World War I and the Sinai campaign gave us Lawrence of Arabia; King Faisal of Iraq; King Hussain and the Arab revolt from Ottoman rule; the Charge of the Australian Light Horse; and the advance on Damascus. It also gave us broken promises and a carve up of the Middle East which arguably has resulted in problems that we still have today.
General Sir Edmund Allenby led the force that marched on Damascus. The force included Australian, New Zealand and British mounted contingents, British infantry and artillery and an Arab army under the command of Ḥussain’s son Faiṣal, formed in the Hejaz, with Syrian and other Arab officers and British help led by T.E. Lawrence.
Peter O’Toole along with T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom have immortalised the Arab contribution to the campaign; the Charge of the Australian Light Horse has focused the Cavalry contribution to the campaign; the taking of the railway was an Arab contribution; and the taking of the towns and wadis has shown the infantry contribution for those that marched along with the columns. The arm overlooked in the past, however, has been the artillery that took part in the campaigns.
Allenby’s Gunners – Artillery in the Sinai and Palestine Campaigns 1916-1918 by Alan Smith published by Pen & Sword Military on 6 December 2017 (ISBN: 9781526714657) does much to set the record straight.
Alan Smith is an Australian author, the book first being published in Australia by Blue Sky Publishing before being picked up by Pen and Sword Military and being exposed to a wider audience.
The book is very well laid out with the Table of Contents listing the photographs; maps; and tables before the Foreword. A Preface then follows after which are Notes on Sources; Abbreviations used; and Map Legend. The main part of the book is then broken up into three broad sections or Narratives, with Narrative One providing the Background to April 1916. Narrative Two covers the period November 1917 to May 1918 and Narrative Three covers May 1918 to November 1918 and the end of the war. There are then 8 appendices; endnotes; bibliography; and an index.
Each of the Narratives is then further broken up into bite sized chunks. For example, Narrative Two covers:
- The Great Northern Drive
- The drive north to Junction Station
- Allenby takes Jerusalem
- The Northern Front and the defence of Jerusalem
- The capture of Jericho
- The Amman raid and the first Es Salt affair
- The April 1918 battles of XX Corps and XXI Corps
- The second Es Salt raid
- The Northern Front 1. Wadi Auja: 18 March 1918
- Summer in the Jordan Valley
The narratives are easy to read and flow well. The layout of the book makes browsing easy and it is a simple matter to look into particular areas of interest. In addition to the written content of the chapters, Smith has provided relevant illustrations at various stages through the book.
For example, Chapter 22, The Northern Front 1. Wadi Auja: 18 March 1918 is four pages long and contains image 16: the Abu Tellul feature which was the objective of Allenby’s planned advance in the area, with the capture of the Wadi Auja and its waters, designed to dishearten the Turks further. Smith carries the narrative well but doesn’t lose sight of the objective of the book, which is to discuss Allenby’s Gunners, the artillery arm of Alenby’s forces.
So Smith discusses Bulfins XXI Corps which went into the attack with:
- 52nd (Lowland); 54th (East Anglian) and 75th divisions and XXI Corp Cavalry
- XXI Corps Artillery under Brigadier Williamson-Oswald:
- 100th Heavy Group (15th and 181st batteries plus one section of the 43rd Siege Battery)
- 102nd Heavy Group (189th, 202nd and 380th siege batteries with one section of the 43rd and another of the 304th siege batteries)
- 95th Heavy Group (209th Siege Battery and one section each of the 134th and 304th siege batteries)
- Under command 75th Division – one section of the 134th Siege Battery , tractor drawn
Smith describes the assault and the contribution of the batteries to the assault. For example, he notes:
The infantry’s objective was the line of Wadi Deir Ballut. Farndale notes that ‘there were good positions for the artillery’, recognising also the impressive road building efforts of the RE field companies and infantry working parties to move the guns forward. On one such road to Abud, the 177nd Brigade RFA advanced by leapfrogging batteries.
The action overall was successful with the artillery-infantry cooperation.
The research Smith has put into this work is remarkable but importantly Smith does not lose sight of the object of the book, which is to cover the contribution of the artillery to the campaign. Artillery was key to the success of the campaigns in the Middle East. Best is that this book is written by an Aussie who is capable of looking at the campaign as a whole and the contributions of all arms without being tied up by the jingoism around the Australian Light Horse charge at Beersheba.
This book has re-sparked an interest in me in the Sinai and Palestine Campaigns of 1916 to 1918 as well as a desire to look further now at the carving up of the Middle East by the British and French post war.
Mr Smith, you have written a remarkable history and I commend you for it. It is a book I will refer to again many times in the coming years. And hour to spare, a narrative to read. Well written, I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anybody with an interest in Military History.