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WWI MIDDLE EAST – BATTLE OF MEGIDDO: Karte von Mittelpalastina. / Ostjordanland südl. Teil. / ““Geheim!” Lage vom: 15.8.18”.



An incredibly important survivor – a top-secret ‘General Headquarters Map’ made for the use of German General Liman von Sanders and his senior staff to oversee the ill-fated Ottoman-German ‘last stand’ in World War I’s Palestine Campaign at the ‘Battle of Megiddo’; composed of two joined exceedingly rare topographical maps of Central Palestine and Eastern Jordan, drafted and printed at or near Sanders’s GHQ at Nazareth by the German Army mobile mapping unit, the ‘Vermessungsabteilung 27’, and overprinted with highly detailed military positions of both the Ottoman-German and British Imperial forces as the situation appeared on August 15, 1918, just a month before the battle action that broke a months-long stalemate – one of the most fascinating WWI maps of the Middle East we have ever encountered – likely a unique survivor.


2 joined colour lithographed maps contemporarily overprinted with military information in red and black, with some minor embellishments in contemporary manuscript pen (Very Good, clean and bright, just some light transference of the overprinting), 48 x 102 cm (18.9 x 40.2 inches).


1 in stock


During World War I, the Levant and Egypt were strategically critical for both sides.  Britain had to defend the Suez Canal, the lifeline of its empire, while Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, mainly populated by Arabs who resented the sultan’s rule, were seen to comprise the ‘soft underbelly’ of the Ottoman Empire, as well as providing the bridgehead between Turkey and the Arabian Peninsula, home to the holiest cities of Islam (Mecca and Medina).

In this theatre, the British Imperial forces, headquartered in Cairo, assumed the form of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF).  The Central Powers side, headquartered in Damascus, was dominated by Ottoman Troops, but had a mixed Turkish-German command structure, that while technically Ottoman-led was for all practical purposes commanded in the field by German generals.   The German forces on the mission made up the Asien-Korps (also called the Levante-Korps), and were highly trained a well-equipped.

For the first two years of the war, the Ottoman-German side was generally on the offensive, terrifying the British by invading the Sinai and mounting two (albeit unsuccessful) assaults upon the Suez Canal.

However, in 1916, the British were gradually able to improve their performance in Egypt.  Meanwhile, the Arab Revolt (June 1916 – October 1918), in which forces loyal to the Sharif of Mecca, advised by ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, mounted an insurgency against the Ottomans in Hejaz and Transjordan, which sapped the Sublime Porte’s military strength and their authority in the Arab World.

By the beginning of 1917, the EEF had turned the tables, crossing onto Palestine and, albeit with difficulty, taking Jerusalem in December of that year.

However, at that point the EEF seemed to lose its momentum, as it was compelled to send thousands of troops to the Western Front to counter a great German offensive.  Despite valiant efforts, the British became bogged down fighting in the Judean Hills and failed on two separate occasions to open a new front by invading Transjordan in the Spring of 1918.  However, the Ottoman-German side was worn down by the attacks and began to suffer from supply shortages.


Enter the Present Map

By the spring of 1918, the battle front in Palestine-Transjordan had settled into a stalemate, for months barely moving at all, largely maintaining the form as shown upon the present map.  Both sides were under immense pressure to break the deadlock.  The EEF commander, General Edmund Allenby (1861 – 1936), known as ‘The Bull’, while lionized in many quarters for having taken Jerusalem, now sensed Whitehall’s growing impatience, and knew that he had to deliver a breakthrough fast in order to preserve his command.

On the other side, the new Ottoman-German commander, General Otto Liman von Sanders (1855 – 1929), a hero of the Central Powers’ victors at Gallipoli, was aware that should his line in Palestine be broken, his side would almost certainly loose the entire war in the Middle East.  To be clear, both armies were tired, and contrary to modern perception, at the time the war in the Levant was still viewed to be a toss-up – Entente victory was far from assured.

The present map was made for the exclusive use of the Ottoman-German General Headquarters in Palestine, which was then based in Nazareth, located off the map, to the north.  The underlying template of the map is comprised of two joined printed works, the Karte von Mittelpalastina and the Ostjordanland südl. Teil., which were drafted and published in the field by the German Army’s Vermessungsabteilung 27 (Surveying Unit 27).

The Vermessungsabteilung 27 was a special, highly trained cartographic corps consisting of surveyors, draftsmen and printers, with their own mobile drafting workshops and printing presses, who followed the German-Ottoman high command throughout the campaign.  They had the ability to make highly sophisticated maps to order, that could be quickly processed in the field for the use of senior officers.  So that the command had access to the latest geographical intelligence, the Vermessungsabteilung 27 often made several updated editions of their maps, as new intelligence or surveys became available (the present Ostjordanland features the dated ’16.5.18’ in the lower right corner, while the date of the Mittelpalastina seems to have been trimmed off when the two sheets were joined).

While the printed maps underlying the present work are highly sophisticated topographic surveys in the style of those issued by the military’s press in Berlin, on close inspection, one will notice that the printing quality is slightly crude, having been run off a mobile press, in this case operating at or near Liman von Sanders’ GHQ in Nazareth.

The underlying maps embrace the midriff of Palestine, from Jerusalem and Ashdod, in the south, up to Nablus and Tulkarm, in the north, while in the east, the map takes in what is today central Jordan, including Amman and key Ottoman garrison town of Al-Salt.  The Mittelpalastina half features elevation marked in brown contour lines, while both joined maps precisely detail the locations of cities, towns, villages, roads, railways, rivers and wadis, as well as other remarkable features, such as archaeological sites.  The top-secret nature of the printed maps is affirmed by the line in the top margin of the Ostjordanland map that reads, “Darf Nicht in Feindeshand Gelangen” (Must Not Reach Enemy Hands).

More significantly, the entire joined map was overprinted in the field with details of the Entente-Central Powers’ battlefront, running from the Mediterranean, in the west, over into Transjordan, in the east.  The overprinting is appropriately labelled as

““Geheim!” (Secret!) and is marked “Lage vom: 15.8.18.” (Situation as of August 15, 1918), showcasing the stalemated lines as they stood 35 days before the gridlock was to be broken.

The ultra-sensitive military information is incredibly detailed and reflects the best knowledge of the Ottoman-German GHQ based upon their own field reports (regarding their own side’s positions), a well as information supplied by aerial reconnaissance and espionage (of the enemy positions).  The EEF’s lines and military positions are detailed in black overprinting, while those of the Ottoman-German side are in red overprinting.  The battlefront is shown to run from a point to the north of the village of Asruf, on the Mediterranean shore, inland an ESE direction to the Jordan Valley, just north of the Dead Sea, where the British maintained a small beachhead of territory in Transjordan.

Generally marked in red overprinting, are the locations of the Ottoman-German side’s lines and the locations of their military positions.  The HQs of their armies are marked by X-crossed flags, with the 8th Army (commanded by Javad Pasha, based at Tulkarm), the 7th Army (led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha, later ‘Atatürk’, the founding President of Turkey, based at Nablus), and the 4th Army (commanded by Jamal Pasha, one of the Ottoman ‘triumvirs’, based in Al-Salt, Jordan), while the elite Yıldırım (‘Lightning’) Army, and the overall Central Powers’ command, led by Liman von Sanders, had their GHQ located off the map, to the north, at Nazareth.  Divisional HQs are designated by flags with horizontal double-lines, while the locations of numerous regiments and detachments are marked in black.  Additionally, there are a few details labeled in contemporary manuscript.  The coverage is exceedingly thorough and precise, and it would certainly have been viewed as a colossal disaster by Liman von Sanders’ GHQ if the map were to be acquired by the enemy.

On the other side, across the battlefront, the British lines and positions are marked in black overprinting, with Allenby’s GHQ marked in Ramla, with the region’s main Entente airfield, noted nearly by the sign of a ‘propellor’.  The various division are detailed, as is their origin, for example marking ‘Ind.’ (Indian Army) and ‘Anzacs’, etc.  While there are some points of ambiguity, overall the map shows that the Ottoman-German GHQ had a very thorough and accurate understanding of Allenby’s positions and strengths.  Notably, the map also traces the lines of the hastily built improvised railways (marked as red tracks) that the British constructed from Jerusalem and up the Mediterranean coast up towards the battlefront, to transport troops and supplies.

As the two sides bunkered down along the positions shown on the map, Allenby and Liman von Sanders pursued very different strategies.  Allenby, whose forces numbered 70,000 troops, backed by over 4,000 warriors loyal to Emir Faisal of Hejaz, planned a bold strike against the Ottoman lines, with a special emphasis upon the western flank, on the flat Plain of Sharon, where the Ottoman-Germans had no geographic advantage (unlike in the hilly interior, which was a nightmare for offensive operations).  The historian David R. Woodward noted that “concentration, surprise, and speed were key elements in the blitzkrieg warfare planned by Allenby” (Woodward, Hell in the Holy Land: World War I in the Middle East (Lexington, Ky., 2006), p. 191)).

Liman von Sanders on the other hand, being outnumbered, having only a total force of 35,000 troops, and suffering from supply shortages, planned to stonewall Allenby.  He was proven master at the defensive game, having successful smothered the Entente juggernaut at Gallipoli three years before.  He clearly believed that while Allenby would press hard, the Ottoman-German lines would hold until the exhausted British forces not only stood down but would perhaps fall into some form of retreat.

The calm was shattered when Allenby ordered a full-on attack upon all flanks, at what became known as the ‘Battle of Megiddo’, or the ‘Breakthrough at Nablus’ (September 19-25, 1918).  These names are technically inaccurate, as barely any fighting took place near Tel Megiddo (this name for the battle given by Allenby in honour of the scene of the Biblical ‘Armageddon’), while the ‘breakthrough’ occurred near the Mediterranean coast and not around Nablus.

As Allenby had hoped, his XXI Division overran the Ottoman 8th Army upon the Plain of Sharon, taking Tulkarm on the first day of the contest.  This caused almost total panic and disarray to permeate the Central Powers side, and it was not long before the British forces virtually encircled and captures or destroyed almost all the Ottoman 8th and 7th Armies, while the Ottoman 4th Army, in the Transjordan, fell back allowing Allenby’s men to take Al-Salt and Amman.  The Ottoman-German side utterly collapsed and by September 25 the Entente forces had swept northward to capture Haifa and all of Palestine up to the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and then east into the heart of Transjordan.  The battle was an utter route for the Central Powers, and only 6,000 Ottoman and German troops (less than 20% of their initial force) remained alive and free, fleeing north and north-eastwards into Syria and Lebanon.

In the wake of Megiddo, the British and Hijazi forces 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.  Damascus was taken on October 1, 1918, while in what became known as the ‘Pursuit to Haritan’ they chased and battled the remaining Ottoman forces, comprised of parts of the Yıldırım Army (now under the command of Mustafa Kemal), up to the town of Haritan, just north of Aleppo. There the war in the Middle East ended upon the signing of the Armistice of Mudros (October 30, 1918), which formally concluded the Ottoman Empire’s participation in World War I.


A Note on Rarity / Uniqueness

The present work, joined from two separate maps and overprinted with late breaking military information in the field, for the use of Limon von Sanders’s GHQ staff is an extraordinary rare, and quite likely a unique, survivor.  It was surely made in only few examples, of which the survival rate of such maps is incredibly low.  Indeed, we cannot trace a refence to the map, or even another map that is comparable.

In terms of the underlying printed maps, they are very rare in their own right, as they were printed in the fiend in the Nazareth vicinity by the Vermessungsabteilung 27 in only a handful of examples, of which few would have survived.  We can trace only 2 examples of the Karte von Mittelpalastina in institutional holdings, held by the National Library of Israel and the Staatsbibliotek zu Berlin.  We cannot trace any refences to the Ostjordanland südl. Teil map, let alone the locations of any examples.


References: N/A – Joined composition with overprinting Not Recorded. Cf. (re: Karte von Mittelpalastina:) National Library of Israel: Pal1236-2; Staatsbibliotek zu Berlin: Kart. D 7117/500.

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