UN Peacekeepers (Yom Kippur) 26 - 31 Oct 1973

The Arab / Israeli war ended at Km 101 on the Cairo to Suez road. With great haste the UN went into action. This meant that UKMAMS positioned 2 teams, Charlie and Kilo, in quick succession at Cairo to offload scores of peacekeeping troops and their equipment.

 

The tasking for the latter part of Oct and Nov 1973 had just been finalised and Blue Team NEAF MAMS had landed a couple of pretty decent. These included a four day Sharjah Dubai Shuttle and a 14-day Far East route flight both with 70 Sqn. The Sharjah - Dubai shuttle would mean going around the houses to get to Sharjah instead of the normal direct route all because the Arabs and the Israelis had fallen out again, something to do with some bloke called Yom Kipper. Still it was well worth it as Dubai had the cheapest Duty Free in the World, true you could get cheaper stuff in Hong Kong but the Dubai gear was the genuine article. 

 

A couple of days before the Dubai trip, members of Blue Team, NEAF MAMS, comprising Flt Lt Frank Holmes, Sgt Pete Cowan, SACs Pete Herring and Pete Orton and myself (Colin Allen), were called into work to get our deployment kit ready including our Massey Ferguson Rough Terrain Forklift. The UN Security Council had passed Resolution 338 calling on Egypt, Syria and Israel to cease all firing, terminate all military activity immediately, and start negotiations under the appropriate auspices aimed a establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East....now where have I heard that before? In addition it was agreed by the members of the UN Security Council that a peacekeeping force would be deployed to the area as soon as possible.

 

On the morning of 26th October we got the word that we were to deploy on the first aircraft out of Akrotiri. Our initial task was to deploy the advance parties, which had been drawn from the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus and to set up an Airhead at Cairo International Airport. We were assured that a UKMAMS Team and a team of Movers from Akrotiri would relieve us on the first aircraft of the main deployment the flowing day. The combined operation involving transport aircraft from the Near East Air Force and No 46 Group, Strike Command, would involve the airlifting of some 750 personnel, 4 helicopters, 214 tons of freight, 56 vehicles, 10 generators, 4 lighting kit trailers and three forklifts. Of these 600 UN Troops, their support equipment and vehicles would be airlifted from Cyprus.

 

During the evening of 26th October we were on board the first of two RAF Flights into Cairo International Airport made by Hercules Aircraft of No 70 Sqn based at RAF Akrotiri. Both aircraft carried 60 Finnish troops and 3 land rovers. An hour later a 70 Sqn Argosy with 40 Swedes and another land rover left Akrotiri bound for Cairo. Just before midnight a VC10 of No 10 Sqn which had earlier been despatched from Brize Norton to Akrotiri, left for Cairo with 118 Finns on board.

 

A few days earlier the Movers at Akrotiri had been advised that sixteen trucks would be used to move 4-ton lorry loads of compo, POL, tentage, camp stores and other supplies from the Ordnance Depot at Dhekelia to Akrotiri. The freight would have to be sorted and palletised. Despite the language problems of deploying foreign troops the Movers managed to work out priorities in a smooth and orderly manner and by the evening of the 26th all the loads had been checked and numbered to ensure that the peacekeeping force would have enough supplies to keep going for at least 30 days.

 

During the operation, which, was controlled by the NEAF Operations Centre at Episkopi, there were 31 Hercules sorties, 6 Belfast flights, 4 Argosy flights, 3 by VC10. Altogether, 11 aircraft took part in the Cyprus Egypt shuttle service. These included 3 Hercules and an Argosy of No 70 Sqn, with four Hercules, two VC10s and a Belfast from No 46 Group making up the tally. The Air Movements Squadron at Akrotiri worked a double shift and, when the need arose, office staff went out to the pans to assist. The Air Movements Sqn was supported by No 385 Air Despatch Troop, RCT and by loading and handling teams from the Royal Anglians. Akrotiri's Transit Aircraft Servicing Flight had four 20-man shifts working on the pan.

Meanwhile back in Cairo after the turn round of the VC10 back to Cyprus Blue Team had time to take stock of the situation. With assistance from the British Embassy Staff and the UN Military advisors an area was designated as a campsite and for freight handling. It was now a case of making ourselves as comfortable as possible whilst we awaited the main deployment and our replacements.

 

On the morning of the 27th the first Hercules of the main deployment arrived and we were greeted by 70 Sqn's MALM Stu Bailey and the Akrotiri Movers. After a quick turn round and a handover by Frank Holmes we collected our kit and were soon back on board the Hercules bound for Cyprus. At the height of the Operation in Cairo two MAMS Teams and their 6000-lb forklift worked on 8-hour shifts and were turning round incoming aircraft in two hours. As they laboured to get the aircraft ready for the return leg to Cyprus they cat napped between movements. As some consolation, however they did get British-type breakfasts of Egg, bacon and tea! (Perhaps someone who was in Cairo can throw some light on this phenomenon.)

 

The Secretary-General of the UN, Dr Kurt Waldheim, wrote to Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Foreign Secretary thanking the British Government for helping to airlift UN Troops to the Middle East. He wrote, "I take this opportunity to express my profound appreciation for the timely assistance extended by the British Government to the United Nations in this emergency". He went on to say "I have no doubt that the United Kingdom will continue to assist the United Nations in the Service of Peace".

 

In many ways we were disappointed that we didn't stay for the duration of the deployment but then again......

 

Colin Allen (using extracts from his own journal and an article which appeared in the 1974 January edition of Air Clues.)