355: RAF Iraq Levies (Assyrian Levies)

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The story about the RAF Levies Iraq (Assyrian) by Gaby Kiwarkis and his web site is worth to visit and most of the pictures used is from his gallery.


1915- Major J I Eadie, Special service officer in the Muntafiq Division in Mesopotamia, recruited forty mounted Arabs from the tribes round Nasiriyeh, for duty under the Intelligence Department as bodyguard for political officers in southern and central Iraq. The force was named Arab Scouts. 1916- A memorandum of organization and pay was laid down. Another sixty men were recruited by Major Hamilton, the political officer at Nasiriyeh. In June the force was amalgamated, raised to 250 men and renamed the Nasariyeh Mounted Guard. 1917- By July of this year the force was increased to 500 mounted men and 400 dismounted. Uniforms were issued, but did not prove popular with the Arab force. 1918- The force rose to a strength of 5,467 of Arab, Kurd, Turkoman, Marsh Arab and Assyrian Militia.

1919- The Force became known as the Militia. Major C. Boyle became the inspecting officer. The Lee Enfield 303 short magazine was issued as standard rifle. A voluntary system of recruiting was introduced. Orders for the Force were published. July- the name was changed again to Levies and the Force was split. A striking force numbered 3,075 and district Police numbering 1,786. August 8th- Captain Willey, Lieutenant MacDonald and Sergeant Troop in command of the Kurdish Levies were murdered at Amadyia, General Nightingale with two battalions of Assyrian Militia, undertook a retaliatory action against the Kurds at Amadyia. The campaign lasted three weeks, the success of the Assyrians led them being taken as the main part of the Iraq Levies. November- The political officer J.H. Bill and Captain K.R. Scott were attacked and killed by Kurds at Bira Kapra

1920- An Arab rebellion broke out, some Arab Levies deserted under pressure from their countrymen. 300 Levies made a successful night raid at Al Baidah. June- Fifty Arab Levies were attacked at Mahmudiyeh, the force fell back, loosing five killed and eight wounded. July 9th- Captain Priestly Evans and sixty Levies were attacked at Khan Jadwal, captain Priestly and ten levies were killed, they inflicted 100 casualties on the enemy. August- Captain J.T. Bradfield, Sgt Maj Newton and 35 Kurd and Arab Levies were killed at Sharaban.

1921- The Cairo conference was held, the future of the force was decided. Orders were issued as follows; “The function of the Iraq Levies is to relieve British and Indian troops in Iraq and Kurdistan. The Iraq Army was to be formed and the Arab Levies were required to join it. Assyrians are to be recruited”.

April 19th- The recruitment of Assyrian began in Midan. At first this was not successful. The Assyrians wanting the British to keep their promise and return them to their homes. After a great effort by the British, they managed to persuade 250 to join. The first Assyrian officer to be appointed was RAB 50 Yusuf Yokhana, who became Signaling officer of the first Assyrian Battalion. October 22nd- The Force stood as follows; Four Cavalry Regiments, one Pack battery, two Battalions infantry and three machinegun companies. December 26th- An Assyrian officer, RAB 50 Polus Elias was wounded at Batas after a river crossing to attack Turkish positions. Captain Carvosso and Lieutenant Burridge were killed.1922- July- Orders were issued; No more Arabs were to be enlisted, they were required to join the new Iraq Army, those serving were not re-engaged, Military clauses from the treaty of 1922 between Britain and Iraq allowed for the existence of the Levies in the reference to “ local forces of the imperial garrison” and the ordinances which were promulgated to implement this treaty automatically covered the Levy force by preference to “ members of the British Forces who are inhabitants of Iraq”.- Lewis Guns were issued.- After the successful campaign at Batas, 1,500 more Assyrians were enlisted as additional infantry battalions, the recruitment officer’s were Lt Col Barke, David D’ Mar Shimon and RAB 100 Danniel Ismail. Fifty men from the Assyrian companies at Zakho were selected to form a Pack Battery under Captain Devenish. A further party of one Assyrian officer and 50 other ranks was to be trained as Machinegun teams under Lt Simpson, a Squadron was formed under RAB 100 Shain Gewergis. June 18th- Captain Bond and Capt Makant were shot in the back by Kurds at Mortaka. Col Minet with the first Assyrian cavalry, The Sulaimani Cavalry, a company of the 15th Sikhs and the Assyrian machinegun company took action against the Kurds. The Sulaimani commander deserted to the enemy. The operation was successful. The Levies lost 13 Killed and 19 wounded. The Assyrian Machinegun company did extraordinary well and was thanked at the end of the operation by the General officer commanding. October- The RAF took over command from the Army and Col H.T. Dobbin took over command of the Levies –The Force stood at Cavalry 1,410-Infantry 3248-Pack Battery and Depot 383.1923- The Levies now consisted of half Assyrians and half Kurd, a battalion of Marsh Arabs and a few Turkomans. Kurdish sheikh Mahmud, declares himself King of Kurdistan, with Turkish support and troops he occupies Rowandoz. March- Operations against Rowandus began. The new Iraq Army took over command of Sakho from the 2nd Assyrian Cavalry Regiment. The 1st Marsh Arab Battalion moved from Nasiriyeh to Baghdad. April- The 2nd and 3rd Assyrian Cavalry Regiments were amalgamated and became the 2nd Cavalry Regiment.

May- Levy Pay office moved from Baghdad to Mosul. July- started the enlistment of Yizidis, It was proposed to form a Yezidi Squadron it’s officers were to be either Assyrian or Yizidi, this scheme did not work, as the Yizidis proved too difficult to train, they were enlisted in the 4th transport Battalion, but this also did not work and were all discharged. The Chaldeans were also discharged; reason given, “they did not make good soldiers”. Shiekh Mahmud begins a second rebellion and occupies Sulaimani.

August- Mosul- Two Assyrian children were killed by Arabs. No one was brought to justice.

1924- May- An Assyrian Levie from the 2nd battalion was wounded in the Bazar in Kirkuk. A riot broke out; as a result five Assyrian Levies were killed. They in turn killed fifty armed Arabs. The Assyrians were evacuated from Kirkuk. Nine Levies were found guilty of murder and put into Baghdad Jail. They served less than a year in Jail. July- operations to re-occupy Sulaimani commenced. The 2nd Assyrian battalion, Armored car company and a detachment from the Iraq Army reoccupied Sulaimani, Shiekh Mahmood retired to Barzinjah. September- A Turkish force crossed the Hazil River and was threatening the village of Zakho. A combined force of Levies and Irregular Assyrian Militia under the command of Col Barke delt with the situation. For this operation RAB 100 Shain Gewergis and RAB 50 Zia Giwargis were decorated. During this year three officers died of disease, Captain McWhinnie, Capt Hammond, H.E. Bois and Sergeant Dawson.

1925- Shiekh Mahmoud continues attacks on British and Iraqi troops. 200 Assyrian Irregulars were raised and armed to support the Levies. After several operations, this force was cut down to 69 men under RAB 50 Maxut Niko and RAB 50 Raoul Youkhana, it was officially named the 69th Light Horse. Captain Coffey was killed on a recon patrol at Sitak. June 25th- RAB 50 Sliman Sliwo attacked a Kurdish strong hold with a bayonet charge killing five men. 1926- March- RAB 50 Zia Nannoo, with fifteen men held off a Kurdish attack at Faqra Pass, while RAB 50 Gewergis Shabo counter-attacked. The Kurds scattered leaving twelve rifles behind. June, Lt Curtis and RAB 50 Barkho Hormis were mentioned in dispatches after a counter attack on Shiekh Mahmoods Kurds at Kangi Manga, and Pte Khaninia Yakub was awarded for gallantry in action.1927- The cutting down of the force began. The First Marsh Arab battalion was transferred to the Iraqi Army and became its 7th battalion. The Assyrian Pack Battery was disbanded and its personnel joined the 4th Assyrian battalion. The 1st and 2nd Kurd regiments were disbanded. The operations against Shiekh Mahmood came to an end he made terms with the Government. In the final battle, the following were mentioned in dispatches; RAB 50 Eshu Saper, CQMS Baito Mako and Cpl Barkho Bobo. The force now consisted of a Medical branch, three infantry battalions and a machinegun company, all of whom were Assyrian, with the exception of transport.1928- Jan 9th Lt Haerick was killed in an airplane crash at Baghdad. The 4th Assyrian battalion was disbanded. The force was reduced to two battalions the first and second Assyrian battalions and two machinegun sections also Assyrian. The practice of allowing soldiers to retain their rifles on discharge ceased.

July- The Levies passed from the control of the colonial office to the Air Ministry and its Headquarters was transferred to Hinadi.

1929- Lt M.H. Wallace died of Malaria in August. The Anglo-Iraqi treaty was drawn up; as a result, the force was to be reduced to 1,250 by April 1933.

1930- September- Occurred election riots in Sulaimani. Following this, Shiekh Mahmoud suddenly reappeared from Persia and attacked Penjvin, the Levies were in defense and the attack failed.

1932- June; The Assyrians alarmed by the imminent withdrawal of British control on Iraq, decide upon the concentration of all Assyrians in the Amadia area. All Assyrian officers [less one] jointly presented a manifesto to the commanding officer, requesting their discharge within thirty days; the other ranks followed the lead of their officers. The British feared if this were allowed to happen they would loose all authority in Iraq and it would cause the Anglo-Iraq treaty to break down, having a large concentration of trained soldiers in one area was a concern not only to the British but also to the Iraqi’s, to buy time, they decided to allow discharge over a four month period, A British battalion was flown in from Egypt when discharges commenced at the end of June, but after negotiations between the High Commissioner and the Mar Shimon, the movement collapsed and by 12th of July all returned to normal, there was no disorder, in all 8 officers and 288 other ranks were discharged, British troops were withdrawn on the 16th July.

1933- Agust 7th– A massacre of three thousand unarmed Assyrian men, women and children by Iraqi troops occurred in and around the village of Semele.  No one was held responsible for the massacre and none brought to justice, On the 28th November 1933, in the House of Lords, His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “I have seen accounts of those who were present. I have heard that it was more shocking than anything that was seen during the war. And I have read a letter from an independent and trustworthy person in Iraq, by no means friendly to the Assyrians, who said that such an exhibition of savage fanaticism has probably seldom been seen. There is no question that it was done by the Iraqi army….and shortly afterwards the commander of the Army Sidqy Beg was promoted to Pasha.”In August occurred a serious clash between the Assyrian civilians and the Iraqi Army. For security, a large number of Assyrians decided to flee Iraq and find safety in Syria, under French control at the time, some settled, others returned to collect their families, on return a battle took place, and there were considerable casualties on both sides. – The Transport and machinegun companies ceased to exist as separate units, both being divided between the two Assyrian battalions. Kirkuk was occupied by a platoon from the 2nd battalion to guard the Wireless and other RAF stores. The Force stood at; Levy Headquarters, Headquarters Wing, 4 Assyrian Companies at Hinaidi, one Assyrian company at Mosul, Two Arab recruit companies at Basra, one Kurdish recruit company at Hinaidi.

1934- During this year, the League of Nations made various attempts to remove the Assyrians from their ancient homeland and re-settle them elsewhere. 1935- The French government after securing a deal on Iraqi Oil, agreed to a suggestion made by the League to settle some Assyrians in Syria. As a first step, 3,000 were transferred to the settlement in the Khabour area and to assist this movement, one Assyrian company was disbanded and an additional Arab company recruited in Basra. 1936- Two Assyrian companies were disbanded owing to migration, but later in the year were reformed with new Assyrian recruits. The Levies duties continued as escorts and guards. 1937- Habbaniya was occupied and used as an RAF base.

1938- The force strength in this year stood at; H.Q, Hospital, four Assyrian companies, two Arab companies, one Kurdish company.

1939- One Arab company was disbanded and replaced by Assyrians. The force strength was increased by another 270 Assyrian recruits.

1940-1941- The Iraqi forces joined the Axis powers. The battle for Habbaniya took place. the force was increased by another 11,000 recruits, mostly Assyrian, but also Kurd and Yezidi.1942- The force consisted of; H.Q, Depot, Specialist Assyrian companies, 40 service companies and a new parachute company, which consisted of 75% Assyrian and 25% Kurd. A disciplinary code was drawn up based largely on the Indian Army act. A ruling was also received from the embassy that under the existing treaty arrangements and Ordinances, it was lawful for all members of the British Forces to be subject to British, Indian or other Military Law.

13-2-1942 Major Guy Hudson 52034 [Army/TARO] posted to Parachute Company.

1942 April 8th – A number 17 Assyrian company truck overturns at Quayara, North Iraq, No 2637 Pte Gewergis Yousiph was Killed and the driver No 1288 Yousip Youkhana received serious internal injuries and was hospitalised in Mosul.

29-5-1942 The following address was given by the Air Officer Commanding Air Vice Marshal HV Champion De Crespigny on parade at Habbaniya.

Colonel Brown and all officers, Warrant officers, N.C.Os and men of the Royal Air Froce Levies, Iraq. It gives me the greatest pleasure to be here on your parade ground today, to present you with the honour of the Royal Air Force Red Eagle Badge, an honor which, by your past brave conduct, you so richly deserve.

From your information in 1915, for the past 27 long years, your record in this part of the world has been second to none, both in steadfast loyalty to the British Crown, and in your fighting qualities, whom in contact with the enemy. For the magnificent way in which you fought, and defeated a numerically superior enemy in May of last year. This badge, which has an old history in the Royal Air Force, has been awarded to you. I am convinced it will spur you all on the greater and finer deeds in the future, where ever you may be called upon to fight the common foe. It is very gratifying to see this fine body of newly trained volunteer soldiers before me this morning, and I am sure you will all fight to a man and do your utmost to keep up the fine traditions and bearing of the levy force to which you have the honor to belong. It especially gives me great heart to see the splendid example set by your officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers, large numbers of whom have volunteered their services to be trained as airborne or paratroopers, and I feel certain that an equally large number of men will follow. It is this kind of fighting spirit alone which will lead to the certain defeat of the enemy, and knowing the righteousness of our cause we will continue till liberty is won.

18-12-1942 First Levy parachute jump in Habbaniya took place-Captain J.M. Barnes and Sgt Fritchley jumping.

19-12-1942 First Assyrian parachutist, RAB Emma Lazar Adam makes his first jump followed by three Assyrian Levies.

16-7-1943 Lt GC Boe 251515 [Army/EC] posted to Parachute Company and on the 26-7-1943 Lt DF Reeves 153183 [Army/EC] also posted to Para company.

2-8-1943 Two captured Italian Tanks held by Levies are equipped with new armaments and only used for defensive roles due to poor cooling systems.

3-8-1943 Lieutenant D.N. Peterson (235930) qualified as a parachutists, he was later killed in action in Greece.

1943- Force strength stood at; 166 British officers, 22 Assyrian companies, 5 Assyrian/Yizidi companies, 10 Kurdish companies, 4 Gulf Arab companies and 3 Baluchi companies. In addition, 11 Assyrian companies were serving in Palestine and 4 in Cyprus. The Parachute Company was embodied in the Royal Marine Commando and later were used in operations in Albania and Greece. 400 Assyrian joined from Syria, they were used in the specialist’s communication companies. Ex-officer Malik Yacou Ismail also joined as a RAB 200. The name of the force was changed to Royal Air Force Levies.

1944- After the invasion of Normandy, consideration was given to the post war strength of the Levies. Proposals were put forward cutting down the establishment to allow only for necessary numbers to protect RAF instillations in Iraq and Persia.

November- an Assyrian mobile battalion was formed out of the existing companies and stationed at Habbaniya as a striking force, the parachute company being absorbed in this battalion.

13th-5-1944 Demonstration of parachute drop on Baghdad airport by Parachute Company; attended by King Faisal.

June,1944 Mentioned in dispatches-1st battalion- Major Guy Hudson- Major CS Pryor-Major DB Huxley-ASM Hill-LT AR Stuart-RAB Khaila Zaia Gerwergis-RAB 200 Suski Paulos-RAB 200 Yacube Khoshaba-RAB 100 Warda Eshu-RAB 100 MakkoYacube-RAB 100 Shlimon Oshana-RAB 100 Lazar Adam

31st-7-1944 Force strength,
British officers, Army 155, RAF 5.
British Warrant Officers, Army 21
British senior NCO’s, Army 64, RAF 8-OR’s 39.
Levy Officer’s, 275-OR’s 6,362

28-10-1944 F/O Joe T O’Sullivan 48834 [N/A Regt] posted to Para Company.

27-12-1944 The AOC, AVM,SC, Strafford with Col CJ Luce DSO inspected the Parachute Squadron under the command of S/Leader H Sullivan, prior to disbandment.

10-1-1945 F/O CHJ Mead 48833 [N/A Regt] posted to Para Company.

5-4-1945 Parachute Company arrives at Habbaniya and come under 1st Battalion.

10-4-1945 Large swarm of locusts sighted in vicinity of Majora moving south east.

1945- It was decided by Air ministry that post war strength should consist of 60 British officers and 1,900 other ranks. It was also decided that the RAF Regiment should take over command of the Levies and Army personnel would gradually be replaced by RAF personnel. Disbandment of companies started to meet the new establishment.

Order of battle

1/August 1945

1st Battalion

Record Office – Habbaniya

15th Assyrian company less one platoon -Habbaniya

39th Kurdish company less one platoon -Habbaniya

27th Kurdish company -Majara

41st Kurdish coy -Karind

33rd Yizidi coy -Karind

1 platoon 39th Kurdish coy -Karind

3rd Assyrian coy -Baghdad West

1 platoon 15th Assyrian coy – H.3

34th signal coy -Habbaniya

35th Motor Transport coy -Habbaniya

37th H.Q. coy Habbaniya

Training coy -Habbaniya

Paratroop reinforcement platoon -Habbaniya

2nd Battalion

A company -Habbaniya

B company -Habbaniya

C company -Habbaniya

D company -Habbaniya

HQ Company -Habbaniya

Paratroop coy -Karind

2nd Assyrian coy less one platoon -Mosul

2nd Assyrian coy one platoon -Ser Amadia

17th Assyrian coy -Tehran

49th Assyrian/Yizidi coy less one platoon -Hamadan

3rd Battalion

13th Kurdish coy -Nicosia

44th Kurdish coy less one platoon -Nicosia

44th Kurdish coy one platoon – Lakatamia

40th Kurdish coy -Famagusta

4th Assyrian coy less one platoon -Beirut

4th Assyrian coy one platoon -Aleppo

4th Battalion

30th Kurdish coy – Ras el Ain

16th Assyrian coy -Ras el Ain

8th Kurdish coy -In transit to Habbaniya

5th Battalion

21st Assyrian coy -Maquil

5th Arab coy -Shaibah

6th Arab coy -Shaibah

24th Arab coy -Shaibah

47th Arab coy -Shaibah

51st Arab coy -Zubair

1st Assyrian coy -Bahrain

29th Assyrian/Yizidi coy -Sharjah

19th Assyrian coy 2 platoons -Sharjah

19th Assyrian coy less two platoons -Jask

29th Assyrian/Yizidi Squadron Sharjah

19th Assyrian squadron two flights -Sharjah

19th Assyrian squadron less two flights -Jask

36th Hospital squadron -Habbaniya

5-4-1946 The Levy swimming pool built by the RAF Levies was officially opened by the Air Officer Commanding, Air Vice Marshal S.C. Strafford CB, CBE, DFC.

8-4-1946 Force commander colonel CJ Luce DSO, Major EW Hibberd and RAB Khaila Zaia left Habbaniya by air for inspection of 3rd Levies in Cyprus, while in Palestine they inspected platoons of the parachute company undergoing training with the 6th Airborne Division, returned 14-4-1946.

4-5-1946 Advance Party of Victory Parade contingent in London left Habbaniya for Cairo en route to London by Air, followed two days later by the rear party.

1946- Further disbandment continued and all Levies were withdrawn from Europe and the Middle East. The Assyrians from Syria were returned with difficulty in dealing with the newly constituted independent Government of Syria over passports and the taking of currency back into Syria; by the end of 1946 170 Assyrian Syrian nationals were still waiting to be repatriated.

10/7/46-Authority was received from A.H.Q. British forces in Iraq, for the payment of Terminal Benefits and war Gratuities to ex-Levie personnel.
Generally speaking the terms of the order was as follows:-
The war Gratuity was admissible to personnel enlisted in Iraq at three Tenths of the British rate under the same conditions as laid down for the RAF in AMO. A593/45.

i.e.; per month of War service.

Rab Khaila…600 fills
Rab Tremma…525 fills
Rab Emma…..450 fills
Rab Khamshi..375 fills
R.S.M……..300 fills
C.S.M……..270 fills
Color Sgt…240 fills
Sergeant…..210 fills
Corporal…..180 fills
L/corp/Pte…150 fills
Terminal leave of 56 days was approved for personnel enlisted in Iraq.

31st-7-1946 Order 327-All units will be designated as; [Battalions-Wings][Companies-Squadrons][Platoons-Flights][Sections-Sections].

13-11-1946 Pipers of the 6th Airborne Division played in the Levy family Lines during the evening and during the retreat. Games during the afternoon, 6th Div against the Levies, the football match was a draw but the Levies won 4-0 at Hokey and also won the shooting mach.

20-11-1946 Lord Tedder inspection of Levy Barracks-departed the next day.

21-12-1946 RAB Khamshi Shlimon Bukho discharged from hospital after wounds received in Albania, Kurdish Squadrons in Cyprus and the Persian gulf were withdrawn.

1947- 1954- The Levies continued escort and guard duties. Strength stood at; 1200 Assyrians, 400 Kurds, 400 Arabs.

1955- The entire Force was disbanded.

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