UAE: Historians mark 80th anniversary of three airmen who disappeared after taking off from Sharjah during WWII

Men were part of British and Allied forces present in what was then the Trucial States to protect the area against threats from Nazi Germany and its allies



The Commanding Officer of 244 Squadron RAF with the Sheikhs of Dubai and Sharjah - Photo from 'The UAE in World War Two: The War at Sea' by Ali Iqbal and Peter Hellyer
The Commanding Officer of 244 Squadron RAF with the Sheikhs of Dubai and Sharjah - Photo from 'The UAE in World War Two: The War at Sea' by Ali Iqbal and Peter Hellyer
by

Rasha Abu Baker

Published: Sun 18 Sep 2022, 2:51 PM

Last updated: Sun 18 Sep 2022, 10:47 PM

Eighty years ago, on September 17, 1942, three airmen serving in the Emirates as Western allies in the region went missing after their aircraft lost communication and disappeared off the Gulf of Oman.

Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Arthur Genny from Surrey, England, and Observer/Pilot Officer Anthony Pontius from the British Channel Island of Jersey, both from the Royal Air Force, and Pilot Sergeant Hunter McGowan from the Royal Australian Air Force, took off from Sharjah on anti-submarine patrol in the Gulf of Oman. They were searching for German U-boats when their aircraft, an RAF Bristol Blenheim Z7418 crashed. The exact location of the crash was never known, and their bodies were never found.

Royal Air Force Bristol Blenheim Z7418 - photo by Canadian Forces
Royal Air Force Bristol Blenheim Z7418 - photo by Canadian Forces

The men were part of British and Allied forces present in what was then the Trucial States to protect the area against threats from Nazi Germany and its allies, Japan and Italy, and signifies how far back Emirati relations began with allies in the West. Pontius is the only known person from Jersey to have died on operations in the Emirates and McGowan is the only known Australian.

"This crash, like the many other incidents that occurred in the UAE, was largely forgotten, however, they still hold significance and are important to remember," said Ali Iqbal Chaudhry, historian and researcher.

Chaudhry studies the Second World War and its impact on the region. He has unearthed singular reports about people and incidents during that period in the Emirates, including this one.

Ali Iqbal Chaudhry, historian and researcher
Ali Iqbal Chaudhry, historian and researcher

"Sharjah played a really big role in this region during the Second World War because the vital supply lines that were coming from the Indian subcontinent and going to North Africa and Europe were very vital and they needed to be protected and all these anti-submarine patrols happened from Sharjah," he explained.

"So it's very significant that we remember the stories not just for the Allies, not for just the RAF, but also the Emiratis were part of it and were helping these people who were fighting this war," Chaudhry added.

There were a number of other similar incidents that took place in the Emirates during the war, but this was the first incident which resulted in the loss of lives. This was, Iqbal said, mainly due to the unreliable aircraft used at the time.

"The Blenheim aircraft that the RAF squadron used was prone to engine failures and technical issues, it contributed to the deaths of allied airmen more so than enemy action in the region.

Report of the crash - Courtesy Ali Iqbal Chaudhry
Report of the crash - Courtesy Ali Iqbal Chaudhry

In February 1943, during a subsequent crash by a similar plane near the desert of Dhaid, and in an example of true friendship and solidarity, "Emiratis came up to the aid of crashed allied airmen helped and bandaged the wounded, buried the dead and then transported the survivors by camel all the way back to Sharjah in what was reported to be a terrible storm," Chaudhry said.

The only remnant of the 1942 crash was a petrol tank washed up on a beach near Jask. A thorough investigation ruled that there was likely a fire on board, causing the aircraft to crash somewhere in the Gulf of Oman.

World War II-related sites in northern UAE - Photo from 'The UAE in World War Two: A forgotten fatal air crash in Sharjah' by Ali Iqbal, Peter Hellyer and Laurence Garey
World War II-related sites in northern UAE - Photo from 'The UAE in World War Two: A forgotten fatal air crash in Sharjah' by Ali Iqbal, Peter Hellyer and Laurence Garey

The airmen are part of the 11,866 commemorated in the Alamein Memorial in Egypt, which was built to honour troops who died in the Middle East and North Africa during World War II.

"Incidents like this crash, or the sinking of a submarine off Fujairah, show that, although there were no great battles here, the area was involved in the Second World War. It's part of the UAE's history," said Peter Hellyer, UAE writer and historian.

Peter Hellyer, UAE writer and historian
Peter Hellyer, UAE writer and historian

"As we do more research about the UAE in the Second World War, we understand that, although there were no major battles here, it played an important role. The oil from Iran was of great significance, which is why Italian, German and Japanese submarines all came to the area. The Sharjah airbase was a key point on the air route between the Mediterranean and India."

Furthermore, Hellyer said, local casualties in the conflict included service members from Britain, Australia, the United States, Germany and Italy. Emirati sailors were involved in operations like Operation Countenance, the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in 1941.

"That is all part of Emirati history, and it's important that we remember."

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During research into the crash, Hellyer discovered that one of those who died in the crash 80 years ago, Anthony Pontius, was, in fact, a relative.

"For many years, I have been working to build links between my two homes of Jersey and the Emirates. To find that a Jerseyman died here during the Second World War is a kind of link I never expected. To find it was a cousin is remarkable! "

Chaudhry added," To find someone from Jersey who served in Sharjah during the Second World War is significant, however, someone who served here and is also related to my dear friend and fellow researcher Peter was incredible!"

Ali and Peter at the memorial site of another Second World War crash that happened in Dhadna, Fujairah in 1943, commemorations for this crash take place every year on the 14th of February.
Ali and Peter at the memorial site of another Second World War crash that happened in Dhadna, Fujairah in 1943, commemorations for this crash take place every year on the 14th of February.

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