The Ottoman Empire, their railways and the Great War

An army is only as strong as the strength of their supply lines. The Ottoman Empire had built thousands of miles of good quality railway lines from the mid 1800’s, making a vast difference to trade and the development of previously remote areas. This railway system became a strategic web of supply behind the Turkish forces and therefore features in the operations of World War One.

In particular, from the taking of Beersheba in October 1917 to the fall of Damascus in late 1918, the ‘rolling up’ of the Ottoman Army by the British virtually followed the railway lines northward in Palestine and Jordan. It was in this highly successful Egyptian Expeditionary Force, led by General Sir Edmund Allenby, that the Australian Light Horse was to play a pivotal role. It was also along the railway in Jordan, known as the ‘Hejaz’ line, that a British officer called Lawrence made a name for himself with the creative use of explosives.

Consequently railway lines, stations, locomotives and rolling stock feature regularly in the historic narrative of the British Force in the years of 1917 and 1918.

The Hejaz Railway Station in Damascus in 2008. The 2-6-0T Loco from the Ottoman period featured in the title can be seen to the right.
Diorama from the Australian War Memorial depicting the attack on Semakh Railway Station by the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade. Under the command of Brigadier General William Grant, this was the same Brigade that made the charge on Beersheba, although the brunt of the work at Semakh was carried by the 11th regiment from Queensland. Seventeen Australians were killed and over fifty injured in the attack that took place in and around the railway yard just before dawn broke on 25th September 1918. The body of water in the background is the Sea of Galilee in northern Palestine.
The final goal of the Charge at Beersheba was to reach this railway station. This image is from 2008, since then this building, and many other Ottoman features of the old railway system have been restored.