Habforce was a British Army military unit created in 1941 during the Anglo-Iraqi War and still active during the Syria-Lebanon campaign during the fighting in the Middle East of World War II.

Creation and composition

Habforce, short for "Habbaniya Force",[1] was created from forces available in the British Mandate of Palestine in order to relieve RAF Habbaniya. On 4 May 1941, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, ordered General Sir Archibald Wavell, the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) Middle East Command, to create this force.[2]

RAF Habbaniya was a Royal Air Force station at Habbaniya in the Kingdom of Iraq. As of 30 April, the small British garrison at Habbaniya had been under siege by strong Iraqi forces loyal to Rashid Ali. On 1 April, Rashid Ali and his anti-British supporters had staged a coup against the pro-British government of Regent Amir Abdul Illah and relations between the British and the government of Rashid Ali quickly deteriorated until, on 2 May, the British launched pre-emtive air attacks throughout Iraq.

Habforce[3] was commanded by Major General John Clark.[4] During the Anglo-Iraqi War, Habforce was organized into two parts: a flying column named Kingcol and the main body. The main body, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Nichols, comprised the Headquarters of the 1st Cavalry Division (elements),[5] the 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment,[note 1] 60th (North Midland) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery,[note 2] and one artillery battery of anti-tank guns, Royal Artillery.[note 3] A detachment of the Arab Legion[note 4] initially advanced ahead of Kingcol.[11]

Habforce was employed again during the Syria-Lebanon campaign, In Syria, Habforce comprised the 4th Cavalry Brigade, the 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment, the Arab Legion Mechanized Regiment, the 237th Battery, 60th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, an Australian battery of 2 pounder anti-tank guns, and the 169th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery.

Activities during Anglo-Iraqi War

By 6 May, the Iraqi forces besieging RAF Habbaniya had fled.

On 11 May,[note 5], Kingcol, the flying column of Habforce, left Haifa in the British Mandate of Palestine and advanced towards RAF Habbaniya. The column arrived at Pumping Station H4 eight hours later.[13]

On 14 May, Kingcol took the Fort at Rutbah in Al Anbar Province in Iraq.[14] Rutbah had been occupied earlier by the 1st Battalion Essex Regiment and the Arab Legion although the first Kingcol forces to enter the fort after the Iraqi Forces had fled were two Armoured Cars of Number 2 Armoured Car Company RAF under the command of Sqn Ldr Casano.[15][16] Kingstone rushed ahead of his column to catch up with Glubb Pasha in order to coordinate the rest of the 220-mile advance towards RAF Habbaniya. The next objective was Kilo 25, a point on the Baghdad road about 14 miles west of Ramadi. On the advice of Colonel Ouvry Roberts in Habbaniya, the column was to turn southeast at Kilo 25 to avoid a confrontation with an Iraqi brigade thought to be at Ramadi. The column would then skirt Lake Habbaniya and advance on Habbaniya by crossing a newly constructed bridge at the village of Mujara. The village had been taken on 10 May and a bridge over the water regulater there was completed by 16 May.

On 15 May, Kingcol left Rutbah and an element of the column was attacked by a lone Heinkel He 111 bomber of Fliegerführer Irak ("Flyer Command Iraq").[17] Initially, the British thought that the Iraqis must have obtained a Blenheim bomber.

On 16 May, the column reached Kilo 25 and turned off the main road and headed southeast in accordance with Roberts' suggestion. Disaster then struck when numerous vehicles driven by inexperienced drivers sunk up to the axles in soft sand. The whole column halted while vehicles were dug out one by one.

On 17 May, three Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters attacked an extended column of Kingcol in the open desert. Luckily for the British, the fighters had not attacked the previous day when many vehicles were immobilized by the soft sand.[18]

On 18 May, Kingcol arrived in Habbaniya. Elements of Kingcol joined the other elements of Iraqforce in the advance on Fallujah.[19] On 19 May, the Iraqis in Fallujah surrendered. On 22 May, the British forces in Fallujah successfully defended against an Iraqi counter-attack to take the city back.

On 25 May, the main body of Habforce arrived at Habbaniya and joined the advance on Baghdad. A northern column left Fallujah on 27 May and a southern column left on 28 May.[20] On 31 May, the mayor of Baghdad surrendered the city.

See also


  1. Minus two rifle companies.[6]
  2. Minus 237 Field Battery with Kingcol; equipped with 25 pounder gun-howitzers.[7]
  3. Minus one troop and equipped with 2-pounder guns.[8]
  4. This detachment of the Arab Legion consisted of three mechanised squadrons[9] around 400 men strong.[10]
  5. Some sources say 12 May.[12]
  1. Jackson, p. 152
  2. Lyman, p. 16
  3. Lyman, p. 19
  4. Martin, p. 44
  5. Martin, p. 44
  6. Martin, p. 44
  7. Martin, p. 44
  8. Martin, p. 44
  9. Mackenzie, p. 94
  10. Martin, p. 44
  11. Young, p. 7
  12. Lyman, p. 61
  13. Lyman, p.61
  14. Lyman, p.64
  15. Warwick, In Every Place, pg. 292 et seq
  16. UK National Archives AIR29/55 Operations Record Book of No2 Armoured Car Company RAF
  17. Lyman, p.18
  18. Lyman, p. 60
  19. Lyman, p.19
  20. Lyman, p.19


  • Warwick, Nigel W. M. (2014). IN EVERY PLACE: The RAF Armoured Cars in the Middle East 1921–1953. Rushden, Northamptonshire, England: Forces & Corporate Publishing Ltd. p. 664. ISBN 978-0-9574725-2-5. 
  • Jackson, Ashley (2006). The British Empire and the Second World War. Hambledon Continuum. ISBN 1-85285-417-0. 
  • Lyman, Robert (2006). Iraq 1941: The Battles for Basra, Habbaniya, Fallujah and Baghdad. Campaign. Oxford, New York: Osprey Publishing. p. 96. ISBN 1-84176-991-6. 
  • Martin, Colonel Thomas Alexander (1952). The Essex Regiment, 1929–1950. Essex Regiment Association. 
  • Mackenzie, Compton. Eastern Epic: Volume 1 September 1939 – March 1943 Defence. London: Chatto & Windus. OCLC 59637091. 
  • Young, Peter (1972). The Arab Legion. Men-at-Arms. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 0-85045-084-5. 
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