Iraq 1941- arab legion & TJFF


These two formations are often confused or even thought of as being the same.  They are, in fact, quite different.  The Arab Legion was formed in 1923 as Al Jaish al Araby (The Arab Army) though this was rendered in English as “The Arab Legion”.  They formation owed its loyalty Amir Abdulah, ruler of the region east of the River Jordan known as Trans-Jordan.  The TransJordan Frontier Force (TJFF) on the other hand, was created on 1 April 1926, to replace the disbanded Palestine Gendarmerie.  It was the creation of the British High Commissioner for Palestine to defend Trans-Jordan's northern and southern borders. The High Commissioner had been impressed with work done by the Arab Legion.  However, local commanders thought it unnecessary and suggested an expansion of The Arab Legion.  As a result the Arab Legion immediately lost more than half of its forces when they were transferred to the Frontier Force. Not only did the Legion lose its people it also had to give up its machine guns, artillery, and communications troops.  Unlike the Arab Legion, the TJFF was responsible to the British High Commissioner in Jerusalem rather than to Amir Abdullah of TransJordan.  The Force officially came under British Imperial Troops and appeared in British orders of battle.  The Arab Legion did not and was the fighting force of an allied nation. 


Incidentally, Amir Abdullah declared himself as an ally of Britain and the Empire at a time when everyone else, including the Americans, had written us off.  The tiny forces of TransJordan were committed against the run of Arab opinion, much of which was pro-Axis.  The legionnaires, like the rest of the Arab world, expected the Germans to invade and defeat the British.  They served on when all other Arab units had mutinied or deserted not through any idea that they were on the winning side and in the knowledge of what they could expect from the Germans for supporting the British but from a sense of military honour.  They had served with the British in the good times and it would have been dishonourable to desert when things went badly.  They patrolled and fought with distinction.  This created a special relationship that remains to this day. 


The Arab Legion 

The story of this force is fascinating and the reader is directed to Glubb Pasha’s “Story of the Arab Legion” for details.  Glubb Pasha had an entirely different mission from the British and the Arab Legion Mechanised Regiment went with him as his escort.  They were not part of Habforce but went along with it. 


Despite its designation as a regiment and recruitment of 300 new recruits there was insufficient transport for it to participate at its full strength.  Thus it was effectively the original 350-man Desert Mechanised Force which accompanied Habforce. 


The Regiment was equipped with Ford trucks, which they called scout cars, bought directly from America, fitted with Lewis guns. There were also armoured cars built on the same chassis by the Wagner Company in Palestine.  These carried Vickers machine guns in the turret and a Lewis gun in the rear compartment.   


Each truck had a driver and co-driver, a Lewis gunner and his second and six or more riflemen. There were no artillery or mortars but four of the original “homemade” armoured cars were taken. As far as the British were concerned, the Arab Legion was an unknown quantity and treated with some suspicion until it guided the column through the desert to Habbaniya.


On 5 May, 1941, the Mechanised Regiment left pumping station H3 crossing the Iraqi frontier and advancing on the fort of Rutbah.  The plan was for the Legion to capture the fort, with RAF aircraft helping by bombing and machine gunning the garrison.  However, the air strikes were a failure and lacking heavy weapons the fort was too strong for the Legionnaires to capture.  They withdrew and met up with the armoured cars of No. 2 Armoured Car Company, RAF.  These two forces drove off an irregular relief column. The Iraqi garrison at Rutbah was disheartened by this and abandoned the fort during the night of 10-11 May. The Arab Legion occupied the fort on the morning of 11 May and the Habforce arrived on the evening of 12 May.


Leaving patrols and garrisons at H4 and Rutbah, the 250 remaining Legionnaires, organized in two squadrons, joined the flying column, Kingcol, which was to advance ahead of the main force to relieve the RAF garrison at Habbaniya.


Kingcol left Rutbah for Habbaniya, with the Arab Legion in the lead as the scouting force. The Legion suffered its first casualties when a scout car was knocked out in an air attack by Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf-110 aircraft in Iraqi markings, with one man killed and the driver wounded. On 15 May the British advance foundered in soft sand.  The Arab Legion found safe routes through the desert and the reconnaissance party reached Habbaniya on 17 May. The advance of the main force on was successful; due mainly to the guides provided by the Arab Legion, and Habbaniya was relieved later that day even though the defenders regarded this claim with some mirth having driven off the besiegers some days before.


The planned role for Glubb Pasha and the Arab Legion in Iraq was to assess feelings and raise a counter-revolution in favour of the exiled, Iraqi Regent and against the government of Rashid Ali. The area of Jezireh, north of Baghdad, was selected as the most suitable area.   And so the first raiding party left Habbaniya crossing the Euphrates on 23 May 1941.  This force comprised eight trucks, two Wagner armoured cars, two RAF armoured cars and a Royal Engineers officer. The party cut the railway line between Mosul and Baghdad.  In doing so they captured two Iraqi Army trucks, one officer and six men, before returning to Habbaniya. Two days later, a second patrol departed on 25 May and chased off an Iraqi patrol, inflicting several casualties.


Once Habforce had regrouped it advanced on Baghdad over routes reconnoitred by the Arab Legion. The main advance was made by two columns.  The main force taking the direct route along the Habbaniya – Falluja – Baghdad road was made up of 1 squadron Household Cavalry Regiment, 2 companies of the Essex regiment, 3 RAF armoured cars and 1 troop of 25 pounders – along the Baghdad.  The second column advanced in a more northerly route through the Jezireh to Baghdad.  The remainder of the Household Cavalry Regiment, 1 troop of 25 pounders, 3 RAF armoured cars and the Arab Legion Mechanised Regiment made up this column.


This second column, with the Arab Legion, crossed the Euphrates on the evening of 27 May and set off for Baghdad the next morning.  Actions north of Baghdad forced the column to halt just north of the city.  When the main force arrived Iraqi resistance collapsed and Rashid Ali, the Golden Square and the Mufti fled to Iran.   An armistice was declared and the Arab Legion began the return journey to TransJordan on 1 June, 1941. During the short campaign the Arab Legion had suffered less than twelve casualties and in a letter to the Amir, Major General Clark, commander of Habforce, recorded his appreciation of the contribution made by the Arab Legionnaires.


The uniform of the Arab Legion was based on the tribal dress. The robe was white or khaki with wide sleeves almost completely covered by a khaki coat.  A red and white shemagh covered the head and a red sash was worn around the waist.  Every Legionnaire carried a dagger and revolver (on a red lanyard) and a rifle.  The rifle ammunition was carried in leather bandoliers.  Their dress and long hair earned them the nickname of “Glubb’s Girls” by the British.




On February 1941 the 1st Mechanised Regiment was formed from the two mechanised companies and a Line of Communication Squadron was raised to protect the Baghdad-Haifa road.

The Mechanised Regiment was earmarked to join Kingcol, part of Habforce, in the relief of Habbaniya in Iraq in April 1941.  ' D' Company of the Regiment was at the H4 pumping station on the Iraq Petroleum Company pipeline and when it was  ordered to advance against Rutbah, the men refused to cross the border into Iraq because they felt that they should not leave TransJordan.  As a result, the Mechanised Regiment was excluded from the campaign and ' D' Company was disbanded.  Its place was taken by ' L' Company, formed from the Line of Communication Squadron and a new squadron, the Mobile Guard Squadron, was formed to take over its line of communication duties.


Each of the Companies was organized with a Company HQ with 2 trucks (with AA LMG), three platoons each of sections mounted in 3 trucks (with AA LMG) a machine gun platoon with 2-4 trucks and 2 Vickers MMG.  The Micromark list also gives them 3” mortars but this probably reflects the units in Syria later in 1941 where the TJFF wiped out its poor reputation caused by the mutiny by its exemplary service against Vichy French Forces.


The uniform of the TJFF was based on the British desert pattern but with the red and white shemagh instead of the hat or helmet.  The uniform was khaki drill shorts an grey shirt to reflect its police role.  Weapons were the current British pattern.


Modelling the Arab Legion

The Arab Legion were mounted in 8 cwt Ford trucks though the photographs I have seen show vehicles that I would say are a bit larger.  That said a quick survey on the net yielded no models of this vehicle.  The closest I had was a group of six Matchbox LRDG Chevrolets bought years ago.  So I used them to start with; one of the HQ vehicles mounting a Vickers MMG and 5 trucks mounting Lewis gun for the troops.    Later David Reasoner kindly made me some resin cabs and bits so that I could build more realistic Desert Patrol trucks.  The Ford/Wagner armoured car gave me a bit of a problem and I had to scratch build one. 


For the Legionnaires I looked at converting Airfix Bedouins but decided against that as I was going to use these figures as the Arab Irregulars.  I settled on either the Raventhorpe or Tumbling Dice offerings.  The Raventhorpe figures were a little tall and the Tumbling Dice ones a little short.  After going through the lists I settled on Tumbling Dice as I could get suitable figures for both Arab Legion and TJFF.  Add to that the quite exceptional assistance from Glenys and Paul and I sent off for the troops in two orders.  Not only did I get the figures I needed but also included were weapons and figures for conversions!  Some of these were specially cast for me at no extra cost.  Arab WW1 irregulars made up the troops with some conversion work. 


 Modelling the TJFF 

Although the TJFF did not actually take part in this operation I decided to model them just in case I wanted a “what if” scenario.  For these I used Tumbling Dice WW1 Arab Regulars with conversions to give me British officers and NCOs.   The models I use are resin cabs from David Reasoner.


They used a variety of truck chassis (truck 30cwt 4x2 Chevrolet TA, Truck 30cwt 4x2 Ford V-8 or Truck 8cwt 4x2 Ford) all with similar desert patrol bodywork with a Bren mounting behind the driver.




Back to Iraq 1941


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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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