RAF Muharraq (Bahrain)


Request: Does anyone have a write-up on the history of Muharraq please?

Bahrain is a group of 33 islands with an area of 770 square kilometres and is situated in the Arabian Gulf, off the east coast of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom takes its name from the largest island Bahrain and is linked by causeways to Muharraq Island, home to the international airport and former RAF base. There are numerous other tiny islands, but they are mainly uninhabited and are best known for the variety of migrating birds which pass through in spring and autumn.

Up until the early 1960s, RAF Bahrain functioned as a routing station to the Far East and was home to a solitary communications squadron, number 152, but its role changed significantly with the onset of the Kuwait Crisis in 1961. Within a few days it was engulfed by fighter and transport aircraft and never returned to the peaceful ideal it once was. After the crisis, the airfield played host to rotating detachments of Hunters from Khormaksar, Canberras from Akrotiri and Beverleys from both Khormaksar and Eastleigh. Originally known as RAF Bahrain, the airfield was renamed RAF Muharraq on 1 December, 1963 and finally closed in December 1971.

Painting depicting activities on the pan at RAF Muharraq in 1967. The original is now on display in the RAF Club in London. (Mal Grosse)

Taxies wait patiently for the next arrival at Bahrain Airport Terminal in 1963. (author)

Bahrain Airport as seen from the tailboom of Beverley XH121 in November 1963. The 2-mile long runway can be clearly seen as can the then new terminal building halfway down. The RAF section of the airfield is just out of the picture to the extreme right. (author)

The shadow on the ground in this take-off shot depicts the village located on the far side of the runway and the sea beyond. The water was so shallow at this point the it was possible to walk out for two miles or more. (author)

With few leisure activities available on the island and no married accommodation, tours for pilots and airmen were twelve months unaccompanied. The climate was extremely hot in mid-summer, temperatures in the shade reaching 120F and relative humidity exceeding 90% for much of the time, but dropped to as low as 37F in winter requiring a change into working blue uniform.

The first batch of images in the gallery below depict activities at Bahrain/Muharraq on the Hunter squadrons.

A full line at Bahrain occupied by nine FGA.9s - XF376-K nearest the camera - and two 13 Sqn Canberra PR.9s at the far end (author)

Sunrise over RAF Muharraq and an early start, December 1963 (author)

A 1964 view of the 8 Sqn Hunter line at Muharraq with XF421-C nearest the camera and a 13 Sqn Canberra PR.9 at the far end (Ted Lambe)

Another view of the 8 Squadron line at Muharraq, this time from the potholed 'road' passing between the airfield and the beach (author)

Two 208 Squadron FGA.9s being refuelled at Bahrain in 1963 (JM ???)

Dave Curryer crouches down as four 8 Squadron FGA.9s taxi out for take-off at Bahrain Airport in 1962 (author)

Nick Adamson taxies XG154-E out for another sortie during the squadron's late-1963 detachment to Muharraq (Nick Adamson)

8 Squadron 3-ship take-off from Muharraq in November 1963 with FGAs, XF435-J, XF440-L and XE618-D (author)

This head-on shot of 8 Sqn FGA.9, XF421-C, on the line at Muharraq in 1964, clearly shows the gun ports, rocket rails and drop-tank bracing struts (Ted Lambe)

XE618-D leads XE592-F and XG154-E in a 3-ship formation take-off, Bahrain, 12-63 (author)

XG154-E and XG255-G on their take-off runs, Bahrain, 12-63 (author)

Pete Loveday taxies 8 Squadron FGA.9, XJ687-E, away from the line to the short, compacted-sand runway at Bahrain for a Compass Swing (author)

Four CFE Hunters at Muharraq in November 1963, shortly after arriving from the UK to assess 8 Squadron's operational capabilities (author)

From l to r; XG204, XL591, XG209 and XL595.

Ground crews prepare to raise the nose of XG255-G after the nose wheel stuck up when landing at Bahrain, 23-05-63. (Chris Cureton)

The airport's only runway remained blocked until the aircraft was recovered and a full account of the incident is contained in Chris's page in the 8 Squadron Anecdote section.

The same incident as seen from the Airport terrace. As XG255 blocks the runway, a Middle East Airlines Comet C4 bides its time (author)

Taxiing out at Bahrain in 1963, XJ684-'L' is outbound for Khormaksar with Jock McVie at the controls (author)

The aircraft is carrying markings of both 8 and 43 Sqns on account that the front half is the genuine XJ684 its rear end having been removed after damage by fire in a landing incident. The rear end is from an 8 Sqn Hunter that was long term AOG. Mating them together produced one airworthy Hunter.

The starter cartridge ingnites and the Avon fires up as T.7, XL613-Z, prepares to depart Muharraq for Khormaksar in late December, 1963 (author)

Left behind by 208 Sqn after a detachment to Bahrain in 1962, this FGA.9, XJ688-G, has been repaired by 8 Sqn groundcrews and awaits an air test (author)

Looking across the Hunter pan in 1968 with FGA.9s, XG154 and XK151 in the foreground, two Canberra B.2s from Watton behind, and an 84 Sqn Andover and 105 Sqn Argosy in the background (Roger Gault)

Time has moved on to 1970 and the Muharraq line comprises 8 and 208 Squadron Hunters, both now permanently based in the Gulf (Ken Parry)

Swing the camera round to look across 208 Squadron Hunters parked in front of the Argosy line, the new aircraft hangar and Visitors pan, Muharraq, 08-70 (Ken Parry)

Transport Wing pan at Muharraq in the late 1960s with 105 Sqn Argosy, XN820, 53 Sqn Belfast, XR371, and Lyneham-based Britannia, XL659 (Lennart Berns)

It was just part of the working day!

Bahrain in 1961 is the setting for this scene with Chas Wright marshalling XF462-C out for another sortie (Alan Lowe)

Note that the concrete pan had not been constructed at this time.

Winter dress in Bahrain, late 1962, with Vic Cozens, 'Snaz' Snazell, Dave Curryer and Ray Deacon, waiting dispatch the 208 Sqn Hunters in the background on their way back to Khormaksar (Vic Cozens)

While awaiting the arrival of of 8 Sqn's Hunters at Muhurraq in late 1962, a group of airmen indulge in general chit-chat (Vic Cozens)

Those identified so far include; Bertie Bell, Taff John, Stan Ovington, Jock Harman, Ray Deacon, Vic Cozens

It may be only a marquee but the prospect of its erection seems to be causing consternation at Muhurraq in 1962 (Vic Cozens)

Involved in the discussion are; Vic Cozens, Barnie Barnett, Stan Ovington, our Polish Sgt and Snaz Snazell

Taff Evans and Brian Watling walk in with six pilots after a formation sortie at Bahrain in 1963. (author)

Not sure why fire tenders were in attendance.

Sid Bottom, Johnny Morris and four other 8 Sqn pilots (names?) take bucket and brush to XG135 at Muharraq in 1962 (author)

Two 'riggers', Pete Marshall and Ginger Rees, find something to talk about while fitting blanks to XE609 at Muharraq in 1963 (Taff John)

Pete Marshall takes a characteristic stoll round XG154 while performing a turnround on the aircraft in 1963 (Taff John)

Mick Bennett and Dave Barnes during a quiet period on the line at Muharraq, December 1963 (author)

Mick Bennett performing a Compass Swing on the short runway at Bahrain, summer 1963 (author)

Stan Ovington and Taff John in relaxed mode while on a 'winter' detachment to Bahrain, December 1963 (author)

Perched on a baking 230-gallon drop tank, Stan Ovington gets to work on replacing a wing tank on 8 Sqn's XE654 at Muharraq in 1962 (author)

Moving the Hunters around at Muharraq was achieved using this Land Rover driven by Ray NNN(surname?) (author)

The only shelter available to the first line groundcrew at Muharraq in late 1963 was this tatty old marquee (author)

Perched on the bench are Jack Shepherd with Ray Byatt to his immediate right. Any other names please?

Stan Ovington and another engine fitter (name?) take a well earned brake in the line tent in 1963 (Taff John)

Heaving a fragile instrument onto the pack-up kit prior to the return to Ksar in 1963 are Stan Ovington, Mick Bennett and Dave Barnes (author)

Captured taking it easy at Bahrain in 1963 are Dave Wareing and Bertie Bell (Taff John)

Chiefy Appleyard supervises the loading of spares packs onto a trailer at the end of an 8 Squadron detachment to Bahrain in 1963 as 'Barnie' Barnett looks on (author)

Three airmen, hands on hips, are poised to jump forward as Chiefy Appleyard selects the next spares box for loading on the trailer (author)

A 208 Sqn airman paints the improvised line hut at Bahrain in 1963 (Ted Lambe)

Looking out from under the belly of a transitting Britannia at Muharraq in 1964, with airmen from Handling Flight in attendance. The skeletal form of a new hangar can be made out in the background beyond the line of 8 Sqn Hunters (Ted Lambe)

The Kuwaiti Crisis

Over the period July and August, 1961, 8 Squadron spent several weeks on detachment to Kuwait as the first line of defence in the event of an invasion of the tiny state by neighbouring Iraq. The following gallery depicts images from photographs taken by those on the detachment.

With the intense heat of a mid-summer Kuwait reaching the upper 40 deg. C, a water bag became an essential accessory (Des Meek)

Doesn't quite match the shorts Des!

Washing facilities in Kuwait were non-existent until a couple of water bowsers were perloined. Des Meek demonstrating his improvised bath (Des Meek)

The Kuwait Oil Company's private club in Ahmadi provided one of the few places to relax - Des Meek and Paddy O'Burne here with a young lady (Des Meek)

This view of a larger group at Amadi includes Mick and Ben Bennett, Lofty Savage, Bob Lowndes and Paddy O'Burne (Des Meek)

Moving round, we now see Bill Richardson, Paddy O'Burne, Mick and Ben Bennett, Lofty Savage and Bob Lowndes enjoying a drink at the Club (Des Meek)

And finally, seated alongside the Club's pool are Bennett brothers Mick and Ben, Des Meek, Bill Richardson and Paddy O'Burne (Des Meek)

Early morning starts were the norm at Kuwait New Airport to ensure sufficient aircraft were available on standby (Des Meek)

Let us now return to Bahrain and take a look at what it had to offer outside working hours!

The causeway that linked Muharraq Island to Bahrain Island from the front of a taxi (author)

The Bazaar in central Manama, 1963 (author)

Talk a walk behind the bazaar area and the back streets, seen here in 1961, were on a par with those in Aden (Herbie Nute)

Another popular destination for we amateur photographers was the Ruler's Palace (author)

A prominent landmark on the road to Manama, these twin minorets were popular with the photographers among us (author)

Geoff Maynard, the ultimate professional, taking photographs of local architecture, December 1963 (author)

Plane watching at Bahrain Airport in 1962, with Roy Porter, Ray Deacon, Vic Cozens and John ???? (Vic Cozens)

John's surname anyone?

The King and Queen of Greece walk out to their Comet 4B, SX-DAK, for the flight home following an official visit to the Island in 1963 (author)

Ginge Rees and Roy Porter awaiting their taxi near the Airport in 1963 (author)

Ginge finds the taxi, but where is Roy? (author)

A local Arab donkey cart trots passed the Hunter Twyneham on what was obviously a hot summer day, 1963 (author)

At the end of a hot day on the line, there was nothing quite like a refreshing dip in the Station swimming pool, Muharraq, 1963 (Tom Banks)

Swimming gala held in the Station pool in 1963, with 8 Squadron pilots competing in a dinghy race, much to the amusement of spectators (author)

For those with energy to spare, another way use it up than a game of water polo in the Station pool (Ted Lambe)

Another day, another sport sees 8 Squadron FC giving a good account of itself against local opposition, 'winter' 1963 (Taff John)

Pub signs don't come any better than this! The entrance to 8 Squadron's Christmas bar at Muharraq, the 'Wet Start', in December 1963 (author)

Pub art extraordinaire! The 'Wet Start' Christmas bar, Muharraq, December 1963 (author)

It doesn't get any better! The 'Wet Start' Christmas bar decor, Muharraq, |December 1963 (author)

The 8 Squadron Christmas bar sees Geoff Maynard (2nd left) and Vic Cozens (right) oiling their vocals, Bahrain, 1963 (Vic Cozens)

Occupying the 'Wet Start' Christmas bar this time are Owen Truelove (in suit), Dave Smith, Geoff Maynard and Vic Cozens. Muharraq, December 1963 (author)

Vic Cozens and a couple of mates enjoying a drink in the 'Wet Star', Muharraq, December 1963 (Vic Cozens)

Bill Sheppard, Taff Price, Brian Watling, Vic Cozens and ANOther celebrate the spirit of Xmas 1963 with a beer in the 'Wet Start', Muharraq (author)

Enjoying a few beers in the 'Wet Start' at Muharraq in Xmas 1963 are; Taff John, Dave Smith, Lance Collington, ANOther, Bill Sheppard and Brian Watling (author)

Following a fall after a night out on the town in Aden, in which Taff John damaged the side of his face, he was given a chit permitting the growth of a beard. Subject specimen is seen on a Bahrain detachment a few weeks later in 1963 (Taff John)

Sunday afternoon at the Portuguese Fort when on the Bahrain detachment in 1963 with; taxi driver, Taff John, Dave Smith and Jona Jones. (author)

The Fort was located some 3 miles from the airport and was a regular stop-off for tourists (author)

View inside the Fort with a row of bamboo shelters (author)

A couple of 8 Squadron tourists (airmen) on the ruined ramparts of the Portuguese Fort (author)

Occupying a dominant position near the coast, the Fort offered a good advantage point from which to photograph a nearby bamboo village (author)

The arrival of tourists to the village nearly always provided an attraction for the younger inhabitants (author)

Located on the main Bahrain Island was Adari Pool with its clear, fresh spring water tempting a quick dip to cool off on a hot summer day (author)

Another shot by Adari Pool depicts three boys and a 'family' of turtles they had just retrieved from the water (author)

Muharraq-based airmen get some respite from the stifling heat with a dip in the Adari pool in 1964 (Ted Lambe)

An impressive collection of washing hangs out to dry at the appropriately named Dhobi Lines (author)

Manama had a flourishing harbour and was home to varied fleet of Arab vessels, including this Dhow which was about to depart (author)

Nothing could quite match a trip into the Persian Gulf on an Arab Dhow for relaxation. In this view, Ted's craft passes close to another (Ted Lambe)

8 Squadron pilots adopted a different approach when constructing their sea-going vessel; two 230-gallon drops tanks lashed together round a pole - and it worked (Robin Morrell)

Dense smoke rises above another point of interest on Bahrain Island, the kilns of the Bahrain Pottery (author)

The pottery was quite extensive and had cave-like kilns, as can be seen behind this enthusiastic youngster in 1963 (author)

Keeping the fires burning was a full time occupation; an Arab worker can be seen stoking this one (author)

The pottery's stock of bracken used to fire the kilns was stacked on the bondu surrounding the site (author)

Signs of times gone by, the ruins of an ancient building being excavated close to the Pottery (author)

An Arab woman carries a heavy pale of water on her head as she walks to the nearby village (author)

Health & Safety would have had a fit if they had seen this truck perched precariously on a couple of sagging logs while being serviced near Muharraq (Ted Lambe)

Although the beach at Muharraq was not 'a la Cannes' it was somewhere different to take a stroll. In this 1964 view, Ted has come across an ammunition box and home made dinghy (Ted Lambe)

RAF Muharraq floods

Despite an annual average rainfall of approximately 77 millimetres and the Arabian Gulf having an average depth of only 35 metres, with most of it in the vicinity of Bahrain being much shallower than this, the occasional storm could cause a serious flood. Such was the case on 20 January 1964, when strong winds and rough seas poured into the RAF airfield as witnessed by Ron Turrell, a 13 Squadron Air Wireless Fitter on detachment, who took the following series of photographs.

The main entrance to RAF Muharraq airfield, with the 152 Sqn hangar to the left, knee-deep in sea water

Looking across from the entrance towards the aircraft pan beyond with Hunters of 43 Sqn and a Canberra from 13 Sqn

There being no defences, nothing can stop the angry sea from swamping the 13 Sqn offices and hut.

A 43 Sqn FGA.9 is only a few yards away from 'getting its feet wet'.

43 Sqn Land Rover and personnel splash their way onto the airfield perimeter to survey the damage.

A selection of various military aircraft to be seen at RAF Bahrain/Muharraq in the 1960s is depicted in the gallery below.

152 Squadron Pembroke C.1, WV700, was the third aircraft off the production line and is seen here at Muharraq in 1965 (Tom Singfield Collection)

Pembroke C.1, WV744-Q, of Bahrain's resident unit, 152 Squadron, parked on the pan by the Air Movements section in 1963 (author)

152 Sqn operated one flight of Pembrokes and another of Twin Pioneers.

The last production Pembroke C.1, XL956, is a 152 Squadron aircraft pictured on the pan at Muharraq in 1965 (Tom Singfield collection)

An earlier view of 152 Squadron Pembroke, XL956, depicts it on the line at Bahrain alongside WV744 in 1963 (author)

Bearing 152 Squadron markings on the forward fuselage, Twin Pioneer C.1, XM959, basks in the heat of the Bahrain sun in 1962 (author)

The first Twin Pioneer to appear in camouflage, 152 Squadron's XL996 has yet to receive its 152 Squadron markings. Bahrain, 05-63 (author)

One of two Canberra B.2s belonging to Khormaksar's Comms Flight, WJ608 is parked outside the 152 Sqn hangar in 1963 (author)

14 Squadron Canberra B(I).8, WT365, taxies in after a long lone-ranger or Navex from its Wildenrath base in Germany (author)

Two Canberra PR.9s from 13 Squadron, Akrotiri, were detached to Bahrain following the Kuwait crisis; XH166 seen here in 1963 (author)

This 13 Squadron PR.9, XH177, was the last production Canberra built for the RAF and is parked on the line at Bahrain in 1963 (author)

One of a handful of Valiant B(PR).1s operated by 543 Squadron, Wyton, WZ392 pays a visit to Bahrain in 1963 (author)

One of several Valiant B(K).1 tankers escorting 64 Sqn to the Far East in 1963, 214 Sqn's XD812 uses all Bahrain's runway to get airborne (author)

A rare visitor to Bahrain, Vulcan B.1, XA900 from the Finningly OCU, uses aerodynamic braking during its landing run in 1963 (author)

Four Beverleys, two each from 30 and 84 Sqns, were also detached to Bahrain after the crisis. XL131-C is nearest the camera in this 1962 view (author)

A 47 Sqn Beverley C.1, XB26n-X, departs Bahrain for the UK in 1963 having completed a short detachment in support of the two MEC squadrons (author)

Known as the 'whistling wheelbarrow' or 'whistling tit', 105 Sqn Argosy C.1, XP411, is being loaded prior to returning to Ksar in 1962 (author)

A 214 Sqn Valiant tanker takes off and a 90 Sqn Valiant B(K).1 leads two 64 Sqn Javelin FAW.9Rs along the peri-track, on the occasion of the 64 Sqn move from the UK to the Far East (author)

With plenty of sea to operate from, the Grumman Albatrosse was ideal for the USAF SAR role and was occasionally seen at Bahrain. 0-15291 was pictured on the Visitors Pan in 1963 (author)

USAF Dakota, 0-49540, taking off from Muharraq, December 1963 (author)

Looking ungainly, this USAF double-rotor Sikorsky helicopter flew into Bahrain for a rare visit in 1963 (author)

One of a pair of USAF B-66s to visit Bahrain in 1963, taxies out for take off (author)

USAF B-66 climbs away from the Bahrain runway, 1963 (author)

Brand new Indian Air Force (IAF) Canberra B(I).58, BF596, stages through Bahrain on its ferry flight to India (author)

This was one of the last batch of six Canberras built for the IAF.

Also brand new and on their delivery flights to the IAF in 1963, were six DH Caribou transports, BM772 and BM774 seen here being refuelled (author)

Accompanying the Caribous in a support role were a pair of IAF Fairchild C-119 Packets, BK528-Z depicted in this view on the Bahrain apron (author)

Another IAF aircraft to call in at Bahrain in 1963 was this Vickers Viscount, IU684 (author)

Another brilliant Bahraini sunset captures the shadowy outlines of a MEAF Beverley and Argosy (author)

Seen on the Bahrain Visitors Pan while awaiting departure for the UK in 1968, is 10 Sqn VC10, XR810 (Brian Hersee)

Being interested in aviation in general, one of the highlights of the Bahrain detachments was the sight and sound of an Avro York. We could be lying on our beds having our after afternoon siesta when the encroaching Lancaster-like drone would shake us out of our dreams and up to the Airport to watch one come in and then hang around until it took off.

Another phenomenon to catch our attention concerned the Bristol Britannia. As sufficient power was available from its Proteus turboprop engines, it was not uncommon for Britannias to be flown empty all the way back to the UK on three engines should one fail while overseas. It was by far the cheapest option for airlines for which health and safety was an unknown quantity at the time. The Bahrain runway was sufficient in length to accommodate three-engined take-offs but the climb out was extremely shallow and a little nerve wracking for onlookers.

A selection of civilian registered aircraft seen at Bahrain Airport in 1962/3 appears in the following gallery.

By far the oldest aircraft were a number of Dragon Rapides that were actually based at Bahrain, G-AKMH illustrated here in 1963 being one (author)

The Rapides were operated by The Motherwell Bridge Contract and Trading Company Ltd of Glasgow.

Parked at the same spot a year earlier is Motherwell Construction and Engineering Company's G-ALNS

The other Bahrain-based operator was Gulf Aviation, one of whose DC-3s, G-AMVA, was pictured outside the company's hangar in 1962 (author)

The airline operated several services in the local area.

Gulf Aviation also operated DH Doves and Herons and two of the latter, G-AMUK and G-ANFE, await their passengers on the Airport apron in 1963 (author)

Skyways operated a handful of Avro Yorks on freight contracts from Stansted in 1963 and one of them, G-AGNV, is ready for departure (author)

Another British registered freighter, BOAC DC-7F, G-AOII, a conversion from a DC-7C, taxies out at Bahrain in 1963 (author)

Bahrain was ideally situated as a refuelling stop for the BOAC Comet 4 service between London, India and the Far East; G-APDR is being replenished in this 1963 scene (author)

The Viscount was often seen at Bahrain and a Kuwait Airways example, G-APOW, is depicted taxiing out from the Airport apron in 1963 (author)

A Bristol Britannia in British United Airways colours at Bahrain 1961, one of several used on trooping contracts to overseas bases (Des Meek)

Bristol Britannias operating on trooping contracts regularly called in at Bahrain, this Cunard Eagle Airways example, G-ARKB, being but one (author)

G-ARPE, Trident 1C, Bahrain from DH Hatfield, 1963 (author)

Bahrain was sometimes used for hot-weather trials of new aircraft, the BEA Trident 1, G-ARPE, seen here, having been selected for a month-long trial there in 1963.

This Pilatus Porter demonstrator, HB-FBL, left Switzerland on 17-10-63 and passed through Bahrain en-route for SE-Asia (Author)

Operated by a company called Bird & Sons and re-registered XW-PBL, it was destroyed in a crash six years later.

One of several Lockheed Constellations to 'stop-over' at Bahrain was Intercontinental's extended type 1049, N1309C, in 1963 (author)

A second operator using the York as a freighter in the area was Beirut-based Trans Mediterranean Airways (TMA) and one of its aircraft, OD-ACZ, taxies in at Bahrain in 1963 (author)

The TMA Yorks were gradually phased out during 1962/3 and replaced with third-hand DC-4s such as, OD-AEA, pictured here at Bahrain (author)

The guards are manning the main access to the apron area and were easily persuaded to let us in to take photographs.

The four Avons on Middle East Airlines (MEA) Comet 4C, OD-ADR, also based in Beirut, are started up prior to it departing Bahrain in 1963 (author)

A third livery to be seen on a Comet at Bahrain in 1963, this Mark 4C, SU-ALL, carries the colours of Damascus-based United Arab Airlines (author)

Olympic Airways Comet 4B, SX-DAK, waits to fly the King and Queen of Greece home at the end of their official visit to the Island in 1963 (author)

Straight from production line in Italy, this Piaggio 166B Portofino, twin-engined push-prop stops off for fuel and a break at Bahrain in 1963, during its delivery flight to Australia (author)

The the unusual registration (for MEA) on Viscount, XY-ADH, seen taking on passengers at Bahrain in 1963, was complicated in that it was a Burma Airways aircraft which had chartered it to MEA which in turn chartered it on to Kuwait Airways which chartered it further to Gulf Aviation. Phew! (author)

A rare visitor to Bahrain, this Aden Airways Argonaut, VR-AAS, was possibly operating a charter service when pictured in 1963 (author)