi Jamus, advanced in column of squadrons extended to four paces across 3,000 yards (2.7 km) at first trotting then galloping onto the crest of the ridge. They gained the ridge but the horses were completely exhausted and could not continue the pursuit of the escaping Ottoman units down the far side. The charge cost 16 killed, 114 wounded and 265 horses; 16 per cent of personnel and 33 per cent of horses. However, the Ottoman defenders continued to hold El Mughar village until two squadrons of the Berkshire Yeomanry of the 6th Mounted Brigade fighting dismounted, with two battalions of the 155th (South Scottish) Brigade (52nd (Lowland) Division), renewed the attack. Fighting in the village continued until 17:00 when they succeeded in capturing the two crucial fortified villages of Qatra and El Mughar but at a cost of 500 casualties. Two field guns and 14 machine-guns were captured. The prisoners and dead amounted to 18 officers and 1,078 other ranks and more than 2,000 dead Ottoman soldiers. On the morning after the battle at Mughar Ridge, Junction Station was occupied and during the following days other villages in the area were found to have been abandoned. Later in the morning of 14 November the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (commanded by Brigadier General William Meldrum) ran into a determined and well entrenched Ottoman rearguard near Ayun Kara, which they attacked. Fierce close quarter fighting against the Ottoman 3rd Infantry Division continued during the afternoon. Although severely threatened, the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade eventually prevailed and went on to occupy Jaffa two days later. Units of the 75th Division supported by several armoured cars occupied Junction Station during the morning of 14 November cutting the Jaffa to Jerusalem railway. Seventeen days of operations virtually without rest, had resulted in an advance of 60 miles (97 km) from Beersheba; major and minor engagements occurring on 13 of those days. Most of the mounted units had covered at least 170 miles (270 km) since 29 October 1917 capturing 5,270 prisoners and over 60 guns and about 50 machine-guns. At Junction Station two train engines and 60 trucks in the station were captured along with an undamaged and fully functioning steam pumping plant which supplied unlimited, easily accessible water. Junction Station, with its branch line running south to El Tineh and extensions southwards towards Beersheba and Gaza was an important centre for both sides’ lines of communication. On 14 November at 06:30 4th Light Horse Brigade entered El Tineh with the rest of the Australian Mounted Division following a couple of hours later. Here good wells containing plenty of water were found but without steam pumps and so watering was not complete until 16:00. The horses had done all that had been asked of them, existing during this time on only 9½ lbs of grain ration (practically no bulk food) and scarce water while all the time carrying about 21 stone (290 lb). That they were able to carry on into the Judean Hills after only a limited period of rest established a remarkable record. Meanwhile, the Australian Mounted Divisional Supply Train followed the fighting units as closely as they could, moving out from Beersheba via Hareira and Gaza on 11 November to Isdud on 14 November; to Mesymie the day after and Junction Station on 16 November. During 14 November infantry in the 52nd (Lowland) and 75th Divisions concentrated and reorganised their ranks. The advance was taken over by the Yeomanry Mounted Division which crossed the railway north of Junction Station and the Anzac Mounted Division which pressed the retreating Ottoman Army northwards near the coast. The Anzac Mounted Division had been ordered to cut the road linking Jaffa to Jerusalem by capturing Ramleh and Ludd. This was the only main road from the coast through Ramleh up the Vale of Ajalon to Jerusalem. During the morning Meldrum’s New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade crossed the river close to the sand dunes with 1st Light Horse Brigade on its right. By 09:00 El Kubeibeh had been occupied by the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade before pushing on towards the Wadi Hunayn. Here Ottoman rearguards were encountered in the orange groves and on the hills between El Kubeibeh and the sand dunes. About noon the 1st Light Horse Brigade drove an Ottoman rearguard from a ridge facing Yibna where the Anzac Mounted Division had bivouaced the night before and occupied the village of Rehovot also called Deiran. At the same time the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade fought off a strongly entrenched rearguard at Ayun Kara. After conceding considerable ground the Ottoman soldiers made a vigorous counterattack but were finally defeated.

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