The association of the Royal Air Force with Masirah Island began in April 1933, with the arrival of a party of RAF officers who had come to survey the island with a view to using it as a site for a transit airfield, fuel dump, and seaplane anchorage.
Early in 1931 Flt Lt R L Ragg (later Air Vice Marshal) landed his 'Rangoon' flying boat near Umm Rasays and, to quote from a recent letter "...we went ashore in a rubber dinghy under cover of our machine guns while the Sheikh and his braves came down to the beach to meet us and the old men, women and children retired behind the village among the hillocks. But eventually we made friends with the aid of a few bags of rice - and before my tour at Basra was finished two hard working years later we had established a petrol dump and cleared a landing strip for 'Wapiti' aircraft".
On arrival at Umm Rasys, Flt Lt Ragg, Fg Off Sarel and Fg Off Crosbie went ashore and attempted to persuade the natives to convey petrol and oil from the petrol store to the beach as had been arranged in the agreement drawn up on 16 November 1932 with Sheikh Khamis bin Hilal. This, however, they refused to do, demanding one Maria Theresa for the transportation of every eight tins (The price agreed on with the Sheikh had been one anna for every two tins).
Petrol and oil was therefore transported by the officers and crew of the S-1433 from the petrol store to the beach, from where the boatmen caretaker employed by Salim bin Said was persuaded to convey it to S-1433.
The petrol and oil had been carefully stowed in the store-house but several tins of petrol were leaking. The conveying of 70 tins of aviation fuel and 3 drums of oil from the storehouse to the flying boat and the refuelling took 3½ hours, no assistance whatever being obtained from the natives, who became almost truculent until the Sheikh himself arrived about 1½ hours after refuelling had started.
Although the Sheikh was friendly he did not order the services of the natives. In the absence of the interpreter it was a little difficult to discuss the situation, but it was understood that the Sheikh was perplexed as to the method of payment for the labour. It was impressed upon him, however, that by noon the following day 70 tins of petrol were required on the beach with the 'houri' ready to take it off to the flying boat as soon as she had anchored.
Fg Off Crosbie walked over the landing ground and reported that in his opinion it was suitable for Walitis but that care should be exercised and the northern end should be used as far as possible owing to the bare sand-stone surface of the southern end.
By now the island was being used as a fuel store for aircraft of the Royal Air Force and of Imperial Airways flying between Aden and India. The first Royal Air Force aircraft to land on the strip were a flight of Wapitis, which were flown from Iraq and which navigated from old Admiralty charts of the coast.
It is interesting to note that the present Sheikh is the same Sheikh Khamis bin Hilal mentioned by Flt Lt Ragg.
The old airstrip is marked on present charts but nothing is left of the installation now but a single large building which bears above the door the inscription 'RAF 1936'. The area is still clear and could still be used for light aircraft.
Five miles up the coast, past Sur Masirah and just south of Umm Rasays, a few derelict buildings and a still serviceable concrete slipway betray the location of the flying boat base which grew up in the early years of the war to follow.
In 1933 Wapitis and Heyfords were based at the strip near Sur Masirah and in 1935 a move was made to prepare the flying boat anchorage further north. In 1942 a new area altogether was being prepared on the site of the present camp near Ra's Hilf and eventually the old bases were abandoned.
The new base was developed and brought into use as an advanced landing ground for the Bisley (Blenheim Mark 5) aircraft of No 244 Squadron, engaged in maritime reconnaissance in the Persian Gulf for the protection of the oil route. Also in 1942, in October, Catalina flying boats of No 413 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force began using the old anchorage at Umm Rasays for long range maritime patrols over the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman, where U-boat activity was causing some concern.
In addition to the flying units, there was No 33 RAF Staging Post which came to Masirah in 1942 as a detachment from No 3 (Middle East) Ferry Control Unit. The main task of the unit was to facilitate the passage of aircraft using the southern reinforcement route to India. The Americans also set up a similar, but smaller, unit to handle the flow of their own aircraft to India.
By now there were several RAF units on the island with various functions and so, in 1943, an RAF Station, under the control of HQ PAIFORCE, was formed to co-ordinate the administration and domestic services. A few months later control of the new station passed to HQ British Forces Aden.
On its formation on 2 April 1943, RAF Masirah consisted of the Bisley detachment of No 244 Squadron, a detachment of No 212 Squadron, replacing that of No 413 Squadron at Umm Rasays and No 33 Staging Post. There was also an RAF Airfield Construction Team, and a flight each of the RAF Regiment and the RAF Levies for station defence and security.
In December 1942 No 212 Squadron had been formed at Korangi Creek, Karachi with 9 Catalina aircraft, under the command of Wg Cdr R T Gething, AFC. The squadron commenced convoy escort duties and anti U-boat patrols in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman and maintained a detachment at Umm Rasays. Owing to poor communication with No 255 Group, Balgalore the Umm Rasays detachment was very much on its own and generally co-operated with No 205 Group with whom communications were established through the Intelligence Officer at Masirah Airfield. Rations were brought in by the Squadron's own aircraft and water and fuel was brought in from Muscat by dhow.
Sortie reports were dropped at Masirah airfield before the aircraft landed at Umm Rasays.
In July 1943 a Catalina aircraft landed in the Arabian Sea to pick up the crew of an American ship sunk by a U-boat. The aircraft was badly damaged by the heavy swell and the crew were picked up by the ship's lifeboat which was finally beached at Masirah.
Late in 1943 one of the Bislay aircraft of No 244 Squadron, with another aircraft sank a U-boat in the Gulf of 0man. This sinking was confirmed by the fact that one survivor swam 28 miles to shore, near Muscat.
Until the end of the war in 1945 there were few changes in the Station's role. The Catalinas occasionally had detachments at Dubai and Bahrein and on one occasion an aircraft was detailed to convey a representative of the Sultan with an armed bodyguard and cases of gold bullion to Gwadar on the coast of Baluchistan, which was then part of the Sultan's domain, to pay various government officers. Jiweni on the Iran border was also used for both land and sea aircraft. It had been used previously as a staging post for the Imperial Airways aircraft Operations continued and in early 1944 the whole of No 244 Squadron, now re-equipped with Wellingtons, was moved to the island. No 212 Squadron detachment had been reinforced in September 1943 by aircraft by No 321 (Netherlands) Squadron, whose Catalinas joined with No 244 Squadron's Wellingtons in convoy escort duties and anti-submarine patrols.
They also collaborated with a Marine Craft Unit established at Umm Rasats to provide an air/sea rescue organisation which saved the lives of ditched aircrew and on several occasions helped to rescue the survivors of torpedoed ships.
When the war ended the station was still structurally simple. It was known to the airmen as Petrol Tin Island as most of the buildings were made of flattened petrol drums. When EVT (Educational and Vocational Training) was introduced several of the airmen were taught bricklaying by a corporal service policeman and learned enough to take over a partly derelict building and convert it into a rather smart Station Sick Quarters.
In late 1945 there were Dakotas and a twin engined Beechcraft flown by the Station Commander at Masirah, together with a Warwick aircraft, modified by having the bomb bay removed and an Air-Sea Rescue Dinghy inserted. This was used with the two high speed launches based at Umm Rasays. Station strength was then about 100, commanded by a Squadron Leader.
No 244 Squadron was disbanded and the detached Catalinas were withdrawn, to be replaced by a detachment of Warwicks of No 234 Squadron for air/sea rescue duties. The American staging post was abandoned and then taken over by the Royal Air Force. No 33 RAF Staging Post continued to operate until March 1946 and was heavily involved with the large numbers of aircraft and troops returning from the Far East theatre.
The main functions of RAF Masirah during the immediate post-war period was to provide staging and radio beacon facilities for aircraft operating in the Persian Gulf area and others using the far eastern route through Muharraq. From 1946 to 1947 the D/F station on the island was operated by personnel of BOAC. The airfield continued in use, mainly by aircraft of the Middle Eastern airlines, with Dakotas of Indian Overseas Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines arriving two or three times a month.
Little of interest occurred at Masirah during the ten years from 1947 to 1956. For much of this period the SS VELH0 arrived as the supply ship and a typical entry in the diary reads "at 0830 on Sunday 6 April 1952 the six month supply ship the SS VELHO, anchored 300 yds off the jetty. Unloading commenced half an hour later and was completed by midday on the 8th. Facilities available for the operation were, the Unit Air Sea Rescue Launch and a large motor boat brought up by the VELHO plus a dozen locally hired sailing dhows, one Coles crane, the diesel engine train, five 3-ton trucks, and abundant supply of labour comprising RAF airmen, Aden Protectorate Levies and native technicians and coolies. The principal items offloaded were; the No 2 Squadron Aden protectorate levies, 330 sheep and goats, six months' supply of hay, six months' dry rations for approximately 180 men and 40 tons of AMDGW stores. Backloading began at 1400 hours and by 1700 hours was completed. This comprised 203 empty POL drums and the remainder of the dry rations brought by the VELH0 on its previous visit. At 0600 on the 10th the ship left for Salalah".
Brigands, Valettas, Yorks and Lancasters made brief transit stops and in March 1953 there were 72 aircraft movements during the month, the breakdown being RAF Khormaksar Comm Sqn 20, other RAF 32, civil 20. In 1951 and 1952 a series of photographic sorties were made by a U.S. Navy Liberator.
The Royal Air Force's role on Masirah began to build up again when, on 10th February 1956 a flight of Venom F 134's of No 8 Squadron was received, the first jet aircraft to stage through the base.
During the period April 1959 Shackletons of No 37 Squadron operated through Masirah, dropping 1000lb bombs in the Jebel Akhdar area where the Imam's rebellion against the Sultan was centred.
The heavy rain which falls on Masirah from time to time caused the runway to become unserviceable in December 1957, in January 1958, in April 1960 and in April 1961.
In June 1960, an RAF Canberra on a ferry flight with an Australian crew made a successful emergency landing at Masirah. At this time there occurred the first ever strike by the islanders for a pay increase, although altercations over payment had taken place as far back as 1933.
On 10 October 1960 with a station strength of 2 officers, 7 SNCOs and 51 airmen, evidence that RAF Masirah was to grow in size came when the station became self-accounting. 1961 had seen the arrival of NAAFI on the station and one month later very heavy rain cut off all electric power and the runway was unusable for four days. Radio communications were cut for eight hours and there was six inches of water in the Airmen's kitchen. In January 1961 four go-Karts arrived on the island and active competition began. In July five Javelins in transit to Singapore passed through.
From 1942 up to 1961 the airfield possessed a single 6000ft sand runway which was orientated close to the prevailing winds on 07/25. However, the heavy rains had, on occasions, flooded this runway and by the end of 1961 a runway 7000ft long was completed on heading 01/19. This runway had four concrete hardstandings and there were concrete turning areas at each end. This runway had its limitations and in 1962 a new 9000ft asphalt runway was built on heading 35/17. This is the main runway in use today and the old sand runway is a secondary runway. On 20 December 1962 the AOC in his Canberra was the first person to take off using the whole of the new runway length. The 01/19 runway has disappeared although the old hardstandings and the broken-up slabs of the runway ends can still be seen near BERS and the 25 yard range.
In 1962 RAF Masirah received and turned round a Comet 4C the first largest jet aircraft to use the facilities. By this time the station strength was 6 officers, 18 SNCOs and 94 airmen. In June of that year the first of the new type of Argosy transports commenced the route trials for the Middle East for this type of aircraft and staged through Masirah. In September seven Hunter aircraft of No 8 Squadron carried out the first jet fighter night landings at Masirah.
In January 1953 the RT Hon Hugh Fraser, Secretary of State for Air, had presented the newly approved station badge at a short parade ceremony. The badge bearing the emblem of a Loggerhead Turtle and the motto in Arabic, "The reliance is on oneself" sums up very well the unique quality of the station.
The station was involved in regular operational exercises between 1963 and 1965. In January 1965 the first personnel of No 198 Signals Unit were attached to RAF Masirah and in March of the same year the new Airmen's Club was opened. During the following month a shooting incident occurred when rifle shots were fired at a police landrover, hitting the windscreen and narrowly missing the driver. It was thought to have come from a party of Pakistanis in a motorised fishing fleet who had been surprised by the arrival of the vehicle. The month of September saw the start of preparations for mounting Operation ZENON - an exercise concerned with the Evacuation of British Nationals from Pakistan because of the state of war between that country and India. Two LST's and HMS Jaguar plus 5 Argosy aircraft arrived. After much preparation involving many hours of overtime the operation was called off.
In December 1963 the tanker "British Birch" had discharged fuel via the new submarine pipeline to the Bulk Fuel Installation. This ship was followed by the "Clyde Prospector".
In 1964, as a result of a £3 million scheme, a complete new camp was built at Masirah. Present -day facilities resulting from this include good airmen's accommodation and messes, a new NAAFI shop, the Astra Cinema, the salt water swimming pool, the jetty and the hardstanding known as South Pan. North Pan was built much later, in July 1970.
Some interesting domestic changes took place at this time and we are indebted to Adan Mahammed Abdi, the LOE General Office clerk who came to Masirah in 1957 from Aden, having originally grown up in the old Italian Somaililand, for much of this information.
Up to 1964 the Americans had occupied the seaplane base at Umm Rasays, but their HQ was in the building now occupied by the trader Khimji Ramdas. These buildings were shared with the B0AC staff. The Americans had their own water distillation plant adjacent to the British plant which was housed in the building known as the Giraffe House.
Before the distillation plants were built, fresh water was brought by tanker from Basra and stored in a large open tank behind the present PSD site and brought to the camp area by bowser. Water was also taken to the seaplane base by tanker or barge.
The 2ft guage railway had been built in 1943 as a joint British/American venture under the direction of a British engineer, primarily to carry stores and especially vast quantities of fuel in 33 gallon drums to the camp area. At the time of its building it was the only railway operating in the Arabian Peninsula, the old Mecca to Damascus railway never having recovered from the depredations of T E Lawrence and his raiders in the First World war.
The drums of fuel were dumped on the beach anywhere between the Wali camp and BERS and for this reason the railway extended out to the site which in 1965 became the Diplomatic Wireless Station, later the British Eastern Relay Station.
The siting of many of the station services was changed and what is now the NAAFI Bulk Store was the Sergeants' Mess, cinema and NAAFI shop. The Crazy Horse club was the Airmen's Mess, and Supply Flight was the Ration Supply Depot. The Travaux Club, now the MMG canteen was the Officers' Mess and the Regiment Flight was SHQ, Flying Control and the Met Office.
Sick quarters was in the building now called Block 49, used as accommodation by some of the Met Office staff, but perhaps the oddest history belongs to the Tailor's shop. This was the HQ of the RAF Levies recruited in Aden and was also the gaol.
From this time the development of the camp was gradual and steady and as the importance of Masirah grew, partly as a staging post and partly as a link with CENTO, and as Masirah moved geographically closer to Cyprus, and UK as jet aircraft took over, so the tasks became more orthodox and more involved with those of the RAF in the Gulf and Aden, in the Mediterranean and in UK.
In March 1955 there were 619 air movements, the bulk of these being produced on a two week detachment by Hunters of No 8 Squadron from Khormaksar. In addition Hunters of No 208 Squadron visited as well as Pembrokes, Argosies, Canberras, Dakotas, Beverleys and Britannias. At this time station strength was 7 Officers, 20 SNCOs and 122 airmen. In the August 623 passengers were handled with 265,000lb freight.
In May 1966 considerable repair work was carried out on the jetty and on the distillation plant where corrosion of some of the copper tubing had resulted from excessive acidity in a solution used in the process.
In June a Vulcan B2 arrived, the first visit by a V bomber for a long time.
In July a serious attempt was made to establish Expedition Training and the formation of a Desert Rescue Team.
In August 1966 Operation ALOE, the withdrawal of British forces from Zambia took place. Between 23 Aug and 5 Sep the ATC tower was open for 279 hours including nine full 24 hour periods without a break, 128 aircraft movements were recorded, 1329 passengers and crew were handled, 80,000lb of freight and mail were handled and PSD issued 103,425 gallons of aviation fuel.
In November there was a grave shortage of fresh water, which was only provided for two hours each day. Showers and baths were converted to salt water.
In the same month Victor tankers and Lightning Mk 3's of No 5 Squadron arrived on Exercise HORWICH.
In March 1967 equipment began arriving for the building of the Diplomatic Wireless Station at the north tip of the island. This was occasioned by the project to move the transmitter from Perim in the Red Sea. In the same month the new Education Centre was reappointed after refurbishing by MPBW.
In June Operation HYDRAULIC took place with 13 Lightnings F6 of No 74 (Tiger) Squadron together with Victor tankers, going through to Tengah. Temporary Rotary Hydraulic Arrester Gear was installed and used successfully.
In September 1967 the Radio Sonde project came into operation and the first ascent was monitored.
In November the final evacuation from Aden took place, but Masirah was only slightly involved.
In December Carrier Task Force 318 arrived and 600 Royal Marine Commandos set up Camp and night flying by Buccaneers, Sea Vixens, Gannets and Wessex aircraft took place.
In July 1968 a Defence White Paper announced that Masirah would be retained after the withdrawal of British forces from the Gulf and Far East in 1971.
On 1 November 1968 RAF Salalah ceased to be an independent command and became RAF Detachment Salalah. The Station Commander at Masirah was promoted to acting Wing Commander.
In March 1968 the first ISLAND RANGER Vulcans from Akrotiri arrived, together with the first Lightning detachment. Six Lightnings of No 23 Squadron remained for six days, carrying out routine flying.
At this time Mr Edward Heath MP, then leader of HM Opposition, paid a flying visit to the station en route from Sharjah to Salalah. In the half hour he was on the ground he visited the jetty, PSD and Boat Club.
In January 1970 1.61 inches of rain fell on the 12th and 17th, damaging the airfield lighting and putting the sand runway out of action for a month.
In March 1970 the runway 07/25 was extended to 7300ft and again there was heavy rain. 1.1 inches fell during one night and flooded the sand runway again.
At this time the station strength was 12 officers, 56 SNCOs and 185 airmen.
In June there was heavy rain. An inch of rain fell overnight again flooding the sand runway. In July 0.75 inches of rain fell in one day. In August the NDE aerial was blown down in a thunderstorm when two inches of rain fell.
In October, Water Sports Club members completed a sail round the island in two 0spreys accompanied by a safety boat. The trip took two days and was supported by a land party and a three tonner. Distance cover was 120 miles.
On 19 December 1970 a new Wali Sheikh Ahmen bin Hamoud was installed. He remained until March 1974.
In January 1971 because of the failure of a charter aircraft HM the Sultan of Oman and his retinue were carried from Masirah to Salalah in an Argosy aircraft sharing the hold with the cargo.
In March it was announced that Masirah was to come under the command of HQ NEAF. It had been assumed that when HQAF Gulf was disbanded, HQ ASC would assume the responsibility.
In July 1971 a donkey fence around the airfield was completed at a cost of £20,000. Meanwhile the main runway was being resurfaced. During the month a PIA Boeing 707 landed, followed later by a DC 6 of Trans Mediterranean Airlines. These were maiden visits! In this month the first scheduled Hercules flight from Lyneham arrived also.
In August the Bulk Fuel Storage was increased, in some cases by jacking up the tanks and welding an extension to the bottom.
By 0ctober runway resurfacing was completed, the first Nimrod arrived and No 46 Squadron Andover detachment was flying regular schedules to Salalah, Muscat and Dubai.
By November Masirah had become a major staging post and a new Operations Centre was functioning. The aircraft carrier HMS EAGLE and the Commando Carrier HMS ALBION were operating off the island and there were 328 aircraft turnarounds at Masirah with 22 aircraft types handled over the period.
The Masirah State Railway had become unusable by this time and it was nearly 18 months before it was put back into use.
There was the heaviest rainfall since 1956 when 4 inches fell on 20 December.
On 21 December 0peration HAMISH arranged for the airlifting of over 900 British Nationals from West Pakistan because of the increasing friction between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir Issue. Eight Hercules of No 30 Squadron detached to Masirah carried out the operation.
In March 1972 there was an upgrading of Masirah with the arrival of a new Station Commander, Group Captain C P Donovan. In the same month a Hercules and an Andover carrying the Station Desert Rescue Team was committed at short notice to search for a Sterling Airways Caravelle aircraft which had crashed near Dubai. All 112 persons had been killed in the accident while the aircraft had been on the approach.
In May 1972 100 new posts were established on the unit. In May also the BBC Forces Chance Quiz Team visited the station and were beaten by a team led by the Station Commander.
In July full fresh water facilities became available again with a significant fall in the incidence of skin disease..
In October, Exercises PEDIGREE, PALE JADE and GHOST TRAIL were carried out with Vulcans, Victors and Phantoms from Coningsby putting great strain on the station, already supporting 30 personnel of No 51 Squadron RAF Regiment who were carrying out trials on the Clelland Range, a name derived from Chf Tech Clelland of the Station Armoury who did most of the work siting the range.
In January 1973 a very large number of surplus 1000lb bombs were disposed of and underwater blasting for the extension of the submarine fuel pipeline were began by Mothercat, the contractors for DOE.
The Phase 3 Masirah Development got under way to provide, amongst other things, a 91 single-room airman's block with ablutions, a single officers' block and 4 suites and 5 single rooms, an air conditioned block for aircrew with 10 single rooms, SNCO accommodation with 14 single room facility, an extension to the SQH and Part 1 Works Project Team temporary Portakabin accommodation.
In July one inch of rain fell over a period of 2 days.
During the year the DWS had changed its name to British Eastern Relay Station and was beaming BBC programmes at 1½ megawatts to the Far East and East Africa and in June the Mission to Military Garrisons canteen and shop was opened by Dorothy Cook and Grace McShane in premises which had previously been the Travaux Club and before that the Officers' Mess.
The catering remained at an extraordinary high standard and a series of hard-working and able catering officers ensured that morale remained at a level which had become exemplary throughout the service, almost as a tradition.
Bulk meat and dry goods were coming in on the supply Vessels BACCHUS and HEBE during the winter shipping seasons and an almost daily supply run by the Hercules aircraft of No 70 Squadron brought in fruit and vegetables from Cyprus. Masirah's home baked bread and the Barracuda steaks and cray fish were legendary.
Wing Commander Bill Lawrence, Command Catering Officer for NEAF in 1973 tells us something of Masirah's supply problems. "In the mid-1940s, according to Air Vice Marshal Brian Young, until recently CG RAF Regiment and CO in 1944, the food had been good but monotonous" and that "someone sent a box of cabbages from UK in a transmitting aircraft, when one was available".
In these days the Dhofar and the plain at Salalah were very fertile and fresh local vegetables were shipped to British troops in Mesopotamia and some got to Masirah.
In 1958 RAF Masirah was one of the "Route Stations" supplied with food from the RAF Supplies Depot, Aden. Dry rations, and live goats for the Moslems came by sea in LSLs with considerable losses through pilferage and death among the goats. Fresh and frozen rations came by air, in Beverly aircraft, if space was available. Bearing in mind that the fresh vegetables had originally travelled by air from Eritrea to Aden, were sorted, then flown in Beverleys from Aden, via RAF Riyan and RAF Salalah, it will be acknowledged that their quality was at best indifferent despite ingenious methods of packing. In 1967, with the imminent withdrawal from Aden, the food sources changed to Sharjah, though the supply systems and quality of goods changed little as all the fresh fruit and vegetables had to be imported from Lebanon into Sharjah initially.
In July 1971 drastic changes occurred. The supply depot at Sharjah closed down and Masirah increased in size to cope with an expanding station and a supply commitment to Salalah. The Dickensian bakery at Masirah increased production from 50 to 400 loaves a day in a few weeks. By far the greatest impact on the 'customer' was the regular twice-weekly supply of fresh fruit and vegetables direct from Cyprus. The new system had the enormous advantage of direct flights from the producing country, packed in custom-built boxes and with first priority payload availability on aircraft, none of the previous systems had enjoyed any of these advantages. Food supply at Masirah further expanded with the production of ice cream and mechanically reconstituted milk.
RAF Masirah Commanding Officers
|5 June 1944
||Wing Commander B P Young OBE
|18 July 1945
||Flight Lieutenant D Usher
|26 August 1945
||Squadron Leader H C Bownas
|8 December 1945
||Squadron Leader J Cartwright
|30 April 1946
||Flight Lieutenant F Clark
|17 August 1946
||Flying Officer Nielson
|23 November 1946
||Flying Officer J K Marsh
|25 July 1947
||Flying Officer A E Burton
|12 September 1947
||Flying Officer K J Wallace
|5 May 1948
||Flight Lieutenant J L Bulmer
|23 July 1948
||Flying Officer D R Hinton
|13 April 1949
||Squadron Leader W H Jones
|5 November 1949
||Flight Lieutenant P H Drabble
|26 January 1950
||Flight Lieutenant R T Johns DFC
|22 June 1950
||Flight Lieutenant R W Murphy
|15 July 1950
||Flight Lieutenant J V E P Carter
|10 February 1951
||Flight Lieutenant J L Goldby DFC
|8 September 1951
||Flight Lieutenant C C MacGillivray
|10 February 1952
||Flight Lieutenant A L Matthew
|1 August 1952
||Flight Lieutenant O G Williams
|22 January 1953
||Flying Officer D Graham
|7 March 1953
||Flight Lieutenant E J Forbes
|21 September 1953
||Flight Lieutenant T H James
|23 February 1954
||Flying Officer F Stokes
|29 August 1954
||Flying Officer T Bate
|12 April 1955
||Flying Officer A F W Keeley
|21 0ctober 1955
||Flying Officer F E W Hambly
|14 Aprl 1956
||Flying Officer W R Price
|11 December 1956
||Flying Officer J A Lamb
|9 May 1957
||Flight Lieutenant J D Payling
|12 October 1957
||Flight Lieutenant T N Paddon
|22 December 1957
||Flight Lieutenant E I Owen
|9 June 1958
||Flight Lieutenant R C A Kerry DFM
|3 January 1959
||Flight Lieutenant P J Hudson
|29 June 1959
||Flight Lieutenant M C Nush
|18 June 1960
||Squadron Leader A G L Higgins
|3 June 1961
||Squadron Leader J McLeod
|11 July 1962
||Squadron Leader R C Parker
|4 June 1963
||Squadron Leader R L T Polgreen
|15 December 1964
||Squadron Leader J Sweet
|26 March 1965
||Wing Commander K W McKenzie DFC AFC
|4 May 1965
||Squadron Leader H Armitage
|3 May 1966
||Squadron Leader D Bish
|15 March 1967
||Squadron Leader R J Spiers
|24 March 1968
||Squadron Leader R F Grattan
|10 April 1969
||Wing Commander G H Cunningham
|10 May 1970
||Wing Commander W K Sewell MBE
|14 June 1971
||Wing Commander E M Higson
|18 March 1972
||Group Captain C P Donovan
|8 December 1972
||Group Captain L C Swalwell
|18 August 1973
||Group Captain F D G Clark OBE BA
|20 July 1974
||Group Captain R K Hepburn
|15 0ctober 1975
||Group Captain J Byard
As of 2002, it appeared that the "Tent City" located at Masirah, Oman, and housing US military personel had been named Camp Justice.
The island of Masirah is the location of a former RAF military airfield now belonging to the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) which has played a vital part in numerous middle-eastern conflicts since it was established.
Masirah is an island approximately 40 miles long by 10 miles wide at its maximum point. On plan it is shaped like an hourglass, being five miles wide at its narrowest point. It lies approximately 15 miles off the Oman coast, to which it belongs politically. It is about 225 miles due south of Muscat and 400 miles southeast of Salalah.
In the 1930s Masirah became one of a number of unmanned staging posts between the RAF bases in Iraq and Aden. Masirah used to be considered one of the less desirable RAF overseas postings: hot, humid, dusty, nowhere to go and little to do when you had time off. The British withdrawal from Aden, the Arabian Gulf and the Far East left Masirah stranded as the very last RAF base east of Suez. In the 1960s and 70s there was only one runway. That runway was a mere 7,500 feet long which was just about long enough for VC-10 transport aircraft and anything smaller but barely long enough for the Mark 1 Victor tankers that I flew in the 1970s. The RAF had a base on the island until March of 1977 when it was closed down. There were facilities for a sea plane base in a bay south of the present base. At one time it was also used as a "staging post" by the old Imperial Airways (forerunner of BA of today) and was one of their stops between England and the Far East.
It is all different now. After the Iranian and other regional crises in the latter days of the Carter Administration, the US spent a lot of money on airfields in friendly countries in the mid-east. That build up proved essential to Desert Shield (the buildup to the war with Iraq). The apron at Masirah was significantly improved over 1979. Masirah is a thriving place with two full-length modern runways at right angles to each other, acres of concrete, modern housing and roads, and satellite television.
While its people may be embracing the modern world, Masirah has not forgotten that Alexander the Great's admiral, Nearchos named it in his log Serepsis. Between 321 and 324 AD, the fleet of Alexander the Great sailed all over the Gulf to locate the best ports for trading.
In the north of the island, near the military base built by the RAF, a Celtic cross was put up in memory of the shipwreck of Baron Inverdale and his crew in 1904. The island remained uninhabited until the military base was built needing a labour force, and the village of Hilf was born.
The RAF first became interested in Masirah in 1929 when they established an un-manned staging post on the island. Over the next ten years a more permanent, but still very modest, presence was established before a larger airfield was developed during the Second World War for anti-submarine operations and as an important staging post to the Far East.
Oman, perhaps the strongest supporter of the US presence in the Gulf, signed an access agreement with the United States in 1981, an unpopular time to do so. It hosts three Air Force pre-positioning sites with support equipment for 26,000 personnel as well as required equipment and fuel to maintain three air bases.
Oman's perceptions of the strategic problems in the gulf diverge somewhat from those of the other Arab gulf states. Geographically, it faces outward to the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, and only a few kilometers of its territory--the western coast of the Musandam Peninsula--border the Persian Gulf. Nevertheless, sharing the guardianship of the Strait of Hormuz with Iran, Oman's position makes it of key importance to the security of the entire gulf. In its willingness to enter into strategic cooperation with the United States and Britain, Oman has always stood somewhat apart from the other gulf states.
In 1975 Oman offered use of Masirah island in the Gulf of Oman to the US.
In 1980 Muscat and Washington concluded a ten-year "facilities access" agreement granting the United States limited access to the air bases on Masirah and at Thamarit and As Sib and to the naval bases at Muscat, Salalah, and Al Khasab. The base was subsequently expanded and modernised to accommodate a new Omani Jaguar fighter squadron.
Masirah was the staging base for the disastrous American attempt to rescue their hostages from the Tehran embassy. The countdown to Desert One began in spring 1979 when a popular uprising in Iran forced longtime Iranian ruler, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, into exile. After months of internal turmoil, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni, a Shiite Muslim cleric, took power in the country. On Nov. 4, 1979, just a few weeks after President Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to enter the United States for medical treatment, thousands of Iranian students stormed the American Embassy in Tehran, taking 66 hostages and demanding the return of the Shah to stand trial in Iran. American diplomatic efforts to release the hostages were thwarted by Khomeni supporters. At the same time, Pentagon planners began examining rescue options. MC-130s would fly Army Rangers and combat controllers into Manzariyeh. The Rangers would take the field and hold it for the evacuation. Meanwhile, AC-130H Spectre gunships would be over the embassy and the airfield to “fix” any problems encountered. Masirah was a couple of tents and a blacktop strip. It was the final staging area — the last stop before launching.
Since 1981 there has been an ongoing program to harden and upgrade Oman's key airfields, including the construction of hardened aircraft shelters (HAS), the lengthening and strengthening of runways, and development of extensive support facilities, ordnance depots and fuel dumps. The northern bases -- Seeb, Masirah and Khasab -- have been the primary focus of these projects. Seeb is the main transport and logistic base, collocated with the international airport, while Masirah supports air defence and strike/interdiction. Both host airborne surveillance over land and ocean approaches.
During the late 1970s and 1980s, Military Airlift Command C-5s and C-141s brought cargo and people to Diego Garcia, mostly via Clark Air Base in the Philippines, but some via the Atlantic/Mediterrainian route (through Egypt to Nairobi or Mombassa, or via Jordan, Saudi and Bahrain on contract DC-8s). Then it was resequenced and flown to Masirah Island, off the East Coast of the Sultanate of Oman, where a USN supply ship crew would laboriously offload the aircraft, break down the pallets by hand, sling them under a helo and fly them out to the ship. Since there were no 463L pallets stockpiled at Masirah, the "retrograde" cargo had to be built up, again by hand, on the same pallets the inbound cargo came in on. In the early '80s the process took about 6 hours on the apron before the upload was complete. There was often a a U.S. Navy C-2 COD (for Carrier Onboard Delivery) waiting at Masirah for the people we brought in, if they were important enough for the carrier on station to need immediately. Later on, in '87-'88 the Navy used S-3s for COD, and flew direct from DG to the battle group, and so Masirah became a lonely, cargo only stop.
In January 1984, the VP-9 "Golden Eagles" deployed to Diego Garcia and maintained a detachment in Kadena, Japan. It broke new ground on deployment by becoming the first squadron to conduct operations out of Berbera, Somalia, and Masirah, Oman. Navy Patrol Squadrons operate P-3 Orion aircraft from permanent detachment sites in Manama, Bahrain; Masirah, Oman; Kadena, Okinawa and Diego Garcia.
The US-Oman basing agreement was renewed for a further ten-year period in December 1990. Although some Arab governments initially expressed their disapproval for granting the United States basing privileges, the agreement permitted use of these bases only on advance notice and for specified purposes. During the Iran-Iraq War, the United States flew maritime patrols from Omani airfields and based tanker aircraft to refuel United States carrier aircraft. The United States Army Corps of Engineers carried out considerable construction at the Masirah and As Sib air bases, making it possible to pre-position supplies, vehicles, and ammunition. Hardened aircraft shelters were built at As Sib and Thamarit for use of the ROAF.
In 1990-91 the Americans again used the base during the eviction of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Oman declared its support for the multinational coalition ranged against Iraq. The facilities on Masirah became an important staging area for the movement of coalition forces to the area of conflict. At the height of the Gulf War, more than 3,000 U.S. troops were stationed at Omani air bases on Masirah Island, Thumrait, and Seeb International Airport near Muscat. Since then the U.S. military presence was mainly limited to two aircraft units -- a C-130 transport squadron at Seeb North Air Base and a P-3 maritime patrol detachment at Masirah Air Base.
The UK exercise ‘Argonaut 2001’ deployment from the UK to Oman for exercise Saif Sareea II (Swift Sword 2) included 6 Tornado F.3 and 7 Harrier GR.7 at Masirah.
The project to repair the main runway and taxiway for use by the Air Force Air Combat Command at Masirah Island MB is unique in that Air Force Red Horse Squadrons came to the Corps of Engineers, Transatlantic Programs Center (TAC) for help with the design. Normally Red Horse units do their own engineering work but the scope of the project was beyond their in-house capabilities. TAC has prior experience working in Oman. A program totaling approximately $300 million was completed during the 1980s, providing upgraded and new construction at four Oman airfields, including Masirah Island. The facilities are available for use by U.S. Forces with the permission of the Sultan of Oman. The project to repair the runway and taxiway included developing a set of plans and material supply specifications. In addition to the pavement repairs, significant interior drainage problems needed to be corrected. This project took partnering amongst the Corps to get the job done. The workload in TAC's pavement design department was too great at the time to perform the work so TAC partnered with the Omaha District. TAC performed the electrical and project management, Omaha District performed the civil and geotechnical design, the Transportation Systems Center and ERDC provided technical support and oversight. During the design process Red Horse members helped guide the designers in the quality and detail of the design products needed. In early 2001 Congress approved funding authorization for Red Horse construction effort. The Red Horse stockpiled materials in April/May 2001 to avoid the monsoon season, which makes for difficult barge delivery due to the high winds. Construction was slated to start at the beginning of FY02. The the 823rd RED HORSE Squadron was originally set to deploy to Masirah Island in October 2001 to head up a runway repair project it had spent nearly nine months planning. After Sept. 11, the the 823rd RED HORSE Squadron moved instead to al-Udeid, in charge of the ramp effort because he had experience with airfield construction and design. The first task was to divert ships carrying 148 pieces of equipment headed for Masirah Island to Qatar.
Fifty-two hours after they received a phone call with a deployment notificiation Sept. 25, the 65 members of the 27th Civil Engineer Squadron and 27th Services Squadron landed at a location in Southwest Asia. Photographs suggest but do not demonstrate that this location is Masirah, and the association with the 319th Air Expeditionary Group would suggest that this location is Masirah, since this unit is deployed to "Base X" in Oman. There is some confusion as to the deployment location of the 319th Air Expeditionary Group [with some suggestions that it is at al-Udeid in Qatar], but several Air Force publications include references to both al-Udeid and "Base X" that make it clear that these are two different locations.
The mission was clear, but far from simple: take the barren land and create a base capable of supporting aerial refueling operations. The KC-135s that would do the refueling work had been at the new base for three days when the Cannon airmen hit the ground. They had to play catch-up and build a base for people who had already arrived as well as the thousands who were on their way. At one point, the 319th Air Expeditionary Group's support squadron included more than 300 people, made up of engineers, communication technicians, personnel specialists and services specialists, all responsible for supporting more than 1,000 people. The land looked like 50 acres of empty desert terrain common in parts of New Mexico. The only differences were the 118-degree heat and 80-percent humidity. Working around the clock, the group put up 165 tents, 35 hardened facilities, and a dining hall that sat 400 people and served 4,000 meals a day. They built a 5.2-megawatt power plant, a water storage farm that provided more than 160,000 gallons of water and a fuel farm holding more than 1 million gallons. What was once barren land soon became a fully fledged operational base with services comparable to bases in the United States. It was accomplished in less than 30 days. It was a big job for a big mission. The deployed group made it possible to provide aerial refueling to fighters and bombers that flew into Afghanistan. The base had flown more than 1,100 refueling missions by 11 February 2002.
In March 2002 Vice President Cheney toured the air base on Oman's Masirah Island. Neither the United States nor Oman acknowledges US use of the base, but it is an open secret in the region that it has been used for bombing runs to Afghanistan.
In March 2002 the Omani Defence Ministry invited international contractors to bid for the contract to build a new military air base on Masirah island for the Royal Omani Air Force. The project, which is valued at about $70 million, entails the construction of runway facilities with the capacity to support fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Associated works will include the design, supply and installation of airfield lighting, air traffic control and hanger facilities. The UK's Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick has drawn up the masterplan.
On 07 July 2002 Marines from Task Force India boarded an Air National Guard C-130 transport aircraft at Masirah for their final leg into Afghanistan. The Marines provided security for the American Embassy, its personnel and mission in Kabul.
War Reserve Materiel (WRM)
USAF Prepositioned War Reserve Materiel (WRM) provides support to bare base systems, medical, munitions, fuels mobility support equipment, vehicles, rations, aerospace ground equipment, air base operability equipment, and associated spares and other consumables at designated locations. Responsible for asset receipt, accountability, serviceability, storage, security, periodic inspection and test, maintenance, repair, outload, and reconstitution of prepositioned WRM. Current WRM operating locations include Seeb, Thumrait and Masirah in Oman; Al Udeid in Qatar; and Manama in Bahrain.
Services under the War Reserve Materiel (WRM) contract are performed by DynCorp Technical Services at Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) bases at Masirah, Thumrait, and Seeb; Al Udeid, Qatar; Manama, Bahrain; and Shaw AFB, SC. DynCorp provides support to bare base systems, medical, munitions, fuels mobility support equipment, vehicles, rations, aerospace ground equipment, air base operability equipment, and associated spares and other consumables at designated locations. Responsible for asset receipt, accountability, serviceability, storage, security, periodic inspection and test, maintenance, repair, outload, and reconstitution of prepositioned WRM. This is a one year contract with an option to renew the contract. Total length of contract is seven years.
Services include maintaining war reserve materiel (WRM) stored in the Sultanate of Oman, State of Bahrain, and State of Qatar. In Oman, contract performance is on Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) government installations, and all access to the installations is controlled by the RAFO Security. In Bahrain, performance is in an area controlled by US Navy and Bahrain Port Authority. In Qatar, the Host Nation controls access to the work site.
War reserve materiel includes medical and munitions, warehousing of rations, and various other supplies. The contractor shall be responsible for performing all or any specifically designated portions of the functions accomplished under this contract during any wartime operations. Wartime operations are those actions, including contingency planning, which would be required to support current or any future United States Air Force wartime requirement. Emergency situations (i.e., accident and rescue operations, civil disturbances, natural disasters and military peacetime contingency operations and exercises) may necessitate the Contractor provide increased or reduced support as indicated below when required by Contracting Officer. Military contingency operations may necessitate military personnel assistance be provided to the Contractor. Should this occur, the Contractor will be relieved of responsibilities and accountability for the phase of the contract taken over by the military. Optional WRM sites may be exercised at any time during the performance of this contract. In the event the Government adds a new site to the contract, both parties to this contract hereby agree to negotiate in good faith the applicable price necessary to account for the change.
Masirah falls under the administration of the Sharqiya region. This is Oman's largest island and Alexander the Great made it his base, referring to it as 'Serepsis'. Nowadays, dates, olives, pomegranates and mangos are grown and the islanders' main occupations are weaving and making fishing nets. Masirah is accessed by a daily ferry service or by using Oman Air's domestic flight.
Masirah is only 65 km long and 15 km wide. Not many people live on Masirah; most of those are in the town of Ras Hilf where the ferry docks. Fishing is the principal economic activity on Masirah. Large fishing dhows moored off the southern beaches take in large catches which are shipped on to the mainland in large refrigerated chests and driven to the more densely populated north of Oman.
Stony wadis (wadi Ra'siyah) lead along secret trails to the center of the island or to the heart of the mountains found on the southern side (Jebel Ash Shabhah).
Many would question the reason for going to Masirah Island as there is already so much to see in Oman's varied and spectacular landscapes and historical sites. However, those who have travelled across the Wahiba to the sea must carry on further and take the ferry boat to reach this stretched out island, which looks like a 60 km long and 18 km wide oyster shell. In fact amongst its many wonders, it has many rare seashells, like the acteon eloiseae, and a coral reef full of promise. You can also see the largest concentration of nesting loggerhead turtles in the world.
The Gulf of Masirah has the most beautiful coral reefs in Oman. These reefs and those at Barr AI Hickman on the continental coast just opposite, which are formed by Brain coral, make up Oman's most spectacular reef barrier.
Masirah Island is host to all four of Oman's nesting species of turtle? One of the few sites where olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) are found in the region, Masirah Island also boasts the world's largest nesting population of loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta). Loggerhead turtle populations are widespread, although some are known to have declined and others are suspected to have declined. The largest known nesting populations are those on Masirah Island (Oman) and in Florida (USA). A minimum of 30,000 females nest annually on Masirah. Between 6,000 and 15,000 females are estimated to lay in USA, the great majority of these in Florida.
Apart from the presence of a military base on the island, Masirah also has 8000 inhabitants who mainly live from fishing. Modern development is striding through Masirah Island with housing units, a hospital, a water desalination plant.
Thanks to a new hotel, tourists can now spend a weekend or a few days on the island and make the most of its attractions. However, camping is still the best way of discovering its soul and appreciating its unspoilt beauty.
Masirah is notable for being the former home to the British Eastern Relay Station (BERS) where the BBC programs were broadcasted to the eastern Gulf and the sub-continent on medium and short wave. This station was closed down, with the transmissions moving to a brand new station on the mainland of Oman close to the historic shipbuilding town of Sur. In February 2000 Merlin Communications signed a major contract with the BBC World Service for the replacement of their Masirah Island Relay Station. The contract required Merlin to manage the design and construction of a new short wave and medium wave transmission station at A’Seela on the mainland of Oman, as well as one short wave transmitter, and two short wave antennas at the existing BBC Thailand Relay Station. Work on site at A’Seela, Oman commenced in March 2000 and the MF building was completed in December 2000, and this was followed by the completion of the HF building at the end of February 2001.
Quality of Life
Things are stable and pretty dull on Masirah Island. The people who work here have nicknamed it "Moon Base Alpha". It is also called "Fantasy Island" because anything you need, want or deserve here is a complete fantasy. The supply of rock and dust is near record levels. The locals claim this is the rainy season becdause evidently it rained on this day 5 or 6 years ago. Rumor has it that a cloud was spotted this morning but it just turned out to be the natives trying to flee.
The wadi is in fine shape. No major structural problems but what was thought to be peeling paint was just wind driven sand. The exterior is really sandy too. Wadi refers to the local slang, which in rough translation means "crappy place where we keep the Navy". The wadi garden is the central area of the compound where the local horticulture is meticulously groomed and admired. These plants, bushes and shrubs receive daily care and generous amounts of water. In return they provide some of the most entwined, gnarled and erratic looking vegitation on Earth. As per the local laws of nature everything here is required to be sand color which includes the wadi garden. A curious quality of these Omani plants is that they all, no matter what kind they are, generate large quantities of the sharpest spikes and barbs known to man.
During "Wadi Ball" season, teams compete with only a few serious long-term injuries. Wadi ball is a hybrid between volleyball and football. Scoring is the same as volleyball and the net is identical. The difference is when the ball is served by the serving team, their forward players are allowed to cross under the net and tackle the opposing players. The serving players are required by the IWBC or International Wadi Ball Commission rules to return to their own side prior to the point being played out. A violation of these rules results in what is known as a sob or what is known in the American southern regions as an "S.O.B.". This is strictly enforced with penalties ranging from offending players being buried inthe sand to loss of teeth or small appendages. The ball itself is the same size and shape as a volleyball but is extremely ragged. This was thought to enhance grip by the ancient Wadi Ball designers. The Wadi Ball court is based loosely on beach volleyball except for the beach and sand part. The court is required to appear to look like sand but must consist of microscopic razor sharp corrals and barbs not exceeding 2 millimeters thickness. This is known as the "buffer layer". The buffer layer protects the grooved and craggy solid granite rock upon which the Wadi Ball court sits above.
A major difference between Wadi Ball and volleyball is that in Wadi Ball net play is highly encouraged. Players are expected to utilize the net for rebounds, blocks and reach overs. This likens the sport more to football, specifically in the field goal blocking sense. In actuality the net is more for keeping opposing players separated and at bay than for ball control. Wadi Ball is played both day and night. Day matches are played under the 21 billion candle power sun while night games are illuminated by three 7 billion candle power wadi ball spotlights. These lights must be set at eye level and also double as searchlights for incoming air raids.
The dining experience in Masirah, Oman is truly an experience. The Navy television commercials tout "the adventure starts here"; It is much the same with dining in Masirah, each meal begins a new adventure. The local fare is varied and colorful with green and blue being the most common hues. Occasionally there are brilliant reds and yellows but some don't mess with any of the attempts at Mexican dishes, as the cooks do not even know where Mexico is. The daily special offers a fine break from the published menu but is often pitted with various pitfalls and various pits. The food is really not that bad, as the abdominal screamers usually subside before the next meal.
Most of the crew's activity on non-flying days consists of greeting incoming aircraft. Planes are met by all aircrew, the maintenance department in its entirety and the complete operations staff. Support vehicles of all types are manned and ready many minutes prior to a plane landing. When the plane taxis in and comes to a complete stop all the awaiting personnel rush forward with intense enthusiasm and energy ready to lend a hand and greet friends, pals and colleagues. When it is discovered that the newly arrived plane is carrying absolutely nothing of interest or use to the folks on the ground, they scatter like peasants at the height of the black plague leaving the crew to enjoy a fine day of off-loading heavy and greasy maintenance parts.
Recently, there has been a movement afoot to improve the habitat and local environment. This effort consists of patrolling the perimeter of the Wadi and the adjacent areas for trash and the assorted debris. Since there have no supplies or other items that generate this trash, personnel spend most of their time generating sweat and language that qualifies as trash. While environmentalists claim that cleaning the surroundings is good for the Earth, others believe that rocks look just as good upside down and they don't seem to mind being covered with dust.
This little piece of paradise is also home to the famous Wadi-Lizards. The Wadi-Lizards are not a ball club nor should they be confused with the lounge lizards of less certain character. These little brutes are chameleons of various sizes. They have oversized heads, large claws and a long tail to match their long, ultra quick sticky tongues. With these tongues they feast on and other airborne snacks which come within their range. This trait is particularly helpful when the lizards are near your feet thus eliminating the need to carry a fly swatter. This may be the reason these creatures have adapted so keenly to the presence of certain individuals here at the Wadi.