Arab Revolt

Arab Revolt

conflict=Arabia and Southern Arabia Campaigns
partof=Middle Eastern theatre of World War I

caption=Flag of the Arab Revolt
date=June, 1916-October, 1918
place=Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon
result=Armistice of Mudros Treaty of Sèvres
combatant1=flagicon|Arab Revolt Hashemite Arabs flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom
combatant2=flag|Ottoman Empire
commander1=flagicon|Arab Revolt Faisal flagicon|United Kingdom Edmund Allenby flagicon|United Kingdom T. E. Lawrence
commander2=Ahmed Djemal
strength1=5,000 (?)
strength2=25,000 (?)
The Arab Revolt (1916–1918) ( _ar. الثورة العربية "Al-Thawra al-`Arabīya") was initiated by the Sherif Hussein ibn Ali with the aim of securing independence from the ruling Ottoman Turks and creating a single unified Arab state spanning from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen.


The Young Turk Revolution began on July 3, 1908, and quickly spread throughout the empire, resulting in the sultan's announcement of the restoration of the 1876 constitution and the reconvening of parliament. The constitutional era was disrupted by the Countercoup (1909), which aimed to dismantle the constitution and restore the monarchy of Abdul Hamid II. The dethroned Sultan attempted to regain the Caliphate by putting an end to the secular policies of the Young Turks, but was in turn driven away to exile in Selanik by the 31 March Incident and was eventually replaced by his brother Mehmed V Reşad.

In the elections held in 1908, The Committee of Union and Progress, managed to gain the upper hand against the rival group led by Prince Sabahaddin, more liberal in outlook, bearing a strong British imprint, and closer to the Palace. The new parliament comprised 142 Turks, 60 Arabs, 25 Albanians, 23 Greeks, 12 Armenians (including four Dashnaks and two Hunchas), 5 Jews, 4 Bulgarians, 3 Serbs and 1 Vlach. Ottoman politics changed and discrimination against non-Turkish inhabitants increased.

World War I

The Ottoman Empire took part in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I, under the terms of the Ottoman-German Alliance. Many Arab nationalist figures in Damascus and Beirut were arrested, then tortured.

Captain T. E. Lawrence

Because of the repression by the Turks and their Central Powers allies, Grand Sharif Hussein, as the head of the Arab nationalists, entered into an alliance with the United Kingdom and France against the Ottomans around June 8, 1916 (the actual date is a bit uncertain). Husein had about 50000 men under arms, but fewer than 10000 had rifles.Parnell, Charles L., CDR USN "Lawrence of Arabia's Debt to Seapower" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" (August 1979) p.75] Evidence that the Ottoman government was planning to depose him at the end of the war led him to an exchange of letters with British High Commissioner Henry McMahon which convinced him that his assistance on the side of the Triple Entente would be rewarded by an Arab empire encompassing the entire span between Egypt and Persia, with the exception of imperial possessions and interests in Kuwait, Aden, and the Syrian coast. French and British naval forces had cleared the Red Sea of Ottoman gunboats early in the war.Parnell, Charles L., CDR USN "Lawrence of Arabia's Debt to Seapower" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" (August 1979) p.76] The port of Jidda was attacked by 3500 Arabs on 10 June 1916 with the assistance of bombardment by British warships and seaplanes. The Ottoman garrison surrendered on 16 June. By the end of September 1916 Arab armies had taken the coastal cities of Rabegh, Yenbo, Qunfida, and 6000 Ottoman prisoners with the assistance of the Royal Navy. Fifteen thousand well-armed Ottoman troops remained in the Hejaz.

The British government in Egypt sent a young officer to work with the Arabs in October 1916. This man was Captain T. E. Lawrence, known now as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence obtained assistance from the Royal Navy to turn back an Ottoman attack on Yenbo in December 1916.Parnell, Charles L., CDR USN "Lawrence of Arabia's Debt to Seapower" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" (August 1979) p.78] Lawrence's major contribution to the revolt was convincing the Arab leaders (Faisal and Abdullah) to co-ordinate their actions in support of British strategy. He persuaded the Arabs not to drive the Ottomans out of Medina; instead, the Arabs attacked the Hejaz railway on many occasions. This tied up more Ottoman troops, who were forced to protect the railway and repair the constant damage. The coastal city of Wejh was to be the base for attacks on the Hejaz railway. On 3 January 1917, Faisal began an advance northward along the Red Sea coast with 5100 camel riders, 5300 men on foot, four Krupp mountain guns, ten machine guns, and 380 baggage camels. The Royal Navy resupplied Faisal from the sea during his march on Wejh.Parnell, Charles L., CDR USN "Lawrence of Arabia's Debt to Seapower" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" (August 1979) p.79] While the 800-man Ottoman garrison prepared for an attack from the south, a landing party of 400 Arabs and 200 Royal Navy bluejackets attacked Wejh from the north on 23 January 1917. Wejh surrendered within 36 hours, and the Ottomans abandoned their advance toward Mecca in favor of a defensive position in Medina with small detachments scattered along the Hejaz railway.Parnell, Charles L., CDR USN "Lawrence of Arabia's Debt to Seapower" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" (August 1979) p.80] The Arab force had increased to about seventy-thousand men armed with twenty-eight-thousand rifles and deployed in three main groups. Ali's force threatened Medina, Abdullah operated from Wadi Ais harassing Ottoman communications and capturing their supplies, and Faisal based his force at Wejh. Camel-mounted Arab raiding parties had an effective radius of 1000 miles (1600 km) carrying their own food and taking water from a system of wells approximately 100 miles (160 km) apart.Parnell, Charles L., CDR USN "Lawrence of Arabia's Debt to Seapower" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" (August 1979) p.81]

In 1917, Lawrence arranged a joint action with the Arab irregulars and forces under Auda Abu Tayi (until then in the employ of the Ottomans) against the port city of Aqaba. Aqaba was the only remaining Ottoman port on the Red Sea and threatened the right flank of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force defending Egypt and preparing to advance into Palestine. Capture of Aqaba would aid transfer of British supplies to the Arab revolt.Parnell, Charles L., CDR USN "Lawrence of Arabia's Debt to Seapower" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" (August 1979) p.82] Lawrence and Auda left Wedj on 9 May 1917 with a party of 40 men to recruit a mobile camel force from the Howeitat of Syria. On July 6, after an overland attack, Aqaba fell to those Arab forces. Lawrence then rode 150 miles to Suez to arrange Royal Navy delivery of food and supplies for the 2500 Arabs and 700 Ottoman prisoners in Aqaba. Later in the year, the Arab warriors made small raids on Ottoman positions in support of General Allenby's winter attack on the Gaza-Bersheeba defensive line (see the Battle of Beersheba).Parnell, Charles L., CDR USN "Lawrence of Arabia's Debt to Seapower" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" (August 1979) p.83] Allenby's victories led directly to the capture of Jerusalem just before Christmas 1917.

In the early days of the Revolt, Hussein's forces were largely made up of Bedouin and other nomadic desert tribes, who were only loosely allied, loyal more to their respective tribes than the overall cause. Feisal had hoped that he could convince Arab troops serving in the Turkish army to mutiny and join his cause; but the Turkish government sent most of its Arab troops to the front-lines of the war, and thus only a handful of deserters actually joined the Arab forces until later in the campaign.

1918: The End of Fighting

By the time of Aqaba's capture many other officers joined Feisal's campaign. A large number of British officers and advisors, led by Lt. Cols. Stewart F. Newcombe and Charles E. Wilson, arrived to provide the Arabs rifles, explosives, and machine guns. A small contingent of French soldiers also joined the Arabs, although their relationship with the Arabs was antagonistic. Under the direction of Lawrence, Wilson, and other officers, the Arabs launched a highly successful campaign against the Hejaz Railway, capturing military supplies, destroying trains and tracks, and tying down thousands of Turkish troops.

In 1918, the Arab cavalry gained in strength (as it seemed victory was at hand) and they were able to provide Allenby's army with intelligence on Ottoman army positions. They also harassed Ottoman supply columns, attacked small garrisons, and destroyed railroad tracks. Perhaps due to these attacks, Allenby's last offensive, the Battle of Megiddo (1918), was a stunning success. The Ottoman army was routed in less than 10 days of battle. Australian Light Horse troops marched unopposed into Damascus on September 30, 1918. T. E. Lawrence and his Arab troops rode into Damascus the next day to receive the surrender. At the end of the war, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force had seized Palestine, Transjordan, Lebanon, large parts of the Arabian peninsula and southern Syria.


It is estimated that the Arab forces involved in the revolt numbered around 5,000 soldiers. This number however probably applies to the Arab Regulars who fought with Allenby's main army, and not the irregular forces under the direction of Lawrence and Feisal. On a few occasions, particularly during the final campaign into Syria, this number would grow significantly. Many Arabs joined the Revolt sporadically, often as a campaign was in progress or only when the fighting entered their home region. During the Aqaba raid, for instance, while the initial Arab force numbered only a few hundred, over a thousand more from local tribes joined them for the final assault on Aqaba.

The main contribution of the Arab Revolt to the war was to pin down tens of thousands of Turkish troops who otherwise might have been used to attack the Suez Canal, allowing the British to undertake offensive operations with a lower risk of counterattack. This was indeed the British justification for starting the revolt, a textbook example of assymetrical warfare which has been studied time and again by military leaders and historians alike.

Conclusion of hostilities

The United Kingdom agreed in the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence that it would support Arab independence if they revolted against the Ottomans. The two sides had different interpretations of this agreement. In the event, the United Kingdom, France and Russia divided up the area in ways unfavourable to the Arabs under the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. Further confusing the issue was the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which promised support for a Jewish "national home" in Palestine. The Hedjaz region of western Arabia became an independent state under Hussein's control, until the early 1930s, when it was absorbed by Saudi Arabia.

See also

* Sinai and Palestine Campaign
* Pan-Arabism


* [ History of the Arab Revolt] (on King Hussein's website)
* [ Arab Revolt] at PBS
* Fromkin, David (1989). A Peace to End All Peace. Avon Books.
* Lawrence, T. E. (1935). Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Doubleday, Doran, and Co.

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