Lawrence of Arabia is one of the iconic figures of the 20th Century. He was a complex man who, as an amateur soldier, forged key events in the Triple Entente victory against the Ottoman Empire. After the war he strove to advocate for the cause of Arab independence despite plans already drawn up by the European colonial powers, even refusing knighthood and the Victoria Cross in protest. He was thrust into the public eye but eventually did what he could to avoid it, to the extreme of enlisting in the Royal Air Force as an enlisted man under a new name. Lawrence’s experiences in guerrilla warfare are still studied today both by friend and foe of the civilized world.
Thomas Edward Lawrence was born into family scandal. Lawrence’s father ’s wife’s nanny was his birth mother; his father never divorced his wife but moved with the nanny to Oxford under a false name. “Ned”, as T.E. Lawrence was known amongst family and friends, preferred solitary endeavors over team sports and was a good student. Fascinated with archeology and history, he traveled all over the Middle East, learning tribes and their customs, and the countryside. He wrote studies of Middle Age castles. These were foundations of his future success.
He never showed any inkling to a military career but when the Great War despoiled humanity, he enlisted. His education and knowledge of the Middle East brought him to headquarters in Cairo, Egypt. There the army employed his background with interrogating prisoners, writing reports, and other intel work. When the newly created Arab Bureau was formed, Lawrence was sent on a mission to Mesopotamia to liaise with the Indian Army and to meet with Ottoman defectors and assess an Arab rebellion. It also involved in negotiations to buy off Turkish commanders to allow a surrounded British garrison to escape. The entire event disappointed Lawrence.
Lawrence was irritating to the military establishment. Eventually, they found a way to get rid of him by sending him to meet with Arab rebel leaders. The Arab rebel leaders accepted to work with the European who knew of their culture. Thus Lawrence began his career as a raider and guerrilla leader. He was able to work with the Arabs and conduct raids deep behind Ottoman lines through desert the Turks thought impassable. The Hejaz Railway was the lifeline for the Ottoman forces in Arabia. Blowing bridges, water tanks and track, the Hejaz Railway was his main target. Lawrence’s abilities and tactics grew as did the skill of the Arab tribesmen. They were able to mount regular combat operations against the Turks, and Lawrence lead the assault that captured the port of Aqaba. Now British naval units could menace the Ottomans and support the Allies.
Lawrence incorporated armoured cars, artillery and other crew served weapons to and became much more dangerous. He succeeded in the capture of Damascus and there his war basically ended. Despite his success, his relationship with the Arabs was sometimes strained by the menace of secret agreements between the Europeans; Lawrence was also disturbed by the fraud, waste and abuse of the Arabs. Tens of thousands of pounds of gold meant to raise support and finance the rebellion disappeared in graft and nepotism.
When the war ended the British and French had already divided up the Middle East, dashing Arab nationalist hopes. Lawrence used his growing fame and acclaim to attend conferences on behalf of the Arabs and tried to advocate for them. Further disillusioned, he returned to England. After a time in the limelight, he changed his name and hid in the military as an enlisted man until he retired.
T. E. Lawrence had a long romance with powerful fast vehicles. His interest in fast vehicles lead him to help design rescue equipment for the RAF. He remarked to a friend that he enjoyed the thrilling danger of speed and owned several big motorcycles. It was on one that the recently retired soldier, innovator, tactician, iconoclast, and Arab advocate lost his life in May 1935. His funeral was attended by a huge crowd including statesmen, soldiers, and others of renown.
Lawrence of Arabia is revealed to us through 64 pages in 10 sections and chapters:
2. The early years
3. The military life
4. The hour of destiny
5. Opposing commanders
6. Inside the mind
7. When war is done
8. A life in words
9. Further reading
Author David Murphy is the author of a book on the Arab Revolt and a member of the T. E. Lawrence Society. The book flows well and imparts a good deal of information about Lawrence. His childhood through the beginning of the First World War is brief yet builds a good sketch of his life. Lawrence did not get along well with most of his peers and superiors in GHQ. However, General Sir Edmund Allenby had only praise for the man. Explored is how his background in history and lack of military training helped form his unconventional operations. Also explored is his relationship with various Arab leaders at various times. Many factors varied the relationships from cooperation to hostility.
While on a scouting mission Lawrence went missing. He returned weeks later claiming to have been captured and abused by the Turks. The book imparts that he was a complex man with some private demons; scholars whisper about aspects of his private life. The state of the Ottoman military operations against the Arab revolt and British forces is also discussed in varying levels of detail. Aircraft became very important to the campaign, as did armoured cars. Lawrence’s thoughts on operations are explored and are the source of a few quotes.
In the chapter Opposing Commanders Mr. Murphy introduces us to the key Ottoman commanders with brief histories of their military careers. This section is different from other Command series comparisons with basic and unique explanations.
photographs and artwork
Dozens of photographs support the text. All are black-and-white except for a photo of his grave and a personal artifact. Additionally, a color reproduction of his portrait gives us an image of his uniform and dress. The quality of the photos is what one would expect from The Great War. Most are somewhat fuzzy. Some are remarkably clear and sharp. Several are “in the field” with a couple of in-action shots!
Artist Giuseppe Rava created three original scenes:
1. Command meeting with Emir Feisal, Hamra, October 1916. Meeting with Arab revolt leaders.
2. Attack on the Hejaz Railway, 1 January 1918: Lawrence engages a Turkish blockhouse with an armoured car.
3. The battle of Tafila, 25 January 1918: Lawrence supports a machine gun crew with a rifle.
Furthermore, several maps help orient the reader to the region and operations:
a. The Ottoman Empire, 1914
b. The capture of Aqaba, May-July 1917
c. Yarmuk Valley Raid, November 1917
d. The battle of Tafila, 25 January 1918
e. The final campaign, 16 September to 28 October 1918
Aside from the movie I knew little about Lawrence of Arabia. That he was an important figure in WW1 I knew but that was all. This book is a good introduction to the legend. It focuses on his military service and only touches upon Lawrence the historian, archeologist, author, inventor, adventurer, and political activist. This leaves the reader with a taste of what can be sought out about the whole man should one be interested. To me it seems that Mr. Murphy was straining to hold back all of the information that he could have put into this book were he not constrained by the standard 64-page length.
I really have no complaints about the book. There are a couple of minor typos, and not every photo is studio quality, as much as we’d like them to be. That some are “in-action” shots are impressive. The artwork and maps are very good and much appreciated. I recommend this title to those interested in the First World War, the Ottoman Empire, T.E. Lawrence, desert warfare, the Arab Rebellion, and guerrilla warfare.
This book was provided to me by Osprey Publishing Ltd. Please be sure to mention that you saw the book reviewed here when you make your purchase.
Highs: Good concise biography of Lawrence of Arabia. Good photos and artwork.Lows: A minor typo.Verdict: This book is a good introduction to the legend. It focuses on his military service and only touches upon Lawrence the historian, archeologist, author, inventor, adventurer, and political activist. You'll have a taste of what can be sought out about th
About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR) FROM: TENNESSEE, UNITED STATES
I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art.
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