September 24, 1918 – Brazilian Medical Mission Lands in France
Pictured – Brazil was the only South American nation to actively send its citizens to war. No troops arrived in time to fight, but the Brazilian Navy helped patrol the Atlantic and the medical mission helped save people from the Spanish Flu.
Brazil declared war on the Central Powers in October 1917, after unrestricted submarine warfare began killing Brazilian sailors in the Atlantic Ocean. Support for the war was not widespread, particularly because of the country’s affluent German immigrant population. The Brazilian military, however, saw the war as a chance to glean some much-needed experience, as the South American nations were constantly threatening war against one another.
Only two groups of Brazilians made it to France in time for the war. One group was a military mission sent to learn from the French. The other was a medical mission which landed in Marseilles on September 24. Eighty-six doctors led by Dr. Nabuco Gouveia traveled to Paris where they established a hospital, and spent the rest of the war until February 1919 helping patients, mostly people who had fallen ill from a devastating new epidemic called the Spanish Flu.
The Great War was not a cavalryman’s war. Historians have been too harsh on the branch – cavalrymen played a large role on fronts beyond France, and even there they were more useful than is portrayed in daft films like Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, but most horsemen still spent most of the war sitting behind the lines with not much to do.
That changed in 1918 when the Central Powers rapidly disintegrated on all fronts. Allied generals had expected the war would last through 1919, only to find themselves suddenly confronted with the wide open spaces they had dreamed of since Mons and the Marne. The cavalry finally had its chance to “ride into the Gee in Gap” and chase down a fleeing enemy like it had been trained to do.
Nowhere was the continued usefulness of the cavalry more evident than in Palsetine. There, General Allenby’s 14,000-strong Desert Mounted Corps was in the midst of annihilated three Turkish armies, with the help of the RAF. On September 23, lancers from Mysore captured the town of Haifa on the coast, losing only three dead in a charge that took 700 prisoners and is still commemorated each year by the Indian Army as “Haifa Day.” In Macedonia, French cavalrymen rounded up Bulgarian stragglers and kept the survivros running back to Sofia.
On the Western Front, the cavalry had ironically become a driving force of the attack, as its men were well-rested and incredibly eager for action after years grooming their horses. Haig never unleashed the full Cavalry Corps in the west in the grand style of charge its commanders wanted; in all reality there numbers had been so reduced from units being converted to infantry that they could not take full advantage of the situation. The Germans were in retreat, but retained enough of a defense in depth to hold any prolonged British attack. Although the cavalry in the West never reached its full potential by September 1918 it was being used constantly as a part of the combined-arms warfare which would soon crack the Hindenburg Line and show that the stalemate of trench warfare had been resolved.
Lieutenant Colonel W.J. Peacocke DSO, commanding officer of the 9th Royal Innniskilling Fusiliers. Peacocke survived the war but was killed by the IRA in 1921 for aiding British troops during the Irish War of Independence. The Anglo-Irish conflict was one of many small wars that would continue in Europe even after the Armistice of November 1918.
September 22, 1918 – Allenby: Capture Me 30,000 More Turkish Prisoners
Pictured – Kiwi cavalry corral surrendered German and Turkish soldiers. By the end of the day the 7th and 8th Ottoman Armies had ceased to exist.
In Palestine, Edmund Allenby’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force had won a victory of annihlation. Of the three Ottoman armies guarding the road to Damascus, two had been completely destroyed and the remains of the third put to flight, along with its German commander Liman von Sanders, who had to flee Nazareth in his pajamas before Indian cavalrymen arrived. The leader of the Desert Mounted Corps reported to Allenby on September 22 that 15,000 Ottoman troops had surrendered. Allenby laughed: “No bloody good to me! I want 30,000 more from you before you’re done!”
The soldiers who surrendered were the lucky ones. Thousands of soldiers, Turkish but also Germans and Austrians sent to help, streamed north through the Samaritan highlands. One column stretched for two miles. These lines of men were targets too good to pass up for the flyers of the Royal Air Force. Australian pilots dived again and again, machine-gunning the terrified soldiers and pack mules fleeing for their lives. An Australian squadron history recorded the massacre:
“Pilot after pilot, flying in perfect order, dropped his bombs, and then, assisted by the observers, raked the unfortunate Turks with machine guns. Their ammunition exhausted, the airmen sped back to their aerodrome for more, and returned again to the slaughter. Some pilots made four trips that day.”
The war’s most punishing aerial attack took place that day as fifty machines butchered a column of Turks fleeing through a steep canyon towards the river Jordan. British and Australian airmen shot more than 56,000 machine-gun rounds and dropped nine tons of bombs. The dropped these on the vehicles at the head of the column, so that they blocked the path and forced those behind them to stop. Then they took turns swooping down and raking the stationary men and vehicles piled up behind. Turkish troops tried to climb the steep valley walls with their hands to escape the slaughter.