1920-1939 | Bombing villages | Collective punishments | Pakistan | Punitive operations | RAF crimes

Biggles author on bombing North West Frontier villages for non-payment of fines

Three RAF Westland WapitiMark IIA aircraft flying over the North West Frontier – circa 1931. Imperial War Museum – Photo HU 70781 – Wikimedia. 
Three RAF Westland WapitiMark IIA aircraft flying over the North West Frontier – circa 1931
Imperial War Museum – Photo HU 70781 – Wikimedia.

30 August 1930

On 30 August 1930, W.E. Johns, an R.A.F. captain and author of the Biggles adventure series,  published an article for the weekly illustrated newspaper The Graphic, under the headline ‘Bombing the Afridis.’ He recounted how entire tribal areas on India’s North West Frontier would be bombed intensively as a collective punishment for failing to pay a fine for piracy or some similar crime. Johns presented the operations as if they were entirely reasonable.

‘Events that provoke operations by the R.A.F. are deliberate and gradual. Political officers demand a fine for some such outrage as has just been mentioned. If this is refused, or not forthcoming in a certain time, a ‘demonstration’ is arranged. Squadrons fly low for half an hour over the affected area.’

Johns explained that ‘if this does not have the desired effect a conference is held’ and subject to approval from the relevant authorities, ‘bombing is approved… and the war begins.’ He added that ‘the general plan of these operations is arranged to maintain continuous bombing over a definite area with a minimum amount of respite for the tribesmen. Minute maps of the affected area are got out by the Intelligence showing each village numbered, and every cave, nullah (ravine) and stream identified. These maps are apt to appear like crossword puzzles. Bombing starts at daybreak and continues until dusk.’

Even villages deemed friendly were sometimes inadvertently bombed as it was difficult ‘to pick out the friendly villages from the hostile, as these vary from time to time, in accordance with information received from the Political Officer. An important friendly village was once bombed with great severity, and serious trouble was in the air for those concerned in the mistake.’  Johns did not think it worthwhile to comment on the damage to the village or on how many farmers were killed or wounded.1 Earlier the same month over seventy aircraft had, another newspaper declared, ‘achieved remarkable results’ after dropping six thousand bombs in a single day on the same tribal communities.2 An article in the Daily Herald explained that the bombing was part of a nine day assault on villages in the Bara valley, about 20 miles from Peshawar.3  However, besides these settlements, the R.A.F. also targeted Afridis who were suspiciously ‘lurking in the ravines running east and south of Peshawar’4


  1. W.E. Johns, ‘Bombing the Afridis’, The Graphic, 30 August 1930, p. 344.
  2. ‘6000 bombs in a day,’ Taunton Courrier and Western Advertiser, 13 August 1930, p. 1.
  3. ‘Afridis bombed for nine days,’ The Daily Herald, 22 August 1930, p. 4.
  4. ‘Lurking Tribesmen Bombed,’ The Sheffield Independent, 12 August 1930, p. 1 and ‘Steady Bombardment,’ The Yorkshire Post, 12 August 1930, p. 9.

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