Through the Rain of Bullets: How Haifa was Captured by Indian Gallantry
How many of us know about the gallantry of Indian soldiers who were instrumental in freeing Haifa from the clutches of Ottoman Turks during World War I? Most of us don’t know about the bravery of Indian cavalry that blasted through hail of bullets and ripped of the Turk defences in what was probably the last battle where cavalry charges were used.
I am talking about the Battle of Haifa. It took place on 23rd September 1918. It was actually a part of a series of engagements fought between 19 and 25th September. It resulted in the capture of Haifa and Acre by the British. It was an engagement won by the bravery of Indian horsemen who decimated all who came in their way.
5th cavalry division was assigned the task of capturing Haifa and Acre. Several actions in order to capture them had to be aborted due to the resistance put up by the Turks who were being aided by Germans and Austrians.
The 5th cavalry consisted of a squadron of Mysore Lancers, a squadron of Jodhpur Lancers along with Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry who were more of a reconnaissance party. The division’s third brigade was the 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade, normally comprising three cavalry regiments from the Indian Princely States of Jodhpur, Mysore and Hyderabad. However, the Hyderabad Lancers had been detached to escort prisoners and was replaced by the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry from the divisions 14th Cavalry Brigade.
In the ongoing recce missions and skirmishes, the defences of Haifa stood strong and finally on 23 rd September 1918, orders were given to 15th cavalry brigade to assault and capture Haifa. Ottoman artillery and guns were well placed on Mount Caramel and had a direct view and line of fire of any incoming expedition. Brigade’s Jodhpur Lancers were ordered to decimate or capture this gun position while Mysore Lancers were to move around and attack the town from rear and flank.
Jodhpur Lancers charged the Ottoman position in their usual gallant style, crossed the railway line to Acre and continued to gallop in face of a hail of bullets. The situation worsened when they got obstructed due to quicksand on the banks of River Kishon. So the Lancers maneuvered towards their left onto the lower slopes of Mount Caramel. Meanwhile, Mysore Lancers had managed to silence an Austrian battery of light field guns placed on the slopes of Mount Caramel. They had now dismounted and giving fire support to Jodhpur Lancers.
Jodhpur Lancers charged again from the changed position and overran the Ottoman position capturing 2 machine guns, 2 camel swivel guns and around 30 enemy soldiers. Most importantly, they did not stop at this and sensing the opportunity, continued their charge through the gap opened up in defensive position into the main town. Mysore Lancers upon seeing this, remounted and followed the Jodhpur Lancers into the town surprising the defenders. Together the combined Indian cavalry captured around 1350 German and Ottoman prisoners along with 17 artillery guns and 11 machine guns. Casualties among Indian cavalry amounted to a total of eight dead and 34 wounded. 60 horses were killed and another 83 injured.
This capture of Haifa led to capture of Acre two days later. It was a decisive victory for the British which was secured by the bravery of Indian cavalry.
Israel had released a stamp honoring the Indian soldiers who saved Haifa more than a hundred years back. The Israelis have included this valorous victory in their school text books of History.
23 September is still remembered as Haifa Day by the 61st cavalry Regiment of Indian Army which represent the old Jodhpur and Mysore Lancers. Shri Narendra Modi also visited the memorial to this battle. In honour of bravery of Lancers, the Teen Murti Marg in New Delhi is now renamed as Teen Murti Haifa Marg.
National level competitive bodybuilder, Mr. India 2016 (Federation Cup Bodybuilding), Certified Fitness Trainer (ISSA-USA), Performance Nutrition Consultant, Diet Consultant, Writer, and Practitioner of Ancient Indian Battlefield Art 'Sanatan Shastra Vidya'. He runs a gym (Total Training Terminal) in East Delhi.