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Air Command In Iraq

Volume 161: debated on Wednesday 14 March 1923

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When I pass from home affairs to events abroad, there are one or two conspicuous events to which I should like to draw attention. First and foremost there is the fact that for the first time in the history, not only of this country, but of the world, we have started an independent air command. In Iraq to-day there is no longer a general officer commanding the troops, but for the first time in history there is art air officer commanding. I suggest that hon. Members should set aside their views as to whether our political policy in Iraq is wise or not, and should look with attention and sympathy at the fact that for the first time in history we have started this independent Air Command. We have not, been able, I freely admit, to make the reductions we had hoped. That has been exclusively due to the fact that we have not been able to conclude peace with Turkey, but I can assure the House that from the day peace is made with Turkey we hope to get down to the line suggested by the Cairo Conference, in which the garrison in Iraq would he eight squadrons and a very greatly reduced number of infantry troops.

Every impartial inquirer who has been to Iraq or has looked into the state of affairs without prejudice bears witness to the fact that this experiment in Air Command is working very well. We believe it is going to save a great deal of money and, perhaps more important than that, we believe it is going to mean the saving of a great many lives and a great deal of effort. Over and over again, even during the short time during which there has been this Air Command in existence, we have been able, by well directed air operations, to avoid the expense, both in men and money, which would have been entailed by ground military expeditions.

Let me give the House one or two examples of the successful experiments to which I have alluded. It has been possible to supply an armoured car column and 16 vehicles with stores, spares, petrol and rations for 17 days entirely from the air. It has been possible to evacuate 67 persons, military and civil, by air to a point 70 miles distant in the space of little more than two hours. Only the other day, two companies of an Indian regiment, amounting to over 300 men, with Lewis guns and 30,000 rounds of reserve ammunition were taken by aeroplane to a disturbed district, 65 miles distant, within 24 hours, at a time when the roads were impassable and when it would have been otherwise impossible to move troops at all. It has been possible to mark out by the longest furrow in the world, 470 miles in length, the desert route from Amman to Bagdad, and to keep a regular service of military aeroplanes carrying mails and passengers between Cairo and Bagdad.