The Iraqi revolt of 1941 is one of the lesser known events of the Second World War, but for a brief moment it threatened to give the Germans a foothold in the Middle East that would have split the British Empire in half, and quite possibly forced the Allies to abandon an isolated Egypt, leaving the Germans in complete command of the Mediterranean by the end of 1941.
The revolt failed because of the actions of two small British forces - one besieged at Habbaniya and one that made its way across 500 miles of desert to lift the siege - before combining to attack Baghdad, overthrow the rebels and at least temporarily restore the last king of Iraq to his throne.
The style of the book is unusual in an historical work in that James makes heavy use of reconstructed conversations, based on reported versions of what was said at the time. Some of these do feel rather stilted, probably because they were reconstructed from official reports (conversations in autobiographies can be equally awkward), and one or two give the impression that extra background information had been squeezed in at some point (the 'As you know sir' school of conversion in which facts that must have been well known to both participants in a conversion have been inserted). Despite these minor setbacks this approach does have the benefit of bringing the reader into the middle of events. In this book it also helps present the different sides of the many arguments on both sides.
The reported conversions reflect James's wider approach, which is to present the events in Iraq in 1941 from the point of view of their participants. Enough records have survived on all three sides - British, Iraqi and German - to allow James to present a balanced account of the campaign, and for us to see the impact of events on the leaders at Habbaniya and in Baghdad.
The result is a compelling account of a campaign that helped to preserve the British position in the Middle East at a crucial point in the war, before the United States had entered the war and when the only active land fronts in the war against Germany were in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.
1 - The Slippery Slope to War
2 - Target Habbaniya
3 - Strike Hard, First
4 - Shortening the Odds
5 - The Road to Baghdad
Appendix - What Happened to..?
Author: Barrie G. James
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation