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The Battle for Syria, 1918-1920

The Battle for Syria, 1918-1920

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Battle for Syria, 1918-1920
    Book Description:

    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'.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-100-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. List of maps
    (pp. vi-vi)
  5. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    The British army in Egypt came under attack as soon as the war with Turkey began in 1914.¹ A Turkish army invaded Egypt, hoping that the Egyptians would respond to a call for jihad, but they did not. The Turks were stopped at the obstacle of the Suez Canal, which, not for the last time, acted as a defensive moat, keeping the invader out of Egypt proper. For a time, attention centred on the Allied attack on Gallipoli, but by late 1915 this was clearly a failure; attention shifted back to Egypt and Palestine. The Gallipoli troops were evacuated to...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Defeats
    (pp. 13-24)

    The British move into the Jordan Valley to secure Jericho was also aimed at gaining control of crossing places over the river, blocking the Turkish supply route across the Dead Sea, and hoping to join up with the Arab forces. The equivalent of two divisions were used, the 60th London Division, commanded by Major-General John Shea, to which 231 Brigade was attached from the 74th Yeomanry Division. Along with these infantry units were the New Zealand Mounted Brigade (three regiments) and the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade, both from the Australian and New Zealand (Anzac) Mounted Division. Their task was...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Turks
    (pp. 25-34)

    The Ottoman Empire had entered the Great War quite willingly, even if it did so at a push from Germany. For the empire the main enemy was always Russia, a country which had been a constant and repeated enemy for centuries. Russia had gradually chopped off parts of the empire, either by annexations or by encouraging provinces to grasp at independence. The other Ottoman enemies in this war, Britain and France, became so because they were allied with Russia. At the same time, both of these countries had also sliced off choice Ottoman morsels in the past, notably in Britain’s...

  9. Chapter 3 The New Army
    (pp. 35-53)

    The 52nd and 74th Divisions entrained at Ludd in April and embarked at Kantara on the Suez Canal on their way to France. Their replacements had already begun to arrive – though these had originally been intended not as replacements but as reinforcements. The 7th Indian Division was sent by sea from Mesopotamia and had arrived in the Suez area in early January. It surrendered its artillery component to the departing 52nd Division, receiving that division’s guns in their place. Much of this change had been arranged by early April, but the actual movement of units meant that the disruption of...

  10. Chapter 4 The Arabs
    (pp. 54-64)

    The Arab Revolt which began in June 1916 moved forward and spread only slowly. The Arabs who became fighters were generally untrained, unless they were former Ottoman soldiers. The family of the Sharif Husain was more interested in establishing itself in power – certainly a necessary first step – than in liberating fellow Arabs, and it did not altogether trust the British. In this they had good reason, as the Balfour Declaration had shown, and as the revelation of the Sykes-Picot Agreement by the Bolsheviks in 1917 confirmed. The prospect of this particular family rising to prominence and power in Arabia and...

  11. Chapter 5 The French
    (pp. 65-72)

    France claimed to have long had a special interest and place in the Levant, above that of any other European power. Under the influence of national pride in the nineteenth century this interest was said to have dated back to the Crusades, seen in France as a largely French national enterprise, not altogether unjustly. What is more certain is that there was an intermittent alliance with the Ottoman Empire, most notoriously in the sixteenth century, and in extensive trade relations, particularly in the eighteenth century. Napoleon came into this, of course, even though he was defeated and driven out – but...

  12. Chapter 6 The Plan
    (pp. 73-84)

    In December 1917, as soon as Allenby had reported the capture of Jerusalem and thereby the completion of the main task assigned to him by the Prime Minister, he was asked what he would now do to exploit his success.¹ He was then asked to think in terms of first conquering the rest of Palestine, and then of campaigning as far north as Aleppo.² He stated in reply to the first enquiry that he felt it ‘essential’ to advance ‘step-by-step’,³ and then pointed out in a later letter, after Aleppo as a target was restated by Robertson, that such a...

  13. Chapter 7 Preparations
    (pp. 85-97)

    The date of the great attack had been settled by August, but the preparations for it, in various ways, had already been going on for months. The attack was generally expected, of course, and anyone who thought for any length of time about conditions in Palestine could have worked out that it would be launched in the coastal plain, and in the autumn, preferably earlier than the end of October. The Third Gaza battle had begun on 31 October and the pursuit was soon bogged down by mud and rain; therefore an attack at least a month before the end...

  14. Chapter 8 Preliminaries
    (pp. 98-110)

    The decisive defeat of the Turkish army in Palestine is collectively known as the Battle of Megiddo, which is something of a misnomer since there was very little fighting in or near that place; its selection, however, did allow the British to link their victory with the Bible and Old Testament fights. Every account on the British side makes these links, and even Falls’s Official History Vol. II devotes two full pages to a discussion of the place of Megiddo – ‘Armageddon’ – in military history. The initial fight, on 19 September, also has a separate name – the Battle of Sharon – from...

  15. Chapter 9 The Infantry Battle
    (pp. 111-129)

    Zero-hour for the attack, 4.30 a.m., was anticipated by many of the attacking units. In fact ‘zero-hour’ was the start of the artillery bombardment, whose timing was integrated with the infantry advance. The aim was to stun the Turks with a sudden shelling, then to advance the infantry just behind the shells. They would then occupy the shattered enemy trenches. This is in the main what happened, at least in the plain of Sharon where the rival lines were fairly close together.

    Many of those who wrote accounts of these events remembered the sudden beginning of the bombardment. ‘Every gun...

  16. Chapter 10 The Cavalry Battle
    (pp. 130-146)

    The infantry could crush the Turkish forces immediately before them, and did so on 19 September, but only the cavalry could properly exploit that victory by rampaging through the Turkish rear areas, capturing and scattering unsuspecting Turkish units, and destroying any immediate prospect of the revival of resistance. The 4th and 5th Cavalry Divisions had got through the old Turkish defences very early on the 19th, and once past the Nahr Iskenderun, there was little in the form of resistance to their ‘great ride’.

    From the crossing of the Nahr Iskenderun they intended to swing right into the Plain of...

  17. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  18. Chapter 11 The East, Haifa, Samakh
    (pp. 147-161)

    The section of the Turkish forces primarily affected by the infantry assault on 19 September was VIII Army, whose headquarters at Tulkarm was captured; also affected were the retreating groups and fugitives from this particular corps – they had been ravaged by the air raids at Anebta and the cavalry raids all over the Plain of Esdraelon on the 19th and 20th. The VII Army, holding the line in the face of the 53rd and the 10th Divisions and in the Jordan Valley west of the river, was hardly affected, except for having to retreat to maintain a defensive position as...

  19. Chapter 12 Damascus and Beirut
    (pp. 162-177)

    Allenby had first mentioned Damascus as a target during his conversation with Chauvel on 22 September, but both Damascus and Aleppo had already been suggested as suitable targets for his continuing campaign – indeed, an attack on Aleppo had been mooted months beforehand. He had slapped it down then, and he did so once more in September. A ‘cavalry raid’ to Aleppo was, he said, ‘not feasible’. As he explained – and this should have been obvious in London – the distance from Nazareth to Aleppo was 300 miles and there were probably 25,000 Turkish troops in the Aleppo region, with more on...

  20. Chapter 13 Aleppo and Haritan
    (pp. 178-187)

    The advance from the ‘Auja-Auja line’ had brought the British forces out of the region where major medical efforts had kept the toll of diseases within bounds The advance now took the soldiers into the regions were such efforts had not been made, or at least had not succeeded. Those troops who had been stationed for any length of time in the Jordan Valley had already been exposed to the local form of malaria, which was particularly virulent, but now just about all the troops were to be exposed to it.

    This was not the only disease to attack them....

  21. Chapter 14 The Occupied Territories
    (pp. 188-197)

    The penetration of British forces into northern Syria brought them into a very different political society than they had found in Palestine. The political turmoil in Damascus, and the complex doings in Lebanon, showed this even in the first week of the British conquest, and the French were already establishing a presence. The political issue, however, was much wider than merely Syria and Palestine. The Ottoman Empire still existed and was still relatively well armed – the armistice did not require Turkish disarmament – while the king of the Arabs had strong ambitions for expansion and had a right to expect consideration...

  22. Chapter 15 Problems with the Army
    (pp. 198-206)

    There was a widespread misapprehension in November 1918 that the war was over. The successive armistices with Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, and Germany certainly brought the fighting to an end, and the insistence in all cases that the defeated armies be largely demobilized at once made it clear that the Allies had the victory, and that the fighting was unlikely to be resumed. But an armistice was only that – an end to fighting – not a peace. For the British soldiers who were stationed in northern Syria in 1919, the difference would be clear – that were still substantial numbers of...

  23. Chapter 16 Rebellion in Egypt
    (pp. 207-221)

    Since 1914 Egypt had been the main base in the eastern Mediterranean for the British forces. It was the base to which the defeated army from the Dardanelles had retreated to lick its wounds. Alexandria and Port Said were the essential naval bases to patrol the local seas. It was the base where forces from Australia and New Zealand and India landed. It was the base from which the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, first under Murray, then under Allenby, had come to campaign into and conquer Palestine and Syria. In December 1918 it became the base to which those forces were...

  24. Chapter 17 France and Syria
    (pp. 222-234)

    The British had never, despite French assumptions, suspicions, and accusations, had any wish or intention of keeping control of any of Syria beyond ‘Dan’, in the north of Palestine. On the other hand they did look with favour on the extension of Arab control into the inland parts of northern Syria. By contrast, the French wished to secure clear control and rule over as much of greater Syria as possible, and were quite prepared to accept the restrictions implied by the mandate system, on the assumption that such restrictions were largely theoretical and could be easily evaded (an assumption fully...

  25. Conclusion
    (pp. 235-236)

    None of the lands considered in this book were really settled at the end of 1920. It took perhaps another five years for the whole region to become more or less peaceful – and then a huge rebellion in Syria shook the French regime to its foundations. By then Egypt had reached a certain equilibrium, thanks to concessions suggested in the special mission headed by Lord Milner, and High Commissioner Viscount Allenby’s insistence that they be implemented. A long tour by Winston Churchill in 1921 promoted local concessions and produced a more or less settled Palestine, though continued British favour towards...

  26. Maps
    (pp. 237-242)
  27. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-248)
  28. Index
    (pp. 249-262)
  29. Back Matter
    (pp. 263-263)