RAF Habbaniya

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Coordinates: 33°22′37.0″N 43°34′4.0″E / 33.376944°N 43.567778°E / 33.376944; 43.567778

RAF Habbaniya
RAF Habbaniya Unit Badge.jpg
Station crest
Active 1936–1959
Country Iraq
Allegiance United KingdomUK: British Armed Forces
Branch Royal Air Force
Type Flying station
Part of British Forces in Iraq
Located near Habbaniyah, Iraq
Royal Air Force Ensign Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
March Royal Air Force March Past
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Hughie Edwards (1956–58)
Map of Iraq during World War II

Royal Air Force Station Habbaniya, more commonly known as RAF Habbaniya, (originally RAF Dhibban) was a Royal Air Force station at Habbaniyah, about 55 miles (89 km) west of Baghdad in modern-day Iraq, on the banks of the Euphrates near Lake Habbaniyah. It was operational from October 1936 until the 31 May 1959 when the British were finally withdrawn following the July 1958 Revolution.

It remained a major Iraqi military airbase.

History[edit]

RAF Habbaniya was constructed on the west bank of the Euphrates and opened on 19 October 1936. It was a British sovereign airbase which the British fought tooth and nail to protect it against the invading Iraqi Army in May 1941. RAF Habbaniya was also known as Second London with an entrance gate called London Gate. The squadrons, units and headquarters and the hospital gradually moved in from RAF Hinaidi, Baghdad, which was vacated by the British and renamed "Rashid Airfield" by the Iraqis. Originally called RAF Dhibban, the station was renamed RAF Habbaniya on 1 May 1938. The base was extensive and included the Air Headquarters of RAF Iraq Command, maintenance units, an aircraft depot, an RAF hospital, RAF Iraq Levies barracks, the RAF Armoured Car Company depot as well as fuel and bomb stores.

There were numerous billets, messes and a wide range of leisure facilities including swimming pools, cinemas and theatres, sports pitches, tennis courts and riding stables. It was self-contained with its own power station, water purification plant and sewage farm. Within the base was the Civil Cantonment for the civilian workers and their families and the families of the RAF Iraq Levies. Water taken from the Euphrates for the irrigation systems enabled green lawns, flower beds and even ornamental Botanical Gardens. After World War II the families of British personnel started living at Habbaniya and a school was started.

There was a 7 mile perimeter fence round the base but this did not enclose the airfield which was outside. In 1952 a second airfield was built on the plateau to cope with the long range and jet aircraft using the base (this subsequently became the Iraqi Air Force Al Taqaddum airbase).

Lake Habbaniya Sailing Club

In the late 1930s Imperial Airways established a staging post on Lake Habbaniya for the flying boat service from the UK to British India using Short Empires. The lake provided the necessary landing area for these aircraft in the middle of the Mesopotamian desert.

The station was a large flying training school during World War II, as well as a transport staging airfield. During the Rashid Ali rebellion in 1941 the airfield was besieged by the Iraqi Army encamped on the overlooking plateau. On 2 May 1941, British forces from the airfield launched pre-emptive airstrikes on Iraqi forces throughout Iraq and the Anglo-Iraqi War began. The siege was lifted by the units based at Habbaniya, including pilots from the training school, a battalion of the King's Own Royal Regiment flown in at the last moment, Number 1 Armoured Car Company RAF and the RAF's Iraq Levies. The subsequent arrival of a relief column (Kingcol), part of Habforce sent from Palestine, then a British mandate, combined with the Habbaniya units to force the rebel forces to retreat to Baghdad.

Later in World War II Habbaniya became an important stage on the southern air route between the UK and the USSR. British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) ran a regular passenger service via North Africa and the Middle East using Consolidated Liberator transports. The United States Army Air Forces Air Transport Command used Habbaniya as a stopover point between the large Lend-Lease aircraft assembly facility at Abadan Airport, Iran and Payne Field, Cairo. Also ATC operated a transport route from Habbaniya to Mehrabad Airport. Tehran. After World War II, BOAC discontinued the flying boat service and the hotel buildings at the lake were acquired by the RAF and used as a Rest and Recreation Centre.

Operational RAF squadrons were based at Habbaniya and very many aircraft passed through in transit.

Roald Dahl was stationed there in 1940, as described in his book, Going Solo but his description is somewhat inaccurate and his opinion rather unfavourable compared with that of most personnel who served there.

Among the Units located at Habbaniya at various times were:

No. 8 Squadron RAF and No. 73 Squadron RAF were among the last flying squadrons to depart the base in the mid 1950s, along with No. 104 Maintenance Unit RAF and the RAF Hawker Hunter Servicing Flight/(Royal Iraqi Air Force) (the last active in 1957–1958).

The base closed on 31 May 1959 when the British were finally withdrawn following the July 1958 Revolution.

In June 1961 there were two Iraqi Air Force squadrons at the base:[2]

  • No.1 Squadron, Venom FB.Mk.1, based at Habbaniyah AB, CO Capt. A.-Mun’em Ismaeel
  • No.6 Squadron, Hunter, based at Habbaniyah AB, CO Capt. Hamid Shaban

Tom Cooper's book 'Arab MiG-19 and MiG-21 Units in Combat' describes Habbaniya as a base for Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21s by 1990.[3]

Current use[edit]

According to the Federation of American Scientists the site was used to produce Mustard gas (a chemical weapon). The site was built in 1983 – 1984. The factory produced the gas for use against the Iranians during the Iran–Iraq War. The factory produced 60–80 tonnes per year.[4]

May 2007 view of the Habbaniyah Olympic pool

After 2003, the former British airfield was used by both the United States Armed Forces and the New Iraqi Army as a forward operating base, and is now known as Camp Habbaniyah. From this outpost, combat operations are run from the outskirts of Fallujah to the outskirts of Ramadi. Since 2006 Camp Habbaniyah has grown into a Regional Training and Regional Support Center as well as the headquarters for the Iraqi Army 1st Division. On going Coalition and Iraqi construction projects have revitalized much of the base.

In December 2008, the U.S. Army and all civilian contractors departed Camp Habbaniyah. U.S. Marines had stayed behind to provide the Iraqi Army with additional perimeter security until a time TBD.

On 16 April 2009, a suicide-bomber dressed as an Iraqi 1st Lieutenant detonated a bomb among a group of Iraqi soldiers at a canteen.

289 British and Commonwealth personnel, women, children and babies still lie buried in the RAF/Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in Habbaniya. The register of those buried is held by the RAF Habbaniya Association. RAF Habbaniya Association

British media and service members make a brief visit to the cemetery for Remembrance Day ceremonies

Units and aircraft[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  1. ^ "RAF Habbaniya". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 10 June 2012. 
  2. ^ Tom Cooper Kuwait Emergency, Air Combat Information Group
  3. ^ David Nicolle, Tom Cooper, Arab MiG-19 and MiG-21 Units in Combat, Volume 44 of Osprey Combat Aircraft, Osprey Publishing, 2004, ISBN 1841766550, 9781841766553, 78.
  4. ^ http://www.fas.org/irp/gulf/cia/960517/60886_01.htm

Bibliography[edit]

  • Dudgeon, Air Vice-Marshal A.G., CBE,DFC (Retd). Hidden Victory: The Battle of Habbaniya, May 1941. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Tempus Publishing Ltd., 2001. ISBN 0-7524-2037-2.
  • Jefford, Wing Commander C.G., MBE,BA,RAF (Retd). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
  • Sturtivant, Ray, ISO and John Hamlin. RAF Flying Training And Support Units since 1912. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 2007. ISBN 0-85130-365-X.

Further reading[edit]

  • Air Chief Marshal Sir David Lee (RAF officer), Flight from the Middle East: A History of the Royal Air Force in the Arabian Peninsula and Adjacent Territories 1945–1972 (London: Ministry of Defence: Air Historical Branch, RAF), 1984(?)

External links[edit]