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The Hawker Hunter on No 8 Squadron

A Pair of 8 Sqn Hunters
(Sqn Archive)
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In September 1959, two Hunter T7 trainers arrived at Khormaksar after a ferry flight from the UK.  Continuation training was carried out on the two aircraft and early in 1960 the first Hunter FGA 9 aircraft were delivered to 8 Squadron.  October 1960 saw the operational use of the new Hunters.

A growing source of trouble since the accession of his brother in the Lower Yafa district was Mohammed Aidus, self styled ruler of Upper Yafa.  Flag waving had been carried out on numerous occasions prior to October in order to dissuade the local population from giving him their support.  Eventually it was decided to destroy two of his houses as a warning.  Hunters armed with 60lb rockets, and 30mm cannon mounted strikes against these targets, and both houses were severely damaged.  Unfortunately, a great amount of collateral damage was inflicted around the targets – at Al Kara a nearby Mosque was damaged and a minaret was completely destroyed.

Also in October, Operation “Niggard” was launched.  The main objective was to open up a road through Rabizi country to shorten the routes to Beihan and the Aulaqui country.  The Shamsei element had proved troublesome shortly before and had had the better of several clashes with Government forces.  Several battalions of the Aden Protection Force entered the area; air support was provided by 8, 208, and 1 (Royal Rhodesian Air Force) Squadrons.  The operation proved effective and the road building continued in peace.

The first half of 1961 was a busy period for 8 Squadron.  During the first quarter, over fifty operational sorties were flown, consisting of flag waves, leaflet drops and live strikes.  During March, “A” flight was detached to Sharjah and flew 19 flag waves.  The infamous Mohammed Aidus caused yet more trouble during May and June, and over sixty sorties were flown against him.

Hunter Losses

Eight Squadron suffered aircraft losses during this period – some due to a runaway tail trim – a fault that was never really solved on the Hunter.  In September 1961, Flight Lieutenant Swain was killed when he crashed into a hill during a leaflet drop.  In March 1962, Flying Officer Blackgrove was killed during an open day and in June, Flying Officer Webbon was killed when his aircraft crashed during an air-to-ground range firing sortie at Khormaksar.  A 4g limit was placed on the Hunter in 1963.

No 8 Squadron Deploys to Kuwait
June 1961 (Sqn Archive)
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At the end of June 1961, at 24 hours notice, the Squadron flew to Kuwait, to face the threat of an Iraqi invasion.  Iraq, under General Kassam, claimed Kuwait and Britain immediately replied by concentrating forces in the Persian Gulf to safeguard her oil interests.  The forces were assembled with commendable rapidity and after a considerably uncomfortable stay in Kuwait (during which several reconnaissance sorties were flown) the Squadron returned to Bahrein.  In August, the Squadron was again in Kuwait on “exercise”, returning once more to Bahrein in September.  The Squadron was eventually relieved by 208 Squadron and returned to Khormaksar in October.

Operations and Detachments Pick Up

On 22nd October 1962, Yemeni aircraft attacked Beihan.  As a result, the Squadron flew many intensive air defence patrols in the area.  Despite a total of 352 sorties, no contact was made with Yemini aircraft.  The problems were caused by the Yemeni civil war, which has been described earlier.

1963 saw several operations, and 1964 opened with action.  The Squadron was placed on standby from the 1st January, and on the 4th they were involved in Operation “Nutcracker”.  Sheik Saif Muqbil, together with a number of Quatabi dissidents had collected about 200 tribesmen and attacked the Federal Fort at Thumier.  Operation Nutcracker was launched by Federal Rebublic of Arabia (FRA) forces in co-operation with units of the British Army, RN and RAF.  The intention was to display the Federal Government’s determination to maintain law and order and keeping the trade route to Dhala open.

The FRA encountered stiff opposition, and called on 8 Squadron Hunters for support - 30 mm cannon attacks were carried out because rockets had been forbidden for political reasons.  The operation (which was renamed “Rustem” in February) continued for two months and resulted in a total of twenty-two gun attacks by 8 Squadron.  Results were limited because of the rocket restriction.

The Ruins of Harib Fort
(Sqn Archive)
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Attack on Harib Fort

During March 1964, aircraft of the United Arab Republic again violated the border in the Beihan area.  No 8 Squadron resumed air defence patrols – flying 106 sorties.

On 28th March, as a result of a ministerial decision, four FGA9s from 43 Squadron, an FR.MK.10 from 1417 Flight and five 8 Squadron FGA9s attacked and destroyed the fort at Harib.  This fort, which stands a mile west of Harib, was attacked as retaliation for repeated border incidents.  As a result of this strike there was an immediate outburst of protest by the Yemen, who took the matter to the United Nations.  The incident received wide publicity and the Security Council deplored the British action.  Nevertheless, the border in the Beihan area was quiet for some time after.

Operational flying against insurgents and dissidents continued on a regular basis until 1967

Terrorism

One of 8 Squadron's
four FR.10s, XE436/U

(Ray Deacon)
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November 1964 saw operations by terrorists transfer to Aden itself.  A terrorist organisation, the NLF, made a number of grenade attacks at the time of the visit of the Colonial Secretary, Mr Greenwood.  In these attacks, a number of servicemen were killed or injured when explosive devices were hurled into restaurants and bars.  As a result of this, all bars and places of entertainment were placed out of bounds to all service personnel.  December saw more bomb outrages in Aden and further casualties amongst service personnel and civilians alike.  The Christmas season was marred by a particularly savage attack when a bomb was thrown into a teenage party, killing a sixteen year old girl and wounding several others.  As a direct result of this murder, a curfew was placed on all servicemen, and parties were severely restricted.  Attacks continued into the next year with only a short respite during Ramadan.

Out of Aden – 1967

In 1964, Britain had promised independence to the Federation of South Arabia by 1968, and in August 1967, No 8 Squadron left Aden for the final time – not as planned with all the aircraft in one formation, but in dribs and drabs.  The final week was “one big thrash with short periods of sobriety thrown in”.  Their destination was Massirah where the Squadron flew some strikes against the Jebel Akhdar.  However the final resting place for 8 Squadron’s Hunters was Muharraq airfield at Bahrein.

By October, the Squadron were on 12 hours standby to deploy to Sharjah (which, according to the Squadron scrap book for that year meant that Command knew exactly when the Squadron was going but couldn’t do anything as simple as tell us).  No 208 Squadron joined 8 Squadron in Sharjah, and the two squadrons flew regular detachments between Muharraq, Masirah and Sharjah.

Farwell to the Middle East

The Arab Israeli “six day war” fought in October 1967 led to the closure of the Suez Canal.  Aden had cut its ties with Britain, and the independence of several East African and South East Asian states had also diminished the importance of the Indian Ocean to Britain.  Despite the importance of the Middle Eastern Oil fields, defence cuts in Britain hit the air force in the Middle East hard.  Two of 8 Squadron’s Hunters were even sold to the Royal Jordanian Air Force as the Middle Eastern States formed their own air forces.  Air Power and a British presence were no longer needed.

On 21st December 1971, No 8 Squadron was disbanded.  It reformed on 1st January 1972 at RAF Kinloss as the RAF’s new Airborne Early Warning Squadron, equipped with the Shackleton AEW Mk2.  (This act was seen as betrayal by some of 8 Squadron’s “fighter types” – and still causes some eyebrow lifting in 8 Squadron Association circles).

What Did The RAF Achieve In The Middle East

Arming the 3” Rockets on an 8 Squadron Hunter
This task is typical of the arduous conditions endured by all the Personnel who served with the Sqn in the Middle East for 50 Years (HMSO)
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The following extract comes from the pen of Air Chief Marshall Sir David Lee, AOC Air Forces Arabian Peninsular (later Air Forces Middle East) from 1959 – 1962, in his conclusions to the effectiveness of post war air operations in the Middle East.

“As long ago as 1918 the ability to switch aircraft rapidly from one front to another convinced airmen, and the more enlightened politicians, of the vital need to retain the control of aircraft under one authority in order to exploit their inherent flexibility to the maximum.  Hence the concentration of the various elements of Britain’s air power into an independent Royal Air Force.  The wisdom of this step has been demonstrated time and time again, but nowhere more convincingly than in the vast area covered by Southern Arabia.  The Middle East Command, which never possessed more than a handful of squadrons, stretched for more than 3,000 miles from Dar-es-Salaam in the south to Kuweit in the north.  For years the command was never without operational activity in some part of its territory and yet, its few squadrons were always to be found at the seat of the trouble.

Taking 8 Squadron as an example; with its modest complement of sixteen aircraft, it operated in Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea, Aden, Oman, the Gulf and Kuweit, all within a few months.  This was true flexibility, and typical of the way in which the various squadrons in the Command were switched with great rapidity from one danger spot to another…………….

……At times the men of the Middle East squadrons must have become very irritated with the speed with which they were being moved around their Command, and the effort involved in servicing their aircraft with inadequate facilities in appalling heat.  But they were, had they known it, establishing the true flexibility and versatility of their Service and building up experience of inestimable value for the future.”

Aden Hunters

Ray Deacon, 8 Squadron 62-64 and Association member, has published his Middle East Hunter website and can be viewed using this link:  www.radfanhunters.co.uk  If you are able to help with any information, articles or memories please email using this link.