Aeroplanes and Armored Cars:


By V.G Kiernan

The following text is an excerpt from Colonial Empires and Armies 1815 - 1960 (Stroud: Sutton, 1998)

After World War I, leaders in London worried that British forces were spread too thin, that the public at home was increasingly opposed to the costs of Empire and that the native peoples were organizing more substantial resistance. This brief excerpt from Kiernan's book, refers to the armored cars that patrolled Iraq and worked together with airplanes to control Iraqi rebellion. The armored cars and planes, both under the command of the Royal Air Force, were the vanguard of a new "technical" military, seen in London as a cheaper way to patrol the over-extended empire.

pp. 194-197

Above all, reliance was being placed on the new military technology to magnify manpower. It had been pushed forward rapidly by the Great War, which in this way fortified imperialism as much as in other ways it weakened it. During its course electrified as well as barbed wire was made use of on a turbulent section of the north-west frontier. The armoured car showed its paces in the Afghan war, though only available in limited numbers, `It possessed great fire power and mobility', the army reported, `while offering a small and almost invulnerable target to the enemy.' `Motor machine-gun batteries' were also now in service. A grander chariot of wrath was the tank, an avatar of the elephant of older Indian warfare. But the true deus ex machina was the aviator, who had made his appearance in various colonial theatres during the Great War. . . .

To empire men of [General L.C.] Dunsterville's generation, aviation promised, as his book makes clear, to be the trump card, the perfect means of keeping colonial peoples on the strait and narrow path. In the government this view had champions in [Colonial Secretary Lord] Milner and [Secretary for War and Air Winston] Churchill. . . The aim was to turn Iraq, whose defence was being entrusted to the RAF, into a showpiece of the new philosophy

It was in new territories where colonial rule had as yet no infrastructure that air forces could be looked on most of all as a short cut to control. In Iraq the British Mandate found few welcomers, and there were complications both in the north, where oil was expected, with Kurdish rebels, and in the south with Wahhabis, Muslim zealots raiding across the nebulous border from the new neighbouring kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A variety of operations were soon being undertaken by the RAF, on its own or in conjunction with ground forces under its direction. They were breeding a new type of soldier, a technician in uniform. A good specimen was the L.A. Simmons who joined the RAF as a 'skilled driver' in 1923, and spent 'two and a half quite unforgettable years' with armoured car units in Iraq, before moving on to Egypt. He rose to flight lieutenant. The army was not concerned to notice that it had some enquiring minds now in the fold. No one told Simmons and his friends that they would be getting out of a train at Ur of the Chaldees. 'There was little or no "Briefing" in those days, eveyone was kept in the dark about what was going on.' He arranged to have newspaper cuttings sent out from home, in order to get some clue to what he was doing.

His No.4 company of armoured cars had its base at Hinaidi, close to the capital of Baghdad. Far-ranging patrols were carried out, by sections each of four cars, four Fords with Lewis guns, and a tender with radio and provisions. A car had a crew of five, all of whom had to be able to drive it and to handle any of its weapons. 'Our "armoureds" were greatly respected everywhere', he wrote. When men on the ground spotted the enemy in too much strength for them to tackle they radioed for planes to come and bonb him.

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