Fighters Over Poland


During the summer of 1939 the Polish air force found itself dealing with repeated violations of its airspace by photoreconnaissance Do17s of the Luftwaffe, and the experience of the P11c, the principal Polish fighter, was not encouraging. Unable to reach either the speeds or the altitudes of the German intruders, the P11c was clearly obsolescent by this time, and the intruders were able to evade the Polish fighters’ attempted interceptions virtually at will. In preparation for the conflict which by this stage was widely anticipated, the Polish Air Force had been reorganized in the spring, with around a third of the available fighters concentrated around Warsaw and the remainder allocated to the various armies. By the end of August most of the operational aircraft had been dispersed to concealed airfields in preparation for the assault, which duly began before dawn on September 1. Because of heavy fog on the opening day of the war, German plans were changed, with the intended mass attack on Warsaw postponed in preference to raids against airfields and other tactical targets. Flying low to locate the airfields, the bombers of Luftflotte 4, allocated to the advance against Kracow in the south, gave the defending fighters a chance at interception.

Built by the Pánstwowe Zaklady Lotnicze (National Aviation Establishment) and first flying in August 1931, the PZL P.11 was the descendant of a series of clean monoplanes designed by Zygmunt Pulawski, incorporating a unique gull wing that was thickest near the point where four faired steel struts buttressed it from the fuselage sides. When the first PZL P.1 flew on September 26, 1929, it thrust Poland to the forefront of progressive fighter design. In 1933 Poland’s air force, the Lotnictwo Wojskowe, became the first in the world to be fully equipped with all-metal monoplane fighters as the improved P.6 and P.7 equipped its eskadry. When the production P.11c, powered by a 645-horsepower Škoda-built Bristol Mercury VI S2 nine-cylinder radial engine, entered service in early 1935, it still rated as a modern fighter, with a maximum speed of 242 miles per hour at 18,045 feet and a potent armament of four 7.7mm KM Wz 33 machine guns, although its open cockpit and fixed landing gear were soon to become outdated. By 1939 the P.11c was clearly obsolete, and efforts were already under way to develop a successor to replace it within the year. Poland did not have a year, however—on September 1, time ran out as German forces surged over her borders.

A morning fog over northern Poland thwarted the first German air operation, as Obltn. Bruno Dilley led three Junkers Ju 87B-1 Stukas of 3rd Staffel, Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 (3./StG 1) into the air at 0426, flew over the border from East Prussia and at 0434—eleven minutes before Germany formally declared war—attacked selected detonation points in an attempt to prevent the destruction of two railroad bridges on the Vistula River. The German attack failed to achieve its goal and the Poles blew up the bridges, denying German forces in East Prussia an easy entry into Tszew (Dirschau). The “fog of war” also handicapped a follow-up attack on Tszew by Dornier Do 17Z bombers of III Gruppe, Kampfgeschwader 3 (III./KG 3).

Weather conditions were better to the west, allowing Luftflotte 4 to dispatch sixty Heinkel He 111s of KG 4, Ju 87Bs of I./StG 2, and Do 17Es of KG 77 on a series of more effective strikes against Polish air bases near Kraków at about 0530, Rakowice field being the hardest hit. Assigned to escort the Heinkels was a squadron equipped with a new fighter of which Luftwaffe Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring expected great things: the Messerschmitt Me 110C-1 strategic fighter, or Zerstörer.

The Me 110 had evolved from a concept that had been explored during World War I but which was only put into successful practice by the French with their Caudron 11.A3, a twin-engine, three-seat reconnaissance plane employed as an escort fighter in 1918. The strategic fighter idea was revived in 1934 with the development of the Polish PZL P.38 Wilk (Wolf), which inspired a variety of similar twin-engine fighter designs in France, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Japan, and the United States.

Göring was particularly enthralled by what he dubbed the Kampfzerstörer (battle destroyer), and in 1934 he issued a specification for a heavily armed twin-engine multipurpose fighter capable of escorting bombers, establishing air superiority deep in enemy territory, carrying out ground-attack missions, and intercepting enemy bombers. BFW, Focke-Wulf, and Henschel submitted design proposals; but it was Willy Messerschmitt’s sleek BFW Bf 110, which ignored the bombing requirement to concentrate on speed and cannon armament, that won out over the Fw 57 and the Hs 124. Powered by two Daimler Benz DB 600A engines, the Bf 110V1 was first flown by Rudolf Opitz on May 12, 1936, and attained a speed of 314 miles per hour, but the unreliability of its engines required a change to 680-horsepower Junkers Jumo 210Da engines when the preproduction Bf 110A-0 was completed in August 1937.

Although more sluggish than single-seat fighters, the Bf 110A-0 was fast for a twin-engine plane, and its armament of four nose-mounted 7.9mm MG 17 machine guns and one flexible 7.9mm MG 15 gun aft was considered impressive. Prospective Zerstörer pilots were convinced that tactics could be devised to maximize its strengths and minimize its shortcomings, just as the British had done with the Bristol fighter in 1917. The Bf 110B-1, which entered production in March 1938, was even more promising, with a more aerodynamically refined nose section housing a pair of 20mm MG FF cannon. Later, in 1938, the 1,100-horsepower DB 601A-1 engine was finally certified for installation, and in January 1939 the first Messerschmitt Me 110C-1s, powered by the DB 601A-1s and bearing a new prefix to mark Willy Messerschmitt’s acquisition of BFW, entered service. By September 1, a total of eighty-two Me 110s were operating with I Gruppe (Zerstörer) of Lehrgeschwader (Operational Training Wing) 1 (I(Z)./LG 1) commanded by Maj. Walter Grabmann, and I Gruppe, Zerstörergeschwader 1 (I./ZG 1) under Maj. Joachim-Friedrich Huth, both assigned to Luftflotte 1; and with I./ZG 76 led by Hptmn. Günther Reinecke, attached to Luftflotte 4 along the Polish-Czechoslovakian border.

Intensely trained for their multiple tasks, the Zerstörer pilots, like those flying the Stuka, had been indoctrinated to think of themselves as an elite force. Therefore, the Me 110C-1 crewmen of the 2nd Staffel of ZG 76 were as eager as Göring himself to see their mettle tested as they took off at 0600 hours to escort KG 4’s He 111s. To the Germans’ surprise and disappointment, they encountered no opposition over Kraków.

During the return flight, 2./ZG 76’s Staffelführer, Obltn. Wolfgang Falck, spotted a lone Heinkel He 46 army reconnaissance plane and flew down to offer it protection, only to be fired at by its nervous gunner. Minutes later Falck encountered another plane, which he identified as a PZL P.23 light bomber. “As I tried to gain some height he curved into the sun and as he did I caught a glimpse of red on his wing,” Falck recalled. “As I turned into him I opened fire, but fortunately, my marksmanship was no better than the reconnaissance gunner’s had been, [for] as he banked to get away I saw it was a Stuka. I then realized that what I had thought was a red Polish insignia was actually a red E. I reported this immediately after landing and before long the colored letters on wings of our aircraft were overpainted in black.”

As the Stukas of I./StG 2 were returning from their strike, they passed over Balice airfield just as PZL fighters of the III/2 Dywizjon (121st and 122nd Eskadry), attached to the Army of Kraków, were taking off. By sheer chance one of the Stuka pilots, Ltn. Frank Neubert, found himself in position to get a burst from his wing guns into the leading P.11c’s cockpit, after which he reported that it “suddenly explode[d] in mid-air, bursting apart like a huge fireball—the fragments literally flew around our ears.” Neubert’s Stuka had scored the first air-to-air victory of World War II—and killed the commander of the III/2 Dyon, Kapitan Mieczyslaw Medwecki.

Medwecki’s wingman, Porucznik (Lieutenant) Wladyslaw Gnys of the 121st Eskadra, was more fortunate, managing to evade the bombs and bullets of the oncoming trio of Stukas and get clear of his beleaguered airfield. Minutes later, he encountered two returning Do 17Es of KG 77 over Olkusz and attacked. One went down in the village of Zurada, south of Olkusz, and Gnys was subsequently credited with the first Allied aerial victory of World War II. Shortly afterward, the wreckage of the other Do 17E was also found at Zurada and confirmed as Gnys’s second victory. None of the German bomber crewmen survived.

In spite of the adverse weather that had spoiled its first missions, Luftflotte 1 launched more bombing raids from East Prussia, including a probing attack on Okacie airfield outside Warsaw by sixty He 111Ps of Lehrgeschwader 1, escorted by Me 110Cs of the wing’s Zerstörergruppe, I(Z)./LG 1. As the Heinkels neared their target, the Polish Brygada Poscigowa (Pursuit Brigade), on alert since dawn, was warned of the Germans’ approach by its observation posts, and at 0650 it ordered thirty PZL P.11s and P.7s of the 111th, 112th, 113th, and 114th Eskadry up from their airfields at Zielonka and Poniatów to intercept. Minutes later, the Poles encountered scattered German formations and waded in, with Kapral (Corporal) Andrzej Niewiara and Porucznik Aleksander Gabszewicz sharing in the destruction of the first He 111. Over the next hour, the air battle took the form of numerous individual duels, during which Kapitan Adam Kowalczyk, commander of the IV/I Dyon, downed a Heinkel, and Porucznik Hieronim Dudwal of the 113th Eskadra destroyed another.

The Me 110s pounced on the PZLs, but the Zerstörer pilots found their nimble quarry to be most elusive targets. Podporucznik (Sub-Lieutenant) Jerzy Palusinski of the 111th Eskadra turned the tables on one of the Zerstörer and sent it out of the fight in a damaged state. Its wounded pilot was Maj. Walter Grabmann, a Spanish Civil War veteran of the Legion Condor and now commander of I(Z)./LG 1.

In all, the Poles claimed six He 111s, while the German bombers were credited with four PZLs; their gunners had in fact brought down three. Once again, Göring’s vaunted Zerstörer crews returned to base empty handed. When the Germans sent reconnaissance planes over the area to assess the bombing results at about noon, Porucznik Stefan Okrzeja of the 112th Eskadra caught one of the Do 17s and shot it down over the Warsaw suburbs.

As the weather improved, Luftflotte 1 struck again in even greater force, as two hundred bombers attacked Okecie, Mokotow, Goclaw, and bridges across the Vistula. They were met by thirty P. 11s and P.7s of the Brygada Poscigowa, which claimed two He 111Ps of KG 27, a Do 17, and a Ju 87 before the escorting Me 110Cs of I(Z)./LG 1 descended on them. This time the Zerstörer finally drew blood, claiming five PZLs without loss, and indeed the Poles lost five of their elderly PZL P.7s. One Me 110 victim, Porucznik Feliks Szyszka, reported that the Germans attacked him as he parachuted to earth, putting seventeen bullets in his leg. The Me 110s also damaged the P.11c of Hieronim Dudwal, who landed with the fuselage just aft of the cockpit badly shot-up; two bare metal plates were crudely fixed in place over the damaged area, but the plane was still not fully airworthy when the Germans overran his airfield.

For most of September 1, the Me 109s were confined to a defensive posture, save for a few strafing sorties. For the second bombing mission in the Warsaw area, however, I. Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 21 was ordered to take off from its forward field at Arys-Rostken and escort KG 27’s He 111s. The Me 109s rendezvoused with the bombers, only to be fired upon by their gunners. When the Gruppenkommandeur (Group Commander), Hptmn. Martin Mettig, tried to fire a recognition flare, it malfunctioned, filling his cockpit with red and white fragments. Mettig, blinded and wounded in the hand and thigh, jettisoned his canopy—which broke off his radio mast—and turned back. Most of Mettig’s pilots saw him head for base, and being unable to communicate with him by radio, they followed him. Only upon landing did they learn what had happened.

Not all of the Gruppe had seen Mettig, however, and those pilots who continued the mission were rewarded by encountering a group of PZL fighters. In the wild dogfight that followed, the Germans claimed four of the P.11cs, including the first victory of an eventual ninety-eight by Ltn. Gustav Rödel. The Poles claimed five Me 109s, including one each credited to Podporuczniki Jerzy Radomski and Jan Borowski of the 113th Eskadra, and one to Kapitan Gustaw Sidorowicz of the 111th. Podpolkovnik (Lieutenant Colonel) Leopold Pamula, already credited with an He 111P and a Ju 87B earlier that day, rammed one of the German fighters and then bailed out safely. Porucznik Gabszewicz was shot down by an Me 109 and, like Szyszka, subsequently claimed that the Germans had fired at him while he parachuted down.

In addition to challenging the waves of German bombers and escorts that would ultimately overwhelm them, PZL pilots took a toll on the army cooperation aircraft which were performing reconnaissance missions for the advancing panzer divisions. Podporucznik Waclaw S. Król of the 121st Eskadra downed a Henschel Hs 126, while Kapral Jan Kremski shared in the destruction of another. After taking off on their second mission of the day to intercept a reported Do 17 formation at 1521 hours, Porucznik Marian Pisarek and Kapral Benedykt Mielczynski of the 141st Eskadra spotted an Hs 126 of 3.(H)/21 (3 Staffel (Heeres), Aufklärungsgruppe 21, or 3rd Squadron Army of Reconnaissance Group 21), attacked it and sent it crashing to earth near Torun. The pilot, Obltn. Friedrich Wimmer, and his observer, Obltn. Siegfried von Heymann, were both wounded. Shortly afterward, two more P.11cs from their sister unit, the 142nd Eskadra, flew over the downed Henschel, and one of the Poles, Porucznik Stanislaw Skalski, later described what occurred when he landed nearby to recover maps and other information from the cockpit:

The pilot, Friedrich Wimmer, was slightly wounded in the leg; his navigator, whose name was von Heymann, had nine bullets in his back and shoulder. I did what I could for them and stayed with them until an ambulance came. The prisoners were transferred to Warsaw. After the Soviet Union invaded Poland on 17 September, they became prisoners of the Russians, but were released at the end of October. When they were interrogated by the highest Luftwaffe authorities, Wimmer told them of my generosity. The Germans, who later learned that I had gone to Britain to fight on, said if I should become their prisoner, I would be honored very highly.

The observer, von Heymann, died in 1988. . . . I tried to get in touch with the pilot for three years. The British air attaché and Luftwaffe archives helped me to contact Colonel Wimmer. I went to Bonn to meet him in March 1990, and the German ace Adolf Galland also came over at that time. In 1993, Polish television went with me, to make a film with Wimmer. Reporters asked why I did it—why I landed and helped the enemy, exposing my fighter and myself to enemy air attack. I was young, stupid and lucky. That is always my answer!

I came back late in the afternoon and I had to land on the road close to a forest—Torun aerodrome had been bombed already. I then gave [General Dywizji Wladyslaw] Bortnowski, commander of the Armia Pomorze, the maps that I had captured from the Hs 126, which gave all the dispositions and attack plans of German divisions in Pomerania. He kissed me and said this was all the information his army needed.

On the following day, Skalski came head on at what he described as a “cannon-armed” Do 17 in a circling formation of nine and shot it down, then claimed a second bomber minutes later. Dorniers were not armed with cannon; but Me 110s were, and Skalski subsequently recalled that the Poles were completely unfamiliar with the Zerstörer—nobody had seen them in action until September 1. Moreover, I/ZG 1 lost a Bf 110B-1, its pilot, Hptmn. Adolf Gebhard Egon Claus-Wendelin, Freiherr von Müllenheim-Rechberg, commander of the 3rd Staffel, being killed, while his radioman, Gefreiter Hans Weng, bailed out and was taken prisoner of war (POW). Skalski’s “double” was the first of four and one shared victories with which he would be officially credited during the Polish campaign. Later, flying with the Royal Air Force, he would bring his total up to 18 1/2, making him the highest-scoring Polish ace of the war.

Although Poland was overrun in three weeks, its air force occasionally put up a magnificent fight, though its efforts were rendered inconsistent by poor communications and coordination. Polish fighters were credited with 129 aerial victories for the loss of 114 planes, and many of the pilots who scored them would fight on in the French Armée de l’Air and the Royal Air Force.

The fall of Poland terminated the career of the PZL P.11c, but only marked the beginning for the Me 110, which, after a further run of success, finally met its nemesis in the form of the Hurricane and Spitfire. Relegated to fighter-bomber and photoreconnaissance duties after the Battle of Britain, the Zerstörer would undergo a remarkably productive revival as a night fighter.

Poland’s main front-line fighter in September 1939 was the PZL P11c. Obsolete in comparison with the German Me109s, it nevertheless gave a good account of itself before Poland fell.

Poland was first in the firing line. Early in the morning of September 1 a force of about 120 Heinkel He111s and Dornier Do17s, escorted by Messerschmitt Bf110 fighters, were reported by Polish ground observation posts to be heading for Warsaw. The Luftwaffe had made giant strides since the first German pilots went into action with the Condor Legion in 1936. It now possessed 3652 first-line aircraft comprising 1180 medium twin-engined bombers (mostly He111s and Do17s), 366 Stuka dive bombers, 1179 Me109 and Me110 fighters, 887 reconnaissance aircraft and 40 obsolescent ground-attack Hs123s. Transport was provided by 552 Ju52s, and there were 240 naval aircraft of various types. For the Polish campaign the Luftwaffe deployed 1581 of these aircraft.

German intelligence had estimated the front¬ line strength of the Polish air force at some 900 aircraft. In fact on 1 September the figure was nearer 300, made up of 36 P37 `Los’ twin-engined medium bombers, 118 single-engined `Karas’ P23 light reconnaissance bombers and 159 fighters of the PZL P11c and P7 types. Light gull-winged monoplanes, with open cockpits and fixed undercarriages, they had been an advanced design in the early 1930s but were now hopelessly outclassed by the Luftwaffe’s modern aircraft. Neither the PZL P11c nor the P7 could get high enough to intercept the high-flying Do17 reconnaissance aircraft.

On the opening day of hostilities, however, the German attack came in at low level, aiming to knock out the Polish air force on the ground. The Luftwaffe failed to achieve its objective as during the last days of peace the Polish air force had dispersed its aircraft to a number of secret airfields. On the morning of September 1 not one Polish squadron remained at its pre-war base. As a result only 28 obsolete or unserviceable machines were destroyed at Rakowice air base.

The first air combat of WW2 took place during this action when Captain M Medwecki, commanding officer of III/2 Fighter `Dyon’ was shot down by a Ju87 soon after he took off. Another pilot, Lieutenant W Gnys attacked the Ju87 and later shot down two low-flying Dornier 17s – the first Polish kills. Warsaw too was attacked by Luftwaffe bombers and the first to be shot down, a low-flying He111, was destroyed by Lieutenant A Gabszewicz.

A more spectacular victory occurred later that day during a running air battle above Warsaw. Second Lieutenant Leopold Pamula shot down a He111 and a Ju87 but ran out of ammunition when the fighter escort came down on the P11s. Pamula rammed one Me109 before parachuting to safety. In the same battle Aleksander Gabszewicz had his P11 set on fire and had to bale out. On his way to the ground he was shot at by a fighter, an event experienced by other parachuting Polish pilots as the battles continued.

Despite the inferiority of the Polish fighters, they achieved at least a dozen victories on the first day of WW2, although they lost 10 fighters with another 24 damaged. This gave the Polish pilots some confidence. Even with their outmoded aircraft they seemed able to cope with the Germans. Their pilots found that one good method of attack was to dive head-on where a tail-chase was more or less out of the question. This collision-course tactic unnerved the German bomber pilots and was most effective in breaking up formations and inflicting damage on the Heinkels and Dorniers. The Polish fighter pilots unexpectedly found the twin-engined Me110s more dangerous than the single-engined Me109s. The first German kill of WW2 was in fact scored by a 110 pilot, Hauptmann Schlief, who shot down a P11 on September 1.

By mid-September German pincers from north and south had closed around Warsaw. Then on September 17 the Red Army intervened from the east, destroying the last Polish hopes. Warsaw surrendered on September 27 and the last organized resistance collapsed in the first week of October. Despite the obsolescent equipment of the Polish air force, and its inferiority in numbers, it had inflicted heavy damage on the Luftwaffe, which had lost 285 aircraft with almost the same number so badly damaged as to be virtually noneffective. Polish fighter pilots were officially credited with 126 victories, which indicates modest claiming by them, for Polish anti-aircraft fire claimed less than 90, leaving an unclaimed deficit of some 70 aircraft. The last German aircraft shot down by a Pole in this campaign was claimed on September 17 by Second Lieutenant Tadeusz Koc. The highest-scoring Polish pilot was Second Lieutenant Stanislaw Skalski, with 6 1/2 kills. The highest-scoring German, and Germany’s first `ace’ of WW2, was Hauptmann Hannes Gentzen, who scored seven victories in a Me109D.

A total of 327 aircraft were lost by the Polish Air Force. Of these 260 were due to either direct or indirect enemy action with around 70 in air-to-air fighting; 234 aircrew were either killed or reported missing in action. One of the chief lessons learned by the German bomber force operating over Poland (and as the RAF bombers were soon to discover) was that they were susceptible to fighter attack. The immediate requirement, therefore, was for the bombers to have heavier defensive armament and additional armor protection for their crews.


When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Stanislaw F Skalski was in his early 20s. and a regular Polish Air Force officer, flying PZL fighters with 142 Squadron. On the second day of the war, he destroyed two Dornier 17s, and by the end of the brief Polish campaign was the top-scoring fighter pilot with 6 1/2 victories. He escaped to England, and joined 501 Squadron RAF in the Battle of Britain, scoring four victories. In June 1941 he was made a flight commander in 306 Polish Squadron and shot down five more German aircraft. He received the British DFC, having already won the Polish Silver Cross and Cross of Valor. He then had a spell as an instructor before commanding 317 Squadron in April 1942, winning a bar to his DFC.

In 1943 he led a group of experienced Polish fighter pilots into the Middle East, flying Spitfire IXs attached to 145 RAF Squadron. This ‘Fighting Team’ or ‘Skalski’s Flying Circus’ as it was also called, operated during the final stages of the Tunisian campaign, Skalski adding three more personal kills. He was then given command of 601 Squadron – the first Pole to command an RAF fighter squadron. He received a second bar to his DFC as well as the Polish Gold Cross before returning to England.

As a Wing Commander in April 1944 he commanded 133 (Polish No 2) Fighter Wing, flying Mustangs, raising his score to 19 victories when he forced two FW190s to collide on June 24. He ended the war as a gunnery instructor, decorated additionally with the British DSO. Returning to Poland after the war he was imprisoned by the Russians; and, following his release, drove a taxi in Warsaw.


Wellington’s Staff

Napoleon, according to Wellington’s recollection of a conversation with one of the emperor’s subordinates, never had a plan of campaign. ‘He always decided according to the circumstances of the moment. “It was always his object,” added the Duke, “to fight a great battle; my object on the contrary was in general to avoid to fight a great battle.”’ Wellington there does both Napoleon and himself injustice. In India the young Wellington had sought battle with the single-mindedness of the young Alexander, and for much the same reason: operating with a small élite army against a large, ill-assorted enemy army, he had no option but to attack. Napoleon, by contrast, attacked because he usually had numbers enough to ensure victory. ‘There are in Europe,’ he said, ‘many good generals, but they see too many things at once. I see only one thing, namely the enemy’s main body. I try to crush it.’ To that extent his plans were simple. But to find the one thing he wanted to see took forethought and time. Much of it was spent with his operations officer, Bacler d’Albe, crawling over a large map spread on the floor of his campaign tent, sticking in pins to mark the morrow’s destinations.

Wellington’s and Napoleon’s methods, if not their objects, were therefore more similar than either would concede. Both laid plans; but Wellington more cautiously and with less help from others. ‘I really have no assistance,’ he despaired to his brother William in September 1810. ‘I am left to myself, to my own exertions, to my own execution, the mode of execution, even the superintendence of that mode.’ Vignettes of Wellington, sitting alone in the doorway of his tent, writing, writing, writing, are certainly a staple of Peninsular memoirs. He wrote well and knew he wrote well. ‘They are as good as I could write now,’ he said to the Marchioness of Salisbury in 1834 of his wartime despatches. ‘They show the same attention to details – to the pursuit of all the means, however small, that could promote success.’ But the sense of doing everything himself was a rare Wellingtonian vanity, which he shared with the sort of pompous busybody he absolutely was not. Afflicted though he often was by incompetents (General Dalrymple ‘has no plan, or even an idea of a plan, nor do I believe he knows the meaning of the word Plan’ – all the worse because Dalrymple then commanded him) and by bores (‘still Admiral Berkeley bores me to death … his activity is unbounded … I never saw a man who had so good an education … whose understanding is so defective and who has such a passion for new invented modes of doing ordinary things’), he could generally count on intelligent and hard-working subordinates to aid him. Hudson Lowe, Napoleon’s future gaoler, was not one of them. Appointed chief of staff in Flanders in 1815, he was got rid of by Wellington before too late. But Murray, his quartermaster-general and effective chief of staff, and, to a lesser extent, Stewart, his adjutant-general, were both valued by him. Many of their subordinates, particularly Gordon and de Lancey, were also able staff officers, conscientious and competent. There were personal shortcomings: Stewart was ‘difficult’, Gordon officious, de Lancey long-winded. They were not in the class of Murray, the ‘perfect’ staff officer. But they were up to their jobs.

They were, nevertheless, very few. No army as yet had the sort of modern staff college which, as today, annually graduates a class of carefully selected and meticulously trained military bureaucrats. The output of the recently founded Senior Department of the Royal Military College, whom he stigmatized as ‘coxcombs and pedants’, though a score served on his staff, was tiny. The total number of staff officers – as opposed to ‘footmen, grooms, cooks, assistants, goatboys, carmen, huntsmen, batmen, orderlies, muleteers and farriers’ – at his headquarters in Spain was rarely more than twelve. They were the commandant of his personal headquarters and the military secretary, the adjutant-general and six deputies or assistants and the quartermaster-general, an assistant and a sketching officer. Aides-de-camp, Spanish liaison officers and interpreters to all these numbered eighteen. In addition, there were nine officers in the medical department, three paymasters and a score of commissary, provost and judge-advocate officials. Most of those personally attached to Wellington, who excluded the commissaries and paymasters, performed office duties only, what his brother-in-law, Edward Pakenham, called ‘this insignificant clerking business’.

The result of this understaffing – itself an effect of the want of training and experience in Wellington’s subordinates – was that he did indeed have to be his own staff officer most of the time. There were, of course, routine matters that he left to subordinates: finance and officers’ appointments (though he made the choice) to the military secretary, supply (though he was adamant about requirements) to the commissary-general, personnel to the adjutant-general and so on. But the essentials he kept under his own hand. They were movements, intelligence and operations.

Movement meant animals and foodstuffs. We have already seen his obsessive concern to acquire draught and pack animals and to keep them fit. Foodstuffs meant money. The British, unlike the French, did not live off the land, for two main reasons. His soldiers could not ‘shift for themselves’, he said; he meant that their foraging expeditions became drunken devastations. Moreover, in both India and the Peninsula, he sought to retain the goodwill of the locals. Therefore he bought rather than requisitioned, seeking, like a Victorian empire-builder, to create local markets. One of the consequences of looting, he complained in a general order of 1809, was that ‘the people of the country fly their habitations, no market is opened and the soldiers suffer in the privation of every comfort and every necessary’. Four years later, at St-Jean de Luz, the effect of his policies was clearly seen: ‘the town is now all a market or fair,’ wrote Larpent. ‘The French peasants are always on the road between this place and Bayonne, bringing in poultry, and smuggling out sugar in sacks on their heads.’ Prices were high but supply abundant.

Intelligence was more difficult to acquire than supply since it could not all be bought. In both India and the Peninsula, Wellington campaigned in mapless country, almost as mapless as Alexander’s Asia Minor. In the Peninsula he was to institute a mapping service of his own. In India, time and the enormity of space surrounding his army precluded that. He had to proceed as Alexander had done: by questioning locals, sending out spies and making reconnaissance.

His maplessness may not have been altogether the frustration we imagine. Good maps impose their own drawbacks, inflicting too much information on those who use them. To simplify what they tell requires direct observation of ground, which a commander may acquire himself or by questioning eyewitnesses. In that way he builds up a mental map of key points and their interconnections, of much the same sort as a chess master does of the nodal centres on his board. Alexander, whose mental map of the Persian empire probably had the Royal Road as its skeleton, undoubtedly operated by an inward vision. So, too, must Wellington have done agains Tippoo and the Mahrattas.

In Portugal and Spain he was better provided, though not much. Maps were few, incomplete and often very inaccurate. Fortunately the British army had outstanding mapping skills, developed in the making of the one-inch Ordnance Survey of England, of which the first edition had just been published (1801). At least six trained cartographic officers were therefore usually in the field, mapping at four inches to the mile. Others were actually infiltrated far behind French lines, where they mapped while maintaining liaison with a wide network of Spanish informers. In India Wellington had used the age-old network of professional double-agents (hircarrahs) to provide himself with the raw material of intelligence. In Spain, where the French were hated, intelligence came freely and plentifully; but it was his sifting and assessment that turned it into useful ‘product’.

And, ultimately, he found no substitute for the evidence of his own eyes. Always well-mounted, and a tireless, bold and skilful horseman, Wellington commonly rode scores of miles a day: forty-five before Assaye, when he discovered the ford that was the key to the position, sixty on two successive nights in Spain to catch officers in dereliction of their duty. A Peninsula veteran testified, ‘I have seen his fifteen valuable chargers led out by the grooms to exercise, with scarcely any flesh on their bones – so much were his horses used.’ We have his own account of the reconnaissance before Assaye. His Indian guides had denied that there was a passage but he insisted in seeing for himself. Noticing the locations of two villages, ‘I immediately said to myself that men could not have built two villages so close to one another on opposite sides of a stream without some habitual means of communication, either by boats or a ford – most probably by the latter.’ His judgement proved right and it gave him the victory.

Stored information also supplemented Wellington’s intelligence system. To both India and Spain he took a small library of topographical and historical books, which he enlarged in the country; on the way out to Spain he taught himself the rudiments of Spanish by reading the New Testament in that language (also to be Macaulay’s method of adding to his linguistic repertoire) and was delighted on landing to receive an address of welcome of which ‘to his own surprise he perfectly understood every word’ (but he had also learnt Urdu in India). Wellington was not an intellect perhaps of the same stature as Napoleon. Methodical though he was, he never hit upon an equivalent of the emperor’s remarkable means of storing essential information in a travelling filing cabinet, which kept him almost as instantly abreast of developments as does a modern data retrieval system. But his mental powers were very great indeed, in both assimilation and exposition. He gave his own description to his friend Stanhope of how his mind worked: ‘“There is a curious thing that one feels sometimes. When you are considering a subject, suddenly a whole train of reasoning comes before you like a flash of light. You see it all,” he went on, moving his hand as if something appeared before him, his eye with its brightest expression, “yet it takes you perhaps two hours to put on paper all that has occurred to your mind in an instant. Every part of the subject, the bearings of all its parts upon each other, and all the consequences are there before you.”’

This is not self-congratulation. The enormous volume of Wellington’s papers, impossible for him to have produced except by high-speed composition, testifies to the accuracy of the passage. Later in life he often drafted replies which he had fair-copied by another hand – the drafts being ‘crossed’ in the contemporary fashion on the letter to be answered, or written on the blank space if there were any. In India he seems to have written everything himself. In the Peninsula his methods were mixed. Sometimes he wrote, sometimes he spoke and expected his officers to render what he said into written form. It depended upon the time available.

In directing operations there was little time; and it was to operations that the movement of the army and the collection of intelligence both led. They were not ends in themselves. Wellington certainly often agonized long over whether to act or not; he himself spoke of his ‘cautious system’ during the Portuguese period, when inferiority of numbers kept him on the defensive for nearly three years. He certainly hesitated for weeks before Salamanca. Then, legend has it, he made the decision to attack while munching a chicken leg. Suddenly throwing the bone over his shoulder, he swept his telescope over the French position, and announced, ‘By God! That’ll do.’ He had seen a gap opening in the French deployment, into which he ordered Pakenham’s division.

Salamanca provided an unusual opportunity. Usually his discussions with his staff were more deliberative. We have an eye-witness account of his ‘orders group’ before the battle of the Nivelle in October 1813; the reporter is the famous Harry Smith, of the Rifle Brigade, then a divisional staff officer:

The Duke was lying down (a favourite posture) and began a very earnest conversation. [We] were preparing to leave the Duke, when he says ‘Oh, lie still.’ After he had conversed for some time with Sir G. Murray (the chief of staff), Murray took out of his sabretache his writing materials and began to write the plan of attack for the whole army. When it was finished, so clearly had he understood the Duke, I do not think he erased one word. He says, ‘My Lord, is this your desire?’ It was one of the most interesting scenes I ever witnessed. As Murray read the Duke’s eye was directed with his telescope to the spot in question. He never asked Sir G. Murray one question, but the muscles of his face evinced lines of the deepest thought. When Sir G. Murray had finished the Duke smiled and said, ‘Ah, Murray, this will put us in possession of the fellows’ lines. Shall we be ready tomorrow?’ ‘I fear not, my Lord, but next day.’

The scene is, indeed, of the greatest interest. It reveals exactly the division of labour in Wellington’s entourage. He decides; his chief adviser translates decision into paperwork and makes a technical judgement. From it action flows. The telescope occupies Wellington’s nervous energies while he thinks. Telescopes, unknown to Alexander, might appear an important addition to the commander’s tools, but they were of such low magnification – only three or four – that they did not greatly extend his range of vision. It was mental powers, not aids to them, which distinguished the true commander from the military functionary.

Maori Wars

There had been intermittent fighting with the Maoris for more than a decade; in fact, since colonists first began arriving in numbers on these beautiful but remote islands. The three numbered Maori wars were merely periods of exceptional activity and crisis in a running struggle as Europeans, mostly British, wrested the land from the natives: the intelligent, brave and warlike Maoris. These almost-forgotten wars are among the most disgraceful episodes in British imperial history for they sprang from stark, naked, unabashed greed.

The cause of the fighting was always the same: land. The Europeans wanted it and were even willing to pay for it, but most of the Maoris simply did not want to part with it. The Maori, of whatever tribe, always had a special affection for his tribal land; it was his most treasured possession. ‘The blood of man is the land,’ said a Maori proverb. By the Treaty of Waitangi the colonists had guaranteed the Maori the undisputed possession of his lands for as long as he wanted them. But the ever-increasing number of colonists – rising from 59,413 in 1858 to 218,637 in 1867 – also wanted land.

Disputes about land always ended in fighting. There were atrocities. Soon it was war. The New Zealanders called on the mother country for help, but, far from offering support, the British government announced that in accordance with a self-reliance policy it had established in respect to colonies it intended to withdraw the one Imperial regiment in New Zealand: the 18th Foot (later the Royal Irish, disbanded in 1922). There were screams of terror from the New Zealanders.

The British Government had not favoured the idea of colonizing New Zealand in the first place, and the Colonial Office had strongly disapproved of the policy adopted by the New Zealand colonial government of confiscating the Maoris’ land. The colonists now outnumbered the Maoris and they were considered big enough to take care of themselves. Lord Granville put the matter succinctly and bluntly: ‘the present distress of the colony arises mainly from two circumstances: the discontent of the natives consequent on the confiscation of their land, and the neglect by successive governments to place on foot a force sufficiently formidable to overawe that discontent’.

In spite of the uproar concerning the announced withdrawal of the 18th Regiment, it was, after some delay, withdrawn. In spite of the colonists’ fears, when the last detachment of the regiment left New Zealand on 24 February 1870 the Maori wars ended. The colonial forces did, after all, defeat the Maoris. The fighting continued until the Maoris had been decimated and the Europeans had taken all the land they wanted. But even when the fighting ended the New Zealanders still lived in fear, while the Maoris still lived with the fading hope that they would one day regain their land. As late as 1928 a Maori was quoted as saying: ‘We have been beaten because the Pakeha [European] outnumbers us in men. But we are not conquered or rubbed out, and not one of these Pakeha can name the day we … sued for peace. The most that can be said is that on such and such a date we left off fighting.’ Today the Maoris are on the increase, and they are now, finally, as numerous as they were 100 years ago, but they have less than a sixteenth of their original land holdings. Their hopes and the New Zealanders’ fears are ended. All live in peace under a socialist government.

Bay of Islands War (First Maori War, Hono Heke’s War) (1844-1847)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Maori peoples of New Zealand vs. British settlers

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): North Island, New Zealand

DECLARATION: No formal declaration

MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Maori, resentful of Europeans’ encroachments on their lands, the subjugation of their chiefs to British authority, and the ill effects of British settlement upon their culture, attacked a British garrison on North Island.

OUTCOME: Fighting ended with the defeat of the Maori warriors, and peace continued for most of the following 15 years.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Maori, 700 warriors; Britain, 1,500

CASUALTIES: Maori, 260; British, 57


Since Captain James Cook’s (1728-79) explorations of New Zealand in 1769-70, European whalers, sealers, and traders insinuated a capitalist system that tied New Zealand’s inhabitants to Europe’s economy. Soon settlers followed sailors and traders, and they brought with them a hunger for native Maori lands. Britain annexed New Zealand in 1838 and established means, initially acceptable to the Maori, for European land purchases in exchange for Maori protection. But by means legal and not, the Europeans, too quickly to suit the Maori, appropriated lands and thus threatened Maori culture. The tension between New Zealanders and Europeans exploded into the WAIRAU AFFRAY in 1843 over contested land purchases illegally made by the New Zealand Land Company. A settlement favorable to the Maori satisfied them but did not solve the ongoing contest for land.

A local Maori chief, Hone Heke (dates unknown), marched on the British garrison of Russell, or Kororareka, on July 8, 1844, and cut down the British flagpole, a symbolic act of his resentment toward the European presence. The following January he did it twice more. The British had had enough and, after re-erecting the pole, built a blockhouse around it. Undaunted, Hone Heke, with another chief, Kawiti, and 700 warriors, marched on Kororareka on March 11, seizing the blockhouse and cutting the pole down for the fourth time. The chief was not finished. The Maori warriors then advanced on the town and sacked it, forcing both the townspeople and the undermanned garrison to flee.

The governor general, Captain Robert FitzRoy (1805-65), ordered a punitive expedition into the field against the rebels, but Heke and Kawiti quickly annihilated the force in two short engagements. FitzRoy was recalled and replaced by Captain George Grey (1812-98). Grey quickly sent a large force into the field and attacked the heart of traditional Maori warfare, the pa. A pa is the base of operations for Maori warfare both spiritually and tactically. It is also a fortification. The force first attacked Kawiti’s pa in January and defeated it without much struggle. Grey’s troops then attacked Hone Heke’s pa at Ruapekapeka on January 11, 1846, and quickly overran it. Heke did not acknowledge defeat but vowed not to take the field against the British again. Although indiscriminate skirmishes continued for the next year, the fighting was essentially over, but the land disputes would resume with a vengeance in the FIRST TARANAKI WAR (Second Maori War) of 1860.

First Taranaki War, (1860-1861)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Great Britain vs. the Maori tribes

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Taranaki region, North Island, New Zealand


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The British sought possession of land ceded by a certain Maori sub-chief.

OUTCOME: Most of the land was seized and an uneasy truce maintained after retrocession of a small parcel of land to the Maori.


CASUALTIES: The entire period of the First, Second, and Third Taranaki Wars resulted in the loss of 54 percent of the Maori population, at least 27,000 persons.

TREATIES: Truce of 1861

In colonial New Zealand, as in the Indian Wars in the United States throughout the 19th century, tribal members frequently disputed land concessions and other agreements chiefs and other tribal members made with white government authorities. In 1859, a minor chief of the Maori tribe in the Taranaki region of North Island sold to British colonial interests land along the Waitara River. His tribe repudiated the cession and resisted confiscation of the land. Although the British had concluded the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, whereby tribal veto of various agreements was allowed, authorities violated the treaty by attacking Maori strongholds, called pas. Resistance was stiff, and the British made little headway until they finally succeeded in overrunning the critical Te Arei Pa in 1861. This prompted the Maori to conclude a truce in return for the British retrocession of a modest parcel of tribal land.

The truce was an uneasy one, frequently punctuated by outbursts of violence over a 12-year period. It is estimated that during this time significantly more than half of the Maori population of 50,000 was killed. Historians sometimes refer to this period as the Second Maori War; others recognize a Second TARANAKI WAR (1863-64) also called the Waikato War, and a Third TARANAKI WAR (1864-72).

Second Taranaki War, (Waikato War) (1863-1864)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Great Britain vs. the Maori tribes

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Waikato River area, North Island, New Zealand


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The British sought to occupy the area.

OUTCOME: Guerrilla resistance was suppressed in the Waikato River region but persisted elsewhere on North Island through 1872.




Also known as the Waikato War and treated by some historians as part of a larger Second Maori War, this was a resumption of the conflict taken up in the First TARANAKI WAR, which had ended in an uneasy truce. In April 1863, Sir George Grey (1812-98), the British governor-general of New Zealand, laid a military road directly into the disputed area of Waikato River. To do this, and to clear the way for European settlers, Grey attacked the Maori, driving them from Tataramaika “block.” The Maori responded with guerrilla attacks, which the British sought to suppress by neutralizing the pas, the Maori stronghold-fortresses, and counterattacking with riverborne gunboats and special ranger-style military units. The British were quite successful, suppressing guerrilla forces at Meremere and Rangiriri in 1863 and, the next year, destroying Orakau Pa. These triumphs put an end to Maori resistance in the Waikato River region, but elsewhere on New Zealand’s North Island guerrilla warfare continued as the Third TARANAKI WAR.

Third Taranaki War, (1864-1872)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Great Britain vs. the Maori tribes

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): North Island, New Zealand


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The British-especially the British East India Company-sought to settle Maori lands.

OUTCOME: The war produced no clear-cut victor; however, by 1872, with all sides exhausted and the Maori resistance all but crushed, the war petered out.


CASUALTIES: Unknown; but see this heading in First Taranaki War.


This was a resumption of the conflict between the British and Maori on New Zealand taken up in the First TARANAKI WAR (1860-61) and the Second TARANAKI WAR (1863-64). The Second Taranaki War had neutralized Maori resistance in the hotly contested Waikato River area but did not suppress resistance elsewhere on New Zealand’s North Island. Throughout this territory, the Maori Hau Hau, a religiously inspired warrior cult, its members motivated by a sincere belief that they were invulnerable and impervious to British bullets, fought with suicidal ferocity against British forces. At this point, the British government was eager to establish peace, but the British East India Company pushed for additional lands in New Zealand and continually provoked new outbreaks. A major attack was launched against the guerrillas at Weroroa Pa in 1865, resulting in a significant British victory. Despite this, the guerrillas continued to block colonial expansion. In 1868, the resistance of the Maori Hau Hau was supplemented by that of a new group, also religious and military in nature, the Ringatu.

From 1865 on, none of the three combatant elements, the British, the Hau Hau, or the Ringatu, could claim any clear-cut victories. The war wound down in 1872-the fighting stopped-not through any resolution of conflict, any claim of victory, or any concession of defeat but as a result of exhaustion on all sides. Nevertheless, by this time, resistance had been so worn down that only a single portion of New Zealand, King County, remained closed to colonial settlement.

Further reading: James Belich, Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict: The Maori, the British and the New Zealand Wars (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1989); Paul Moon, Hone Heke: Nga Puh Warrior (Auckland, N. Z.: David Bing Publishing, 2001). Keith Sinclair, The Origins of the Maori Wars (Wellington: New Zealand University Press, 1957).

Algerian War (1954–1962)

SS 11 missiles on a Dassault Flamant – Algerie

In 1956, using helicopters in a ground-attack role in the Algerian War.

First Foreign Legion Cavalry Regiment, Algeria 1960


The Algerian War (also known as the Algerian War of Independence and the Algerian Revolution) was fought between Algerian nationalists known as the Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front, FLN) and the French military between November 1, 1954, and March 19, 1962. The war led to a considerable expenditure of blood and treasure, saw some 1 million Frenchmen serve in the French Army in Algeria, claimed more than a score of French ministries, and brought the end of the French Fourth Republic, replaced by the Fifth Republic. The war also did not bring peace in Algeria.

France had established its control over Algeria more than a century earlier. On June 14, 1830, a French expeditionary force of some 34,000 men commanded by Marshal Louis Auguste Victor, Count de Ghaisnes de Bourmont, landed near Algiers. The pretext for the invasion was the insult to French consul to Algiers Pierre Duval, who had been struck with a flyswatter by Dey Husain in 1827. The French also sought to remove a threat to their Mediterranean trade, but the real reason behind French king Charles X’s plan to take Algiers was to shore up his unpopular French government, headed by Prince Jules de Polignac, and enable it to win the 1830 national elections.

Algiers was duly taken on July 5, although Charles X’s political gambit failed, as France experienced a revolution on July 28–30. In this July Revolution of 1830, Charles X was forced to abdicate in favor of his cousin Louis Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, who nonetheless decided to continue French military operations in Algeria.

French control was initially largely limited to the coastal areas and cities. A succession of French commanders proceeded to fight a variety of opponents and campaigns in widely differing terrain, from the Atlas Mountains to salt marshes and the bled (interior). Beginning in 1835, Abd al-Qadir, emir of Mascara in western Algeria, declared jihad (holy war) and fought the French. Following a number of battles, he was ultimately forced to surrender in December 1847 to French general Thomas Robert Bugeaud de la Piconnerie, who also proved to be an adroit colonial administrator.

By 1847, some 50,000 Europeans had settled in Algeria. French control over the Algerian interior was not accomplished until the Second Empire of Napoleon III (1852–1870), however. European settlement increased following the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 and the German acquisition of Alsace and Lorraine. Many of the French who had lived in the two provinces chose to settle in Algeria rather than be under German rule.

While more Frenchmen immigrated to Algeria, the imbalance between them and the Muslim population ballooned. The Pax Franca brought finis to the tribal wars and disease that had kept the population relatively static. Another factor in the burgeoning Muslim population was the greatly improved medical care that dramatically decreased the infant mortality rate.

Unique among French colonies, Algeria became a political component of France, as the three French departments of Algiers, Constantine, and Oran all had limited representation in the French Chamber of Deputies. Nonetheless, the three Algerian departments were not like those of the Metropole, as only the European settlers, known as colons or pieds noirs, enjoyed full rights there. The colon and Muslim populations lived separate and unequal lives. The Europeans controlled the vast majority of the economic enterprises and wealth, while the Muslims tended to be agricultural laborers. Meanwhile, the French expanded Algeria’s frontiers deep into the Sahara.

While the colons sought to preserve their status, French officials vacillated between promoting colon interests and advancing reforms for the Muslims. Pro-Muslim reform efforts failed because of political pressure from the colons and their representatives in Paris. While French political theorists debated between assimilation and autonomy for Algeria’s Muslims, the Muslim majority were increasingly resentful of the privileged colon status.

World War I helped fuel Algerian Muslim nationalist sentiment, but the first Muslim political organizations appeared in the 1930s, the most important of these being Ahmed Messali Hadj’s Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertés Démocratiques (Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties, MTLD). World War II brought opportunities for change. Following the Anglo-American landings in North Africa in November 1942, Muslim activists met with American envoy Robert Murphy and Free French general Henri Giraud concerning postwar freedoms but received no firm commitments. However, 60,000 Algerian Muslims who had fought for France were granted French citizenship.

It came as a great shock to the French when pent-up Muslim frustrations exploded on May 8, 1945, during the course of a victory parade approved by French authorities celebrating the end of World War II in Europe. A French plainclothes policeman shot to death a young marcher carrying an Algerian flag, and this touched off a bloody rampage, often referred to as the Sétif Massacre. Muslims attacked Europeans and their property, and violence quickly spread to outlying areas.

The French authorities then unleashed a violent crackdown that included Foreign Legionnaires and Senegalese troops, tanks, aircraft, and even naval gunfire from a cruiser in the Mediterranean. Settler militias and local vigilantes took a number of Muslim prisoners from jails and executed them. Major French military operations lasted two weeks, while smaller actions continued for a month. Some 4,500 Algerians were arrested; 99 people were sentenced to death, and another 64 given life imprisonment. Casualty figures remain in dispute. At least 100 Europeans died. The official French figure of Muslim dead was 1,165, but this is certainly too low, and figures as high as 10,000 have been cited.

In March 1946 the French government announced a general amnesty and released many of the Sétif detainees, including moderate Algerian nationalist leader Ferhat Abbas, although his Friends of the Manifesto and Liberty political party, formed in 1938, was dissolved. The fierce nature of the French repression of the uprising was based on a perception that any leniency would be interpreted as weakness and would only encourage further unrest.

The Sétif Uprising, which was not followed by any meaningful French reform, drove a wedge between the two communities in Algeria. Europeans now distrusted Muslims, and the Muslims never forgave the violence of the repression. French authorities did not understand the implications of this. A number of returning Muslim veterans of the war, including Ahmed Ben Bella, now joined the more militant MTLD. Ben Bella went on to form the Organization Speciale and soon departed for Egypt to enlist the support of its leaders.

Genuine political reform proved impossible, as granting full representation to Algeria would have entailed giving it a quarter of the seats in the National Assembly. The result was the compromise Algerian Statute, approved by the French National Assembly in September 1947. For the first time, Algeria was recognized as having administrative autonomy. The heart of the statute, however, was the creation of an Algerian Assembly consisting of two coequal 60-member assemblies. Although all Algerians were classified as French citizens, the first college included all non-Muslim French citizens and those Muslims French citizens who had been so defined by virtue of military service or education. The second college provided for all other Muslims. A total of 469,023 Europeans and 63,194 Muslims were eligible to vote in the first college, and 1,301,072 Muslims were eligible to vote in the second college. Thus, for all practical purposes, the first college represented the 1.5 million Euro-peans, and the second represented the 9.5 million Muslims.

The deputies, while elected separately, voted together. To prevent the Muslims from having a majority by securing only one vote in the first college, a two-thirds vote could be demanded by the governor-general or 30 members of the Assembly. Designed to give the Muslims some voice in their governance while ensuring European control, the Algerian Statute proved to be a poor compromise. Still, it might have worked were it not for the fact that the mandatory elections, commencing in April 1948, were rigged. As a result, the period from 1948 to the start of the rebellion in 1954 was marked by increasing bitterness and conflict between the two Algerian communities.

Proindependence Algerian Muslims were emboldened by the May 1954 Viet Minh victory over French forces at Dien Bien Phu during the Indochina War (1946–1954), and when Algerian Muslim nationalist leaders met Democratic Republic of Vietnam president Ho Chi Minh at the Bandung Conference in April 1955, he assured them that the French could be defeated. Ben Bella and his compatriots, having established the FLN on October 10, 1954, began the Algerian War on the night of October 31–November 1.


Early on November 1, 1954, armed members of the FLN carried out a number of small attacks across Algeria. The French government, which was then dealing with independence movements in neighboring Tunisia and Morocco, had not anticipated a similar development in Algeria. After all, Algeria had been French territory since 1830 (Tunisia had been acquired only in 1881 and Morocco in the period 1904–1911). Unlike Morocco and Tunisia, which were classed as protectorates, Algeria was held to be an integral part of France. Indeed, for some months the French people and press failed to recognize the significance of what was happening and chose to characterize the rebels as fellagha (outlaws).

There were valid reasons for the French to fight in order to retain Algeria. Unlike Indochina, it was in close proximity to France, just across the Mediterranean. The French had largely created modern Algeria, as the deys had only controlled a narrow coastal strip around Algiers itself. There were more than 1 million Europeans living there, and they would be unwilling to concede place to Arab nationalism. Finally, there was the French Army. Its professional soldiers had almost immediately been transferred from Indochina to Algeria. Believing strongly that they had been denied the resources necessary to win the Indochina War (1946–1954) and in the end had been sold out by their government, they were determined that this would not be the case in Algeria.

Ultimately France committed a force of 450,000 men to the war, and upwards of 1 million Frenchmen would serve there. Unlike the Indochina War, this included draftees. As the conflict intensified, French officials sought support from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), arguing that keeping Algeria French would ensure that NATO’s southern flank would be safe from communism. As a part of France, Algeria was included in the original NATO Charter, but the French government position did not receive a sympathetic response in Washington or in other NATO capitals. Only too late did a succession of French governments attempt to carry out reform.

The FLN goal was to end French control of Algeria and drive out or eliminate the colon population. The FLN was organized in six military districts, or wilayas, along rigidly hierarchical lines. Wilaya 4, located near Algiers, was especially important, and the FLN was particularly active in Kabylia and the Aurés Mountains. The party tolerated no dissent. In form and style, it resembled Soviet bloc communist parties, although it claimed to offer a noncommunist and non-Western alternative ideology, articulated by Frantz Fanon. The FLN military arm was the Armée de Libération Nationale (Army of National Liberation, ALN).

Any hope of reconciliation between the two sides was destroyed by a major FLN military operation on August 20, 1954. On that date, its personnel, having infiltrated the port city of Philippeville, killed 71 colons and 52 pro-French Muslims (mostly local politicians), while the French police and military killed 134 ALN troops. On the same day, the ALN attacked and slaughtered European women and children living in the countryside surrounding Constantine while the men were at work. At El-Halia, a sulfur-mining community with some 120 Europeans living peacefully among 2,000 Algerian Muslims, 37 Europeans, including 10 children, were tortured and killed. Another 13 were badly wounded. Several hours later French paratroopers arrived, supported by military aircraft. The next morning they gathered about 150 Muslims together and executed them.

The French administration now allowed the settlers to arm themselves and form self-defense units, measures that the reformist governor-general Jacques Soustelle had earlier vetoed. European vigilante groups are reported to have subsequently carried out summary killings of Muslims. Soustelle reported a total of 1,273 Muslims killed in what he characterized as “severe” reprisals.

The Arab League strongly supported the FLN, while Egypt under President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a source of weapons and other assistance. The French government’s grant of independence to both Tunisia and Morocco in March 1956 further bolstered Algerian nationalism. When Israeli, British, and French forces invaded Egypt in the Suez Crisis of 1956, the United States condemned the move and forced their withdrawal. The Algerian insurgents were emboldened by the French defeat. The French now also found themselves contending with FLN supply bases in Tunisia that they could neither attack nor eliminate. Also in 1956, the government of socialist premier Guy Mollet transferred the bulk of the French Army to Algeria.

The major engagement of the war was the battle for control of the Casbah district of Algiers, a district of some 100,000 people in the Algerian capital city. With the guillotining in Algiers in June 1956 of several FLN members who had killed Europeans, FLN commander of the Algiers Autonomous Zone Saadi Yacef received instructions to kill any European between the ages of 18 and 54 but no women, children, or old people. During a three-day span in June, Yacef’s roaming squads shot down 49 Europeans. It was the first time in the war that such random acts of terrorism had occurred in Algiers and began a spiral of violence there.

Hard-line European supporters of Algérie Française (French Algeria) then decided to take matters into their own hands, and on the night of August 10, André Achiary, a former member of the French government’s counterintelligence service, planted a bomb in a building in the Casbah that had supposedly housed the FLN, but the ensuing blast destroyed much of the neighborhood and claimed 79 lives. No one was arrested for the blast, and the FLN was determined to avenge the deaths.

Yacef, who had created a carefully organized network of some 1,400 operatives as well as bomb factories and hiding places, received orders to undertake random bombings against Europeans, a first for the capital. On September 30, 1956, three female FLN members planted bombs in the Milk-Bar, a cafeteria, and a travel agency. The later bomb failed to go off owing to a faulty timer, but the other two blasts killed three people and wounded more than 50, including a number of children. This event is generally regarded as the beginning of the Battle of Algiers (September 30, 1956–September 24, 1957).

Violence now took hold in Algiers. Both Muslim and European populations in the city were in a state of terror. Schools closed in October, and on December 28 Mayor Amédée Froger was assassinated.

On January 7, 1957, French governor-general Robert Lacoste called in General Raoul Salan, new French commander in Algeria, and Brigadier General Jacques Massu, commander of the elite 4,600-man 10th Colonial Parachute Division, recently arrived from Suez. Lacoste ordered them to restore order in the capital city, no matter the method.

In addition to his own men, Massu could call on other French military units, totaling perhaps 8,000 men. He also had the city’s 1,500-man police force. Massu divided the city into four grids, with one of his regiments assigned to each. Lieutenant Colonel Marcel Bigeard’s 3rd Colonial Parachute Regiment had responsibility for the Casbah itself.

The French set up a series of checkpoints. They also made use of identity cards and instituted aggressive patrolling and house-to-house searches. Massu was ably assisted by his chief of staff, Colonel Yves Godard, who soon made himself the expert on the Casbah. Lieutenant Colonel Roger Trinquier organized an intelligence-collection system that included paid Muslim informants and employed young French paratroopers disguised as workers to operate in the Casbah and identify FLN members. Trinquier organized a database on the Muslim civilian population. The French also employed harsh interrogation techniques of suspects, including the use of torture that included electric shock.

The army broke a called Muslim general strike at the end of January in only a few days. Yacef was able to carry out more bombings, but the French Army ultimately won the battle and took the FLN leadership prisoner, although Yacef was not captured until September 1957. Some 3,000 of 24,000 Muslims arrested during the Battle of Algiers were never seen again. The French side lost an estimated 300 dead and 900 wounded.

The Battle of Algiers had widespread negative impact for the French military effort in Algeria, however. Although the army embarked on an elaborate cover-up, its use of torture soon became public knowledge and created a firestorm that greatly increased opposition in metropolitan France to the war. It should be noted, however, that the French employed torture to force FLN operatives to talk, and some were murdered in the process. The FLN, on the other hand, routinely murdered captured French soldiers and civilian Europeans.

In an effort to cut off the FLN from outside support, the French also erected the Morice Line. Named for French minister of defense André Morice, it ran for some 200 miles from the Mediterranean Sea in the north into the Sahara in the south. The line was centered on an 8-foot tall, 5,000-volt electric fence that ran its entire length. Supporting this was a 50-yard-wide “killing zone” on each side of the fence rigged with antipersonnel mines. The line was also covered by previously ranged 105mm howitzers. A patrolled track paralleled the fence on its Algerian side. The Morice Line was bolstered by electronic sensors that provided warning of any attempt to pierce the barrier. Searchlights operated at night.

Although manning the line required a large number of French soldiers, it did significantly reduce infiltration by the FLN from Tunisia. By April 1958, the French estimated that they had defeated 80 percent of FLN infiltration attempts. This contributed greatly to the isolation of those FLN units within Algeria reliant on support from Tunisia. The French subsequently constructed a less extensive barrier, known as the Pedron Line, along the Algerian border with Morocco.

Despite victory in Algiers, French forces were not able to end the Algerian rebellion or gain the confidence of the colons. Some colons grew fearful that the French government was about to negotiate with the FLN, and in the spring of 1958 there were a number of plots to change the colonial government. Colon and army veteran Pierre Lagaillarde organized hundreds of commandos and began a revolt on May 13, 1958. A number of senior army officers, determined that the French government not repeat what had happened in Indochina, lent support. Massu quickly formed the Committee of Public Safety, and Salan assumed its leadership.

The plotters would have preferred someone more frankly authoritarian, but Salan called for the return to power of General Charles de Gaulle. Although de Gaulle had been out of power for more than a decade, on May 19 he announced his willingness to assume authority.

Massu was prepared to bring back de Gaulle by force if necessary and plans were developed to dispatch paratroopers to metropolitan France from Algeria, but this option was not needed. On June 1, 1958, the French National Assembly invested de Gaulle with the premiership; technically he was the last premier of the Fourth Republic. De Gaulle ultimately established a new French political framework, the Fifth Republic, with greatly enhanced presidential powers.

De Gaulle visited Algeria five times between June and December 1958. At Oran on June 4, he said about France in Algeria that “she is here forever.” A month later, he proposed 15 billion francs for Algerian housing, education, and public works, and that October he suggested an even more sweeping proposal, known as the Constantine Plan. The funding for the massive projects, however, was never forthcoming. True reform was never realized and in any case was probably too late to impact the Muslim community.

Algeria’s new military commander, General Maurice Challe, arrived in Algeria on December 12, 1958, and launched a series of attacks on FLN positions in rural Kabylia in early 1959. The Harkis, Muslim troops loyal to France, guided special mobile French troops called Commandos de Chasse. An aggressive set of sorties deep in Kabylia made considerable headway, and Challe calculated that by the end of October his men had killed half of the FLN operatives there. A second phase of the offensive was to occur in 1960, but by then de Gaulle, who had gradually eliminated options, had decided that Algerian independence was inevitable.

In late August 1959, de Gaulle braced his generals for the decision and then addressed the nation on September 19, 1959, declaring his support for Algerian self-determination. Fearing for their future, some die-hard colons created the Front Nationale Français and fomented another revolt on January 24, 1960, in the so-called Barricades Week. Mayhem ensued when policemen tried to restore order, and a number of people were killed or wounded. General Challe and the colony’s governor, Paul Delouvrier, fled Algiers on January 28, but the next day de Gaulle, wearing his old army uniform, turned the tide via a televised address to the nation. On February 1 army units swore loyalty to the government, and the revolt quickly collapsed.

Early in 1961, increasingly desperate Ultras formed a terrorist group called the Secret Army Organization (OAS). It targeted colons whom they regarded as traitors and also carried out bombings in France and attempted to assassinate de Gaulle himself.

The Generals’ Putsch of April 20–26, 1961, was a serious threat to de Gaulle’s regime. General Challe wanted a revolt limited to Algeria, but Salan and his colleagues (Ground Forces chief of staff General André Zeller and recently retired inspector general of the air force Edmond Jouhaud) had prepared for a revolt in France as well. The generals had the support of many frontline officers in addition to almost two divisions of troops. The Foreign Legion arrested commander of French forces in Algeria General Fernand Gambiez, and paratroopers near Rambouillet prepared to march on Paris after obtaining armored support. The coup collapsed, however, as police units managed to convince the paratroopers to depart, and army units again swore loyalty to de Gaulle.

On June 10, 1961, de Gaulle held secret meetings with FLN representatives in Paris, and then on June 14 he made a televised appeal for the FLN’s so-called provisional government to negotiate an end to the war. Peace talks during June 25–29 failed to lead to resolution, but de Gaulle was set in his course. During his visit to Algeria in December, he was greeted by large pro-FLN Muslim rallies and anticolon riots. The United Nations recognized Algeria’s independence on December 20, and in a national referendum on January 8, 1962, the French public voted in favor of Algerian independence.

A massive exodus of colons was already under way. Nearly 1 million returned to their ancestral homelands (half of them went to France, while most of the rest went to Spain and Italy). Peace talks resumed in March at Évian, and both sides reached a settlement on May 18, 1962.


The formal handover of power occurred on July 4, 1962, when the FLN’s Provisional Committee took control of Algeria, and in September Ben Bella was elected Algeria’s first president. The Algerian War claimed some 18,000 French military deaths, 3,000 colon deaths, and about 300,000 Muslim deaths.

The Europeans were encouraged to leave (la valise ou le cercueil, meaning “the suitcase or the coffin”), and some 1.5 million did so. Perhaps half relocated in Metropolitan France, and most of the remainder went to Spain or Italy. Some 30,000 Europeans remained in Algeria. Ostensibly granted equal rights in the peace treaty, they instead faced official discrimination by the FLN government and the loss of much of their property. The FLN-led Algerian government, headed by Prime Minister Mohammed Ben Bella, promptly confiscated the colons’ abandoned property and established a decentralized socialist economy and a one-party state.

The Harkis, those Algerian Muslims who fought on the French side in the war, suffered terribly. Some 91,000 and their family members settled in France. At least 30,000 and perhaps as many as 150,000 Harkis and their family members, including young children, who remained in Algeria were subsequently butchered by either the FLN or lynch mobs.

Ben Bella’s attempt to consolidate his power, combined with popular discontent with the economy’s inefficiency, sparked a bloodless military coup by Defense Minister Houari Boumédienne in June 1965. In 1971, the government endeavored to stimulate economic growth by nationalizing the oil industry and investing the revenues in centrally orchestrated industrial development. Boumédienne’s military-dominated government took on an increasingly authoritarian cast over the years.

Algeria’s leaders sought to retain their autonomy, joining their country to the Non-Aligned Movement, and Boumédienne phased out French military bases. Although Algeria denounced perceived American imperialism and supported Cuba, the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, Palestinian nationalists, and African anticolonial fighters, it maintained a strong trading relationship with the United States. At the same time, Algeria cultivated economic ties with the Soviet Union, which provided the nation with military equipment and training. When the Spanish relinquished control of Western Sahara in 1976, Morocco attempted to annex the region, leading to a 12-year low-level war with Algeria, which supported the guerrilla movement fighting for the region’s independence.

Diplomatic relations with the United States warmed after Algeria negotiated the release of American hostages in Iran in 1980 and Morocco fell out of U.S. favor by allying with Libya in 1984.

In 1976, a long-promised constitution that provided for elections was enacted, although Algeria remained a one-party state. When Boumédienne died in December 1978, power passed to Chadli Bendjedid, the army-backed candidate. Bendjedid retreated from Boumédienne’s increasingly ineffective economic policies, privatizing much of the economy and encouraging entrepreneurship. However, accumulated debt continued to retard economic expansion. Growing public protests from labor unions, students, and Islamic fundamentalists forced the government to end restrictions on political expression in 1988.

The Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut, FIS) proved to be the most successful of the new political parties. After victories by the FIS in local elections in June 1990 and national elections in December 1991, Bendjedid resigned, and a new regime under Mohamed Boudiaf imposed martial law, banning the FIS in March 1992. In response, Islamist radicals began a guerrilla war that has persisted to the present, taking a toll of 150,000 or more lives. Although Algeria’s military government managed to gain the upper hand in the struggle after 1998, Islamic groups continue to wage war on the state, which maintains control through brutal repression and tainted elections.

The Destruction of the Manchester Column I

Indian cavalry on patrol, c.1918

1920’s Mesopotamia

While General Haldane’s attention was focused on the besieged garrison at Rumaytha, the insurgency continued to spread, gathering in more and more tribesmen, their sheikhs swept up in a great swell of religious fervour and primitive patriotism which gave them little room to manoeuvre, even when their sheikhly interests might have been better served by remaining obedient to the British. By mid-July 1920 around 35,000 Arab tribesmen were in arms and the number of British garrisons and outposts at risk of being cut off and destroyed was increasing.

In particular, fears grew for the safety of the British outpost at Kufa, where a small detachment of Indian troops from the 108th Infantry Regiment was keeping a wary eye on the rebellious city of Najaf seven and a half miles to the south-west. Kufa, a town of around 3,500 inhabitants, situated on the right bank of the channel of the same name, lay thirty-three miles south of the British base at Hilla. For twenty-one miles of that distance a narrow-gauge railway, built during the war, ran as far as Kifl, another small British outpost and railway terminus and the point where the Hindiyya branch of the great Euphrates divides, forming two further channels, the Kufa and the Shamiyya. As early as 11 July, the stationmaster at Kifl had reported that attacks on the railway station and telegraph lines were anticipated and the railway staff were authorised to withdraw north to Hilla. However, the following day, the PO for the Hilla Division, Major Pulley, considered it safe enough for the railway staff to return.

Meanwhile, Major P. Fitzgerald Norbury, the PO for the Shamiyya Division, accompanied by his youthful APO, Captain Mann, began a series of visits to the sheikhs of the Khaza’il, Bani Hasan and Shibl tribes, attempting to bribe them to abandon the al-Fatla, who were currently the most actively engaged insurgents. But this was to no avail and on 13 July the al-Fatla and their allies began to threaten Kufa.

The defenders of Kufa totalled 730 men, 486 of whom were Indian troops of the 108th Infantry plus their four British officers. The only other fighting men were a motley force of 115 Arab and Persian levies commanded by six British officers and three British NCOs. There were also 102 Indians and fourteen British employed by the Civil Administration. However, Norbury had selected a strong defensive position of stone buildings on the edge of the town and adjacent to the river and ensured that this strongpoint was well stocked with supplies and ammunition. Moreover the gunboat HMS Firefly had just arrived at Abu Sukhair, a few miles south of Kufa, having steamed down from the Upper Euphrates, and could easily return to Kufa in a few hours.

Signs of hostility began to show themselves on 14 July when insurgents opened fire on a British launch carrying supplies which would have certainly been captured without the intervention of Firefly, after which the gunboat was ordered upriver to Kufa. Then, on 20 July, the British base in the town came under sporadic rifle fire.

By the following day the British outpost was completely encircled and the attacks grew fiercer. Soon a number of buildings near to the British defensive perimeter were set on fire and Norbury and Mann repeatedly led fire-fighting parties to try to extinguish the flames. On 22 July, in the course of another of these sorties, Captain Mann was shot and killed by the Arab attackers. Wilson had lost yet another of his ‘young men’. Meanwhile, insurgent raiding parties began to threaten Kifl and on 23 July its railway station was overrun by a section of the Bani Hasan tribe, and the railway staff, who had been ordered back to their posts on 12 July, were captured and taken prisoner to Najaf.

As the military situation in the Shamiyya Division deteriorated, on Thursday 22 July Major General Leslie, still at Diwaniyya, was summoned to Baghdad for a conference with the GOC-in-chief and the following day was flown up to Baghdad for the meeting with Haldane. Afterwards he paid a visit to his own 17th Division HQ and it was there, later that Friday morning, that he received a telegram from Colonel R.C.W. Lukin, commanding officer at Hilla, who had replaced the ‘hysterical’ General Wauchope a few days earlier. With Kifl overrun by rebel tribesmen and the Hilla–Kifl railway cut in a number of places, Colonel Lukin informed Leslie that he was under intense pressure from the local PO, Major Pulley, to send out a detachment towards Kifl, in order to ‘show the flag’ in the hope that this would deter the ‘wavering’ northern sections of the Bani Hasan from joining the insurgency. The telegram requested authorisation to do so.

The only troops at Hilla available for this purpose were the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment (less one company), a field artillery battery, a field ambulance section, a company of Indian pioneers and two squadrons of Indian cavalry, in total around 800 men, all units from the 18th Division which had been sent to Hilla, on GHQ’s order, to form a column there for the purpose of retaking Kifl and relieving Kufa – but only when a sufficiently strong force had been assembled.

Colonel Lukin’s telegram informed Leslie that he intended to send a column made up of the units currently available down the road to Kifl to a point six miles south of Hilla called Imam Bakr, which had been reconnoitred and was reported as having a good supply of water for both animals and men. The objective was to ‘show the flag’ as requested by the PO. Lukin asked Leslie to approve this move and to authorise a continuation of the advance towards Kifl if circumstances allowed.

Leslie, who by now was fully aware of his commanding officer’s strictures about sending out under-strength columns at the behest of POs, decided to pass the request to the GOC-in-chief himself, so he telephoned GHQ and, in the presence of his own two staff officers, he read out Colonel Lukin’s telegram to Brigadier General Stewart, Haldane’s general staff officer who had taken the call. A few minutes later, Stewart replied, giving GHQ’s permission for the Manchester Regiment and other units to advance towards Kifl but, for the time being, to go no further than Imam Bakr, which was to be considered ‘an outpost of Hilla’. The commander of the column was also ordered to avoid becoming engaged with superior hostile forces. Leslie then transmitted these instructions to Lukin at Hilla, sending a copy of his telegram by special dispatch rider to GHQ, and later that day he boarded an aircraft at Baghdad to fly back to Diwaniyya.

Precisely why General Haldane authorised the Manchester Column’s movement to Imam Bakr is something of a mystery. It was completely inconsistent with his previously stated objections to making an ‘unready push’ and the manoeuvre had no clear objective. Certainly, there was no reason why GHQ should defer to the judgement of the PO who had been pressing for the column’s dispatch. One possible explanation is that Haldane was expecting the arrival at Hilla of some of the units from the Rumaytha relief column he was planning to withdraw north from Diwaniyya and which could then be sent on immediately to reinforce the Manchesters at Imam Bakr. It was this more substantial force which would then advance further towards Kifl and Kufa.

However, when the Manchester Column was sent out on the afternoon of 23 July, neither Colonel Lukin at Hilla nor the officer commanding the column, Colonel Hardcastle, had any idea that reinforcements were en route to them and might be arriving shortly, a communications failure that was to have tragic results.

To better understand the course of events which was now about to unfold, let us first examine the terrain through which the column was to move. Between Hilla and Kifl the landscape was almost entirely flat and featureless except for the ruined Babylonian tower of Birs Nimrud – locally reputed to be the Tower of Babel – which would have been just visible, situated on a mound, about ten miles south-west of the column’s point of departure. At that time of year the terrain itself was a mixture of grey-brown desert covered with scrubby ‘camel thorn’ bushes intersected by a number of half-empty canals which fed off the Hilla branch of the Euphrates. Where these irrigation canals watered the land, rice fields – some of them quite extensive – broke the monotonous vista. Two of these irrigation canals, the Amariyya and the Nahr Shah, ran roughly north–south, to the east of the road and the 2’6” railway line from Hilla, while two smaller canals, the Mashtadiyya and the Rustumiyya lay broadly east–west. Imam Bakr – the position six miles south of Hilla where Colonel Hardcastle had been ordered to halt, make camp and water the cavalry and transport teams from local wells – was a short distance north of the point where the road and railway line crossed the Mashtadiyya canal. As to the ‘road’ to Kifl along which the column would march – it was little more than an unmetalled track.

Let us try to picture the small British force on Friday 23 July 1920 as it begins its advance into enemy territory under the baking Mesopotamian sun. A few months earlier the newly planted rice fields and small plots of winter wheat ready for harvesting would have been bright green and dotted with spring flowers, but now all has turned to drab dusty yellow. There is nothing to raise the men’s spirits as they set off towards their equally cheerless destination.

‘B’ Company of the Manchesters, under the command of Captain G.M. Glover, are at the head of the column followed by ‘A’ Company. But after only a couple of miles these pale young men from Lancashire in their solar topees and baggy shorts are already in a sorry condition, sodden with a fine perspiration, like a downy mist, which seems to leak out of every pore, and desperately thirsty; but the British Army believes that troops should refrain from drinking water in the heat of the day while marching, so ‘water discipline’ is being rigidly enforced. Behind them march a company of sepoys – strong, lean men of the 1st Battalion the 32nd Sikh Pioneers, ready in an instant to drop their rifles and seize their entrenching tools; normally a six-mile march would be nothing to them but with the shade temperature touching 120°f, even these tough, experienced soldiers are beginning to suffer. The six horse-drawn 18-pounder guns of the 39th Royal Field Artillery battery are in the centre of the column together with 150 ‘Animal Transport’ (AT) carts each pulled by two mules, carrying ammunition and the impedimenta required for constructing a camp. As their Indian drivers whip them forward, the animals churn up the fine dust of the alluvial soil, choking the men of ‘D’ Company of the Manchesters who are marching behind them. And in the rear, and on either flank, are two squadrons of the 35th Scinde Horse, the pennants of their lances fluttering in the scorching breeze of the shamal as they scan the horizon for enemy tribesmen; but, as often as not, in the shimmering heat, what first appears to be a horseman is just a mirage – or nothing more than a six-foot high clump of wild liquorice or a strangely twisted grey-leaved native poplar tree.

Forty-four-year-old Colonel R.N. Hardcastle, in command of the column, marches with the infantry, alternately on horseback or on foot, resting his mount. The son of a ‘gentleman of independent means’ of Wakefield, Yorkshire, Colonel Hardcastle joined the army with the rank of second lieutenant in December 1897.9 By now he is a very experienced soldier. He fought in the Boer War of 1899–1901, serving with the Manchester Regiment’s 1st Battalion, and was awarded the DSO for bravery in September 1901. In 1914 his unit formed part of the British Expeditionary Force in France and between 18 and 20 October it saw very heavy fighting at Richebourg-l’Avoué, where Hardcastle, by now a captain, had to assume temporary command of the battalion after its lieutenant colonel was sent to hospital. In April 1915 he was promoted to major and the following year his unit was sent to Iraq, where it took part in the futile campaign to relieve General Townshend’s men besieged at Kut al-‘Amara and during which Major Hardcastle was wounded. By July 1918 Hardcastle, now with the rank of brevet lieutenant colonel, was commanding the 1st Battalion of the Manchesters in General Allenby’s successful campaign against the Turks in Palestine. It was with the same rank that Hardcastle was placed in command of the Manchester Regiment’s 2nd Battalion in November 1919.

Many of the column’s other officers are equally experienced and decorated. But brave and experienced as they may be, these officers are no less affected by the intense heat than their men and on arrival at Imam Bakr in the early evening all ranks are exhausted and some have already collapsed from dehydration and heatstroke.

At this point events begin to take an unfortunate turn. In spite of the enforcement of ‘water discipline’, the column has insufficient water supplies for an operation in such extremes of temperature.10 Colonel Hardcastle has been assured that there will be plentiful water supplies at Imam Bakr but when his cavalry patrols reach the nearby wells it is discovered that the water is so brackish that even the animals refuse to drink. However, the column is within a short distance of the Mashtadiyya canal so the men and animals trudge onwards to that location. But once again they are disappointed – the Hilla branch of the Euphrates, from which the matrix of irrigation channels is fed, is very low this year and there is no water entering the Mashtadiyya canal. So the weary and despondent British and Indian troops march back to Imam Bakr.

However, a junior PO accompanying the column who is familiar with this area, Lieutenant P.H.S. Tozer, is sent out scouting for alternative sources of water and soon returns informing Hardcastle that there are adequate supplies in another canal, the Nahr Shah, further to the south-east; there is also a good defensive position at which to make camp eight miles south of Imam Bakr, where the railway and Hilla–Kifl road cross another canal with water, the Rustumiyya. So Hardcastle now sends a message back to Hilla informing Colonel Lukin that he intends to continue his advance to the Rustumiyya, asking his senior officer to approve the movement.

On receiving this request, at 00.15 on 24 July, Colonel Lukin sends a telegram to Major General Leslie at Divisional HQ Diwaniyya informing him of the column’s plight and of his intention to allow the column to advance further southwards towards Kifl, principally to obtain water but also to continue to ‘show the flag’ in this unsettled area. Leslie is informed by Lukin that he has authorised the column to set off from Imam Bakr ‘in the morning’.

At this point Leslie is still hours away from his HQ, being flown back from his conference with Haldane in Baghdad. When he does eventually receive Lukin’s message at 10.40 a.m. on Saturday the 24th, he is puzzled by the expression ‘in the morning’ – does Lukin mean he is intending to order the advance to begin this morning (in which case he would have already departed) or the following morning – on the 25th? He therefore telegraphs back to Hilla asking for clarification, at the same time informing Lukin that substantial reinforcements will soon be on their way to him from the units which are expected to return to Hilla from the relief of Rumaytha.

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that the Nahr Shah canal does indeed contain adequate water supplies and Hardcastle has sent part of the column there with the animals without further authorisation. The operation is successful but because of difficulties leading the horses and mules down the steep banks of the canal, they can only be watered in small batches.

Consequently the party does not return to the camp at Imam Bakr until 8.15 a.m. An hour later, Hardcastle has still not received a reply from Hilla to his telegram of 00.15 as to a further advance to the Rustumiyya canal, so because the temperature is already above 100°f, he decides to give the order to advance without waiting any longer. However, it is not until 4.00 that afternoon that Leslie receives a telegram from Lukin at Hilla informing him that the column has already set off ‘that morning, early’. The stage is now set for a tragic denouement.

By midday on Saturday 24 July, Colonel Hardcastle and his men eventually reached the Rustumiyya canal, by which time 60 per cent of the Manchester Regiment troops were so exhausted and affected by the heat as to require, in the opinion of the column’s medical officer, a complete rest for twenty-four hours. However, the column was now close to Kifl, whose single white minaret could clearly be seen from the canal bank, and, faced with the possibility of an attack by marauding bands of insurgents, Hardcastle decided that a protected camp would have to be constructed. So after only a few hours’ rest the men were set to work preparing a defensible position while two troops of the Scinde Horse were posted as standing patrols on the road and light railway line leading to Kifl.

The Destruction of the Manchester Column II

General Aylmer Haldane, British Commander-in-Chief in Iraq, 1921


The spot chosen for the camp was a naturally strong one. It was sited to the east of the road from Hilla to Kifl in the angle between the road and the canal.

 On three sides there were earthen banks a few feet above the level ground which served on the southern side to retain the ten-foot-wide canal while on the east was an irrigation cut of lesser width. The protection of the third side, which bordered the road, consisted of a dry ditch with a low bank on both sides of it. Beyond this side to the west and making an acute angle with the road, outside the perimeter selected for the camp, ran a line of mounds, possibly the remains of an ancient canal bank of which all other traces had disappeared. Since the highest of these was around ten feet above level ground, and the highest point in the vicinity, these positions were also occupied.

Only on the fourth side facing north-west were there no naturally defensible features and so at 5.30 p.m. those men who were still fit enough were ordered to commence digging trenches along this line. However, a few minutes later an orderly from the cavalry troop stationed on the railway line galloped into the camp with news that a large party of Arabs were tearing up the rails and destroying the culverts. This was followed by the arrival of a wounded cavalryman and then, shortly afterwards, by the remainder of the cavalry with worrying news: at least 10,000 insurgents were said to be advancing on the camp and were only about two miles away. Although this estimate of enemy combatants was later revised down to about 3,000, the British and Indian troops were clearly heavily outnumbered.

A short time later both sides opened fire, although there was some delay in getting the British artillery into action because the British gunners, who were also the column’s telephonists, were currently trying to get in touch with Hilla by attaching their instruments to the telegraph line. By 7.50 p.m. the fighting became more intense and the Arabs were seen to be working round the flanks of the encampment, some of them closing to only 150 yards from the camp perimeter. Colonel Hardcastle was aware that he had been ordered to avoid an engagement with superior forces but he was now in a quandary: his orders indicated that the column should probably withdraw to a position of greater safety, nearer to Hilla; but with nightfall approaching he also knew that conducting such a movement in good order would be extremely hazardous. What he did not know, however, was that within the next twenty-four hours reinforcements from the Rumaytha relief force would be available at Hilla ready to be sent on the short distance to support Hardcastle’s men. If the Manchester Column had dug in and taken advantage of their superior firepower they would probably have been able to hold their position until those reinforcements arrived.

In the event, Colonel Hardcastle’s judgement seems to have failed him. Instead of taking a firm decision as commanding officer, he called all the officers to a council, including the two POs accompanying the column, Lieutenant Tozer and his superior, APO Captain W.E. Hunt. These two urged an immediate withdrawal, claiming that, seeing such a force of British troops pinned down in this manner, all the local Arabs would rise up and even Hilla itself might be overwhelmed and captured. The outcome of the conference was that a decision was taken to abandon the camp and retire northwards towards Imam Bakr and Hilla. ‘B’ Company of the Manchester Regiment was to act as the advance guard split into two files either side of the AT wagons and artillery. They would be followed by ‘A’ and ‘D’ companies; the Sikh Pioneers and the two squadrons of the Scinde Horse would make up the rearguard.

At 8.40 p.m., in a darkness unrelieved by any moonlight, the Manchester Column begins to move off in the direction of Hilla along what is little more than a dirt track. For the first half mile of progress the column holds together well. Morale has now improved somewhat. British and Indian soldiers have enjoyed at least a few hours of rest and they are relieved to be returning to the modest comforts of Hilla after the privations of the march. And for the time being they are able to fend off sporadic attacks by mounted insurgents who are reluctant to come into close combat with their better-armed opponents.

Then, suddenly, there is a commotion among the AT wagons. Something has panicked the mules and horses, which begin to charge off in different directions. In the pitch darkness, the men of ‘A’ and ‘B’ companies of the Manchesters have no idea what is happening until careering transport wagons carve through their ranks. In the chaos, the inexperienced young infantrymen who cannot get out of the way are trampled, injured and killed while the rest are split up into isolated groups of men left stranded and in many cases separated from their officers and NCOs.

From now on any sense of there being an organised military formation has disintegrated. Loose horses, led by a white pony, continue to career up and down the road on which some of the Manchesters are endeavouring to make an orderly retreat. The combat degenerates into a scattering of individual fights between little groups of British and Indian troops and a swirling mass of Arab horsemen and foot soldiers. As they retreat, the gunners halt for a few minutes, firing their guns into the Arabs at almost point-blank range, and with drawn swords the sowars of the Scinde Horse make repeated charges into the enemy tribesmen to prevent them surrounding and capturing the guns and gunners. In the course of these charges, all six of the cavalry’s British officers have their horses shot from under them; two of their officers are badly wounded and the senior Indian officer, Risaldar Muhammad Azim, who has shown the greatest coolness and bravery throughout the fighting, is shot in the stomach and dies shortly afterwards. And as the struggle to extricate the guns dies down, two-thirds of the cavalry are now fighting on foot.

In another of these close-quarter combats the twenty-six-year-old Captain George Henderson, commanding ‘D’ Company of the Manchesters, orders his men to fix bayonets and leads a charge into the nearest mass of insurgents.16 For a while this body of rebels pulls back but within minutes they have recovered and threaten to surround Henderson’s men. Once again he leads a charge at bayonet point towards the Arabs but this time he is badly wounded. Nevertheless, after this show of resistance, the insurgents pull back, turning their attention to the substantial amount of equipment, rifles and ammunition in the AT wagons which the Manchester Column has had to abandon. At this point Henderson manages to extricate his men and escape up the road to Hilla. After a few hundred yards the men of ‘D’ Company halt at a defensible position. It is only now that the severity of Henderson’s wound becomes apparent. He asks a sergeant to lay him down on the canal embankment where they are sheltering. His last words, spoken to one of his NCOs are, ‘I’m done now, don’t let them beat you.’ Henderson was later awarded the Victoria Cross ‘for most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice’.

Meanwhile, Captain Glover and 128 men of ‘B’ Company of the Manchesters, originally at the head of the column, have become completely disorientated and have veered away from the Hilla ‘road’ to the left, on a track leading to Birs Nimrud. At some point along this track they are surrounded and attacked by a swarm of mounted insurgents. None of these men would ever be seen again. Glover and his men were later classed as ‘missing’, but according to a survivor from another unit, they were ‘slaughtered to a man’, a conclusion broadly confirmed by a subsequent court of inquiry.

By around 6.00 a.m. on 25 July, some men of ‘D’ Company of the Manchesters and other units had eventually managed to find their way back to Hilla. But what of the remainder of the column? The first Major General Leslie heard of the Manchester Column, since he had been informed of its advance to the Rustumiyya canal, was at 10.30 p.m. the previous day, when he received a telegram from Hilla saying that the column had been in action and was ‘withdrawing to Hilla under fire’. As he later described it to his wife, ‘I knew only too well what this meant with six guns and a lot of transport withdrawing at night and so few infantry to protect them.’

If Colonel Hardcastle had decided that the Manchester Column remain in its fortified camp it would probably have been able to defend its position until reinforcements arrived, especially since the Rustumiyya canal provided an adequate water supply. Indeed, while the column was beginning its ill-fated retreat to Hilla, Leslie was commandeering as many railway trucks as possible with which to transport the Royal Irish Rifles from Diwaniyya to Hilla from where they could be rushed to support the Manchester Column. Then, at 10.30 in the morning of 25 July, Leslie received the news he had been dreading: the Manchester Column had ‘suffered disaster’; only two guns had reached Hilla and the rest of the column was believed to be returning but ‘its whereabouts was unknown.’

Leslie had little choice but to continue with the entrainment of the Royal Irish Rifles in the hope that these reinforcements might yet do something to obviate the ‘disaster’. So at 11.30 a.m. the train carrying the Irish Rifles, accompanied by Leslie himself, left Diwaniyya station, arriving at Hilla at 6.00 that Sunday evening.

At Hilla Leslie found ‘everybody in a state of the utmost gloom’. And to his amazement, instead of retiring to Baghdad as Leslie had ordered, General Wauchope was still in situ, having decided, on his own account, to stay on to ‘advise’ his replacement Colonel Lukin. Not surprisingly, the scant information being received as regards the fate of the Manchester Column had more or less unhinged him. ‘General Wauchope is almost a gibbering lunatic,’ Leslie later informed his wife and immediately packed the unfortunate brigadier off to Baghdad.

Indeed, such was the ‘gloom’ at Hilla that Colonel Lukin – apparently aided and abetted by Wauchope – had begun to turn two large buildings in the town into a fortified position from which to make a ‘last stand’. Leslie at once put a stop to this and, going round the outskirts of the town, he selected the best spots for piquets, had them manned and put what Arab levies were available into the most easily defended ones. The remnants of the Manchester Column were placed on the least exposed side of the town and a general night-time curfew imposed on the town’s residents.

And as this most depressing Sunday wore on, an account – albeit a very provisional one – of what had happened to the Manchester Column began to emerge. Writing from Hilla in the evening, Leslie described how he intended to set up a court of inquiry into the affair but in the meantime his initial account of the debacle was as follows:

At 8.00 p.m. – i.e. after dark – the Officer Commanding took the fatal resolve to retire on Hilla. Some transport carts stampeded and panic set in. The Arabs closed right in on them and the withdrawal became very much disorganized. I understand that only one squadron of the 35th Horse and a portion of the Pioneers under their British officers continued to conduct an orderly rearguard action. I hear, but don’t yet believe, that the men of the Manchester Regiment never recovered the panic. The gunners behaved well, firing their guns at ranges of 80 yards or so. The Arabs got amongst some of the teams stabbing the horses with daggers. They had one gun out of six hopelessly over-turned in a large water channel and it had to be abandoned after the breech block and sights were removed. They also had to abandon some ammunition wagons. The cavalry lost very few men, the Pioneers had 24 missing and 6 wounded out of 141, but the Manchesters account for only about a dozen known killed or rather less wounded, but have nearly 200 missing! They also lost practically all their Lewis guns. It looks bad for them, but one must await the enquiry … A very bad show of which I do not see the end …

In fact, as we have seen, some of the Manchesters did put up a strong fight, but overall Leslie’s initial views as to the extent of the defeat were largely borne out by the final tally of casualties. The disastrous night action south of Hilla cost the British 178 killed or missing, 150 captured and 60 wounded – a loss of 388 from a total of around 800 men. In addition, considerable amounts of ammunition and an 18-pounder field gun were captured by the insurgents. The loss of the field gun was to have further unfortunate consequences.

It didn’t take long before news of the rout of the Manchester Column, and in particular the capture of so many British infantry by the rebels, spread throughout the country. Indeed, it reached the coffee houses and mosques of Baghdad almost as soon as it reached the British GHQ, via the occupiers’ own telegraph and telephone system. So panicked were the military authorities in Hilla that they failed to take the elementary precaution of transmitting news of the disaster in code. Since there were many sympathisers and supporters of the insurgency working in the British telegraph and telephone offices, tales of the British mishap – some of them wildly exaggerated – were already sweeping through the narrow streets of the old city by the Sunday afternoon.

Gertrude Bell apparently did not hear about the incident until she arrived at work the following morning. In a letter to her father dated 26 July she begins with some private family matters after which she describes how, ‘Things have moved a little since I wrote last week. We have relieved Rumaytha and at the same time our own minds, for the couple of hundred people who had been shut up there for 3 weeks were a great anxiety.’

But then, after discussing the political situation in Baghdad, the letter continues,

The above was written before breakfast. When I got to the office I found that the whole complexion on the Euphrates had changed. All the tribes are out … Whether we can hold Hillah or not I don’t know … But it’s a bad business. The military authorities seem to me all through to have been more inept than it’s possible to conceive. The crowning scandal was the despatch two days ago of a battalion of the Manchesters from Hillah to Kifl. They were ordered to leave at 4 am and left at 10, with one day’s rations and water bottles. You remember that hot and barren road? Think of marching down it in July at midday! 17 miles out of Hillah they were dropping about with heat stroke. The tribes attacked – not viciously, I gather, but it was more than enough for the Manchesters, for there wasn’t a kick left in them. The tribes carried off the artillery and ammunition they were convoying down to Kifl … I believe there are more troops coming from India but unless they send a new higher Command with them, I think they may easily send 20 divisions in vain.

Inept or not, on receiving news of the Manchester Column disaster, any reluctance that General Haldane felt with regard to requests for reinforcements evaporated entirely. However, so far, both Haldane and Wilson had contrived to confuse the War Office as to exactly what reinforcements were required. On 18 July, the day after Churchill announced to the cabinet that, in response to General Haldane’s request, an additional full division was being mobilised to reinforce the beleaguered garrison in Iraq, a bemused War Office received a telegram from GHQ Baghdad informing them that they should postpone the dispatch of any more units, except the one brigade which Haldane had originally requested on 8 July. Given that on 18 July the battle for Rumaytha was still in the balance, Haldane’s apparent willingness to postpone substantial reinforcements – in his own words ‘from motives of economy’ – must have seemed inopportune to say the least; and to complicate matters further, the following day, Wilson (as usual ignoring instructions to refrain from commenting on purely military matters) offered his opinion that there was no need for any additional units – what was needed was to bring all the existing units up to strength. While that observation may have had some merit, its impact at the War Office merely added to the general state of confusion. Five days later, any clarity about reinforcements for Iraq further dissolved when Haldane telegrammed the War Office asking that ‘divisional staff and ancillary services’ should be sent ‘at the earliest opportunity’ from which it was inferred that, after all, Haldane was still expecting ‘the remainder of the division at an early date’.

Meanwhile, on 21 July, the cabinet had been informed of the military action on the road to Rumaytha. ‘The fighting was severe’, it was recorded, ‘but our attack was successful and a counter-attack by the enemy after dark was beaten off.’ After which the cabinet, seemingly reassured that matters in Iraq were not quite so bad as they had expected, moved on to grapple with the host of other problems with which they had been struggling with since the end of the war – the ‘Bolshevik threat’, Poland, the Irish rebellion, Egypt, strikes etc. etc. And in spite of Churchill’s fierce admonition to the contrary, no decision was taken about the withdrawal of British troops from Persia to support the counter-insurgency campaign on the Euphrates. Then, on 26 July, in the aftermath of the Manchester Column disaster, Haldane requested not one, but two divisions of reinforcements.

Replying two days later, Churchill informed Haldane that ‘the provision of any such [second] division is extremely problematical and that as regards Ordnance and Royal Army Service Corps personnel we are at the end of our resources’, to which he added, more in hope than expectation, that Haldane should consult with the civil commissioner, and decide ‘a definite course of policy’ but one which would bear in mind the limitation of Britain’s military resources.

Whilst your difficulties in the situation are fully appreciated, we think that it should be possible for the civil and military authorities on the spot to arrive at an agreed appreciation of the political situation on which you can estimate your military requirements and formulate a definite military policy, including the number of days supply reserves considered essential.

What Churchill apparently did not understand was that ‘an agreed appreciation’ between Haldane and Wilson was simply not possible: these two men had fundamentally different objectives. As the insurgency gained momentum, Wilson’s main preoccupation was, more than ever before, the safety of his ‘young men’, scattered all over the country, facing a very real threat of capture or murder. To counter this threat Wilson believed that the army should be deployed so as to provide as much protection to his young POs as possible. Haldane, on the other hand, was increasingly worried by his lack of any reserve with which to counter a really serious threat – for example a coordinated attack on Baghdad itself. Indeed, in the telegram of 28 July, Churchill had explicitly ordered him to hold ‘some reserve in your own hand over and above the troops necessary to meet your visible military requirements at any one time’, until more troops arrived from India. The only way Haldane could do this was by withdrawing outlying units and concentrating his forces nearer to the capital while at the same time refraining from responding to each and every request for support from the Civil Administration. A fortnight after receiving Churchill’s response to his request for further reinforcements, Haldane therefore issued the following instructions to his officers.

Responsibility of Officers.

On two recent occasions on the advice or recommendation of a political officer, risks quite unwarrantable from a military point of view have been taken by officers in command of troops. Unfortunate results have followed …

Having described these ‘unfortunate results’ as involving both losses of men and equipment but also contributing to the spread of the insurrection, the GOC-in-chief,

impresses on all officers in command of troops the responsibility which they incur should they act in a manner not strictly in accordance with sound military principles, more especially in a country such as Mesopotamia where the climate is in itself our greatest enemy. Political like other information is often untrustworthy and must not be blindly accepted; and to keep his Division quiet at all costs is with the political officer a natural and paramount instinct.

General Haldane, however, was making it abundantly clear to his officers that no such ‘instincts’ should be countenanced.

The G.O.C.-in Chief does not wish in any way to cramp the initiative of officers but there is a wide distinction between initiative and rashness. The present situation is such that the least set-back must have harmful results and it is every officer’s duty to reflect before acting and realise how great a responsibility he accepts if he is not certain in his own mind that he can fully justify his action.

Haldane could not have made it clearer. Henceforth Wilson’s ‘young men’ were going to be left to fend for themselves until victory over the rebels was in sight. After such an injunction no officer who cared for his military career was going to send troops to the aid of POs unless explicitly ordered to do so by the GOC-in-chief himself. To Wilson, the order was little more than a death sentence for some of those under his command and for whom he had the deepest respect and affection.

And among those to whom General Haldane’s order was addressed there were some army officers who would have been equally unhappy with the wording of the order. It contained strong implications – indeed virtually accusations – that one or other senior officer had indeed, been taking ‘risks quite unwarrantable from a military point’ and behaving in a manner ‘not strictly in accordance with sound military principles’. Major General Leslie, for one, would have bitterly resented these words because from the testy encounters with his commanding officer which he had already experienced, he had a strong impression that Haldane was in some way pointing the finger of blame at him for the setbacks of the past few days. For his part, Leslie had taken to referring dismissively to his commander-in-chief as ‘the early-Victorian baronet’.

Meanwhile, official opinion fluctuated wildly as to the advisability of withdrawing from the Mosul vilayet in order to concentrate British forces in the vilayets of Baghdad and Basra and hopefully forestall any further catastrophes like the Manchester Column debacle. However, in a telegram of 24 July Sir Percy Cox, recently arrived in Britain to brief the cabinet, weighed in with his own views on the matter. ‘I can only contemplate with the greatest dismay the suggestion that we should withdraw from Mosul,’ he stated. Apart from the impact upon ‘our prestige throughout Mesopotamia’,

I regard the maintenance of our position in Mesopotamia as a factor of enormous importance to our general interests in the Middle East and India. From an economic point of view I think it is common knowledge that the possibilities of Mesopotamia in oil, cotton and wheat make it a great country of promise … Oil is of course, an uncertain quantity but the prospect is at any rate sufficient to attract to Mesopotamia the interest and capital of very large concerns.

And he continued by pointing out the key importance of holding on to Basra (control of which would be threatened by any withdrawal from more northern parts of Iraq).

We have previously considered the control of the port of Basra at the head of the Persian Gulf to be most important for the strength of our position in those waters. It is especially so now a days in view of our large vested interested in Abadan and in the oil of Arabistan; but its value would be entirely vitiated were Baghdad in the hands of a hostile Power.

Hawker Hunter

The Hawker Hunter is a transonic single seat fighter / ground attack monoplane, with swept-back wings, variable incidence tail plane, powered flying controls and cabin pressurisation. It is powered by a fifteen stage axial flow Rolls-Royce Avon MK 207 turbine engine developing 10,150 lbs thrust. The fuselage is of monocoque construction and manufactured in three main sections. The swept-back wings are two spar stressed skin structures covered with heavy gauge skin thereby ensuring a perfectly smooth finish and providing for the necessary stiffness of the internal structure.

Originally designed as an air superiority fighter in the 1950’s, the Hunter went on to become the most successful post-war British Military aircraft with almost 2000 being produced. Of these, about one third were later rebuilt by the manufacturer to zero time standard, the last leaving the Dunsfold factory in 1976. Aided by its high power to weight ratio, inherent strength and adaptability, the design evolved from the pure fighter in to a superlative ground attack aircraft, the pinnacle of the design being the Swiss MK58 Hunters. This version was continuously updated to accommodate the latest weapons systems prior to being prematurely retired in the mid 1990’s as a direct result of the end of the Cold War.

In 1944, Sir Sydney Camm, Chief Designer at Hawker Siddeley, showed the Royal Air Force the design for the P.1040, a fast interceptor fighter. Little interest was shown in it at first, but a year later the Royal Navy chose the aircraft as a carrier-capable fighter designated Sea Hawk. Almost at the same time, Hawker modified the design from P.1040 to the swept-wing P.1052, which flew for the first time in November 1948. The new P.1081 design was based on it. Resulting from the experienced gained and the flying qualities of the P.1052 and P.1081, Hawker Siddeley developed the P.1067 as an interceptor fighter to combat Soviet bomber formations. The main- and tail wings had a sweep of 40º and at first sight the aircraft looked like a radically altered version of the Sea Hawk. The shooting armament was a 30-mm Aden cannon on floor-mount. The P.1067 took off on 20 July 1951 for the maiden flight piloted by Neville Duke, and on 7 September 1953 the same test pilot flew a P.1067 modified into the Hunter F.3 at 1171 km/hr over a measured 3-kilometre stretch for the absolute speed record. Amongst other achievements the Hunter went through the sound barrier in a dive on several occasions including at air shows.

The RAF ordered two different versions. The F.1 with an Avon 203 engine (3300 kg thrust) accepted into 43 Squadron in July 1954 and the F.2 fitted with the Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphiere (3,500 kg thrust) which joined 257 Squadron in September the same year. Neither remained in service for long, for very soon after acceptance the first weaknesses were seen, for example the F.1 engine compressor tended to stall at high altitude when the cannonn was fired. Fuel consumption of both versions was extremely high and the 1502-litre tank capacity inadequate, which naturally limited the flight endurance. These problems were not cured until the introduction of the F.4 when the wing form was modified and external disposable fuel tanks fitted. The tank capacity was now between 1,884 litres with a further 910 litres in two additional tanks.The shape of the Hunter was aerodynamically favourable so that the aircraft soon became one of the most interesting fighters of its time. The main series model for the RAF was the F.6 with Rolls-Royce Avon 203 engines produced as from 1955. By 1958 all operational squadrons of the Royal Air Force had been converted to this type. Later the F.6 received the improved Avon 207 engine.

The Hunter was one of the great British postwar export successes and was used operationally by over 20 countries: Belgium and the Netherlands even built it under licence. Numerous acrobatic teams also flew the Hunter later, amongst others the legendary British “Blue Diamonds” and the Swiss “Patrouille Suisse”. Even today fifty examples of this elegant machine can be found in private hands, mainly in Australia, Great Britain and the United States.

The Hunter was the most successful of the British postwar fighters, and is remembered as a delightful, capable airplane in every respect. The prototype was first flown on 20 July 1951, and the single-seat Hunter F1 entered service with the Royal Air Force in July 1954. A two-seat variant, the Hunter T7, entered service in 1958. Deliveries of the Hunter continued until 1966, and during its life, the airplane was continually modified and improved, resulting in over 25 variants, including export versions for over 22 foreign nations. All versions were supersonic, and most variants featured increases in armament, power and fuel quantity.

Major variants included the F4 (Avon Mk 115 engine, increased fuel capacity from earlier versions); F5 (Sapphire Mk 101 engine); F6 (Avon Mk 203 engine, increased fuel capacity); T8 (Two-seat Navy version); FR10 (RAF reconnaissance version); GA11 (Royal Navy single-seat attack version; and FGA9 (Greater weapons capacity, increased thrust, strengthened fuselage for ground-attack role.)

Until just a few years ago, almost 20% of all Hunters built were still in service (mainly with the Swiss Air Force, RAF and Royal Navy), but as of 1998, only Zimbabwe’s Hunters are still in front-line service. At least 30 are still airworthy in private hands.

Specifications (Hunter F6):

        Engine: One 10,150-pound thrust Rolls-Royce Avon Mk207 turbojet

        Weight: Empty 14,120 lbs., Max Takeoff 23,800 lbs.

        Wing Span: 33ft. 8in.

        Length: 45ft. 10.5in.

        Height: 13ft. 2in.


            Maximum Speed at Sea Level: 650 mph

            Ceiling: 51,500 ft.

            Range: 1,400 miles in ferry configuration (Combat radius 230 miles)


            Four 30mm Aden cannon

            Four underwing pylons for 500 or 1000-pound bombs, 24 76-mm rockets, or fuel tanks.

Number Built:  1,985