This was the British suppression of the nationalist and pro-German insurrection in Iraq (18 April/30 May 1941).
The Anglo-Iraqi War was the British campaign against the rebel government of Rashid Ali in the kingdom of Iraq, with operations that lasted from 2 to 31 May 1941 as British armed forces restored British control over Iraq and returned to power the ousted pro-British regent of Iraq, Prince ‘Abd al-Ilah. The campaign further fuelled Iraqi nationalist resentment toward the British-supported Hashemite monarchy.
The kingdom of Iraq was governed by the UK under a League of Nations mandate until 1932, when Iraq gained a nominal independence. However, before granting independence, the UK dictated the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930, among whose conditions were permission for the British to establish military bases and the provision of all facilities for the unrestricted movement of British forces through the country upon request to the Iraqi government. The conditions of the treaty were imposed by the UK expressly to ensure continued British control of Iraq’s oil resources. The majority of Iraqis resented the conditions and felt that their country and its monarchy were still effectively under British control.
From 1937, however, there were no British troops stationed in Iraq, whose government had thus become solely responsible for the country’s internal security. In accordance with the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty, the Royal Air Force nonetheless retained two bases in the country: these were at Shaibah near Basra, and Habbaniyah between Ramadi and Fallujah. Based at Habbaniyah, Air Vice Marshal H. G. Smart commanded all the RAF forces in Iraq. The two bases in Iraq had the dual roles of protecting the UK’s oil interests and maintaining the local link of the air route linking Egypt and India. Habbaniyah was also a training base, and was protected by a small detachment of RAF ground forces and locally raised Iraqi troops.
On the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Iraq severed diplomatic relations with Germany, but in March 1940, the nationalist and anti-British Rashid Ali al-Gaylani replaced Nuri as-Said as prime minister and established clandestine contacts with German representatives in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, and in Berlin, though as yet he expressed no overtly pro-Axis sentiments.
In June 1940 Italy joined the war on the side of Germany, but the Iraqi government did not break off diplomatic relations with Benito Mussolini’s fascist government. Thus the Italian embassy in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, became the centre for the dissemination of Axis propaganda and for the generation of anti-British feeling. In this the Iraqi government was aided by Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who had fled Palestine shortly before the outbreak of war and later received asylum in Baghdad.
By January 1941 there was a deepening political crisis within Iraq, and the threat of civil war was increasing. Rashid Ali resigned as prime minister and was replaced by Taha al-Hashimi, this reflecting, at least in part, a change in Iraqi public opinion as the Italian forces suffered a series of setbacks in the African and Mediterranean theatres.
On 31 March of the same year, the Regent of Iraq, Prince ‘Abd al-Ilah, learned of a plot in which he was to be arrested, and fled Baghdad to Habbaniyah, whence he was flown to Basra and given refuge on the gunboat Cockchafer. On the following day Rashid Ali and four senior army and air force officers (the ‘Golden Square) seized power in a coup d’état and Rashid Ali proclaimed himself head of a ‘National Defence Government’. The ‘Golden Square’ deposed Taha al-Hashimi, and Rashid Ali once again became prime minister, though he did not attempt to overthrow the monarchy and named Sherif Faisal as the new Regent to King Faisal II who, with his family, sought refuge in the home of Mulla Effendi. The leaders of the ‘National Defence Government’ now arrested many pro-British politicians and citizens, though many of those who were to have been seized managed to escape by various means through Amman, the capital of the neighbouring British-protected Hashemite kingdom of Transjordan.
In the shorter term, Iraq’s new leadership planned to refuse further concessions to the UK, retain diplomatic links with Italy, and expel the majority of Iraq’s most prominent pro-British politicians. The plotters of the coup felt that the UK was weak, and the British government would therefore treat with the new Iraqi government despite its illegality. On 17 April, via Rashid Ali, the ‘National Defence Government’ requested German military assistance in the event of war with the UK. As part of his longer-term objectives, Rashid Ali attempted to restrict British rights guaranteed by the 1930 treaty when he insisted that newly arrived British troops be transported through Iraq to Palestine without any delay.
Before the war, the UK had provided both support and training to Iraqi army and air force by means of a a small Baghdad-based military mission which was from 1938 commanded by Major General G. G. Waterhouse.
The Iraqi army totalled about 60,000 men, most of them allocated to four infantry divisions and one mechanised brigade. The 1st Division and 3rd Division were stationed near Baghdad, inside which was the Independent Mechanised Brigade. This last comprised one light tank company, one armoured car company, two battalions of ‘mechanised’ (in fact motorised) infantry transported in trucks, one ‘mechanised’ machine gun company and one mechanised artillery brigade. The 2nd Division was stationed at Kirkuk in the north of the country, and the 4th Division was based at Al Diwaniyah on the main railway line linking Baghdad and Basra.
In addition to the regular army, the Iraqis could deploy some police units and about 500 ‘irregulars’ under the Arab guerrilla leader Fawzi al-Qawuqji, a ruthless fighter who did not hesitate to murder or mutilate his prisoners. Fawzi al-Qawuqji and his irregulars operated primarily in the area between Rutbah and Ramadi, in the western part of central Iraq, before being driven back into Syria.
The Iraqi air force possessed 116 aircraft in seven squadrons, and also a training school, but only between 50 and 60 of the aircraft were serviceable. Most Iraqi fighters and bombers were located at the newly renamed Rashid Airfield (formerly the RAF’s Hinaidi base) in Baghdad or in Mosul. Four squadrons and the flying training school were based in Baghdad, and two squadrons with army co-operation and general-purpose aircraft were based in Mosul. The Iraqi air force flew an assortment of aircraft types including the Gloster Gladiator biplane fighter, Breda Ba 65 monoplane fighter-bomber, Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 monoplane medium bomber, Northrop/Douglas 8A monoplane fighter-bomber, Hawker Nisr biplane army co-operation aeroplane, Vickers Vincent biplane light bomber, de Havilland Dragon biplane general-purpose aircraft, de Havilland Dragonfly biplane general-purpose aircraft, and de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane trainer. In addition to the 116 aircraft, the Iraqi air force had another nine aircraft not allocated to specific squadrons, and 19 aircraft in reserve.
The Iraqi navy had four 67-ton Thornycroft patrol craft, one pilot vessel, and one minesweeper. All were armed and all were based in the Shatt al-Arab waterway linking Basra with the head of the Persian Gulf.
On 1 April, the date of the Iraqi coup, the British and commonwealth forces in Iraq were very small, and came under the command of Smart’s inter-service British Forces in Iraq command. The ground forces available to Smart included the RAF’s No. 1 Armoured Car Company with 18 Rolls-Royce armoured cars built in World War I, and six companies of Assyrian Levies, composed of indigenous Christian Assyrians and totalling almost 2,000 officers and other ranks raised from the Assyrian population of northern Iraq, under the command of about 20 British officers.
At Habbaniyah, No. 4 Service Flying Training School had a diverse assortment of 48 obsolescent bombers, fighters and trainers. However, many of these aircraft could not be flown or were not appropriate for offensive use. In addition, at the start of battle, there were about 1,000 RAF personnel but only 39 pilots. On 1 April the British air strength comprised three Gladiator biplane fighters used as officers’ hacks, 30 Hawker Audax biplane army co-operation aircraft, seven Fairey Gordon biplane bombers, 27 Airspeed Oxford twin-engined monoplane crew trainers, 28 Hawker Hart biplane light bombers, 20 Hart Trainer aircraft and one Bristol Blenheim Mk I light bomber. The Audax could carry eight 20-lb (9.1-kg) bombs, though 12 if them were modified to carry two 250-lb (113-kg) bombs. The Gordon and Hart could each carry two 250-lb (113-kg) bombs. The Oxford was converted from carrying smoke bombs to carrying eight 20-lb (9.1-kg) bombs. The Hart Trainer was unarmed. The Blenheim departed on 3 May. There was also an RAF Iraq Communications Flight at Lake Habbaniyah, which lies just off the Euphrates river, with three Vickers Valentia flying boats. At Shaibah there was No. 244 Squadron with some Vickers Vincent light bombers.
The naval forces available to support British actions in Iraq were part of the East Indies Station and included vessels from the Royal Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, the Royal New Zealand Navy and the Royal Indian Navy.
The British perceived that relations with the ‘National Defence Government’ could never be satisfactory, especially as Iraq was treaty-bound to provide assistance to the UK in war and to permit the passage of British troops through Iraq. From the start, Prime Minister Winston Churchill advocated that neither Rashid Ali nor the ‘National Defence Government’ be recognised.
On 2 April, Sir Kinahan Cornwallis arrived in Baghdad as the new British ambassador. He had considerable experience in Mesopotamia, for he had spent 20 years in the country as the adviser to King Faisal I. Highly regarded, Cornwallis was sent to Iraq with the understanding that he would be able to hold a more forceful line with the new Iraqi government than had hitherto been the case, but he reached the country too late to prevent the outbreak of war.
On 6 April, Smart requested reinforcements, but his request was rejected by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Longmore, commanding the British air forces in the Middle East. At this point in the war, the situation emerging in Iraq was not high on the list of British priorities. Churchill pit it that ‘Libya counts first, withdrawal of troops from Greece second. Tobruk shipping, unless indispensable to victory, must be fitted in as convenient. Iraq can be ignored and Crete worked up later.’ The British Chiefs-of-Staff, with the vocal support of General Sir Claude Auchinleck, the commander-in-chief in India, favoured armed intervention, but the three commanders-in-chiefs in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean, whose forces were already deeply committed to the war in Libya, Greece and East Africa, indicated that the only forces they could contribute to any undertaking against Iraq was a single Palestine-based infantry battalion, and the aircraft already in Iraq. The government of India had a long-standing commitment to prepare one infantry division for use to protect the Anglo-Iranian oilfields, and in July 1940 it was ordered that one brigade of this formation, Major General A. G. O. M. Mayne’s Indian 5th Division, be despatched to Iraq. In August, however, the division was allocated to the Middle East Command and diverted to Sudan. Since that time India Command had been investigating the move of troops by air from India to Shaibah.
On 8 April, Churchill asked Leo Amery, the Secretary of State for India, what forces could be sent at short notice from India to Iraq. Amery contacted Auchinleck and Lord Linlithgow, the latter the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, on the same day. The response from India was that the majority of one brigade group, scheduled to depart by sea for Malaya on 10 April, could be diverted to Basra and the rest of the group could follow 10 days later, and that 390 British infantry could be flown from India to Shaibah. It was also stated that the allocation of the necessary shipping would allow this initial force to be built to divisional strength. On 10 April this Indian offer was accepted by London, and the move of these forces received the codename ‘Sabine’. On the same day General Sir Archibald Wavell, commander-in-chief of Middle East Command, told London that he could no longer spare the one battalion in Palestine and urged firm diplomatic rather than military action, possibly in combination with a demonstration of air strength.
On 10 April, Major General W. A. K. Fraser assumed control over ‘Iraq’ Force, as the land forces heading from India to Basra were designated. Fraser was given the following instructions: (i) ‘The object of his force was to occupy the Basra-Shabai [Shaibah] area in order to ensure the safe disembarkation of further reinforcements and to enable a base to be established in that area. (ii) The attitude of the Iraqi Army and local authorities was still uncertain and it was possible that attempts might be made to oppose the disembarkation of his force. In framing his plan for disembarkation, he was, therefore, to act in the closest concert with the officer commanding the Naval Forces. (iii) Should the disembarkation be opposed, he was to overcome the Iraqi forces by force and occupy suitable defensive positions ashore as quickly as possible. (iv) The greatest care was to be taken not to infringe on the neutrality of Iran.’
From a time early in April, preparations were set in motion at Habbaniyah in case hostilities broke out: aircraft were modified to allow them to carry bombs, and light bombers such as the Audax were modified to carry larger bombs.
On 12 April, the BP.7 convoy departed Karachi with six British transport vessels (9,557-ton Lancashire carrying 1,607 troops, 8,478-ton Rajula carrying 1,007 troops, 8,602-ton Rohna carrying 890 troops, 7,754-ton Santhia carrying 914 troops, 10,000-ton Talma carrying 1,070 troops, and 4,651-ton Varela carrying 816 troops) escorted by the armed merchant cruiser Antenor and the Australian sloop Yarra. The forces transported by the convoy were the first echelon of Fraser’s Indian 10th Division. The forces being transported comprised two senior staff officers of the Indian 10th Division’s headquarters, Brigadier D. Powell’s Indian 20th Brigade, the personnel but not the guns of the Royal Artillery’s 3rd Field Regiment, and a number of ancillary troops.
On 13 April, the Royal Navy’s strength of four ships in the Persian Gulf was boosted by the arrival of the fleet carrier Hermes (carrying the Fairey Swordfish torpedo-bombers of No. 814 Squadron) and the light cruisers, Emerald and New Zealand Leander. Thus the ‘Sabine’ disembarkation at Basra comprised Hermes, Emerald, Leander, sloops Falmouth, Seabelle and Australian Yarra, Indian minesweeper sloop Lawrence and gunboat Cockchafer.
On the morning of 15 April, the BP.7 convoy was met at sea by Seabelle, and later in the day the escort was reinforced by Falmouth, and on 17 April the convoy was joined by Lawrence and headed toward the entrance of the Shatt al-Arab waterway. On 18 April the convoy moved up the Shatt al-Arab to reach Basra at 09.30. Emerald was already at Basra, and on the same day Leander was released from support duties in the Persian Gulf.
On 16 April, the Iraqi government was informed that the British were about to invoke their Anglo-Iraq treaty right to move troops through the country to Palestine. Rashid Ali raised no objection.
On 17 April, the 1/King’s Own Royal Regiment was delivered by air to Shaibah from Karachi, bringing with it Colonel O. L. Roberts, the chief staff officer of the Indian 10th Division. The airlift of the 1/KORR to Shaibah was completed on the following day. The aircraft used for this airlift were seven Vickers Valentia biplanes and four Armstrong Whitworth Atalanta monoplanes supplemented by 4 Douglas DC-2 monoplanes which had recently arrived in India.
On 18 April, the Indian 20th Brigade landed at Basra with the 2/8th Gurkha Rifles, 2/7th Gurkha Rifles and 3/11th Sikh Regiment, and the unopposed disembarkation, which was completed on the following day, was covered by men of the 1/KORR.
On 19 April six Gladiator fighters and one Vickers Wellington monoplane bomber, the last carrying spare parts, flew into Habbaniyah as a reinforcement.
Rashid Ali demanded that the Indian 20th Brigade be transported as rapidly as possible though Iraq, and also that there be no delivery of more troops until the first force had left. Cornwallis referred the matter to London and received the reply that the British had no intention of moving the troops out of the country. Cornwallis was also instructed not to convey this information to Rashid Ali who, as he had taken control of the country in a coup, had no right to be informed about British troop movements.
On 20 April, Churchill had written to Anthony Eden, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to indicate that Cornwallis should be left on no doubt that the British primary interest in sending troops to Iraq was both to cover and establish a major assembly base near Basra, and that whatever happened farther to the north, with the exception of Habbaniyah, was currently a lower priority. Churchill continued that the treaty rights were invoked to cover the disembarkation, but that force would have been had it been required. Cornwallis was directed not to make agreements with an Iraqi government which had usurped its power. In addition, Cornwallis was ordered to avoid entangling himself with explanations to the Iraqis.
On 29 April, the remaining elements of the Indian 20th Brigade reached Basra from Bombay in three transport ships. When Rashid Ali was informed on the following day that ships had arrived with more British troops, he refused authorisation for the troops to disembark, and started to organise an armed demonstration at Habbaniyah. At this stage Rashid Ali was sure that he would receive German assistance in the form of warplanes and airborne troops, but at the same time decided against opposing the disembarkation at Basra.
On the same day, Cornwallis advised that all British women and children should leave Baghdad, and 230 civilians were escorted by road to Habbaniyah before, in the course of the next few days, being gradually airlifted to Shaibah. A further 350 civilians took refuge in the British embassy and 150 in the US embassy.
By the end of the month, Roberts and 300 of the 1/KORR’s men had been flown from Shaibah to Habbaniyah to reinforce the latter. Other than the 1/KORR and No. 1 Armoured Car Company, there were no trained British troops at Habbaniyah. At 03.00 on 30 April, Habbaniyah was warned by the British embassy that Iraqi forces had left their bases in Baghdad and were heading west. The Iraqis totalled between 6,000 and 9,000 men with as many as 30 pieces of artillery. Within a few hours of the warning to Habbaniyah, the Iraqi force occupied the plateau to the south of the base. Before dawn, reconnaissance aircraft had taken off and now reported that at least two battalions, with artillery, had taken up position on the plateau.
By 1 May, the Iraqi force surrounding Habbaniyah had increased to one infantry brigade, two mechanised battalions, one mechanised artillery brigade with 12 3.7-in (94-mm) howitzers, one field artillery brigade with 12 18-pdr guns and and four 4.5-in (114-mm) howitzers, 12 Crossley six-wheeled armoured cars, a number of Fiat light tanks, one mechanised machine gun company, one mechanised signal company, and one mixed battery of anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns. The total was thus some 9,000 regular troops and about 50 pieces of artillery, as well as an undetermined number of tribal irregulars.
At 06.00, an Iraqi envoy presented a message to Smart, stating that the plateau had been occupied for a training exercise, and the envoy also told Smart that all flying should cease with immediate effect, and demanded that no movements, either ground or air, should take place from the base. Smart replied that any interference with the normal training carried out at the base would be treated as an act of war, and in this reply was fully supported by Cornwallis, who was located in the British embassy in Baghdad but in radio contact with Habbaniyah.
Already in the air, British reconnaissance aircraft continued to relay information to the base, and reported that the Iraqi positions on the plateau were being steadily reinforced. They also reported that Iraqi troops had occupied the town of Fallujah, down the Euphrates river to the south-east of Habbaniyah.
At 11.00, the Iraqi envoy renewed contact with Smart to accuse the British of violating the Anglo-Iraqi treaty. Smart’s reply was that this a political matter, and that he would therefore have to refer the accusation to Cornwallis. Meanwhile, Iraqi forces had now occupied vital bridges over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers as well as reinforcing their garrison at Ramadi, upstream of Habbaniyah, thus effectively isolating Habbaniyah except from the air.
During the morning, Smart and Roberts surveyed the situation and decided that Habbaniyah was exposed to attack on two sides and dominated by Iraqi artillery: moreover, a single shell from an Iraqi gun might destroy the water tower or power station and, as a result, cripple resistance at Habbaniyah in one blow. The base thus appeared to be at the mercy of the Iraqis and, moreover, lacked adequate numbers of small arms and, apart from a few mortars, possessed no artillery.
Smart’s command was a base with a population of some 9,000 civilians, and was basically indefensible with the 2,500 or so men currently available. These men included aircrew and Assyrian Levies, who were highly regarded by the British for their loyalty, discipline and fighting qualities.It was felt that the Iraqis might be awaiting the all of darkness before attacking. In the circumstances, Smart decided to accept the tactical risks and stick to Middle East Command’s policy of avoiding the exacerbation of the situation, at least for the moment, by not launching any pre-emptive attack.
There were more exchanges of messages, there was no way defuse the situation. Once again, Smart asked for reinforcements, and Longmore now ordered 18 Wellington bombers (eight from No. 70 Squadron followed by 10 of No. 37 Squadron) to Shaibah. Cornwall informed the Foreign Office that he regarded the Iraqi actions as an act of war demanding an immediate air response. He also informed the Foreign Office that he intended to demand the withdrawal of the Iraqi forces and seek authorisation to order air attacks in order to restore control: even if the Iraqi troops overlooking Habbaniyah did withdraw, Cornwall added, this would only postpone the need for air attacks.
On 1 May, Cornwallis received a response from the Foreign Office giving him full authority to take any and all steps needed to ensure the withdrawal of the Iraqi armed forces. Churchill also sent a personal reply, stating that ‘If you have to strike, strike hard. Use all necessary force.’ In the event that contact broke down between the British embassy in Baghdad and the air base at Habbaniyah, Smart was given permission to act on his own authority. Still in contact with the British embassy and with the approval of Cornwallis, Smart now decided to launch air attacks against the Iraqi forces on the plateau during the following morning without issuing an ultimatum. Smart’s reasoning was that knowledge of what was about to happen would persuade the Iraqis to shell the air base and thereby prevent any attempt to launch aircraft.
Most of the combat operations which then took place in the Anglo-Iraqi War were centred on the Habbaniyah area, from which, starting early on 2 May, British air attacks were delivered on the Iraqis. While the largest number of British troops was ultimately assembled in the Basra area, an advance from Basra was not immediately practicable and did not, in fact, start until after the time when Rashid Ali’s government was already collapsing.
Initially, the Iraqi siege of Habbaniyah and the ability of the besieged British force there to withstand the siege was the primary focus of the conflict. Smart’s decision to use his air power to attack the Iraqi positions allowed his force not only to withstand the siege but also to neutralise much of Iraq’s air power. While the relief force from Palestine arrived in Habbaniyah after the end of the siege, it did allow an immediate change to the offensive.
Smart’s tactic for the defence of Habbaniyah was to mount continuous bombing and strafing attacks with as many aircraft as possible. At 05.00 on 2 May, 33 aircraft from Habbaniyah, out of the 56 operational aircraft located there, and eight Wellington bombers from Shaibah began their attack.Within a very short time the Iraqis on the escarpment replied by shelling the base, damaging some aircraft on the ground. Iraqi aircraft also entered the battle over Habbaniyah, and British air attacks on Iraqi airfields near Baghdad resulted in the destruction on the ground of 22 Iraqi aircraft. More attacks were flown against the railway and Iraqi positions near Shaibah, with the loss of two aircraft. Throughout the day Habbaniyah-based aircraft flew 193 sorties and claimed direct hits on Iraqi transports, armoured cars and pieces of artillery pieces, but at the cost of five aircraft destroyed and several others damaged. On the base 13 people were killed and 29 more were wounded, the total including nine civilians.
By the end of the day, the Iraqi force outside Habbaniyah had grown to the equivalent of about one brigade.
The British attack of 2 May came as a complete surprise to the Iraqis. While the men on the escarpment had been issued with live ammunition, many of the Iraqi soldiers believed that they were on a training exercise. Rashid Ali and the members of the ‘Golden Square’ were shocked by the fact that the British at Habbaniyah were prepared to fight rather than negotiate a peaceful surrender. To compound the surprise and shock of the initial British air attack, many men of the Iraqi army were Moslems, and were preparing for morning prayers when the attack started. When the news reached the Grand Mufti in Baghdad, he immediately declared a jihad against the UK, and the flow of Iraq Petroleum Company oil to Haifa on the coast of Palestine was stopped.
On 3 May, the British bombing continued: troop and artillery positions on the plateau were targeted as was the supply line from Baghdad. The Iraqi base at Rashid was also attacked, and an SM.79 bomber was intercepted and shot down while flying toward Habbaniyah. There were more air attacks on the following day against Iraqi troop positions and the Iraqi air force. A bombing raid against Rashid was undertaken by eight Wellington bombers, which were briefly engaged by Iraqi fighters but suffered no losses. Bristol Blenheim light bombers, escorted by Hawker Hurricane fighters, also bombed and strafed the airfields at Baghdad, Rashid and Mosul.
After suffering injuries in a car accident on 5 May, Smart was evacuated to Basra and thence to India. Roberts assumed de facto command of the land operations at Habbaniyah after Smart’s departure, with Air Vice Marshal John D’Albiac, from Greece, slated to take command of the air forces at Habbaniyah and all RAF forces in Iraq. Further air attacks were flown against the plateau during the day and the following night. Roberts ordered a sortie by the 1/KORR against the Iraqi positions on the plateau with the support of the Assyrian Levies, a number of RAF armoured cars and two elderly 4.5-in (114-mm) howitzers, World War I weapons previously used to decorate the entrance to the officers’ mess on the base but which had now been restored to serviceability by some British gunners.
At a time late on 6 May, the Iraqis besieging Habbaniyah withdrew, and by dawn on 7 May RAF armoured cars reconnoitred the top of the escarpment and reported that it was deserted. The Iraqi force had abandoned substantial quantities of arms and equipment: the British garrison thereby gained six Czechoslovak-made 3.7-in (94-mm) howitzers with 2,400 rounds, one 18-pdr gun, one Italian tank, 10 Crossley armoured cars, 79 trucks, three 20-mm anti-aircraft cannon with 2,500 rounds, 45 Bren light machine guns, 11 Vickers medium machine guns, and 340 rifles with 500,000 rounds.
The Iraqi siege of Habbaniyah had ended after the British garrison had suffered the loss of 13 men killed, 21 badly wounded, and four suffering battle fatigue. The garrison had inflicted between 500 and 1,000 casualties on the besieging force, and many more men had been taken prisoner: on 6 May, for example, 408 Iraqi troops were captured.
The Chiefs-of-Staff now ordered that it was essential to continue to strike the Iraqi armed forces hard by every means available, but to avoid direct attacks on the civilian population. The British objective was now not the defence of its military assets in Iraq, but the safeguarding of British interests from Axis intervention, the defeat of what were seen as rebels, and to discredit Rashid Ali’s regime.
Meanwhile, Iraqi reinforcements were approaching Habbaniyah, and in the course of reconnaissance patrols armoured cars quickly discovered that the village of Sin el Dhibban, on the road from Fallujah, was occupied by Iraqi troops. The 1/KORR and the Assyrian Levies, supported by armoured cars, assaulted the position, drove out the Iraqis and took more than 300 prisoners. The Iraqi force retreating from Habbaniyah met an Iraqi column moving toward Habbaniyah from Fallujah during the afternoon at a point some 5 miles (8 km) to the east of Habbaniyah. The Iraqi reinforcement column was soon spotted, and 40 aircraft arrived overhead from Habbaniyah and attacked: the two Iraqi columns were unable to move, and within two hours more than 1,000 casualties had been inflicted on the Iraqis, who also lost more men taken prisoners. Later in the afternoon of the same day, Iraqi aircraft flew three raids on Habbaniyah and inflicted some damage.
On the same day, apparently unaware of the injured Smart’s departure, Churchill sent the following message: ‘Your vigorous and splendid action has largely restored the situation. We are all watching the grand fight you are making. All possible aid will be sent. Keep it up!’
Over the course of the next few days, RAF aircraft from Habbaniyah and Shaibah (the latter’s Wellington bombers ended operations on 10 May and flew back to Egypt two days later) effectively destroyed the Iraqi air force. From 11 May, however, German warplanes took the place of the Iraqi aircraft.
In the period before the coup, Rashid Ali’s supporters had been informed that Germany was willing to recognise the independence of Iraq, and there had also been discussions on the delivery of war matériel to support the Iraqis and other Arab factions in fighting the British. On 3 May, Joachim Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, persuaded Adolf Hitler to authorise the secret return to Iraq of Dr Fritz Grobba, earlier the German ambassador to Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as head of a mission to channel support to Rashid Ali’s regime, but the British quickly learned of the German arrangements through intercepted Italian diplomatic transmissions.
On 6 May, Germany concluded a deal with Vichy France to release war matériel, including aircraft, from sealed stockpiles in Syria and transport them to the Iraqis. The French also agreed to allow passage of other weapons and matériel, and loaned several airfields in northern Syria for the use of German aircraft flying to Iraq. Between 9 May and the end of the month, about 100 German and 20 Italian aircraft staged through Syrian airfields.
On 6 May a Luftwaffe officer, Oberst Werner Junck, was ordered to head a small force to Iraq, where it was to be based at Mosul. As before, the British quickly learned of the German arrangements through intercepted Italian diplomatic transmissions. Between 10 and 15 May the German aircraft arrived in Mosul via Vichy French airfields in Syria, and then started attacks on the British forces. The arrival of these aircraft was the direct result of hurried talks between Baghdad and Berlin in the days following the British air attacks on the Iraqi forces above Habbaniyah. The Luftwaffe force, under the overall direction of General Hans Jeschonnek, was the Sonderkommando ‘Junck’ commanded operationally by Junck in his capacity as the Fliegerführer 'Irak'). At least 20 bombers were initially promised, but ultimately the Sonderkommando ‘Junck’ comprised something between 21 and 29 aircraft carrying Iraqi markings: one source states that this force initially comprised 14 Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighters and seven Heinkel He 111 bombers, another that it comprised 12 Bf 110 and 12 He 111 machines, and yet another that it comprised 14 Bf 110 and 15 He 111 machines.
On 11 May, the first three German aircraft reached Mosul, and four days later an aeroplane carrying Major Axel von Blomberg flew from Mosul to Baghdad. von Blomberg was part of the military mission to Iraq, which had the cover designation Sonderstab ‘F’ and was commanded by another air force officer, General Hellmuth Felmy. von Blomberg was the commander of a reconnaissance team, of the Lehr-Regiment ‘Brandenburg’ zbV 800 special forces unit, which was to precede the Sonderkommando ‘Junck’ to Iraq, and also to integrate the operations of the German air detachment with those of the Iraqis. On its approach to Baghdad, however, the German aeroplane was hit by Iraqi ground fire: von Blomberg was hit and found to be dead when the aeroplane landed.
At this time, Germany and the USSR were still allies as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, and this was reflected in Soviet actions with regard to Iraq: on 12 May, the USSR recognised the ‘National Defence Government’, and six days later an exchange of Iraqi and Soviet notes at Ankara established diplomatic relations between the two governments.
On 13 May, the first train loaded with supplies from Syria arrived in Mosul via Turkey, the Iraqis thereby receiving 15,500 rifles with six million rounds of ammunition, 200 machine guns with 900 belts of ammunition, and four 75-mm (2.95-in) field guns with 10,000 rounds. Two more deliveries were made on 26 and 28 May, and these included eight 155-mm (6.1-in) guns with 6,000 rounds, 354 sub-machine guns, 30,000 grenades and 32 trucks.
On 14 May, the RAF was authorised to act against German aircraft on Vichy French aircraft in Syria. On the same day, two overloaded He 111 bombers were left on the airfield outside Palmyra in central Syria because they had damaged their rear wheels: British fighters entered Vichy French air space to strafe and disable the two damaged aircraft.
By 18 May, Junck’s force had been reduced to eight Bf 110 fighters, four He 111 bombers and two Junkers Ju 52/3m transport aircraft, or about 60% of Junck’s original force. With few replacements available, no spares, fuel of poor quality and attacks by the British, this rate of attrition did not bode well for the Sonderkommando ‘Junck’, and in fact at a time close to the end of May, Junck had lost 14 Messerschmitt and five Heinkel machines.
On 27 May, at German request, Italy delivered 12 Fiat CR.42 fighter-bombers of the 155a Squadriglia, now renamed Squadriglia speciale Irak, to Mosul for operations under German command, and two days later Italian aircraft were reported in the skies over Baghdad. On this day, near Khan Nuqta, the Italian aircraft intercepted a flight of Audax aircraft escorted by Gladiator fighters of No. 94 Squadron, and in the combat which followed the British lost two Gladiator aircraft for one CR.42. This was the final air combat of the Anglo-Iraqi War.
The Germans drew up plans to move troops to Iraq, but the German high command was hesitant and required the permission of Turkey for the movement. By this time the Sonderkommando ‘Junck’ had found operational conditions in Iraq to be intolerable as spare parts were not available and the quality of aircraft fuel was far below the Luftwaffe’s requirements. With each passing day fewer aircraft remained serviceable and, ultimately, all Luftwaffe personnel were evacuated on the last remaining He 111.
On 2 May, meanwhile, Wavell had continued to urge further diplomatic action with the Iraqi regime in order to end the current situation, and requested that the Turkish government’s offer of mediation be accepted. However, Wavell was informed by the Defence Committee that there would be no acceptance of the Turkish offer, and that the situation in Iraq had to be restored by military means if this proved necessary.
Before the start of the British air campaign on 2 May, members of the Iraqi Desert Police had seized the fort at Rutbah, in western Iraq on the southern pipeline to Haifa, for the ‘National Defence Government’ after firing on British workers in Rutbah on the previous day. In response to these Iraqi actions, Major General J. G. W. Clark, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, ordered the mechanised squadron of the Transjordan Frontier Force, based at the H4 pumping station farther to the south-west in Transjordan, to retake the fort. When the members of the Transjordan Frontier Force refused to do so, they were marched to the H3 pumping station, to the south-west of Rutbah, and disarmed.
By the end of 2 May, the first day of British air attacks, there were reports that elements of the Iraqi army were moving toward the town of Rutbah. C Company of the 1/Essex Regiment was ordered to travel from Palestine to H4, and here join forces with a detachment of RAF armoured cars for the defence of the position against Iraqi attack.
On 4 May, Churchill ordered Wavell to dispatch a force from Palestine, and on the following day Wavell was placed in overall command of operations in northern Iraq and Lieutenant General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson was recalled from command of the British and commonwealth forces in Greece to take command of the British forces in Palestine and Transjordan in succession to Clark. The rationale of the Defence Committee and Chiefs-of-Staff for taking military action against the Iraqi forces was that they needed to secure the country from Axis intervention and considered Rashid Ali to have been conspiring with the Axis powers. The Chiefs-of-Staff accepted full responsibility for the dispatch of troops to Iraq.
On 8 May a column of the Arab Legion, under the command of Major J. B. Glubb (‘Glubb Pasha’), reached and surrounded the fort at Rutbah as they waited for the RAF to bomb the Iraqi position. The fort was held by about 100 policemen, most of them of the Iraqi Desert Police. Blenheim light bombers of No. 203 Squadron, which had taken off from the airfield at H4, then arrived and bombed the fort, and thinking that the garrison had surrendered, then departed. The fort’s defenders had not surrendered, in fact, and the RAF returned twice later on he same day to bomb the fort without success.
On the following day, the RAF continued to bomb the fort at intermittent intervals, and one of the aircraft was so badly damaged by small arms fire from the ground that it crashed on the way home. During the evening of the same day, 40 trucks armed with machine guns arrived at the fort to reinforce the garrison: half of the trucks carried irregulars under the command of Fawzi al-Qawuqji and the other half carried men of the Iraqi Desert Police. Glubb decided to withdraw the “Arab Legion force to H3 and await the arrival of the main column.
The Arab Legion returned to H3 on the morning of 10 May, and there found the RAF’s No. 2 Armoured Car Company, which had been sent ahead of the main column to assist the Arab Legion in taking Rutbah. The armoured cars motored toward Rutbah while the Arab Legion’s detachment replenished its supplies at H3. The armoured cars fought an action against al-Qawuqji’s trucks for most of the rest of the day and, though the result was not decisive, the trucks retired to the east under the cover of dark and left the garrison to its fate. That night the RAF made a night bombing raid, and several bombs landed inside the fort.
Following the withdrawal of al-Qawuqji’s trucks and the RAF’s successful bombing, the fort’s garrison withdrew under cover of darkness. In the morning, the Arab Legion column arrived and garrisoned the fort while the armoured cars continued to engage remnants of the Iraqi Desert Police force.
The force assembled by Wavell in Palestine was ‘Hab’ Force, which was commanded by Clark, currently commander of the 1st Cavalry Division which comprised the 4th, 5th and 6th Cavalry Brigades. After Wavell had complained that the use of any of Palestine’s garrison for service in Iraq would jeopardise the British position not only in Palestine but also in Egypt, Churchill wrote to Major General Sir Hastings Ismay, secretary of the Chiefs-of-Staff Committee, to ask ‘Why would the force mentioned, which seems considerable, be deemed insufficient to deal with the Iraq Army?’ and added with regard to the 1st Cavalry Division ‘Fancy having kept the cavalry division in Palestine all this time without having the rudiments of a mobile column organised!’ Wavell told Churchill that the 1st Cavalry Division in Palestine had been stripped of its artillery, engineers, signals and transport to provide for formations in Greece, North Africa and East Africa. While one motorised cavalry brigade could be provided, this was possible only by the pooling of the whole of what was still left of the division’s motor transport.
It was after the Transjordan Frontier Force had refused to enter Iraq that Clark decided to divide ‘Hab’ Force into two columns. The first was the ‘Kingcol’ flying column named after its commanding officer, Brigadier J. J. Kingstone, and this 2,000-man column with 500 vehicles comprised Kingstone’s own 4th Cavalry Brigade, two companies of the 1/Essex, No. 2 Armoured Car Company, and one battery of 25-pdr gun/howitzers of the 60th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. The second column was the ‘Hab’ Force’s main column under the command of Lieutenant Colonel J. S. Nichols, comprised the rest of the 1/Essex Regiment, the rest of the 60th Field Regiment, one anti-tank battery, and ancillary services. In addition to ‘Kingcol’ and the ‘Hab’ Force main force, also available to Clark was a 400-man strong detachment of the Arab Legion. This comprised three mechanised squadrons transported in a mix of civilian Ford trucks and equipped with home-made armoured cars. Unlike the Transjordan Frontier Force, the Arab Legion was not part of the British army but rather of the army of the Emirate of Transjordan and commanded by ‘Glubb Pasha’.
‘Kingcol’ left Haifa on the coast of Palestine during the morning of 11 May under orders to reach Habbaniyah as rapidly as it could. On 13 May, ‘Kingcol’ reached Rutbah but found no military presence there as the Arab Legion had already moved forward. After a pause at Rutbah for maintenance, ‘Kingcol’ also pushed deeper into Iraq. On 15 May the column had its first contact with the Iraqi armed forces when a bomber (probably an He 111 of the Sonderkommando ‘Junck’) strafed the column, which suffered neither casualties not damage. The column was attacked from the air again on the following day, these attacks inflicting some casualties but no damage.
On the 15 May, in the south of Iraq, Fraser was taken ill and succeeded in command of the Indian 10th Division by the newly promoted Major General W. J. Slim, up to this time the brigadier general staff to Lieutenant General E. P. Quinan, the commander designate of Iraqi operations. Another change, this time on 1 June, was the replacement of Longmore as Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Middle East by his deputy, Air Marshal A. W. Tedder.
Late in the evening of 17 May, ‘Kingcol’ arrived in the Habbaniyah area, and in the morning of the following day the column entered the RAF base; throughout the day the remainder of the 1/Essex was airlifted into the base. Thus the force despatched from Palestine to relieve Habbaniyah arrived some 12 days after the siege had ended.
With Habbaniyah secure, the next British objective was to secure Fallujah as an intermediate objective on the advance to the east in the direction of Baghdad. The town and its bridge across the Euphrates river was held by an Iraqi brigade group, which thus blocked the road to Baghdad. Another brigade group was holding Ramadi, to the west of Habbaniyah, and similarly blocking any British movement to the west. Roberts dismissed the idea of an attack on Ramadi as it was still strongly held by the Iraqis and was, moreover, largely cut off by flooding which the Iraqis themselves had caused. Roberts therefore planned to leave Ramadi in isolation, and instead to secure the strategically important Euphrates bridge at Fallujah.
In the week following the withdrawal of the Iraqi forces near Habbaniyah, Roberts created the unit which became known as, the Habbaniyah Brigade. This was formed by grouping the 1/Essex of the ‘Kingcol’ with an infantry reinforcement which had arrived from Basra in the form of the 2/4th Gurkha Rifles, and some light artillery.
During the night of the 17/18 May, elements of the Gurkha battalion, a company of Assyrian Levies, RAF armoured cars and some captured Iraqi howitzers crossed the Euphrates river using an improvised cable ferry. This was constructed by a section of the Queen Victoria’s Own Madras Sappers and Miners flown in from Basra: loaded barges were hooked onto a fixed wire cable the sappers had stretched taught across the river, which was 750 ft (230 m) wide at this point. The assault force was thus able to cross the river at Sin el Dhibban before approaching Fallujah from the village of Saqlawiyah. During the early hours of the day, one company of the 1/KORR was air transported by four Valentia transport aircraft to land on the Baghdad road beyond the town of Fallujah near Notch Fall. A company of the Assyrian Levies, supported by ‘Kingcol’ artillery, was ordered to secure the bridge across the river.
Throughout the day the RAF bombed Iraqi positions in the town and along the road to Baghdad, avoiding a general bombardment of the town because of its large civilian population. On 19 May 57 aircraft bombed the Iraqi positions in and around Fallujah, and then dropped leaflets asking the garrison to surrender. This elicited no response, so more bombing took place: in all, RAF aircraft dropped more than 22,000 lb (9980 kg) of bombs on Fallujah in the course of 134 sorties.
During the afternoon there was a 10-minute bombardment of the Iraqi positions near the bridge before the Assyrian Levies advanced under cover of artillery fire. Facing little opposition, the men of the Assyrian Levies took the bridge within 30 minutes, and then greeted an Iraqi envoy, who offered the surrender of the garrison and the town. The British force had taken 300 prisoners and lost no men of its own. The Germans responded to the British capture of the Fallujah by attacking the airfield at Habbaniyah, destroying and damaging several aircraft and inflicting a number of casualties.
On 18 May, Clark and D’Albiac arrived by air in Habbaniyah, and decided not to interfere with the nature of Roberts’s continuing operation. After securing Fallujah, on 21 May Roberts returned to Shaibah and resumed his duties with the Indian 10th Division.
On 22 May, the 6th Brigade of the Iraqi 3rd Division counterattacked the British forces in the Fallujah area. The Iraqi attack started at 02.30 with the support of a few Italian-built L.3/35 light tanks, and within 30 minutes reached the north-eastern outskirts of the town. Two light tanks, which had penetrated into the town, were quickly destroyed. By dawn British counterattacks had pushed the Iraqis out of the north-eastern part of Fallujah. The Iraqis now switched their attack to the south-eastern edge of the town, but this met sturdy resistance right from its start and made no progress. By 10.00 Kingstone had arrived with reinforcements from Habbaniyah, and these were immediately committed to the battle. The freshly arrived infantry companies, of the Essex Regiment, methodically cleared the Iraqi positions on a house-by-house basis, and by 18.00 the remaining Iraqis had either fled or been taken prisoner, sniper fire had been brought to an end, six Iraqi light tanks had been captured, and the town had been secured.
On 23 May, aircraft of the Sonderkommando ‘Junck’ appeared overhead and made three strafing attacks on the British positions at Fallujah. The German attacks were a nuisance, but had no real impact on the course of operations, while the same effort delivered only one day earlier and in co-ordination with an assault by Iraqi ground forces, might have been more significant.
During this time, The Arab Legion came to control the Jezirah tribal country to the north of Fallujah between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, where Glubb had been ordered to seek to persuade the local tribes to end their support for Rashid Ali’s regime. With a combination of propaganda and raids against Iraqi government posts, Glubb’s effort was very successful. The British also used this period to increase their air attacks on the northern airfields used by the Germans, and finally to defeat the German effort in support of Rashid Ali.
In the south of Iraq, the British response to the initial Iraqi moves had been to use elements of the Indian 10th Division for the occupation of Basra’s airfield, docks and power station. The unit employed for this task had been Powell’s Indian 20th Brigade, which had been delivered between 18 and 29 April by two convoys. The 2/8th Gurkhas guarded the RAF air base at Shaibah, the 3/11th Sikhs secured the Maqil docks, and the 2/7th Gurkhas was held in reserve. No other significant operations took place in the Basra area. The principal difficulty faced by Fraser was that he lacked sufficient troops to take control of Maqil, Ashar and the city of Basra simultaneously, and while the Iraqi troops in Basra agreed to withdraw on 2 May, they did nit do so.
On 6 May, Brigadier C. J. Weld’s Indian 21st Brigade disembarked at Basra as the second of the Indian 10th Division’s brigades to arrive in Iraq. The newly arrived brigade comprised the 4/13th Frontier Force Rifles (with two troops of armoured cars), the 2/4th Gurkhas and the 2/10th Gurkhas.
Between 7 and 8 May, elements of the Indian 20th and 21st Brigades moved out to take Ashar, near Basra. Ashar was well defended, and before they were defeated the Iraqi defenders inflicted a number of casualties on the British attacking force, which was A, B, C and D companies of 2/8th Gurkhas and a half-section of Rolls Royce armoured cars from the 4/13th Frontier Force Rifles. with the 2/4th Gurkha Rifles as reserve. As a result of the successful action against Ashar, the city of Basra was secured without a fight. However, armed resistance by Iraqi police and army units continued until 17 May. While the Basra area was now secure, it was flood season in Iraq and the difficulty of movement from Basra to the north by railway, road and river in the direction of Baghdad led to a three-month pause in operations. Iraqi forces occupied points along the Tigris river and along the railway, moreover, and this was a further impediment to northward movement.
On 8 May control of operations in Iraq passed from Auchinleck’s India Command to Wavell’s Middle East Command, and Quinan arrived from India to replace Fraser as the commander of ‘Iraq’ Force. Quinan’s immediate task was to complete the securing of Basra as a base area, and he was ordered by Wavell not to advance to the north until he had secured the full co-operation of the local tribes.
Quinan was operating on the basis of directives he had received before assuming command. On 2 May, he had been directed to ‘(a) Develop and organise the port of Basra to any extent necessary to enable such forces, our own or Allied, as might be required to operate in the Middle East including Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, to be maintained. (b) Secure control of all means of communication, including all aerodromes and landing grounds in Iraq, and develop these to the extent requisite to enable the Port of Basra to function to its fullest capacity.’ Quinan was further instructed to ‘begin at once to plan a system of defences to protect the Basra Base against attack by armoured forces supported by strong air forces, and also to be ready to take special measures to protect: (i) Royal Air Force installations and personnel at Habbaniyah and Shaiba. (ii) The lives of British subjects in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. (iii) The Kirkuk oilfields and the pipe line to Haifa.’ Lastly, Quinan was directed ‘to make plans to protect the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s installations and its British employees in South West Iran if necessary.’ Quinan was informed that ‘it was the intention to increase his force up to three infantry divisions and possibly also an armoured division, as soon as these troops could be despatched from India.’
On 23 May, Wavell flew to Basra to meet Auchinleck for a discussion of the possibility and nature of reinforcements for the Iraq theatre, and also of continued operations in Iraq. Wavell also ordered Quinan to make plans for an advance from Basra toward Baghdad, and this last began on 27 May: in ‘Regulta’ the Indian 20th Brigade, known as the ‘Euphrates Brigade’, advanced up the Euphrates river by boat and by road, and in ‘Regatta’ the Indian 21st Brigade, known as the ‘Tigris Brigade’, advanced up the Tigris river by boat to Kut.
On 30 May, the 10th Indian Infantry Division’s third component, Brigadier R. Mountain’s Indian 25th Brigade, disembarked at Basra. This brigade comprised the 3/9th Jat Regiment, 2/11th Royal Sikh Regiment and 1/5th Mahratta Light Infantry. During the following month more forces arrived in Basra from India: the Indian 17th Brigade arrived on 9 June and the Indian 24th Brigade on 16 June.
Meanwhile the British forces from Habbaniyah closed on Baghdad after successfully defending Fallujah. Clark had decided to maintain the momentum of the British advance because he believed that the Iraqis did not know how small and potentially vulnerable his force actually was. Clark now had some 1,450 men with whom to attack at least 20,000 Iraqi defenders. Clark did enjoy complete control of the air, however.
The British advance on Baghdad began during the night of 27/8 May. The advance made only slow initial progress across the high ground of the Fallujah plain as it was hindered by extensive flooding and the many destroyed bridges over the area’s irrigation channels. Faced with Clark’s advance, however, Rashid Ali’s regime collapsed. On 29 May, Rashid Ali, the Grand Mufti and many members of the ‘National Defence Government’ fled to Iran, and thence to Italy and finally Germany, where Hitler welcomed Rashid Ali as head of the Iraqi government-in-exile.
On the morning of 31 May, an Iraqi delegation headed by the mayor of Baghdad met the British forces at the Washash bridge. With the mayor was Cornwallis, who had been confined to the British embassy inside Baghdad for the past four weeks. Terms were quickly agreed, and an armistice was signed. The Iraqi armed forces in the Baghdad area still greatly outnumbered those of the British, who decided against any immediate occupation of Baghdad, in part to disguise the weakness of British forces. On 1 June, Prince ‘Abd al-Ilah returned to Baghdad as regent, and the monarchy and a pro-British government were restored. On 2 June, Jamil al-Midfai was named as prime minister.
The immediate aftermath of the fall of Rashid Ali’s regime was rioting and looting in Baghdad. Much of the violence was directed at the city’s Jewish quarter, where about 120 Jewish residents were killed and another 850 were injured before the Iraqi police were ordered to restore order with the aid of live ammunition.
There were still some mopping up to be undertaken, and for this three flying columns were created. ‘Gocol’ was a truck-borne flying column created in early June 1941 for the task of pursuing and capturing Grobba, who was on the run after the collapse of Rashid Ali’s regime and attempting to get back to Germany. ‘Gocol’ was named for its commander, Major R. E. S. Gooch, and comprised B Squadron of the Household Cavalry Regiment, six RAF armoured cars, two 3.7-in (94-mm) howitzers, and Royal Army Service Corps transport. On 3 June, moving from Habbaniyah by road, ‘Gocol’ reached Mosul but found that Grobba was no longer there. On the same day, two companies of the 2/4th Gurkhas and an RAF detachment arrived by air from Habbaniyah. The rest of the Gurkha battalion arrived by air in Mosul on he following day. In addition to ‘Gocol’ and the airlifted forces, the 1/KORR departed Baghdad on 2 June and arrived by road in Mosul on 3 June. ‘Gocol’ then drove to the west from Mosul and illegally entered Vichy French territory just before the start of ‘Exporter’, which was scheduled to start in the early hours of 8 June. During the week following 7 June, ‘Gocol’ made strenuous efforts to capture Grobba. The column entered Al-Qamishli in Syria fully expecting to capture Grobba there, but was disappointed to find that while Grobba had been there he had already gone. Thus ‘Gocol’ failed in its mission and Grobba escaped.
‘Mercol’, commanded by Major E. J. H. Merry, was created early in June to round up the irregulars led by Fawzi al-Qawuqji. Like ‘Gocol’, ‘Mercol’ was essentially a truck-borne flying column, and comprised A Squadron of the Household Cavalry Regiment, two RAF armoured cars and two obsolete 18-pdr field guns from the Habbaniyah arsenal. Merry and his command took sufficient fuel, rations and water for a one-week foray, and succeeded in driving Fawzi al-Qawuqji out of Iraq into Syria, from where he made his way to Germany, where he remained for the rest of the war. ‘Harcol’, led by Major R. J. Hardy, had the task of securing Kirkuk.
On 18 June, Quinan was given command of all British and commonwealth forces in Iraq, whereas in the time before this ‘Iraq’ Force had been limited to the forces landed at and advancing from Basra. After the end of the Anglo-Iraq War, elements of ‘Iraq’ Force, which became Iraq Command on 21 June, were used to attack the Vichy French-held Mandate of Syria during the ‘Exporter’ campaign to take Lebanon and Syria-Lebanon, an undertaking which started 8 June and ended on 14 July. Iraq Command became Persia and Iraq Force (‘Paiforce’) from 1 September and was also used during the Anglo-Soviet ‘Countenance’ invasion of Iran between August to September 1941. Forward defences against a possible German invasion from the north through the Caucasus were created in 1942, and the strength of ‘Paiforce’ peaked at the equivalent of more than 10 brigades before the Soviets halted the German advance to the south-east. After 1942, land corridors were created in Iraq and Iran for the delivery of Allied war matériel to the USSR, and the British military presence became mainly lines of communication troops.
The British considered the occupation of Iraq necessary to ensure unimpeded access to its strategic oil resources. On 18 August 1942, Maitland Wilson was appointed Commander-in-Chief Persia and Iraq Command, and by 15 September was headquartered in Baghdad. Wilson’s primary task was ‘to secure at all costs from land and air attack the oil fields and oil installations in Persia and Iraq’, and his secondary task ‘to ensure the transport from the Persian Gulf ports of supplies to Russia to the maximum extent possible without prejudicing [his] primary task’.