CHAPTER XVIII. BY THE BANKS OF THE JORDAN
By eight o'clock we had taken the whole of the Talat ed Dumm position, and long-range sniping throughout the day did not disturb our secure possession of it. Immediately the heights were occupied the guns went ahead to new points, and armoured cars left the road to try to find a way to the south-east to protect the flank of the right column. They had a troublesome journey. Some of the crews walked well ahead of the cars to reconnoitre the tracks, and it speaks well for the efficiency of the cars as well as for the pluck and cleverness of the drivers that in crossing a mile or two of that terribly broken mountainous country no car was overturned and all got back to the road without mishap.
Throughout the night and during the greater part of the day of February 20 the right column were fighting under many difficulties. In their march from the hill of Muntar they had to travel over ground so cracked and strewn with boulders that in many parts the brigade could only proceed in single file. In some places the track chosen had a huge cleft in the mountain on one side and a cliff face on the other. It was a continual succession of watercourses and mountains, of uphill and downhill travel over the most uneven surface in the blackness of night, and it took nearly eight hours to march three miles. The nature of the country was a very serious obstacle and the column was late in deploying for attack. But bad as was the route the men had followed during the night, it was easy as compared with the position they had set out to carry. This was Jebel Ekteif, the southern end of the range of hills of which Talat ed Dumm was the northern. Ekteif presented to this column a face as precipitous as Gibraltar and perhaps half as high. There was a ledge running round it about three-quarters of the way from the top, and for hours one could see the Turks lying flat on this rude path trying to pick off the intrepid climbers attempting a precarious ascent. Some mountain guns suddenly ranged on the enemy on this ledge, and, picking up the range with remarkable rapidity, forced the Turks into more comfortable positions. The enemy, too, had some well-served guns, and they plastered the spurs leading to the crest from the west, but our infantry's audacity never faltered, and after we had got into the first lines on the hill our men proceeded methodically to rout out the machine guns from their nooks and crannies. This was a somewhat lengthy process, but small parties working in support of each other gradually crushed opposition, and the huge rocky rampart was ours by three o'clock in the afternoon. Meanwhile two brigades of the Anzac Mounted Division were moving eastwards from Muntar over the hills and wadis down to the Dead Sea, whence turning northwards they marched towards Nebi Musa to try to get on to the Jordan valley flats to threaten the Turks in rear. The terrain was appallingly bad and horses had to be led, the troops frequently proceeding in Indian file. No guns could be got over the hills to support the Anzacs, and when they tried to pass through a narrow defile south of Nebi Musa it was found that the enemy covered the approach with machine guns, and progress was stopped dead until, during the early hours of the following morning, some of the Londoners' artillery managed by a superhuman effort to get a few guns over the mountains to support the cavalry. By this time the Turks had had enough of it, and while it was dark they were busy trekking through Jericho towards the Ghoraniyeh bridge over the river, covered by a force on the Jebel Kuruntul track which prevented the left column from reaching the cliffs overlooking the Jordan valley. By dawn on the 21st Nebi Musa was made good, the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade and the New Zealand Brigade were in Jericho by eight o'clock and had cleared the Jordan valley as far north as the river Aujah, the Londoners holding the line of cliffs which absolutely prevented any possibility of the enemy ever again threatening Jerusalem or Bethlehem from the east. This successful operation also put an end to the Turks' Dead Sea grain traffic. They had given up hope of keeping their landing place on the northern shores of the Dead Sea when we took Talat ed Dumm, and one hour after our infantry had planted themselves on the Hill of Blood we saw the enemy burning his boats, wharves, and storehouses at Rujm el Bahr, where he had expended a good deal of labour to put up buildings to store grain wanted for his army. Subsequently we had some naval men operating motor boats from this point, and these sailors achieved a record on that melancholy waterway at a level far below that at which any submarine, British or German, ever rested.