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Remembered Today:

52nd (Lowland) Division 20-22 Dec 1917


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Remembering Major General J. (Auja John) Hill and the men of the 52nd (Lowland) Division who on the night of 20th-21st December 1917 crossed the Auja River and thereby ensured that the haven of Jaffa could operate safely for the vital supply of the EEF


The 52nd Division infantry were supported in this operation by 410th, 412th & 413th Field Companies R.E., who in turn were assisted by 300 men of the 1/12th Loyal North Lancs (Pioneers)


Also taking part were the divisional artillery: 261st, 262nd & 264th Brigades RFA, supported by 100th & 102nd Heavy Artillery Groups.

Supporting fire was also provided by units of the Royal Navy: HMS Grafton, HMS Lapwing, HMS Lizard and the monitors M29, M31 & M32.


MAP from Military Operations Egypt & Palestine – June 1917 to End, Part I





MAP from 'With the 8th Scottish Rifles 1914-1919'



The Account From



In the coastal sector preparations were being made by the XXIst Corps to remove the enemy from his positions at the mouth of the Nahr el Auja, which menaced the town and landing place of Jaffa and the main road thence to Ramleh. The River Auja, some forty yards wide and ten feet deep between abrupt banks, was in itself a formidable obstacle to an advance. The enemy had entrenched the high northern bank and also held Bald Hill with a line of trenches about a mile to the south of Mulebbis and Fejja. Major-General Hill, Commanding the 52nd Division, on Dec. 14 submitted a plan for making a surprise passage of the river. The requisite preparations were made — portable bridges were constructed by the Engineers, under cover of the orange groves of Sarona, pontoons were assembled and canvas corracles, capable of carrying twenty men apiece, were built from local materials. A considerable concentration of artillery was also effected and, on Dec. 18 and 19, the 52nd Division was relieved in the trenches by the 161st Brigade of the 54th Division and the Auckland and Wellington Mounted Rifle Regts. At the same time the 75th Division extended its front westwards so as to enable the 54th Division to spare the 161st Brigade from near Ludd. Three days' heavy rain followed which considerably increased the volume of water in the Auja and did much to render its south bank difficult of access by turning the plain into a mud swamp. In spite of this the surprise attack was successful. The covering parties crossed unperceived during the night of Dec. 20 amid wind and rain in their corracles, and the bridges were placed in position. Owing to the extreme lightness of their construction (they were designed to be carried nearly two miles), some of them collapsed after a time, and the 156th Brigade had to link arms and cross breast-deep at the ford. The enemy's trenches covering the river were rushed in silence and captured. Sheikh Muannis was carried at the point of the bayonet, Kh. Hadrah was rushed and captured, and by the dawn of Dec. 21 the 52nd Division had occupied the whole line from Hadrah to Tel el Rekkeit on the sea two miles north of the river-mouth. The enemy had been completely taken by surprise and lost many killed in addition to 316 prisoners and ten machine guns. ...... During Dec. 22 the 52nd Division advanced to the line Tel el Mukhmar at the confluence of the Wadi Ishkar and the Auja-Sheikh el Ballutah-Arsuf, on the cliffs above the sea. This operation was greatly assisted by the co-operation of a squadron composed of H.M.S. Grafton, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Jackson, H.M.S. 29, 31, and 32, and H.M.S. Lapwing and Lizard. The ships shelled El Jelil and compelled parties of the enemy to retire rapidly northwards from El Haram and Arsuf. As a result of this successful advance the Turks were driven back five miles and Jaffa became more secure as a landing-place for stores.”



In full, the operation lasted for three days and though a great success, it nevertheless came at a cost







































Edited by michaeldr
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A great post - thank you for sharing this. I thought this might be of interest - an address from Major General Hill to the men of the Division from 1st January 1918, looking back to their achievements of 1917:





At the end of the Year it is generally the custom to look back. The year 1917, is the 4th year of Great War and, a great year for the Allies in EUROPE, a greater year for the British in every part of the World, and the greatest year for the 52nd (Lowland) Division in PALESTINE.

In the attack on Gaza on the 1st November, the one Brigade, the 156th, representing the Division, was the only Brigade who took all its objectives. During the whole of our long advance through PALESTINE you have never failed me; you went, from Trench warfare to Open warfare and again to Hill warfare, always victorious; no matter how difficult was the operation I called upon you to carry out, you carried it out with your usual dash and Scottish determination. The whole of these operations ended in the forcing of the passage of the River AUJA, which was the hardest operation I have called upon you to undertake. The difficulties were enormous – first getting down to the River itself over waterlogged and boggy country – then the crossing of the river – a river 35 yards in breadth and varying between 12 and 14 feet in depth. In order to make matters as difficult as possible for us, it rained hard the three days previous to “THE NIGHT” – the boggy country got boggier – the river got broader and deeper.

In order to make the enterprise a surprise to the Turk, we all prayed for a wet night. What did it matter if we were wetter than we had been for the past three days? but what happened? After raining all the night before and up to midday, it began to clear up and when the time you were going to attempt your crossing and surprise arrived, there was hardly a cloud in the sky and a half moon! It looked almost impossible that the operation could be a success – however I had every confidence in you and I ordered the crossing to be carried out. The result, now everyone knows, including the Turk, who had the greatest surprise of his life. By good discipline there was not a sound – eight battalions of stout-hearted Scots crossed, and an attack on an extremely strong fortified position covering a front of 7000 yards was commenced under the best barrage that Scottish Artillery have every put up. Even then the attack was not bound to succeed – by no means. In order for that attack to succeed it meant every Officer, every N.C.O. and every Man meant to win through; and that is why the Lowland Division that night won through, because everyone meant to win through. Scottish endurance, determination and pluck carried THE NIGHT. By dawn I was able to report that we had taken every objective – a magnificent performance – a fitting ending to our triumphal progress through PALESTINE.

This applies not only to the Infantry, who have borne the burdon of the fight, but to the Artillery, without whom the Infantry could have done nothing, and to the R.E. (think of the River AUJA!), the Divisional Train, without whom we should have starved, and our Lowland Ambulances, who have worked day and night in looking after our wounded. Our Signal Company, who have on every occasion been instrumental in keeping up communication which means everything in success.

YOU can all be proud of what you have done – I can assure you that I am. I said that at the end of a year it is generally the custom to look back. Now I am going to look forward.

A Company, a Battalion, a Brigade and a Division wins a great name for itself by what it does in War; but it can lose it very easily by what it does while there is no fighting going on. Don’t forget that all men, no matter whether they are Commanders-in-Chief or Private soldiers, have very short memories. Everyone now is talking of the 52nd Division – what a splendid Division they are etc. etc.

I hate to have to look in to the FUTURE, but I do so with a great purpose – a purpose over which I have no power, neither I as Divisional Commander, nor your Brigadiers, nor your Commanding Officers, nor your Company Commanders, in short, no one – except yourselves.

BY real hard fighting, determination, and Scottish pluck during two months you have won yourselves a great name. By drunkenness and insubordination you can lose that fine name in as many hours!!! You have clenched your teeth and fought. I ask you now to clench your teeth and observe discipline – if you will, I know you can.

I thank you all and I wish you one & all a Happy New Year, and the very best of luck during 1918.




Commanding 52nd (Lowland) Division

1st January 1918

Edited by barrieduncan
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Michael, Barry - thank you.

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Thank you, Michael and Barrie, for combining to make a fine tribute on the centenary.



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An opposed, silent, assault river crossing is one of the most challenging of military operations. The challenge they faced, and how they executed the operation, should not be underestimated.

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Steven & Steven – thank you for your comments


Gareth – thank you for emphasising that point.


The 'normal' hazards of such an operation were multiplied several fold by there being 48 hours of incessant rain preceding the crossing. The tracks to the river became quagmires. The wood and canvass materials for the bridging and boats, which had to be man-handled over some distance, became waterlogged and extremely heavy. This in turn meant that the carrying parties could only work at a very slow pace and for short periods of time. The ford at the mouth of the river which was so carefully reconnoitred and pegged, was for a time lost again as the river level had risen and its flow rate increased.

As General Allenby put it

“The sodden state of the ground, and, on the night of the crossing, the swollen state of the river, added to the difficulties, yet by dawn the whole of the infantry had crossed. The fact that the enemy were taken by surprise, and that all resistance was overcome with the bayonet without a shot being fired, bears testimony to the discipline of this Division.”

Edited by michaeldr
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Of cause what confused me was the map which shows the Caucasus Cav Bde  for Dec 1917?


Known as 2nd Caucasus Cav Bde or 2nd Kalfas (Caucasus) Cavalry Bde reformed as Inderpendant Cav Bde Palestine April 1918


This Bde was in southern Turkey or Northern Iraq with;


shown Aug 1917 Turkish reports (1st Cav Regt 4xMGs 13th Cav Regt 4xMGs + 4 guns + 2xBns/Frontier Force + 1xBn Persian Jandarmerie) 


The 22nd Corps reports arrived Palestine late Dec 1917


shown Turkish Jan 1918 reports (3rd Div (2700 men) 7th Div (2000 men) 20th Div (3000 men) + 16th Div (1500 men) 54th Div (2700 men) 2nd Cauc Cav Bde (1500 cav) 5x Div cav Sqns (500 cav) 


The 19th Div had moved into the 3rd Corps (7th Army) for the Jerusalem Operation soon to start





Edited by stevebecker
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17th December 1917


Reference Maps: Palestine 1/63,360 and attached Hecto.


1. Information regarding the enemy's dispositions will be issued separately as and when received.


2. The 52nd Division will cross the Auja and establish itself on the right bank on the line Kh. Hadra-Sh. Muwannis-Tel er Ruqti in order to form a bridgehead from which further operations can be developed.


3. On night X – 1/X day, at a Zero hour to be notified later, the 52nd Division will cross the river as follows:- 
[a] A Bn. 156th Inf. Bde will cross the 'Auja in rafts and form a covering party to the N.E. For the construction of a light bridge capable of taking infantry in single file at Z.19c-Crossing C.1.

(b) A Bn. 157th Inf. Bde will cross the 'Auja in rafts and form a covering party to the N.W. For the construction of a light bridge capable of taking infantry in single file at Z.19b.-Crossing C.2
[c] B and C Bns 156th Inf. Bde will cross the river by the bridge and form up under cover of the covering parties, D Bn remaining in  reserve.
[d] B and C Bns 157th Bde will cross by the ford at Y.18,* according to time-table attached, D Bn remaining in reserve.


4. [a] Whether the crossing is a surprise or not, all ground gained must be held, so that the programme shall be carried out without deviation.
(b) G.O.C. 155th Inf. Bde should be prepared to demonstrate vigorously  towards F.13** if our crossing is discovered, prior to Zero + 150, but he will not so demonstrate without a definite order from Div. H.Q.
[c] The guiding principle must be that not a single man more than is necessary is sent N. of the river until our objectives are attained.


5. Moves subsequent to those outlined in para. 3 will take place according to attached time-table, which must be adhered to.


6. The final objectives will be:-
155th Inf. Bde.   Kh. Hadra.
156th Inf. Bde.   High ground north of Muwannis and Slag Heap Farm
157th Inf. Bde.   Tel er Ruqti
As the ground is unreconnoitred, it is left to G.O's.C Inf. Bdes discretion whether they will advance or modify their line on arrival at their objective or subsequently at daylight, bearing in mind the provisions of para. 2. Similarly, it is impossible to lay down dividing lines for the zones of attack. G.O's.C. Inf. Bdes will concert measures at daylight to define their respective points of junction.


7. After the passage of 157th Inf. Bde over the ford Y.18, B.G.R.A will be prepared to push forward two batteries by the ford in Y.18 for closer support of the infantry, when ordered to do so by Div. H.Q.


8. C.R.E will arrange to throw one barrel bridge to take infantry in fours, as soon as possible after Muwannis is taken, near confluence of Nahr el Baride with Nahr el 'Auja. One bridge to take infantry in fours will be thrown as early as possible in Y.24.b***


9. On Zero – 1 day an iron ration will be issued in lieu of the ordinary ration.


10. Not less than 200 rounds S.A.A per man will be carried


11. Watches will be synchronized at 10 a.m and 4 p.m on X – 1 day under arrangements to be made by O.C. Div. Signal Coy.


12. Reports to Div. H.Q at H.18**** every half-hour after.



G. N. Holdich
Lieut-Colonel, G.S., 52nd Division

Issued at 6 a.m., 18th


Footnotes as published in the 1930 British O.H.
*       At the river's mouth
**     East of Hadra Bridge and south of the 'Auja
***   Near the mouth, south-east of the ford
**** Tel Aviv, the Jewish township north-east of Jaffa






The aerial photomontage seen below is taken from 'The Changing Land Between the Jordan and the Sea' by Professor Benjamin Z. Kedar [ISBN: 965-05-0975-5] and is there credited to the collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority. It shows the confluence of the Nahr el Baride with the Nahr el 'Auja as mentioned in the above Order's para 8. This point is about 3 kms eastwards from the mouth of the river. The RFC photographic mission was on 10th December 1917  
[the two water courses  are today named, respectively, the Ayalon and the Yarkon]





Edited by michaeldr
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I think I shall dig out the Divisional History over Xmas and have a read.

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It's well worth doing that Steven. Of all the Divisional histories covering the Palestine Campaign it's probably the best.

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Been on the shelf for about 5 years - picked it up in a second hand bookshop in Preston. Nice-looking book.

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Good narrative and very good maps.

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Reports for the two Ottoman Divisions facing these attacks in Dec 1917 are shown as;


The 3rd Ottoman Div (the two reports show possibly losses to the Regts for this battle)


shown Dec 1917 Allied reports 31st Regt (1000 men) 138th Regt (1000 men) 161st Regt (1000 men) reports 32nd Regt to 53rd Div Nov 1917 -

shown Jan 1918 Allied reports (2700 men 44 Mgs 100 cav) 31st Regt (800 men 14 Mgs) 138th Regt (900 men 14 Mgs) 161st Regt (900 men 12 Mgs) 150 cav


While the last reported Artillery for this Div is;


shown British Intell Dec 1917 - 2Bn/5th FAR and 1Bn/6th FAR or 1Bn/5th FAR (8 guns) and 1Bn/6th FAR (8 guns) -

shown Turkish Dec 1917 report - 4Bty/13th FAR 5Bty/5th FAR 4Bty/25th FAR


Support units last reports


shown Nov 1917 Allied reports - Sqn/6th Cav Regt  1Co/1st Eng Bn ? telegraph Co 35th Field Hosp 39th Baky + 38th Field Hosp


This Division was disbanded in Jan 1918


The 7th Ottoman Div


shown Dec 1917 Allied reports 20th Regt (600 men) 21st Regt (unknown) 134th Regt (500 men) 134th Regt replaced 19th Regt 1917 T/att 57th Regt (19th Div) (900 men)  - 3/21st Regt to Hejez -

shown Jan 1918 Allied reports (2000 men 42xMGs 100 cav) 20th Regt (750 men 14xMGs) 21st Regt (14xMGs) 134th Regt (500 men 14xMGs) 150 cav T/att 62nd Regt (900 men)


Artillery last shown


shown Turkish Dec 1917 report - 1Bn/14th FAR (8x 75mm guns) 1Bn/13th FAR (8 guns) shown att Light field Obüs Bty/41st FAR 1Bn/54th FAR 1Bn/9th FAR 1Bn/6th FAR


The 2nd Caucasus Cav Bde


Hard to confirm as reports say 1500 cav in this Bde, but all other reports give either 500 cav, or when the 11th Cav Regt was attach later in 1918 got as high as 900 cav, so how they got the 1500 cav is unknown possibly when in Northern Iraq with 2xBns/Frontier Force 1xBn Persian Jandarmerie attached, these didn;t follow the Bde when it moved to Palestine.


That's the best info I can find on these forces.





Edited by stevebecker
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