Celebrating RAF100 | 15

On the day the offensive began, it was very much led by the RAF. Through the night and day,the RAF bombed Turkish aerodromes, communications centres and headquarters. As the first waves of troops advanced, aircraft from the Corps squadrons laid smoke screens, bombed front-line communications centres, maintained radio contact with advancing Allied units and carried out artillery co-operation work. By the dawn of the 20th, the Ottoman 8th Army was finished as an effective formation. Not only that, but the 7th Army on its flank, due to both effective misinformation and the destruction of communications centres, had absolutely no idea what had happened. By the end of this day,itwas in full retreat to the east, hoping to cross the Jordan and regroup. The Allied advance had been so swift that the RAF was now operating advanced units out of an aerodrome, which 30 hours before had been 40 miles behind enemy lines.

However,itwould be on the 21st September that the RAF would give their most dramatic demonstration. Just after dawn, apatrol of two Bristol Fighters spotted what alater arrival described as a‘great, greyish-black snake’, nine miles in length moving along the road through the Wadi Fara. This was the main body of the 7th Army.After reporting their position by wireless, the Australians dropped their 16 bombs and began strafing the column, hitting the front and rear to hem the rest in. With the Ottoman forces now trapped, more Fighters arrived to add to the destruction. From 8am to noon, asteady stream of aircraft of all types bombed and strafed the column. Apair of aircraft were scheduled to arrive every two minutes, with afurther formation of six arriving every half an hour.Inall, nine and aquarter tons of bombs, and 56,000 rounds of ammunition were used in the Valley,causing the destruction or abandonment of nearly 90 field guns and athousand vehicles for the loss of two aircraft to ground fire. The feeling of defenceless exposure to the enemy fliers had aparalyzing effect on officers and men. Human casualties were simply too high to count, but by midday it is true to say that the Ottoman 7th Army had ceased to exist.

Major the Lord Hampton was one of the first British officers to arrive on the scene: “A few hundred feet below us the main road wound down the gorge and, as far as the eye could reach, it was blocked by guns, wagons and motor lorries. Many had fallen over the precipice and lay shattered in the wadi bed. Dead or wounded animals lay thick between the wagons and added to an indescribable tangle. They were, or had been, fully loaded with the hastily gathered baggage of an army,ranging from valuable artillery instruments, telephones, wireless

apparatus, drums of cable, camp furniture, cooking utensils, down to clothing, rations and the thousands of details of kit and equipment which are necessary to an army in the field. All along that road the terrible havoc wrought by the R.A.F.impressed itself upon our nostrils, and in many places it was only with great difficulty that away could be found through the litter of guns, carts, dead animals, and men. Dead Turks lay thick under the banks by the side of the road and up amongst the big boulders on the hillside where they had fled in avain attempt to escape the rain of bullets from our planes overhead.”

One British officer would accuse Salmond and his men of being butchers. For all that, they had arguably fought the first modern air battle and had shown the shape of things to come. The Battle had been acomplete success for the Allies, largely due to the RAF contribution, and afew weeks later the Ottoman Empire surrendered. Air power as awar-winning weapon, and indeed the Royal Air Force itself,had come of age.

Ottoman troops near Jerusalem one year prior to their defeat at Megiddo.

History would repeat itself many times, maybe most notably the Allied attack on retreating Iraqis on the Highway of Death during the Gulf WarinApril 1991. |Summer 2018 | ENVOY

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