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Threads: October 1997
T.E. Lawrence Biography 27
Lawrence, Liddell Hatt, Tanks 28-35

0027) Date: Sun, 5 Oct 1997 09:41:03 -0400
From: Jeremy Wilson
Subject: T. E. Lawrence Biography: 1

For the benefit of those who have joined this list recently, my aim is to
provide a focus for discussion by looking at five biographies of Lawrence
(Aldington, Mack, Stewart, Wilson, and James) comparing the accounts and the interpretation. In the process I hope that everyone on the List will gain an idea of what has been established beyond reasonable doubt, what can be safely rejected, what remains uncertain, and which ideas about TEL stand up to examination and disucssion.

Any critical assessment of biography needs to relate to some basic principles. Therefore, to start out with I will offer some thoughts about that.

Comments wiii be welcome.
- - - - - - -

Lawrence's life has been subjected to endless speculation, much of it sensational. People often condemn that - yet, in biography, some degree of speculation is unavoidable.

Once, in response to a speculative comment on my part, A.W. Lawrence wrote to me 'Et tu, Brute?'

I was unrepentant. I compared historical research to archeology: you dig up a tiny shard, then another. They appear to come from the same pot. You find some more, and gradually begin to make out the shape of the pot. Armed with collateral knowledge (i.e., what other pots of the period were like), you can soon suggest what the complete pot would have looked like; when it was made and by which people; what it would have been used for; what its discovery says about past activities in the place where it was found, and so on.

While these conclusions may be pronounced with something near certainty, the process of reaching them involves a good deal of speculation: 'Could this be...?' - and the testing of that speculation against other data - all within a disciplned framework of logical deduction.

Therefore, one cannot outlaw or even condemn all speculation. Behind every historical work - however confident the author sounds - there is an endless process of speculation, leading to conclusions that can be stated with a greater or lesser degree of certainty. It is unusual for a historian to reveal the mechanics of this process, but it always takes place. Any self-critical historian should be able to score each conclusion reached on a scale of certainty: say, one to five.

Thus, while we can say with 5/5 certainty that the Treaty of Versailles was signed on a particular date, we can be much less certain about matters such as the date of Lawrence's alleged pre-war enlistment, or what he knew, before 1919, about his illegitimacy.

I think it is useful to talk in these terms because general readers, looking at one of the Lawrence biographies, have little basis for evaluating the reliability of the author's assertions. My object in these postings is to go behind the scenes in Lawrence's biography, looking at evidence and assessing deduction. You are very welcome to join in the game, not least as devil's advocates.

I have more to say on this but, to keep these postings short, I will break them up.

Watch this space...


0028) Date: 06/10/97 17:32:22
From: Jeremy Wilson <>
Subject: Lawrence, Liddell Hart, Tanks
From: AM, USA

OK, here's one to speculate about:

I just finished reading William Manchester's The Last Lion (Vol. 2). Manchester claims (on p.572 in the paperback) that Blitz-Krieg, both the
name and the concept, are of British origin. He says that British professional soldiers began looking for an alternative to trench warfare, and more specifically, "...Captain Basil Liddell Hart...studied Great War engagements in which tanks had been used successfully. Working out the theoretical possibilities of a totally mechanized offensive, [he] evolved the doctrine of mobile warfare, combining tanks and tactical aircraft." Manchester says Liddell Hart's ideas were not taken seriously by the British and French, but were picked up by the Germans and used in WW II.

So did TEL have an influence on his biographer and friend Liddell Hart, and indirectly, on the methods used in WW II? Mobile warfare using tanks and tactical aircraft sounds a lot like mobile warfare using armored cars (or desert raiders on camel) and tactical aircraft a la Seven Pillars.

0029) Date: Tue, 7 Oct 1997 09:12:08 -0400 (EDT)
From: Susan Warren
Subject: Re: Lawrence, Liddell Hart, Tanks

Wow! What a potential theory about armored warfare and TEL!

Does anyone know if armored-car warfare was used on a regular (or an irregular) basis anywhere else prior to the Arab Revolt? Since the automobile was a relatively new idea in the first two decades of this century, I can't think of many chances to employ tactics using this type of equipment.


0030) Date: ue, 7 Oct 1997 14:00:26 -0400
From: MC, Spain
Subject: Re: Lawrence, Liddell Hart, Tanks

I saw in the Discovery Channel - a few days ago-, a special TV program about Tanks and Tank History. According to this program, Tanks made their first successful appearance in the WWI, in the middle of the european trenches. They were French army tanks, and took more than 7000 german prisioners in less than 2 days. The Germans tried to emulate the technical innovation, but their tanks were very rudimentary (had to be controlled by a crew of 18 men).


0031) Date: Tue, 7 Oct 1997 13:10:20 -0600
From: TA, USA
Subject: Re: Lawrence, Liddell Hart, Tanks

An interesting topic. Though not a military historian, I'd like to add the following observations as a lubricant to this discussion.

The point of the novelty of motorized transport at the time of WW 1 is quite valid. The logistical requirements of supporting motorized contingents of militarily significant size in 1914 would have been condiderable. Availability of competent automechanics, spare parts and accessible facilities would have been one concern. Petrol supplies, in Europe at least, would have been difficult to maintain, given the nature of the conflict and the precarious infrastructure along the front. Transport and depot requirements of fuels are substantial.

Armored cars, being wheeled vehicles, are not as difficult to disable as tracked vehicles. Their armor is sufficient protection from small-arms fire (up to the calibre of a medium machine gun) and grenades, but here again, the wheels are vulnerable and ill-suited to the off-road conditions prevailing on the western front. The Tank only made its appearance in France when the war was well along, and never in the numbers (or with the mobility) required to make it tactically viable. Trench warfare provoked its development, but never as more than a plodding, cumbersome method to overcome the obstructions and withering fire of no-man's land. The German development of the Tank after the war produced a weapon of sufficient mobility, speed and armament and fire power to permit combined-arms operations.

The desert environment, as I learned during my stay in northern Arabia during Desert Storm, is ideal terrain for tracked vehicles. It is somewhat less ideal for wheeled vehicles, particularly in vast areas of loose sand. Unfortunately, the advantage of such terrain is offset by exposure to attack from the air. The complete lack of overhead cover and virtually unlimited visibility make air superiority essential (Ask the Iraqis).

In Lawrence's area of operations, where much of the terrain is heavily compacted by wind erosion or a composite of sand and lava rock, the armored car was a very useful weapon. Absent any anti-armor weapons in the Turkish inventory, and given the scarcity of aircraft in the area of the Hijaz railway, the mobility of armored cars certainly broadened his range of operations to some extent. Although I know of nothing he wrote on the subject, I suspect that Lawrence's experience, and knowledge of tactics as they then existed in the established armies, would have prompted him to appreciate the potential of more mobile, co-ordinated operations between air and armored surface forces. If so, here again (as with sea rescue craft), his vision was ahead of the technology of his day.


0032) Date: Wed, 8 Oct 1997 05:23:41 -0400
From: Jeremy Wilson
Subject: Re: Lawrence, Liddell Hart, Tanks

In this connection I can think of several issues:

a) Lawrence's direct experience, during the Arab Revolt, of the value of air bombardment and armoured cars. These were crucial elements which he acknowledged in Seven Pillars while not, in my view, giving them the page-count coverage they would merit in an objective study of his Syrian campaign.

b) Lawrence's tactical alliance at the Cairo Conference with Trenchard, who desperately needed a function for the RAF if it was to survive as a separate arm of the British armed forces.

c) Lawrence's repeated statements, in letters from India, that before rebel villages were bombed by the RAF, warnings were given so that people and lifestock and the most precious goods could be moved to safety.

d) Liddell Hart's use of Lawrence's war to illustrate a theory, rather than derivation of that theory from Lawrence's campaigns. Indeed, Adrian Liddell Hart used to say that the main reason his father appreciated Lawrence so much was that 'Lawrence of Arabia' provided a high-profile case-study supporting his arguments.


0033) Date:  Wed, 8 Oct 1997 04:40:57 -0400 (EDT)
From: PW, UK050) Subject: [TELstudies] From Phyllis Whowell
Subject: Re: Lawrence, Liddell Hart, Tanks

Allenby requested some tanks of the earlier type (ill-suited for the desert operation ) which were sent to Palestine. They gave a good account of themselves at the second battle of Gaza.


0034) Date: Wed, 8 Oct 1997 07:18:26 -0400
From: St.John Armitage, UK
Subject: Re: Lawrence, Liddell Hart, Tanks

This hare should be stopped. We should take care not to let Lawrence's influence on any subject become obscured by speculation on coincidences. Liddell-Hart's theory sprang from his own wartime experiences not Lawrence's and was concerned with regular not irregular warfare - he was an exponent of maximum force, Lawrence an advocate of minimum engagement.

What might be more useful subjects for the list would be Lawrence's use of cars, armoured cars and tenders in the campaign and, also, his influence on guerilla operations. This latter point has been well attested by soldiers of World War II such as the late Fitzroy MacLean, Peter Wilkinson, Peniakoff ("Popski"), Billie Mclean. Lawrence's railway demolition practices were taught to the Long Range Desert Group and Special Air Service during the war. It is said that his Twenty Seven Articles are part of to-day's S.A.S. teaching. Comparison of the guerilla strategies of Lawrence and Mao have also been a subject for professional study.

Lawrence had no special influence on the use of armoured cars, although he did reccomend their use in post-war Iraq where they were not a notable success, not least because they were not operated in the way they had been used with the Northern Army in the last year of the Revolt. In Iraq the operations of the Royal Air Force armoured car squadrons were of secondary importance both to the air operations and those of Glubb's desert patrol.

The five years of operations against the Ikhwan were mainly carried out by Glubb's camel force and four or five trucks mounted with machine guns although in the final operation they were chased out of Iraq by the armoured cars and then decimated by Ibn Saud's own forces.

The first armoured cars were used in successful opeartions against the Uhlan cavalry and German cycle troops in Belgium in 1914. Their first use in desert operations was against the Sanusi in Libya in 1916 from whence  detachment went to Akaba. Steel Chariots in the Desert by S.C. Rolls is an unofficial account of their operations which should be on all TEL lists for background reading.

The Discovery programme appears to be a misleading re-writing of history. The first British tank design was drawn by Admiral Bacon, at Winston Churchill's request in September 1914. The first tank ("Little Willie" from whose appearance the designation "tank" was derived) was produced a year later and the first in action was the British Mark 1, one more year later in September 1916. Colonel Swinton's idea, which he put forward to the Secretary of the War council in October 1914 or later was submitted quite independently of Churchill's directive. The execution of the project was given by Churchill to the Chief Constructor of the Navy. Swinton's involvement, and greatest contribution during the war, came later when after the tank trials in 1915 he wrote the detailed plan of the use of tanks in battle which was ignored by the generals until the end of 1917.


0035) Date: Date: Wed, 8 Oct 1997 07:18:29 -0400
From: St. John Armitage, UK
Subject: Re: Lawrence, Liddell Hart, Tanks

The tanks were of little use in the Second Battle. Most were out of action at an early stage. It was the Third Battle of Gaza in which six tanks "rendered valuable support" (Wavell's words - Allenby didn't mention their contribution in his despatch).

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