This film is held by the BFI (ID: 458238).


Amateur footage of Harvard and Lincoln planes operating in Kenya. The film includes images of a bombing raid over the Nyambeni Forest.

Filmed from inside the cockpit of a plane, the colour footage initially shows a plane taking off. The film shows three planes in the air, with shots of the pilot, instruments and landscape below. Next, one of the planes drops a bomb, and the camera follows the planes as they swoop down over the woods and start firing. The planes then come down to land, before the film cuts to a newspaper extract. The extract, headed 'Bombing raid by RAF kills 13 terrorists' states that 'patrols which penetrated into the Nyambeni Forest about 20 miles north-east of Meru' have reported the death of 13 terrorists as a 'result of RAF bombing in the area'. The article is cut off and only partially visible. Further footage of the planes shows them on the runway with engineers, and then in the air looking over the landscape. The film concludes as the planes land again at dusk.



A two-part article in The Aeroplane early in 1955 offered an insight into the work of the RAF in Kenya. The article explained that ‘at the end of 1954, a total of 5,148 operational sorties had been flown by the RAF in Kenya, plus 2,703 by the light aircraft of the Kenya Police, making a total of 7,851’ (The Aeroplane, 1 April 1955, 416). The scale of the operation against the Mau Mau, which intensified during 1954, makes it difficult to identify and date the specific events filmed, however the inclusion of the newspaper extract helps to contextualise the action. This extract identifies the attack as one on the Nyambeni forest and, although the exact date and newspaper from which this is taken have not yet been identified, the article in The Aeroplane makes reference to raids on Nyambeni in November 1954.

‘Occasionally, it is possible to obtain evidence of successful air attacks’, the article noted, ‘the most notable recent example being after a night raid at Nyambeni last November by three Lincolns of No 214 squadron, who killed 15 out of a group of about 18 Mau Mau with an accurate and devastating bombing attack.’ The article further claimed that ‘photographs of the scene taken shortly afterwards, which we saw in the operations room, made it easy to understand why the surrender rate went up following the raid’ (The Aeroplane, 25 March 1955, 384). The East African Standard also reported on the continued ‘onslaught on hideouts’ on the south-west slopes of Mount Kenya, noting on 3 November that for the ‘fourth consecutive day… selected targets had been bombed, shelled and mortared, but no contact with the terrorists had been reported’ (East African Standard, 3 November 1954, 26). The attacks on the forest around Mount Kenya (‘Operation First Flute’) followed the earlier operations on the Aberdares in August 1954 (‘Operation Hammer’), yet the RAF bombing campaign ultimately achieved very little. An aerial operations planner, quoted in East African Standard, claimed that the attacks helped in ‘keeping gangs on the move’ and can ‘make it difficult for them to get supplies and can break down their administrative network’ (East African Standard, 17 September 1954, 9). However, historian Piers Brendon described the air strikes as ‘terrifying but ineffective’ and suggested that instead ‘they indicated areas temporarily safe from ground attack’ (Brendon, 2007, 558).

The BFI National Archive’s donor files for the film suggest that the film features Wing Commander R. Bowen. The Aeroplane noted in 1955 that the main RAF base in Kenya, ‘Eastleigh, commanded by Wg. Cdr. R.I.M. Bowen, D.F.C., has a very intensive flying programme’ (The Aeroplane, 22 April 1955, 528). 



RAF Sorties During Mau Mau Campaign provides some well-produced footage of the RAF operations over the forests surrounding Nairobi during the Mau Mau conflict. The film serves primarily as a record of the operations – it begins with a plane taking off, and concludes with the planes landing in the evening – and highlights the continued air attacks on the forest. The film provides no footage of local Kenyans, focussing instead on the planes and the technology, as it shows the instruments in the cockpit and the propellers in close-up. It positions the viewer alongside the pilot during the operation, as the plane descends and fires at the forest. The newspaper extract contextualises the footage and implies that these attacks, unlike many during the prolonged bombing campaign, achieved their objectives.

Tom Rice (February 2009)


Works Cited

The Aeroplane, 22 April 1955, 528.

Brendon, Piers, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781 – 1997 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2007).

‘Air Attacks on Gangs Increasing’, East African Standard, 17 September 1954, 9.

‘Onslaught on Hideouts Maintained’, East African Standard, 3 November 1954, 26.

Fricker, John, ‘Flying against the Mau Mau- I’, The Aeroplane, 25 March 1955, 382-387.

Fricker, John, ‘Flying against the Mau Mau- II’, The Aeroplane, 1 April 1955, 416-421.




Technical Data

Running Time:
7.3 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
250 ft

Production Credits