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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence, report 16 December 1917

[Arab Bulletin, 16 December 1917]

I left Akaba on October 24, with Capt. G. Lloyd, Lieut. Wood, R.E., and the Indian Machine Gun Company. The Indians took two Vickers, and I took two Lewis guns with me.

We marched to Rum (October 25) and thence across El-Gaa and up W. Hafir to near Batra. We crossed the railway just south of Bir el-Shedia and reached el-Jefer on October 28. Capt. Lloyd returned to Akaba from there. Sherif Ali ibn Husein overtook us, and the party marched to Bair, picked up Sheikh Mifleh el-Zebn and fifteen Sukhur and reached Amri on November 2. On November 5 we camped at Kseir el-Hallabat, and on the 7th failed to rush the bridge at Tell el-Shehab, and returned to Kseir. Thence the Indian M.G. Company with Lieut. Wood, returned to Azrak. I went with sixty Arabs to Minefir, blew up a train at Kil. 172 on November 11 and reached Azrak on the 12th. My intention had been to reach Jisr el-Hemmi on November 3, but this proved impossible, since rain had made the Jaulaan plain too slippery for our camels, and the Turks had put hundreds of woodcutters in the Irbid hills. This closed both the north and south roads, and left Tell el-Shehab (Bridge 14) the only approachable bridge in the Yarmuk valley. My first plan was to rush it by camel marches of fifty miles a day. This idea also failed, since by their best efforts the Indian Machine Gun Company were only able to do thirty to thirty-five miles a day, and even this pace cut up their camels very quickly, owing to their inexperience. They all did their best, and gave me no trouble at all, but were simply unable to march fast.

I decided, therefore, to raise an Arab force, and descend on the bridge in strength. The Abu Tayi refused to come, only fifteen Sukhur would take it on, and I had to rely mainly on thirty Serahin recruits at Azrak. They were untried men and proved little use at the pinch. For the last stage to the bridge, as hard riding was involved, I picked out six of the Indians, with their officer, and we got actually to the bridge at midnight on November 7. It is a position of some strength, but could, I think, be rushed by twenty decent men. The Indians with me were too few to attempt it, and the Serahin, as soon as the Turks opened fire, dumped their dynamite into the valley and bolted. In the circumstances I called everyone off as quickly as possible and went back to Kseir el-Hallabat. The Indians with us were very tired with the ride, which was a fairly fast one, of ninety miles in twenty-two hours. The Bedu and the Sherif wanted to do something more before returning to Azrak, and had the Indians been fitter, we could have put in a useful raid; but they were tired and had only half a day’s ration left, since all extra stuff has been placed at Azrak.

The situation was explained to the Sherif, who said it would be enough to mine a train, without making a machine gun attack upon it. The Bedu agreed, and we went off together. The party was composed of Sherif Ali with ten servants, myself with one, twenty Sukhur and thirty Serahin. None of us had any food at all. We went to Minifir, to Kil. 172, where I mined the line in June last. As the Bedu had lost my dynamite at the bridge I was only able to put 30 lbs. into the mine, which I laid on the crown of a four metre culvert (about eighteen feet high) and took the wires as far up the hill-side toward cover as they would reach. Owing to the shortage of cable this was only sixty yards, and we had to leave the ends buried, for fear of patrols. A train came down before dawn on the 10th, too fast for me to get to the exploder from my watching place. In the morning of the 10th a train of refugees came up at four miles an hour from the south. The exploder failed to work, and the whole train crawled past me as I lay on the flat next the wires. For some reason no one shot at me, and after it had passed I took the exploder away and overhauled it, while a Turkish patrol came up and searched the ground very carefully. That night we slept on the head of the wires, and no train appeared, till 10 a.m. on November 11. Then a troop train of twelve coaches and two locomotives came down from the north at twenty miles an hour. I touched off under the engine and the explosion was tremendous. Something must have happened to the boiler for I was knocked backwards and boiler plates flew about in all directions. One fragment smashed the exploder, which I therefore left in place, with the wires. The first engine fell into the valley on the east side of the line; the second up-ended into the space where the culvert had been, and toppled over onto the tender of the first. The frame buckled, and l doubt whether it can be repaired. Its tender went down the embankment west, and the first two coaches telescoped into the culvert site. The next three or four were derailed. Meanwhile I made quite creditable time across the open, up-hill towards the Arabs, who had a fair position, and were shooting fast over me into the coaches, which were crowded with soldiers. The Turkish losses were obviously quite heavy. Unfortunately many of the Serahin had no rifles, and could only throw unavailing stones. The Turks took cover behind the bank, and opened a fairly hot fire at us. They were about 200 strong by now. Sherif Ali brought down a party of twenty-two to meet me, but lost seven killed and more wounded and had some narrow escapes himself before getting back.

The train may have contained someone of importance, for there were a flagged saloon-car, an Imam, and a motor car in it. I suspect someone wanted to go via Amman to Jerusalem. We riddled the saloon. The Turks, seeing us so few, put in an attack later which cost them about twenty casualties, and then began to work up the slopes to right and left of us. So we went off, and reached Azrak next day.

This mine showed that sixty yards of cable is too little for firing heavy charges under locomotives. I had first to survive the rain of boiler plates, and then to run up a steep hill for 400 yards under fire. By good chance it was impossible to carry off the wire, so the performance cannot be repeated till more comes from Akaba.

The march also showed the staying qualities of the Bedouins. They rode ninety miles without food or rest on the 8th, ate a small meal on the morning of the 9th and sat out hungry two nights and three days of bitterly cold wind and rain (we had not the satisfaction of being steadily wet, but were wetted and dried five times) till the evening of the 11th when we killed them a riding camel; after which they rode into Azrak cheerfully.         


Source: SD 142-145
Checked: mv/
Last revised: 1 August 2006

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