The Great ‘Iraqi Revolt: The 1919-1920 Insurrections Against the British in Mesopotamia

The Hindiya Barrage and Shahraban: [SECTION PARTIALLY EXCLUDED]

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The Hindiya Barrage and Shahraban: [SECTION PARTIALLY EXCLUDED]

Lieutenant Colonel Scott describes being sent to Baquba and Sharaban to quell disturbances there, with significant insight into the contrast between pre-revolt British perceptions and the reality of violent opposition. He states on September 7, 1920:

Before we marched out we were told that the Arabs hereabouts loved us dearly and we were to take no hostile action except in self defence if attacked …The Arabs have proved their love to the hilt. They have murdered all officials, British and Indian in Shahraban and Bagobah, destroyed all bridges and culverts on the railway, torn up the line in many places and also the telegraph wires, attacked and defeated a small column that preceded us and committed many other acts of love. Yesterday evening they fired on our watering parties, wounded two or three men and killed several animals. Of course the cavalry parties replied to the fire but we were not allowed to attack the village from which we were fired on.45

Reassertion of Control
Relief of Kufa: The shrine city of Kufa lay deep within the rebel controlled Euphrates valley, and its small garrison quickly came under siege beginning on July 21. Initially, rebel commanders attempted to burn the defenders out from the set of stone buildings to which they had retired, and later tried to both mine and tunnel under the fortified walls. However, the besieged garrison was able to sustain itself for eighty-nine days, initially because of an armored steamship, the Firefly, which regularly braved rifle fire from the Euphrates banks in order to bring supplies. However, this route was also closed when, after a fortuitous capturing by rebel forces of a 18-pound artillery piece (and rebel ingenuity in the machining of a new breech-block), the gun was turned on the steamship and mortally wounded her. Eventually, the garrison was reduced to half rations of rice and horse-flesh. Arab levies also remained loyal to the British despite almost three months of the “appeals of the insurgents to desert and join what for long must have seemed to them the winning side.”46 However, after pacifying the region around Baghdad, Haldane was able to begin marching a column south from Hillah beginning on October 6. The column met strong resistance throughout their march, and made a strong stand at the city of Tuwairij on October 12. However, the combined firepower of the British column and the RAF eventually turned the battle. RAF planes strafed the tribal forces as they abandoned Tuwairij and retreated towards Karbala. Completing another string of blockhouses along the line of communication back to Hillah, the column was able to place strong pressure on the city of Karbala to submit. Haldane describes how:

Early in the insurrection a form of government had been set up at that place, and the eleven Arabs who constituted it were ordered to make formal submission for the town to Brigadier-General Sanders at Tuwairij, after which they would proceed to Baghdad, where the High Commissioner, Sir Percy Cox, who had replaced the Acting Civil Commissioner, Lieut.-Colonel A.T. Wilson, had arrived on the 11th October.47

Ten of the revolutionary leaders of Karbala agreed to this submission on October 16, after which several of the tribes from the surrounding area also sued for terms.

The remainder of the column reached the outskirts of Kufa early on October 17, where they met and overcame stiff resistance via machine gun fire and aerial strafing. Eventually tribal forces broke and abandoned Kufa, and by 9:30 a.m. the garrison, numbering some 750 personnel, was relieved.

Relief of Samawa: A similar if more dramatic series of events occurred during the siege of Samawa. Located at the southern end of the Euphrates valley at the confluence of the Shatt al-Hillah and the Euphrates proper, the garrison was quickly besieged beginning on August 13, and was not relieved until October 14, almost two months later. Initially the garrison was able to be re-supplied via rail and river craft; however each of these routes was eventually shut down. Lieutenant Henry received the following letter from Captain Storey-Cooper (who was later recognized for heroism during the event) regarding the storming of a hospital train on September 4,1920 by rebel forces:

The train however only managed to steam a few yards when for some reason it broke down and about 4,000 Arabs at once rushed it. The poor blighters inside hadn't a hope and although we poured drum after drum of S.A.A. into the enemy we were unable to save the train. The Arabs then attacked us in large numbers and, as there was no hope of the people in the train being alive, we had to commence a retirement. The Arabs pressed us heavily and after a hell of a scrap we held them within 80 yards of us. We continued the retirement and simply mowed the blighters down... We inflicted without doubt from 500 to 700 casualties on the enemy.48

The steamer ships commandeered early during the revolt by the military were armored and armed and used to run the gauntlet to bring supplies in and wounded out. However, these boats initially had difficulty, due to rebel control early on of the Hindiya barrage, which limited water flow down river and made river traffic difficult. Henry states that “Holding the barrage gave us water control. This control we had lost in the present troubles. With the loss of the barrage to the enemy alarming reports had come in from time to time to Hillah of an expected lack of water or of an abundance which might break river banks and flood the town and country. Further down the Hindiyah branch the depth of the river was of prime importance to the operation of our gunboats operating between Nasiriyah and Samawa.”49 Eventually, these ships came under increasingly powerful firepower and the ship the Greenfly was boarded and the crew killed after running aground.

Another method of re-supply eventually was further developed during this siege: via airplane. While of limited success during the Rumaytha siege, R.A.F. pilots developed better techniques in landing supplies in accessible areas, often at grave danger to themselves from ground-fire. Henry describes how “One pilot flying low was wounded in the forearm. He was losing blood fast so with his arm upraised to lessen the flow he flew on the Samawa landing ground to get his wound dressed by us. He then returned over Rumaitha to complete his task.”50 However, the technique still required refinement and Haldane ended up ordering that it cease, stating:

When rations began to fail, food was several times dropped by aeroplanes, and a t great risk a small proportion was picked up by the crew. The process of delivery was attended by such danger that after several aeroplanes had been damaged and one shot down and her pilot and observer murdered, I ordered that no further attempts to supply the crew [of the Greenfly] in this manner were to be made.51
However, despite such supply missions, the situation of the garrison was quite desperate, primarily owing to the large concentration of rebel forces, and their increasingly sophisticated military tactics to include a elaborate trench system and artillery. Henry states in a letter to Captain C.P. Mancock, that “You wouldn't recognise the place if you saw it. Trenches are all over the place. It is quite like France. I hope this letter will get out alright. We intend to kill a good few Arabs during the next 4 weeks. Cheerio -- it’s a hell of a war.”52 Later in the same September 9, letter he related that “The mighty siege here still rages apace. It is generally quiet during the day except for snipers but once the sun goes down the blighters roll up in larger numbers and succeed in keeping us up most of the night… The Arabs appear to have plenty of bombs [grenades] and know how to use them. They creep up to our picquets at night and chuck the damned things inside and try to damage our wire.”53 Similarly, he states in another letter that, “The south front is the liveliest of the lot. The enemy have an entrenched position about 100 yards away and its quite like France at night. We bomb them and they creep us and bomb us.” In a later account, Henry notes the sophistication of rebel fortifications, their skill in artillery, and his suspicions of Bolshevik influence, stating:

During Mohurum sniping has been very intensive during the day… Now they fire from sandbagged positions, and trenches, which they have built. ... The enemy's chief meeting place for red revolution is a coffee shop in the bazaar …During Mohurum there was an especially large crowd complete with red flags listening to someone of consequence. Borrowing a Vickers gun from a gunboat we opened up at 1650 yards and got slap on the target at once. That crowd dispersed. They later shelled us in retaliation.54

However, it is the use of air power, linked now by wireless radio, that turns the tide of the fight, despite the military capabilities of the rebels. Henry describes how the location of a rebel leader was identified, “so we wirelessed the news to GHQ [general headquarters] and 4 aeroplanes came this morning and proceeded to wipe that part of the town off the map. I hope they got the old blighter. He is the head of the lot and if he goes I think the tribes may quarrel among themselves.”55 He also describes a coordinated effort to bomb the rebel positions, describing how “This morning five aeroplanes bombed Samawa with effect. As they came over the Arabs greeted them with five "archies" [a machine gun] none of which hit the machines. I expect this bombing will result in a little more hate for us tonight but "let 'em all come."56

However, by September 30 sufficient forces were assembled at Nasiriya in preparation for the final march to relieve Samawa. Again under the command of General Coningham, the column represented an under-strength Brigade. The rail line to Samawa was repaired and blockhouses built, allowing the column to be supported by two armored trains. The column paused on October 8 to conduct punitive operations against local tribes believed to be responsible for the murder of the crew of the Greenfly. The column was then brought up short outside of Samawa by the strongly entrenched rebel force. However, Haldane describes how the R.A.F., “by their bombs and machine guns caused considerable numbers to bolt and offer splendid targets for the artillery.”57 Applying the combined firepower of two field artillery batteries on the defending rebels, “and soon the insurgents were seen retiring in large numbers to the west under shell fire.”58 The garrison was relieved on the morning of October 14. Henry describes the relief in a October 15 letter stating, “Samawa was relieved yesterday at 0830 hours. It was a great day. Samcol had a devil of a scrap on the 13th with thousands of Arabs holding the gardens downstream of Samawa. Our guns shelled them all day long and it was not until 3.15 p.m. that our troops attacking with the bayonet got them on the run.” He also described how the sieges endured during the revolt were already entering into the long mythology of British colonial armies, relating how “The relief column has been very good to us. One starry-eyed R.A.M.C. Major I met told me how happy we was to meet those who lived up to his ideals of service to the Empire.”

After the relief of Kufa and Samawa and the submission of Karbala, the period of major combat operations came to a halt. British military forces shifted from defensive tactics to punitive operations, ostensibly disarming rebels and collecting fines from tribes that had sued for terms, but also destroying villages, with significant civilian casualties and extensive property damage. I will discuss such operations in depth in the next section.

However, the period of late October 1920 through February 1921 remained one of quasi-hostility. Najaf did not formally surrender until November 13, and Haldane was forced to send troops into a restive area he called the “Musayib-Fallujah-Baghdad” Triangle on December 2, 1920. While attempting to disarm the tribes, the British forces were harried by a steady stream of guerilla attacks, to include sniper fire and ambush, and occasionally faced off against small conventional forces. Thus, the mindset of combat did not leave the military commanders, despite the shift of mission to pacification and disarmament.

Mechanisms of Colonial Control and Resistance
Establishing Control: An Occupation Between Empires: [SECTION EXCLUDED]
Loss of Control: Mechanisms of Resistance during the revolt: With few exceptions, Mesopotamia represented one of the best armed populationS that the British ever came to rule, and with the most modern military training. While able to dominate urban populations with garrisons in citadel-like fortifications, the British traversed tribal areas warily, because in many ways the tribal askari was the rough equivalent of the British infantryman or cavalryman. They were often armed with modern rifles (and even captured machine guns and artillery), mounted, and logistically far more self sufficient than British columns, which were inevitably tied to the thin line of communication (rail and river) that stretched across wide stretched of isolated geography. The terrain of most tribally dominated areas was also an equalizer: the mechanized power of trucks and armored cars was often proven ineffective when these wheeled vehicles mired on rough ground, and proved very susceptible to ambush.59 Similarly, tribal forces quickly proved during the revolt the vulnerability of rail lines to disruption (despite armored rail cars), and often were able to make the rivers impassable to steamer traffic. Thus, robbed of motorized transport, British forces confronted tribal levies on similar terms: either on foot or on horse-back, and generally British troops remained less acclimated to the extremes of the region’s weather, and were thus limited in their range of march.

As mentioned above, the actions of insurgent forces can in many ways be traced to pre-war patterns, though they were accelerated by the fact that both the Ottomans and the British employed tribal groups as both auxiliaries to conventional forces and guerillas behind each other’s lines. Thus, tactics such as the cutting of rail and telegraph lines are not surprising, as they were employed by both sides throughout the war, sometimes by the same tribes. It was also to be expected that the trappings of a modern professional army, such as in sophisticated entrenchments and the use of artillery, were recreated using the remnants of the Ottoman army left in Iraq and seized material. As well, the manipulation of the Hindiya barrage to artificially lower the Euphrates and limit steamer traffic along the river was also presaged by Ottoman tactics during the war, where Ottoman engineers had diverted river waters by controlling the same water works to flood the plains in the path of British march, creating huge obstacles that had to be circumvented. Similarly, the seizing of tax revenues from the tax farmers of the administration held elements of class tension that transcended the particularities of the 1920 revolt.

However, some new elements were also introduced during the revolt and others re-energized, that while building on older modes of resistance, represented distinct innovations. The first was the politicization of the Shi’ite communities in general and of the Shi’a ulama in specific. Representing this faction in the shrine cities, a political party was formed, the Haras al-Istiqlal, which used its printing presses to disseminate newspapers such as al-Furat and broadsides of religious material such as the Fatwa by Mujtahid Mirza Muhammad Taqi al-Shirazi calling for an independent Islamic state, including a call for violence, which stated “it is obligatory upon the Iraqis to demand their rights … and they are allowed to use force and arms if the British refuse to accept their demands.”60 The institutions of religion were mobilized for the purpose of political resistance, with itinerant Shi’ite clerics preaching opposition to the British in a village by village campaign that reached a far greater number of people than any publication in a largely illiterate age. Similarly, the call for voluntary financial subscriptions to support the rebel troops in the field also demonstrated the significant organizing power of the Shi’ite religious establishment. Of perhaps the greatest importance was that such mobilization was politically efficacious, in sharp contrast to the fairly tepid response that the Ottoman Sultan’s fatwa calling for Holy War against the British on behalf of the Ottomans had generated a few years before.

Such efforts were also shared by Sunni Muslims as well, and the two groups symbolically set aside centuries of antagonism, publicly celebrating shared religious events together beginning with the public commemoration by both Sunni and Shi’ite leaders of the death of a revered Shi’ite mujtahids in the weeks preceding the revolt. Yaphe recounts how this union was eventually reified by the forming of a revolutionary council in Karbala, with both Shi’ite and Sunni leaders represented. She states that the “Two councils were established in Karbala: the High Council, which was an advisory board of revolutionary leaders, and the Council of Religious Justice, which decided legal issues between the ‘ulama and the revolutionaries.” 61

However, the primary mode of resistance, like Britain’s primary mode of control, was violence. By the high-water mark of the revolt in August and September, an estimated 130,000 tribesmen, with over 60,000 modern rifles were fielded against the British in some fashion, though the actual number of askaris on the battlefield for any engagement was usually no more than a few thousand. Such forces had paralyzed the entirety of occupied territory, halted river traffic on the Euphrates, and cut off the colonial capitol’s rail and road approaches. Several British units were enduring brutal sieges, substantial amounts of materiel was captured, and units suffered high numbers of killed and wounded. The rising cost of suppressing the insurrection was draining Britain’s treasury and causing loud complaint in Parliament.

However, such resistance was also at a significant cost to rebel forces. Due to the general advantage of fighting from fortified positions, British forces were generally causing more casualties than they received. British forces suffered 2269 killed and wounded soldiers (with additional losses amongst quasi-official groups such as the railway workers) in contrast to the estimated 8450 Iraqi casualties during the revolt (See Appendix C). Rebel controlled cities were obliged to pay new taxes to support the troops in the field on top of voluntary subscriptions. Agricultural areas were often damaged by the movement of troops (I will discuss the punitive actions of killed livestock and burned fields shortly), and the blockade on traffic in and out of the region substantially limited commerce. Looting and crime were common in contested areas as political authority of any type broke down, causing non-aligned citizens to complain to the British authorities of their vulnerability to crime and attack.

Restoring Control: Coercion by Land and Air: The rough symmetry of military power was seen in the initial defeats and sieges of the revolt. The isolated garrisons held by the British over a wide expanse of terrain allowed mobile rebel forces to concentrate during their attacks; this same mobility allowed them to easily disengage from British counter-attacks as they proved elusive targets. This process began to change as the military and political commanders made the operational decision to abandon isolated garrisons in rebel-controlled territory such as Diwaniya in order to concentrate British military power into fortified encampments at places such as Hillah. After concentrating such forces, British commanders countered the mobility of rebel cavalry with the superior logistical capabilities of rail. Literally laying track in front of them, British columns built rail lines fortified with concrete blockhouses from their garrisons to the rebel positions, and were thereby able to sustain large infantry forces in the desert with water, food and ammunition. Thus able to project their forces into the heart of rebel controlled territory, the advantage held by the British in terms of field artillery and disciplined rifle fire began to take effect.

However, it was a singular element of technology that fundamentally turned the course of events: the airplane. Initially, R.A.F. squadrons had been attached to the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force, primarily in the role of reconnaissance and the occasional dogfight with German-trained Turkish pilots. However, by the end of the war, the new concept of aerial bombardment of targets deep behind Ottoman lines was further developed and the role of the R.A.F. sharply increased during this period. As the revolt progressed, new tactics (such as aerial supply) and new technology (such as wireless radios) helped hone the military efficacy of these airplanes, and they often proved a decisive factor on the battlefield.

Such successes were celebrated by figures such as Winston Churchill. Long worried over the expense of maintaining large garrisons of infantry in Mesopotamia (and elsewhere in Britain’s colonies), he enthusiastically championed the notion of replacing land power with air power, eventually shifting total military control for Iraq to the R.A.F. in 1921. The ability to project power over long distances, he argued, held a powerful deterrent effect over potential rebels, which was obtained at minimal expense to the British exchequer. Pained politically by the embarrassment of British soldiers under siege by a colonized people, and by the millions of pounds expended during the revolt, Churchill was happy to pursue a policy in the region that relied extensively on projected air power. This was to be sustained even after the handover of Iraqi sovereignty to King Faysal and the retreat by Britain to a more informal influence, primarily over foreign policy, of the new Hashemite monarchy. Renamed the Iraqi Air Force, the squadrons were still equipped, trained, and often officered and flown by British military officers.

Thus, with a combined effort of air power and the arrival of fresh reinforcements from India, the besieged garrisons were relieved and pressure placed on the Shi’ite shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf, the ideological heart of the rebellion. Eventually succumbing to both military pressure and blockades of food and water, the ulama of these areas entered into negotiations with British authorities and offered documents of submission.

The events of the revolt soon entered into a pantheon of colonial British military mythology of brave British soldiers withstanding the onslaught of savage masses in isolated outposts of empire. Lieutenant Henry, who had campaigned through rebellions in Kurdistan and the great revolt, described being greeted by the relief column after the two month siege of Samawa was lifted, stating, “The relief column has been very good to us. One starry-eyed R.A.M.C. Major I met told me how happy we was to meet those who lived up to his ideals of service to the Empire.”62 This mythology helped to erase the memories of humiliating defeats at the hands of colonial subjects, in much the same way that the symbolic victories in Baghdad and Jerusalem erased the humiliations of Gallipoli and Kut al-Amara.
Disciplining the Colonial Subject: Punitive Operations after the Revolt: After the relief of all garrisons and the submission of all the tribes in rebellion, the military necessity of defense waned. Instead of rushing reinforcements to shore up blockhouses and besieged citadels, British military forces then began a campaign of punishment. The formal structure of such operations was to impose punitive fines of cattle or money and to disarm tribes by collecting and destroying large numbers of weapons from former rebels. If brutality was entailed in that process, it was rationalized. Haldane states that “Any display of leniency would be immediately attributed by them to weakness, and justice, rhadamanthine [adamantine] in its inflexibility, would proved to be the best and quickest road to the desired goal. That this policy, though much more difficult and distasteful to enforce than were gentleness and brotherly love, proved right.”63

However the informal aspect of such operations often was vengeful, with British soldiers stressed from nearly five months of defending against a hostile population at considerable loss to their own units, burned and destroyed villages across Southern Iraq. Such acts were no doubt aggravated by the smoldering resentment of tribes that had only grudgingly submitted to peace terms, with British columns often under sniper attack and ambush. In his private diary, Lieutenant Dimoline, a British signal officer, incidentally records the type of actions his parent Infantry regiment engaged in. He describes how on:

14/10/20 Arrived Samamwah… Arab very quiet … 15/10/20 Took cable wagons out to lay line for columns who were doing a show destroying two villages. … One 10th Lancer hit in the thigh…16/10/20 Ferried one detachment over the river to Left Bank for punitive operations. 17/10/20 went out with column next day for opeations against Musa'adah...19/10/20 Columns moved out at 0800hrs for operations against MAN ABDULLAH and to destroy SIYAAH and IMAN ABU HUCHIYIM. Stubborn resistance from MAN ABDULLAH whilst the other two villages cleared and burnt... Heavy sniping all around us and really quite a large force against us. 64
He later describes events of the following week stating:

27/10/20 KOYLI entered RUHM and burnt the village. Casualties 2 wounded. … 28/10/20 moved out to burn Dadur & ABU QUAITAN. No resistance all day. 29/10/20 moved out to burn DABBUSON… All OK until ABU QUAITAN. Slight resistance here with two casualties. Later came up against trench system and fairly good resistance... 30/10/20 Burnt village in morning after very peaceful night. 12/11/20 KOYLI went out and flattened villages of DARDAR and FALBAR. Two casualties and otherwise very quiet.65

Another communiqué records how those fleeing a village were often killed, reporting on November 1, 1920 that “On 31st a hostile village 3 miles SE of KUFAH was destroyed. Many insurgents fled from village and were fired on.”66 Such accounts are very similar to those noted in 1919 against rebels in Kurdistan, where Divisional logs record:

2nd December. The Column mentioned above entered without opposition the village of Barzan, where they destroyed Headmen’s houses, including SHEIKH AHMEDS stone building which was leveled to the ground. As the same time, aeroplane co-operating with this Column bombed the villages BAZI, RAZION and ZAVRA. A little rifle fire was encountered from the latter place… SHEIKH JOWAD’S house at AMADAN was burnt en route.
CENTRAL KURDISTAN. A fine of 500 sheep and 100 rifles was imposed on ZIBARI villages for their complicity in the AQRA raid – Mukhtars of two villages being held as security for payment.67
It is significant to note the fact that units still faced significant resistance, to included entrenched fighters, several weeks after the formal end to hostilities. However, it must also be noted the sheer number of villages “cleared and burnt.” These actions were not limited to burning. Haldane describes how Najaf and Karbala were coerced into submissiveness by “the enforcement of a strict blockade, which added to the discomfort of the inhabitants, who were already suffering from lack of water.”68 Similarly, not only were houses targeted: often entire agricultural crops for the village were also destroyed. A October 25 telegram to GHQ from the air wing describes this process of aerial bombardment stating, “All Arabs and livestock previously removed except a few who were shout up by Lams [machine guns] … All villages and crops completely destroyed except for one hundred cart loads which were removed. Crops were in large stacks and burned easily.”69

Nor were these operations merely the acts of foreign British and Indian troops against a racial other. Levy troops also participated in these punitive operations, further eroding a notion of a national unity that bound all Iraqis together during the revolt. A communiqué from 1922 describes how “The Levy Force also has been by no means idle, and has destroyed five villages of the hostile Beg Zadah faction.”70

Such acts were the logical result of Britain’s policy of dealing with colonial populations as collectives, and not individuals. Thus, in times of peace, Britain could extend influence over a large confederation by bribing a few representative shaykhs. Similarly, a plebiscite could be conducted by Sir A.T. Wilson, not by a comprehensive polling of the populace, but by querying a small number of leading notables seen as patrons for larger collectivities. Tribes and villages were seen as the agents of action, either in support or rebellion; the individual guilt or innocence of any one tribesmen was not an issue.

Thus, in times of war, entire tribes and villages were destroyed. The shaykhs, previously the recipients of British largesse through subsidies and other bribes, were singled out for special punishment and often had their property completely destroyed; however the rest of the tribe also suffered from British retaliations.

This policy was further exemplified by the use of air power. Haldane relates how a reinforcing Squadron from Constantinople “operated daily between the 22nd October and the 5th November from Hillah and Baghdad with excellent results.”71 Squadron records show a steady procession of bomb tonnage dropped from the air onto villages after the end of hostilities, stretching well into 1921. This reliance on air power also maintained the fundamental violence inherent to colonial occupation. By moving the means of coercion to the air the violence of such action was not mitigated, rather it was increased; however, the vulnerability to high casualties and embarrassing defeats such as those suffered by the Manchester column was avoided. According to official versions of such events, villages were warned by air-dropped leaflet prior to bombing, with the humanitarian motive of allowing villagers to evacuate and confining damage to property only. However, in practice, the actions of both punitive columns and of aerial bombardment often held an aspect of vengeance on the part of individual soldiers or pilots, wherein entire villages were the victim of punishments for real or imagined crimes.

These policies had their critics. Churchill himself sometimes was shocked by official reports of aerial attacks, wherein pilots described with overt enthusiasm the strafing with machine guns of villagers fleeing the attack, and called for investigation of such officers, stating, “I am extremely shocked at the reference to bombing which I have marked in red. If it were published it would be regarded as most dishonouring to the air force … to fire willfully on women and children taking refuge in a lake is a disgraceful act, and I am surprised that you do not order the officers responsible for it to be tried by court martial.”72 Emblematic of such a report is that of Arthur Foster, a young signaler in the British 4th Hampshire Regiment, who saw service along the Afghan frontier, and made the following comments in his diary regarding the use of air power in that theater:

My experiences there were short but thrilling. The main fighting around Kandi Ketal in the Kyber Pass was over but I took part in a raid on some Afredis who were massing about 30 miles east in a little plateau in the hills… Planes bombed them, we opened up with Lewis guns at their sangers although until the plane came I could see nothing of them. I went out as part of a Lewis gun team along a big span and had capital sport at them as they scattered from the bombs. Till they spotted us and made it so warm that I was under the urgent necessity of finding a way out. This we could not do without getting wiped out from their new position which covered our old approach. The only thing we could see was to go forward into one of their abandoned sangars and trust to luck, and the plane to stop them rushing us. This we did – and held on until the main body came up the valley. That ended the fight, the enemy vanished.73
However, Churchill was able to rationalize indiscriminate violence, as when he advocated that the War Office pursue the use of “non-lethal” poisonous gas on rebelling tribes during the revolt, even though such attacks injured both rebelling insurgents and peaceful bystanders. He rationalized such action stating “It is not considered that any question of principle is raised by such an emergency use of the limited ammunition of various kinds.” Other figures such as Haldane, even argued that the use of gas and other bombardment intrinsically “saved lives” as it brought hostilities more rapidly to a close.

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