RAF in Aden 1945–1948 I


Tempest F.Mk.VI
Unit: 8 Sqn, RAF
Serial: A (NX131)
Pilot – CO of 8 Sqn, Squadron Leader Frank Jonsen. Aden, 1948.
A weathered post-war Day Fighter scheme of overall Aluminium, applied in-service directly over the original Ocean Grey/Dark Green/Medium Sea Grey scheme which was starting to show through in places. Bright Red, White and Bright Blue post-war National markings were applied in all six positions and were of 48 inches diameter above the wings, 36 inches diameter on the fuselage sides and 32 inches diameter on the wing undersides. The Bright Red, White and Bright Blue tail fin marking was 24 inches square. The fuselage serial number was 8 inches high in Night. The individual aircraft letter was approximately 24 inches high, probably in Night. Under wing serials were approximately 36 inches high in Night and did not extend over the undercarriage leg and wheel covers due to the outer positioning of the under wing roundels. The spinner was also probably Night. The canopy hood framing was still in camouflage colours. Note the small ‘winged 8’ emblem on the cowling sides, the No 8 Sqn emblem within a standard frame on the fin and the Squadron Leaders pennant under the windscreen.

With the war having moved away from the Middle East, RAF forces in Aden at VE-day were primarily made up of the usual range of second-line units. However a single squadron, 621, was based at Khormaksar operating Wellingtons in a maritime-reconnaissance role. The squadron was quickly reduced to cadre strength, losing eight of its sixteen aircraft and an equivalent number of airmen. The remaining aircrew found themselves principally operating in a transport role until the squadron was posted to Egypt in October 1945. Their place on the airfield at Khormaksar was taken by 114 Squadron, which arrived in Aden with its Boston light-bombers at the end of September. The new arrivals quickly got down to the process of converting to the Mosquito VI aircraft, which a number of squadrons around the region were to operate. During the early months of 1946, the first outbreaks of tribal unrest, which had been a constant feature of RAF operations in the region in the pre-war period, began again. The Mosquitos of 114 Squadron were called upon a number of times to provide support for operations against tribes that were causing the authorities trouble, although without having to use weapons.

On 1 September 1946, 114 Squadron was re-numbered as 8 Squadron. This was a continuation of Air Ministry policy in keeping more historic squadrons in being. In this case, this was particularly apt as 8 Squadron had been the resident squadron in the Protectorate for around 15 years prior to the outbreak of the war. Otherwise, little else changed. A note in the squadron records states that the newly renumbered unit was still equipped at cadre strength, that is, it still was flying eight Mosquito VI fighter-bombers and a single T. III trainer variant. Of these, six were fitted with wing-racks for 500 lb bombs and rocket rails, a further aircraft had just the rocket rails, whilst the final aircraft had drop-tanks for increased range.

The new squadron’s first flying of note was on the 3 September when four aircraft were flown on practice air to ground firing. The aircraft did not have far to fly as the squadron set up targets just four mile to the east of Khormaksar on the coast. The targets, made up of strips of canvas stretched over wooden frames, were only set up prior to the sorties as it had been found that if left out the materials were likely to be stolen overnight by the local Arab population. Next day, two aircraft flew up to El Milab to engage in an exercise with armoured cars in that area. The armoured cars had recently been fitted with VHF radios enabling much easier communications with RAF support aircraft, and in this first exercise, the participants were able to report that contact was much clearer than had been the case when using the older HF radio-equipment.

Of importance to 8 Squadron at this time was the arrival in Aden on the 6 September of their new CO, Wg Cdr O’Brian DFC and bar, following his completion of a refresher flying course at 13 OTU. On the same day, a squadron aircraft flew to Mogadishu in British Somaliland. Here it was unable to carry on to its original destination of Eastleigh in Kenya due to adverse weather. The squadron, in both 114 and 8 forms, were to carry out regular weekend sorties to Kenya. Planned as long-range navigation sorties, these flights were also useful in allowing aircrew some respite from the harsh conditions prevalent in Aden but also to enable various rations to be flown back to Aden from relatively bountiful Kenya. The return trip by Flt Lt Walkden and Flt Sgt Bauchope totalled 6 hours 10 minutes flying.

In a first sign of potential action, the senior air staff officer in Aden, Grp Capt Leigh flew one of the squadron’s aircraft to the Kotaibi area on the 9 September, where the local tribe was starting to give trouble. Further flying during the rest of September was primarily focused on exercises with the local armoured car units and their new VHF kit. With the squadron having just nine pilots on strength at the beginning of the month until the arrival of the new CO, there was a fair amount of flying to go round unlike on some other squadrons at this time.

For much of the beginning of October, 8 Squadron was primarily involved in routine training flying. On 12 and 14 October a number of sorties were flown in conjunction with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Glasgow. On the first day, the Mosquito crews were involved in establishing VHF communications with the fighter direction officer on HMS Glasgow which lay at anchor in Aden harbour. The second day was arranged as a full-scale exercise with six squadron aircraft detailed to take part.

Of these, five aircraft were detailed to take the roles of attackers with a single aircraft under the control of HMS Glasgow’s fighter direction officer tasked with defending the cruiser. The exercise was spilt into four runs, with the first two giving the five attacking aircraft the chance to attack using rockets a target on a raft towed by the cruiser. Briefed to carry out 35-degree dive attacks and to fire at 600 yards, this was considered useful in that the crews rarely had the chance to fire at a moving target. On run three, the attacking aircraft carried out dive attacks in a starboard echelon from 6,000 feet against the cruiser pulling out at 4,000 feet. On this run, HMS Glasgow attempted to position the sixth Mosquito into a suitable intercept position using their radar. Evaluation of the attack afterwards concluded that the Mosquito crews would have struggled to hit the cruiser if it had been taking avoiding action and putting up anti-aircraft fire. On the final run the five Mosquitos spread out to attack at low-level, positioning themselves on converging courses. In all, the exercise was considered good practice although it was recognised that the rockets carried by the Mosquitos may have inflicted little damage on the cruiser, while in return the Glasgow welcomed the realistic approaches allowing gun-laying practice for its crew. Similar exercises were carried out with other Royal Navy ships during the month, including one with the carrier HMS Indefatigable on 18 October. Despite the carrier not having any embarked aircraft due to it operating as a troop transport at the time, again the squadron was able to carry out a useful exercise. Despite these exercises, the squadron was only able to carry out just over 80 hours flying this month, almost half that of the previous month.

A detachment of Mosquito photo-recce aircraft from 13 Squadron based in Palestine arrived during the month. The initial elements of the detachment arrived on 24 October in a number of Halifax aircraft of the support squadrons based in Palestine before the four aircraft of the detachment arrived six days later. The airmen of the detachment moved into the same block as used by 8 Squadron, while their Mosquitos used the squadron’s hanger and office accommodation. The detachments task was to carry out an aerial survey of British Somaliland, one of many such surveys that 13 Squadron would carry out in the immediate post-war years.

In November, 8 Squadron carried out a number of survey flights over the interior regions looking for potential landing grounds. However, a more operational tasking was carried out on 14 November when two aircraft were despatched to fly over a peace conference being held with tribesmen at Al Milah. The conference was being held when the Government was forced to intervene after two members of one tribe had attempted to ambush a caravan from a different tribe. Elements of the local Harshebi garrison had intervened, killing one and wounding the other ambusher. Afterwards, in order to sort out their differences, representatives of each tribe were brought together with Government officials. However, it was proving difficult to get them to resolve the issue despite the presence of an armoured car unit, so the two Mosquito crews were briefed to carry out a low-level flypast of the conference. By using the terrain to mask their approach till the last minute, the two Mosquitos provided a sudden and effective demonstration of air-power and the disagreement was quickly resolved.

A few days later fighting broke out between tribes of the Amir region and those owing allegiance to Hamershah Sultan. Although fighting had ceased by 23 November, the Government had decided to carry out a flag march from Dmala to Musemir (where the fighting had occurred) to deter any further hostilities between the various parties. In order to provide air support and to provide local air reconnaissance, 8 Squadron were instructed to fly patrols in the morning and afternoon over the column. In all, these patrols required some forty-seven hours flying, lifting 8 Squadron’s flying to the month to a total of 92 hours. It is interesting to note, that the squadron was managing to meet its operational requirements despite a serious shortage of personnel following the posting on release of further airmen during the month.

It should be noted that these manpower issues were reflected throughout all the units in Aden, and in fact, across all the RAF units in the Middle East at this time. The lack of corporals placed even more pressure on the remaining senior NCOs, yet the squadron seems to have maintained good morale due to the periods of operational activity that gave a purpose to the hard work. As at airfields all over the world, much of the airmen’s attention was on sporting activities. In Aden, a lack of facilities at the time led to most of the units concentrating on producing football teams. However, 8 Squadron struggled compared to some of the other units on the airfield, such as the servicing or admin wings, due to the small number of airmen available to play. The arrival of the 13 Squadron detachment was to have a positive effect on 8 Squadron’s results as the detachment provided some players for a combined squad further strengthening the links between the two units.

A major task for 8 Squadron during December was to provide air cover for a force making a road into a previously inaccessible area around Beihan in the northeast area of the Western Protectorate. The first sorties were flown on the 4 December and numerous sorties were carried out during the following days. On a number of occasions the aircraft were requested to fly at low-level over tribesmen who were attempting to disrupt the road-making process. On one occasion the crews reported that tribesmen were throwing stones at the low-flying Mosquitos. The squadron flew their last official sortie over the road-making column on 19 December, despite the column being ambushed on their return trip by some 300 natives. The column finally returned to base on Christmas Day, returning by a different route in order to avoid having to fight their way through the tribesmen. Interested in the column’s progress, 8 Squadron flew a number of cross-country sorties in the area of the road and were to witness the tribesmen ripping up parts of the newly completed road or blocking other parts with rocks. Having been fully armed during these patrols, a number of air-to-sea firing sorties were carried out by 8 Squadron after the Christmas festivities in order to use up the ammunition. During these sorties, considerable trouble was experienced with the cannons which in many cases were completely unserviceable.

Flying was reduced in January 1947 as the ground crews endeavoured to catch up on work that had been postponed due to the operational commitments of the previous months. A number of sorties were flown in support of the communications flight that was commissioning a number of new landing strips around the protectorate. For example, on 16 January a Comms flight Anson made the first landing on the new strip at Dhala, while on 31 January Grp Capt Snaith (station commander of RAF Khormaksar) flew a Mosquito to watch an Albacore make a successful landing at the Dhala airstrip. During the month, 8 Squadron carried out a number of cannon tests using a new batch of ammunition which were more successful than those at the end of the previous month. The 13 Squadron detachment completed their task during the month, with their personnel either moving on to Kenya or back to base in Egypt. With 8 Squadron’s strength now just thirty out of an establishment of seventy-seven, it is no wonder that 8 Squadron’s monthly flying totalled just under 57 hours.

Further trouble was brewing, however, in the Protectorate and 8 Squadron received advance notice that it was likely to be called for operations. The Amir of Dhala, part of the Protectorate, had been overthrown previously by his son Haderi. Despite efforts by the local government to re-install the Amir, Haderi maintained his oppressive control over the territory. Eventually, after negotiations had broken down, Haderi retreated from Dhala with over 100 of his followers to a fort on the nearby Jebel Jifah. A plateau at an altitude of over 7,000 feet, the Jebel Jifah could only be approached by foot or using animals. With the rebels strongly ensconced in the fort and armed with rifles and four Vickers machine-guns, air support would be vital if the rebels decided to fight it out.

Plans called for a force of Aden Protectorate Levies to advance on the fort, supported by British armoured cars and 3 inch mortars. Only the troops and the mortars would be able to ascend the plateau. It was hoped that this show of force would cause Haderi to surrender, but if not, the force was to secure the capture of the fort. Initially, 8 Squadron’s involvement was to be limited to reconnaissance and demonstrations flights over the fort, although the aircraft were to be armed at all times. The first flight was made by Grp Capt Snaith with a Comms flight navigator on 1 February, looking for gatherings of local tribesmen. Like many of the operations carried out over Aden, a total sortie time of forty-five minutes shows the limited area of effective Government control with hostile areas only a short distance from Khormaksar airfield. However, due to the difficult terrain reaching these areas by ground was slow and sometimes almost impossible except by foot.

Patrols over the column carried on for the next week, with air cover being provided over the fort on 8 February for a Comms flight Albacore involved in dropping leaflets calling to the rebels. The drop was not particularly successful due to cloud cover over the plateau region. During the following day, a patrol flown by Sqn Ldr Boyle and navigator Flg Off. Coates were able to watch the levies engaged in fighting the rebels in the fort. However, despite being ready they were not called in to assist the troops. Two crews were later briefed on the disposition of friendly forces at base in readiness for an attack on the fort but they were not called into action. During the night, Haderi and his followers fled from the fort, leaving it under Government control.

During the afternoon of 1 February, two Mosquitos (crews: Sqn Ldr Boyle, Flg Off. Coates and Flt Lt Norman, Flg Off. Wright) were ordered to carry out a practice attack against the fort on the Jebel Jihaf. It was hoped to make an assessment of the effectiveness of rockets on the thick stone walls of the fort as this kind of target had not been attacked previously. Although the fort was demolished by the Army before an accurate gauge of the rockets effectiveness could be made, feedback from the Army suggested that the rockets had failed to penetrate far into the stone walls and that damage to the fort was not great. However, the fort was considered to be one of the strongest in the Protectorate with walls about five feet thick and it was believed that the morale effect on any tribesmen by this kind of attack would have been significant. Certainly tribesmen from neighbouring tribes watching the attack were suitably impressed. It was also considered that a change from the instantaneous fuses used on the SAP 60 lb rockets to a delayed action fuse would have helped their destructive effectiveness.

During the month Sqn Ldr Boyle instructed the new CO, Sqn Ldr Jensen and three other newly arrived pilots in flying the Mosquito. The new arrivals had ferried a section of Tempest VIs from the UK to a maintenance unit in Egypt where they were being prepared prior to being issued to 8 Squadron as replacements for the Mosquitos. With all of the pilots being experienced they quickly picked up the differences in flying the twin-engine Mosquito and were soon integrated into the regular squadron flying programme. At the end of the month, one Mosquito was flown to Salalah with spare parts for a comms flight Wellington that had gone u/s. The return flight of just over 6 hours brought the month’s total flying to just over 65 hours. Sqn Ldr Jensen left the squadron on 21 February, leaving the squadron with just one experienced Mosquito pilot and a single Flt Sgt navigator.

Fortunately the squadron were not called upon for operations in March. Two Mosquitos flew to the maintenance unit at Fayid on 18 March, with one returning on 28 March to Khormaksar leading the squadron’s first three Tempest aircraft. Unfortunately, one of the Tempests, flown by a pilot not aware of the condition of the airfield, taxied off the perimeter track onto the sand whereupon the wheels dug in and the aircraft ended up on its nose.

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