September 23, 2021 marks the 103rd anniversary of the Battle of Haifa, a World War I battle in the Sinai campaign that saw British Indian soldiers liberate Haifa from the Ottomans.
Taking place during the Battle of Megiddo that saw the British try to liberate what would soon become Mandatory Palestine from the Ottomans, the Entente powers realized they needed a port to resupply the Egyptian Expeditionary Force for it to continue its advance. In order to that, they needed to seize a port. Specifically, they needed to seize Haifa.
The troops tasked with taking the vital port were the soldiers of the 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade, consisting largely of soldiers from Jodhpur, Hyderabad and Mysore. The Mysore Lancers were to attack Haifa from the north, while the Jodhpur Lancers had to take the area between Mount Carmel and the Kishon River. This latter task was especially challenging, however. Ottoman machine-gun encampments and artillery lined the area, and quicksand by the riverbanks posed further difficulties.
The Jodhpur Lancers were led by Maj. Thakur Dalpat Singh Shekhawat, a soldier born to a Rajput noble family who had already been distinguished with the Military Cross for his actions in battle at Abu Tulul in the Jordan Valley for attacking a machine-gun encampment, scattering its crew and capturing an Ottoman commander in July, as noted by the London Gazette.
He was able to lead the cavalry through difficult terrain and under the fire of Ottoman machine guns and artillery. While Dalpat Singh Shekhawat fell in battle, his charge was successful, capturing prisoners, taking down machine gun encampments and eventually storming into the city itself. The Mysore Lancers soon followed, and ultimately they took the city. The exact casualties vary on accounts, but some place the amount of German and Ottoman prisoners taken at 1,350 German and Ottoman prisoners, 17 artillery and 11 machine guns. The British Indian soldiers suffered just eight dead and 34 wounded.
The battle was fast — by at least one account it lasted just an hour. However, it was an undisputed success, with the port falling into British hands.
But the battle is not only important due to its impact on the war itself. In India, the battle holds significant meaning. In 1922, a monument known as the Teen Murti was erected in New Dheli, commemorating the three cavalry regiments from Mysore, Hyderabad and Jodhpur that fought in the battle.
The Mysore and Jodhpur regiments have since been combined, forming India's 61st Cavalry Regiment, though in 2020 it was decided that it would be converted into an armored regiment. However, they have not forgotten their role in liberating Haifa, and take part in an annual celebration and memorial service. Dalpat Singh Shekhawat, for his part, was immortalized as the "Hero of Haifa."
Today, India celebrates the anniversary of the battle as Haifa Liberation Day, or Haifa Day for short. It is often characterized by ceremonies at the Teen Murti and Haifa cemetery and gestures by Israeli and Indian diplomats as a shared memory that bonds the two nations together.
In 2017, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Haifa Indian Cemetery during an official visit to Israel, unveiling a plaque in honor of the "Hero of Haifa."
In January 2018, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Teen Murti as the first stop of his visit to India, bringing high-end diplomatic prestige to what were previously more low-key ceremonies.
This year, the Israeli Embassy in India's political adviser Hodaya Avzada took part at the ceremony at the Teen Murti.
Today, our political counselor @HodayaAvzada took part in the #HaifaLiberationDay celebration at Teen Murti Haifa Chowk & also paid respect to #Indian cavalry regiments who fought in the #BattleofHaifa. This shared memory bonds our two nations together. #HaifaDay pic.twitter.com/1kzZS8xSFX— Israel in India (@IsraelinIndia) September 23, 2021
The Indian Embassy in Israel will hold its official ceremony at the Haifa cemetery on October 7.
Khinvraj Jangid and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.