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In To The Jet Age

Arrival of 8 Squadron’s First Jets

December 1952 saw the arrival of the Squadron’s first Vampire FB9s and there existed an atmosphere of eager anticipation.  The runways at Khormaksar were not suitable for jet aircraft, so the airfield at Kamaran Island was prepared.  A Brigand took the servicing personnel from Khormaksar to Kamaran but after takeoff, one engine failed.  The pilot returned to Kamaran and when committed to land discovered that one undercarriage leg would not lower.  The aircraft was destroyed in the crash, but fortunately none of the crew was injured.

Also in December, a Meteor T7 was provided for jet training.  Flying took place from Sheikh Othman where the runways were more suitable.  One by one, 8 Squadron’s pilots went through their jet conversions, and the Brigands were all scrapped in March 1953.

The change from pre-war pith helmets in an open cockpit to the wearing a modern “bone-dome” inside glass bubble caused overheating and dehydration for the aircrew and was just one of the problems associated with flying jet aircraft from Khormaksar.

Jet Accidents

The warm weather and sandy conditions caused problems for the Squadron’s new jets.  An annual APC began in the middle of July 1953 when 12 Vampires and both Meteor T7s left for Nicosia.  On 17 July, a Vampire sank back onto the runway after takeoff and was damaged.  Three days later there were another two accidents: the first was due to brake failure, the second was caused by a misjudged approach.  With another three aircraft damaged by the end of the detachment, it was a somewhat depleted, and chastened, 8 Squadron that left Nicosia on 14th August.  The Squadron returned to Derversoir because the runways at Khormaksar were being lengthened.  The Squadron finally returned to Khormaksar in November and in 1954, one newly arrived pilot was also killed in an accident.

In April 1955, the Squadron formation team visited Ethiopia for the Emperor’s Silver Anniversary celebrations.  Sgt Holland flamed out during a loop, but to his credit he completed the loop and landed the aircraft wheels down on a short strip.  On a second occasion he flamed out again and landed on another short strip without doing any damage.  While flying back to Khormaksar his hood fractured and flew off, so he landed at Djibouti – the first jet to do so.  For these examples of outstanding airmanship, Sgt Holland was awarded the AFM.

Trying to Stay Cool
Venom of No 8 Sqn at Khormaksar, 1957 (Sqn Archive)
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The Venom Arrives

By May, one flight had converted from the Vampire to Venom Mk1s.  The new Venoms were extremely popular with the pilots and were used extensively during the more frequent operations, on which 1000lb bombs were carried for the first time.  The Squadron kept their Venom Mk1s for only six months, and in October the first Venom IVs appeared.  These were even more popular than the Venom Is and there was an immediate and conspicuous improvement in scores on the range.

The Political Situation In The Middle East  Click here to read about the political situation in the Middle East between 1956-67.

Eight Squadron and the Suez Crisis of 1956

On 26th July 1956, Egypt nationalised the Suez Canal and precipitated an international crisis.  In August 8 Squadron received orders to move its Venoms to the new airfield at Akrotiri in Cyprus.  Here the Squadron completed a wing of Venom IVs with Nos 6 and 249 Squadrons.  There were also Nos 13 and 58 PR Canberra Squadrons.  In addition there was a French Thunderstreak Wing of some 60 aircraft including a few of the new “Thunderflash” version.

Eight Squadron was dispersed on the perimeter track with three marquees and eight trailers.  The cannons were spread harmonised and operational training began in earnest.  In October, the Venom Wing did dawn to dusk standby with armed guns in order to intercept unidentified aircraft in the vicinity of Cyprus.  The BBC admitted that “certain precautionary measures had been taken in the Eastern Mediterranean”, and Israel marched on the Sinai Peninsula.

Phase One

At dawn on 1st November, the Venoms flew against Egypt on the first phase of “Operation Musketeer”.  During the night Canberras and Valiants from Nicosia and Malta had bombed the Canal Zone airfields and the tank park at Huckstep near Cairo.  These were the Venoms’ targets during phase one, but there was little to indicate that the might of Bomber Command had been thrown against them.  During the first two days, the Squadron claimed 43 aircraft destroyed on the ground and six probables and, by later assessments, these claims appear to have been accurate.  The vast majority of aircraft destroyed were MiG-15’s, the remainder being mainly Meteors and Vampires.  With a well-planned mission there was little danger from anti-aircraft fire, but machine gun rounds hit several aircrafts.  The Egyptians did not use their aircraft to defend their Country, and those that escaped were ferried as quickly as possible to Syria.

Phase Two

No 8 Sqn Venoms Taxi for Another Mission
(Airfield Unknown)
(Sqn Archive)
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Phase Two of the Operation on 3rd and 4th November consisted of armed reconnaissance with targets of opportunity, aimed at preparing for the landing of paratroops.  One of the Squadron’s reinforcement pilots was killed when his aircraft was hit by flak while he was flying at low-level two miles south of the heavily defended area of Ismailia.  At 0200 hours on the 6th November the entire Venom Wing was alerted by a loudspeaker van, and all pilots reported to Operations Wing.  After briefing 34 Venoms, each armed with eight rockets, took off in darkness for a dawn strike on the defence boom at Port Fouad.  This was in preparation for sea-borne landings, and the whole strike took place in the ten minutes before 0400 hours when the landings were due.  The Fleet Air Arm was also active in the area and in the cloud and darkness, the air was thick with aircraft, one of which was seen to be a MiG 15, which shot up our airborne troops on Gamil airfield and then departed at high speed.

End of Operations

On 7th November, a cease-fire stopped all further operational flying.  Although the dawn to dusk standby continued, the non-operational pilots were given a chance to fly, and gradually the tension began to unwind.  Eight Squadron departed for Khormaksar on 15th December.  Unfortunately the move was by Hastings and the Venom IV’s were left behind at Akrotiri for 73 Squadron who had been down in Aden for the period.  They left their Venom I’s at Khormaksar for 8 Squadron, but it was not many months before the Squadron was again fully re-equipped with Venom IV’s.

The Jebal Akhdar War

No. 8 Sqn Venoms, flying from RAF Sharjah, took part in the Jebel Akhdar conflict.  The following link to a summary of the conflict by Laurence Garey highlights the role that No. 8 Squadron Vemoms played.  Laurence Garey - The Jebel Akhdar Conflict

8 Squadron In The Venom Era

The following facts are gleaned from an 8 Sqn history of Aden, written by Colin Richardson who flew Venoms with 8 Sqn during the late 1950s.

The Role

From the North West Frontier to Kurdistan the tribesmen had a favourite sport.  It was to sit behind rocks and snipe at their neighbours with ancient firearms.  Usually the target was well out of range and little damage was done.  Honour was satisfied and the blood debt or family feud could be prolonged indefinitely.  Occasionally the sport was scaled up to a tribal uprising and the government or protecting power would participate.  In the days before the second world war the RAF became a participant and established the ground rules for using aircraft.  It was No 8 Sqn which did the majority of this work from Khormaksar airbase in Aden.

No 8 Sqn No 8 Sqn Venoms in Typical Aden Role (MOD)
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The Venom

In 1958, 8 Sqn was using the Venom Mk4 for this task.  In spite of its crudities (by today’s standards), the aircraft was a nimble performer.  It could reach 535 kts in level flight at low level, and could climb to 50,000 ft without much difficulty.  Without tip tanks it climbed to 40,000 ft in 8½ minutes.  With under-wing tanks the range was nearly 1,000 miles and its radius of action was 365 miles.

Armament

The Venom was armed with four 20 mm cannon, but with under-wing tanks occupying the pylons it could not carry bombs.  It also carried eight 3” rockets but they had to be fired in pairs.  There was mutual interference with flight paths, so normally only 4 rockets were carried so that they could be fired singly.  The 60lb heads packed a punch, which could be felt in the aircraft.  Rocketing accuracy was excellent, and one day on the Khormaksar range the Sqn average was 4 yards!  The outside rocket rails were about 4 yards apart.

Typical Operation

During June 1958 the Sqn rocketed individual houses in a village in the lower Yaffa district of the Western Aden protectorate.  The householders had been responsible for bomb outrages in the colony.  On such occasions a leaflet raid would warn the local inhabitants on the previous day.  The leaflets could be carried in the split flaps of the Venom, the ribs being at foolscap spacing.

The Conduct

What a Venom Could Do!
Results of a Rocket Attack at Al Jalasan 18th June 1958 (Sqn Archive)
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In January 1958 there was a re-supply convoy from Makairus to Merta Fort, which was close to the border.  Just across the border in Yemeni territory was the small and dilapidated Dhimra Fort near the town of As Soma.  The Yemenis had a 20 mm gun in the tower of the fort, and this was being used to fire across the border at the re-supply convoy.  In such circumstances air strikes across the border against Yemini positions, which had fired into the Protectorate, were authorised.  Fire was returned by machine guns in the escorting Ferret armoured cars, but due to their small calibre and extreme range the Ferrets were ineffective.  A pair of Venoms was scrambled and carried out a “flag-wave”, beating up Dhimra Fort to intimidate the Yemenis.  This failed and firing on the convoy continued.  Two more pairs of Venoms were scrambled and, with 8 Sqn pilot Fg Off Hadlow as ALO, attacked the fort.  Five of the Venoms’ rockets were “hang-ups” which would not fire, but of the other eleven rockets, nine hit the fort.  One of the rockets, fired by Fg Off Richardson, knocked the top off the tower, killing thirteen of the Yemeni gunners.  After the Venoms had departed the Government Guard emerged from Merta Fort and went across the border in pursuit of the survivors, killing four of them.  Another four Yemenis were wounded.

Life at Khormaksar

Conditions at Khormaksar

The Crater District of Aden
Khormaksar is in the Background (HMSO)
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RAF Khormaksar was grossly overcrowded, the barrack blocks being so full that the outside balconies were lined with beds.  The Aden summer was so oppressive, with little wind and a stale yellow haze.  The water was noticeably brackish.  The Officers’ Mess bar was the only air-conditioned room on the station, but later the 8 Sqn crew room was also air conditioned when the MO discovered that the pilots were losing 5 to 7 lbs of weight per flight.  Outside the station there was little risk of terrorism at this time, and the married quarters and hirings were safe.  Aden was a free port and consumer goods were both plentiful and cheap.  In those days before intercontinental jets Aden was a port of call for passenger liners.  A high proportion of the local population was Indian, Pakistani or Somali.  They were prosperous and cheerful.

Working Conditions

Aden and the Local Area
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The Sqn pilots led a mobile life, spending only about a third of their time at Khormaksar.  The rest was spent on detachment or up country with the army as Air Liaison Officers (ALO).  This was for forward air control because at that time army officers were not trained for it.  (Nor were the pilots, but they were better at it than the army!) There was always a Sqn ALO on the fortnightly supply convoy to Dhala.  The convoy and its escorts numbered about 50 vehicles and took 24 hours to make the 60 miles journey across the desert and up into the mountains.  The ALO had his own Land Rover in which was mounted the cumbersome BF 201 VHF radio set.  It was supposed to be portable, but had to be tied to two bamboo poles and carried between two soldiers.  (In those days the aircraft radios were in the VHF band).  Also included in the ALO’s kit was a single channel Pye set of dubious reliability, ground panel markers, and target indicating flares.  The Sqn Venoms were used as artillery, and were much more fun!

Make Do and Mend

In July 1959, an article entitled “Up go the Venoms to shoot a camel” appeared in the London Evening Standard.  Apart from being a blatant line-shoot, one paragraph did, for the Squadron, have a very profitable sequel.  The paragraph was:

Service Married Quarters
Maala Straight District, Aden 1961 (HMSO)
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“…….another hardship is lack of sleep.  Without air-conditioning, restful sleep is impossible and none of the pilots had an air-conditioned bedroom, although it could be so equipped for an outlay of £1,000.”

A few days after publication of this article the Station Commander received a letter from a lady who wished to remain anonymous.  The letter asked if he would accept £1,000 to be spent on air-conditioning units for the pilots of No 8 Squadron.  A letter accepting the offer was despatched by return of post and within weeks the installation of the units was complete!  It must be added that the grateful Air Force not only refused to pay for the electricity consumed by the air-conditioners, but it also refused to maintain them.  The Squadron could not afford to do so, and consequently they went unserviceable one by one before being removed and scrapped (by the Air Force).

Squadron Initiative

For some months, the Helicopter Flight at Khormaksar had been grounded, thus reducing the chances of a downed Venom pilot being rescued to almost nil.  Therefore, in September, a Venom drop tank was modified to carry a standard .303 rifle, fifty rounds of ammunition and ten pints, of water by the “B” Flight Commander, Flt Lt Devine.  Flight trials were carried out with the asymmetric load and they proved successful.  The tank could be dropped to a downed pilot at 180kts from 140 feet AGL.