Battle of Haifa: Armed only with spears Indian soldiers showed no fear forcing Ottomans to bite the dust

·6-min read

Over a 100 years ago on 23 September, 1918, gallant Indian Cavalrymen fought and defeated the Ottomans in the legendary Battle of Haifa which is believed to be one of the last cavalry charges in modern military history.

Two months later, World War I ended on 11 November 1918 €" the Great War €" changed the world in ways that nobody could have imagined.

A trip 200 years down the memory lane will help to recount the battle and why Indian are honoured by the Israelis even today.


The city of Haifa was under the hold of the German-Turkish forces in 1918.

World War I was at its peak at the time, and the Allied Forces and the Central Powers were trying their troops to get seize control of every strategic port, base and city to gain advantage and win the war.

Haifa was one such supply base, thanks to its rail access and harbour.

The Allied Forces comprising France, Great Britain and Russia had planned to annexe Haifa, Nazareth and Damascus. Haifa and Nazareth are in present-day Israel while Damascus is the capital of present-day Syria.

Haifa was to be annexed by the 15th Cavalry Brigade of the British Empire, which consisted of the Imperial Service Troops from the princely states of Hyderabad, Mysore, Patiala, Alwar and Jodhpur; it was initially called the Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade.

The battle

The 15th Imperial Service Brigade comprising of the Lancer Regiments from the state forces viz Hyderabad, Mysore, and Jodhpur were given the responsibility of carrying out the attack, as British forces were deployed elsewhere.

It was a formidable if not an impossible task considering the fact that the Turks, Austrians, and Germans occupied the heights of Mount Carmel and had well prepared defences supported by several artillery guns and machine guns; additionally, mountains and hills were a no-go terrain for the cavalry.

Reconnaissance of the enemy's positions revealed that Turks had deployed most of their machine guns on the lower slopes of Mount Carmel and artillery was deployed in four different positions. The Mysore Lancers were tasked to capture the machine gun positions by attacking from the East and providing covering fire to the Jodhpur Lancers during their charge from the North to capture Mount Carmel and the town of Haifa.

On the afternoon of 23 September, a squadron of the Mysore Lancers attacked the Austrian battery of light field guns on the slopes of Mount Carmel while the Jodhpur Lancers launched the main mounted attack on the rearguard of German machine gunners, which blocked the road.

The Jodhpur Lancers came under machine gun and artillery fire. They were further obstructed by quicksand on the river banks.

However, defeating the odds, the Jodhpur Lancers continued their charge into the town, surprising the defenders. Those Mysore Lancers who had been giving fire support to the attacking regiment, mounted and followed them into the town.

Machine gun bullets over and over again failed to stop the galloping horses even though many of them succumbed afterwards to their injuries

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