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Letter from Arthur Harris, June 2nd 1924
My dear Wing Commander
Would you please accept, + convey to the men concerned, our great appreciation of the way all LAD detailed (-esp. the armourers – ) attached to us worked during the last operations?
They kept long hours in conditions of great heat & considerable discomfort & but for their efforts we could not have kept the pace,
yours v. sincerely
This is a letter belonging to the father of my friend Rob. It was in the possession of Rob’s late grandfather, Kenneth, who served in the RAF in Iraq. It dates from a dark period of British intervention in the middle-east.
Iraq or Mesopotania (or Mespot as British servicemen called it then) had been part of the Ottoman Empire which existed from the middle-ages until the end of WWI, during which Turkey had sided with Germany. Following the war, The League of Nations mandate gave Britain legal control of the area.
In 1920 the people of Iraq revolted against the British and the RAF was used to suppress them. Amid the cost cutting measures of the 1920s it was decided that air power would be cheaper than land forces.
Arthur Harris was in command of 45 Squadron, equipped with Vickers Vernons which were cargo planes. Harris’ men cut holes in the aircraft nose, through which they would drop their bombs.
He claimed that bombing saved lives which would otherwise have been lost in battles on the ground and that villages were always given 48 hours’ warning by loud-hailer and dropping leaflets before they would be bombed if hostilities continued.
In 1924, he also wrote that Arabs and Kurds “..now know that within 45 minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured.”
As many as 9,000 Iraqis are believed to have been killed during the revolution, with around 500 British and Indian servicemen losing their lives.
Harris didn’t like Iraq. He wrote of the “appalling climate, the filthy food and the ghastly lack of every sort of amenity that our unfortunate men were compelled to put up with…” Even the swimming pool at RAF Hinaidi, the one source of relaxation he noted, became infected with bilharzia.
Although Harris wrote of the Iraqi army “which was gradually being recruited with a view to the eventual handing over of control of the country” the British remained in Iraq through various uprisings against them until independence in 1958.
Arthur Harris later became Air Chief Marshal during WWII. There has been much critcism of his bombing tactics, which he learned in Iraq. However the only thing we know for certain is that the Allies defeated the Nazis. Had the Allies done anything differently, no-one can say what the outcome would have been.
BOMBER OFFENSIVE by Sir Arthur Harris, 1947
FROM THE EYE OF THE STORM by L F Bove and L D Kaplan, 1995