On June 10th 1916, Sherif Hussein Ibn Ali, Emir of Mecca, fired a shot into the air and thus signaled the beginning of Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks. Immediately the Arab forces under Sherif surrounded, overwhelmed and captured a 1500 man Turkish garrison at Mecca. Royal Navy seaplanes and Handley Page Bombers supported Arab insurgents who struck and took the port city of Jedda from the Ottoman forces. Britain brought huge naval gunfire to bear upon the Turks forcing surrenders at Rabegh and Yanbu and 3000 Turkish troops at Ta’if. It was a new type of guerrilla warfare, a type where small fluid bands hit strategic locations supported by modern combine arms that include artillery and air support.
It was here that an Arabic speaking English staff officer at the Military Intelligence Department in Cairo became the liaison officer to Sherif Hussein’s oldest son Feisel. His name: Thomas Edward Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia. Not only was this Oxford educated statesman familiar with Arab culture, he loved it and felt great sympathy for the Arab tribes who squirmed under the thumbs of both the British and Ottoman rule. Lawrence was disgusted that a plan was drawn out that apportioned the land of the Arabs and the Jews without ever consulting anyone but diplomats themselves; thusly, Arab insurgents he led in guerrilla attacks upon the Turks were conducted with passion and ferocious determination because the Arabs thought they were fighting for their own sovereignty.
Lawrence led an audacious 600 mile trek, and with £20,000 to find mercenaries along the way beginning on May 10th, 1916, he brought a force of 2700 into the port of Aqaba, (now in Jordan), and brought control of this major port out of the hands of the Ottomans. The harassment from the air and sea provided courtesy of the Royal Navy, and the contestant guerrilla night time raids and behind the scenes destruction of railways and telegraph lines by irregulars under Lawrence combined to weaken the Turks. By the middle of September, the irregulars were regularly beating the disheartened Turks and had taken 75000 of them prisoner. The Turks were thoroughly beaten and Fakhri Pasha, the Turkish commander surrendered on November 11th.
The advent of behind closed doors contracts and settlements created the middle east that exists today. The style of warfare that we see conducted in the former Ottoman Empire looks strangely familiar, because it was a revolutionary blend of Arab desert fighting and new technology. In a vast sandy desert where even locals get lost and starve, huge armies have a short shelf life. In this inhospitable environment, assymetrical warfare reigns supreme. A small hidden band with a bag full if explosives can tie down ten thousand men and make every day patrolling more expensive than it seems worth. This was the bane and end of the Ottomans, the British before them and the French and Hapsburgs before them. I believe that every soldier of every Western army that ever marched into the timeless, prehistoric Arabian desert has at one time or another squinted into the unforgiving Sun and wondered what on Earth they were doing there.