INDIAN EMBASSY HOLD ANNUAL HAIFA BATTLE COMMEMORATION WITH B'NEI MENASHE DELEGATE IN ATTENDANCE
(8 October): The Indian Embassy in Israel held its annual commemoration on Thursday, October 7th of the conquest of Haifa by Indian troops in the final stages of World War 1. Although the commemoration usually takes place on the 23rd September, the day on which Indian troops conquered the city from its Turkish, German and Austrian defenders, it was held 2 weeks later because of previous covid19 restrictions. In attendance at the ceremony as an invited representative of the Israel's B'nei Menashe community was Isaac Thangjom, the Executive Director of Degel Menashe.
While only a minor footnote in the history books, the Battle of Haifa is memorable for several reasons. It was the first time that Indian troops, who served widely in the British imperial army during World War 1 fought entirely under the command of their own officers. And it may well have been the last time in the annals of modern warfare in which an "old-fashioned" cavalry charge was successfully executed.
The battle took place during the last week of Gen. Edmund Allenby's Palestine campaign, which took a sudden turn when the British Army broke through Turkish lines in mid-September and turned what had been a standstill into a rout. The troops participating in the battle came from its ranks of Jodhpur Lancers, Mysore Lancers and the Hyderabad Lancers. Their task was to clear the narrow strip of flat land between the Mediterranean Sea and Mt Carmel on which Haifa, at that time a small town was located, and to clear the path for further advance to Acre. They faced two main obstacles: the swamp along the Kishon river, which blocked their path of the advance and the German and Austrian machine gun and artillery emplacements on the lower slope of the mountain. Armed with nothing but swords and lancers, the three battalions swept under heavy fire through the area that is now downtown Haifa and reached the Kishon while foot soldiers outflanked and captured enemy gun positions. In the end, the Turkish troops they were supposed to be supporting having fled, the Germans and the Austrians surrendered. 1,350 prisoners were taken by the Indians at the expense of 34 wounded and 8 killed, including the Commanding Officer, Dalpat Singh Shekhawat.
The ceremony of the commemoration started at 9 am at the Indian Military Cemetery at the bottom of Mt Carmel. The Indian Defense Attaché, Group Captain Sundaramani Krishnan conducted the commemoration. The Ambassador H. E. Sanjeev Singla gave a tribute on the contribution of the Jodhpur Lancers on the final
assault that liberated the Haifa from the Turks. Mr. Gary Koren followed talking about the wonderful relationship between the countries, trade, economic ties, defense and off course, tourism. Indian contingent from the UNDOF performed the Guard of Honour. The Haifa Police band played the Indian and Israeli national anthem. The last item, laying of the wreath, the first one by the Indian Ambassador and then, Mr. Gary Koren followed by imminent citizens like Mr. Nissim Moses, a Bnei Israel historian and other prominent personalities including those of Indian origin. Then it was laid by various Defense Attachès of countries like the US, Britain, Canada, Germany, Poland, South Korea, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Australia, Japan and several others.
Indian soldiers fought with the British Army in a number of battles in 1917-18 and some 900 are buried today in cemeteries all over Israel. Although, Gen. Allenby's conquest of Palestine is generally regarded as marginal to the conduct of World War 1, it was in fact, a crucial element in hastening the war's end with the total collapse of the Turkish 7th and 8th Army that had faced Allenby's troops, there was nothing to prevent the British from sweeping through Turkey itself and threatening German and Austrian lines from the south. When the Central Powers surrendered soon after in November 1918, the speed with which they did so was partly a result of Allenby's victory.
An interesting sidelight to this story is that two battalions of Jabotinsky's Jewish Legion, the 38th and the 39th of the Royal Fusiliers, fought in the same British breakthrough. Of the opposite side of the front from the Indians, they crossed the Jordan, north of Jericho and took part in the British conquest of Trans-Jordan. The only time in which Indian and Jewish units have ever fought together, this can be thought of as the first harbinger of the close cooperation between India and Israel today.