April 8th 1941

Alarms and excursions. A few days ago the Regent was smuggled out of the country, the Prime Minister resigned, and the Army took over, one of the generals endeavouring to form a cabinet. Then occurs the most colossal flap. He is supposed to be anti-British, so the planes are bombed up, arms and ammunition dished out, everyone made to wear uniform and walk about armed, and no one allowed outside the camp. Yesterday an Iraqi aeroplane arrived, did three circuits and landed. The Gladiators were unable to get up to shoot him down, as they had been ordered to ring up the AOC before they took off, and his telephone was engaged. Chaps rush out to arrest the pilot, who says he has merely come for a meteorlogical exam, and he’s right too.

Today a colossal formation is organised over Falluja and Ramadi, but there is so much low lying cloud that it is postponed. The German news says we are prisoners of war and that Italian transports have arrived in Basra to take us away! And that the Iraqis have shot down some 18 British planes! (JDW: a very interesting comment. According to the official history, the British were blissfully unaware at this stage that any real threat from the Iraqis existed, and that Rachid Ali’s sudden attack on three weeks later was entirely unexpected, but here is evidence that it was already being talked about, if only via German propaganda.)


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2 responses to “April 8th 1941”

  1. The British Government had already made it quite clear that they regarded the new Iraqi Government as illegal and unconstitutional, and were already trying to bring it down by encouraging internal opposition. Britain was also aware that Rashid Ali was “being driven hard by the Axis”. The British Ambassador was already advising the UK Government to intervene by force. Wavell – who held military authority for the area was counselling diplomacy simply because he had very few troops to spare. It was his idea that the largest possible “air demonstration” might crack the Iraqi nerve. London did not accept his view and was telling him to find the troops. Rashid Ali made a compromise offer to Britain which was rejected by London on the basis that they did not believe he would deliver, or would be allowed to deliver by the Iraqi Army who now held the whip hand.

    On April 8th the Nazi Foreigh Minister gave Rashid Ali a witten promise of support, and in return Ali promised Germany the use of Iraqi Oil and all air bases in the country. Including Habbaniya.

    Also on this day Churchill minuted that “we must make sure of Basra” and the Government of India accordingly began to organise troops for transit to Iraq and carriage of weapons to RAF Shaiba.

  2. At Habbaniya itself a conference at Air HQ on 7th April led to “Iraq Command Order no.1 of 1941” This establishes the “Habbaniya Defence Scheme”, which included the creation of “The Habbaniya Air Striking Force” which was to consist of the serviceable a/c and most experienced pilots, tutors and pupils of No.4 Flying Training School with the aircraft and crews of the Communications Flight. GpCapt Saville is Commandant of the School and takes command of the school’s now operational squadrons – 4x bombing squads and a fighter flight of Gladiators. So by this day the School was already preparing to fight.

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