RAF Station Gibraltar 
The most famous rock in the world
by Derek Squire


Gibraltar is situated at the southern end of Europe with a land frontier to Spain on its northern front. It rests at the crossroads of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. 

The stretch of water that separates Gibraltar from North Africa is called the Strait of Gibraltar and throughout history has played a strategic part in battles fought and won to control the western Mediterranean seaways.

In ancient times Gibraltar was one of the Pillars of Hercules. The name of the Rock comes from the Arabic name of Jebel at-Tariq meaning “mountain of Tariq”. It refers to general Tariq ibn-Ziyad who led the Muslim conquest of Spain in 711. Earlier it was known as Calpe, one of the Pillars of Hercules. Today, Gibraltar is also known colloquially as "Gib" or "the Rock".

The naval base in Gibraltar has for centuries has occupied a strategic position for the British. Originally the airfield in Gibraltar was just an emergency landing base for the Navy, which was built in 1939 on the old race course at North Front for the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. In order to handle larger aircraft, the runway was extended onto reclaimed ground, extending out into the bay. However, it was later extended again, by reclaiming some additional land, allowing larger aircraft to land. This expansion took place when the runway length was increased by using waste rock blasted from the tunnels of Gibraltar. The airfield played a major part in Operation Torch,  the Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa,  as well as allowing continual anti-submarine patrols flown from there during the Second World War. During the Second World War the civilian residents of Gibraltar were evacuated, and the Rock was again turned into a fortress.

Over the centuries control of this important peninsula has shifted between the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Vandals, the Goths, the Moors, the Spanish and finally to the English in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession. Plans by Nazi Germany to capture the Rock, codenamed Operation Felix, were frustrated by Spain's reluctance to allow the Wehrmacht onto Spanish soil. Gibraltar is officially known as a British Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.

The current population of the almost six square mile Territory is 28,750. There are two official languages; English and Spanish. The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a major issue of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations. Spain has many times requested the return of sovereignty, ceded by Spain in perpetuity in 1713. Any transfer has been consistently and totally rejected by the people of Gibraltar. In the last referendum organized by the Gibraltar Government in 2002, the voters rejected shared sovereignty between Spain and the UK by 17,900 votes to 187, on a turnout of 87.9%.

Tradition says the British will only leave the Rock of Gibraltar when the Gibraltar apes go. There are several theories on the origin of these monkeys. The only certain thing is that they came from Morocco. One theory is that they came to the Rock at the time when Europe and Africa were joined. However, the absence of pre-historic remains would seem to discount this theory. Another theory, which makes most sense, is that they could have been brought as pets by either the Moors or the British. The apes are tail-less monkeys known as Barbary Macaques. They are found wild in Morocco and Algeria, with the ones on the Rock being the only free-ranging ones in Europe. In 1915 the Government funded the Army to care for and feed the apes but reduce their uncontrolled roaming, but this responsibility has now reverted back to the Government of Gibraltar.

No military aircraft are currently stationed at RAF Gibraltar (ICAO identifier LXGB), but there are regular visits by Nimrod, Hercules and Tornado aircraft as well as by NATO aircraft. The station also functions as the Rock's civilian airport. The airfield is unusual in that the main access road from the colony to Spain crosses the airfield, necessitating the road to be closed whenever aircraft movements are due. Part of the landing procedure when touching down at “Gib” is to have a long look down the runway to make sure there are no pedestrians or bicyclists on the runway. The one runway 09/27, is 6,000 feet long with water at both ends. Due to the continued friction between Spain and the UK, an immediate left or right turn, as applicable, is required after takeoff to avoid entering Spanish airspace.

The civilian part of the joint use airport receives more than 350,000 passengers a year. Most are British tourists who visit for the duty free shopping, and sunshine. When the tourists arrive at the airport, they are only five hundred yards from the city center. This is the closest  international airport in Europe, to the city that it serves. Two main commercial companies, Gibraltar Airways and Monarch Airways, serve the UK and North Africa destinations (Tangiers, Marakesh, and Casablanca).

There you have it then, the story of the airport in one of the last bits of the once mighty British Empire. A British military presence has been in Gibraltar for hundreds of years, and even now it follows the motto of RAF Station Gibraltar – “Guard the Gateway”


Maintaining the Argus in Gib. Right - Pte Gary Saunders, an AE technician is filling the oil tank of the Argus aircraft. (DND)

405 Sqn Crew April 16, 1959