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RAF El Adem


 

 

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Royal Air Force Station

El Adem

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Transit Aircraft Servicing Section (TASS)

By

John Cooper

Aka as Gary Cooper.

 

All of us who were posted to RAF El Adem felt that we had done something wrong to be sent here! Well I was one of those guys I reckon as I endured 22 months of a normal 24 months tour in this spot in the Libyan Desert 18 miles due South of the town and harbour of Tobruk. This was regarded as a Middle East Air Force) MEAF posting but I always thought that it was a Near East Air Force (NEAF) posting. In my opinion for the single bods I always thought 2 years was 12 months too long (or even 729 days too long for anyone!), I was more fortunate in that I was married but still had to endure 7 months waiting for a hiring to become available in Tobruk, when I did come top of the waiting list I was again fortunate that I got a flat in the (then) only hotel in Tobruk, The Palace Hotel. 

Far from sumptuous but better than what some others had, it was spacious and had views from the rear overlooking the deep blue harbour with a sand coloured scrub background to the South and overlooking the Northern part of Tobruk to the front with a balcony. My tour lasted from October 1963 through to August 1965, I worked as an Aircraft Engine Fitter on TASS (some say TASF) arriving on the evening of 16th October 1963 on Bristol Britannia XM517 ‘Avior’ a journey time of 5 hours 30 minutes from RAF Lyneham. I departed RAF El Adem on 19th August 1965 on de Havilland Comet C2 XK716 which took us to Benina Airport, Benghazi, this trip lasted 50 minutes we then had a straight hop to RAF Lyneham lasting 5 hours.

 

We had a holiday with some friends Roy and Maria Handley and their two children, Alan and Michael which took us to Sliema, Malta on a Vickers Viscount of British Eagle G-AOCC from El Adem to Benina, Benghazi a flight time of 55 minutes on the 21st August 1964, then on to Idris Airport Tripoli taking 1 hour 40 minutes finally arriving at RAF Luqa after a one hour flight. Our return journey to RAF El Adem from RAF Luqa on the 31st August 1964 was on a Blackburn Beverley C1 XB287 bumbling along taking 3 hours and 5 minutes to get back. What a journey that was, we took off in a violent thunderstorm whilst sitting in the tailboom , I thought that end of the kite was going to fall off!!

 

On 19th November 1964 I was dispatched to the PMRAF Hospital at RAF Akrotiri for urgent attention to a perforated eardrum, the idiots decided to send me in an unpressurised Hastings of 70 Squadron, I refused to travel by this mode of transport, by putting this in writing on a General Application Form! I was hurriedly put aboard a pressurized Vickers Viscount G-AOCB of British Eagle for a 2 hour 5 minutes flight to Nicosia, then transferred by RAF Coach to the hospital at Akrotiri, I spent the next 19 days under the ENT specialist Wing Commander Wilson, it was thought I might have to be CASEVACED back to the UK with a mastoid growth on my right eardrum, not to be, W/C Wilson did the necessary treatment and I was back to El Adem on 8th December 1964 on BE Viscount G-AOCB taking 2 hours 25 minutes. This eardrum perforation was as a result of negligence in treatment at RAF El Adem, I now receive a War Pension because of it!

 

TASS was the most important part of RAF El Adem, the section was situated in the top left hand corner of the huge dispersal area, pan or apron as you looked North (We later moved to a more modern all purpose building to the left center of the pan), with Air Traffic Control, the Fire Section and Air Movements on the East side of the pan. Often air transport of RAF Transport Command would make El Adem its first point of call from the UK to the Middle and Far East.

 

This more often than not was a refuelling stop or a crew slipping point, Britannias from 99/511 Squadron, Comets from 216 squadron, Hastings from 24 and 36 Squadrons, Argosies from RAF Benson, Shackletons from various stations, Beverleys, Vulcans some with Blue Steel bombs on board, Hunters, Javelins and the list is almost endless including civilian aircraft, several of which  would be carrying pilgrims to the Haj at Mecca. Somehow or other we had to turn this little lot round to see them on their next leg of their journey, we were all specialists in our own field, there was always someone that had worked on one of the kites that would come through and if there was a ‘snag’ (technical problem) that someone didn’t know we could always ask the Flight Engineer or consult with the ‘bible’ the Air Publication for that aircraft.  

 

We worked four shifts on TASS, 1, 2, 3 and 4 the working pattern was 12 hours on from 0900hrs – 2100hrs then 24 hours off, followed by a further 12 hours from 2100hrs – 0900hrs with 48 hours off duty which seemed quite acceptable to most. But of course  like all military units you could be detailed to work whenever they wanted you too!

 

Aircraft from all directions could come in at anytime day or night, although the night shift was very often very quiet with perhaps a lone Britannia punctuating our unofficial sleeping session at 0200hrs, that would take a couple of hours to turn the aircraft round and to see it off again with another load of 45000lbs of AVTUR in its wing tanks.

 

It’s quite amazing that for 20 aircraft bods on one shift seeing aircraft in and out another 600 were required to make up the strength of personnel starting at the top with a Commanding Officer, our CO at the time was Group Captain ‘Jack’ Frost, he had to have his Wing Commanders i/c of disciplinary matters, they in turn had their Squadron Leaders who had their Flight Lieutenants, Flying Officers and Pilot Officers. Followed of course by a plethora of NCO’s from Warrant Officers, Flight Sergeants, Sergeants to Corporals to keep the chain of command going.

 

From TASS the station had to have Air Traffic Control to communicate with the aircraft and to receive telecommunications traffic either by transmitters or teleprinters, and a guidance system in case of inclement weather. This was supported by a Fire Section to deal with any airfield or domestic emergency, likewise with the base Sick Quarters and Ambulance section, an Air Movements Section was necessary to deal with passengers and freight alike, all these need manning round the clock.

 

Support was required from the Supply Sections in the way of stores whether it was a spare Rolls Royce Avon engine or Mae West modification to a new airmens khaki drill uniform. All of these personnel needed to be fed and paid, so cooks and accounts clerks would be provided along with other administrative staff. The RAF regiment would teach you how to fire a Browning .303 machine gun (that is if you didn’t have a perforated ear drum) or a Sten Gun so that we could secure the airfield if the need arose. There were many battle tanks and a very  large munitions store just outside the base perimeter, these had to be guarded constantly.

 

There was a Station Flight which included the Station Hack Percival Pembroke WV750 (our old Hack at RAF Negombo, Ceylon) and a Bristol Sycamore helicopter for use as desert rescue, I think the latter was detached from Cyprus with 1325 Flight. We from TASS, often had to visit this smallish hangar to do the Pre or After Flight inspections but I never recall those bods helping us out!

 

Tobruk Garrison

 

This was situated in an isolated part of Tobruk on approach from Windy Corner and the Old Railway Station, here we could purchase items from the NAAFI, if of course the Queen of Libya, Fatima hadn’t bought the latest fashions from the UK before our wives could. I wrote to the NAAFI about this practice at NAAFI HQ at Kennington, London only to be carpeted by the Station Commander explaining diplomacy to our hosts! A Sick Quarters, guardroom and barbers was also on site.

 

Tobruk in the early middle sixties did not have much going for it, there was the Palace with its sitting tenant King Idris I revered by the Bedouin Arabs but not by a young Captain (later) Colonel Gaddafi situated in the West of the country, he eventually overthrew the King in 1970 when the RAF and support personnel were told to withdraw. There was in fact an attempted coup d’etat whilst we were living in Tobruk, the situation was tense for a couple of days but armed Cydef police with fixed bayonets were stationed at key points around Church Square, the Post Office and the Palace. We were advised to tune in constantly to British Forces Broadcasting Service by word of mouth and that to have one suitcase packed in case of evacuation.

 

There was virtually no scenic beauty, the escarpment was void of any trees where sand and rock had lain dormant for thousands of years except of course of the resistance shown during the siege of Tobruk in WWII which was much in evidence from abandoned debris and makeshift military camps.

 

The nearest café/restaurant to El Adem/Tobruk was situated in Benghazi 300 miles away, still we did have the NAAFI’s and Salvation Army to keep us fed as well as the cockroach infested servery of the cookhouse! One late supper break I recall even the ‘roaches turned their noses up to the alleged Bakewell Tart on offer!

Join in on the forum discussion here http://RAFForum.activeboard.com/

A few palm trees adorned Church Square with an Italian garden in situ plus many cacti en route to Garrison Road. I suppose that the Harbour area provided most of the colour, blue on blue, sea against sky, the beaches were private to the forces and were often deserted but very sandy as one can imagine and clean.

 

The ‘fresh’ water was pumped from the Derna area of Cyrenaica via pipeline to Tobruk but we always boiled this, let it cool in the refrigerator before consumption, and still we got Gyppo Tummy (Bilious condition).

 

All in all I was only too pleased to get out of the place, in fact the most popular song at the time was by Eric Burdon and The Animals with that title, We Gotta to Get Outta this Place, if it’s the last thing we ever do! A song surely written for this area……………….

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We would hire the Nuffield bus, load up with beer and spirits, get the canteen to pack our supplies  and generally 6 or 7 of us would camp out in the ruins at  Cyrenaica for a few days. We usually got caught trying to smuggle out old Roman coins we liberated. Hated McEwen's beer but loved the tinned sausages.
 
Getting shotguns from the Armourers and at the crack of dawn hide by the sewage outlet about 2 miles from the camp, where there was a permanent stream of water, and shoot the desert Quail as they came in to drink. Cooking them over the top of a Kerosene heater this took a very long time and even then they were tough.....(but so were we)
 
Spending cold nights guarding the bomb dump against sheep herders.
 
I used to volunteer to be dropped in the sea from the Air/Sea rescue helicopter and the crew would fly away and deliberately disorient themselves and then search for me and eventually pick me up. On almost every occasion they "forgot" to touch the harness into the sea and discharge the static electricity thus giving me a shock. On one rescue trip they disoriented themselves completely and I spent nearly 45 minutes watching them chase a plastic bag or similar in the opposite direction to me. I got on well with the crews and when they went out shooting the wild Pieard dogs I went also.
 
Once saw a cheetah whilst on a training trip into the desert.............cant be many left.
 
 
rgds Kevin Slattery
New Zealand
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
From Ernie Bullock 5th November 2005 (yes FIREWORKS night!)
 
Hi, John
Ernie Bullock here. I was stationed in Tobruk from May 1961 to May 1963; I
was Clerk to the Families Officer and my job took me up to El Adem twice a
week.

I found your site quite interesting. The opening paragraph brought back a
similar memory. My sentiments about being posted to El Adem for two years
are the same as yours. I had been reading the Royal Air Force News and there
was an article in it by a Chief.Tech who was stationed in Germany; he was
saying that all overseas tours should be increased to three years. Of course
I sent in a reply to the effect that it was alright for him to stand on his
soap box and spout such rubbish, as in Germany they had luxury to what we
had. I described the Station almost identically to the description you have
given.

A short time later I was woken up at 4.00am one morning by an RAF Policeman,
he told me that the Station Commander (Group Captain Hubbard) wanted to see
me immediately. I had to catch the 6.00
RAF Bus to El Adem.

I knew Gp Capt Hubbard fro High Wycombe, I was his Staff Clerk there and we
got on very well. I went up to see not knowing what it was about. I was
marched into his office where I got a right dressing down. He accused me of
slighting his station. I was told I had to publish an apology.

To cut the story short; after a second prompting, I sent him my apology for
publication; it began.."I have been ordered by the Station Commander, Group
Captain Hubbard, to publish an apology.....etc, etc."
Needless to say the apology was not published and the Group Captain never
spoke to me again. I saw him in Station HQ on the day I was leaving Libya
and he totally ignored me.

One other quick point about the Mural in Tobruk, which is mentioned on your
site; the soldier who drew it
was a Private J Brill of the RASC, whilst he was in hiding from the Germans.
He was later killed.

Thanks again for entertaining me with your interesting site.

Cheers
Ernie
 

Do you recall the El-Adem Ode?

Just off the Rocky coastline,

El Adem is the Spot,

where we were doomed to do our time,

In this land God has forgot.

Verses 2 to 5 forgotten

And when our days are over,

you will hear St. Peter Yell,

Come home you lads from Libya,

You've had your share of Hell.

I believe the Author was a Manx lad. I think he was billeted with the Ground Equipment lads. They had a pet Chameleon. ( what billet didn't). They were a good bunch, fairly happy in their misery, after all it is an airman's God given right to moan.

I have read your article of life at El Adem in the Mid Sixties with interest & nostalgia. I was also There! I had the somewhat doubtful honour of being detached there a number of times with 1 & 54 Squadrons. My Trade was Safety Equipment, therefore we had little to do with you bods in the luxury of permanent billeting. We were invariably housed in the Twynhams on double bunks. Your images of Bardia were received by me with pleasure. I had a day out there with a Peter & Pat Bradshaw & another couple who's name escapes me at this time.

Do you remember the mural housed in a dwelling at the top of the hill, before the "Alpine run" run down into the bay. From memory it was drawn by a POW of the Hi-ties. I believe his was an Army Corporal in the RASC. I recall the Jetty depicted in one of the images. There was an "oil" Barrel sunk close to the end, where native Children dived too. The Palace Hotel I remember with affection. One incident ingrained is, having walked from the German war cemetery into Tobruk we had an ice cold beer. Similar to John Mills & co in the film "Ice cold in Alex".

I have just one photo of that era. Taken outside the SES, close to the ground equipment section. They were a good bunch. I had many a Tennents with them out in the bondu, around a fire. Being single at the time, it relieved some of the boredom. The camp stack was another diversion, even if it did mean seeing "The Dam Busters" for the umpteenth time.

Thanks for your web-site. I have really enjoyed browsing through it. Cheers for now, good luck, keep smiling.

Colin D. Gibbs

Nos 1 & 54 Squadron West Raynham 1964-1968

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 
 

 

A list of names from TASS for period 1963-65

*am in contact with

 

John Brignell* Airframes (Since Deceased)

Gary Cooper* Engines

Barry Salt* Engines

Pete Kennedy* Engines

Chief Tech Gordon (Don) Lawrence* Feb 62-Mar 64 

Jock Patrick* Engines (Since Deceased)

Ginge Herbert* Engines

Stew Colbourne*

Pinky Walton*

Roger Harris* Engines

Norman Bonney* (Canada)

Andy Louden* Ground Equipment (South Africa)

Mick Frost*

Richard Buckland*

Trev Jones* Instruments 1963-65

 

Gerry Frampton Engines

Paul Marson

Dixie Dean Engines (Posted Akrotiri later)

Dave Buxton

Tom Dooley Engines (Posted Akrotiri later)

Roger Threlfall

Geordie Smith

Tony Neale

Dave Wynn Engines

Jeff Butler

Ginge Cope

Colin Patfield (last seen at Wattisham)

Jim ‘Whack’ Moore Engines

Mac McLeod

Dave Jones Engines

Bob Panter

Ken Patchett* Instruments

'Dixie' Dean* Engines (to Akrotiri)

Tony Munslow Engines

Fletch Fletcher?

Bill Alexander Engines

Johnny Holmes

Paul Lloyd

Willie Watson

Pete Bartlett

Roger Smith

Jock Ross Engines

Graham Leeks Engines

Eric (Skin) Skentlebury Engines

Robbie Roberts

Jim Maddocks (Maddox?)

Alan Holmwood Airframes

Roy Handley

Al Jones

Graham Packer Airframes

Vic Everett

Dave Tanner Engines?

Colin Bordynuik

Terry Glover

Taff Skitts

Bugsy White*

Geordie Ord*

Jock Quayle Engines

Jeff Winnicott

Kevin Slattery* Instruments Nav

Les Aitken

John Howard

Sgt Purnell

Tony Bright

Reg Cockburn

Tommy Thompson

John Way

Dave Wallace

Tap Tapper

Tom Sawyer

Sid Lloyd

Rab Cameron Engines?

Ken Simmons

Paul Smith Ground Electrical Section*

 

Group Captain Briggs was Station Commander

Followed by G/Capt Jack Frost aka as Air Frost

Flying Officer (later Flight Lieutenant Jones i/c TASS

followed by Flight Lieutenant Wheeler

Flight Lieutenant McNiven i/c Technical Wing HQ

Flight Lieutenant Carter i/c Operations

Flight Sergeant Churchill i/c TASS

Followed by Flight Sergeant McCandless

Ch/Tech Timber Woods i/c 3 Shift

Flight Sergeant Hunt???

 

Are you one of these bods, do you know where some of them are, can you help? Can you add a story? Contact me at the bottom of the page.

A new forum for this web page CLICK HERE!

Life at El Adem & German Town

The El Adem Radio Service (T E A R S)

Site update
 
 
Splashdown on the Equator
The crash of Hastings TG579 of 48 Squadron at RAF Gan
 
 
RAF Changi 48 Squadron/FECs/Beverleys
 
 
The Goldfish Club for ditched flyers
 
 
RAF War Pensions
 
 
RAF Gan 1957-1961
 
 
RAF Katunayake/Negombo
 
 
An Airmans Daily Diary
 
 
The Civil Service within the MoD
 
 
Bizarre and Tragic RAF Accidents
 
 
Splashdown in the Mediterranean Hastings TG613
 
 
205/209 Sunderland Squadron RAF Seletar
 
 
Links to other Military Webpages
 
Handley Page Hastings, bangs and prangs, splashes and crashes
 
 
Handley Page Hastings Elevator Problems
 
 
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