RAF Shatin Airfield – aerial images

Peter Howell has kindly sent the following introduction to and images of RAF Shatin Airfield:

1900 Air Observation Post Flight, 657 Squadron, arrived in Hong Kong at
the end of April 1953. Within a few weeks, the personnel had
re-assembled their four Auster Mk 6 and one Auster Mk 7 aircraft and
started flying operations from the airstrip near Shatin village.

The attached photographs of daily life around the airstrip compound were
either taken by Corporal Dick Greenwood or myself.

I was 18 years old on arrival, and my role was that of Air Wireless
Mechanic. As at that stage the aircraft were not fitted with VHF radios,
I had very little to do other than maintain the wire aerials that were
fitted to enable the Army No. 18 Medium Wave Transmitter/receivers
wireless sets to be operated. As a consequence I was very much the spare
hand and spent much of my time doing duty crew tasks, refuelling, hand
starting the engines, taxiing directing etc. Also simply giving a hand
where needed, to the Engine mechanics, Airframe mechanics, the
Electrician and The Fabric worker. Later on in 1953 VHF radios were
fitted to the aircraft which gave me more of my own specialised work to do.

I remained at the Flight until September 1954 when I relocated to No. 80
Squadron at RAF Kai Tak to broaden my experience, finally returning to
the United Kingdom for demobilisation in March 1955.

The accompanying photographs, all taken at various times between May
1953 and August 1954 show something of every day life at the Airstrip.
Service routines consisted of Daily, Weekly and Monthly Inspections. The
more extensive Minor and Major servicing was carried out at the Air
Servicing Flight at RAF Kai Tak.

The work of the unit consisted of carrying out daily patrols and
observation for illegal activity along the Chinese border, the Estuary
of the Pearl River and around the many islands, sometimes using high
powered cameras to take photographs of anything considered of interest
to the Military and Civilian authorities.. Providing a target for Naval
Ships Radar Alignment was another task, along with assisting Artillery
Shoots with the Royal Artillery and the Royal Navy by flying around and
observing where shells landed in relation to their target and
transmitting correcting information for subsequent rounds of gunfire.

High ranking service personnel were regularly flown around the Colony on
their arrival and during manoeuvres for familiarisation and inspection
of their regiments and units.

The non-commissioned members of the unit, both Army and RAF were trained
to act as observers and photographers.

The joint services unit worked very well together, the RAF personnel keeping the aircraft in airworthy condition, and the Army personnel providing all the land communication services, logistics, water supplies, vehicle maintenance, security etc.

HF: I have added the photo captions provided by Peter and an image number so that individual images can be easily identified by anyone wishing to add information.

Shatin Airfield Image 1 Approach To Strip Peter Howell

Image 1 Approach to Strip

Shatin Airfield Image 2 Officers Mess Peter Howell

Image 2 Officers’ Mess

Shatin Airfield Image 3 Arcullis Camp Peter Howell

Image 3 Arcullis Camp

Shatin Airfield Image 4 Arcullis House And Officers Mess Seen From The South West Peter Howell

Image 4 Arcullis House and Officers’ Mess from the South West

Shatin Airfield Image 5 From The North East Peter Howell

Image 5 From the North East

Shatin Airfield Image 6 On Finals Peter Howell

Image 6 On Finals 54

Regarding the caption for Image 6 Peter notes:

This particular pic was scanned a long time ago and I should have renamed it to something a bit more descriptive, such as “Final approach”, the 54 was a reminder of it being taken in 1954. “Finals” consisted of a downwind leg then the approach to the airstrip into the wind.
For a while after our arrival there were no navigational aids at Shatin whatsoever, in fact when we arrived there was no windsock and we had to lay out canvas strips at the side of the runway in the form of a “T” to indicate the wind direction. Also, we used Verey pistols with red or green flares to indicate whether or not it was clear to land.
To alert the duty ground crew that they were ready to land, (they had no radios at first!) the aircraft would fly downwind past the airstrip and then (usually getting near Amah Rock) turn 180 degrees onto the final line up. There was a Verey pistol mounted in the floor of the plane by the side of the pilot and if he was a bit worried that the duty crew hadn’t spotted him he’d overfly the airstrip and fire off a white or orange flare to wake them up.
On the occasions that that occurred the Ground Crew were expected to buy the first round of beer that night!
Having to communicate with Army units, with artillery shoots for example, they could be fitted with the Army No. 18 medium wave radio set. They weren’t very effective though because the radios weren’t designed for aircraft use being fitted with directly heated valves which vibrated to the point that they caused a bonging noise which tended to drown out speech. They sometimes had to resort to dropping weighted bags with a handwritten message.
In late 1953 we fitted purpose designed RAF VHF transmitters, driven by indirectly heated valves and that largely overcame the local communication problems.
Shatin Airfield Image 7 Shatin Valley From The South Peter Howell

Image 7 Shatin Valley from the South

Shatin Airfield Image 8 View Looking East Of The Northern End Of The Airstrip Peter Howell

Image 8 View looking East at the Northern end of the airstrip

Shatin Airfield Image 9 Photo Taken From The North End Of The Runway Looking West Peter Howell

Image 9 photo taken from the North end of the runway looking West

Shatin Airfield Image 10 Aerial View Showing The East Side Of Shatin Village West Peter Howell

Image 10 Aerial view showing the East side of Shatin Village


  1. RAF Sha Tin [1949-1962] on gwulo.com
  2. Sha Tin Airfield Wikipedia

This article was first posted on 4th April 2021.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Shatin Airfield 1949-1962
  2. Shatin Airfield – 1954 article about British Army/RAF use
  3. Shatin Army Camp – link to Shatin Airfield
  4. Shatin – first powered flight in Hong Kong 1911
  5. An Aeroplane Called Wanda – historic flight over Shatin March 18th, 1911.
  6. Charles Van den Born – first powered flight in Hong Kong, Shatin, 1911

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