The Indian Army celebrates September 23 every year as Haifa Day
By Jasbir Singh
Indian soldiers are celebrated for their valor, fearlessness, courage, and loyalty, the world over. The example of valor and heroism that the Indian soldiers displayed along with the Imperial Army of British during the First World War are well known. Indian soldiers fighting on the battlefront from China to France were a much-feared lot.
The history of the modern state of Israel commences with the supreme sacrifice of more than 900 brave Indian soldiers who laid down their lives while liberating the Palestinian part of Haifa from the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.
Established in 1299, the Ottoman Empire was a very powerful, multistate, and multi-lingual empire that dominated South-East Europe, Western Asia, Caucasus, and North Africa. The Turkish Empire included 32 states and many vassal states. Palestine was also dominated by Turkey. The decline of the Ottoman Empire had begun in the year 1908.
Till 1914, its existence in almost the whole of Europe and South Africa had ended. Israel too was dominated by it where a large population of Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived. In the year 1918, Britain, France, and Russia together waged a war against the Ottoman which included the armies of Germany, Hungary, and Austria in order to free Israel. Haifa was a strategic port under the control of the Turks. Turkey used to dominate Haifa through a marine route and by a ground tunnel and thus all economic and commercial activities were at the mercy of Turkish rule. In the southern Philistine hunger and poverty were the problems of the time.
The Battle of Haifa was fought on September 23, 1918, towards the end of the Battle of Sharon which together with the Battle of Nablus formed the set piece Battle of Megiddo fought between 19-25 September during the last months of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the First World War.
Turkish army started evacuating Haifa due to the attack of the British Army and its allies. General Allenby, who was in charge of the battle, decided that it was important to keep the rail head and Haifa Port open for necessary supplies. When 700 Turkish army men were escaping from Haifa Castle from the side of Tiberius, they clashed with 18 King George Lancers of the 13th Cavalry Brigade in the wee hours of September 22, 1918. However, 30 Turkish soldiers were killed and 311 soldiers along with their machine guns were captured. When Imperial armies took an aerial view of the city, it seemed that the city was completely evacuated. So Brigadier General A. D. A. King sent a detachment of his Light Armed Brigade in the afternoon on Nazareth Road to capture Haifa. However, they had to face resistance and were attacked with machine guns and cells from above Mount Carmel. The detachment returned with a minor loss.
The next morning, on Sept 23, the 14th and 15th Cavalry Brigades advanced towards Haifa once again. This route was through a narrow street. On one side was the Kishon river and its tributaries and on the other side was Mount Carmel. Their aim was to attack the main German rearguard position and capture the town.
The squadron of Mysore Lancers had moved into position by climbing up a steep track to capture and silence the guns, while the Jodhpur Lancers launched the main mounted attack on the rearguard of German machine gunners, which blocked the road 2 miles on from the redoubt captured the day before by the Light Car Patrol.
As soon as the 15th Cavalry advanced, they were attacked by 77mm canons and they had to retrieve. By then, the 14th cavalry had captured the railway bridge. On September 23, Jodhpur Lancers attacked Haifa. They faced bitter resistance from the Turkish. Putting their lives in danger, Jodhpur Cavalry led by Major Dalpat Singh kept advancing under frightful firing with invincible courage.
Ottoman army units were located at the height of Mount Carmel and were attacking Jodhpur Lancers, but Major Dalpat Singh kept advancing with his horsemen and killing Turkish soldiers, and capturing Haifa. He freed Haifa from 402 years of Turkish slavery.
In this valiant victory, 900 Indian soldiers including Major Dalpat Singh martyred their lives. For their invincible courage, dedication, and unique bravery, they were awarded the Military Cross. In this battle lasting only one and a half days, the Jodhpur Lancers captured 1532 enemy soldiers along with guns and machine guns. At the same time, Mysore Lancers attacked from the southern side and captured two navy guns. Not caring about firing from machine guns, Mysore Lancers wiped the enemy out.
In September 23, the war ended and Haifa was independent. The port changed hands enabling the British to land supplies closer to their front line.
It was a great achievement of the cavalries of Jodhpur, Mysore, and Hyderabad in this heroic campaign when a weak brigade defeated more than 1000 experienced enemy soldiers and captured Haifa with fast pace and skill of battle.
Captain Bahadur Amar Singh Jodha and Jamadar Jor Singh were awarded the Indian Order of Merit for their unique bravery, courage, devotion, and martyrdom. Indian Cavalry on horseback captured the insurmountable Haifa city with swords and spears amidst the firing from above. Thus this was one of the unique battles of the world where a fortified town was captured by cavalry on the gallop.
The Legends and Memorials
To honor the bravery and martyrdom of the Indian army, Israel built their memorials. There is mention of the expeditions of the Indian cavalries and their contribution in the educational curriculum in Israel.
The Indian Army established 61st Cavalry by merging all the cavalries including Mysore, Hyderabad, and Jodhpur in memory of the martyrs of the Haifa campaign. The army celebrates September 23 every year as Haifa Day. The “Teen Murti Chowk” in New Delhi which was built in the memory of Haifa heroes of Jodhpur, Mysore, and Hyderabad cavalries was renamed as “Teen Murti Haifa Mukti Chowk” in presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on January 23, 2018. Forum for Awareness of National Security (FANS) organizes many events across India, including the one at “Teen Murti Haifa Chowk” every year on September 23 to pay tributes to the heroes of Haifa.
The writer is the National General Secretary of the Forum for Awareness of National Security (FANS). He is also chairperson of the advisory committee of the Guru Gobind Singh Chair for National Integration & Sikh Studies in Rajasthan University, Jaipur. Earlier, he was Chairperson of the Rajasthan Minorities Commission.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times