Catalogue description War Office: Geographical Section General Staff and Historical Section: War of 1914-1918: Palestine Campaign: Maps

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Details of WO 303
Reference: WO 303
Title: War Office: Geographical Section General Staff and Historical Section: War of 1914-1918: Palestine Campaign: Maps

Topographical, geological, reconnaissance and operations (trench) maps of Persia, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Arabia, Palestine, Sinai, Egypt, Sudan and Libya: the series includes coverage of an area from Syria to Cyrenaica, with detailed mapping of the Western Desert and even larger-scale coverage of the Suez Canal defence zone. The series comprises maps compiled and/or produced by the Geographical Section General Staff and other intelligence branches at the War Office; Royal Engineer Survey Companies attached to the Egyptian Expeditionary Forces, a survey party of Middle East Forces (1919), the Ordnance Survey; Stanford's Geographical Establishment, the Royal Geographical Society, the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF), the Survey of Egypt, and a few French, Turkish, Turco-French (including Ottoman Railway Company) and German maps. The Palestine Exploration Fund series, begun in the 19th century, had been extended in 1913 and was much reproduced and further extended southwards and eastwards across the Jordan to meet the needs of Allenby's rapid advances. The PEF items include a table of topographical terms used in English and Arabic (WO 303/223). Some maps are noted as compiled from photographs supplied by the Royal Flying Corps.

Date: 1880-1984
Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Ministry of Defence, Directorate of Military Survey, 1964-

War Office, Directorate of Military Operations and Intelligence, Geographical Section, 1922-1939

War Office, Directorate of Military Operations and Plans, Geographical Section, 1939-1943

War Office, Directorate of Military Operations, Geographical Section General Staff, 1908-1922

War Office, Directorate of Military Operations, Topographical Section, 1904-1908

War Office, Directorate of Military Survey, 1943-1964

War Office, Military Intelligence and Mobilization Department, Topographical Section, 1901-1904

War Office, Military Intelligence Division, Topographical Section, 1888-1901

Physical description: 514 files and papers
Access conditions: Open unless otherwise stated
Publication note:

References to the Official History are to the 'History of the Great War based on official documents by Direction of the Historical Section, Committee of Imperial Defence: MILITARY OPERATIONS: EGYPT AND PALESTINE' Vol 1:@From the outbreak of war with Germany to June 1917 compiled by Lieut-General Sir George Macmunn KCB, KCSI, DSO (late RA), psc and Captain Cyril Falls late 11th R Innis Fus and General Staff Printed and published by HMSO, London, 1928.Vol 2:@From June 1917 to the end of the war. Parts 1 and 2@compiled by Captain Cyril Falls late 11th R Innis Fus and General Staff Printed and published by HMSO, London, 1930. Maps:@compiled by Major A F Burke RA (Retired), Hon MA (Oxon)

Unpublished finding aids:

WO 303/1-17 are indexes to and reports on map assemblages contained within the series. A list of battles and engagements in the Palestine campaign, 1914-1918; and a key to abbreviations are with the standard list set.

Administrative / biographical background:

By the end of 1915, Salonika had replaced the Dardanelles as the focus of Anglo-French armed confrontation in the Near East. Elsewhere in the Mediterranean area, the main operations between Imperial and Turco-German forces were sustained across the border zone between Sinai and Palestine. Hostilities commenced with defensive actions by the Allies to meet Turkish probes across the Sinai Peninsula in attempts to breach the Suez Canal and with long-range operations in the Western Desert to contain provocative actions in the oases by the Senussi, who had been persuaded to harass Allied forces. With the arrival of British and Anzac reinforcements in Egypt, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force absorbed what remained of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in March 1916 after the Gallipoli evacuation, and offensive operations across Sinai into Palestine were planned.

The largely desert conditions provided Allied cavalry with opportunities for large-scale offensive operations such as were seldom offered in other theatres but the absence of roads or tracks suitable for wheeled or motor transport made the movement of supplies, artillery and ammunition a major problem. Water supply imposed similar restrictions, such wells as existed in the desert having insufficient water to supply the needs of large units of men, horses and camels on the move. The rate of construction of new railway systems and piped water supplies forward from Egypt therefore determined the feasibility of offensive operations into Palestine and Syria as much as the availability of the forces required. The Allied offensive began in March 1917, with General Sir Edmund Allenby appointed GOC EEF in June, striking north-east across Sinai and the Jordan and ultimately north via Jerusalem to Aleppo. This offensive was flanked, and a second front created, by the exploitation of the Arab Revolt by T E Lawrence westwards with irregular Arab forces across the Syrian desert and the Hejaz towards the Gulf of Aqaba and northwards towards Damascus.

The military concerns of the War Office in Egypt thus covered all of the western and south-western marches of the old Ottoman Empire. Egypt itself, the provinces of Sudan and Sinai and the island of Cyprus, all recently taken from Turkish control, needed to be defended as well as providing secure bases for attack.

Many reconnaisance and route maps supplemented the regular series in the desert areas and Operations [Trench] Maps were produced for the EEF Palestine operations, often exploiting aerial photography.

From early in the war, authority for military map production was delegated to the Survey of Egypt, under the active control of (Sir) Ernest Dowson, and its important contribution to the Imperial war effort was identified by designations in the range GSGS 4000 to GSGS 4025 allocated from the War Office in London. Many reproductions and revised editions of the Kitchener/Conder maps produced by the PEF and detailed topographic maps of the battle areas, (often identified in the catalogue as reconnaissance, route or operations maps), appeared as local productions of the 7th Field Survey Coy RE and the Survey of Egypt. Many new techniques of exploiting aerial photography were developed in producing these maps.

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