RAF Nicosia - Cyprus
RAF Nicosia was a Royal Air Force station on the island of Cyprus built in 1940. A landing ground for civil use already existed on the site and a decision was made to build a new RAF airfield there. A stone quarry was opened nearby and construction plant shipped in from Egypt. Tarmac runways were built together with dispersals and technical and domestic accommodation for 2 Squadrons. The airfield was completed in 9 months.
During WW2 the base was used by numerous Squadrons mainly on detachment from the Middle East theatre. Amongst the first were 250 Squadron with their Curtiss Tomahawks and 213 Squadron with Hawker Hurricanes. These were used to provide fighter defence for the island. In July 1941 80 Squadron, also with Hurricanes, were temporarily deployed to Nicosia from July 1941 to the end of the year. 261 Squadron with Hurricanes on detachment from Egypt were based at Nicosia about the same time.
From mid 1941 to mid 1942 convoy escorts and fighter patrols were carried out by detachments of Bristol Beaufighters from 272 Squadron. This was followed by a further detachment from 162 Squadron from mid 1942 to mid 1943 with Vickers Wellingtons and Bristol Blenheims. This unit was involved with monitoring radio and radar activity, jamming enemy radar and calibrating our own.
In December 1943 small detachments of Supermarine Spitfires were based at Nicosia for 1 month at a time from 417 Squadron and also 127, 74 and 243 Squadrons.
Nicosia was also used as a photo reconnaissance base by B Flight of 680 Squadron and later C Flight both with Spitfires. 227 Squadron was based at Nicosia to provide better coverage of their anti shipping strikes in the Aegean Sea from September to December 1943.
From 1944 Nicosia was the home to 79 OTU ( Operational Training Unit ) of the Middle East Air Force to train Allied crews on Bristol Beaufighters and Bristol Blenheims. The OTU was established with a communications flight flying Avro Ansons and used Bolton Paul Defiants for target towing. These were replaced by Hawker Hurricanes in late 1944. . The training was intense and the nearby airfields at Tymbou and Lakatamia were used as well as the Larnaca firing range.
During this period Nicosia hosted several operational units for short periods including Beaufighters of 46 Squadron for special operations.
With the cessation of hostilities the OTU was run down and the aircraft ferried to 168 MU for disposal.
In the immediate post war era Nicosia was temporary home to a number of units as the RAF went through a period of contraction. 256 Squadron was reduced to a single flight of Mosquitos. 6 Squadron arrived with their Hurricanes and Spitfires later converting to Hawker Tempest F6s and left in July 1947. 213 Squadron arrived with their North American Mustangs in October 1946 and they too converted to Tempests and left in the autumn of 1947.
For the next few years Nicosia was still a busy airfield but flying was more limited and organised. 208 Squadron and with their Spitfire FR18es arrived in March 1948 and 32 Squadron with similar aircraft in May 1948. A detachment of 208 Squadron aircraft based at Ramat David was withdrawn to Nicosia when the Egyptian Air Force attacked their base. 208 Squadron moved out at the end of 1948 but 32 Squadron remained and converted to De Havilland Vampire F3s.
1949 saw the visits of many squadrons based in the Middle East to the No 26 Armament Practise School. The APS drew visits from Bomber Command Lincoln squadrons and also Malta based maritime squadrons for fighter affiliation exercises.
This activity was maintained for several years with the occasional search for missing aircraft.
Vampires of the RAAF and RNZAF were also stationed at Nicosia during the early 1950s. Vickers Varsitys of 201 Advanced Flying exercised there in 1953. Interestingly 3 Savoia-Marchetti SM79s of the Lebanese Air Force also used the airfield for a short time on film work.
In May 1953 a target towing flight of Meteor F8s was established and also an Instrument Training Flight. In August 5 Austers of No 615 AOP Squadron flew in from Beirut for Artillery co-operation work.
A serious earthquake in the region resulted in the influx of Hastings, Valettas and Lincolns in September with supplies for the victims.
Boeing Washingtons of Bomber Command often staged through Nicosia and in September 1953 2 of these aircraft were based at Nicosia for a short time testing secret equipment.
In 1955 the EOKA troubles on Cyprus began and Nicosia was the main base for the handling of troop reinforcements and also providing air support for the security forces. In November 1955 a helicopter flight with Bristol Sycamores was established and also 1910 AOP Flight with Auster 6s was based there. The Sycamores provided
search support for the security forces and operated in the casevac role as required.
3 Fairey Gannets of 847 Squadron were based at Nicosia to search for ships infiltrating arms and supplies to the EOKA terrorists.
The Suez Crisis erupted in 1956 and the base was heavily involved Operation Musketeer. In August 1956 Hawker Hunter F5s of the Tangmere Wing comprising of 1 Squadron and 34 Squadron were deployed to Nicosia followed by a Canberra Wing of 60 aircraft from 10 Squadron, 15 Squadron, 18 Squadron, 27 Squadron 44 Squadron 61 Squadron and 139 Squadrons. The Meteor NF13s of 39 Squadron also flew in from Malta. Various units with Handley Page Hastings, Blackburn Beverley and Vickers Valletta aircraft temporally based at Nicosia were also heavily involved in the operation
Canberra bombing raids began on the evening of the 31st October and a Valetta of 114 Squadron led the airborne assault. During the Suez operations Nicosia based aircraft flew over 368 sorties.
Also in 1956 70 Squadron with their Hastings transports were deployed to Nicosia. The Middle East Communications Squadron of Percival Pembrokes was established at the base together with the Levant Communication Squadron of Pembrokes and Meteor F8s. 1910 Flight was joined by another Auster unit, 1915 Flight. Both these Flights moved out to the new airstrip at Dernia in September 1956.
In October 1956 the helicopter Flight was redesignated 284 Squadron.
114 Squadron was disbanded in December 1957 followed by the Levant Flight in March 1958. From 1957 air defence, day and night, was provided by two squadrons on detachment from the UK or Malta.
Operation Fortitude required reinforcements to be sent to Jordan in 1958. 43,54 and 66 Hunter Squadrons were on standby duties and 208 Squadron deployed to Amman. A new Transport Task Force was established consisting of Hastings of 24 Squadron, 99 Squadron and 511 Squadron and Beverleys of 30 Squadron, 47 Squadron and 53 Squadron which airlifted the 16th Parachute Brigade Group into Amman. British Forces were withdrawn from Jordan at the end of the year.
In view of the continuing Cyprus Emergency 230 Squadron with their Scottish Aviation Pioneers were deployed to Nicosia for anti arson patrols, reconnaissance and communication flights. 114 Squadron arrived with its De Havilland Chipmunks for anti EOKA patrols. The political settlement later that year enabled 230 and 114 Squadrons to be withdrawn. 284 Squadron was renumbered 103 Squadron and tasked solely with search and rescue from that time. 847 Squadron gannets were released at the same time.
During 1958 and 1959 various Hunter and Javelin Squadrons were based at Nicosia as part of training under Operation Quickfire which included practise interceptions and cine exercises. 70 Squadron were now flying to Lybia, Greece Iran Aden and Malta on a regular basis.
From 1961 the resident fighter unit was 43 Squadron with their Hunters and they were replaced in March 1943 by 29 Squadron with Javelins. Who departed for Zambia a year later.
The need for helicopters had now diminished and 103 Squadron was reduced to Flight status becoming 1563 Flight on the 31st July 1963 moving to Akrotiri in April 1964.
Fighting between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in 1964 resulted in a United Nations peacekeeping force being established on the island and a permanent helicopter detachment was required and supplied by 230 Squadron from West Germany with their Whirlwind HAR10s. 230 Squadron undertook this role throughout the late 1960s with 72 Squadron, who operated the new and still on trial Westland Wessex helicopters and also 18 Squadron.
The 1966 Air Defence Review announced that RAF Nicosia was to be run down and that 70 Squadron was to move to Akrotiri. With the departure of the Hastings transports the airfield became exclusively a base for helicopters and large areas of land were handed over to the Cypriot government. Nicosia was revived temporarily when the runways at Akrotiri needed extensive repair.
The UN support commitment in Cyprus was resolved when 84 Squadron reformed at Akrotiri and deployed its B Flight to Nicosia in Jan 1972.
RAF Nicosia was formerly closed in February 1975 and the site is now the currently the disused and derelict Nicosia International Airport.
Source – Action Stations Overseas by Tony Fairburn.
Written by David Fell