Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Lawrence of Arabia
Players Arab Revolt Desert survival Arab warfare Battle Features The Show Resources Classroom Resources Home  
Arab warfare
  How did a small army of Arabs defeat the Turks - the fourth largest army in the world?

In 1916, the Ottoman Empire was weak but it controlled Syria, Palestine and much of the Arabian Peninsula.

The Turks were well-equipped, with modern weapons and engineering. They were expertly trained. On paper, the Arabs were no match for them and the Arab Revolt ground to a halt. By June 1916 they were looking for new ideas, and they needed supplies.

Step forward Captain T.E. Lawrence, who liaised between Arab and British command and breathed new life into the campaign, providing gold, guns and the much-needed new ideas. He came up with the clandestine guerrilla warfare tactics that hit the Turks hard where they were most vulnerable and won the war.

Arab forces
The Arabs fought as a coalition, they did not see themselves as a single nation but as partners of convenience united in their determination to rid Arabia of the Ottomans. Tribes preferred to fight under their own Sheiks as individual warriors and as members of tribes. But each tribe guarded their independence fiercely and quarrels were frequent, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Prince Feisal, the leader of this fragile coalition, spent a lot of his time resolving disputes and avoiding alienating tribal leaders. With good will, humor and tact he was able to maintain order and peace.

Raids - not a lost art

The Arabs who took up arms against the Turks in 1916 were the hardy desert dwellers from the South - the Bedouins. They had been raiding their enemies for centuries, enriching themselves at the expense of rival tribes.

Stealth and guile were central to their success, sneak night attacks being a favorite, but when numbers favored them they would charge their enemy on camelback - a sight the Turks truly feared.

more

Arabs: long-time raiders
  The Arabs had been raiding their enemies for centuries  


Lawrence of Arabia