CHAPTER XIII. INTO THE JUDEAN HILLS
When the 52nd Division were moving out of Ludd on the 19th November the 75th Division were fighting hard about Latron, where the Turks held the monastery and its beautiful gardens and the hill about Amwas until late in the morning. Having driven them out, the 75th pushed on to gain the pass into the hills and to begin two days of fighting which earned the unstinted praise of General Bulfin who witnessed it. For nearly three miles from Latron the road passes through a flat valley flanked by hills till it reaches a guardhouse and khan at the foot of the pass which then rises rapidly to Saris, the difference in elevation in less than four miles being 1400 feet. Close to the guardhouse begin the hills which tower above the road. The Turks had constructed defences on these hills and held them with riflemen and machine guns, so that these positions dominated all approaches. Our guns had few positions from which to assist the infantry, but they did sterling service wherever possible. In General Palin the Division had a commander with wide experience of hill fighting on the Indian frontier, and he brought that experience to bear in a way which must have dumb-founded the enemy. Frontal attacks were impossible and suicidal, and each position had to be turned by a wide movement started a long way in rear. All units in the Division did well, the Gurkhas particularly well, and by a continual encircling of their flanks the Turks were compelled to leave their fastnesses and fall back to new hill crests. Thus outwitted and outmatched the enemy retreated to Saris, a high hill with a commanding view of the pass for half a mile. The hill is covered with olive trees and has a village on its eastern slope, and as the road winds at its foot and then takes a left-handed turn to Kuryet el Enab its value for defence was considerable.
The Turks had taken advantage of the cover to place a large body of defenders with machine guns on the hill, but with every condition unfavourable to us the 75th Division had routed out the enemy before three o'clock and were ready to move forward as soon as the guns could get up the pass. Rain was falling heavily, the road surface was clinging and treacherous, and, worse still, the road had been blown up in several places. The guns could not advance to be of service that day, and the infantry had, therefore, to remain where they were for the night. There was a good deal of sniping, but Nature was more unkind than the enemy, who received more than he gave. The troops were wearing light summer clothing, drill shorts and tunics, and the sudden change from the heat and dryness of the plain to bitter cold and wet was a desperate trial, especially to the Indian units, who had little sleep that night. They needed rest to prepare them for the rigour of the succeeding day. A drenching rain turned the whole face of the mountains, where earth covered rock, into a sea of mud. On the positions about Saris being searched a number of prisoners were taken, among them a battalion commander. Men captured in the morning told us there were six Turkish battalions holding Enab, which is something under two miles from Saris.