chapter  18
10 Pages

Wavell and Iraq, April-May 1941

Field Marshal Lord Wavell (1883-1950) was, as this biography well establishes, a great military leader, brilliant in his grasp of strategy and fecund in stratagems; Rommel hardly exaggerated when he said that he 'showed a touch of genius.' Wavell's reputation as a commander was made in the middle east, and this book is therefore necessarily much concerned with the campaigns in the western desert, Greece and Crete and with their political aspects. But Wavell's connexion with the middle east dates not from the second but from the first world war. In the summer of 1917, while a brevet lieutenant-colonel, he was appointed to act as liaison officer between the C.I.G.S. in London and Allenby, who had just assumed command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. He was later to write a notable biography of Allenby and a classic analysis of his campaign in Palestine. Before taking up this appointment he had been for a few months British military representative on the staff of the Grand Duke Nicholas, governor and commander-in-chief in the Caucasus. A minor incident which took place during Wavell's time in Tiflis and which throws some light on Allied strategy and politics is recounted by Mr. Connell (p. 117). At the beginning of 1917 General Maude was mounting an assault on Ottoman positions in Mesopotamia and was expected shortly to capture Baghdad. Wavell was asked to request the Russians to advance simultaneously on Mosul. Now by the terms of the Sykes-Picot agreement Mosul had been assigned to France, who would thus constitute a buffer between the British and the Russian empires. Unwittingly or not, therefore, this request-to which the Russians could not in the end respondmeant abandonment by the British government of a particularly important consideration which had governed its proposals for the partition of Ottoman territories. The French liaison officer in

Tiflis received similar instructions; he, however, sought to ensure that the French flag would fly over Mosul on its capture, but 'Wavell knew that the very idea would be fatal to any hopes of inducing the Russians to advance. Pretending complete ignorance of the Sykes-Picot agreement, he refused to back Chardigny on this point.'