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Mesopotamian Half Flight

At the start of World War I, the air power of the Allied forces was extremely limited. Most of the available aircraft and pilots were assigned to the European theater of operations. This meant that the Indian army, which was assigned the task of protecting British oil interests in Mesopotamia against the Turkish army, had no air support.

On 8th February, 1915, the Australian government received a request for air assistance from the Viceroy of India. In response, the Australian government formed what is now known as the Mesopotamian half-flight, or Australian half-flight, which sailed for Bombay (and from there to Basra, in what is now Iraq) on 20th April.

At this point in time, the Australian Flying Corps was still in its infancy, and while it could provide trained airmen, support crew and repair equipment, it could not spare any aircraft. These were instead provided by the Indian government, and on arrival in Basra on May 26th, the half-flight had access to three pusher (propeller behind the cockpit, rather than in front) biplanes (two Maurice Farman Shorthorns and a Maurice Farman Longhorn).

The planes available for the half-flight were of fairly early design, and were not suitable for the desert conditions. To start with, their top speed was only 50mph, while the desert wind (called the Shamal) often reached 80mph, so at top speed the planes would fly backwards. Secondly, the warmer desert air reduced the aircraft lift capability, and so sometimes they could not take off. Also, the Longhorn was a second-hand aircraft, which had persistent mechanical problems, so spent most of its time being repaired.

After arrival, the airplanes were immediately put to use on reconnaissance missions. Shortly afterwards, the Indian Army captured the town of Amara, and the airbase was moved there on 9th June.

On 4th July, the half-flight was reinforced with two Caudron G3 aircraft, which were still not up-to-date, but generally preferred to the Farmans. Later, on 30th July, one of the Caudrons was forced to land in enemy territory due to mechanical problems. It was later reported that the crew were killed by local hostile Arabs after a running gun-battle over several miles. This was Australia's first air-casualty of the war.

On 24th August, the British reinforced the half-flight with additional men and four additional aircraft (Martinsyde S1s) to form a full squadron (renamed 30th Squadron RFC). Further aircraft (three Maurice Farman sea-planes) were added to the squadron in September. Because the Tigris river was too shallow for the sea-planes to use at that time of year, the sea-planes were converted into Shorthorns.

The Indian army attack on Kut occurred on 27th September, and was the city was soon captured. 30 Squadron's base of operations was soon moved there. In October, four BE2c aircraft arrived, and the squadron was divided into two flights (A and B), with the Australian half-flight incorporated into B flight. The Indian army soon met with stiff opposition outside Baghdad, and were forced back to Kut on 4th December, where the city was put to siege. Due to the perceived limited usefulness of aircraft in a siege, the remaining Australian aircraft was flown out of Kut towards Egypt on 7th December, where it was eventually incorporated into 1 Squadron AFC.