Armoured Cars in Iraq

Written by Historian, David Fletcher, MBE

8th June 2015

Although a number of books have been written about the fighting in Iraq in 1941 and even some detail on the part played by RAF armoured cars and even some of the Indian vehicles nothing ever seems to have appeared in print about Iraqi armoured cars. Not that they achieved very much, well nothing really beyond getting captured but they are interesting in themselves.

To begin with they were British but although a few photographs survive very little is known about them and there is still a lot we don’t know. However what we do know is quite interesting. They were Crossleys, at least the chassis was, built by Crossley Motors Ltd of Gorton, Manchester, with armoured body and turret supplied by Vickers-Armstrongs of Newcastle, and Sheffield. Vickers had already built an armoured car on a Crossley chassis, indeed it had built four, three bigger cars on heavy duty chassis with more powerful engines for the RAF and a lightweight, a commercial offering on the Crossley BGV2 chassis powered by a four-cylinder, 20hp engine. This did not sell, but the next  one did.

This version seems to have been built on the stronger IGL3 chassis, powered by a four-cylinder engine rated at 50hp. The interesting thing is that the design of the body, but perhaps not the turret, was almost the same as the type built by the Royal Ordnance Factory iran crossley 001for British Army use and known as the Armoured Car, Crossley Mark I on a chassis which Crossley knew as their IGA. It carried a water-cooled Vickers machine-gun in a Light Tank Mark IIA turret and a second gun mounted to fire forwards at the front, to the left of the driver. 

The cars built for Iraq, four of them, were much the same, probably using the same chassis and engine, except that the turret in this case looked more like the type fitted to the Indian Pattern Light Tank Mark IV, known as the Mark IVA. It was a taller turret, not so long but provided at the top with a raised section that acted like a cupola, with a series of protected loopholes giving armoured protection for the car commander no matter what direction he chose to look in. We don’t know exactly when Iraq ordered these vehicles; 1933 or 1934 might be a reasonable guess. The British cars were ordered from Royal Ordnance in 1931 and it is unlikely to have been before then.

Iraq had been an independent country since 1930, since the end of the First World War when it was known as Mesopotamia, it had been administered by the British, but independence came at a price. It was still obliged to go to war against Britain’s enemies and had to maintain British air bases and a British garrison on its soil when required. For all that it was becoming pro-Axis, misled by German and Italian blandishments that promised to recognise Arab independence, hoping that this would make things difficult for the British and to some extent the French. The ordinary people in the street were still pro-British, remembering who had freed them from the Turks but in the higher echelons of political and military power the mood was much more pro-Axis.

So it was that when World War 2 broke out German influence increased. German aircraft appeared, painted with Iraqi markings, and many Germans now began to pour into the country, taking jobs that would enable them to embarrass the British but the biggest thorn in their side was the massive British air base at Habbaniya, a short way to the west of Baghdad. Although it was only used for training at the time and was mostly equipped with vintage aircraft Habbaniya was big, it covered acres of ground and was a substantial example of the British presence.

iran crossley 002In due course, around April 1941, two divisions of the Iraqi Army marched out of Baghdad heading west, and settled down on an area of flat land, known as the Plateau just outside Habbaniya. They didn’t do anything but the threat was implicit and after a while they informed the British that they must stop flying. Instead the British mounted an air raid, fixing bombs to any aircraft they possessed  and began to look very aggressive. The Iraqis retaliated by shelling the place but after a few days they withdrew, leaving the ground strewn with military equipment including weapons, transport and those four armoured cars. When they’d gone the British came out and gathered everything up, including the armoured cars which were parked outside a hangar at Habbinya, where two of them were photographed.

They don’t look in the best of condition, flat tyres and weapons missing, but whether this was how they were normally kept, or the result of their stay on the Plateau we don’t know. Soon afterwards peace broke out, the militant regime crumbled and another one took its place, better disposed towards the British. Much of the captured equipment was probably given back, perhaps including the armoured cars since we had no use for them, but that is really all we know about them.