Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Middle East

A treaty permitted the stationing of British troops in Iraq, but in May the Iraqis, emboldened by Britain's misfortunes elsewhere, besieged the air base at Habbaniya. Churchill, concerned about the threat of oil supplies and the danger of German build-up, ordered Wavell to send troops from Palestine to relieve it, but when they arrived the siege had been lifted. In Syria and the Lebanon substantial French forces under General Dentz remained loyal to the Vichy regime. When they gave aid to the Iraqis and allowed German aircraft to land, the British decided to take action. Although Free French, as well as Australian, British and Indian units participated in the invasion, which began in June, Vichy troops fought with unexpected determination, and an armistice was not signed till July 14, 1941.

Above, an RAF armoured car from the Habbaniya base enters Fort Rutbah, Iraq, on May 16. There were few Germans and Italians in Iraq, and the pro-Axis elements in Iraq lacked both troops and a cohesive
plan: Baghdad itself fell on May 31.

After the German invasion of Russia, British and Russian troops jointly invaded Iran, where German influence was strong, in August 1941 to secure an overland route to Russia. A captured Iranian officer (below) talks to a British officer, through an interpreter, near an Anglo-Iranian Oil Company refinery at the head of the Gulf.

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