May 24th 1919 – Bombing the King’s palace in Kabul

Handley Page HP.15 V 1500 c

Handley Page V/1500 (flyingmachines.ru)

The end of the Great War brought little respite to British forces who still had an empire to protect and in May 1919 they became embroiled in a brief but bloody war with the Kingdom of Afghanistan. The fighting resembled more of what the British and Indian Armies were used to before 1914 and the modern technologies that had arisen from the Western Front seemed out of place in the battles against tribesmen and armed militia. Nevertheless towards the end of May a plan was being devised for an air strike on the Royal Palace in Kabul that would hopefully dissuade King Amanullah from further hostilities. The aircraft chosen for the long range mission was Handley Page V/1500 J1936. This aircraft was available because it had just completed a record breaking flight from Britain to India.

The aircraft was armed with four 112lb bombs on bomb racks that had to be sourced from a squadron of B.E.2cs while sixteen 20lb hand thrown bombs were carried in the fuselage to be tossed out over the target. On May 24th 1919 the aircraft took off from Risalpur with Group Captain Robert Halley at the controls and Lt Ted E. Villiers as observer/bombardier. The V/1500 reached Kabul in three hours and made its attack on the Royal Palace, the King’s forces having almost no defence other than to fire their bolt action rifles in to the air at the plane as it circled overhead making attack after attack.

Inside the palace there was chaos despite the fact that Halley and Villiers’ aim was not exactly precise and most of the bombs missed the main building. The horror of being attacked from the sky sent many of those in the palace rushing in to the streets to escape including many of the women of the King’s harem. Even after the attack was over King Amanullah found it difficult to control the situation, the psychological impact on the population being unprecedented and within a few days of the attack he began negotiating peace terms with the British. It was the first time in history that an aircraft had been the decisive factor in ending a conflict.


For more on the incredible Handley Page V/1500 click here.

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