RAF in Aden 1945–1948 II

Aden from 1417 Flt FR10_20-08-65_RW

RAF Khormaksar

8 Squadron began Tempest operations in the middle of April, with Sqn Ldr Jensen taking one up on 11 April and performing aerobatics over Khormaksar airfield impressing all of those watching on the ground. Further flights over the following days would see other squadron pilots and the station commander, Grp Capt Snaith, also enjoying the performance of the squadron’s new mount. Four additional Tempests arrived one week later. A fifth was delayed at Khartoum after going unserviceable. All five of the Tempest pilots had been posted to the squadron having previously flown Tempest II aircraft with 54 Squadron in the UK. The new arrivals had little chance to rest, however, as on the following day the squadron was ordered to make an all-out attack on the village of Al Hussen. This action was in response for the murder of a Government political officer by a tribesman of the village. Four Mosquito and three Tempests were launched on the strike, with all four newly arrived pilots involved, two flying Tempests and the others as observers in Mosquitos. All of the aircraft launched salvos of rockets and strafed the village with cannons and machine-guns. By the end of what was considered a highly successful attack the village had suffered significant damage with many fires started. As usual, the attack had been carried out after warnings had been issued and no locals were injured. The squadron’s last Tempest (bringing the total to eight) arrived on 30 April. Despite the influx of new arrivals, the squadron was still desperately under strength in terms of airmen. It says much for those on the squadron, plus the personnel of the servicing wing of RAF Khormaksar that the squadron was still able to respond at almost full strength when each call to action was made by HQ.

A new innovation for the squadron was the use of formation take-offs, initiated by Sqn Ldr Jensen. However, the squadron reverted to having one aircraft take-off at a time later in the month as it had been noted that on some parts of the runway the markings on the edges were non-existent and the dangers of putting a wheel into soft sand were considered too dangerous. Early May also saw the end of regular Mosquito flying as the aircraft were passed to the Khormaksar servicing wing prior to their ferrying back to the UK. With the withdrawal of the Mosquitos, and the squadron still settling in with their new Tempests, it is unsurprising the month’s flying total was a mere 45 hours 50 minutes.

June 1947 was also a quite month for the squadron with no operational flying. It was a feature of Aden that even the local tribes tended to settle down during the summer months, as the ambient temperatures reached extreme levels. The high temperatures also determined the RAF’s activities in Aden, with as much work as possible carried out early in the morning. A training programme including formation work, rocket-firing, navigation sorties and co-operation flights with the armoured car units was initiated to hone the pilots’ skills.

Two squadron pilots ferried two Harvard aircraft from Fayid that had been allocated to the squadron arriving in Aden on 7 June. Without a navigator or an escort aircraft, the ferry flight had proved quite tricky with adverse weather leaving the pilots very short of fuel on a couple of legs or their journey. One of the Harvards was fitted out for dual training and instrument flying practice, while the second was rigged as a target-towing aircraft to allow the squadron to put in some air to air gunnery.

Uniquely for an RAF Tempest squadron at this time, the pilots also began practising supply dropping. On 17 June, three Tempests, flown by Sqn Ldr Jensen, Flg Off. Amer and Flt Lt Lawrence, each dropped a pair of 300 lb containers from varying heights between 1,000 to 2,000 feet. Two of the pilots dropped their containers singly, while the third dropped the containers as a pair. No issues were encountered, including flying with an asymmetric load, and all of the containers fell within an eighty feet target square.

Operations began again in July, with the Tempests called upon to act against rebellious tribesmen. This time a group of tribesmen had acted against the Sheriff of Beihan, captured the Bel Merith fort and began a series of raids against neighbouring villages. The first step of the operation was undertaken on 14 July when Sqn Ldr Jensen, Flt Lt Mitchell, Lawrence, Sherwin, Flg Off. Tanner and Amer were flown in a Wellington of the Comms Flight to the area of the fort to carry out a visual recce and to take some photos to prepare for an attack. Two days later, four Tempests set out for the target area, beginning their attack at roughly 0820. The fourth aircraft to attack, flown by Flg Off. Tanner, was seen to flick rolls three times to the right as it pulled away after launching its salvo of rockets. Sadly, the aircraft struck the ground and disintegrated with the pilot killed instantly. It was the first direct loss of the renewed air policing campaign in Aden after the end of the war. Unfortunately, due to strong winds the attack was not entirely successful so a second attack was arranged.

This time three Tempests, flown by the CO, Flt Lt Lawrence and Sherwin slightly changed their tactics. First firing a pair of rockets each on their first pass and then a salvo of six rockets the second, the three pilots managed to achieve eighteen hits out of the twenty-four rockets fired in total. The ground crews were particularly praised after the attack for their efforts in re-fuelling and re-arming the aircraft during the worst of the day prior to the second attack. On 19 July, two Tempests were engaged in the final stage of the operation to retake control of the fort when they flew to Assylan dropping pairs of 300 lb supply containers, loaded with materials for the Sheriff’s guards who were running short of ammunition.

August began with Tempests being flown on what were fairly regular recce flights over potential trouble spots around the Protectorate. Areas visited included Dhala and Shuqra. Due to a number of serviceability issues, flying was restricted during the month, with a lack of oxygen completely grounding the squadron at one point. A supply of oxygen cylinders was flown in by Dakota from Egypt, but it was noted in the squadron records that a more regular supply would be needed to ensure that the squadron would not be hampered in its operations. At this time, Khormaksar’s own oxygen plant was not operating, hence the problem, given that due to issues with exhaust fumes leaking into the cockpit from the engine, Tempest pilots were expected to fly using oxygen masks from engine start-up. On 15 August, two additional pilots arrived to join the squadron. PII Edwards and Bowyer had both been with 20 Squadron in India, but with the end of British rule they had, like many of the other 20 Squadron pilots, been sent to join the Tempest squadrons in the Middle East. Having signed up for extended service and an overseas tour, the RAF was making sure that their pilots served out the required months overseas. At the end of the month, Sqn Ldr Simpson visited the squadron from HQ RAF Med/ME to investigate why the squadron was only managing a low level of flying hours with the Tempest. A note in the squadron records reveals the relief of the squadron that HQ would now have an accurate picture of the difficulties that the squadron was experiencing.

During September three Tempests were flown into Aden by ferry pilots. One aircraft was handed over to 8 Squadron to replace the aircraft lost in the crash in July, while the other two were placed in the hands of 114 MU to hold as a ready reserve. Two days after the arrival of the new aircraft, one of the squadron’s aircraft was written off following a landing accident. The Tempest, NX190, piloted by Flg Off. Ginger had both flap problems and also was unable to lower one main wheel. Despite the best efforts of the pilot to make a safe landing the Tempest careered off the runway and smashed into some native huts. Illustrating the strength of the Tempest, the pilot walked away from the crash without a scratch, despite the plane being a complete write off. Squadron records do state that on-looking personnel suffered severe mental stress watching the crash unfold, while a number of Aden natives were forced to run for their lives from the scene.

On the first day of October, a Wellington C. 10 of the Aden Communications Flight went missing on a routine transport flight. Sadly, the aircraft was later reported to have crashed into the sea and all on board perished. On 25 October, four of 8 Squadron’s Tempests provided an escort for a VIP Dakota transporting Lord and Lady Tedder to Khormaksar. The successful interception drew a message of congratulation from Lord Tedder following his arrival in Aden. Despite the best efforts of the squadron, it was still struggling to achieve more than one hundred flying hours with the temperamental Tempests.

With trouble again amongst the tribesmen in Aden occurring during November, the RAF was once more called into action. On 17 November, an Anson of the Comms Unit dropped warning leaflets to tribesmen in the Quteibi area. This was not the first time that the RAF had been called to launch an action in this area, during 1940 the RAF had been required to carry out a three-month campaign against the tribe. Having been given seven days to pay reparations for their actions and having had no response, a further leaflet drop was made on 25 November giving the traditional 48 hours notice of bombing starting. On the same day, six Lincoln bombers from 101 and 138 Squadrons arrived, having been ordered to Aden whilst carrying out Sunray detachments to Egypt. Over three days, beginning on 27 November, the combined force of Tempests and Lincolns carried out a significant number of sorties over villages belonging to the Quteibi tribesmen, dropping over 60 tons of 500 and 1000 lb bombs and firing a large number of rockets. Following this activity the Quteibi entered negotiations regarding reparations but these broke down, so 8 Squadron returned to the fray with six further sorties on 4 December. These had the desired effect and the trouble was quelled. In particular, it seems that the tribesmen were impressed by the accuracy and destructive powers of the rockets fired into the village buildings by the Tempests. With the bombing complete the tribesmen and their families returned to the villages and were able to quickly repair the damage inflicted by the RAF, which had caused no loss of life due to the advance warning that had been given.

The New Year of 1948 saw 8 Squadron’s flying restricted by the poor serviceability of its aircraft. For much of the month only three of the eight allocated aircraft were in a fit state to fly and these were held on the ground for much of the time in expectation of further operational calls. During January a number of Dakotas arrived in Aden having been allocated to the Comms Unit to replace some of the disparate types that still plied the skies around the Middle East. However, the Dakotas were substantially larger than the earlier aircraft and would not fit into the Comms Unit hanger. To their disgust, 8 Squadron were ordered to swap hangers with the Comms Unit. Having just spent many months working hard to improve the state of their accommodation the squadron had no desire to have to start all over again.

During February, a further nomadic tribe was subject to punitive action by the RAF. With just three airworthy Tempests, once again a detachment of Lincolns arrived at Khormaksar to help. On this occasion, the three aircraft belonged to 57 Squadron. Operations began on 28 February and further sorties were carried out during the next day. The target village was located close to one occupied by a friendly tribe and all the crews were aware of the care needed during their attacks. In particular, although the target village had been abandoned by members of the troublesome Bal Harith tribe, the nearby village was packed with not just its normal inhabitants but also other tribesmen who had arrived to watch the show. The attacks against the tribe’s holdings continued during the first four days of March. With most of the buildings having been damaged already, attention turned to the cultivated areas around the villages. Attacks were now being made using 1,000-lb bombs, many of which were fitted with delayed action fuses to deter the tribesmen from returning to the fields between attacks to try and gather their crops. In addition, the Tempests dive-bombed one of the tribes’ principal watering holes. It was hoped that by preventing access to their food and water supplies the tribesmen would be forced into a quick capitulation. This indeed proved to be the case and no further sorties were carried out.

Despite the best efforts of the authorities, there continued to be further dissent throughout Aden. However, 8 Squadron was also called into action out with the immediate confines of Aden. On the last day of March, a flight of four Tempests carried out a long-range sortie over the town of Giggiga, in British Somaliland, where unrest had broken out prior to the handing over of the town to Ethiopia. On 12 April, 8 Squadron were busy carrying out strikes using rockets against forts belonging to the Ahl Yehia tribe in a region less than forty miles to the northwest of Khormaksar. Unlike the mud huts that had made up earlier targets, the forts were of solid stone construction with walls some two feet thick and were a much harder proposition for the Tempests to deal with. During one sortie, Tempest VI NX140, piloted by Flt Lt Wilson made a force-landing due to an engine failure on soft sand dunes six miles from one of the target forts. This was considered to be hostile territory and an Anson of the Comms Flight was scrambled to orbit the slightly injured pilot. For the next few hours, Flt Lt Wilson’s aircraft was orbited by friendly aircraft, while at Khormaksar one of the Tempests was quickly stripped of its rocket rails and bomb racks refitted. This aircraft was then loaded with supply containers and these were dropped to Flt Lt Wilson by the squadron CO, Sqn Ldr Jensen. The squadron continued with its attacks throughout this period eventually demolishing all three forts having expended over two hundred rockets, of which some sixty scored direct hits. The pilots had also fired off over three thousand rounds of ammunition during their attacks. Flt Lt Wilson was successfully rescued on the following day by a column of armoured cars of the RAF Regiment supported by troops of the Aden Protectorate Levy. It is no surprise that Sqn Ldr Jensen was to earn an extremely rare Bar to his DFC during April in recognition of the squadron’s efforts of the preceding months. Although May was a quiet month, further operations were carried out in June. Aden would continue to remain a hot-spot for many months, if not years, to come and would see a gradual increase in the RAF’s presence due to the perception of its strategic location on the principal reinforcement route to the Far East.

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