On 19th September 1918, the last major offensive by the British Army in the Middle East began; the Battle of Megiddo.
For 5th Suffolk, their principal task in the overall battle was attack and occupy ‘Observation Hill’ - a rocky outcrop, a lofty 650 metres above sea level. It was 1800 yards in front of the British lines. The hill was of such strategic importance since it commanded an uninterrupted view of the country around. However the route of the Battalion’s advance was not a straight forward one.
First, the Battalion had to advance down into a 500ft. deep ravine that ran 800 yards in front of their line. Then, up the other side for a further 800 yards, before they assembled, for the final attack upon the Turkish lines. To complete such an operation in daylight would have been difficult enough, but to perform such a task at night and in complete silence, was a tall order. To compound this, the Turkish front line was on a rocky lip about 400 yards short of the actual hill itself.
“The general attack on the whole front was timed to commence at 4.30 a.m.” wrote a commentator, “The moon was 4 days before full and consequently set at about 2.30 a.m. At 11.30 p.m, on the 18thSeptember the Battalion moved out from their bivouacs under cover of two strong patrols picking up Lewis guns, bombs etc. which had been dumped by the “nucleus” just inside our wire.”
“Scrambling down these rock sin the moonlight and attempting to move quietly was no easy work especially as it was advisable to avoid certain points which had been registered by the enemy’s artillery as night lines. However the deployment along a line previously marked with a broad white tape, and with wires leading to each flank was successfully carried out, and zero hour was impatiently awaited.”
With split second precision timing, at around three seconds to zero, the boom of heavy guns was heard and the Allied artillery was pounding the Turkish positions on the lip of the hill opposite. “The enemy’s lines were bombarded from Jaffa to Jericho and at the same moment the advance commenced.”
Five minutes later, the first Suffolk patrols went into action. Lieutenant G.G. Oliver at once rushed the Turkish frontal positions and secured them with little loss. The majority of wounds being caused by the dense plantation of cactus trees that the Turks had planted to supplement their meagre defences.
“The order of advance was not strictly in accordance with any drill book” wrote a commentator in 1924. As their guns thundered overhead, B Company, under the command of Captain Fox entered the ravine, followed immediately by C Company under Captain Kilner MC, and D Company under Captain Maris. “By this time the whole ravine was filled with smoke and dust and direction was most difficult to maintain.”
Now came the final advance. At the point of the bayonet B Company and D Company passed through and after scrambling up the rocks and pausing briefly to catch their breath, they pressed on and took the Turkish positions. C Company made a flank attack and caused a great many of the enemy to surrender, and many reinforcements being sent to bolster the positions, turned and fled. The whole attack had taken just over 25 minutes, with only the loss of 2 officers and 5 other ranks killed. 1 officer and 28 other ranks were wounded.
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