RAF in Iraq
Catalogue reference: AIR 19/109

(handwritten at top) NOT SENT FORWARD
This Document is the Property of His Britannic Majesty's Government.

Printed for the Cabinet. October 1922.



          I CIRCULATE herewith for the information of my colleagues a note by the Chief of the Air Staff on the progress made in the use of air power in Iraq.
          The successes achieved during the past few weeks in Kurdistan, according to the latest advices received from the High Commissioner for Iraq, afforded a striking demonstration of the potentialities of air forces acting independently under the command of an Air Officer.
          I am convinced that by an extended use of air power British responsibilities in the East can be met and our Imperial prestige upheld with a minimum of expenditure both in lives and money.
          At the present time, when political and financial considerations require that British commitments in the East shall be brought under careful review, this question assumes a special importance and merits very careful consideration by His Majesty's Government.
Air Ministry, October 1922.

Secretary of State for Air.



Note by the Chief of the Air Staff.

           AT a time when important decisions may be taken in matters of military policy, the Air Staff desire to place on record in the briefest form the progress made in the use of air power in Iraq.
          Early in 1920 it was clear to the Government that the military occupation of Iraq was costing more in men and money that the country could afford, and it was necessary to find some cheaper form of control or to evacuate the country. In these circumstances, the then Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Churchill) directed an examination of the possibility of making a greater use of the Air Force. The Air Staff's proposals for the adoption of air power as the main striking force in supersession of active operations by land forces were accordingly submitted to the Committee of Imperial Defence in March 1920. In March 1921, at a conference held in Cairo, an agreement was reached, and in August 1921 the Cabinet sanctioned a scheme embodying the principle of air control. Under this scheme the ground forces were to be gradually reduced and the number of air squadrons increased, until in October 1922 the Air Officer Commanding should assume command of all forces, both military and air, in Iraq. It was stated by Mr. Churchill in Parliament that the estimated saving on the adoption of this scheme should amount to over 10 million sterling per annum.
          Actual experience in the use of air forces for active operations in place of land columns was gained throughout 1921. During this year regular military forces were not employed in field operations and the Air Force was used under military control with, on the whole, very satisfactory results, both the High Commissioner and the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief agreeing that it had proved its powers in several crises, and that the state of Iraq was satisfactory.
          Early in 1922, however, Turkish activity increased on the Kurdistan frontier, and though the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief was enabled to check this activity to a very great extent by his use of air forces, there were still elements in the situation which led the Air Staff to think that aerial action had not achieved the full results of which they believed it capable. For example, the Turks were still in occupation of Rowanduz, there was in January 1922 an instance of a Levy Force being exposed unduly to the attack of tribesmen, and finally, in August 1922, there was the use of a column of regular troops in the Rania district - a policy regarding which some misgivings were felt.
          On this last occasion in particular the Air Staff considered (and their opinion has since been confirmed by the report of the local political officer) that full advantage was not taken of the rapidity with which air forces can be brought into action, but they recognised the difficulty which the soldier must experience in placing primary reliance on a novel weapon with the independent use of which he is comparatively unfamiliar. In the case of a military commander, there must always be a natural tendency to make use of troops if they are available. It was for this reason that the stipulation was made in the original scheme for air control of Iraq that the officer in command must be an air officer, who by reason of his training and trend of mind would place almost exclusive reliance on air power, for on this alone the feasibility of the scheme of defence depended. It was always, therefore, their belief that with the assumption of control on the 1st October, 1922, of the forces in Iraq by Air Vice-Marshal Sir John Salmond, an even better use would be made of air forces. This belief has received rapid confirmation. In a telegram dated the 21st October, 1922, the High Commissioner for Iraq reports as follows:-

"At the present moment Turkish elements have withdrawn from practically every place to which they had penetrated (including, it is reported, Rowanduz), and there are signs that a complete withdrawal is in progress. This withdrawal is due to remarkable effect which has been achieved by vigorous and sustained air audacity which has been in progress for the last few weeks. That no order to withdraw has been received is indicated by fact that on the 17th October Commander of Rowanduz Garrison was in Qala Diza holding conference at Pizhder leaders. Qala Diza was bombed the same date, and Euzdemir withdrew. Turks have been driven by air action alone, unsupported by land forces, from districts Koi Sanjak, Rania, Qala Diza and Bira Kapra in the north. Reoccupation of Koi Sanjak by Political Officer and Police without any opposition was entirely due to previous aerial action, and the general situation as regards Turkish aggression, which had given rise to considerable anxiety, is now to a large extent restored. I am emphasising at this early date, after change of command, remarkable success which has attended a free and vigorous use of our aerial resources because I consider it of importance that the Turks should not be allowed to claim any credit for a withdrawal which has been forced upon them."

          The question of the retention or partial evacuation of our present positions in Iraq is a matter of policy for the decision of the Government, but it is the duty of the Air Staff to bring to notice the military aspects of the situation. In their view, this latest proof of the power of air forces establishes the fact that their retention in Baghdad will be accompanied by no appreciable military risk, for if air forces can effect such great results in the hilly districts of Kurdistan at a distance from their bases, there should be no reason to doubt their power to break up any attack on Baghdad, except in the event of organised external aggression on a large scale. The progress made towards agreement with Turkey suggests that there will be little or no danger from this source in the future. With Baghdad and Basra held, we can fulfil any promise to which we may be committed in the matter of support of the Government of Iraq, and the administration of outlying districts can proceed (as was originally stated in the Air Scheme) as fast or as slowly as circumstances may dictate. At the same time, in Baghdad and Basra we shall be controlling two most important points in the chain of Imperial communications.
          Air power is of vital concern to the Empire, and in Iraq, under the control of an air officer, further evidence is accumulating of its great potentialities. A continued demonstration, until its effectiveness is beyond dispute, may have far-reaching results, in that it may lead to still further economies in defence expenditure, not only in Iraq, but also in other Eastern territories where armed forces are required to give effect to British policy and uphold British prestige.

Air Staff, October 1922.


     Chief of the Air Staff.

close window
back to top of page back to top