This rare and impressive map is one of the most important works created by the engineers of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF), the British Imperial army in the Middle East during World War I. Importantly, it is the most detailed contemporary general map to depict the key Southern Palestine theatre, including the vast Ottoman-German defensive lines that ran from Gaza to Beersheba, as well as the site of the epic Battle of Jerusalem, whereby the British captured the Holy City in late 1917.
With Jerusalem in the upper centre, the map covers a critical section of Palestine and what is today Jordan, with Beersheba and the Negev Desert in the south; up to Ramla, the Judean Hills and Amman, in the north, with the Dead Sea occupying the centre of the map. In Jordan, the map labels a good stretch of the Hejaz Railway, the line completed from Damascus to Mecca in 1908 to aide Hajj Pilgrims and to solidify the Ottoman Sultan’s control over the two holiest cities of Islam. The map also delineates a part of the ‘Derb El Hajj’, referring to the Syrian Hajj Road, the great overland route from Damascus to Mecca that runs almost parallel to the railway. The present example of the map features updates to the road system as of ‘20th Dec. 1917’.
The map, done to an operational scale of 1:250,000, features all manner of information useful for military movement. The region’s dramatic topography is carefully expressed, with areas of elevation captured by delicate shading, while the numerous rivers, wadis and swamps are carefully defined.
The ‘Reference’ in the lower left margin, notes symbols used to identify metalled roads – bold red lines; roads passable for all transports in dry weather – dashed red lines; roads fit for guns and limbers (light forces) – dotted red lines; railways – bold black lines; telegraph lines – pointed black lines; ‘S’ – springs; while heights are in feet. Also noted, are details such as archaeological sites; watering places (cisterns, wells, etc.); bridges; and the quality of the land (noting areas of cultivation, etc.).
The EEF forces included corps of engineers who by this time had gained extensive experience in mapping the Middle East, adept at quickly composing amazingly accurate maps under the most difficult conditions. The present map is predicated upon manuscripts which were, in turn, based on intelligence collected in the field from a combination of mounted reconnaissance scouting; aerial reconnaissance; intelligence from informants; as well as trusted information from existing maps.
While the EEF engineers printed some maps in the field, these capabilities were limited. As was the case with the present map, the antecedent EEF manuscripts would have been rushed by air to Cairo, where expert teams of cartographers and draughtsmen at the Arab Bureau, working around-the-clock, would have quickly, yet carefully, edited and refined the maps, before they were printed by the Survey of Egypt. The turnover was amazingly fast for the era; examples of the present edition of the map would have been retuned to the Palestine front within only a matter days after December 20, 1917, such that they would have been available to commanders during the ‘mop up’ in the wake of the Battle of Jerusalem, and preparations for the ‘long slog’ in the Judean Hills.
A Note on Editions and Rarity
The Survey of Egypt apparently prepared a base map in 1915 that was later developed into the present map. The first edition of the map with fresh details from the battlefront was issued in Cairo on January 22, 1917, and the present edition appeared towards the very end of the same year, with updates to December 20, 1917. The map was also copied and published in by the War Office, Geographical Section in London, as well as the Ordnance Office in Southampton.
All editions of the map are rare, as they were issued in only very small print runs for classified dissemination to senior British military officers. Moreover, the survival rate of such maps, which were heavily used in the field, is extremely low.
We can trace only 3 institutional examples of the present edition of the map, held by the National Library of Israel, University of Glasgow and Durham University. Beyond that, we have handled another example, while we are aware of further appearing at an Israeli auction a few years ago.
The Palestine Campaign: The Contest for Control the ‘Keystone’ of the Middle East
While today it does not have the prominence in memory as the Western Front, Palestine played an exceedingly important role in World War I. Geo-strategically, it was a keystone, occupying a vital location between the Sinai and the Suez Canal (the lifeline of global trade and of the authority of the British Empire), on one side, and the heart of the Middle East, on the other. Home to the holy city of Jerusalem, the region also possessed tremendous symbolic importance.
From the outset of World War I in the Middle East, the British side was headquartered in Cairo, while the Ottoman-German command was based in Damascus – with Palestine in between. Early in 1915, the Central Powers side, led by Enver Pasha, the Ottoman War Minister, assisted by some of Germany’s best generals, took the offensive, making credible, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempts at seizing the Suez Canal – utterly terrifying British officials from India to London. As shown on the present map, in 1915, the Ottoman-Germans completed a railway running north-south down the heart of Palestine, from Tulkarm (located off scene) to Beersheba. To aid their venture in the Sinai they also built rail lines in southern Palestine down to and crossing the Egyptian boundary, along with a vast network of camps, forts and defensive works.
In the summer of 1916, the EEF regrouped and took the offensive, driving the Ottoman-Germans out of the Sinai. The British entered Palestine at the beginning of 1917, winning the Battle of Rafah (January 9, 1917), located near the lower-left corner of the map. However, they soon became trapped along the Ottoman-German defensive lines that ran from Gaza to Beersheba. The EEF lost the First and Second Battle of Gaza in March 1917, resulting in a stalemate that lasted over six months.
Finally, in October 1917, the British took Beersheba, and at the Third Battle of Gaza (November 1-2, 1917), managed to break the Ottoman-German lines, surging towards Jerusalem. The Battle of Jerusalem (November 17 – December 30, 1917) was long and bloody, but the EEF gained the upper hand. On December 11, before the entire environs of the the city were secure, the British commander, General Edmund Allenby, famously entered Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate on foot (as a sign of respect for the holy city).
The EEF then lost its momentum, as it was compelled to send thousands of its troops to the Western Front in Europe to counter a great German offensive. They became bogged down in fighting in the Judean Hills and in Jordan, and failed to take Amman in March 1918, while several attempts to break into northern Palestine were blocked. However, the Ottoman-German lines were worn down by the attacks and began to suffer from supply shortages.
At the Battle of Megiddo, the “Breakthrough at Nablus” (September 19-25, 1918), the British subjected a crushing defeat upon the Ottoman-German side, causing their retreat from Palestine into Lebanon and Syria. Damascus fell on October 1, 1918, but it was not until the Ottoman-German side was chased up to Haritan, north of Aleppo, the war in the Middle East ended upon the declaration of the Armistice of Mudros (October 30, 1918).
References: National Library of Israel and the University of Glasgow examples, OCLC: 787018148; Durham University: 912844639.