<– Part 179 – December 23, 1917  | Part 180 – December 30, 1917 |  Part 181 – January 6, 1918 –>

Although fighting on most fronts has been put on hiatus as the entrenched troops hunker down for the coldest of the year, an Ottoman counter-attack at Jerusalem was repulsed by British forces December 30, and the line pushed farther away from the city past Ramallah. The British enjoy a tremendous Christmas present – the occupation of Jerusalem by Christian forces – while the Ottomans suffer the humiliating loss of yet another Muslim holy site, together with Mecca and Baghdad.

<– Part 178 – December 16, 1917  | Part 179 – December 23, 1917 |  Part 180 – December 30, 1917 –>

Borden with the British 1st Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, in 1912. Churchill resigned in 1915, feeling his talents were wasted in government, and, although a sitting member of Parliament, was commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel last year, leading front-line troops on the Western Front. He returned to England after several months, and was appointed Minister of Munitions earlier this summer.

Canada reelected Prime Minister Robert Borden on December 17. Borden was a Conservative until becoming head of the “Unionist Party” this election, which saw the Liberal party split on the subject of conscription to meet personnel demands of the war. The pro-conscription Liberals formed a coalition with the Conservatives and roundly defeated their opponents.

The Russian-Central Powers armistice has officially taken effect.

Late at night on December 20, the British XXI Corps in Palestine conducted stealth crossings of the Auju River, near Jaffa. Finishing in the darkness of the following morning, the Ottoman defenders were taken by surprise and bayonet point, without a shot being fired. The British have taken the key port city of Jaffa and established a beachhead of several miles.

<– Part 177 – December 9, 1917  | Part 178 – December 16, 1917 |  Part 179 – December 23, 1917 –>

This past week saw a minor nation enter the war, and a major one attempt to exit it.

December 10 saw a new nation – Panama – declare war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It remains to be seen the Panamanian’s contribution to the war effort for the Allies.

December 15 saw the new government in Russia – formally styled the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic – sign a formal armistice and ceasefire with the Central Powers (Austro-Hungarian Empire, Kingdom of Bulgaria, German Empire, Ottoman Empire), effective two days later. Each side has agreed to hold its current lines, with no expectation for the Germans to withdraw from their lines.

The next day saw another armistice signed between the Ottoman Empire and the Transcaucasian Commissariat, an entity existing in the Caucasus. The exact legal implications of this is uncertain – the Turks see the Commissariat as an independent successor of the Russian Empire, while the Commissariat sees itself as part of the RSFSR. The Russian Caucasus Army has finished its disintegration.

Regardless, these changes in war-footing have seen the Armenians at Van completely cut-off from Allied support. The Allies have encouraged them to hold out and keep fighting until the British advance arrives.

<– Part 176 – December 2, 1917  | Part 177 – December 9, 1917 |  Part 178 – December 16, 1917 –>

4th Sussex Regiment marching through Bethlehem December 9

Ottoman surrender of Jerusalem

Following the establishment of the Soviets, the new Russian government has called for a ceasefire with Germany, and immediately shifted focus towards suppressing revolts in the former fatherland.

At Cambrai, Haig ordered a partial retreat from the salient on December 3, following the enormous German counter-attack. By the 7th, all British territorial gains had been erased except a small amount in the north – and even this was offset by German gains to the south. In total, each side lost nearly 45,000 men, together with 179 British tanks (out of 476 total). The battle has proven both the power of tanks in taking “impregnable” static defenses, while the German counter-attack has proven the value of both large and trench artillery, with the stormtrooper tactics.

Australian light patrol car – a Ford Model T with mounted machine gun – operating near Bethlehem

Ottoman fighting in the Judean hills has wound down as they have begun their withdrawal. British forces advancing on Bethlehem took Solomon’s Pools on December 7, while heavy rain the following day saw Ottoman forces withdrawing from Jerusalem. The city was surrounded by the British following a final Turkish rearguard action on the Mount of Olives. The Mayor of Jerusalem left the city December 9 with a letter of surrender delivered to two British sergeants on a scouting mission; they refused it and escorted him to Brigadier General C.F. Watson, who accepted it. The letter read,

“Due to the severity of the siege of the city and the suffering that this peaceful country has endured from your heavy guns; and for fear that these deadly bombs will hit the holy places, we are forced to hand over to you the city through Hussein al-Husseini, the mayor of Jerusalem, hoping that you will protect Jerusalem the way we have protected it for more than five hundred years.”

The decree was signed by Izzat, the Mutasarrif of Jerusalem.

On December 7, 1917, the United States declared war on Austria-Hungary.



<– Part 175 – November 25, 1917  | Part 176 – December 2, 1917 |  Part 177 – December 9, 1917 –>

The Hong Kong Mountain gun battery in action near Jerusalem

At Monte Grappa, the Central Powers called off their attacks November 26, with the Italians successfully defending the region. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans lost 21,000 to the Italians’ 12,000.

At Cambrai, British assaults ended November 27; the German counter-attack came at 7am on November 30. The Germans have made rapid success; although the British are fighting fiercely, they are being pushed back from their gains, and the salient at Bourlon is threatened.

In the hills and plains approaching Jerusalem, the Ottomans have spend the last week launching counterattacks, many of them gaining ground before losing it again to arriving British reinforcements. Elsewhere, the British advance on the city continues.