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The war outside Europe

 

Given the extensive overseas imperial commitments of many of the combatants, the First World War inevitably took on global dimensions. By the end of 1914, it had already touched parts of Africa, German-owned islands in the Pacific Ocean, and the coast of South America, where German and British naval forces clashed at the Battle of the Glossary - opens new windowFalklands and the Battle of Glossary - opens new windowCoronel. With Turkey's entry into the conflict on 29 October, war also came to the British and Ottoman territories in the Middle East.

 

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Africa
 

In Africa, the war's smallest military arena, Allied forces generally held the upper hand. In December 1914, South African troops crushed a domestic pro-German rebellion and, the following July, occupied Glossary - opens new windowGerman South-West Africa (present-day Namibia). Glossary - opens new windowCameroon surrendered to Anglo-French troops in February 1916.

The most protracted battle took place in Glossary - opens new windowGerman East Africa, where troops under the command of General von Glossary - opens new windowLettow-Vorbeck only surrendered two weeks after the final European armistice in late November 1918. By then, Germany's imperial ambitions in Africa lay in tatters.


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The Middle East
 

In the Middle East, the contested inheritance of the Ottoman empire created a complex political and military situation. Britain, whose regional power centred on Egypt and the Suez Canal, coveted Turkey's Asiatic possessions. British generals and politicians also believed that the Middle East could provide the spectacular military victories - so absent from the fighting on the Western Front - that would galvanise pro-war public opinion at home.

Fears that Turkey's entrance into the war would spark a Muslim jihad ('holy war') in the region proved to be unfounded. With the exception of the Glossary - opens new windowSenussi revolt in Libya between 1915 and 1917, anti-Western Arab revolt was largely a chimera.

Senussi revolt - opens new window
Senussi revolt;
British camel corps

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Initial British efforts to cross the Glossary - opens new windowSinai desert from Egypt into Turkish Glossary - opens new windowPalestine foundered in difficult conditions and without local support. To prosecute the war more dynamically in this part of the world required an Arab uprising against Turkey. However, this had to be done without endangering France's interests in the Middle East. Therefore, in March 1916, Britain and France - unknown to the Arab nationalists with whom Glossary - opens new windowT E Lawrence was negotiating - signed the Glossary - opens new windowSykes-Picot agreement that secretly partitioned the Middle East into mutually satisfactory spheres of influence. Just three months later, Arab forces led by the Glossary - opens new windowSherif Husein of Mecca took up arms against the Turks on the Red Sea coast.

 

Palestine Front - opens new window
Palestine campaign:
notes and map by
Lawrence of Arabia (177k)
Transcript

During the autumn and winter of 1916, British forces finally began to make progress, advancing across the Sinai desert and heading for Jerusalem, which was captured in December 1917. By October 1918, as the Turks made last-ditch overtures for peace, Britain was in full control of Palestine. But its problems in the region, laid bare by the contradictory promises to Arabs and Jews that dated from the Glossary - opens new windowBalfour declaration (2 November 1917), were only just beginning.

 

Mesopotamia
 

Further south-east, British forces became embroiled in a dramatic battle for another jewel in Turkey's Arab crown: Mesopotamia. Unlike the Palestine campaign, the BattlesMesopotamia campaign was marked by early successes. By September 1915, when Anglo-Indian forces captured the town of Glossary - opens new windowKut-al-Amara, the road to Mesopotamia's largest city, Baghdad, seemed open.


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However, defeat at the Battle of Glossary - opens new windowCtesiphon (22-26 November 1915) forced the heavily depleted British forces to retreat to Kut, where they endured a five-month siege in terrible conditions. More than 9,000 British troops trapped there finally surrendered to the Turks on 29 April 1916. With reinforced troop divisions and new leadership, however, British forces were able to retake Kut on 24 February 1917, and Baghdad was finally captured just a fortnight later. By 30 October 1918, when the war with Turkey ended, Britain was the supreme power in the Muslim world.


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Further research

The following references give an idea of the sources held by The National Archives on the subject of this chapter. These documents can be seen on site at The National Archives.

Reference
Document
CAB 21/58: The Balfour Declaration, Nov 1917.
CAB 42/16/2: Paper by Mark Sykes on Arab revolt, Jul 1916.
CN 5/2: Aerial photographs of Palestine and Mesopotamia, 1918.
FO 371/2229-2237: Africa and war, 1915.
FO 371/2597-2600: Africa and war, 1916.
GFM 14/5-6: German Foreign Ministry files on Senussi revolt.
WO 106/725: Palestine Front: notes on planned operations, Sep-Oct 1917.
WO 33/858, 953: War telegrams from East Africa, 1915-19.

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