WILKINSON SWORD OF PEACE SPECIAL AWARD - 1995 (OPERATION CHANTRESS)
WO Ray Ralph - July 997
On Friday 25 July 1997 the Wilkinson Sword 0fPeace Special Award was awarded to
BRITLOGBAT at Hullavington Barracks. BRITLOGBAT was a unique composite joint service logistics battalion, specially formed to deploy to Angola in 1995 for Operation CHANTRESS on UN peacekeeping duties. Of the 18 UKMAMS personnel from RAF Lyneham who were part of that 600 strong battalion, the following 4 were present at the award ceremony:
Warrant Ofﬁcer Ray Ralph
Corporal Jon Day
Corporal Tim Mariner
Senior Aircraftsman Carlos King
So, what were UKMAMS doing on Operation CHANTRESS, and why haven't I ever heard of it? Angola has had a protracted civil war since gaining independence from the Portuguese in 1974. UNITA (the rebels) were supported by the West and controlled the north and east of the country, including the valuable diamond mines. The FPLA (the Communist Government) were supported by the USSR and Cuba, they held the capital Luanda and all of the coast to the west and most of the south. After the end of the Cold War support from the USSR and Cuba gradually collapsed and so, consequently, did the civil war. What was left of Angola was a country twice the size of France with most of its interior utterly destroyed by the ﬁghting, and huge tracts of land covered with uncharted mineﬁelds in a state of complete chaos. The UN arranged for a ceaseﬁre and a fragile peace treaty was agreed to.
The UN asked the British Government for help. The British Foreign Office and the MOD were not initially convinced that the UN operation in Angola would work, nevertheless BRITLOGBAT was formed and the planning for Operation CHANTRESS began in earnest. Those of you who watched the BBC documentary series 'Defence of the Realm' will remember the huge problems that were faced and overcome before the battalion could deploy. The mission was to build a secure logistics base which would receive and equip UN troops before redeploying them in-theatre. Once in position the UN troops would set up camps to which the UNITA rebels would report. The rebels would then be disarmed and integrated into the new Government army. The Operation was based on an earlier successful campaign conducted in Rhodesia by British forces when Zimbabwe came into being in the early 1980s. Once in-theatre and fully operational BRITLOGBAT would be on its own, with no ready support or resupply from UK. If the fragile ceaseﬁre failed, the troops would have to make the best of it. The only means of escape would be a ﬁghting withdrawal to the RFA 'SIR GALAHAD' which would then slip her moorings and head out to sea.
Eventually, on 14 April 1995, 2 Hercules left RAF Lyneham on the long ﬂight down to Angola. On board the aircraft was the Airﬁeld Activation party, consisting from the RAF of3 UKMAMS, 3 TCW and 3 TSW personnel and their equipment, and from the Army, CO BRITLOGBAT and his small HQ staff, plus a small detachment of 30 Sigs Unit. Thus began a 4 month long detachment living in ﬁeld conditions.
We arrived at Catumbela military airﬁeld, just south of the port of Lobito, at around midday on 16 April 1995 to 100 degree heat and almost 100 percent humidity. We quickly got to work setting up to receive the advance party who would ﬂy in the next day from Ascension Island. The advance party had ﬂown to Ascension by TriStar from RAF Brize Norton but would ﬂy the last leg on a shuttle service provided by RAF Hercules aircraft. We had to be self sufficient until the 'SIR GALAHAD' arrived, so all water and food had to be ﬂown in during this ﬁrst phase which lasted for a week. The 'SIR GALAHAD' would not reach Lobito for 2 weeks, on board was the Royal Engineers water desalination plant and supplies of compo rations, etc. The main force of BRITLOGBAT was due to arrive at the beginning of May, so we had 2 weeks to ﬁnd suitable space to build a camp for them.
We didn't know what to expect, nor the reaction we would receive from the local people on our arrival in their country. We knew to expect armed gangs of bandits and had practised anti-ambush drills before our departure from the UK. We were also fully briefed on all the different mines we might come across. We saw our ﬁrst mines on our ﬁrst day in the country; they were placed around the main gate and perimeter wire of the airﬁeld, and more were on a bridge we travelled across daily from Lobito. Consequently, we always travelled fully armed in convoys. Initially the RAF did all the convoy escort protection until the Army landrovers arrived in the country. On that ﬁrst day we found Lobito deserted, people peered out from behind doors and windows as they had a deep suspicion of military uniform. Over the next few weeks, by conducting armed patrols and displaying a ﬁrm but friendly determination, the armed gangs melted away. Subsequently we gained the respect of the civilian population and with the knowledge the streets were now relatively safe, people ventured out and about again. We became known locally as the 'Blue Hats' and were constantly smiled and waved at as we drove by.
Once BRITLOGBAT declared to the UN that it was fully operational, the ﬁrst of the 6000 UN troops started to arrive. All our UKMAMS personnel were now in-theatre and the ﬁrst UN Battalion to arrive was from Uruguay. We immediately set about planning their redeployment by air up country.
We started to prepare all their vehicles and equipment for air travel (most items were ex-East German Army). We had long since said goodbye to any RAF Hercules and were using civilian IL- 76 and C130 aircraft chartered by the UN. There were widely varying ﬂight safety standards between the different countries' aircraft crews, and some of the incoming aircraft loads we saw would give our loadmasters heart attacks!
One less than memorable moment for myself was whilst preparing the Uruguayan explosives for air travel. I asked the Uruguayans to bring me all the explosives they required to move, and I quickly found myself surrounded by loose and unpackaged mortars, ammo, grenades, detonators, detonator cord, teargas canisters and made-up explosive charges and bobby traps. I called for assistance from our Army Ammunition Technical Officer, a WOI, and he couldn't believe what he saw. Some of the charges had previously been set in the ground but had failed to be used and so the Uruguayans had dug them up to reuse them on this deployment. We had no idea what state the charges were in and by this time my team had decided 200 metres away was a good place to be. However, we also received a Battalion of Indian Army Engineers who did a 'mean' curry and had a passion for painting rocks white and then placing them around things, or in neat rows; now I wonder where they got that idea from?
The UKMAMS contingent lived in tents in a railway siding by a grain warehouse. Next to our living area was a stagnant lake where it seemed the whole population of African mosquitoes bred; as dusk approached great waves of them would attack us. We made 'Crab Alley' as we called our camp, as comfortable as possible and by using a Hercules engine oil drip tray, 4 tent poles, an In-Flight catering blue plastic bag, a dustbin and a bit of ingenuity, we made a shower. The shower was our one luxury and not only did it boost morale tremendously, but it was also some relief from the oppressive humidity, as even at 0300 the temperature could be as high as 90 degrees inside the tents. We ate 24 hr 'boil-in-the-bag' compo rations for 7 weeks before the UN organised a resupply of fresh food from South Africa (during this period most people lost weight). All around 'Crab Alley' were grain warehouses which were patrolled by local armed guards, who would shoot over the heads of the local people who were attempting to loot the grain, with little or no thought as to where the bullets would end up; this made life interesting to say the least. The large amount of grain also attracted thousands of insects, so most of us had No1 and No2 crew cuts to keep them out of our hair.
Working with what was a predominantly Army force we had to adjust to their way of life. Muster parades, PT, fatigues, etc were all endured and accepted but we never lost our RAF identity and, indeed, often beat the Army at their own game. In the Joint Force Iron Man Sports competition organised by the Welsh Guards, the UKMAMS team was the ﬁrst British team to ﬁnish, the event being won by the Uruguayan Battalion. For 3 days whilst the RSM was away I took his place and became the 'Flight Sergeant Major' (as the Army called me). During muster parade I decreed that limited sunbathing would be allowed in the accommodation areas during off duty periods, this practice had been previously banned by the RSM and was a small but signiﬁcant coup for the RAF.
Halfway through the deployment we sent 10 of our personnel back to the UK, leaving 8 to continue. The work rate was not as high as ﬁrst envisaged and the biggest problem in Angola became the lack of UN money. The UN's ﬁnancial state hindered anything that was attempted, although these problems were eventually mostly overcome.
We ﬁnally left Angola on 7 August I995 on the last RAF Hercules out of the country. Once we were airborne the aircraft captain radioed the 'SIR GALAHAD' who then slipped her moorings and also headed home. As we left Angola shops were opening, businesses were starting up and people were starting to believe things could at last get better. We had succeeded on a difﬁcult mission with no losses or major incidents. As a battalion we had directly overcome the local population's preconceptions as to the standards of military behaviour to win their complete co-operation.
BRITLOGBAT dedicated its spare time to assisting local aid agencies and UKMAMS personnel played their part by helping paint a school and construct school desks. The Engineers repaired local roads and the Medics saved many lives, including one small child who had a bullet removed from her chest. It is therefore with pride that I remember the UKMAMS involvement in the Operation and quote: 'In recognition of their personal commitment to reducing the suffering of, and engendering a feeling of optimism in, the people of Lobito, the British Logistic Battalion, Operation CHANTRESS, is awarded the Wilkinson Sword of Peace Award for 1995'.