I have found, going through stack exchange questions, a pair of links that speak about the presence.

Those links are: Statistics on the number of divisions during WWII and the deployment of a (mostly Indian) corps in Iraq and Persia.

From those information, a question rose: I understand that the British faced true difficulties in 1941 in the Middle East: fights occured in Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Persia. Italians were also a threat on the Red Sea, with their Somalian and Ethiopian possessions. But by early 1942, all of thos fights were over and all the dangerous territories had been taken (or taken back for Iraq). So I am wondering why the Persia and Iraq Command still had so many troops under him:

Speaking of numbers, it looked like more soldiers, again mostly Indian, were standing still in Iraq and Persia, performing police duties, while the 8th Army, with only the 13rd and 30th corpses, was desesperate to beat Axis's offensives until El-Alamein. I found several explanations for that:

  • The units in Middle East were defending from the possible threats of a German invasion, if Soviets were to be beaten in the Caucasus (which depended of Stalingrad battle)
  • Indian units were less trained and experienced than the British, New Zealand, Australian and South African forces fighting in Egypt

But I am not entirely satisfied with those explanations:

  • Why didn't the Persia and Iraq Command send its forces to help the Russians in Caucasus, instead of waiting for them to collapse and thus offering the Germans an opportunity to beat two forces separately?
  • Why did'nt the Persia and Iraq Command send its forces to help in North Africa? Royal Navy had plain control of the sea from Turkey to Egypt, it could have been easy and fast to transport them back to Middle East if needed? Actually, it had been done already to Greece
  • There is an article that wrote that Indian units (namely 2nd, 6th and 12th Indian divisions) were fighting in Middle East in 1941, and later standing still there for police duties. They were already trained and experienced since they had actually fought with success, so the trainin explanation is not correct (not for all units at least)

So the question is: Why did Allied Command maintain passive, especially Indian units in Middle East during the years 1942 and 1943? And is there a reason for those units to have been Indian instead of other Commonwealth nationalities?

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    See the Anglo-Iraq war. The troops were needed in Iraq as a garrison to keep the local population in check and to prevent another anti-Anglo (pro-German) coup from occuring. I am not familiar with the divisions/regiments involved, but using colonial forces as police during wartime was a rather common thing.
    – ed.hank
    Mar 8, 2020 at 15:44
  • 1
    In theory, I would be OK with your explanation. But Rachid Ali's pro-German coup was more about one man using an opportunity than a popular uprising against British occupation. Massive desertions occured in the Iraqi army under Rachid Ali. Moreover, British only used less than 2 divisions to win. Why would they win 5 or 6 to maintain occupation? Even more considering the danger of the Axis? Mar 8, 2020 at 16:41
  • "Wilson's primary task was "to secure at all costs from land and air attack the oil fields and oil installations in Persia and Iraq." His secondary task was "to ensure the transport from the Persian Gulf ports of supplies to Russia to the maximum extent possible without prejudicing [his] primary task." from wiki on the war. That was the goals of General, to protect the oil supply. Germany garrisoned Norway with a lot of troops to protect their supply of ore, so UK was just protecting their supply of oil. Also just on a side not, I would be curious if they were full divisions or just partial
    – ed.hank
    Mar 8, 2020 at 17:30
  • @ed.hank Thanks for those details, still I have two questions: germany defend Norxay against the freedom o f movement of Allies to land there. Germany had little to no freedom of movement to Middle East, and the best way to reduce it was to engage alongside Russian in Caucasus: Why did'nt Wilson engage? Mar 8, 2020 at 18:18
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    It seems that there's an awful lot of "Monday morning quarterbacking" involved here. It's easy to say, now, that those units weren't really needed where they were and should have been deployed elsewhere, but the commanders then didn't know what you know now.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 8, 2020 at 18:28

1 Answer 1


Your first question is why did the British maintain such large forces Iraq and Persia in 1942 to 1943. In addition to the answers you gave in your question, there was at least one more reason. As Wikipedia reports:

"As [the Indian 14th Army's] soon to be promoted commander Major-General William Slim wrote: 'We could move we could fight and we had begun to build up that most valuable of all assets a tradition of success. ... it was stimulating to be at what we all felt was a critical spot, waiting for the threatened German invasion of Turkey.'"

Also, these forces were doing double duty, backing up the Russians against a German thrust through the Caucasus, AND the British 8th Army in Egypt, whichever threatened to break first, instead of being committed to help one or the other.

As to your second question of why Indian troops were used, a large part of the reason was because they were "neighbors" to the Middle East. This was especially true given that a large proportion of "Indian" troops came from today's Pakistan. When they were no longer needed in the Middle East, they were moved back to India under General Slim. Basically, these Indian divisions defended a large and critical contiguous area ranging from Iraq in the west to East India and later Burma in the east relatively close to their homes.

  • 1
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10th_Indian_Infantry_Division The 10th div went to Iraq by sea, and probably all the others. I would expect that sea transportation would be more practical than railroads, even if there were enough rail links between iraq, persia and india.
    – Luiz
    Mar 8, 2020 at 19:17
  • @Luiz: OK, changed the argument to the fact that India was contiguous to Iraq and Persia. Thanks for your help.
    – Tom Au
    Mar 8, 2020 at 20:59
  • Iraq and Persia were usually part of India Command, so Indian troops were the staple. Iraq was transferred back and forth between India and Middle East Commands a few times, and Wavell even lost his job in 1941 largely because he refused to send troops there after it was transferred to him in 1941 during the crisis. Auchinleck from India Command scratched troops together to deal with the situation, and ended up with Wavell's job. In 1942 Persia Iraq Command was activated as a separate Command during the Caucasus threat after Abadan was declared a to be a higher strategic priority than Egypt. Mar 9, 2020 at 12:25

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