|Part of British Forces Cyprus|
|Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus|
Acra Semper Acria
(Latin for The Peninsula is Always Eager)
|Type||Permanent Joint Operating Base|
|Owner||Ministry of Defence|
|Operator||Royal Air Force|
|Controlled by||Joint Forces Command|
|Group Captain M J Blackburn MA BSc RAF|
|Identifiers||IATA: AKT, ICAO: LCRA, WMO: 17601|
|Elevation||23.1 metres (76 ft) AMSL|
|Source: Cypriot AIP at EUROCONTROL|
Royal Air Force Akrotiri or more simply RAF Akrotiri (IATA: AKT, ICAO: LCRA) is a large Royal Air Force station, on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. It is located in the Western Sovereign Base Area, one of two areas which comprise Akrotiri and Dhekelia, a British Overseas Territory, administered as a Sovereign Base Area.
The station commander has a dual role and is also the officer commanding the Akrotiri or Western Sovereign Base Area, reporting to the commander of British Forces Cyprus who is also the Administrator.
RAF Akrotiri was first constructed in the mid-1950s to relieve pressure on the main RAF station 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 In the aftermath of the Egyptian repudiation of the Anglo-Egyptian treaty, British forces had to be withdrawn from the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt.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 resulted in an enormous build-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 a crisis. The Suez Crisis saw a further increase in the strength of RAF forces in Cyprus. Akrotiri was mainly an airfield for fighter, photo reconnaissance and ground attack aircraft. Its regular squadrons of Gloster Meteor night fighters, English Electric Canberra photo reconnaissance aircraft and de Havilland Venom ground attack machines were reinforced by further Canberras and Hawker Hunters from RAF Fighter Command in the United Kingdom. The airfields in Cyprus were so overcrowded that there was a fear of massive loss of equipment should the Egyptian Air Force decide to attack the island. That attack never came. The overcrowding 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, because the United States put considerable pressure on the United Kingdom and France both economically and politically. This quickly forced the Eden government from power. 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 Suez Crisis, 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 remainder being renamed the Near East Command, controlled from Cyprus. From 1957 to 1969, four squadrons operating the Canberra (No. 6 Squadron, No. 32 Squadron, No. 73 Squadron, and No. 249 Squadron) provided first a conventional and then from November 1961, a nuclear striking capability as part of the Baghdad Pact, later the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO).
Akrotiri, along with Nicosia, assumed a very important status, as virtually the sole means for projecting British airpower into the eastern Mediterranean, outside of aircraft carriers. In 1960, independence was granted to Cyprus, with the RAF maintaining both RAF Nicosia and RAF Akrotiri as airfields, controlled by the Near East Air Force. However, Akrotiri assumed more importance as Nicosia was used for greater civil aviation traffic. After 1966, it was no longer possible to maintain RAF units at Nicosia due to pressures of space, and Akrotiri became the only RAF flying station left on the island.
In August 1970, detachment "G" of the Central Intelligence Agency arrived at the airfield with Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft to monitor the Egypt/Israel Suez Canal fighting and cease fire. Permanent monitoring of Middle East Ceasefire was undertaken by the 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, known as Operation "OLIVE HARVEST".
Up until 1974 RAF Akrotiri had a balanced force of aircraft assigned to it, including No. 9 Squadron and No. 35 Squadron, both flying Avro Vulcan strategic bombers. The Vulcans provided a bomber force for CENTO, one of the three main 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 the RAF from Akrotiri as the CENTO treaty had degenerated to the point of uselessness. The two Vulcan squadrons left for UK stations in 1975. What was left at the airfield was the flying unit that is permanently assigned to the station to this day; No. 84 Squadron, a helicopter search and rescue unit. In addition, the role of No. 34 Squadron RAF Regiment was changed from Low level Air Defence to infantry and counter terrorist duties.
In September 1976 the US U-2 operations were turned over to the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (9th SRW) but the U-2 operation at RAF Akrotiri continued to be called Operating Location (OLIVE HARVEST) OH until September 1980. Thereafter it became Detachment 3 of the 9th SRW, although the name OLIVE HARVEST continues. Two U-2s are stationed at RAF Akrotiri and they are still monitoring the ceasefire agreement between the Egypt and Israel although the present operations in the US Central Command area requires further missions. U-2s also transit through RAF Akrotiri either on going into the Central Command theatre or returning to Beale AFB, California.
In the mid-1980s, the US launched retaliatory attacks against Libya after the country's leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi, was implicated in terrorist attacks against US military bases. Although the bombing operations were staged out of the UK, Akrotiri was employed in the role of an alternate in case of emergency, and was used as such by at least one aircraft. This caused a severe upgrade in security around the airfield as Libya threatened to respond against locations used in staging the attacks. The threat was carried through with an attack on the station on 3 August 1986 with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. Three British dependants were wounded although damage was negligible. Security at the station remained high with substantial fortifications constructed along its northern perimeter, until the first Gulf War. The attack was carried out by an unknown supposed Palestinian group but it was generally assumed that this was commissioned and underwritten by Libya.
In July 2006, RAF Akrotiri played a major role as a transit point for personnel evacuations out of Lebanon during the 2006 Lebanon War (see International reactions to the 2006 Lebanon War and Joint Task Force Lebanon).
In March 2011, the station was used as a staging base for support aircraft involved in Operation Ellamy, the UK's contribution to the NATO-led military intervention in Libya. Tanker support and logistical units were based here to support aerial operations over the country.
In August 2013, six RAF Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft were deployed to Akrotiri to defend the base, following possible military responses to an alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack. Earlier two Lockheed Tristar air-to-air refuelling aircraft and a Boeing Sentry AEW1 had been deployed to Akrotiri.
The station hosted the main hospital for British Forces Cyprus, The Princess Mary's Hospital (TPMH), located on Cape Zevgari. This closed in November 2012 and cases too serious to be dealt with at the base health clinic are sent to the private Ygia Polyclinic in Limassol.
In August 2014, six RAF Panavia Tornado fighter/bombers were deployed to Akrotiri to carry out reconnaissance missions over Iraq, following the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. On 26 September 2014, Members of Parliament voted in favour of the RAF carrying out air strikes on Islamic State in Iraq, and on 27 September the first two Tornado jets took off from Akrotiri loaded with laser guided bombs and missiles. On 30 September 2014, two RAF British Tornados successfully attacked and intercepted ISIS targets of a heavily armed truck, at the request of Iraqi Kurdish fighters.
The station was used to support the 2018 missile strikes against Syria.
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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 en route to the region.
Due to the station's relative proximity to the Middle East, it is often used by British allies when needed, such as for casualty reception for Americans after the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing and as a staging post before heading into theatres of combat in the Middle East/Persian Gulf theaters.
The UK has a treaty with Cyprus that guarantees British access to Akrotiri in any circumstances. Under the treaty, the stations employ many locals and contribute to the local economy.
Akrotiri is the location of the Limassol BBC Relay that broadcast the BBC World Service radio signal to the Middle East. Akrotiri's large curtain antennas were also believed to be used to operate the former numbers station, "Lincolnshire Poacher," which broadcast various covert messages to operatives in the Middle East
The RAF display team, the Red Arrows, uses Akrotiri for winter display training.
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A sizeable over-the-horizon radar antenna was erected within the base raising concern for the effect on local wildlife and on the health of people living in nearby Limassol. Several demonstrations and protests took place, with the most memorable incident being the act of MP (MEP since 2004) Marios Matsakis chaining himself to the antenna. Amateur radio operators report that the radar is causing interference in bands allocated for amateur radio use by the International Telecommunication Union. From the international amateur radio union region 1 monitoring system news letter (April 2002): The lowest frequency was 18000 kHz, the highest frequency so far during the current solar cycle is 30500 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.
The U-2s of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing were used in Operation Cedar Sweep to fly surveillance over Lebanon, relaying information about Hezbollah militants to Lebanese authorities, and in Operation Highland Warrior to fly surveillance over Turkey and northern Iraq to relay information to Turkish authorities. These flights were the topic of acrimonious diplomatic cables between British officials and the American embassy, later leaked by WikiLeaks, with David Miliband saying that "policymakers needed to get control of the military". The British were concerned that the flights over Lebanon were authorised by the Lebanese Ministry of Defence rather than the entire cabinet, and that the intelligence so gained could lead to the UK being complicit in the unlawful torture of detainees. After warnings that these issues "could jeopardize future use of British territory", John Rood, a senior Bush administration official, and Mariot Leslie, the Foreign Office's director general for defence and intelligence, became involved. Leslie said that the U.S. was not actually expected to check on detained terrorists, but that future spy missions would require full written applications.