British Deception on the Yarkon River

IsraelTel Aviv

Towards the end of 1917, during the British campaign to conquer the Land of Israel from the Ottomans in World War I, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force of the British Army crossed the Yarkon River. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Yarkon was a much more significant river than it is today, second only to the Jordan River. The amounts of water that flowed through it were large, and in some places it was more than 35 meters wide and more than 3 meters deep. In the winter of 1917 the river was at its peak, and it was considered a serious and significant obstacle to crossing.

General Allenby, commander of the British expeditionary force, wanted to occupy the Turkish forces that were deployed on the coastal plain to prevent them from strengthening the Jerusalem area, his main objective. To this end, he directed his forces to cross the Yarkon River and continue advancing towards the north.

In practice, the British crossed the Yarkon twice. The first crossing was carried out on November 24 by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade of the Anzac Mounted Division. The British soldiers were indeed able to cross the river near its estuary, but the next day they were pushed back to its southern bank by the Turkish forces. After the first crossing The Turks blew up two bridges that passed over the Yarkon, to make it even more difficult for the British army. 

The second crossing of the river took place on the night between December 20 and 21. The British initially planned to cross again during the day after a heavy artillery shelling, but British intelligence discovered that the Ottoman forces were neglecting their patrols along the river because they did not believe it could be crossed in winter when it was full of raging water. General John Hill, commander of the 52nd Division which was tasked with the crossing mission, proposed an alternative plan based on a night crossing of the river, to surprise the Turks who were not expecting it. The general's proposal was accepted and the British began preparations to build wooden rafts and bridges. The crossing was carried out at 3 different locations along the river - in the east near the Ramat Gan Stadium area, in the center at the Hill Square area and in the west at the Yarkon estuary. The crossing was successful and the British forces were able to pass the river, establish themselves on its northern bank and push the Turkish forces while inflicting heavy losses on them. 

After the end of the war, General Hill decided to commemorate the Yarkon crossing by placing memorial pillars at the points where the British forces crossed the river. The marble columns were taken from archaeological sites in the vicinity and engraved with an inscription in Hebrew drawn up by Ze'ev Jabotinsky, which was also translated into English. 

The pillar that marks the point of the Yarkon estuary crossing stands at Tel Qudadi, a hill located on the northern bank of the Yarkon. Archaeological excavations in the 1930s revealed remains of Assyrian citadels from the 8th century BC, as well as findings from the Persian and Byzantine periods. 

The following inscription is engraved on the memorial column that still stands today:

"On the night of the 20th-21st of December 1917 the 157th Brigade 52nd (Lowland) crossed this ford & captured the Turkish positions commanding it."

(Anecdote authored by: עמיר)

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