Saddam’s WW2 Tanks – A Glimpse into Iraq’s Military History
In 2003, the world watched as the US-led Coalition invaded Iraq, leading to intense encounters between the Coalition and Iraqi forces. The Iraqi military, consisting of regular forces, the Republican Guard, and Saddam’s Irregulars, put up a formidable defense over a three-week period. As the Coalition forces advanced towards Baghdad, they encountered a wide range of armored vehicles, including not only modern and Cold War-era tanks but also some unexpected World War II relics. Some of these ancient war machines were used as memorials, while others were still in storage facilities. Astonishingly, a few were even rolled out and utilized in defense. This article delves into these fascinating discoveries and offers insight into Iraq’s military history.
1. A Glimpse into Iraq’s Military Past
The Royal Iraqi Army was originally founded in 1922, during the period when Iraq was called Mandatory Iraq and was under British rule. Iraq gained its independence from Britain in 1932. Up until the overthrow of the royal family in 1958, the country’s armed forces were limited. During the 1930s, fascist Italy, under Benito Mussolini, supplied Iraq with various types of small tanks and tankettes.
2. Italian CV33 Tankettes
Italy sold Iraq 16 CV33 or CV35 tankettes in the 1930s. These two-man vehicles were armed with a single 6.5mm machine gun. However, their 12mm thick armor was only effective against small arms and shrapnel. A few of these tankettes were knocked out by British forces in 1941 when they invaded Iraq to remove its pro-German government. In 2003, several of these ancient tankettes were discovered by US troops.
3. British Vickers Mark VI Light Tanks
The 2003 invasion of Iraq also uncovered a handful of British Vickers Mark VI light tanks, which were produced by Vickers-Armstrongs in the 1930s. These tanks had a crew of three and armor ranging from 4mm to 14mm thick. They were armed with a .50 inch Vickers machine gun and a .303 inch Vickers machine gun as secondary armament. Some of these tanks were used in the British invasion of Iraq in 1941 and later turned over to the refounded Iraqi Army. By 2003, they were used as memorials and gate guardians.
4. British Cruiser A15 Crusader Mark I
During World War II, the British reequipped the new Iraqi army with the cruiser A15 Crusader Mark I. Entering British service in 1941, this tank weighed about 19 tons and was armed with either a 40mm Ordnance QF 2-pounder gun or a 57mm Ordnance QF 6-pounder gun, depending on the variant. It was a vital tank during the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942 and the siege of Tobruk. In 2003, several Crusaders were found, either serving as memorials or in a wrecked condition.
5. British Churchill Mark VII
The Iraqi Army also received the British Churchill Mark VII, a heavy tank, during the 1940s and 1950s. This tank entered British service in 1941 and had a crew of five. It was heavily armed with a quick-firing 75mm main gun and a coaxial Besa machine gun. Despite its heavy armor, it had a maximum speed of only 15 mph. Iraq eventually replaced the Churchill tanks with British Centurion main battle tanks. In 2003, a few old Churchills were found, with some serving as gate guardians and others appearing to be hit during the invasion.
6. German 15 cm sFH 13/1 auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper (f) – SDKfz 1351
One of the rarest World War II track vehicles discovered in Iraq in 2003 was the German 15 cm sFH 13/1 auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper (f), also known as the SDKfz 1351. This unique vehicle was created by the Germans following the defeat of France in 1940. It combined the 15 cm sFH 13/1 howitzer with the captured French Army Lorraine 37L tracked armored transporter chassis. Large numbers of these vehicles served with the Afrika Korps in the Western Desert. This particular example was found in Iraq in 2003 and was a monument vehicle at the entrance to an ordinance facility north of Basra.
7. US M36 Jackson Tank Destroyers
During World War II, the Iraqi Army replaced its British Centurion tanks with Soviet Cold War models but also obtained some World War II-era US tanks due to its war with Iran in the 1980s. Among the World War II US vehicles found in 2003 were several M36 Jackson tank destroyers, which were designed to deal with German Panther and Tiger tanks. These vehicles were still appearing in Iranian army camouflage in 2003.
8. The Legacy of the Sherman
The Sherman tank played a significant role in the Iraqi tank inventory, and a few were discovered in 2003. One example found was still painted in World War II US colors.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq led to the discovery of a diverse array of World War II-era armored vehicles. These relics offer a unique glimpse into Iraq’s military history, from the early days of independence to its involvement in World War II and the subsequent changes in its armed forces. While some of these vehicles have been restored and preserved as gate guardians or memorials, many remain abandoned or have been scrapped.