RAF Khormaksar

Accommodation and Amenities Organisation

Operational record Visiting aircraft

Preparing for withdrawal Last days in Aden

Three-quarters of Middle East Command aircraft were based at RAF Khormaksar, its main flying station. Khormaksar was a joint user airfield – that is, it was Aden’s civil airport as well as an RAF station, the RAF providing airfield, navigational, meteorological and communications facilities to the many civil airlines operating from and through Aden.

Broadly, RAF Khormaksar’s tasks could be grouped under two main headings – tactical and transport. On the tactical side, its main jobs were to defend Aden and the Protectorates from external attack and to maintain law and order within the territory. The units based there were also called upon to operate, as required, elsewhere in the Command’s area of responsibility. Also included in this side of its duties were control over sea communications within the area, responsibility for the search and rescue organisations in the Command and the maintenance of airfields, navigation aids and facilities extending from Hargeisa in Somaliland to Masirah Island at the entrance to the Persian Gulf.

Various aircraft and activities on the Transport Wing pan are overshadowed by Mount Shamsan and a pair of Strike Wing Hunters are depicted in this painting during the final year of RAF tenure in Aden. (Mal Grosse)

This high quality photograph, taken by Flt Lt Richard Johns from a 1417 Flt FR.10 nose camera on 20 August, 1965, gives a birds-eye view of Aden, dominated by Jebel Shamsan and the town of Crater in the background and RAF Khormaksar to the fore. The town of Maalla lies below the jagged rocks of the extinct volcano and Steamer Point and Aden Harbour are located on the extreme right. (Roger Wilkins)

RAF Khormaksar as seen from Hawker Hunter T.7, XL613-Z, on 14 February 1964, with the civilian airport and east end of the runway at the bottom of the picture. Moving up the image, next in line are the Hunter squadrons, Helicopter and Shackleton pans, visitors pan and transport aircraft apron used by the Beverley, Twin Pioneer, Argosy, Valletta and Comms squadrons. Also visible are the married quarters and airmen's barrack blocks to the left and upper centre respectively. (author)

Looking north from the cockpit of a 233 Squadron Valetta as it flies across Mount Shamsan, with RAF Khormaksar in the foreground, the Salt Pans on the far side of the runway and Shiekh Othmann in a distant top left of the photograph. (Keith Webster)

View from a Hunter cockpit as it approaches Khormaksar in 1964. Clearly visible are the main runway and peri-track which could double as a secondary runway in case of emergency; there being no diversionary airfield in the Protectorate. Two short unsurfaced runways heading away to the left of the main runway could be used by light piston-engined aircraft should the need arise. Irrespective of take-off direction, a wet landing awaited anyone unfortunate enough to suffer an engine failure. (Roger Wilkins) 

A view from the nose camera of a 1417 Flight FR.10, taken in 1965, depicting the eastern end of Khormaksar airfield with the civilian airport at the top, the Strike Wing Hunter pan and hangars in the centre and a 37 Squadron Shackleton alongside a 26 Squadron Belvedere at the bottom. (Chris Bain)

Higher and higher! Another superb image from a 1417 Flight FR.10 camera, taken from an even greater height and on an unusually clear day, encompassing the whole of Khormaksar airfield, the runway and warren of single and married accommodation adjacent to the huge base. The narrowness of the peninsular at this point can be clearly seen as can the close proximity of the sea on either side. (Ken Simpson)

Next come two photographs taken from 8 Squadron Hunter T.7, XL613, by Flt Lt Ron Dunn in late November 1960. At that time, Ron was one of a number of CFS Examiners from Advanced Standards who made annual visits to Khormaksar and the other MEAF bases .....

..... to check that the level of instruction given to pilots by the QFIs on each unit were being maintained to the high standards demanded by the Central Flying School. Commonly known as 'Trappers', the Standards Wing team was based at RAF Little Rissington. (Ron Dunn)

Khormaksar airfield was situated on a thin neck of land that linked Aden Colony to the vast expanse of the southern tip of Arabia. It had one main runway almost two miles in length and a parallel peri-track that could be used as a runway in an emergency. Two, short, unsurfaced runways were available for light aircraft on those rare occurrences when a strong crosswinds blew. Within the Colony to the south were located the main harbour near Steamer Point and the towns of Maala and Crater sat under the shadow of Jebel Shamsan, a long extinct volcano. To the north lay Sheikh Othman and the main road to Dhala and the Yemen.

Scheduled services

Khormaksar’s transport role was a large and important one. It was mainly concerned with maintaining scheduled air services within the command and with supplying ground forces stationed up-country at bases which could not be reached by other means of transport – to which end the station maintained a number of air strips in the Protectorates and in Muscat and Oman.

But it was also the biggest RAF staging-post – the main one between the United Kingdom and Singapore or Australia. Aircraft either passed through or terminated their flight at Khormaksar and, being the focal point, the station was the transhipment airfield for freight and passengers on their way to Kenya or the Persian Gulf. To illustrate this aspect of Khormaksar and its importance – there were more than 100 transient aircraft movements each month, mostly scheduled flights by Britannias and Comets. The station handled monthly some 1,600,000 lb. of freight, 4,000 passengers and 10,000 lb. of mail.

Latterly, there were many United Nations flights, carrying aid and troops from India and Pakistan to the Congo. These aircraft and passengers were treated in exactly the same way as those of the RAF, and used all the staging-post facilities. Aeromedical flights, mostly by Comet, were an important part of the staging-post role. In about 12 hours from leaving Aden patients were in hospital in the U.K. The units based at Khormaksar were as varied as the tasks the station was called upon to perform, but were divided into four wings – two flying wings, tactical and transport, a technical wing and an administrative wing.

Tactical/Strike Wing

Tactical Wing encompassed the Hunter and Belvedere units based at Khormaksar until December 1964 when the Shackleton squadron was brought into the fold. The title was changed to Strike Wing and the Belvederes transferred to Transport Wing.

No. 8 Squadron

This unit was called Adens own squadron, for, apart from a brief interval immediately after the war, it had been connected with Khormaksar ever since 1928. No. 8 was formed at Brooklands in 1915 as part of the Royal Flying Corps and took an active part in the campaign in France. It was disbanded in 1920, but reformed in Egypt a few months later and was then posted to Iraq. It was transferred to Aden in 1928 and based there for the remainder of the inter-war years. Coastal reconnaissance flights and anti-submarine patrols were its main duties through the war – though it was in action continuously through the 1940/41 East African campaign and the extremely small number of ships lost in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden is testimony to the success of its work. In May, 1945, the squadron was disbanded but its number-plate was transferred to No. 200 (Liberator) Squadron, stationed at Minneriya, Ceylon, as a Special Duty Unit supply-dropping to clandestine agents in Malaya and Sumatra. It was disbanded in November, 1945.

No. 8 Squadron’s association with Aden was revived on September 1, 1946, when No. 114 Squadron, at Khormaksar, was renumbered No. 8. The squadron was back in its original role of the defence and policing of the Protectorates. Its Standard, awarded by King George VI, was presented by the Governor of Aden in April, 1954, and later that month paraded for the first time when the Squadron provided a Guard of Honour to greet the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. Since early in 1960 the Squadron was equipped with Hunter FGA.9 aircraft.

No. 43 Squadron

The first squadron in the RAF to be issued with the Mark 1 Hunter in July 1954, 43 Squadron subsequently flew the Marks 4 and 6 at Leuchars until the latter were replaced by FGA.9s in 1960. Following a period of around 18 months in Cyprus, the Squadron moved to Khormaksar on 1 March 1963 and was the final Hunter unit to serve in Aden, being disbanded shortly before the station closed in November 1967.

No. 208 Squadron

Reformed as a Venom squadron at Eastleigh in 1959, 208 Squadron re-equipped with Hunter FGA.9s in March 1960 and moved up to Khormaksar a few months after the Kuwait Crisis of 1961. Here it remained until being relocated to Muharraq (Bahrain) in June 1964.

No. 1417 Flight

Up until 1961, the fighter reconnaissance role was the forte of four 8 Squadron Meteor FR.9s. Superseded by Hunter FR.10s, the Squadron continued to provide the fighter recce requirement until 1963 when 1417 Flight was reformed and the FR.10s and T.7s re-allocated to it. Over the four years until its disbandment in September 1967, the Flight gave excellent photo recce support to both the Hunter squadrons and the Army operating up country.

No. 26 Squadron

The arrival at Khormaksar of 26 Squadron and its four Belvedere helicopters in March 1963, following a momentous flight from the UK, brought a much needed heavy capability to the Aden theatre. The aircraft allocation was increased in 1964 with the arrival of a further two Belvederes from the UK. The Squadron performed an invaluable roll lifting troops, equipment and artillery to places, such as mountain tops, that were inaccessible by any other means, allowing Army units to more easily take the upper hand when skirmishes broke out. Without them, the campaign would undoubtedly have lasted longer and the casualties been higher. With the re-equipment of 78 Squadron with the Wessex complete, 26 Squadron disbanded on 30 November, 1965, and its aircraft flown onto HMS Albion for shipment to Singapore, where they joined 66 Squadron.

No.26 Squadron Belvedere HC.1, XG463-B, on the helicopter pan at Khormaksar in 1963 (Author)

Belvedere XG457-D creates a dustcloud as it climbs out from Khormaksar, to be followed shortly after by XG463-B in the background (Author)

Another 26 Squadron Belvedere on the Khormaksar pan in early 1964, this time XG458-E (Author)

The remnants of Comms Flight's two white Canberra B.2s and a Valetta can be seen in the left background.

Still in the camouflage livery worn when with 66 Sqn in the UK, XG467-C is being loaded with supplies destined for an up-country Army unit (Author)

XG457-D sits on the pan as an 84 Squadron Beverley lifts off the Khormaksar runway in 1964 (Peter Lewis)

No. 37 Squadron

Number 37 Squadron had been overseas since 1940, and had been at Khormaksar since mid-1957. Since 1947 it had undertaken a search and rescue commitment, its Lancasters followed later in 1953 by Shackleton MR.Mk.2s, provided this humanitarian service over a wide area of the Near and Middle East. Search and rescue activities included locating and helping ditched and missing aircraft, people lost in the desert and survivors from abandoned ships, and the Squadron maintained a standby together with the Helicopter Flight, Marine Craft Unit and other rescue groups until 1967, when it disbanded.

Up until 1963, 37 Squadron had been given special dispensation for its aircraft markings in that a greater area of white was allowed along the top of the fuselage in order to counter the excessive heat of the Aden theatre and this can be clearly seen some images in the gallery below. As this was patently of insufficient benefit, the aircraft were turned out in standard Maritime Command markings as they passed through refurbishment in the UK during 1963.

WL738-D, taxiing in at Khormaksar in early 1964. Note that the Squadron number has yet to be applied (author)

Parked on the pan at Khormaksar in late 1962, WL744-B bakes under a midday sun while awaiting its next sortie (author)

WR962-A at Khormaksar in late 1962 displays the deeper section of white allowed at special dispensation along the fuselage top (author)

The same aircraft, WR962-A, at Khormaksar in early 1964, shortly after returning in revised markings from refurbishment in the UK (author)

Following a month on detachment, two 42 Sqn MR.2s, WL754-F and WL801-B, start up for their departure from Khormaksar, 11-62 (author)

Helicopter Flight

The Sycamore HR.14s based at Khormaksar were a familiar sight over Aden as they made daily training trips around the shores of the Colony and were often called upon to transport VIPs. They formed a part of the search and rescue organisation, maintaining a permanent standby, and were called upon to pick up people stranded on rocks or beaches or in danger of drowning. More often their work was to bring casualties down to Aden and its hospital or evacuation facilities from up-country stations.

Helicopters formed part of the Khormaksar establishment since late 1955, becoming a separate flight in 1958. On occasion they were detached for duties elsewhere in the command – in support of operations in the Trucial Oman in 1959, Bahrein in 1960 and to give a display at the Royal Agricultural Show in Nairobi. The Sycamores were replaced by Whirlwind HAR.10s in 1964.

As a young Flying Officer, Tony Bell was a Sycamore pilot in Aden in 1963/64 and moved on to the Whirlwind Mark 10 in 1964, until his departure in mid-65. There were four Sycamore HR.14s on the SAR Helicopter Flight (XG504, XG518, XJ916 and XL829). The incident involving XG504, pictured in the gallery below, occurred on 20 January, 1964. I was piloting the aircraft and was climbing away from dispersal on a training flight when the centrifugal clutch failed. The subsequent forced landing in the small space between the Hunter line and flight huts aroused some consternation, especially from OC Tactical Wing, Wg Cdr Jennings.

In another interesting incident, which occurred on 23 March 1964 and is featured further down the page, the crew of 105 Squadron Argosy XP413, managed to shut down three engines on final approach during a training sortie causing it to ditch in the sea short of the Khormaksar runway! An emergency was called and I was detailed to pick up the embarrassed crew. They were all standing on the wing that remained above water with the fuselage resting on the bottom. The rescue was performed using Whirlwind HAR.10, XK970, the first operational sortie flown by the new aircraft.

Following withdrawal of the Sycamores, they were all flown on to HMS Albion on 28 March 1964 to return to UK.

A nice sequence of three images depicting Search & Rescue Flight's Sycamore XG518 reving up to maximum power .....

..... before lifting off from the Helicopter pan .....

..... and heading out to the east of Khormaksar airfield (all three taken by Keith Webster in 1962)

Martin Johnson walks in from a sortie in his Hunter as Sycamore XG504 is towed back to the Helicopter Flight pan in 1963 (Author)

The picture was taken immediately after a centrifugal clutch failure on XG504 caused its pilot, Tony Bell, to make an emergency landing on the Hunter pan.

Search & Rescue Flight Sycamore HC.14, XG518, on the Khormaksar helicopter pan in early 1964 (Author)

Seen shortly before its replacement by a turbine-powered Whirlwind, Sycamore XL829 is on standby at Khormaksar in early 1964 (Author)

Another view of XL829 on the SAR pan at Khormaksar (Simon Morrison collection)

Gleaming Whirlwind HAR.10, XK970, being prepared for its acceptance flight at Khormaksar in February 1964 (Author)

XK970 was converted from a piston-engined HAR.2

The second Whirlwind to join the Khormaksar S&R Flight, XL111, stands ready for its next sortie in early 1964 (Author)

XL111 was converted from a piston-engined HAR.4

Couple of views of SAR Flight Whirlwind HAR.10, XK970, approaching Bir Fahdl airfield which was not far from Khormaksar (Charlie Donaldson)

XK970 turns before landing at Bir Fahdl; the airfield was used mainly by the Aden Glding Club (Charlie Donaldson)

Air Traffic Control Squadron

Anyone who watched the steady flow of aircraft landing and taking off at Khormaksar would have appreciated the task of Air Traffic Control, which was responsible for the safety of all aircraft, both civil and military, in the air and on the ground. Its responsibilities included providing facilities for the landing of aircraft in bad weather – such as dust or sand storms – the positive control of aircraft in the air to prevent collisions, and supplying information to all aircraft within its area. The Local and Approach controllers watched very closely to co-ordinate the smooth flow of aircraft landing and taking off

Acknowledged as the busiest Royal Air Force station in the world and embracing an international civil airport, the Air Traffic Control Centre at Khormaksar handled one of the most mixed collections of aircraft types seen on any RAF station. In the early 1950s Khormaksar was just a one-squadron (8 Squadron) station but as the workload increased through the middle of the decade, a high of 2,500 aircraft movements per month was recorded. By 1964, on the military side alone, the number of squadrons/flights had increased to ten, operating eleven types of aircraft comprising; Hunters and Shackletons of Tactical Wing, Twin Pioneers, Beverleys, Valettas and Argosys of Transport Wing, Canberras and Hastings of Comms Flight, and three types of helicopter. In addition the nearby Sheikh Othman-based Army Light Aircraft Squadron Austers, Beavers and Scouts were always popping in, as were aircraft from visiting Royal Navy carriers, and there was a steady flow of RAF Transports, Canberras and V-Bombers transiting through en-route to and from the UK, Far East, the Gulf and East Africa.

Civil aircraft operations included more than fifteen airlines, charter companies and private operators flying more than twenty types of aircraft, from the trusty DC3s, Argonauts and Viscounts of Aden Airways to the Boeing 707s of Air India and Comets of BOAC. It was also a popular location for hot-weather trials of new aircraft types such as the De Havilland Trident and Vickers VC10.

All this meant that in an average month Air Traffic Control staff handled more than 5,000 movements comprising fifty or more different types of aircraft – a mixed bag indeed for any airport. In addition to the airfield itself, Air Traffic Control supervised a Control Zone that extended to a forty-mile circumference of the airfield within which positive separation of aircraft flying on IFR Flight Plans had to be maintained. All of which added up to a busy, varied and very interesting job for everybody in the section.

Marine Craft Unit

Airmen in boats may seem a novel absurdity to the layman, but Aden was well used to the RAF Marine Craft Unit – it was formed about 1934 and, although based for a time at Maalla, it later moved back to its original base at Obstruction Pier. The unit had a 24-hour search and rescue commitment and could be called out at any time to search for lost planes or ships – or simply pick stranded people off beaches. But their principal task was supplying the route stations as far up the coast as Bahrein. Using Z’-craft with a capacity of 200 tons they moved a minimum of 1,000 tons of cargo a month. During the monsoon months, May-September, when marine operations from Aden were curtailed, one of these craft was detached to Bahrein. Odd jobs around the harbour – lumping and dumping’ as they called it – also fell to the lot of the RAF’s sailors. vesel

RAF Launch 1380 being returned to Obstruction Pier in early 1964, having undergone lengthy repairs caused by a terrorist bomb (author)

Also known as the Pinnace, these launches carried a crew comprising: Captain, SNCO, WOP and 5 to 6 deckhands.

1380 photographed at full speed out in the Red Sea by one of Ken Simpson's FR.10 nose cameras (Ken Simpson)

Also captured by Ken's FR.10, Air Sea Rescue Launch 2767 uses maximum power from its Sea Griffin engines to speed through the Red Sea (Ken Simpson)

Air, Sea Rescue Launch, 2767 at Obstruction Pier following a trip out to sea towing a splash target for 8 Sqn FGA.9s to shoot at, 03-64 (author)

Also known as Range Target Towing Launches, these high powered vessels had a crew comprising: Captain, 2 Coxes, SNCO, JNCO, 2 Eng SNCO, Eng JNCO, WOP, 5 or 6 deckhands.

This fine aerial shot of 2767 captures the wake the launch makes as it travels at high speed through the water (Ken Simpson)

Desert rescue

The search and rescue units at Khormaksar were completed by a small group of volunteers who devoted their spare time to training for Mountain and Desert Rescue operations. Formed in 1963, they were the youngest of the RAF’s mountain rescue units and the only one which also included desert in its field of operation.

Transport Wing

Besides three squadrons of transport aircraft and the Air Movements Section, the Officer Commanding Transport Wing’s responsibilities included the up-country airstrips in the Aden Protectorate and the route airfields along the South Arabian Coast. The gallery below contains a selection of aircraft types operated by the Khormaksar Transport Wing in the 1960s.

233 Sqn Valetta C.1, VW860, about to taxi out in 1961, probably for another trip up-country (Keith Webster)

233 Squadron Valetta C.1, VW198, taxies passed the Hunter pan at Khormaksar in 1964 (author)

The Valetta was the oldest type of aircraft to operate with MEC from Khormaksar during the first half of the sixties.

The end of the road for 233 Sqn Valetta C.1, VW851, having been relegated for use by the firemen at Eastleigh in July 1963 (author)

The Twin Pioneers of 78 Squadron; XM284 depicted here at Khormaksar in 1965, were the workhorses for up-country operations (Simon Morrison)

Sporting a smart sand/brown camouflage livery, 78 Sqn Twin Pioneer, XM286, seen during a visit to Falaise Army Camp in 1967 (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

Heavy lift and troop carrying tasks were flown by the ubiquitous Beverley C.1s of 84 Sqn. XB266 is seen here at Khormaksar in June 1962 (author)

84 Sqn Beverley, XM106-T, taxies passed the Hunter pan and 8 Sqn FR.10, XE614-W, on its way back to dispersal in 1962 (Mac McLauchlan)

Another view of 84 Squadron Beverley, XB266-V, this time taking off from Khormaksar, 1963 (author)

A change in markings in 1966, saw RAF Beverleys painted in sand/brown camouflage, XM106 seen here about to depart for Aden (author's collection)

XM106 was destroyed by a land mine at Habilayn in October 1967.

Once in Aden, Beverley C.1, XM106, was soon deployed on the varied tasks carried out by 84 Sqn (author's collection)

A view across the 84 Sqn Beverley pan at Khormaksar in 1967 depicting a mix of colour schemes (author's collection)

84 Sqn Beverley XM109-U, flies low across Khormaksar in 1963 (Mac McLauchlan)

The penultimate production Beverley XM111 awaits its next task on the Khormaksar pan in 1965 (Simon Morrison)

114 Sqn had only been at Ksar a short while when this photograph was taken of XN819 on the Transport Wing ramp in the summer of 1962 (Keith Webster)

In the background are 84 Sqn Beverley XM107-S and an unidentified military Argonaut.

105 Sqn Argosy C.1, XP408, taxiing by the Hunter pan at Khormaksar in 1963 (author)

To satisfy the growing demands being placed on Transport Wing, 105 Sqn was re-formed and equipped with the Argosy C.1 before being flown out to Aden in June 1962.

105 Sqn Argosy, XP411, on arrival at Masirah prior to ferrying 8 Sqn groundcrew down to Khormaksar on 30 December, 1963 (author)

Doing a poor imitation of a sea plane, 105 Sqn Argosy, XP413, after ditching in the sea short of Ksar during a training sortie, 23-03-64 (author)

Being only 18 months old, the aircraft was stripped down and shipped back to the UK for rebuilding and re-entry into RAF service.

The 105 Squadron Argosy pilot has called for the emergency services to be on standby but fortunately, they were not needed, 1967 (Malcolm Stelfox)

As the undercarriage cycles up, 105 Sqn Argosy, XP440, climbs away from Khormaksar in 1963 (author)

No. 78 Squadron

The squadron operated Twin Pioneer aircraft, whose short take-off and landing characteristics often made it the only plane that could operate into up-country airstrips, and its main work was short-range supply of the Army. It was also frequently called on to pick up sick or injured people for transport to hospital. No. 78 was formed as a Home Defence unit in 1916, disbanded in 1919 and re­formed, as a Bomber Squadron, in 1936. During 1940 and 1941, operating Whitley Mark V aircraft, it operated over Germany and the ports of occupied Europe. Re-equipped with Halifax Vs in 1942 they continued operations, and in the latter half of the year flew almost nightly, taking part in nearly all the major raids on Germany, Italy and occupied territory. Towards the end of the war daylight raids became more frequent, and the targets mainly Flying Bomb’ bases.

In 1945 the Squadron was transferred to Transport Command, and later in the year sent to the Middle East and based at Almaza. The following year it was moved to Kabrit and in 1951, to Fayid, where it was disbanded in 1954. It re-formed in Aden on 24 April, 1956, equipped with Single Pioneer aircraft, and was re-equipped with Twin Pioneers in 1958. By 1965, it was their turn to be replaced and, following the success of the RN Wessex Squadrons operating in Aden, the Wessex was chosen as the faithful Twin-Pin’s replacement.

No. 84 Squadron

No. 84 was formed at Beaulieu, Hampshire, in 1917 and saw service as a fighter squadron in France for just over a year. After the Armistice it went to Cologne as part of the Army of Occupation, but returned to England and was disbanded in 1920. Three months later it was re-formed at Baghdad as a bomber squadron, and was later moved to Shaibah and eventually re-equipped with Vincents. During the inter-war years its work was varied and interesting – flying via the Persian Gulf, India, Burma and Malaya to Singapore nearly every year to take part in manoeuvres; it did the photography for the re-mapping of the whole of Southern Iraq and, in 1935, located an Imperial Airways airliner force-landed in the desert, in time to rescue passengers and crew.

After the outbreak of war it was re-equipped with Blenheims and took part in campaigns in the Western Desert, Greece, Iraq, Syria, Persia and the Far East. In 1942 it lost all its aircraft by land attack on Java.

From 1944 No. 84 operated in India, first with Vengeance and later Mosquito aircraft. From 1945 to 1948 they were transferred from base to base around the Far East – Seletar, Java, Batavia, Kuala Lumpar, Changi and Tengah. Re-equipped with Brigands, it returned to Iraq, but was transferred to Singapore again in 1950. Three years later the Squadron was disbanded when Brigands were grounded.

However, a month later No. 204 Squadron, a medium-range transport squadron flying Valettas and based at Fayid, was redesignated No. 84. It took up its present home in Aden in January, 1957. In June, 1958, the Blackburn Beverley heavy transport aircraft joined the squadron, and both types of aircraft were operated until August 1961 when the Valetta element was re-designated No. 233 Squadron. No. 84’s main task was the supply of army up-country posts, but it also flew the routes up to the Persian Gulf and as far south as Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia.

No. 105 Squadron

Newly formed with the Armstrong Siddeley Argosy at Benson on 21 February, 1962, 105 Squadron moved from the UK to Khormaksar in June 1962, where maximum use was made of its medium lift capability. As the withdrawal from Aden drew near, the Squadron moved up to Muharraq in two flights over the summer of 1967, where it disbanded on 31 January, 1968.

No. 233 Squadron

The Valetta element of 84 Squadron became a Squadron in its own right in August 1961. The twin-engined Valettas had been operating in the Arabian Peninsula for the previous decade, and in an average month carried 650 passengers and 360,000 lb. of freight on routes extending from Bahrein in the north to Kenya in the south.

The history and previous role of No. 233 is symbolised by its crest – in front of a trident and sword in saltire, a star of eight points. The design represents navigation, the sword, a striking force, and the trident, duties over the sea. RNAS Seaplane Station, Dover, was formed in November, 1914, operating throughout the war on coastal patrols. When the RAF was formed in 1918, the station was renamed the Dover Air Base and organised into separate flights, but these were reunited a few months later as No. 233 Squadron, remaining at Dover until it was disbanded in 1919. The Squadron was re-formed in 1937, as a general reconnaissance squadron of Coastal Command, and equipped with Ansons. When war broke out it was at Leuchars, being re-equipped with Hudsons. Its role through the first two years of the war was sweeping the North Sea, brushing with submarines and investigating shipping. From 1941 to 1944 it was at Gibraltar, and was then transferred to the 2nd Tactical Air Force in an air support role with Dakotas. It was disbanded in 1945.

MEAF Comms Flight

Many RAF stations operated a Communications Flight and that at Khormaksar, in the early sixties, had an allocation of two Canberra B.2s painted in an all-over white livery, a Hastings C.4 and Valetta C.2. To this could be added a Dakota C.4; maintained by civilian DC3 technicians from Aden Airways, it was normally parked and operated from the civil airport. The Canberras were scrapped behind the SAR Flight hangar in early 1964. In the mid-sixties, and renamed Middle East Communications Squadron, the Unit was allocated a second Dakota C.4 and an Andover C.1.

Re-allocated to the MEAF in 1961, Dakota C.4, KN452, operated in an all-over silver livery as seen here on the Transport Wing pan (Keith Webster)

In the late 1940s, this aircraft was used for a tour of India by Princess Elizabeth and was fitted with a luxurious wood-panelled interior.

Oldest aircraft in the MEAF Comms Flight fleet, Dakota C.4, KN452 was pictured when operating from the civilian airport apron in 1962 (author)

By this time the aircraft had received the standard Transport Command livery of that period.

MEAF Comms Flight Valetta C.2, VX576 taxies past the Hunter pan on its way to the runway threshold (author)

Largest aircraft in the MEAF Comms Flight was this Hastings C.4, WJ326, seen parked on the Flight's pan in 1962 (author)

Canberra B.2, WJ580, one of two all-white 'high-speed AOC transports' based at Khormaksar and seen taxiing in, 1961 (Des Meek)

Provided for use specifically for Staff Officers flying to the various MEAF airfields, Canberra B.2, WJ580 was one of two painted white (author)

The photograph was taken at Sharjah in 1963.

B.2, WJ608, was the second all-white Canberra and is seen while AOG awaiting parts for an engine problem at Bahrain in 1963 (author)

The burnt-out remains of Dakota C.4, KJ955, on the civilian apron following a sabotage attack on the aircraft on 29 May, 1965 (Roger Wilkins)

In 1966, Andover C.1, XS793 was added to the Flight's inventory, probably as a replacement for the sabotaged Dakota (author's collection)

Fire section

Not to be forgotten! Without a station Fire Section there could be no flying. Always on duty they were quickly on scene at the first sign of an emergency. With such a large allocation of aircraft on continuous operations, Khormaksar needed a sizable Fire Section and to ensure it was on the ball, regular practices were held on the fire dump on the north side of the runway using a selection of withdrawn aircraft.

A sequence of two images depicting an old 8 Sqn Venom well alight and .....

..... a fire crew dousing the flames with foam in 1962 (both, Keith Webster)

Air Movements Section

This, of course, handled all the passengers and freight carried by the Khormaksar-based squadrons and the RAF aircraft passing through – including the Casevac flights. A formidable task when the figures of passengers, mail and freight handled at Khormaksar are recalled.

Technical Wing

The task of Technical Wing, which supported the flying wings by maintaining their aircraft, was made unusually complex by the variety of aircraft with which it had to deal. While an average RAF station carried only one or two types, there were 13 different types and marks of Khormaksar-based aircraft. In addition, visiting aircraft both RAF and foreign air forces ranging from Comets and the latest V-bombers to the old Dakota that was in service before the war, came under its care. With technical responsibility for the helicopter flight, marine craft and Khormaksar’s fleet of MT vehicles, it can be seen that Technical Wing could and should have been ready to deal with anything and everything. Engines, airframes, electrical instruments, radio, ground radio, armaments and even the Command Photographic section came within its scope.

The Wing had two sections, one dealing with normal servicing of aircraft at or passing through Khormaksar, the other, No. 131 Maintenance Unit, dealing with heavy repair work throughout the Command. Normal servicing was carried out both before and after flying and periodically after a certain number of flying hours. With aircraft coming and going all around the clock, the wing was open 24 hours a day, every day. And while heavier work could be done in hangars, much of the day-to-day servicing was carried out in the open – hot and unpleasant for much of the year.

Apart from the heat, Technical Wing waged a constant battle against the Aden climate, which was corrosive to all types of materials and mechanical parts. This affected not only aircraft and motor vehicles but items of ground equipment like ladders and trolleys.

Technical responsibility for the route stations along the coast and trade training for personnel, including control of a technical library of more than 11,000 volumes were also concerns of the Officer Commanding Technical Wing.

No. 131 Maintenance Unit

No. 131 MU was established at Khormaksar at the end of 1958 to provide heavy repair facilities for all technical equipment in the Command. It comprised three flights, handling the repair and salvage of aircraft, repair of motor transport and general engineering respectively. A fourth section, the Electronic Repair Squadron, was later established to undertake the servicing and repair of radio and radar equipment. Working parties, varying from one or two airmen to a balanced party of a dozen or so, were always on detachment somewhere in the Command repairing specific pieces of equipment or giving general technical assistance. This enabled the unit’s personnel to sample the nomadic life of the desert or the city life of Nairobi.

Fleet Air Arm

(Click on the heading above to access a gallery depicting FAA aircraft on operations in the Middle East)

Although the Hunter saw service with the Royal Navy for over 35 years (in the guise of the T.MK.8 and GA.Mk.11), it was mainly employed in its designated role as pilot trainer. Intended for operations from land-based airfields only and unable to operate alongside its carrier-borne brethren, the RN Hunter was limited to UK shores. Other carrier-borne aircraft, however, were a common sight on Middle East Command bases, Khormaksar in particular, and they regularly flew co-operation exercises and on operations in the Aden theatre, relieving the Hunter units on border patrols and strike missions when they passed through the area. This section has been added to recognise the part played by these squadrons.

Having gone US, Scimitar F.1, XD215-108, of 800 Squadron HMS Ark Royal, sits on the apron at Embakasi awaiting a servicing crew, July 1963 (author)

January 1964 and 893 Squadron Sea Vixen FAW.1, XN697-457, taxies in at Khormaksar having flown ashore from HMS Victorious (author)

849 Squadron, C Flight AEW.3, XL501-433, during a lull in activities at Khormaksar in 1963 (author)

HMS Hermes-based Buccaneer S.2, XT280-323, being prepared for departure from Khormaksar in May 1967 (author's collection)

Westland Whirlwind HAS.7, XL900, from HMS Centaur seen parked on the Helicopter pan at Khormaksar in early 1964 (author)

Royal Marine Commando Wessex HU.5 (XT485-A nearest), from 845 Sqn HMS Bulwark at Khormaksar in September 1967 (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

RM Commandos were the last Brirish troops to leave Aden and were lifted off by RN Wessex.

653 Squadron (Army Air Corps)

(Click on the heading above to display a short history of 653 Squadron activities in Aden and anecdotes from AAC personnel.)

Number 653 Squadron of the Army Air Corps (AAC) was based at Khormaksar for its final days of service in Aden during 1967 and is included on this website in recognition of the part it played in the support of Hunter operations during the full period of its tenure there from 1961.

653 Sqn Auster AOP.9, XN436, on the Hunter pan at Khormaksar in 1963 (author)

Another 653 Sqn Auster AOP.9 to visit Strike Wing was XR240, pictured here in 1963 (author)

XP774 was a 653 Sqn Beaver and is seen on the Strike Wing pan in 1963 (author)

Early 1964 and 653 Sqn Beaver, XP775, is captured taxiing along the Khormaksar peri-track (author)

The first two AAC Scout helicopters in Aden, XR600 and XR601, pay a visit to Khormaksar's Strike Wing in March 1964 (author)


SAC Malcolm Stelfox was a Telegraphist who worked in the Khormaksar Control Tower in 1966-67 and he explains why the RAF changed the name of the command from Middle East Air Force to Air Force Middle East. It was purely administrative. Take a look at any UK keyboard and you will find the letters M and N are right next to each other making it easy to mistype an address. Letters/signals sent from 8 Squadron, for example, could quite easily end up being sent to Episkopi or Nicosia in the Near East Air Force (NEAF) rather than Steamer Point. With the number of transmissions running into the 100s per day, misdirected signals could have serious implications.

Open Days

When tensions in the Colony were low, Khormaksar played host to several Open Days, when families, friends and people from the local Arab population were invited in to enter the station to see it in operation. On one such day in November 1961, Jeff Glasser, a young school boy and the son a Sergeant who worked in one of the Messes, took some photographs of the occasion and a selection is appended after his short anecdote below.

In 1961, I once wandered into a hangar in Aden (like you do) where Hunters (of I think, 8 Squadron) were being worked on. No one asked what I was doing there so I stayed. I was stood within licking distance of a Hunter when a young airman asked if I was interested in aircraft. Of course I was I told him. He kindly explained the hydraulic and electrical system he was working on in very basic language that I could understand. A most enlightening and enjoyable half-hour or so. Why he didnt get a rollicking for talking to a specky 12-year old instead of working I dont know, but I never forgot it, and have since always tried to spend a little time explaining things to people who show an interest in what Im doing.” (a full account of Jeff’s time as seen through the eyes of a schoolboy living in Crater, can be seen in the Aden section of the Britain’s Small Wars website (www.britains-smallwars.com)).

8 Sqn Meteor T.7 and Hunter T.7 on the apron in front of Vulcan B.1, XH483 and a Valiant B.1. (Jeff Glasser)

Note the yellow training band on the Hunter - most unusual on a camouflaged T.7.

37 Sqn Shackleton MR.2, WL744-B, and an 84 Sqn Beverley at the west end of the airfield. (Jeff Glasser)

Crowds mull around Air Sea Rescue Flight Sycamore HR.14, XJ916. (Jeff Glasser)

Flown out from the UK, Victor B.1, XH645 behind the ASR Flight Sycamore HR.14, XJ916, and 78 Sqn Twin Pioneer. (Jeff Glasser)

A visitor from the UK, Vulcan B.1, XH483 (Jeff Glasser)