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)

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.

image sources:

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.

image sources:

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

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

19/5/1917 Faisal sends his agents north into Syria

Thanks to a steady inflow of British arms and money the Arab Revolt is now pretty secure in its dominance of the Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula. The Turks still have a garrison in place in Medina but it is unable to contest control of the region with the rebels. British aeroplanes are bombing the railway line to Medina, keeping the Turks there too undersupplied to bother the Arabs.

To the discomfiture of his British patrons, Emir Hussein of Mecca has declared himself King of the Arabs. Now his son Faisal prepares to extend his father’s writ north into Syria. He sends his cousin Nasir ibn Ali and other trusted associates to reconnoitre the region. They are to make contact with the rural tribesmen and also with the Arab nationalists in Damascus.

Travelling with Faisal’s men is British intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence, who has been liaising between Faisal and the British in Cairo. Lawrence has become sympathetic to the Arab cause. By now Lawrence is aware of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, in which Britain and France agreed to divide the Middle East between them. Lawrence dislikes the French and hopes to assist Faisal in staking a claim to Syria before the French are able to establish themselves there.

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T.E. Lawrence (Wikipedia)

19/4/1917 Second Gaza: Britain fails again to break into Palestine

After their previous failure, British and Commonwealth troops are attacking Gaza again, hoping to clear the Turks from this position and then advance into Palestine. Tanks, poison gas and the guns of offshore battleships have been brought to bear on the enemy. However the Turks have not been daunted by the British terror weapons. They have held their positions and staged counter-attacks to push back their assailants. Fighting has raged over the past three days but there is no sign of the Turks being dislodged from their positions around Gaza.

Now Murray, the British commander, accepts defeat and pulls his men back. He has suffered some 6,444 casualties, substantially higher than the Turks’ 2,013 losses. Three of the eight British tanks have also been destroyed.

For now the gateway to Palestine remains closed to the British.

images source (Wikipedia)

17/4/1917 Second Gaza: another British attempt to push into Palestine

The British and their Commonwealth Allies are having another crack at attacking Gaza. The last time the British attempted to storm the gateway to Palestine they suffered a bloody reverse. This time they are doing everything to improve their chances. Battleships are bombarding the Turkish defences. The British are also using new terror weapons not previously seen in this theatre of war. As well as firing gas shells at the Turks, the British are also deploying tanks for the first time in the Middle East. Hopes are high that the Turks will flee in terror at the first sight of these metal leviathans.

The battle is not quite the pushover the British were expecting. The gas attack proves curiously ineffective while the artillery fails to dislodge the Turks. The Allied assault is met with a murderous fire of machine guns and artillery. The tanks fail to strike terror into the hearts of the Turks, who maintain a continuous fire upon the lumbering contraptions.

The Allies nevertheless make some initial gains, but strong Turkish counterattacks prevent a breakthrough. Murray, the British commander, determines that the assaults must continue in the hope of breaking the Turks over the coming days.

image source: Turkish machine gunners (Wikipedia)