Handbook of the Turkish Army

10 October 2006 by Robyn Van-Dyk

Lawrence worked for the Military Intelligence Department in Cairo as an intelligence officer from December 1914 to November 1916. His knowledge of the Middle East gained through his pre-war studies and work as an archaeologist in Syria and Sinai, were put to good use in Cairo gathering and collating intelligence on enemy troops throughout the Turkish Empire and producing maps in association with the civilian Survey of Egypt.Handbook of the Turkish Army, 1 March 1915In a letter to Charles Francis Bell in April 1915* he wrote:

Maps, maps, maps, hundreds of thousands of them, to be drawn, & printed, & packed up & sent off: - my job: - also in keeping track of Turkish Army movements.

According to Lawrence, intelligence was collated in Cairo from various sources including telegrams from Sofia, Belgrade, Petrograd, Athens, Basra and Tiflis. In his letter to Bell, Lawrence mentions that new information was also written into a book called the Handbook of the Turkish Army. The handbook was designed for extensive circulation and Lawrence, who also organised the printing of the book, mentions in his letter to Bell that thousands of copies were printed.

The principal authority on the handbook was Philip Graves. He was a former correspondent for The Times in the Middle East and from 1910, regularly passed information to British Intelligence about terrain, roads and railroad development in the Ottoman Empire. He was also the half brother of the poet Robert Graves.

Lawrence and other staff in the Cairo intelligence department contributed information to the handbook which required constant updating to take into account the latest reports they received. There were eight Cairo editions published between January 1915 and February 1916. Graves based these Cairo editions on a 1912 edition of the handbook which was produced by the War Office in London. Changes to the Turkish Army as a result of the outbreak of war were embodied in Graves’ first 1915 Cairo edition.

The Memorial holds three copies of these now rare books, the 2nd Cairo provisional edition, 1 March 1915, the 6th Cairo provisional edition, October 1915 and the 8th provisional edition, 10 February 1916. Private, Turkish Infantry - rear

The Handbook also includes photographs to help identify soldiers of the Turkish Army.


Malcolm Brown, The letters of T.E. Lawrence (London: J.M. Dent, 1988.) [*Letter to Charles Francis Bell p.71]

Intelligence Department, Cairo, Handbook of the Turkish Army (Cairo: Government Press, 1916)

Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia: the authorised biography of T.E. Lawrence (London: Heinemann, 1989)

Yigal Sheffy, British military intelligence in the Palestine campaign, 1914-1918 (London: Cass, 1998)

Robyn Van Dyk

[This post above came about as a result of research into our own collections for the exhibition. When we looked at the records Robyn had selected to support our exhibition, Nigel remarked that these handbooks were now pretty scarce and that the IWM had to borrow one for their exhibition. Further research by Robyn and Nigel revealed that Lawrence contributed to the production of these handbooks in Cairo and the cover of the book shown clearly tells us that this copy belonged to the HQ of the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade, providing yet another connection between Lawrence and Australian forces. Lawrence was one of several Middle East experts in the Intelligence Department and their work proved to be impressive and professional. Obviously, his knowledge of the Turkish Army would later prove valuable to the forces he worked with in the Arab Revolt. MB.]