The Arab Revolt (1916–1918) (الثورة العربية Al-Thawra al-`Arabīya) was initiated by the Sherif Hussein ibn Ali with the aim of securing independence from the ruling Ottoman Turks and creating a single unified Arab state spanning from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen.
In the elections held in 1908, The Committee of Union and Progress, managed to gain the upper hand against the rival group led by Prince Sabahaddin, more liberal in outlook, bearing a strong British imprint, and closer to the Palace. The new parliament comprised 142 Turks, 60 Arabs, 25 Albanians, 23 Greeks, 12 Armenians (including four Dashnaks and two Hunchas), 5 Jews, 4 Bulgarians, 3 Serbs and 1 Vlach. Ottoman politics changed and discrimination against non-Turkish inhabitants increased.
Because of the repression by the Turks and their Central Powers allies, Grand Sharif Hussein, as the head of the Arab nationalists, entered into an alliance with the United Kingdom and France against the Ottomans around June 8, 1916 (the actual date is a bit uncertain). Husein had about 50000 men under arms, but fewer than 10000 had rifles. Evidence that the Ottoman government was planning to depose him at the end of the war led him to an exchange of letters with British High Commissioner Henry McMahon which convinced him that his assistance on the side of the Triple Entente would be rewarded by an Arab empire encompassing the entire span between Egypt and Persia, with the exception of imperial possessions and interests in Kuwait, Aden, and the Syrian coast. French and British naval forces had cleared the Red Sea of Ottoman gunboats early in the war. The port of Jidda was attacked by 3500 Arabs on 10 June 1916 with the assistance of bombardment by British warships and seaplanes. The Ottoman garrison surrendered on 16 June. By the end of September 1916 Arab armies had taken the coastal cities of Rabegh, Yenbo, Qunfida, and 6000 Ottoman prisoners with the assistance of the Royal Navy. Fifteen thousand well-armed Ottoman troops remained in the Hejaz.
The British government in Egypt sent a young officer to work with the Arabs in October 1916. This man was Captain T. E. Lawrence, known now as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence obtained assistance from the Royal Navy to turn back an Ottoman attack on Yenbo in December 1916. Lawrence's major contribution to the revolt was convincing the Arab leaders (Faisal and Abdullah) to co-ordinate their actions in support of British strategy. He persuaded the Arabs not to drive the Ottomans out of Medina; instead, the Arabs attacked the Hejaz railway on many occasions. This tied up more Ottoman troops, who were forced to protect the railway and repair the constant damage. The coastal city of Wejh was to be the base for attacks on the Hejaz railway. On 3 January 1917, Faisal began an advance northward along the Red Sea coast with 5100 camel riders, 5300 men on foot, four Krupp mountain guns, ten machine guns, and 380 baggage camels. The Royal Navy resupplied Faisal from the sea during his march on Wejh. While the 800-man Ottoman garrison prepared for an attack from the south, a landing party of 400 Arabs and 200 Royal Navy bluejackets attacked Wejh from the north on 23 January 1917. Wejh surrendered within 36 hours, and the Ottomans abandoned their advance toward Mecca in favor of a defensive position in Medina with small detachments scattered along the Hejaz railway. The Arab force had increased to about seventy-thousand men armed with twenty-eight-thousand rifles and deployed in three main groups. Ali's force threatened Medina, Abdullah operated from Wadi Ais harassing Ottoman communications and capturing their supplies, and Faisal based his force at Wejh. Camel-mounted Arab raiding parties had an effective radius of 1000 miles (1600 km) carrying their own food and taking water from a system of wells approximately 100 miles (160 km) apart.
In 1917, Lawrence arranged a joint action with the Arab irregulars and forces under Auda Abu Tayi (until then in the employ of the Ottomans) against the port city of Aqaba. Aqaba was the only remaining Ottoman port on the Red Sea and threatened the right flank of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force defending Egypt and preparing to advance into Palestine. Capture of Aqaba would aid transfer of British supplies to the Arab revolt. Lawrence and Auda left Wedj on 9 May 1917 with a party of 40 men to recruit a mobile camel force from the Howeitat of Syria. On July 6, after an overland attack, Aqaba fell to those Arab forces. Lawrence then rode 150 miles to Suez to arrange Royal Navy delivery of food and supplies for the 2500 Arabs and 700 Ottoman prisoners in Aqaba. Later in the year, the Arab warriors made small raids on Ottoman positions in support of General Allenby's winter attack on the Gaza-Bersheeba defensive line (see the Battle of Beersheba). Allenby's victories led directly to the capture of Jerusalem just before Christmas 1917.
In the early days of the Revolt, Hussein's forces were largely made up of Bedouin and other nomadic desert tribes, who were only loosely allied, loyal more to their respective tribes than the overall cause. Feisal had hoped that he could convince Arab troops serving in the Turkish army to mutiny and join his cause; but the Turkish government sent most of its Arab troops to the front-lines of the war, and thus only a handful of deserters actually joined the Arab forces until later in the campaign.
By the time of Aqaba's capture many other officers joined Feisal's campaign. A large number of British officers and advisors, led by Lt. Cols. Stewart F. Newcombe and Charles E. Wilson, arrived to provide the Arabs rifles, explosives, and machine guns. A small contingent of French soldiers also joined the Arabs, although their relationship with the Arabs was antagonistic. Under the direction of Lawrence, Wilson, and other officers, the Arabs launched a highly successful campaign against the Hejaz Railway, capturing military supplies, destroying trains and tracks, and tying down thousands of Turkish troops.
In 1918, the Arab cavalry gained in strength (as it seemed victory was at hand) and they were able to provide Allenby's army with intelligence on Ottoman army positions. They also harassed Ottoman supply columns, attacked small garrisons, and destroyed railroad tracks. Perhaps due to these attacks, Allenby's last offensive, the Battle of Megiddo (1918), was a stunning success. The Ottoman army was routed in less than 10 days of battle. Australian Light Horse troops marched unopposed into Damascus on September 30, 1918. T. E. Lawrence and his Arab troops rode into Damascus the next day to receive the surrender. At the end of the war, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force had seized Palestine, Transjordan, Lebanon, large parts of the Arabian peninsula and southern Syria.
The main contribution of the Arab Revolt to the war was to pin down tens of thousands of Turkish troops who otherwise might have been used to attack the Suez Canal, allowing the British to undertake offensive operations with a lower risk of counterattack. This was indeed the British justification for starting the revolt, a textbook example of assymetrical warfare which has been studied time and again by military leaders and historians alike.