Two 6-pounder cannons, which had been painfully hauled up to the ramparts of Old Jerusalem, were situated on the imposing Notre Dame Hospice. It was May 23, , and at noon the Arab Legion would launch its long-anticipated attack on the handful of Jewish defenders blocking their entry into West Jerusalem. John Bagot Glubb—Glubb Pasha to his men and his liege, King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan—believed his small army was better suited for the sands of the desert than the dark passages and densely packed stone buildings of the ancient city. Ever the soldier, John Glubb knew how to obey orders. Born in Preston, Lancashire, on April 16, , Glubb was the son of an army officer and himself a graduate of the Royal Military Academy.
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Two 6-pounder cannons, which had been painfully hauled up to the ramparts of Old Jerusalem, were situated on the imposing Notre Dame Hospice. It was May 23, , and at noon the Arab Legion would launch its long-anticipated attack on the handful of Jewish defenders blocking their entry into West Jerusalem. John Bagot Glubb—Glubb Pasha to his men and his liege, King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan—believed his small army was better suited for the sands of the desert than the dark passages and densely packed stone buildings of the ancient city.
Ever the soldier, John Glubb knew how to obey orders. Born in Preston, Lancashire, on April 16, , Glubb was the son of an army officer and himself a graduate of the Royal Military Academy. He served in France during World War I. After the war, Glubb became an Arabist. Resigning his British army commission in to become an administrator for the Iraqi government, he lived among the Bedouins, spoke their language, understood their customs and worked for their greater good.
Glubb was a little man with a high-pitched voice, and while he was shy and reserved on most occasions, he was known to have a terrible temper. During the war, a bullet ripped off the tip of his chin, leaving it lopsided and incongruous to his plump cheeks and otherwise rounded face.
The legion was originally an internal police force organized in by another Englishman, Lt. Frederick Peake. Stationed on the southeastern frontier near the border with Saudi Arabia, Glubb had to build his contingent from scratch. Essentially at war with the Saudis, the Ikhwan had turned to raiding the defenseless villages of both Iraq and Trans-Jordan for supplies and sustenance.
To do that, he roamed the villages of the Huwaitat, trying to enlist their aid. Unfortunately, the Huwaitat, like many Arab tribespeople, had known only one government during the past plus years: the Ottomans. They had learned not to trust the Turks, and that mistrust now extended to Glubb and the Arab administrators. Helping him in this nearly thankless endeavor were four trusted men.
One was a slave Glubb had acquired from Saudi Arabia. Two were Iraqis who had served at his side over the years, and one was a Shammar tribesman who had joined him when he left Iraq.
Luckily for Glubb, three more Huwaitat, less intimidated by army formality, soon enlisted, then 17 more. That was the modest start of the Desert Patrol: 20 men and four trucks, with four Vickers machine guns. Glubb also realized that his Arab troops needed the kind of self-reliance that required more than ability with knife or gun.
In addition to combatting the Ikhwan, Glubb went to war against illiteracy, launching a reading and writing campaign among the Huwaitat. By May , the number of raids over the frontier had been cut by half.
In the s, the Desert Patrol discarded the last of its camels and began to travel in open-air Ford trucks with Lewis machine guns mounted on tripods on the roofs of the cabs. At that time, a new war raged in Europe. It soon spilled over into the Middle East, and in February a pro-German political party took over Baghdad. In immediate response, the British sent a column of men across the desert to relieve Habbaniya and take back Baghdad.
Glubb and a small contingent of his Desert Patrol accompanied the column. By , the Arab Legion boasted 16, men, all fiercely loyal to their British leader, whom they called Glubb Pasha general. Transformed from a small police force of a few hundred, the legion was renowned throughout the Arab world as the most effective fighting force since the days of the caliphs. By , it was down to 4, men. While most officers were British, a coterie of Arab leaders was being nurtured.
Glubb evidently realized what the future would bring. The British government was preparing to evacuate the Middle East. For Glubb and his employer, King Abdullah, a new menace began to loom from west of Amman. It came from what many of the Arabs considered an intrusion: the return of the Jews to Palestine.
The coming declaration of Israel as an independent state promised to embroil the Arabs in a difficult war. On November 30, , the Arab Legion began operations in support of supply convoys to Arab forces around Jerusalem. Glubb tried to distance his force from direct involvement in the fighting—until May , when the Jews of the Etzion Bloc, a group of settlements on the road north of Hebron, attacked Arab reinforcements and supplies destined for Jerusalem.
On May 4, a week before the British Palestine Mandate would expire, Arab tanks, armored cars of the Desert Patrol and riflemen drawn from the Arab locals stormed the four Jewish settlements that comprised the Etzion Bloc.
At stake for Glubb, from a military perspective, was a huge British-organized arms convoy bound for Amman. The call went out for villagers to help in this jihad holy war. Armed with old rifles and Sten submachine guns, and bearing sacks in which to carry away booty from their looting, the villagers answered the call.
Glubb turned from one Arab Legion officer to another, seeking to find a leader capable of delivering victory. Meanwhile, Arab leaders conferred about how to deal with Jerusalem. While many of the leaders in Syria and Egypt were sanguine regarding their chances of throwing out the Jews, Glubb expressed doubts. Favoring the internationalization plan put forth by the fledgling United Nations, he sought to keep his desert-trained Arab Legion out of what he foresaw as house-to-house urban warfare.
The U. But men such as Fawzi el-Kaoukji, commander of the Arab Liberation Army, and Abdul Rahman Azzam, the secretary general of the Arab League, called for all-out war against the Jews and their tiny sliver of a country. Glubb apparently had few choices. His adopted countrymen demanded glory and victory, and his king, Abdullah, had a throne to protect and loyal subjects to appease. On May 14, Israel declared its indepedence. With a tenuous hold on the Old City, Glubb sent two regiments to Latrun, to the open country and rolling hills of Judea.
There, he would keep Jerusalem for Trans-Jordan by choking off Jewish reinforcements. The strategy worked. As Glubb had feared, it suffered heavy losses, including several armored cars to Molotov cocktails, and he abandoned the assault at 5 p. Soon, however, the Jews ran out of ammunition and other supplies, just as Glubb had intended. By mid-June a cease-fire was declared. The legion had little ammunition for its artillery and not much for its small arms and Lewis machine guns.
Glubb pleaded with King Abdullah to accept the cease-fire as final. In Cairo, the Arab leaders met to discuss the future. Reporting back, he said that he could not vote for peace without being denounced as a traitor to the Arab cause.
And so the war went on—with the Israelis not merely holding their own, but going over to the offensive, retaking Ramlah and Lydda which they called Lod and routing an Egyptian brigade in the Faluja pocket in October.
He also severed his ties with Britain. Glubb turned his attention once more to policing the frontier. Arab irregulars made nightly raids against Jewish settlements, and Glubb fought off Israeli retaliatory attacks. Then in , Abdullah was assassinated, and his grandson, Hussein, came to power. Glubb returned to England, was awarded a knighthood and settled down to a life of scholarship.
He died in Mayfield, East Sussex, on March 17, , a month before his 89th birthday—an old soldier whose legacy was something other than enduring peace. This article was written by David M. Castlewitz and originally published in the April issue of Military History magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Military History magazine today!
SIR JOHN GLUBB IS DEAD AT 88; COMMANDED THE ARAB LEGION
During the First World War , he served in France. In later years, this would lead to his Arab nickname of Abu Hunaik , meaning "the one with the little jaw". He was then transferred to Iraq in , which Britain had started governing under a League of Nations Mandate following war, and was posted to Ramadi in "to maintain a rickety floating bridge over the river [Euphrates], carried on boats made of reeds daubed with bitumen ", as he later put it. The next year he formed the Desert Patrol — a force consisting exclusively of Bedouin — to curb the raiding problem that plagued the southern part of the country.
John Bagot Glubb
Sir John Bagot Glubb