Egypt and Palestine

Empire & Commonwealth: Palestine National Army Museum / CC-BY-NC-ND

Egypt is renowned for the great pyramids, but another great landmark its known for is the Suez Canal, which is a waterway that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. It took 10 years to construct and was officially opened in 1869. The canal is a shortcut for ships to travel between Europe and South Asia without going around Africa. The 120-mile route reduces the voyage by 4,300 miles around Africa. Thus, it is a crucial gateway for economic growth and a strategic landmark for the region. During the early twentieth century the canal was central to British communications and defence plan. It has to be protected from all aggression.

In late 1914 the Sultan of Turkey proclaimed jihad or holy war against the Allies and set up defensive positions on the banks of the Canal.

Indian troops combating against Turkish attack

In February 1915, the Turkish forces pushed towards the Canal. The Lahore and Meerut Divisions which were supposed to be sent to the region had to be diverted to France due to desperate reinnforcements needed on the Western Front. The Sirhind Brigade of the Lahore Division was left behind in Egypt initially but they too left for France once additional requests for 20 Infantry batallions and regiments of the Imperial Serive Troops (cavalty and infantry) was successful.

The Turkish forces suffered heavy losses with 2,000 casualties and were pushed back. The Allies suffered 163 casualties. After the success most of Indian troops were reployed to other regions as the chances of another attack was minimal. By May 1916, the Indian contingency in Egypt was reduced to four regular battalions and Imperial Troops that were originally dispatched.

The Pallestine Offensive

In June 1917, General Edmund Allenby took charge of command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force and went on the offensive against the Turks. The Indian troops excelled forcing the Turks northwards. The holy city of Jerusalem was eventually captured in December 1917.

By the spring of 1918, all British troops based in Palestine were sent to France to counter the German onslaught. To cover for them, soldiers from the Indian Army were sent to Palestine. By September 1918, two-thirds of Allenby’s infantry and one-third of his cavalry were Indian. Allenby’s force advanced north capturing Megiddo and then Nablus. At the same time the Jodhpur and Mysore Imperial Service Lancers captured the fortified town of Haifa with distinction.

General Allenby’s next objective was Damascus in Syria which was seized 1st October 1918.. A week later, the 7th (Meerut) Division occupied Beirut on the coast, the French navy having just got there ahead of the sepoys. And another week later Homs and Tripoli were both seized on 15th October. And then on 25th October the troops were requested for a final offence to take Aleppo. The Turks suffered heavy casualties and were defeated. On 31st October 1918,the Turks funally surrendered. Without the contribution of Indian troops in this theatre of the war, the initial defence of the Suez Canal and subsequently Allenby’s final victory would not have been possible.

Casualties

Total killed or died 4,342
Total wounded 6,429
Total missing or prisoners 165
Total casualties 10,936

Honours

 

Victoria Crosses – 2

 

  • • Rifleman (later Naik) Karanbahadur Rana, 2/3rd Gurkha Rifles, 10th April 1918
  • • Ressaidar Badlu Singh, 14th Murray’s Jat Lancers attached 29th Lancers (Posthumous), 23rd September 1918

 

Military Crosses 32
Indian Order of Merit 1st Class 4
Indian Order of Merit 2nd Class 138
Bar to Indian Distinguished Service Medal 7
Indian Distinguished Service Medal 473
Indian Meritorious Service Medal 2607

Battle Honours

Battle Honours are awarded to military units as official acknowledgement of their achievements in specific wars or battles of a military campaign. These honours usually take the form of a place and a date and are emblazoned on the colours of the units that are so honoured. Artillery units, which traditionally do not carry colours, are awarded honour titles instead. Units take great pride in their Battle Honours and specially hard-earned honours are commemorated annually by the celebration of selected “battle honour days”.

Battle Honours awarded to the Indian army in Egypt and Palestine:

  • Egypt 1915 – 17
  • Egypt 1915
  • Egypt 1915 - 16
  • Egypt 1916
  • Egypt 1916 - 17
  • Suez Canal
  • Palestine 1917 – 18
  • Palestine 1918
  • Gaza
  • El Mughar
  • Nebi Semwil
  • Jerusalem
  • Tell’Asur
  • Megiddo
  • Sharon
  • Nablus
  • Damascus

Source: CAFHR-United Service Institution of India

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