HOW MANY ARABS FOUGHT WITH THE BRITISH?
Many thousands of Moslems, particularly from the Indian Empire, fought bravely and honourably with the British in both World War I and World War II.
"This man, in his own country, prayed we know not to what powers. We pray them to reward him for his bravery in ours." An inscription on the grave of an unknown Indian soldier, who fell in France.
David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, noted that, in contrast with the Moslems in the British Empire, most Arabs fought for their Turkish rulers.
(The Turks had, after all, ruled there for about 400 years and most Arabs- and Jews- thought it likely they would remain there for another 400 years. It is hard to blame the Arabs for fighting with the Turks- and practically all the Arabs in Palestine did)
“The Arabs of Ramleh gave us an amusing incident yesterday which accurately reflects their attitude towards us. A large batch of Turkish prisoners was being marched through the village but they were not preceded by their British Guard. The Arabs, thinking it was the return of the Turkish Army, turned out in force, yelling with delight and waving Turkish flags: it was not till the end of the column appeared and they saw British soldiers with fixed bayonets that they realized their mistake and great was their confusion.” Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, December 2, 1917.
Faisal's supporters in Arabia were the exception. They fought with the British.
"Lawrence’s army amounted to only 1,800 men in his most famous action, the capture of Aqaba in the summer of 1917, and only 600 of his men took part in General Allenby’s campaign to conquer Jerusalem.
The British treasury paid, in gold, the equivalent of $20,000,000 for Arab cooperation. That comes to $11,111 for each one of the 1,800 Arabs who fought at Aqaba."
British Government Archives. ( C:\WINDOWS\Desktop\The Roadmap to\Arabs, Jews & Promised Land.htm )
"The Emir Faisal, in addressing the Paris Peace Conference in February 1919, turned the few train wreckings by his Bedouins into an "advance of 800 miles by the Arab army." The army (of 600 men) did, in fact, move about 800 miles north- ward, but most of the advance took place only after the British, Australian, and French forces (and in the latter stage a Jewish force) had already driven out the Turks. The size of the army, Faisal claimed, was 100,000, and it had suffered 20,000 casualties. To top it all, his army, he declared, had taken 40,000 prisoners. This tale, however, so suited the British interests at the time that it was only eighteen years later that the British Prime Minister, who had been present at Faisal's speech, described his figures as "Oriental arithmetic." At the time the statement was woven into the fable, disseminated by the British, and accepted by the world at large as a measure of the scope and impact of the "Revolt in the Desert." " From "A Garland of Myths" by Shmuel Katz (Chapter 6- Battleground)
“To claim to have inflicted heavy military losses on an enemy makes this a fact, even if no military action whatever took place” (Laffin, The Arab Mind, p.50).
“When we Arabs praise some imaginary deed, we are carried away by the same feeling of satisfaction that we would feel if we had really carried it out” (the editor of Al-Ahram. Quoted in John Laffin, Fedayeen: The Arab-Israeli Dilemma, p. 105).
"1918 British officer T.E. Lawrence -dubbed Lawrence of Arabia – and the Arab forces of Emir Faisal capture the Palestinian city of Damascus from the Turks." The Daily Telegraph [Sydney], October 1, '1997)
Actually the Australian Light Horse captured the city well before Lawrence got there....
“Australian mounted troops entered Damascus on the night of September 30. At 6 o'clock in the morming the city was occupied...” The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) October 4, 1918,
T.E. LAWRENCE AND THE ARAB UPRISING.
Lawrence of Arabia is one of those difficult to define characters who is a larger than life hero in the minds of some, yet while history supports some of the legend, is probably over-rated. This is no doubt partially due to the huge Hollywood Movie in which some of the historical inaccuracies were quite laughable, yet over-all was a good film, which always lulls one into a sense of false security.
Let's stick to some historical facts that can be backed up by other sources. This is perhaps the best way. Many years ago as a Police Officer I was trained to gather the evidence, seek out the facts to substantiate it and only then formulate a definative opinion. All Military History should be viewed in the same light....everyone sees things in a different manner. Napoleon can be a hero to one man and a villain to another. Mussolini brought order to some, and was a murderous dictator to others. A neutral view of all the personalities will gain you a better insight into history.
Lawrence had been attached to the British GHQ in Cairo because his knowledge of some areas of Palestine was valuable. He was an Oxford Don and an extremely intelligent young man. Pre-war he had travelled much of the area as an archeologist and no doubt, if he had seen the modern movies would probably have written himself up as an Indiana Jones type character, for he was his own best publicist. Factually his job was probably quite boring for a man of his intellect and even the movie acknowledges he had a small crowded office with the job of gathering intelligence about the Ottoman forces in his region. Intelligence is a vital job, one sadly overlooked by wargamers and often by the military. Lawrence however was a young man and craved more excitement. Cairo must have been a strange place to work in as during much of the early period of WW1 the old boy system was still in force and there were over a hundred officers of Brigadier General and higher, each with his own staff, resident in the city. His notorious lack of care for uniform and the army 'system' would have certainly made him a bit conspicuous.
The story goes that Lawrence was given the opportunity to journey to and make contact with Arab forces, who were already agitating against Ottoman-Turkish rule. He encouraged them to fight various battles, arranged weapons and supplies etc. He is supposed to have led the Arab forces into battle and generally cause mayhem for the Turks. The forces he was with suffered some setbacks and melted away, but he later returned to re-raise them and lead them to a triumphant capture of Damascus and destruction of the Ottoman Armies.
Ok. So thats how the story goes. His contacts with Arab forces are confirmable and he was one of the officers involved in getting arms and supplies to them. In the 'European' racial attitudes of the day he was probably seen by many Westerners as the great white leader helping free the despised Arabs from the even more despised Turks. Yet, in the history of pre-war Ottoman Empire there had been surprisingly few dissenting elements in Arab lands because of a tradition of respect for all religious groups and races. Ottoman rule had not been as all dominating as British rule in parts of their Empire. There were exceptions of course, the Armenians being a particularly dark one. The Balkan wars brought about a more 'European' line of thought in Constantinople and this spread thoughout the Empire with a subsequent devaluation of Arab traditions and values. Since a third of the Empire was Arab, this was not taken well. Secret societies sprang up and resistance to Turkish rule hardened, this brought on tough crack downs and so began a cycle of growing revolt and disatisfaction which was not in the best interests of the Ottoman Army since such a large proportion were Arabs.This unhappiness was not, however, as deep rooted as one might think and is the reason why it took so long to get the Arabs to rise.
The British therefore needed to forment 'trouble' in order to get the Arabs to rebel against the Turks. The 'Arabs' is a very wide term to describe numerous tribes and groups many of who would rather fight each other than the Turks. For this purpose only an Arab leader would suffice and I believe the rise of Hussayn and his personal desire to see independence for Arab Territory provided much more of a leadership base. Sharif Hussayn proclaimed a revolt in 1916 and took over Mecca, then captured various other towns and ports which forced the "Turkish" garrison of Medina to adopt a defensive posture.
Aziz al Masri had served with the Sanussi, although born in Egypt and had the rank of Major when he joined Hussayn. There can be little doubt that he got much of the organisation of the Arab Army of Revolt going well before the arrival of Allied liason officers; including Lawrence. Besides the purely tribal elements of the force, made so popular in the Movie, there had to be a hard core of trained troops and these were mostly ex Ottoman officers and soldiers who either defected, or joined from prisoner of war camps. The British Colonel Joyce, who was actually senior to Lawrence and supposedly in command, is usually linked more with this Sharifian Regular force. He was a pre-war regular officer and as such probably got on better with Aziz al Masri. History has not given him the same PR coverage as Lawrence.
Because Hussayn held Mecca, the Holy City for all Moslems, his call for a Holy War against Turkish rule carried more weight and I believe Lawrence would certainly not have been able to bring on a revolt of the size that occurred, purely for British interests. Besides, although conveniently left out of the movie, the French had quite a bit to do with it and sent troops, while Italian Naval units helped secure the ports and ensure Hussayn's supplies. The Arabs had their own agenda and I believe that the Allies were merely part of it.
Even the Turks themselves had used Arab auxillaries in raids against Egypt in the early part of the war and found them very unreliable. They blame much of the failure of the Sinai expedition on the Arab supporting forces. One can't therefore expect these tribesmen to do a sudden about face and become brilliant horse soldiers all because of the presence of some Allied Officers and one in particular. It is illogical and unlikely. The 'regularising' of some of the forces was therefore vital and although Hollywood again conveniently left them out, we know they marched hard and fought well. One of the best units being the Camel Corps, most of whom were ex Ottoman Camel troops, in which army they had already achieved a high reputation.
Lawrence did however carry out a brilliant raid on Akaba, which resulted in the
capture of a town and fortress that should probably never have fallen, were it not for the element of surprise and sheer audacity of his actions and planning. The bulk of his force were local Arabs and it must be remembered that Lawrence never had a continuous command of more than his own bodyguard. As the 'revolt' passed through territories, so the local Arabs took part and then dropped out again when the war moved on. Only a few hundred of the 'Regular' troops of the Sharifian army went all the way to Damascus. The rest were continually coming and going. The fact that these forces were continually changing cannot be stressed highly enough. Most wargamers envisage a force of Arabs that rose up in the Hijaz and swept right across to Damascus. This is quite incorrect.
Arab forces carried out many raids on Ottoman lines of communications but in the early part of the campaign this was confined almost exclusively to the Hijaz region, well East of the area where the main armies of both sides were squaring off against each other. The Allies had not done well against the Turks anywhere until the battle of Beersheba, on the Palestine front turned the Gaza line. Suddenly things were fluid and many Arabs previously unconvinced, could see that the days of Turkish rule might well be numbered. Besides the British General now appointed to the Middle East had the fortunate name of Allenby, which when spoken with the right accent, sounded like the name of a man who had been prophesised to liberate the Arabs.
Lawrence of Arabia, as he was self styled after the war, had a bad reputation with some of the Australian mounted forces in Palestine. These troops, known as the Australian Light Horse were in the action at Beersheba. Their charge at the end of a battle hanging in doubt and with night rapidly approaching, won the day. Yet the history reports of the unreliabilty of the troops of Colonel Lawrence and of their failure to show up on several occasions. The ALH, unlike many other formations that gravitated back and forth between Palestine and the Western Front, were on the spot for the whole war. They were the spearhead of Allenby's forces. As such they were a proud and battle hard force that naturally resented much of the post war grandstanding by proponents of the "Lawrence of Arabia" stories.
The taking of Damascus is a prime example. In the movie one is left to think this was achieved by Lawrence and he conveniently allows one to think so in his own books. In actual fact, the city had been in a shaky situation for days and in the 48 hours prior to his arrival. The defence had originally been the job of Ali Riza Pasha el Rikabi, who had been born in Baghdad and was himself an Arab who had been trained at the Turkish Military Academy. After years of service he became a Lt.General and although somewhat suspected by his superiors, was given command of Damascus. After planning its defence, he rode forward to meet the oncoming Australian forces under General Chauvel and gave them the plans. He wanted the capture of the city to be as bloodless as possible and invited them to push on. It is significant that he approached the "REGULAR" troops advancing on Damascus, not the forces under Lawrence, with whom he could have easily made contact.
The famous Turkish General Djemal Pasha, was however nearby and rode to see if he could do something about it. He called a meeting of the notables but found the situation hopeless as they were also quite decided that the city should pass to British control without any fighting. Emir Said was jealous of the oncoming Hussayn, but none the less devoted to the Arab cause and hearing reports that the Turks intended to set fire to the town as British approached, he prevailed upon Djemal to leave as cavalry were already approaching. Flags of the Hejaz revolt were already flying in the town and seeing the situation was hopeless, the Turkish officer rode off to Beirut, escaping capture as the road itself was cut off by 5th ALH Brigade troops only two hours later.
Damascus remained in a state of uncertainty for the rest of the 30th of Sept. 1918. Some Turkish troops still straggled through, a large garrison remained and a large hospital was overflowing, but the Turkish forces were in no way in control. There was some disorder on the streets overnight.
At first light, troops of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade moved off under orders to cut off retreating Turkish troops on the road to Homs. The shortest way however, appeared to be through Damascus itself. By 5am this was what they were doing with scouts leading well ahead. On the way they passed through the Barada Gorge which was littered with wrecked German and Turkish vehicles and captured a troop train in the course of which they took 480 prisoners and large stocks of gold and coin. Of more interest to them was a stock of fine German Cigars and the horsemen galloped on puffing away on their captured supply. By 6am they were in Damascus having encountered only a few snipers and galloped past the Turkish Barracks where several thousand surpised soldiers were assembling sleepily for breakfast and too startled to resist. Sometime between 6.30am and 7am Emir Said as Civil Governor met with Major Olden (2iC 10th ALH) in the Serai which was packed with notables. The Emir then surrendered the town with great dignity and welcomed the British Army. He then wrote this out formally.
Having more pressing things to do however, the 3ALHB then galloped on with the help of an Arab guide provided by the Emir and were soon beyond the city in pursuit of the Turkish and German rearguard. Not long after they had left, advance troops of the Indian 14th Cavalry Brigade entered the city and Lawrence, followed behind them with his Irregulars. He was nearly two hour behind the 10th ALH. The Arab troops of Lawrence galloped about putting on a great show of celebration and were later followed by Bedouin intent on looting. There is no account of these irregulars doing anything other than loot and ride about noisily. By 8.30am even General Chauvel, Commander of the Desert Mounted Corps, to which the ALH, belonged had driven into Damascus without difficulty.
Meanwhile, troops of the 4th and 12th ALH had been pushing into the outskirts of Damascus from 6am but engaged in mopping up the Turkish forces there. A hundred men of the 4th approached the Barracks the 10th had galloped past shortly before and some 12,000 Turkish troops were persuaded to lay down their arms. The Indians swept the streets clear of stragglers and Damascus was secure. The great myth of the capture of Damascus by Lawrence of Arabia, is therefore quite untrue. He was little more than just one of those present. The only fighting, if you could call it that was when civil authorities asked permission to disperse the looting Bedouin, which, once this was granted, they did mostly with warning shots and blows with sticks or the flat of swords.
The fall of Damascus can therefore be accredited to the local Arab leaders who were determined it would not be fought over and to the Australian and Indian troops who not only entered first, but engaged in mopping up the last Turkish troops present. No doubt the presence of the Arab Revolt troops nearby had a dramatic effect on the attitude of the populace but even then, one must allow credit for their own leaders, not just Lawrence.
If all this gives the impression I am not a fan of Lawrence, that would be unfair. I have no doubt he was an innovative and imposing personality - the sort of unlikely leader that seems to spring up in any war. That he can be given as much credit as he has been given I seriously doubt and based on my own reading, would deny. He was a man. Like all of us he probably had his good points and his bad. He will, however, always be a special part of the history of WW1.
In World War II, the Arabs were very slow to enter the war against Hitler.
Only Transjordan went along with the British in 1939.
Iraq was taken over by pro-Nazis in 1941 and joined the Axis powers.
Most of the Arab states sat on the fence, waiting until 1945 to see who would win. By then, Germany was doomed and, since it was necessary to join the war to qualify for membership in the nascent United Nations, the Arabs belatedly began to declare war against Germany in 1945:
Egypt declared war on February 25 1945.
Syria declared war on February 27, 1945.
Lebanon declared war on February 28, 1945.
Saudi Arabia declared war on March 2, 1945.
THE AGREEMENT WITH THE EMIR HUSAYN 1915
The exchange of letters between the British and the Emir Husayn 1915.
The Sykes-Picot agreement 1915.
HOW MANY ARABS FOUGHT WITH THE BRITISH?
HOW MANY JEWS FOUGHT WITH THE BRITISH?
THE BALFOUR DECLARATION 1917.
The fall of Jerusalem 1917
Is Jordan Palestine?
ZIONIST PROPOSALS 1919
THE WEIZMANN/FAISAL AGREEMENT 1919
Lawrence’s Middle East peace plan
The League of Nations 1920
The San Remo agreement 1920
The White Paper 1922
The White Paper 1930
The Hope-Simpson report 1936
The British in Palestine 1936
The White Paper 1939
Winston Churchill on the Jews
THE FORSAKEN PROMISE