India: Paiforce 1942-43
v.1.0 June 2, 2002

Ravi Rikhye

Source:  Indian Armed Forces in World War II   Historical Section India and Pakistan, Bisheshwar Prasad, Editor 1957

I have placed the Persia and Iraq Force under India, as most of the troops were Indian. Of course, in 1942 there was no Indian Army as such, but a British Indian Army. That was quite separate from the Indian State Forces. Many of the larger 550 Indian states not directly under British rule maintained armies from which they generously sent troops to aid the Imperial cause.

Paiforce came into existence on September 15, 1942, at Baghdad, with General (later Field Marshal) Sir Henry Maitland, also known as Jumbo Wilson, as its commander. General Wilson in turn reported to Middle East Command, which along with the Near East Command controlled British force in North and East Africa, and what is today Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, and Iran. Paiforce was intended to protect northern Iran from a German thrust through the Caucasus. No one seemed to have much confidence this could actually be achieved if the Germans came.  Logistic considerations aside, this was probably realistic.

The German tank commanders in Russia and in the desert had proved themselves master tacticians; the standard of their troops was very high. Their ability to achieve so much with so few tanks against huge numerical odds was nothing short of astonishing.

Paiforce, conversely, was in a backwater of the Second World War. The Indian troops, all volunteer long-service professionals, were first class in matters of training and discipline. But armor and motorized transport were conspicuous by their absence. It could hardly be otherwise. With 8th Army fighting for its very life against Rommel, German U-boats ascendant at sea, America not even a year in the war, and the British-Indian armies in the east retreating against a relentless Japanese advance, the supply position for the Middle East was desperate.  Add to that the complete lack of transport infrastructure in the theatre, the huge area, the long lines of communication, and the shortage of troops to be protected, Paiforce was right to be pessimistic about it chances of deflecting an attack by the 7-8 German divisions believed to constitute the threat. Had it come to war, the British and Indian troops would probably have found themselves staging another long and undoubtedly famous retreat back to their Persian Gulf ports.

And yet – we did say “logistic considerations aside”. In reality, logistic considerations ruled supreme.  The German armies headed for the Caucasus were already completely overextended, running, as the Americans colorfully say, on fumes. Armored divisions counted their tanks in the dozens instead of the hundreds. Fuel, ammunition, and replacements were not to be found at any price. The German infantry was numb with exhaustion after fighting its way one thousand kilometers on foot against the largest land army in the world. And powerful Soviet armies were massing, one immense echelon behind the other, waiting for the opportunity to begin the counteroffensive.

Still, we know all this in retrospect. At that time, the Germans appeared invincible. Even in retrospect, it would be unwise to underrate the Germans.  No one can tell what might have happened had Rommel reached the glitteringly gorgeous and stuffed British supply bases in Egypt. This was a man capable of staging sweeping offensives with less than a hundred tanks. As always with World War II, the “if” factor fascinates and tantalizes. If Hitler and the German General Staff had given Rommel the four additional divisions he wanted, who knows what he might have achieved. Luckily for the Allies, neither Rommel, Manstein, or Guderian hove too over the horizon of sleepy Iran and Iraq. In 1942 this was a region where nothing much seemed to have changed since biblical times, and where Paiforce went about its business slowly and deliberately because of the heat and the distances, moving to the pace and rhythms of a colonial army in the pre-industrial desert.

Paiforce went through five configurations that changed according to the situation in the Caucasus: original force, Plans Wonderful, Garment, and Gherkin, and 1943 plans.  We discuss for now only the first and the last, leaving the others for another day.

Paiforce  [General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson]

HQ Baghdad, formed September 15, 1942

10th Army

Polish Army in the East

8th Indian Division

HQ 10th Army  [Lt.-General E.P. Quinan]

HQ Khurramabad

HQ III Corps (Kermanshah)

HQ XXI Indian Corps (Hamadan)

6th Indian Division (Sultanbad area)

-         27th Indian Infantry Brigade

5th British Division (Kermanshah)

-         13th Infantry Brigade

-         15th Infantry Brigade

-         17th Infantry Brigade

10th Indian Motor Brigade (Malayar)

31st Indian Armored Division (Bisitian)

-         3rd Indian Motor Brigade

-         252nd Indian Armored Brigade Group

8th Indian Division

HQ Kirkuk-Mosul

19th Indian Infantry Brigade Group

Polish Army in the East


Paiforce Planned for Spring 1943

10th Army (North Iran)

-         31st Indian Armored Division

-         10th Indian Motor Brigade

III Corps

-         5th British Division

-         6th Indian Division (two brigades)

XXI Indian Corps

-         8th Indian Division (two brigades)

-         56th British Division

GHQ Troops

-         5th Indian Division

Polish Army in the East

3rd Polish Division

5th Polish Division (forming)

2nd Polish Army Tank Brigade (forming)

Polish Independent Infantry Brigade Group (forming)

Back to Main

All content © 2003 Ravi Rikhye. Reproduction in any form prohibited without express permission.