Operation Chantress - 1995

UKMAMS HELP BRING PEACE TO ANGOLA

Flt Lt Neil Jones

 

The Republic of Angola is on the West African coast, south of Zaire and the Congo. It's land area is roughly twice the size of France and it has an estimated population of 8,902,000. Formerly a Portuguese colony, the country lapsed into civil war between 1975-1991 when the main guerrilla group, the MPLA, came to power. The MPLA sought Soviet and Cuban assistance against the USA and South Africa backed UNITA forces. The war continued with heavy loss of life until 1991, when the UN mediated cease-fire talks and arranged free elections. All communist and South African forces were withdrawn from Angola as part of the agreement. However, after the elections confirmed the MPLA in power, UNITA resumed hostilities in late 1992, with huge casualties (300,000 dead during 1993). In November 1994 the UN again mediated between the government and rebels, and they signed a cease-fire agreement, but the situation still remained tense. The United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM) supervised the foreign force withdrawals and the 1992 elections during phases I and II. UNAVEM III was responsible for supervising the reconciliation of the government and rebels by disbanding guerrilla forces and deploying up to 6000 UN peacekeeping soldiers throughout Angola. To assist with UNAVEM III a British Logistics Battalion (BRITLOGBAT) deployed from the UK on 15 April 1995 on Operation CHANTRESS. Their role was to receive the Troop Contributing Nations (TCN) into theatre, establish a 3rd line logistics chain and redeploy the TCNs to locations throughout Angola.

RAF Lyneham had been involved with recce flights to Angola as far back as November 1994, but the Station was not put on standby for the deployment until early March 1995. The Battalion of 650 troops, comprised elements of the Royal Logistics Corps, Royal Engineers, Royal Signals, Welsh Guards, Field Ambulance, REME, and from the RAF, the United Kingdom Mobile Air Movements Squadron (UKMAMS), Tactical Communications Wing (TCW) and Tactical Supply Wing (TSW).

Once in theatre the RAF detachment would be responsible for establishing an airbridge for the receipt of the TCNs by strategic aircraft and their subsequent deployment to 'up country' locations via tactical aircraft Nineteen personnel were put on standby from UKMAMS to deploy into Angola to receive BRITLOGBAT into theatre and then establish the TCN airbridge. Seventeen of them would work at the MCCP/airhead while one flight lieutenant and one flight sergeant would be based at Regimental Headquarters (RHQ) as air movements staff officers. Meanwhile, based at UNAVEM HQ, Luanda, Squadron Leader Paul Higgins would provide the air tasking information required by the team to receive and despatch aircraft.

At this stage of the Operation, deployment dates were sketchy and so the team spent its time preparing equipment for a minimum 3 month deployment living under field conditions. Various briefings were attended and all personnel received their jabs, mossie pills and a complete issue of new DPM 90 pattern webbing, personal weapons and UN blue beret. Although the unit had been promised tentage, food and water on arrival in theatre, it was decided that the UKMAMS det would be self sufficient. So, 1 x V8, 1 x 110 landrover and 2 x 3/4  ton trailers were packed full of tentage, water, compo and even our own toilet. As it transpired, this was a wise decision, as when the UKMAMS activation party arrived in theatre, they were the only unit with washing bowls, camp beds and even tentage! The worst part of the deployment was the waiting. All told, the team was on standby to deploy for 6 weeks with the dates for deployment changing several times. This extra time led to the landrovers being packed and repacked on several occasions and new items being added to the equipment list on a daily basis. However, on reflection, all the equipment was used by the MAMS team, which made the life of all personnel bearable in what were trying conditions.

As well as receiving briefings on their role in theatre, the team was also briefed on the numerous threats that were likely to be encountered; banditry, cease-fire violations and land mines were a real danger to all UN personnel. During the war it IS estimated that over 2O million land mines were laid, with one minefield approximately the size of France lying east of Luanda, the capital. Because of this Angola has the highest amputee rate in the world and the team were warned that wandering in the bondu looking for 'gizzits' was not a good idea. To prepare the MAMS team for these possible dangers, a series of additional briefings and exercises were arranged by the RAF Regiment Flight at RAF Lyneham. Subjects covered were first aid, health and hygiene with theoretical and practical exercises on anti-ambush drills.

Fully trained and prepared for deployment, the first aircraft finally lefi RAF Lyneham on the morning of 14 April 1995. Two Hercules aircraft departed for Angola via Dakar and Ascension Island, where a Hercules FOB was established. Sgt Time Pyne led a 5 man team to Ascension to reinforce the existing Movements Flight. Most of the force would then be deployed via VCIO and Tristar aircraft from RAF Brize Norton to Ascension Island for onmove by Hercules to Angola. A 3 man airfield activation party from UKMAMS (Flt Lt Neil Jones, FS Ray Ralph and SAC Jon Day) arrived on the first aircraft along with other lead elements of BRITLOGBAT. They received into theatre the 12 advance party chalks and were supplemented by the remainder of the MAMS team on the final aircraft on 21 April 1995. During this deployment the assistance provided by Ascension Island was superb, with the unit keeping the team supplied with everything from black tape to brown sauce.

Although working from the Forcas Armadas Angolanas' premier fighter base at Catumbela, the team were accommodated some 10 kms away at the port town of Lobito. The MAMS team and ATLO provided all the armed escort vehicles between Catumbela and Lobito for the first 3 weeks of the Operation. Accommodation resources in Lobito were scarce and, after a recce on arrival, it was decided that the MAMS team would stake their pitch at a grain warehouse. Here, the team pitched their tents on a railway siding next to the warehouse. At this stage it was discovered that the Army units had brought no tentage and it was not due to arrive until Chalk 4 the following day! So, for the first night in Angola the roles were reversed with the majority of the Army being put up in a 5 star hotel while the RAF 'roughed' it under canvas. Over the next week the MAMS team received aircraft while also erecting their domestic area, and the only airman, SAC Jon Day, spent a good deal of his time on guard. The MAMS team also supplied the British contingent with water, washing bowls, camp beds, mossie nets, cooking gas, cooking burners and all manner of nails, tape, admin supplies and even the use of the team photocopier. The team were viewed quite enviously by the other sub-units as to the amount of equipment brought into theatre, so the repacking of the landrovers was well worthwhile.

With the full MAMS team now in theatre, all members set about enhancing their quality of life at the AMI camp, as the MAMS location became known. The UN mountain of NATO pallets soon diminished and shelving units, benches, tables and 'cot' side cabinets appeared all over 'Crab Alley' as the RAF tented area became known. This diversion was a welcome relief as it soon became apparent that the projected workload of 8 sorties a day to deploy the TCN was not going to materialise. Boredom had always to be guarded against by the MAMS team were kept occupied by providing the majority of the barrack guard and personnel for fatigue duties for the 2 weeks between the advance and main party. To keep the RAF Det company, the weevil and mosquito population descended on 'Crab Alley' as soon as the team moved in. To combat these unwelcome visitors, copious amounts of 'one shot' insect repellents were used and most of the team had crew cuts to reduce the possibility of anything unwelcome nesting! Other army units living at AMI comprised the Force Quartermaster, Regimental Admin Office, 59 Movement Control Squadron and the Prince ofWales Company 1 Welsh Guards.

As time progressed so the workload decreased due to a delay in the deployment of the TCN Battalions. After the last main body UK Hercules was but a distant memory, there were strong indications that things would get no better, and so on 29 May 1995 the RAF Det reduced from 30 personnel to just 8, with all of those remaining being from UKMAMS. The team were then supplemented by a 3 man 30 Signals Regiment detachment who provided communications between the airhead and RHQ. With a small compact team remaining in theatre, the workload naturally increased. The end of May saw the arrival of an Indian Engineering Squadron while at the beginning of June, the first TCN Infantry Battalion arrived from Uruguay. The team split for the reception of these units as the induction occurred both through Luanda and Catumbela. They received UN chartered Cl30s from SAFAIR and TRANSAFRIK and B707 from AIR ANGOLA. Once in Angola, these units were then reunited with their heavy vehicles/equipment and prepared for movement 'up country'. This is where the problems arose. BRITLOGBAT became embroiled in the political 'to-ing and fro-ing' between the UN and the Angolan Government as to whether the TCNs should deploy by air or surface means. This had a knock-on effect which resulted in the MAMS team prepping chalks for air move, only to be told a week later they had to be re-prepped for road move.

The workflow for the team was quite steady through June and July both on the air movements and the domestic front. With only 8 personnel in theatre the emptying of the chemical toilet comes around all too often The UN finally agreed that the Uruguayan Battalion deployment would consist of both air and surface elements. So again the MAMS team air prepped loads for onmove by C130 and a Ukrainian chartered Ilyushin 76. The team became quite adept at moving 20ft ISO containers and, with the aircraft having its own onboard gantry system, they could be loaded with 3 containers and airborne in less than 45 minutes. As well as the team's cargo and traffic roles, Flt Lt Jones assumed the post of SO3 Movs(Air) within the RHQ, while FS Ralph carried out airfield recces for the force. The team also adopted a member of the Adjutant General's Corps in Lt Graham Cable who became the RAF interpreter. He proved himself a valuable member of the RAF Det and without him most ofthe work carried out at Catumbela would have been almost impossible to achieve. After nearly 4 months with the MAMS team he finally came around to the RAF's way of thinking; he now always wears his sunglasses while in uniform and calls everyone 'mate'!

Lobito itself was made up of many shanty villages and spread over quite a large area. Its population is relatively poor and the number of homeless on the streets was very high. The locals responded well to the arrival of the UN forces. Even after 4 months in theatre, local children would still cheer and wave whenever UN vehicles drove by. Although the security threat remained at a consistently low level throughout the deployment, the MAMS team were always armed with L85-A1. The sound of gunfire, sometimes very close to the tented accommodation, was a regular occurrence, but not really surprising considering the large number of AK47s that were owned by a high percentage of the population. The built up areas visited by the MAMS team were quite run down and the majority of the buildings were in a state of disrepair. Sanitary and domestic conditions were appalling for the local population and the sight and smell of the large amounts of human waste and open rubbish tips lying in the streets was, at times, stomach churning.

On the sports and social front, the MAMS team were quite active. Their 20 minutes sketch in the Force Fushteeval received rave reviews. Based on Bruce Forsyth's game shows, the whole team participated with some Oscar winning performances. To take the Army on at their own game the MAMS team also entered many of the sports challenges laid down by the Royal Engineers. A joint UKMAMS/Army Movers/30 Sigs team competed in a 15km road relay race and finished an admirable 9th out of l0 competitors. But their best placing was 3rd in a day long 'lron Team' competition. This was actually the best BRITLOGBAT placing and the competitors participated in football, volleyball, basketball, gym tests, sprints, obstacle course and a 3km run. The team also spent 2 weeks training for an 8 mile Speed March, carrying a 35lb Bergen and personal weapon; unfortunately the UN decided to task a flight into Catumbela on the day of the race and the team had to withdraw. All the team members mixed well with their Army brethren and ensured that the Squadron and Service name was upheld.

'CHANTRESS' was an Operation that promised a very intensive workload but due to the constantly changing mission directives produced limited air movement. During the first 6 weeks of the Operation the team had to combat very difficult living conditions and long periods of inactivity. But through the experience of the team's SNCOs and the training and high professional standards of each team member, life was made bearable and, towards the end of the Operation, comfortable for all.

For all that is said about the workload on Operation CHANTRESS, it must be remembered that this was a full field deployment for a 4 month period with limited airlift and resupply. The MAMS team proved the Squadron is more than capable of deploying teams into the field at remote locations for long periods, sustaining themselves and in some instances supporting others.

Those personnel who returned to normal mobile duties from the full Operation CHANTRESS tour gained a lot both on a professional and personal level. Each team member had their morale, resilience and personal motivational skills tested to the full during the 4 months in difficult conditions. The role of the RAF on Operation CHANTRESS should not be underestimated and each team member should feel happy that something had been achieved at the conclusion of the detachment with the wheels of peace in Angola slowly starting to turn.

UKMAMS personnel recovering on:

5 May 1995

 

FS Tony Geerah

Cpl Ian Hill (MAMS Eng)

 

29 May I995

 

Flt Lt Steve Burr
Sgt 'Ted' Edwards

Cpl Chris Blythe

Cpl Dave Drake

Cpl 'Pidge' Thomson

SAC Lee Martin

SAC 'Dan Dare' Smith

SAC Simon Jupp

SAC 'Hank' McKenzie

 

UKMAMS personnel who remained to the end

Flt Lt Neil Jones

FS Ray Ralph

Sgt Tim Pyne

Cpl 'Jai' Cookson

SAC Jon Day

SAC 'Carlos' King

SAC Tim Mariner

SAC 'Ady' Tew