The comparative cheapness of air power, versus manpower, had been demonstrated first in Somaliland, then in Afghanistan. In Somaliland, Mullah Mohammed bin Abdullah Hassan, inspired by memories of the Mahdi’s holy war with the British in the times of General Gordon, excited a huge following. He claimed magical powers. His followers believed that he could push whole towns into the sea with his feet. No fewer than four British expeditions were mounted against him between 1904 and 1918, killing thousands of the mullah’s men and expensively engaging thousands of British troops. On 21 January 1920 the first RAF bombing raid was sent against him at Medishe. A mere 36 officers, with 189 enlisted men and one flight of six DH9 bombers, visited the mullah’s fort twice daily. Within a month, the mullah had escaped to Abyssinia and the RAF men were back in Britain. The total of British casualties was two native soldiers. Churchill told the House of Commons that it would have cost £6 million to mount a conventional land assault on the mullah; the RAF campaign had cost £70,000.
The emir of Afghanistan was the next to be subjected to RAF bombing raids. In 1919 he had declared jihad against British troops in the North West Frontier of India. The RAF shipped one Handley Page V/1500 bomber to Kabul, where it dropped four 112-pound and sixteen 20-pound bombs. ‘Napoleon’s presence was said to be worth an army corps, but this aeroplane seems to have achieved more than 60,000 men did,’ wrote Basil Liddell Hart.
- A. N. Wilson, After the Victorians (2005)