Iraq 1941- Royal iraqi army

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Iraq took up a neutral stance even though the British had treaty rights to maintain two air bases, one at Habbaniya and one at Shaibah.  Despite this declared neutrality, Iraq set out on a military expansion programme by adding a 4th (second line) Infantry Division that was given an internal security role with fewer and older automatic weapons than the other three infantry divisions. 

 Thus by 1940 the Royal Iraqi Army had increased to:

1st Div (Baghdad): 

·         2 x Inf Bdes,

·         1 x Fd Arty Bde,

·         1 x Cav Sqn,

·         1 x Engr Bn


2nd Div (Mosul):

·         3 x Inf Bdes,

·         1 x Mtn Arty Bde (det to 4 Div),

·         2 x Fd Arty Bdes,

·         1 x Cav Sqn,

·         1 x Engr Bn


3rd Div (Baghdad): 

·         3 x Inf Bdes,

·         1 x x Mtn Arty Bde,

·         2 x Fd Arty Bdes,

·         1 x Cav Sqn,

·         1 x Engr Bn

4th Div (Basra): 

·         3 x Inf Bdes,

·         1 x Mtn Arty Bde (det from 1st Div)


Mech Bde (Baghdad): 

·         1 x Lt Tk Coy,

·         1 x Armd Car Coy,

·         1 x Mot MG Coy,

·         2 x Mot Bn,

·         1 x Mot Fd Arty Bde

Cav Bde (?): 

·         3 x Cav Regts



3 x Frontier Bns (mostly northern & eastern frontiers)


3 x Mtn Bns (mostly northern & eastern frontiers)

1 x Royal Guard Sqn (Baghdad)



1.        Divisional services are not mentioned – signals, medical, logistics etc.

2.       The Mech Bde may have been part of 1 Div.


Three first line infantry divisions each of two brigades of three battalions, a two regiment cavalry brigade, two horse drawn artillery brigades (regiments) and an engineer battalion)

One incomplete second line division

·         One mechanised brigade with 16 Italian CV-33 tankettes, 14 British Crossley armoured cars, 2 motorised infantry battalions and some support services

·         Three frontier battalions

·         One cavalry brigade

·         Service units

On mobilisation the two-brigade divisions were to expand to three brigades.

In early 1941 the “Golden Square”, a group of nationalist army officers, came to power and together with Rashid Ali al Gailani, the Prime Minister, they advocated an anti-British, pro-axis policy.  They nominally respected the 1930 treaty allowing the British to maintain two air bases (Habbaniya and Shaibah) and the right of transit through Iraq.  In April they requested German monetary & military aid through the Italian Embassy in Baghdad in exchange for the promise of the free use of Iraqi bases and airfields.  They hoped that this aid would arrive via pro-axis Vichy French held Syria and Lebanon. 

Adding to the influence of the anti-British feeling of these pro-Axis officers and politicians was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.  He had taken refuge in Baghdad after fleeing Palestine.  Even though the German Embassy in Baghdad had been closed at the outbreak of war the Italian Embassy was allowed to stay and provided a ready source of communication to Rome and Berlin. 

 The Royal Iraqi Army at that time was 51,400 strong and was organised and deployed as follows:

The formation and unit organisation showed British influence with the brigades each having 3 infantry battalions.  These were numbered consecutively in the brigade.  Thus in the 4th Div the brigades were:

 4 Bde with 1/ 4, 2/ 4 and 3/ 4 Inf Bns,

14 Bde with 1/14, 2/14, 3/14 Inf Bns and

17 Bde with 1/17, 2/17 and 3/17 Inf  Bns. 

It is likely that there was also a brigade anti-tank company with about 9 old anti-tank guns.  Though what these guns were I have yet to discover. 

Conjecture:  The British used a version of the Becker/Oerlikon 20mm anti-tank gun between the wars and this with its “dragon” the Carden-Loyd Mk VI tankette may have been handed over to the Iraqis.  The KORR took a photo of one of these tankettes captured in Iraq.

 An artillery brigade (regiment) had 2 or 3 batteries of 4 guns.   The field batteries were equipped with horse drawn British 18 pdrs.  From photographs of destroyed weapons these had the older carriages with spoked wheels.  I have seen a recent photo of an 18pdr on a Mk IVP carriage repainted in the green & yellow John Deere colours!  The mountain batteries had 3.7” pack howitzers probably also horse drawn or packed.  One source gives one brigade as being armed with 2.75” mountain guns.  There is also some indication that the Iraqis may have had a few 4.5” howitzers and so there might have been a medium artillery brigade.  Alternatively, these weapons may have formed a medium battery in some of the Field Artillery Brigades.  One website gives the artillery at Habbaniya as 12 x 3.7” How, 12 x 18 pdr and 4 x 4.5” How.

Most of the small arms were of modern British types and the artillery was generally of WW1 British surplus.  This is why the arms request from Germany included Bren LMG, Vickers MMG and Boys Anti Tank rifles with ammunition captured in France.  Indeed the Iraqis had more modern weapons than many of the British units that were to oppose them.

Units equipped with anti-aircraft weapons and others with anti-tank guns were identified but where they fitted in to the organisation is not clear.  Not only that the type of weapons is not noted in the references.  The anti-tank guns would probably be in Brigade anti-tank companies if the British organisation was being followed.  One (Scandinavian) website and a couple of references mention a combined motorised anti-tank/anti-aircraft company amongst the besiegers of RAF Habbaniya.  Conjecture:  This may be the unit that had the German light anti-aircraft guns and maybe the 20mm Anti-Tank guns.  The AA guns would probably be towed by light trucks and the ATk guns by Carden Loyd Carriers.

The army was short in supporting corps and services and its equipment and general maintenance was poor.

The Corps Level Organisation was probably centred on Baghdad and may well have included the following departments and units:

·         HQ Staff

·         Royal Guard

·         Medical

·         Veterinary

·         Administration

·         Anti-tank

·         Engineer

·         Signals

·         Artillery

·         Cavalry

·         Supply

·         Anti-Aircraft

·         Training

·         Military Police

·         Command & Control for the frontier and mountain battalions


I cannot say what the actual deployment of forces during the actions at Habbaniya and Falluja were, other than to say that elements of at least 2 Bdes were sent to Habbaniya (including some or all of the Mech Bde) and another to Falluja.  As far as I can ascertain the deployment in early 1941 at the outbreak of hostilities was:

1 Inf Div (Col Kamal Shahib):


·         HQ 1 Inf Div

·         2 Inf Bde (3xBns)

·         Fd Arty Bde (18pdr)

Mussaiyib – 40 miles south of Baghdad

·         1 Inf Bde (3xBns)

Diwaniya (att 4 Inf Div)

·         Mountain Arty Bde (2xBty of 3.7” Pack How)

·         Fd Arty Bde (18pdr)

Jaloula (80 miles north-east of Baghdad)

·         1 Div Cav Sqn

2 Inf Div (Commander?)


·         HQ 2 Inf Div

·         4 Inf Bde

·         5 Inf Bde (less 1 Bn at Erbil)

·         Fd Arty Bde (18pdr)

·         Fd Arty Bde (18pdr)

·         2 Div Cav Sqn


·         3 Inf Bde

·         Mountain Arty Bde (3.7” Pack How)


·         Inf Bn from 5 Inf Bde


3 Inf Div (Col Salah ed-Din es-Sabbagh)


·         HQ 3 Inf Div

·         Fd Arty Bde (18pdr)


·         7 Inf Bde

·         3 Div Cav Sqn

Masurat al Jebel

·         8 Inf Bde

·         Fd Arty Bde (18pdr)

·         Fd Arty Bde (18pdr)

·         Mountain Arty Bde 3.7” Pack How

4 Inf Div (Commander?) Second Line

Diwaniya 4 Inf Div

·         HQ 4 Inf Div

·         Inf Bde

·         Fd Arty Bde from 1 Inf Div

·         Mountain Arty Bde from 1 Inf Div


·         Inf Bde (2nd line) less 1 bn at Amara

·         Mountain Bty (2.75” guns) at Amara


·         Inf Bde (2nd line) less 1 bn


·         1 Inf Bn (from Nasiriya)

Independent Mech Bde (Col Fahmi Said)


·         HQ Indep mech Bde

·         Lt Tk Coy (16 x Italian CV-33 tankettes)

·         Armd Car Coy (14 x Vickers-Crossley Armd Cars)

·         Mech (lorried) Inf Bn

·         Mech (lorried) Inf Bn

·         Mech (lorried) MG Coy

·         Mech Fd Arty Bn (Dragon & 18pdr)


The standard officers’ uniforms were very similar to the British khaki drill desert uniform of tunic, tunic, shorts and stockings but worn with the distinctive khuda helmet often with a neck curtain.  Some officers wore the Indian style “Bombay Bowler” pith helmet. 

Iraqi Infantry

The Other Ranks wore a short collarless sleeved shirt, shorts and stockings or breeches and puttees.  A version of the shirt with a collar was being introduced.  It does not appear that steel helmets, if issued, were worn the khuda appearing in virtually all photographs.  Steel helmets if available would most likely be the British 1915 pattern.

Webbing equipment was of the British 1908 Pattern.  One drawing that I have seen shows Iraqi infantry in Fallujah wearing long trousers.  From experience this is sensible for street fighting or action on rough ground.

Cavalry were dressed similarly with some variations for mounted service and used either the 1908 Pattern webbing or leather bandolier equipment of WW1 vintage. 

 At German and Iraqi request Vichy France sent weapons from Syria, including 75mm guns, 155mm howitzers, and munitions to Iraq by train but these weapons were not issued in time for action.  Given the short duration of the action the Iraqis did not have the time to train on them and perhaps lacked instructors for these weapons.

The Iraqi Infantry Battalion seems to have followed the British pattern with:

·         26 + 820

·         154 animals

·         46 Bren LMG

·         6 Vickers MMG

·         4 Lewis AAMG

  Text Box: Iraqi Inf Bn (1941) 
Second Line (Base defence, LoC Security, IS duties
Almost no organic transport
HQ & HQ Coy
•	Signals Platoon 
•	Anti Aircraft Platoon (2 x Lewis AAMG)
•	Machine Gun Platoon (4 x Vickers MMG)
•	Administrative Platoon 

Four Rifle Companies, each;
•	Company HQ 
•	Three Rifle Platoons, each;
o	Platoon HQ (1 Officer, 6 men)
o	3 x Rifle Sections, each comprised of 10 men
o	LMG Section of 10 men, 3 x Bren LMG

Text Box: Iraqi Inf Bn (1941) 
First Line
Horse drawn transport
HQ & HQ Coy
•	Signals Platoon 
•	Anti Aircraft Platoon (4 x Lewis AAMG)
•	2 x Machine Gun Platoons (each 4 x Vickers MMG)
•	Mortar Platoon? (6 (?) x 3” Mortars)
•	Carrier Platoon? (13 x Carriers?)
•	Pioneer Platoon 
•	Administrative Platoon 

Four Rifle Companies, each;
•	Company HQ 
•	4 x Rifle Platoons, each;
o	Platoon HQ (1 Officer, 6 men)
o	3 x Rifle Sections, each comprised of 10 men
o	LMG Section of 10 men, 3 x Bren LMG

Though I do not have a firm reference I suspect that this would be a fair guess:






The weapons noted as captured in good condition at Habbaniya show that my researches are incomplete as I have yet to identify the types of anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns used, where they were deployed or even which units had them on strength.  Some were probably in a Brigade Anti-Tank Company or in a mixed anti-tank and anti-aircraft company. 

7 x 3.7” How

2 x ATk guns – possibly old Becker/Oerlikon 20mm ATk guns?

3 x 20mm AA – Identified in the KORR history as “German Light Anti Aircraft guns”

45 x Bren LMG

18 x Vickers MMG

3 x Hotchkiss MG

3 x Lewis AAMG

4 x Italian MG

10 x Crossley Armoured Cars

1 x CV33

3 x Dragons

79 x motor vehicles


Conjecture – The anti-tank guns probably formed part of the mechanised and infantry brigade anti tank companies and may have been British 20mm inter-war gun, surplus French 25mm or something else supplied through Vichy Syria.  I think it unlikely that they were 2pdr.  They may even have been old WW1 guns, perhaps 13pdrs, used in the anti-tank role.   What is known is that the Iraqis referred to them “old anti-tank guns”.   They may even have been portee mounted as in the current British desert units.


An armoured train was captured at Basra by 3/11 Sikh on 2 May.    Howard Alloway of 244 Squadron describes it.


One day we got news of an armoured train moving south from Ur of the Chaldess towards Basra. It was a real armoured train and could not have been put together just for the rebellion. Presumably, it have been rusting away in some Baghdad siding since the early days of the railway, which was completed just after World War I.  The railway was continually under attack during the great rebellion of 1919/20 period Armoured trains with steel sides and loopholes were used to counter these attacks.  We wondered why an armoured train should be moving to Basra, and we could think of no role for it. Was it the intention that it should leave the main railway before Basra and chug up the spur line to Shaibah, crash the flimsy main gales, and halt at the buffers at the end of the siding in front of Station H.Q.? We had heard of the Wooden Horse of Troy and were not taking the chance of a repetition with a steam driven model!


Two Vincents (ED Wooley and PO Haywood and crews), each armed with 2 X 2501b bombs attacked at right angles to the railway line from a low height. Probably, Haywood had not dropped 250 pounders before and did not realise fully the blast effect, and was too low. The result was that they stopped the train and Haywood so damaged his aircraft that it flopped into the desert a little over a mile from the damaged train. Haywood had a leg badly damaged below the knee by shrapnel splinter. in the meantime, angry rebel soldiery detrained and started an advance towards the wrecked aircraft. Wooley quickly sized up the deteriorating situation, landed alongside the wreck, loaded the crew into his own Vincent, and took off under fire from the approaching enraged Iraqi soldiery. He was awarded the D.F.C. Haywood (a most sterling character) was in hospital a long time as his wound would not heal.

Notes from “Road Past Mandalay”  The Iraqis had Bren (Universal?) Carriers and 3” mortars in Basra.  The 2/7 GR and 2/4 GR captured them to make up their platoons to full strength.

Notes from Osprey “Five Ventures”  Some primary sources mention the employment of “armoured” lorries or trucks.  It is likely that these were locally made.  Possibly along the lines of the Lancia armoured trucks previously used by the British in Iraq and elsewhere.

Notes from Photographs

·         The Crossley Armoured Cars captured at Habbaniya appear to have a two colour disruptive pattern. 

·         Captured Bren Carriers were repainted sand from Iraqi olive by the British/Indian units that captured them.  Many were retained even when they were supposed to be handed back. 

·         In a photo of Crossleys leading trucks the trucks are a distinctly darker colour similar to the darker pattern on the Crossleys.  The trucks have a LMG mounted in the rear mounted to fire over the cab and one appears to have a Vickers type gun in the back not mounted high enough to fire over cab but capable of firing left, rear, right.

·         In one photo of the CV-33 they also appear to have the two tone camouflage pattern.

·         In another the CV-33 appears to be a single pale colour.

·         Photos of wrecks show 18pdr guns with pole trails and spoked wheels the wrecked limbers also show spoked wheels.

This interesting photograph shows what appears to be either a Carden Loyd Mk VI 2-man tankette or an Italian CV-29 tankette.  The latter was a licence built copy with the only real difference being the machine gun that was fitted.    


Conjecture:  These tankettes had been used between the wars by the British as machine gun and mortar carriers in the infantry and 20mm or 3.7” Howitzer tractors.  These may even be the “dragons” referred to in the list of captured equipment. If this is the case then they may have appeared in the medium machine gun platoon, mortar platoon (with crew trailers) and  carrier platoon of infantry battalions; the brigade anti-tank companies and the3.7” Howitzer Brigades of the Divisional artillery regiments. 


The colours and camouflage of the Iraqi vehicles makes an interesting study because there is almost no information available.  The exception being a reference that some British and Indian units that captured carriers repainted them from Iraqi olive to British sand in order to retain them when the weapons were handed back after the rising was defeated.  Then there are photographs that seem to show a disruptive pattern on some of the armoured vehicles.


Conjecture- the Iraqi vehicles were painted in a scheme that seems to have included "olive ”, possibly one of the British greens; mid-bronze or olive drab. The armoured cars and tankettes, on the other hand seem to have been painted sand with large green disruptive patches or maybe light olive with sand patches.  Or perhaps the Infantry Divisions were in olive green and the Mech Bde in sand/green disruptive?  The choice is yours!   Whatever is used bear in mind the effects of sun and sand on the colours.


Modelling the Royal Iraqi Army

 Infantry:  Ideally British WW1 infantry in shorts with khuda helmets with or without the neck cloth.  Or you could use Airfix/Esci 8th Army with HaT WW1 Turkish heads.  Even easier is to assume that they wore long trousers in action and use the HaT WW1 Turkish troops and arm them with Bren guns, Boys antitank rifles etc.  Raventhorpe provide suitable figures and heads for conversions and Tumbling Dice some splendid small arms. 

AFVs:  I used Front Line Wargaming Italian tankettes and Crossleys.  I bought them at a wargame show from the kind gents from Under the Bed Enterprises.  There are, no doubt other models.  The Commander's radio vehicle is easily made by adding an antenna from thin wire or plastic rod.
Artillery:  Airfix WW1 RHA and Airfix and Revell ACW sets can provide crews and limbers, Emhar make very nice 18 pdrs and HaT WW1 Turkish artillery provide the crews.  In metal Raventhorpe can provide 18 pdrs, 3.7” Hows, 4.5” Hows, Light Dragons and limbers.
Soft vehicles:  Here I cheated and went for the “look” rather than accuracy.  I used Corgi Cameo Morris trucks with the loads removed and a floor fitted.  These have a commercial name plate above the cab that I removed or hid with a “cam net” and stowage.  Add to those Italian military and other commercial types from various companies in resin or plastic.  The truck on the right is a resin Ford from Moonlite Modelwerks.  An ambulance can be made quite simply, by painting a die cast toy van in sand.  The MO, crew and casualties came from various plastic figure model sets.

Horse drawn vehicles:  Wagons and ambulances  are available from the Imex ACW range, Airfix Wagon Train, WW1 RHA (limber), Lledo (tanker & others), HaT German WW1 artillery (limbers).  Almost all will need some conversion work to make GS wagons, artillery limbers, telephone exchanges, telephone line layers etc.  Those shown are from Imex ACW sets.


The “old anti-tank guns” might be the British 20mm gun.  This was a version of the SEMAG or Oerlikon gun which in turn was based on a WW1 German Becker cannon.  This gun was often towed by the Carden Loyd carrier and might well have been given to Iraq as one photograph appears to show.  I used gun barrels from RH Models on custom made carriages. 
Other Carriers with MMGs equipped the machine gun platoons and those without guns towed trailers for mortars.  The models shown were a special commission.
Iraqi cavalry squadron made from HaT Zulu War mounted infantry. AA Lewis team.  Each battalion has one of these.  Engineer Company converted from WW1 Turkish infantry with added Bangalore torpedoes and demolition charges from scrap plastic. A standard infantry company made up from WW1 Turkish infantry.  The officer and 16 riflemen are straight from the box, the Bren guns were cut from the prone chap in the Airfix 8th Army set and the Boys Anti-Tank Rifle is by Raventhorpe.

A second line infantry battalion with four rifle companies, its mortar and machine gun platoons have pack mules and the AA Lewis gun shares the supply wagon and the CO has a car.

A first line infantry battalion with four rifle companies, its mortar and machine gun platoons and the AA Lewis gun have supply wagons and the CO has a nice modern Matchbox diecast car.

A First line infantry battalion of the Mechanised Brigade with four rifle companies, its mortar and machine gun platoons and the AA Lewis gun have Corgi Cameo trucks and the CO has a Matchbox diecast car.

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


Back to top


Back to Home page