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Allenby of the Middle East

When the public thinks of the “the war to end all wars” in the Middle East, many have envisioned in their minds Peter O’ Toole playing Colonel T.E. Lawrence in “Lawrence of Arabia”. Colonel T.E. Lawrence though was not the only strategist that proved to be a winning leader in a war where most were incompetent. Nicknamed “Bloody Bull”, General Edmund Allenby would guide the British army to the newfound idea of victory and would finish off the dying Ottoman Empire.

The year is 1917, and the slowed and rusted gears of World War I were still locked in a war of attrition. Men were hunkered down in the mud coursed trenches, both the Allied and Central Powers, waiting, wondering, and wanting to win. The Central Powers were worn out from the three years of war and defeat seemed very possible. Yet, they still were able to hold most of the land they obtained from the battles of 1914. Then abruptly a steel wave would come crashing against Germany and its allies. This steel wave was America. After America had several of its merchant ships destroyed by Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare and its discovery of the Zimmerman Telegram, a German message to Mexico to join the Central Powers and attack the United States, America had decided it had enough. On April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson declared war on the Central Powers and in less than a year millions of fresh American soldiers would be fighting on towards Berlin’s gates.

While all of this was going on the Western Front another war was being waged in a distant land. The mud trenches of the war in Europe would be replaced by the gritty sand of the Middle East. This was the sand of the Ottoman Empire. It was an empire that was quickly dissolving and would not survive the war. The British saw this land as an area of opportunity. Although the British army had been disgraced at the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 it felt it had enough strength to try again.

Appointed to command this second try was General Allenby (1861-1936) replacing General Archibald Murray. Allenby was fresh from the Western Front where he had been fighting for the past three years under the British Expeditionary Force. He was an expert in cavalry warfare, which was quickly being antiquated by the use of machine guns and tanks. These rules though were not the same in the deserts of the Middle East. The rules of cavalry being antiquated did not yet apply against the poorly supplied army of the Ottoman Turks. On June 27, 1917 Allenby took command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. Every soldier in Allenby’s unit were highly valued since their numbers, about 70,000, were limited due to the meat-grinder of the Western Front which required the majority of the British army. Once Allenby had landed with his new army he got planning on conquest. It was around this time where Colonel T.E. Lawrence was let loose to lead the Arab revolt, distracting the Turks from Allenby. Shortly after he came to Egypt Allenby also lost his only son in the meat-grinder of the Western Front. After the devastating blow of his son’s death he planned the battle of Beersheba. He expertly deceived the Turks, making them think he was going to attack the city of Gaza by sea, but he did so by land. A naval bombardment was effectively used on the city to solidify the ploy. Allenby then attacked the small city of Beersheba, located east of Gaza, through the use of a cavalry charge on October 31, 1917. Time was of the essence because Allenby did not want to be spotted and have the city’s vital water supply poisoned by the retreating Turks. Beersheba was quickly captured due to one of the last gallant cavalry charges of warfare itself. After this attack the defensive Gaza-Beersheba line fell shortly after and Gaza was quickly captured. Soon after Jerusalem was also captured by Allenby. As a sign of respect being the first Christian conqueror of Jerusalem since the Crusades he and his men walked into the city, rather than enter on horseback. Eventually, when Allenby’s army was recharged he finished off all remains of the Turkish army at the battle of Megiddo in September, 1918 and forcing 75,000 Turks to surrender.

The war in this front had been won by General Allenby. He though was greatly obscured by the adventures of Colonel T.E. Lawrence. The Ottoman Empire would be buried by 1919 because of the Arab Revolt Lawrence started. Although without Allenby the Ottoman Empire would have been able to survive and repress the Arab Revolt longer, but it was unable to due the drain the war had on its treasury and soldiers. Once the Arabs had regained their land back from the Ottoman Empire they were told they would be given total freedom to control these new lands. This though was not the case. This “free” land that was promised to the Arabs was sliced up between European nations. After the war from 1919-1925 Allenby would become the high commissioner of Egypt and would grant Egypt the true freedom that had been promised to them. It is a shame that there were not more generals like Allenby in the war that was supposed to end all wars. If there were more generals like Allenby the turmoil of the Middle East would be nonexistent. World War 1 would have surly ended much the bloody wars the rest of the 20th century would bring.



General Allenby. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/lawrenceofarabia/players/allenby.html
Rickard, J (6 September 2007), Battle of Megiddo, 19-25 September 1918 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_megiddo1918.html
Cyril Falls, C.F. (1949). Exhibit. Retrieved from http://thepeerage.com/e104.htm



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