Iraq 1941 - Campaign History

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Note:  In this part I have put some information in square brackets and green italics that are not directly part of the story but give an indication of how British fortunes were seen worldwide and in Iraq.   

o Al Qrnah



 Fort Nuqaib o



















Khan Nuqti



o Al Kadhimain



  Habib Shawi o



 Ur of the Chaldees o


Mujara o









During the 1920s, Britain held a mandate that covered parts of the broken Turkish Empire.  The Kingdom of Iraq was made up of the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates and the north western fringe of the Great Arabian Desert.  The Hashemite, King Feisal, was pro-British and had been closely involved with Lawrence in WW1.

In 1930 Iraq became a full member of the League of Nations and the Mandate ended.  A treaty was signed that gave Britain the right to maintain two air bases, one at Shaibah, near Basra and another at Habbaniya on the Euphrates sixty miles west of Baghdad.  These were maintained as way stations on the air route to India and the Far East with the base at Habbaniya having access to a lake where the flying boats of Imperial Airways could stage.  In addition, and very importantly, Britain retained the right to transit troops through Iraq in both peace and war.  This treaty did not commit Iraq to become involved in any war on Britain’s side but it did require Iraq to give “all possible facilities” for the movement of the troops.  Since there were no British garrisons in Iraq the security of the air bases was entrusted to the locally raised RAF Assyrian Levies, mainly members of the Christian Nestorian community who were persecuted by the Muslim Iraqis although there Kurdish and Arab companies as well.  

 The Importance of Iraq in 1941

In 1941 it was American opinion that Britain would lose the war and this was reflected in many of the other nations, particularly in the Middle East.  This was hardly surprising with Italy active in East Africa and Germany in the Balkans following a string of victories across Europe.  The Axis seemed unstoppable. 

Iraq, therefore, had a strategic importance to the British war effort.  It was, with Persia (Iran), the major source of oil for Britain outside the USA.  The oil pipelines ran from Iraq to Tripoli in Vichy controlled Syria and to Haifa in Palestine.  The northern route was uncertain and had been closed.  The whole British war effort depended on the oil reaching Britain and that depended upon there being no hostile action in Iraq.   Another factor made Iraq important in fighting the war; the treaty allowed a short and direct route from India to the Middle East that was relatively free from Axis interference (Italy was, for much of the early part of the war, active in Somalia and Abyssinia).  This was, strategically, just as important in fighting Rommel as was the oil the war effort in general.  Given the small number of troops available for operations in Palestine and surrounding areas it was important that the Arab populations were not antagonised to the extent that they took up arms.  The German Arabic propaganda broadcasts made capital out of the seemingly unstoppable string of German victories to stir anti-British feelings.  The Japanese, though still nominally neutral, were also active in undermining the British position.  Despite all this Iraq’s strategic importance seemed to escape both Britain and Germany in the construction of their war plans.

The Anti-British Feeling and the “Golden Square” Coup

In 1933 King Feisal died and he was succeeded by his son Gazi.  Unlike his father he was not inclined to co-operate with Britain.  When he died in a road crash in 1939 he was succeeded by the 4-year-old King Feisal II.  However, the real power was in the hands of the Regent Amir Abdul Illah.  Under his influence the Iraqi government, which was never very stable, broke off diplomatic relations with Germany.  This was quite reluctantly done as anti-British feeling was running high in several politicians.  In 1940, this feeling increased and Iraq maintained its relations with Italy despite its entry into the war as part of the Axis and their Embassy constituted a major communication route to the Axis.  The Italian Embassy was also the target of espionage activities by the British.  The achievements of German forces in Europe, North Africa and the Balkans coupled with the propaganda broadcasts in Arabic gave support to the anti-British campaign.  The anti-Semitism of the Nazis appealed those Arabs who resented British interference in Arab affairs and British support for Jewish settlement in Palestine.  During December 1940 Rashid Ali approached the Germans for aid against the British promising air bases and cooperation with German forces in the region as well as access to Iraqi oil in return for funding and equipment.  The equipment requested included 400 Light Machine Guns with ammunition, 50 light armoured cars, 100 batteries of Anti-Aircraft Artillery, individual equipment, explosives, anti-armour missiles [sic] mines and 100,000 gas masks.  This was considered but not delivered.

When Greece fell to the Germans and the Afrika Korps advanced across North Africa towards Egypt, the time seemed right for some pro-German Iraqi army officers to stage a coup in and on 1 April they did so deposing the Prime Minister, General Taha el-Hashimi. That night the Regent Emir Abdullah escaped to the British Embassy and the next day he went to RAF Habbaniya in disguise and later by air to Basra and out of the country on the British Gunboat HMS Cockchafer.   

[1 April, Rommel captures Mersa Brega.]

This new (illegal) Iraqi government did not declare war on Britain but they did see an opportunity to advance their republicanism through the Nazis who looked, just then, to be the winning side.   Yet another anti-British and anti-Jewish influence was the Mufti of Jerusalem who had taken refuge in Baghdad.  He had  written in his memoirs:

Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany was a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world. I asked Hitler for an explicit undertaking to allow us to solve the Jewish problem in a manner befitting our national and racial aspirations and according to the scientific methods innovated by Germany in the handling of its Jews. The answer I got was: 'The Jews are yours.

Britain was in a difficult situation and emphasised that it intended to make full use of the Treaty provisions to move troops through Iraq.  On the other hand Britain did not want to inflame the Middle East by any action that might be seen as heavy handed.  Equally, another diversion of the scant military resources was to be avoided.  A political solution was preferred and Sir Kinahan Cornwallis was appointed as Ambassador but was not actually in post until 2 April too late to avert the crisis by diplomatic means.  He arrived after the government in Iraq changed making Rashid Ali el Gailani Prime Minister with the support of the Golden Square, four important Army Colonels, Salah ed Din Sabbagh (Commander 3 Motorised Division), Kamil Shabib (Commander 1 Division), Fahmi Said (commander Mechanised Force) and Mahmud Salman (Air Force Chief).  His pro-German sympathies foreshadowed serious trouble.  He was believed, by British Intelligence, to be subsidised by, if not actually in the pay of, the Germans.  Foreseeing potential problems ahead the War Office in London asked Wavell, C-in-C Middle East, what forces he could deploy to Iraq in an emergency.  His response that he had nothing available from his already stretched forces and advocated a political solution did not go down well.

[3 April, Rommel captures Benghazi.]

Soon after his appointment Rashid Ali announced that his government would re-establish diplomatic relations with Germany while fulfilling its international agreements and specifically mentioning the Treaty with Britain.  The Regent was unable to prevent this movement towards the Axis and German and Italian agents were active in drumming up support for Rashid Ali and the Golden Square amongst the army, the police and the larger towns.  However, the desert tribes were more difficult to sway and mostly held loyally to King Feisal II.  With the increasing support Rashid Ali set about arresting the Regent and gaining control of the young King.  Though as already mentioned the Regent heard of the conspiracy on 31March and escaped to the British Embassy and on to RAF Habbaniya hidden in a car.   

The National Assembly, packed with Rashid Ali’s supporters, declared the Regent deposed and Rashid Ali declared that that he was the leader of the “National Defence Government”.  Then on 6 April as the Germans invaded Greece and Yugoslavia, Air Vice-Marshall Smart, Air Officer Commanding Iraq, asked for reinforcements from Egypt but his request was denied.  It would be going too far to suggest that Baghdad and Berlin were cahoots at this time as the Germans must have been concentrating their efforts on the plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union.  Indeed they had not promised to lead a revolt but to aid one.  Nevertheless the new Iraqi government would have been encouraged by the rapid and spectacular German successes and read into the German declaration more than it actually contained.  Coupled to the mutual anti-Jewish policies of Arab and German it is not difficult to see why the Iraqis ignored the German emphasis on the racial superiority of the Arian concentrating mutual interests instead. The Germans, with no historical or current colonial interest in the Middle East promised to support Arab independence.  These promises were, as Hitler himself said, “a grandiose fraud”.  As a result of the Iraqi and Pan-Arab movement swallowing the promises and propaganda line the Germans pursued this policy and it very nearly worked.

[6 April; German armies invade Greece and Yugoslavia.  7 April; Rommel captures Derna]

 The deteriorating political situation led to some concentration of minds and effort in London, Cairo and New Delhi.  There were no military forces in or near Iraq to support the meagre forces in the two air bases.  At Shaibah, 16 miles from Basra was a single squadron of old bombers and at Habbaniya was located No4 Service Flying Training School (SFTS).   

RAF Habbaniya was an artificial oasis in the desert.  There were tree lined avenues, gardens, playing fields, and a golf course.  Riding stables housed the polo ponies.  Just over the escarpment was the lake and yachting club.  The lake provided opportunities for open swimming while inside the fence was the finest swimming pool in the RAF.  In addition there were 56 tennis courts and a superb gymnasium.  The emphasis was on  leisure rather than defence.  The whole base was surrounded by a high, 7 miles long, steel fence with two storey blockhouses at intervals around it.   The main buildings, the six hangars, fuel and ammunition dumps, water supplies, generators and the HQ were inside this fence but the runways were outside it.  The whole base was overlooked by a plateau just 1,000 yards away.  Defending the officers and men of the station, the civilian employees and their wives and children was a battalion of levies who were mainly Assyrians but alsoincluded Arabs and Kurds under Lt Col JA Brawn.  Supporting the defence was No1 Armoured Car Company RAF with 18 old Rolls Royce armoured cars.

Throughout the diplomatic crisis the SFTS continued to send up training flights while some junior officers with vision prepared the aircraft for action without any official permission.  These preparations included fitting bomb racks onto the Audax, Oxford and some of the Hart trainers to carry real bombs rather than practice ones and hand making machine gun belts for the few antiquated Gloster Gladiator fighters used as officers’ hacks there.  These preparations brought the target towing Gordon’s back into the bombing role with a pair of 250lb bombs.   The Oxfords did have racks but only for eight 9lb smoke bombs and these were replaced by racks for 20lb bombs, similarly for the Audax.  The few Hart bombers had their 250lb bomb racks reinstated but the Hart trainers could not be armed at all.  All of this was done against resistance from the senior officers present and had be accomplished at night and in secret.  It was fortunate for Habbaniya and British interests in the Middle East that they ignored their commanders and proceeded.  Eventually AVM Smart agreed to put the base on a war footing and the bulldozers levelled the golf course and polo pitch into an airstrip inside the fence.

[15 April; British forces pushed back to Solum on the Egypt/Lybia border]

 The Crisis Deepens and 10 Indian Infantry Division Deploys to Iraq

On 16 April Cornwallis declared that Britain would be exercising its rights under the Treaty.  Immediately following Cornwallis’ declaration of the intention to land forces the Iraqi Government, on 17 April, requested military assistance from Germany if hostilities with Britain ensued.  On the same day the first strategic deployment of British troops in war took place when 364 Officers and Men of the under strength 1st Battalion the King’s Own Royal Regiment (1/KORR) arrived at RAF Shaibah after flying in stages from Karachi.   The troops brought only light equipment, small arms and 6 Vickers medium machine guns.  The only aircraft were old Valentias, half a dozen DC-2 civilian airliners and 6 other aircraft variously reported as Atlanta or Hannibal aircraft of Imperial Airways.  These troops were to ready to assist the disembarkation of 10 Indian Infantry Division the next day.  

Meanwhile, 10 Indian Infantry Division, commanded by Major General WAK Fraser, from India been diverted before sailing its destination changed from Singapore to Basra. The first brigade of the division, 20 Indian Infantry Brigade, had sailed on 12 April in Convoy BP7 from Karachi and arrived in Basra on 18 April.  

General Fraser’s instructions were:

1.  To occupy the Basra – Shaibah area in order to ensure the safe disembarkation of further reinforcements and to enable a base to be established in that area.

2.  In view of the uncertain attitude of the Iraqi Army and local authorities, to face the possibility that attempts might be made to oppose the disembarkation of this force, planning his disembarkation in the closest concert with the Officer Commanding the Naval Forces in the Persian Gulf.

3.  Should the disembarkation be opposed, to overcome the enemy by force and occupy suitable defensive positions ashore as quickly as possible.

4.  To take the greatest care not to infringe the neutrality of Persia (Iran).

Major General GG Waterhouse, head of the British Military Mission to Iraq, with a senior Iraqi Army officer, came on board and informed General Fraser that there would be no opposition.  However, the Iraqis were dug in all around the air base at Shaibah and Gen Fraser, of 10 Indian Infantry Division wanted to create an international incident while Gen Waterhouse felt that it could be solved over a cup of coffee.  A compromise was reached and the CO went out in an armoured car to the Iraqi trenches.  There they found an Iraqi sentry was seen walking on top of the trenches.  When he saw the armoured car he stooped, picked up his rifle and stood to attention.  He presumably thought that someone very important was coming to inspect him.

20 Brigade took over the protection of the docks, the civil airport and the RAF cantonment.  This was fortunate as the Brigade had not been loaded with an opposed disembarkation in mind but rather logistically loaded to save on shipping space.  The Iraqis were not ready to put up a fight.  At Habbaniya Air Vice Marshal Smart got his first reinforcements in the form of 6 Gladiators and 1 Blenheim from Egypt.

 Things, for the moment appeared to be calm with both governments issuing communiqués.  The British announced that “strong Imperial forces” had disembarked in Basra to open the line of communications through Iraq in accordance with the treaty.  They went on stay that the Iraqi Government was fulfilling its treaty obligations by giving full assistance and facilities, that the local population had welcomed the troops and that they hoped that the normal relations would soon be established.

 The new Iraqi Government issued a similar communiqué which said that “the comments made by certain foreign [i.e. Axis] broadcasting stations were unfounded in fact”.  At about same time they again requested aid from the Germans.  This time they asked for 10 squadrons of aircraft, 50 light armoured cars and captured British weapons because the Iraqi troops were familiar with them including 400 Boys anti-tank rifles with 50,000 rounds of ammunition, 60 anti-tank guns with 60,000 rounds, 10,000 grenades, 600 Bren guns and 84 Vickers guns. 

 Turkish diplomatic sources expressed their satisfaction at this development as it marked a step in the direction of securing their routes to the south.  Then on 27 April, the Rashid Ali and the Golden Square went back on what they had said.  They demanded that the British land no more troops until the brigade already in Basra had departed from Iraq and that the maximum force level on Iraqi soil was not to exceed brigade strength.  This was a direct challenge and the British informed the Iraqis that they would ignore that request. The British, therefore, took over the routes through Basra, thus protecting their airbase at RAF Shaibah outside the city. With the rest of 20 Indian Infantry Brigade of 10 Indian Infantry Division due to arrive in Basra on 29 April the Ambassador chose not to inform the Iraqi government.  As the situation once again deteriorated Rashid Ali sent troops to occupy the oil fields at Kirkuk and others to close the strategic pipeline to the British Mandated port at Haifa while opening the northern pipeline to Vichy French controlled Tripoli in Syria with the employees of the Anglo-Iraqi Petroleum Company being badly treated in the process.  To rub salt in the wound he released long-term prisoners convicted of attacking the British Consulate in Mosul in 1939.  When he heard the news of the imminent arrival of the second brigade he refused permission for them to enter until the first brigade had “passed through” despite his treaty obligations.  The British had no intention of passing through and no compromise was possible. 

It now seemed that Rashid Ali had decided upon a military confrontation.  In this he expected direct military support from the Axis Powers in time.  But he could not wait until it arrived because Britain had already stolen a march by landing one brigade and with another about to land was likely to be further ahead.  He decided that the appearance of the second brigade, which he could not oppose, would be the time to move against RAF Habbaniya.  There is no doubt that he was counting upon the early arrival of German aircraft, if not airborne troops, before the British took decisive action.  The German airborne troops, as we will see later, were earmarked for another operation.

[22-29 April; Germans and Italians force evacuation of Greece.  27 April; Germans enter Athens and Greece surrenders]

On 29 April, Rashid Ali allowed 240 British women and children to leave Baghdad for Habbaniya.  Another 350 sheltered in the British Embassy and a further 150 were offered hospitality in the US Legation.  Hundreds of others who failed to reach sanctuary were interned by the Iraqis. 

Reinforcements in the form of the 1/KORR, now 490 strong, were flown in to RAF Habbaniya from RAF Shaibah in the same aircraft that had brought them from Karachi.  The Commanding Officer went to Baghdad to meet the baggage party that arrived by rail.  There was quite a reception and as part of the deception plan he talked about the “several Divisions” of British troops that were going to transit through Iraq spending money and boosting the Iraqi economy.  Indeed three contracts were set for the construction of transit camps with Iraqi contractors.    The King’s Own received three plane loads of equipment including Thompson SMGs.  These they had never seen before and the only way to unload them, initially, was to fire off the magazine. 

Air reinforcements arrived in Shaibah on 1 May in the form of 18 Wellington bombers from Cairo.  This was none too soon as the next morning aerial reconnaissance showed thousands of Iraqi troops supported by artillery and armoured cars on the plateau with more on the way from Baghdad.  Strange as it may seem, the junior officers of this Iraqi force had been told that they were on a training exercise.  Though just how many actually believed it is debateable since the troops were issued with live ammunition but very little water and food.  In fact the stores held only 12 days of rations for the garrison and 4 days for the cantonment.  Even at this late stage Wavell, at Middle East Command in Cairo advocated a peaceful solution. Had his argument held sway there is little doubt that the Golden Square would have won a spectacular victory and Iraq could well have joined the Axis camp.

The ground defence of Habbaniya was entrusted to Col Braund and his battalion of Iraq Levies.  Most of these troops were Assyrian Christians.  1/KORR was the mobile reserve and the RAF found some ancient transport for them and this was supplemented by Iraqi trucks and 40 motorcycles bought in Baghdad.  The Battalion’s two Boys Anti Tank Rifles were mounted on armoured cars.  The King’s Own and others created temporary landing grounds within the perimeter on the polo pitch and the playing fields because the main runways lay outside the fence and was dominated by the plateau 1.000 yards away.   It is interesting to know that the Iraqis had actually carried out a planning exercise with the RAF to take Habbaniya should it ever be taken by a German coup de main and so they had a plan.   However, and for unknown reasons, perhaps over confidence or that the Golden Square were involved in more important political activity in Baghdad, they did not attack.  Instead the Iraqis occupied the plateau, and dug in. 

Iraqi troops began, in April, to piquet the bridge at Fallujah and also the “iron bridge” over the Washash Canal leading to Baghdad.  As things deteriorated some RAF lorries with camouflaged loads took sandbags, rifles, barbed wire and other items to the Embassy so that it could be prepared for defence. 

Rashid Ali gave permission, on 29 April, for all the British women and children to leave Iraq.  That afternoon 240 travelled to RAF Habbaniya.  They were the only ones to make the journey because of the movement of large Iraqi forces from Baghdad on the Fallujah road. 

Very early on 30 April the movement of the Iraqi columns was sent in a coded radio message from the Embassy to RAF Habbaniya where training and reconnaissance flights had been flown every day as had others to test the improvised bomb racks on the Oxford and Audax trainers.  Yet more had been flown to “show the flag” over Baghdad.   That morning at 0600 two Iraqi officers delivered an ultimatum to Air Vice Marshal Smart that he was to cease the flying operations that had continued unabated throughout the crisis so far.  The ultimatum went on that they would open fire with artillery if any British aircraft took off. 

Since the plateau was only 1,000 yards from the air base the Iraqi positions completely dominated it.  In addition, the runway now stood in no man’s land as it lay outside the fence.  Air reconnaissance confirmed that the Iraqis had deployed some 50 pieces of artillery and 9,000 troops at Habbaniya, as well as several times that number (no figures are available) of tribal militiamen from the large towns. The tribal warriors were tough, undisciplined and poorly led.  On the ridge the Iraqis were digging in, setting up anti-aircraft machine guns and light cannon, and deploying artillery while armoured cars patrolled the flat ground between the ridge and the air base.  By 1 May the rebel forces covering the Cantonment at Habbaniya and the Baghdad to Ramadi Road was estimated at one complete infantry brigade with most of the Mechanised Brigade of  two mechanised battalions, one armoured car company, some tanks, a mechanised Machine Gun Company, a Mechanised Signal Company, a combined AA and Anti-Tank Company, a Mechanised artillery brigade (battalion) with additional forces north of the river including howitzers and machine guns.  In Fallujah there was at least another infantry Company and a brigade at Ramadi.  On the way from Baghdad was a horse drawn artillery brigade. 

The ultimatum was refused and it was clear that the time had come for action.  So two pilots immediately volunteered and flew over the Iraqi positions.  They both returned safely.  Air Vice Marshal Smart, unwilling to start his own illegal little war, temporised for the rest of 30 April and 1 May allowing preparations to be made.  He signalled the Embassy seeking permission to take such action as necessary to protect his command.   The Iraqi artillery was of great concern and could easily wipe out the meagre air force in RAF Habbaniya on the ground unless strong and immediate action was taken.  He was particularly concerned that his ground forces had no artillery larger than a mortar and the Iraq Levies were an unknown quantity.  The greatest threat came from a night attack since he would not be able to mount air operations.

Fortunately, the local Iraqi commander was also hesitant to open hostilities.  Perhaps he lacked orders as the ultimatum had stated that they were there to carry out a training exercise.  Many of the junior officers confirmed this and stated that they believed that they were there to train not to attack.  Or perhaps Rashid Ali and the Golden Square had more pressing political problems in Baghdad.  Whatever the case, the Iraqis also waited.  Air reconnaissance on 1 May drew no fire.  It did reveal that there were batteries on both sides of the river and that the bund might be breached by shellfire thus flooding the base.  Later that day the Foreign Office gave Air Vice Marshal Smart authority to launch air attacks at his discretion.  With this came a message from the Prime Minister couched in typical language urging him to strike hard if he struck at all.

 The Opening Operations at RAF Habbaniya

And so, just before dawn on Friday 2 May the Iraq Levies and 1/KORR stood to and heard the engines of the newly formed fighting strength of the RAF warm up and then launch its pre-emptive strike that was relentlessly and ruthlessly pursued attacking the Iraqi troops with their hastily converted training aircraft piloted by instructors and students.  They were in four squadrons, three of “bombers” and one of fighters.  The Iraqis were taken by surprise as they prepared for morning prayers on their holy day.  Nevertheless they soon responded to the attack with anti-aircraft fire and the immediate shelling of the cantonment.  The bombardment could, on its own, have settled the issue if they had hit the power station and the conspicuous water tower.  During later interrogation it was found that some of the Iraqi officers who had been trained in Britain saw to it that the guns did little actual damage.  The aerial bombardment from Habbaniya and the Wellingtons from Shaibah did little damage to the well dug in artillery pieces which were engaged when their muzzle flashes revealed their positions.  The Iraqi infantry on the other hand were unwilling or unable to move and stayed in their trenches and so took little part.  The infantry, therefore, suffered the morale sapping bombardment on reduced food and water rations.  The Royal Iraqi Air Force intervened occasionally with fighter and bomber attacks that hit several aircraft on the ground and inflicted casualties.  The Iraqi artillery fire was continuous but did not hit any of the targets that would have ended the siege; the water tower or the generator.

That first day the RAF pressed home their attacks on the plateau.  AVM Smart was ordered to attack targets in Baghdad and wisely ignored this selecting the more immediate targets on the plateau with his 63 aircraft.  They flew into intense the fire thrown up by Iraqi machine guns and light anti-aircraft guns.  These latter guns were completely unexpected.  When 1/KORR cleared the plateau later they found that they were German in origin.  On that first day the RAF lost 22 aircraft destroyed or badly damaged and ten of the pilots killed or wounded.  The Iraqi government sequestered the oil assets and closed the Haifa pipeline while German and Italian radio stations broadcast the Grand Mufti’s fatwa declaring Jihad against the British.

Blood had now not only been shed at Habbaniya and also at Rutbah (1 May), a fort in the Iraqi desert near the TransJordanian border, and near Basra (2 May).  On 1 May, at Rutbah, the garrison of Iraqi Desert Police opened fire on British working parties on the Baghdad – Haifa road.  Lt Col Hammond, the chief engineer, managed to get most of his people away to H4, a pumping station and airfield on the pipeline, in TransJordan about 130 miles from Rutbah.  He and eleven others were wounded.

Meanwhile, 21 Indian Infantry Brigade of the 10th Indian Infantry Division landed at Basra on 29 April, secured the base there and at Shaibah.  On 2 May, the day of the start of the air attacks at Habbaniya, a mob of dock workers refused to work on British vessels and approached the positions held by 20 Indian Infantry Brigade.  They were dispersed when a couple of 25 pdr guns fired over their heads.  The Iraqi police were disarmed without a fight but the local authorities were uncooperative.  Some of the local population took to looting shops and property.  Iraqi troops were known to be at Al Qrna, a village at the junction of the Tigris, Euphrates and the Shatt al Arab and reputed site of the Garden of Eden, and were attacked by the bombers of 244 Squadron from Shaibah.  It then set about clearing the area prior to moving north.  On 8 May they secured Ashar and thus the whole of the Basra – Shaibah area.

 The political situation was now tense with the likelihood of German intervention through Vichy Syria or direct by air.  Rashid Ali’s government and the Golden Square, as usurpers, were not popular with the other Arab countries and so it was not likely to be a rallying point for them.  The Embassy in Baghdad lost it capability to use radio communications on 3 May but the situation did not become a siege designed to starve them out.  It was possible to buy food at the gates and the siege was a great inconvenience rather than a direct threat.  The main sign of the hostile action came from small boys who chalked rude and offensive graffiti on the paving stones outside the Embassy walls.

 Habforce Assembles in Palestine

AAt the same time, General Wavell somewhat reluctantly, had been organising a mobile force (Habforce) from Major General Clark’s 1st Cavalry Division.  He had lost all the equipment and nearly a quarter of the troops sent to Greece and had ongoing operations north (Malta) and west (Libya) and south (Abyssinia) as well as this new operation.  HABFORCE was based on Brigadier Kingstone’s 4th Cavalry Brigade with the Household Cavalry Regiment (HCR), the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry and the Warwickshire Yeomanry.  The cavalry regiments were in the process of converting from horses to trucks.  Thus they lacked trained drivers and mechanics.  In addition to the Brigade, Habforce was reinforced by the 1st Battalion the Essex Regiment (1/Essex), a mechanised Regiment of the TJFF, The Arab Legion, 60 Field Regiment Royal Artillery, an independent anti-tank troop, a troop of 2nd Cheshire Field Squadron Royal Engineers and supporting services.  Its mission was to make contact with the garrison at Habbaniya, secure H-4 and other points along the route for future operations by the army and RAF and also to make contact with the local tribes.  This latter task was to be ably performed by “Glubb’s Girls” as the Arab Legion became known from their long hair and Arabic robes.  The force took some time to assemble in Palestine.

This brigade lacked training in its new role and was well short its full complement of transport.  Many of its support vehicles were commandeered from civilian sources.  It also lacked tanks and armoured cars and had few aircraft.  Wavell regarded it as too weak to relieve RAF Habbaniya and left the forces Palestine dangerously weak in the event that the Germans attacked through pro-German Vichy Syria.  This was indisputable.   

 Major General JGW Clark’s Habforce was “To establish touch with the RAF Station at HABBANIYA and assist the garrison to re-establish its defences, communications and supplies.  To assist in the evacuation of any personnel that may be necessary.  To keep open the L of C from TRANSJORDAN to HABBANIYA and to protect H4 and any operational landing grounds EAST of this station that may be required by the RAF.  To facilitate contact with the tribes and counter revolutionary activities being organised by GHQ.

I divided HABFORCE into two portions and decided to send a Flying Column direct across the desert to HABBANIYA and to retain the main body to guard the lines of communication.

The composition of these two Columns was as follows:- 

Main Body


HQ 1 Cav Div &Sigs

Royal Wilts Yeo

Warwickshire Yeo

1 Essex less 2 Coys

166 Lt Fd Amb less Det

8 Lt Fd Hyg Sec

Cav Bde Gp Wkshop

Div Sec 1 Cav Div Ord Fd Pk

Det 1 Cav Div Postal Unit

1 Cav Div Pro Sqn less 2 Secs

Mech Regt TJFF

60 Fd Regt RA less 1 Bty and 1 Tp

1 Sub Sec Boring Sec RE

Flying Column


Based on Brigadier Kingstone’s 4th Cavalry Brigade

HQ 4 Cav Bde & Sigs


One Bty 60 Fd Regt RA

1 Ind A/Tk Tp RA

Det 2 Fd Sqn RE

Two Coys 1 ESSEX with det carrier pl

Det 166 Lt Fd Amb

3 Res MT Coy RASC

552 Coy RASC

Desert Mech Regt Arab Legion less Det

8 Armd Cars RAF


On 2 May at 1030 Lt Col Nichols, Commanding Officer 1/Essex, was visiting the staff college when he received a sudden order to report to Sub-Area HQ where “I was ordered to assemble my battalion at H4 where I would form a firm base from which I could operate against the Iraqi rebels, drive them from Rutbah and so on.  On arriving at H4 all troops there, including RAF armoured cars (one section) would come under my command, and that I would be directly under the GOC Palestine and Transjordan.  One company would move by train from Haifa at 1215.  All transport, including certain additional RASC vehicles, would move by road at 1700 and the remainder of the battalion would entrain at 2000 to Lydda.  From Lydda the move to H4 would be by air”.   

At 1615 that day he received his written confirmatory orders: “Your task is to assemble your battalion at H4 with a view to occupying Rutbah and preventing Iraquian [sic] troops from assisting a German landing should one take place there.  You should go from H4 to Rutbah by air if possible, but your landing at Rutbah must be protected by our troops, probably Arab Legion in MT.”  The battalion prepared as ordered but instead of the concentration taking place he received orders to remain at short notice to move.  Only C Company (Capt JF Higson) actually moved up to Mafraq on 2 May, C Company had actually moved out in about 1 hour from receipt of the orders and was airborne a couple of hours later.  The order cancelling the move and ordering the return of the transport arrived at 2000.  Active assistance from Germany was expected for the Iraqis and the battalion was to stand ready to move forward at any time.

The first priority for this deployment was to secure the airfield at H4 and C company of the 1st Battalion Essex Regiment was flown there and came under the command of Air Vice Marshal d’Albiac.   H4 is about 10 acres of desert with a high perimeter wire fence.  Inside the compound are the large pumping units for the boosting the flow through the oil pipeline.  The accommodation was good but had been looted by the Bedouin after the staff had been evacuated when the Iraqi troubles began.  A squadron of the TransJordan Frontier Force (TJFF) and the Arab Legion mechanised regiment, commanded by Major Glubb, followed them up soon afterwards.  The TJFF was an Imperial force with British Officers whereas the Arab Legion was an allied force provided by Prince Abdullah of TransJordan. We shall meet these legionnaires again later.

Operations around Habbaniya and the battle at Sinn el Dhibban

 As these preparations gathered pace Air Vice Marshal Smart continued his battle at Habbaniya.  On 3 May and on the following days his aircraft raided the military air base south of Baghdad and the civil airport to the west of the city.  On 4 May aircraft from Shaibah destroyed about 20 Iraqi aircraft on the ground.  The city and population of Baghdad was not attacked to reinforce that the British had no wish to cause suffering to the population with whom there was no quarrel.  Some of the aircraft dropped leaflets in Arabic assuring the population that the British would defeat Rashid Ali and the Golden Square who had betrayed them for German gold.  At this time the Regent broadcast a message from Palestine appealing to the people not to be led astray by “falsehood and lies which had brought the country from the blessings of peace to the horrors of venomous war”.


Over the next five days, 4 SFTS launched 584 sorties, dropped 45 tons of bombs and fired over 100,000 rounds of machine-gun ammunition.   Losses in aircraft and aircrew were high in the air and there were casualties on the ground but the raids continued, on 5 may only 7 of the Oxfords were serviceable.  Air Vice Marshal Smart widened his attacks to include Iraqi airfields and the Baghdad – Fallujah road, a decision that might seem rash but was justified by events.  A welcome reinforcement of four Blenheim fighters arrived from Cairo on 4 May. 


The initiative on the ground passed to the Assyrian Levies and 1/KORR and they launched aggressive raids from the base while the Iraqi artillery and air force did some minor damage.  The main targets of these raids were the guns on the north side of the Euphrates behind the Burma Bund and the domination of the ground between the airfield and the plateau.  Both tasks were successfully accomplished and the Iraqis thereafter withdrew their standing patrols at night.  An Iraqi attack from the south by infantry supported by 3 light tanks and 8 armoured cars was defeated by the infantry with Boys antitank rifles.  Machine gun fire from the blockhouses engaged any Iraqi movement and positions observed.  Later two ancient 4.5” howitzers that had been guardians were brought back into service by armourers and ammunition flown in.  The story was “revealed” to the Iraqis that the British had flown in heavy Artillery and this had a devastating effect on morale far beyond their actual effectiveness.   At night the British and Assyrian fighting patrols dominated no-man’s-land to the extent that after a few nights the Iraqis withdrew their outposts and ceased patrolling.  However, the Iraqi artillery continued to shell during the night and air patrols were sent out under extremely hazardous conditions.  The take-off was blind with the pilots relying of experience and guesswork for take off and the landing scarcely better.  The landing lights on the runway could not be used and at least one aircraft was lost.  The intense air operations terrified the Iraqi infantry and militiamen who began to flee on 6 May and by the next day the only Iraqi troops to be found were those running from the British warplanes.

As all this was going on at Habbaniya the Royal Iraqi Air Force Rashid and Ba’quba air bases around Baghdad came under attack from the Shaibah based Wellingtons.  They destroyed or damaged about half the Iraqi air force’s offensive capability in two days.  The operations were having a devastating effect on the Iraqi air force as an intercepted signals showed.  These declared that the Iraqis had almost exhausted their supply of bombs and ammunition and requested immediate German aircraft support because their aircraft were nearly all destroyed.  The army, likewise, was withdrawing short of artillery ammunition, rations and water.

 The garrison in Habbaniya, swollen by refugees and additional troops was sustained by airborne “shopping trips” to Shaibah. 

Although the air raids on the artillery and infantry seemed to be causing little actual damage the morale effect was building, particularly upon the infantry who had little to do but endure the aerial bombardment.  The air attacks had a much greater effect on the roads.  Here supply and reinforcement convoys were attacked and destroyed.  The choke point at the Fallujah bridge was subjected to many destructive raids.  Then on the night of 5/6 May 1/KORR and the Assyrians raided Sinn el Dhibban (Arabic for “The Teeth of the Wolf”) which lay between the river and the escarpment to the east of the air base.  Two companies from 1/KORR were to assault the Iraqi positions.  The attack opened with the RAF armoured cars closing up to the village.   They were not fired upon.  Then as B Company of 1/KORR was near the village the Iraqis opened fire with well sited and well concealed machine guns.  The attack stalled but the situation was restored by Armoured Cars from No1 Armoured Car Company RAF, and a flank assault by D Company 1/KORR, the levies , close support bombing and artillery fire from a couple of WW1 vintage 4.5” Howitzers.  These had guarded the gate until recently restored to fighting condition by the artificers of the RA flown in with ammunition from Basra.  This was too much for the Iraqis and their fire slackened.  As the action closed the band arrived by air and went straight into action because D Company had taken so many prisoners.

On the left 1/KORR swept through the village and stormed the high ground beyond.  On the right the Iraqis broke before the Assyrians reached them.  The Iraqis attempted to stem the retreat by bringing up motorised infantry and artillery from Fallujah but these were destroyed by RAF aircraft.  First the rear of the column was destroyed then the head and the planes flew 137 sorties up and down bombing the trapped column for 2 hours.  The ground flooded by the Iraqis effectively confining their own vehicles to the road.  The road was reported as being a ribbon of fire when the raids ended with the loss of one Audax.  The Iraqis lost about 70 vehicles and 500 men during the day and by dawn the whole force was in retreat eastwards.  Habbaniya had raised its own siege at comparatively little cost.

Then the troops took the plateau they found a large amount of equipment abandoned there; six 3.7” Howitzers (some sources say these were Czech built), three German light anti-aircraft guns, two anti-tank guns, one 18 pounder field gun, thre Anti-tank rifles, 45 Bren guns, 11 Vickers machine guns, 2 Italian machine guns, 10 modern armoured cars, one light tank, three dragons (gun tractors), some carriers, 18 trucks, 6 motorcyles and 340 rifles and large amounts of ammunition.  From the captured equipment, King’s Own was able to re-equip itself with modern small arms and other weapons.    The battalion’s A Company manned the three captured AA guns in defence of Habbaniya.

 The aircraft from Shaibah had not been idle and had destroyed more Iraqi aircraft of the ground at Baghdad and Ba’quba.  The barracks at Washash on the western side of Baghdad was also hit.  Later in the day a Gladiator dropped the news of the day’s successes to Embassy in Baghdad. In these operations the RAF lost 13 aircrew killed, 21too badly wounded to continue and 4 grounded with their nerve gone.  They recorded 647 sorties and, according to Dudgeon, many more unrecorded, dropped 3,000 bombs and fired 116.000 rounds of ammunition.  By 9 May this motley collection of training aircraft largely crewed by instructors and students had virtually destroyed the Royal Iraqi Air Force, and  with the ground forces, defeated and demoralised the besieging Iraqi army inflicting heavy losses in men and equipment.

The effect of these joint operations was threefold.  The cantonment had held out and not been defeated thus depriving Rashid Ali of the bargaining tool that he had intended to use to drag out negotiations in a political crisis.  He was hoping that the Germans would arrive to support his army.  It appears that he did not expect the British to fight much less take the offensive.  Secondly, the failure to capture the airfield deprived him of the the Germans of a safe route to fly in airborne troops any further south than Mosul.  And thirdly the aerial bombardment had demoralised the Iraqi forces, and not just those on the plateau, a blow from which they only recovered in part later.  Most importantly Rashid Ali had lost face with the Iraqi people by not capturing RAF Habbaniya and by not getting the German aid that he had promised over and over again.

Major General Clark stated, “Throughout this very difficult period all ranks of the RAF conducted themselves in accordance with the highest traditions of that service.  Every available aircraft was in constant action under the most difficult conditions and the pilots of the training machines in particular did enormous damage by persistently delivering low bombing and MG attacks in the face of accurate and intense AA fire...  One excellent example of this was provided by  a closely packed convoy of over 40 enemy vehicles which was completely put out of action near Canal Turn whilst bringing reinforcements from FALLUJAH.  There, destroyed in its tracks, it remained for weeks afterwards, a grim example of the necessity for dispersal against aerial attack.”

 Operations around Basra

As the Iraqis withdrew from Habbaniya on 6 May, the 21st Indian Infantry Brigade arrived by convoy in Basra.  The brigade comprised 4/13th Frontier Force Rifles, 2/4th and 2/10th Gurkha Rifles.  Also with this convoy were 2 troops of the 13th Lancers with Chevrolet Crossley Armoured cars and a detachment of Indian Sappers.  More troops arrived the next day and Lieutenant General EP Quinan to command what was later to become “Iraqforce”.

These reinforcements allowed further offensive operations in and around Basra.  The telegraph and wireless stations were taken and snipers caused a few casualties amongst the Gurkhas.  The Iraqi civil administration stayed away from their offices and, for a time the dockers and dredger crews refused to go to work.  The forces on Basra an Shaibah expanded their area of control and established the lines of communication.

 Iraqis request German Assistance and Vichy Compliance

 Eventually responding to Iraqi requests the Germans started to prepare a shipment of arms in April but these were never sent.  The size of the shipment and its composition is worth noting as it could have had a significant effect.  Earmarked for Iraq were 15,000 Dutch rifles with 5 million rounds, 600 Dutch LMGs with 6 million rounds, 200 French 13.2mm Heavy Machine guns with 2 million rounds, 50 French 8mm mortars with 25,000 bombs and 110 French 50mm mortars with 75,000 bombs.  Why this was held back is not clear but maybe it was because of the later requests for ex-British equipment.  

The Iraqis had since requested more German help and this arrived in the form of weapons and ammunition from ex-British stocks captured at Dunkirk as well as French equipment from Vichy Syria.  During May the French sent four loads of military supplies, two trainloads of aviation fuel and a battery of artillery.  These arrived too late for use and depleted French stocks that they were to need later in the year.  The equipment from Vichy Syria included; 15,500 Lebel rifles, 200 Hotchkiss 8 mm machine guns with 5 million rounds of ammunition; 354 Sub Machine guns (probably MAS) with 88,850 cartridges, four 75 mm guns with 10,000 shells, eight 155mm guns with 6.000 shells and 30,000 hand grenades.  None of this material was used due, mainly to a lack of time and instructors.  The signs of German assistance became real on 7 May when the first Luftwaffe transport aircraft landed on Vichy airstrips in Syria where they were given every facility by the French. 

It had taken very little time for Berlin to acquire the Vichy government’s permission to utilize Syria for the proposed plan. The Vichy French, who seemed quite optimistic that the Germans would succeed in Iraq, on 8 May confirmed the following concessions:

(a) The stocks of French arms under Italian control in Syria to be made available for transportation to Iraq;

(b) Assistance in the forwarding of arms shipments of other origin that arrive in Syria by land or by sea for Iraq;

(c) Permission for German planes, destined for Iraq, to make intermediate landings and to take on fuel in Syria;

(d) Cession to Iraq of reconnaissance, fighter and bomber planes, as well as bombs, from the air force permitted for Syria under the armistice treaty;

(e) An airfield in Syria to be made available especially for the intermediate landing of German planes;

(f) Until such an airfield has been made available, an order to be issued to all airfields in Syria to assist German planes making intermediate landings.

 Vichy, in return for assisting Germany, were permitted to rearm six French destroyers and seven torpedo boats, to relax the stringent travel and traffic regulations between the zones of France, and to arrange for a substantial reduction of the costs of occupation.  Rashid Ali received £10,000 in gold and the Grand Mufti $15,000 in banknotes on 9 May and on 21 May a further £10,000 in gold and $10,000 in banknotes arrived for them respectively.  A further shipment of £80,000 in gold reached Athens but was not delivered as hostilities had collapsed by then.   The first real signs of German aid came on 10 May with the arrival of the Reich’s newly appointed representative to Iraq, Dr. Fritz Grobba. Accompanying the Nazi official were two Heinkel He 111 bombers. Further additions to the Iraqi arsenal, over the next few days, included a squadron each of He 111bombers and Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters.  Meanwhile, a few days later, Rudolph Rahn, a special foreign ministry envoy, arrived in Syria to organise the proposed flow of munitions to Iraq.  Rahn’s efforts produced the first arrival of supplies into Mosul on 13 May. This force included ground crews and a small anti-aircraft detachment.   Intelligence was now reporting that Rashid Ali was losing the confidence of his supporters through hid repeated failure to live up to his promises.  He had also become fearful for the future. 

On the British side the command of operations had transferred to General Auchinleck in India on 18 April had reverted to Wavell on 5 May.  Wavell had allocated all the forces that he could spare and feared any further drain.  He thought that the retreat of the Iraqis from Habbaniya signalled an opportunity for a diplomatic solution.  Auchinleck, on the other hand, advocated energetic military action against the Iraqi Army and to secure key strategic sites like the oil fields and pipelines.  Lieutenant General Quinan had left India with orders to take direct action and to expect a German invasion through Syria.  However, Wavell gave him orders to do no more than secure the Basra area.  Clark also received orders to advance on Baghdad and make contact with the Ambassador.  The relief was to come from the west, not the south.  I any case, the forces at Basra still had 300 miles of flooded land to cover against the 80 miles from Habbaniya.  Thus a force of a few hundred was sent to overawe, bluff and brush aside several thousand opponents.

The British air attacks continued on Iraqi bases in Baghdad, Erbil, Mosul and Al Musaiyib.  The first Luftwaffe raid on Habbaniya took place on 10 May, on 13 May the Axis force flew more bombing missions but was hampered by a lack of fuel and on 15 May a He 111 attacked the lead elements of Kingcol in the desert.  On 16 May three German fighters attacked Habbaniya and losses were sustained on both sides.  The Iraqis compounded the effect of the British raids by shooting a German plane over Baghdad killing Major Alex Blomberg who had arrived to lead the Luftwaffe operations in Iraq, though Grobba says that he was killed by an RAF fighter when he arrived in the midst of an air battle.  The Italians also sent support in the form of 11 Fiat CR-42 biplane fighters from 155 Fighter Squadron commanded by Captain Sforza.  The British responded by flying in aircraft reinforcements from Palestine and the Desert Air Force including Blenheims, Hurricanes and Tomahawks. The air route from Syria was closed by RAF bombers from Palestine attacking the Vichy air fields from the night of 14/15 May and the rest of the month, destroying equipment and several Vichy and German aircraft on the ground.                        

Habforce and Kingcol

We will now return to Habforce.  We left them with their forward elements at H-4.  The Flying column assembled in various places and concentrated at H4 on 11 May with about 2,000 troops and 600 vehicles and crossed into Iraq on 13 May.  They drove on to H-3, the next pumping station, and there they met Squadron Leader Casano with No2 Armoured Car Company RAF.  He reported that they had already been in action and with the Arab Legion had taken Rutbah fort.  This good news came just after the TJFF had refused to cross the border into Iraq forcing Brig Kingstone to use the Yeomanry to guard his line of communication. 

Major May’s detachment of A and D Companies of 1/Essex with two carriers from the Carrier Platoon had left Haifa on 11 May to rendezvous with Kingcol in Mafraq (Transjordan) that evening. They moved on to H4 on the 12 May.   4 is about 10 acres of desert with a high perimeter wire fence.  Inside the compound are the large pumping units for the boosting the flow through the oil pipeline.  The accommodation was good but had been looted by the Bedouin after the staff had been evacuated when the Iraqi troubles began.  The Battalion replenished at overnight halt with fuel and water and moved on the next day with Kingcol to Rutbah.  Rutbah is a squalid collection of Arab hutments with the usual children and dogs staring at the troops and trucks passing through.  The Rest House was fairly smart but had been ransacked by the Bedouins.  Nothing of value remained.

On 9 May RAF Blenheims had made an ineffective raid on the Iraqi Desert Police in Rutbah in support of the Arab Legion.  The bombers were met by defensive rifle fire that shot down a Blenheim, killing its crew.  The Arab Legion, lacking any weapons heavier than a machine gun, could not take the fort.  A old enemy, Fawzi al Qawukji (pictured left), had appeared with 40 truck-loads of well armed police and insurgents.  The attentions of the bombers, the armoured cars and the Arab Legion persuaded the police to depart and the fort was found deserted on 11 May.

[11 May Rudolph Hess flies to Scotland.]

The way was opened up for Habforce and it departed on 11 May, arriving at H3 on 12 May under orders to conduct a war of manoeuvre.  The fighting portion of the column, Kingcol, was now made up of the Household Cavalry regiment, 2 companies and the 2 Bren carriers of 1/Essex, a Field Regiment RA, an anti-tank troop, an AA troop and a troop of Royal Engineers with 2 RASC transport companies carrying everything that the column would need; combat supplies (fuel, ammunition, rations and so on) as well as spare parts and other equipment.  Water, in particular would be a particular problem. 

 On 13 May the water ration was reduced to half a gallon a day as they passed through H3.  When the column reached Rutbah, which was now held by the Arab Legion, Brig Kingstone was informed that the Iraqis held Ramadi but this was nearly unapproachable because of the flooding.  The next Iraqi forces appeared to those withdrawing from Habbaniya to Fallujah.  They now occupied positions overlooking the bridge over the Euphrates west of the town.   "Rutbah is a squalid collection of Arab hutments with the usual children and dogs staring at the troops and trucks passing through.  The Rest House was fairly smart but had been ransacked by the Bedouins.  Nothing of value remained."

[13 May; USSR recognises the Rashid Ali Regime.]

 On 15 May the column set off for eastwards for Habbaniya at a steady convoy speed of 17 miles in the hour.  This allowed for halts along the way every two hours.  They covered 160 miles over desert tracks reaching “Kilo 25” a marker on the track showing that they were 15 miles from Ramadi.  As already noted that day saw raids on the column by a “Blenheim bomber in Iraqi markings” though it was probably a  He 111 bomber.  This was followed by another attack by Bf 110 fighters.  The column fought back with a few machine guns and saw some individual acts of heroism from the Arab Legion in particular.  The column suffered some casualties.  A group of officers from Kingcol HQ searched for water for the vehicles and found it at an area where natural asphalt was taken to be used on the roadway.  The water lay on top of the asphalt.  The officers, including Somerset de Chair, took off their boots to paddle in the water only to find they sank a little and the asphalt took a long time to clean off their feet. 

James Glass, an RASC driver from Currie near Edinburgh, recalls the tactics.  Our camping arrangements were interesting. We went into "leagar - as the Roman Legions did - as North American settlers did. We drove round into a huge square, two deep. In the centre we settled the ambulances and Field Hospital, also the HQ and Signals. The Signals busied themselves putting up the aerials and transmitters, and setting up the connections. The Field Artillery on the perimeter turned their 25lb guns round facing outwards at the ready. Then the little scout cars went out, about a mile - we could see them with their flares at the ready in case of surprise attacks. At this stage, no attack was expected, but practice was essential. During the day, one "spotter" plane surveyed the area... Every pumping station on the line was a small fort...  they were every 100 miles or so. Inside the fort perimeter were the water wells, pumps for the oil, civvi houses and a small landing strip. Only a small plane could use the landing strip - mostly Lysanders.

Before dawn the following day they set off again expecting to reach Habbaniya that evening.  The Arab Legion was sent off to protect the flanks.  At first all went well then the 3 tonners of the RASC started to sink into the sand.  After continuous hard work in the ferocious sun they made it back to Kilometre 25.  They had lost only a few of the supply trucks but the situation was now close to desperate with a shortage of fuel and water.  Next morning the Arab Legion scouted ahead and led the column over the desert to Habbaniya by way of Mujara, a group of buildings and engineering yards south of the lake.  The route was difficult and would have been almost impossible without the Arab Legionnaires.  As Captain Greene of the Essex  says “the normal firm desert gave way to numerous small serrated wadis which appeared to run across our main axis, and, except for their main course, were of soft sand.  Unless a vehicle took them at high speed the wheels sank to the axles.  Most of that day was spent on this most uncomfortable ride.  By late afternoon the column reached the firmer ground of the plateau and arrived in Habbaniya by the evening.”  The Habbaniya defenders had repaired the bridge here and guarded it.  In Habbaniya they found that the RAF clubs and bars were well stocked and open though food was scarce.  In the early morning of 18 May a troop of the Household Cavalry on patrol near Ramadi was fired on by the Iraqis.  Later that morning Kingcol set off once more and despite another air attack that caused casualties it bivouacked at Mujara.  Its arrival almost coincided with the Habbaniya defenders setting off to Fallujah.  On the same day as Kingcol reached Habbaniya, Major General Clark (GOC Habforce) and Air Vice Marshal d’Albiac who was the new AOC Iraq, arrived by air, Air Vice Marshal Smart having been injured in a car crash.

Kingcol captures Fallujah Bridge

The defenders had received reinforcements by air in the form of the rest of 1/Essex from H-4 and elements of 2/4 Gurkhas from Basra.   And now that the first part of the operation had been successfully concluded with the relief of RAF Habbaniya the second object, a salutary lesson to the rebels, had still to be accomplished.    The capture of the bridge at Fallujah was one of the most brilliant operations in the whole of the war.  The plan was made by Colonel Ouvry Roberts as commander of the “Habbaniya Brigade” and was one of the very few occasions where land and air forces operated under a single commander with a unified command.

The problem he faced seemed almost impossible without landing craft, specialised equipment and considerable artillery support.  The approach to the bridge was restricted to a single causeway, Hammond’s Bund, and that had been breached several miles from the bridge.  Colonel Roberts plan was to ferry 2/7 Gurkha Rifles over the Euphrates on an improvised “flying bridge” (two steel hawser ferry) on the night of 17/18 May.   By dawn they were to be in positions along the northern edge of Fallujah.  The KORR (some sources say only C Company and others say 2 Companies) was to be landed by air behind the town to cut it off from reserves from Baghdad.    

The Advance on Fallujah was to be made on both sides of the river.   Major General Clark’s report on the action is as follows:

Col Roberts therefore called a conference of Commanding Officers on 15 May and discussed plans for the capture of FALLUJAH with the bridge intact.


The Method decided upon was a combined air and ground attack preceded, the day before, by a bombing attack on located targets at RAMADI in conjunction with a feint attack by ground troops.


The capture of the town itself was to be carried out by the air striking force in conjunction with the operations of columns called G, A, S, V & L Columns.


G Column was to prevent enemy interference with the FALLUJAH Bridge and to cover the repairs to Hammond’s Bund.


A Column was to capture the Police Post  and Regulator Bridge 1 mile West of SAKHLAWIYA and the advance towards FALLUJAH and take up a position on the high ground North of FALLUJAH covering the exits from the outskirts of the town.


S Column was to cross the ferry immediately after A Column and support that Column when it moved up to FALLUJAH.  It was to protect A Column from the direction of SAKHLAWIYA and form a secure base to cover the withdrawal of A Column which it was to reinforce if necessary.


V Column, airborne, was to take up position 2000 yards from the outskirts of FALLUJAH, covering the road FALLUJAH – BAGHDAD, by fire, thus preventing the exit of enemy troops from FALLUJAH.


L Column was to cross the Euphrates by ferry behind S Column and move up to Burma Bund to establish a ferry across Notch Fall Regulator and provide a line of withdrawal or a line of evacuation for prisoners, at the same time supporting V Column.


Meanwhile a small detachment of RE and a troop of artillery from KINGCOL were to assist the Sappers and Miners in maintaining the ferry North of SIN EL DHIBBAN, reconstructing Hammond’s Bund and providing ferry facilities as SAKHLAWIYA Regulator and Notch Fall Regulator. 


The air striking force, in co-operation with the land forces were to bomb located targets in FALLUJAH, drop pamphlets calling on the garrison to surrender an then continue bombing in their own time until requested to stop by Brigade HQ or a smoke signal from G Column.


Fighter patrols were to be maintained over the area, with instruction to report by W/T if V Column was being attacked in strength.


A River Flotilla was to organized by moving boats from the Lake to keep communications across the river at SIN EL DHIBBAN and the ferry was to be protected by AALMG posts.


The original intention was to put this plan into operation on 19 May, the RAMADI feint taking place on the day previously.  Upon this day also it was intended that KINGCOL should arrive in HABBANIYA.  This was not to be, however, as the Column ran into a patch of bad going and became sand-bogged in trying to find a way round the South of the Lake.  Whilst reconnoitring a new route, I flew from H4 to HABBANIYA to assume command of the ground forces.  At this point I shall leave HABFORCE, in this account, until I have dealt with the operations which were being carried out at FALLUJAH.


On my arrival at HABBANIYA I was greeted by an enemy air attack.  Three He.3’s (Sic) shot up the cantonment from an astonishingly low altitude for half an hour.  They were eventually intercepted by our aircraft , however, and one enemy aircraft was believed lost another being damaged.  Apart from this, two of our aircraft on reconnaissance over RASHID attacked two Me 110’s during the morning and both enemy machines were shot down in flames.  In the evening the RAF attached MOSUL twice, setting two aircraft on fire and damaging another and one large monoplane was set on fire, several others being probably damaged.  Our aircraft also carried out extensive bombing and reconnaissance work as well.  It will be seen that this was a day of considerable aerial activity.


At this time it was becoming increasingly evident that German aircraft were likely to operate in considerable numbers from SYRIA.  Aircraft of the Palestine Command had attacked German aircraft at PALMYRA twice on the 15th and done considerable damage as the enemy aircraft were attacked at RAYAK and DAMASCUS.


As the result of this German activity, I postponed the attack on FALLUJAH until I could get a clearer picture of the probability of German aircraft taking a hand in the operations.


Meanwhile, on 17 May, as a result of information received, a Column under command of Lt Col Brawn composed of One Company of Iraq Levies, commanded by Capt Graham, a nephew of Brigadier Malise Graham, with four 3.7 How under Major Couper, RA carried out a small but successful operation just EAST of SUTTAIH BRIDGE and one sec MMG’s and a Mortar fired on a new MG post on the Bund whilst two Pls Levies moved North and combed the big palm grove along the river bank for about 3 miles.  They returned in the evening having taken 16 prisoners and discovered some hidden arms.


The evacuation of Iraq Levy families by air now commenced and 84 persons were flown to PALESTINE during the next two days.


A portion of KINGCOL, after overcoming its obstacles, arrived in HABBANIYA on 17 May, having spent the night at MUJARA BRIDGE.  Further reinforcements also arrived in the form of 45 ranks of the Essex Regiment including 3 officers by air from H4 and 100 Gurkhas airborne from BASRA.  These latter were quartered in the Levy Lines.


The forces at HABBANIYA were increasing and the RAF had been successful in destroying considerable enemy petrol supplies.  This, together with other important factors, indicated that the time was opportune for the capture of ALLUJAH and 19 May was chosen at that date.


The plan finally adopted was identical with that described above, except that the feint on RAMADI was not carried out lest it should attract the attention of German aircraft.  The various tasks were allotted as follows:-


 G Column   





A Column




S Column




V Column





L Column

Commander:- Capt Graham

Troops:-    One Coy Iraq Levies

                  One Pl Iraq Levies

                  In Support One Tp 25pdr guns RA (6 guns from KINGCOL)

                  Detachment Sappers and Miners

Commander:-  Capt Anderson

Troops:-   One Coy Iraq Levies

                 Detachment Sappers and Miners


Commander:-  Major Strickland, 2/4 GR

Troops:-   Detachment 2/4 GR

                 Under command One Tp HABBANIYA Artillery (5 3.7How)


Commander:-  Lieut DJ Rees, King’s Own

Troops:-   One Coy King’s Own

                 One sec MMGs

                 Two A/Tk Rifles


Commander:-  Ft/Lt Hillard, RAF 1 Armd Cay Coy

Troops:-   One Sec of 1 Armd Car Coy RAF

                 One Pl King’s Own

                 Det Sappers and Miners with lorry borne rafts


The systematic breaching of the bunds by the enemy troops made the task a difficult one.  SIN EL DHIBBAN ferry was crossed by A Column in darkness on the night 18/19 May and as dawn broke on 19 May, the Column was still crossing the Regulator Canal.  At 0600 hrs the Regulator Blockhouse was attacked and captured with little opposition.  The flood water from the breached bunds now played its part and Capt Anderson was held up by difficulties in getting his MG’s and mobile transport through.  He made an abortive attempt to cross by raft but finally had to make a detour on foot.  His attack on the blockhouse was in consequence three hours behind schedule time.  Thus deprived of his mule transport he had to wait for the support of One Coy of Gurkhas from S Column before he could dislodge the Company of the enemy which had been located in SAKHLAWIYA Canal and the palm groves to his front.  Furthermore, his guns were late crossing the ferry so by this time the operation was five hours behind time.


Further complications were added by difficulties over communications but finally the Column advanced and the enemy retreated without giving fight.


As a result of these delays and difficulties A Column by nightfall on 19 May had only reached a point 1500 yds South of SAKHLAWIYA and approximately 1200 yds from the Regulator and there it spent the night.  It had missed the battle but had made a very determined effort.


At 0415 hrs on 20 May, Capt Anderson advanced without his mule transport and without artillery support on account of the flooding, reaching ANBAR RUINS at approximately 0700 hrs whence again he left at 1045 hrs to take up the position of the Column’s objective on the high ground NW of FALLUJAH.  S Column remained behind to dig in at the Regulator.


Turning now to Capt Graham’s Command, G Column left HABBANIYAH at 1700 hrs 18 May and then halted at Canal turn until it was dark enough to proceed up the road to Hammond’s Bund.  The inexperience of the RIASC drivers caused considerable delay and the loss of two vehicles during this part of the journey.  Hammond’s Bund was eventually reached at 2000 hrs.


Then began a weird fording of floodwater in the gloomy darkness as men trudged through the gap in the road, pulling behind them fragile pleasure craft carried over from Lake HABBANIYA, laden with stores and ammunition.  The mules, true to tradition, refused the ordeal and were left behind, after which all weapons and ammunition had to be man handled.  Thus inevitable delay ensued, but the Column eventually arrived at Palm Grove.


The town of FALLUJA was heavily bombed by the Oxford and Audax training aircraft of the RAF at about 0500 hrs.  Pamphlets were dropped later in the morning, inviting the Garrison to surrender.  But as the Garrison went to ground as soon as our aircraft were heard, it was improbable that these exhortations were read.   The town was again bombed at 1445 hrs, when the G Column troops were creeping nearer to the Bridge which they reached with very slight opposition bt 1515 hrs and crossed by 1530 hrs. Consternation reigned in the town, indiscriminate rifle fire went on until G Column reached their positions for the skeleton defence of the town.  The few remaining enemy troops then surrendered and this Coy of Assyrian Levies, although very thin on the ground, devoted themselves to digging in on the perimeter.


During the morning of 20 May I visited FALLUJAH and ordered Cap graham to get in touch with V Column which had landed from the air according to plan and without incident and to co-operate in the stronger defence of the town.  The Commander of this column had shown remarkably little initiative during the past 24 hours.  Lt Col Everett, King’s Own eventually took over command of the defences.


L Column meanwhile had been held by floods a mile or so NW of Notch Fall but its infantry had joined V Column on foot.


Thus it was the aerial bombardment combined with the infiltration of the troops from the South which were really responsible for our success.


To sum up the results of this battle, I think the cricket score board would have shown something like the following:-


Iraqi Army:  Frightened out

Bowler:         RAF

Score:           0

 In addition to the report above the reader’s attention is drawn to the fact that early in the morning RAF Audax aircraft had cut the telephone wires from Fallujah to Baghdad by the simple expedient of flying through them.  Probably they used the message hooks to snare the wires.  At least one aircraft, seeing the number of wires, landed and while the pilot cut the wires the observer chopped down the poles. 

At 1425 the RAF delivered a dive bombing attack in which “screaming bombs” were used to demoralise the defenders on the west side of the bridge.  Iraqi resistance collapsed, a party of Iraqis approached Capt Graham under a white flag and the bridge was taken intact.  The airborne elements closed in from the east but the fight was over and Capt Graham’s men had taken the bridge and the town.  Many of the Iraqi troops shed their uniforms and merged with the population and 300 prisoners were taken.  Not a single Briton, Gurkha or Assyrian was lost.  The Habbaniya Brigade took over the town and dug in.  They improved many of the old Iraqi positions.

Despite the outstanding success of this joint operation, on 18 May, Air Vice Marshall D’Albiac complained that he was unhappy with what he saw as the “mis-employment” of air power that had regrettably set “an undesirable precedent”.  He was extremely unhappy that army officers had been in command of air operation and immediately changed things back to regain control of the situation that he thought had lapsed so grievously. 

In particular he was unhappy that the army had relied so heavily on the aircraft in the plan.  His opinion was that the RAF should seek out and destroy the Luftwaffe and “not the assault of land objectives whose capture could be effected by land forces”.  Even having seen the effective use of German aircraft in Greece, D’Albiac was one the reactionary group of RAF officers who could not see that all modern operations were joint affairs involving air and land with sea forces as appropriate, his notion was that there were three different wars going on simultaneously and not connected to each other; one on land, one at sea and another in the air.  He changed things back after he took command.

The Iraqi Counter Attack at Fallujah

Somewhat surprisingly, given their performance so far, the Iraqis mounted a counter attack on Fallujah on 22 May with a combined arms force made up of 6 Iraqi Infantry Brigade in motor transport with elements from the Mechanised Brigade.  The attack was a complete surprise with the brigade moving up rapidly from their positions north of Baghdad.  There was no intelligence or air reconnaissance warning of the arrack which was well executed.   Some sources attribute this to the presence of German Advisers.  However, it probably owes more to an exercise over the same ground carried out by an Iraqi brigade in the autumn of 1939.  Indeed the plan used by the Iraqi commander had used the Directing Staff Solution issued by the British military Mission!   

The attack opened at about 0300 on a hot dark moonless night on the positions on the north east of the town held by 1/KORR.  The attack was fierce, supported by snipers from inside the town, and the defenders were pushed back into the houses.  Two light tanks, CV-33s probably, fought their way in to the town and one was lost in a crater and the other was knocked out by an anti-tank rifle.  A fierce counter attack by the Assyrians, sworn enemies of the Iraqis, and the Gurkhas restored the situation.   Shortly afterwards the 1/KORR positions on the south east were attacked and the Iraqis repulsed with heavy losses.  This southern company counter then attacked northwards and cleared the edge of the town.  The situation was stabilised with the Iraqis confined to the northern edge of town but 1/KORR had suffered badly losing nearly half of their officers.

When the first reports of the counter attack reached HQ Kingcol, Brig Kingstone had sent forward C Squadron of the Household Cavalry and two companies of 1/Essex over the gap in Hammond’s Bund.  The Essex companies waded and ferried their equipment and non-swimmers as best they could on whatever they could find.  Major May says: “The operation involved complete stripping and wading about 600 yards.  With improvised rafts of old oil drums and planks made by Indian Sappers, first A Company crossed.  We piled arms and ammunition and all clothing on top and got over in parties of ten to fifteen; it took about two hours to get the company over.” 

With the King’s Own under pressure, A Company 1/Essex was ordered into the attack the Iraqis holding the northern part of the town.  Major James, commanding, sent one platoon under Lt Muirhead to clear the road to the east edge of town while another platoon contained the Iraqis south of the road.  The third platoon was guarding Iraqi prisoners, anti-sniper duties and keeping the road back to the bridge so that wounded could be evacuated and ammunition, water and supplies could be replenished.

The lead platoon made good progress until it ran into serious opposition from some dug in Iraqis at the edge of town.  The main strong point lay on the north side of the main road where two LMG sections had occupied the rooftops and made further movement impossible without incurring heavy casualties.  The only reserve available was the Company Headquarters and Major James led the attack across the road and down an alley leading towards the LMG positions.  They had to clear each and every building before moving on and so progress was slow.  All the time the LMGs could be heard firing at Lt Muirhead’s platoon giving urgency to the attack.  The party reached a point 50 yards short of the enemy main position when it came under sudden fire from a LMG from a window on the other side of the alley wounding a soldier.  The LMG was silenced by heavy fire from the party who took cover in the house opposite.  This was full of Iraqis who had to be eliminated as the building was cleared.  Major James took several men onto the roof and engaged the Iraqis with rifle fire.  The gunners surprised to find themselves under fire from one of their own positions fled leaving their wounded and dead behind.  The British then turned on the windows held by the Iraqis and soon a white flag appeared and the whole Iraqi garrison of those houses surrendered. 

 After consolidating, A and D Companies went to the perimeter and relieved the battered King’s Own.  The enemy continued to shell intermittently the British and the bridge without effect.  In the action a large amount of equipment was captured including 6 light tanks as well as 2 officers and 100 other ranks as prisoners.

During the action the RAF had flown continuous patrols and bombed the reserves moving up the road from Bagdad to Fallujah.  These reserves were prevented from reaching their destination.  In these raids a truck load of explosives was blown up.  It would have been destined for the bridge to destroy it.  Many of the Iraqis discarded their uniforms for civilian white and the troops watched for trouble expelling about 1,300 Arabs in anticipation of a counter attack.  Some snipers caught in civilian clothes were executed.

The Luftwaffe concentrated its energies in ineffective missions against Habbaniya when their presence might have been better felt over Fallujah. Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters did attack Fallujah three times on the 24th but no counter attacks developed.  A fighting patrol of D Coy 1/Essex sent out on the night of 23/24 May to disrupt the assembly of an Iraqi force inflicted several casualties before withdrawing in the face of superior numbers.  The Iraqis evacuated the next night.

 The Bombardment of Ramadi

 The Iraqi garrison at Ramadi had not responded to leaflets or bombing.  If the advance was to ahead then this force had to be subdued.   On 25 May the garrison sent out a strong sortie of about 100 men with armoured car and artillery support and caught a troop of the Household Cavalry Regiment and two RAF armoured cars on patrol from Habbaniya. The British had to abandon the two armoured cars that got stuck in soft sand.  The next day one of these was later recovered by a strong patrol of 2 troops and a RAF tender.  On the way back they were attacked by the RAF and suffered one killed and several wounded.  Ramadi then received an intensive aerial bombardment for one hour, after which leaflets were dropped calling upon the Garrison to surrender.  There being no response to this demand, the town was bombed and shelled (by one 25pdr, two 4.5” Howitzers and one 3.7” Howitzer of the Habbaniya Artillery) intermittently for the rest of the day.  An interesting point about this affair was that one 3.7” Howitzer escorted by two armoured cars under command of Capt SHL Graham RA engaged Ramadi and the Ferry Area all day from a position North of river without interference from the enemy whose Brigade HQ was within 4,000 yards on the same side of the river.  Fortunately for Capt Graham, knowledge of the proximity of the enemy was not imparted to him until after the action.

After this the Ramadi garrison showed no further aggression until the end of hostilities.

Basra and Habib Shawi Bridge

Back in Basra, Brigadier WJ Slim had succeeded Major General Fraser as General Officer Commanding 10 Indian Infantry Division.  He set about reinforcing control over the base area in a series of operations centring on a number of settlements and villages along the Shatt al-Arab.  The chief opposition here came from criminals and insurgents who were more concerned with robbing banks, settling old scores and looting tan with actually resisting.  The local officials stayed distant from the British rather than hostile, while feeling of the populace was that they were nationalists but would prefer that, if there had to foreigners here, they were British and not German.  In this they were torn between the reluctant acceptance of British domination and the real fear that the British were the losing side.

The Wellington bombers at Shaibah represented half the bomber force in the Middle East and they had to be withdrawn on 11 and 12 May.  Their place was taken by the air group from HMS Hermes which launched strikes against An Nasiriya, Al Amara, As Samawa and Al Qurna. HMS Hermes was recalled about 19 May. 

[20 May; German airborne invasion of Crete.  21 May; HMS Hood sunk by the  Bismarck]

 Gen Wavell arrived in Basra on 23 May, about the time that Kingcol was starting out on the last leg on its way from Habbaniya to Baghdad, to meet with General Auchinleck who was coming from India.  General Quinan was now given new orders.  He was to advance on Baghdad by the best available routes as soon as possible.

 The two Commanders were mainly concerned with larger questions; Wavell was preoccupied with the many parts of his command and the potential, and increasingly real, threat of a German invasion of Palestine from Vichy Syria.  It was soon agreed that once communications in Iraq were restored once again the responsibility would become part of General Auchinleck’s command in India.  This was approved by London.

HMAS Yarra

10 Indian Infantry Division started its move northwards from Basra on 24 May.  The action had begun a few days before when the 2/4 Gurkha Rifles were unable to force a crossing of the bridge over the Qrmat Ali Creek. The captain of the sloop HMAS Yarra and 2 petty officers dressed in Arab clothing carried out a reconnaissance of the area from a small locally acquired boat.  They discovered that the bridge was defended and that the centre of Iraqi resistance was a large house north of the creek. 

 The plan called for a diversionary attack made by a mixed force from 2/4 Gurkhas and the Madras Sappers and Miners with the main assault delivered from the Shatt al Arab.  For this the sloop HMAS Yarra had the mortars of 2/4 Gurkhas mounted on her decks.  The infantry from 2/4 Gurkhas were transported on the ship  and the feluccas strapped to her hull.   The final assault would be made from the feluccas and the ships boats.

The diversion at the Habib Shawi bridge started at 0200 with Bren and Vickers machine gun fire on the defenders at the bridge.  The artillery also bombarded the defences as well as the big house.  The tempo of this supporting fire increased as the Iraqi reserves were drawn into the fight at the bridge.  They held the Gurkhas and Madras sappers attacking them as was expected in the plan.

Then just before dawn HMAS Yarra opened up with a heavy bombardment from its 4.7” guns and the Gurkhas’ mortars.  The 4.7” shells fired at low angle spectacularly smashed their way through the palm groves scattering tree trunks and palm fronds in all directions.  The boats headed for shore and hit the shore where the Iraqi defenders were overrun in a spirited assault with grenade, rifle and kukri took the house.  The surviving Iraqis fled northwards as dawn broke.  It was only now that it was realised that the Yarra’s guns had punched holes in the house and not reduced it to rubble.  The naval shells, designed to penetrate armoured targets at long range, passed through the building and exploded beyond it.  The artillery observers abandoned the telegraph platform and directed fire from the roof of the house.

 The Iraqis defending the bridge were now under pressure from the front and threatened from the flank and rear by the Gurkhas advancing from the big house.  With the weakening resistance in front of them the diversionary force stormed over the bridge and both the Gurkhas and Madrassi Sappers mopped up the remaining Iraqis.  Many Iraqis went north where they escaped by boat mixed in with fleeing civilians were not fired at.  The CO of 2/4 Gurkhas forbade anyone to fire on them in case innocent women and children became casualties.  Then the battalion collected its dead and wounded and marched back to Basra as the other battalions passed through to exploit the success.

The Coup Leaders Foresee the End

Despite the obvious Axis presence in the region, the Iraqi effort was quickly losing momentum. In fact, day after the dispatch of Hitler Directive 30, many of those involved in the coup, including the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, could sense impending failure. The Mufti believed that despite a pan-Arab uprising’s great promise, all would soon become impossible “if the current uprising in Iraq, which ... is the key to the situation, should fail.”  The Mufti made a plea for more German aid and to close it he stated that “if Iraq should fall during these upcoming days, the anti-English movement throughout the whole Middle East would step-by-step succumb to English gold and intrigues.”

The Advance on Baghdad  

The Arab Legion was active in the Jezirah, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates, raiding and collecting information.  These raids cut the Baghdad to Mosul railway along which troop movements arrived by train.  In addition the German radio broadcast the news of his death and his obituary, somewhat prematurely, was published in London.  His appearance in person in the Iraqi camps and villages gave lie to the German and Rashid Ali’s claims.  And so the regime lost more face, a vitally important factor in warfare in Arab lands.  By 23 May the previous pro-Axis anti-British outpourings of Baghdad radio had changed.  Freya Stark recorded a conversation with the Iraqi police guards at the Embassy: 

“The Germans are of the family of Satan” [they said].

“I have heard,” said I, “that we have brought six of them down between Habbaniya and Syria.”

“Praise be to God,” said the enemy. Under cover of darkness.  “But we have burnt forty of yours,” they added as an afterthought.

“I take refuge with God from your untruthfulness,” said I; to which they agreed with laughter.

Perhaps these actions around Ramadi, Fallujah, in the Jezirah and the changing popular feeling distracted the Golden Square’s attention.  Kingcol then moved on Baghdad in two columns.  Both of these columns were supported by RAF light bombers and reconnaissance aircraft.   

[25 May; Hitler Directive 30 called the Arab Freedom Movement in the Middle East “our natural ally against England. In this connection, the rising in Iraq has special importance. It strengthens beyond the boundary of Iraq forces hostile to England in the Middle East, disturbs English communications and ties down English troops and shipping space at the expense of other theatres of war. I have therefore decided to advance developments in the Middle East by giving assistance to Iraq”.  This Directive ordered the despatch of a military mission to Iraq, the employment of air forces and the despatch of weapons.]

The Southern Approach to Baghdad

 The southern column, under the command of Brigadier Kingstone, made the direct approach along the Fallujah– Baghdad road.  The crossing of Hammond’s Bund took the southern column took three nights on an improvised ferry and it was not until early on 28 May that they were all across, Flood water, irrigation canals, blown bridges and similar obstacles were expected to hamper the advance.  Not only that, it was estimated by Intelligence that three infantry brigades and an artillery regiment lay between Kingcol and Baghdad.  The Luftwaffe was likely to intervene in unknown strength.  So the success depended on the quality of the Iraqi troops and their will to fight.  General Wavell had many good reasons for calling this a gamble.

British troops at the Fort at Khan Nuqta

Brig Kingstone’s column set off at 0445, an hour before dawn, to make best use of the cool time of the day.  The RAF armoured cars led the way, with C Squadron of the Household Cavalry Regiment as advance guard, followed by the troop of 2pdr anti-tank guns with some infantry as escorts, then Brigade HQ and the field guns with the services next and the 1/Essex bringing up the rear.  They crossed the first 25 miles of desert without incident until the leading No 4 Troop and the armoured cars came under heavy and effective Iraqi fire from a combined force of Iraqi army and police dug in on both sides of the road near police fort at Khan Nuqta.  The leading troop and the armoured cars engaged the defenders while Nos 1 and 2 Troops launched a spirited dismounted attack which the Brigadier urged on in person.  No 3 Troop passed through and captured a group of white houses beyond the initial Iraqi position that turned out to be the HQ of an Iraqi Battalion.  One Iraqi officer and 92 men surrendered in the engagement. 

 The advance was now impeded by wide trenches dug across the road, irrigation dykes were flooded, and the desert to the left of the road was flooded.  The attached Royal Engineers fixed ramps across trenches but despite their efforts the advance was slow.  On reaching a line of sand hills further on, the four trucks of the leading troop were stopped by Iraqi fire on a straight road with deep ditches either side.  Further back, the main body halted and came under shell fire.  Major Hardy, Officer Commanding C Squadron, decided to advance across the open desert on the right.  Three troops went forward in section rushes under long range machine gun fire until they reached a line of sand hills.  Here they brought their Vickers guns into action against the defenders who had withdrawn into a small village.  Incidentally, these Vickers guns had been captured at Fallujah by the Iraqi Levies and given to C Squadron along with some Bren guns to supplement the old Hotchkiss guns.  Captain Morgan Jones, second in command, was sent back to get the squadron trucks, and wisely sent the remaining Troop along the road to seize the high ground east of the village.  This fourth troop passed through and took some white houses beyond.  These turned out to be the location of an Iraqi battalion HQ.  The remaining Iraqis, now flanked and with their rear threatened, withdrew. 

 In the fort the telephone line was found to be active and an interpreter transmitted greatly inflated accounts of the British strength.  He told of the advance through the floods with large numbers of troops and tanks.  In fact the most formidable vehicles were Squadron Leader Casano’s armoured cars.  These reports coupled with the efforts of the Arab legion further north had the desired effect on the Iraqi Leadership who were already looking to Persia as an escape route.  The Iraqis sent another blocking force to the Abu Ghuraib canal regulator.  Grobba sent a message to Berlin that the British were closing in with over 100 tanks.

 The two companies of 1/Essex with the column passed through to take up outpost duty for the night.  In the morning, the leading elements of the Iraqi 3rd Infantry Division met Casano’s armoured cars and were scattered.  The advance continued along the road and was slowed by the poor state of the road and areas of flooding.  At 0445 the column reached a twenty yard wide canal whose banks had been breached and the bridge blown.  The Iraqis were dug in on the far bank.  D Company 1/Essex advanced right up to the banks of the canal where it was stopped by heavy fire from concealed machine guns.  The 25 pounders came into action and at first had difficulty in neutralising the machine guns that were the chief reason for the delay but by 1000, Second Lieutenant Grimely had rushed over the damaged bridge with two sections and established a bridgehead that was quickly reinforced by the rest of his platoon and that of Lieutenant Muirhead. 

 The engineers started work on the bridge but made so little progress by 30 May that the Essex men were ordered to continue the advance on foot.   They were followed up by their transport several hours later when the bridge was finally opened at 1000 on 30 May.  By this time A and D Companies were 6 miles ahead and had reached canal bridge that was very similar to the one just repaired.  This time the bridge was intact and undefended.  Major James cut the wires leading to the demolition charges.  A bridgehead was quickly established until the engineers declared the bridge safe.  This bridgehead came under attack by Iraqi Gladiator fighters with no effect except some minor disruption.  By way of compensation, an abandoned Government Experimental farm was discovered housing hundreds of hungry chickens.  Between the local Iraqis and the British troops the chickens did not stay hungry for long and they came as a welcome change to Army rations. 

 In the afternoon the armoured cars were shelled by Iraqi artillery.  The British 25pdrs responded and silenced them.  The column halted about 12 miles from Baghdad in front of the blown bridge over the Abu Ghuraib canal.  On the far side the Iraqi defenders held strongly entrenched positions.

 The next morning the Iraqis came under fire from the 25pdrs as the RAF bombed them.  When 1/Essex and a troop of the Household Cavalry attacked, the defenders withdrew.  By noon the infantry were across the river and the engineers with their bridging equipment were called forward.  During the air attacks, Iraqi and Italian fighters had attacked the RAF bombers, fighters and reconnaissance aircraft.  Three Italian CR-42 fighters sporting Iraqi markings were shot down in two days.  One of the fighters was shot down close by the British lines and was captured by Somerset de Chair.  He told his interrogators that he had flown in from Rhodes the previous day.

Fallujah and the Abu Ghuraib Regulator

Meanwhile back at Fallujah there were constant small actions against a most elusive enemy.  These skirmishes were fought in a “hide and seek” manner against small mobile parties of the enemy and snipers in the flooded land around the town.  Then, on 28 May a considerable action took place.  The Iraqi rebels had cut the Baghdad road by flooding several miles of it with water released from several bunds.  A fighting patrol of two platoons and a MMG section from the Assyrian Levy was sent out to close the regulator on the Abu Ghuraib Canal to control the flooding.  The hostiles were estimated by intelligence to be about company strength but were, in fact, stronger.  They were dug in to an oasis that had both its flanks secured.  The British came under strong and effective fire at half a mile’s range and could not progress further.  Artillery and air support was requested and given.  In the evening a second company attack was ordered under cover of artillery bombardments.  The intention was to force the enemy retire under heavy fire.  However, they had been reinforced by several machine guns and some light artillery refused to give way.  The attack was called off when the company commander, Major Kelly was wounded.

On the morning of 29 May Brigadier Kingstone himself arrived and ordered the Iraqi positions to be bombed for an hour after which a two company assault would be mounted.  Unfortunately the bombing was so inaccurate and the low flying strafing with machine guns so ineffective that the Iraqis were not disrupted and were able to bring up more reinforcements.  To add insult to injury the RAF showered the two Essex companies with Arabic pamphlets calling upon them to surrender.  The result was that the attack was postponed while a better bombing and artillery plan was devised.  Before this was ready the armistice brought an end to the operation. 

 The Northern Approach to Baghdad

 The northern column, under command of Lt Col AH Ferguson of the Household Cavalry Regiment, crossed the Euphrates on the flying bridge (ferry) at Sinn el-Dhibban and set off into the Jezirah guided by 16 sections of the Arab Legion on 27 May to cut the Baghdad – Mosul railway (and the supply line from Vichy Syria).  It was then to attack Baghdad from the north and ultimately reach the Embassy.  This column had RHQ and two squadrons of the HCR, a troop of 25 pounder guns, three RAF armoured cars, a detachment of Royal engineers and an ambulance.  The Arab Legion, on the way, distributed several thousand pounds in cash to the local tribes and sheikhs.  The Legionnaires told the tribesmen that approaching force was the minute advance guard of a mighty British force.  As each pound of the money was distributed the size of the force grew until a massive British force of several divisions with over 500 tanks was being reported by the Iraqi tribesmen to Baghdad.

 [28 May; Bismarck sunk]

 On 28 May at 0730 the northern column delayed two hours while reconnaissance parties found a way across a railway embankment and surprise was lost.  Ferguson reported that his RAF armoured cars had contacted Iraqi armoured cars and 3 tanks near the station at Taji but after an exchange of fire the enemy had withdrawn.  The leading Troop under Lt Smiley, who had just returned from serving with the Commandoes in Abyssinia, dismounted and attacked on foot.  The enemy stopped firing when they were about 200 yards from the station and the HCR troopers doubled forward just in time to see 4 carloads of Iraqis retreating from the little fort that guarded the station.  At dusk the new leading troop (Lt Gerard Leigh) came under fire and was halted.    The column camped in a square leaguer for the night sending out fighting patrols.  The prisoners reported that the advance had come as a surprise and a train full of Iraqi troops had stopped and then withdrawn because of the presence of British troops.

During the night, at about 0200 on 29 May, Ferguson’s force threw back an attack by infantry in armoured and other trucks.  Some of these were knocked out by a machine gun post and as a result Lt Col Ferguson gained  a Ford V-8 for his own use instead of  the commandeered Haifa taxi he had been using so far.  The column was shelled and moved twice.  At 0530, he pushed the Iraqis back from their covering position in the sand hills without much opposition.  But there he was halted.  The covering force had done its work and the Iraqis had occupied positions near the holy site of Al Kadhimain.  Al Khadimain has one of the most important mosques in Iraq and this was probably a reason for the stout defence put up by them here.  The Iraqi right flank was protected by the river and the left by impassable terrain.  The task of breaching the line was beyond that of two squadrons of cavalry, a machine gun troop, a troop of 25 pdr guns and the Arab Legion.  The northern withdrew to Taji station after patrols confirmed the strength of the Iraqi positions and another attempt was made the next day.    The main Iraqi positions near the station were also difficult to engage due to their proximity to the holy sites and those in and around the brickworks were strongly fortified and held.  On the flank the flooded land stopped movement in that direction.  The northern column had failed to break through to Baghdad at Al Kadhimain only 3 miles from Baghdad but no further progress was made before the Armistice.

 The Southern Column at the Gates of Baghdad

 The southern column had successfully crossed the Abu Ghuraib Canal some 5 miles from the city and it, too, halted.  With both columns halted and about 13 battalions of infantry and 5 regiments of artillery barring the way things, on paper, did not look good.  However, what the figures do not show that the units were very reduced by casualties and desertion.   Not only that but many of the heavy weapons had been lost or captured but most significantly of all a substantial number of the officers and men had no stomach for the fight.  The Iraqi resistance further weakened by bombing and psychological warfare as Kingcol approached the city.  Stories were spread exaggerating the strength and composition of Habforce and great emphasis was placed on the telling the Iraqis that the British were not waging war on the Iraqi people but the illegal regime of Rashid Ali and the Golden Square.  Add to this the “noisy” bombs used at Fallujah and elsewhere that increased the terror of air attack.  These bombs were fitted with “screamers” to make a noise similar to that of a diving Stuka dive bomber with the same effect on troops and civilians unused to air attack.  Even so, on this day, the Iraqis put in an attack on a supply convoy destroying five of the trucks returning from Habbaniya to H-4.

On 30 May the bridge over the canal was ready and Kingcol advanced again.  Rumours came that Rashid Ali had fled.  About 3 miles on at the Washash Canal bridge the Iraqis put up some resistance at an anti-tank ditch.   The leading troop (No3)  and an RAF armoured car came under MG fire.  The troopers dismounted and took cover in a ditch.  As they did so they came under shell fire.  Major Hardy sent his No1 Troop in a right flanking manoeuvre to a line of trees.  The rest of the squadron advanced up a ditch along the side of the road under shellfire.  All the ground to the left of the road was flooded and that on the right was criss-crossed by irrigation ditches and swept by MG fire.  The cavalrymen took an hour to reach the antitank ditch across the road about half a mile from the iron bridge over the Tigris leading to Baghdad.  Once again the 25pdrs engaged the Iraqi machine guns with some effect and the Iraqis were forced back again.  Here the column stopped for the night.

 The End is in Sight

This had been a disappointing day for the military with neither column reaching its objective.  However the RAF attacked the barracks in Baghdad and the Luftwaffe had not appeared.  In Baghdad the mayor, together with Army Lieutenant Colonel Nur ud Din arrived at the Embassy.  They informed the Ambassador that Rashid Ali, the Golden Square, Sherif Sharaf (the puppet Regent appointed by the Golden Square), the ex-Mufti of Jerusalem together with some of their followers, some Germans and Italians had fled to Persia.  The party numbered 40 and parallels with the tale of Ali Baba were not uncommon.  The Mayor announced that he had he had taken charge and requested an armistice.  Cornwallis signalled this to Jerusalem but it took until midnight to get the message through a sandstorm to Brig Kingstone.  The Mayor confirmed that, upon hearing the British reports from his own Intelligence Services of inflated British troop and tank numbers, the Mufti, and Rashid Ali had fled to Iran, and Grobba to Mosul.

From Persia Rashid Ali made his way to Germany. There he spent the rest of the war making anti-Semitic and anti-British propaganda radio broadcasts to the Arabs in the Middle East. When Germany fell in 1945, Rashid Ali escaped once more this time finding refuge in Saudi Arabia. He remained there until 1958, when another army coup in Iraq killed most of the royal family and Rashid Ali was invited to return home.  

As all this was going on 10 Indian Infantry Division was also approaching from the south and south east pushing aside any resistance.  At Habib Shawi on 24 May they cleared the route north from Basra in a combined operation and surprise attack.  Then on 27 May the breakout to Baghdad began with 20 Indian Infantry Brigade (Euphrates Brigade) advancing from its concentration area at Ur (near modern Tallil) by road and 21 Indian Infantry Brigade (Tigris Brigade) sailing up the Tigris in the appropriately named Operation Regatta. 

[28-31 May; British, Australian and New Zealand troops evacuated from Crete.]

Faced with mounting losses, fuel shortages and the British and Indians advancing on Baghdad, the Axis withdrew their aircraft in late May.


On the evening of 30 May, the Iraqi resistance ended amid rumours that the British had 50 tanks and 50,000 men closing in along the roads from Habbaniya. Column HQ received a message from the enemy asking that two officers should be sent to the anti-tank ditch to discuss the terms of an Armistice at 0200.  The armistice came into force at 0400 on 31 May and the southern column moved into positions on the edge of Baghdad 2 hours later.  Glubb watched the small British party with D’Albiac and Clark move forward to meet two Iraqi officers carrying a large towel on a pole.  The Iraqi were sent back to collect Cornwallis.  “The Iraqis had cut all the canal banks in the vicinity and water was lapping the road...With water birds flapping overhead the scene was more suggestive of the Norfolk Broads than the City of the Caliphs.”  When the Iraqis returned with the Ambassador the terms were drafted on the back of a form, sitting the back of the General’s staff car. 

The terms were straightforward, and kept simple as speed in gaining a resolution was vital before the Iraqis discovered just how weak the forces facing them actually were.  The basis of the war had been against Rashid Ali and not Iraq.  So the Iraqi army was allowed to return to barracks and keep all their weapons.  The treaty was restored and all Germans were interned and prisoners exchanged.  The anger of the British and Indian troops was roused when they had to hand back the captured weapons, including Bren guns, Bren Carriers and other equipment much of which were more modern that the weapons and equipment that they had themselves. 

The British did not enter Baghdad immediately because to do so would reveal their true strength or, more accurately, weakness.  This valid military decision had severely unfortunate consequences for the Jewish community in Baghdad who on 1 – 2 June suffered a violent pogrom (the Farhud) and many were killed and injured by Arab anti-Semitic rioting mobs until order was restored by the Iraqi Army.

Return of the Regent

1 June saw the return of the Regent Emir Abdullah escorted by a guard of Iraqi soldiers that had been captured at RAF Habbaniya.  Their officers had been given the option of restoring their loyalty to the King and his Regent and most accepted as had most of the soldiers.

The northern column did not enter Baghdad at all.  On 1 June the Household Cavalry Regiment returned the way that they had come leaving Taji Station at 0730 and arriving at Habbaniya at 2100.  The same day Major Gooch received orders to go to Mosul with B Squadron, three 3.7” howitzers and some RASC transport at first light on 2 June.  Luckily B Squadron was still on the other side of the Euphrates and was halted there.  This force was called “Gocol”, more of which follows.  After a few days in Baghdad C Squadron was sent to protect the oil wells at Kirkuk.  It was an uneventful task.  They returned on 14 June to the Regt at Habbaniya.  2/4 Gurkha Rifles occupied Mosul on 3 June and took several Germans and grounded German aircraft captive.  On 5 June Kirkuk was also occupied by a small force of cavalry and armoured cars. 


Mercol was made up of Major Merry’s A Squadron of the Household Cavalry, two RAF armoured cars and the two 4.5” howitzers from Habbaniya (later replaced by  25pdrs), a reconnaissance party for Royal Engineers and some RASC transport was formed on 5 June.   They took 7 days worth of rations, POL and Water.  Their mission was to round up Fawzi el-Qawujki whose armed gangs had been reported as operating under his personal control near Ramadi on 1 June.   They were believed to be preparing to disperse.   

Mercol was place on 12hrs notice to move from 1000 on 5 June.  The intention was to protect Haditha (near K3 on the map) which was an important pipeline and telegraph junction where columns from west or northwest might converge.    Major Merry had 5 tasks:

1)       To destroy armed gangs west of the R Euphrated in the area T1 – Haditha – Hit – Ramadi – 50km Stone on the road to Ranadi – Rutba and to kill or capture Fawzi.

2)       To enter Hit and Haditha, reconnoitre them and form a plan for the destruction of ferries and boats.

3)       To ensure that telegraph communications were secure and prevent damage to the oil pumping stations at K3 and T1.

4)       To carry out a ground reconnaissance to find the best going for attacks which might be delivered against armoured columns approaching the R Euphrates from Syria by the roadfs Palmyra – Haditha, Palmyra – Hit and Rutbah – Hit and/or Haditha.To carry out an artillery reconnaissance for 3.7” howitzers, 4.5” howitzers and 25 pounders in support of the operation in (4);

5)       And in addition, to counter attempts to cross the ferries at Haditha and Hit from the east.  


Mercol started out at 1700 on 6 June and on 9 June located Fawzi in a strong position south of Abu Kemal.  His gang was about 500 strong with 71 well armed trucks.  However, the two ancient 4.5” Hows more than compensated.  When Maj Merry attacked the guns opened fire and the trucks hastily dispersed.   The gang fled across the Syrian border.  Fawzi al Qawukji himself was among those who escaped and was a thorn in the flesh for years to come.  Major Merry pursued them as far as the border where he halted since he had no permission to enter Syria.  He remained on the frontier, well placed to round up Fawzi in a bend of the Euphrates if he was reinforced and given permission.  On 10 June a pair of 25 pounders replaced the 4.5” howitzers in the column.  Soon the operation was called off.  For his leadership Major Merry received the MC.


Gocol was sent to occupy the airfield at Mosul where German aircraft had been landing during the last few days of May in considerable numbers.  At 0700 on 2 June Gocol advanced on Mosul.  They passed through some Iraqi troops who appeared quite friendly and leaguered for the night at Baji near K2.  The column started out again at 0300 on 3 June and arrived at Mosul at 1140.  On arrival they found that a battalion of Gurkhas  had just flown in and placed the aerodrome in a state of defence.  The local Iraqi Commander suddenly became unfriendly when Gocol arrived and called upon the column to withdraw 10 miles.  Major Gooch refused and referred the matter to Baghdad. 

 The next few days were spent patrolling until General Clarke flew in and tasked Major Gooch with the capture of Dr Grobba who was believed to be stirring up trouble amongst the tribes in Iraq and on the other side of the Syrian border.  Latest reports placed him at Kameschle, 35 miles inside Syria and close to the Turkish border.  British troops were still not permitted to enter Syria but this was likely to change soon.  As soon as he got permission Major Gooch was to go straight to Kameschle and capture Dr Grobba.  Meanwhile he was to reconnoitre the route from the air.  He lost no time and did so the following morning.  He was to use as much force as necessary to achieve his object and return as soon as he had completed it.  He was not to get involved with superior forces if he could avoid it and on no account was he to violate the Turkish frontier.  The codeword was “Grafton” and hunting terms used throughout the operation as a form of code.

Lt Smiley’s Troop with an RAF armoured car was the first patrol sent out east from Mosul to Erbil where the Iraqis were friendly and knew little of the war.  He pursued and arrested a car full of Iraqi officers.  He then set a road block near Ruwandiz for a few days but caught nobody. 

On 7 June the codeword “Grafton” was received and the column left Mosul at 1600.  Major Gooch intended to cross the frontier after dark and reach Kameschle before first light, seize Dr Grobba, and make for home at once.  He hoped to take him by surprise, block the exits and prevent him crossing into Turkey.  It was hoped that there was only a small French detachment in the town and that they would be taken by surprise as well.  Unfortunately the armoured car went too far and bumped into the French border post.  The lights went on, trumpets sounded and the garrison turned out.  Gooch apologised saying that he was pursuing Iraqi bandits and would, of course, turn back.  However, once the lights went out he swung his column to the right and bypassed the post and cut the telegraph wires behind it.   The column then bumped into another small French post at a wadi crossing and Lt Gerard Leigh, a fluent French speaker, convinced the NCO that the column was French.  These delays meant that the column arrived at Kameschle in daylight.  To reach the town a bridge over a stream had to be crossed and the entire French Garrison was turned out waiting for them.  Gooch explained his mission to Captain Buisson who replied that Dr Grobba had already left a few days earlier, heading for the coast.  Gooch could see that the garrison was quite a strong force and could call upon air and other support so he agreed to the request that he leave French territory.  The British advance into Syria actually started about the time that Gooch and Buisson were in conversation.  Gocol was dispersed on its return to Mosul. 

[9 June: The German aircrews left Syria.]


This seemingly unequal campaign ended 30 days after it started.   Britain’s victory against the odds in Iraq allowed her to continue the war and led to eventual victory.   In many ways the victory was achieved by risk taking, propaganda and the shattering of the enemy’s will to fight as much as superior training, morale and skill at arms.  It was certainly not the victory of a smaller technologically superior force over a much larger one.  The Royal Iraqi Air Force, in particular, had many aircraft more modern than the RAF.  Indeed, at the onset of hostilities, almost all of the RIAF aircraft used were combat types against the RAF trainers locally modified trainers and obsolete fighters.   On the ground the British and Indian troops had equipment older and in smaller quantities than their opponents.  So much so that many units were able to replace their aged weapons and make up their equipment deficiencies from captured stocks.  Naturally these units were most unhappy when ordered to return their modern weapons to their recent opponents at the end of hostilities.  On the other hand Britannia certainly ruled the seas and much of the navigable rivers.        

Despite the obvious bad feeling between the British and Iraqi armies the situation settled fairly quickly.  Indeed there was resentment when the British and Indian forces were ordered to hand back the captured weapons and equipment, much of it more modern that their own, to the Royal Iraqi Army.  Some units ignored the order and at least a few Bren Carriers captured from the Iraqis were repainted in British sand and served on to the end of the war.  The flow of oil was resumed at the end of June.

 In late May Rashid Ali had requested further aid from Berlin.  The terms imposed by Hitler included surrendering the railway to German control and ceding the Kirkuk and other oil fields for the duration of the war.  These terms were accepted by Rashid Ali but rejected by the Golden Square.  Any deployment of German airborne forces ended with the enormous losses in aircraft and trained paratroopers during the invasion of Crete.  Thus any effective outside aid was unlikely.  In any case the invasion of Russia was occupying the minds of the leadership and the staff planners. 

 Hitler’s indifference, or perhaps the conflicting demands on Wehrmacht resources of the campaigns in Libya, the Balkans, Crete and the planned attack on Russia, led to the relatively meagre flow of Axis aid.   The overzealousness of Rashid Ali and the Golden Square together with the speed and the effectiveness of Habforce and 10 Indian Infantry Division all contributed to the rebellion’s eventual failure.  Indeed it may be argued that Hitler, in his decision to employ his airborne forces to invade Crete and not Iraq coupled with his overwhelming obsession with the invasion and defeat of Russia had come to the aid of a hard pressed British Empire and may well have deprived him of a potentially war winning victory and one that he could have gained at relatively little cost.

Inch High Club

Building Forces

Iraq 1941

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