Iraq 1941- habforce and kingcol


After the decision was made to commit troops from Middle East Command, Wavell based the relief column on 4 Cavalry Brigade of 1 Cavalry Division.  The force was called Habforce.  This Brigade had only just given up its horses for Morris 15 cwt trucks a decision that was highly unpopular.  The lack of equipment and training, especially of drivers and mechanics, reduced the combat effectiveness of the cavalry regiments.  For example they only received their 2” mortars immediately before departure and had to train with them on the march. 


The force was very much based on what was available rather than a purpose built and carefully selected formation of mixed arms. 


The two Yeomanry Regiments were used to guard the long line of communication from incursions by Iraqi forces and Arab irregulars and bandits.


The TransJordanian Frontier Force (TJFF) was a British Imperial unit commanded by British Officers and must not be confused with the Arab Legion.  The TJFF were reliable until they were ordered to leave TransJordan at which point they mutinied and took no further part in the campaign.  Later they gave good service in Syria.  The Arab Legion, on the other hand, gave sterling service and of these desert warriors more anon.

In order to send a relief force as quickly as possible over 500 miles of desert a flying column based of 4 Cavalry Brigade.  This force was called Kingcol after its commander Brigadier JJ (Jumbo) Kingstone.  Composed of most of the combat arms the force set off to relieve Habbaniya.  I will concentrate on this force in the following notes not because the others are unimportant but that this is the force that wargamers are most likely to want to recreate on the table.


Although a small force at first glance, Kingcol comprised about 500 motor vehicles.  Most of these were service and support vehicles. 



The Household Cavalry Regiment


The Household Cavalry Regiment was composite of the Life Guards and the Horse Guards.  It had only just given up its horses for motor transport with C Squadron being in vehicles while the others remained mounted until March 1941.   The order to reform as a Motor Battalion came on 21 February.   Then on 24 March this was changed to a Motorised Cavalry Regiment.  In effect this created a rather weak motor battalion as no new weapons were received.  Not only that, the regiment had handed in its Bren guns before leaving Britain to receive Hotchkiss Automatic Rifles (LMGs) in their place.  It was lacking in most support weapons other than its Boys Anti-Tank Rifles and Vickers Medium Machine Guns.  The Regiment received its 2” mortars en route to Iraq on 9 May and had no time or opportunity to train with them. 


For the operation each vehicle carried 12 gallons of water some of this was in two chargules, canvas bags that kept water cool by evaporation.  These leaked until they were caked with mud and dust then they were very effective in cooling water.  In addition one gallon per man per day and one gallon per vehicle for 7 days was carried in the RASC vehicles.  The vehicles also carried three days hard rations for each crew member with an additional 7 days on the Column transport.  Stored on each vehicle and in the transport companies was 700 gallons of petrol, oil and lubricants.  Each man was issued with his own sandfly net and, in the hottest summer for 25 years, sun helmets were worn when not in action.  The regimental and RASC transport was supplemented by Jewish buses whose drivers were paid by the day and so they became  adept at contriving to break down and so increasing their earnings. 



A&D Companies 1/Essex


Text Box: Part: 1/Essex Regt (unit vehicles)
•	Tactical HQ under Regt 2IC 
•	Det Signals Platoon 
•	Det Anti Aircraft Platoon (2 x twin Bren AALMG) (?)
•	MG Platoon (6 (?) x Vickers MMG)
•	Mortar Platoon (6 (?) x 3” Mortars)
•	Carrier Platoon (? X Bren carriers)
•	Pioneer Platoon (?)
•	Det Administrative Platoon 
Two Rifle Companies (5 Officers, 119 men) each
Coy HQ (2 Officers, 11 men, 1 x Boys ATk Rifle)
Three Rifle Platoons, each
•	Platoon HQ (1 x 2” Mor, 1 x Boys ATk Rifle)
•	Three Rifle Sections, each 10 men (1 x LMG)

The two companies were probably commanded by a small tactical HQ and some support weapons.   The unit transport was enough to transport the headquarters element in light utilities and light trucks and any support weapons in 15cwt or 30 cwt trucks plus a couple of 15 cwt trucks for rifle company HQ and one for each the rifle platoons.   The infantrymen, themselves, would have been transported in RASC troop carrying vehicles.   The table below is a bit conjectural although the Carriers are mentioned there is no mention of the mortars.













No 2 Armd Car Coy RAF


The company was transferred from North Africa to Palestine for this operation.  The 12 armoured cars were the old Rolls Royce superstructures on more modern Fordson chassis.  Photographs show these had the original round turret with a Boys Anti-Tank Rifle fitted in an armoured box mounting to the right of the Vickers gun.  The cupola mounted a Scarff ring mount for a Lewis AAMG or a twin Vickers K gun AA mount. 


The armoured cars, from photographs, had an amazing variety of armament.  The only “standard” armament was the turret mounted Vickers MMG.  The box mounting usually carried a Boys ATk rifle with at least one (A-117) mounting a Browning .30” MG – possibly from an aircraft?

The Scarff mounting on the turret sported, on various vehicles, either a single Lewis, twin Lewis, single Vickers K, twin Vickers K or a single Browning .303”. 


The tenders sported either a pole mounted Lewis AAMG on the Rolls Royce types or a Scarff mounting with either a Lewis or Vickers K gun.


237 Battery of 60 Fd Regt RA  The Field Battery had two firing troops each of four 25 pdr Mk1 (also called 18/25 pdr) gun/howitzersthough some sources give the battery only one troop.  The ammunition romally carried was 16 smoke, 144 HE and 12 AP rounds per gun.  These were distributed 24 in the tractors and 32 in each limber with the remainder held in the Battery ammunition section.  Further reserve ammunition was carried by the RASC.
Anti Tank Troop RA  The troop had 4 of the 2pdr anti-tank guns.  Very little is said of them in the reports.  Perhaps this is because they do not seem to have had many targets.  I cannot confirm whether they were towed or portee.  My guess is that they were portee in line with the common practice elsewhere.  One source says that the crews were Australian.



169 LAA Battery RA  According to the list of weapons in Habforce the battery had twelve 40mm Bofors.   I’m not sure which gun tractor was used.        


Section 2 (Cheshire) Fd Sqn RE

 A Section or Troop of a Field Squadron had a strength of 1 officer and 64 men with a variety of engineering and troop carrying vehicles.  The principal ones being 1 x compressor, 6 x 30 cwt and 12 x 3 ton trucks.  The work detachment was provided by 4 work units of 12 men each.

Boring Section RE

I have no organisation for this unit but I assume that it was similar to the above with specialist well-boring equipment mounted on a truck like the one on the right.  This vehicle was photographed in India.


The function of the unit was to provide the capability to bore wells for the column.  Since the provision of fresh water was part of the role of the Royal Engineers, the section probably included purification and maybe storage equipment.

3 Reserve Tpt Coy and 552 Tpt Coy RASC

What follows is pretty much conjecture since these companies used a mix of British army and impressed local vehicles. Giving the two companies had 296 x 3 ton and 52 x 15cwt supply trucks.  There is no mention of busses though I have seen photographs of them! 


The command element was British army with the transport divided up into groupings to cover supply and transport.  Since the RASC provided troop carrying vehicles for the infantry companies (one is shown on the left) these vehicles would already have been detached and may or may not be included in the totals. 


The roles of the two companies, from their titles, are different; the Reserve Company was responsible for general transport duties and providing a reserve of transport.  The Transport Company would normally operate between the Divisional Refilling Points and the unit/formation Delivery Points.  However, in this case we are looking at a self contained force taking all its needs with it on wheels.  There were no supply dumps along the way! 


Thus I’d expect the Company to be organised to reflect this with sections providing:

·         Personnel transport (for the Essex Regiment in particular)

·         Water (carriage and storage)

·         Rations (including butchers, bakers etc)

·         Fuel

·         Ammunition

·         Medical (stores and busses for casualties)

·         Motor transport (spares)

·         Administration


The military type vehicles are likely to have been the specialist ones with the impressed civilian vehicles forming the bulk of the general transport element.




Brigade HQ and Services

There are probably best grouped together for wargames purposes with a few cars or Heavy Utilities (not Jeeps) for senior officers, a couple of light utility trucks, radio vehicles, a breakdown truck, a workshop truck and a small defence platoon with maybe a twin Bren for AA defence.  There was at least one civilian blue car.


The illustration has an Eric Clark resin Humber Snipe, a Matchbox Leyland Retriever Caravan,  an Austin light utility from Frontline Wargaming and a Bedford radio truck. The figures are mainly Matchbox.



Household Cavalry RegimentThe transport for my HCR came from Frontline Wargaming: a die cast toy car for the CO’s party and 15cwt trucks for the rest.  Each of the squadron vehicles I mounted a Bren (though it should be a Hotchkiss) on a pole mount for AA use for use in other campaigns as well.  I used Hotchkiss infantry guns from Aeroclub Scale Accessories.  They are suitable for both the LMG version and the same gun mounted on the AA tripod mounting.  The MMG troop (1 Vickers gun and crew) and ATk troop (2 x Boys teams) I mounted in a 15cwt truck each.  I also gave them an AAMG Troop armed with a Twin Vickers K (because it looks like a twin Bren with high speed drum magazines) again mounted in a 15cwt.  After Fallujah C Squadron may have a Bren and a Vickers MMG added.

   The figures are again Airfix/Esci plastics used as they come from the box and with a few conversions to represent radio operators, loaders, Boys gunners and so on.   I have made Hotchkiss gunners for the HCR by adding metal Hotchkiss guns I picked up at a bring and buy sale.  If desired they could have pith helmets for variety and I may do this later.  Photographs show the Yeomanry with pith helmets and these could come from the Esci British Colonial Infantry or from the Hat WW1 British infantry for Palestine.  
A&D Coys 1/Essex Regiment The unit transport was provided by Frontline Wargaming with an Austin Light Utility (it should be a Haifa taxi) for the HQ and Bedford MWD 15 cwt trucks carrying the MG and Pioneer platoons are Frontline or can also be  conversions from the Airfix RAF Recovery set.  The carrier platoon is mounted in Airfix carriers as is the mortar platoon.  I have not made the admin platoon but may convert an Airfix Queen Mary tractor into a 30cwt Bedford or an Austin K-2 30 cwt for it.   The Rifle companies are carried in RASC transport (see below). 
Quite simply, I used Airfix and Esci 8th Army figures mostly just as they are with converted Boys ATk Riflemen from the Aitfix Sten gunners.  I used dressmaking pins for the barrels and 3” mortars from my spares box but Raventhorpe again do these. 

237 Bty, 60 Fd Regt RA  (left) The battery commander and his OP party ride in an Airfix Universal Carrier and the battery vehicles, Limbers and guns are from Airfix.  Those who want to be more accurate should change the barrel of the Airfix 25pdr Mk2 for the older 18/25pdr.  This was an 18pdr barrel re-bored to take 25pdr ammunition.  The OP team was converted from Airfix and Esci figures.


No1 ATk Tp RA  (right)  I represented these with 15 cwt Bedford trucks with 2pdr portees crewed by Airfix figures.  I may replace these with 30 cwt trucks later.  I think that I read somewhere that these were Australians. If I find the reference I’ll kit the figures out with slouch hats.

3 Res Coy and 552 Tpt Coy RASC

 These units had about 360 trucks, lorries, cars and busses between them, which at our scaling of 1/6 gives 60 models!  I’m not going to represent all of these though they were of significant importance in the operations.  Those that I have came from pound shops, e-bay and car boot sales; Corgi Cameo Morris, AEC, busses and Lledo Mack trucks and Airfix Austin K2, K6 and Bedford conversions.  The die cast models are painted quite roughly to represent impressed civilian vehicles.  The conversions are painted as Army vehicles.  I gave the OC a bus as an office because he deserves a bit of comfort and maybe another Austin light utility, a diecast toy or a car from a model railway range. 

The colour schemes are varied as many were requisitioned civilian vehicles.  That said they will be liberally coated with dust to dull them down and they will be festooned with stores and personal gear.  The drivers come from Airfix, Raventhorpe and Tumbling Dice Arab figures.  Austin K6 from Frontline and Airfix conversions will be allocated to carry the rifle companies of 1/KORR representing the RASC troops allocated to transport them from formation resources.

  Det 166 Lt Fd Amb 

The Airfix K2 Ambulance and crew provide the MO and his team.  I’m going to add car for the MO and a tent as the Casualty Clearing Station later.

No2 Armd Car Coy RAF

  The Armoured Cars had to be converted as I could not find the particular version I needed.  The models came from Frontline Wargaming with Boys Anti-Tank Rifles (pins) fitted into card boxes on the turret sides beside the Vickers MMG.  On the cupolas I mounted twin Vickers K on a bent wire Scarff mounting.  The guns came from Raventhorpe, though those from the Revell/Matchbox LRDG set can be used. 

The crews were conversions from Airfix, Martcgbox and Esci figures with the OC, Squadron Leader Casano, having a RAF blue cap and the gunners steel helmets or chip bag caps.

To represent this unit, I used a pair of Airfix towed 40mm Bofors guns and trucks and straight out of the boxes.



Section 2 (Cheshire) Fd Sqn RE


The engineers can be represented by a couple of Austin 3 ton trucks and a recce Austin Light utility for the officer.   The Austins are a simple conversion from the Airfix Emergency set fire engines.  The sappers can all be conversions of the Airfix or Esci 8th Army figures.


Iraq Petroleum Company


 Though not strictly part of the official establishment there was at least one blue car with Kingcol.  It carried a civilian manager who acted as guide and local adviser. 






Notes on Camouflage


The different regiments in the desert recorded that their vehicles were painted plain “sand” (not specifying the shade), light stone, yellow and grey, “sand and green”, light yellow, “cream”, “beige” and “desert grey”.  In fact, the fading effect of the sun and the scouring effect of sand soon changed the colours from the official shade. 


For my models I use a variety of colours – mainly from Cote d’Arms – Pale Sand, Linen, Sand, Dark Sand, British Khaki and other pale sandy colours from other manufacturers.


Some of the vehicles could well have been khaki or even light bronze green depending on where they originated.  Somerset de Chair mentions that his car was yellow (sand?), another officer had a light (bronze?) green one and the Iraq Oil Company representative acting as advisor and guide had a blue car.  The locally impressed trucks and busses went through base workshops and so could be any sandy colour or their own commercial colours.  No doubt all would soon be sand scoured and dusty.


Back to Iraq 1941


Back to building Forces


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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