Historic Battles Series: Battle of Aleppo (1918)

Captain Macintyre, commander of the 7th Light Car Patrol with the flag of truce used on 23 October
Captain Macintyre, commander of the 7th Light Car Patrol with the flag of truce used on 23 October

Summary

The Battle of Aleppo was contested on 25 Oct 1918, when Prince Feisal’s Sherifial Forces seized the town during the Pursuit to Haritan from Damascus, in the last days of Palestine and Sinai Campaign in the First World War.

After the British Empire’s success at the Battle of Megiddo, the portions of the Ottoman Empire’s Yildirim Army Group from Amman was trailed by Prince Feisal’s Sherifial Force, which seized Deraa on 27 Sept, on the right flank of the 4th Cavalry Division. Meanwhile, the Australian Mounted Division’s pursuit, accompanied by the 5th Cavalry Division of Yildirim Army Group remnants retreating from the Judean Hills, conquered Damascus on 1 Oct 1918, many thousands of Ottoman and German prisoners and many miles of formerly Ottoman Empire region. A remnant force of the Yildirim Army Group managed to flee Damascus, to concentrate at Rayak before retreating through Hamas and Homs towards Aleppo.

Considerable losses in Desert Mounted Corps from illness delayed and exhausted their pursuit from Damascus, which was continued by two dozen cars in three batteries of bulletproof vehicles, and three-light car patrols armed with machine guns. They were backed by the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade of the 5th Cavalry Division with the remainder of the division following.

Having covered the right flank of Damascus’s pursuit, Prince Feisal’s Sherifial Force continued north along the Hejaz railway to arrive outside Aleppo. After attacking a powerful rearguard defense to the south of the city earlier in the day, under cover of darkness, detoured those entrenchments to infiltrate Aleppo, where hand-to-hand fighting in the streets continued for most of the night. The Sherifial forces by morning conquered the city.

The Battle

While the armored cars waited for support by the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade on 24 and 25 Oct, they continued to inspect the Ottoman defenses south of Aleppo. The Sherifial Force, commanded by Nuri Bey, had pushed along the Hejaz railway on the 5th Cavalry Division’s right flank. Nuri Bey started an attack, which may have included armored cars, on the established Ottoman position south of Aleppo on 25 Oct. This Sherifial Force was pushed back by heavy fire from guns, rifles, and machine guns along the line of Mustapha Kemal’s defenses.

Nuri Bey’s Sherifial Force was accompanied by a second Sherifial Force of 1,500 Hejaz Arab troops led by Sherif Nasir, which Prince Feisal had ordered to advance from Homs to Aleppo.

Meanwhile, the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade caught up with the armored cars at Zi’bre 21 km (13 miles) southwest of Aleppo. They relieved the armored vehicles on outpost duty during the evening of 25 Oct, while Column “B” of the 5th Cavalry Division penetrated Seraikin about 48 km (30 miles) south of Aleppo.

Macandrew organized an attack on the city from three sides to take place on 26 Oct. The armored cars were to advance along the road from the south, Prince Feisal’s Sherifial forces were to strike from the east, while the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade moving round to the west of Aleppo was to hit the Alexandretta road. However, during the night of 25 Oct, Nuri Bey’s Arab Sherifial Force bombed the east city. The Arab force, led by Sherif Nazir, advanced around the entrenched Ottoman defenses, entered the city to make contact with patrons.

Hand–to–hand fighting happened in the streets during the night. In confusion, Mustapha Kemal switched his headquarters out of the city, losing touch with his force defending Aleppo’s south’s entrenchments. By the morning of 26 Oct, these defenses were abandoned. Aleppo had been overwhelmed by the Sherifial Forces by 10:00 on 26 Oct, having suffering 60 killed. MacAndrew appeared shortly after with the armored cars.

Aftermath

Part of Macandrew’s attack on Aleppo went ahead at 07:00 on 26 Oct when the Mysore and Jodhpore lancer regiments of the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade without cannon support, but with a subsection of the 15th Machine Gun Squadron, moved to the Alexandretta road on the edge of Aleppo. They continued to Haritan, where they charged a rearguard twice, but they were actively resisted, forcing the cavalry to retire eventually. The Ottoman force also quit establishing a rearguard position at Deir el Jemal with an extensive 40km (25 miles)-long defense line 4 miles (6.4 km) behind the Deir el Jemal position.

The Ottoman forces now defending what remained of the Ottoman Empire consisted of the portion of the Seventh Army commanded by Mustapha Kemal, which had escaped the Megiddo battlefield, the captures of Aleppo and Damascus, was now deployed to the north and northwest of Aleppo with the Second Army of about 16,000 armed troops led by Nihad Pasha to the west in Cilicia while the Sixth Army with another 24,000 armed troops led by Ali Ihsan, which had been withdrawn from Mesopotamia was to the northeast around Nusaybin.

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