Letter from Arthur Harris, June 2nd 1924

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Letter from Arthur Harris, June 2nd 1924

45 Sqn

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
Arthur Harris


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

26 comments on “Letter from Arthur Harris, June 2nd 1924
  1. The Neepster says:

    What a treasure! Very interesting post.

  2. Highy says:

    Fantastic stuff mate,

    Learnt a lot there, it’s a period of history that’s not often talked about, parallels with what’s happening today sadly. Interesting insight on Harris’ convictions regarding area bombing too; if he was right those Vernon lads were a lot more accurate than the early days of Bomber Command.

    As you say, we can’t judge it we weren’t there.

  3. PeaceLoveScoobie says:

    A wonderful piece of history Ian! And your write ups always surprise me. My Mom, who would have been 92 this year, use to say "Mespot" when referring to the region. She had an interest in WWI history, probably like we have of WWII, because of her Uncle’s service in and stories of it. I was also probably one of the few kids in the United States that got served ANZAC "biscuits" and celebrated ANZAC Day! Mom was still alive when our recent Iraq War started and she was spot on predicting how it would digress from the beginning using her knowledge of history, WWI and soon after. I use to tell friends she should be our Defense Secretary or National Security Adviser.

    I think you recently saw the photo’s of her Uncles that I posted. One of them, Henry Etherton, was with the Australia 7th Light Horse Regiment that fought the Turks back from Egypt to Jordan and also assisted in putting down the 1919 Egyptian revolt against the British. I think Mom would have some telling opinions on the current events happening from "Persia" to "Palestine". BTW, another obsolete name she always used was "Constantinople" when referring to Istanbul. Abyssinia was another.

    Henry Etherton WWI Australia 7th Light Horse Regiment

  4. Donald Morrison says:

    Great to read this story. Thanks for sharing.

  5. amyrey says:

    Super write up of little-known recent history. Did we learn from our mistakes?

    "It dates from a dark period of British intervention in the middle-east."

  6. mick cooke says:

    great story ian very interesting
    take care

  7. Billy Currie says:

    These things are precious, superb to see it

  8. SolarScot. says:

    my Grandad fought in Iraq and was in Afghanistan,sounds famiiar! interesting stuff Ian

  9. Tech Owl says:

    More detail for the book I see

  10. Ian D B says:

    : D
    I can’t help but think of Carry On Up The Khyber. But I bet it was bloody tough.
    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/billycurrie] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/29730035@N04] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/709913] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/neeps] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/highy] Thank you
    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/peacelovescoobie] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/amybigkiss] No we don’t learn do we?. This truly is the Hundred Years War. When I read in Harris’ book (written in 1947) that an Iraqi army was being "recruited with a view to the eventual handing over of control of the country" I just thought, Christ, history really does repeat itself.
    Great stuff there Keith. A biscuit among cookies!
    My Dad used to say Constantinople, the word amused him!

  11. gastephen says:

    interesting piece of history!

  12. Ray~Watson says:

    Great write up Ian, fascinating stuff!

  13. Reflective Kiwi %-) says:

    How fascinating Ian! We have a copy of my Uncle’s Diary from WWII where he served mainly in Egypt. It too is a fascinating read. Unfortunately we don’t have the original.
    Thanks for your lovely long comment regarding Neil Armstrong. I must drop you aline when get the chance… still only slowly getting better since my little wrist mishap! I hope all is well with you! %-)

  14. cgullz says:

    Arthur Harris – also known as ‘Bomber Harris’? very cool to have non flight crew getting the recognition they deserved. those guys worked their arses off to keep men in the air and aircraft worthy … maybe they deserve a memorial too.

  15. pasujoba says:

    Great letter Ian . I,ve read previously of the respect his men had for him ……it wasnt mirrored by his own leaders of course ……but I guess letters of this nature was one of the reasons for the respect .
    Harris was a noble, honest man who was sadly let down by his superiors as they backed away from the more unsavoury but at the time necessary aspects of the war!
    A warrior not a politician !

  16. cgullz says:

    lol fancy seeing you here …

    Thankyou for sharing

    with the War Stories Group

  17. Jainbow says:

    It is fascinating reading old letters. Thank you so much for sharing this. Seeing the handwriting brings it to life somehow.
    When I was at my Mum’s yesterday she had found a letter written in 1857, but her granddad, saying how shocking it was to hear about the storms – so JJ googled storms in 1859 and it turned out a steam clipper, Royal Charter, had hit rocks in a hurricane that October, and more than 400 lives were lost.

  18. bazylek100 says:

    Interesting and well informative reading, Ian.
    By the way, cutting holes in the aircraft nose to be able to drop bombs or mount weapon reminds me of the Polish WWII veterans doing the same while flying for Biafra and Katanga in the 60’s .

    Old letters and postcards are fascinating. It may sound an odd comment, but please note the ink quality they had in the 20’s! I sincerely doubt if any of our letters will be readable in 90 years (supposing that we write any in our cyber-era).

  19. janano2010 says:

    Lots of atmosphere this week.
    Very interesting

  20. stuant63 says:

    Fascinating stuff – great research. How terrifying it would be to see these huge aircraft dropping bombs on your village!

  21. hockadilly says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/peacelovescoobie] I can send you a recipe for Anzac biscuits if you like! 🙂

  22. PeaceLoveScoobie says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/hockadilly] Thank you for the offer! I actually have a hand written copy for them from my Mom. Also I may still have some decades old samples in the cupboard and if legend holds true they might be eatable 🙂

  23. Rob Mitchell says:

    Thanks for putting the letter on your site, Ian. I am pleased its of interest to some people.

  24. Dave Lambert says:

    What a fascinating piece of history Ian.

    Sadly times don`t really change at all when you consider the current state of the Middle East ?

    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Dave, good to hear from you. Yes this story does make you realise policy and spin doesn’t change much over time!

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