10/12/1918 Sarafand: New Zealanders massacre Palestinian villagers #1918Live

The war has ended in the Levant but large number of Allied troops remain in Syria and Palestine. Some of these will be here for some time yet as enforcers of the British or French suzerainty that is succeeding Turkish rule. Most of the Allied troops are however slated for demobilisation, but a shortage of shipping means that the soldiers cannot be transported home just yet.

Relations between the Allied troops and the local Arab population are not always warm. Incidents of thieving and pilfering by rowdy soldiers and light-fingered locals combine with racist assumptions to exacerbate tensions. A particularly unsavoury incident occurs today at the Palestinian village of Sarafand, south of Jaffa. Believing that one of their comrades had been murdered by Palestinian from the village, New Zealand troops first formed a cordon around Sarafand and then stormed the village. After driving out women, children and elderly men, the New Zealanders then set upon the remaining menfolk of the village with cudgels and bayonets. Several dozen Palestinians are killed, possibly more than a hundred.

Allenby, the British commander, is furious when he learns of the massacre. However, the New Zealanders and other nearby units refuse to co-operate with inquiries into the matter, making it impossible to identify the individuals responsible. The ANZAC murderers remain unpunished.

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ANZAC troops at Sarafand (Stuff: Old words cast fresh light on Anzac atrocity)

30/10/1918 The Armistice of Mudros: Turkey exits the war #1918Live

The Allied victories in Palestine and Syria have brought them to borders of Anatolia. Rather than face invasion of their heartland the Turks have requested an armistice, using Townshend (captured with his army at Kut in 1916) as a go-between. Now after four days of discussions Turkish negotiators agree an armistice with Britain’s Admiral Calthorpe onboard the Agamemnon, anchored in the harbour of the Lemnos port of Mudros.

Under the terms of the armistice, the Turks are to demobilise their army, release all prisoners of war and hand over all warships to the Allies. German and Austro-Hungarian troops are given a month to depart from the Ottoman Empire. Constantinople is to come under Allied occupation and the Allies will be allowed to occupy other parts of the Ottoman Empire to “restore order”. The Turks are also obliged to withdraw their forces from Cilicia, a region that the French are interested in acquiring. Turkish forces are to be withdrawn from the Transcaucasian territories they conquered after the collapse of Russian power there.

The armistice specifically authorises the Allies to occupy the Armenian areas of eastern Anatolia in the event of disorder. The Turks are also required to release any Armenian prisoners, a sign of Allied intentions to hold accountable those responsible for the Turkish regime’s crimes against them.

The armistice will come into effect tomorrow.

map source (Edmaps: Historical Maps of the Caucasus)

26/10/1918 Aleppo falls to the British

Separated from Germany and Austria-Hungary by the fall of Bulgaria, Turkey too is on the brink of requesting an armistice from the Allies. Meanwhile the Allied advance in Syria continues. Damascus has already fallen and now the British take Aleppo. From here they will be able to press on into Turkey’s Anatolian heartland should the war continue.

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The pursuit from Damascus (Wikipedia)

Aleppo (Wikipedia)

8/10/1918 As French troops land in Beirut, the Turkish government resigns

Britain has made a few too many promises about how Turkey’s territories in the Middle East are to be carved up after the war ends. Sharif Hussein of Mecca was given to understand that he would become ruler of a vast Arab kingdom stretching from the north of Syria to the Arabian peninsula, but in the Sykes-Picot agreement British and French diplomats agreed to divide the region into French and British spheres of influence. Then last year Britain’s foreign minister declared that Britain supported the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.

On the ground it is British and Commonwealth forces who are doing most of the fighting against the Turks, although Arab forces loyal to Sharif Hussein have established themselves in Damascus. Britain’s contradictory agreements mean that it will have to disappoint someone; to make sure it is not them, the French today land in Beirut. The French have long cultivated links with Lebanon, particularly with the region’s Christian communities, and they are determined to stake their claim to the region and use it as base to assert their rights in Syria.

Turkey is now in a desperate state. The British have overrun Palestine and Syria and will soon be in a position to press on into the Anatolian heartland. No help can be expected from Germany, which has requested an armistice from the Allies and has been separated from Turkey by the surrender of Bulgaria. Realising that they are staring defeat in the face, the Turkish government resigns, with the ruling triumvirate of Enver (war minister), Talaat (Grand Vizier and minister of the interior) and Djemal (proconsul in the Middle East) departing the political stage. Now the delicate process of forming a new government to negotiate an armistice with the Allies begins.

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Beirut (The Illustrated First World War: Occupied by the Allies: Beirut—A Famous Port of Syria)

3/10/1918 Allenby lays down the law to Faisal

The people of Damascus are still celebrating their deliverance from Turkish rule, though incidents of looting carried out by Bedouin followers of the Arab army may have dampened the mood somewhat. Now Emir Faisal arrives, intent on staking his father’s claim to the city as capital of the Arab kingdom promised by the British. After riding triumphantly into the city on horseback, he meets Allenby in the Victoria Hotel. The two have not met previously. It is not a meeting of equals, Allenby disabusing Faisal of any notions he might have developed. Faisal is informed that the Balfour Declaration means that Palestine is outside his father’s domain, while Lebanon will be coming under French control in line with the Sykes-Picot agreement. The flag of Sharif Hussein, Faisal’s father, can continue to fly in Damascus, but so long as the war continues all formerly Turkish territory will be effectively under British military control.

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Emir Faisal and General Allenby (Syrian History)

1/10/1918 The fall of Damascus #1918Live

The success of Allenby‘s offensive against the Turks has led to a collapse of their position in Palestine and Syria. Having cleared the Turks out of northern Palestine and seized the Transjordan town of Amman, British and Commonwealth forces are pressing on towards Damascus, the centre of Turkish power in the Levant. Also racing towards Damascus are Arab followers of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, self-declared King of the Arabs; these men are a mix of regular troops and Bedouin tribesmen who have attached themselves to the cause of the Arab Revolt. Hussein himself is an old man and has remained in southern Arabia, but his son Faisal is with the Arab army.

Sharif Hussein hopes to establish an Arab kingdom with Damascus as its capital; he knows that in the Sykes-Picot agreement the British have promised Syria to the French, but he hopes that if his followers can establish themselves in Damascus then facts on the ground will trump past agreements. Travelling with Faisal is the British liaison officer T.E. Lawrence, who is personally supportive of Arab ambitions versus those of the French.

In the end the first Allied troops to reach Damascus are a party of Australian cavalrymen who find that the Turks have abandoned the city. The leading citizens of Damascus have already taken down all Turkish flags and replaced them with emblems of Sharif Hussein. The British decide to hush up news of the Australians’ being the first into Damascus. For now the ambitions of Sharif Hussein and his son must be pandered to, so the British prepare for Faisal’s men to make a grand triumphant entrance to the city at which they will they formally receive the surrender of Damascus from the local notables.

25/9/1918 As his men take Amman, Allenby prepares to march on Damascus

Turkish forces in Palestine are in disarray following Allenby‘s successful offensive. Success on the coastal plain has allowed the British to make gains further inland. Success across the Jordan had proved elusive earlier in the year but now at last Allenby’s men take Amman.

Henry Wilson, the chief of staff of the British army, is pressing Allenby to exploit the Turks’ discomfiture by advancing with haste to Aleppo in northern Syria, from where Anatolia itself can be threatened with invasion. But Allenby is more cautious, fearing the consequences of an over-hasty advance (with the capture of Townshend‘s army at Kut in 1916 serving as a warning of the possible consequences of throwing caution to the wind). Nevertheless, he is not going to allow the Turks an opportunity to retreat and regroup. He is now preparing for his men to advance on Damascus, capital of Syria. The fall of this city will make clear to all that Turkish dominance of Arab lands has come to an end.

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Amman (Wikipedia: Second Battle of Amman)