Thursday 5 January 2023

La Merveille En Bois - Mosquitos Over Khemed

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Misfortune befalls a person like a falcon springs on an innocent gazelle. (By Emir Ben Kalish Ezab)
The Khemed Civil War was a civil war in the Emirate of Khemed that began in 1956 when Sheikh Bab El Ehr, with international backing from Greek-American business tycoon Roberto Rastapopoulos, American arms dealer J.M. Dawson and Doctor Müller (nom de guerre: Mull Pasha), overthrew the regime of Emir Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab. The war arose when the Emir withdrew the landing rights of Arabair, one of Rastapopoulos' companies, after the airline refused to loop-the-loop before landing at Wadesdah International Airport for the pleasure of the Emir's son Abdallah. As Wadesdah was a key link in a major smuggling route run by Arabair, the Emir proved bad for business.
The coup d'état was launched after the forces of Bab El Ehr (itself made up of rebellious members of the Ikhwan militia) began a number of skirmishes with government forces near Khemkhâh, the second largest city and principal port of the Emirate of Khemed. These skirmishes succeeded in drawing the brunt of government forces to Khemkhâh in an effort to protect the vital port city, after which forces loyal to Bab El Ehr were able to advance into Wadesdah relatively unopposed. Bab El Ehr could also count on a squadron of de Havilland Mosquito FB Mk. VIs acquired via J.M. Dawson, who had procured the aircraft from ex-Belgian Air Force stocks through a front office in Brussels.
Formerly a militia consisting of tribal fighters that could barely read or write, the ample funding provided by Rastapopoulos allowed Bab El Ehr to hire a small private army, including a number of European mercenaries. These were armed with weapons systems secured by J.M. Dawson from a number of sources. Most notably, this included a squadron of Mosquito FB Mk. VIs, two dozen Daimler Armoured Cars (both sourced from Belgian wartime surplus stocks) and a single Type VIIB U-Boat. The U-Boat had been part of Gruppe Monsun that operated in the Pacific Ocean during the Second World War, after which it had been hidden in a Japanese submarine cave. Bab El Ehr's henchmen were armed with large stock of World War II-era Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles and M3 submachine guns.

A Daimler Armoured Car and Willys Jeep of Bab El Ehr's Army. The Daimler is still painted in the colours of the Belgian Rijkswacht or Gendarmerie.

Emir Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab had mostly shied away from investing in his military, which even in 1956 still primarily consisted of rifle-toting tribal fighters riding horseback and two dilapidated Supermarine Spitfires left behind by the British. These proved little capable in stopping the advance of armoured cars, let alone fighter-bombers, even if they were of WW2 vintage. After securing an easy victory in Wadesdah, Bab El Ehr nominally became head of state of Khemed. In reality, Rastapopoulos exerted strong control over the country, which he intended to transform into a massive hub for worldwide smuggling operations. The Khemed Armed Forces were headed by Doctor Müller (Mull Pasha), and incorporated a large number of foreign mercenaries. After the successful coup d'état, Emir Ben Kalish Ezab fled to the Djebel mountains along with the remnants of his battered army. The Emir had his family sent to Belgium, ironically the same source of the weapons systems that helped overthrow him.
Western countries appear to have had little issue with this sudden change of power, at least so long as the oil kept flowing. Bab El Ehr's forces had previously sabotaged oil pipelines that flowed to the port city of Khemikhal, depriving much of Europe from crucial oil supplies until Ben Kalish Ezab managed to get hold of the situation. It would take another succesful coup d'état in the Latin American country of San Theodoros before authorities were alerted to the situation in Khemed. After the regime of General Alcazar was overthrown by General Tapioca, the former sought to return to power by too acquiring his own private army and air force (as San Theodoros was landlocked there was no need for a navy). Turning to arms dealer Dawson, Alcazar travelled to Brussels to finalise a deal for twelve Mosquito FB Mk. VIs. His visit had not gone unnoticed by Belgian law enforcement and crime reporter Ejfiuk Tenten however.

A former Belgian Air Force De Havilland Mosquito FB Mk. VI stored in Brussels awaiting a foreign buyer. This Mosquito was one of twelve aircraft purchased by General Alcazar, though ultimately never delivered.

Seeking to investigate the reason behind Alcazar's presence in Brussels, Tenten quickly uncovered the selling of arms and equipment from Belgian wartime surplus stocks to Bab El Ehr through a front office. Tenten then travelled to Khemed to further investigate the illicit arms trade, but was refused entry into the country. While flying back from Khemed, he narrowly survived a targeted assassination by a bomb placed onboard the DC-3 he was travelling in after the aircraft had to make an emergency landing due to engine failure. The desert landing proved the perfect opportunity to slip back into Khemed unnoticed. Alerted that the DC-3 had not exploded mid-air as originally planned, Mull Pasha ordered Daimler Armoured Cars to intercept Tenten's desert caravan. Three Mosquitos also sent out to search for Tenten however mistakingly engaged the Daimlers, believing them to be Tenten's desert caravan.

Daimer Armoured Cars and Mosquitos give chase to Tenten's desert caravan.

After successfully making it to Wadeshdah unnoticed, Tenten was able to confirm the involvement of business tycoon Rastapopoulos and Mull Pasha in the coup d'état, spending several days collecting evidence as Bab El Ehr's henchmen searched the country for any trace of him. After a meeting with the deposed Emir Ben Kalish Ezab in his mountain hideout in the Djebel Mountains, Tenten then attempted to return to Belgium to report on his findings. This proved easier said than done, as armed soldiers patrolled the border region with Saudi Arabia. The Red Sea coast was less heavily guarded, and after several days Tenten managed to secure transport onboard a Sambuk (a type of dhow) for neighbouring Saudi Arabia. His daring escape was cut short by a flight of Mosquitos FB Mk. VIs patrolling the Red Sea, which engaged and sank the dhow using machinegun fire. Tenten and the crew were soon rescued by the steam merchant ship Karaboudjan, which then offloaded them onto the oil tanker Speedol Star bound for nearby Jeddah.

A Mosquito closes in on the kill of Tenten's Sambuk.

Upon learning that the Karaboudjan had rescued several persons from a Sambuk that had been attacked by a two-engined attack aircraft in the Red Sea, Mull Pasha ordered Khemed's sole Type VIIB U-boat 'Hai' to sink the Speedol Star, with the oil tanker taking evasive manoeuvres and managing to evade a total of two torpedoes. After radioing in a Mayday message to ships nearby, Tenten, the ship and its crew are rescued by depthcharge-toting Curtiss SC Seahawk seaplanes of the Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Los Angeles that luckily sailed nearby. Tenten returns to Belgium onboard the USS Los Angeles to learn that forces loyal to the Emir have succeeded in recapturing Khemed. Detailing his findings to the United Nations Panel of Experts on Khemed, international search warrants were issued for business tycoon Roberto Rastapopoulos and arms dealer J.M. Dawson. These no-good men remain on the run to this very day.

Khemed's single Type VIIB U-Boat 'Hai'. The 'Hai' was crewed by mixed German-Italian crew.

The 'Hai' surrenders to the USS Los Angeles after having being depthcharged by its aircraft. Having survived numerous depth charge attacks World War II, the crew of the 'Hai' had little appetite to try their luck another time.

After Emir Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab was reinstated as Khemed's head of state, the mercenaries that didn't succeed in escaping the country were sentenced to death before giving clemency a year later, with the condition to never set foot in Khemed again. This effectively sealed the fate of the Mosquito FB Mk. VIs, with no qualified personnel remaining in Khemed that could operate them. His long time nemesis Bab El Ehr no longer deemed a threat, the Emir saw little use in an air force of his own, only purchasing an Auster Aiglet Trainer aerobatic aircraft to occasionally loop-the-loop for the pleasure of his son Abdallah. The ten Mosquitos were placed in open storage at the military side of Wadesdah International Airport until scrapped in 1959, when Khemed merged with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In case you had the misfortune of not growing up with Tintin, this story is largely based on Tintin's The Red Sea Sharks (French: Coke en stock) and is entirely fictious. Tintin's Belgian creator Hergé often looked for words or expressions from the Brussels dialect (a dialect of the Dutch language) for names and this is also where the "Arabic" names for Khemed come from. The name "Khemed" itself is reminiscent of 'k 'em 'et ("I got it"). "Wadesdah" comes from wades da? ("what is that?") and the port city of "Khemkhâh" from 'k 'em kaa ("I'm cold"). In the name of Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab one can recognise kalisjesap (juice of licorice) and that of his opponent Bab El-Ehr refers to baabbeleer (babbler).

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