During the first world war the British forces, under the leadership of General Edmund Allenby, had tried and failed twice to take and hold the area of Transjordan. The goal had been to break the lines of the Ottoman Empire between Damascus and Medina. After two failed attacks with many casualties, Allenby shifted focus. Allenby’s new strategy was take Damascus by breaking the Ottoman lines in coastal Palestine and thereby bypassing the Ottoman forces in Transjordan. The rush for Damascus started in September 1918. The Arab Army, under the leadership of the Hashemite Sharif of Mecca, Hussein b. Ali, had been held in check by the Ottoman forces, but moved camp to Azraq Oasis to participate in the rush. To cover this operation up Allenby came up with a plan to fool the Ottomans:

Allenby feigned a new attack on Transjordan to cover his troop build-up on the coast of Palestine by pitching an empty encampment in the Jordan Valley, making some 15,000 dummy horses out of canvas, and driving mule-drawn sleighs to raise dust.

At the same time the Arab Army draw the Ottoman’s attention away from Palestine by attacking the Hijaz Railway line. The plan worked and the heavily outnumbered Ottoman forced in Palestine were defeated and their defenses collapsed in six days. The Arab Army and Allenby’s forces now raced each other to Damascus, a race the Arabs would win.

This small moment in history is picked from Frontiers of the State in the Late Ottoman Empire by Eugene L. Rogan. For more detailed information about the campaign see Setting the Desert on Fire by James Barr.

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