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The El Adem Radio Service, RAF El Adem and Tobruk.
Stories, Views and Comments
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1. John Moir Obituary
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Stories, Views or Comments that you would like to see published here.
I was an unwilling visitor to R A F El Adem around , I believe , 1962/3 ? We had flown in from the UK en route to Aden and had a refueling stop there.We were a film crew from World Wide Pictures, London, set to photograph the British Army in action against insurgents in Aden. I well remember how we all felt about being at the airbase after six long hours in a lumbering old Brittania from RAF Transport Command. we could at least get a cold beer... Heaven ...Our crew consisted of about ten people from various backgrounds but we were all from London, UK and all held honorary officer ranks ( then the equivalent of being "embedded" ) We were all very patriotic and we all felt a sense of pride that the old country had an arm that reached out as far as this desolate piece of desert ( or Empire if you like ) since many of us had not been outside the UK this was indeed an adventure for a nineteen year old from South London. After we had finished filming our soldiers confronting Arab insurgents and ,incidentally meeting that crazy Major ' Mad " Mike at Kohrmaksar we once again staged through El Adem en route to England. As we departed ,I wondered if I would ever return, since in the Film Buisness you never know..!!! Well, I personally never did , that is until i visited the old place on Google Earth..
John Stanier BSC.
I've just read your excellent piece (in the Editorial Section) about my uncle, Robert Law and would very much like a copy to show to my mother (Robert's brother's wife).
I listened to the radio clip of you broadcasting on TEARS on the home page…fascinating – and a much valued service, I’m sure. I regret that my partner and I can’t attend the reunion, as we’re already booked with our orchestra over that weekend – but thank you very much for your kind invitation.
I hardly knew Uncle Robert, sadly, as I grew up in East Africa (where my father was a judge) and Robert had retired to Cornwall. He and Aunt Norah were was always very kind to me as a child when I did meet them. In fact, he was my Godfather, I believe. Robert’s two sons are Charles and Peter, a banker and lawyer respectively. I remember that my father always spoke with awe about his brother’s remarkable wartime service, although I didn’t know much about that either until I read Robert's obituary in The Times. I understood from family members that Robert (and perhaps especially his wife, who had lost her first husband in the war (he was also in the RAF)), didn’t really like to speak much about the war.
Many thanks for your help.
E-Mail from Mike Mayers El Adem 1961-62,
Re Joe Cowe photograph in which he looks ready for guard duty. I did lots of guards and never did we dress up in best KD. Just turned up at the Guard Room in working blue or KD. In winterwrapped in a blanket to keep warm. Some guards looked like they were in the retreat from Stalingrad. Legends were built up around Orderly Officers trying to creep up on Bomb Dump Guards and coming to grief. There must be lots of tales about guards at El Adem, lets hear about them from our members.
Book "Forgotten Voices"
I have just finished reading a really fascinating book that makes you realise what it is like to take part in a war. It also will be of particular interest to men who served in the armed forces after WW11. in the near east, Egypt or Libya.
The book is called "Forgotten Voices-Desert Victory", in association with the Imperial War Museum. It is by Julian Thompson and it was published in 2011 by Edbury Press. Most of it consists of descriptions of events by men who took part in the fighting. All ranks in the British, Italian and German armed forces. I am sure that your library can find a copy.
Wireless Op. 1952-54
OBITUARY ALAN CARTER Station Navigation Officer, 1963-65
It is with great personal regret and sadness that I have to report the death of Alan Carter on 24 August 2012. He passed away peacefully at his home in Gloucestershire following a cancer related illness.
He became a member of The Friends of TEARS during its first year in 1992 and was ever present at all 10 Reunions and travelled with us back to El Adem and Tobruk on our 2nd Nostalgia Trip in 2005.
During his time at RAF El Adem he was also a member of the Desert Rescue Team. The Friends of TEARS benefited higely from his experience and wide knowledge of the area including the earlier discovery of The Lady Be Good and its subsequent recovery from the desert. He was able to give us an excellent presentation on the subject at our 8th Reunion in 2008.
He was thrilled to have been asked to be our Toastmaster at our first two Reunions and over the years had become known for his amazing ability to tell a tale or two – that in itself is a huge understatement. He would often ‘hold court’, well into the night to many eager listeners and I’m sure there are some out there who will remember those stories, and the occasional jokes, relating to his experiences.
He always held The Friends of TEARS in such high regard. He must have received many invitations to attend this and that reception or other event but would always place the TEARS Reunions at the top of the pile. “It’s very special”. He once told me.
I guess it takes someone who is really special to reduce an entire family to tears as this news did this morning. He thought a lot of us Moirs it seems – as we did you, Alan.
Part of Alan’s duty as Station Navigation Officer was to act as navigator in the Pembroke, the station aircraft at El Adem at that time. His dear friend who passed away earlier this year, Roy Langstaff, OC Flying / Ops., was the pilot.
If you believe in a life beyond, as I do, what a reunion that will be !
God Bless you Alan, thanks for the memories – they will live long with us all.
(There will be a cremation service for FAMILY ONLY on Thursday next (30/08) followed by a Memorial Service on Friday 31st. August at 2.00pm at Northleach Church in Gloucestershire (GL54 postcode area).
Except from the book 'WINGS IN THE SUN' A History of the Royal Air Force in the Mediterranean 1945-1986
Author Air Chief Marshal Sir. David Lee
The North African coastline from Egypt through Libya to Tunisia had been fought over many times by the Allied and Axis Powers when World War 11 ended in 1945. The desert was littered with wrecked tanks, vehicles, aircraft and the debris of war. Hundreds of temporary airfields and airstrips had been hastily constructed, occupied, abandoned and occupied again as the battle raged backwards and forwards along the coastline. Finally, as we know, the Axis forces were driven from the African continent in 1943 and pursued through Sicily and up the length of Italy.
Clearly the majority of the landing grounds, which were little more than areas of desert roughly levelled and rolled where necessary, were of no value when peacetime requirements came to be considered. It was, however, necessary for the RAF to retain some airfields on this long coastline, if only to relieve the pressure on the Malta airfields which had suffered immense damage during the war, and which was essential, on the only British base in the central Mediterranean, to help fulfil Britain's many post-war responsibilities in the Near and Middle East.
It was therefore decided to establish RAF stations on three captured Italian airfields spread along the coastline, all of which had been Italian Air Force stations that could be rehabilitated without excessive effort and expenditure.
El Adem in Cyrenaica had housed Italian fighter squadrons for the defence of Tobruk, a major support port. Situated some 20 miles inland from Tobruk, it was well located for supply purposes and possessed reasonable runways and technical facilities, although greatly in need of repair. Benina, also in Cyrenaica, was less well developed but, nevertheless, had sufficient potential to be built up into a useful secondary airfield. Further to the west, in Tripolitania, the best available airfield was undoubtedly Castel Benito. Situated close to the port of Tripoli, it also had been an important Italian Air Force base, well equipped with runways, good if damaged accommodation and easy access to a major port for supply purposes.
The best of the three airfields was undoubtedly El Adem which was well sited to serve the reinforcement route between the Far East and the UK if the more sophisticated airfields on Malta, notably Luqa, were overloaded. No’s4601, 4602, and 4613 Airfield Construction Flights were sent to El Adem in addition to 5577 Artisan Flight and 5718 Mechanical and Electrical Flight. Although extensively fought over during the war, the airfield was in fairly good order but much work was needed on the wiring, fuel installation, plumbing and accommodation.
As the work at El Adem and Castel Benito neared completion, a self-contained staging post was formed on each station. That at El Adem was categorised as a 'B'~ class staging post, established to handle 10 to 20 aircraft per day, while Castel Benito rated a 'C' class category, capable of handling up to 10 aircraft per day. In practice these theoretical quotas were greatly exceeded and, for example, El Adem handled more than 900 aircraft a month during the last quarter' of 1945. With a posted strength of 401 officers and airman in October 1945, this was a heavy quota of aircraft to service, refuel and despatch. Not surprisingly some discontent arose among the El Adem airmen, as elsewhere in the Command and in the Far East. Daily contact with thousands of homeward bound troops passing through the station was infectious, and a few demonstrations against the tardiness of repatriation were held; they were not regarded as mutinous and were quickly quelled, but they served as an encouragement to the authorities to speed up the demobilisation process as much as possible.
Developments at El Adem
As the years moved on, the functions of El Adem and Idris tended to polarise. Idris developed into a station largely devoted to aircraft and equipment trials, detachments from UK squadrons and others to use the range facilities, and as a destination for overseas training flights.
El Adem, on the other hand, remained basically a staging post, catering for' large numbers of transient transport and other aircraft. During 1946 the repatriation of personnel from the Far East decreased markedly and what had been a heavy commitment for the station fell sharply away. It was, however, replaced by increased numbers of scheduled flights by Transport Command aircraft which frequently used El Adem to relieve the load on the Malta airfields- Luqa in particular. BOAC also found it a valuable stopping point for a number of their services to the Middle and Far East.
For some years from 1950 the station settled down to the typical routine of a staging post with an average personnel strength of some 300. An indication of the work load can be gained from the figure of 183 aircraft serviced and turned round in March 1951. These transient aircraft contained an unusually large number of high ranking officers of all three services as well as a constant flow of diplomats and civilians. One wonders whether any other rest station handled as many VIPs as El Adem at the time, many of them needing overnight accommodation which, happily, was reasonably adequate. A notable visitor was HM The Queen on 1 May 1954, returning with RRR the Duke of Edinburgh from her Commonwealth tour.
At about this time the Air Ministry began to consider converting El Adem into a permanent station by building married quarters and other family facilities.
The station had, for some years, been an 'accompanied' posting but the only accommodation for families was in Tobruk, some 20 miles distant. Prices were high and housing was unsatisfactory: there was considerable competition for the better houses and flats with army personnel who were stationed in Tobruk in large numbers.
The plan for married quarters began to take shape in 1955 and the first task was to clear the favoured site of wartime mines and other explosives. At about this time a bombing and air firing range was constructed in the desert on similar lines to the Tarhuna range at Idris. No 5001 Squadron of the Airfield Construction Branch was called in to build the range and, once again, that often unsung branch of the service proved its great value. El Adem was then able to share armament practice camp duties for squadrons in the command and from outside.
1956was a year of tension for the station as the Suez crisis made itself felt throughout the Middle East. Significantly the existing treaty with Libya did not allow El Adem to be used in any operations against Egypt. Nevertheless Arab feelings in the vicinity of the station ran high and security guards and defences had to be strengthened. These measures could not be extended to the bombing range which, in November, had to be evacuated and was promptly looted and gutted by local Arabs. Efforts were made to wire in the whole station perimeter, but it was a huge task and failed to prevent a number of attempts at sabotage and looting. No serious damage was done, however, and the primary role of servicing transient aircraft was not interrupted.
Departure of the RAF from North Africa
A further 14 years were to elapse before the Royal Air Force finally departed from El Adem and, during that period, it was developed into a comfortable, semi-permanent station but, as so often happened in the Middle .and Far East, political considerations eventually dictated relinquishment of the facilities which had been built up at great cost over many years. However, before withdrawal El Adem had an important part to play as a major staging post as a provider of range facilities for many fighter and bomber squadrons. During 1958, the station handled an average of 4000 aircraft movements a month and so good was the range that 35 Squadron from Bomber Command dropped the first live 1000lb HE bomb on it in March of that year. This provided adequate proof of the safety of the range and thereafter there were many exercises with heavy calibre bombs. Altogether 1958 was a busy year as the RAF took over control of the Tobruk garrison from the Army on 1 April.
Tobruk being a port of considerable importance, responsibility for handling a constant flow of naval as well as merchant shipping fell to the RAF. One considerable advantage which accrued was full control of the many married quarters, flats and hiring’s in the town where a large proportion of El Adem's families lived and enjoyed a very pleasant existence with sea bathing and good recreational amenities.
A Families Club and a school were opened for the 166 families who lived there, 86 of them in married quarters and 80 in hiring’s.
Mention must be made of the use of helicopters at El Adem as they played a small but important role in the work of the station. In June 1957 the Station Flight had two Sycamores for Search and Rescue (SAR) duties, working in conjuction with the Marine Craft Unit at Tobruk. They also supported the bombing and air firing range which was in heavy use by squadrons from Malta, Cyprus and the UK. Their ability to ferry casualties rapidly to the British Military Hospital at Benghazi was invaluable, and in 1959 the two helicopters became C Flight of 103 Squadron based in Cyprus. Four years later, 103 Squadron moved to the Far East but the El Adem detachment remained behind as 1564 Flight. Eventually the Sycamores were replaced by the Whirlwind Mark 10 and then the Wessex in the mid 1960s. With little diversion from its routine duties, other than participation in exercises with other helicopters from the UK, 1564 Flight remained at El Adem until the station finally closed in 1969.
Some idea of the workload of the staging post can be gleaned from the figures of passengers handled at thistime. In addition to those who passed through with no more than a quick refuelling stop, the station accommodated 1145 night stopping passengers in June 1958, and provided 1050 packed in-flight meals. Personnel staff fluctuated, but an average figure was 62 officers, 120 warrant officers and senior NCOs, 1005 corporals and below and 305 civilians.
This pattern of work continued throughout 1960 and 1961 with more amenities such as a new airmen's c1uro: being opened until, in July 1961, the effects of the Kuwait crisis were felt on the station. No less than 5000 passengers passed through during that month in connection with operations in Kuwait, and this necessitated closing the bombing range temporarily in order to use the range personnel to help out the hard-pressed staging post airmen. As Can be imagined, the flood of aircraft of many different types resulted in unusually high number of faults to be rectified which strained the skilled resources of the station to the limit. But El Adem had been well accustomed to displaying versatility and initiative in dealing with unusual faults in a variety of aircraft, and it handled its part in the Kuwait affair with great credit. Unfortunately, as this particular crisis grauua1ly came to an end, El Adem suffered the worst aircraft accident in its history. On 10 October, a Hastings crashed immediately after take off with 40 passengers of the Royal Engineers. Sixteen soldiers were killed or died of their injuries and a further 20 were injured. The station's crash services worked very well but the accident was so severe that more passengers could not be saved.
The decade of the 1960s was a period of further severe reductions in the RAF. Defence review followed defence review, each one signalling more reductions.
It will be recalled that British forces withdrew from Aden during this period and with preparations well in hand for the departures from Bahrain and Singapore, the inevitable result was that the transport flights using El Adem fell off markedly. Its role as a major staging post decreased and severe cuts in personnel establishments followed automatically. The training role remained, however, and full use continued to be made of the range, but by a reduced number of squadrons. The station which had been built up so considerably during the 1950s now faced a steady decline over a period of some seven or eight years until political events took a hand in 1969. On 1 September a military coup d'etat took place, timed to coincide with the absence of King Idris who was undergoing medical treatment in Turkey. It was a bloodless coup resulting in a Revolutionary Command Council being established in Tripoli. Six days later Great Britain and many other countries formally recognised the new Libyan Government and this signalled an inevitable end to the tenure of El Adem and Tobruk by the British Services.
Relations between the Libyans and the RAF remained friendly and cordial but, nevertheless, there was no question of British forces being allowed to remain in the country for longer than was necessary to arrange an orderly withdrawal.
Certain regulations were laid down by Libya and these included permission for only one aircraft per day to land at El Adem, and this to be checked by local military authorities. Permanent buildings and installations had, of course, to be left in situ but all portable buildings such as Twynham huts and at least one temporary hanger were dismantled and, with all equipment and vehicles, despatched by sea through the port of Tobruk.
The date for final departure was set at 31 March 1970. No difficulty was found in adhering to this date and so, on 28 March, a farewell parade was held, the RAF flag being lowered for the last time. It was a nostalgic moment as the RAF had been at El Adem for some 24 years and converted what had been a rough and poorly developed Italian Air Force base into a comfortable and popular station for those who served there.
Thus came to an end the RAF occupation of airfields on the North African littoral, which dated from before the foundation of the RAF during the Great War, when early military aircraft undertook reconnaissance for the British Army in Egypt. Although relations between Great Britain and Libya have deteriorated seriously in recent years, the RAF can at least say that it left in good order and in an atmosphere of cordiality.
© tears.org.uk 2007