"Exile" - Between The Wars - 1920-1939
No 8 Squadron is Posted Overseas
|Dala Fort in the Aden Protectorate|
Under attack from 8 Sqn Fairey IIIFs 7th July 1928
Policing the Middle East
became 8 Sqn's role for nearly 50 years (Sqn Archive)
Click Image to Enlarge
Squadron Tradition tells of a story of Drunken Indignation, Wounded Pride and
Apparently, Lord Trenchard, the "Father of the Royal Air Force" was guest of
honour at an 8 Squadron "Dining in Night" (formal dinner) at the end of the Great
War. He used the occasion to expound his theory that the days of the fighter
and ground attack aircraft were ended and, if he had his way, the only future was
with the strategic bomber. "The Bomber Will Always Get Through!"
8 Sqn had suffered serious losses as a reconnaissance/ground attack unit during
the war and took great exception to this line of argument and a great deal of
drunken heckling of this very distinguished senior officer took place.
The result of this unfortunate incident was that 8 Squadron was swiftly posted
to the Middle East, with the instruction that it would never again serve at home.
The outcome of Trenchard's revenge was that 8 Sqn did not serve within the
United Kingdom until 1972, and even then the location was Kinloss (shortly followed
by Lossiemouth) in the far north of Scotland. It was not until 1991 when 8
Squadron was finally forgiven and returned home to England and RAF Waddington, where
it received the Sentry AEW.
8 Squadron In Iraq
After the Great War the allied powers wanted revenge: the Axis powers had to
be punished for the suffering caused in the previous 4 years. At the
Versailles Treaty in 1919, the borders of the vanquished countries were changed:
arbitrary borders were re-drawn on the map - often based on a line of latitude
and longitude or a convenient river - no account was taken of the ethnic origin
of the people who lived in these areas.
The shifting of populations into these new countries caused massive unrest
(which is still felt today). Areas of East Prussia were ceded to Poland -
Danzig became a League of Nations city - the Rheinland of Germany was given to
France and the Sudetenland was annexed to the Czech republic. (This shift
in population was one of the causes of WWII.) Greater Serbia was taken
from the now broken Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the State of Yugoslavia was
formed, throwing together Slav and Muslim communities. (No 8 Sqn was until
recently involved in operations to pacify this region). However, most
important to 8 Sqn at the time was the break up of the Turkish Empire.
Great Britain had always considered the Middle East as important to its sphere
of influence. During the Great War, British and Empire troops had organised
an Arab rebellion in Syria and Mesopotamia against the Turkish overlords.
Lawrence of Arabia, amongst others, had succeeded in clearing many of these areas
and British armoured cars had caused havoc in the vast areas of wilderness.
Now Turkey was defeated and the Allies carved up the Middle East between them.
The nation of Kurdistan disappeared from the map - the Kurdish people being shared
amongst Mesopotamia (Iraq), Persia (Iran) and Turkey. Britain was left to
administrate this huge oil rich area and to attempt to keep the peace in this
maelstrom of warring tribes.
The British administration needed a mechanism to patrol this huge wilderness
area. Armoured car detachments were freely available but the difficulty of
terrain and the provision of supplies along hostile routes proved difficult to
achieve. What was needed was a highly mobile method of policing the desert
strongholds of the belligerent tribesmen, and the answer was found by the use of
air power. If a village rebelled then that village was bombed - the
methodology was as simple as that.
Lord Trenchard (as tradition goes) was looking for a Squadron to be posted to
Iraq to carry out this new method of aerial policing - who better than the Squadron
who had recently upset him at a dining in night. So, No 8 Squadron departed
for the Middle East in 1920.
|Starting a dH 9A|
Hinaida, Iraq (Sqn Archive)
Click Image to Enlarge
The aircraft chosen for 8 Sqn was the de Havilland dH9A, or "Ninak" as it was
affectionately known. Rugged and reliable (for its day) the Ninak had a
more powerful engine than its WWI predecessor the dH9 (which co-incidentally served
at Waddington during the Great War) and carried a greater bomb load: it was ideally
suited for its tasks. Visibility was good, and range and endurance was also
satisfactory for its tasks.
On 18th October, No 8 Sqn reformed in Helwan in Egypt, moving to Suez on the 11th
December that year. Facilities were finally in place in Iraq and the Sqn
moved to Basra on 23rd February 1921. No 8 Sqn remained in Iraq for 6 years
and successfully evolved its policing tactics with the trusty Ninak.
Operations In Iraq
The early inter-war years were a happy and memorable time for the Squadron:
and the air control of Iraq provided many colourful episodes. Standard flying
kit appears to have been khaki drill and topee helmets, the same as worn on the
ground. The dH9a's were biplanes which carried, in addition to the pilot,
an air gunner just behind him in another open cockpit. Navigation at slow
speed over hundreds of miles of open desert provided many problems; and of course
the aircraft were by no means reliable by today's standards. Forced landings
in the desert were a very real danger, not only because of the terrain, but because
touregs could find the crews before they could be rescued.
Stories of 8 Squadron from Iraq
Operations in Kirkuk.
July 1922 found the Squadron detached to Kirkuk for operations. Kirkuk is
in the plain just south of the Kurdish foothills, and at that time there was nothing
on the airstrip except a marquee. There was an officers' mess in the town a
mile away, but the aircrew slept under their aircraft to be ready for first
light. The aim of operations was to stop the Turkish infiltration, through
Mosul, south eastwards to all Kurdistan. The actual numbers of Turks was
small, and a report that even five or six with a NCO were in a village was enough
reason to bomb the village. The Turks had a fair measure of success, and
aided by considerable incompetence on our part on the ground they were able, with
the help of the Kurdish tribesmen, to turn us out of Kurdistan by the middle of
The operations usually involved bombing villages, after which the gunner would
fire on any suitable targets that presented themselves. Occasionally the
Turks would reply with machine gun fire and this could be quite a hazard to these
On 1st September the Squadron was called out to give close support to the ground
forces which had been guarding a mountain pass some forty miles from Kirkuk.
They had been constantly attacked and were retreating across a wide plain to the next
range of hills. As they retreated they were being harried by Kurdish horsemen
and suffering badly. They had lost two guns and between twenty - thirty
thousand rupees. At one time they had resorted to a bayonet charge to keep
the intruders at bay. The aircraft were sent off across the plain and the
Kurdish horsemen made an ideal target for the gunners.
The Evacuation of Sumiemania.
|Three 8 Sqn dH9As Over Iraq - 1924|
Click Image to Enlarge
On 5th September, the situation had deteriorated, and the Squadron took part in
what was probably the first ever air evacuation. The Turkish infiltration
had, by this time, gone so far that Sumiemania, the principal town of Kurdistan,
had to be evacuated. Because of the distances involved, and a shortage of
troops, an overland evacuation would have been a disaster. All available
dH9a's were flown into Kirkuk and next day they flew a shuttle service into
Sumiemania. Aided by two Vickers Vernons, the evacuation was complete
by mid-day. Some seventy people had been up-lifted to safety by the
An 8 Squadron DFC
In November and December 1923, most of the RAF Squadrons, including 8, went
south again for operations against some marsh tribes in the area between the
Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It was here that Pilot Officer Vincent won
the first Cranwell DFC. The way in which it was won is typical of the
carefree spirit of those days. The Squadron was living in a train not
more than ten minutes from the target area. Yet Vincent, with Flight
Lieutenant Jones as gunner, ran out of fuel and landed within a mile of the
target! Taffy Jones was a famous WWI fighter ace with the DSO, MC, DFC,
and MM. He also played rugby for Wales. The desert was quite flat
so a second aircraft landed along side and the pilot suggested that Vincent and
Jones should climb in and return to base. This offer was declined and
the second aircraft was sent for more fuel.
When they were alone again some Arabs, not unnaturally, arrived from the target
area and started shooting at them. At first, Jones managed to keep them at
bay by replying with his Lewis gun from the back seat. Soon the Arabs
realised that the gun could not fire forwards, so they started approaching from
the nose. Vincent, who was no weakling, picked up the aircraft tail by
himself (normally it took two or three men to do this) and swung the aeroplane
round so that Jones could continue to fire at the Arabs. This was successful
for a while, but eventually they were forced into a position where Vincent had
to stand in front of the nose with a revolver to keep the attackers at a distance
while both flanks and the tail were covered by the Lewis gun. The situation
was beginning to look black when a Sopwith Snipe arrived and drove off the
attackers. The petrol arrived shortly after this and no time was wasted in
refueling and taking off.