Op Bushel - Nov 1984 - Dec 1986

On 3 November 1984, after considerable delays leaving UK, 18 UKMAMS personnel finally arrived in Addis Ababa on the first aircraft. These personnel, as part of the British Military Detachment, were the first 'movers' into Ethiopia to assist with the relief aid programme on what was code-named Operation BUSHEL. Initially, there were many problems associated with setting up the Movements Detachment due to the general lack of accommodation in Addis Ababa; as a result, the teams had to set up tents in the British Embassy compound until more suitable accommodation became available. This tented area was commonly referred to by the British National Press as 'Muppetsville', after the MAMS nickname of 'Muppets'. Similarly, working conditions were limited and the detachment also had to operate from tents at Bole International Airport, Addis. Nevertheless, after great efforts by the MAMS teams, an efficient operation was soon established and the RAF commenced moving relief supplies within 24 hours of arrival in Ethiopia.

Addis 1984 - Tony Geerah, NK, Ted Edwards, Steve Pollard (MAMS Eng), Shug Shewan, Sean Woodcock

The organisation set up for the Movements operation was a Base Flight at Bole Airport consisting of one of the 3 Officers, a Sergeant, a Corporal (mover) and a Corporal (engineer). The rest of the personnel were employed as Mobile teams, flying with an aircraft and responsible for the offloads at the various locations throughout the country, as well as the onloads at both Addis Ababa and at the Red Sea port of Assab.


Personnel worked an 18 hour shift with a day-on day-off shift system throughout their 28 day detachment. The work was extremely arduous and the personnel had to become acclimatised to the hot and high level conditions, as well as suffer the inevitable 'Selassie's Revenge' which caused considerable medical problems until such time as their bodies built up sufficient immunity to the local stomach ailments.


The British Military Detachment worked for the Ethiopian Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC). This organisation was manned by Ethiopians and controlled the whole of the aid programme along with the activities of numerous aid agencies operating within Ethiopia. The RRC Air Services tasked the RAF operations by detailing which locations to fly to and allocating what loads were to be carried. The UKMAMS task was to then take that load, make it into representative aircraft chalk, load and despatch it to the specified location and, finally, offload it. As with many detachments of this nature, there are many local procedures, which needed to be learnt, as well as many local personalities to try and work with. UKMAMS established a very good working relationship with the Ethiopian relief authorities and the local labour force that assisted in aircraft turnrounds. This was achieved by the usual methods of coercion, bribery and the 'gentle approach'. It is amazing what a couple of bars of chocolate or a can of coke would do to ensure speedy offload; as a result, aircraft turnrounds were extremely rapid -for example, 42,000 lbs. of grain in 110 lb. sacks being offloaded in 15 to 20 minutes.


Once the initial backlog of relief supplies had been moved to the famine areas, there was a sudden dearth of freight available to be moved. This was caused by ships full of grain not arriving at Assab on schedule, together with the lack of airlift into Addis Ababa with other relief supplies. The situation called for unconventional methods of obtaining loads to maintain the momentum of the airlift such as 'stealing' loads as they arrived at Bole on international flights and immediately moving them up country on our Hercules aircraft. The MAMS personnel had realised the importance of sustaining 3 sorties per airframe each day as one 110lb. bag of grain was sufficient to feed a family of 5 for one month. Eventually, supplies levelled out to an adequate flow, but at all times the 'movers' had to continue pressurising the RRC to provide loads. Even so, the aircraft flew every day of the Op BUSHEL detachment, including Christmas Day 1984, with a load of some description.


For the first 3 months of the detachment, both airframes were involved in airland duties; however, it became increasingly obvious that in order to feed people in places where there were no landing strips, an airdrop facility was required. Therefore, one of the in-theatre aircraft was switched for airdrop operations, whilst the other continued on airland duties. Consequently, the UKMAMS detachment could thereby be reduced to 12 personnel in March 1985.


Throughout Operation BUSHEL the detachment was resupplied weekly by a Hercules which in fact was an extension of the Akrotiri schedule. Once the airdrop phase was introduced there was a huge requirement for nylon sacks and wooden baseboards, although as time progressed these were onloaded at Akrotiri along with the necessities for the detachment including beer and the ingredients for brandy sours! In addition to handling the RAF Hercules aircraft ferrying relief supplies around the country, the detachment worked on many other aircraft types that were also ferrying supplies and bringing relief supplies into Addis Ababa.


These aircraft included VCl0s, TriStars, DC10s, Trans America Cl30s, Belgian Cl30s, Luftwaffe Cl6Os, Belfasts and 707s. The materiel moved to the famine areas was very diverse. Although grain was the major element moved, others included large earthmoving vehicles such as graders and road rollers, rice, high protein foodstuffs, tentage and blankets. Not to mention vast quantities of donated items such as clothing and biscuits, which were loaded on a fill-up basis, if space and payload allowed. The final equipment to be moved, as part of Operation BUSHEL was a prefabricated hospital clinic donated to the Ethiopians by the Italian Government. The total weight of the equipment for this hospital was 165 tonnes and took 17 sorties to be moved, using both airframes; the entire move was completed on 16 December 1985 to the relief of both Ethiopians and Italians. As Operation BUSHEL dew to a close, the main problem was recovering all the RAF and Army equipment located at Addis Ababa back to UK. By backloading equipment on resupply aircraft and careful planning; all equipment was returned to UK with no extra additional airlift being necessary.


Addis 1985 - Terry Roberts, Angus Boyce, Kit Kitson, Geordie Rochester, Eddie Sundarajoo, John Belcher. Photo taken by Teddy Edwards

In conclusion, the squadron considers itself extremely honoured to have been involved in this relief operation and to have contributed a major and valuable part towards the overall success of Operation BUSHEL. The UKMAMS contribution can be best summed up when one realises that from 3 November 1984 until 19 December 1985, the total amount of freight onloaded was 38,676,301 lbs. (17,580 tonnes) and 983 passengers.


NB: As a direct result of RAF Lyneham's involvement in Op Bushel, the station was awarded the Wilkinson Sword of Peace for 1985.




Christmas 1984 on Op Bushel

Paul Mansfield spoke to the BBC Radio 4 Saturday Live programme about his Christmas day whilst on Op Bushel.

Listen to the programme

Op Bushel as drawn by Gordon Bock

Gordon Bock draw a series of cartoons depicting his experiences on Op Bushel. With his permission, I have reproduced them here. Unfortunately, I only have photocopies of the originals and have noticed that some details are missing from the edges of the pages.