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Jewish Defense Organizations: The Jewish Legion

(1915 - 1918)

Military formation of Jewish volunteers in World War I, who fought in the British Army for the liberation of Eretz Yisrael from Turkish rule. The idea was raised, on December 1914, by Vladimir Jabotinsky and was fully embraced by Joseph Trumpeldor. By the end of March 1915, 500 Jewish volunteers from among the yishuv deportees in Egypt had started training.

The British military command opposed the participation of Jewish volunteers on the Palestinian front and suggested the volunteers serve as a detachment for mule transport on some other sector of the Turkish front. Trumpeldor succeeded in forming the 650-strong Zion Mule Corps, of whom 562 were sent to the Galipoli front. Meanwhile, Vladimir Jabotinsky pursued his project of a Jewish Legion for the Palestinian front. Finally, on August 1917, the formation of a Jewish regiment was officially announced.

The unit was designated as the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. It included British volunteers, members of the former Zion Mule Corps and a large number of Russian Jews. On April 1918, it was joined by the 39th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, more than 50 percent (1,720) of whom were American volunteers.

In June 1918, The 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers was sent to Palestine, where the volunteers fought for the liberation of Eretz Yisrael from Turkish rule some 20 miles north of Jerusalem. In the fighting in the Jordan Valley, more than 20 Legionnaires were killed, wounded, or captured, the rest came down with malaria, and 30 of this group later died. The Legion then came under the command of Major General E.W.C. Chaytor. Besides various skirmishes, the Legion also participated in the Battle of Megiddo in mid-September 1918, widely considered to have been one of the final and decisive victories of the Ottoman front.

The Legion's mission was to cross the Jordan River. Jabotinsky led the effort. Later, he was decorated and General Chaytor told the Jewish troops: “By forcing the Jordan fords, you helped in no small measure to win the great victory gained at Damascus.”

In late 1919, the Jewish Legion was reduced to one battalion titled First Judeans, and awarded a distinctive cap badge, a menorah with the Hebrew word קדימה Kadima (forward) at the base. The Jewish Legion was demobilized by the Anti-Zionist British Military Administration (1918 -1920).

Sources: The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel, (c) 1997-2008, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: Esther Carciente; Wikipedia; Michael B. Oren, Power, Faith, and Fantasy, NY: W. W. Norton, 2007, p. 363.