RAF Habbaniya

Coordinates: 33°22′56.99″N 43°34′23.71″E / 33.3824972°N 43.5732528°E / 33.3824972; 43.5732528

Royal Air Force Station Habbaniya, more commonly known as RAF Habbaniya (Arabic: قاعدة الحبانية الجوية), (originally RAF Dhibban), was a Royal Air Force station at Habbaniyah, about 55 miles (89 km) west of Baghdad in modern-day Iraq, on the banks of the Euphrates near Lake Habbaniyah. It was operational from October 1936 until 31 May 1959 when the RAF finally withdrew after the July 1958 Revolution made the British military presence no longer welcome. It was the scene of fierce fighting in May 1941 when it was besieged by the Iraqi Military following the 1941 Iraqi coup d'état.

RAF Habbaniya
RAF Habbaniya Unit Badge.jpg
Station crest
AllegianceUnited KingdomUK: British Armed Forces
BranchRoyal Air Force
TypeFlying station
Part ofBritish Forces in Iraq
Located nearHabbaniyah, Iraq
Royal Air Force EnsignEnsign of the Royal Air Force.svg
MarchRoyal Air Force March Past
Hughie Edwards (1956–58)
Map of Iraq in World War II

It is currently a major Iraqi military airbase.


Originally called RAF Dhibban, the station was built on the west bank of the Euphrates and opened on 19 October 1936. It was the British Royal Air Force (RAF) base built "West of the Euphrates" in accordance with Article 5 of the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930. It was on the West bank of the Euphrates between Ramadi and Fallujah, and was a major military and air base for the entire British Empire. The squadrons, units and headquarters and the hospital gradually moved in from RAF Hinaidi, Baghdad, which was then vacated by the British and renamed "Rashid Airfield" by the Iraqis. It was renamed RAF Habbaniya on 1 May 1938.[1]

RAF Habbaniya was extensive and, as well as the airfield, included the Air Headquarters of RAF Iraq Command, communication facilities, maintenance units, an aircraft depot, an RAF hospital, RAF Iraq Levies barracks, the RAF Armoured Car Company depot as well as fuel and bomb stores.

There were numerous billets, messes and a wide range of leisure facilities including swimming pools, cinemas and theatres, sports pitches, tennis courts and riding stables. It was self-contained with its own power station, water purification plant and sewage farm. Water taken from the Euphrates for the irrigation systems enabled green lawns, flower beds and even ornamental Botanical Gardens. After World War II the families of British personnel started living at Habbaniya and a school was started.

Within the camp perimeter was the Civil Cantonment which provided the accommodation for the families of the RAF Iraq Levies and the civilian workers and their families. The cantonment population of about 10,000 had their own schools, hospital, mosques, churches, temples, cinema and bazaars. Just outside the perimeter was the village of Humphreya in which more locally employed civilians and their families lived. It was the original construction camp for the company which built the base, Messrs Humphreys of Knightsbridge, London (and from which the name Humphreya arose).

There was a 7-mile perimeter fence round the base but this did not enclose the airfield which was outside. In 1952 a second airfield was built on the plateau to cope with the long range and jet aircraft using the base (this subsequently became the Iraqi Air Force Al Taqaddum airbase).

Lake Habbaniya Sailing Club

In the late 1930s Imperial Airways established a staging post on Lake Habbaniya for the flying boat service from the UK to British India using Short Empires. The lake provided the necessary landing area for these aircraft in the middle of the Mesopotamian desert.

The station was a large flying training school in the Second World War, as well as a transport staging airfield. In the Rashid Ali rebellion in 1941, the airfield was besieged by units from the Royal Iraqi Army encamped on the overlooking plateau. On 2 May 1941, British forces from the airfield launched pre-emptive airstrikes on Iraqi forces throughout Iraq and the Anglo-Iraqi War began. The siege was lifted by the units based at Habbaniya, including pilots from the training school, a battalion of the King's Own Royal Regiment flown in at the last moment, Number 1 Armoured Car Company RAF and the RAF's Iraq Levies. The subsequent arrival of a relief column (Kingcol), part of Habforce sent from Palestine, then a British mandate, combined with the Habbaniya units to force the rebel forces to retreat to Baghdad.

Later in the Second World War, Habbaniya became an important stage on the southern air route between the UK and the USSR. British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) ran a regular passenger service via North Africa and the Middle East using Consolidated Liberator transports. The United States Army Air Forces Air Transport Command used Habbaniya as a stopover point between the large Lend-Lease aircraft assembly facility at Abadan Airport, Iran, and Payne Field, Cairo. Also ATC operated a transport route from Habbaniya to Mehrabad Airport, Tehran. After the Second World War, BOAC discontinued the flying boat service and the hotel buildings at the lake were acquired by the RAF and used as a Rest and Recreation Centre.

Operational RAF squadrons were based at Habbaniya and very many aircraft passed through in transit.

Roald Dahl was stationed there in 1940, as described in his book, Going Solo, but his description is somewhat inaccurate and his opinion rather unfavourable compared with that of most personnel who served there.

No. 6 Squadron RAF, No. 8 Squadron RAF and No. 73 Squadron RAF were the last flying squadrons to depart the base in the mid 1950s.[2]

During the Cold War, GCHQ ran a large signals intelligence (SIGINT) monitoring station at Habbaniya staffed by 123 Signals Squadron and later 276 Signals Squadron. It also operating SIGINT aircraft over Iran and the Caspian Sea to monitor the Soviet Union.[3]

The base closed on 31 May 1959 when the RAF finally withdrew after the July 1958 Revolution made the presence of British military no longer welcome.

In June 1961 there were two Iraqi Air Force squadrons at the base:[4]

  • No.1 Squadron, Venom FB.Mk.1, based at Habbaniyah AB, CO Capt. A.-Mun’em Ismaeel
  • No.6 Squadron, Hunter, based at Habbaniyah AB, CO Capt. Hamid Shaban

The airbase was bombed in Operation Kaman 99 on the second day of the Iran–Iraq War, just after the Iraqi invasion of Iran.[5]

Tom Cooper's book Arab MiG-19 and MiG-21 Units in Combat describes Habbaniya as a base for Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21s by 1990.[6]

Current useEdit

According to the Federation of American Scientists the site was used to produce Mustard gas (a chemical weapon). The site was built in 1983–84. The factory produced the gas for use against Iran in the Iran–Iraq War. The factory produced 60–80 tonnes per year.[7]

May 2007 view of the Habbaniyah Olympic pool

After 2003, the former British airfield was used by both the United States Armed Forces and the New Iraqi Army as a forward operating base, and is now known as Camp Habbaniyah. From this outpost, combat operations are run from the outskirts of Fallujah to the outskirts of Ramadi. Since 2006 Camp Habbaniyah has grown into a Regional Training and Regional Support Center as well as the headquarters for the Iraqi Army 1st Division. On going Coalition and Iraqi construction projects have revitalised much of the base.

In December 2008, the U.S. Army and all civilian contractors, less twelve contractors from MPRI, departed Camp Habbaniyah. U.S. Marines had stayed behind to provide the Iraqi Army with additional perimeter security until a time TBD.

On 16 April 2009, a suicide-bomber dressed as an Iraqi 1st Lieutenant detonated a bomb among a group of Iraqi soldiers at a canteen.

In 2015, Habbaniya was a base for Shia militias, the Iraqi army and its American trainers, in their ongoing campaign against ISIS.[8]

British media and service members make a brief visit to the cemetery for Remembrance Day ceremonies

289 British and Commonwealth personnel, along with women, children and babies, remain buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery in Habbaniya. The register of those buried is held by the RAF Habbaniya Association. (RAF Habbaniya Association)

Flying Units and AircraftEdit

Ground UnitsEdit

See alsoEdit



  This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.

  1. ^ The National Archives, Kew, London. AIR 29/50
  2. ^ Jefford (2001)[page needed]
  3. ^ Aldrich, Richard J. (2011). GCHQ. London: Harper Press. pp. 160–162. ISBN 978-0-007312-665.
  4. ^ Tom Cooper Kuwait Emergency, Air Combat Information Group
  5. ^ "آشنایی با عملیات البرز (کمان ۹۹)". همشهری آنلاین. 6 February 2013. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  6. ^ David Nicolle, Tom Cooper, Arab MiG-19 and MiG-21 Units in Combat, Volume 44 of Osprey Combat Aircraft, Osprey Publishing, 2004, ISBN 1841766550, 9781841766553, 78.
  7. ^ "Iraqi facilities at Habbaniya". Federation of American Scientists. Archived from the original on 13 February 2005. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  8. ^ "The successful campaign provides a blueprint for future battles — with Fallujah and Mosul the next to come". The Economist. 28 December 2015. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  9. ^ Lake (1999)[page needed]
  10. ^ Lake (1999), page 307
  11. ^ The National Archives, Kew, London. AIR 29/2052
  12. ^ The National Archives, Kew, London. AIR 29/1052/2 & AIR 29/1540
  13. ^ "RAF Habbaniya". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 10 June 2012.
  14. ^ The National Archives, Kew, London. AIR 29/1045, AIR 29/1537 & AIR 29/2055/1
  15. ^ The National Archives, Kew, London. AIR 29/3027
  16. ^ AIR 29/1952, The National Archives, Kew
  17. ^ *Warwick, Nigel W. M. (2014). IN EVERY PLACE: The RAF Armoured Cars in the Middle East 1921-1953. Rushden, Northamptonshire, England: Forces & Corporate Publishing Ltd. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-9574725-2-5.
  18. ^ AIR 29/943, The National Archives, Kew


  • Dudgeon, Air Vice-Marshal A.G., CBE,DFC (Retd). Hidden Victory: The Battle of Habbaniya, May 1941. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Tempus Publishing Ltd., 2001. ISBN 0-7524-2037-2.
  • Jefford, C.G. RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
  • Lake, Alan. Flying Units of the RAF – The ancestry, formation and disbandment of all flying units from 1912. Airlife, UK, 1999. ISBN 1 84037 086 6
  • Sturtivant, Ray, ISO and John Hamlin. RAF Flying Training And Support Units since 1912. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 2007. ISBN 0-85130-365-X.

Further readingEdit

  • Dunford Wood, Colin (2020). Big Little Wars: The War Diaries of Colin Dunford Wood, 1939-41, India and Iraq. London: Independent Publishing Network. ISBN 978-1838538484.
  • Lee, Air Chief Marshal Sir David. Flight from the Middle East: A History of the Royal Air Force in the Arabian Peninsula and Adjacent Territories 1945–1972. London: Ministry of Defence: Air Historical Branch, RAF, 1981 ISBN 978-0117723566

External linksEdit