Battle of Aqaba

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Battle of Aqaba
Part of the Arab Revolt on the Middle Eastern theatre of the First World War
T E Lawrence and the Arab Revolt 1916 - 1918 Q59193.jpg
A flag bearer mounted on a camel leading the triumphal entry into Akaba
Date6 July 1917
Location
Result Arab victory
Belligerents
Arab Revolt Hejaz
British Empire British Empire
 Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Arab Revolt Auda ibu Tayi
Arab Revolt Sherif Nasir
United Kingdom T. E. Lawrence
Unknown
Strength
5,000 men[1]
assistance from British naval forces
300 men (garrison);[1] one infantry battalion (approximately 450 men)
Casualties and losses
2 killed, ? wounded 300 killed after surrender
300 prisoners[1]

The Battle of Aqaba (6 July 1917) was fought for the Red Sea port of Aqaba (now in Jordan). The attacking forces of the Arab Revolt, led by Auda ibu Tayi and advised by T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia"), were victorious over the Ottoman defenders.[2][3][4]

Black and white photo of a man on a camel
Thomas Edward Lawrence – a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia

Background[edit]

Gilbert Clayton had already told Lawrence, "The move to Aqaba on the part of Feisal is not at present desirable..." This was due to the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence being superseded by the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Lawrence however, decided to go his own way, without orders. Lawrence called it a private venture, void of British support, since "Feisal provided money, camels, stores and explosives."[5]:257–58

The 600 mile desert journey was led by Sherif Nasir, while Lawrence was accompanied by Nesib el-Bekri and Auda Abu Tayi, leader of the northern Howeitat tribe of Bedouin. Total strength on 9 May 1917, when they embarked, was 45 Howeitat and Ageyl camel men.[5]:269

Aqaba was surrounded by mountains north and east, and connected to the interior by Wadi Itm. The long and narrow gorge could be used by the Ottomans to bottle up any British invasion by sea, though it did not stop the Royal Navy from bombarding the site. By 1917, the Ottoman garrison had grown from 100 in 1914, to 300 – mainly Ottoman-Arab gendarmerie. According to Neil Faulkner, "The British high command had long been anxious about Aqaba." The British feared that an Ottoman Aqaba would threaten Archibald Murray's flank, or Ottoman raids could develop into the Sinai, or that it could be used as a base for German submarines in the Red Sea.[5]

According to T.E. Lawrence, "The Arabs needed Akaba: firstly, to extend their front, which was their tactical principle; and, secondly, to link up with the British." Lawrence also says, "I was working out with Auda abu Tayi a march to the Howeitat in their spring pastures of the Syrian desert. From them we might raise a mobile camel force, and rush Akaba from the eastward without guns or machine-guns. The eastern was the unguarded side, the line of least resistance, the easiest for us."[6]

Battle and campaign[edit]

Prelude[edit]

Newcombe and Lawrence contrived to deceive the Turkish army that their objective was an attack on Damascus and Aleppo, drawing attention away from their real goal of Aqaba. The expedition started moving towards Aqaba in May. They lost three men to attacks by snakes in the Wadi Sirhan region, while Nuri Shaalan was paid 6,000 pounds sterling in gold for the use of Wadi Sirhan as a base. While in Bair, Lawrence and Auda decided to attack the rail line in the area of Daraa, to convince the Turks the main Arab force was at Azrak in Sirhan. Finding no suitable targets that far north, Lawrence and Zaal ended up attacking the Atwi station south of Amman, before returning to Bair.[6]:228, 263, 269–70, 285–87, 293–94

Aba al Lasan and Aqaba[edit]

Three Howeitat clans on Nagb el Shtar, the Dhumaniyeh, the Darausha, and the Dhiabat, aided the effort to secure the pass of Aba el Lissan, along the Maan–Aqaba road. The Dhumaniyeh attacked the Fuweilah blockhouse at the pass, while the Arab force under Auda and Lawrence attacked the Ghadir el Haj garrison along the rail line south of Maan, destroying 10 bridges. However, the Dhumaniyeh were unable to keep control of the pass, when a Turkish relief battalion, under Niaz Bey arrived, occupying Aba el Lissan.[6]:295–99, 309

Auda personally led a charge of 50 horsemen against the Turkish troops on 2 July, while 400 camelmen under Nasir and Lawrence charged into their flank. The result was 300 Turkish casualties and only 160 prisoners, while the Arabs lost 2 dead. Lawrence was nearly killed in the action after he accidentally shot his camel in the head with his pistol. Auda was hit by 6 bullets, which destroyed his field glasses, holster and [scabbard], but left him unharmed.[6]:300–05, 664

Discussing surrender terms, 5 July

Three more Turkish posts lay ahead on the way to Aqaba, Guweira, Kethera, and Khadra. Guweira was captured by Sheikh ibn Jad by the time Auda and Lawrence arrived, and its 120 soldiers in that Turkish garrison had become prisoners. Kethira was taken on the night of 4 July, aided by a lunar eclipse. Khadra, at the mouth of the Itm, and its 300 man garrison, surrendered on the 6th. Four miles onward, Aqaba and the sea now lay open.[6]:308–12, 664

Aftermath[edit]

Arab fighters in Aqaba on 28 February 1918. Autochrome colour photograph.

The Arab force had swelled to 2000 Howeitat by the end of the engagement, and they had taken 700 prisoners, including 42 officers. Auda established an advance post at Guweira with 600 of his clan, which they held for the next month and a half, enough time for the gain of Aqaba to be consolidated, even though the Ottomans were able to retake Abu al-Lissan and Fuweilah. Arab outposts were also established at Nabathean Petra, Delagha, and Batra, along the Maan highlands.[5]:277, 313–14[6]:314–15

Lawrence, accompanied by 8 others, traveled 160 miles across the Sinai Peninsula via the Mitla Pass to Suez, in 49 hours. At Ismailia Station, Lawrence convinced Burmester and Admiral Wemyss to send HMIS Dufferin to Aqaba with food, bringing back the prisoners on the return trip. Lawrence then took a train to Cairo. In Cairo, Lawrence reported to Clayton and then Allenby, to whom Lawrence requested arms, supplies, an immediate 16,000 pounds in gold to pay debts incurred, and a further 200,000 sovereigns to support his plans to threaten communications with Jerusalem. Allenby promised Lawrence to do what he could, and subsequently told Robertson, "...even the partial success of Captain Lawrence's scheme would seriously disorganize Turkish railway communications south of Aleppo, while its complete success would destroy effectively his only main artery of communication..."[5]:280[6]:315–21

Aqaba became a major Royal Navy depot, supplying and transporting Feisal's forces upon his arrival on 23 August, as HMS Euryalus and then HMS Humber, guarded the port. A landing strip was built at Kuntilla, and by August 4 the Royal Flying Corps was bombing Maan, Abu al-Lissan and Fuweilah, supplementing continued attacks by Auda on the Hejaz railway. According to Lawrence, "In the next four months our experts from Akaba destroyed seventeen locomotives. Traveling became an uncertain terror for the enemy."[5]:312–13[6]:341–43, 380

Popular culture[edit]

The campaign and battle was inaccurately depicted in the film Lawrence of Arabia.

Bibliography[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ a b c Tucker 2005, p. 115
  2. ^ Lawrence 1926
  3. ^ Thomas 2017
  4. ^ Wilson 1992
  5. ^ a b c d e f Faulkner, Neil (2016). Lawrence of Arabia's War: The Arabs, the British and the Remaking of the Middle East in WWI. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 264–65. ISBN 978-0300226393.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Lawrence, T.E. (1935). Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Garden City: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc. pp. 225–74.

References

External links[edit]