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Arab Legion Insignia
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The Arab Legion (al-Jaysh al-Arabī) was the regular army of Transjordan and then Jordan in the early part of the 20th Century.



In October 1920, after taking over the Transjordan region, Great Britain formed a unit of 150 men called the "Mobile Force" under the command of Captain Frederick Gerard Peake to defend the territory against both internal and external threats.[1] It was quickly expanded to 1,000 men recruiting Arabs who had served in the Ottoman army. On 22 October 1923, the police were merged with the Reserve Mobile Force, still under Peake, who was now an employee of the Emirate. The new force was named Al Jeish al Arabi (The Arab Army) but was always known officially in English as the Arab Legion. The Arab Legion was financed by Britain and commanded by British officers.[2] The force was formed as a police force to keep order among the tribes of Transjordan and to guard the important JerusalemAmman road.

On 1 April 1926, the Transjordan Frontier Force was formed from cadre drawn from the Arab Legion. It consisted of only 150 men and most of them were stationed along Transjordan's roads. During this time the Arab Legion was reduced to 900 men and was also stripped of its machine guns, artillery, and communications troops.

In 1939, John Bagot Glubb, better known as Glubb Pasha, became the Legion's commander and transformed it into the best trained Arab army.

World War II

During World War II, the Arab Legion took part in the British war effort against pro-Axis forces in the Middle East Theatre. By then the force had grown to 1,600 men. The Legion, part of Iraqforce, contributed significantly in the Anglo-Iraqi War and in the Syria-Lebanon campaign. These were two decisive early victories for the Allies.

1948 Arab-Israeli War

Arab Legion artillery shells illuminate Jerusalem in 1948.

The Arab Legion actively participated in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

With a total strength of just over 6,000, the Arab Legion's military contingent consisted of 4,500 men in 4 single battalion-sized regiments, each with their own armored car squadrons, and seven independent companies plus support troops. The regiments were organized into two brigades. 1st Brigade contained 1st and 3rd Regiments while 3rd brigade contained 2nd and 4th Regiments. There were also two artillery batteries with four 25-pounders each. Note that on 9 February, 1948 the Trans-Jordan Frontier Force was disbanded with members being absorbed back into The Arab Legion. Although headed by Glubb, now a Lieutenant General, command in the field was by Brigadier Norman Lash.

The Legion was initially withdrawn from Palestine to Transjordanian territory, under instruction from the United Nations, prior to the end of the British Mandate. With the commencement of hostilities the Legion re-entered Palestine with 1st Brigade heading to Nablus and 2nd Brigade heading to Ramallah. The Arab Legion entered Palestine with other Arab Forces on May 15, 1948 using the Allenby, now King Hussein, bridge as they were advancing to cover the approaches from Jenin, in the north to Alaffoula and from Al-Majame'a bridge on the Jordan River to Bissan Alaffoula.

There was considerable embarrassment from the United Kingdom government that British officers were employed in the Legion during the conflict and regular British officers, including a brigade commander, were instructed to return to Transjordan. This led to the bizarre spectacle of British officers leaving their units to return to Transjordan before sneaking back across the border to rejoin the Arab Legion. Without exception all of the affected officers returned to their units. One British MP called for Glubb Pasha to be imprisoned for serving in a foreign army without the King's permission.

Arab Legion commander Abdullah el Tell (far right) with Captain Hikmat Mihyar (far left) pose with Jewish prisoners after the Fall of Gush Etzion

A few days before the war, Legion troops were involved in the Kfar Etzion massacre. At Latrun, the Legion blockaded the Jerusalem highway. On May 28, 1948, they conquered the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City (i.e. inside the walls of the Old City), expelled the Jews who lived there and took part in the destruction of the Synagogues therein. The Legion also secured the West Bank for Transjordan.

Units of the Arab Legion were engaged in several battles with the Jewish forces including the following:

On 9 February, 1948 the 3,000 strong Trans-Jordan Frontier Force was disbanded with members being absorbed back into The Arab Legion. so that by the wars end in 1949, the Arab Legion consisted of over 10,000 men manning a 100 mile front, which then expanded to a 400 mile front following the withdraw of Iraqi forces.

Between the wars

The Beit Liqya Encounter occurred in September 1954.

1956 Arab Israeli War

On September 11, an Israeli force infiltrated to the Jordanian territories in Al-Rahwa, Hebron Sector, and attacked the police station there. After long clashes with a Jordanian unit from the Desert Patrol, the Israeli force was repulsed.

On October 10, 1956 an enemy force, estimated at a motorized infantry brigade, supported by medium-range artillery and 10 combat aircraft, attacked the towns of Hubla, Al-Nabi Illias and Azroun. The assaulting troops fought the Arab legion west of Al-Nabi Illias and were forced to withdraw to Qalqilia hills.

It must be noted that the Legion generally stayed out of the 1956 War.


On 1 March 1956, the Legion was renamed as the Jordan Arab Army.

In Israel, the Hebrew term "Ligioner" (ליגיונר), i.e. "Legionary" was still informally used for Jordanian soldiers for many years afterwards, also at the time of the 1967 war and its aftermath.


Note: "Pasha" is a Turkish honorary title in one of its various ranks is equivalent to the British title of "Lord", and Bey is equivalent to "Sir".

See also


  1. ^ Kenneth Pollack, Arabs at War, Council on Foreign Relations/University of Nebraska Press, 2002, p.267
  2. ^ Avi Shlaim (2007) "Lion of Jordan The Life of king Hussein in War and Peace" Allen Lane ISBN 9780713997774 p 17.


  • Dupuy, Trevor N, Elusive Victory, The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947-1974, Hero (1984)
  • Farndale, Sir Martin, History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, The Years of Defeat, 1939-41, Brassey’s (1996)
  • Glubb, John Bagot, The Arab Legion, Hodder & Stoughton, London (1948)
  • A. Isseroff, Kfar Etzion Remembered: A history of Gush Etzion and the Massacre of Kfar Etzion, 2005.
  • I. Levi, Jerusalem in the War of Independence ("Tisha Kabin" – Nine Measures – in Hebrew) Maarachot – IDF, Israel Ministry of Defence, 1986. ISBN 965-05-0287-4
  • Pal, Dharm, Official History of the Indian Armed in the Second World War, 1939-45 - Campaign in Western Asia, Orient Longmans (1957)
  • Roubicek, Marcel, Echo of the Bugle, extinct military and constabulary forces in Palestine and Trans-Jordan 1915,1967, Franciscan (Jerusalem 1974)
  • Avi Shlaim (2007) "Lion of Jordan The Life of king Hussein in War and Peace" Allen Lane ISBN 9780713997774
  • P.J. Vatikiotis, (1967). Politics and the Military in Jordan: A Study of the Arab Legion, 1921-1957, New York, Praeger Publishers. ISBN
  • The Arab Legion (Men-at-arms) (Paperback) by Peter Young, 48 pages, Osprey Publishing (15 Jun 1972) ISBN 0850450845 and ISBN 978-0850450842
  • Jordan – A Country Study, US Library of Congress


External links & references



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