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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence, 'The Battle of Seil el-Hasa'

Arab Bulletin No 79, 18 February 1918


Tafila

January 26

A Turkish temporary regiment, commanded by Hamid Fakhri Bey, acting G.O.C. 48th Division, and composed of 3/151, 1/152, a murettab battalion of 150, with a company of gendarmes, a detachment of 100 cavalry, two Austrian quick-firing mountain guns, and twenty-three machine guns, was railed to Kalaat el-Hasa station on January 19, and left Kerak on January 23 to retake Tafila. The troops had been hurriedly collected from the Hauran and Amman commands, and came forward from Kerak short of supplies, and leaving no food and few men there.

On January 24, they came in contact in the afternoon with our patrols in Seil el-Hasa, and by night had driven them back into Tafila. The Sherifian officers had laid out a defensive position on the south bank of the great valley in which Tafila stands, and Sherif Zeid left for this about midnight, taking with him the sixty regulars and 400 irregulars (Ageyl, Bisha, Muteir) who had come with him from Akaba. The Sherifian baggage marched away at the same time towards Buseira, and everybody thought that we were running away. I think we were.

Tafila of course panicked, and as Diab el-Auran (the busy-bodied sheikh) had given us ominous reports of the disaffection and treachery of the villagers, I went down from my house before dawn into the crowded streets, to listen to what was being said. There was much free criticism of the Sherif distinctly disrespectful, but no disloyalty. Everyone was screaming with terror, goods were being bundled out of the houses into the streets, which were packed with women and men. Mounted Arabs were galloping up and down, firing wildly into the air, and the flashes of the Turkish rifles were outlining the further cliffs of the Tafila gorge. Just at dawn the enemy bullets began to fall in the olive gardens, and I went out to Sherif Zeid and persuaded him to send Abdullah Effendi (the machine gunner and the junior of our two officers) with two fusils mitrailleurs to support the peasants who were still holding the northern crest. His arrival stimulated them to a counter-attack in which they drove the Turkish cavalry back over the near ridge, across a small plain to the first of the low ridges falling into Wadi el-Hasa. He took this ridge also, and was there held up, as the Turkish main body was posted just behind it. The fighting became very hot, with huge bursts of Turkish machine-gun fire and a good deal of shelling.

Zeid hesitated to send forward reinforcements, so I went up to Abdullah's position (about seven miles north of Tafila) to report. On my way I met him returning, having had five men killed and one gun put out of action, and having finished his ammunition. We sent back urgent messages to Zeid to send forward a mountain gun, any available machine guns, and what men he could collect, to a reserve position, which was the southern end of the little plain between the Hasa valley and the Tafila valley. This plain is triangular, about two miles each way. The opening lay to the north, and was a low pass, through which the Kerak road ran, and up which the Turks were coming. The sides of the triangle were low ridges, and Abdullah's charge had taken all the western ridge.

After Abdullah had gone I went up to the front, and found things rather difficult. It was being held by thirty Ibn Jazi Howeitat, mounted, and about thirty villagers. The Turks were working through the pass, and along the eastern boundary ridge of the plain, and concentrating the fire of about fifteen machine guns on the face and flank of the rather obvious little mound we were holding. They were meanwhile correcting the fusing of their shrapnel, which had been grazing the hill-top and bursting over the plain, and were beginning to sprinkle the sides and top of the hill quite freely. Our people were short of ammunition, and the loss of the position was obviously only a matter of minutes. A Turkish aeroplane came up and did not improve our chances.

The Motalga horsemen were given all the cartridges we could collect, and the footmen ran back over the plain. I was among them, since I had come straight up the cliffs from Tafila, and my animals had not caught me up. The mounted men held out for fifteen minutes more, and then galloped back to us unhurt. We collected in the reserve position, a ridge about sixty feet high, commanding an excellent view of the plain. It was now noon, we had lost about fifteen men and had about eighty left, but a few minutes later about 120 Ageyl came up, and my men with a Hotchkiss automatic, and Lutfi el-Aseli with two. We then held our own easily till 3 p.m. when Sherifs Zeid and Mastur came up with Rasim and Abdullah, one Egyptian army 2.95 mountain gun, two Vickers, two large Hotchkiss, and five fusils mitrailleurs, with twenty mule M.I., thirty Motalga horse, and about 200 villagers. The Turks were trying to shell and machine-gun our ridge, but found difficulty in ranging. They had occupied our old front line, and we had its range (3,100 yards) exactly, as I had paced it on my way back (this mountain country is very difficult to judge by eye). We mounted all our materials on our ridge, and Rasim took all the mounted men (now about eighty) to the right, to work up beyond the eastern boundary ridge. He was able to get forward unseen, till he had turned the Turkish flank at 2,000 yards. He there made a dismounted attack of ten men and five fusils mitrailleurs, keeping his horse in reserve. Meanwhile the Turks had just five Maxims and four automatics on the western ridge of the pass, and opened on our centre. We replied with Vickers and Hotchkiss, and put twenty-two rounds of shrapnel over the face of the mound. A reinforcement of 100 men from Aima now reached us (they had refused Sherifian service the day before over a question of wages, but sunk old scores in the crisis), and we sent them, with three Hotchkiss automatics, to our left flank. They crept down behind the western ridge of the plain till within 200 yards of the Turkish Maxims, without being seen, as we opened across the plain a frontal attack of eighteen men, two Vickers, and two large Hotchkiss. The ridge was a flint one, and the Turks could not entrench on it, as we had found in the morning; the ricochets were horrible. They lost many men, and our left flank were finally able by a sudden burst of fire to wipe out the Turkish machine-gunners and rush the guns. The mounted men then charged the retreating Turks from our right flank, while we sent forward the infantry and the banners in the centre. They occupied the Turkish line at sunset, and chased the enemy back past their guns into the bed of Wadi Hasa; where their cavalry in reserve put up a check that was not passed till dark. Our people mostly gave up the pursuit at this point (we had had no food since the day before, and the cold was pitiful) but the Bedouins of Kerak took it up and harried the flying mob all night.

Our losses were about twenty-five killed and forty wounded. The Ibn Jazi Howeitat, under Hamad el-Arar, did splendidly, and the villagers were very steady and good.

Source: DG 240-43
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 14 January 2006


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