At the beginning of 1964, the RAF in Aden had realised its maximum strength on what was the busiest and most crowded station in the RAF. Nine squadrons and four flights was a formidable force to base on a single runway station that also housed a busy international airport with its local airline, Aden Airways. It was well equipped to engage in the range of operations envisaged at that time, a fortuitous situation as British forces were about to launch a series of operations into the notoriously hostile Radfan area. The squadrons and units based at Khormaksar and their aircraft allocations as at 1 January were:
|8 Squadron||Hunter FGA.9||
|43 Squadron||Hunter FGA.9||
|208 Squadron||Hunter FGA.9||
|1417 Flight||Hunter FR.10||
|1417 Flight||Hunter T.7||
|26 Squadron||Belvedere HC.1||
|37 Squadron||Shackleton MR.2||
|78 Squadron||Twin Pioneer CC.1||
|84 Squadron||Beverley C.1||
|105 Squadron||Argosy C.1||
|233 Squadron||Valetta C.1||
|SAR Flight||Sycamore HC.14||
|SAR Flight||Whirlwind HAR.10||
|Comms Flight||Canberra B.2||
|Comms Flight||Hastings C.4||
|Comms Flight||Valetta C.2||
|Comms Flight||Dakota C.4||
No sooner had the year begun when the units based at Khormaksar were thrust into the first of many engagements in the Radfan area. Operation Nutcracker was mounted on 4 January by three infantry battalions of the FRA in the Radfan area, using its armoured car squadron and some British tanks, artillery and engineers assembled at Thumier, some 60 miles north of Aden along the Dhala road. The objective of Nutcracker was to carry out a demonstration of force in the area of the Radfan to pressurise twelve named dissidents into leaving the area and convince local tribesmen that the Government had the ability and will to enter Radfan as and when it felt inclined. Two secondary aims were, first, to provide a show of force in the main stronghold of the Quteibi tribe in the Wadi Misrah and the second, to make a rough track through the Wadi Rabwa suitable for Land Rover-type vehicles to enter the Wadi Taym, which was believed to be dominated by dissidents, whenever required.
The RAF played a major role in the operation, chiefly Hunter, Shackleton, Belvedere and Sycamore aircraft under the command of Tactical Wing. In addition, a number of RN Wessex HAS.1 helicopters from 815 Squadron, HMS Centaur, were attached to Tactical Wing for the duration of the operation. The Hunters and Shackletons were used to provide photo-recce, air cover and offensive support, while all three helicopter types carried out sorties in the communications, recce, supply and troop carrying roles. One Belvedere sustained Cat 2 damage from rifle fire on the very first day of the operation while 208 Squadron distinguished itself with some very accurate strikes against dissident positions. Nutcracker was completed on 15 January and was deemed a success, having greatly enhanced the reputation of the FRA for whom it was the first time it had carried out an operation using a significant force of helicopters.
Later in the month, following further action by the dissidents, the Hunters were again called upon to provide air cover and offensive support for FRA operations in the area. Over 11,000 rounds of 30 mm ammunition was expended on targets in the Radfan by the Hunters during the month.
During this period two 37 Squadron Shackleton aircraft were detached to Eastleigh to cover British Troop movements within the area and two 26 Squadron Belvederes were embarked on HMS Centaur on the 20 January, which then left for East Africa. These aircraft assisted in the landing of British troops at Dar Es Salaam and thereafter carried out logistic lifts from ship to shore. During the period, five Hunter FGA.9s of 8 Squadron and one Hunter FR.10 of 1417 Flight were placed at readiness to fly to Kenya but their services were not required.
While all this activity was continuing, the Hunter squadrons were tasked with providing a pair of Hunters for air defence at 30-minutes readiness. The IL-14 Crate aircraft which landed at Lodar on 2 December, 1963,was flown to Khormaksar on 14 January, 1964, by pilots specially flown over from Boscombe Down, top cover being provided by a Hunter Mark10 of 1417 Flight.
With the venerable age of its aircraft and most of its tasks having been taken over by 105 Squadron Argosys, 233 Squadron was disbanded on 31 January.
Further operations continued in the Radfan under the name Rustum, the major RAF contribution being offensive strikes by 8 and 208 Squadron Hunters on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 15th, 16th, 19th, 21st, 24th, 25th and 26th of the month. To support these operations, numerous recce sorties were flown by Hunter FR.10s of 1417 Flight. A pair of Hunters was maintained at 30-minutes readiness for Air Defence from dawn to dusk throughout February and daily Ranji sorties were flown to seek out arms smugglers along the coastal stretches.
On the 25th/26th February, 208 Squadron flew up to Muharraq to replace 43 Squadron on Operation Longstop.
The month of March was an extremely busy one for Tactical Wing with its aircraft flying 226 operational sorties ranging from Casevac (casualty evacuation) to offensive action against the Yemen. Following a flag wave and leaflet drop, 58 rockets and 4,371 rounds were fired at targets in the Wadi Taym on the 3rd of the month. As the result of action by dissidents, a 26 Squadron Belvedere was called in to evacuate a number of dead and wounded from the area. One of the wounded was the Forward Air Controller. On the 19th, further strikes were flown against tribesmen in the Wadi Rabwa/Thumier area, some 1,600 rounds of ammunition being expended by two pairs of Hunters and on the following day, another 940 rounds were fired at targets in the same area. On 27 March the pair of Hunters on standby for Operation Rustum were scrambled to carry out hill strafing in an area east of Thumier under direction of the FAC, a total of 680 rounds being fired.
Attack on Fort Harib
Encouraged by an Egyptian drive to increase dissident activity in the Protectorate, Yemeni aircraft began a series of raids across the border on a frontier post and on camels and livestock grazing nearby. The most serious attack was carried out by an armed helicopter and two Mig fighters with bombs and machine guns on a village called Bulaq, not far from Beihan. Immediate retaliation was ordered and, on 28 March, offensive action was taken against a fort named Harib (inside the Yemen) in which, following a leaflet drop by an FGA.9 of 8 Squadron and FR.10 of 1417 Flight, a most successful attack was made by a combined force of eight Hunter FGA.9s of 8 and 43 Squadrons. A total of 54 rockets and 2,895 rounds of 30 mm ammunition was fired.
Photographs taken before and after revealed that the stone-built fort was almost completely destroyed with a number of anti-aircraft guns and vehicles lying wrecked among the ruins. The Yemen deemed this to be ‘an act of aggression’ and complained to the UN resulting in a resolution for both nations to keep the peace. Although no further incursions were made by Yemeni aircraft, the event incited tribes in the Radfan area to stir up every kind of trouble. Attacks on the Dhala road convoys intensified as a dissident force, reported to be five hundred strong and led by two hundred Egyptian-trained guerrillas, was supported by normally peaceful tribes coerced into opposing the Government.
Routine Operation Ranji sorties by both Shackleton and Hunter aircraft were maintained together with FRA convoy standby coverage. Observation of Russian merchant shipping was also maintained by the Hunter and Shackleton squadrons. Air Defence patrols were maintained by the Hunter squadrons with increasing intensity in the Beihan area following attacks on Federal territory by Yemeni-based forces.
Effective from 3 March, 26 Squadron (Belvedere) was transferred from Tactical Wing to Transport Wing. It was all change too on the SAR Flight when its four Sycamore helicopters were embarked on HMS Albion on 28 March to be shipped back to the UK, having been replaced at Khormaksar by four Whirlwind HAR.10 aircraft.
With tensions in the Protectorate rising, Air Defence was stepped up with a pair of Hunters on 30-minutes standby from dawn to dusk throughout the month plus daily border patrols were flown in the Beihan area by Hunters but no hostile sightings were made.
Following a fatal accident involving Hunter FGA.9, XG136, on the area of Ruseis on 17 April (see Accidents page), investigation and accident teams were flown in to the area in Belvederes of 26 Squadron. As certain tribesmen in the area were considered possibly hostile, top cover was provided by Tactical Wing Hunters along with a 37 Squadron Shackleton which was used to provide an R/T bridge.
As the result of a chance sighting by a 1417 Flight Hunter FR.10 on a training sortie, the final destination of Russmership ‘Nicolai Pirogrov’ was established by a Shackleton of 37 Squadron under an order issued by MODAIR.
On 24/25 April, 8 Squadron flew up to Muharraq to replace 208 Squadron on Operation Longstop.
Dissident activity, including mining of the Aden - Dhala road, resulted in a decision to mount an operation out of Thumier by British and FRA troops supported by Tactical Wing aircraft. On the afternoon of 30 April, a patrol of 22 SAS on a recce prior to the start of the main operation, was ambushed and pinned down by greater numbers of armed dissidents. A constant stream of 43 and 208 Squadron Hunters maintained continuous rocket and cannon strikes on the dissidents positions from midday to dusk (see Phil Champniss’s anecdote page). Eighteen sorties were flown during which, 127 rockets and 7,131 rounds of 30 mm ammunition were fired before darkness compelled the Hunters to cease their attacks. The patrol managed to break out from its position under cover of darkness, but two of their number were killed. At the subsequent de-brief, the SAS patrol stated that it was only the close air support of the Hunters which prevented the dissidents attacking them and its position from being completely overrun during the course of the afternoon.
‘The Radfan War’
Following a request from the Federal Government, British military assistance in the Radfan area was approved and ground and air operations that commenced on the last day of April, was met by fierce resistance which continued throughout the month of May. Aircraft of Tactical Wing were engaged daily in air offensive action in support of ground troops. The political objectives were threefold and devised to:
Prevent the tribal revolt from spreading
Reassert the Federal Government’s authority
Stop attacks on the Dhala road
A number of areas were given code names and ‘proscribed’ for attack from the air. Designated ‘Air Control Areas’, a large measure of freedom was given to the Hunter and Shackleton squadrons to attack fortified buildings, watch towers and sangars within them. Throughout the first half of the month, four pairs of Hunter FGA.9s, one FR.10 and two Shackleton MR.2s were maintained at a high state of readiness to meet requests by Brigade Air Support Officer (BASO) for air support. It became possible towards the end of the month to relax this readiness state and pre-plan the sorties the evening before. Categories of targets attacked during the month comprised:
Isolated watch towers.
Property belonging to known or identified leaders or henchman.
Harassing fire around villages.
Buildings in villages from which fire was observed.
Flocks of animals.
Any movement seen in the area of operations.
These targets were attacked by Hunters armed with cannon only or both cannon and rockets during daylight hours and by Shackletons at night armed with aerial grenades using flares for illumination. Leaflets were dropped on the Bakri and Da’iri al Harath tribal areas prior to the attacks being carried out.
To assist the Shackletons of 37 Squadron in maintaining the continuous night-time sorties, two Shackleton MR.2s of 224 Squadron (Gibraltar) were attached to Khormaksar and after a short familiarisation flight in the operational area, they commenced operations.
As it soon became apparent that settling the Radfan was going to require a long and arduous battle, a further Brigade of troops was flown out from the UK to take over control of Thumier airstrip where the runway was lengthened to 1,000 yards, long enough for Beverley aircraft to operate from. Visual and photo recce sorties were flown daily by the Hunters in order to assess the results of the attacks and for future planning. Camel trains suspected of supplying the dissidents, were shadowed to good effect. During the operation to take Jebel Huriyah on 25/26 May, Hunters provided close air support, often flying at ground level along narrow Wadis before climbing to attack rebel positions. On occasions they were so close to the troops that several were hit by spent cartridge cases ejected from the aircraft as they passed overhead while attacking rebels beyond.
A pair of Hunters were maintained on 30-minutes readiness from dawn to dusk for the whole month and random patrols were flown in the Beihan area in the Air Defence role.
With the arrival back in Aden of HMS Centaur, six 815 Squadron Wessex helicopters were landed at Khormaksar on 24 May to strengthen the heavy lift and troop carrying capabilities of the force.
To assess the situation from a political perspective, the Rt. Hon. Hugh Fraser visited Tactical Wing on 15 May and flew over the scene of operations in the Radfan in a Hunter T.7.
The end of the Radfan campaign did not, however, mean the end of operations in the area as the RAF and Government forces were called into action on many occasions over the next thirty months.
Tasks assigned to 37 and 224 Shackleton Squadrons also began to ease off as the month progressed, although a supply dump was bombed and leaflets drops were made during daylight hours and flare-dropping sorties flown at night in co-operation with Army artillery units in the Radfan.
Operational sorties by the Hunter units were 181, mostly in the Radfan area, while the Shackletons flew 14. One of the biggest hazards to hamper flying during July were a number of sandstorms which, when accompanied by strong winds, reduced visibility to less than a 1,000 yards.
Into August and dissident activity in the Radfan resulted in a busier month than last, with over 200 operational sorties being flown. The largest single operation took place in the Wadi Bana where, after a large number of dissidents and their supplies had been reported, they were attacked by two Shackletons dropping fifteen 1,000 lb bombs each and eight Hunters armed with rockets and cannon. The attack was reported as being highly successful, with a number of dissident casualties and arms and ammunition destroyed.
Other operations in the Radfan area comprised strikes, armed recces, flagwaves and flare drops, the latter by Shackletons of 37 Squadron, which also sent a Shackleton to Nairobi to help search for a missing 21 Squadron Twin Pioneer. It was eventually located and a CLE drop made to the crew and passengers.
Hunter strikes were made on several occasions at Mudia in Dathina State, under the control of an FAC who had reported dissident activity, and selected houses were struck in the area of Jebel Khuder, north of the Radfan. Several photo and visual recce sorties were flown by 1417 Flight’s FR.10s in the Radfan and a Russmership was also photographed.
As Shackleton operations were limited to two leaflet drops (aimed at stopping inter-tribal fighting) and one top cover sortie, 37 Squadron was able to carry out training in the maritime role, little of which was able to be done in the previous few months due to the Radfan operational requirement.
A higher number of sorties were flown by the Hunter squadrons this month, many in the Radfan, but with dissident activity continuing in other areas, notably east of Dhala, a number of strikes were carried out there too. Those in the Radfan were close support sorties, flown under the control of Army FACs, north of Blairs Field as it was being attack by dissidents. Half way through the month, several rocket and cannon strikes were made on the village of Asaqa (near Dhala) and nearby dissident positions being used to fire on FRA units in the area. As further strikes were carried out in the same area on the 21st, armed recces were flown in the Radfan. Hunter FR sorties during this period consisted mainly of recces in the Radfan and Dhala areas and the photographing of two Russmerships. A temporary ban on the carriage of 230-gallon drop tanks limited the range of 1417 Flight sorties at a time when it was engaged in obtaining photographic cover of towns and other places of interest in the Federation. The photographs were compiled by a GLO in the Wing for further reference.
Since the end of the Longstop rotation of squadrons to Bahrain in June, the number of pilots on 8 and 43 Squadrons with knowledge of the terrain in that area had reduced and, despite the continual operational burden on the Hunter units, six FGA.9s were detached to Masirah for a week during the month. Full advantage was taken to familiarise pilots with the Gulf area but the detachment was unfortunately marred by the loss of Fg Off Stevens of 43 Squadron, whose aircraft (XE592) crashed into the sea off Masirah Island on 16 October (see Accidents page).
On the 8th, three 37 Squadron Shackletons were detached to Mauripur for two weeks to participate in Exercise Midlink VII at Karachi. The exercise provided invaluable training in the maritime role for all participants and was considered a great success. For the duration, their place at Khormaksar was filled by a detachment of Shackletons from 42 Squadron, St Mawgan, which took advantage of the circumstances by carrying out a large number of bombing and gunnery practice sorties on the Khormaksar and Jebel Urr ranges. Its return to the UK was delayed on account of trouble in Sudan.
From the beginning of December, Tactical Wing was renamed Strike Wing.
It was a comparatively quite month with only 50 operational sorties being flown, a limited number of strikes being carried out by Hunters at Blairs Field where dissidents occasionally fired on British troops, and a few more in the Beihan area following incursions from over the Yemen border by a small ground force. The force withdrew back across the border soon after these strikes had been completed.
Other operational activity included flagwaves and leaflet drops to check inter-tribal warfare around Ruseis, and photographic sorties involving 1417 Flight Hunters and 37 Squadron Shackletons. A Russmership was photographed as were several camel trains suspected of carrying arms and ammunition.
The presence in the area of HMS Eagle, HMS Mohawk and HMS Zulu provided an excellent opportunity to hold exercises. The Shackletons of 37 Squadron undertook CASEX (?) tasks while the Hunters flew low-level interception of the ships followed by practice rocket and cannon attacks on splash targets being towed by the ships.