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Copy of The Siege of Habbaniya 1941

When the Iraqi forces lay siege to RAF Habbaniya on the 2nd May 1941 (part of the Battle of Habbaniya), the British were caught unawares. Though they were able to evacuate women and children from the base (some of whom had only recently escaped from Baghdad to the safety of Habbaniya) there was no operational RAF squadron based on the airfield to carry out counter-attacks against the enemy. There was however one RAF unit at Habbaniya, the No 4 Flying Training School RAF, equipped with Mk I Oxfords. The Mk I Airspeed Oxford was a converted civilian aircraft used for training flight crews, equipped with a machine gun turret on the top of the fuselage and capable of dropping practice bombs from the belly of the fuselage. The Oxfords were quickly fitted with machine guns and bomb racks and it was in an Oxford that Flight Sergeant Harold Brattan took part in the Battle of Habbaniya, flying with a gunner who would release eight 20 lb bombs, the maximum weight the aircraft could carry, during day and night raids on enemy positions. Sadly, on the 8th May, two days after the end of the siege, whilst flying at low level on a bombing raid near Ramadi, twenty-one miles west of Habbaniya, Sgt Brattan was struck by a sniper’s bullet and killed. His gunner, AC1 Kenneth Clifton, took control of the aircraft and successfully landed back at RAF Habbaniya at the third attempt. For this, Kenneth Clifton was awarded the DFM (Distinguished Flying Medal). Harold Brattan was buried that day in the RAF Habbaniya War Cemetery, Plot 1 Row G Grave 8.

The day after I added photographs of all 290 headstones at RAF Habbaniya to this website, I answered Lynn Brattan's query on the 'Find a Grave' website by adding a photograph of Flt Sgt Brattan's headstone. In reply, Lynn sent me an email explaining her connection to Harold - the content of Lynn's message being "Thank you so much for photo of Harold's gravestone. I will show my mum in law . . . . . . . She briefly went out with Harold and dated Harold just before he died and then dated and married Harold's brother William."

I have attached several photos to this post which add detail to Harold Brattan's death and the bravery of Kenneth Clifton in bringing the aircraft under control and returning to RAF Habbaniya. The first photograph is of Harold Brattan. Note also that the first headstone photo is of the original headstone and the second is of the new headstone that was erected in 2019 by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission when the Habbaniya War Cemetery was completely restored. The group photo is of the members of the No: 4 Service Flying Training School, taken in February 1940.

Added June 2024

For anyone wanting to read the full story of the Siege of Habbaniya, Richard Chancellor has just informed me of a book entitled "The Big Little War", by James Dunford Wood.


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