O Wingy Pink! O Wingy Pink!
What awful things your brain does think!
This awful slush, these sobs and sighs,
Brings tears to the eyes of them what flies!
When naughty words like “hell” and “blazes”
Flash before their spellbound gazes,
They think how he’ll laugh—that local Khan
When he reads Pinky’s Piece in Waziristan!
—Wing Commander R.C.M. Pink, 1925
In the years that followed World War One, the greater part of the new RAF was deployed overseas to provide close support for the Army and the new role of air policing. When, on March 9, 1925, Wing Commander Richard Charles Montagu Pink’s de Havilland DH9s and Bristol Fighters took to the air from the Indian bases in Miranshah and Tank, they were about to begin the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) first-ever independent action. The ensuing two months of strafing and bombing campaign against the name tribes of Waziristan would become known as “Pink’s War.”
RAF DEFENDS THE EMPIRE
Egypt became the keystone of the entire post-WWI deployment of RAF combat units. High command approved the establishment of seven squadrons for this role. Soon thereafter, a training wing and schools for pilot and gunnery training soon were also established. Plans developed to base a total of eight squadrons in India and three in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). When this was accomplished, more than half of the RAF’s squadrons were overseas.
The principle of air control was brought to the Middle East in October 1922 when an airman, Air Vice-Marshal John Salmond, was appointed in overall command in Iraq, providing security for the country. A series of small land campaigns demonstrated to Salmond that ground troops operating without air support could not achieve success. In fact, when properly applied, air control permitted bombing operations that rarely failed, minimizing damage and casualties to both sides while still achieving the objective.
One of the main areas of employment of these new methods of conducting warfare was in northwest India. British forces had been constantly in action against the Mahsud and its sub-tribes, the Manzai, Bahlolzai and Shaman Khel since 1860.
By 1923, all British forces had finished construction of an airbase at Razmak within Waziristan. Bombing runs became more frequent, totally devastating the Makin countryside. Though the Mahsuds agreed to a ceasefire, it was actually a ruse to give them time to devise a new strategy to counter the British incursion.
The defense of the North West Frontier Province continued to be a top priority for British India. So, with a new rebellion afoot in July 1924, the British mounted operations against several of the Mahsud tribes in southern Waziristan. By October, the tribesmen had mostly been subdued. Only the Abdur Rahman Khel tribe and three other supporting tribes continued to attack British Indian Army posts.
The very young RAF was eager to establish its military credentials. Sir Edward Ellington, the air officer commanding in India, made the unprecedented decision to conduct air operations against the tribesmen without the support of the army.
Oh March 9, 1925, Bristol F2B fighters and de Havilland DH9s from Nos. 5, 27 and 60 Squadrons of Number 2 (Indian) Wing under the command of R.C.M. Pink took off from airstrips at Miranshah and Tank. Operating in concert, the three squadrons strafed and bombed tribal mountain strongholds in a successful attempt to crush the rebellion. It was the first time in history that the RAF was in combat independent of any other branch of service.
Over the next fifty-four days, Pink sustained the operations by dropping 250 tons of bombs on the rebels in day and night raids. Tribal leaders relented by requesting an honorable peace. In a meeting at at Jandola on May 1, 1925, the two warring parties finalized a peace agreement. Wing Commander Pink’s short campaign ended costing the Empire only two British lives and one aircraft. The toll to the Mahsud tribal population is not known
HONORS FOR PINK’S MEN
Only after Chief of the Air Staff Sir John Salmond succeeded in overturning the War Office decision not to grant a special medal for participants in the March-May 1925 air campaign, a special clasp for the India General Service Medal was authorized. Presented to just 46 officers and 214 of the Royal Air Force, the special clasp bearing the inscription “Waziristan 1925,” is, by far, the rarest of the eleven clasps available for award with the India General Service Medal of 1908-1935.
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