RAF Akrotiri

From Academic Kids

RAF Akrotiri is one of the few full-scale Royal Air Force stations left outside the United Kingdom.

It is located on the island of Cyprus, but it is not part of the territory of the government in Nicosia. When the UK granted Cypriot independence in 1960, it retained a small amount of territory to create the UK sovereign bases. Akrotiri stands within the limits of that territory.



Akrotiri was first constructed in the mid-1950s to relieve pressure on the main RAF base on the island, RAF Nicosia. In the aftermath of the Egyptian repudiation of the Anglo-Egyptian treaty, British forces had to be withdrawn from the Canal Zone in Egypt. After the ending of the League of Nations mandate over Palestine in 1948, the only other British territory in the eastern Mediterranean was Cyprus. Consequently, the withdrawal from Egypt caused an enormous buid-up of forces in Cyprus. This period also coincided with the outbreak of the internal security problems of EOKA in Cyprus, further increasing pressure on the RAF airfields on the island.

Even this massive influx from Egypt was not the end. In late 1956, relations between the United Kingdom and Egypt had reached crisis point. The Suez Crisis saw a further increase in the strength of RAF forces in Cyprus. Akrotiri was mainly a base for fighter, photo reconnaissance and ground attack aircraft. Its regular squadrons of Meteor night fighters, Canberra photo reconnaissance aircraft and Venom ground attack machines were reinforced by further Canberras and by Hunters from Fighter Command in the United Kingdom. The airfields in Cyprus were so overcrowded that there was a real fear of massive loss of equipment should the Egyptian Air Force decide to attack the island. Fortunately for the RAF, that attack never came. The overcrowding even extended beyond Cyprus. Significant RAF units from Bomber Command were deployed to RAF Luqa in Malta, crowding that station as well.

The attack on Egypt was a military success, despite interference in the plan which reduced its effectiveness. However, it was a political fiasco. The United States put considerable pressure on the United Kingdom and France both economically and politically. This forced the Eden government quickly from power. The quickness of the climbdown was good news for the men at Akrotiri. The station's complement quickly returned to normal after the crisis passed, with the reinforcing units that had crowded it during the war returning either to the United Kingdom or to other parts of the Middle East Command.

After the Suez Crisis, the main emphasis of life on the airfield shifted to helping quell the EOKA revolt and training missions. After the withdrawal from both Egypt and Iraq, and debacle of Suez, it was clear that a command centred on Cyprus could not control units stationed in the Arabian Peninsula, of which there were still many. Consequently, the Middle East Command was split, with that east of Suez being controlled from Aden, and the rump being renamed the Near East Command, controlled from Cyprus.

Akrotiri, along with Nicosia, assumed very important status, as virtually the sole means for projecting British airpower into the eastern Mediterranean, outside of aircraft carriers. In 1960, independenece was granted to Cyprus, with the RAF maintaining both RAF Nicosia and RAF Akrotiri as bases, controlled by the Near East Air Force. However, Akrotiri assumed more and more importance as Nicosia was used for greater and greater amounts of civil aviation traffic. After 1966, it was no longer possible to maintain RAF units at Nicosia due to pressures of space, and so Akrotiri became the only RAF flying station left on the island.

Up until 1974, Akrotiri had a balanced force of aircraft assigned to it, even including Vulcans from Strike Command, to support the Central Treaty Organisation, one of the three great anti-Communist mutual defence pacts signed in the early days of the Cold War. However, during that year, Turkish forces invaded Cyprus in connection with a Greek-sponsored coup. The UK then evacuated most of its air forces from Akrotiri as the CENTO treaty had degenerated to the point of uselessness. What was left at the base is the flying unit that is permanently assigned to the base to this day; No. 84 Squadron, a search and rescue unit flying helicopters.

Recent Operations and issues

Akrotiri has played a crucial role during Britain's recent operations in the Middle East. During both major campaigns against Iraq, in 1991 and 2003, and also during the no-fly zone operations between it operated as a staging post for British forces enroute to the region.

A constant problem of airfields located outside the territory of the country whose forces are based there is that of overflight rights. The UK has a treaty with Cyprus that guarantees British access to Akrotiri in any circumstances.

Under the treaty, the bases employ many locals and contribute to the local economy. A sizeable antenna (probably an over the horizon radar) was erected within the Akrotiri base raising concern for the effect on local wildlife and on the health of people living in Limassol. Several demonstrations and protests took place, with most memorable incident the act of MP (MEP since 2004) Marios Matsakis to chain himself on the antenna. Radio amateurs report that the antenna is causing interference in bands allocated for amateur use by the ITU.From the international amateur radio union region 1 monitoring system news letter (April 2002): The lowest frequency was 18000 kHz, the highest frequency was 29050 kHz. The bandwidth is normally 50 to 60 kHz, the signal strength S9 + 70 dB thus causing very harmful interference to the Amateur Radio Service.

Akrotiri is also the location of the main transmitter of the well known numbers station Lincolnshire Poacher .

See Also

External links

BBC News stories:


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