A Brief History
On March 9, 1925, the British Royal Air Force began operations in South Waziristan against Mahfud tribesmen called Pink’s War, the first independent such operation by the RAF and to date the only operation named after an RAF commander. (Not after the 21st Century rock star!) Conducted in what is now the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the aerial attack against the Mahfud, a Pashtun people, went on for 53 days, ending on May 1, 1925. Joining other goofy named wars such as The War of Jenkin’s Ear, The Soccer War, The Whiskey Rebellion, War of the Oranges, Pastry War, Gun War (by this point in History, we would think ALL wars were “gun wars”), Pig War, Phony War, Dirty War (as opposed to “Clean War?”), and all these are “real” wars, not media and commercial events such as “The War on Christmas,” “The War of the Sexes,” “The Current Wars,” “The Cola Wars,” “Star Wars,” or “The War on Drugs.”
Located in the Northwest portion of British controlled India, long before Pakistan was created, the Pashtun border area between India and Afghanistan was difficult to control by government authorities, much as it is today. Rough terrain and rough people did not lend themselves to easy control. Militant tribesmen in the area had been conducting raids against government entities and were resisting British rule, resulting in ongoing operations against such militants. Most restless tribes had been pacified, but the Abdur Rahman Khel tribe along with 3 of their allied tribes stubbornly remained defiant. Raids against British and colonial army posts continued, a situation that had to be addressed.
The British RAF, formed during World War I, had experienced some success in bombing during the Fifth Expedition of Somaliland campaign of 1920, and RAF commanders were eager to once again prove their value against guerilla type forces that were hard to reach by ground troops. Utilizing Bristol F.2B Fighters (a single squadron) and de Havilland DH.9As (2 squadrons), the initial operations were to drop leaflets on suspected militant areas warning of the aerial assault to come. (This sort of leaflet dropping tactic has been used at other times, such as World War II and the First Gulf War in 1991.)
Strafing targeted villages and other militant held areas by day and bombing day and night for over 50 days provided enough incentive for the Mahfud insurgents to seek peace, leading to a cessation in hostilities. Thus, Pink’s War, named after the Wing Commander of the air forces involved, was a successful operation, the first independent RAF such operation and a great accomplishment in the timeline of aerial warfare. During the operation, only 1 British plane along with both crew members was lost. Casualties and destruction caused against the Mahfud are unknown. The 46 officer and 214 men of the RAF that participated in Pink’s War were awarded the India General Service Medal.
Trivia note: The India General Service Medal was originally denied by the British War Office but was overturned by the Chief of the Air Staff Sir John Salmond, who insisted on awarding the medals.
The aircraft involved were of the bi-plane design, with World War I origins. The Bristol F.2 Fighter could only manage 123 mph top speed and was crewed by a pilot and a gunner/observer. The pilot could fire a single .303 machine gun forward through the propeller arc, while the observer had a flexible mount Lewis gun, also in .303 caliber. The DH.9A, also referred to as the Airco DH9A, was also a 2 seat bi-plane from World War I with a top speed of 123 mph and a single forward firing .303 machine gun, although the observer/gunner/bombardier could be equipped with either a single or a dual Lewis gun mount on a flexible ring. The DH9A was also adapted as a bomber, capable of dropping over 700 pounds of bombs from racks installed under the wings.
The evolution of aerial warfare would continue between World War I and World War II, and during World War II attacks from the air resulted in entire cities being blown and burned to the ground, ultimately by using nuclear weapons. Efforts to win wars merely through the use of air power have seldom been successful, though often tried. Pink’s War stands out in this regard as a particularly successful application of air power in an other wise difficult situation.
Questions for Students (and others): What war do you consider to have the oddest name of all? What other wars have been named after a single individual?
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For more information, please see…
Lumsden, Alec, and Owen Thetford. On Silver Wings: RAF Biplane Fighters Between the Wars. Osprey Aerospace / Motorbooks Internationa, 1993.
Murray, Hugh. History of British India: With Continuation Comprising the Afghan War, the Conquest of Sinde and Gwalior, War in the Punjab. Amazon Digital Service, 2018.
Philpott, Ian. Royal Air Force 1918 to 1939: An Encyclopaedia of the RAF between the Two World Wars – Volume I – 1918 to 1929. Pen and Sword Aviation, 2005.
The featured image in this article, a map by Thaddeus P. Bejnar (original) and the uploader (changes) of the North West Frontier showing South Waziristan and Tank, has been released into the public domain by the copyright holder of this work. This applies worldwide.