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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence, report 21 October 1917


THE RAID NEAR BIR ESH-SHEDIYAH
[Arab Bulletin, 21 October 1917]

Report dated October 10, received from Major Lawrence, C.B.

I left Akaba on September 27, to test an automatic mine on the Hejaz railway. In view of the possibility of wider operations in October, I took with me Lieutenant Pisani, of the French section at Akaba, and three educated Syrians (Faiz and Bedri el-Moayyad, and Lutfi el-Asali), in order to train them in antirailway tactics.

We marched to Rum on September 29, where we stopped three days. Lieut. Pisani had fever, and I spent the time in showing him and the others the preliminary work of mining and arranging with Sherif Hasim, a Shenabra, who is O.C., Rum, details of the Bedouin force required. Feisal's orders to him were to go where, when, and as I wanted. In an endeavour to get over the difficulties caused by Audah Abu Tayi's pretensions, I appointed Sheikh Salem Alayan (Dumaniyah) to be O.C. Bedouins, and asked for only Dumaniyah and Darausha tribesmen, about forty in all. This number would have been enough to deal with a wrecked train, and easy to handle in the Fasoa district (for which I was bound), where the wells are small. However the enormous haul of booty in the train blown up early in September near Mudowarrah had completely turned the heads of the Huweitat, and hundreds clamoured and insisted on taking part in my new expedition. We had a great deal of difficulty, and in the end I accepted nearly I00 Darausha, and fifty Dumaniyah, including every Sheikh in the two sub-tribes. All others were refused.

A feature of the Huweitat is that every fourth or fifth man is a sheikh. In consequence the head sheikh has no authority whatever, and as in the previous raid, I had to be O.C. of the whole expedition. This is not a job which should be undertaken by foreigners, since we have not so intimate a knowledge of Arab families, as to be able to divide common plunder equitably. On this occasion, however, the Bedouins behaved exceedingly well, and everything was done exactly as I wished; but during the six days' trip I had to adjudicate in twelve cases of assault with weapons, four camel-thefts, one marriage-settlement, fourteen feuds, two evil eyes, and a bewitchment. These affairs take up all one's spare time.

We marched up Wadi Hafri (which drains into el-Gaa, N.E. of Rum, a central basin into which W. Hisma and W. Rabugh also pour) to its head near Batra, where we watered with some difficulty owing to scarcity of supply, and the numerous Arab families at the well. The area between Batra and the railway is full of Arab tents. From Batra we marched on October 3 to near kilo. 475, where I meant to mine; but we found Turkish guard posts (of fifteen to twenty-five men) too close to the suitable spots. At nightfall, therefore, we went away to the south, till midnight, when we found a good place, and buried an automatic mine at kilo. The nearest Turkish post was 2,500 m. away on the south. On the north there was no post for nearly 4,000 yards. The mine-laying took the five of us two hours, and then we retired 1,500 yards from the line and camped. On the 4th no train passed. On the 5th a water-train came down from Maan at 10 a.m., and went over the mine without firing it. I waited till mid-day and then, in two hours, laid an electric mine over the automatic. The Turks patrolled the line twice daily, but one may usually reckon on their all sleeping at noon. We then disposed the Arabs to attack the train when it should come, and waited till the morning of October 6 for one to arrive.

The line here crosses a valley on a bank twenty feet high, and 500 yards long. The bank is pierced by three small bridges, at intervals of about 200 yards. We laid our mines over the southernmost of these, took the cables along the track to the midmost (the firing position), and put two Lewis guns in the northernmost, from which point they were in a position to rake the embankment. From this northern bridge ran up westward a two-foot deep torrent bed, spotted with broom bushes. In these the men and guns hid till wanted.

On the 6th a train (twelve wagons) came down from Maan at 8 a.m. It arrived only 200 yards in advance of the Turkish patrol (of nine men), but this gave us time to get into position. From the open bed of the valley in front of the line, where I was sitting to give the signal for firing, it was curious to see the train running along the top of the bank with the machine-gunners and exploders dancing war-dances beneath the bridges. The Arabs behind me were beautifully hidden, and kept perfectly still.

The explosion shattered the fire-box of the locomotive (No. 153, Hejaz), burst many of the tubes, threw the l.c. cylinder into the air, cleaned out the cab, warped the frame, bent the two near driving wheels and broke their axles. I consider it past repair. Its tender, and the front wagon were also destroyed, with one arch of the bridge. The Couplings broke, and the last four wagons drifted backwards downhill out of fire. I was too late to stop them with a stone. A Kaimmakam General Staff, appeared at one window, and fired at us with a Mauser pistol, but a Bedouin blazed into him at twenty yards, and he fell back out of sight and I hope damaged. (We have heard since he got back safe to Maan: he was one, Nazmi Bey.) The eight remaining wagons were captured in six minutes. They contained about seventy tons of food-stuffs, 'urgently required at Medain Salih for Ibn Rashid', according to way-bills captured with the lot. We carried off about a third of this, and destroyed another third or more. The Turkish killed amount to about fifteen. Some civilians were released, and four officers taken prisoner.

The plundering occupied all the energies of our Bedouins, and Turkish counter-attacks came up unopposed from N. and S. I rolled up the electric cables first of all, and as they are very heavy and I was single-handed, it took nearly three quarters of an hour to do this. Then two chiefs of the Darausha came to look for me. I went up to the top of the bank, hoping to fire the train, but found about forty Turks coming up fast and only 400 yards off. As the nearest Bedouins were 1,000 yards away and they were all on foot, driving their laden camels at top speed westward, I felt that it would be foolish to delay longer alone on the spot, and so rode off with the two Arabs who had come back for me. We all reached Rum safely on the 7th, and Akaba on the 8th, where I found telegrams asking me to go to Suez and on to G.H.Q., E.E.F.

The raid was intended as an experiment only, and was most successful. The automatic mine failed, but I proved able to keep 150 Bedouins in a camp 1,000 yards from the line for three days without giving the Turks warning of our presence, in spite of the regular patrols passing up and down the line. This means that the rank and file of the Arabs, as well as the sheikhs, did as I ordered. The complete destruction of a captured train, and annihilation of relief parties, will be easy, as soon as I have the Indian M.G. section to support me in the actual action. The Lewis gunners on this occasion were two of my Arab servants, trained by me in one day at Rum. They killed twelve of the enemy's casualties, but of course went off to get booty immediately afterwards.

M. Pisani, Faiz el-Moayyad, and Lufti el-Asali, are now, I think, competent to lay mines by themselves. I was very well satisfied with all three of them.

Source: SD 137-141
Checked: mv/
Last revised: 1 August 2006


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