The Teen Murti Haifa Chowk
Vol 11 Issue 6 Jan - Feb 2018
The renaming of the Chowk is a tribute to the valour and sacrifice of the Indian soldiers who fought at Haifa
Saturday, January 27, 2018
The Indian PM Mr Narendra Modi had visited Haifa in Jul 2017 to pay homage to Indian soldiers who had laid down their lives in the Battle of Haifa during the first World War and re naming of the Teen Murti Chowk, in New Delhi, on the very first day of the visit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, to India, is a great tribute to the valour and sacrifice of Indian soldiers. The new name of the war memorial is Teen Murti Haifa Chowk. The Teen Murti memorial was constructed in 1922 to commemorate the heroism of the Indian soldiers who had fought at Haifa, which is a northern Israeli port city located approximately 100 Kms north of the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv.
The Battle of Haifa, that took place on 23 Sep 1918 was part of a series of battles fought between the allied powers and the Ottoman empire and countries aligned with them. The campaign was known as the Sinai and Palestine campaign. However, unlike most British battles in the region, the one at Haifa was fought by cavalry regiments of the Indian Maharajas and not the British army. Haifa was also a landmark battle in the sense that it was the last true cavalry charge in the annals of history, as thereafter new generation weapon systems made their appearance on the battle field, largely making the horsed cavalry redundant.
Both in Mesopotamia and Palestine, the Turkish Army was gradually being pushed out, but were far from being finally defeated. The Allied Forces were facing immense difficulties in providing logistic backup over a single railway track, it was therefore the need of the hour, for them, to capture a port on the Mediterranean Coast. Haifa was the obvious choice both because of its location and the excellent natural harbour which it had. The onerous task of capturing Haifa was assigned to the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade which had three Lancer Regiments from Hyderabad, Mysore and Jodhpur on its orbat. The task was undoubtedly very formidable as the Turks had well prepared defences on the heights of Mount Carmel, which is a six to eight km wide coastal mountain range stretching from the Mediterranean Sea towards the southeast. The city of Haifa, Israel’s third largest city is located on the northern slopes of the said range. The Turks were well entrenched, and their weaponry included artillery and machine guns. The gradients of Mount Carmel were also not suited for a cavalry charge.
The enemy’s main defences were to the east of Haifa and extended from the Jordan Valley towards the Mediterranean Coast north of Tel Aviv. On, 19 Sep 1918, the 5th Cavalry Division of the Allied forces was assigned the task of capturing Haifa and Acre. Several earlier attempts had been foiled by strong rearguard actions. The offensive consisting mainly of cavalry units attacked the Turkish positions and by the 21st had broken through the Turkish positions capturing a large number of prisoners. The Hyderabad Lancers were detached from the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade, to guard the prisoners. The rest of the Brigade reached Haifa on 22 September and commenced their reconnaissance of the enemy’s positions.
Simultaneous attacks by the two units commenced on the afternoon of 23 September. The Mysore Lancers dismounted and climbed up a steep track which took them to an artillery battery position of the Austrians, which they managed to capture and also captured and killed several Turkish machine gunners. The Jodhpur Lancers who were to attack from the North found that the steep banks of the Keshon River which ran parallel to Mount Carmel and the soft ground, adjacent to the river, posed a formidable obstacle for the horses, a couple being quickly swallowed by the marsh near the river. Fortunately, the troopers of Jodhpur Lancers, who were on the left flank, found a ford which facilitated them to cross the river and move into the flat ground between the lower slopes of Mount Carmel and the Keshon River. The upper slopes had already been captured by the Mysore Lancers. In this gap the Jodhpur Lancers formed up and launched their charge with their Commanding Officer, Major Dalpat Singh leading from the front. He was killed in the battle and was posthumously awarded the Military Cross. Other officers continued to motivate their men to fight. The men already impelled by the death of their Commanding Officer braved on in the hail of bullets and shells being rained on them, and galloped onto the enemy positions both on the hill and in the town taking them at the point of their lances and swords.
To begin with it was an unequal battle–one force deeply entrenched with artillery and machine guns available to them and other charging them on horseback with lances and swords. But valour and sheer grit prevailed. Not only was the enemy surprised but also took to his heels in fear and fled only to be captured later.
Together the two regiments captured 1,350 German and Ottoman prisoners, including two German officers, 35 Ottoman officers, 17 artillery guns including four 4.2 guns, eight 77mm guns and four camel guns as well as a 6-inch naval gun, and 11 machine guns. Their own casualties amounted to eight dead and 34 wounded. 60 horses were killed and another 83 injured. More than the physical losses suffered by the Turks, the Battle of Haifa broke the morale of their army and led to its retreat; rolling up the remnants of the Turkish Seventh and the Eighth Armies and their German allies in the last great cavalry campaign in history.
23rd September is annually observed as ‘Haifa Day’ in commemoration of the capture of that city following a dashing cavalry action by the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade during the First World War. It is therefore only in the fitness of things, that the country on whose soil the battle was fought and the nation whose soldiers fought the battle, join hands to honour the memory of those who braved all odds to come out winners.