How Sharjah became an important stopover place Dec 20, 2020 9:06:04 GMT -5 chris_c and lastivka like this
Post by Deleted on Dec 20, 2020 9:06:04 GMT -5
Some times ago I came actoss this rather astonishing story about Sharjah at Persian Gulf:
Introduced in 1931, Imperial Airways planned to use with the Handley Page 42 the largest aircraft on its Eastern Route, connecting the airport at Croydon in the UK to India and on to Australia. The timetable shows 13 stops before landing in New Delhi, with a flight time of nearly 63 hours, and with several overnight layovers.
Back then, aircraft flew mostly over land, or hugged the coastline, in case of engine problems. From London, refuelling stops included Paris, Athens, Cairo, Gaza and Kuwait. For the final leg to British India, a place to land along the eastern end of the Arabian Gulf was essential. It was here that the Iranians began to cause trouble.
Problems began in 1927, when the British attempted to extend a three-year agreement that allowed them to overfly Iranian territory on the way to Karachi. A report to London from the British Legation in Tehran reveals that the Iranians had already torn up the existing agreement and were most unlikely to agree a new one.
The culprit was General Shaibani, chief of Iran’s general staff, and described as “an ardent and narrow minded nationalist,” with an “obsession” about British influence in the region. The general, the report said, was particularly keen to extend Iranian “sovereign rights in…the waters of the Gulf”.
The British also suspected another motive, believing that the Iranians were going behind their backs to deal with an old enemy. In May 1930, the British air ministry received an urgent encoded telegram marked “Secret”. A local agent in Iraq had been in touch on behalf of the German aircraft company Junkers seeking information about landing grounds in the Gulf. “Would suggest…foreign aircraft companies will establish themselves unless Imperial Airways show more drive and initiative,” it warned.
With the Germans showing interest in the region and its valuable oil resources, and the Iranian refusal to permit British aircraft to fly along its Gulf coast, a new solution had to be found - and quickly. The southern coast of the Arabian Gulf might offer a way out, but was considered a desolate and underdeveloped place, with no landing spots or agreements to do so.
The best option were the so-called Trucial States, as the seven Emirates that make up the UAE were then known. A list of possible landing grounds was drawn up. Abu Dhabi could be used for flying boats. Dubai was “the most advanced place as regards civilisation and trade on the Trucial Coast. No difficultly in siting an aerodrome”. Sharjah, meanwhile, was rejected in three words: “Unsuitable - too exposed.”
Yet it was Sharjah that proved to win the day. In April 1932, an urgent cable to London from the British agent in Sharjah reported: “Negotiations successfully concluded.” Under the agreement, the British would pay the Ruler rent and landing fees, building the airstrip and other facilities, including a rest house, fortified because of fears of raids by bandits. The Ruler would also provide armed security from his men.
Flights began in October 1932, with Sharjah Airport named Al Mahatta, or The Station, passengers from London or Karachi would stay overnight in relative comfort and enjoy the only bath between India and Iraq. Dinner was the “homely smells of Brown Windsor soup and roast mutton” accompanied by “giant bowls of oysters, good wines and sickly sweet pastries”, according to one contemporary account.
More modern aircraft removed the need for most overnight stops, but Al Mahatta remained a key regional base for the Royal Air Force until 1971.