24/7/1917 Lightning Force: Enver’s plan to recapture Baghdad #1917Live

In Aleppo today Enver Pasha, Turkey’s paramount leader, meets with senior military figures including Djemal Pasha, the Proconsul of Syria, and Kemal Pasha, whose star has been on the rise since the Turkish victory at Gallipoli. Enver has a big plan to reveal. He is forming a new army group to be called Yildirim (Lightning Force), combining formations commanded by Kemal and Halil Pasha with German units. The overall commander will be none other than Germany’s Falkenhayn, the former German commander in chief who recently presided over the conquest of Romania.

Yildirim’s mission is a simple one: the recapture of Baghdad. Enver hopes that by doing so Turkey’s prestige in the Middle East will be restored. His audience are more sceptical, fearing that it would be foolhardy for Turkey to launch an offensive in Mesopotamia when the British are threatening to advance into Palestine. And the Turkish officers do not relish the prospect of being commanded by Falkenhayn. The Turks are increasingly resentful of the perceived arrogance of their German allies and suspect that Falkenhayn will be cut from the same cloth as the various German officers they have had to deal with. But Enver is insistent and with Germany providing considerable financial and military resources to Yildirim they are able to call the tune.

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Enver and Djemal visiting Jerusalem last year (Wikipedia)

13/7/1917 Britain retreats from Ramadi #1917Live

British forces have been attacking the Turkish position of Ramadi in Mesopotamia. Conducted under the unforgiving glare of a burning sun, the attacks have been a failure, with the Turks refusing to be dislodged. Now the British retreat back to their base in Dhibban on the Euphrates, upriver from Baghdad. Along the way they are harassed by pro-Turkish Arab irregulars.

British forces end up taking more casualties from the heat than from enemy gunfire, with many men succumbing to heat stroke and thirst. The failure to take Ramadi brings home the folly of campaigning here in the heart of summer. It will be the autumn before Maude makes any further attempt is made to take Ramadi.

12/7/1917 Lawrence meets Allenby in Cairo #1917Live

British intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence has crossed the Sinai desert to bring news of the fall of Aqaba to the British in Cairo. Today he meets General Allenby, the new British commander in the Levant. Lawrence cuts quite a dash as he is still dressed in the Arab robes he wore while on campaign.

Allenby is intrigued by Lawrence’s report. With Aqaba in the hands of the Arab rebels they now have the potential to project their power northwards into the lands east of the Jordan and into the heart of Syria. Lawrence believes that the Arabs of this region will ultimately join the rebels in an uprising against the Turks that will fatally undermine their position in the Middle East.

Allenby is preparing for an attack on Gaza in the autumn as a prelude to an advance into Palestine. Lawrence’s report offers the prospect of the Arab rebels opening up a new front against the enemy, disrupting their communications and drawing away their troops. He arranges for an increased subsidy for the Arab rebels but he also despatches Lawrence to Emir Faisal in the Hejaz to propose bringing the Arabs under British command. And in view of the increased opportunities now offered to him, Allenby seeks reinforcements for himself from London.

T.E. Lawrence (HistoryLearning: Lawrence of Arabia)

Edmund Allenby (Wikipedia)

11/7/1917 Ramadi: Britain’s failed attempt to advance upriver from Baghdad #1917Live

The tide of war ebbs and flows in Mesopotamia. Last year the Turks were triumphant, causing the surrender of Townshend‘s army at Kut-al-Amara. Since then the British have recaptured Kut and advanced upriver to drive the Turks from Baghdad.

Now in the searing heat of the Mesopotamian summer Maude makes the odd decision to send troops up the Euphrates to attack the Turkish force occupying Ramadi. The extreme temperature makes it impossible for the British to march from Baghdad to Ramadi, even at night, so they are instead transported by truck.

The British attack today in the early morning. They may have hoped that the Turks would be demoralised after their previous losses. Unfortunately the men at Ramadi put up stout resistance and do not yield to British assaults. The British attack fails and the men find themselves trapped in the open, unable to retreat until night falls, suffering terribly from enemy gunfire but more so from the burning intensity of the sun.

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Map (Wikipedia)

6/7/1917 Arab rebels storm Aqaba #1917Live

Nasir ibn Ali and British liaison officer T.E. Lawrence have persuaded Auda abu Tayi to join the Arab Revolt against the Turks. Together with Auda’s tribal followers and others who have rallied to the cause they now advance on the Turkish controlled port of Aqaba. Most of the fighting takes place outside the town, with the rebels attacking and eliminating Turkish positions that guard its approaches. Today they finally storm Aqaba itself.

Aqaba lies at the northern end of the Red Sea gulf that bears its name. It is an ideal point from which to supply Arab operations further to the north in Syria. So that the British will be aware of the opportunities yielded by this victory, Lawrence departs from Aqaba to make his way across the Sinai desert to Cairo, the centre of British power in the Middle East.

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Auda abu Tayi’s standard is carried into Aqaba (Weapons and Warfare: Lawrence and Aqaba II)

T.E. Lawrence at Aqaba (Clio Visualizing History: The Taking of Akaba)

27/6/1917 A new British commander in the Sinai desert

British and Commonwealth forces have advanced across the Sinai desert but have been blocked form advancing into Palestine by the Turkish defenders of Gaza. Now British leaders in London decide that they have had enough of Murray, the local British commander. He is removed from command and replaced by Edmund Allenby, after South Africa’s Smuts declines the role.

Allenby previously served in the Boer War. More recently he was based on the Western Front, where he was the local commander at Arras. Considerable initial gains were achieved at Arras before the battle degenerated into the usual attritional meat-grinder. British leaders are hoping that he will be able to replicate his success in his

Allenby has been directed to advance into Palestine and seize Jerusalem by Christmas, but he is not being provided with any extra men to do this. His army is much stronger than that of the Turks but his task is not an easy one. The Turks are defending a strong position and have easy access to the waters of Palestine. For now at least Allenby’s men are stuck in a desert and face grave problems keeping themselves supplied, particularly with water. Nevertheless he begins to survey the situation and make plans for an advance north.

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Edmund Allenby (Wikipedia)

18/6/1917 Nasir and Lawrence set their sights on Aqaba

Emir Faisal has sent his cousin Nasir ibn Ali and other trusted lieutenants north to reconnoitre Syria and enlist local support for the Arab Revolt. Nasir has been accompanied by T. E. Lawrence, the British intelligence officer who liaises between the Arab rebels and the British authorities in Cairo.

Now Nasir and Lawrence have managed to persuade Auda abu Tayi and several hundred of his tribal followers to join the revolt. The question now is what to do with them. The Turkish rail depot at Ma’an makes for a tempting target, but it is too strongly defended for the rebels to attack. Instead Nasir and Lawrence decide on another target, the Red Sea port of Aqaba.

If the rebels could take Aqaba then they would have a base at the gates of Syria from which the British could supply them. The Turks have strongly defended Aqaba against sea attack. However Nasir hopes to take advantage of the Turks’ failure to anticipate an attack by land. The rebels begin their advance.

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T.E. Lawrence & Auda abu Tayi (eKurds: Photographs of Lawrence from 1914-1918)

Aqaba and environs (A Passage to `Aqaba: A Geographical Enquiry)