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The Battle for Syria 1918-1920, John D. Grainger

The Battle for Syria 1918-1920, John D. Grainger


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The Battle for Syria 1918-1920, John D. Grainger

The Battle for Syria 1918-1920, John D. Grainger

Despite its title the book mainly focuses on the battles of 1918 between the British and their allies under Allenby and the Ottoman Turks and their German allies, and in particular the campaign in Palestine and the advance to Damascus. The introduction covers the battles at Gaza and the political background to the fighting of 1918, and the main text begins with the advance towards Jericho. The heart of the book covers Allenby's successful campaigns in Palestine and Syria, which saw Allied armies capture Jerusalem, Damascus and end the war at Aleppo.

At the same time as covering the main military campaign, Grainger also looks at the developing political situation, with the British, French, Arabs and Jews all having expectations of the post-war settlement. Faisal and the Sharifians get the best press here - I would have liked more on the potential problems of imposing an Arabian regime in Syria and the civil was that saw the Sharifians actually lose control of the Arabian peninsula, two issues that are rarely examined when the post-war settlement of the Middle East is considered, but they are at least mentioned here.

The post-war chapters focus on four main topics - the status of the occupied territories between the end of the fighting and the peace treaty, the problems caused by the need to demobilise the conscript and volunteer armies, a rebellion that broke out in Egypt when it became clear that the pre-war status-quo wasn't going to be restored, and the establishment of French control in what became modern Syria (although this chapter ends before the French had really secured their position).

This is an excellent military history of Allenby's campaigns, with good material from the Ottoman side of the line. The Arab Revolt gets less coverage, and the post-war section comes across as a little opinionated in places, but is still is useful addition to the book.

Chapters
1 - Defeats
2 - The Turks
3 - The New Army
4 - The Arabs
5 - The French
6 - The Plan
7 - Preparations
8 - Preliminaries
9 - The Infantry Battle
10 - The Cavalry Battle
11 - The East, Haifa, Samakh
12 - Damascus and Beirut
13 - Aleppo and Haritan
14 - The Occupied Territories
15 - Problems with the Army
16 - Rebellion in Egypt
17 - France and Syria

Author: John D. Grainger
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Boydell Press
Year: 2013



The Battle for Syria

The publication of this book could hardly be more timely. For the past two years, Syria has scarcely been out of the world’s headlines as the government and various factions, mostly local but some from outside the country, engage in a ferocious struggle for supremacy. Meanwhile the more powerful and interested states in the international community, as well as the United Nations, make pronouncements, often take sides, but are able to do nothing, except to dither and wring their hands, while the slaughter carries on.

Most of the world’s onlookers, even Middle East experts, I suspect, are not always clear as to who is fighting who or exactly why. The situation is chronically confused, changeable and hard to interpret. Although this will be of little comfort, the events that led to the emergence of modern Syria some 90 years ago, and which are the subject of John Grainger’s lucid book, appear at first sight to be equally confusing.

Take, for example, the capture of Damascus in the autumn of 1918, an event that marked Turkey’s defeat in the region and was the springboard for the creation of the state of Syria. The city fell to two more or less independent allied armies, one composed of British imperial troops – mostly Australian and Indian, under the overall command of General Allenby – and the other led by TE Lawrence and his Arab insurgent forces. But which of these two forces was to be, literally, Syria’s kingmaker and install a new regime in the place of the ejected Turks?

Almost immediately more confusion ensued with the arrival at the coast of French warships sent to ensure France’s control of the new Syria under the hitherto secret Anglo-French Sykes-Picot agreement of 1915 aimed at dividing up much of the territory taken from Turkey in the Middle East between the two allied powers. Elsewhere in the wider region, the implications of the 1917 Balfour Declaration in favour of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine were unclear, but almost guaranteed to lead to conflict.

The vigorous French assertion of their right to control Syria, and also Lebanon, meant that the British were forced to renege on their existing plan to put their ally the Arab leader Prince Faisal bin Husain on the throne in Syria. In compensation, Britain quickly cobbled together a new state, Iraq, and installed Faisal as its first monarch. Amid this rapid drawing of frontier lines in the sand, local identities and susceptibilities were frequently ignored in favour of allied realpolitik. No wonder so much of this hastily reconstructed Middle East has subsequently experienced such instability and conflict.

In conclusion, Grainger argues – though admitting the perils of the ‘what if’ games of historical analysis – that Syria’s best chance of a stable, peaceful and perhaps more democratic future probably depended upon the implementation of the original plan to put Faisal at the head of a constitutional monarchy. “But the constitutional system, monarchy or not, would have involved Britain and France abandoning their normal imperialistic attitudes, and breaking their promises to each other in favour of an untried ruler in a devastated country,” Grainger argues, going on to point out that “Syrians have repeatedly attempted to set up a democratic system – in 1920, 1925, 1936, 1945–48 and now in 2011–12”.

Grainger is an admirably clear-headed guide through the historical quicksands and thickets of his subject matter. He is particularly good on the military complexities of the rapidly evolving situation, and has made excellent use of the available evidence, especially the accounts of many of the military men involved. As a result he has produced a learned, deeply considered and tightly written book that deserves to be seen as the definitive version of a momentous episode in the making of the modern Middle East.

Denis Judd is professor emeritus of imperial and Commonwealth history at the London Metropolitan University and the author of Empire: the British Imperial Experience from 1765 to the Present (IB Tauris, 2011)


This book charts the continuing war between Britain and France on the one side and the Turkish Empire on the other following the British capture of Jerusalem in 1917. It outlines how the British prepared for their advance, bringing in Indian and Australian troops how the Turks were defeated at the great Battle of Megiddo in September 1918 and how Damascus fell, the Australians and the Arab army, which had harassed the Turks in the desert, arriving almost simultaneously. It goes on to relate how the French arrived, late, to take over territory allocated to them in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1915, territory which included both Syria and Lebanon how influenza had a severely detrimental impact on the allied advance and how the Turks regrouped, successfully, north of Aleppo, and prevented further allied advance. The book also discusses the peace negotiations which followed the armistice, examining how nationalist aspirations were thwarted, how the French imperial grip on Syria was gradually strengthened, and how the Arab leader, Faisal, ousted from Syria, was provided with a kingdom by the British in Iraq. At a time when new turmoil in Syria is again in the headlines, this study provides exceptionally timely information on how Syria was fought over and shaped as rule over the country by the Turkish Empire was ended.

John D. Grainger is the author of numerous books for a variety of publishers, including five previously published books for Boydell and Brewer, including The Battle for Palestine, 1917 and Dictionary of British Naval Battles.
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This book charts the continuing war between Britain and France on the one side and the Turkish Empire on the other following the British capture of Jerusalem in 1917. It outlines how the British prepared for their advance, bringing in Indian and Australian troops how the Turks were defeated at the great Battle of Megiddo in September 1918 and how Damascus fell, the Australians and the Arab army, which had harassed the Turks in the desert, arriving almostsimultaneously. It goes on to relate how the French arrived, late, to take over territory allocated to them in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1915, territory which included both Syria and Lebanon how influenza had a severely detrimental impact on the allied advance and how the Turks regrouped, successfully, north of Aleppo, and prevented further allied advance. The book also discusses the peace negotiations which followed the armistice, examining how nationalist aspirations were thwarted, how the French imperial grip on Syria was gradually strengthened, and how the Arab leader, Faisal, ousted from Syria, was provided with a kingdom by the British in Iraq. At a time when new turmoil in Syria is again in the headlines, this study provides exceptionally timely information on how Syria was fought over and shaped as rule over the country by the Turkish Empire was ended.

John D. Grainger is the authorof numerous books for a variety of publishers, including five previously published books for Boydell and Brewer, including The Battle for Palestine, 1917 and Dictionary of British Naval Battles.


Contents

The Arab Revolt and the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence are crucial factors in the foundations of the Arab Kingdom of Syria. In the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence the promises of an Arab Kingdom were made by the British in return for an Arab uprising against the Ottomans. [1] : 209–215 As the promises of independence were being made by the British, separate agreements were being made including the Sykes–Picot Agreement with the French. Ultimately, the implementation of the Sykes–Picot Agreement would lead to the undermining and destruction of the Arab Kingdom of Syria. Despite the significance of the Arab Revolt to modern Arab countries formed in its wake, at the time there was significant distrust and even opposition to the idea of an Arab Kingdom or series of Arab Kingdoms.

This is due in part to the heavy influence of the French and the British in compelling the revolt and establishment of what is considered to be by modern standards puppet states. [6] : 185–191 Critics claim that this involvement of foreign powers in handing out large sums of money and military support to establish an empire that would be led by imperial aspirants, rather than legitimate Arab nationalists, is the primary cause for the lack of duration of the majority of the early Hashemite Kingdoms (Kingdom of Hejaz and Kingdom of Iraq). Critics go on further to claim it was anathema to many Arabs that the family of the Sharif of Mecca, the Hashemites, could wrest control from the Ottoman Sultan, with whom their loyalty had rested for centuries. [6] : 187

Near the end of World War I, the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force under command of Edmund Allenby captured Damascus on 30 September 1918. Shortly thereafter, on 3 October, Faisal entered the city. [1] : 30 [7] The jubilation would be short lived, as Faisal would soon be made aware of the Sykes–Picot agreement. Faisal had come to expect an independent Arab kingdom in the name of his father but was soon told of the division of territory and how Syria fell under French protective power. Faisal obviously did not appreciate this betrayal by the British but found reassurance in the knowledge that the actual settlement would be worked out at a later date when the war had ended. He was probably hoping that by then the British would have changed their support for French pretensions in Syria.

On 5 October, with the permission of General Allenby, Faisal announced the establishment of a fully and absolutely independent Arab constitutional government. [1] : 34 Faisal announced it would be an Arab government based on justice and equality for all Arabs regardless of religion. [8] Much to the chagrin of French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, the establishment of a semi-independent Arab state without international recognition and under the auspices of the British was disconcerting. Even reassurances by Allenby that all actions taken were provisional did not ease the looming tensions between the British, the French and the Arabs. For Arab nationalists, and many of the Arabs who fought in the Arab Revolt, this was the realization of a long hard-fought goal.

After the war, at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Faisal pushed for Arab independence. At the Conference, the victorious Allies decided what was to become of the defeated nations of the Central Powers, especially who was to control their territories, such as the Ottoman Empire's Middle East possessions. The status of the Arab lands in the Middle East was the subject of intense negotiations between the French and British. In May 1919, the French and British Prime Ministers met in Quai d’Orsay to decide between them their respective claims to territories or spheres of influence in the Middle East. The meeting decided that in return for a British guarantee of French control in Syria, the British would be given a mandate over Mosul and Palestine.

At about the same time, an American compromise resulted in an agreement to set up a commission to determine the wishes of the inhabitants. Even though they initially supported the idea, Britain and France eventually backed out leaving the King–Crane Commission of 1919 solely American. [6] : 268 The findings of the commission, not published until 1922 after the vote on the mandates in the League of Nations, indicated strong Arab support for an independent Arab state and opposition to a French presence. [9]

These events in Europe led Syrian nationalist societies like al-Fatat (the Young Arab Society) to make preparations for a national congress. These Syrian nationalist societies advocated complete independence for an Arab Kingdom that united Arabs under Faisal. The King–Crane Commission encouraged efforts to unify and hasty elections were called including representatives from all over the Arab lands, including Palestine and Lebanon, although French officials prevented many of their representatives from arriving. [10] The first official session of the Syrian Congress was held on 3 June 1919 and al-Fatat member Hashim al-Atassi was elected its president. [11] : 17

When the King–Crane Commission arrived in Damascus on 25 June 1919, it was met with a flurry of leaflets saying "Independence or Death".

On 2 July the Syrian National Congress in Damascus passed a number of resolutions calling for a completely independent constitutional monarchy with Faisal as king, asking for assistance from the United States, and rejecting any rights claimed by the French. [11] : 19 The resolutions defined their borders as

on the north, the Taurus Range on the south, a line running from Rafah to Al-Jauf and following the Syria-Hejaz border below 'Aqaba on the east, the boundary formed by the Euphrates and Khabur rivers and a line stretching from some distance east of Abu-Kamal to some distance east of al-Jauf on the west, the Mediterranean Sea. [12]

Any hope that Faisal may have had that either the British or Americans would come to his aid and counter French moves quickly faded, especially after the Anglo-French Agreement for the withdrawal of British troops from Syria and the end of the British military government in Syria. The British withdrew from the region on 26 November 1919. [2]

In January 1920, Faisal was forced into an agreement with France which stipulated that France would uphold the existence of the Syrian state and would not station troops in Syria as long as the French government remained the only government supplying advisers, counselors and technical experts. [13] : 167 News of this compromise did not bode well with Faisal's vehemently anti-French and independence-minded supporters who immediately pressured Faisal to reverse his commitment, which he did. In the aftermath of this reversal, violent attacks against French forces took place and the Syrian Congress assembled in March 1920 to declare Faisal the king of Syria as well as to officially set up the Arab Kingdom of Syria with Hashim al-Atassi as Prime Minister and Yusuf al-'Azma as Minister of War and Chief of Staff.

This unilateral action was immediately repudiated by the British and French and the San Remo Conference was called by the Allied Powers in April 1920 to finalise the allocation of League of Nations mandates in the Middle East. This was in turn repudiated by Faisal and his supporters. After months of instability and failure to make good on the promises to the French, the commander of French forces General Henri Gouraud gave an ultimatum to King Faisal on 14 July 1920 declaring he surrender or fight. [11] : 215

Worried about the results of a long bloody fight with the French, King Faisal surrendered. However, Yusuf al-'Azma, the defense minister, ignored the King's order, and led a small army to confront the French advance into Syria. This army depended mainly on individual weapons and were no match to the French artillery. At the Battle of Maysalun, the Syrian army was easily defeated by the French, with General al-'Azma being killed during the battle. The loss led to the siege and capture of Damascus on 25 July 1920 and the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon was put into effect thereafter.

After surrendering to French forces, Faisal was expelled from Syria and went to live in the United Kingdom in August 1920. In August 1921 he was offered the crown of Iraq under the British Mandate of Iraq.

A pro-French government under the leadership of 'Alaa al-Din al-Darubi was installed one day after the fall of Damascus, on 25 July 1920. [11] : 37 On 1 September 1920, General Gouraud divided the French mandate territory of Syria into several smaller states as part of a French scheme to make Syria easier to control.

The Kingdom, through its short and tumultuous existence, would become a subject of great inspiration to later Arab liberation movements. It would be the often-repeated story of an Arab people breaking out from their colonial bonds only to be castigated for their revolutionary fervor and for their resistance to the imperial powers. The symbolism of the fall of the Kingdom of Syria also imparted deep mistrust of European powers, who were seen as liars and oppressors.


The Battle for Syria 1918-1920, John D. Grainger - History

John D. Grainger. The Battle for Syria, 1918-1920. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer Ltd., 2013. 270 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-84383-803-6.

Reviewed by Michael Neiberg
Published on H-War (August, 2013)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

It is hard to escape the feeling that the press changed the title of this book to reflect the headlines coming out of Damascus today. Except for a brief conclusion and parts of the introduction, this book is not exclusively, or even mostly, about Syria. It deals with Palestine and Egypt as much, if not more, than it does with Syria. Thus the book really analyzes the entire British campaign for control of the Middle East from 1917 to 1920, mainly from the British perspective. At base, it argues that the diplomatic agreements made during the war had far less to do with the final settlement in the region than the military achievements (and a few failures) of the British army under Gen. Edmund Allenby. As British military power waned, so, too, did the extent of British reach, leaving the borders roughly where they are today.

This book is, in the final analysis, a military history. Grainger provides a great deal of detail on the movements of the British army, down to the regimental level. In fact, he provides far too much tactical detail for the purposes of the book. We learn much more about the Australians, New Zealanders, and Indians in the larger British army than we do about the Arabs, the Ottomans, or the French. Grainger sees the Arabs as a fissiparous group, much more interested in looting their allies and fighting one another than in serving as a viable force against the Ottomans. 

Although the approach is largely conventional, Grainger takes careful aim at several myths. He sees T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) as a vain amateur whose own self-delusional memoirs are virtually worthless. And while he, like most scholars, praises Allenby for his methods in the Palestine campaign, he does not shirk from criticizing Allenby’s slow movement into Syria. Perhaps more importantly, he shows that the Ottoman Empire retained significant combat power, even after the signing of the armistice. The rise to power of Mustapha Kemal after the war re-energized Ottoman forces at the same time that demobilization pressures weakened the British. Thus, Grainger rightly reminds us, we cannot stop our study of the Middle Eastern war on the European timeline. November 11, 1918 might make sense in Paris, but not in Damascus.

Consistent with the book’s central arguments, Grainger argues that neither the Arabs nor the French made enough of a military contribution to have a say in the final outcome of the borders of the Middle East. The French even lost Mosul, originally in their zone of influence under the terms of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. That agreement, like the Balfour Declaration, had political and social implications (both angered the Arabs with whom the British and French would have to work) but it was, in Grainger’s analysis, always subject to the military ability of the British or the French to enforce them.

Disappointingly, especially given its title, the book dedicates just one thirteen-page chapter to the French war to control Syria. Having lost any chance at Palestine, France made a stand in both Lebanon and Syria in order to increase its influence in the Levant not just at Arab expense, but at British expense as well. The French found the region an absolute shambles, the war having destroyed most of its financial, agricultural, and transportation infrastructures. The French needed to establish a government to deal with these problems, but lacked the military power to coerce recalcitrant Arabs into doing their bidding. Consequently, the Arabs concluded that they need only wait the French out, while France offered the Arabs too little to get their cooperation.

Moreover, as Kemal’s power grew in Turkey, the possibility existed that the Ottomans and Arabs might form an alliance of convenience aimed at kicking the French (and the British) out of the Levant for good. France thus found itself in an untenable position, one the British made worse by implicitly supporting the Arabs under Lawrence’s friend and Arab revolt leader Emir Faisal. The mandate system devised for the Treaty of Versailles abated, but did not solve, the crisis.

This discussion is fine as far as it goes, and Grainger’s great contribution in this book is to put the Middle Eastern war in a wider context than some previous scholars have done. But given the putative focus of the book on Syria, a lack of French sources is a serious problem. What he presents is less the French viewpoint than the British sense of the French viewpoint. We hear more about Allenby’s views of the situation in Syria than we do about those of Henri Gouraud, the flamboyant French commander in Syria. The talkative and boisterous Gouraud was not shy about sharing his views. It is a great pity that they do not appear here. Nor do we get an understanding of the viewpoints of French diplomats.

In fairness to Grainger, I suspect that this book was meant all along as a general overview of the British war in Palestine and Syria, not a detailed investigation of France’s war in the latter. In that task, he succeeds well. Few of the details in here will come as a great shock to specialists in Middle Eastern history or in the history of World War I. Nevertheless, the presentation here is more detailed and placed in a wider context than most.

Still, in the final analysis, this book tells us far less about Syria in these crucial years than it promises. That is unfortunate, because Grainger has written widely on the Middle East and, as he notes in the conclusion, is one of the few Western scholars to have spent any sizeable time in Syria. One hopes that in the future he might dedicate himself to a real, in-depth study of the impact of the First World War on Syria and what it tells us about the crisis there today.


Contents

Following the First Transjordan and the Second Transjordan attacks in March–April and April–May 1918, by the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF), which had been responsible for the Sinai and Palestine Campaign since March 1916, its commander General Edmund Allenby ordered the occupation of the Jordan Valley. He also ordered the front line be extended across the Judean Hills to the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the British infantry and Yeomanry cavalry regiments were redeployed to the Western Front to counter Ludendorff's German spring offensive and were replaced by British India Army infantry and cavalry. As part of re-organisation and training, these newly arrived soldiers carried out a series of attacks on sections of the Ottoman front line during the summer months. These attacks were aimed at pushing the front line to more advantageous positions in preparation for a major attack, and to acclimatise the newly arrived infantry. It was not until the middle of September that the consolidated force was ready for large-scale operations. [1]

On 19 September, the XXI Corps commanded by Lieutenant General Edward Bulfin had, with the support of a creeping barrage, broken through the Ottoman front line during the Battle of Sharon. In the afternoon the XX Corps commanded by Lieutenant General Philip Chetwode was then ordered to begin its own attack, supported by an artillery barrage. These attacks by both the XX and XXI Corps continued until midday on 21 September, when a successful flanking attack by the XXI Corps, combined with the XX Corps assault, forced the Seventh and Eighth Armies to disengage. The Seventh Army commanded by the Ottoman Army Ferik or Birinci Ferik, Mustafa Kemal retreated from the Nablus area towards the Jordan River, crossing at the Jisr ed Damieh bridge before the rearguard at Nablus was captured. The Desert Mounted Corps commanded by Lieutenant General Harry Chauvel advanced through the gap created by the XXI Corps infantry during the morning of 19 September to almost encircle the Ottoman forces fighting in the Judean Hills, capturing Nazareth, Haifa, Afulah and Beisan, Jenin and Samakh before advancing to Tiberias. During this time, Chaytor's Force commanded by Major General Edward Chaytor captured part of the retreating Ottoman and German column at the Jisr ed Damieh bridge to cut off this line of retreat across the Jordan River. To the east of the river, as the Fourth Army began its retreat, Chaytor's Force advanced to capture Es Salt on 23 September. Amman was captured on 25 September during the Second Battle of Amman where a strong Fourth Army rearguard was defeated on 25 September. [2]

Samakh was regarded by both Allenby, the British commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, and the German General Otto Liman von Sanders, commander of the Yildirim Army Group, as a key strategic point. The town controlled the most direct road to Damascus on the Ottoman lines of communication and the Palestine Railways which ran across a series of bridges across the Jordan River from Deraa. [3] [4]

It was clear, that only one course remained open to me. The Tiberias sector from Lake Hule to Samakh must be held with all the means at our disposal to prevent the pursuit overtaking us, whilst the formations retiring along the River Jordan and east of Jordan to the Yarmuk Valley sector, from Samakh to Der'a, must form [a] front for at least the time being.

During the unsuccessful attack of the 5th Cavalry Division on Nazareth in the early morning of 20 September, Liman von Sanders accompanied by General Kiazim, Major Prigge and Rittmeister Hecker, had escaped on their way to Damascus. They arrived at Tiberias during the afternoon of 20 September, before continuing on to Samakh and Deraa. [6] [7] [8] He alerted the garrisons he passed to the advance of the EEF and ordered the establishment of a rearguard line. The line was to run from Deraa down the Yarmuk River Valley, across the Jordan River and west to Samakh, around the shore of the Sea of Galilee to Tiberias and northwards to Lake Huleh. Two main roads and the railway lines to Damascus, would be protected and time gained for the development of the defence of Damascus, if the garrisons were not defeated. [4] [9] [10] Liman von Sanders described Samakh "as the essential link between the two main sectors of the line" but also "the weak link between the two-halves." [11] [12] He reinforced the garrison at Samakh with German machine gunners and ordered the commander, a German officer to hold the town to the last man. [9]

Asia Corps retreat Edit

By the morning of 21 September, German Colonel Gustav von Oppen's Asia Korps remained intact. It consisted of the 16th and 19th Divisions, the 701st Battalion was still complete with a troop and a squadron of cavalry, six machine guns and 18 light Bergmann machine guns, an additional machine gun company of six guns an infantry-artillery platoon with two mountain guns/howitzers, a trench mortar section with four mortars. The 701st Artillery Detachment consisted of two four-gun 77-millimetre (3.0 in), one four-gun 105-millimetre (4.1 in) howitzer batteries and the "Hentig" Machine Gun Detachment. The remnants of the 702nd and the 703rd Battalions were formed into a battalion to which a rifle company, a machine gun company and a trench mortar detachment were attached. [13]

With about 700 German and 1,300 Ottoman soldiers of the 16th and 19th Divisions, von Oppen succeeded in retreating towards Beisan via Mount Ebal during 21 September but was forced to leave behind all guns or baggage. They suffered some casualties when fired on by artillery, before bivouacking that night at Tammun with the 16th and 19th Divisions at Tubas, unaware that Desert Mounted Corps had already occupied Beisan. They were moving northwards from Tubas towards Beisan when von Oppen learned it had already been captured. He decided to advance during the night of 22 September to Samakh where he correctly guessed Liman von Sanders would order a strong rearguard action. However, Jevad, the commander of the Eighth Army ordered him to cross the Jordan instead he successfully got all the Germans and some of the Ottoman soldiers across before the 11th Cavalry Brigade attacked and captured the remainder, to finalise the capture of Afulah and Beisan. [14] Liman von Sanders was very critical of Jevad's intervention which considerably weakened the Samakh position, but von Oppen would have had to break through a whole cavalry division to get there. [15]

Reconnaissance by 4th Cavalry Division unit Edit

While the Central India Horse (10th Cavalry Brigade) or the 19th Lancers (12th Cavalry Brigade), 4th Cavalry Division, continued to hold the bridge at Jisr el Mejamie, captured at 05:00 on 21 September, during the Capture of Afulah and Beisan, one of their squadrons made a reconnaissance to Samakh to blow up the railway east of the town. The 10th Brigade relieved the 19th Lancers at Jisr el Mejamie on 23 September, so it was probably the 10th Brigade which carried out the reconnaissance. [16] [17] However, the patrol was forced to retire when heavily fired on by two 10.5 centimetres (4.1 inches) guns (also described as "two 4.2 guns,") from north east of the town, but they reported a train had arrived at Samakh which was still there at 11:00 on 24 September. [17] [18] [19]

Australian Mounted Division advance to Jisr el Mejamie Edit

Chauvel, commander of the Desert Mounted Corps, ordered the capture of the towns of Samakh and Tiberias to complete the strategic and tactical line held by his cavalry across the Esdraelon Plain from Acre north of Haifa on the Mediterranean Sea to Nazareth. On 24 September the Australian Mounted Division commanded by Major General Henry West Hodgson, was ordered to capture Samakh and the railway bridges over the Yarmuk gorge, four days after Liman von Sanders had alerted the rearguard garrison, which "led to the most fiercely–fought action of the whole pursuit" in preparation for a further advance towards Damascus. [4] [9] [10]

However Hodgson's reserve, the 11th Light Horse Regiment and one squadron of the 12th Light Horse Regiment, with the 4th Light Horse Brigade's headquarters and Machine Gun Squadron, were the only troops available. [4] [9] The 5th Light Horse Brigade was ordered at 15:10 on 24 September, while they were at Jenin, to send a regiment to reinforce the attacking force during its approach to Samakh. They sent the 15th Light Horse Regiment which reported at Samakh at 07:00 half an hour after the town was captured. [20] [Note 1] Meanwhile, the remainder of the 5th Light Horse Brigade stayed at Jenin until the evening of 25 September when they rode to the railway near Zerin, with Mount Gilboa "on their right," to water for a couple of days. [21]

The 4th Light Horse Brigade (less the 4th Light Horse Regiment and two squadrons or five troops of 12th Light Horse Regiment) arrived at Beisan at 13:45 on 24 September. Here they received Order No. 31 from the Australian Mounted Division to attack Samakh. After leaving Beisan for Jisr el Mejamie, at 16:35 they received a message dropped from an aircraft, which reported that Samakh was defended by 50 rifles and machine guns. They arrived at Jisr el Mejamie at 21:00 and made contact with the regiment of the 4th Cavalry Division, holding the bridge. [12] [22] A further order to capture Samakh was received at 22:10, which included the additional objective of reconnoitring towards Tiberias, where they were to cooperate with the 3rd Light Horse Brigade in capturing the town. [22] [Note 2] The orders gave the brigade commander, Brigadier General William Grant, the choice of attacking immediately, or waiting for the 4th Light Horse Regiment and the squadrons of the 12th Light Horse Regiment. He decided not to delay attacking the apparently weak rearguard, as he expected to be reinforced by the 15th Light Horse Regiment, 5th Light Horse Brigade, on the way to Samakh. [23] [24] If Grant had waited for reinforcements, the attack would have been in daylight, in full view of the defenders in the railway station building, which may have resulted in at least as many casualties, and perhaps many more, during a potentially more protracted fight. [9] [25]

Cavalry charge Edit

The 4th Light Horse Brigade crossed the Jordan and Yarmuk Rivers at Jisr el Mejamie at 02:30 on 25 September in order to arrive at Samakh before dawn, advancing along the railway line. Grant ordered the 11th Light Horse Regiment to attack mounted from the southeast at dawn, supported by machine guns which were to be deployed due south, on the railway. [17]

The attack began before dawn, when the two leading light horse squadrons were heavily fired on by rifles and machine guns from several outposts at 04:25, causing nearly 100 horse casualties. [9] [17] [26] No reconnaissance by the light horse had been possible, but the 19th Lancers reported that the village and station buildings lay at the end of a flat plain 2.5 miles (4.0 km) wide, without any cover and no apparent obstacles to a cavalry charge. [17] This unexpected fire revealed the garrison was deployed covering the open plain for some 700 yards (640 m) south of Samakh, extending on either side to the mountains. The 11th Light Horse Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J. W. Parsons, had planned to attack the garrison's flank, but as no flank attack was possible, he swung the regiment around to attack straight on. A and B squadrons galloped on either side of the railway line, with all 12 machine guns of the 4th Machine Gun Squadron providing covering fire for the charging squadrons. They fired at the flashes created by the Ottoman rifles and machine guns. [17] [27]

Both squadrons succeeded in entering the village, while one squadron of 12th Light Horse Regiment moved forward towards the town from the west, in support. The 11th Light Horse Regiment's reserve 'C' squadron moved forward to occupy Hill 377 on the eastern flank, watching the railway from Deraa and the road on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. Meanwhile, the 4th Light Horse Brigade Headquarters and the 12th Light Horse Regimental Headquarters, forming the attacking units' reserve, were deployed on the plain south of the town and east of the railway. Here they were heavily fired on by artillery, on the right flank near the Sea of Galilee, and forced to move to cover. [27] [28] Preston claims it was the 4th Light Horse Regiment which "was sent in mounted on the west." [29]

This cavalry charge was unique during the whole of the First World War, being the only one carried out in the dark and across country which had not been previously reconnoitred. [25] [30] The ground was found to be scattered with clumps of long spiked thistles, and a number of pitfalls causing nine men to be injured from falls during the charge. [17] [31]

Dismounted attack Edit

As soon as A and B Squadrons of the 11th Light Horse Regiment reached the town and dismounted, the 4th Machine Gun Squadron stopped their covering fire, to target the German or Ottoman machine guns on the right, which they silenced. Then the 4th Machine Gun Squadron galloped forward to take up a position at the western end of the town, while the two attacking squadrons dismounted, to approach the railway station buildings on foot. [32]

The substantial two storied station building, solidly build of stone, made an effective strong redoubt for the garrison, with the windows used by the defenders to fire their automatic rifles and throw their grenades from. At this time several white flags were reported at the station, but when the light horsemen approached they were fired on, and it was in this way that most of the light horsemen who died during the battle were killed. Once they succeeded in entering the station buildings, hand-to-hand fighting from room-to-room with rifles, bayonets, and swords, followed. Other groups of defenders deployed in the locomotives, tenders and carriages standing in the railway sidings, were also attacked. [11] [27] [32]

The savage hand-to-hand fighting in the railway buildings and sidings lasted for more than an hour before the light horsemen captured the area. Over 20 Ottoman and German soldiers were killed in the station buildings alone during the fighting. At the same time, 'C' Squadron, of the 11th Light Horse Regiment, and/or one squadron of the 12th Light Horse Regiment, moved up into the village of Samakh and captured the town during less severe fighting. [9] [27] [32] [33]

There were 98 [34] German and Ottoman soldiers killed and 33 wounded while 331 unwounded prisoners were captured. Other captures included one 77mm field gun, seven heavy machine guns, three automatic rifles, a large dump of rifles, bayonets, automatic pistols and ammunition, which was subsequently burnt. A motor boat escaped but another was destroyed by fire and its occupants were captured. Two locomotives, eight carriages, 12 goods wagons along with an aircraft and a wireless were also captured. The light horsemen suffered 17 killed and 60 wounded with one man missing and 77 horses killed, the 11th Light Horse Regiment lost two captains, one lieutenant and 11 other ranks killed, while four officers and 25 other ranks were wounded. [27] [32] [35]

While the 4th Light Horse Brigade buried their dead and the field ambulance treated the wounded, a squadron of the 12th Light Horse Regiment advanced along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, to meet with the 3rd Light Horse Brigade which had captured Jenin, which had advanced direct over the hills from Nazareth at 15:00 on 25 September, to capture Tiberias. [36] [37] [38] [39] Strong patrols also advanced up the Yarmuk River valley east of Samakh, but every bridge across the Jordan River was found to be strongly guarded, 30 at one and 60 Germans in a redoubt with an engine and tender, at another. The rugged Jebel Ain en Nimr mountain, 1,800 feet (550 m) above the Sea of Galilee and less than two miles (3.2 km) from its southern shore was occupied by 500 Ottoman infantry and one gun. [38]

The capture of Samakh and operations around the Sea of Galilee concluded the Battles of Megiddo. [30] Chauvel's Desert Mounted Corps had captured Haifa, Nazareth and Tiberias, two Ottoman armies had been eliminated from the Judean Hills and the Fourth Army east of the Jordan was in full retreat to Deraa and Damascus. Allenby acknowledged in a cable to the Australian Government that "the completeness of our victory is due to the action of the Desert Mounted Corps under General Chauvel." [40] "The battle had been as brilliant in execution as it had been in conception it had no parallel in France or on any other front, but rather looked forward in principle and even in detail to the Blitzkrieg of 1939." [40]

I have your HW wire and that from Troopers proposing a Cavalry raid to Aleppo. I don't think Aleppo possible but am sending 3 Divisions of Cavalry, as soon as I can, to Damascus. Chaytor's Division of Anzac Light Horse is about Amman now, and will deal with enemy coming from the South. Prisoners number well over 40,000 and are still coming in. I have Australian mounted troops at the S. end of Lake Tiberias, and they are pushing to Tiberias. If I get Damascus, Beirut falls to us certainly and I hope to push troops, Northwards, thither, by the coast–road from Haifa, feeding from the sea, stage by stage.

On 27 September, the 4th Light Horse Brigade left Samakh at 06:00 and arrived at Tiberias at 08:00, where they received two days supplies and one day's iron ration, to last until after breakfast on 29 September. They rode out towards Damascus at 10:00, leaving the 15th Light Horse Regiment (5th Light Horse Brigade) to guard Samakh until they were relieved by the 7th (Meerut) Division, XXI Corps. [22]

On 26 September 2019, A life-size sculpture, 'The Aborigine and His Horse,' was dedicated at Tzemach, commemorating Aboriginal members of the ANZAC forces, dubbed the “Queensland Black Watch", including cavalrymen who fought at Tzemach. Descendants of those horsemen travelled from Australia to participate in the statue's inauguration, "another stage in the historic correction that Australian society is undergoing in their relations with the Aborigines." [42] [43]

On 31 October 2017, for the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba, the Beersheba ANZAC Memorial Center was inaugurated. Among the events was a partial reenactment of the battle, with horsemen and horsewomen including descendants of the original cavalrymen. Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister of Australia, and Dame Patsy Reddy, the Governor-General of New Zealand, attended along with numerous fellow ANZACs visiting Israel for the occasion. Israelis present included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [44] The ANZAC Memorial Center is located in the city’s British military cemetery dating back to World War I. [45]


THE FRENCH IN THE MIDDLE EAST IN THE GREAT WAR: A HISTORIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY.

When people think of the Middle East during the Great War, they tend to think of Lawrence of Arabia or General Edmund Allenby's conquest of Palestine. These views are shaped by Hollywood, and by the legion of popular histories of T.E. Lawrence. The role of French forces in the Middle East is ignored, dismissed, or mentioned only in passing. Anglophone authors in particular have over-emphasized the role of the British on the Western Front and in the Middle East. Recently, this myopia and resulting gap regarding the Western Front has begun to be corrected, especially in the works of Robert Doughty, William Philpott, and Elizabeth Greenhalgh, just to name a few. (1) Still, there is no work in English focusing solely on French diplomatic and military efforts in the Middle East during the Great War and in its immediate aftermath.

In the Middle East, the battles of the Great War did not end in November 1918. The French would continue to fight in the region until 1927 with the Great Syrian (or Druze) Rebellion (1925-27). The small French force created in Egypt and (modern day) Saudi Arabia would develop and expand during this period, experiencing near constant combat for eleven years. We see, then, that our customary chronology of the Great War has been distorted by an excessive focus on the Western Front. This is problematic not only because of the historical blindspots that result, but also because the impact of French imperialism in the Middle East from 1916 until 1927 reverberates into the twenty-first century with a new and deadlier Great Syrian Revolt. While these contemporary affairs are beyond the scope of this article, it is my hope that by indicating the importance of French military operations and diplomacy in the region, and by suggesting potential avenues for new research, this essay might help us to rethink the history and legacy of the Great War in the Middle East.

France had supported Maronite Christians in what is today Lebanon since the sixteenth century. France's involvement in the Middle East and Maghreb grew dramatically with Napoleon's invasion of Egypt (1798-1801) and the conquest of Algeria (1830-1857). In 1860, in the wake of the Tanzimat reforms of the Ottoman Empire--which gave greater religious freedom to Christians in the Middle East--there was an attack by the Druzes on the Christian community in Syria/Lebanon. A coalition army of French and Ottoman forces, led respectively by General Ducrot and Fuad Pasha, saved this embattled population. (2) After the 1860 Syrian Rebellion, Christians in this region looked to France for support and France became more culturally and economically involved in the region in the last part of the nineteenth century. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the French government made direct linkages between its expanding empire in the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) and Syria/Lebanon. As the cultural connection grew, French imperialists began to seriously consider adding Syria/Lebanon to the French Empire. The Ottoman Empire's entry into the Great War on the side of the Central Powers provided an opportunity to fulfill the dreams of the parti colonial in Paris. By the middle of the Great War, acquisition of Syria/ Lebanon became this group's greatest focus.

During World War I, Germany engaged in a great deal of unconventional warfare, from sabotage to nurturing insurgencies in the Entente powers' colonies, a project that ranged from the United States to Afghanistan. (3) The French, by contrast, engaged in very little unconventional warfare, and it was only in the Middle East that the French seriously entertained and undertook such operations. An excellent source for French politics, diplomacy, and unconventional warfare in the Middle East during the Great War is Vincent Cloarec's La France et la Question de Syrie. This key work, based on extensive archival research, has been largely ignored by Anglophone writers. Cloarec demonstrates that the consul in Beirut, an ardent imperialist and member of the Syria Lobby in Paris named Francois Georges-Picot, encouraged the Arabs to rise up against their Ottoman masters. Picot fled Lebanon for Cyprus, where he tried to obtain 15,000 rifles for potential insurgents. (4) Three thousand potential Syrian insurgents were raised in Egypt, but the project was quashed by the British authorities there. This setback was amplified when Djemal Pasha and the Ottoman commander's intelligence officers found Picot's papers listing all his Arab contacts. This resulted in the execution of several dozen potential insurgents. Even after

this fiasco, Picot tried to contact the grandson of the famous Abd-al Qadir in Syria to enlist him in an insurgency, but this too failed. (5) Nonetheless, these episodes demonstrate that the French were thinking about unconventional warfare and fostering an Arab rebellion long before Lawrence of Arabia.

In February 1915, the French Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Quai d'Orsay), and President Raymond Poincare agreed, over the protestations of General Joseph Joffre, to send an expeditionary corps and a large portion of the French fleet to be part of coalition forces in the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign. The parti colonial was supportive of the suggestion to place French and British troops at Alexandretta in Latakia province on the northern Syrian coast, but the government under Alexander Millerand and foreign minister Theophile Declasse did not support the plan. (6) Their objections were largely motivated by a desire to keep the Ottoman Empire intact, and by anxiety about the possibility that the British would dominate this attack and gain a foothold in Syria. After all, colonial rivalries between the British and the French were exacerbated by French involvement at Gallipoli and Kum Kale, after which allied troops were transferred to Salonika in December 1915 (under the command of French General Maurice Sarrail). (7) These affairs tied up a large number of French troops who might otherwise have contributed to operations in the Middle East.

From 1916 onwards, France faced ever-greater imperial and strategic overstretch. A summary list of France's commitments and conflicts gives us at least a partial sense of this situation. Since 1912, France had been fighting a massive counter-insurgency campaign in Morocco with approximately 80,000 French colonial troops led by General Hubert Lyautey. This campaign would last until the early 1930s. There were also anti-draft riots in Algeria that would intensify in 1917. Senussi insurgents tied down 60,000 Italian troops in Libya, but they also attacked French posts in Algeria and Tunisia (and the British in Egypt). The French were so short of men that they had to abandon garrisons like Fort Molinyski in southeastern Algeria. There was also a major anti-draft rebellion in Upper Volta (today Burkina Faso) and the French had to send a regiment of Tirailleurs Senegalais (Senegalese sharpshooters) to quell this. And, of course, the French were fighting at Verdun and the Somme throughout much of 1916. In 1917, the situation worsened with the French Army mutinies, a rebellion in Indochina, and the need to send troops to Italy after the Caporetto debacle, at which the Italians were routed by Austro-Hungarian and German forces. Given this broader context, it is a wonder that the French were concerned with the Middle East at all.

It is a testament to the influence of ardent colonialists like Picot that the French sent soldiers to fight in the Middle East in 1916. Throughout the war, French commanders (especially Joffre) were reluctant to commit diplomatic resources or military forces to the Middle East, making it sometimes necessary for diplomats or representatives to contract agreements in secret. One of the most famous of these secret agreements was the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. Mark Sykes, a member of the British Parliament and self-appointed expert on the Middle East, met with Picot and mapped out a possible division of the Middle East between Britain and France. By this time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had given up any hope of preserving the Ottoman Empire and was committed to securing French control of Syria/Lebanon. The original territorial division (according to the French) was to have France gain Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Cilicia in southern Anatolia, and Mosul in northern Iraq. As James Barr has noted, the spirit but not the letter of the agreement would survive the war, and disputes over the implementation of this agreement would foster intense rivalry between the French and British. (8) So too would the practical work of organizing and navigating campaigns during the war.

The complexities of this history and the gap in our historical awareness are each evident in the example of the Great Arab Revolt. Many recent works still see this campaign as primarily a British operation, led by the military genius T.E Lawrence. (9) For instance, while a French mission led by Lieutenant Colonel Edouard Bremond is briefly discussed in recent biographies of Lawrence by Scott Anderson and Michael Korda, in both cases it is understood as an attempt by the French to subvert the Revolt, and Bremond is portrayed as an almost villainous character. (10) In fact, the presence of French troops contributed to the military efficacy of the Great Arab Revolt--the largest of Britain's unconventional warfare campaigns in the Great War--though it also created greater tension and rivalry between the British and French.

Bremond was a distinguished French colonial soldier who had served in Madagascar and as an advisor to Lyautey on the pacification of insurgents in Morocco. Bremond had helped the Sharif of Morocco create an army, and was familiar with both Arab culture and Middle Eastern issues. (11) Bremond and the French mission clearly sought to influence the Arab Revolt and anti-Ottoman campaign, but they also wanted to ensure that the campaign was carried out effectively. After all, Lawrence was an amateur in practical military matters. The French were not opposed to prosecuting an unconventional warfare campaign in the Middle East or inciting an Arab revolt, but they also wanted to show North African Muslims that France would protect Islamic holy sites, and they wanted to tie up Turkish troops in a counter-insurgency campaign. (12)

The view offered by Anderson and Korda notwithstanding, this more nuanced picture is known to scholars of the field, especially since the 2008 publication of Remy Porte's Du Caire a Damas (From Cairo to Damascus). Porte's work, which is based on extensive archival research at the Service Historique de la Defense at the Chateau of Vincennes, is probably the best general source on the French military in the Middle East during the Great War. He shows that the French efforts amounted to a sophisticated and important military operation. All of Bremond's officers who arrived in Hedjaz in the fall of 1916 were French colonial soldiers and North African Muslims, and all the enlisted men came from either the Tirailleurs Algeriens (Algerian sharpshooters) or the Spahis, who were also North African Muslims. This showed a cultural sensitivity that the British lacked in sending only British officers and some Iraqi advisors. The French unit had two batteries of 80mm mountain guns that were highly portable, a sharp contrast to the heavier British artillery. Arab insurgents would take advantage of this portability in 1917-18. By early 1917, the French military mission grew to 1,153 officers and men, with eight sections of machine guns, sappers, telegraphists, and railroad troops. (13)

Because of France's experience with Arab troops, Sharif Husein, leader of the Arab Revolt, asked the French to aid in the formation a regular army. This did not happen because Husein's son, Faisal, was opposed to the French presence, an attitude that owed much to Lawrence's influence. From the moment the French arrived, Lawrence was hostile to their presence, as he wanted Syria/Lebanon to become an Arab kingdom. Not all British officers were hostile to the French presence, though, and the French, British, and Arabs did cooperate and coordinate at times. For instance, Reginald Wingate, the British governor of Sudan, quite liked Lieutenant Colonel Bremond. French captains Pisani, Saad, Ahmad, and Raho either led Arab raids or served alongside Lawrence himself. And, at the Battle of Maan in 1918, the French artillery played a major role alongside their British and Arab counterparts.

It is clear that the myth of Lawrence singlehandedly leading the Arab Revolt to a victorious end is a distortion. But it is a persistent and influential one. Even the US military succumbed to the myth of Lawrence, believing his work Seven Pillars of Wisdom to be a key work in understanding how to fight counter-insurgency in Iraq in the twenty-first century. This hagiographical approach has been challenged by Barr in Setting the Desert on Fire: T. E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918. Barr notes the role of Bremond and his mission, though he places greater emphasis on the role of British military technical experts like Stewart Newcombe. (14) There is an entire chapter on the French, but it is framed within the context of Anglo-French rivalry rather than military contributions and effectiveness. Barr's work is at least a corrective in showing the significance and complexity of the Arab Revolt.

France became even more fully involved in the Middle East in early 1917, when they formed a conventional force known as the Detacbement francais en Palestine et en Syrie, or DFPS. Lyautey created the DFPS during his brief and disastrous tenure as Minister of War from December 1916 until March 1917, and did so under the influence of Syrian enthusiasts known as the Committee for French Asia. Lyautey's efforts were possible because of the imperialist views of the new Prime Minister, Alexandre Ribot. (15) By summer, the DFPS consisted of a battalion of the 115th Colonial Infantry Regiment, two battalions of the Tirailleurs Algeriens (Algerian sharpshooters), and a platoon of the Chasseurs d'Afrique (Hunters of Africa), who were soon replaced by the all-Algerian Spahis. (16)

Initially, the DFPS was a largely symbolic gesture by the strategically overstretched French. Its early training was at Port Said, after which it was sent to protect British rail lines. French forces had a very poor relationship with General Archibald Murray, commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force until July 1917. His replacement, General Edmund Allenby, had even greater contempt for French forces. The esteem in which the British held the DFPS was not improved by the negative assessment of that force that they received from French Major General Maurice Bailloud, an old colonial soldier who had commanded French troops at Gallipoli and arrived in Egypt in July 1917. He was supposed to take command of French forces in the Middle East, and he was horrified by the condition of the DFPS. (17) Bailloud told Allenby not to use these troops in his upcoming offensives at Gaza. Bailloud was interested in French military honor and military effectiveness, not the machinations of diplomats and politicians, and his actions here offer another illustration of why French involvement cannot be seen purely in the context of Anglo-French rivalry.

Georges Clemenceau's election as Prime Minister in November 1917 promised to reshape French campaigns in the Middle East yet again. Not only was he Prime Minister, he was also the Minister of War, and he had no interest in Syria. Further, the French had just been forced to send troops to bolster Italy in the wake of the Italian disaster at Caporetto, meaning that the French would have to augment their forces in the Middle East with local troops. They did so by mobilizing the Legion d'Orient, which had been created in October 1916. (18) Using indigenous populations was an old French military tradition, dating back at least to the conquest of Algeria.

While some Syrians would end up joining the Legion d'Orient, the majority of its members were Armenians who had been rescued from the 1915 Armenian Genocide by the French Navy. Approximately 4,000 Armenians had been initially taken to Cyprus, and the recruits from this group then joined the DFPS in Egypt. This unit was led by Colonel Romieu, and the DFPS was led by Colonel Jean de Piepape after Bailloud's departure. Romieu told the Legion they were not fighting for Armenia, but for French control of the Middle East. Even as they mobilized, though, affairs on the ground continued to evolve, as did the nature and objectives of the conflict.

Allenby took Jerusalem in December 1917, and Picot accompanied him as the new French High Commissioner of Syria. In March 1918, Allenby had to send two divisions to Europe because of the German Michael Offensive. Soon the British commander became desperate for troops and became more willing to use the DFPS, which now, with the Legion, numbered over 7,000 men. Supported by Clemenceau, Piepape asked for a combat mission. In September 1918, the French detachment joined General Watson's Composite Force along with 400 Italian Bersaglieri under Colonel d'Agostino. In the September 1918 Megiddo campaign, the DFPS, and the Legion made a name for themselves. At Scurry Hill and Three Bushes Hill, the French out-flanked the Turks and French cavalry led the pursuit of fleeing Turks. (19) With the assistance of the French Navy, Piepape soon set off to occupy Beirut. The Christian population was glad to see the French, but the Muslims were less than enthusiastic.

Despite the French campaigns, most of Syria would be occupied by British forces, and Damascus was captured by Allenby and the Arabs. The future of the region would, then, be left to diplomacy, including negotiations between Clemenceau and David Lloyd George, the competing interests of the French and British empires, and their respective efforts to navigate local political affairs. Attention turned to the negotiations at Versailles, and Arab leaders like Faisal had great hopes for what might come from the peace conference.

In December 1918, Colonel Bremond returned to the Middle East and became the administrator of French-occupied Cilicia in southern Anatolia. The next month, the DFPS became the Troupes Francaises du Levant (French Troops of the Levant), and its numbers increased dramatically. By November 1919, there were approximately 18,000 troops in the Levant, a number that would more than triple, to 60,000 men, by August 1920. (20) In early 1919, the French occupied the coastal areas in Lebanon and Cilicia. As the French Army of the Levant grew, most of its men came from colonial forces like the West African (or Senegalese) Tirailleurs, Malagasy soldiers, and Algerian Tirailleurs. There were also some metropolitan soldiers serving in the Levant. The Legion d'Orient developed a bad reputation in Cilicia, though, where they preyed on the local population and showed great indiscipline. Ultimately, they would have to be removed from occupation duty. As time wore on, more Muslim Syrians would be recruited to this unit, and it came to be known as the Troupes Speciales.

Throughout 1919 and until late July 1920, French forces were attacked in their occupation areas. In the North, two weak French divisions fought Kemalist Turkish troops for control of Cilicia. In early 1920, French garrisons were overrun or defeated at Kozan, Marash, and Urfa in battles that some compared to Verdun. (21) At the same time, insurgents were attacking French posts throughout Lebanon and the Bekka Valley. Some of these forces were independent guerillas, while others were supporters of Faisal. The presence of British forces in Syria until September 1919 limited the violence, but when they left, violence escalated dramatically. In the fall of 1919, French strategy in the Middle East would take a more aggressive turn.

At Versailles in 1919, Faisal failed to achieve full allied support for an independent Syria. The most intense bickering between Clemenceau and Lloyd George was over the fate of Syria/Lebanon. Clemenceau started the conference opposed to French occupation of Syria but, after numerous debates with Lloyd George, he became a reluctant supporter of French expansion (though he still conceded control of Palestine to Britain). (22) By the middle of 1919, Britain was engaged in large-scale demobilization while also contending with new crises in the Middle East. In the spring of 1919, there was a rebellion in Egypt and the Third Anglo-Afghan War broke out. (23) There was also unrest in Palestine. Overstretched in the Middle East and beyond, the British withdrew from Syria in September 1919 and, shortly thereafter, stopped paying subsidies to Faisal.

After fruitless negotiations with the French, Faisal returned to Damascus in early 1920. He was made king by a nationalist parliament and began to conscript an army. In November, the one-armed General Henri Gouraud, French hero of Gallipoli, was made military commander of the Levant. He began to amass an army to fight Faisal. The forces were considerable, and they included both tanks and aircraft. Major political changes aided Gouraud. In January 1920, Clemenceau lost his bid to become president and was replaced as prime minister by the imperialist Millerand. At San Remo that spring, France was given mandatory control over Syria/Lebanon in return, France gave up Mosul and Cilicia. The San Remo agreement cleared the way for Gouraud's intervention against Faisal and meant that the French no longer had to worry about British intervention. (24)

In July 1920, French General Mariano Goybet massed his forces to the east to face a Syrian army commanded by the war minister Yusuf al-Azmah at Khan Maysalun Pass. The 9,000 French troops included Algerian, West African, and Moroccan soldiers, as well as men from the Bataillon d'Afrique, which was made up of medium-level felons. (25) The French forces included artillery, armor, and aircraft (this was the first time that armor was used in French colonial warfare). Gouraud sent an ultimatum to Faisal, who agreed to French demands of occupation but the telegraph lines were cut, and Faisal's reply did not make it to the French commander. As a result, French forces crushed 4,000 poorly-trained Arab regulars at Maysalun Pass on July 24 and occupied Damascus the next day. At almost the same time, the French were able to occupy the other major Syrian cities such as Aleppo without much resistance. Faisal had been unable to form a coalition with Mustapha Kemal of Turkey, which might have forced the French to fight a two-front war. Instead, Faisal and his entourage were sent packing, and he briefly went to British-held Palestine. As a consolation prize, the British made Faisal King of Iraq in 1921.

Gouraud soon separated Lebanon and Syria and made Damascus the capital of the French mandate. That mandate was given greater legitimacy when it was recognized by the League of Nations in 1922. Nonetheless, the French found themselves waging a low-level pacification campaign all over the region from the initial occupation of Syria in 1920 until the Druze Rebellion five years later. (26) In 1925, a massive rebellion broke out in the Djebel Druze and spread throughout most of Syria, presenting the French with what would become the greatest threat to their control of the region until World War II. The campaign forced France to send forces from the metropole and to resort to aerial operations over an urban area for the first time during an insurgency. It also marked another period of strategic over-stretch, as the French were also waging a massive counter-insurgency campaign against the Rif Rebellion in Morocco. At the end of this rebellion, insurgency and guerilla warfare declined dramatically, in large measure because of the brutality of the French repression. (27)

France defeated these two rebellions. But they did so at a cost. In Syria, the brutal French repression stirred nationalism and a hatred of the West that lasts to this day. In fact, one cannot really understand the roots and course of the ongoing violence in Syria without looking at these earlier rebellions. Syrian memories of the French mandate in Syria/Lebanon, and of the mandate's origins in the Great War, still play an important role in the Syrian political landscape and imagination. The problems created by the Great War and the diplomatic settlements and conflicts that followed immediately thereafter have not been solved to this day.

The history of the French in the Middle East during the Great War and in the early 1920s remains insufficiently known, with consequences for our understanding of the war, of the post-war settlements, and of the Middle East more generally. In English, the historiography of the DFPS and the Legion d'Orient is underdeveloped. For instance, the role of the French goes unmentioned in David Woodward's Hell in the Holy Land: World War I in the Middle East. (28) John Grainger has recently written two books about the Great War in the Middle East, The Battle for Palestine, 1917 and The Battle for Syria, 1918-1920 there is some mention of French forces in Grainger's works, but it too is incomplete. In his work on the Battle of Palestine, there is a little discussion of the development of the DFPS and of General Bailloud. He engages in more discussion of the role played by French forces in The Battle for Syria. There is still insufficient detail about the role of French forces in the Megiddo Campaign, though, and at times the narrative is a bit confusing. To his credit, Grainger does use Porte's Du Caire a Damas in a few places, and he discusses the French effort in Cilicia and the Battle of Khan Maysalun Pass in July 1920, recognizing that the war did not end neatly in 1918. Nonetheless, Grainger does not himself use any French primary sources, and he relies--like many authors--on Stephen Longrigg's Syria and Lebanon under French Mandate, a standard and important work, but also an outdated and incomplete one. (30) For all that Grainger's work adds to our understanding, then, it also highlights what remains to be done.

Full-length biographies of Francois George-Picot, General Henri Gouraud, and Colonel Edouard Bremond are needed. The key battle of Khan Mayaslun in 1920 warrants further study, as does the French conflict with Kemalist Turks in 1919-20. Perhaps the greatest need is a general work in English about the French military in the Middle East during this period. For those who seek to remedy this situation, a key resource will be the archive of the Service Historique de la Defense at Vincennes Chateau, especially the 4H series (concerning the French in the Middle East), where there is a great deal of information, but also the 7N series and the personnel profiles in the Y series. There is also a library with numerous published primary sources. While research in Damascus is not feasible at present, the inclusion and integration of such materials as can someday be found in Syrian archives will obviously be a boon to our understanding. Just as attention to the Middle East changes our view of the Great War's chronology and character, so too will work in such archives lead us to new questions and new inquiries. And perhaps also to a new understanding of the relationship between past and present in the modern Middle East.

William T. Dean III holds a B.A. in History from the University of the South. His M.A. and PhD degrees are in modern European military and diplomatic history from the University of Chicago. A recipient of the Chateaubriand Fellowship, a grant from the French government, Dr. Dean is a specialist in French Colonial Warfare. He taught at Roosevelt and DePaul Universities in Chicago, and was the Director of Peace, War and Diplomacy Studies at Norwich University in Vermont. Currently, Dr. Dean is an Associate Professor of Comparative Military Studies at the U.S. Air Force Air Command and Staff College, where he teaches irregular warfare, military history, and international affairs. He has published in the Journal of Military History, Air and Space Power Journal, Parameters, and the Defense Intelligence Journal.

(1.) See Robert Doughty, Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005) William Philpott, Three Armies on the Somme: The Battle of the Twentieth Century (New York: Vintage Books, 2010) Elizabeth Greenhalgh, Foch in Command: The Forging of a First World War General (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009) and The French Army in the First World War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

(2.) The best source on this rebellion in English is Leila Fawaz, An Occasion for War: Civil Conflict in Lebanon and Damascus in 1860 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

(3.) See Donald McKale, War by Revolution: Germany and Great Britain in the Middle East in the Era of World War I (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1998).

(4.) Vincent Cloarec, La France et la Question de Syrie (1914-1918) (Paris: CNRS Editions, 1988, 2010), 91-94.

(5.) Abdal-al Qadir was an emir in Algeria in the 1830s and 1840s. He fought the French but was captured and sent to Syria. He is seen as the founding father of modern day Algeria. His grandson had the same name as his famous grandfather.

(6.) The role of the parti colonial in the Middle East is discussed in Christopher Andrew and A.S. Kanya-Forstner, France Overseas: The Great War and the Climax of French Imperial Expansion (London: Thames and Hudson, 1981), 68-82.

(7.) George Cassar, The French and the Dardanelles: A Study of Failure in the Conduct of War (London: Allen & Unwin, 1971).

(8.) A fair introduction to the Sykes-Picot Agreement is James Barr, A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East 1914-1948 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012), 15-30. For a controversial interpretation, see Efraim Karsh and Inari Karsh, Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East 1789-1923 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).

(9.) Recent examples of this are Michael Korda, Hero: The Life & Legend of Lawrence of Arabia (New York: Harper Collins, 2010), and Scott Anderson, Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Tolly, and the Making of the Middle East (New York: Anchor Books, 2013).

(10.) See for example Anderson, Lawrence of Arabia, 196-99.

(11.) Remy Porte, Du Caire a Damas: Trancais et Anglais au Troche Orient (1914-1919) (Paris: Soteca, 2008), 220.

(14.) See James Barr, Setting the Desert on Fire: T.E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008), 118-19.

(15.) See Andrew and Kanya-Forstner, France Overseas, 121.

(16.) Porte, Du Caire a Damas, 253.

(17.) Andrew and Kanya-Forstner, France Overseas, 126.

(18.) Jean-David Mizrahi, Genese de l'Etat mandataire: service des renseignements et bandes armees en Syrie et au Liban dans les annees 1920 (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2003), 32.

(19.) John Grainger, The Battle for Syria: 1918-1920 (Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press, 2013), 128.

(20.) Porte, Du Caire a Damas, 335.

(21.) Mizrahi, Genese de l'Etat mandataire, 56-57 see also Andrew and Kanya-Forstner, France Overseas, 215.

(22.) See Andrew and Kanya-Forstner, France Overseas, 180-208.

(23.) See Grainger, The Battle for Syria, 1918-1920, 227.

(25.) Stephen Hemsley Longrigg, Syria and Lebanon under French Mandate (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), 102-104.

(26.) On French pacification of Syria in the early 1920s, see Philip Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 1920-1945 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987).

(27.) Michael Provence, The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005) Daniel Neep, Occupying Syria under the French Mandate: Insurgency, Space, and State Formation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

(28.) David Woodward, Hell in the Holy Land: World War I in the Middle East (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2006).

(29.) John Grainger, The Battle for Palestine: 1917 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2006), and Grainger, The Battle for Syria.


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The period covered in this book is well known for its epic battles and grand campaigns of territorial conquest, but Hellenistic monarchies, Carthaginians, and the rapacious Roman Republic were scarcely less active at sea. Huge resources were poured into maintaining fleets not only as symbols of prestige but as means of projecting real military power across the Mediterranean arena.

Taking the period between Alexander the Great’s conquests and the Battle of Actium, John Grainger analyzes the developments in naval technology and tactics, the uses and limitations of sea power and the differing strategies of the various powers. He shows, for example, how the Rhodians and the Romans eschewed the ever-larger monster galleys favored by most Hellenistic monarchs in favor of smaller vessels. This is a fascinating study of a neglected aspect of ancient warfare.

“An inherently fascinating and impressively informative study . . . an extraordinary work of exceptionally thorough and painstaking research.” —Midwest Book Review

The eastern Celtic tribes, known to the Greeks as Galatians, exploited the waning of Macedonian power after Alexander the Great’s death to launch increasingly ambitious raids and expeditions into the Balkans. In 279 BC they launched a major invasion, defeating and beheading the Macedonian king, Ptolemy Keraunos, before sacking the Greeks' most sacred oracle at Delphi. Eventually forced to withdraw northwards, they were defeated by Antigonus Gonatus at Lysimachia in 277 BC but remained a threat.

A large Galatian contingent was invited to cross to Asia to intervene in a war in Bithynia but they went on to seize much of central Anatolia for themselves, founding the state of Galatia. Antiochos I curbed their power in ‘the Elephant Victory in 273 BC’ but they remained a force in the region and their fierce warriors served as mercenaries in many armies throughout the eastern Mediterranean. John Grainger narrates and analyses the fortunes of these eastern Celts down to their eventual subjugation by the Romans, Galatia becoming a Roman province in 30 BC.

Although also known as the Third English Civil War, the author makes it clear that this was the last war between the Scots and English as separate states. He narrates in detail the the events following the exiled King Charles II’s landing in Scotland and his alliance with the Scots Covenanters, erstwhile allies of the English Parliamentarians.

Cromwell’s preemptive invasion of Scotland led to the Battle of Dunbar, a crushing defeat for the Scots under David Leslie, though this only unified the Scottish cause and led to the levying of the Army of the Kingdom under Charles II himself. Charles II led a desperate counter-invasion over the border, hoping to raise a royalist rebellion and forcing Cromwell to follow him, though he left Monck to complete the pacification of Scotland.

Cromwell caught up with Charles II at Worcester, where the Scots/Royalist army was decisively defeated and destroyed, thousands of the prisoners being sold into slavery in the West Indies and the American colonies.

This revised and updated edition contains an expanded chapter on the aftermath of the war and the fate of the POWs, drawing on major new archaeological evidence, as well as an expanded Conclusion.

The first of three books on the ancient Greek dynasty “reads with the pull of a novel and shows how the new Empire rose and fell.”—Firetrench

The Seleukid kingdom was the largest state in the world for a century and more between Alexander’s death and the rise of Rome. The first king, Seleukos I, established a pattern of rule which was unusually friendly towards his subjects, and his policies promoted the steady growth of wealth and population in many areas which had been depopulated when he took them over. In particular the dynasty was active in founding cities from Asia Minor to Central Asia. Its work set the social and economic scene of the Middle East for many centuries to come. Yet these kings had to be warriors too as they defended their realm from jealous neighbors.

John D Grainger’s trilogy charts the rise and fall of this superpower of the ancient world. In the first volume, he relates the remarkable twists of fortune and daring that saw Seleukos, an officer in an elite guard unit, emerge from the wars of the Diadochi (Alexander’s successors) in control of the largest and richest part of the empire of the late Alexander the Great. After his conquests and eventual murder, we then see how his successors continued his policies, including the repeated wars with the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt over control of Syria. The volume ends with the deep internal crisis and the Wars of the Brothers, which left only a single member of the dynasty alive in 223 BC.


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