When you think of British military operations in Jordan, you tend to think of T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia. Hard not to, really, with the powerful image of Lawrence standing in swirling white robes staring out over the desert sands – particularly after the film.
It has to be said that Lawrence was by no means the only Allied officer engaged in working with the Arab rebels against the Ottoman Empire and, even more importantly, it has to be pointed out that without the Arab rebels and the Arab leaders there wouldn’t have been much of an Arab rebellion for Lawrence and other Brits to work with. Nonetheless, it’s still a great story and one that is comparatively well known, so I’m not going to deal with it in great detail here. Also, some of the key events, such as those after the capture of Damascus, happened outside the borders of what is now Jordan.
Lawrence arrived in the area in autumn 1916 to work with the Hashemite forces in the Hejaz and to help them to attack the crucial strategic Hejaz railway that ran from Damascus to Mecca, linking Ottoman forces in Arabia with those in Syria. In July 1917, Lawrence, with Arab forces and with the support of British Navy vessels, managed to take Aqaba, now in Jordan. This was long before Aqaba became a holiday destination, but it was an important victory both strategically, in allowing British (and French) supplies and support through to the Arabs, and psychologically as well. In January 1918, Arab forces with Lawrence beat the Ottomans at the Battle of Tafileh, and in April 1918 Arab forces clashed with Ottoman units at Ma’an in what is now Jordan.
After the war, in one of our more disastrous and morally unappealing decisions, we carved up the Middle East with the French according to the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The effect of this can still be seen in the political conflicts of the region today. This process, however, meant that when it first emerged, the Emirate of Transjordan was under British Mandate.
Gradually, the emirate acquired more independence and it eventually became fully independent and a kingdom in 1946. But in 1956, at a time when the King of Jordan feared trouble from a coup or from Syria and/or Iraq, we rushed troops back to Jordan for a temporary stay, in the suitably steadfastly named Operation Fortitude.