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Campaigns in the Middle East

2 Apr 1941 - 30 Aug 1941


ww2dbaseThe Anglo-Iraqi War
18 Apr-1 Jun 1941

ww2dbaseAlthough Britain had nominally given Iraq her independence in 1932, she continued to assert a heavy influence in Iraq via a mandate supported by the League of Nations. Oil was a major reason of this continued influence, while the fact that Iraq linked up British India and Egypt was another. The discontent by some regarding this arrangement led to the overthrowing of regent Nuri as-Said's government by Prime Minister El-Gaylani Rashid Ali on 2 Apr 1941, installing a new regent. Not long after Rashid Ali established his new government, he demanded that British make no movement in and near the important airfield at Lake Habbaniya near Baghdad, threatening with military action. As a response, General Sir Edward Quinan's Iraqforce arrived at Basra on 18 Apr. Basra was secured by the Indian 10th Division by 2 May. Also on 2 May, 96 makeshift British bombers attacked Iraqi positions south of the Habbaniya airfield. On 3 May, four Blenheim aircraft reinforced Habbaniya, which by this time was defended by 2,200 men, including many Iraqis. After the Iraqi air force was defeated, British air superiority soon led to a victory at Fallujah, and then on 31 May Baghdad. By the time of the Baghdad battle, German and Italian aircraft were present in Iraq at Rashid Ali's invitation, but did not pose significant threat to the British forces. Rashid Ali fled to Germany via Persia as his government fell. An armistice was signed on 1 Jun, re-establishing a pro-British government. A large British presence remained in Iraq until Oct 1947.

ww2dbaseSyria-Lebanon Campaign
8 Jun-14 Jul 1941

ww2dbaseDuring the Anglo-Iraqi War, London was alarmed by the intelligence indicating Vichy High Commissioner in Syria, Admiral Henri Dentz, had allowed German aircraft to refuel in his territory. Some evidence also pointed to Dentz supplying Iraqi nationalists with weapons. Believing that Vichy France was on her way to a declaration of war against the Allies, the British launched Operation Exporter against French Syria and Lebanon. A successful British occupation of this French territory would prevent Vichy French and German interference in Iraq as well as preventing complications in the ongoing North African campaign.

ww2dbaseOn 7 Jun, the Indian 10th Division invaded Syria from Iraq against Palmyra and Aleppo while the Australian 7th Division, two Free French brigades, and the Indian 5th Brigade of the 4th Division marched for Beirut and Damascus from Palestine. Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy vessels provided naval gunfire support from the sea, while Palestinian Jews sabotaged Vichy war efforts from behind French lines. The overall British commander was General Henry Maitland Wilson.

ww2dbaseThe Vichy French forces were under the overall command of Dentz. His forces include his Armée du Levant, supplimented by a French Foreign Legion regiment.

ww2dbaseDentz was captured on 14 Jul, marking the end to the campaign.

ww2dbaseInvasion of Persia
25-30 Aug 1941

ww2dbasePersian monarch Reza Shah's government was known to be friendly toward Germany, and Germany had every incentive to befriend the Middle Eastern nation. A German-aligned Persia meant another step toward cutting off the land route to Britain's Asian colonies, while it would also deprive Russia of a possible supply route in which western supplies could flow in. After failing to improve diplomatic relations, Britain and Russia jointly invaded Persia. The Iranian military crumbled before the military might of the invaders within days, and the country surrendered before the end of the month. With Iran under British and Russian occupation, the land link to India was maintained for the British, and the southern supply route to Russia was secured. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Reza Shah's son, was installed as the new ruler on 16 Sep.

ww2dbaseSources: the Second World War, Wikipedia.

Last Major Update: Oct 2006

Campaigns in the Middle East Interactive Map


Australian troops with captured Morane-Saulnier MS.406 fighters and a Potez 630 bomber, Syria, Jul 1941Captured French Potez 63.11 aircraft, Aleppo, Syria, 1941
See all 6 photographs of Campaigns in the Middle East

Campaigns in the Middle East Timeline

1 Apr 1941 Pro-German officers under Rashid Ali began their move against the government; Rashid Ali declared himself the "Chief of the National Defence Government."
3 Apr 1941 The Iraqi Parliamentary government was overthrown by the military coup d’état that began two days prior.
17 Apr 1941 Rashid Ali al-Gaylani's 16-day old Iraqi government submitted a request to Germany for military assistance in its attempt to remove British forces from Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraqi forces surrounded the RAF airbase at Habbaniya while British 1st Battalion King's Own Royal Regiment, originally based in Karachi, India, arrived at RAF Shaibah near Basra.
18 Apr 1941 Indian 20th Infantry Brigade landed at Basra, Iraq unopposed. It was originally based in Karachi, India and had arrived in Iraq in 8 transports which were escorted by carrier HMS Hermes, cruiser HMS Emerald, cruiser HMNZS Leander, 6 sloops, and gunboat HMS Cockchafer.
29 Apr 1941 Indian 20th Infantry Brigade arrived at Basra, Iraq from Bombay, India.
30 Apr 1941 6,000 Iraqi troops with 30 artillery pieces departed Baghdad, Iraq on an ostensibly training exercise before dawn. At first light, they reached a plateau overlooking the RAF airbase at Habbaniya 45 miles west of Baghdad. British Ambassador Kinahan Cornwallis warned British civilians to leave Baghdad; 230 of them would soon flee to Habbaniya while 350 and 150 would seek shelter in the British Embassy and the American Legation, respectively.
1 May 1941 Iraqi forces overlooking RAF Habbaniya grew to 9,000 men, 50 artillery pieces, 12 armored cars, and a few light tanks. They demanded the airfield to cease flight operations, but the local RAF commander ignored the threat, a decision backed by Winston Churchill.
2 May 1941 At 0500 hours, during Muslim morning prayers, 33 British aircraft from RAF Habbaniya and 8 Wellington bombers from RAF Shaibah attacked the Iraqi artillery positions which had been threatening RAF Habbaniya for the past two days. Iraq troops responded by shelling RAF Habbaniya, killing 13 and wounding 29. Elsewhere, RAF aircraft attacked the Rashid airfield near Baghdad, Iraq, destroying 22 aircraft on the ground. The RAF lost 5 aircraft in Iraq on this date.
4 May 1941 Allied aircraft conducted a raid on Baghdad, Iraq.
6 May 1941 Overnight, Iraqi troops withdrew from the plateau overlooking RAF Habbaniya after suffering 1,000 casualties, largely by RAF aircraft, abandoning large amounts of weapons and supplies. They were pursued by the British King's Own Royal Regiment, which caught up with the Iraqi troops at Sinn El Dhibban, taking 433 prisoners at the cost of 7 British troops killed and 14 wounded. To the south, the 21st Infantry Brigade of the Indian 10th Division arrived by sea at Basra. Meanwhile, Vichy France and Germany signed the Paris Protocol, which gave permission for German troops to march through Syria for Iraq to reinforce the Iraqis; in return, Germany lowered the tribute that France had to pay Germany from 20 million to 15 million Reichsmarks daily. German Luftwaffe Colonel Werner Junck was ordered to establish FliegerfĂĽhrer Irak with 12 Bf 110 fighters and 12 He 111 bombers.
7 May 1941 Indian 20th and 21st Brigades marched out of Basra, Iraq to attack nearby port of Ashar.
11 May 1941 British Brigadier Kingstone departed Haifa, Palestine with a column of horse cavalry and armored cars to reinforce RAF Habbaniya, Iraq. Meanwhile, the first 3 German Luftwaffe aircraft from Greece landed at Mosul, Iraq.
13 May 1941 A shipment of Vichy French weapons arrived in Mosul, Iraq from French Mandate of Syria, containing 15,500 rifles, 6 million rounds of ammunition, 200 machine guns, 4 75-mm field guns, and 10,000 shells. Meanwhile, a British mobile column from Palestine reached Rubah, Iraq, finding it already abandoned by Iraqi forces.
14 May 1941 A British Blenheim bomber flying reconnaissance over Syria spotted a German Ju 90 transport aircraft at the Vichy French airfield at Palmyra. The British government gave permission to attack, and RAF fighter soon attacked the airfield, damaging two He 111 bombers.
15 May 1941 An Iraqi Blenheim bomber attacked the British column moving from Palestine into Iraq, causing no damage. British Swordfish aircraft from HMS Hermes attacked the Al Qushla barracks in Samawah, Iraq; one aircraft was shot down. Meanwhile, British bombers again attacked French airfields at Palmyra and Damascus, Syria.
16 May 1941 German Me 110 and He 111 bombers attacked RAF Habbaniyah in Iraq, surprising the British; the British and the Germans each lost one aircraft during the attack. Meanwhile, German aircraft strafed British reinforcements traveling eastward from Palestine.
17 May 1941 Sonderkommando Junck, a special formation of German Luftwaffe fighters, bombers and transports which had been hastily painted with Iraqi markings, commenced (with a dozen Bf 110 aircraft of 4./ZG 76) air attacks on British positions, especially those at Habbaniya, Iraq; or the next ten days the Bf 110 aircraft attacked, losing several aircraft in the process. Late in the evening, the British force from Palestine arrived at Habbaniya. After sundown, British and colonial troops crossed the Euphrates River toward Fallujah.
18 May 1941 British aircraft from RAF Habbaniya bombed Iraqi positions in Falluja throughout the day. Meanwhile, Arab troops loyal to Britain relieved the besieged RAF Habbaniyah which was defended only by out-of-date training aircraft. The base had been under attack from the pro-German forces of General Rashid Ali using Bf 110 and He 111 aircraft.
19 May 1941 Iraqis surrender the town of Fallujah after it was subjected to aerial and artillery bombardment by the British; 300 Iraqi troops were taken prisoner. On the same day, German bombers attacked RAF Habbaniya in Iraq.
22 May 1941 Iraqis counterattacked the British troops at Fallujah, Iraq with Italian-made light tanks.
23 May 1941 Adolf Hitler issued Directive 30 to send forces to aid Iraq in its war against the British. At Fallujah, Iraq, fighters of the German FliegerfĂĽhrer Irak squadron strafed British positions.
26 May 1941 Iraqi forces received supplies by train from Vichy French forces in Syria, including 8 155mm guns, 6,000 shells, 30,000 grenades, and 32 trucks. By this date, all German fighters in Iraq had become unserviceable after 10 days of engagements with British fighters; the Germans then evacuated their main base at Mosul, Iraq before the Commonwealth forces could overrun it.
27 May 1941 Allied forces advanced toward Baghdad, Iraq in two columns. From the south, Indian 20th Brigade advanced north along and on the Euphrates River while Indian 21st Brigade advanced on the Tigris River from Basra. From the west, British forces departed Fallujah. Also on this date, 12 Italian CR.42 biplane fighters arrived at Mosul to reinforce the German and Iraqi forces in the area.
28 May 1941 Indian 20th Brigade, en route to Baghdad in Iraq, reached the ruins of the ancient city of Ur near Tell el-Muqayyar.
30 May 1941 British and Indian forces reached the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq, causing Rashid Ali's government to collapse.
31 May 1941 The mayor of Baghdad, Iraq surrendered to British Ambassador Sir Kinahan Cornwallis at the Washash Bridge. As a sign of good faith, the British allowed the Iraqi Army to return to their barracks, and all captured equipment were returned. Both sides released captured prisoners of war with the exception of German and Italian troops captured by the British.
1 Jun 1941 A pro-British government was established in Iraq under Amir Abdul Illah, restoring the monarchy.
2 Jun 1941 Vichy French aircraft claimed a British Blenheim aircraft shot down over Syria-Lebanon.
6 Jun 1941 RAF fighters shot down a French 167F bomber over Palestine.
8 Jun 1941 Commonwealth and Free French forces in northern Palestine crossed the border into southern French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon; the Free French promised the counties full independence for their co-operation. Troops of the British No. 11 (Scottish) Commando was to conduct an amphibious raid in an attempt to secure a crossing on the Litani River for the Australian troops, but bad weather delayed their arrival by sea.
9 Jun 1941 As the British commando raid to secure crossings on the Litani River in French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon had been delayed by weather, Australian troops crossed the river in canvas boats. The commandos later arrived and joined the Australians in the assault. French destroyers Valmy and GuĂ©pard bombarded Allied troops in the Litani River area, but they were driven off by New Zealand cruiser HMNZS Leander and British destroyers HMS Janus, HMS Hotspur, HMS Isis, HMS Jackal (HMS Janus was badly damaged in the engagement). Further off the coast, French submarine Caiman attacked British cruiser HMS Phoebe, but without success. The Allies were able to secure several strongpoints on the opposite shore of the Litani River by the end of the day.
10 Jun 1941 Allied troops captured several villages in the French Mandate of Syria and the Lebanon as they advanced toward Beirut.
12 Jun 1941 Indian and Free French forces under French General Paul Legentilhomme captured Deraa, Sheikh Meskine, and Ezraa in southwestern French Mandate of Syria and the Lebanon, but were held up KissouĂ©.
13 Jun 1941 Vichy French troops held up the Australian 7th Division at Jezzine in southern French Mandate of Syria and the Lebanon.
14 Jun 1941 British destroyers HMS Jervis and HMS Griffin bombardeded Sidon, French Mandate of Syria and the Lebanon. Two French destroyers based in Beirut counterattacked at 1620 hours, but was chased off by New Zealand cruiser HMNZS Leander and British destroyers; 8 German Ju 88 aircraft also attempted to attack, but were driven off by P-40 Tomahawk fighters of No. 3 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force based in the British Mandate of Palestine, shooting down 3 Ju 88 aircraft.
15 Jun 1941 Indian and Free French troops attacked KissouĂ© in the French Mandate of Syria and the Lebanon at 0400 hours, capturing it by 0900 hours. 5 miles to the west, Vichy French troops threatened to capture Quneitra. At sea, British destroyers bombarded Sidon in the French Mandate of Syria and the Lebanon and was retaliated against by German Ju 88 aircraft; HMS Jackal, HMS Ilex, and HMS Isis were damaged and were ordered out of the area for repairs. In the evening, aircraft of French 4th Naval Air Group bombed British naval units off the Syrian coast.
16 Jun 1941 Vichy French tanks defeated the British Royal Fusiliers battalion which had been surrounded at Quneitra, French Mandate of Syria and the Lebanon; 177 officers and men surrendered at 1900 hours. Further north, Indian and Free French troops advanced toward Damascus. Out at sea, British torpedo bombers sank Vichy French destroyer Chevalier Paul carrying ammunition from Toulon, France.
17 Jun 1941 British bombers attacked a French destroyer, carrying ammunition which she had brought from France, in the port of Beirut in French Syria-Lebanon.
19 Jun 1941 Indian and Free French troops launched a two-prong attack on Damascus in French Mandate of Syria and the Lebanon from the south. Elsewhere in the region, Vichy French troops held Free French troops at Qadim while the Indian 5th Infantry Brigade became surrounded at Mezze.
20 Jun 1941 2 Indian and 2 Free French companies attempted to relieve the surrounded Indian 5th Infantry Brigade at Mezze, French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon, but the attack on Vichy French would result in failure. After sundown, Free French, British, and Australian troops captured Qadim.
21 Jun 1941 Free French troops captured the city of Damascus in the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon, but fighting would continue in the surrounding villages. Elsewhere in the region, at the village of Mezze, the Indian 5th Infantry Brigade surrendered to Vichy French troops after being surrounded for two days; the victorious Vichy French troops, however, would fall back toward Beirut, allowing Australian troops to capture the village later on the same day.
22 Jun 1941 After dark and into the next date, a British fleet of two cruiser and six destroyers attacked French destroyer Guepard off Syria; Guepard was able to flee under the cover of darkness.
25 Jun 1941 The British submarine HMS Parthian (N 75) under Commander M. G. Rimington, DSO, RN torpedoed and sank the Vichy French submarine Souffleur (built 1927) just off the coast southwest of Beirut, Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon. The submarine was hit by a single torpedo near the deck gun. Of the six men on the bridge, one was mortally wounded but the others managed to swim away. Four reached the shore but the fifth drowned. In all fifty men perished.
26 Jun 1941 Tomahawk fighters of No. 3 Squadron RAAF destroyed 5 French D.520 fighters and damaged a further six on the ground at Homs Airfield in Syria.
1 Jul 1941 British mechanized cavalry and an Arab Legion desert patrol broke up a Vichy French mobile column northeast of Palmyra, Syria, capturing four officers and 60 men.
3 Jul 1941 William Slim of Iraq Command outflanked Vichy French troops at Deir ez-Zor, Syria.
5 Jul 1941 Australian 21st Brigade arrived at the Damour River in Lebanon.
6 Jul 1941 Australian troops attacked French troops at El Atiqa and El Boum in Lebanon, capturing both positions by nightfall.
7 Jul 1941 Australian troops outflanked French positions at Damour, Lebanon.
8 Jul 1941 Australian troops cut off the road leading into the northern part of Beirut, Lebanon. South of Beirut, Australian 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion and elements of the 6th Divisional Cavalry Regiment also approached Beirut.
9 Jul 1941 The French High Commissioner in Syria, General Henri Dentz, applied to the British authorities for discussions to begin which would lead to an armistice.
10 Jul 1941 Five French D.520 fighters intercepted a flight of Blenheim bombers of No. 45 Squadron RAF escorted by 7 Tomahawk fighters of No. 3 Squadron RAAF over Syria; 3 British bombers and 4 French fighters were destroyed in the engagement. On the ground, troops of Australian 21st Brigade neared Beirut, Lebanon.
12 Jul 1941 French Lieutenant-General Joseph-Antoine-Sylvain-Raoul de Verdillac attended the French-British negotiations for a ceasefire in the French Mandate of Syria and the Lebanon. Making progress in the discussions during the day, the process to draft the Armistice of Saint Jean d'Acre began at 2200 hours near Acre, British Mandate of Palestine. Meanwhile, French naval vessels and aircraft were ordered to go to neutral Turkey, where they were interned.
13 Jul 1941 The Armistice of Saint Jean d'Acre negotiations at Acre, British Mandate of Palestine was stalled as the French rejected British demands.
14 Jul 1941 French High Commissioner for Syria and the Lebanon signed the Armistice of Saint Jean d'Acre at Acre, British Mandate of Palestine, surrendering his command to the British. In exchange, he received the British agreement for the French soldiers to retain their personal arms and full honors. The agreement contained no reference to the Free French.
15 Jul 1941 Honoring Charles de Gaulle's previous proclamation that the Allies had invaded the Vichy-held French Mandate of Syria and the Lebanon as liberators rather than conquerors, the British who had accepted the Vichy surrender on the previous day handed control of the territory to the locals.
16 Jul 1941 Charles de Gaulle protested the Armistice of Saint Jean D'Acre between the United Kingdom and Vichy France for it made no mention of the Free French.
25 Aug 1941 The United Kingdom and the Soviet Union jointly attacked pro-German regime in Iran. While the British troops crossed the western border and Soviets to the north, the respective ambassadors in Tehran demanded Iran to accept British and Soviet protection of oil supplies. British forces sank two small Iranian warships.
26 Aug 1941 British troops captured Abadan, Iran, along with the oil-related installations there. Far to the north, Soviet troops captured Tabriz while aircraft bombed Tehran.
27 Aug 1941 Reza Shah of Iran appointed Mohammad Ali Foroughi as the Prime Minister, who immediately began negotiations with the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom to end the hostilities.
28 Aug 1941 Mohammad Ali Foroughi signed a treaty allowing the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union to occupy oil fields and the Trans-Iranian Railway in Iran, as well as closing down German, Italian, Hungarian, and Romanian legations in Tehran. However, he refused to allow British and Soviet troops in the capital city.
9 Sep 1941 The Iranian Government accepted the Soviet and British terms, which included the closure of Axis legations and the surrender of German nationals.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Peter L. Griffiths says:
23 Feb 2011 06:44:52 AM

Your comments about Iraq and Iran in 1941 have an important lesson for us which is that an alliance between the UK and Russia can be very beneficial.
2. Alan says:
23 Oct 2012 01:55:51 AM

The Vichy defences in Syria were cleverly disposed. French artillery seemed to follow the movement of the attacking troops with such uncanny accuracy that the presence of spies behind the lines was strongly suspected. In one ferocious engagement Vichy shellfire cut the Australian artillery observers’ telephone line, after which the observation team, consisting of two officers and two men, came under attack by two Vichy tanks and some fifteen infantry. Lieutenant Roden Cutler and Lance-Corporal V.G. Pratt opened fire on the tanks with Anti-Tank rifles. Pratt was killed but Cutler kept up his fire, finally hitting the tanks’ tracks which forced the enemy to seek cover.

Later, during the Australians’ advance upon Damour, south of Beirut, Lieutenant Cutler became involved in an infantry battle and personally captured eight Frenchmen from three machine-gun posts, but was then wounded in the leg, which ultimately needed to be amputated.

For his outstanding leadership and gallantry in both these actions, Cutler was to be awarded the Victoria Cross - The only Australian artillery VC of both World Wars.
3. Derrick says:
22 Mar 2020 05:09:24 PM

I am currently approaching 70. My mother told me my grandfather was part of the Australian 7th Division that fought in this campaign. It was called the Silent Seventh, this was because it's exploits were kept largely hidden from the public, as much of the fighting was against French forces, an erstwhile ally. This was in stark contrast to the 6th and 9th Divisions that garnered great fame fighting in nearby North Africa. My grandfather was badly injured in the fighting and was left behind in expectation that he would become a POW. When Vichy forces arrived some of the native soldiers started executing the injured Australians. A German officer witnessed this and pulled his gun on the native soldiers. A tense standoff occurred until eventually the native soldiers backed down. My grandfather was then transferred to a hospital administered by Carmelite Nuns. He was cared for in a ward occupied by soldiers from both sides. He called the nuns angels and made friends amongst erstwhile enemies. Soon afterwards he was repatriated to Australia in a prisoner swap and died in 1959, a heroine addict, a byproduct from painkillers administered to manage the pain from his war injuries. My mother told me he always spoke very highly of the Germans, which was in contrast to the prevailing consensus at the time and was very short with anybody who disparaged them.

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More on Campaigns in the Middle East
» Allen, Arthur
» Blomberg, Axel
» Dentz, Henri
» Kamanin, Nikolai
» KĹ“nig, Pierre
» Le Gloan, Pierre
» Rowell, Sydney
» Travers, Susan

» French Syria and Lebanon
» Iran
» Iraq

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» FĂĽhrer Directive 30

Campaigns in the Middle East Photo Gallery
Australian troops with captured Morane-Saulnier MS.406 fighters and a Potez 630 bomber, Syria, Jul 1941Captured French Potez 63.11 aircraft, Aleppo, Syria, 1941
See all 6 photographs of Campaigns in the Middle East

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