With the capture of Be’er Sheva by British-led forces on October 31, 1917, the way was open to Jerusalem. But the path to the Holy City was no cakewalk.
The British forces, led by Gen. Edmund Allenby, climbed and fought through the hills leading to Jerusalem, culminating in the battle of Nebi Samwil (Samuel) November 14-21, 1917. Both sides deployed three divisions; the British took 2,000 casualties, and the unknown Turkish casualty count was undoubtedly higher.
Between the battles of Be’er Sheva and the capture of Jerusalem, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917.
From Nebi Samuel the route to Jerusalem was relatively open. The German commander of the Turkish and German troops in Palestine, General Erich Von Falkenhayn, ordered the withdrawal of his troops from Jerusalem.
According to the Turkish account, Turkey in the First World War by Dr. Altay Atli:
The British attack on Jerusalem began on 8 December. The city was defended by the XX Corps, commanded by Ali Fuad Pasha. Falkenhayn did not send reinforcements to Jerusalem because he did not want the relics and the holy places damaged because of severe fighting…. His refusal to send reinforcements had resulted in the loss of Jerusalem…. Enver Pasha was losing patience too. On 24 February 1918, he replaced Falkenhayn.
On December 9, 1917, two British sergeants on patrol met a delegation of Jerusalem dignitaries carrying a white flag (a bedsheet from the American Colony) who came to surrender the city. The moment was preserved by a photographer from the American Colony.
Click here to view a film from the British Imperial War Museum of British Commander Edmund Allenby’s entrance into Jerusalem on December 11, 1917.
According to the Imperial War Museum synopsis accompanying the film:
The General entered Jerusalem on 11 December, accompanied by his staff (T. E. Lawrence [“Lawrence of Arabia”] among them), French and Italian officers, and various other international representatives. At the Jaffa gate he was greeted by a guard of Commonwealth and Allied troops; dismounting, he and his comrades entered the city on foot, as instructed. Allenby had been less than fifteen minutes in the city. After 400 years of Ottoman rule, Jerusalem had passed into British hands.
The grand scale and ferocity of the fighting in Palestine is not fully recognized today even by historians, with attention often focused on the European front. One statistic puts the fighting in Palestine into perspective: The British army suffered more than half a million casualties; the Turks even more.