|Wings Over the Desert.
Aviation on the Arabian Peninsula
© Lennart Andersson
|Map showing the approximate boundaries of Hejaz, Nejd and Yemen in the early 1920s.
In January 1925 an Airco (de Havilland) DH.9C, the cabin-equipped civil variant of the two-seat light bomber biplane, was seen flying over some army camps a few miles from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. A 'White' Russian refugee was at the controls, one of the passengers was a Saudi newspaper editor and the other passenger acted as observer-bombardier. The bombs were home-made conversions of shells fitted with time fuses. Suddenly the aircraft blew up in mid-air and fell to the ground, killing all on board.
The incident in 1925 was one of the more spectacular events that occurred during the long and mostly unknown history of the small but die-hard Saudi Arabian Air Force.
In June 1916 the Kingdom of Hejaz (Hijaz) declared its independence from the Ottoman
Empire and King Hussein Ibn Ali al-Hashimi established his capital at Mecca. During the 1920s and 1930s British and Italian interests were constantly competing with each other in North Africa and Arabia. The western coast of the Read Sea between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula was split up between the two: Egypt and Sudan to the north were in British hands, Eritrea was Italian, then came British Somaliland, French Somaliland and finally Italian Somaliland. On the Arabian side the greater part of the coast belonged to Hejaz and to the south was another independent Arab state, Yemen, and British-ruled Aden.
Some of the British instructors and one of the four Westland Wapitis supplied to Hejaz in December 1929. The aircraft were at first based on Darin Island off the east cost of the Arabian Peninsula. The serial under the lower wing seems to be S9 or possibly S5. (Jane's All the World's Aircraft)
On July 29, 1921, former RAF Captain Brooke arrived in Jeddah on board the Italian ship 'Massaua'. He was accompanied by Colonel T E Lawrence ( also known as Lawrence of Arabia). The purpose of the visit was to discuss and organise the formation of a Hejaz flying unit with King Hussein, who travelled from Mecca to meet with Brooke at Jeddah. The King had already ordered a number of aircraft, which were on their way. Two Airco DH.9s, two Armstrong Whitworth aircraft with 160 hp Beardmore engines (probably FK.8s) and four spare engines had been purchased from Hugo Schumacher of Schumacher & Lavison, a local merchant in Cairo, who had made large purchases from the Aircraft Disposals Board in England. The delivery of these aircraft from Egypt to Jeddah was approved by the British authorities in July 1921 and they arrived on board the SS 'Tantah' on August 6.
Ten days later another six aircraft arrived, but this time from Italy: four Italian-built Caudron biplanes with 120-130 hp Le Rhône engines (probably Caudron G 3bis) and two Maurice Farman trainers with 100 hp Fiat engines (probably Italian-built MF 11s). The aircraft were accompanied by an Italian pilot and a mechanic. Eight Spad aircraft were reported to be on their way, but this later proved to be just a rumour. The Italian aircraft had apparently been exported without a proper certificate. A licence had been issued in July to well-known Italian pilot Leonida Schiona, on account of the Rome-based company Cooperativa Nazionale Aeronautica, for the export of four Caudrons to Somaliland for an alleged postal service there. Schiona was probably the pilot accompanying the aircraft to Jeddah. They had been sold to the Hejaz Government by Tullio Pastori, who had at various times offered to sell aircraft, motor cars and other technical equipment. Constantine Yanni, described as a 'Syrian-Greek employee of the [Hejaz] Aviation Department', was involved as well.
There were in fact already a few aircraft in Hejaz. A German Albatros and an 'A.G.' (possibly an AEG) were stored at Media. One was said to have been left behind by the Turks, but the other was reported to have arrived in 1921. As far as known, these aircraft were never made airworthy and it is most likely that both had been left by the Turkish Air Force after the First World War. Turkey used large numbers of AEG C.IVs and Albatroses of different models during the war.
One of the Caudrons was assembled first and was flown three times around Jeddah early in September. Landing grounds were prepared at Mecca and Taif, about 80 miles (130 km) to the east of Jeddah. In October the Caudron was flown to Taif by the Italian pilot, but crashed when he took off on the return trip. Brooke flew there in a DH.9 but damaged the undercarriage on landing and both aircraft had to be left at Taif. Brooke returned to Cairo but the mechanic Maximov, a Russian who had followed him, signed a six-month contract and set out to repair the broken machines at Taif. Schumacher in Egypt offered to sell the King another 20 aircraft, but this was turned down by the King, who instead asked for more personnel.
Indeed, a considerable number of pilots and mechanics of different nationalities were to serve with the small Hejaz Air Force, most of them just for a short period, however. The one destined to be the longest serving was a Russian refugee, Nikolai Naidenov (or Nicolas Naydenoff), who had previously served as a pilot in the White Army during the Russian Civil War. On December 4, he and Maximov flew the DH.9 back to Jeddah from Taif. They were accompanied by a Caudron flown by the two Italians. This machine came down about 8 miles (13 km) from Mecca, however, and had to be brought in by camels. The crashed Caudron was still lying at Taif. Naidenov soon decided to leave for Egypt by the first boat after having been sent out twice to bomb Turabah, accompanied by an Arab officer who acted as observer and dropped the bombs. According to Naidenov's contract he was not required to perform any missions of military nature.
By February 1922 the Hejaz Air Force was reported to consist of two Armstrong Whitworths, which had not yet been unpacked, two DH.9s, one in good condition and the other lacking essential parts, two Farmans, not yet assembled, and one Caudron, described as 'useless'. Two more Caudrons were at Taif, one in good condition and the other under repair by the Italian mechanic Delicata. Three new Russian pilots, Jungmeister, Minchanok and Kousnietsov, Russian mechanic Agnaiev, Greek pilot Stavris and Greek mechanic Seleguene had arrived from Egypt on January 5. Minchanok attempted a flight when King Hussein inspected the aerodrome on January 10, but crashed almost at the King's feet! 'The King left the scene without comment', reported the British intelligence officer who witnessed the event. Jungmeister crashed a Caudron at Taif on February 25 and Kousnietsov announced that he was a seaplane expert and that he could not be expected to fly on land. All four Russians had been dismissed within a month or two.
The main purpose of the Hejaz Air Force was to create a means to attack the hostile forces of the inland Kingdom of Nejd. Efforts were being made to get the DH.9s to Taif, which was closer to the 'front', for bombing operations against Kleikh and Turabah. In February Constantino Stavris took off once from Taif and attempted to bomb Turabah, but in the following month he and Delicata flew the remaining Caudron back to Jeddah. The broken Caudron was moved to Jeddah as well for repairs.
With only one pilot left, the Government contacted Italian aviator Schiona and soon he and ten other pilots and mechanics were expected. The Italian Government was reported to have arranged to send a fighting aircraft, machine guns, bombs and an armoured car, but this turned out to be just another rumour. Schiona had in fact signed a contract to fly in Japan instead.
Stavris and Maximov were ordered to fly to Medina to be at the disposal of Hussein's son, Emir Ali, and participate in the fighting against Nejd. They refused to do this and when Delicata joined their 'strike' the King closed the aerodrome. Maximov left for Egypt on April 12 and Delicata and Stavris also quit. A Russian mechanic named Klibensky, who had arrived from Cairo on April 8, suddenly found himself to constitute the whole Hejaz Air Force alone!
I-ABCK was the second Ca 101bis arriving in March 1937. The Ca 101 was a passenger transport powered by a 420hp Alfa Romeo Jupiter (centre) and two 200hp Alfa Romeo Lynx engines. (Gregory Alegi)
A Revived Air Force
This meant a temporary end to the Hejaz Flying Corps, as it was sometimes titled, but in August 1922 Naidenov returned to revive the fledgling air force. Constantine Yanni went to Egypt to get more personnel and a second Russian pilot, Shirokov, and four mechanics joined Naidenov and Klibensky in January 1923. On March 23, Shirokov flew from Jeddah to Taif and back in an Armstrong Whitworth with a Russian mechanic and an Arab flying student as passengers.
Early in 1924 flights were made over Turabah to harass the Nejd forces there. At the end of March 1924 the British Government ceased to subsidise King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud of Nejd, who then felt free to start a more determined offensive against Hejaz. On August 20, 1924, his armies entered Hejaz and on October 3, King Hussein abdicated and his son Ali Ibn Hussein took over the throne. On October 13, Mecca was captured by the Nejd forces. The Hejaz Air Force was called in to support the defending armies and found itself in desperate need of more aircraft and men!
On November 22, 1924, the SS 'Nore' called at Jeddah and landed three second-hand DH.9s from Great Britain. Two of them were DH.9Cs and were fitted with an enclosed cabin for two passengers*. Three British pilots, J R King, R H MacIntosh and W (G) Wigglesworth, were engaged and a contract was signed with them on November 7, 1924. Only J R King showed up at Jeddah, however, made two test flights on the DH.9s and then returned home after British diplomatic pressure.
Shirokov now started to fly reconnaissance missions almost every morning and evening with the newly arrived DH.9s. There were no proper bombs, so Shirokov was pressed by Army Commander Tahain Pasha to drop hand grenades or shells on enemy concentrations and on Mecca. A test drop was made with two shells and these failed to explode. Shirokov's salary was reported by British intelligence to consist of £60 gold a month and a bottle of whisky a day!
A mission against Mecca was planned for December 12, but was aborted. On the 18th Shirokov was sent out to bomb Bahra, but no troops were seen there. A number of observation missions followed and on several occasions, including January 3, 1925, bombs were dropped on Mecca. On some raids proclamations were thrown.
As already mentioned, an explosion took place in Shirokov's DH.9C when he was flying over Nejd army camps on January 18. It turned over and crashed, killing Shirokov and two Arab passengers, one of them a newspaper editor. It was assumed that one of the makeshift bombs, old shells converted into bombs with time fuses attached, had exploded prematurely and blew up the aircraft.
Jeddah was bombarded by artillery on February 6, and Ibn Saud's forces soon raided to within a mile or two of the city. There was little resistance from the Hejaz Army. Although the Hejaz Government now suffered from a serious lack of funds, some armoured cars and munitions were ordered in Germany, but no export licence could be obtained. The last of three Russian pilot left and only two mechanics remained. The King now turned to Germany, where the firm Steffen & Heyman agreed to supply aircraft and personnel.
On May 5, German pilot Johannes Modler and observer D Gerth arrived. Modler left already on May 10, however, after having crashed one of the few precious aircraft by taxiing it into a stone wall! In July one of the Germans 'who left a number of months ago' returned with four more, who claimed to be pilots. They promptly crashed an Armstrong Whitworth after a few flights and by that time the only serviceable aircraft of the Hejaz Air Force was a single DH.9.
This situation was changed, however on August 20, with the arrival of the SS 'R C Rickmers' in Jeddah with six second-hand DH.9s with new Siddeley Puma engines and twelve Lewis machine guns, 120 cases of ammunition and 500 high-explosive and gas bombs. The whole consignment was supplied by Steffen & Heyman in Berlin. It seems that a second order for British aircraft was placed but not executed. The East Asiatic Company of Denmark was reported in June 1925 to be preparing a shipment of six aircraft, identified as Avros built about 1920 with 100 hp Lucifer engines, from Hamburg to Jeddah. The British Foreign Office did not desire further shipments of aircraft to Hejaz and persuaded the Danish company to withdraw from the whole transaction.
The newly delivered DH.9s were soon sent on bombing missions almost every day but the German pilots were not very enthusiastic about this work and did not take any unnecessary risks. Their efforts could not save the King and on December 19, Nejd had occupied most of Hejaz. On December 21, 1925, King Ali finally surrendered to Ibn Saud.
Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud had established his capital at Riyadh in 1902. The Emirate of Nejd became the Sultanate of Nejd and its Dependencies on August 22, 1921, and on January 8, 1926, Ibn Saud proclaimed himself King of the Hejaz. On January 28, 1927, a new title was adopted for the united country: the Kingdom of the Hejaz and Nejd and its Dependencies.
Ibn Saud declared that he was going to transfer all military equipment including the aircraft captured at Jeddah to Taif. He desired to employ one British pilot and one mechanic and intended to use the aircraft for mail and other peaceful civilian purposes. A British representative visited Ibn Saud on May 3, 1926, and was told that personnel and spare parts were needed in order to make the machines serviceable. The Air Ministry sent out Squadron Leader Noakes to examine the state of the Hejaz Air Force, but except for this no further action was taken by the British.
A couple of German initiatives were somewhat more successful. In the autumn of 1927 the German pilot Blume, a German named Steffen, and a representative of Deutsche Luft Hansa were promoting an airline traffic plan. In June 1928 a special commission of four people, including a German ex-pilot, who was then the head of an ice plant, was appointed to examine and report on the state of the Hejaz aircraft. The DH.9s had remained inside their sheds since Squadron Leader Noakes' visit in May 1926, but one was apparently still airworthy because the German pilot flew it once around Jeddah.
By August 1928 the German pilot had been engaged as 'head of the aerodrome'. He had recently flown to Rabigh on the coast and back and in September he flew some 400 miles (640 km) to Wejh, probably the longest flight made by a Hejaz Air Force aircraft to that date.
Saudi Arabian ruler Ibn Saud stepping out of one of the three Caproni Ca 101s acquired in 1936 and 1937. (Gregory Alegi)
British Aircraft and Pilots
Meanwhile Ibn Saud had arranged to engage British aviators and purchase new aircraft. He had placed a formal order with the British Government for 'a complete air force' and requested immediate delivery of four aircraft. A British 'Air Mission' headed by Wing-Commander F W Stent was sent out in June 1929 to examine the state of the DH.9s at Jeddah. They managed to make two of them serviceable and flew them several times. On August 25, Britain offered to deliver four new Westland Wapiti II general-purpose aircraft with Jupiter VI engines, which could be supplied from stocks in Iraq. The deal would also include one spare engine, 1,000 20-lb bombs and four tent hangars.
The proposition was accepted in September 1929 and in October contracts for the personnel, pilots L S Hamilton, F E North, C L Lowe and I M Morris, and mechanics J G Cairns, G Cleal, W J Gribble, W G Howard, R W Pierce* and W Thorpe, were signed. Morris was appointed Chief Pilot. The new base of the Hejaz Air Force was to be Darin Island off the east coast in the Persian Gulf. All personnel except for one mechanic left London on November 15, and the aircraft arrived at Darin Island on January 4, 1930.
The living conditions on the isolated island, situated a few miles out 'where the tribesmen could not reach it', put a hard strain on the four British pilots and six mechanics. There was a sort of diversion, however, when they found out that the place was of archaeological interest. The tailskid of one machine ploughed up an ancient tomb! Much to the personnel's relief, Morris was ordered on July 1 to move the Hejaz Air Force back to Jeddah. First the aircraft were flown from Darin Island to RAF Station Shaibah, near Basrah, and on August 23, they continued to RAF Depot Hinaidi in Iraq under the escort of three RAF aircraft for overhaul and refit. As Hamilton had been dismissed on May 20, an RAF officer was loaned to fly the fourth machine.
All Wapitis left Hinaidi on September 5, piloted by Morris, North, Lowe and Flight-Lieutenant Pearson, who was lent by the RAF, and reached Jeddah via Amman and Ma'an nine days later. On the 18th the three Hejaz Air Force pilots were received by Ibn Saud. During October and November some improvements were made to the decrepit hangars and the aerodrome at Jeddah. Three old DH.9s were repaired and a school of aeronautics was organised by Morris with the intention to train six Arab pilots, twelve riggers and twelve fitters. In November an Arab Aeronautical Society was formed to promote aviation and collect funds.
The British pilots were well received by the small European community in Jeddah and the revived air force seemed to have got a good start, but in February 1931 the last four of the British mechanics put in their resignation. Morris and North resigned early in April 1931, leaving only Lowe on the payroll. The British pilots were paid off in full in July, officially due to budget restrictions. A German pilot named Kurt Krakowsky and a German mechanic were hired to help Lowe out but the mechanic soon left.
On September 13, the Air Force was ordered to fly over Jizan to boost the morale of the ground troops, but Lowe was sick and decided to stay at home. By now a young Syrian 'adventurer' had been engaged in the Air Force as a pilot. He had never flown the Wapiti, however, and when he was ordered to do so he refused. For this insubordination he was flogged and jailed! Krakowsky lay ill with dysentery but was persuaded, probably forced, by the General Officer Commanding the Hejaz Army to fly the mission. He took off but turned back after a few minutes, shut off his engine, and then fainted while still in the air! The machine glided into the nearby lagoon and crashed but Krakowsky survived...
Lowe had just been re-engaged on August 24, but was now dismissed and when he left on September 20, 1931, the Hejaz Air Force practically ceased to exist for three years. It can be assumed that Ibn Saud was somewhat disappointed at the ineffectiveness of the new weapon in his arsenal.
In January 1932 Hejaz-Nejd reported to the international Disarmament Conference that the Hejaz Air Force had nine aircraft, eleven officers and 150 men. Only two of the Wapitis were theoretically serviceable and the five DH.9s were not expected to fly again. An Australian Flying Officer, Garth E Klein, was reported to have been appointed to take charge of the Air Force, but he apparently never took up his post. During the first half of the 1930s Great Britain tried in vain to trade landing rights for British aircraft for new personnel to the Hejaz Government. On September 22, 1932, Hejaz and Nejd was renamed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud was to rule the country until his death in 1953.
On June 3, 1934, Russian pilot Nokolai Naidenov and mechanic Maximov, returned to Jeddah from Egypt with orders to once again revive the dormant air force. They found three reasonably sound Wapitis lacking tyres and immediately placed an order for the necessary spare parts. When the first machine had been repaired on July 2, trial flights started, but three days later Naidenov hit a wall on landing and overturned the aircraft.
Very little is known about the markings carried by the Saudi Air Force aircraft. Two of the Wapitis were marked 'S.4' and 'S.8', which would seem to indicate that the four Wapitis and five DH.9s were numbered in a consecutive series. On July 31, Naidenov started flying a second machine and with two serviceable aircraft the 'headquarters' of the Saudi Air Force was then moved to Taif. Two more of Russians, L Kouchlavsky and V Makovetsky, one a pilot and the other a mechanic, arrived on November 18.
In November 1934 a representative of Misr Airwork in Egypt visited Jeddah and proposed to supply modern aircraft. The Government had plans to send students to Turkey for training, but these negotiations broke down and on February 2, 1935, fourteen Saudi cadets left for aviation training in Italy instead. Only four of them passed the medical tests, however, and some time later another six were selected and sent off. Italian Air Minister Balbo had offered to train Saudi aviation students in Italy already in July 1932.
The ten Saudi cadets had been invited to the Flying School at Grottaglie and arrived there in March and April 1935. They also took a course at the Malpensa Bombing School and studied navigation. Eight of them returned home on April 4 and the remaining two arrived on May 31. The Italian-trained pilots were officially referred to as 'Our Eagles' and Abdullah Mandili was singled out as being the best of them. Three years later he was sent to Egypt for a civil aviation course.
The French Government presented a Caudron C.510 Pelican high-wing cabin monoplane, F-AONS (c/n 7326/36), to Ibn Saud. This was an ambulance refitted for VIP transport, with accommodation for three passengers. It was flown by Colonel Pitault from France via North Africa and Egypt and arrived on March 25, 1935. Ibn Saud was said to have 25 sons and a large number of grandsons, and on March 28, some of them were taken for short trips in the new aircraft. The King himself had no desire to fly, however.
Meanwhile, the Arab Aeronautical Society had been active collecting funds for the promoting of aviation and was also arranging for the purchase of two trainers. A subscription was opened to finance the purchase of three other aircraft as well, to be called 'Mecca', 'Jeddah', and 'Riyadh', but none of these plans was ever realised. It was now time for the Saudi Air Force's 'Italian period' to begin.
Caproni Ca 100 trainer exhibited at the Royal Saudi Air Force Museum today. (Leif Hellström)
The Italian Period
Italian influence in Saudi Arabia started to grow just before the Italian attack on Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935. Saudi Arabia was to maintain an attitude of strict neutrality during the Abyssinian War and refused to enforce the anti-Italian sanctions called for by the League of Nations, probably as a favour in return for the Italian help offered.
Lt Col Giovanni Tavazzani arrived in Jeddah on March 8, 1936, to negotiate a Saudi order for Italian aircraft. He was in fact empowered by Mussolini to donate a number of aircraft in order to strengthen Italy's political position in Saudi Arabia. Already on March 26, an agreement was reached to supply five bombers adaptable to civilian use, two transports and three trainers. On April 23, the Italians decided to send three Caproni Ca 100 two-seat trainers and three Ca 101bis three-engined transports, to be donated to the Saudi Government as a gift, and on April 27, a nationality marking for the aircraft was specified: 'a white transverse sword on a green background', placed on the tail.
Three Ca 100s, MM56194, MM56196 and MM56199, were shipped from Naples to Massawa on May 6, 1936, on board the 'Volpi' and a week later two Italian mechanics, Salvatore Arzillo and Mario Mazzi, left to assemble them. The aircraft reached Jeddah from Massawa on the SS 'Mauli' on May 29. Captain Giovanni Battista Ciccu sailed on May 30 to take up a post as a flying instructor at Jeddah. He arrived there on June 12, and on the 17th he flew one of the Ca 100s for the first time.
By June 1936 three of the Wapitis were useable and the one that had crashed into the lagoon was utilised as a source for spare parts. Three Russians remained, including Naidenov and Maximov. The Air Force Headquarters was at Taif and there were landing grounds at Jinnah Island, Darin Island (both off the Hasa Coast), Riyadh (never used), Taif, Jeddah, Yanbu, Wejh and Medina. A new aerodrome was built at Kandara and on September 21-22, this aerodrome and the Kandara-based Arabian School of Aviation were inaugurated and intense air activity began. On November 5, a new class of six students started their training.
The first of the three promised Ca 101bis, I-ABCC, left Rome on October 23, 1936, and arrived in Jeddah on November 4. Four days later it was ceremoniously handed over to the Saudi Government. The aircraft was second-hand and was fitted out for passenger transport. Flights were made every day from the Kandara aerodrome to demonstrate the new aircraft. On November 11, the two mechanics sent out earlier with the Ca 100 trainers and the Ca 101bis delivery crew left for home.
Ciccu and Naidenov began to give instruction to the 'Eagles' on two Ca 100s and on the Caudron. One Ca 100, MM56194, had crashed at Taif on August 30, 1936, after a low level stall. It was shipped to Massawa in November 1937, repaired by the Regia Aeronautica at Asmara and put into service again. In January 1937 Lt Col Renato Ciancio arrived to replace Ciccu as head of what was called the Italian Air Force Mission to Saudi Arabia. Ciccu left on May 11, but in October the same year he returned to his previous position. The Italian Mission consisted of three, from April 1937 four engineers, riggers and radio operators, who were replaced at regular intervals.
An Italian hangar, measuring 170x108x23 ft (52x33x7 m), was obtained and was erected in February 1937. On March 27, 1937, the second and third Ca 101bis, I-ABCI and I-ABCK (c/ns 3349 and 3351), arrived. Another aircraft was added to the inventory, when the Bellanca Skyrocket previously owned by the Saudi Arabian Mining Syndicate (see later) was handed over as a present to the Saudi Government in May 1937.
By April 1937 five of the ten Italian-trained pilots had been discarded, but one of them was soon taken on again. New spare parts that were required to keep the Wapitis serviceable were obtained and Naidenov, Maximov and a recently arrived second Russian mechanic began to work on these aircraft. The Siddeley Puma engine was taken out of one of the discarded DH.9s and fitted into a motor boat. On December 13, an air display was staged with two Ca 100 trainers, the Caudron and the Bellanca.
A special flight was made in May 1938 to Yanbu by the Bellanca and the three Caproni Ca 101bis aircraft, piloted by Naidenov, Ciccu and two Saudi pilots. By now a Commandant and Officer Commanding Aviation, Said-al-Hurdi, had been appointed. The total inventory of the Air Force comprised three Caproni Ca 101bis, four Wapitis (two unserviceable), two Caproni Ca 100 trainers, one new Caudron, one old Caudron and one Bellanca. As already mentioned, one of the Wapitis was completely dismantled and reduced to spare parts, and was not expected to become serviceable again. The new Caudron was C.635 Simoun F-AQLY (c/n 139/7758/90), a low-wing cabin monoplane, which had arrived on April 17, 1938.
In August 1938 Ciccu was replaced by Major Luigi Gori Savellini, but the days of the Italian Mission were now numbered. On March 3, 1939, the Italians were informed that the Government intended to send future aviation cadets to Egypt for training and on April 1, the last Italians left Saudi Arabia. By June 1939 at least seven Saudi pilots were training at the Misr Air flying school in Cairo.
As a result of the Italian exodus Saudi Air Force activity came to a standstill, although the three Russians were still employed. In May 1939 one of the Russian mechanics was ordered to repair the forth Wapiti, but it is unlikely that it ever became airborne again.
The second of the Saudi Royal Flight's VIP transport C-47s, SA-R-2. (John Havers)
A few civil aircraft were operated by American companies in Saudi Arabia and used for exploration and survey. The Saudi Arabian Mining Syndicate (Ltd) was allowed to import a Bellanca CH-400 Skyrocket (c/n 626, US registration NC12635) early in 1936, which was brought from the United Stated and assembled in Egypt. Flown by a pilot named Mountain it arrived in Jeddah on April 29 and landed on the company's private landing ground there. It was stationed at Wejh, on the coast some 375 miles (600 km) north of Jeddah, where the syndicate was prospecting, and was operated by Mountain and his wife, who was a wireless operator.
Mountain had previously worked for the California Arabian Standard Oil Company, which had a Fairchild Model 71 (c/n 801, US registration 13902) at Hasa since 1934. That company first sent geologists to Saudi Arabia in the autumn of 1933 and set up headquarters at Jubail. They soon understood that an aircraft would be invaluable for survey and transport. With permission from the King they ordered a Fairchild 71 modified especially for aerial photography and fitted with an extra fuel tank and big tyres so that it could be flown from soft sand. Dick Kerr, who also was a geologist and photographer, was hired as pilot and Charlie Rocheville as co-pilot. The aircraft was shipped from New York on February 6, 1934, on board the SS Exochorda and was off-loaded at Alexandria, Egypt, on March 1. It was then flown to Jubail via Iraq and in April a mapping of the whole region began.
In April 1937 the Saudi Arabian Mining Syndicate offered to sell their Bellanca to the Saudi Government. When this was not accepted they instead handed it over as a present.
The outbreak of war in September 1939 initially had little effect on the Saudi Air Force. About November 1939 a new Commander was appointed. This was Abdullah Mandili, who had been regarded as the best Saudi pilot ever since his return from training in Italy. There were about ten Saudi pilots but most of the work was led by Naidenov and the two Russian mechanics. Only local flights around Jeddah and flights to Taif were made. One of the Ca 100s was damaged on March 3, 1940, and another crashed and had to be written off on May 1, 1940. Later in May one of the Caudrons visited Cairo.
The Arabian Peninsula and its surrounding bodies of water was of great strategic importance during the Second World War, as it provided the gateway to the whole area east of Suez, serving as a staging post. Aden was in British hands and was well situated as a base for RAF attacks on the Italians in Africa. In October 1940 Dhahran and Bahrain were bombed by Italian Savoia SM 82 bombers. Saudi Arabia did not participate in the war but in March 1944 a request came from the United States to let the USAAF build an air base at Dhahran. Ibn Saud accepted this and the base was completed in 1945-46.
Very little is known about the Saudi Air Force during the war, but it is unlikely that much flying was done. In 1942, the two Ca 101bis aircraft were apparently presented to the British Government by Ibn Saud. The offer was accepted and RAF officers went to Jeddah to inspect them. I-ABCK was at No 103 Maintenance Unit, RAF, at Aboukir in May 1942, but it is not known if the aircraft were actually taken over by the RAF. A Caproni of unknown type was received by the RAF from Saudi Arabia and was taken on charge as HK914 on January 31, 1943, but this could perhaps have been an Italian machine that had fled to Saudi Arabia from East Africa.
Continued in Part 2.