Iraq 1941- RAF HAbbaniya defenders

The Air component

The principal force at RAF Habbaniya was No 4 Service Flying School.  By the onset of hostilities many of the training aircraft had been fitted to carry bombs.  Much of this preparation was made at the insistence of a couple of relatively junior RAF officers (see “Hidden Victory” for more details).  Often they were working on their own initiative to overcome their commander’s inertia. 

The table shows the strength of the school and the conversions made as only the 7 Fairey Gordons were fitted to carry 250 lb bombs.  All others had racks for small practice bombs and many had to have modifications to carry even the 20lb HE bombs.  Add to that the fact that there was no .303” belted ammunition for the Gladiators’ Brownings and only one belt filling machine.  Without the instructors and students working in their own time filling belts and fitting bomb racks the base would have lacked any real offensive capability.          

“Screaming Bombs” were used effectively at Falluja to demoralise the defenders.  These were conventional bombs fitted with dive screamers in much the same way as some dive bombers.   I’ve also heard empty bottles being dropped from aircraft to terrorise or distract AA troops in the same way. 


RAF Habbaniya

4 Service Flying Training School

3 x Gloster Gladiator

6 x Gloster Gladiator arrived 19 April

18 x Hawker Audax with 8 x 20lb bombs

12 x Hawker Audax with 2 x 250lb bombs and 8 x 20lb bombs

7 x Fairey Gordon with 2 x 250lb bombs

27 x Airspeed Oxford with 8 x 20lb bombs

26 x Hawker Hart with 2 x 250lb bombs

24 x Hawker Hart trainers with no armament

1 x Bristol Blenheim I (departed 3 May)

4 x Bristol Blenheim IV from 203 Sqn RAF (from Sunday 4 May)


Further south at RAF Shaibah outside Basra was the main offensive force.  Even that was fairly small – a handful of obsolete Vickers Vincent bombers with some Vickers Wellingtons flown in just before hostilities opened. 

RAF Shaibah

244 Sqn – Vickers Vincent

31 Tpt Sqn – Vickers Valentia, Douglas DC-2 and Armstrong-Whitworth Atlanta (from 17 Apr)

814 Sqn FAA – 6 x Swordfish from HMS Hermes

37 Sqn – 10 x Wellington (from 1-12 May)

70 Sqn – 8 x Wellington (from 1-12 May)


At the airstrip attached to the oil line pumping station at H-4 in TransJordan, Blenheim bombers and fighters supported operations.  The Westland Lysanders of 6 Squadron RAF may also have operated from here in support of HABFORCE before it set off across the desert to Habbaniya.

H-4 Transjordan

Det 84 Sqn – 5 x Bristol Blenheim IV

Det 203 Sqn – 2 x Bristol Blenheim IVF

 Later additions to the aircraft used by the RAF included cannon armed Hawker Hurricanes and Curtiss Tomahawks. 


The Ground Component

The defence of the perimeter of RAF Habbaniya was entrusted to a strong battalion of Iraq Levies.  These troops were mainly Christian Assyrians though there were both Kurds and Arabs in the companies as well.   


The Levy Companies at Habbaniya were:

·         HQ Wing

·         Composite Company

·         1, 2, 3, 4 Assyrian Companies

·         8 Kurdish Company


Some sources give them 3.7” howitzers though I believe that these were the weapons captured from the Iraqis on the plateau later in the fighting.


Conjecture:  The Composite company was larger.  Maybe double the size of a normal company?


At the start of the fighting the strength was 1,199 all ranks:

·         17 x British Officers

·         5 x British NCOs

·         3 x Surgeons

·         40 x Assyrian Officers

·         1,134 Assyrian Other Ranks

The uniform was the khaki drill tunic, trousers and puttees together with a khaki drab (Australian style) slouch hat with the left side folded up and either a red or white hackle displayed.  In hot weather a light blue shirt replaced the tunic and this was worn with KD shorts and puttees.  During the war battle dress and web gaiters (1937 Pattern) was adopted and khaki hose tops replaced the puttees.  


No 1 Assyrian Company

At Falluja, illustrations show the levy in long trousers and British Helmets.  These may have be battledress, overalls or denims as a recognition sign.



No1 RAF Armoured Car Company


Providing mobile defence forces and fire support was No1 RAF Armoured Car Company equipped with 18 WW1 vintage Rolls Royce armoured cars.   These venerable vehicles were armed with a Vickers gun and a Lewis gun on a pintle mount on the turret.  Some are reported to have been armed with a Boys Anti-Tank Rifle on an extemporised mounting.


Names I’ve Identified in 1941 are; HMAC Avenger, HMAC Conqueror, HMAC Euphrates, HMAC Superb.


RAF Defence Platoons


Formed from station administrative and other services about 10 platoons were formed.  They were mainly armed with rifles and a few LMGs.  These latter may well have been Vickers K or Lewis guns rather than Bren guns.   

The uniform would have been the standard RAF Khaki Drill uniform for the region.


These might be Walrus and Seal

In addition the Osprey “Iraq 1941” mentions that there were two ancient tanks named “Walrus” and “Seal”.  I have been unable to identify these properly and they are not mentioned in any accounts of the fighting that I’ve read.  At first I thought they might have been WW1 tanks left over or Medium Mk1 tanks.  However, I have seen on the Internet a photo of two different armoured hulls built on Dragon gun tractor chassis.  Maybe these were the “tanks”?


Two old 4.5” Howitzers of WW1 vintage used as gate guards were reactivated and brought into action by a Royal Artillery fitter flown in from Basra.  Ammunition was flown in to allow them to take part in the action.


Conjecture:   think it unlikely that the ground crews were used for the defence platoons as they were needed to keep the aircraft flying, armed and fuelled. However, the administrative staff, store men and the like would be most likely for the task.


1st Battalion the King’s Own Royal Regiment

Text Box: 1/King’s Own Royal Regt 
( Detachment, no vehicles)
•	Tactical HQ under Regt 2IC 
•	Det Signals Platoon 
•	MG Platoon (6 x Vickers MMG)
•	Pioneer Platoon (?)
•	Det Administrative Platoon 
Four Rifle Companies 
(Theoretically 5 Officers, 119 men each)
Company HQ (2 Officers, 11 men, 1 x Boys )
Three Rifle Platoons, each
•	Platoon HQ (1 x 2” Mor)
•	Three Rifle Sections, each comprised of 10 men (1 x LMG)

Some 364 troops with12xLMG, 6xMMG, 2xBoys ATk Rifles were flown in to RAF Habbaniya and this represents most of HQ company and 3 under strength rifle companies.  Since the half battalion was flown in by 31 Sqn in Vickers Valentias and Douglas DC-2s I assume that they left all of their vehicles behind. 


The uniform would be the standard hot climate dress of khaki drill shirts and shorts in hot weather.  Steel helmets and 38 pattern webbing complete the equipment.


The battalion had been depleted while in India and lacked many of its officers, NCOs and specialists.  It only received Thompson SMGs in Habbaniya.


The remainder of the battalion arrived by rail via Baghdad once the first fighting element reached Habbaniya before the Iraqis occupied the plateau.


6 Army Co-operation Squadron


The army co-operation squadron in Palestine was equipped with Westland Lysanders and was preparing to receive Hawker Hurricanes.  Glubb Pasha notes that he was flown to and from his forward HQ.  He does not specify the type though it was probably a Lysander.


Modelling the defenders of RAF Habbaniya



Gloster Gladiator – Obsolete British fighter biplane with 4 x .303” MG in the wings.  These are available from Airfix and sometimes from e-bay as Heller or Matchbox offerings.  These were camouflaged in either desert or temperate schemes depending upon their origin.  The desert scheme predominated.  The aircraft illustrated is from 94 Squadron based at RAF Habbaniya.  The aircraft illustrated has split white/black undersides.

The model is a Matchbox kit.

Hawker Audax – The Army Co-Operation version of the Hawker Hart bomber.   I intend to convert Airfix Hawker Demons building up the dorsal position and adding a message hook.  These can be modelled with 8 x 20lb bombs, 2 x 250 lb bombs or both for variety.  These aircraft were still in their silver pre-war colours.  AZ have released a model of the Audax, though it is a bit expensive for my taste.  The aircraft illustrated is from 4 SFTS.  The model is a converted Airfix Hawker Demon.
  Hawker Hart – externally similar to the Audax, some of the Harts carried 2 x 250lb bombs if they were the bomber variant or no weapons at all if they were the trainer.  Again the source of these would be the Airfix Demon or the second hand market.  These aircraft were still in their silver pre-war colours.  The Hart Trainers may have been overall trainer yellow.
Airspeed Oxford – The Oxford is available from Pavla in the Mk1 version with a turret mounting  1 x .303” machine gun and from the second hand market from Frog or Novo as the turretless Mk2.  If necessary bomb racks under the fuselage can be added.  Intriguingly Dudgeon’s account mentions that the Oxfords had a windshield for the gunner not a turret.  Photographs suggest that both marks were used at Habbaniya.  The model is the Novo, ex-Frog kit.

  Bristol Blenheim IV – both versions, fighter and bomber, come from the Airfix kit.  I painted these in the colours illustrated.  The fighter version carried an armament of 7 x .303” machine guns; 2 in the dorsal turret, 5 beneath the fuselage firing forwards and one in the port wing.  The bomber version was armed with 5 x .303” machine guns; 2 in the dorsal turret, 2 beneath the nose firing rearwards and one in the port wing plus a bomb load of 1,000 internally and a further 320lb externally. The aircraft  is from 84 Sqn in Palestine.  The models are Airfix.
     Vickers Valentia – There is a very expensive Contrail vacuum formed model of this aircraft.  However, the similar Maquette Vickers Vernon or Commercial is sometimes available second hand.  This, too, is quite expensive.  The photographs show these in desert colours with machine guns mounted in the doors and racks fitted for 2,200lb of bombs.  The aircraft illustrated is from 216 Squadron.  The model is a Maquette Vickers Vimy Commercial.

Fairey Swordfish – There are models of the Swordfish by Airfix, Revell, Matchbox and many others.  It was armed with a .303” machine gun fixed firing forwards and another in the rear cockpit.  In the case of Iraq they flew with up to 1,500lb of bombs.   I used the standard FAA colours for my model.

Hawker Hurricane -  Any 1/72 model with tropical filter and cannon will do.  I used the old Matchbox kit painted in desert colours.  The aircraft sent to Iraq included the Mk IIA armed with 8 x .303” machine guns and the Mk IIC with 4 x 20mm cannon.

The model is a Matchbox kit.


   Vickers Wellington Mk1 – available from MPM and Airfix are to issue this mark in the near future.  These appear to have been coloured in standard night bomber (black, earth and green) scheme used in Europe.  They were armed with 6 x .303” machine guns; two each in nose and tail turrets and 2 in either a ventral turret (Mk 1A & 1B) or one each in the waist positions (Mk 1C) plus a bomb load of 4,500lb.  The aircraft below is a Mk1A from 37 Squadron.

Curtiss Tomahawk – The early version of this aircraft made its RAF combat debut over Syria in support of operations in Iraq.  These aircraft were armed with 2 x 0.5”machine guns in the nose and either 2 or 4 x .303” machine guns in the wings.   I had an old Novo kit of this aircraft but there may be others available. 

The model is a Novo kit.


Westland Lysander – This rugged monoplane was used in the Middle East long after it was rendered obsolete in Europe like so many of the other RAF aircraft mentioned here.  I used the Airfix kit (with some spare Matchbox decals) painted in the earth/stone colours to represent an aircraft of 6 Sqn.  The Matchbox kit should be equally usable.    


The Lysander was armed with 2 x .303” machine guns in the spats and one in the rear cockpit with racks on stub wings for 8 x 20lb bombs


 Fairey Gordon – the only kit of this I’ve heard of is the Contrail vacuum formed limited run kit that sometimes appears on e-bay or in second hand sales.  It was armed with 1 x .303” machine gun firing forwards and another in the rear cockpit and carried 2 x 250lb bombs.  Although it was used it is difficult to find as a model.


Bristol Blenheim I – this one I ignored because there was only one of them. 




Code in Iraq


Hawker Audax

Airspeed Oxford

Hawker Hart Trainer

Hawker Hart Trainer/Bomber

Gloster Gladiator

Fairey Gordon

2 digit number (last 2 of serial)

2 digit number (last 2 of serial)

2 digit number (last 2 of serial)

2 digit number (last 2 of serial)

Original Squadron ( RT, NW [217], YK)

1 digit number (last of serial?)

Communications Flight

Vickers Valentia

Single Letter

70 Squadron

Vickers Wellington


37 Squadron

Vickers Wellington


244 Squadron

Vickers Vincent


203 Squadron

Bristol Blenheim IV (F)


94 Squadron

Gloster Gladiator

Hawker Hurricane


84 Squadron

Blenheim IV (bomber)

Single Letter

216 Squadron

Vickers Valentia

Bristol Bombay




6 Squadron

Westland Lysander

Hawker Hurricane


250 Squadron

Curtiss Tomahawk


814 Squadron Fleet Air Arm

Fairey Swordfish



Modelling the Ground Forces



Iraq Levy  For these troops I used Airfix Gurkhas, their hats should be converted to have one side folded up.  I also painted them in the light blue shirt uniform.  For wargames purposes I grouped the Vickers guns, the 3” mortars and the Boys rifles into a historically inaccurate support company.


In addition I made enough Austin K2 30cwt (from the Airfix Emergency set) trucks to mount one company as the Quick Reaction Force that was used at the fighting at Sinn el Dhibban. 


 RAF Defence Platoons  I represent these troops in platoon sized units of roughly one third of an infantry company.  In our rules that means about 7 figures.  Every third platoon has one LMG (Bren or Vickers K gun) and an officer, the others are led by an NCO armed with an SMG or pistol.  I use Airfix/Esci 8th Army with (unrealistic) RAF blue helmets and webbing.  The officers get RAF blue SD caps.  This is a bit of poetic licence on my part to distinguish them from the Army.  I may replace them with troops in long trousers and RAF “chip bag” caps later.  Again just to put something different on the table.  The Airfix Emergency Set might be a useful source of these.  I picked up a few on e-bay recently quite cheaply.  I used some surplus Vickers K guns from the Matchbox LRDG sets that I had in the spares box.  Alternatively, the whole force can be modelled from Raventhorpe figures, heads and weapons.


No1 Armoured Car Company  The vehicles came from Frontline Wargaming. The basic vehicle is BRT20 RR Armoured Car 1928 Pattern.  These have an Airfix soldier with binoculars as the officer and standing riflemen converted as commanders firing Lewis guns from Raventhorpe  mounted on a bent wire ring to simulate the Scarff mounting.  In my organisation I get 3 of these so two are armed as above and one has a Boys Anti Tank Rifle  added to the turret so that a figure standing in the well at the rear can use it.   Tumbling Dice supplied me with Boys Rifles with arms attached in the firing position.  This made the conversion of a standing Airfix rifleman very easy.


I painted the exposed crew members in standard desert shirts with sand steel helmets. 

   1/King’s Own Royal Regiment  Quite simply, I used Airfix, Revell and Esci 8th Army figures just as they are with converted Boys ATk Riflemen.  I used dressmaking pins and card for the Boys barrels but Raventhorpe and Tumbling Dice again do these.  Some pictures show British troops in Baghdad wearing pith helmets so you could give them these if you wanted, in which case, using HaT WW1 British Infantry for Palestine heads would be a reasonable solution.



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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