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Battle for Iraq in 1941


Rashid Ali al-Gaylani with Adolf Hitler
Rashid Ali al-Gaylani with Adolf Hitler

Most of the Middle Eastern statesmen and religious figures who hated the British had contacts with the Nazis and would gladly accept the German troops. Control over the Arab countries would cut off all the supply lines of the Red Army. The British looked at such a scenario of events and took measures to eliminate Nazi agents in the Arab-Muslim countries. Thus, the Middle East has become a theater of war.

The most difficult for the British was the situation in Iraq. In late April 1941, with the help of German intelligence, General Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, the leader of the Iraqi Nationalists, who had previously served as prime minister in the country, led the Iraqi Nationalists. Under the leadership of al-Gaylani, the Iraqis began to rise in revolt, as they understood that the oil wealth of Iraq was taken out of the country and used by Great Britain for military needs against Germany, and the development of their homeland was slowing down.


Hitler, for his part, promised the Arab countries complete independence and liberation from the colonial yoke if they helped him in the fight against the British, after which on May 25, 1941, when Rommel had already approached the border of Egypt, he signed secret order No. 30: "The Arab liberation movement on The Middle East is our natural ally against England ... Therefore, I decided to spur this development by supporting Iraq".

In the Wehrmacht, a Special Headquarters "F" was created, which was supposed to lead the fight against the British in Iraq, Iran and Syria. The Wehrmacht hoped to occupy first of all Iraq, seize oil fields and refineries in order to obtain fuel and other minerals. The Special Headquarters "F" made a bet, as mentioned above, on two leaders at once: Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and Haj Mohammed Amin al-Husseini.


Meanwhile, General Auchinleck began to build up British troops in Iraq. On April 18, 1941, he landed the first brigades in Basra and Shuaiba, and then on April 29 received reinforcements in the form of British brigades from India. Rashid al-Gaylani had no choice but to act.

General Gailani's first strike was against a British air training base in the Iraqi desert near Habbaniyah, which had 2,200 troops. On April 30, 9,000 Iraqi troops arrived from Baghdad on a plateau overlooking the airfield and camp. The next two days were spent in fruitless negotiations, with the result that at dawn on 2 May 1941, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani declared war on the British.


General Rashid Ali al-Gaylani
General Rashid Ali al-Gaylani

General Gailani received the support of the Axis air forces stationed in Syria, and Auchinleck transferred British aircraft from Egypt. Major air battles ensued. Despite the destruction of 22 British aircrafts, due to inexperience, the Iraqi forces did not launch an infantry offensive, and gradually their batteries were suppressed. On the second day, the British managed to allocate part of the aviation for attacks on the Iraqi Air Force and their bases. On the night of May 3-4, ground troops from Habbaniyah attacked Iraqi forces, and by May 5, after British air raids, the enemy could not stand it. The British began pursuing the retreating Iraqi forces, and captured 400 Iraqi prisoners. An Iraqi convoy moving to help from Fallujah was intercepted on the way and destroyed by 40 British aircrafts. Thus, by May 7, the siege of Habbaniyah was lifted. The defenders received new aircrafts from Egypt to help. Iraqi aviation, numbering about 60 aircrafts, was actually destroyed.


From May 9, 1941 until the end of the month, about 100 German and 20 Italian aircrafts with German pilots were deployed to Syrian airfields. On May 14, the British Air Force was ordered to act against German aircrafts in Syria. At this time, the troops of Rashid al-Gaylani were in Fallujah and held the bridge over the Euphrates. The British offensive against Fallujah began on 19 May. As a result of the fighting, the Iraqis retreated, losing 300 people captured. The counterattack launched 3 days later was repulsed.

Prior to the massive offensive on Baghdad, the Alliance Air Forces completely defeated the Axis in the sky. The German officer tasked with coordinating the Axis squadrons with the Iraqi forces, the son of Field Marshal Blomberg, died. The attack on Baghdad began on the night of May 27, 1941, and already on May 30, the British advanced units reached the outskirts of Baghdad.


Despite the fact that there was an entire Iraqi division in the city, on that day Rashid al-Gailani and his supporters fled to Tehran along with German and Italian officers. The next day, May 31, an armistice was signed, the regent of Iraq was restored, and the rule of Rashid Ali al-Gaylani was overthrown. Iraqi patriots moved to Lebanon, Syria, Iran and became Nazi agents. Soon the British land and air forces occupied all the important points in the country.

Already in September, the Red Army and the British captured Iran, as a result of which Rommel and his troops, practically cut off from Europe thanks to Malta, were left face to face with the enemy, who had unlimited supplies and reserves behind him.

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