The Battle of Haifa

September 20, 2021 by  
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On 23 September, India and Israel commemorate the decisive Battle of Haifa…writes Ian Dunwoodie.

Ian Dunwoodie

This Battle was in the final months of World War One in 1918.

The Indian Brigade, in the last cavalry charge in history, liberated Haifa from the Ottoman Empire and the other Central Powers.

The cavalry charge used lightning speed, with incisive tactics, to overwhelm the soldiers and artillery guns ensconced on Mt Carmel.

This major victory broke the resolve of the enemy and, together with other factors, led to the end of the war two months later.

Each year there are commemorations In New Delhi, India and Haifa, Israel, and throughout the world, including  New Zealand.

In recent years, before Covid, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Haifa Cemetery, accompanied by the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Binyamin Netanyahu, and unveiled a plaque to Major Dalpat Singh.

Stamp issued by Israel commemorating the 100th
Anniversary of the Battle of Haifa and the role
of the Indian Cavalry

Major Singh died in the battle and had received the Military Cross for the leadership and bravery he showed in that charge. He has become known as ‘The Hero of Haifa’.

At the time Prime Minister Modi noted, “I am deeply honoured to stand here today to salute the valiant Indian soldiers who laid down their lives for the liberation of Haifa during World War One”.

In New Delhi, the monument and memorial to the Battle are known as Teen Murti Haifa Chowk.

Commemorations are being held again this year although these are tempered by Covid realities.

A victory was considered remote or even impossible because the Turks, Austrians and Germans who controlled Mt Carmel were ensconced in defensive positions, had artillery, and that the mountainous terrain would inhibit the horses.

This campaign took on urgency as Abdul Baha, the head of the Ba’hai Faith, had been in Haifa giving aid and support to the poor. The Ottoman authorities accused him of supporting the Allies, and he was sentenced to death by the local Pasha.

The All Indian Cavalry Brigade was requested to liberate Haifa, as well as to rescue Abdul Baha. They did not have reinforcements because they were the only Allied Forces in the immediate vicinity.

The Brigade made an independent attack, without the involvement of British personnel.

After analysing the deployment of the enemy’s artillery, a lightning-quick charge was launched. With only lances and spears, the calvary charged against machine guns. But because of speed and incisive manoeuvres, it blind-sided the enemy, and with the momentum, conquered Mt Carmel and liberated Haifa.

By World War One standards the Indian losses were few, seven dead, which included Major Dalpat Singh. He, along with others, was awarded the Military Cross for Bravery.

Depiction of the Battle of Haifa 1918

The enemy’s losses were 1,500 killed, wounded or captured, and the forfeiture of artillery, naval weapons, and machine guns.

This victory was decisive because it broke the enemy’s morale, and the liberation of the Haifa Port exposed the remaining Ottoman forces in the region. This, along with other actions, paved the way for the end of World War One two months later.

This fighting force was part of the Indian Army. Some 30 years later, the huge Indian Army was a crucial bulwark during Indian Independence, and its presence ensured that the departing British refrained from a substantive military response.

Another footnote is that there are thought to be six million adherents of the Ba’hai Faith, and of those two million live in India. The world headquarters of the Ba’hai Movement is in Haifa. 

New Zealand Forces fighting alongside the Indian Army

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the plaque commemorating Major Singh

At the same time as this Battle, the New Zealand Army was deployed in the same region, and together with the Indian Army, were fighting the Ottoman Empire and the other Central Powers.

The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, along with Australian forces, had a key role in the battle to liberate Beer Sheva in late 1917. Beer Sheva is in the south of Israel, Haifa is in the north.

A little later, the New Zealand Brigade’s role in the Battle of Ayun Kara, near Rishon LeZion, in central Israel, was also decisive.

All this time the Indian and New Zealand forces, under a Unified Command, were working together to outmanoeuvre the enemy.

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