The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 34: The Eve of Yarmuk

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq


Page: 7

Thus the magnificent army of Caesar was arrayed for battle.

When Khalid returned from his talks with Mahan, he informed Abu Ubaidah and the other generals that there would be no more talks, that the issue would be decided by the sword, that the battle would begin the next day. Abu Ubaidah took the news with his usual stoical acceptance of the will of Allah. As Commander-in-Chief he would organise the army for battle and conduct the operation according to his tactical judgement. His military skill was not, however, very great, and he knew it. Khalid knew it, and most of the officers of the army knew it. Abu Ubaidah would fight the battle in a sensible manner, and would react to changing tactical situations like the good, steady general that he was. But with the enemy four times superior in strength, soundness and common sense were not enough. A much finer quality of generalship was required for this battle, and Khalid decided to offer his services to act as the real commander in battle.

"O Commander", said Khalid to Abu Ubaidah, "send for all the commanders of regiments and tell them to listen to what I have to say." 1

Abu Ubaidah got the point. He himself could wish for nothing better. He at once sent an officer to call the regimental and corps commanders to his headquarters; and the officer rode to all the commanders, conveying the message: "Abu Ubaidah commands that you listen to whatever Khalid says and obey his orders." 2 The officers understood the meaning of the message and gathered at the headquarters to receive the orders of Khalid. On this tactful note the command of the army was taken over by Khalid, and everyone was satisfied with the arrangement.

Abu Ubaidah remained the nominal commander and somewhat more than that. He continued to deal with matters of administration, led the prayers and saw to various other details of command. He also gave certain orders when his ideas did not clash with the plans and orders of Khalid. But for the purpose of battle, Khalid was now the commander of the Muslim army in Syria, and would remain so until this battle was over.

Khalid immediately set about the reorganization of the army into infantry and cavalry regiments within each corps. The army consisted of 40,000 men, of which about 10,000 was cavalry. This force was now organised by Khalid into 36 infantry regiments of 800 to 900 men each, three cavalry regiments of 2,000 horses each and the Mobile Guard of 4,000 horsemen. The commanders of the cavalry regiments were Qais bin Hubaira, Maisara bin Masruq and Amir bin Tufail. Each of the four corps had nine infantry regiments, which were all reformed on a tribal and clan basis, so that every man would fight next to well-known comrades. Much of Khalid's corps of Iraq was absorbed in the other four corps, while the best of it remained with him as the Mobile Guard.

The army was deployed on a front of 11 miles corresponding roughly to the front of the Roman army. The army's left rested on the Yarmuk River, a mile forward of where the ravine began, while it's right lay on the Jabiya road. 3 On the left stood the corps of Yazeed and on the right the corps of Amr bin Al Aas, and each of these flanking corps commanders was given a cavalry regiment under command. The centre was formed by the corps of Abu Ubaidah (left) and Shurahbil (right). Among the regimental commanders of Abu Ubaidah were Ikrimah bin Abi Jahl and Abdur-Rahman bin Khalid. Behind the centre stood the Mobile Guard and one cavalry regiment as a central reserve for employment on the orders of Khalid. At any time when Khalid was busy with the conduct of the battle as a whole, Dhiraar would command the Mobile Guard. Each corps pushed out a line of scouts to keep the Romans under observation. (For the dispositions of the two armies, see Map 20 below)

map 2 chapter 34

Compared with the Romans, the Muslim army formed a thin line, only three ranks deep, but there were no gaps in the ranks which stretched in unbroken lines from edge to edge. All the spears available in the army were issued to the front rank, and in battle the men would stand with the long spears at the ready, making it impossible for an assailant to get to grips without braving the frightening points of the spears. The archers, most of whom were Yemenis, stood interspersed in the front rank. On the first approach of the enemy the archers would open up and bring down as many of the Romans as possible. As the assailants clashed with the Muslims, they would be killed with spears, and thereafter the men would draw their swords.

1. Waqidi: p. 129.
2. Ibid.
3. In terms of present-day geography, the Muslim line started from about a mile west of Nawa and went south-south-west to over the Hill of Jamu'a, then between Seel and Adwan, then between Sahm-ul-Jaulan and Jalleen, to just short of the Yarmuk.