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The Forgotten Heroism of the Indians in the Battle of Haifa

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A freelance writer, NLP coach, and lifelong student I enjoy stories of valour in high pressure situations.

Photo of a Mysore Lancer,1918

Photo of a Mysore Lancer,1918

Wars are destructive. Though one side (country/group) wins and the other loses, the biggest loser in this bargain would be mankind. However, out of these wars emerge incidents that become stories of valor, sacrifice, and sense of executing one’s responsibilities.

Today, I would like to recall one such incident that is remembered even to this day – but only by a few people and even the Indians have probably forgotten the contribution of their nation in this whole exercise.

This war was during the First World War (Jul 1914 – Nov 1918) and the incident in discussion happened in a faraway land from India – in Haifa of present-day Israel. And what was British India’s contribution to this war? The 5th Cavalry Division of the British consisted of a squadron from Mysore (in Karnataka, India)– Mysore Lancers and another from Jodhpur (from Rajasthan, India)– Jodhpur Cavalry along with the 15th Imperial Cavalry Brigade

The Mysore Lancers was the personal army of King of Mysore – His Highness Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV (you remember this name? We heard his name a few days back in my other article on Sir M Vishweshwariah). They were part of the British Army and were fighting the combined forces of the Ottoman Empire, the German Empire, and a combination of Austria & Hungary.

The town of Haifa held strategic importance for both sides for the movement of troops, artillery, and other paraphernalia and was sieged by the Ottoman forces. A strong rearguard was built by the Ottoman forces by effectively placing artillery on the slopes of Mount Caramel supported by German Machine Gunners – making it virtually impossible for the British troopers to enter the town of Haifa.

On 23rd September 1918, the 5th Cavalry Division was ordered to capture Haifa. The Jodhpur Cavalry was tasked to capture the area between the Kishon River and the slopes of Mount Carmel. This area was defended by – as called out earlier – by the Ottoman artillery and guns. The Mysore Lancers were tasked to attack the town from the northern and eastern sides.

A squadron of the Mysore Lancers along with other forces attacked the Austrian battery of light field guns on the slopes of Mount Carmel. The squadron of Mysore Lancers had moved into position by climbing up a steep track to capture and silence the guns, while the Jodhpur Lancers launched the main mounted attack on the rearguard of German machine gunners.

The Jodhpur Lancers charged the Ottoman position but came under machine gun and artillery fire. The charge was further obstructed by quicksand on the river banks, so they maneuvered to the left onto the lower slopes of Mount Carmel. The regiment secured the position capturing thirty prisoners, two machine guns, two camel guns, and opening up an access route into Haifa. The Jodhpur Lancers continued their charge into the town, surprising the defenders.

The Mysore Lancers who had been giving fire support to the attacking regiment mounted and followed them into the town. Together the two regiments captured 1,350 German and Ottoman prisoners, including two German officers, 35 Ottoman officers, 17 artillery guns, and 28 other guns. Their casualties amounted to eight dead and 34 wounded. 60 horses were killed and another 83 injured.

Mysore Lancer Memorial, Bengaluru

Mysore Lancer Memorial, Bengaluru

Thus an impossible task was completed and a strategic position was won by the British forces – thanks to the yeoman services of the forces from India. This victory also ended the 400-year long rule of the Ottoman Empire in this region. Today, Haifa is the third-largest city of Israel.

The battle of Haifa is also considered to be one of the last cavalry attacks that resulted in a victory in a modern war.

The Mysore Lancers returned home during February 1920 to a grand reception by His Highness Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV. Memorials in New Delhi (Teen Murthi Memorial) and Bangalore have been constructed but the citizens are not even aware of such memorials.

This whole episode lasted all of two days. Unfortunately, the British Army documented only the valor of its people and the valor shown by the Indians in fighting opponents who were better equipped was largely neglected. Major Dalpat Singh Shekhawat is remembered as the Hero of Haifa for being the one to lead the Indian charge.

One interesting act of providence you might say is this story. The leader of the Baha'i faith, Abdu'l-Baha had been captured by the Turks and the date of his beheading was fixed as September 23, 1918, at 6 pm at Haifa. He was lucky as Haifa won its freedom from the Ottoman Empire on that very day at 3 pm. To date, the Baha'is credit the Indian soldiers for his release.

A bright future for a nation can be built only on the foundation of a glorious past. It becomes imperative that a nation knows about its past so that a strong future can be built leveraging from that experience. It is with this background that we need to understand the sense of responsibility displayed by the Mysore Lancers and Jodhpur Cavalry while executing the task assigned to them and keeping up the faith their respective kings had.

It also becomes the responsibility of the parents to educate their children about various such valors exhibited by their forefathers and instill a sense of pride and respect in the young minds.

Probably, today being the 122nd anniversary of the Battle of Haifa, is a good day to start off on such a journey of introducing our past to the future. I did my bit. Would you also join me?


The heroism, tenacity, and cavalry skills of the Mysore and Jodhpur Lancers that took control of the city from the Turks on September 23, 1918, proved to be a decisive factor in the victory over the Ottoman Empire. The historical battle of Haifa paved the way to the victory of the British Army and 30 years later — to the creation of the State of Israel.”

- Alon Ushpiz (Israel ambassador to India Sep 2013)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 sowspeaks

Comments

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on October 09, 2020:

Hi Devika, you are so right there and once wars do happen, all we can do is to pick up all the bits of inspiration and heroism and learn from them. Take care and stay well.

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on October 01, 2020:

Hi Danny, there are many unrecorded stories, and those recorded are also relegated to the dark corners of our memory and our history books.

This is unfortunate.

Your observations about the Indian Military are spot on.

Thank you always for the consistent support. Appreciate.

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on October 01, 2020:

HI Chitrangadaji, it is interesting to note that the memorials are in two places, one in Delhi and one in Bangalore. I never knew about it until a couple of years back.

Remember we must, no sacrifice should be in vain.

Appreciate your support and comments always.

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on September 30, 2020:

Miebakagh, hi and thank you for that the generous remark. Yes and there are a number of Indians I am proud of.

Thanks for dropping you.

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on September 29, 2020:

Hi Lorna, always such a delight to have you here.

As much as I dislike wars, they leave us some lasting stories of sacrifice. It is sad that a country loses its bravest and most courageous people to war.

This is a story that even the Indians have forgotten , so wanted to share the story.

sowspeaks (author) from Bengaluru on September 25, 2020:

Hi John! Happy that you found this interesting. Thanks for visiting.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 25, 2020:

Wars separate people and cause hate between the both sides. Your insightful hub taught me a lot about the battle of Haifa

Danny from India on September 24, 2020:

An amazing story of valor. There are many other forgotten chapters of the valor and courage shown by Indian forces, right from the world war 2 to the Burmese war. To date, the Indian military is recognized for providing not only superior fighting service but also navigating the complex war world using their tact and humane touch.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 24, 2020:

Excellent and informative article.

I completely agree with you, that there shouldn’t be wars. But the fact remains, that wars have happened in the past, and they still happen. Those who fight bravely, for the safety and security of their country, are real heroes, and their contributions should always be remembered, and honoured.

A well written article about the battle of Haifa.

Thanks for the education.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 24, 2020:

Sowspeaks, Indians are one of the bravest peoples of the world. They had a strong spirit of adventure. Thanks.

Lorna Lamon on September 24, 2020:

It always saddens me that even after all these years we still have wars. This is a detailed and interesting account of the Battle of Haifa and the importance of its role in history.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on September 23, 2020:

A very interesting account of the Battle of Haifa. Well-written. Thank you for sharing.