Flt Lt Ray Carran

For some inexplicable reason, 37 Squadron had an allocation of only four Shackletons against the standard of six, despite having a much broader and intense operational role than most MR units. Consequently, aircraft from other units as far as the UK, were constantly being called in to give assistance during busy periods, while others were detached to Khormaksar for ‘frontline’ training and exercises. It was during one of the latter that a visiting UK crew nearly became embroiled in an international incident.

A brush with the Yemeni

“The date was 20 October, 1966, and we, crew 6 of 224 Squadron, Ballykelly, were deployed to Khormaksar to update our competency in medium level bombing and gunnery, a role we had taken over after the disbandment of 224 Squadron. This was quite a pleasant break from the routine of ASW exercises and crew training that had been our staple diet since forming as a ‘constituted’ crew some four months previously.

On this particular day we took of at 09:00 hrs in WR952 and had been tasked to drop our 25 lb practice bombs and shoot-off our 600 rounds of 20mm ammunition on the range north-west of Khormaksar. Everything was going to plan with a modicum of success from the bombing when a call came in for us to report our fuel state and prepare to be diverted to a search and rescue task. We obviously had enough Avgas on board to satisfy at least the initial requirements because we were told that the RAF Dakota out of Aden for Kamaran Island, had failed to report in. As relative strangers to this part of the world, we had to ask for further information on this Kamaran Island and eventually located it approximately 200 nms north of Perim Island, off the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsular and about 10 nms off the Yemeni coast. Bear in mind that the Yemen was hostile and we had to avoid overflying their territory, so we set a heading to ‘on-top Perim Island, and prepared to carry out a creeping line ahead search along the assumed track of the Dakota.

As we came abeam the Yemeni town of Hodeida we became the target of interest of a couple of Mig-17 Frescos, obviously home-based at Hodeida. They firstly flew alongside and then carried out close inspections of our underside, topside and right and left sides! Our reactions to this attention was to firstly head for the water to give them one less aspect to look and at the same time try to get in the lee of some of the islands dotted about this stretch of coastline. As we did this one of the Mig-17s flew directly under us and pulled vertical right in front of us so we had no option but to fly straight through his jet wake! That was quite scary and prompted a response from our AEO, the late Bill Checkley, that if he did that again he (Bill) would give him a burst of 20mm cannon!! Needless to say, that was a sort of throw away remark that is uttered in times of tension, but it typified the feelings we all had towards our aggressors. After several passes and ‘close encounters, lasting about twenty minutes the jets departed towards their base and we, very shaken, continued on our search pattern. All of the goings-on were reported to our Control and after it was all over we were told that the Dakota had reported the same thing and then gone off the air! Can you believe the consternation on board our aircraft! However, we put our feelings on hold and got on with the job in hand with our thoughts modified to assume the worst.

We flew north and eventually reached Kamaran. There, to our surprise, was a dirty runway with a Union Jack flying in the breeze and a Dakota parked outside a small building. Our next signal to our Control was along the lines of ‘what the hell is going on?’. The reply was something like ‘the situation is resolved you can now return to Khormaksar.’ Gee, thanks!

Discussion among the crew now concentrated on how to get passed Hodeida on the homeward leg. We opted to go as low as safely possible to decrease the chance of radar intercept. This was accomplished and it was a very relieved if bewildered crew that had touched down at Khormaksar. We were met by a Wing Commander from Operations who wanted to know where our photographs were. On telling him that we had other things to worry about he promptly gave me a dressing down in front of everyone on my lack of foresight to bring back the evidence. That did it for me and I demanded to know which fool sent us, an armed aircraft, on an SAR mission into what was a potentially hostile situation without having the sense to brief us on what was going on. It would have been an end to my promising career if I had done what I felt like doing but all I said was to the effect ‘what do we have three squadrons of Hunters doing in Aden if we can’t supply top cover to an SAR mission?.

A highly charged debrief was then conducted in which I found out that Control was fully aware of the Dakota’s plight but thought it wise not to tell us that Kamaran Island was a British Protectorate, that the Dak was on a ‘milk run’ and a pair of Hunters were on runway alert in case something happened to us. We repaired to the bar to have a ‘meaningful’ discussion with our fighter counterparts and from what we learned, the two Migs, despite their Yemeni markings, were probably flown by Egyptians because their tactics were somewhat advanced and that, even if the standby Hunters had been scrambled, there was little they could do against Mig-17s!

Even as I write this now, my blood pressure rises as I think of the stupidity of that incident and the possible repercussions, even casualties, if things had worked out slightly differently. Still, that was the same regime that controlled the Radfan operation with all its anomalies, but that is another story.”

The official record

The 37 Squadron F540 states that: On 20 October, 1966, Flt Lt R. Carran (204 Squadron) was diverted from a training sortie to investigate the fate of a DC.3 aircraft which was lasted reported being intercepted by Mig fighters near Kamaran Island. On arriving in the area, the Shackleton was buzzed by a couple of Migs which then disappeared, to the great relief of the crew. The DC.3 was found to be safely on the ground at Kamaran Island.