|Warplanes of the Second World War preserved in Iraq
Warplanes of the Second World War preserved in Iraq
Data current to 13 Nov 2018.
The Iraqi Air Force was founded in 1931, during British control of Iraq after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, with only a few pilots. During the early years of the Royal Iraqi Air Force, it mainly received aircraft from the United Kinigdom as well as Breda Ba.65 attack planes and SM-79 bombers from Italy.
Breda Ba.65 Italian ground attack aircraft near Rome, Italy. (Regia Aeronautica Photo)
Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Italian bomber, ca 1942. (Regia Aeronautica Photo)
The Kingdom of Iraq was briefly an ally of the Axis, fighting the United Kingdom in the Anglo-Iraqi War of May 1941. Anti-British sentiments were widespread in Iraq prior to 1941. Seizing power on 1 April 1941, the nationalist government of Iraqi Prime Minister Rashid Ali repudiated the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930 and demanded that the British abandon their military bases and withdraw from the country. Ali sought support from Germany and Italy in expelling British forces from Iraq.
On 9 May 1941, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem and associate of Ali, declared holy war against the British and called on Arabs throughout the Middle East to rise up against British rule. Hostilities between the Iraqi and British forces began on 2 May 1941, with heavy fighting at the RAF air base in Habbaniyah. On 25 May 1941, the Germans stepped up offensive operations. The Germans and Italians dispatched aircraft and aircrew to Iraq utilizing Vichy French bases in Syria, which would later provoke fighting between Allied and Vichy French forces in Syria.
The Germans planned to coordinate a combined German-Italian offensive against the British in Egypt, Palestine, and Iraq. Iraqi military resistance ended by 31 May 1941. Rashid Ali and the Mufti of Jerusalem fled to Iran, then Turkey, Italy, and finally Germany, where Ali was welcomed by Hitler as head of the Iraqi government-in-exile in Berlin.
During the time leading up to the coup d’etat, Rashid Ali’s supporters had been informed that Germany was willing to recognise the independence of Iraq from the British Empire. There had also been discussions on war material being sent to support the Iraqis and other Arab factions in fighting the British. On 6 May 1941, in accordance with the Paris Protocols, Germany concluded a deal with the Vichy French government to release war materials, including aircraft, from sealed stockpiles in Syria and transport them to the Iraqis. The French also agreed to allow passage of other weapons and material as well as loaning several airbases in northern Syria, to Germany, for the transport of German aircraft to Iraq. Between 9 May and the end of the month, about one-hundred German and about twenty Italian aircraft landed on Syrian airfields.
Also on 6 May Luftwaffe Colonel Werner Junck received orders that he was to take a small force to Iraq, where they were to operate out of Mosul. The British quickly learned of the German arrangements through intercepted Italian diplomatic transmissions. Between 10 and 15 May the aircraft arrived in Mosul via Vichy French airbases, in Syria, and then commenced regular aerial attacks on British forces. The arrival of these aircraft was the direct result of fevered consultations between Baghdad and Berlin in the days following air strikes carried out by Air Vice-Marshal Smart on Iraqi forces above Habbaniya. The Luftwaffe force, under the direction of Lieutenant General Hans Jeschonnek, was named “Fliegerführer Irak” (Flight Commander Iraq) and was under the tactical command of Colonel Werner Junck. At least 20 bombers were initially promised however in the end Junck’s unit consisted of between 21 and 29 aircraft all painted with Royal Iraqi Air Force markings.
On 14 May 1941, Winston Churchill gave the RAF authorisation to act against German aircraft in Syria and on Vichy French airfields. On the same day, two over-laden Heinkel He 111 bombers were left in Palmyra in central Syria because they had damaged rear wheels. British fighters entered French air space and strafed and disabled the damaged Heinkels. By 18 May, Junck’s force had been whittled down to eight Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters, four Heinkel He 111 bombers, and two Junkers Ju 52 transports. This represented roughly a 30 percent loss of his original force. Near the end of May, Junck had lost 14 Messerschmitts and 5 Heinkels.
On 27 May, after being invited by Germany, 12 Italian Fiat CR.42s of the Regia Aeronautica Italiana arrived at Mosul to operate under German command and by 29 May, Italian aircraft were reported in the skies over Baghdad. In the end the Luftwaffe found conditions in Iraq intolerable, as spare parts were not available and even 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 Heinkel He 111. (Wikipedia)
The RIrAF was still recovering from its destruction by the British in 1948 when they joined in the war against the newly created state of Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Even though the RIrAF now had some modern aircraft, the RIrAF played a small role in the first war against Israel. From 1948 to 1949 the RIrAF operated Avro Anson training-bombers from \Jordan from where they flew a number of attacks against the Israelis. Some of the Ansons were replaced by the modern Hawker Fury fighter however these aircraft flew only two missions against Israel in Iraqi markings before most were transferred to the Egyptians. 14 Hawker Furies had been delivered but by 7 June 1948 only 6 remained operational. Despite these early problems the RIrAF purchased more Furies, acquiring a total of 38 F.Mk.1s single seaters and 4 two-seaters, which equipped numbers 1 and 7 Squadrons RIrAF. The only RIrAF Fury victory was over an Israeli Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. (Wikipedia)
Hawker Fury in Iraqi markings. (Richard Darling Photo)