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Lawrence in Arabia

Diplomat and traveller Hugh Leach draws on his experience of working with Arab tribes to examine T.E. Lawrence’s strategy in the Arab revolt, in anticipation of a new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.

British Army photo of T.E. Lawrence in 1915T.E. Lawrence's tactics in helping organize the Arab revolt have been the subject of serious military studies. Basil Liddell Hart, in T.E.Lawrence in Arabia and After (1934), claimed they were superior to those of Saxe, Von Clausewitz (Lawrence's mentor) and Foch, while a paper from the American Army War College in 1973 compared them with those of Mao. If Lawrence was the first to employ 'hit and run' guerrilla tactics in a major conflict, they were adapted in the Second World War by the Long Range Desert Group operating against Rommel in North Africa but using jeeps not camels.

The Arab Revolt, initiated by the Hashemites and aided by the British, was designed to release the Arabs from the Ottoman yoke and drive the Turks out of Arab lands. It started with a local move against the Turkish garrisons in Jeddah, Mecca and Taif on June 5th, 1916, and ended with the Turkish armistice on October 31st, 1918. Lawrence's own involvement on the ground was from his arrival in the Hejaz on October 16th, 1916 until the taking of Damascus on October 1st, 1918.

Most of the action by Amir Faisal's tribal irregulars, advised and aided by Lawrence and a handful of British officers, took place along the axis of the Hejaz railway. This line, built between 1901-08, was designed to carry pilgrim traffic from Damascus to Medina. Although its original purpose was religious, the Turks used it to strengthen their hold over Arabia and maintain supplies to their garrisons.

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