The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 35: Al-Yarmuk

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq


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This duelling went on till midday. Then the Roman Commander-in-Chief, Mahan, decided that he had had enough of this and that if it went on very much longer, not only would he lose a large number of officers, but also the moral effect on his army would be quite bad. He would have a better chance of success in a general battle in which sheer weight of numbers would favour his army. But he was rightly cautious, for a false step at the beginning of battle could have far-reaching effects on its course. He would attempt a limited offensive on a broad front to test the strength of the Muslim army, and if possible, achieve a breakthrough wherever the Muslim front was weak.

At midday the 10 forward ranks of the Roman army, i.e. one-third of the infantry of each of the four armies, advanced to battle. This human wave moved slowly forward, and as it came within range of the Muslim archers, was subjected to intense archery, which caused some casualties. The wave continued to advance and before long struck the Muslim front rank. Soon the Muslims had dropped their bloody spears and drawn their swords, and both sides were locked in combat.

But the Roman assault was not a determined one, and the soldiers, many of whom were unused to battle, did not press the attack, while the fury with which the hardened Muslim veterans struck at them imposed caution. On some parts of the front the fighting was more violent than on others, but on the whole the action of this day could be described as steady and moderately hard. The Muslims held their own. The Romans did not reinforce their forward infantry, and at sunset the action ended with the two armies separating and returning to their respective camps. Casualties were light on this day, though higher among the Romans than the Muslims.

The night was spent in peace. The Muslim women greeted their men with pride, and wiped the sweat and blood from their faces and arms with their head coverings. The wives said to their husbands: ''Rejoice in tidings to paradise, O Friend of Allah!" 1 The Muslims now felt more confident for they had inflicted worse punishment on the enemy than they had taken themselves, and prayers and recitation of the Quran continued for most of the night. During the night, however, a few Roman parties came forward into the no-man's-land to pick up their dead and this led to some patrol clashes, but otherwise there was no engagement to disturb the peace of the night.

Mahan had got nowhere. He called a council of war at which plans for the next day were discussed. He would have to do something different if success were to be achieved and Mahan decided to launch his next attack at the first light of dawn, after forming up during the hours of darkness, in the hope of catching the Muslims off their guard, before they were prepared for battle. Moreover, he would attack in greater strength. The two central armies would put in holding attacks to tie down the Muslim centre, while the two flanking armies would launch the major thrusts and either drive the flanking corps off the battlefield or push them into the centre. To have a grand stand view of the battle, Mahan had a large pavilion placed on a hillock behind the Roman right, from where the entire plain could be seen. Here Mahan positioned himself with his court and a bodyguard of 2,000 Armenians, while the rest of the army prepared for the surprise dawn attack.

Soon after dawn the Muslims were at prayer when they heard the beating of drums. Messengers came galloping from the outposts to inform the commanders that the Romans were attacking. The Muslims were certainly caught unawares, but Khalid had ordered the placing of a strong outpost line in front during the night, and these outposts caused sufficient delay in the Roman advance to enable the Muslims to don their armour and weapons and get into battle position before the flood hit them. Moreover, the speed with which the Muslims got into position was faster than the Romans had anticipated. The sun was not yet up on this second day of battle when the two armies clashed.

The battle of the central corps continued steadily for most of the day with no break in the Muslim line. Here, in any case, the Romans were not pressing hard as this was meant to be a limited attack to hold these Muslim corps in their position. Thus the centre remained stable. But on the flanking corps fell the heaviest blows of the Roman army, and these corps bore the brunt of the fighting.

On the Muslim right the army of Qanateer, consisting mainly of Slavs, attacked the corps of Amr bin Al Aas. The Muslims held on bravely and the attack was repulsed. Qanateer attacked for the second time with fresh troops, and again the Muslims repulsed him. But when Qanateer attacked for the third time, again using fresh regiments, the resistance of the now tired Muslims broke, and the bulk of the corps fell back to the camp, while part of it retired to the centre, i.e. towards the corps of Sharhabeel.

1. Waqidi: p. 133.