The Ottoman Turks had controlled the Arabs and the Middle East for four centuries. Sharif Husayn encouraged by his correspondence with the British launched the famed Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire (June 5, 1916). Husayn declared himself "King of the Arabs" (October 1916). The Arab revolt in the Hejaz broke out, surprising the Ottomans (June 5, 1916). British and French agents played a major role in inducung the Arab rising. The Arabs, however, had no real idea as how to fight the Ottomans. The were also deeply divided by tribes which made any united action dufficult. The Arab
Revolt was led chiefly by Col. T.E. Lawrence, Emir Faisal, and his father Sherif Hussein, "King of the Hejaz". The first major success was tsking the Ottoman garison at Aqaba. The Arab Revolt broke out in full force (January-September 1918). Conducted by guerrelia tactics conceived by Col. Lawrence Lawrence himself is a man of legend. He was a junior inteligence officer stationed in Egypt with the British Army. He had an academic background, hardly a person one would except to launch an important guerilla war. When weeks of arriving in Arabia, however, he helped the Arabs seize Aquaba whivh the Brirish thought was inpregnable and then launch the successful military operations of the Arab revolt. Lawrence helped knit together poorly armed, often hostile desert tribes and wage war against their well-armed Turkish overlords. They began blowing up trains in hit and run ttacks that the Turks were unable to defend against. The attraction for the Arab warrirs was largely the booty to be obtained in the attacks and not forging an Arab state. This was the vision of Sharif Husayn and Emir Faisal, along with Lawrence. [Schneider] The Arabs in a year largely took control of Arabia cutting rail lines. Isolated Ottoman garrisons were besieged throughout the Peninsula. The Ottomans hard pressed by the British in Palestine were unable to deal with the Arab Revolt. The War then moved to Palestine as the the British pressed their attack from Egypt.
The Ottoman Turks controlled the Arabs and the Middle East for four centuries. The Ottomans were one of the great world empires. As a result of military advances, the Ottomans expanded into Arab lands of the Middle East and Christian lands in the Balkans. The Turks were thus a minority in their own Empire. And the Arabs were one of the principal constiuents. The Arabs today commonly refer to Christian European imperialism, but the primary historical experience was Muslim Ottoman imperialism. The most notable aspect of the Arab lands before and during the Ottoman Empire was the lack of change. Photographic images taken during the kater Ottoman era show a society and opeole that had changed very little for millenium, a period during which Christian Europe had undrgone enormous change and innovation. The Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire were among the pooret and most backward areas of the workld. Few Arab scholars address the question as how a people coukd have been so static for such a long period of time. After the outbreak of World War I in Europe, the Ottomans, encouraged by the Germans, with whom they had close ties, decided to enter the War (October 1914). The Ottomans fought World War I on several fronts. Their primary war goal was go win back territory in the Caucases lost to Tsarist Russia. The Ottoman Empire also bordered on Egypt which as a result of the Suez Canal was a British protectorate. This opened up a new front at considerable distance from the Empire's Turkish heartland.
The Hejaz Railway was a 1050mm gauge railway originally built by the Ottoman Empire to maintain their hold on the Hejaz. Arabia was not a wealthy province of the Empire. Thus the freight carried on the Railway was not of much commercial importance. It was important to maintain Ottoman garrisons on the Arabian Peninsula. Its other principal importance was to transport pilgrims undertaking the Haj from the city of Damascus to Medina in Arabia. Before the railway this was an ardous journey. Pilgrims from throughout the Ottoman Empire could easily reach Damascus, but getting further south to Medina and Mecca was an ordeal. The railway was an enormos civil engineering project. The Ottomans built it by appealing for donations from Moslems seeking to make the their pilgrimage to Mecca. The main line was built by a multiracial labour force supervised by a German engineer. It was 820 miles (1,320 kilometres) long and transversed some very rough terraine.
The Ottomans constructed the mainline (1901-08). It was one of the principal Ottoman rail lines, although usage other than military and pilgrims was limited. The Railway not only transversed diffifukt terraine, but cut across a land barely touched by time. The Arabs inhabiting the area lived iun a society that was littke chbged for a millenium. Thge Railway was one of the few features of modern technology to reach the Arabian Peninsula. And it was not popular. The bedouins benefitted from controlling the norther Haj routes and the Railway deprived them from the income from the pilgrims. As a result, even before World War I and the appearance of Lawrence, there were occasional Bedouin attacks on the Railway.
The Arab Revolt is commonly dated to 1916. But Arab resentment to Ottomon rule had been simmerung for some time. There were occassional Arab attacks on Ottomon outposts. These were not entirely nationalist motivated attacks, but probably more along the lines of brigandigh. The Ottomaons responded with reprisal attacks on Arab tribal encampments believed to be harboring the Arab fighters/brigands. This took various forms. Before World War I the Ottomons used aircraft to attack both armed nomads and unarmed civilians. This was cheaper than mounting a major ground campaign. This began in 1912, meaning 2 years before World War I broke out. As civilian encampments were easuier to find than armed nomads, the Ottomons attacks often targetted civilians. The Ottomon objective was to drive the Arabs encampments to more distant locations, far from the Ottoman controlled cities and outposts and that the Hejaz Railway.
Sharif Husayn encouraged by his correspondence with the British launched the famed Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire (June 5, 1916). Husayn declared himself "King of the Arabs" (October 1916). The Arab revolt in the Hejaz broke out, surprising the Ottomans (June 5, 1916).
British and French after the Ottomons declared war and tried to invade Egypt and seize Suez decided to take advangtage if the sutuation and ciontact the Arabs. Allied agents thus played a major role in inducung the Arab rising. The Suez Canal was the British lifeline to India. The Ottomans in Palestine posed a threat to the Canal and had already launched an offensive to take the Canal. The British were building up their forces in Egypt. The Arabs were seen as a useful potential diversion to distract the Ottoman forces. The British did not expect an Arab Revolt to actually succeed, but the diversion was seen as useful.
The Ottomans conquered Egypt and other Arab lands (16th century). Control over Arabia was, however tenuous, the Ottomons saw the importance of maintaining control over Mecca. Ottoman control over Arabia varied over time, Egypt moved toward independence, and France moved to control much of North Africa (19th century). Much of the rest of the Arab lands were firmly controlled by the Ottomans. The Arabs as a result were the largest non-Turkish element of the Empire. The Arabs were not a united people. Many were loyal to their tribe, but had no concept of Arab nationality. Arabs like other subject people had begun to think about independence, but such nationalist thought was not widespread. The Arabs were also deeply divided by tribes which made any united action difficult. The Arab Revolt was led chiefly by Col. T.E. Lawrence, Emir Faisal, and his father Sherif Hussein, "King of the Hejaz".
T.E. Lawrence Lawrence was born in Tremadoc, Caernarvonshire in Wales (188). He was the illegitimate son of Thomas Chapman. His father left his wife, who had refused to agree to a divorce. He then established a new home with Sarah Junner, who had been the governess in his household. T.E. was thgeir third son. Iligitimacy was still a oroblem in British society. Ironically was totally unacceoptable in Arab society. He was a bright child and an exceptional student. What woukd have been a quiet academic life was interupted by World War I. Because of his education, Lawrence was awarded a commission. He was assigned as a junior British officer to the inteligence unit of the British Army headquaters in Cairo because of his language skills. He has been decribed as an archaeological scholar, adventurer, and military strategist. He is an enigmatic figure who continues to fascinate historians who still debate his role and importance in the Arab Revolt. With his academic background, he was hardly a person one would except to launch an important guerilla war. This us, however, precisely what he did. He became a legend known to us today as 'Lawrence of Arabia' because of the practical role he played in the Arab revolt and the rather romantic publicity created by a young American journalist--Lowell Thomas. After the War he wrote The Seven Pillars of Wisdom about his World war I expeiences with the Arabs (1927). Lawrebce became an international celebrity after the War, but was disilusioned by post-War Bruitish abd French policies toward the Arab and retreated to a life of obscurity.
The first major success was taking the holy city of Mecca. This was an action of enormous symbolism among the Aran tribes. It also cut the Ottoman garrisons in the south off from resupply. It was at this time that Lawrence arrives on the scene. The British were still thinking along conventional lines. It was Lawrence as he explains in his book, saw that the key to defearing the Ottomns was the Hejaz Railway. Arabia encompases a huge area. The Ottomons could not begin to occupy the entire peninsula. What they did was to fortify strongpoints at strategic areas. The lightly armed Arab irregulsrs quickly learned that they could not attack these stringpoints and their heavily armed garrisons. The Ottomans had, however, a weakness. They needed the regular arrival of supplies to mauitain these garrisons. And these supplies could only arrive over the Hejaz Railway. And Lawrence soon realized that not only the Arab irregulars could easily attack the railway, but the booty obtained by such attacks fit into the arab traditions of desert raiding. The various tribes could easily be convinced to join the campaign even if they did not yet influenced by Arab nationis. The next important achievement of the Arab Revolt was taking the Ottoman garison at Aqaba. This provided a port through which the British could easily supply the Arabs with weapons and supplies. The Arab raids soon severed the track between Ma'an and Medina. The Arab Revolt broke out in full force (January-September 1918). Conducted by guerrelia tactics conceived by Col. T.E. Lawrence The first target was Turkish-occupied Wejh. One author writes,"Though pleased that the town had fallen, Lawrence was furious that the attack even took place. He felt these casualties were unecessary and they simply could have been avoided. .... It was not the first time Lawrence would butt heads with the professional officers over actions. However, Wejh was now under Arab control and would now be established as aase to make attacks on the nearby Hjaz Railway. With Abdullah and Ali staying in the south, Medina and its garrison woukld stay isolated, esentially trapped. From Wejh, the next move north would be Akaba." [Berton] When weeks of arriving in Arabia, Lawrence helped the Arabs seize Aquaba which both the Brirish and the Ottomans thought was inpregnable. The Arab Army then launched the successful military operations of the Arab revolt. Lawrence helped knit together poorly armed, often hostile desert tribes and wage war against their well-armed Turkish overlords. They began blowing up trains in hit and run ttacks that the Turks were unable to defend against. The Arabs were supported by Hejaz Armoured Car Battery, French troops supoporting Laurence, and pilots of the British Royal Flying Corps. The Arabs in a year largely took control of Arabia cutting rail lines. Isolated Ottoman garrisons were besieged throughout the Peninsula.
The attraction for the bedouine irregulsrs who joined Lawrence abnd the northern Arab Army was largely the booty to be obtained in the attacks and not forging an Arab state. Most dis not have a concept of the Arabs, but were loyal to their tribal leaders. This was the vision of Sharif Husayn and Emir Faisal, along with Lawrence. [Schneider]
The Ottomans hard-pressed by the British in Palestine were unable to deal with the Arab Revolt. The War then moved to Palestine as the the British pressed their attack from Egypt.
Berton, Joseph. T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt (2011), 220p.
Lawrence, T.E. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Schneider, James J. Guerrilla Leader: T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt (2011), 368p.
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