Royal Air Force Operations in Oman, 1918-1939

The Royal Air Force has maintained a long-standing presence in many parts of Arabian Peninsula since its formation in 1918.

Vickers Vincents of No. 84 Squadron at Khorgharim c. 1935

During the First World War, the Royal Air Force and its predecessor, the Royal Flying Corps, operated throughout the Middle East. From 1918 to 1939, the Royal Air Force was engaged in operations throughout the British Empire, which included southern Arabia.

Air Control in the Arabian Peninsula

Air Control was an operational method used by the Royal Air Force to disrupt a community’s normal existence. Linked to a clear political strategy, air control was an effective means of reducing lawlessness. It did not always require force but rather just the threat of it. In 1932, the Royal Air Force used air control to support the Sultan when a local tribe refused to recognise the former’s jurisdiction.

Muscat from the hills circa 1930

The First Air Bases in Oman

By 1935, the Royal Air Force had established a series of stocked landing grounds in Oman at Shinas, Umm Rasas on Masirah Island, Mirbat and Salalah. Both Masirah and Salalah would become the key Royal Air Force bases in Oman until 1977. Emergency landing grounds were established at Bayt al Falaj, Ras Al-Hadd and Khor Gharim.

Westland Wapatis of No.55 Squadron RAF on Masirah Island

Clearing for Bayt Al-Falaj (now the site of the Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum) in Muscat began in 1930. From 1935 onwards Nos. 55 and 84 Squadron, permanently based in Iraq, regularly sent detachments to landing grounds at Masirah and Khor Gharim. Gwadar, an Omani enclave on the north side of the Sea of Oman until 1958, acted as an important staging post in Imperial Airways routes between Cairo and Karachi.

Sultan Taimur bin Faisal visits Hendon, 1928

On 11 October 1928, Sultan Taimur bin Faisal visited RAF Hendon as a guest of the British Government. Sultan Taimur attended a flying display staged in his honour. Although the weather was ‘bumpy’, more than a dozen RAF squadrons employing the latest aircraft types demonstrated formation flying, aerobatics and bombing attacks. The occasion was marred, however, by the death of the crew of a Fairey Fox from No. 12 Squadron, lost in a flying accident on the airfield.

To view the Sultan of Muscat’s visit to Hendon in 1928, please click on the film above.