In This Article Edmund Allenby

  • Introduction
  • Biographical Accounts
  • British Strategy in the First World War
  • Belgium and France, 1914–1917
  • The Imperial Perspective
  • Lawrence and the Hashemites
  • Egypt

Military History Edmund Allenby
by
Matthew Hughes, Iain Farquharson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0160

Introduction

General Sir Edmund Allenby (later, Field Marshal and Viscount, 1861–1936) served in South Africa and Bechuanaland (Botswana), passed Staff College, fought in the Boer War (1899–1902), became Inspector General of Cavalry, and then assumed command of the Cavalry Division on the outbreak of the First World War. The war divided into two uneven halves for Allenby, the longer (and less successful) first part spent in France and the final (more successful) one in command in Palestine. Allenby led the difficult cavalry retreat from Mons in Belgium in 1914, went on to corps and army command on the Western Front, culminating with command of Third Army at the Battle of Arras in April–May 1917, the only major offensive of Allenby’s in France. The Arras attack bogged down after some initial success, casualties mounted, and subordinate commanders at the time and historians subsequently criticized Allenby for his failure to challenge orders from his overall commander in France, Sir Douglas Haig, to prolong the offensive. Needing a new commander for the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in Palestine, the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, dispatched Allenby to Egypt to take command in June 1917 against the Ottomans (Turkey). Allenby made his name in Palestine. He rebuilt the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, established up-to-date Western Front standards of operations, and restored the force’s confidence and morale. London also sent him substantial reinforcements. The Egyptian Expeditionary Force won the Third Battle of Gaza (November–December 1917), conquering southern Palestine and capturing Jerusalem in December 1917. In Palestine, Allenby worked with the Arab Hashemite army under the command of Prince Feisal fighting on his right flank across the River Jordan. T. E. Lawrence—“Lawrence of Arabia”—was Britain’s liaison officer with the Hashemite forces. Allenby’s forces at the final Battle of Megiddo (September–October 1918) crushed Turkish forces in Palestine and swept forward to occupy all of what would become Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Allenby supported the Hashemites, allowing them to enter Damascus first and so helping to establish British political influence in the region. London then appointed Allenby high commissioner in Egypt, a post he held during the Egyptian independence revolution. While there are four biographies of Allenby and several essays directly assessing his command and character, much of our understanding of Allenby is embedded in the official and unofficial histories of Allenby’s military campaigns in Belgium and France (1914–1917) and in Palestine (1917–1918). Accounts and diaries of and by figures such as T. E. Lawrence, Ronald Storrs (military and then civil governor of Jerusalem) and Richard Meinertzhagen (British army intelligence officer) also touch on Allenby, as do studies of British strategy in the First World War and political histories of the postwar peace settlement that formed the modern Middle East.

Biographical Accounts

Biographies of Allenby begin with Savage 1925 and Wavell 1940—both served under Allenby—through Gardner 1965 and James 1993, ending with comparative command assessments by Urban 2006 and Black 2009. Forester 1936 is a fictional account of a general of this period, a composite character based in some measure on Allenby. Hughes 2006 (cited under Belgium and France, 1914–1917) provides a good overall summary of Allenby’s character and his role in operations on the Western Front.

  • Black, Jeremy. “Edmund Allenby.” In The Art of War. Great Commanders of the Modern World. Edited by Andrew Roberts, 268–275. London: Quercus, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    Edited by Roberts, the coverage of fifty commanders of the modern period in this volume includes Jeremy Black’s short (three thousand word) assessment of Allenby, a concise, quick read covering the main elements of Allenby’s military skills.

  • Forester, C. S. The General. London: Michael Joseph, 1936.

    E-mail Citation »

    Forester’s sympathetic portrayal of a general of the era is an easy read and acts as a rebuttal to the idea that all British generals of the First World War were hidebound, unthinking “Colonel Blimps.” Forester shows how commanders struggled to control the modern, industrial battlefield. Forester, who wrote widely, including the Hornblower naval series of fiction books, brings his subject to life.

  • Gardner, Brian. Allenby. London: Cassell, 1965.

    E-mail Citation »

    Gardner used Allenby’s papers for the first biography by an author who had not served under Allenby. A readable and scholarly account of Allenby’s whole life that tackles the issue of whether he was a martinet. It partially covers the issues of whether Allenby bungled the cavalry retreat from Mons, failed in France, and succeeded in Palestine because he deployed overwhelming force against his enemy.

  • James, Lawrence. Imperial Warrior: The Life and Times of Field Marshall Viscount Allenby 1861–1936. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993.

    E-mail Citation »

    Making use of the Allenby papers, James is the most recent critical biography of Allenby that provides a balanced, readable assessment of the life and times of Allenby. James gives examples of Allenby’s notorious temper when dealing with subordinates in France during the First World War. He also tackles the issue of whether Allenby was out of his depth in command in France and whether he failed at the Battle of Arras.

  • Savage, Raymond. Allenby of Armageddon. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1925.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is the first biography of Allenby, one written by an officer who served under Allenby, and, while it is an interesting read, it is hagiographical of its subject and does not make use of Allenby’s papers. Lacks detailed footnotes.

  • Urban, Mark. Generals: Ten British Commanders Who Changed the World. London: Faber and Faber, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    Urban describes and weighs up the military lives of ten British generals from Monck to Montgomery, written in a lively, engaging style and provides succinct analysis of Allenby as one of the great generals of history.

  • Wavell, Archibald. Allenby: A Study in Greatness: The Biography of Field Marshal Viscount Allenby of Megiddo and Felixstowe. London: Harrap, 1940.

    E-mail Citation »

    Wavell served under Allenby in Palestine and wrote an account of the Palestine campaign in 1929 (Wavell 1929, cited under Unit and Campaign Histories). Wavell went on to high-level command in the Second World War, which was when he wrote his two-volume biography of Allenby. Lady Allenby gave Wavell access to Allenby’s papers (this is apparent when one consults the Allenby papers held at King’s College London in which Wavell has left his notes on his biography), and Wavell brings to his subject a real understanding of the battlefield. The footnoting to both volumes is exiguous.

  • Wavell, Archibald. Allenby in Egypt: Being Volume II of Allenby: A Study in Greatness. London: Harrap, 1943.

    E-mail Citation »

    The second volume on Allenby’s time as high commissioner in Egypt is much shorter. The “greatness” in Wavell’s title is a reference to Allenby’s correct behavior in the face of scheming against him by junior and senior officers when he was in France. There are reprints of both of these hard-to-get Wavell volumes (London: Gregg Revival, 1992).

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