208 Squadron operations - 1964

The new year began quietly for the Squadron, it being stood-down for the first five days of January in lieu of the Christmas Grant. During the period from the 6th to the 11th, in addition to Operation Ranji, a low-level cine programme was flown to keep pilots current with gunsight handling followed by low-level strikes and target reconnaissance by pairs on known targets and to find new targets for future use. The T.7 was used for instrument ratings, instrument flying practice and dual checks.

The Squadron’s ground attack capability was demonstrated to the visiting DFCS team from the Central Fighter Establishment during the period 12th to the 18th of the month. Low-level strikes using four aircraft were flown to attack a variety of targets in the South Arabian Federation to the north-east of Aden. A hostile air environment was simulated by having a pair ready to bounce at any time once the aircraft had crossed the ‘bomb-line’. Low cloud and poor visibility were encountered up-country throughout this phase which necessitated a high degree of planning by all leaders. DFCS pilots flew as number fours and as number twos in the bounce pairs and were satisfied with the standard of flying.

With Operation Nutcracker in full swing, the Squadron was called upon to provide top cover in the Radfan area on the 13th in support of the FRA and strafing attacks were carried out by Flt Lts Grant (XF388 x 2) and Lee (XE647), and Fg Offs Webb (XJ687 and XF388), Willcocks (XF462) and Slade (XE552 and XE647).

Formation flypast rehearsals of nine aircraft were also flown over the ceremonial parade ground for the presentation of the Squadron Standard to 37 Squadron which took place on the 17th. Three days later, and in the company of DFCS pilots, the Squadron attacked splash targets being towed by HMS Centaur. A four-day range programme began on the 27th, each pilot carrying out a forty-minute sortie in which he was to fire four concrete-headed rockets and 60 rounds of ball ammunition.

This was brought to an abrupt halt on the afternoon of the 27th when eight strikes were flown and the 28th when the Squadron flew a further twelve strafing sorties on hilltops and villages occupied by rebels intent on foiling the advance of the FRA. Pilots and aircraft assigned on the 27th were Wg Cdr Jennings (XG169), Sqn Ldr Lewis (XF431), Flt Lts Mitchell (XE645), Mumford (XJ687) and Grant (XJ632) and Fg Offs Webb (XG169), Aitken (XK139) and Willcocks (XK140), while Wg Cdr Jennings (XK139), Sqn Ldr Lewis (XG169), Flt Lts Dicken (XK139 x 3), Lee (XJ632 and XG169), Grant (XF431 x 2) and Copleston (XJ632) and Fg Off Pack (XJ632) flew strike sorties on the 28th.

By the end of the month, a total of 303 hours had been flown in 282 sorties and a much improved aircraft serviceability rate of 58% achieved. Aircraft movements included the departure of XF454 to the UK for refurbishment and it should have been accompanied by XF462 and XK140 but a fuel leak to the former prevented it from leaving.

The interrupted range programme was recommenced on 3 February and continued through to the 7th. Unserviceable Mark 5 rockets were fired on all but the last two days of the phase and ‘late releases’ and ‘twirlers’ were commonplace. The overall Squadron average dropped when the Mark 5s were in use but better results were obtained from the Mark 6s used on the last two days.

A pair of Hunters, flown by Flt Lts Mumford (XE645) and Grant (XF388), was scrambled on the 7th to strafe a target in the Radfan area on request of the FRA. When further strikes were called for on the 10th as part of Operation Nutcracker, a pair was scrambled to strafe a prescribed area in the Wadi Taym by the same pilots flying the same aircraft. On the training side, high level sorties were flown in which a ‘fighter’ practiced attacks on an aircraft simulating bomber evasion tactics at 35,000 ft. Using two Hunters, this was a purely academic gunsight handling exercise to enable pilots to appreciate and overcome tracking problems at altitude.

An advanced party left Khormaksar on the 23rd bound for Muharraq and the Squadron’s imminent two-month detachment. These were followed by the main party on the 24th and the rear party two days later. The Squadron’s Hunters were flown up to Muharraq on the 25th and 26th. XF462 and XF388 departed for refurbishment in the UK during the month and were replaced by newly refurbished XK150 and XK151. While up in Bahrain, the Squadron participated in an APC at Sharjah, an FAC exercise with the Trucial Oman Scouts, three Naval co-operation exercises and normal training.

As the detachment drew to a close, the Squadron aircraft returned to Khormaksar on 24 and 25 April. From the 26th to the 30th, long range reconnaissance flights were carried out over the WAP to re-familiarise pilots with the area. Also, on the last day of the month several pairs of aircraft were used on live strikes in the Wadi Radfan area in support of an Army operation being mounted against dissidents.

Radfan War

The 1st of May found the Squadron, as duty Squadron, engaged in operations against rebel tribesmen in the Radfan mountains, some forty miles north of Aden. Letters were later received by the Squadron from members of an SAS patrol that had been surrounded in the mountains. On that day, the Squadron provided continuous air cover until dusk when the patrol was able to break out and return to its HQ at Thumier. Regrettably, two of their number were lost in the break-out. For the next six days, three pairs of aircraft were placed on dawn to dusk standby and were called out two or three times per day in support of troop movements in the Wadi Rabwa and Wadi Taym areas. Continuous cover was provided was provided on the morning of the 5th as ground troops advanced to positions overlooking Wadi Taym. While taking part in Operation Rustum, the Squadron also flew daily Beihan patrols and carried out escort duties when requested.

By now it was know that 208 Squadron would be moving up to Muharraq on a permanent basis in early June, so ending the disruptive pattern of alternating detachments. Before then though, it undertook one final period as the duty squadron from 14 to 21 May during which three pairs of aircraft were placed on readiness from dawn till dusk. Over the first five days of that duty, the Squadron was given the task of carrying out strikes on pre-planned targets with four aircraft formations. Apart from being convincing firepower demonstrations, these sorties provided excellent training value for pilots. Due to the nature of the targets, some debris damage was sustained by the aircraft but mostly of a minor nature. Two aircraft received Cat 2 damage requiring a new mainplane for XJ687 and tailplane for XK139.

To put these operations into perspective, the table below lists sorties flown by 208 Squadron over just two days of the Radfan War. In total, it flew 105 similar sorties over this eight day period.

Date Aircraft Pilot Sortie Type
1st XE654 Flt Lt Copleston Operation Rustum
1st XK150 Flt Lt Mumford Operation Rustum
1st XE647 Fg Off Willcocks Operation Rustum
1st XK151 Fg Off Pack Beihan Patrol
1st XG169 Fg Off Granville-White Beihan Patrol
1st XE645 Sqn Ldr Lewis Operation Rustum
1st XJ688 Flt Lt Lee Operation Rustum
1st XK150 Flt Lt Mumford Operation Rustum
1st XE647 Flt Lt Slade Operation Rustum
1st XJ687 Flt Lt Copleston Operation Rustum
1st XG298 Fg Off Blatchford Operation Rustum
2nd XJ687 Flt Lt Lee Beihan Patrol
2nd XJ688 Fg Off Granville-White Beihan Patrol
2nd XK150 Flt Lt Mumford Operation Rustum
2nd XE645 Flt Lt Gibson Operation Rustum
2nd XK151 Flt Lt Mitchell Air Defence Scramble
2nd XG169 Fg Off Granville-White Air Defence Scramble

Pairs were scrambled on request and operated against ground targets under the control of Forward Air Controllers. Interspersed with all this activity, border patrols were flown every other day. The opportunity was taken to respray XE645 and XE647 and the re-allocation of XE654 to the Squadron following ten months with 131 MU, brought unit strength back up to twelve aircraft.

New home!

From the 26th to the 30th, final preparations were made for the re-deployment to Bahrain. The first four aircraft departed Khormaksar for the last time on 2 June and as aircraft became serviceable, they were flown up to Muharraq; eleven of the allocated thirteen having arrived by the 6th. The groundcrew and Squadron freight arrived on the 7th and 8th.

And so, after 2½ years, 208 Squadron’s tenure at Khormaksar came to an end and it settled in to a new and much quieter routine in its new home.

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