Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sinai - WWI

Ottoman troops, 1914, Gaza. The empire was defeated in World War I and partitioned by the Great Powers, notably Great Britain and France. Ottoman officers who successfully defended Gaza during the first battle.

The British in India and Egypt and the Russians in Central Asia were successful in suppressing the sultan's call for a Pan-Islamic movement. One might say, however, that to the extent that the powers had to maintain large garrisons at home to keep their Muslim subjects from revolting, the call had more success than has generally been admitted. Perhaps its greatest direct success came in Libya, where the Senusis responded by resuming their revolt against the Italians early in 1915, using Ottoman officers and German money to force the Italians to leave most of the desert areas and to concentrate in the coastal areas that they had taken in the early years of the Tripolitanian War. They also began to attack the British in Egypt's western deserts, and, though they were beaten in open battles, they carried on a destructive guerrilla warfare from a base at the Siwa Oasis until it was taken by the British late in 1916.

The Ottomans were encouraged to move into Egypt not only by the deposed Khedive Abbas Hilmi, who assured the sultan that his subjects would rise in revolt, but also by the British, who occupied the port of Akaba, at the northern tip of the Red Sea, thus posing a serious threat to the Ottoman positions in Syria as well as the Arabian Peninsula. In direct response Cemal Paşa was made governor of Syria with the job of organizing and leading an expeditionary force to drive the British from Egypt. After he arrived in Damascus, he started to introduce major reforms in the hope of securing Arab assistance, but emerging Arab nationalism led to local resistance. Cemal was therefore forced to take stern measures to prevent an open revolt from frustrating his plans for Egypt. Thus even as new roads and schools were built, leading nationalist agitators were imprisoned and executed and general suppression followed. His move against Egypt was no more successful than his effort to conciliate the Arabs. He marched a force of some 80,000 men across the wastes of the Sinai Desert in January 1915, but the British had successfully suppressed Arab movements in Egypt through a combination of force and promises for some kind of Arab independence in the future. So Cemal was not greeted with the expected Egyptian uprising, and strong British resistance forced him back from the Suez Canal without any success. Thereafter, the Ottoman threats to the canal and to Egypt were limited to a series of raids, mainly under the command of a Bavarian colonel, Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein. He was helped by a young German major, Franz von Papen, whose subsequent rise to power in Germany led him to a role in the Nazi triumph, after which he was sent back as German ambassador to the Turkish Republic during World War II.

Soldiers in the Arab Army during the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918. They are carrying the Arab Flag of the Arab Revolt and pictured in the Arabian Desert.

Beginnings of the Arab Revolt
In the meantime, with McMahon's promises in hand Şerif Hüseyin proclaimed the Arab Revolt on June 5, 1916, soon following with a declaration of himself as "King of the Arab Countries," though Allied objections, particularly on the part of France, subsequently caused him to modify this to no more than "King of the Hicaz." The Ottoman army in Arabia was stationed in the Yemen, at the Holy Cities, and along the new Hicaz Railroad, which connected Medina with Damascus, and it assumed a mainly defensive role. Hüseyin organized the bedouins under his control into a guerrilla army entrusted to the command of his son, Emir Faysal, with the advice of several British officers, including T. E. Lawrence, whose later claims to have inspired the movement seem somewhat exaggerated. The immediate effect of the revolt was to cut the Hicaz Railroad and overrun the Ottoman garrisons at Mecca and Cidda. All the other towns in the Hicaz soon were also under rebel control with the exception of Medina, which remained under siege, and the Yemen was entirely cut off. Another Arab force commanded by Emir Faysal was organized to move north to assist a British push from Egypt into Syria. But with the barren wastes of the Sinai Desert as well as a strong Ottoman army in Syria, now commanded by von Sanders and Mustafa Kemal, the British took their time. Though the Arab Revolt concentrated in the Arabian Peninsula disrupted the Ottoman position there, it had yet to make the significant overall contribution the British expected.

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