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Past and Present History
I had read a little bit about British operations in the Middle East during World War Two. Robert Lyman's book is far more information than I found on this little-known campaign.
As a veteran of the current Middle East muddle, I found the 1941 maps of Baghdad interesting. Urban growth over 60 years and all that have changed the landscape significantly. Other maps and diagrams were recognizable even though 1941 and 2004 have more built-up areas. I was startled to find out that there are living veterans of that 1941 campaign. Sixty-five years is a long time, and active military service in that region during the 1940s meant that the soldier was exposed to every known human disease, and a bunch that still aren't on medical science's radar screen.
What a movie this campaign would make! Small bands of British soldiers (well, mostly Indian soldiers) with obsolete equipment facing impossible odds and the latest British and German equipment, and succeeding through sheer pluck and superior leadership – this would eclipse the campaign against Rommel for sheer excitement.
Contrasting with the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States, the British operation was on a shoe string. The recent British forces in Iraq had the latest equipment and excellent communications. Pasha Glub's long desert march in 1941 was a epic – in 2003 such long-range desert movements were routine for GPS-equipped American and British units.
History shouldn't have to be repeated. History's lessons aren't always heeded. I wonder what lessons Saddam drew from the 1941 campaign?
Alan D. Cranford, USA April 25, 2006
A Valuable Primer for both Casual and Professional Readers
It is unfortunate that Robert Lyman's very well written campaign summary, Iraq 1941, was not available four years ago, since it is loaded with lessons for the current Western intervention in Iraq. The fact that much of the fighting in 1941 took place around towns such as Fallujah and Habbaniya, makes Lyman's narrative seem all the more gripping and relevant. The British intervention in Iraq in 1941 is one of the lesser-known campaigns of the Second World War and Lyman's summary fills an important gap in the history of that conflict. Both the casual reader interested in modern Iraq and the student of joint military operations will find Iraq 1941 to be a valuable Primer.
The author's opening section on the origins of the campaign lays out the strategic importance of Iraq for the British war effort (oil), the state of British colonial rule in Iraq and the April 1941 coup by Rashid Ali that led to war. Aside from maintaining access to Iraqi oil, Winston Churchill also wanted to exclude German intervention on the Iraqi side - which was clearly in the offing. The section on opposing commanders and opposing forces are good on the British side, weak on the Iraqi side and completely omit the Germans.
Although Lyman discusses the Luftwaffe force sent to Mosul, for some reason he never mentions the unit identifications (which were KG4, ZG26 and ZG76). This information is easily accessible on Internet sites like Fedlgrau.com and it is apparent that the author's research was limited to the British side. This volume has five 2-D maps (British & German operations in Iraq, April-June 1941; British movements, April-June 1941; British operations in Basra, May 1941; the siege of RAF Habbaniya, May 1941; and the British advance to Baghdad, May 1941), three 3-D maps (Habbaniya & Fallujah; advance to Baghdad; and capture of Basra) and two battle scenes (Luftwaffe attack on Kingcol; the attack on Fallujah).
The author's narrative of the campaign is quite good and one of the better ones that I have seen in the series for awhile; certainly the fact that this was a short campaign involving only small numbers of troops aided the author in this task. The reader will certainly be struck by the similarities between the British intervention in 1941 and the Anglo-US intervention in 2003, particularly the role of airpower. Despite the fact that 60,000 Iraqi soldiers were available to oppose fewer than 5,000 British troops, a small force of antiquated RAF aircraft were able to pummel the Iraqi troops whenever they attempted to mass for attacks.
The Luftwaffe and Iraqi Air Force were unable to gain control of the air and this British air supremacy paved the way for British troops to roll into Baghdad by crushing Iraqi morale. While the Iraqis managed one half-way decent counterattack at Fallujah, their military performance in 1941 was just as pathetic as in 1991 or 2003. Readers should also note the looting in Baghdad in May 1941 that followed the collapse of the Rashid Ali regime, indicating that the looting after Saddam's fall in 2003 was far from unique.
Overall, this is a terrific campaign summary from Osprey, with a few caveats. Lyman's narrative is a bit too Anglo-centric, which makes it difficult to evaluate the Iraqi or German performance. There are some Arabic sources in English available that he might have consulted, or at least listed in his bibliography. The lack of the usual section on opposing plans is particularly glaring, in that it makes it difficult to assess enemy intentions. A bit more background on the nature of the coup and Iraqi demographics at that time would have been helpful, since today we know that Sunni and Shia attitudes about foreign intervention are radically different (for example, what group were the Iraqi levies at Habbaniya recruited from?).
The lack of any information or estimates on total casualties for either side in the campaign is also noticeable. There is also one odd error that pops up here and there that may confuse some readers, which is that several times in the text the author confuses the German invasion of Greece (Marita) with Crete (Mercury). For example, on page 28 he writes, "on 8 April 1941, the day that British troops first came into contact with Germans on Crete.." but the invasion of Crete was on 20 May 1941.On page 55, he refers to General Wilson in Jerusalem on 6 May "following his evacuation from the debacle in Crete.." again, this should read `Greece' and not `Crete.'
R A Forczyk, USA April 1, 2006
Long Overdue Chapter in Second World War History
At last a historian has taken the time to bring the Middle East into WW2. While not nearly as bloody as the battles taking place in North Africa, Russia, or Asia during 1941, the British invasion of Iraq aimed at preventing axis influence from seeping further into the Mid-East. Lyman's crucial text ably explains what was at risk here, the Middle East, Africa, perhaps even the war itself. In a time where history books barely even mention the Africa campaign of 1940-1943 it is hard to picture WW2 being a completely "WORLD" war, yet it was, and if more historians begin delving into this fascinating theatre of conflict we might better understand what is going on right now, and what happened before WW2.
It is worth noting that the British not only invaded Iraq, but invaded Italian held Somaliland, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, Vichy French held Syria, Lebanon and Madagascar, and together with the Soviet army invaded Iran (Persia) to quell pro Nazi sympathies. At the time these events would have seemed the difference between victory and defeat for the British who were essentially fighting the war alone (the Russians came into the fight that year). It would be nice to see a historian write a definitive history of the war in the mid-east, and finally connect Asia and Europe into what should be remembered as a truly global conflict. At least for the sake of the hundreds of men who died on both sides and were subsequently forgotten by history.
Billy McJohnson, USA March 7, 2006