This is a unique example of a rare, classified German World War I military survey of the Aleppo region of Syria and a good section of south-central Anatolia, approximating the territory of the Ottoman Vilayet of Aleppo. Importantly, it features copious cotemporary manuscript additions detailing the exciting battle action of the final events of the war in the Levant, being the Battle of Aleppo and the Charge at Haritan. Depicting military action in real-time between October 22 to October 30, 1918, the additions were clearly made by an Ottoman officer, using the signature orange and blue crayon that the Ottomans used on maps in the field during the conflict. The manuscript additions are faithful to the events that occurred, showing that the author was well informed, close to the action. (Please see below for a detailed analysis of the map’s manuscript additions).
The map depicts a sizeable area extending from ‘Aleppo (Haleb)’, in the south all the way north into Anatolia to take in ‘’Aintâb’ (Gaziantep) and ‘Mar’ash’ (Maraş, since 1973 known as Kahramanmaraş), while the mighty ‘Euphrat’ (Euphrates) River runs to the east side. The Baghdad Railway, the vital (although not yet completed) link connecting Istanbul with Iraq runs through across the map, connecting to the Levant-Hejaz railway system just north of Aleppo.
The map is the most accurate and detailed map of the region made to date. The ‘Erklärung’ (Explanation), in the righthand margin explains the numerous signs showcased of the map, including all kinds of topographic features, ancient ruins, transportation infrastructure, and settlements of various kinds; certainly every detail necessary to aid military movement. Additionally, also in the righthand margin, is a chart ‘Schreibing un Aussprache’ (Writing and Pronunciation) that lists Arabic character and how they can be transliterated into German, while the ‘Abkürzungen’ (Abbreviations) below explains the short-form Arabic geographical terms used throughout the map.
The map is part of the Karte von Mesopotamien und Syrien series, which featured 29 adjoining maps, all done to a uniform scale of 1:400,000, covering a massive area of the Middle East, including all of the Levant and Southern Anatolia, while arching down to take in all of Iraq. The maps were composed by the Mapping Service of the General Staff of the German Army, and were published by the Königlich Preussische Landesaufnahme (Royal Prussian Survey Office) in Berlin, which long produced many German maps of overseas locations, and were issued serially (some in multiple, updated editions) from 1916 to 1918. Based on the very best surveys conducted by German and Ottoman military engineers, the scope of the series was to encompass the lion’s share of Middle Eastern theatre of World War I, and the maps were, in many cases. the most accurate maps of the regions depicted during their era. They were the ‘gold standard’ used by both German and Ottoman officers for strategic planning in the field.
Importantly, while the maps of the series could be joined, each map sheet was issued separately and was considered a stand-alone production in and of itself.
The maps of the series were classified, as they contained militarily sensitive information, and every issue features the lines: ‘Nur für den Dienstgebrach! Nachdruck sowie Benutzung zur Bearbeitung anderer Karten verboten.’ (For official use only! Reprinting and use for preparing other maps is prohibited). However, the British, who held the maps in high regard, managed to acquire examples through espionage and upon capturing German and Ottoman officers. Notably, the British military cartographers working at the at the Survey of Egypt in Cairo used the Karte von Mesopotamien und Syrien as a seminal source in devising maps of the Middle Eastern theatre for the field use of Entente troops.
The example of present map of Aleppo from the series was published in May 1918 and is noted as being a ‘Vorläufige Ausg.’ (Preliminary Edition); as best as we can tell it is the only edition of the map issued, as the war would have been over by the time it could be revised. While examples of the map appear in libraries (most in Germany), they only very rarely appear on the market. Moreover, the present example is special and unique owing to its contemporary manuscript editions.
Background to the ‘Pursuit to Haritan’
During World War I in the Levant and Egypt, the British imperial forces assumed the form of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF), while the Central Powers side was dominated by Ottoman Troops, with a mixed German-Ottoman command structure. For the first two years of the war, the Ottoman-German side was generally on the offensive, fighting in the Sinai in an unsuccessful attempt to take the Suez Canal. However, by 1917, the EEF had turned the tables, crossed onto Palestine and, albeit with difficulty, taking Jerusalem by December of that year. At that point, the two sides became bogged down in a stalemate in the Judean Hills. The gridlock was only shattered by the Battle of Megiddo, the ‘Breakthrough at Nablus’ (September 19-25, 1918), whereupon a force of 70,000 British Imperial troops, under General Allenby, backed by over 4,000 warriors loyal to Emir Faisal of Hejaz, broke the lines of an Ottoman force of 35,000 troops commanded by the German nobleman General Limon von Sanders.
In the wake of Megiddo, the EEF and their Hejazi allies embarked upon a campaign to conquer Syria and Lebanon in anticipation of the end of the war; such an achievement would strengthen the Entente’s leverage in any post-war settlement. In what became known as the ‘Pursuit to Haritan’ the British-Hejazi forces pursued the Ottoman Yıldırım (‘Lightening’) Army and their allied detachments as they retreated northwards. The Entente forces mounted their offensive in two prongs, one departed from Haifa along the coast on September 29, while the other would attempt to conquer Damascus (the headquarters of the Ottoman-Germans forces in the Levant and Arabia), before moving north through the interior, up the Beqaa Valley, and then over to Homs, Hama and Aleppo.
The Entente forces captured Damascus on October 1, 1918, just after the Ottoman-Germans beat a hasty retreat northwards. Lawrence of Arabia, who was part of the conquering force, was disappointed not to have been amongst the first Entente troops to enter the city, especially as he envisaged Damascus as the future capital of an independent and unified Arab state.
Deploying from Damascus on October 3, the interior offensive force entered Baalbek, in the Beqaa Valley, with ease on October 10, as the town had been abandoned by the Ottomans. Next, the Entente forces briefly besieged Homs, taking the city on October 16. From there it was considered fairly easy running towards Aleppo.
Meanwhile, the Entente force’s coastal campaign made short work of conquering Lebanon, encountered only very light resistance. They took Beirut on October 10, and Tripoli three days later. After consolidating their gains, the coastal force was able to re-enforce the inland Entente armies. The scene was now set for the attack on Aleppo.
The Final Showdown at Aleppo & Haritan: The Manuscript Additions to the Present Map in Focus
All of the action of the exciting, final showdown of World War I in the Levant, which occurred in the Aleppo-Haritan area, is shown on the present map in contemporary manuscript to additions added by an Ottoman Army officer. Entente forces are represented by lines, arrows, and clusters in blue crayon, while the positions and movements of the Ottoman forces are represented in orange crayon. Many of the troop positions are accompanied by Eastern Arabic numerals, representing the appropriate army detachments. The manuscript additions faithfully record what occurred, indicating that the author was well-informed with accurate, real-time intelligence from the field.
Aleppo was considered to be the ultimate strategic prize in the Levant. With its famous ancient bazaar, Aleppo had 150,000 residents and was considered the gateway to the heart of Ottoman Empire, in close proximity to the vital railway junction at Mouslimie Station, where the Levant-Hejaz railway system linked up with the Baghdad Railway, both systems being the main arteries of the Central Powers’ war effort in the Middle East.
Aleppo was defenced by two Yıldırım Army groups, lone ed by Nehen Pasha, and the other by Mustafa Kemal Pasha, already famous as the hero of Gallipoli, and subsequently as ‘Atatürk’, the founding President of the Republic of Turkey. Unfortunately for the defenders, they had only 7,000 troops to hold the city, as most of the Ottoman forces had withdrawn further to the north.
Turning to the map, and its important manuscript additions, one can see the Entente forces, represented by blue crayon lines and arrows, heading towards Aleppo from the south and southwest.
On October 23, the British commanders asked Mustafa Kemal Pasha to surrender the city, in return for favourable terms. This was refused.
On October 25, the forces of Emir Faisal of Hejaz took the initiative, mounting a daytime attack, but this was repulsed. This operation is shown on the map where the blue manuscript lines to run hard into the orange lines of the Ottoman defences.
However, the Hejazi forces executed another attack on the night of October 25-26, which caught the Ottomans on the back foot. After hours of fighting street by street, including much hand to hand combat, Aleppo fell, as shown here by the blue manuscript lines surging into the city, pushing the Ottoman’s orange lines to the north and northwest.
As shown here on the map, Mustafa Kemal Pasha’s force held at ‘Hrējân (Haritan)’, today commonly known in English as Hraytan. On October 26, in what became known as the ‘Charge at Hartian’, Indian detachments of the EEF, the Jodhpore and Mysore Lancer Regiments, made what at first seemed like a rash frontal attack upon the Ottoman lines (they were far outnumbered by the Ottomans), and the attack was repulsed. The Indians tried again and were once again pushed back. However, while unsuccessful in and of itself, the frontal attacks proved strategically successful, as the following night they compelled Kemal to withdraw his force, as shown on the map, to ‘Dêr ed-Dschimal’ (Deir el Jemel), 32 km away from Aleppo, giving the Entente forces some valuable breathing room (while further Ottoman forces are here shown to the back of Deir el Jemel, holding near the Baghdad Railway). Importantly, the Charge at Haritan was the last significant military action fought in the Levant during World War I.
As shown on the map, represented by blue manuscript blocks, on October 29, Hejazi forces took control of the vital railway junction at ‘Bnf. Muslimîje’ (Mouslimie Station). This manged to suddenly cut all contact between Istanbul and the Ottoman forces in Iraq (as the railway was paired with the telegraph lines).
As it turned out, delegates representing the Sublime Porte and Britain signed the Armistice of Mudros (October 30, 1918), which formally ended the Ottoman’s participation in World War I. It also ensured the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of the modern Middle East.
References: Bayerische Staatsbibliotek: Mapp. XIX,49 h-1b.; Princeton University Library: HMC01.4206; National Library of Israel: Laor Map Collection – (Middle East 143); OCLC: 792948904 / 163130775 / 993236508. Cf. John D. GRAINGER, The Battle for Syria, 1918-1920 (Woodbridge, England: The Boydell Press, 2013), pp. 178-187.