15/1/1918 Arab progress east of the Jordan #1918Live

Allenby has pushed into Palestine and taken Jerusalem. Now attention shifts further east to the Transjordan region, where Arab rebels are putting pressure on the Turks. The British and French are supporting the rebels with equipment, training and small contingents of colonial troops, with the result that the Arabs are now looking much more like a proper army, though they still feature plenty of Bedouin irregulars.

The British are keen for the Arabs to take the Turkish garrison town of Ma’an. However Ma’an is strongly defended and the Arabs are not keen on the kind of costly frontal assault that is second nature to commanders like Allenby who have served on the Western Front. Instead the Arabs bypass Ma’an and advance to the north, intending to attack it at a more opportune time.

Today at Tafila the rebels have a stroke of luck. The enemy commander of this administrative centre, Zaki al-Halabi, decides that he has had enough of serving his Turkish masters in Constantinople. He changes sides and joins the rebels, bringing the Tafila’s garrison with him.

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Arab army officers and captured machine guns after the fall of Tafila (History of Jordan)

11/12/1917 Allenby arrives in Jerusalem #1917Live

Jerusalem surrendered two days ago. Now Allenby makes his formal entry into the Holy City, with the event filmed for propaganda purposes. Allenby walks through the Jaffa Gate on foot, ostentatiously showing his humility. His honour guard contains men from all the nations of the British Empire that are taking part in the Palestine campaign, together with a token presence of French and Italian soldiers. Also present are T.E. Lawrence, visiting Allenby to coordinate strategy between the Arab rebels and the British, and French diplomat Georges-Picot, co-author of the recently published Sykes-Picot agreement.

Allenby delivers a short speech promising that the rights of the three religions in Jerusalem will be respected and reassuring the citizens of the conquered city that they remain free to go about their lawful business. He then receives a succession of the city’s civil and religious notables.

When Allenby was sent from the Western Front to take over the Palestine campaign he feared that he was being sidelined. But in a year of failure in France and Belgium, the successes in Palestine shine all the more brightly. Coming at the end of the year, Allenby’s capture of Jerusalem is a triumph that puts his Western Front colleagues distinctly in the shade.


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Allenby enters Jerusalem (Wikipedia: Edmund Allenby)

9/12/1917 Jerusalem falls to the British #1917Live

Since his victory at Gaza, Allenby has been pushing northwards through Palestine. Turkish forces under Germany’s Falkenhayn are struggling to contain the British advance. A Turkish counter-attack in late November failed to halt the British, who then pressed on to the gates of Jerusalem itself.

A British assault yesterday broke through the Turkish lines, rendering Jerusalem untenable. The Turks withdraw, leaving the city abandoned. Today Jerusalem is surrendered to the British by its mayor, Hussein al-Husseini, bringing an end to 400 years of Turkish rule over the Holy City.

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Jerusalem’s surrender party and British soldiers. Hussein al-Husseini is holding the cane. (Wikipedia)

18/11/1917 Allenby decides to press on towards Jerusalem #1917Live

After his victory at Gaza Allenby has pushed into Palestine, capturing Ramlah and Lydda and then most recently the vital port of Jaffa. His men have advanced some 80 kilometres and taken around 10,000 prisoners. Now the winter rains begin to arrive, making the conditions for mobile warfare considerably more difficult.

Allenby faces a choice: should he stop now, consolidate his positions, and then renew his offensive in the spring, or should he press on now, hoping that notwithstanding the rains he will be able to capture Jerusalem from the still disorganised Turks before the year’s end. Allenby decides to press on, hoping to seize the opportunity his victory has given him.

Meanwhile in Mesopotamia the British have also been pressing the Turks, but now they suffer an unfortunate blow. Maude, their commander there, who had overseen the recapture of Kut and the fall of Baghdad, dies suddenly of cholera. He meets his end in the same house in Baghdad that Goltz, Germany’s then commander in Mesopotamia, had died in last year. Maude’s death gives the Turks in Mesopotamia a breathing space, though it is inevitable that sooner or later the British there will renew their offensive.

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New Zealand troops accepting surrender of Jaffa (Wikipedia: Battle of Jaffa)

Frederick Maude (Wikipedia: Frederick Stanley Maude)

7/11/1917 Lawrence brings the Arab Revolt to Syria #1917Live

While Allenby advances into Palestine the Arab rebels of Sharif Hussein of Mecca are attacking the Turks further to the east. The rebels have expanded out of their base in the Hejaz region of Arabia and are now raiding northwards. At Allenby’s request, a raiding party including British liaison officer T.E. Lawrence has launched a long distance raid into Syria, far from the rebels’ base, with the intention of cutting the railway intersection at Deraa. The plan is perhaps too ambitious: the raiders are unable to successfully attack Deraa, though they are able to cut the railway further to the south. While the raid may not have fully succeeded, it warns the Turks that the rebels are able to strike far to the north, forcing them to divert troops to garrison duty that could otherwise be deployed to Palestine.

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Arab rebels (HistoryNet: Creating Chaos – Lawrence of Arabia and the 1916 Arab Revolt)

7/11/1917 Gaza falls to Allenby #1917Live

After capturing Beersheba, Allenby turned his attention to his main target: Gaza, the gateway to Palestine. Yesterday his men attacked the lines between Beersheba and Gaza. Although these positions were weakly defended the Turks put up a strong resistance, with the British and their Commonwealth allies suffering greater casualties than expected. But the brave Turks are unable to contain their enemies. The British advance makes Gaza untenable; it is abandoned and falls to the British today. Reduced to rubble by British artillery and with its civilian population evacuated, the town resembles one of the many confusing ruins of antiquity to be found in this part of the world.

The fall of Gaza puts the Turks into a difficult position. They are struggling to form a new line further to the north but their forces are in disarray and Falkenhayn‘s Yildirim group is still not fully deployed. For his part Allenby is determined to press on now while he has momentum, hoping to capture Jerusalem before the year’s end.

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Gaza after its capture (Digging Around In History: Beersheba and Beyond – Palestine 1917) [I particularly recommend investigating this treasure trove of privately taken photographs from 1917 in the Middle East]

map (Wikipedia: Third Battle of Gaza)