The Royal Air Force at Khartoum

By William Reid

RAF Cricket Ground at Khartoum 1946I have been asked to write a few words on the RAF at Khartoum. Unfortunately there is no official history of this station although there may be information in the National Archives at Kew. Probably complete squadrons were not based there but rather flights of aircraft when some local reason required them. Nevertheless, the station was not unimportant since the construction of the military airfield was the forerunner of what became a commercial airport for the capital of the Sudan. It was also a link in the communications of the British Empire in which Imperial Airways blazed the trail for long distance air travel. During the Second World War there was also an RAF Station at Wadi Seidna used during the ferrying of aircraft from West Africa to Egypt. By 1946 it was not in use.

Your correspondent’s reference to the Rhodesian Spitfires does ring a bell although my memory is of the South African Air Force 12 Spitfires accompanied with one Lockheed Lodestar which flew from the UK to South Africa but were not adapted for the high ground temperatures encountered at Khartoum. Some ended nose down in the sand when they sought the shortest route to the hard standings. Other aircraft seen in 1946-7 included a Photographic Reconnaissance Mosquito making a map of the Great Lakes, one of the first Bristol Boxcars and three French JU 52′s en route from Fort Lamy to Asmara. The area on the Control Map at Khartoum went from Khormaksar base in Aden in the east to Brazzaville in the west, from Cairo in the north to Malakal in the south.

Supermarine Spitfire and De Havilland MosquitoEven in 1947 air travel had advanced so much that the Imperial Airways flight to South Africa overflew Khartoum In Flying Control our responsibility was to light a beacon at 3.00am every night a task I found not so simple as it sounds. Much of our activity was with airlines that may not now exist. I remember Sabena, Scandinavian Air Lines and Swissair. I was posted to Khartoum in 1946 and on arriving, I was struck by the contrast with the Canal Zone in Egypt. Excursions, solitary or in groups, were unpleasant even dangerous in Ismalia.

The reverse was the situation at Khartoum. On arriving at the railway station the first sign was Abbas Street in the English Language. From school days, I knew that the Sudan was a Condominium and how it worked was a subject of interest. From what I could see the only Egyptian influence was the guard on the Governors Palace which alternated with a British guard and the Union Standard which alternated with the Egyptian Flag.

After the heat of the day a walk into Khartoum was a pleasant excursion. Maybe ignorance was bliss but I felt perfectly safe. The road from the airfield passed a well ordered clean quiet suburb of houses and gardens where white uniformed policemen seemed to have everything under control. The bars were popular and the drink was a Tom Collins. Being a lowly AC2 the meal was egg and chips though at that time at Khartoum it was eight eggs and two chips. Omdurman was out of bounds but on one visit there the atmosphere was different.