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During this video we are talking in the current Oman exhibition in the Milestones of Flight Hall, an exhibition which Ross Mahoney curated.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: Now continuing our discussion of RAF in the global context in the Cold War period. Ross, we’re presently standing in the middle of the Oman exhibition, which you’re presently hosting at RAF Hendon. Did you curate this? DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: Yes. This was one of my first jobs when I joined the museum just over two years ago. I was to curate the exhibition on the RAF’s relationship with the Royal Air Force of Oman. DR.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: We’ve had a fairly longstanding relationship with them. I think one of the things you put up on the web was, the first treaty goes back to the end of the 18th century. DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: Yes, there has been– to borrow the phrase– an enduring relationship between the two countries, stemming back to the 18th century. And that’s been replicated in the relationship between the Royal Air Force and what is now known as the Royal Air Force of Oman– what was originally known as the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force. DR.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: OK, thank you. Now the RAF maintained airbases in Oman up until 1977, and just looking around the exhibition, there is both the Jebel Akdhar campaign and the Dhofar War. Was the RAF directly involved in either of these conflicts? DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: The RAF is directly involved with the Jebel Akdhar campaign. It’s a campaign, from an air-power perspective, fought by the RAF. The RAF assets in the Middle East, operating out of places such as RAF Masirah. In terms of the Dhofar War, there are RAF personnel involved. Principally loan officers, so as the Omani Air Force develops, the RAF has a system loan officers. So there are people such as, eventually, Chief of Defence Staff Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Stirrup served as a loan officer in the 1970s with the RAF. And also former RAF officers, who were then referred to as contract officers, in the Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces.
So yes, the RAF plays an important role in both of these wars. And actually, the RAF’s role in the Jebel Akdhar War is really the impetus for forming the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force. DR.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: Thank you. I understand that the RAF would periodically station Vulcans in Oman in the 1960s and 1970s, for those that were more permanently based in Cyprus. So what was the logic behind that? DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: Yes, so the RAF deploys Vulcans to Cyprus as part of its committee to the Central Treaty Organisation. So, of course, we’ve talked quite a bit– and will continue to do during the course– about NATO. Of course, there are actually a series of organisations around the world– CENTO and also Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation. But they’re part of the containment of the Soviet Union. And so Vulcans are deployed as part of Britain’s commitment to CENTO. And, on occasion, they would deploy to Oman. They would go to Masirah and deploy, as part of the obligation to Britain’s defence of the region. DR.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: OK and just a final note. How did the RAF get involved in the railway business in a Oman? DR.
ROSS MAHONEY: An interesting sideline. The base, RAF Masirah, is on an island off the Omani coast. And there was a need to build a railway between the airbase and essentially, for lack of better description, the port on the island to bring up supplies. And so there is this small railway. But actually, it’s quite an interesting point. We think of the RAF in terms of aircraft and pilots, but, of course, there’s a lot more to the RAF. Pilots never account for more– or aviators, more broadly– never account for much more than about 10% of the RAF’s strength. And also apart from the railway business, the RAF is also quite heavily involved in boats. The RAF maintains an air-sea rescue branch.
So there is much more to the RAF, and, of course, the RAF Regiment as well. They RAF has its own tanks– Scorpion light tanks. So there is much more to the RAF than just aircraft. DR.
EMMETT SULLIVAN: OK. Thank you, Ross, for that. We’ll leave Oman on the broader note of the RAF, and move on to the next section.

Oman in the Cold War

In this video we discuss the following questions and statements:

  1. The RAF maintained bases in Oman (RAF Masirah and Salalah) remained important staging posts and bases until 1977. The present exhibition mentions the Jebel Akhdar Campaign and Dhofar War from the 1950s onwards. What was the role of the RAF in these conflicts?

  2. Vulcans would periodically visit Masirah in the 1960s and 1970s.

  3. How did the RAF get into the railway business in Oman?

We would welcome your thoughts in the comments for this video.

Oman and the Cold War

In the aftermath of the Second World War, relations between the wartime allies, Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated. Against this backdrop, Britain’s relationships with its Middle Eastern partners such as Oman were critical. While the Royal Air Force’s physical presence diminished, both RAF Masirah and Salalah remained important staging posts and bases until 1977. These air bases played important roles in supporting operations in Oman during the Jebel Akhdar Campaign and Dhofar War from the 1950s onwards.

Important Staging Posts

Until the Royal Air Force formally handed over its Omani airbases in 1977, both RAF Masirah and Salalah hosted visits from a range of aircraft. In 1962, Masirah received a 9,000-foot asphalt runway. The most impressive visits came in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Avro Vulcan’s of Nos. 9 and 35 Squadrons, which were stationed at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus as part of the Near East Air Force, regularly visited Masirah. During the 1960s, the Vulcans formed part of the Royal Air Force’s nuclear contribution to the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO). CENTO was designed to contain the ambitions of the Soviet Union in the Middle East. Other regular visitors included aircraft such as the English Electric Canberra and Lightning fighter.

The Jebel Akhdar Campaign

This followed a long-running border dispute with Saudi Arabia over the Buraimi Oasis, north-west of Muscat. Although resolved in 1955 with the use of the Royal Air Force and ground forces, a subsequent rebellion broke out in 1957 to the south-west of Muscat, around Jebel Akhdar. Rebels captured the town of Nizwa and the Sultan’s forces were forced to retire. The British government immediately deployed both air and ground forces, including Avro Shackletons (based at RAF Masirah) and De Havilland Venoms (based at RAF Sharjah). Although Nizwa and the surrounding area were quickly retaken, a few hundred rebels continued to hold out on the Jebel’s largely inaccessible plateau. It was only a combined air and ground assault in January 1959 that ended the rebellion and re-established the Sultan’s authority over the interior.

The RAF Masirah Railway

One of the more interesting aspects of life at RAF Masirah was the existence of a narrow gauge railway. This railway, first erected in 1943, was an important part of life on Masirah. The island could only be supplied by sea and then by the railway to the air base. After a hurricane in June 1977, the railway fell out of use and the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force decided not to repair the damaged tracks. One of the Ruston and Hornsby locomotives, YIMKIN, used on Masirah, once resided at the Aerospace Museum at RAF Cosford (now the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford). The Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway Society is now restoring YIMKIN.

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From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

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