In this issue:
Can we finally put the epic saga of Gong Kedak (Powell-vs-Bowen) to rest?
Excessive chafing cause of RCAF C130H fire that gutted aircraft.
Junior Officer Mishaps.
SAS to use a Transformer machine to combat terrorists.
UK develops tactical role for C-17 airlifter
More new members join the ranks of the OBA
Multiple viewpoints of Operation Corporate
A Neighbour in Need
From: David Powell, Princes Risborough
Subject: Re: UKMAMS OBA OBB #032516 Gong Kedak
Reference Len Bowen's riposte re my memories of closing RAF Gong Kedak, I suspect we were both correct! Having done a little more digging, have come up with the following:
No 14 Squadron RNZAF (Canberras) was detached to GK from Tengah in June 1965. This was my 'Australian' squadron (my mistake) which resulted in GK being kept open while they did some runway resurfacing at Tengah. Also just relying on my now slightly knackered grey cells, we must have activated GK in late Feb 65 (not Jan as I thought) with the RAF (Germany) Canberras deploying for 3 months from early March to early June before going home.
According to the The Straits Times, 11 June 1965, there was a report of a full grown tiger keeping men of the RAF on their toes at their base at Gong Kedak! And I do recall that interesting diversion, although I never saw the beast myself.
Next, the National Day of Singapore is celebrated every year on August 9, in commemoration of the Singapore's independence from Malaysia in the year 1965. That does fit in with my memories. I recall that, when this was announced without any prior warning, we (the forgotten pack-up team) promptly restricted ourselves to the base (and gave up our afternoon island trips), until we could clarify what our status was as we were all from Singapore RAF units, and all in a now foreign country without passports or visas.
Finally, peace negotiations between Indonesia and Malaysia began in May 1966 and a peace agreement was signed on 11 August 1966 when Indonesia formally recognised Malaysia.
I can only surmise that GK was reactivated in the summer of 66 probably for a refors exercise, possibly in case the 'peace' negotiations broke down and the situation re-escalated.
Meanwhile, Len's mention of Kuantan reminded me of a spell I did there for a couple of weeks covering a gap between the UK equipper going home and his relief arriving. There was a sudden panic from HQFEAF that forward units such as Kuantan should improve their airfield defence, and were to dig trenches! To be fair, it was decided that each section should dig its own trenches. News not well received in the Officer's Mess Tent. However, on a very recent visit to the local township I recalled seeing a contraption engaged in pipe laying along the road. A quick word with the unit CO as it was probably going to be outside my local purchase powers, and to cut a long story short, I went and hired the trench digging machine for a couple of days. The result was a series of neat slit trenches each with nice pile of soil in lieu of sandbags. Job done, no sweat - literally.
F Team UKMAMS 67-69
From: Bill Girdwood, Ealing, London W5
Subject: Re: UKMAMS OBA OBB #032516
Many thanks for the latest newsletter. much enjoyed, as usual, but particularly the short video of the air activity at Brize! Exhilarating stuff for an old fogey!
Can I please suggest a possible answer to the Powell/Bowen encounter over Gong Kedak? My team and those of Vic King and Len, I think, were detached, together with a couple of teams from MEAFMAMS and one from RAAF to a major SEATO/NATO exercise, for which Gong Kedak was reactivated. I reckon that this would have been about Feb/Mar 1967. We were there for some time - not being a slavish log book compiler, I am afraid it is shaky memory time.
However, I do recall vividly one night time I was on shift when an RAAF Herc landed and we had to process the pax and offload a couple of pallets. Before we had finished, the outgoing load of pax arrived at the pan and started getting in the way. I was yelled at by the team and asked/told - you know, 'Can't you do anything to help, Boss?' - to get the pax out of the way. Obedient to team wishes, as ever, I set off to the pax handling area and the tent housing the ground handling staff. An Aussie army corporal behind the desk was the only 'Mover' there, so I asked him for his name and he said that it was Corporal Bill Girdwood! I thought he was taking the p--s, so charged him forthwith, quickly rescinded when a breathless young Aussie Lieutenant arrived on the scene and confirmed that his name was indeed Bill Girdwood. So you see; Gong Kedak was not going to be forgotten quickly.
Hope Dave and Len can both be right and that this was another occasion when Supplier Powell became a Mover!
Best regards, as ever,
RCAF C130H fire linked to faulty hydraulic modification
Excessive chafing and arcing between an auxiliary hydraulic line and the power cable is what caused a fire that destroyed a Royal Canadian Air Force C-130H at Naval Air Station Key West in Florida in 2012.
A newly released flight safety report says the aircraft, configured for aerial refuelling, was midway through a touch-touch-and-go exercise when a “jet-like flame” shot across the cargo ramp floor. That flame erupted into a fireball as the aircraft’s loadmaster was reaching for a fire extinguisher to put it out. The Hercules had just become airborne (10ft) when the flight crew was altered and the pilot immediately brought the aircraft back down on the 10,000ft (3km) runway. The crew escaped with just one minor injury and fire crews responded within three minutes, but the rear of the aircraft was so badly damaged that it was deemed too expensive to repair.
The incident occurred on 21 February 2012, while the aircraft was in Florida supporting a CF-18 deployment. The flight safety report was completed in December and made public on 8 April. According to the report, the stainless steel outer braid of a hydraulic flex hose had chafed and made contact with electrical wires that powered the hydraulic pump motor. The hydraulic system was active at the time, and arching then ignited hydraulic fluid.
The four-engine Lockheed Martin turboprop was purchased from the USA in 1991 as part of a five-aircraft buy. The fire has been attributed to a common aircraft modification, which adds two ground test connections to the auxiliary hydraulic system. The wrecked aircraft, registration CC130342, received the modification in 2002, the report says.
“The investigation determined that a series of deficiencies in the modification and its approval process, as well as its installation and in-service maintenance practices were directly causal to the fire,” the report states. The Canadian C-130 had been modified to the H(T)-model tanker configuration and the air-to-air refuelling tank in the cargo bay contained 6,800kg (15,000lbs) of fuel at the time of the fire.
The chafing problem has been identified in other aircraft, and a fix was been issued to change the routing and clamping configuration of the hydraulic line and pump motor wiring for safe separation. That modification passed a critical design review in October 2014 and will be fully implemented across the impacted C-130H fleet this year, the report states.
From: David King, Fareham, Hants
Subject: Junior Officer Mishaps
While at RAF Muharraq, Bahrain, our shift Fg Off decided he would drive the Condec, just loaded with incoming baggage, round to the front of the Movements building, although not licensed to drive it. In his haste to get the job done he forgot there was safety barrier in his way and promptly drove through it, splinters going everywhere, fortunately none went onto the pan and no one was hurt.
From: Tony Freeman, Thornhill, Dumfries
Subject: For want of a screwdriver!
I was reminded today of an incident at Lyneham some years ago. We were loading a four-tonner onto a Hercules which meant that the tilt had to be lowered into its supporting tubes. For some reason, it would not lower enough to clear the roof of the aircraft. It was some time before we realized that the 'pongos' had retro fitted reflectors on the the rear outside of the tubes and that the securing screws were preventing the tilt from dropping. The best laid plans... !
SAS To Use 'Transformer' Aircraft
British anti-terror forces have been given a forty-three million pound heliplane to help combat terrorism.
The SAS is training to use a V-22 Osprey in the event of a Paris-style attack in London. It takes off and hovers like a helicopter, but can fly at the high speeds of a plane. The Osprey is nicknamed The Transformer.
It is reported to be twice as fast as the SAS's current transport and would be able to make the journey from Hereford to London in 30 minutes. It could make the trip to Manchester in roughly the same time. The Osprey can carry up to 24 fully equipped troops and can reach heights of 26,000 feet.
The SAS has been on high alert in recent months following terrorist attacks in Brussels and the French capital.
From: Andy Brookes, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs
Subject: Junior Officer Mishaps
It was while we were on a JATEU task to Belize around 1990 (I can't recall what we were there for), but we had to carry our own imprest and a young Army Captain who was an Engineering Project Officer was tasked with the job.
We did the offload and went to the hotel and asked for some beer chits from him. He then nearly collapsed when he realised he had left his bag with several thousand dollars in cash on the pan by the aircraft. It ended well for him and us; he went back by taxi to find the bag still in the same place!
From: Charles Collier, Ewhurst, Surrey
Subject: Junior Officer Mishaps
When I was posted to RAF Marham I looked for something to do to succumb to the adrenaline in my system (after having recently returned from Aden). I found it!
During dining-in nights, after the meal, we gathered in the mess ante-room for a chat. It was then that I challenged the aircrew to replicate what I could do. With a couple of friends I climbed upon one small table after another until I could touch the ceiling with my hands. This was a challenge that was not immediately taken up. However a month or two went by until an aircrew Navigator attempted the feat, fell off and broke his arm!
I was blamed and was told that it was all very well for a Supply Officer to break his arm - he could still carry out his work. However a GD Navigator was off work for a couple of months - I was to blame as I had originally challenged them.
I accepted it but liked the idea I had scored a point over aircrew.
All the best
UK develops tactical role for C-17 airlifter
The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has undertaken parachute trials with its Boeing C-17 Globemaster III as it looks to develop tactical capabilities for the strategic airlifter.
The tests, which were announced by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on 25 April, saw a number of test parachutists perform more than 20 freefall jumps as the RAF looks to expand the mission set of the C-17 from its current purely strategic role into a more tactical asset.
As noted by the MoD, the 99 Squadron aircraft was flown by a test crew from 206 (Reserve) Squadron, while the parachutists came from the Joint Aerial Delivery Test and Evaluation Unit (JADTEU). The tests themselves were supported by the RAF's Airborne Delivery Wing, Defence Equipment and Support, and QinetiQ.
The parachutists landed in the dropzone "with pinpoint accuracy", the MoD said. Both the commander of 99 Squadron, Wing Commander Rhodri Evans, and the commander of JADTEU, spoke after the trials of continued UK efforts to expand the C-17's tactical capabilities in national service.
The UK fields eight C-17s out of RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. The first of these were received in 2001. The type is primarily a strategic transport aircraft, but in addition to its standard cargo supply role the aircraft is used for casualty evacuation missions and evacuating British nationals in emergency situations.
Since entering UK service, the C-17 has provided the strategic tier of the country's air mobility capabilities, with the tactical tier being accommodated by the Lockheed Martin C-130K/J Hercules. The C-130K is now retired, while the C-130J is to be retained in reduced numbers through to 2030.
The Airbus Defence and Space A400M Atlas, which is currently being introduced, in many ways crosses the divide between the tactical C-130 and strategic C-17 and has been termed 'stractical' by some industry executives.
From: Tony Mullen, Toowoomba, QLD
Subject: Junior officer mishaps.
Back in 1965 I was a 21 year old Flying Officer with FEAF MAMS at RAF Seletar. Because we spent a lot of time flying in helicopters and single engined aircraft over the jungles of Borneo and Malaya it was decided that we should send some of our members on the Jungle Survival Course. The first week was mainly in classrooms at the Survival school at RAF Changi followed by a week in the bundu. I was the first attendee!
On the Friday afternoon of the first week I was called out of the classroom to receive a call from MAMS. I was instructed to call by the aircraft loading area at Changi before heading back to Seletar for the weekend to head up a MAMS job as no other officers were available and I would only need to sign the trim sheets. Everything else was organised. The task was loading 3 Malaysian Air Force Friendship aircraft with RAAF Sabre Sqn ground equipment back to Butterworth following an exercise.
I arrived at the loading area and was met by the MAMS Sergeant in charge whose name I remember very well but who will remain anonymous for reasons that will soon become clear! The first aircraft was being loaded and I noticed that up the front of the fuselage was a private motor car. I queried this and was advised by the Sgt that it was his car. He was flying up country that weekend with his family and intended to tour around on hols with his car. He said he had clearance from HQFEAF for the indulgence freight. He also said that he had load planned all the equipment and that there was plenty of space for all of it plus the car. Furthermore he had done a trial trim and the car needed to be put on first.
I was suspicious but reluctantly accepted it as a “fait accompli”. I had had no prior briefing or involvement with the task and decided to trust the Sgt’s judgement.
You guessed it! The first aircraft and the second aircraft took off fully loaded and the 3rd aircraft was left with a large pile of ground equipment, most of which we had to leave behind because of lack of space!
The whole sorry episode was witnessed by the RAAF Sqn engineering officer. To say he was furious would be an understatement and he left with the words to me “You will be hearing more of this mark my words”.
Sure enough signals flew between the OC at RAAF Butterworth and AOC FEAF and the RMAF had to send another aircraft the next day for the remaining equipment. A Unit Enquiry was convened and once more Mullen was in the dock! However, I explained the circumstances and was not found culpable in any way. The Sgt was officially reprimanded but it was an extremely embarrassing incident involving 2 allied Air Forces.
I hope Sgt “X” enjoyed his touring holiday.
From: Mike Lefebvre, Burton, NB
Subject: Junior Officer Mishaps
Prior to 1970 I was a member of 2 AMU MAMS In Trenton. We travelled the world. We used to visit the local watering establishment as a group most times. Beer then was 10¢ a glass. We were in the habit of everyone throwing $1.00 on the table and then someone would control the loot. The waiters usually dropped off a tray at a time.
Comes along a new MAMSO whom we nicknamed Beaver (he was under the impression that it was because he was thought to be industrious, but it really wasn't, he had buck teeth!), and we headed for a bar. Beaver is at the end of the table and we passed the cash his way. He took it and put it in his wallet and paid for the beer the entire evening. The next day he commented on how expensive the night was and we had a hard time trying to keep straight faces.
As a footnote, after a couple of years Beaver was asked to resign his commission.
Solar Ship hybrid aircraft company lands government contract
The government of Canada has established a contract with Solar Ship Inc. to help expand Canada’s future capabilities in peacekeeping, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.
Through the federal government’s Build in Canada Innovation Program (BCIP), the Department of National Defence (via the Royal Canadian Air Force) will work with Solar Ship to test and evaluate the capabilities of innovative aircraft designed to transport critical cargo during disaster relief missions.
The aircraft will be tested for additional applications relevant to the Royal Canadian Air Force’s support of humanitarian assistance missions, as determined by the government of Canada.
“We’ve been working with former RCAF pilots, engineers and operations personnel since 2009, preparing our capabilities to help with their missions to save lives,” said Solar Ship CEO and founder, Jay Godsall.
“It is a great honour for us to officially be working with the RCAF. We have followed the guidance of retired RCAF commander, General Andre Deschamps, to recruit and hire top level retired talent from the RCAF to collaborate more formally with what is often called the greatest flying organization in the world.”
Retired lieutenant-colonel Tim Shopa, former lead operational test and evaluation officer for the RCAF’s CF-188 fleet, said: “Solar Ship has proven some core capabilities in conducting difficult missions when it demonstrated the ability to takeoff and land from a soccer field with a mass of 1.8 tonnes using solar electric power. Now we must further demonstrate that a number of key performance parameters can be met to enable disaster relief missions in regions such as Africa where there is little or no infrastructural support.
“This is an important step for both Solar Ship and the RCAF. Once the technology’s capabilities are confirmed it will change the possibilities associated with all humanitarian assistance missions. This is an exciting time to be Canadian and involved in this aerospace achievement.”
New members who have joined us recently are:
Jayne Best (nee Bevan), Calgary, AB, Canada
Welcome to the OBA!
Gabriele Rusciano, Adelaide, SA, Australia
Talking of Junior Officer Mishaps...
I was a very young DAMO at RAF Labuan with Shadow Minister for Defence Edward Heath (later British Prime Minister) who was visiting Borneo on a 'fact finding' tour.
I was briefing him on the Mae West (OK I know he was an experienced yachtsman, but it was a requirement), when the press crew appeared and he suddenly was gazing off towards the blue hills of Borneo for the cameras.
My reaction of "Oh forget it; it's your problem if you bloody well drown" caught on film.
Needless to say, this photo did NOT appear in the UK press, but the CO, WgCdr 'Rusty' Pinn (on left) gave me this copy in the bar the following day after I'd shouted him a 'Tiger' or two!
Lifted from Facebook
From: Keith Parker, Bowerhill, Wilts
Subject: Visit to RAF Brize Norton by The RAF and MAMS Association
It was Thursday the 14th of April and we were queuing up for what was to be the 5th visit of the Association to1 AMW at Brize Norton. We congregated in the waiting room next to the guardroom (Porta Cabin really) and the guys really started to gel, chatting and introducing themselves to each other. Eagle-eyed Sam Heaphy reminded me that I had left my walking stick in the loo (thanks Sam, I wouldn't have been able to get very far without it). That really set the theme for the day, everyone got on famously. We were hosted by Sgt Mark Hayes, and what a great job he did.
Our first port-of-call was a great lunch in the Sgt's Mess hosted by many of the serving WO's and SNCO's, then after coffee in the ante-room and a few old MAMS stories we were given a short tour around the airfield ending up at 1 Air Mobility Wing where we had a look into the Operations Room from where teams are tasked. It's all computerised now, not a china graph pencil or magnetic board in sight.
Next we were given an up to date brief on the new transport aircraft (or platform, as they are called). Warrant Officer Mick Gidney, who some of you will remember, gave a splendid brief on the new A400M followed by a practical demo on the actual aircraft (sorry platform) which was excellent, the guys even got a tour of the flight deck.
Then we were given a tour of a C17, firstly by a pilot who gave a most informative brief and then a Loadmaster where we found to our surprise that their brevet now doesn't have ALM; all airman aircrew brevets now have RAF on then, the same as the pilots. The tour of the aircraft was thorough, and most interesting even to me, as I, like all the old DynCorp / AWV gang had worked on them in another lifetime when we were working at Thumrait in Oman.
All too soon we were on the bus and heading back to 1 AMW for a quick and heartfelt brief from the new OC, Wg Cdr Nick Huntley, on the present state of the Wing and trade which was very much appreciated by all.
We then were briefed on the training and welfare of all on the wing by Flt Lt Williams and it was great to hear that at last welfare is very much at the forefront as well we all know from when we were on Mobile it was always uppermost in our minds. After a quick cuppa we then said our goodbyes and were on our way back to the Sgt's Mess to pick up our cars and head home. This I think, (and I know I say this every time) was the best visit so far. I can't wait for the next one, which hopefully will be in October.
Thanks to all again,
From: Arthur Taylor, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs
Subject: Operation Corporate
You certainly have brought back some memories of April 1982. At that time I was with No 2 MT Sqn at RAF Stafford coordinating the movement of all the freight to the docks ready for the Armada while also maintaining the schedules of our European tasks. I spent many hours on the telephone, both at home and at the Sqn, and in the end it was very rewarding. But, it wasn't to end there.
In 1983, I was detached to Ascension Island for the six month slot. This wasn't the first time I had been to Ascension, I had visited it previously on two occasions when with UKMAMS. On this tour I was working from that old, dusty, noisy control tower. However, I was fortunate that I was able to work at the dockside in Georgetown with Cable and Wireless, offloading the cargo from the ships, bringing in all the materials for the building of the new camp. This was all done by offloading from the ship to a barge manned by Cable and Wireless staff, craned onto the dock and trailers for transport to the camp site. I spent days there, but it was interesting work.
I also recall going onto the 2 ships, the Canberra and the Keren, which were on the roulement of troops from Ascension to the Falklands, meeting with the ship’s Warrant Officer, spent the night on board.
Initially, at Ascension, my accommodation was with five others in a bungalow in Georgetown, which was quiet handy when working at the docks. Meals were at the US base facility, so we were well fed, plus the SWO, who was in our accommodation, could rustle up a good English breakfast on a Sunday morning. I can't remember if he ever went to church!
All got really busy when they started building the Campsite, everything coming in by sea.
I built up quite a rapport with Fairclough’s who were doing all the building; they supplied all the tractors and trailers to move the stores off the dockside.
The NAAFI had all the furnishings for the club sent in, which had to be stored in an area on the airfield.
Fortunately, on the MT there was an Eager Beaver RTFLT with which I was able to offload the trailers so I kept my hand in there.
Socially, life was OK once we got the messes going. There were the CSE shows which were downtown, but afterwards the cast would come back to the camp; Officer’s Mess, Airmen’s Club and Sergeant’s Mess respectively. I will not comment on the good times we had, ha ha!
It was also good to have the Hercules, VC10 and Tristar crews with us, and on occasion a Belfast crew from Heavy Lift, most of whom I knew from my MAMS and AQM days.
Unfortunately, I never had a camera with me on that tour, so, no photos of the building of the camp, or the rebuild of the airhead, a shame really. Perhaps some of the colleagues who were down there at the same time may have some, but what an interesting tour.
I wonder if the ducks are still in the Sgt’s Mess? I still have the Poodle, ha ha!
Rgds to all,
From: Andy Holliday, St. Just, Cornwall
Subject: Operation Corporate
As I sat in my office in North London staring at a Beverley parked strangely close to a block of flats I thought my future in Air Movements was probably somewhat limited. Despite best efforts at devising an escape plan I certainly didn’t envisage in early April 1982 that it would involve a trip to the Falkland Islands.
When the news of the invasion broke I contacted Chris Swaithes to see whether UKMAMS could use an extra body who was still current on most MAMS vehicles and ACHE. Fortunately, he was very amenable and I reported back to Lyneham 2 days later. My brief was to get a team together to form the UKMAMS Detachment in the Falklands. The team consisted of myself, Fg Off Pete Kettel, FS Dave Wright, Sgts Ian Newlands and Taff Price, Cpls Jim Rice and Steve Williams with SACs Brian McVeigh, John Kilpatrick and Neale Harrison. Colin Smith a Cpl Gen Fitt Int joined the team to maintain ACHE. The next week was a frenzy of medicals, range firing and studying facilities available at Port Stanley Airfield (PSA). We concluded that we would need to take everything with us. We prepped and despatched a Condec, Henley Hercules and Eager Beaver for loading onto a cargo vessel.
Once the heavy equipment had been despatched we prepared to embark at Marchwood with our Landrovers, trailers, field equipment and immediate rations and water containers. The call never came! After a couple of weeks it was clear that we could not catch up with the Task Group and that to be able to handle the first flights to PSA we would have to be inserted by air. The team returned to their normal teams for some weeks as more and more equipment was gleaned from all over the place to supplement the task group. This included an S259 Radar from Portreath, collected from St. Mawgan, all sorts of additional ammunition supplied by friendly NATO forces and vast amounts of fly-away packs for all the aircraft types being deployed to Ascension.
Eventually, 6 days after the ceasefire on June 23, the advance party of myself, Dave Wright and Steve Williams departed aboard Ascot 4250 for the trip to Ascension Island (ASI). Following a 14 hour stopover on ASI in a rather nice tent with no sides out at English Bay, we departed with the Governor, Rex Hunt, a couple of his staff, the Air Transport Det Cdr and a Ground Eng. By this time the available payload on an airland Hercules had been reduced so dramatically by conversion to PLR4 (4 internal tank in-flight refuelling role) that we could only carry personal kit, a minimal admin pack, one 12 x 12 tent, enough rations for 3 days and 10 gallons of water. We were aboard Airland Susie, the second Hercules to depart for PSA, the first having departed a couple of hours earlier to ensure landing at PSA was going to be possible. After some interesting close up views of the underside of a Victor Tanker we eventually touched down at PSA at 1330 on 25 June 1982.
To ensure no risk of an aircraft failing to restart and being stuck at PSA while hostilities officially still existed we carried out an engines running offload of the 6000 lbs of freight, consisting the Herc pack up, our small amount of gear and the Governors baggage and official kit. The aircraft backtracked and departed immediately to be followed 15 minutes later by Airland Thelma which also carried out an ERO. Both aircraft had backloaded PAX and baggage selected by HQ Land Forces Falkland Islands (LFFI). It felt extremely remote setting up our tent in the middle of a deserted airfield as dusk rapidly approached.
The next day we inspected the remains of the terminal building and pan and realised immediately that there was no possibility of using either in the short term. A further problem arose since we had arrived with only 10 gallons of water and the entire water system for the airport was unusable due to contamination with human faesces. With no transport we had to blag a lift with a vehicle bringing passengers for the next 2 aircraft and scrounge water from a very helpful islander in Stanley town. It was lucky that many of the troops on the islands saw the merit of looking after the movements team who would be their passport to repatriation. Some of the first to leave the island were Special Forces who had availed themselves of an array of Argentine vehicles and were more than happy to lend us a Mercedes G-Wagon… problem solved. We also made contact with an ATLO Sgt based at HQLFFI who was able to provide printed manifests for the passengers and freight (very little) being backloaded and signals being received at HQ for the UKMAMS team.
On this first full day at PSA we only handled one airland, the other having aborted. It was agreed that the aircraft would back-up onto the taxiway and offload so that any unserviceability would not prevent the next aircraft landing. At this point, due to lack of communications facilities on the airfield and radio silence en-route, we often did not know when an aircraft would arrive until a smudge appeared on the horizon. This procedure was highly effective as we could handball the inbound load onto the taxiway and backload the PAX and Bags allowing the aircraft to depart fairly quickly.
As luck would have it we received another couple of 12 x 12 tents and some lighting, heating and cooking equipment that day and were able to improve the AT det to something approaching habitable. The problem remained that the terminal building had no glass in the windows and several big holes in the walls caused by RPGs. Whenever it rained the water blew in the windows and ran down the stairs from the control tower above. We managed to find an internal office that stayed dry to set up load control and began to operate from there from 27 June.
We began to settle into a routine of 2 airlands per day, although they were all rigged for airdrop in case landing was not possible. This proved a godsend as the load could be pushed off the ramp onto the taxiway and the aircraft quickly reroled for pax. We were helped massively in this by the slip crew that had positioned the third day so that the inbound crew rotated through the Upland Goose Hotel for a nightstop.
By 29 June we had a huge stack of freight backlog awaiting collection, principally by the Navy. After liaison with the Senior Naval Officer at LFFI we were allocated a team of sailors to segregate and outload their cargo by helo or land. We also received a team of Royal Engineers with heavy plant who cleared the aircraft pan of freight and broken Argentine aircraft allowing the Hercs to park next to the terminal, thus speeding turnrounds and improving safety by corralling passengers outside the aircraft movement area. The Det put a lot of effort into making the terminal usable patching and cleaning everything within an inch of its life. We still had a problem with the lack of ACHE as some items up to 7000 lbs began to arrive and we could only borrow a suitable vehicle if the freight was for the unit supplying the vehicle. Fortunately no pictures exist of one offload using 2 Allis Chalmers Engineer tractors with enormous forks and a chain to drag a palletised load off the ramp and onto the waiting forks of the second vehicle parked at right angles to the aircraft.
The remainder of the team arrived on 1st July having flagged at Dakar and Ascension, a total of about 27 hours flying! After handling the 2 airlands the whole team set about getting the new arrivals ensconced in their new home. With the boost in staff we were able to deploy myself to HQLFFI to create the Air Booking Centre and appoint Taff Price NCO i/c Air Cargo to liaise with the other services to clear inbound freight more quickly. We also received our first piece of ACHE, an Eager Beaver, which allowed us to handle bigger items and to offer up a pallet to the ramp for offloading of mail which had begun to arrive in great quantity and quicker loading of baggage. We also agreed with HQLFFI and 38 Group that trying to backload 46 passengers was not practical even with aircraft now in PLR2 role. A compromise was agreed at 38-40 which meant little or no centre seating had to fitted further speeding up turnrounds and, for the first time, allowing the aircraft to be trimmed within an acceptable area of the envelope.
After 2 weeks camping on the airfield one of the last of the Special Forces to leave offered us the house they had been using in Stanley. It was called Kelper Stores, but affectionately known as Ascot Cottage. Although dormitory accommodation using camp beds this was sheer luxury and remained home for the rest of the detachment.
The routine continued through July and early August, interspersed with some days without any aircraft, usually followed by 3, 4 or even on one occasion 5 inbounds to catch up the backlog. The workload was much reduced by the arrival from the merchant ship Mermidon of a Condec, Henley Hercules and 2 ACT 5 trailers.
A couple of days later we received our long awaited Anthony Allen docking and really began to look more like a proper Movements Flight with the ability to receive and if necessary backload palletised loads quickly.
We did, however, have to scratch our heads one day when a 30 foot long piece of the rock-crushing plant arrived on a triple pallet and the weight, combined with the slope of the pan made it impossible to push off the aircraft. Where there’s a will... !
Eventually on 15th August the airfield closed for the runway to be extended and covered with AM2 matting. During this period the team enjoyed their first day off for 7 weeks before launching into toning down and refurbishing the terminal building and supplying the DZ clearance team for the airdrop operation that that now replaced the airbridge. A team of 4 plus an Eager Beaver were despatched each day to Sapper Hill to collect and distribute the 30-plus one ton containers being delivered daily by 2 airdrop flights. We also got involved in the preparation (but not rigging) of the “Snatch” collection of mail at Seal Point. This involved one of the airdrop aircraft trailing a hook after dropping its containers and grabbing a cable suspended about 10 ft off the ground attached to the mail. They would then disappear still winching-in the load. Probably the highlight of this period was carrying out the DZ marking under the direction of the AT Det Cdr for the delivery of a Medium Stressed Platform(MSP) containing replacement jaws for the rock crusher being used for the runway extension.
When the airfield reopened at the end of August the emphasis was on transition from detachment to permanent Air Movements Flight. As a result there were several personnel changes. Fg Off Pete Kettell and FS Dave Wright were repatriated whilst Flt Lt Nigel Moore and Sgt Al Scarisbrook arrived to become permanent staff at the Air Booking Centre. This left the Air Movements Flight with its target establishment of one officer, 2 SNCOs, 2 Cpls and 4 SACs. This team continued until early October when the first full rotation of staff occurred.
From: David Salmon, Springfield, OR
Subject: The Falklands War 1982
At the beginning of February of 1982 I had finished my MAMS course and joined Bravo team, the team consisted of F/O Jo Joseph, F/Sgt Stu Everett, Sgt John McClymont SR, SAC Steve Perry, SAC Kit Kitson and myself.
During the week of 29 Mar - 04 Apr 1982, Bravo team was on Standby, apart from Jo, who was down route. We had all been keeping up with the events unfolding since the Argentineans' had raised their flag on South Georgia in March, so we had been expecting the call out at any time.
Finally on the 30th Mar 1982 we got the call that Bravo team, with F/Lt Jim Stewart as the team leader were to pack cold weather gear as we were heading to the Falklands. On the 01 Apr 1982, Flt No 4742 XV 196, we departed for Gibraltar at 23.59, carrying a Track Radar Unit with 2 RAF Operators. We arrived at Gib in the early hours of the morning on the 02 Apr 1982. It was during our flight that Port Stanley was invaded, whilst on the ground in Gib our destination changed from the Falklands to the Ascension Island. At 0003 Hrs, on the 03 Apr 1982 we took off on an 11.30 hour flight to the Ascension Island, and as they say, the rest is history.
From: Pete Kettell, Chudleigh, Devon
Subject: Operation Corporate
I was a 21 year old acting Flying Officer when I was told I was to lead the airfield element of the initial UKMAMS detachment that was deployed to get Stanley airfield up and running again following the cessation of hostilities with the Argentinians. Once the team was established, I believe there were about 12 of us, we set about getting our kit together, and then checking it again and then again. As the Task Force formed up and sailed, we were left behind, fully prepared but not knowing how we were going to get down there. There were rumours that we were going down on a frigate, then it was a troop ship and being on 2 hours standby for about 12 weeks finally ended when it was sensibly decided to send us down on the first Hercs into theatre following the cease fire. An initial detachment of 3 went first, followed by the rest of us.
The deployment was not without its dangers and the first was whether we would get to the Islands in the first place. After a sun tanned greeting by the MAMS guys at Ascension as we deplaned from our VC10, we boarded our specially converted C130 for the ride down South. My first memory once on board was the smell of fuel and the sight of various plastic pipes on the forward cargo hold floor leading to two large fuel tanks which Marshalls of Cambridge had hastily installed to ensure the aircraft could get to the Falklands and back should it not be able to land.
The flight itself was very memorable, high on Avtur fumes, the pilots had to find a Victor tanker for some in-flight refuelling, but the ‘top up’ went exceptionally well for the recently trained crew and on we went. Then hours later as we entered the 250 mile exclusion zone, senses were concentrated as we were now vulnerable to attack by enemy aircraft. I remember the aircrew had been given a little radar gun thingy which they were happily pointing out of the window when it went off, the cockpit chatter stopped and it became clear a radar had locked onto us. Not that there was much the pilots could do about it, but it did get everyone’s attention as a black spec was spotted heading straight towards us. As it grew larger it was with great relief that that it turned out to be a Sea Harrier coming to provide armed escort for our approach into Stanley. And with the eventful flight over, we stepped off the ramp into four seasons of horizontal weather, all in half an hour. We set up a tented camp on the side of the runway on the corner of the intersection that led to the pan area. In the early days we had frequent yellow air raid warnings and briefings that the Argentinian air force was regrouping for attacks on the airfield. Consequently, I made the guys dig defensive positions and sent my Cpl ‘fixer’ off in search of better arms than the 9mm pistols we had been deployed with. Thankfully there was a copious supply of Argentinian weaponry scattered all over and here is Sgt Ian Newlands simulating a ground impact on my head as I defend our position with an Argentinian FN rifle. There was plenty of discarded ordnance to cause concern, particularly BL755 bomblets around the airfield which took on greater import when we woke up to a fresh carpet of snow. Keep to the marked paths boys!
Once the control tower area had been given the all clear, one of the first tasks was to make the building into functioning passenger terminal. There was a lot of work to be done, especially in the toilet. It is a little known fact that in terms of size the male Argentinian faeces stool is a world leader. Never less than 12 inches long and able to placed well above a normal persons height, the memory of the sight that greeted us as the toilet door swung open lives with me to this day. It was as if it had been delivered through the roof as it was impossible to enter and having asked for volunteers to help clear it I found myself suddenly on my own with the exception of Sgt Taff Price. No worries Boss, he said, ‘I’ll clear it all out on my own as I have no sense of smell’. And he did, every last monumental sized turd; it was even rumoured he was heard whistling. Duty above and beyond the call of nature.
With all the windows having been blown out, we arrived each morning to clean up after the previous night’s cyclonic weather and get to work preparing for the 2 airbridge flights that would arrive in the early afternoon. The landings were VFR (visual flight rules) so if the pilot couldn't see the runway, he had enough fuel to make 3 attempts before he had to abort and return to Ascension. It didn’t happen often, despite the weather’s best attempts, but I can recall staring at faces through porthole windows 50 ft above me as they made their abortive 3rd attempt and climbed for the return journey totalling nearly 24 hours flight. The aircraft also had to depart before darkness fell, so turnarounds had to be fast, professional and without any unnecessary Movements delays. The C130s were prime targets and were not allowed to stay on the pan overnight at that time.
We had about 2 hours of daylight to get the aircraft turned round and this would have been made much easier if all the aircraft handling aids hadn't gone down with the SS Atlantic Conveyor. I believe we clung onto a 3 ft piece of dunnage like it was Tom Hank’s football in the film Castaway. With Ascension having a palletised capability some of the loads they sent us were challenging to say the least. Like the submarine anchor that we saw as the ramp opened sitting safely on a pallet. This was going to be a challenge for our one piece of dunnage! I believe we attached chains to it and dragged it off the aircraft using a passing heavy army vehicle; operational damage to the floor was approved by the Captain, but thankfully was minimal.
There were many interesting loads and looking back we were highly trained, highly adaptable and very competent at dealing with the challenges we faced.
As the days wore on the threats of further hostilities diminished, we established a daily routine and the airfield became a very busy place, we even acquired a battered old Eager Beaver.
With essential munitions and cargoes arriving inbound, our outbound tasks were mostly passengers, and they were very keen to get home. The airfield had the familiar detachments of TSW, Field Catering, 1 Sqn Harrier tactical support, ATC etc and with lots of triumphant soldiers roaming round on the scrounge, resources soon started to become scarce. 'High Value Items' could easily have made an excellent episode of the TV program M*A*S*H, as I remember much bartering of highly prized goods around the time. A large bag of spuds from the field catering unit was worth its weight in gold, 5kg tins of particularly fine Argentinian corned beef sold well, but the most highly valued resource of the time was the Land Rover Defender spare wheel. So much so that you often woke up to find it missing from the bonnet of your vehicle. One day I was approached by an SAS Officer wanting to get back to Blighty quickly. He was jangling the keys to a captured Argentinian Mercedes G-Wagon which was an excellent second hand example, good paint work, with only 1000 miles on the clock. He somehow successfully managed to leave on the following day’s flight and UKMAMS had a captured G-Wagon for transport, much to the jealousy of the other Sqns.
One of the most emotional moments for me was as we repatriated the army suitcases of those that had been killed in the conflict. I had briefed the guys to treat them with great respect and as they were carefully loaded I noticed that one young soldier had written his Top 10 lists on the outside of his case. His favourite 10 football teams, his top 10 meals, his favourite women, places, friends, etc. His suitcase built up a picture of this young man now departed and it touched me deeply. A full pallet of suitcases left the Islands.
Another deeply upsetting incident occurred during the repatriation of the Welsh Guards. The weather was increasingly poor as we nudged towards the Antarctic Winter and I believe we had lost flights the day before. Overnight we had another horizontal storm and woke to a blanket of snow. We discussed the unlikelihood of the Airbridge flights being able to land as the runway was covered, but the RSM asked if his guys could help to clear it and give them and the aircraft a sporting chance. This was agreed and in due course the guardsmen formed up and started to clear the snow. At some point during the clear up a Harrier GR3 with Sidewinder AAMs was scrambled. The GR3s had been hastily converted to be able to fire Sidewinder AAMs and had been fitted with an in-cockpit cutoff switch which would not allow the missiles to fire even if they were armed, whilst the aircraft remained on the ground. During the scramble the pilot, I believe, armed the missiles by mistake and as soon as his wheels left the ground 2 missiles detached and accelerating quickly tumbled, fins breaking off into the Welsh Guards who had stood aside to allow the take off. There were about a dozen casualties. The UKMAMS tents were used as a field hospital to deal with the incident and the reactions of medics and helicopter crews who arrived within minutes was fantastic. Moreover, the reaction of the MAMS airmen who were on the scene was of the highest standards and I particularly remember SAC Brian McVeigh was very calm and professional under the most trying of circumstances. Later that night we were allowed back into our tents which was unnerving as the white arctic tent liners were now decorated with various arterial blood spatters.
The days and weeks passed, and finally our replacement Condec and the ACHE arrived and a fully palletised operation could begin which speeded turnarounds up no end. We managed to acquire a couple of containers and we moved from our tented village. The Falkland Islanders were a very generous bunch and they had grouped together to offer accommodation in Stanley to those of us still out in tents on the Airfield.
Memories grow vague but our detachment ended up being offered accommodation with the family who ran one of the few shops on the Islands, namely The Kelper Store. We were accommodated in a large house on a hill just above the Store and we were warmly welcomed by the Grandparents and grandchildren of the family. The parents had been stuck in the UK during the conflict and we occupied 2 bedrooms, 6 guys to a room. The NCOs quickly established a basement drinking den and I tried to keep the house noise levels acceptable and remind the guys about their language.
That said despite the apocryphal stories of a MAMS team on detachment, the standards of behaviour were good and we were very appreciative of the Falkland Islanders in welcoming us into their homes. The grandmother also knitted us individual woollen Beanie hats with FALKLAND MAMS stitched onto them. I still have mine 34 years on, as good as the day it was made.
One bright morning I looked out of my bedroom window to see a cruise liner sailing into Falkland Sound. I wondered what it was with a sense of foreboding. It was the troop ship Rangatera bringing PMC Innsworth’s first quota of 6 month postings. We knew something was up as all of a sudden Wing Commanders in woolley pulleys started appearing and giving orders. The MAMS Argentinian G-Wagon was requisitioned and the first copy of Station Routine Orders was put on my desk, only to be immediately blown off it as there were still no windows. I remember one of the first daft orders was that no one was to ride a bicycle on the Aircraft Movements Pan; you could barely stand in in the wind never mind ride a bicycle! Everyone looked at each other and I knew they were thinking ‘where did someone get a bicycle and how much might it be worth?’
The first RAF Stanley sign was put up by MAMS using black insulating tape, with Cpl (MAMS Eng, the fixer) Smith and SACs Alan Kilpatrick and Brain McVeigh. The second was a much more impressive affair, but the new PMC draftees took no notice as I shouted that it was too big and they were going to push a section off the end. But they kept pushing and for a short while we operated out of ROYAL AIR FORCE STAN.
Very quickly improvements began to happen as reinforcements flooded in and for the first time the Control Tower had windows. The tactical squadrons had all largely left the Islands by now and it had been agreed that permanent manning for the Air Movements Section on The Falklands would be cut down to 1 officer, 2 SNCOs and 7 airmen. As my hand shot up, the implication for me was that I was recalled back to the UK and my time in the Falklands was over, but never forgotten.
The initial UKMAMS detachment received no campaign medal for their time in theatre, due to the rules in place at the time, but following The Sir John Holmes Review of 2012, they are all now eligible for The South Atlantic Campaign Medal. If any of you reading this think you may qualify, but were unaware of this change, then check out your eligibility on the MOD website. If you meet the new criteria then fill out the Medal Application form and get your medal. It may be 34 years late, but you earned it.
Fg Off Pete Kettell, UKMAMS 1981-1984, Delta Team Leader
From: Jim Rice, Fareham, Hants
Subject: Operation Corporate
From the early part of April 1982, UKMAMS both Base and Mobile was an increasingly busy time for everyone. Since the announcement of an invasion force taking the Falkland Islands, imaginations were running riot, questions were asked, why would anyone want to invade Falkirk?
I needed a swift history lesson regarding the Falkland Islands and its inhabitants, and a small reminder of their patriotismp to try and put my mind at ease as to why we should send a task force, for around 1,800 farmers.
Mobile teams were confident that the coming weeks were going to get busy, and that we should be ready to move at short notice. Up in MAMS Control, tasks were coming in fast; sorties to the States picking up specialist equipment and weapons, workload cover to Gibraltar, missile loads within the uk to name but a few, and one very interesting task which isn't spoken about even today.
Many hours were spent by all, counting, mending, and counting again our equipment whilst on standby, and those all important briefings. There was inevitably a lot of arguing and hot air amongst the politicians, and eventually John Knott was told to wind his neck in as we were going.
The announcement came from Westminster that Maggie was going to send a Task Force to the South Atlantic and take back the Falkland Islands and liberate the local Brits. This sparked off Mobile Control to appoint the many tasks to their appropriate teams.
My usual Team was Foxtrot Team which I enjoyed very much, especially working with FS Ian Berry, PO Simon Baxter, Sgt Tony Dunphy, myself as Cpl and SAC Neil Harrison, happy days indeed! It was decided that two teams were to be deployed to Ascension Island and wait for instructions to move further South joining the team already positioned on Ascension to set up the airhead, led by Flt Lt Jimmy Stewart.
The Air Movements section on Ascension was very well set up, the guys had done a terrific job of setting up a tent village at English Bay for accommodation, and commandeering the odd building from the Americans.
The two South Atlantic teams were, Flt Lt Andy "Doc" Holiday. FS Dave Wright, Cpl Steve Munday then Fg Off Pete Kettell, Sgt Taff Price, myself, Cpl Colin "Smudge" Smith (Mams Eng), SACs Neil Harrison, Brian McVeigh and Alan "Killer" Kilpatrick.
By this time Ascension was a very busy Island, with different sorties from Wideawake Airfield being carried out, including "Operation Black Buck". It had never crossed a lot of peoples minds just how difficult it would be to get fully laden Victors and a Vulcan 3,800 miles to the Falklands, deploy their bombs on a target approx 100mt x 2,000mt, refuel in flight, and return. A feat respected and admired by many today.
Other Sorties were under way; "Operation Mikado" and "Operation Plumduff" both make interesting reading, especially to one MAMS Team.
After the bomber had completed its mission, the "Airbridge" was established and the two teams were tasked to move South in two parts, and Flt Lt Holliday and his guys were deployed to Port Stanley with a 13 hour flight ahead of them. It is well known that a 13 hour flight time in a C130 can be a long arduous task for anyone to endure, so as any Mover will agree its important to bring along the famous "Maggot".
Its not all boring though, for all concerned it was our first experience of in-flight refuelling which was interesting to watch, especially if the Skipper was feeling generous and allowed us on the flight deck.
Also during the last part of the fight, if you were looking out of the window you would observe a Sea Harrier on either side joining the C130 escorting us in to Stanley.
One important factor to take into account is of course the weather at the other end, and being mid-winter in Stanley, its would always be touch and go. I can only recall one such Airbridge being turned back to Ascension, due to a low cloud base at Stanley, which entailed a 26 hour flight time for those passengers and crew. On landing back at Ascension the airframe was changed to full Medevac fit for sleeping purposes and immediately turned around.
The first team landed at Stanley Airfield soon after the surrender was completed flying into a blizzard. Runway facilities were non existent at this early stage, so the Captain landed his Aircraft with the help of headlights from a Series 2 Land Rover.
The first team had their orders to put the kettle on when they arrived, and we were very grateful for a large pot of compo stew bubbling away ready for our own arrival. Our accommodation was 12 man tents pitched on the airfield close to the runway, and in no time at all we were settled in and planning our next moves.
Food was going to be worth a thought, as our rations were very limited, and we got quite friendly with an SAS team, who asked us if we had enough meat and would we like some mutton. After a couple of hours the boys were back with a large tray of mutton. We didn’t ask where they got it from, but we guessed that half an hour ago it was running around some field! Unfortunately the meat was riddled with "Liver Fluke" which made it inedible.
Our main objective, was to get the Air Terminal up and running again, and to set up some kind of booking centre in order to start repatriation as soon as possible. It was obvious to us that the task ahead wasn’t going to be easy, and it would take time. Being the only building on the airfield and being the middle of winter, it's not hard to imagine the filth that greeted us. Every small room had been used as a toilet; the Gents, the Ladies, the broom cupboard, even the conning tower.
We needed to find some empty fuel barrels and try and clear the excrement using shovels. Volunteers were sought and Cpl Taff Price said as he had no sense of smell he would volunteer, outstanding fellow!
Also making our job difficult was the unexploded ordnance surrounding the area; rockets, airfield denial cluster bombs etc., which took time to arrange their removal by the Gurkha engineers.
Flt Lt "Doc" Holiday had sorted himself out a back room in the Terminal, and was to liase with the booking office set up in Stanley, while the rest of the lads set up the Pax section and once the car park was cleared, set up a cargo section.
Within days, the repatriation of the British forces and their equipment was underway. Unfortunately at this time there were no RAF Police or Military Police to assist with the booking-in procedure, which made things rather difficult for us when checking in the passengers' Burgens etc. Some of the souvenirs collected by the troops were pearl-handled automatic pistols, truncheons with a large leather strap at the end, bayonets, Helmets etc.
Our friends from Hereford had offered us a house to stay in, in Stanley, which was very welcome as it had a kitchen, proper chairs and best of all a bath! Like most houses on the island, it was quite sparse but we all bunked down on mattresses on the floors and we made the most of it. Our evenings consisted of card games and alcohol, and the odd ghost story.
Our Tent on the Airfield still had to be manned at night, as by this time things were starting to need replacing or fixed amongst the troops, especially vehicle spares. Some managed to commandeer Argentinian Mercedes vehicles which weren't a patch on the Landrover, but when needs must.
One morning whilst a couple of us were putting a brew on, we ventured out of the tent to chat to some Welsh Guardsmen who were helping to de-ice the runway before the Airbridge arrival. Meanwhile the two Sea Harriers whose role it was to escort the Hercules into Stanley, were manoeuvring out of their revetments to take up position for take off. The Welsh Guardsmen stopped what they were doing and stood to the side to allow the aircraft to take off. Suddenly a large flash was seen from one of the aircraft as two Sidewinder missiles came down the runway.
One of the missiles ended up in the quarry, whilst the other hit the ground and broke up, parts of which hitting some of the Guardsmen below the waist. Six of them were obviously badly hurt, some losing limbs, so for us movers it was to be a First Aid emergency until professional help arrived. We were able to carry one or two lads into our tent onto camp beds, whilst others were given morphine. Very soon, helicopters were arriving to take the wounded out to the SS Uganda, about 5 minutes flying time away.
Over the next couple of months, life at Port Stanley continued to be busy, moral was up and down.
The so called NAAFI food parcels with Mars bars and girlie mags in them never turned up, but mostly moral was good, even after 42 days without a day off.
We had a couple of repats; Cpl George Quarless joined us, and Fg Off Kettle departed for home, and before long in early September our "Gozomy" date came through to make way for RAF Stanley permanent staff to take over.
Our arrival in Ascension was a happy occasion for us all, we were made very welcome, and I think most of us just grabbed a beer and stood under the shower for the next couple of hours.
My time in Stanley will always be a memorable one, and as I am now retired I can look back and say I shared it with some fine lads and whatever was thrown at us, we got on with the job, (after a short moan).
From: Neale Harrison, Dartmouth, Devon
Subject: Operation Corporate
On returning from Belize in the autumn of 1980 I was posted to UKMAMS and worked in imports for the WO, at that time Sam Heaphy. Under his guidance I was taught the intricacies of being a controller and was duly dispatched to the Movements School to complete the course. Upon my successful return I applied for a place on Mobile, did the course and moved onto Sgt Pete Biggs’ team, with Phil Vickery as the Cpl.
Many tasks later, and like many of my colleagues in the Spring/Summer of 1982 I found myself going up and down the country collecting and dispatching items for a new operation called Corporate, as we, like the rest of the country watched events unfold on the TV.
Early July, whilst in my room in Dakota Block, and drinking a cup of Brett Pardoe’s excellent percolated coffee, I got the call that said we were finally going and we were to make our final plans. I made my will, leaving all my worldly possessions to my mother, and my two next door neighbors, Al Mckenna and Sid Brocklehurst witnessed it. My room was packed up and stored, then along with all our kit we jumped on a Herc for our 12 hour trip to Ascension Island. I found myself on a team with Brian McVeigh, Killer Kilpatrick, Jim Rice, Smudge Smith (MAMS Eng), Ian Newlands, Taff Price, Dave Wright, Andy Holliday and George Quarless.
The team in Ascension did us proud with beer and a meal while the turnround took place, and 12 hours later we landed, being the second Herc to touch down in Port Stanley. A normal turnround did not apply here and once we had offloaded our kit we found a suitable place to pitch tents and set up home for the next few months. We were positioned near the runway, not far from the ATC building (what was left of it) and off went the hierarchy to liaise with the other units that had set up round the airfield.
Memories of that time include painting the ATC tower, now the new Movements HQ, from a dirty white to green with normal 3 inch brushes! Cleaning the interior that had been used by the invaders as a toilet and finding their rations that had been hidden from the conscripts. Acquiring a new Mercedes to run around with that had been left behind and dealing with the many souvenirs that we and the ATSY found in returning soldiers' baggage.
We were offloading an aircraft one day when a huge bang sent us running for the nearest shelter. It turned out to be a Sea King getting too close to the tip of the wing with its blades. The Ground Eng did a fantastic job with speed tape to get it off the ground and back to Ascension.
A sailor called Prince Andrew worked with us, bringing in supplies by Sea King, however, he forgot to send us an invite to his house, even after he had had a cup of tea at ours!
Raising the first Ensign at what was now RAF Stanley was another milestone that we took part in, and when the SWO appeared with orders we knew life was returning to normal! Through contacts we had made with some unit from Hereford we were able to move into the Kelper Store in Stanley. The owners gave up their second floor for us. I remember the pan of stew that was often waiting for us on the peat fired Aga, and the chart on the wall with markers for how much bath water we could each have. The first darts tournament in the Upland Goose Hotel was won by UKMAMS. The trophy is still in my garage somewhere.
Because of the move into Port Stanley two team members remained on call in the tent overnight. One morning the Welsh Guards, who had been hit badly on the RFA ships, were sweeping snow off the runway. This had to be done as the previous day their “gozome” Herc had returned to Ascension because of the weather. As they were sweeping a Harrier taxied out so the guards moved out of the way.
Unfortunately a missiles’ propellant ignited and it landed amongst the guards, just up from Jim Rice and Smudge Smith emerging from the tent. There was a lot of blood, and sadly a few more soldiers lost limbs that day.
Many unique memories forged 8000 miles away, a true test of the many hours of training we had received from WO Reg Carey and his staff, and exercises completed whilst a member of UKMAMS. On our return we were met by OC UKMAMS and offered leave or a trip 8000 miles in the other direction to a place called Hong Kong. My washing was done and bags re-packed before my girlfriend at the time could try and change my mind!
A Neighbour in Need, has 'BIG' Friends Indeed!
On Saturday, the 20th of February, in the South Pacific, an island paradise lay in the path of the second biggest Cyclone ever recorded in the world. Tropical Cyclone Winston was steaming at full pace towards the South Pacific nation of Fiji. At its peak, the Cyclone recorded winds of up to 340 Kilometres an hour, or 211 miles per hour. The archipelago of more than three hundred islands was to be hit by this mega storm that no one could have ever prepared for.
The population of Fiji’s main island Viti-Levu would bare the brunt of the Cyclone with incredible tales of survival amongst so much destruction.
Over 60,000 people were displaced, as entire villages and towns were completely wiped away in mere minutes by the Category 5 storm. Houses were ripped off their foundations and strewn hundreds of meters away from where they stood with families huddling inside for shelter. One family had to run from three separate houses, as one after the other, were simply blown away. Unfortunately, there was a heavy burden to bare by those after the storm.
People had to search for loved ones missing after they were unable to find appropriate shelter, children were ripped out of their mothers arms as the wind was simply too strong and they passed away. Indeed this storm tore a path through Fiji leaving a lot of scares in the hearts of ones who survived this horrifying event.
As a part of the worldwide response to the humanitarian effort being mobilised by countries across the globe, the biggest neighbour to Fiji in the South Pacific, Australia, and its Government with associated civilian agencies and the Australian Defence Force, was already at work in preparation to send much needed humanitarian aid to the island nation. Around 900 personnel were to be deployed for Operation Fiji Assist. For example, the Royal Australian Navy, sent for the first time on deployment, their newly acquired Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) HMAS Canberra (L-02) which was deployed off the Fijian Island Koro. A Task Force was set up in order to maintain the whole ADF operation under a chain of command for all ADF operations. Forces from the Navy, Army and Air Force were combined for for Fiji Assist and Joint Task Force 635 was established.
Although the Navy’s new LHD ship is able to provide a wealth of options for providing assistance in any humanitarian effort it is assigned, it has its disadvantages. One of these disadvantages is that it is not able to provide that assistance immediately after an event such as TC Winston. The RAAF’s Air Mobility Group, 86 Wing, were then the ones called upon by the Australian Government to provided heavy airlift to deliver aid and advanced teams in support of any humanitarian mission. As a part of the first responders from JTF 635, under the Australian Government’s response to provide assistance to Fiji, was the utilisation of 86 Wing’s, 36 Squadron (SQN), utilising the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III based at RAAF Base Amberley in South Eastern Queensland.
With eight C-17A Globemasters on strength with 36SQN, the first being delivered in November 2006, the unit has been involved in an ever increasing role in providing assistance to those in need throughout the South Pacific. For example, 36SQN was called upon in response to the downing of MH17 over Ukraine as a number of flights were undertaken by the Squadron to bring those that passed away in that tragedy, back home to Australia.
APD had the utmost privilege of speaking with Squadron Leader Timothy Smith, who had joined the RAAF in 1999 and was enrolled at Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. He is, in effect, the second in command at 36SQN which is under the command of Wing Commander Steve Pesece. SQNLDR Smith’s role is to look after crew and operation requirements. Lately, he took part in planning and flying operations to deliver humanitarian supplies to Fiji. SQNLDR Smith gives us a great insight into the events that took place to support Operation Fiji Assist and 36SQN’s role as a part of JTF-635. He states, “For the operation the task force made a number of requests through the chain of command that went to the Air Mobility Command located at RAAF Base Richmond firstly, that in-turn coordinated the tasks that went through to 86 Wing which then they filter relative information to 36SQN, for the squadron to provided aircraft to carry out different objectives that are set to support the operation. We are always on twelve hour notice to move meaning when a call comes through that we are tasked with a mission, we have that initial twelve hours to mission plan and go about undertaking the mission. We generally say to certain crew they are tasked with the flight so go get some rest, and another set of the crew from the squadron will be tasked to provide the mission planning”.
He goes on, “Some of the missions that we were partaking in were firstly; obviously, the international efforts the squadron participated in, in which we were delivering supplies to Fiji, but also some tasking for internal domestic flights within Australia as well, moving equipment around in support of HMAS Canberra so that the equipment could then be loaded onto the ship”.
The Capital of Fiji, Suva, and the capital’s airport the ‘Nausori International Airport’, was the main logistical hub for a majority of the International Air Forces servicing Fiji. As was to be expected, there were some challenges as Suva was hit the hardest due to the Cyclone. Speaking on the challenges that were encountered, but gallantly overcome by the squadron and what they experienced in Fiji, SQNLDR Smith goes onto explain, “Well from an aviation perspective it was interesting to plan and set about carrying out the flights to the airport in Suva. The airport there, even though it is an International airport, it is not a very big airport or runway, it has only got Category C approaches so its an airfield designed for slightly smaller aircraft. And, the runway there in Suva is only 100 foot wide and our minimum requirement to operate the C-17 is 90 foot wide runway, and it wasn’t insurmountable by any means, we were able to operate without hindrances but it is just an interesting one”.
“We had to come up with some different approaches with planning and executing our objectives, so we came up with some different techniques. And, I can say we were really proud as a team and I’m proud to say we lost no missions due to any weather or other circumstances for the duration of our mission. And, as I said before, there is a fair bit of mission planning for these missions and their is a fair bit going on especially for the first couple of flights going into Suva and on the ground it can be a bit of a long process. For instance, it’s a four hour trip in the air from Amberley but then we could be spending six hours on the ground offloading everything we brought over”, he said.
SQNLDR Smith continues:”And, with the first flight your always trying ascertain conditions again for instance there was a NOTAM issued at Nausori Airport which is still in effect actually, that the airfield was boggy and obviously wet. But, for us, we had to find out what that meant if their were holes in the ground or other obstacles, and the airport was on standby lighting for a while and VOR or short range radio navigation. So, things like that presented variable challenges, but that wasn’t a big thing as such to deal with we managed and planned for that with risk profiles and we as a team said it’s not 100 percent but we detail and go through talking about what we are going to accept and deal accordingly with those challenges.”
From 36SQN’s perspective, they are a strategic asset to the Australian Defence Force and in turn, the Australian Government. As a result, the agencies within the government, and the command structure within the ADF, would be tasked with handling the coordination of relief supplies. The crew would then follow those processes as defined to coordinate crewing of the C-17’s, and then availability of the aircraft. During Operation Fiji Assist, a first for 36SQN occurred when four Army MRH-90 Taipan Helicopters were transported from RAAFB Townsville to Suva so the multirole helicopters from 6th Aviation Regiment could undertake flights out to the outer islands along with any areas with inaccessible terrain. SQNLDR Smith explains, “Even though this was the first time we had deployed the MRH-90 overseas, we train with the various Army and Navy helicopter units a lot. Plus, we undertake internal flights where they maybe required to get from the East Coast to the West Coast as an example. And, the C-17 provides something the ADF had been lacking previously that ability to transport those big loads like the MRH-90, so we have grown accustomed to working with them and it was a seamless operation to get the Helicopters over to Suva for them to carry out their role”.
The C-17 is a unbelievable asset to have in the force for those in the ADF HQ that need its reach and capabilities to carry out a variety of missions. Before the C-17’s arrived at 36SQN, the C-130J-30’s from 37SQN, and C-130H’s that were operated by 36SQN before the arrival of the Globemasters, carried out a majority of the airlift required by the ADF. Occasional use of IL-76’s and AN-124’s from civil heavy airlift companies were contracted in order to carry loads that were to big for the Hercules aircraft to undertake. SQNLDR Smith highlights the variable uses the C-17 can undertake and why now it is the “go to” aircraft of the RAAF’s Air Mobility Group for delivering anything within Australia and Overseas.
“Well, with the C-17, it firstly is a beautiful aircraft to fly and it’s really nimble for its size. When the aircraft was designed, it was done perfectly, because the designers built it from the inside out. They got a group of Loadmasters together and asked them what would you want in a heavy lift aircraft. And, it’s little things like the rollers on the floor to move pallets on/off the aircraft on the Hercules they have to be installed, with the C-17 they are built into the deck so we can flip then for when we need them and when we don’t need them, its fairly automated and it’s unbelievably good for the loadmasters down the back they can pretty much just sit in the chair and push of a couple buttons and everything is controlled from their station”.
“It’s a great and awesome aircraft. I can’t say anything bad about it. We can land within three thousand feet, you can drop the aircraft in a tactical air approach at twenty thousand feet a minute, we can load and deploy one MRH-90 or Chinook, or we can fit three Blackhawks or four ARH Tiger’s with all associated parts needed for those helicopters ready to be assembled and ready to fly. Compared to the C-130H’s, which what 36SQN operated previously, we could only carry five pallets. Compare that to the Globemaster, we can now fit 18 pallets, which obviously is a massive improvement. And, with operation Fiji Assist, there was 19 C-17 missions to Suva. We took in five hundred and twenty two thousand pounds of humanitarian stores and also four hundred and forty five thousand pounds if other stores that were distributed in Fiji. So, it’s a great aircraft with the ability to move a great amount of gear at short notice”, SQNLDR Smith said.
In times of need, the Royal Australian Air Force has been counted on, time and time again, in times of distress suffered by countries in the South East Australasian area. The Air Mobility Group is a cornerstone to fulfilling those missions as early responders to those times of need for friends.
For us as the public, it’s easy to miss the fact that these men and women are giving time away from their family from their home. Like was stated by SQNLDR Smith, earlier there may be a length of time to plan missions which mean more time away from family. Then, once the mission has been planned, the crews have to complete those tasks which takes even more time away their family. For us, we have to understand that family is so important to those that serve within the RAAF. Think about your family for a second, and how you might not like spending time away from them! Yet when the men and women from 36SQN are called on to complete a role set out by the ADF/Government they willingly and gladly give up their time and resources to do that. Why?
Well, because of a variety of reasons. But, predominately, you will find if you ever speak to a member of 36SQN, or any other member of the RAAF, it is not just because of the love of flying it is also because of their country they love so much. It is also because of every single person that calls Australia home. They want to serve them and and give something back to their countrymen and women. Now, these service members are willing to do that for you the reader, next time there is a quite moment in our lives maybe we should have a little think of those that are willing to do that, it’s the least we can do.
SQNLDR Smith states that everyone in the squadron feels that way, especially in this operation to help the Fijians get back on their feet. He explains, “The Guys and Girls here at the Squadron not just the aircrew but the maintenance staff were working hard to facilitate everything, for example, that we had aircraft ready to go that they were available then able to fly those missions. You know this operation for us was significant, we are always flying so we are always going from destination A to destination B all the time. But when you are carrying aid, for example, when I flew a mission we had five pallets onboard that had various aid boxes of food stuffs, and tarpaulins, and various other stuff, and we know it’s making a difference”.
Continuing on, SQNLDR Smith said, “I saw the photos and the footage from the Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K Orion overflying the villages and townships on the outlining islands, and all it was, was complete devastation and destruction. And, when all of us see that here in the Squadron, it does fill every individual in this Squadron with pride that we achieved a great deal in getting supplies to Fiji. And, I can say this event is a significant event in their military career, as well as the unit as a whole we can look on this with great pride. Also too, it instills a sense of pride within the Squadron, that we are a great unit that can respond to any natural disaster or otherwise”.
So for us the reader, especially those that are of the same countrymen as these men and women of 36 Squadron, maybe we will be out one Friday night, maybe we will be participating or remembering those on ANZAC day the national day in Australia where we take time to reflect on those that have and are currently serving. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we are doing, if time comes to reflect and think about service members, remember the men and women of 36 Squadron. Remember their work they have carried out and they have participated in, much much more in providing aid and help to those in need they are the backbone of the RAAF’s Air Mobility Group. From Iraq to the Netherlands, to Fiji, they are the ones that will be least remembered, but are highly valuable. Without their dedication, without their tiresome efforts, the unit would not function. In some cases, that could be the difference when it comes to survival.
It’s a job that is unique, it is a job that is fulfilling, and their is no better way for an Aussie to spend his or her time, and that is giving a helping hand to anyone… especially friends in need.
Aviation Photography Digest
That's it for this edition
Have a great weekend!