Iraq 1941- A wargamer's Guide

This section covers the insurrection in Iraq in 1941 when Britain and her Empire stood alone against the Axis.  Europe was overrun and North Africa in danger.  Written off by the Americans and most of the world the forces and facing defeat our only support outside the Empire came from the escaped forces of conquered Europe.   Then, when danger threatened in Iraq a small nation joined the struggle much against the opinion of the world and of his Arab neighbours the King of TransJordan allied himself to the Allied cause creating a special relationship that lasts to this day.

 It is a story of a beseiged outpost in the desert surrounded by a vastly superior foe.  Of daring, bluff and outright will to win.  Of a relief column of aristocratic cavalrymen charging to the rescue across the desert.  Of spectacular feats of arms and logistics; the strategic deployment of troops by air, of long range desert travel, of psychological warfare and individual initiative.  And of bold and resolute men.

There is a lot of information here for the wargamer and it is written that way.  There is a bibliography as well for those who want to go into the history.  I will say that it was very difficult to find out much about the Royal Iraqi Armed Forces and what is presented here is based on scant information, photographic interpretation and a bit of conjecture. 

I have published some of this material in the Journalof the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers No 68 where you can buy back copies and join this society.  A really worthwhile investment if you are interested in warfare from 1900 to the present day.




I became very interested in the military operations in Iraq when I was mobilised in 2003 and then spent eight and a half months there.  While I was there I read about the operations there in WW1 and visited the Commonwealth war graves at Shaibah and Al Amarah however it was not until a veteran of the Iraq Levy appeared, with his ID Card, to report for duty that my interest was sparked.  This unit was unknown to me and I spoke with some of the RAF Regiment lads guarding us and learned something about them.  By coincidence the squadron’s predecessors had fought in Iraq in 1941.  After I came home that I became interested in the operations there in 1941.   This was partly due to the Osprey “Iraq 1941”I was given as a present and then I read the articles by Adrian White in the Journal of the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers and in Miniature Wargames.


Since then I’ve been collecting information in books, from the net and from a few veterans.  What follows are my notes written up into a sort of logical way.  When I have anything new to add I’ll submit it to the SOTCW Journal and maybe publish it on the SOTCW forum and Group on the web.  I’d also be very grateful for any additional information, corrections, additions that will improve the information here.


What really attracted me was a strategically important campaign where the heaviest (only) tank is the Italian CV-33, the armoured cars date back to WW1 and the artillery is barely more modern.  Where else could I have silver biplanes, ancient transports, yellow trainers, modern monoplanes and biplanes from Italy, Britain, America and Germany all battling it out?   Then there was the amazing variety of troops:  regular, irregular and militia soldiers from Iraq, regulars from India, Nepal, Britain, Australia, Palestine, Germany, TransJordan, Italy as well as Bedouin tribesmen from Arabia riding to war in cars, trucks, busses, ancient biplanes, on horses and camels and sailing in river boats, rowing boats, sailing craft and steamers.  Where else did improvisation and bluff count for more than military probability?  If that strikes your fancy then read on.


The campaign has all that is needed for a Hollywood epic as well – except for an American as a lead character!  A small outnumbered and outgunned outpost of the Empire lies in the desert surrounded by a huge enemy army and under threat of annihilation.  Hundreds of miles away a force of aristocratic cavalrymen speeds across the desert to the rescue while the Empire sends a relief column by sea and air to the rescue.  In the background the Nazis and Fascists supply weapons, gold and fighting forces.


The modelling notes that are included suit my style and budget and if anyone has suggestions for my collection I’ll be pleased to receive them.  One point I will make is that my models have a bit of a “retro” look to them because most of my stuff dates back as far as the late 60s and was influenced by the style of that period – Airfix Magazine conversions, Airfix Magazine Guides and the like.  That means that “look” is more important than absolute accuracy. 


The rules that we use also date back to the late 1960’s and have been revised occasionally to improve play or expand into air and water operations.  The scale for forces is about 1/6 for both vehicles and troops.  The exception to this is that we generally round up infantry support weapons even to the extent of doubling them.  In our rules that we used in the scenarios that follow an infantry company has about 21-23 figures.  Whatever rules you choose to use, they need to favour infantry action over armoured warfare and allow the use of aircraft.  You will see why as you read on.


It has not been easy tracking down information on this campaign.  There were few reporters and photographers because of the suddenness of the onset of hostilities.


Salt being collected after the rains (2003)


I’d like to acknowledge here the assistance given by Adrian White who gave me a much needed start and shared his researches and to Mark Bevis, Madeep Bajwa and the others on the TO&E forum and SOTCW forum. I also want to give a big thank you to David Reasoner whose skills in resin casting made the production of many of the models possible.


The ground of most of this area is flat with only a few low hills.  The most significant features are the dried water courses, shallow valleys and the occasional pool of natural tar bubbling up from underground.  The importance of preserving water is reflected in the bunds that criss-cross the flat lands to contain flood and rain water.  As the water from the rains evaporates quantities of salts are left behind providing a useful income supplement for the locals.  The salts around Nasiriyah, for example, include Epsom salts and in many places they are common salt.  The land near the rivers is very fertile.


The buildings are often the home of an extended family enclosed by a wall and several of these combine into villages and towns. The most obvious building in these areas is the mosque.  While the largest are the industrial complexes around the towns, cities and railway lines.

A feature of the Iraqi landscape to this day is the bund.  These are sand dams, sometimes reinforced with stone along river banks.  They vary in height and width but are frequently at least wide enough to support a single track road on top.  Throughout the campaign the bunds along the banks of the rivers including those supporting the roads and railways and those of the irrigation system were cut by the Iraqis to impede movement and deny ground.  They significantly affect movement and visibility.


Having read many of the history books, visited many websites and researched the experience with veterans I have found that for almost every statement there is a counter statement.  Buckley’s short history is excellent (and I’ve drawn on it heavily) as is Lyman’s “First Victory” whereas his Osprey Campaign “Iraq 1941” contains several errors though none too serious.  Many of the commentators were, until near the end, the actual combatants themselves.  And here I commend the books by Dudgeon, de Chair, Glubb and Masters for firsthand accounts.  All of these have their own peculiarities and sometimes quaintness in terminology.  One thing becomes apparent as the reader progresses.  The excellent but sort lived co-operation between the RAF and the Army was a signal feature of the victories up to and including Fallujah.  Regrettably the new RAF commander stopped this and many of the histories perpetuate the myth that the RAF won virtually on its own.  As in all wars, this one was won on the ground.


One example of the terminology is the use of the term “dragon”.  This may be taken to mean the “Dragon” gun towing tracked vehicle.  However, I think that it is often used in its original meaning of “gun tractor” from “drag gun”.  And so in some cases I’ve interpreted “dragon” as the Light Dragon in the Iraqi Mechanised Brigade artillery but in the Royal Artillery “dragon” I’ve taken to mean “Quad” or “Morris 6x6”  or other gun tractor.  Until I have better sources I’m happy with this.


And now, on to the Guide, but first a word about a society well worth joining:


For those wishing to keep up to date with developments in this campaign and WW2 and other wargames related matters you really should join the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers (SOTCW).  Here you will find a most helpful bunch of people who are kind enough to respond to questions and give help in finding that elusive model.  In addition you will receive the highly interesting and informative “Journal” with articles, scenarios and adverts.  Not only that a large number of suppliers give Society have discounts that can let you easily recover the cost of your subscription.


SOTCW Secretary:
Phil Gray, 4 Clarence Avenue, Balby, Doncaster, DN4 8AU e-mail:


NOTE ON PICTURES AND MAPS:  The recent pictures of Iraq are my own.  Most of the others and some of the maps have been taken from the internet and if I have infringed copyright then it is inadvertent. 


If the owner lets me know of any infringement I will give due credit or remove them as you wish.

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