Lawrence of Arabia
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Arab warfare

Lawrence learnt many useful desert skills when he lived with the Bedouins. He had traveled extensively in the Middle East and was fluent in Arabic.

He both admired and understood the Arabs and respected them for having a strategy of their own. Well-versed in western military theory, Lawrence suspected the war might be won without engaging in direct battles. He had his own theory: guerrilla warfare.

Hitting where it hurt
Lacking men and material to engage a regular army in major battle, Lawrence encouraged small-unit tactics, raids by 100 or 200 tribesmen, against the Turks.

Employing the smallest force, in the quickest time, at the farthest place, Lawrence's hit-and-run tactics in what he called this "war of detachment" caused maximum disruption to the Turks with minimum Arab casualties.

With the Ottoman army spread thinly across the empty vastness of the Arabian Peninsula, the Hejaz Arabs found it relatively easy to strike and sabotage Turkish lines of communication and supply. With the Red Sea firmly in British hands, the Turks had no option but to use the Hejaz railway to move their men, supplies and munitions.
Lawrence and the Arabs spent much of their two years on the road to Damascus destroying sections of the railway. Small units of men laid charges on the track. Then as the Turks defended the track, Lawrence's men formed large moving columns capable of rapid hit-and-run operations.

It was a war of attrition; Lawrence used fewer people to attack and sabotage than the Turks had to repair the tracks. He favored complicated explosions that required time-consuming repairs. A particular favourite was the 'tulip bomb', named for twisting tracks so that they could not be straightened.

An alternative was to 'walk' the track out of service. To cut the line, 20 men walked along the track, lifted rails and threw them away which they repeated mile after mile. Bridges were blown up to shatter rather than crumble as they consumed more man-hours to fix. Drainage holes in the masonry were particularly useful for explosives.

Blowing up trains was a very tricky operation but worked best with ordinary explosives laid in parallel along the track fired electrically by an observer.

Modern Weapons
Late in the war Lawrence introduced modern war machines to the Arabs. Bi-planes joined the Revolt and provided wonderful reconnaissance over enemy territory. Rolls Royce armored cars, the like of which many Bedouin had never seen, were described as "sons and daughters of trains", motorcycles were believed to be "devil's horses".

Lawrence soon demonstrated that armoured cars could powerfully strike the railway. Late in 1917, he and his commander Colonel Joyce drove at 60 mph to raid a Turkish garrison, and safely engaged the enemy. Lawrence called this "fighting de luxe".

It was Lawrence's great skill that he combined elements of traditional and modern warfare so successfully.

The Arabs willingness to assimilate Lawrence's views on irregular warfare with their centuries old approach to guerrilla operations made them a considerable force, despite their lack of numbers.
Read Lawrence's Twenty Seven Articles about how to fight with the Arab Bedouin...more

Go back to Lawrence or Background to war.

Hit and run raids
  Hit and run techniques wore down the Turks


Lawrence of Arabia