15% DISCOUNT

RAF Akrotiri

Akrotiri approaches its 70th birthday with the future of the Cyprus station assured

IN June 2001, the RAF’s permanent presence in Germany ended after 56 years. Two decades later and only four overseas stations remain – Gibraltar, Ascension Island, Mount Pleasant (Falklands), and Akrotiri in Cyprus.

Harrier high over RAF Akrotiri in 2010

(Harrier high over RAF Akrotiri in 2010 - MOD)

RAF Akrotiri is regularly in the news, whether the station is being used to launch rescue missions in Sudan or air strikes in the Middle East, and most recently plans were announced for a £66million upgrade of the terminal, with new passenger and freight handling facilities constructed.

The British presence in Cyprus dates back to the 19th century, the island leased to the UK by what was then the Ottoman Empire, and it would be 1960 before the country gained its independence. As part of that independence agreement, the UK retained RAF Akrotiri and Dhekelia (garrison of the British Army), in total around 80 square miles of land remaining British foreign territory on the southern tip of the island.

The importance of the eastern Mediterranean location to the UK military was clear to see in 1960, and it remains clear to see today: defending NATO interests against USSR aggression at the height of the Cold War and easy access to the Middle East and the African continent.

Independence for the people of Cyprus arrived five years after Akrotiri was established, the idea of the new station to take the pressure off Nicosia, which officially closed as an RAF site in 1975.

Soon after Akrotiri opened, it played a crucial role in the Suez crisis as relations between the UK and Egypt reached crisis point in 1956. The airfield was used to launch a range of operations with aircraft including Gloster Meteor night fighters, reconnaissance duties by English Electric Canberras, and Haviland Venoms carrying out ground attacks.

During the late 1950s and 1960s, the station was used to control military units based in parts of the Middle East with four Canberra squadrons – Nos 6, 32, 73 and 249 – providing air support from Akrotiri.

The increasing tensions across the Middle East saw forces of the CIA arrive at Akrotiri in August 1970, the Agency’s ‘G’ detachment using Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft to monitor outbreaks of fighting between forces from Israel and Egypt.

9 Squadron Vulcan

(9 Squadron Vulcan)

By the 1970s, Nos. 9 and 35 Squadrons were flying Vulcans from Akrotiri as part of the Cold War defence of NATO countries, but no amount of UK forces in the south of the island could prevent the invasion of Turkish forces in the north in 1974. Most UK personnel were evacuated from the island soon after, and when the Vulcan squadrons returned to the UK, Akrotiri was left with No. 84 Squadron, a helicopter search and rescue unit, with support from No. 34 Squadron RAF Regiment.

The US were regular visitors to the station during the 1970s and 80s, the close proximity to Middle East hotspots making it an ideal staging point for civilian and military operations. In 1983, following attacks on barracks in Beirut housing US and French military personnel, American casualties were flown into Akrotiri for treatment ahead of their repatriation to the US.

The heavy US involvement at Akrotiri made it a target for terrorist groups and in 1986 the station came under attack in retaliation for the US bombing of Libya in April 1986, despite the station’s role in the operation being minimal – while the jets used took off from UK stations, Akrotiri was earmarked as an alternate site in case of an emergency, with reportedly one aircraft using the Cyprus location after the attack.

Three-and-a-half months after the Libyan bombings, Akrotiri was targeted in an organised attack on August 3, 1986, with mortar rounds landing at the station at the same time as several terrorists opened fire at the site near the Akrotiri Rowing and Board Sailing beach club. Among the weaponry used by the terrorists were an 80mm mortar gun and Soviet-built Katyusha rockets, three civilians suffering shrapnel injuries.

84 Squadron Griffin HAR2 helicopter coming into land at RAF Akrotiri

(84 Squadron Griffin HAR2 helicopter coming into land at RAF Akrotiri - MOD)

During the war in Lebanon in 2006, the importance of a British station in the Mediterranean again helped in the evacuation of UK citizens, the majority transported by boat to Akrotiri in Operation Highbrow. Around 4,000 were moved, the more vulnerable initially by helicopter with the Griffins of No. 84 Squadron and Chinooks of No. 27 Squadron involved, with Royal Navy ships transporting the remainder from the Port of Beirut the 150-mile distance to Cyprus.

The station was involved in a number of military campaigns during the 2010s including Operation Ellamy, the policing of a no-fly zone over Libya that led to the downfall of the country’s leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The heightened state of alert for all western forces in the region at the time saw six Typhoons deployed to the station in August 2013 to “protect UK interests”, and in August 2014 a number of Tornadoes were deployed to Akrotiri to carry out reconnaissance missions over Syria and Iraq following the increased influence of ISIS in the region. A month later, and following a vote in Parliament, two Tornadoes took off from Akrotiri to carry out air strikes on ISIS forces at the request of Kurdish forces in Iraq.

Tornado GR4 on return to RAF Akrotiri Cyprus after an armed reconnaissance mission in support of OP SHADER in 2014

(Tornado GR4 on return to RAF Akrotiri Cyprus after an armed reconnaissance mission in support of OP SHADER in 2014 - MOD)

Five years after the Tornadoes were stationed in Cyprus, the first F-35 Lightning II sorties were launched from Akrotiri, six of the RAF’s new jets deployed to take part in strikes against ISIS.

Today, the future for Akrotiri appears assured, with the improvement of facilities on site further proof of long-term plans, the station home to 84 Squadron and the 903 Expeditionary Air Wing, the site’s Griffin helicopters also playing a vital role in search and rescue on the island and beyond.

Construction at Akrotiri is expected to commence later this year, with completion of the new facility planned for late 2026, Minister for Defence Procurement, James Cartlidge, saying: “RAF Akrotiri is an incredibly busy overseas base, supporting operations in the region and beyond – including the recent evacuation from Sudan – and this £66m investment will significantly improve these facilities for our personnel and their families.

“I’m proud that our dedicated teams in the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and UK Strategic Command have kept up the momentum to continue upgrading our sites in Cyprus.”

Other Articles You May Also Enjoy

RAF veteran Stanley Booker celebrates his 102nd birthday – a true British hero
RAF veteran Stanley Booker celebrates his 102nd birthday – a true British hero
SHOT down over France three days before the D-Day landings, betrayed to the Gestapo then sent to a German slave labour c
Read More
RAF in Dorset
RAF in Dorset
Dorset's RAF history dates back to WWI, the county important in the defence of Britain from the threat of both airship a
Read More
RAF in Somerset
RAF in Somerset
The county of Somerset has long-standing links with the RAF dating back to the 1920s
Read More
Avro Shackleton
Avro Shackleton
The longest serving RAF maritime patrol aircraft known for its ‘growl’
Read More
RAF in Berkshire
RAF in Berkshire
For a location bordering the western outskirts of England’s capital city, it is perhaps surprising that Berkshire boaste
Read More
101 Squadron
101 Squadron
No. 101 Squadron pays tribute to one of its most famous sons
Read More
Tempest Project Gathers Pace
Tempest Project Gathers Pace
Tempest project gathers pace as Defence Chiefs sign official treaty
Read More
RAF in Oxfordshire Part Two
RAF in Oxfordshire Part Two
RAF in Oxfordshire part two K-W
Read More

Leave a comment