Great­est bat­tles

In­side Lawrence of Ara­bia’s tri­umph at the Bat­tle of Megiddo

All About History - - CONTENTS - Writ­ten by Charles Gin­ger

al­though the Ot­toman Em­pire had se­cretly al­lied with Ger­many on 2 Au­gust 1914, it was with a bomb­ing raid on Rus­sian ports in the Black Sea on 29 Oc­to­ber that year that it re­ally en­tered World War I. With an army of 210,000 men and, in En­ver Pasha, a war min­is­ter hell­bent on keep­ing the ‘sick man of Europe’ from dy­ing, the Ot­tomans were a for­mi­da­ble foe.

Recog­nis­ing the threat the East­ern power posed, Bri­tian tried to tackle it head on but this re­sulted in the dis­as­ter­ous Gal­lipoli Cam­paign. Hav­ing failed to force a pas­sage through the Dar­danelles, Bri­tain took a dif­fer­ent tact, de­cid­ing to ex­ploit the re­sent­ment fo­ment­ing within the Ot­tomans’ own bor­ders.

When an Arab leader by the name of Hus­sein bin Ali de­clared an upris­ing against his Ot­toman over­lords on 10 June 1916, the Bri­tish spot­ted an op­por­tu­nity to ham­per the en­emy war ma­chine

by forc­ing it to con­cen­trate soldiers on crush­ing the re­volt, thereby de­flect­ing troops away from the Suez Canal. Hav­ing promised the Arabs that Bri­tain would en­sure their in­de­pen­dence once the war was won, Hus­sein’s son ini­ti­ated the re­volt by at­tack­ing the Ot­toman gar­ri­son in Medina.

With the re­bel­lion un­der way, Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties in Egypt de­cided to send a young of­fi­cer by the name of Thomas Ed­ward Lawrence to He­jaz (now a re­gion in Saudi Ara­bia) in Oc­to­ber 1916 to aid the rebels. It was a re­lo­ca­tion that would prove stun­ningly suc­cess­ful as Lawrence em­barked on a glit­ter­ing guer­rilla cam­paign.

Hav­ing be­come a close ad­vi­sor to Hus­sein’s son Faisal, the man who would be­come known as Lawrence of Ara­bia helped the smaller guer­rilla force wage an ef­fi­cient war against im­por­tant Ot­toman po­si­tions. They sabotaged vi­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions and sup­ply routes, pre­vent­ing thou­sands of Ot­toman soldiers from train­ing their sights on the Bri­tish forces fight­ing in the re­gion un­der the com­mand of Gen­eral Ed­mund Al­lenby. A par­tic­u­larly clever strat­egy saw the tribal war­riors re­peat­edly at­tack­ing the He­jaz rail­way line run­ning south from Da­m­as­cus, thereby forc­ing the Ot­tomans to con­tin­u­ally de­fend the area and ex­pend time and en­ergy re­pair­ing sec­tions of the line.

Yet while such small-scale suc­cesses did dam­age the Ot­toman war ef­fort, Lawrence’s first ma­jor vic­tory wouldn’t come un­til the fall of Aqaba, a strate­gi­cally vi­tal port on the Red Sea.

Hav­ing proven that a well-or­gan­ised guer­rilla force could ham­per a far larger, bet­ter-armed en­emy, Lawrence’s ef­forts were sup­ported by the Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties, who by Septem­ber 1918 had set their sights on Da­m­as­cus.

De­spite the le­gend of TE Lawrence lib­er­at­ing Da­m­as­cus with his Arab army be­hind him (a myth pop­u­larised by the Hol­ly­wood film on his life), it is of­ten ar­gued that the Aus­tralian Light Horse brigade en­tered the city walls first, and the city’s gov­er­nor of­fered its sur­ren­der to the Aus­tralians. An In­dian reg­i­ment had also ap­par­ently passed through, mean­ing that TE Lawrence would have rid­den into well-trod­den ground.

Who­ever en­tered the city first, the cap­ture of Da­m­as­cus on 1 Oc­to­ber was rel­a­tively straight­for­ward given that the Ot­tomans were al­ready re­treat­ing.

How­ever, the city was only there for the tak­ing due to a com­bi­na­tion of Lawrence’s cam­paign and the de­ci­sive Al­lied vic­tory at the Bat­tle of Megiddo, an en­counter fought in the Holy Land, which paved the way for the cap­ture of Aleppo.

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