…... make a show of solidarity with the Lebanese Army. To the south of Beirut there is a high ridge which overlooked the block of flats. On top of the ridge stands the village of Soukh Al Garb, which, because of frequent militia activity there, obliged the Lebanese Army to maintain an almost permanent presence in the area which, in turn, meant that they were at risk. COMBRITFORLEB felt that the planned overflights of his block of flats could easily be diverted to encompass a flypast of the Lebanese Army in the Soukh Al Garb area. The Commander British Forces Cyprus (CBFC) and the Air Cdr jointly vetoed this suggestion, directing that the sorties should be restricted to the ‘British’ block of flats followed by a run across the city.

Accordingly, on 11 September, a pair of Buccaneers took off from Akrotiri and headed for the Lebanon, via CTF60’s airspace, to coast-in at the International Airport. Having overflown the flats in Hadath they flew on across the northern part of the city before turning to fly back to Hadath on their way back to Cyprus, again via CTF60, the whole sortie taking just 40 minutes.

During the sortie, the crews established radio contact with the FAC at Hadath, but a new voice come on the air identifying himself as COMBRITFORLEB and ordering the Buccaneers to change their route and to fly to a grid reference. Fortunately, the Air Cdr and Det Cdr were monitoring radio traffic in the AHQ at Episkopi and it was quickly established that the co-ordinates were those of Soukh Al Garb. Apart from increasing the risk to the Buccaneers, in issuing such an instruction COMBRITFORLEB was clearly exceeding his authority, not least because his order contravened the current ROE. The Air Cdr was immediately on the radio to order the crews to stick to their briefed plan, ie to overfly only the flats and the centre of the city, and to ignore orders from any other source. Communications were less than perfect and there was some lingering doubt as to whether the crews had heard the countermanding instructions; this was dispelled at the subsequent debrief when it became clear that the crews had flown the prearranged profile. A second pair flew the same profile some two hours later also with strict instructions to fly only the pre-briefed route.

Dave Southwood describes this first sortie:

“On the Sunday, we had Air Task Messages to go and do a ‘Show of Force’. The Army troops in Beirut were a bit uncomfortable – they hadn’t had any air support, and our mission there was, should they be shelled, to go and take the artillery guns out.”


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