Op Granby 4 Aug 1990 - Jun 1991

Op Granby Aug 1990 - Apr 1991
Op Safehaven Apr - Aug 1991

 

Riyadh

John Belcher

 

My wife and I were married on 21 July 1990 and we spent our honeymoon touring in Egypt. We were in Cairo on the 3 August when we saw a Ferrari driving around with the occupants hanging out of the car waving the Kuwaiti flag. Eventually when we saw an English newspaper, we found out that Iraq had invaded Kuwait.

 

I was a corporal on A-Shift BAMF at the time and knowing that Britain's response would be to deploy troops or aircraft to the Gulf, I knew that Lyneham would be heavily involved. Once again UKMAMS would be living up to it's unofficial motto of 'First in - Last Out'. Despite what any other unit might say, it was a Hercules carrying a MAMS team that deployed to the Gulf first!

 

MAMS Landrover at Riyadh - suitably decorated!

My actually involvement with the Gulf started on 10 Aug when I went into work to the "organised" chaos that had taken over. Normally the shift pattern was 2 days, 2 nights, and 4 off (12-hour duties). Well this had gone out the window after a day and we were now working 2 days, 2 nights, and 2 off. This later changed to 3-3-3. I was initially working in the passenger section looking after passengers and their bags. Later on I ended up working in Load Control, collating the aircraft paperwork and producing trim (load) sheets.

 

At Christmas 1990 I managed to be get 2 days leave (Christmas and Boxing days). BIG MISTAKE. While I was away, the Mobile flight needed reinforcements and each shift had to provide 3 people. As I wasn't there, I 'volunteered' for a month in Riyadh. As the UN deadline ran out 10 days after we were due to arrive, we were told that the month might last a bit longer.

 

The 3 January, when the rest of the station came back from their leave, saw the lucky volunteers touring round the station getting all their kit together. Clothing stores to draw 6 NBC suits and 3 canisters for the respirator (don't take them out of the protective covering until told to - they are in short supply); Medical centre (how many jabs can you fit in one arm); RAF Regiment to learn how to use our weapon, the 9mm pistol, and refresher training on how to survive a chemical or biological attack; Admin (have you made a will).

 

The Regt told us that as there had been an error with the ammunition supply, we could either use our 26 rounds (2 magazines) on the range to practice with or take them to the Gulf! Apparently the Army was now responsible for ordering all ammunition for the 3 Services and as they no longer used 9mm they didn't think anyone else did. So none had been ordered!

 

5 January we report to Lyneham for transport to Brize Norton and our shiny Tri-Star flight. The inside of the Tri-Star had been converted so that it could carry fright and passengers together. The aircraft could carry upto 20 pallets and ours was carrying 16 freight pallets, 4 of seats. It took 6 hours to get to Riyadh and we arrived in the middle of the night. The Tri-Star was offloaded, back loaded with freight and pax bound for Germany or the UK and then departed.

 

Riyadh had been set up as the "hub at the centre of a supply wheel". The Tri-Star brought the freight from the UK. It was then transferred to a mini fleet of Hercules who would then ferry it to the various Gulf bases at Dhahran, Tabuk, Dubai, Al Jubail, Seeb and Al Quaisumah and any of the small desert landing strips. These were in addition to the direct re-supply flight to those locations. The freight they brought back was then loaded to the next nights Tri-Star that would return to the UK via Germany. As the RAF Hercules were in short supply (what a surprise) we had 2 New Zealand Hercules working with the RAF Det. The Kiwi movers worked with us as an integrated part of the MAMS det.

 

2 Tristars on the pan at Riyadh. The pink one was used for air-to-air refuelling. The other was a normal freighter.

The RAF det were working from King Khalid International Airport (KKIA). We were based in a new terminal building, which was partially completed. At first it was just the Hercules (RAF and Kiwi), 101 Sqn VC10 tankers and 216 Sqn Tri-Star tankers. When war looked more likely, we were joined by 205 General Hospital and all their attendant units. The airport was still being used for some civilian flights. The other military user of the airfield was France with some Transals. They were totally separate from us.

 

The working pattern was the same as at Lyneham 2,2 and 2. All went well for the next few days until the UN deadline passed without Iraq withdrawing from Kuwait. Our normal nightly Tri-Star had arrived and was being turned around as usual. Then the air raid warning was given. The air war had started in the early hours of 15 Jan 1991. There was mad frenzy of trying to contact the teams on the aircraft pan, putting on NBC suits and respirators (yes they had been unwrapped despite what the suppliers had told us). We trooped down to the concourse on the ground floor of the airport and sat around waiting. Someone pointed out that the people who had decided that this area was the shelter had not chosen too wisely. The front of the terminal was plate glass! Anyway nothing happened, the all clear was given and we set back to loading the aircraft. Apparently the first wave of bombers had just struck and the warning had been given just in case of any retaliatory strikes that might happen. The air raid was sounded about 3 times that night. As I remember when the war ended I saw a report saying that the air raid had gone off 63 times.

 

It was quickly announced that there was would be no aircraft movements other than the fast jets. The Tri-Star and all Hercules flights were suspended for 3 days. We were sent back to our accommodation compound to watch the war unfolding on Saudi TV. Not that we found out much as the TV was heavily censored. Finally it was realised that if the air war was to carry on then resupply flights would have to resume. The fast jets couldn't fight with out some help from the rest of the air force. We now started the normal resupply procedures only there was a greater sense of urgency now. We still had about 2 air raid warnings a night. The satellites would pick up the signs of a Scud missile launch and put out a general warning until it became apparent where the target was.

 

We handled a number of foreign aircraft that were used t evacuate the countries embassy staff. A Portuguese Herc was held up because the Saudis wouldn't let the staff go until they had cleared immigration. The Portuguese Ambassador pointed out that "there was a war on" and they were going what ever because of the threat of a missile attack. With that a Scud alert was sounded. We guided the civilians to the shelter where we sat and waited in our NBC suits and respirator. Some of the Portuguese had respirators but the majority including many children didn't. It was

The damaged nursery about 1 mile from the compound housing the MAMS det.

 decided that if the missile was carrying a chemical agent then the children would be put in casualty bags until the threat had passed. That was all that could be done, as we had no spare respirators. Luckily this and all the other missiles were carrying normal explosives.

 

In the event only 1 Scud came down anywhere near the RAF det in Riyadh. It landed during the night near a nursery / children's school about 1 mile away from the compound we had moved to. The building was quite badly damaged. I managed to sleep right through the whole alert and woke to find that the compound had spent the night in the underground car park.

 

When the war ended, the race started to be the first Hercules to land at Kuwait City. KKIA launched a flight carrying staff and some stuff for the British embassy. Diplomats first! But the Hercules being used by the Special Forces, which had declared an emergency as it was supposedly running short of fuel and landed at Kuwait to refuel, beat them. The flight from KKIA carried 4 MAMS people to set up the Movements Det Kuwait.

 

The wreckage of the British Airways 747 at Kuwait airport

Wrecked hangar at Kuwait airport, taken from a Hercules while it was taxying

 

I managed to get a seat on one of the resupply flights to Kuwait via Al Jubail. Unfortunately it broke down at Al Jubail and that looked like the end of my trip until a Kiwi Hercules landed and said they were going to Kuwait and I could jump on with them. Although it was mid afternoon, most of the flight was spent in darkness flying through the burning oil fields of Kuwait. The Iraqis had set fire to the oil wells as they retreated. I had about 10 minutes to look around at Kuwait airport. Just long enough to see the remains of the British Airways Jumbo jet the had landed at Kuwait just the invasion was happening. It was bombed by the Americans in the air war.

 

Onloading the FUCHs force at Ali Al Salem. Just visible at the rear of the aircraft are FS Dave Roberts and Cpl John Belcher

The only other place that I saw in Kuwait was the Ali Al Salem (AAS) air base. FS Dave Roberts and I were detailed to recover the RAF Regt and Army NBC recce team (FUCH's Force, after the type of vehicle they used). AAS had been bombed by the Allies, each of the HAS (Hardened Aircraft Shelters) had a hole in the roof. These were meant to be bomb proof! We made 2 lifts into AAS and it was planned to recover the rest of the team the next day.

When we got back to KKIA my boss (Fg Off Erica Best) asked if I was ready to go home? Was I! A month det had lasted for almost 3 months. I flew home on the 25th March 1991 on a Hercules non-stop to Lyneham. There were 2 other passengers, another Mover (FS Ray Ralph) and a Signaller. He was escorting a Landrover and radio equipment. The only other freight was a captured Iraqi Anti Aircraft gun. This trophy is now on display next to an Argentine mortar from the Falklands outside the UKMAMS HQ building at RAF Lyneham. We landed at Lyneham to a rapturous welcome. . . from HM Customs and Excise! The welcoming parties had stopped weeks before.

 

Approaching the burning oil fields and a view of several oil wells that are on fire

The war for me was a surreal experience. We were at war but living among civilians who were carrying on as if nothing was happening.  At one stage we were living in a top hotel with visiting businessmen yet we were walking around carrying pistols, NBC suits and respirators. (We had to buy small civilian rucsacs to hide the suits and weapons when were out and about). Driving back to the hotel one night we saw what looked like a fire works display in the distance. We realised that it was Patriot missile that had been launched at an incoming Scud. Yet everyone carried on driving as if nothing was happening. God only knows what would have been the outcome if it had been carrying a chemical agent.

 

One good thing did come from the war - my son was born 9 months and 3 days after I returned!

 

Note - Ali Al Salem was later used as the base for RAF Tornadoes flying in support of the UN embargo on flights by the Iraqis under Op Bolton / Resinate.

Ali Al Salem - 1991

All photos - (c) John Belcher