Gallant saga of the Indian warriors in Haifa

One of the unique battles of the world where a fortified town was captured by a cavalry on the gallop

By Jasbir Singh

Valor, fearlessness, courage, skill of warfare and loyalty to the government of the day and land are unique in this world. The example of valor and heroism, which the Indian Army displayed along with the Imperial Army of the British Government during the First World War, is well known. Indian Army has also successfully repulsed the audacious attacks of 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999 after Indian Independence also

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, multi state and multi-lingual empire which 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. By 1914, its existence from 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 – total population of approx 20000, lived. In the year 1918 during the first world war 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 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 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. The Turkish army attacked them. 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 on Sept 22 at noon 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 small loss.

Next day, Sept 23 morning, 14th and 15th Cavalry Brigades advanced towards Haifa once again. This route was through a narrow street. On one side was Kishon river and its tributaries and on the other side was Mount Carmel. As soon as the 15th Cavalry advanced, they were attacked by 77mm cannons and they had to retrieve. By then, 14th cavalry had captured the railway bridge. By 2pm in the afternoon on September 23, Jodhpur Lancers attacked Haifa with ‘B’ Battery.

Here, 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. The Ottoman army was located at the height of Mount Carmel and were attacking Jodhpur Lancers, but Major Dalpat Singh kept advancing with his horsemen and by killing Turkish soldiers captured Haifa and freed it from the 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 of 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 for firing from machine guns, Mysore Lancers wiped the enemy out.

At noon on September 23, 1918 the war ended and Haifa was independent. The British army had captured a good supply base and after four days supply began from there. Surely, 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.

For the heroic military leadership displayed Major Dalpat Singh was awarded the Military Cross. Captain Bahadur Amar Singh Jodha and Jamadar Jor Singh were awarded with Indian Order of Merit for their unique bravery, courage, devotion and martyrdom. Indian Cavalry on the horse backs captured the insurmountable Haifa city with swords and spears amidst the firing of cells from the above. Thus this was one of the unique battles of the world where a fortified town was captured by a cavalry on the gallop.

To honor the bravery and martyrdom of the Indian army, Israel built their memorials. There is mention of the cavalries and their contribution in the educational curriculum in Israel. As per Eagle Graver of the Haifa Historical Society Israeli children are taught from class 3 to 5 about the contribution of Indian soldiers particularly Major Dalpat Singh in the liberation of Haifa.

In India, the Indian Army established 61st Cavalry by merging all the cavalries including Mysore, Hyderabad and Jodhpur in memory of martyrs of 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 the gracious presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Jan 23, 2018. It is said “that a soldier dies not with the bullet of a gun on the battlefield but he dies when he is forgotten by the generations of people for whom he fought”. 

Let us hope that we will not forget the valor, bravery and courage of these “Heroes of Haifa”. The state governments of Rajasthan, Karnataka and Telangana should make memorials in memory of these heroes and start a light and sound show of Haifa liberation. Also the Central Board of Secondary Education and State Boards of at least these three states should insert a chapter on Haifa in school curriculum.


Jasbir Singh 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 Rajasthan Minorities Commission.


Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times 

Images courtesy of Salute Magazine and Provided

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