Iraq 1941- Germans, Italians, Irregulars & police



German Involvement


Rashid Ali made overtures to the seemingly unstoppable German forces through the Italian Embassy in Baghdad.  While he did not receive concrete promises of support the diplomatic language used by the Germans indicated that military support was likely in the event of a British intervention.  No doubt the current operations in the Balkans and Greece coupled with the planning for the assaults on Crete and Russia were focussing the mind of Adolf Hitler elsewhere.  He did not appreciate just how vulnerable the British were to having the oil from Iraq cut off - a vulnerability that appears also to have taken the British some time to realise.


When the help came it came in the form of a Luftwaffe detachment of Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters and Heinkel He 111 bombers supported by transport aircraft as well as their own ground crew and a light anti-aircraft sub-unit.  These forces flew in via Vichy controlled Syria and Lebanon to Mosul.


The Iraqis had also asked the Germans for weapons and munitions from stocks captured from the British before Dunkirk.  The request included: Bren LMG, Vickers MMG, Boys Anti-Tank Rifles, anti-tank cannon (probably 2 pdrs) all of which were compatible with the training already received.  Later the Germans had the Vichy French supply 75mm and 155mm guns and other stores and munitions from the equipment impounded under the armistice though these were not used. 

By allowing their airfields to be used by the Germans the Vichy government in Syria opened itself to reprisal raids by the RAF on its air bases.


The ground forces had a small command/staff element and sufficient ground staff for the aircraft together with a defence force that included at least one 2cm light anti-aircraft gun.


Everything was flown in by Junkers Ju-52/3m and Ju-90 transport aircraft.


There are reports that the RAF engaged Bf 109s over Iraq but from Luftwaffe records no single-engined fighters were deployed to Iraq.  It may be that a few Vichy Dewoitine D-520 or Morane Saulnier MS-406 fighters were sent to Iraq but I have no evidence to corroborate or confirm this claim even though A few sources speculate that this was the case.



Legion Freies Arabien


In  1940 the German Military Mission was founded in Lebanon under the same status as the Kondor Legion in Spain (1936 – 39).  The Mission was led by Major Blomberg (son of Field Marshal Blomberg) and composed of officers who spoke Arabic and Arabs who had lived in Germany.  They were to take control of the thousands of Arabs who wanted to fight the British from the many countries of the Middle East.  These Arabs had few leaders and fewer modern weapons.  The Mission was to supply the leadership and find weapons. 


Major Blomberg was killed as he arrived in Baghdad when his aircraft came under fire from Iraqi troops.  They probably mistook it for a British bomber.  His place was taken by Hauptman Berger.   Berger met with Rashid Ali el-Gailani and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in Baghdad.  It was explained to Berger that the British were about 800km away and moving overland from Basra with a convoy of 50 small craft on the river moving up the Tigris towards Kut-al-Amarah.

Berger requisitioned all the available aircraft at Baghdad airport including a Pan-Am Airways passenger aircraft.  The USA was still neutral at this stage.  These aircraft ferried in the embryonic Arabische Brigade and weapons, probably from Vichy French stocks, from Syria and Lebanon.  In all they probably amounted to not more than a few hundred men because on 15 May 1941, a report says that 500 Arabs marched past the Grand Mufti at Uruk.   


One German site credits this force with capturing 50 supply boats, 2 gunboats and annihilating 2-3,000 Empire soldiers.  The total Empire losses in Iraq , Syria and Iran were 1,031 so I suspect the validity of this claim.  But it does give the possibility of a different force being involved.


The photographs of this force show an Afrika Korps style uniform.  The colour may be the standard Afrika Korps colours or, perhaps, French khaki if they were issued with clothing impounded in Syria or Lebanon.  The unit was sent to the Afrika Korps when the Germans evacuated Iraq to serve as a security unit behind the front.  They surrendered to the Allies in April 1943 in Tunisia.


Italian involvement


The Royal Italian Airforce, Reggia Aeronautica, sent 155 Fighter Squadron equipped with 11 or 12 FIAT CR-42 biplanes which were supported by Savoia Marchettii SM 81 Pipistrello transports and a single Savoia Marchetti SM 79 Sparviero bomber though it does not seem to have been used as such.  They arrived in Kirkuk from Rhodes on 26 May and almost immediately started ground attack operations against the British.   As Habbaniya-based RAF planes were supporting the British advance from Fallujah to Baghdad on May 29, they were attacked by two CR-42’s.These forced an Audax to land damaged, with its pilot wounded. Wing Commander W.T.F. "Freddie" Wightman of No. 94 Squadron dived on one of the C.R.42s and shot it down, with the pilot, a 2nd Lt. Valentini, bailing out and taken prisoner by Somerset de Chair.


I assume that they were supported by a small command/staff element, ground and guard force.  They were supported and resupplied by Savoia Marchetti SM-81 transport aircraft.  They left Kirkuk for Syria on 31 May.



Many Irregulars took part in the actions either as part of organised forces or as part of tribal forces.  The Arab way of war in the desert was that of the raid.  Raiding was part of the traditional nomadic way of life and focussed on the creating wealth, restoring honour or any one of many other reasons.  The raiding parties varied in size from a few men to several hundred.  These raiding parties could be mounted, using camels for travel and horses for combat or they could ride in trucks.  


Fawzi al Qawukji (also Fawzi al Qawaqji or Farouk al Fawzi), an Arab Nationalist, had served in the Turkish army in WW1.  After this he fought against the French in Syria from 1925 to 1927 and later against the British in Palestine between 1936 and 1939.  In Iraq in 1941 led a force of well armed tribesmen mounted in trucks several of which mounted machine guns.  This force was involved, with the Iraq Desert Police, in the actions around the fort at Rutbah.  Despite his mobility and weaponry he was not very successful.  When Rashid was defeated he fled to Iran and afterwards took exile in Germany where he was given an officer’s rank and became a Wehrmacht Agent in Palestine.   



In addition to the Iraqi Army, the besiegers of Habbaniya included a significant number of irregular tribal militia.  Sources vary as to their strength on the plateau with the greatest estimate being about 25,000.   


Modelling the Germans, Italians, and Irregulars


Messerschmitt Bf-110D-1

The Matchbox model has the Shark’s Mouth markings used by these ZG 76 aircraft in Iraq.  There are illustrations of these planes in both desert colours and in grey/green so take your choice.  The German markings were hastily painted out and replaced by Iraqi triangles and rudder stripes.  They were armed with 2 x 20mm cannon and 4 x 7.92mm machine guns in the nose and 1 x 7.92mm machine gun firing rearwards.  Many flew as single seaters in the desert to maintain performance.  The Aircraft in Iraq were not fitted to carry bombs.

The Junkers Ju-52/3m and Ju-90s took no part in the fighting and so they are not really necessary for wargaming purposes.  However, if you do then there are offerings of the Ju-52 from Esci, Airfix and several others.


 Heinkel He-111H-3

Any of the early H series types of this aircraft may be used depending upon how fussy you are; Revell, Matchbox, Hasegawa or whatever you can find.  Again the German markings were crudely painted out and Iraqi ones painted on.  It was armed with 2 x 7.92mm machine guns in the nose (one flexible and one fixed),  another in the open dorsal position, one in each of the two waist positions and the ventral gondola had (usually) a 20mm cannon firing forwards and a 7.92mm machine gun firing rearwards.  It carried an internal bomb load of 4,400lb stored nose up.


Fieseler Fi-156 Storch

This observation and liaison aircraft is available from Academy, Airfix, Heller and others.  Although I have no photographs I assume that the one sent to Iraq had the German markings replaced as well.  It carried a single 7.92mm machine gun in the rear cockpit.



The Luftwaffe ground crew can be modelled using either the Airfix/Heller set or, better, the Preiser set in tropical dress.


For the defence group I used the Airfix Afrika Korps figures though any suitable Afrika Korps type figures could be used.  They should be given Luftwaffe markings and rank badges.  The 2cm FLAK came from a Nitto set I’ve had for years.  I also gave them a Kubel and a couple of Kettenkrads.  I used the same Corgi fuel and GS trucks that I used for my Iraqis as impressed local equipment. 


Dewoitine D-520 is available from Novo and Heller.  Though I do not know if they were used or how they were marked.  I have not used this type in Iraq but have a couple in Vichy markings for “what if scenarios” and for Syria.




Fiat CR-42 Falco

This fighter is available in 1/72 from Revell and Esci.  As with the Luftwaffe the Italian aircraft sported the Iraqi triangular national markings painted over the Italian markings.  It was armed with 2 x 12.7mm machine guns in the nose.   They were flown by Italian pilots.

The Savoia Marchetti SM-81 Pipistrello is available from Supermodel.  The SM-79 is available from Italeri and Airfix.


Presumably there was a ground detachment supporting the aircraft but I have no details of what this might have been.



Note on markings; the national markings and unit code letters or distinctions (with the exception of the Shark’s Teeth of ZG 76 already mentioned) markings were crudely painted out.  The Iraqi triangle was painted in each of the usual 6 positions on top of any previous national marking.  The Iraqi fin stripes were also painted on. 


Legion Freies Arabien

Although I doubt that these troops actually did carry out the attack on the boats on the river I suspect that they were used, at least symbolically, in some operations.  Possibly, this involved intended operations against Glubb Pasha’s Arab Legion. 


To make these I used Airfix/Heller Afrika Korps figures.  In this case I’ve gone for some variety here and uniformed them in French khaki tunics from Vichy stocks apart from the German Officers and NCOs.  With the dearth of information I’ve made them mobile, like the Arab Legion, by giving them a couple of trucks.  In this case local vehicles impounded or bought from the Arabs.  I also had two Opel Blitz trucks that I painted in dusty civilian colours and sometimes use them as transport (and to do service in late WW2 games set in Germany).  The officers got a command car that doubles for the “Technical Advisory Team” in other games.



These can be modelled using Airfix, Hat Bedouin Arabs, Esci/Italeri Muslim/Arab Warriors, Tumbling Dice or any of the 20mm figures that represent Bedouins, WW1 Sharifans or other Arab figures.  Trucks can be of any old type though I used die cast Model T Fords, Morris Trucks and other cars, vans and trucks from a variety of makers picked up in sales.  The weaponry can be virtually anything from the 19th Century through WW1 to military weapons of WW2. 


For the Bedouin I use the Airfix/HaT Bedouin Arabs.  While for the tribal militias and truck mounted irregulars I freely mix Esci/Italeri plastics with the Airfix/HaT models on foot.  Some figures get Lewis guns or other weapons substituted for their rifles.


The mounted warriors should be horsemen while the camel riders can be used for scouts, warriors on the move and carrying supplies.  The Bedouin use camels for transport and horses for war and sport.  There would be almost no artillery though the odd machine gun (Lewis, Vickers and maybe Maxim guns from WW1 is a distinct possibility.  Many of the accounts talk about cars with machine guns making fast drive by raids.  In towns the tribal militias would be largely on foot with maybe trucks, busses or cars for transport.



While I have not yet tracked down a definitive source on the Iraqi Police uniform of the period I have a reference to grey shirts designating their police status.  A photograph on the “Memories of Eden” site shows a Baghdad policeman wearing a dark military style uniform long trousers, boots, puttees, lighter tunic and tall helmet.  The references to them seem to indicate a more paramilitary force like the Italian Carabinieri armed with rifles, pistols and light machine guns.  A police detachment seems to be about 8-10 men, maybe with a truck or car.  


From this very vague information I gave them the same uniform as the army (Hat WW1 Turkish Infantry or British Colonial Infantry) with dark blue trousers, dark grey tunic, helmet and black leather.  The officers, I gave white helmets. 

I’ve only modelled a small detachment of an officer, an NCO and some policemen.  For transport I’ve used a couple of toy diecast cars and a truck or two, painted white and blue, one of which has a Lewis gun for desert patrol service.


The desert police probably wore a military style khaki drill uniform with a police grey shirt covered in desert coats.    A camel detachment is illustrated right.



Back to Iraq 1941


Back to building Forces

Die cast toy van painted as an Iraqi Ambulance.


Build the Royal Iraqi Army

Build the Royal Iraqi Air Force

Build the defenders of RAF Habbaniya

Build Habforce and Kingcol

Build Arab Legion and Transjordan Frontier Force

Build 10th Indian Infantry Division (Iraqforce)

Build the German, Italians, Irregulars and Police

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