Sqn Ldr Roy Bowie

This account is taken from Roy's book 'Lost voices' and was contributed by Richard Grevatte-Ball.

Roy Bowie was Squadron Leader Operations in 1964/65 and reported directly to Wg Cdr Jennings the OC on Strike Wing at Khormaksar.

The Radfan

The emergency was officially declared in the Radfan two months before we got out there in February 1964, but I don't think we quite understood how violent the tribal reaction to our presence would be.

The Radfan is a mountainous tract of country about fifty miles north of Aden. The Radfanis are a fanatically independent bunch; and warfare between the various tribes was a way of life. The caravans that passed through the Radfan along the Dhala road to Yemen - one of the traditional routes to Mecca - were made to pay and this was a constant source of friction. New laws were brought in forbidding the levy of tolls and the Qutaibis, the main tribe of the Radfan, began to cause trouble on the Dhala road. They began shooting at the caravans and mining the road. All is happened to coincide with the civil war in Yemen. So the authorities decided to do something about it. In response to the Aden federal government request, a makeshift Aden brigade was formed, plus a squadron each of ground-support Hunters, Shackleton bombers, and Twin Pioneer transports as well as ten Belvedere helicopters. I was to act as the Brigade Air Support Officer with David Whittaker. The general task was to stop the tribal revolt and the attacks on the Dhala road.

At last light on 30 April, 45 Commando set out to capture the high ground in the Dhanaba Basin, and that same night, the Parachute Regiment was to drop from Beverleys on to the Wadi Taym. The SAS were to mark the drop zone for the Paras. Unfortunately some chap with his goats stumbled into their 'hide' and all the locals started shooting at this nine-man patrol.

Captain Edwards, who was leading the patrol, got his signaller, Warburton, to contact their boss, Major Wingate-Gray at the SAS headquarters at Thumier, where we were also based. Major Wingate-Gray asked for Hunters to assist the withdrawal of his men. They were ordered in and, as they attacked, he was on the telephone to Whittaker and me relaying messages from the SAS patrol. While we gave fire orders over the microphone to the Hunters, 8 and 43 Squadrons were going flat out all day until it got too dark to fly. Earlier the SAS had arranged for another troop to go in by helicopter, but they had been badly hit by machine-gun fire, so they pulled that troop out and changed the plan.

That night, as the SAS patrol tried to break out, first Warbur­ton, and then Edwards were killed. The remainder of the patrol had to leave their bodies behind. These bodies were mutilated and decapitated, and the heads were displayed in the Yemen. But we did recover their bodies later.

The Marines then went in at night and the Paras went in on foot. When dawn came, the Paras were still on the Wadi floor and the Marines were up on Cap Badge. The Paras took the village at the bottom of Cap Badge and cleaned the place out. Then they were heavily fired upon arid had a battle for about an hour, and two of them were killed. I called in the Hunters and they strafed the enemy and that quietened things down.

From then on the action was like the North-West Frontier of India of the 1920s and 1930s. An area would be leafleted and the locals would be told this is an area of military movement, clear out. They'd be given twelve hours' warning which meant there were very few casualties on either side. But if we got information from our agents on the ground we'd go and knock an odd house down - put a few rockets in to keep them busy, but always after we'd leafleted. The Shackletons would keep the Radfan on the move. They'd go up at night, and would sit over the top, and every time they saw a fire lit, they would drop a 25lb practice bomb at it. This meant that they couldn't cook their food and it really made life very miserable for them, which was the object of the exercise. But we weren't just going out and blasting people left, right and centre.

Of course the local political officers, who were a bit like Lawrence of Arabia, used to go round with a couple of Arab guards on the back of a camel. They were incredibly brave. They used to go out and deal with the tribes and try and keep them in order. They had a very, very big say in what was going on. They knew the score; they knew who was causing the trouble and who wasn't. The whole object of the exercise was to try and get people back to law and order.

But of course the internal security situation developed as the word came out that we wire leaving. Everybody who had been friendly with us was now trying to show how unfriendly they were. At Christmas time, 1964, we had a grenade thrown into the open-air cinema at Waterloo lines. It hit somebody on the knee, rolled under a seat, and someone shouted lift your feet, and nobody was injured, which was incredible. After that I was walk­ing back up through the camp one day, and a guy said to me, 'Ha, sir, you're a cricketer, aren't you?’ I agreed but wondered at the same time what he was up to. He said, 'Take this dummy grenade, walk back fifty yards or so, and see if you can throw it into the cinema.' I kept going back until I could no longer lob it into the cinema. He then said, 'Thanks very much, sir, that's where we are going to put the fence up.'

We had a quarter about three doors down from us where there was a teenagers' Christmas party going on. Somebody threw a grenade in and killed one of the teenagers. There was also another one thrown into the mess at Steamer Point. So it was a bad period. The IS situation worsened towards the end of the time that I was out there and there was a curfew on all the time, so you couldn't be out after midnight. You couldn't have more than twelve people in a party in your quarter.

But all in all, it was a fascinating tour; some of the places we could visit out there were tremendous.

I suppose the great joy of flying out in the Radfan was to fly the Hunter. She was a beauty, a lovely aeroplane to fly, a lovely one to look at. It was very, very strongly built and handled very nicely. You felt when you sat in it, that you were part of the aeroplane - it was wonderful and really could shift. It had problems - it wasn't the greatest turner in the world - but a joy to fly. I flew my first Hunter in 1955 and flew one on last day of service in 1984.