British soldiers look at Baghdad. 1941 g.
The general setting
With the outbreak of World War II, the Near and Middle East acquired additional military-strategic and economic importance. Berlin and Rome tried to use the national liberation movements, anti-British and anti-French sentiments in their own interests. They tried to show themselves as "liberators" of the peoples of the East from the colonialists, supporters of Arab unity. The centers of Germany's propaganda in the East were the embassy in Turkey, where F. Papen was the ambassador, as well as the embassies in Iraq and Iran.
Turkey, Iran and Iraq were important suppliers of strategic raw materials - chrome ore, oil, cotton, leather and food. The Reich bought tin, rubber and other strategic goods in the markets of India, Indonesia and Indochina through Turkey and Iran. German and Italian trading firms were simultaneously convenient cover for the intelligence services.
The German monopolies in alliance with the Italians and Japanese at this time are strengthening their presence in Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan. In October 1939, a secret Iranian-German protocol was signed, in July 1940 - a German-Turkish agreement, which guaranteed the supply of strategic materials to the Third Reich.
In 1940-1941. Hitler's Reich almost completely ousted Britain from the Persian market. The share of Germany in the total Iranian trade turnover reached 45,5%, while the share of England dropped to 4%. The trade turnover between Germany and Turkey in January 1941 exceeded the Anglo-Turkish one. The economic positions of the Axis countries have also been strengthened in Afghanistan. As a result, the German-Italian bloc actively and successfully pressed out England in countries that had long been part of the British Empire's sphere of influence.
The pilots of the 94th squadron of the RAF, guarded by soldiers of the Arab Legion, refuel before the raid on Habbaniya. May 8, 1941
Actions of England and France
At the beginning of World War II, Britain and France made great efforts to maintain control over the Near and Middle East. First, the Anglo-French strategists tried to put together a Balkan bloc led by Turkey. He was supposed to cover the east from the northwest direction. At the same time, in late 1939 - early 1940, the British and the British were actively building up their armed forces in the region, creating a large strategic reserve.
On the one hand, he had to fend off a possible invasion of the Middle East by German-Italian troops. However, during the Strange War, such an invasion was considered unlikely. Therefore, the main task was the second - "counteraction" to the USSR, under the pretext of the mythical activity of the Russians in the Balkans and the Near and Middle East. The Allies even planned a Soviet attack southward across the Caucasus to bolster Finland. Other troops were about to land in Scandinavia, taking Russia in giant pincers.
Also, the strengthening of the military contingent of allies in the region was supposed to intimidate hostile elements in Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, and the Arab world as a whole. Put pressure on Turkey, Greece and other Balkan countries. It was planned to transfer the troops mainly from the dominions and colonies - Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, India and others.
London also tried to "restore confidence" among the nationalist circles in the Middle East. In 1939, Palestine was promised independence. In May 1941, British Foreign Secretary Eden announced Britain's support for Arab unity. However, these vague promises could not appease the Egyptian, Iraqi and other Arab nationalists, who demanded complete independence.
Thus, the Kingdom of Iraq was proclaimed in 1921. The League of Nations mandate for the territory of Mesopotamia, given to Britain, was in effect until 1932. From this time on, Iraq was formally independent, but the British retained custody of the country. In particular, they prevented the Iraqis from occupying Kuwait, which was historically considered part of Iraq. Controlled the oil industry.
A similar situation was in Egypt. In 1922, England formally recognized the independence of Egypt, the state was proclaimed a kingdom. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 confirmed the complete independence of Egypt. But the British maintained their military presence in the Suez Canal zone until 1956. That is, they almost completely controlled the life of the country. Egypt remained a strategic military foothold for Great Britain.
In turn, the Axis countries supported opposition and nationalist sentiments in the Arab world. The Arabs were secretly promised that Italy and Germany would recognize their independence. But they did not openly announce it.
British armored car off Baghdad
Deteriorating position of England
By the summer of 1940, the balance of power in the Middle East had changed dramatically.
France was defeated and partially occupied. Britain has lost an ally. The Vichy regime became Hitler's ally. The Axis countries received a convenient foothold in Syria and Lebanon, which were under French control. Italy entered the war, threatening Egypt from Libya.
Thus, Hitler had the potential to establish his complete control over the Middle East. He only needed to abandon the plan for a war with Russia or postpone it for a year or two. Then create a powerful German-Italian grouping in Libya, capture Egypt and Suez, where the British then had weak forces. Concentrate the second group in Syria and Lebanon, launching an offensive in Palestine, putting the British in Egypt between two fires. It was also possible to occupy Iraq and Iran, to win over Turkey, which had no opportunity to remain neutral. So the Fuhrer could inflict a fatal blow on England, force her to go to peace. However, the fateful decision to concentrate all forces for the war with the Russians canceled these possibilities.
In general, the military defeat of England and France significantly undermined the authority of Britain in the East. The already outlined crisis of the British colonial empire received a new development. Part of the Egyptian officers and the Muslim Brotherhood religious organization (banned in the Russian Federation) hatched plans for an anti-British uprising. In Kuwait, the opposition tried to overthrow the Shah, who was guided by England.
British soldiers in positions near the city of Ramadi
Rashid Ali's coup
Meanwhile, conditions were ripe for an uprising in Iraq. There, even at the very top, strong anti-British sentiments reigned. So, in April 1939, Field Marshal, King of Iraq Ghazi I ibn Faisal, who tried to pursue a policy independent of England and advocated the invasion of Kuwait, died in a car accident. The British and the country's Prime Minister Nuri al-Said, who was a supporter of a close alliance with Great Britain, were suspected of his death.
The Iraqi military, members of the Sunni nationalist organization "Circle of Seven", who were under the influence of the German ambassador F. Grobba, opposed British domination in the country. They were headed by the so-called "Golden Square" (or "Golden Four"): colonels-commanders of the 1st Infantry Division Salah Sabbah, 3rd Infantry Division Kamil Shabib, Mechanized Brigade Said Fahmi and Iraqi Air Force Commander Mahmoud Salman. The group of conspirators also included the chief of the Iraqi General Staff, Amin Zaki Suleimani. They regarded Germany as their ally and England as their enemy. Also, many participants in the anti-British Arab uprising in Palestine of 1936-1939 fled to Iraq, led by their leader, the former mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Amin al-Husseini. Al-Huyseini was also guided by the Third Reich, considered the German Nazis as an example for the Arabs.
On April 1, 1941, a National Defense Committee was formed in Baghdad, which within two days established control over the territory of Iraq, except for the British military bases. Prince and Regent Abd al-Ilah (under the minor King Faisal II) and pro-English ministers fled. On April 3, former Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gailani (a supporter of Germany and an opponent of England) began to form a new government. The people generally supported the coup, hoping for significant socio-economic reforms.
Rashid Ali al-Gailani and Amin al-Husseini speak on the anniversary of the 1941 coup in Iraq in Berlin.
Participants in the anti-British uprising near Baghdad. April-May 1941
The Gailani government promised to remain neutral in the world war and to peacefully settle disputes with Britain. However, the independence of Iraq did not suit London. The British understood that Germany could still turn south (Middle East). Iraq could become a strong foothold for the Reich, from where the Germans could move to Persia and India.
On April 8, 1941, the British government decided to invade Iraq. The pretext was Gailani's unwillingness to let the 80-strong British army into the country, which was being transferred from India. Under the Anglo-Iraqi agreement, the British had the right to transfer troops across Iraqi territory to Palestine. General William Fraser was appointed commander of the British forces in Iraq. The transfer of troops from India to the Iraqi port of Basra begins. The grouping of the British fleet in the Persian Gulf. On April 17-19, the British deployed troops to Basra by air and sea transport. By the end of April, the grouping in Basra is being strengthened.
In response, the Iraqi army blocked the 30 British garrison in Habbaniyah (British Air Force base) on April 2,5. The Iraqi army numbered about 40 thousand people, only 4 infantry divisions and 1 mechanized brigade. The Air Force consisted of 60 vehicles. On May 2, the British Air Force, with 33 vehicles from the Habbaniyah base and from Shaiba near Basra, attacked the Iraqi group of forces near Habbaniyah. Also, British aircraft strike at the airfields of the Iraqi Air Force (more than 20 aircraft were destroyed), at railway and other objects. The British established their air supremacy. In response, the Islamic clergy declared holy war on England. Iraqis cut off oil supplies to Haifa. The bombing of Iraqi positions at Habbaniya continued until 5 May. On May 6, Iraqi troops retreated, abandoning weapons, equipment and supplies. Hundreds of soldiers surrendered.
On May 7-8, British troops stormed the heavily fortified city of Ashar near Basra. Here they suffered noticeable losses. The British hacked into the defenses of the Iraqi army and militia in the Basra area until 17 May. To get ahead of possible German intervention, the British command attacked Iraq from Palestinian territory with a motorized task force, which included an Arab legion, a brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, an infantry battalion and other units. On May 12, the group entered Iraq, after 6 days they went to Habbaniya. On May 19, the British captured Fallujah, an important stronghold on the way to the Iraqi capital. On May 22, the Iraqis counterattacked, but were repulsed. On May 27, the British launched an offensive from Fallujah into Baghdad. And on May 30 we were at the capital. At the same time, the Anglo-Indian troops cut the Baghdad-Mosul railway. On May 31, the British occupied Baghdad.
Arab Legion soldiers in 1941 Ford patrol vehicles with Lewis light machine guns in Amman. The Arab Legion is the name of the Jordanian army, created with the direct participation of the British colonial authorities. In 1941, units of the Arab Legion took part in the suppression of the anti-British uprising in Iraq
Germany, focused on preparing a war with Russia, reacted sluggishly. Military supplies began to be transported across the territory of Syria. May 13, the first train echelon with weapons and ammunition from Vichy Syria arrived in Mosul via Turkey. Two more echelons arrived on May 26 and 28. Planes from Germany and Italy began to arrive in Syria. On May 11, the first German aircraft arrived at the Mosul airfield. Several German and Italian squadrons arrived in Iraq, but the Iraqi Air Force had already been destroyed by this time. This was not enough. In addition, the German Air Force suffered high losses due to problems with spare parts, as well as supply problems and poor fuel. On May 29, a German military mission left Iraq.
On May 23, 1941, Hitler signed Directive No. 30 of the High Command of the Wehrmacht (directive "Middle East"). In this and subsequent directives of the Hitlerite Headquarters, it was indicated that the Wehrmacht would begin an invasion of the Near and Middle East after the victory over the Soviet Union. By this time, German agents had to prepare unrest and uprisings in the region.
Thus, the Iraqi troops, demoralized by air strikes, could not independently resist the British army or organize a powerful guerrilla movement, tying up the enemy. The British occupied Iraq. The Gailani government fled to Iran and from there to Germany.
The wreckage of a German Heinkel-111 bomber with Iraqi identification marks. Palmyra, Syria. 1941 g.