The whole operation began for UKMAMS on the 18th of December 1965, when a team departed RAF Abingdon for Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania) with five Britannia's of 99 and 511 Squadrons. Also on their way was a second team destined for Zambia where they would be staying in Lusaka. As far as the British press were concerned the MAMS team in Tanzania were accommodated in the recently finished Kilimanjaro hotel, which was the pride and joy of the then President Julius Nyere. The harsh reality of life was slightly different for the down route team in Zambia - billeting for these unfortunates was achieved by taking over one wing of a local girls' boarding school. As an insider will tell you, this sort of arrangement represents an absolute idyll for the average MAMS team. Sadly though, not everyone sees the arrangement through the same rose-coloured spectacles and becomes progressively less well appreciated by the other agencies involved as time goes on. Actually, the convoluted accommodation arrangements for both teams turned out to be slightly different from the standard bed and breakfast and the truth will emerge in its proper chronological order.
The oil lift came into being as a result of an unstable political situation on the African continent (no surprises there). Zambia is a land-locked state and is therefore dependent on the ports and facilities of neighbouring states for its imports. It was hardly the fault of the Zambian Government that Rhodesia announced its unilateral declaration of independence which annoyed the United Nations sufficiently for them to impose sanctions on Ian Smith's regime. However, part of these sanctions involved the cutting off of oil supplies to Rhodesia, and this is where the problems started for Zambia. Most of Rhodesia's oil came into the country through a pipeline that started in the Mozambique ports where the tankers delivered it having sailed down from the Persian Gulf States. The pipeline, however, didn't terminate in Rhodesia but turned north and crossed into Zambia, feeding them with oil in the same manner as their neighbour. Cutting off the Rhodesians' oil meant turning off the supplies in Mozambique and therefore effectively cutting off the Zambians who, having voted for the sanctions, got justifiably annoyed at the subsequent effect on themselves.
The UN was faced with three options; the first was that they called off the oil sanction, but the UN was quite proud that it had got one of its few resolutions through a vote (quite a novelty) and was determined to see it through. The second option was to ask the Zambian Government to declare UDI as well, thus making them eligible to suffer sanctions, thereby justifying their plight. This however, met with an understandable lack of enthusiasm with the Zambian representatives at the UN and so was similarly discounted. The final option was to keep Zambia supplied whilst the Rhodesians suffered. This was the solution that the UN wanted to pursue, and the concept of the oil lift was born.
This policy is known to the economically inclined nations as commercial expediency, possibly because many politicians themselves have commercial interests. Few politicians are quite so active in the sporting sphere and so sportsmen of whatever persuasion would be tempting early retirement should they try the same tactic. The net result of the sanctions might, at the time, have been construed by the uncharitable as an expensive waste of time and money.
To ensure the airlift was to run smoothly and waste money in the most efficient manner, the teams established in Lusaka and Dar Es Salaam were to receive a small collection of aircraft handling aids. To achieve this, and before the airlift started, MAMS teams in Aden and Nairobi had been busy flying in the necessary heavy equipment previously held at their respective locations. Being traditionalists by nature, the UN stipulated that the oil lift should predominantly move loads of oil. Not surprisingly, the loads were in fact found to be fuel oil destined for both Zambian industry and transport. The operation was set up so that the teams in Dar Es Salaam received the oil from the refineries adjacent to the port, where it was decanted into 45 gallon oil drums. From here it was loaded to the RAF aircraft participating in the operation, flown from the airhead across to Zambia and landed in the capital's Lusaka airport. The team in Lusaka, led by Flying Officer Ian Stacey, would then offload the aircraft and distribute the drums to the authorities, where it was hoped that at least some of it would find its way into the legitimate economy. Other members of the team responsible for this included Sgts: Guthrie and Jim Balls, Cpls Chas Cormack and Brian Dunn, and SACs Roger Bullows and Jimmy Jamieson.
The outbound loads were comprised of an average of 50 forty-five gallon oil drums giving a payload of around 21,000 lbs. The drums were stacked in six stacks of eight barrels, with the balance reposing in the rear of the aircraft, depending on passengers to be carried.
Without the need to carry passengers, the aircraft could carry 52 drums, but for the loss of two drums up to four passengers could be flown with the load. As well as the barrels, the aircraft was literally festooned with wooden dunnage to protect the floor and stop the multitude of restraining chains from slipping off of the barrels. To help the team in their task, a freight lift platform was deployed from RAF Lyneham. Unfortunately, this particular piece of equipment had been recently the subject of an AOC's (Air Officer Commanding) inspection. It is one of the more glamorous duties of the AOC to inspect pieces of aircraft handling equipment and satisfy himself that all the nuts and bolts are painted bright red. This ensures that all the nuts and bolts are readily visible, but paradoxically almost impossible to move without paint stripper, a tin of WD 40, and a heavy duty torque wrench. This piece of equipment had sadly passed the inspection. While the team wrestled with the platform, a forklift was recruited locally and was just robust enough to reach the sill height of the aircraft. Using this piece of kit, the loading of the barrels could commence while teams of stevedores struggled to undo the nuts on the platform.
As always, the team members were the very model of sartorial elegance and indulged in their strenuous activities clad in the finest raiment of tropical khaki. This early sort of KD had been specifically designed by the army and required heavy starching if it was to be even vaguely presentable. The reason for this was to catch out slipshod squaddies who tried to pass parade inspections by only pressing their uniform. This 'make it difficult' policy was actively pursued by the military during the sixties, although a further attempt at producing "stay-dull" dust attracting shoes was scrapped by the ministry owing to spiraling costs. So equipped with hard-to-manage uniforms, the teams went to work. The loading of oil drums onto aircraft is not the cleanest of professions and should not be recommended to those with a hypersensitive reaction to dirt. Not surprisingly, the work, coupled with the heat and humidity prevalent in the area, did little to improve the appearance of the unstarched UKMAMS team. The appearance of the movers in the hotel foyer after a day's work did little to support the hotel's claim to a five star rating. This fact actually came to the attention of the President who summoned the detachment commander and re-briefed him on the statuesque and monumental magnificence of his hotel and the standards that the RAF were to maintain to avoid upsetting the other guests. The fact that the RAF detachment were in fact the only guests carried little weight and the detachment was duly obliged to modify its behavior.
To improve their appearance, the MAMS team had ties made bearing a strange motif of mushrooms and oil barrels arranged in diagonal rows on a green background. This design celebrated the fact that the team were now referred to as "mushroom airways" a result of being kept in the dark and fed on manure. On New Year's Eve, the UKMAMS team, mindful of their appearance and resplendent in new suits, were photographed by a local paper dancing in the New Year. Once again, the President found the dress inappropriate which one might find a rather pedantic attitude were it not for the fact that the team, displaying an ingenious sense of protocol, were in the hotel swimming pool at the time. This time the detachment commander was summoned to the presence of the President again and, despite the best efforts of the diplomatic service, the team were evicted from both the hotel and the country.
Although this state of affairs might seem strange to a person cherishing a more traditional view of military experience, it is not uncommon for members of UKMAMS to be recruited by civilian companies they tend to come across during the course of their duties.
It is less common for their exit from RAF employment to be quite so contentious, many preferring to finish an engagement or purchase their exit before taking up with a more lucrative offer.
It has always been the case that civilian companies involved in transport or logistics tend to find that the members of professional movements organisations such as UKMAMS are particularly good value for money, having been trained and received considerable and diverse experience and all at the British taxpayers' expense.
Shortly after their unscheduled arrival in Kenya, the teams were due to be exchanged. This exchange was to take the form of a shuffle whereby the team in Lusaka were to return to UK to be replaced by the team from Kenya, who in turn would be replaced by a fresh team from the UK. The Lusaka team had been enjoying life a lot more than their up-route counterparts, for a start the working day was shorter and offloads are considerably easier than onloads. This, with the added bonus of staying in a girls' college, must have seemed an enviable attraction to Ian Stacey's team, who up until now had not been noted for their retiring sense of fun.
As it was to turn out, the boys in Lusaka had really been doing their homework. Although most have declined to volunteer their names and experiences for publication, one of the original members, Mick McMahon, has broken silence to expose some of the exploits. It will therefore come as a great disappointment to those interested to learn that this book will not do likewise. Suffice to say that during the Operation, UKMAMS handled aircraft of Air Canada, BOAC, British Caledonian, Airbridge and Lloyd International, all with a great deal of not unprofitable professionalism.
The UKMAMS team were lucky to have among their number a man who could be described as an investment genius who, on behalf of his colleagues (and quite legally), managed to make the best use of the financial opportunities available. Working on the purest of socialist principles, all money received from the team's investments was used for the benefit of all who contributed. Such was the wisdom and foresight of this "financial security planning" that the UKMAMS team were quite literally able to live on the income without recourse to their hard-earned salary. With so much extra money available, Rest and Relaxation became a more attractive pastime.
The MAMS team found themselves evicted to a local showground, more commonly used and noted for the display of prize cattle. Also accommodated here were the rest of the detachment, which had been rapidly growing to some 400 strong. Most of the other inmates were RAF Regiment (rock apes), who were quite indistinguishable from the cattle that they had replaced and a detachment of Javelin aircraft plus their air and ground crews. This rather large cadre of personnel and equipment was intended as a deterrent against possible aggression against the transport forces conducting the airlift.
As can be imagined, bed spaces were at an absolute premium in the main show hall, with Rock Apes (named after one of their members historically did a rather good monkey impression whilst on holiday in Gibraltar) and pilots all fighting for the area of shallowest cow dung. The team down from Kenya arrived at a bit of a disadvantage, but as luck would have it the out-going team were sufficiently well placed in the affections of the building's owners to have been able to ensure that the VIP balcony over the main show ring was available for the exclusive use of UKMAMS. Not only was the balcony dung free, but it was also roomy and overlooked the main hall. One extra advantage of the balcony was that it had access to the main electrical fuse system for the whole hall. A popular pastime for the MAMS team continued to centre around the timely cancellation of all artificial light at intervals designed to create the maximum chaos for the hordes below attempting to bed down for the night whilst trying to avoid the cattle mess.
By contrast, the Corvairs had a range payload performance which meant that only twenty eight drums could be moved at a time. Ironically, the Corvairs had a huge front door and lots of space, having been converted to carry short haul car traffic cross channel. The Royal Canadian Air Force also took part flying C-130s in from the Congo, 108 barrels at a time.
As all the additional units got involved the work, loading in Lusaka gradually crept up to cover the whole of the daylight hours. To keep traveling time to a minimum, UKMAMS acquired a caravan and a cooker that they managed to establish on the Embakasi airfield as a "mobile" crew room. Once again, the team seemed dogged by political problems and, having enjoyed a good few social beers in the airport bar with the local British expats, they were approached by a representation from the government and told that they would have to desist as they were there to help a black nation and not fraternize with the whites. I believe that an offer by the team to reoccupy the girls' college was not taken in the helpful vein in which it was intended and the Government shortly put the airport bar out of bounds. Golf suddenly became popular and MAMS took to patronising the local club and its nineteenth green facilities. Funnily enough, the same expats that used to occupy the airport bar were also keen golfers and so the dangerous liaison was able to continue.
As the Church is keen to make known, "helping others brings its own rewards" and by following a similar investment strategy as their predecessors, the UKMAMS team continued to flourish financially. To UKMAMS, the show ground now began to seem a little down market for people of their standing, although still quite suitable for the Pilots and Regiment personnel. It seemed that the time had come to move. The MAMS team sold their plot in the show ground and moved into a rented house just a stone's throw from a pub called the Pig and Whistle which inevitably became the local. Whilst here, they were visited by a base mover called Cpl Mick Moffatt who came down from Ndola which was occupied by another team of movers from the Air Force Middle East MAMS (a sister organisation to UKMAMS). A lively young man with an unconventional sense of humour when he went home, he took with him a smallish crocodile wrapped in wet cardboard.
Having successfully cleared customs on his return to UK thanks to there not being a question on the declaration form that covered crocodiles, Cpl Moffat deposited the reptile in the ornamental pond of a well-known local hotel. The crocodile remained undetected until the management drained the pool to find out why the ducks, so admired by the public, had been steadily disappearing despite constant restocking. If anyone recalls this incident from the papers, or any of the hotel management recognises the story, you now know the culprit. The crocodile was lucky enough to find refuge in London Zoo, which was its best alternative to being turned into a handbag.
The airlift ended for the civil airlines in July 1966 and the RAF finally pulled out in the following November. The moral of the whole airlift must be that if you are a duck on a pond in an hotel, and see a member of UKMAMS carrying a wet cardboard parcel, be sure you are "Swift to Move".
As a footnote, Charlie Cormack wrote the following in May 2001 regarding the chaps that went over the wall during the operation: The names you want for posterity are Geordie Davison, Dave Rossam and Fergie Ferguson who were all from MEAF MAMS at Dar Es Salaam at the beginning of the oil lift and their team leader was a P/O Wiblin (The Dreaded Piolt Office Wiblin - DPOW!)
We had a session on new years eve 1965 in the Kilimanjaro Hotel in Dar Es Salaam, and whilst the aircrew were getting their pictures taken dancing in the pool in full evening dress, the movers were giving it some welly on the roof bar. It was at that stage that the three above mentioned expressed their intentions, as one minute they were going to be sent to Nairobi, and then they were told they were to go back to Aden to complete their tours.
Geordie and Dave are still in South Africa to my knowledge, whilst Fergie "gave himself up " as his Mum was not very well and he was subsequently court martialled. His defending officer was one Sqn Ldr Don Clelland who got him off with 84 days and discharge but as he had already done a total very close to that number of days under open arrest, he never had to do any bird.
I cannot remember if Ian Stacey was at Dar Es Salaam, but it was there that a set of steps got blown over on a mover, Stan Brown was his name and he was aeromeded back to UK and was last heard of back home in Belfast a number of years ago. Also Hurt on the oil lift was Ray Marks who fell between the BFLP and the Aircraft as all the bridging plates were knackered and the grocers wouldn't let us put in "Op Express" demands for securing pins, that accident happened at Lusaka.