<– Part 197 – April 28, 1918 | Part 198 – May 5, 1918 | Part 199 – May 12, 1918


Sketch of the theater of operations in the Second Transjordan attack. Es Salt is in the center top; the thin, steep trail to it, held by desperate fighting by the British, runs to the south-west of the town.

Photo, taken by plane, of the Jordan river and foothills

The German Spring Offensive ended April 29, at the Lys, with the final German attack capturing

Scherpenberg, a hill north-west of Kemmelberg.

The main action of the week happened near Shunet and Es Salt, in the Transjordan; formerly a primary theater of British operations, the recent offensive in Europe has made this nearly a distraction, and 60,000 men have been shifted to Europe and replaced by colonial forces of the British Indian Army. The weakened east flank at the Transjordan is still a problem for the British; failure to hold it could force a British retreat all the way back to Egypt; so the attempts to take Amman continue.

The central thrust was towards Es Salt,  but large numbers of German & Ottoman forces moving to the west side of the Jordan River at Mafid Jozele & Jisr ed Damiye are threatening the British left flank. The left & right flanks have both been pinned down by enemy fire, while bad terrain limits the British artillery’s effectiveness at spotting and neutralizing targets.

Position on May 2, 1918 – Es Salt nearly surrounded, with only a thin, steep, single-file path to the south-west

May 1 – desperate defense on the British left flank

A German & Ottoman counter-attack on the left flank came May 1, and pushed the British into the foothills, forcing them to abandon much artillery. The Ottomans had places piles of stones at measured distances to help with artillery ranging. Around 1,500 British troops were able to regroup north of the Umm esh Shert track, allowing the light horse to retreat along the only viable path to safety. The British commander at Es Salt, the “point of the triangle” for the British assault, found out at 1640 of the retreat, and rushed troops to the new western flank (he was already facing threats to the north, east, and southeast. Supplies had to be brought to the troops at Es Salt in the evening on 200 donkeys, a 40-mile round trip, as this is the only way now to resupply the troops. A road expected to be held by the Beni Sakhr (a native Arab tribe), is still open, as the tribe fled when seeing the intense fighting.


On May 2, the fierce fighting continues. Unable to push the left flank to relieve pressure on Es Salt – now under attack on 3 sides – the British forces south were ordered to continue their attack on the German troops at El Haud & Shunet Nimrim. After an advance under blistering fire of 1 mile – which took 6-7 hours – the German/Ottoman heavy machinegun and artillery fire forced a retreat back to safety, in defiance of superior orders. To the west, 1 battalion advancing at night was caught on a hill when the sun rose and was forced to lie flat until nightfall. The British ambulances are running out of supplies, so airplanes have dropped supplies – packed into sandbags, padded with cotton dressings, only the glass vials were damaged in the 1,000-foot drop.

British light horse watering the horses in the Jordan, during the retreat

May 3, the Central Power attacks in the morning were barely repulsed by the beleaguered British defenders. Es Salt is virtually surrounded, while more German/Ottoman troops are on the way. The order to withdraw was finally given at 4pm. Es Salt evacuation began, and the town was empty by 0230 the following morning, and the forces had crossed the Jordan river by evening of May 4. The hills were entirely cleared by 10:30 that day; some units left to defend the evacuation trail have been in continuous combat since May 1. The bridgeheads are held, but the rest of the troops crossed the Jordan to safety. The battle was over May 4. A tactical defeat for the British, it nonetheless had only 1,800 casualties. It would have been much worse had the thin British defense failed at any number of places.

Speaking of the dead during the retreat, Bernard Blaser, in his book Kilts Across the Jordan, said:

Each lifeless body was lifted into the wagons; ten, twenty, thirty and more, the very best of fellows; men with whom we had lived, with whom we had laughed, men with who we had discussed the past and planned the future, now all covered with blood and dust, tattered and disfigured – dead. It was a horrible sight. As each corpse was lifted up, we half expected to hear the old familiar laugh or the same cheerful voice. There had been no last look, no parting words. Not a sound broke the grim silence save the dull thud as each limp form found its place at the bottom of the wagon.


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