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RAF Habbaniya: USB Stick


The story of the RAF in Iraq 1918 - 1959.

RAF Habbaniya, Jewel of the Desert is the second documentary produced by Tod Nicol as part of the ‘Outposts of Empire’ Project: www.outposts-of-empire.co.uk

This 105 minute programme reveals the story of the Kingdom of Iraq and the part the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force played in forming and maintaining peace in the new country from  1915 to the final bloody end of the Hashemite Monarchy in 1958.

It begins with the murderous Siege of Kut then the brutal landings at Gallipoli, the Arab Revolt, aided by British agents and diplomats such as Laurence of Arabia and Gertrude Bell that liberated the Arab Nations from the Ottoman Empire.

Post War, Lord Trenchard - Father of the RAF - implemented his Air Policing initiative; a few squadrons of aircraft, RAF Armoured Cars and the, locally recruited Levies based at primitive landing grounds around Iraq kept order and protected British interests, oil wells and pipelines, until, in 1936, Trenchard commissioned the largest RAF Station in the World deep in the Iraq  desert next to the River Euphrates and Lake Habbaniya.

RAF Habbaniya - Air Head Quarters Iraq – had every technological advance the RAF had at its  disposal as well as every comfort and convenience of the time; Irrigation systems, opulent gardens, tinkling fountains, lawns, tree lined avenues, palatial buildings, a well-equipped hospital, swimming pools, race course an sailing club it was a “Super Posting” a “Jewel of the Desert”.  

The story of RAF Habbaniya is revealed through Interviews with veterans and historians, illustrated with archive film from the vaults of the RAF Museum that has never been seen publicly, depicting  the construction of the Station and daily life, on and off duty, during the fragile peace of the 1930s. British Pathé Newsreels and 1940s film from the World famous Imperial War Museum Archives depict the second World War Years and unique 1950’s Colour film and photographs from the RAF Habbaaniya Association‘s collection show the station in its final years.

Veterans give their first-hand accounts of how in 1940 No. 4 Flying Training School moved from Egypt to the to the peaceful skies of Iraq only to become involved in the 1941, Nazi backed, Rashid Ali, Nationalist uprising, threatening to cut off Britain’s Oil Supplies and block the air routes to India and the further outposts of the Empire.

Veterans recall how the fragile training aircraft were hastily converted to war machines and RAF Habbaniya was besieged; first by the Iraqi Army and Air Force, then attacked by the German Luftwaffe and the Italian Regia Aeronautica. And how the RAF, backed, by the Iraq Levies broke the siege, defeated the Nationalists and reinstated the monarchy.

Habbaniya’s story continues with the liberation of Vichy France, occupied Syria, the defeat of the Persian uprising, the part the RAF played in Persia And Iraq (PAI) Force and the feats of engineering and logistics used to open up an Allied supply route to the Soviet Union.

Life in Post War Iraq is revealed by both regular and National Service Airmen who experienced the Cold War, the handover of the RAF’s stations to the Iraqi Air Force at the end of the 25 year  treaty, the tensions of the Suez Crisis, the Hashemite monarchies violent and abrupt end and the RAF’s final exit from Iraq after 45 years through peace and two World Wars.

Picture format PAL 16:9.  HD MPEG 1920 x 1080.  Audio Content: Stereo.  Running time 105 minutes approx. (main programme).   E Exempt from classification

Produced and directed by Tod Nicol