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Crossing the Yarkon River

22.06.2017 | Inner Article

During the First World War, the Yarkon River and its surrounding area played an important role in the battle between the British and the Turkish empire.

At the end of March 1917, the British reached the beaches of Palestine, and after two bloody attempts to conquer Gaza, progress was halted. Edmund Allenby, which was appointed as commander in chief of the Palestine front in the summer of 1917, captured Beersheba on November 7 and forced the Turkish forces to evacuate Gaza.

Within a week, the British arrived in Lod and Rishon LeZion, and on November 16th they conquered Jaffa and Tel Aviv, eventually reaching the Yarkon River.

The south bank of the Yarkon River fell to the British, while the entire north bank of the river, from Nahalat Ganim eastward, was in the hands of the Turkish. The port of Jaffa was within the range of their artillery.

On November 24, New Zealand cavalrymen galloped through the passage at the estuary of the river and conquered Sheikh Munis and the northern coastline up to Hadera, near the bridge on the “old” road to Herzliya.

They also managed to pass over the dam of the Jarisha mills and began to build a floating bridge near the area.

The next day, the Turks began a counterattack and forced the New Zealanders to withdraw. some retreated through the estuary, some fled over the bridge near the El Hadar mills (“10 mills”), and some swam through the river, incurring heavy losses.

After four weeks, once the Turkish attack around Wilhelma, threatening Lod and the transportation routes to Jerusalem, was held back, the British managed to cross the river.

This operation was assigned to the 52nd Division under the command of General Hill, whose headquarters were in Tel Aviv. The British decided engage with artillery shelling, although they had absolute superiority (especially in heavy artillery), and relied on the element of surprise. The goal was to ensure the crossing of the river by small forces to provide cover to the units tasked with building bridges over the river, for the transfer of vehicles and mounted forces. A decision which, according to historical accounts, was associated with fewer casualties compared to a continuous 24-hour barrage, followed by an open assault.

Each of the three battalions of the division had to cross the river at a certain point and the zero hours was set at 8:30 on the night of December 21, 1917.

It was decided to make rafts – wooden frames with tent fabric stretched over them – and anyone who declared himself a carpenter was employed to assist in their construction.

The soldiers were trained in the deployment of these rafts in the Ayalon river, which appears in the official British accounts under the nickname “Sarona Lake”.

The division crossed the river at night: the soldiers of the first battalion swam across the river (which was quite deep due to winter rains) and passed through the estuary to provide cover from the north. They proceeded to Tel Raqit 4 km to the north.

In another section of the river, north of where the Tel Aviv slaughterhouse was to later be built, the Second Brigade crossed the river in four rafts.

The soldiers of the Third Brigade headed east to Jarisha, crossed the river near the area where Nahalat Ganim exists today, and after creating a diversion, managed to take over Khirbet Hadera and Tel Nuria (a hill on which Yad Ha’maavidof and the cotton factory were later built).

Later, floating bridges were installed, and the “10 Mills” bridge, which was later blown up by the Turks, was reinforced to support cars, heavy trucks, and cannons.

That is how the British managed to take the first river they encountered in Palestine after the Suez Canal. The number of casualties was relatively small, about 100 soldiers and the operation was considered one of the most complex and successful campaigns in the Palestine front.

To commemorate the crossing of the Yarkon, the British erected three memorial monuments near the locations where the three battalions crossed the river: one in Tel Kudadi, north of the estuary, a second on the slaughterhouse Hill (now Hill Square) and a third in Nahal-Ganim.

During the early days of the British Mandate, these memorials were inscribed with Hebrew and English writings.

From S. Avitzur’s book “Ha Yarkon”.