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The battle of Jaffa, 21-22 December 1917, was a minor engagement during the British invasion of Palestine of 1917. The port of Jaffa had fallen into British hands on 16 November, in the aftermath of the Turkish defeat at Junction Station. The British planned to use the port as a supply base, and intended to build a railway east to Ludd to join the main railway. However, the Turks were only just over three miles north of Jaffa, on the Auju River. If Jaffa was to be safe, the British would have to push the Turks away from that position.
The Auja was a strong defensive position. As it cut across the coastal plain the river was 40-50 feet wide and 10 feet deep. There were three ways across the river – a ford at the coast, a bridge across a mill dam at Jerisheh in the centre of the position and a partially demolished stone bridge at Hadrah, on the Turkish left. All three of these positions were closely guarded.
XXI corps had moved to the coastal plain on 7 December. The corps’ three divisions were all in the front line, with the 52nd Division on the coast. The commander of that division believed that a surprise attack would be able to cross the river between the three strongly defended posts, where the Turkish patrols were few in number.
The required equipment was secretly moved up to the south bank of the river under cover of darkness. Heavy rain on 19-20 December actually helped the British, swelling the river to the point where the Turks believed it would be impossible to cross apart from at the fort or the existing bridges.
On the night of 20/21 December they were proved wrong. Three British brigades were able to cross over using a combination of rafts and pontoon bridges. The 155th brigade crossed over east of Jerisheh, and then turned right to attack the Turkish position at Hadrah. The 156th and 157th brigades crossed to the west of Jerisheh. The 156th then attacked the Turkish position at Sheikh Muannis, on a hill overlooking the river, while the 157th turned left and captured the northern end of the ford.
The attack was a complete success. The Turks were caught out by the surprise attack, and by the end of 22 December had been pushed back five miles along their entire front. The new front line was eight miles north of Jaffa, which could now safely be used as a supply base.
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