Air control in pictures

Peri Magurum -- 9,700 ft High
30 Sqn D.H.9A at 9700 ft over Peri Magurum.

A friend has alerted me to a thread on the Something Awful forums (thanks, Mike!) One of the users has access to a collection of photos taken by an RAF sergeant who served with 30 Squadron in the early 1920s, which unfortunately looks like it is going to be sold and broken up. But luckily scans of them of them are being posted first, and there are some fantastic pictures of Iraq, Palestine and Egypt, many taken from the air, including several of an air raid carried out against a Kurdish town -- air control in action! Naturally, I can't resist posting some of the best ones here, but there are plenty more on the original thread, including the Holy Land, the Suez Canal, dusky maidens, scorpions, a cross-Africa flight from Cairo to Nigeria, and the promise of more to come. I've had to shrink these to fit them onto the page, so click on them to see the full-size version.

Baghdad - The Golden Domes

This is the Khadimain Mosque in Baghdad, 4 March 1924.

Baghdad - Hinaidi Aerodrome

RAF Hinaidi, the main aerodrome in Baghdad.

Baghdad - Us -- 30 Squardron RAF 1922

The extended 30 Sqn family, including wives and children.

Bazian Pass - F/lieut Kinhead

A fine study of the D.H.9A, the RAF's workhorse imperial policing aircraft in the early 1920s, over the Bazian Pass in Kurdistan. The pilot is Flight Lieutenant Kinkead, a First World War fighter ace who was later killed in training for a Schneider Trophy attempt.

Line Abreast -- F/lt Kinkead, S/Ldr Robb, F/O French

Kinkead again, alongside Squadron Leader Robb and Flight Officer French.

Sulaimaniyah -- 520 lb Bomb burst

And this is what they were all out in Iraq for. A 520 lb bomb being dropped on Sulaimaniyah in Kurdistan, 27 May 1924 ...

Sulaimaniyah -- 230 lb Bomb burst

... and a 230 lb bomb the next morning ...

Sulaimaniyah -- After the

... and the final results. These three photos are all of the same general area, taken from different angles. It doesn't look particularly devastated, but then the point was not destruction but punishment. It's interesting that Sulaimaniyah was clearly a fairly substantial town at that time, which contrasts with the impression given by many contemporary accounts that villages and encampments -- tents and camels -- were the usual targets of police actions.

This would be a good place to mention that a conference on Air Power, Insurgency and the 'War on Terror' is being held at RAF Cranwell on 22-3 August 2007 (thanks to Dan Todman for the pointer). It's not purely a history conference, but they are looking for 'Historical case studies of air power against insurgencies', of which the British experience of air control in Iraq would be a prime example. Deadline for abstracts is 1 November.

Update: good news -- the album won't be broken up, nor will it be sold (it might be donated, one day). And here's one last picture, from one of the later posts:

Somewhere in Africa ...

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

55 thoughts on “Air control in pictures

  1. Pingback:

  2. Pingback:

  3. DakotaAviator

    Absolutely Amazing.

    I'm a US soldier and married to a Kurdish woman from Sulaimaniyah and I came across your blog while googling for things about the RAF/Churchill using Mustard on the Kurds in the 1920's for a paper I'm writing.


  4. Post author

    You probably saw the post (and comments) where we discussed the Churchill/Iraq/gas thing ... my conclusion at the moment is that the RAF didn't use gas there, but the Army may have. Anything you could add would be most appreciated!

    Also, I'd love to know if your wife is aware of any folk memories of the RAF bombing of the Kurds? Sadly, of course, her people have more recent tragedies to remember, so I wouldn't be surprised if it has been forgotten. But you never know.

  5. Ron Stempfer

    Fantastic, I have been searching for photos of RAF Hinaidi as I am researching my father-in-law's RAF History, he was posted there in 1930, I am also looking for more photos of the Barrack areas.

  6. Pingback:

  7. Karzan

    This is quote is from the book "Kurdistan in the shadow of history"
    "Three planes came the first time and each one dropped a bomb the size of a roll of hard sugar. The next time, they dropped very heavy bombs, and I remember the houses destroyed. some people were killed in the second bombing, but in the third bombing many were killed.
    I remember I went to see one of the women, and her hands were cut, and her fingers were not there. Her feet were also cut and her baby was torn, but still she was not died.
    During the fourth bombing, I was in the street when the planes came. A piece of wall fell on top of me, and I was pinned under the wall, and a bone in my back was broken. since then I have had a limp.
    During the fifth bombing, the British dropped papers announcing the bombing. so Shaikh Mahmud and all the people deserted the town. Those people who backed shaikh Mahmud did not dare to go back to the city. We lived outsides in the villages. I lived with my father in a village close by and did not come back to Sulaimania for one year.
    When we came back, out of ten houses, nine were damaged. Not a single shop remained in the market. All were burned"
    Interview with Shaikh Fatulla Shaikh Rashid. Living in Sulaimania. 1922

  8. Karzan

    Correction: the interview was in October 1992. It is about a bombing of Sulaimania in 1924 also, but I am not sure if it is the same bombing in these pictures. Shaikh Mahmud was a Kurdish Leader at that time fighting for an autonomous Kurdistan. Sulaimania was the center of his Administration.

  9. Post author

    Thanks very much, Karzan! Up till now, everything I've seen about air control has been from or else about the British point of view. I've never read a Kurdish or other account of what the actual effects were, so this is very valuable.

    It's interesting that the account suggests that it wasn't until the 5th raid that a warning was dropped. The British set great store in these warnings -- it was their defence against charges of inhumanity towards civilians who were, after all, placed in their care (i.e., as a League of Nations mandate). But -- unless this was the very first time such warnings were issued, which is possible -- this means that the RAF were at best inconsistent about giving out the warnings. On the other hand, it also shows that the warnings were heeded, at least sometimes, so they did work.

    Very interesting -- I'll have to look up the book. Thanks again.

  10. Karzan

    you can find on the same pages a copy of a column from The Evening Standard,London January 30, 1924 disapproving of the bombings, and a letter (31, January)from the secretary of state for the colonies to the High Commissioner of Iraq mentioning he can't defend those acts in Parliament and asking him to consider "alternative policy by which actual resort to bomb-dropping would be avoided". This suggests that the bombing had great affects that it would be a subject of newspapers in London. I should say again that I am not sure if this bombing is the same as the ones with pictures here, they probably had bombed Sulaimania several times.

  11. Post author

    Yes, the subject of air control was certainly controversial from time to time back in Britain, even into the 1930s; at least two former RAF officers criticised it too (L. E. O. Charlton, Philip Mumford). But these are still British viewpoints -- which is why I'm pleased to learn something about the Kurdish experience of air control.

  12. Dr Nameq Rashid

    If British airforce dropped bombs on Sulaimanyah in 1924, then why should I blame the others for doing the same mistake. It seems the British army who first oppend the road to others to bombard the Kurdish people.

  13. Post author

    I'm not sure that I understand your point, but in any case I don't agree that such a mistake excuses anyone else from making the same mistake.

  14. Pairaw

    Great Blog, I just cant beleive the atrocities the Kurdish people have been through and are currently experiencing, after all the British have done to the kurdish people, the kurds are beeing harrased and expeled from the UK without a single person mentioning what they have done. Anyway its great. !!

  15. KORDO .H

    Bombing Sulimania city/1922 ,that was the way for the Britain Colonization powr at any time,and it was beging to how devided kurdistan in future,that was happend after second warwarled 1946/on four peaces, for 4 nationnalist country Turksh,Sirya,Persien and Iraq. Bliv me brass tacks and facts show that treason willnot be forever aginst kurds, the real map must be fixed so far, fourty million KORDS with no ID is not easy for 21 Contry in Middle East , noway for that.

  16. pureweevil

    the chilling phrase 'policing the empire' is still used without irony at the raf museum in hendon, london. there is no reference to the thousands of civilian deaths inflicted by our aerial constables.
    even the wwII bombs on display are merely for 'dehousing' enemy civilians. not sure how we can still get away with using vintage euphemisms.
    incidentally does anyone think the Sulaimaniyah bombing photograph is doctored? the smoke looks superimposed, perhaps to give the impression of a 'surgical' police action.

  17. Post author

    No, I didn't find that the RAF Museum really confronted such things head-on; much easier to talk about the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. Still, maybe one shouldn't expect too much of a museum so closely tied to one service.

    The photos don't look doctored to me. It's hard to see why they would be -- they weren't for publication. (I can't actually recall seeing photos like this which were published at the time, which is why I found these so striking.)

  18. pureweevil

    that's true, it's just sad that we let them get away with it - our docklands museum doesn't shy away from the suffering caused by britain's slave trade, and there would be an outcry if it did.

    i think it might also be a disservice to the aircrews of bomber command - many of them were unhappy about the targeting of civilians and their views also get swept under the historical carpet.
    harris himself was fed up with the air ministry's pretence that they were targeting military/industrial targets only. a frank depiction of the full picture wouldn't leave the bomber crews in that postwar limbo of the political establishment's selfserving amnesia.

    i'm not sure re photo - that long column of smoke looks like a bit of photoshop v.1924. fascinating either way.

  19. Post author

    Certainly Harris wouldn't have stood for euphemisms at Hendon! Do you really think there were substantial numbers of Bomber Command aircrew who opposed area bombing in any way? I haven't seen much evidence for that, but I don't know that anyone has really looked.

  20. pureweevil

    i guess most of that kind of evidence would never have reached paper, and it's too late to find out how much internalised 'opposition' there was. there are some example's of aircrews' misgivings in ch8 of 'bomber boys' (patrick bishop).

    eg 'It must have been hell on earth for the poor devils down below. Mass murder. Whole families wiped out no doubt. I could not help but think when the bombs left the a/c what a terrible thing I am doing. It must be wrong.' (Johnny Jones, 1945)

    i'm doing some research for a documentary about sven lindqvist's 'a history of bombing'. have you come across any archive film footage of the raf in the 1920's? i can't seem to find much out there.

  21. Post author

    Interesting, thanks. Haven't read that one though I did like Fighter Boys.

    I think the best bet for the 1920s would be newsreels of the annual RAF Pageant at Hendon. There might also be some of the (also annual) air defence exercises held (I think) from the late 1920s? They were certainly widely reported in print media.

  22. Pingback:

  23. Hanaw M-Taqi M-AMIN

    I am as Master studnet I will use the photos of sulaimaniyah from your photos for evaluating sulaimaniyah city formation in that period , thanks for these photos. they are good sourses

  24. The photographs which started this are very interesting but most are and have been in the public domain for many years. The pictures of the bombing of Sul predate Photoshop by about 70 years and are genuine. I am not sure about a 520lb bomb though because I think that that is rather heavier than those available at the time.
    I am presently writing a book on the RAF in the Middle East between the wars and have data on so-called gas bombing. I think that I may be near to getting to the bottom of the so-far completely unsubstantiated rumours.
    Finally the BBC did a left-wing piece on the bombing of Iraq in the 1920s which included some footage. I think that I have it on disk somewhere.

  25. Post author

    Your book sounds promising -- it's a neglected topic! Have you seen the recent article by R. M. Douglas on the gas claims (both bombs and artillery)? He shows (conclusively, for my money) that, as you imply, the British never used gas in Iraq (or, to be pedantic, that there's no evidence that they did). I discussed his article here.

  26. I have been given approx 100 photographs of RAF Hinaidi - during the years 1925 to 1928.

    They were taken by my uncle who was posted there during the above years.

    The 'collection' also includes the original Christmas Dinner menu.

    Several include 'crashed' aircraft - including one Dutch.



    Is it worth making an album - or are there SO many photographs available.

  27. Jeff, Sounds most interesting, and certainly I'd suggest they are worth disseminating. If you wish, feel free to drop me an e-mail via the contact details on my blog (in the link in my 'JDK' name above) or via Brett if he doesn't mind, and I can give you an idea if they would be of interest to aviation publications.

  28. To JDK


    Tried sending you an e-mail - but either the spelling or other mistake is sending the e-mail back

  29. Hi Jeff - H'mmm, sorry about that. Try JKightly AT, with 'AT' replaced with @ and no spaces...

  30. pat nixon

    No comment .....just a request doing research on WO William Williams ( Bill ) RAF 1924-1949 who spent 1929-34 in Iraq....Any info on him or his family much appreciated .....most records are lost ...I have just discovered he was my father!

  31. Try RAF Commands message boards, you'll need to register, but it's amazing what they turn up.

    I presume you have his official records as you'd be able to obtain them as next of kin? You'll want to quote his service number, given how common the name was! An idea of his trade will help a lot also.

    There's not a huge resource of pre-W.W.II RAF out there, but that's where I'd start. Instructions about how to tackle this kind of family research are covered by National Archives (UK) publications, available through their website.

    Hope that helps.

  32. Pingback:

  33. Martin Böhm

    There is another report of a native eyewitness. He spoke about an attack on RISIB on 1st February 19?? (I guess 1922). Found at RAF Museum Hendon, Walmsley Papers AC 98/23/19.

    "On Monday, the 1st February, the people of Risib were celebrating twelve weddings. I was with them and in the afternoon we were sitting in a small valley where the people were dancing and beating drums and firing rifles and so on and thoroughly enjoying themselves. There may have been a few people left in the houses but most of the population was at the dance.
    Someone cried 'The aeroplanes are coming' and five machines flew over the place three times. I said to the people 'Run away, they are going to drop bombs. They won't drop them on people so clear out altogether.' But the people said 'Non-sense, lies, they won't drop bombs.'
    Then a bomb dropped and there was smoke. I said 'Look at that!' They said 'It's nothing, it's only paper.' There was another smoke bomb and then a real bomb was dropped. It was a small one and it fell in the cultivation without making a big explosion. I said 'Run away,' but they replied 'This is only a threat.' I said 'I'm going.' They said 'No, if we die, we die together.'
    Another bomb dropped and the women ran to their houses but the men remained in the valley. Then more bombs dropped, big ones with loud explosions. We all ran away and scattered and there was yet more bombing.
    At sunset when the aeroplane had gone we all returned to the houses, and I went to the A Yeminis and had a meeting […]. There we heard of casualties which had occurred among those who ran to their houses. The killed were two boys aged four and five […], one girl aged five […] and one woman[…]. One woman was wounded in the leg, another […] wa sbadly wounded and has perhaps since died and the small daughter of Abdulla […] has been slightly wounded. One she camel was killed and three were wounded. These casualties are from God and no one is to be blamed.
    I spoke to the meeting and said 'Pay the fine.' The Shaikh supported me. […] I tried to collect the fine […] but I was unable to do so."

  34. Post author

    Thanks for that report, Martin -- fascinating! It would seem to confirm that the RAF was not as scrupulous about avoiding civilian casualties as they claimed.

    So Walmsley is (later Air Marshal) H. S. P. Walmsley, is that correct? I'm curious to know how an eyewitness account of a RAF attack on a village came into his possession. I see that he was a pilot in 55 Squadron in Iraq for a couple of years from 1921, but why would a pilot have such a document? Perhaps it was to give him an idea of the effects of his attacks, whether as encouragement or discouragement. Or maybe he was seconded into an intelligence role for a while.

  35. Pingback:

  36. Pingback:

  37. Martin Böhm

    Brett, you are right. i talked about the later AM H.S.P. Walmsley. In his logbook there is a gap between 8th August 1921 and 13th July 1922. The RISIB incident happened in January. So it is unclear what happened in the meantime.
    Other resources point to the theory of encouraging further attacks. In a letter to the Intel Officer (31st October 1922) he had to defend himself because of attacking a village without order of his Commanding Officer: "I consider that I did my duty in bombing the village of PEREYA."
    In a letter to his family (27th July 1922) he wrote: "We are still enjoying [...] bombing operations [...]." The hand-written letters are hard to read but it seems that those operations were seen as a welcome change to the monotony of the life of the RAF base.
    Surely an interesting person. (Sorry for the bad English)

  38. Martin Böhm

    Not especially for the case "Walmsley". These considerations are part of my PhD thesis. It is going to be a collective biography about (cognitive and personnel) analogies and continuities between the RAF in Iraq 1919-1932 and the Bomber Command 1939-1945.
    Soon there will be a report. If you are interested, I send the link after uploading the paper.

  39. Post author

    Yes, please do provide a link. I've often wondered about the connections between Iraq and Bomber Command, so I'll be interested to see what you find out.

  40. Post author

    Thanks for that. Very interesting. It's useful to have some numbers on how many Bomber Command group commanders served in Iraq (though you say there 47 total, of which 26 served in Iraq and 20 did not -- I think there is 1 missing?) It makes sense that many officers would have rotated through there, as many squadrons were deployed there for many years, and that this experience would have some effect on subsequent thinking about bombing. (Not only Iraq, but Aden, Somaliland, Waziristan, etc, too, which you do mention.) I found the section at the end on the development of doctrine to be most convincing (it will be interesting to see what Neville Parton has to say on this topic in The Evolution and Impact of Royal Air Force Doctrine 1919-1939 (Bloomsbury, 2013) -- I haven't seen it yet, I thought it wasn't out until July). I would have liked to have seen more consideration of the ideas about bombing and morale which emerged from the First World War, so we could see how these might have changed with the experience of Iraq. I also wonder if air control practice and/or doctrine changed over the decade in Iraq -- supposedly it became more 'humanitarian' in later years, with greater care taken to avoid casualties, as we have been discussing here -- and if that's true then did that mean that officers who served in Iraq in this later period had slightly different attitudes towards bombing civilians? Perhaps it's not possible to tell from the available evidence, but maybe something to think about for the future.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  41. Pingback:

  42. Brian Carey

    My father, Victor Cecil Carey, served in the RAF and I have his photo album from the late 1920s early 1930s when he was stationed in Iraq. Some fascinating picures of places, faces and aircraft.

  43. Post author

    Have you considered donating the album to a museum, or allowing them to digitise the photos? There's a lot of interest out there for photos on this subject, it seems!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *