Air Headquarters East Africa

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Air Headquarters East Africa
AHQ East Africa
Country Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Branch Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Royal Air Force

Air Headquarters East Africa (or AHQ East Africa) was a command of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) formed on 19 October 1940 by expanding AHQ RAF Nairobi. On 15 December 1941, the command was reduced to Group status as No. 207 (General Purpose) Group. On 16 November 1942, Air H.Q. East Africa was reformed by raising No. 207 Group back to Command status again. [1]


East African Campaign

The onset of the East African Campaign in 1940 led to a significant buildup in what became Air HQ East Africa. The Italians held Ethiopia and Eritrea and quickly seized British Somaliland. Lieutenant General William Platt, Commandant of the Sudan Defence Force, commanded the forces invading Italian East Africa from Sudan during the campaign.

In Sudan, the Royal Air Force's (RAF's) Air Headquarters Sudan (Headquarters 203 Group from 17 August, Air Headquarters East Africa from 19 October) under the ultimate command of the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief (AOC-in-C) Middle East, had 14 Squadron, 47 Squadron and 223 Squadron (Vickers Wellesley bombers). [2] A flight of Vickers Vincent biplanes from 47 Squadron performed Army Co-operation duties and were later reinforced from Egypt by 45 squadron (Bristol Blenheims). Six Gladiator biplane fighters were based in Port Sudan, for trade protection and anti-submarine patrols over the Red Sea and the air defence of Port Sudan, Atbara and Khartoum and army support. In May, 1 (Fighter) Squadron South African Air Force (SAAF) arrived, was transferred to Egypt to convert to Gladiators and returned to Khartoum in August. [3] The SAAF in Kenya had 12 Squadron SAAF (Junkers Ju 86 bombers), 11 Squadron SAAF (Fairey Battle bombers), 40 Squadron SAAF (Hawker Hartebees), 2 Squadron SAAF (Hawker Fury fighters) and 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron (Hawker Hardy). Better aircraft became available later but the first aircraft were older and slower, the South Africans even pressing an old Vickers Valencia biplane into service as a bomber. [4]

On 1 November 1940, a communications unit, Air HQ East Africa Communications Squadron, was established at RAF Nairobi; it was disbanded at RAF Eastleigh on 15 December 1941. [5]

The South Africans faced experienced Italian pilots, including a cadre of Spanish Civil War veterans. Despite its lack of experience, 1 SAAF claimed 48 enemy aircraft destroyed and 57 damaged in the skies over East Africa. A further 57 were claimed destroyed on the ground; all for the loss of six pilots—it is thought the unit was guilty of severe over-claiming. [6] From November 1940 to early January 1941, Platt continued to apply constant pressure on the Italians along the Sudan–Ethiopia border with patrols and raids by ground troops and aircraft. Hawker Hurricanes and more Gloster Gladiators began to replace some of the older models. On 6 December, a large concentration of Italian motor transport was bombed and strafed by Commonwealth aircraft a few miles north of Kassala. The same aircraft then proceeded to machine-gun from low level the nearby positions of the Italian Blackshirts and colonial infantry. A few days later, the same aircraft bombed the Italian base at Keru, fifty miles east of Kassala. The Commonwealth pilots had the satisfaction of seeing supply dumps, stores, and transport enveloped in flame and smoke as they flew away. One morning in mid-December, a force of Italian fighters strafed a Rhodesian landing-strip at Wajir near Kassala, where two Hawker Hardys were caught on the ground and destroyed and 5,000 US gal (19,000 l) of fuel were set alight, four Africans were killed and eleven injured fighting the fire. [7] [8]

Orders of battle

Commanders [1] & Squadron Assignments [9] (1941–1945)
11 November 1941
Air H.Q. East Africa
A/Cdre William Sowrey
27 October 1942
No. 207 Group
A/Cdre Malcolm Taylor
10 July 1943
Air H.Q. East Africa
AVM Harold Kerby
June 1944
Air H.Q. East Africa
AVM Harold Kerby
January 1945
Air H.Q. East Africa
AVM Brian Baker
3 Squadron SAAF
No. 246 Wing (Mombasa)

No. 209 Squadron

No. 246 Wing

No. 209 Squadron
No. 265 Squadron

No. 246 Wing
General Reconnaissance
No. 246 Wing
General Reconnaissance
15 Squadron SAAF
1433 Flight SAAF

1414 Flight SAAF

No. 258 Wing

No. 1414 Flight
Lysander, Anson

No. 258 Wing
General Reconnaissance
No. 258 Wing
General Reconnaissance
16 Squadron SAAF
Junkers 86, Maryland
16 Squadron SAAF
Beaufort, Maryland
No. 259 Squadron
41 Squadron SAAF
41 Squadron SAAF
Hartebeeste, Hurricane
No. 262 Squadron
51 Flight SAAF
No. 321 Squadron
No. 321 Squadron Det.
34 Flight SAAF
Junkers 86
34 Flight SAAF
35 Flight SAAF
Junkers 52
35 Flight SAAF
Notes: A/Cdre=Air Commodore; AVM=Air Vice Marshal; Det.=Detachment

In January 1943, Air H.Q. East Africa became a sub-command of the RAF Middle East Command, itself a sub-command of the Mediterranean Air Command. [9]

Post war

Postwar commanders included: [1]

AHQ East Africa included in November 1945 a large number of small support units, Nos 1586 and 1414 Meteorological Flights; 249 Squadron at Eastleigh; RAF Station Mombasa with 15 Embarkation Unit, No. 3 Section Air Ministry Directorate-General of Works (AMDGW); an RAF Unit at Mogadishu (to which a squadron of 324 Wing from Sudan, 213 Squadron, was dispatched as the Ogaden was being returned to Ethiopia in mid-1948, Lee FFME 40); 105 Maintenance Unit at Thika with a detachment, at Gilgil; and smaller units at Dar es Salaam, Diego Suarez, Kisumu, Mauritius, Nairobi, Pamanzi, Port Reitz (No. 1345 Anti-Malarial Flight); Seychelles, Tabora, and Tulear (an RAF Unit and a Marine Craft Section). [10]

Air H.Q. East Africa was disbanded on 15 September 1951, reformed on 1 February 1961, and disbanded on 11 December 1964. [1] In the 1950s and 1960s the RAF in East Africa was reduced to a single station, RAF Eastleigh, and about 500 personnel. RAF stations at Kisumu, Thika, and Mombasa (RAF Port Reitz) were thus eventually closed. No. 214 Squadron RAF made a six-month detachment to Eastleigh in 1951, during the Mau Mau Uprising. [11] No. 1340 Flight RAF used the Harvard in Kenya against the Mau Mau in the 1950s, where they operated with 20 lb bombs and machine guns against the insurgents.

Units from the 1950s included: [12]

The Air Officer Commanding served as air advisor to a number of former British territories in the region. [13]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 "Overseas Commands - Middle East & Mediterranean". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. 2014. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
  2. Richards & Saunders 1953, pp. 409, 415.
  3. Playfair 1954, pp. 96, 169.
  4. Shores 1996, pp. 42–54.
  5. Lake, A (1999). Flying units of the RAF. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife. p. 17. ISBN   1-84037-086-6.
  6. Schoeman 2002, pp. 31, 66.
  7. Playfair 1954, pp. 169–170.
  8. Orpen 1968, pp. 20–21.
  9. 1 2 Richards & Saunders 1953.
  10. David Lee, Flight from the Middle East, 1980, 295-7. Appendix A is the RAF Order of Battle in AHQ Persia and Iraq, AHQ East Africa and HQ British Forces, Aden, in November 1945, pp295-298.
  11. "Nightjar - Summer 2012" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 October 2015.
  12. Air of Authority unit listing for Eastleigh
  13. David Lee (RAF officer), Flight from the Middle East: A history of the Royal Air Force in the Arabian Peninsula and adjacent territories 1945–1972, HMSO 1980.

Cited sources