Showing posts with label WWI. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WWI. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

December 9th, 1917 - General Edmond Allenby marches into Jerusalem

 We promised to bring more posts on concerning the centenary of the First World War, and here's the first one – How the British army conquered Jerusalem on December 1917.

The Palestine theater of war (there was another battle zone in the Middle East – the war in Mesopotamia/Iraq in which the British suffered one of their worst defeats – the siege of Kut el-Amara) was secondary to the European war (especially the western front, but also the eastern front) but on the other hand, it was a more dynamic and fast going war, unlike the static and indecisive war on the western front.

Turkey entered the war on November 2nd 1914, after concluding a secret pact with Germany. The war in the Middle East started at the end of that month, when a British force, sent from India, landed in Basra and conquered it. On February 1915, a Turkish force (under German command) attacked the British-controlled Suez Canal - and was repulsed. The British decided that the best way to defend the Strategic Canal was by capturing the Sinai Peninsula and advancing on Palestine. On January 1917 the British took Rafah and on March and April tried to capture Gaza (the gate to the land of Israel since ancient times) and failed.

After the failure in the second battle of Gaza (in which the British used Gas and Tanks), the British commander, General Archibald Murray was recalled and replaced with General Edmond Allenby. Allenby, a veteran cavalry officer, had commanded the 3rd British army on the western front and commanded the Arras offensive in France in the spring of 1917.   Although the initial stages of the attack were successful (relatively for the western front) the battle soon deteriorated into regular static trench warfare. Allenby was removed from his command and was returned to Britain.

Allenby received the command of the Palestine front in the summer of 1917 and started preparing  for another attack on Gaza, but this time in another fashion: He made the Turks and the Germans believe that he was about to attack Gaza again but instead attacked Beersheba. Australian, New Zealand and British cavalry (The Palestine front saw the deployment of large cavalry forces – including French and Indian cavalry units – something that the western front's trench system and fire power did not allow) and conquered it after a fierce fight. From there Allenby's forces moved north from Gaza to outflank the Turks. The Turks retreated towards the Yarkon River and Jerusalem. The British moved towards Jerusalem in the end of November 1917 in three main routes – north of Jerusalem (today's Route 443 – the ancient road to Jerusalem), the main highway to Jerusalem (today's Route number 1) and from the south – via Hebron and Bethlehem.

At the beginning of December 1917 the Turks began to retreat from Jerusalem (the Germans managed to dissuade the Turks from their plan ofexpelling the Jews of Jerusalem, as they did to the Jews of Tel Aviv and the neighboring towns) and on December 9th the mayor of Jerusalem, Hussein el Husseini, went out with a group of dignitaries to present to the British the surrender of Jerusalem. With them came an American photographer, a member of the American colony in Jerusalem, named Lewis Larson. According to SimonSebag-Montefiore in his book "Jerusalem – the biography", the delegation met two British soldiers, cooks of a commander in the 60th Division (a 'Cockney' unit from east London) who were in a mission to find eggs for their commander's breakfast…The cooks refused to accept the city's surrender – "We don’t want the surrender of the 'oly city, we want heggs for ur hofficer" (I hope I got the cockney accent right…). The delegation moved on, and soon encountered two more British soldiers (from the same division), sergeants Sedgwick and Hurcomb, who were scouts for their unit. They too refused to accept the surrender of the Jerusalem but were willing to be photographed with the delegation and accepted cigarettes from them… (At the place where this meeting happened, a monument was erected in memorial to the surrender of Jerusalem to the British army and the soldiers of the 60th division that fell in the First World War. The monument can be found today behind Jerusalem's central bus station, in the Romema neighborhood).

After being rejected by a British artillery officer, the delegation met Brigadier Watson, commander of the 180th brigade, who accepted the surrender of Jerusalem. After the short ceremony, Watson informed his commander, General Shea (commander of the 60th division) the he had accepted the surrender of Jerusalem. Shea canceled the surrender to Watson and demanded that el Husseini surrender to him. Husseini again came out of Jerusalem and surrendered to Shea. Shea entered Jerusalem and declared martial law. He then informed Allenby that he accepted the surrender of Jerusalem. Allenby cancelled the two former surrenders and demanded that the city surrender to him and to him only. At this point el Husseini became ill and the third surrender took place without him. (He later succumbed to pneumonia – no doubt from too frequent exposure to the cold Jerusalem December mornings).

Allenby rode his horse to the Jaffa gate but entered the city on foot – as a sign of respect to the holiness of the city (and in striking contrast to Kaiser Wilhelm II pompous entry to Jerusalem 20 years earlier) with his staff marching after him. He walked to the entrance of Jerusalem citadel (known as Tower of David), met the heads of the different communities in the city and declared martial law in the city.

The war in Palestine continued until September 1918. After a winter and a spring of static warfare, Allenby attacked the Turkish lines with his typical deception, feinting an attack on Trans Jordan while sending a large cavalry force covered by large numbers of airplanes towards Nazareth and Haifa. It was a textbook operation, still regarded to this day. The British arrived in Damascus on October 1st and on October 31st Turkey surrendered.

The Israel State archives hold several movies and photos showing Allenby's historical entrance to Jerusalem:

1)      A part of a newsreel from the First World War, 10 minute long, which shows Allenby marching into Jerusalem.
3)       Posters of the declaration of martial law in Jerusalem written in English, French, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and Russian. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

November 11 - 95 years since the end of the First World War

95 years ago this month, the guns in Europe fell silent. After four years of terrible carnage, millions of casualties, destruction, famine, plague (the Spanish influenza), and genocide (the Armenian genocide), the Great War came to an end. In other theaters of conflict it had already ended--the war in the Middle East ended on October 30, when the Ottoman Empire surrendered to the Allies. In other places, it went on. The German troops in Eastern Africa kept on fighting for another two weeks. The Russian civil war, an offshoot of the Great War, kept on for another three years.

This coming year, 2014, will be the centenary of the beginning of the war, and in many places in the world (in Europe especially) ceremonies are being prepared, memorials erected, and new publications are coming out, revealing new material and recalling the history of that great struggle. We, in the Israel State Archives, also plan to publish documents and other material connected to the First World War.

The First World War is a fault line in history. It was an end point and a beginning point simultaneously. The effects of the war are felt to this day. Although there is a tendency to regard the Second World War as more important (due to its global size, its enormity in death and destruction, and its horrible barbarity), the first war is just as important, since it began changes that the second war finalized.

The First World War brought an end to four great dynasties that ruled their countries and shaped history for centuries: The Hapsburgs, who had ruled central Europe and other parts of the continent since the 12th century; The Romanovs, who had ruled Russia since the 16th century; The Ottomans, who had ruled the Middle East and parts of Europe since the 15th century; and the Hohenzollerns, who had ruled Prussia since the 18th century and the whole of Germany since the end of the 19th century. The First World War saw the rise of Bolshevism and the revolution in Russia. It also directly affected the rise of Fascism and Nazism, even as it spurred the emergence of ideas such as self-determination, human rights, women's suffrage, and international organizations such as the League of Nations.

The outcome of the First World War is felt to this day in different places in the world, especially in the Middle East: The secret Sykes-Picot agreement, signed covertly during the war, carved the Arab-dominated areas into British and French influence zones, shaping the borders of the Middle East to the present moment. The Syrian civil war and the ongoing sectarian war in Iraq can be seen as the collapse of this arrangement. The Kurdish people who were separated into four different countries by the Sykes-Picot deal are still trying to establish their own national home. The First World War also gave rise to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – the founder of modern, secular Turkey. His heroic defense of Gallipoli in 1915 made him a hero, and Gallipoli became a rallying point for his supports and adherents. Elsewhere, countries like Australia and New Zealand regard the First World War (especially the landing in Gallipoli) as a kind of founding moment for their statehood and a source of national pride (April 25 – ANZAC day).

We have posted in the past several stories regarding the First World War:

1)     Photographs of the First World War – a series of photographs showing German soldiers in the First World War, part of President Ben-Zvi's collection.

2)     The story behind a photograph of the German commander of the Middle East, Erich von Falkenhein and the story of his daughter, photographed with him in the old train station of Jerusalem.

As mentioned before, we hope to bring to light more information from the archives regarding this momentous period in history.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Von Falkenhayn - an addendum

Last week, we posted about German general Erich Von Falkenhayn's daughter. Here is something on Von Falkenhayn himself. Two years ago, Lenny Ben David wrote about how Von Falkenhayn saved the Jews of Jerusalem from being deported, as well as the residents of Tel Aviv and the nearby Jewish towns.
Von Falkenhayn

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Girl in a Photograph - More Than 90 Years Ago

The Israel Defense Forces and Defense Establishment Archives (IDFA) has published on its website a series of photographs related to the reopening of the railway station in Jerusalem. The station has recently been converted to a recreation, culture and food area--a welcome addition to Jerusalem.
One of the photographs, dating back to the First World War, shows General Erich von Falkenhayn when he arrived to visit Jerusalem in June 1917. Falkenhayn was appointed Commander of the German Army after its repeated failures during WWI. He is chiefly remembered as a planner of the Battle of Verdun in France (February – November 1916), which was intended to bleed the French army and instead became a terrible massacre of both parties. Falkenhayn later commanded the combined German-Austrian-Bulgarian forces (with some Turkish units too) to defeat Romania in August – November 1916, which was considered a brilliant campaign, and later became the commander of the Turkish forces in Syria and Israel. (On his left side in the photograph is the Turkish commander of Syria and Palestine, Jamal Pasha, who vehemently opposed Falkenhayn's appointment.) Falkenhayn failed to protect Palestine from the troops of Edmund Allenby and was replaced in February 1918, finishing his service in the German Army headquarters in the Baltic region.

The picture shows a girl on his right, and she is interesting in her own right. In the book "Looking Twice at the Land of Israel" (published by the Defense Ministry and Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, 1991), Benjamin Z. Kedar identifies her as Falkenhayn's daughter, Erica. Erica married Henning von Tresckow, one of the chief conspirators against Hitler in World War II. On July 21, 1944, the day after the failed assassination of Hitler, von Tresckow staged a partisan attack on his headquarters near Bialystok in Poland, and blew himself up with a grenade. He was buried with military honors, but a month later, when the Gestapo discovered his involvement in the plot against Hitler, his body was exhumed and burned in a crematorium of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. His wife - Erica - and daughters were arrested, but later released.

Lots of things happened to her after that sunny afternoon in Jerusalem...
Erica von Falkenhayn and Henning von Tresckow (Wikipedia)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Photographs of the First World War

One of the varied and interesting collections in Israel's State Archives is the collection of the second president of Israel, Yizhak Ben-Zvi. Ben-Zvi was an avid researcher of the oriental Jewish communities, the Samaritans, the Karaites, the Druze and other related topics; his collection was originally housed in the Yad Yizhak Ben-Zvi institution, for the research and dissemination of knowledge relating to Jerusalem, the Land of Israel and the Jewish communities of the East.

Among the many documents and photos of the Ben-Zvi collection are a group of undated pictures of unknown origin file (פ 4122/16). They contain fascinating images from the First World War and from the Western Front. One can assume that they were given to the Yad Yizhak Ben-Zvi institution or to President Ben-Zvi himself, probably by a German Jew who took them while serving in the German Army during the war.

Three of the photos depict ruined French villages. Two of these are captioned "a village in the Vosges plain". The Vosges Mountains are in Lorraine and were the scene of limited but constant fighting during WWI. German soldiers can be seen standing among the remains of the destroyed houses. Another photograph is captioned 'Erain'. A search on Google Maps finds villages with similar names only in western France, so it is unclear if this is the real name of the village, the German version of the French name or if a village by this name was destroyed in the war and not rebuilt afterward. (Or perhaps Google Maps simply lacks the information.)

Two other photos in this set show a German command post, situated in a log cabin. One of them features a sign over the cabin with the words "Villa Barbara" – probably intended as a humorous reference. A German officer poses in the entrance of the cabin. Another photograph shows what appears to be the same officer viewing a map in the cabin itself. A caption on the photo says it was taken during the winter of 1915-1916.

Another photograph shows French trenches that were taken by the Germans in the Vosges plain. The trenches look hardly-used – no damage is apparent, nor any trash or debris; it is as if they were built for show or for the purposes of a demonstration of some sort.

The last photograph is the most interesting, in our opinion. It depicts a group of French prisoners taken by the Germans. The caption says that they were caught during the attack on 'Fresens'. Again, searching Google Maps, one finds several places in France that could fit the description. In one of these, situated in the Pas-De-Calais area, heavy fighting took place between the Germans and the French in 1915. Two other places with that name are situated in the vicinity of Nancy and Verdun, in the Meurthe-et-Moselle area – another front line zone, and geographically close to the contents of the other photographs.

The picture itself offers a few more clues as to its dating. The French soldiers are equipped with Adrian-style helmets and horizon-blue uniforms. These were introduced by the French Army in 1915, which had initially marched to war in August 1914 wearing blue and red uniforms (one reason for the dreadful casualties suffered by the French in the early months of the war, as noted in Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August). Another clue to the date of the photograph is the fact that two of the French soldiers in the foreground are wearing sheepskin vests, introduced to the service in the winter of 1915. By contrast, the German soldiers in the background of the photograph are wearing Pickelhaube (a German spiked helmet, worn in the early years of the world war) and not the Stahlhelm - the famous and more advanced helmet, introduced only in 1916. The Germans also seem not to be equipped with winter gear of any sort. All these observations, and the fact that the trees in the background are bare, can give us a possible time frame for this most interesting photo – autumn of 1915.

Do you spot any other clues that might help with the identification and dating of these photographs? Leave them in the comments below, or send them to us at the address to your right.