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Socotra — 1943

by jimmiej

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Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
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Contributed on: 
08 March 2005

Socotra Village near Landing Site

To assess the possibility of a staging post aircraft landing site on the island of Socotra, situated off the Horn of Africa in the Indian Ocean, two Blenheim 1 aircraft from RAF Khormaksar, Aden were stripped of non essential equipment inside the fuselage, such as gun turrets and armour plating, to allow extra fuel tanks and hand pump to be fitted to transfer the fuel to the main tanks for flight to Socotra. A refuelling site comprising sealed cans of fuel was also set up in Somaliland.

We landed on the beach on the north coast of the island,near the village of Hadibo. (The same site was used by an expedition to the island in the 1960's) The aircraft had to be flown very close to the cliffs to secure sufficient landing distance, the updraft made it very tricky.
The undercarriage took a bashing, the tail wheel strut on the second aircraft damaged the rear fuselage when landing. We had to carry out repairs on site. It was very difficult work without having a proper workshop, and very hot crawling down the fuselage just like working in an oven.

When we landed, we selected a suitable site, secured the two aircraft, pitched our tents, constructed primitive ablutions, cooking facilities and prepared waste disposal trenches. Bathing was on the sea shore in the evenings even that was quite dangerous because the beach dropped away very quickly.
Early reconnaissance indicated that we would need to travel along the rugged coastline westwards before there was access to the centre of the island. We eventually secured the services of locals and used camels to trek along the coast and to climb through a rock strewn gully (possibly Wadi Eyaft) to a plateau with our gear. We lost one camel plus stores on route, when it lost foot hold and plunged into the sea below. We found a suitable site where future aircraft could land, and cleared the area of the larger obstacles. The locals obtained their water from wells, but we found it to be very contaminated. Our return trip to Hadibo was uneventful, as was the return flight to Aden. The whole trip covered about fourteen days.

The Americans were expected to use the strip as a staging post. Today 2005 this aircraft landing site is a tarmac runway. In June 1999, the first Yemenia Airlines Boeing 737 landed there,and Aircraft make regular trips to the island from Sanna, Yemen. This new facility has made the archipelago easily accessible after centuries of virtual isolation. Other recent developments include the first paved road, a port jetty, fuel storage facilities, new schools, improved telecommunication facilities, limited power supply in the central village of Hadibu, and the opening of small rest-houses. These developments and others have already brought positive changes to the lives of local people. However, these developments also threaten the survival of the islands' unique biodiversity, culture, traditions, and striking landscapes.The island is becoming popular with people interested in the wild life there and diving trips are arranged from the north coast.

The local people seemed mainly descended from ship wrecked mariners who received supplies from India by Dhow sailing ships. Burials were in caves high in the mountains. Their garden crops included potatoes and runner beans. There were stagnant pools everywhere and the water was very contaminated.
They were good fishermen, trapping small sharks in man made gullies. It is possible we were the first Europeans to stay on the island for any length of time.

What price - Accountability
We were concerned by the injustice of authorising airmen for this survey type work without regard for their safety (no preparation for, or assessment of the risks to health or limb) of the personnel involved. Colleagues suffered terminal diseases later. There is no record of our expedition but those in 1965 onwards seem to be well documented.
February 2005. I have found it difficult to obtain my medical records, (injustice felt in hindsight) for this period but there is a mention on a Medical examination form 35 of my having had Yellow Fever in 1943.


A3690911 links links
http://www.soqotra.infoAbout links links

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