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No 8 Squadron Moves To Aden

Fairey IIIFs of No 8 Sqn over Aden, 1928
(Sqn Archive)
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No 8 Squadron had proved very effective in its peace-keeping role in Iraq.  However trouble flared in a much more important area of British influence - Aden.

Aden was the gateway to India - the jewel in the Empire's crown.  As Gibraltar guarded the entrance to the Mediterranean, so Aden guarded the entrance to the Red Sea, and - most important - the Suez Canal.  In these days before efficient air transport the shipping routes between England and the Sub-continent of India were vital and Aden was the major port between the two.  Britain had established a protectorate in Aden and the British military was responsible for keeping the peace.  Any tribal insurrection in the area had to be crushed if Britain was to maintain control of her supply routes - and wealth.

The RAF, and 8 Sqn in particular, had demonstrated the effectiveness of air policing in Iraq and the method was to be repeated when trouble flared around Aden and other South Arabian nations in 1926.  Accordingly, 8 Sqn was sent to Khormaksar airbase in Aden in February 1927.

By this time, the dH 9A was showing its age, and the wear and tear on the aircraft flying in the sandy conditions was considerable.  The Sqn was therefore equipped with the purpose built and much more capable Fairey IIIF in January 1928.  These aircraft gave sterling service for a further 7 years until replaced by the Vickers Vincent in 1935.

No 8 Squadron continued at to serve at Khormaksar in the policing role for many years to come and earned the title "Aden's Own".

Strories From Aden Between The Wars

Rescuing a Fairey IIIF
Could this be the aircraft Sqn Ldr Cochrane landed in the harbour in April 1928?
(Sqn Archive)
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Eight Squadron dropped its first bombs from Aden on 28th February 1928 when it attacked the Zeidis in Kataba.  The first of three flights of aircraft was commanded Flt Lt Mackay and all of the twelve aircraft involved returned to base holed by rifle fire.

During April 1928, Sqn Ldr the Hon. RA Cochrane took command of the Squadron - by now equipped with Fairey IIIF's.  He decided to introduce 8 to night flying, which was not normally practised at the time.  In the company of an officer called Mitchell the new squadron commander took off in an aircraft one evening with the intention of landing in time to attend a formal dinner in the mess.  The dinner had reached the coffee stage before a sodden Mitchell appeared to announce that they had mistaken the shallow water near the shore for the airfield and had consequently landed there!  The aircraft had turned over and Squadron Leader Cochrane, who had injured a leg, was left sitting on the tail, awaiting rescue.

An interesting series of operations against the Subaihi tribe was conducted between January and March 1929.  The Subaihi had always been a troublesome tribe and had been bombed as early as 1919 for looting caravans through their territory.  In December 1928 they refused to pay their agreed stipends and organised a revolt.  When peaceful negotiations failed to pacify them, 8 Sqn attacked their villages, forcing them to evacuate and eventually submit.  This action was typical of the many policing operations which have been conducted by the Squadron during their 40 years of association with Aden.

In addition to the policing and pacification of the territory, the Squadron undertook various other tasks, including communications flying, casualty evacuation, photographic survey, and mail delivery.  Moreover, by the end of 1931, the Squadron had helped to form the reinforcing route to Iraq, using new airfields at Reida, Salalah, and Murbat.  Long distance flights were made ranging from Egypt and Sudan with the aim of Linking Middle East Command with Aden.

The Arrival of the Vickers Vincent and the Blenheim MkI

Vickers Vincent Over Typical Aden Scenery
(Sqn Archive)
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After seven years of service the Fairey IIIF's were withdrawn and replaced in February 1935 by the Vickers Vincent, which were joined in due course by a small flight of Hawker Demons.  The Vincent was a variant of the Vickers Wildebeest and weighed about 10,000 lbs.  It was powered by a Bristol Pegasus 9 Cylinder radial engine, which gave a cruising speed of some 100 mph.  Owing to its low wing loading the aircraft could take off and land in less than 400 yards, the limit of many up-country landing strips.

With these aircraft, 8 Sqn continued to carry out its duties in Aden and elsewhere.  It was to operate these machines until the last of them was discarded in 1941.  It is not generally appreciated that machines such as these took part in Second World War operations, but 8 Sqn flew its Vincents against the Italians in the early stages of the East African Conflict.  (More of this history is described in the next chapter).

Aftermath Of A Sandstorm
Vincents overturned at Khormakasar
(Sqn Archive)
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On 1st April 1939 a Station Headquarters Flight was formed at Khormaksar and Sqn Ldr RC Phillips, OC 8 Sqn, assumed temporary command of the station.

The first Blenheim Mk 1 to be shipped to 8 Squadron was test flown over Aden on the 6th April 1939.  This aircraft had arrived by sea and was assembled at Khormaksar by Sqn personnel.  In the weeks that followed, further Blenheims were ferried out from the UK, giving the following establishment just prior to the outbreak of hostilities:

Blenheim I
Vincent
Vincent TT
Tiger Moth
12
6
2
2

The Vincents were used mainly for coastal and protectorate reconnaissance with the Blenheims employed on bombing and anti-submarine patrols.