View Full Version : 1914-1945 campaigns in Iraq: Learning from the past

01-10-2008, 07:30 PM
Moderators Note

I have added posts that broaden the time period from 1914-1918, so the title has been changed to 1914-1945 campaigns in Iraq: Learning from the past (ends).

Last night I attended a lecture on the 1914-1918 campaign in Iraq, where the Ottoman Empire fought the British Empire, the later mainly using Indian troops. In the Q&A several questions on the current situation led one speaker, an archivist at the UK National Army Museum, to comment only a American army intelligence officer came to them and devoured lessons learnt material on the UCW aspects. He later cited Turkish soldiers dressing in ladies traditional clothing, knowing the Brits would decline to search them and the local / Arab oral history tradition that spread reports of Brits hanging locals near Basra. Something he suggested would still be in the Iraqi popular memory.

Turning to the Iraqi Revolt (which appeared on another thread months ago) that the British had several horrible experiences and often in places whose names we are now familiar with, e.g. Ramadi.

I noted the facts given that the British at the end had over 400K troops deployed, several independent cavalry brigades and four divisions. Plus 100K labourers. Teeth to tail ratio appears rather low.

The speakers have a book awaiting publication on the WW1 campaign: From Baghdad to Basra by Alan Wakefield and Simon Moody.


01-10-2008, 10:21 PM
Lord Slim remarked rather ruefully that the official British Army History of the First World War devoted only a paragraph or two to the whole of the Mesopotamian Campaigns. All the more understandable on his part since he fought in it.

It is rather interesting that early on things went reasonably well even into the 1916 Campaign up the Tigris, until they got to Ctesiphon, then things of course went all wrong - like Kut and all that. Of course, then the Brits spent the second half of the war sorting themselves out and getting it right before they finally defeated the Turks decisively at Sharqat at the end of the War.

SWJ Blog
08-01-2011, 09:10 PM
Book Review: Desert Hell: The British Invasion of Mesopotamia (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2011/08/book-review-desert-hell-the-br/)

Entry Excerpt:

The history of Iraq and the United States has been linked for better or worse with America’s removal of Saddam Hussein, and the placement of the country towards some form of multi-faction representative government. This is why books on the World War I intervention of British forces in what would become Iraq draw much interest among current military historical readers.

Read the full post (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2011/08/book-review-desert-hell-the-br/) and make any comments at the SWJ Blog (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog).
This forum is a feed only and is closed to user comments.

05-31-2016, 02:24 PM
Little historical article I wrote about the first battle of Fallujah which took place in 1941 during WW2 between a pro-Axis Iraqi govt and the British. Here's a link (http://musingsoniraq.blogspot.com/2016/05/iraqs-first-battle-of-fallujah-1941.html).

05-31-2016, 05:12 PM

A good reminder of how history can appear to repeat itself. The British inter-war experience in Iraq was far from pleasant; one unit was massacred, a Manchester Regiment battalion IIRC earlier than this battle.

One feature needs to be pointed out. Your refer to the 'levies', as the loyalty of local forces is now a "hot" topic, as is inter-communal strife.

In the inter-war period when the British used air control in Iraq, their bases needed to be defended and a locally recruited force, the iraq Levies, was formed:
After Iraq became a British Mandate, the force became a minority manned force of mostly, Iraqi Turkmen, Kurds and Assyrians who lived in the north of the country while the nascent Iraqi Army was manned by Arabs. Eventually it became mostly Assyrian manned and British officered force while it was used mostly for the guarding of the RAF bases in Iraq....The Assyrians were prized for their discipline, loyalty, bravery and fighting skills by the British.Link:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_Levies

Just rediscovered two threads that cover Air Power in COIN; this one refers to air policing and a key text:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ghlight=omissi (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=17151&highlight=omissi)

A much bigger thread, with 387 posts and 137,244 views is:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...&highlight=air (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=9605&highlight=air)

06-10-2016, 11:24 AM
From an earlier thread a reminder of Iraqi history and external intervention, in this case post-1918:
In late 1920, a serious rebellion (in Iraq) against British rule was in progress; the 80 British and Indian battalions (120,000 troops) garrisoning the country were being hard pressed to maintain order. An additional 15,414 men sent from India were quickly absorbed in trying to control an insurrection of at least 131,000 armed men.There then followed a dramatic draw down:
The army began to withdraw from Iraq during the summer of 1922, leaving behind four battalions of British and Indian troops and three armored car companies.From:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=17151&highlight=omissi

06-10-2016, 11:49 AM
Another lessons not learnt:
The immediate British casualty count was 20 men killed, 60 men wounded and 318 missing. Only 79 British and 81 Indian missing soldiers were later released by the Arabs (and some of these had been captured previously), so the count of men dead was in fact over 180. The 1/32nd Sikh Pioneers lost 30 men killed; being non-Muslim they stood little chance of survival if captured. The Manchester Regiment lost 3 officers and 131 NCOs and men killed; it is believed that around 100 prisoners from the Manchester Regiment were taken to Najaf and killed there.

The insurgents had won a great victory. The British, through ignorance of the land, its inhabitants and the effects of the climate, paid the price for breaking many rules of warfare that had been learned the hard way on the Indian North West Frontier.

Sadly the British Army commanders in the recent invasion of Iraq appeared unfamiliar with the 1920 campaign. If those commanders had disseminated the lessons of that campaign to their subordinates, then perhaps more understanding of the situation would have been apparent, resulting in less British body bags being transported to the rear and in less suffering being inflicted on the local population. Such a study would have been a fitting tribute to the British soldiers and their adversaries who fought and died in the country in 1920.

You will note Tel Afar and Hillah feature in the account, both villages of note today.

01-04-2017, 11:44 AM
I was not aware that the British Empire took the Ottoman (Turkish) territory around Mosul after the ceasefire in 1918, but Dr Rod Thornton explains in:https://defenceindepth.co/2017/01/04/erdogan-and-the-national-pact-the-fallout-today-from-the-british-armys-seizing-of-mosul-in-1918/

The opening passages:
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently repeated his country’s long-held territorial claim to Mosul and the whole of northern Iraq. Such a claim is based on the belief prevalent in Turkey that this area had, as territory of the Ottoman empire, been illegally seized by the British in November 1918 after the First World War in the Middle East was over. The facts are not in dispute. At the time of the cessation of hostilities between the Allies and Ottoman forces – brought about by the Armistice of Moudros on 31 October 1918 – Mosul and most of its surrounding vilayet (administrative area) were still in Ottoman hands. Advancing British troops were still some way short of the city. However, during the next month, British troops – without any fighting – pushed beyond the armistice line and removed demoralised and unresisting Ottoman forces from both Mosul city and its vilayet. Thus the British took control of what today is northern Iraq.