A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, July 10, 2017

July 1917: ‘Aqaba Falls to the Arab Revolt

Advancing on ‘Aqaba
Back in May, I wrote two parts of a post on the Arab Revolt's campaign to take the port of ‘Aqaba. 
Deadlines and a variety of ailments have kept me from blogging as much as I would have liked. I'm a little late  in returning to that narrative, since the battle occurred on July 6.

‘Auda in 1921
The small force of Prince Feisal's men who rode out of Wejh in May were supposed to raid to the north along the railroad. A key chief of the Howeitat tribe, ‘Auda Abu Tayeh. had joined the expedition atWejh  and suggested the idea of rallying the tribes and taking ‘Aqaba. T.E. Lawrence, the only British advisor with the force, enthusiastically backed the idea and was an avid admirer of ‘Auda. (In the 1962 film, Lawrence is the one who decides to attack ‘Aqaba, and ‘Auda, memorably portrayed by Anthony Quinn, is persuaded to join later. It's one of s litany of liberties taken in the film.)
‘Auda in Seven Pillars
After crossing the desert from Wejh, the raiders rallied support from ‘Auda's Howeitat and allied tribes. They raided the railroad as far north as Ma'an, while the Royal Navy, now aware of the operation, shelled ‘Aqaba (also absent in the movie).

Nor was‘Aqaba taken by a direct charge through a Turkish encampment, as portrayed in the movie;  but the real battle was fought many miles to the north, at a Turkish blockhouse at Abu al-Lissan, between ‘Aqaba and Ma'an (map at left).

Once that outpost was taken, the small Turkish detachment at ‘Aqaba fell easily. It was a small action, but it deprived Turkey of its last port on the Red Sea, gave Britain a new supply base to support the front in Palestine. And the Arab Revolt drew new attention in the West.

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