Southern Asia 1917: Sinai Campaign and Battle of Aqaba

While the British were advancing on Baghdad, they were also reconquering the Sinai Peninsula and ending the Ottoman threat to the Suez Canal. Although this Sinai campaign was brought to a halt by Ottoman defenses in southern Palestine, British support of the Arab Revolt was by now bearing fruit. The Arabs, joined by the British military advisor T. E. Lawrence, had taken most of the Hejaz and now marched north, seizing the vital Red Sea port of Aqaba and threatening Palestine from the southeast.


Changes to the map 11 March 1917–6 July 1917

The British advance in Palestine has come to a halt at the Gaza-Beersheba line, after the failed offensives of the First and Second Battles of Gaza. It will stay in this position until October.

In Arabia, the Arab rebels have marched across the Nefud Desert to seize the important port of Aqaba. This is the famous battle of T. E. Lawrence, or 'Lawrence of Arabia', although the importance of his role as military advisor to the Arabs is debated. He does however cross the Sinai to personally inform his British commanders of Aqaba's fall, even though British ships were involved in the capture of the town. The seizure of Aqaba effectively removes the Ottoman presence in the Red Sea and allows the British to supply and support Arab raids into the Jordan valley, helping to eventually break the stalemate in Palestine.

In Mesopotamia, the British are driving the Ottomans before them as they take Fallujah and Samarra.

In Persia, the British are launching raids against the rebel tribes around Shiraz. The Russians have driven the Ottomans back, temporarily reaching as far as Kizil Rabat across the border in Mesopotamia in April, but their morale is breaking, not helped by famine in western Persia, and they are now withdrawing.

In Anatolia, the Ottomans have turned on the demoralized Russians and retaken Mus. Here as in Persia, Russian troops are being gradually withdrawn - although the British estimate there are still some 120 thousand Russians opposing 64 thousand Turks.

British Protectorates in the Persian Gulf

The British Residency of the Persian Gulf maintained British India's influence in a number of Gulf states from the 19th Century until 1947. These states were nominally independent - and shown as such in most atlases from the period - but all signed treaties guaranteeing British control over their foreign affairs.

The Sultanate of Muscat and Oman was the only one of these states with significant international relations, having obtained trade agreements with the US and France before it signed its treaty with Britain. Maps of the time often show Trucial Oman and even Qatar as regions of Oman.

Trucial Oman was the region to the west of Oman which collectively signed treaties with Britain. The sheikhdoms of this region were often called the Trucial States, and later became the United Arab Emirates. However at this time they had little unity, with no regional council until 1952.

Indian Empire

The British Indian Empire, also known as the British Raj, was comprised of a complex of presidencies, provinces, protectorates, and agencies. Only the top level subdivisions are shown here.

The area under direct British rule was known as British India and made up of presidencies and provinces - a presidency simply being the name for an older province.

Outside British India, but often included within the sphere of the presidencies/provinces, were the hundreds of protectorates or 'princely states'. These were indirectly ruled states, the largest being Hyderabad, Kashmir, and Mysore. The others were either collected into agencies - which might in turn contain other smaller agencies - or fell under the sway of the provinces.

Main Events

6 Apr 1917 US declaration of war on Germany

On 2 April 1917, United States President Woodrow Wilson asked a special joint session of the US Congress to declare war on the German Empire. Congress obliged by declaring war on the 6th, with the resolution passing 82 to 6 in the Senate and 373 to 50 in the wikipedia

19 Apr–31 Oct 1917 Stalemate in Southern Palestine

After being beaten back in the First and Second Battles of Gaza, the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force settled into a standoff against the Ottoman Army along the Gaza-Beersheba line. For six months, neither side was able to force the other to withdraw or mount any substantial attacks. The stalemate was finally broken on October 31, when the British launched an offensive against wikipedia

27 Jun 1917 Greeks enter World War I

Following the forced abdication of pro-German King Constantine of Greeece by Prime Minister Venizelos, and his replacement by his son as King Alexander I on 11 June, Greece formally declared war on the Central wikipedia

6 Jul 1917 Battle of Aqaba

After a two month march across the Nefud Desert, some 5000 Arab rebels, led by Auda ibu Tayi and British military advisor T. E. Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’), attacked the Red Sea port of Aqaba with support from a few British naval vessels. The 300-man Ottoman garrison surrendered after a short wikipedia