Portsmouth an the Anglo-Iraqi War 1941

Prior to the Second World War Iraq as governed by Britain under a League of Nations Mandate. Despite this there were few British forces in Iraq, and those that were in the main belonged to the RAF. The biggest base at RAF Habbaniya, 55 miles west of Baghdad, supported a number of aircraft, RAF ground forces, and also acted as a training base.

On 1 April 1941 a group of Iraqi nationalists embarked on a coup against the Regent of Iraq. The immediate plans of the group, led by Rashid Ali, were to expel the British and allies themelves with the Axis powers. The British forces at Habbaniya were seriously outnumbered, having only 84 obsolete planes wth only 39 pilots, 1000 other personnel, and a few ancient armoured cars.

Habbaniya was the scene of heavy fighting for several weeks, being under seige until reinforcements came by land from Egypt and by sea via Basra. The Iraqi rebels finally surrendered at Baghdad on 31 May 1941. The war resulted in the occupation of Iraq by British forces, preventing Germany from formenting further trouble or using it as a base. The Iraqi oil fields were also secured. Wavell wrote that the “gallant defence” of Habbaniya was crucial, and Churchill that the “spirited defence” of Habbaniya was a “prime factor” in British success.

Flight Sergeant Albert Couch, 33 and from Buckland, and Flight Sergeant Philip Osborn, 41 and from Southsea, both died during the uprising – Couch on 6 May, Osborn on 16 May. It is unclear whether they were aircrew or ground crew. Their service numbers indicate that both were pre-war regular members of the RAF. They are buried in Habbaniya War Cemetery, Iraq.

For many years Commonwealth War Graves in Iraq have been un-maintained due to the political situation in that county. Hopefully some day soon the graves of allied servicemen in Iraq will be restored to the condition that they deserve.



Filed under middle east, portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, World War Two

2 responses to “Portsmouth an the Anglo-Iraqi War 1941

  1. Roger Couch


    Sgt Pilot Albert Couch was my uncle. I can assure you that he was aircrew and for many years as a child I was able to play with one of his spare flying helmets and earphones. I am trying to find an entry for his name on a war memorial but so far, I have been unable to trace one. I have a photograph of his grave in Habbaniya War Cemetery and according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, for obvious reasons, they are somewhat unsure as to the current state of the cemetery.

  2. James Daly

    Hi Roger, thank you very much for that information, it is a great help with my research. I gather that the CWGC have a memorial book in their Maidenhead HQ containing the names of men commemorated in Iraq. Hopefully sometime soon they will be able to get back into Iraq and take care of the graves in Habbaniya, Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere.

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