Saturday, 15 November 2008

Day 3 - The defences of Fassu-ah Ridge

One team went up to Fassu-ah Ridge fort with a Jordanian colleague to re-assess the evidence on the ground. It now seem s likely that the structures visible date to the thirteenth to 15th centuries AD, and are related to traditional uses of the routeway for pilgrimage and trade at the time. The fort then fell into disuse, being replaced by a 16th Century Ottoman fort about 5 km to the north, only to be re-occupied by late Ottoman troops during the Arab Revolt.

A smaller team continued west along the ridge and located several further Ottoman camps and structures including 15 to 20 tent rings. Evidence for Coal burning and a possible large oven were located. Further exploration to the north revealed another Ottoman tent camp with two rows of tent rings and possible observation and machine gun posts.

Meanwhile, on the main excavation site, the excavation of tent rings continued with large numbers of finds, but we had great difficulty in identifying the actual original living floors. Work continues.

It has become clear that the northern part of Batn Al Ghoul camp is separate from the southern part, and may therefore represent two separate phases of use. Certainly our metal detectorists have found much larger quantities of Otto military buttons on this site, bu little else – in contrast to the variety in the North area.

Very few expended munitions have been found among over 200 metal finds. Was Batn Al Ghoul never attacked during the revolt?


rocknaldo said...

Please say Hi to my wife Vicky Roads who is part of the dig team. Sounds like she's having fun!

Mark Roads

Dave said...

Hi all,

Any sign of the possible midden/fire pit/kiln roughly in the centre of the main fort at Fassua?

Dave & Angie

Jemma Connelly said...

Hi to Ali - missing ya matey! Look how good the work is you guys do, I found you through Google - Google is the answer. Take care everyone. See ya when you get back xx

James Barr said...

Was Batn al Ghul attacked. Yes, according to the documentary evidence. In May 1918 a raiding party including Peake and Hornby did some demolitions near and at the station, which are recorded by Peake in his memoirs (now in the Imperial War Museum), Hornby in a report on the "Escarpment Demolition Raid", 1/F/24-25 in the Joyce Papers at the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives and at the National Archives in WO 158/634. A telegram in this file dated 15 May 1918 says that at Batn al Ghul “Demolitions include 1500 rails cut mainly on curves of minimum radius and maximum gradient, over 100 sections of track strewn over escarpment, 30 foot cutting blown in. Station buildings at Batn el Ghul and Akabat el Hejazia [word missing] demolished.”

James Barr

Roger Ward said...

As James has noted, the later demolition of the rails is well documented. What we were actually referring to in our question was the lack of any direct evidence to support any form of fire-fight between Ottoman and Arab allied forces. In Ma-an for example, very much hard evidence of actual battle was found, with both incoming and expended outgoing munitions commonly found. No similar evidence can be found here.

James Barr said...

Sorry - I misunderstood you. I'm not aware of any other attack on Batn al Ghul even though Antonin Jaussen, the French intelligence officer identified the station as strategically important and a potential target as early as July1916, just after the revolt had begun hundreds of miles to the south.

The British dismissed Jaussen's plan (FO 686/10, note dated 1 August 1916 has the details) because the local tribes, the Huwaytat and the Bani Atiyah were believed to be hostile. Yet even once the British were based in Aqaba and Wadi Rumm, had paid the tribesmen large sums for their support, they still do not appear to have followed up Jaussen's advice.

Why? It may have been because Lawrence was more interested with stations, like Mudawwara to the south, which had water. Or is it to do with the landscape immediately west of Batn al Ghul? From a four year-old memory - you will know much better having dug there - this region directly west looked more hilly than the areas north and south and less good for the armoured car raids that were increasingly favoured.

Going back to the May 1918 raid, as you may know the evidence suggests that any rounds or empty cases you do find are unlikely to date from that raid. Peake says in his account that they were sent to investigate the stations because they were believed to be unoccupied. When they arrived at the first station (Peake doesn't say which) he says that it was empty, but locked. Peake: “The Egyptian officer suggested that before breaking them [the doors] open, he would find out if any man in the Company had experience in opening locked doors in private life. After about ten minutes one man came and soon unlocked the door and what is more, relocked it before we left.” From my notes I took from Peake's papers: The second station was on the northern bank of a deep gorge. It had obviously been evacuated in a hurry, but all that was left were five iron trucks filled with ballast. Peake realised that simply by taking the brakes off, these could be pushed down the slope to crash at the bottom of the gorge, but he had to organise a party to search for the station staff, and while he did so, the demolition officer decided to dynamite the wheels off the front truck in situ, blocking the railway.

Later that night, as they sat in an old watch tower, eating supper around a hurricane lamp, and listening to the demolition officer sing [this was Henry Hornby] they heard shooting and shouts from down the gorge, followed by silence. Peake reckoned this was the station staff, and thought that they would not cause more trouble.

So the overall impression is that this foray was rather more relaxed than some of the other raids on the railway.

Roger Ward said...

Thanks for your reply to our blog on the Hornby/Peake raid. We did know about this, but what your comments bring out clearly is the relative absence of Ottoman troops at the time of the raid, both at Aqabat-Hijaz and at Batn Al-Ghoul. What is so odd about this is that wherever we look, we see evidence for heavy Ottoman occupation. Back-of-an-envelope calculations based on number of tent-rings we have imply that several hundred Ottoman troops were stationed at Batn Al-Ghoul - probably, given the very low actual unit strengths in 1917 and 1918, a full regiment (equivalent of a British brigade). It may well be the case that a divisional HQ is implied, with the position at Batn Al-Ghoul supplying posts up and down the line, or certainly down it, with garrisons. And yet ... Hornby and Peake apparently find it deserted.

Perhaps we are going to need to think in terms of a defensive deployment which was much more flexible and mobile. On the other hand, Lawrence, as far as I can recall, NEVER reports a deserted railway station: whenever mention is made, there is always a garrison. How do we square that with Hornby and Peake's account of their raid? Most odd.

Neil Faulkner