Despatchers of the Royal Army Service Corps load a Land Rover of the 1st Guards Brigade into a Beverley heavy-load transport during Exercise Starlight, near RAF El Adem, Libya, March 1960. El Adem, situated near Tobruk, was a hub for Transport Command exercises. In March 1960, Exercise Starlight, tested the RAF’s ability to supply an advancing army solely by air. During the exercise twelve Beverleys of 47 and 53 Squadrons from RAF Abingdon undertook 194 sorties transporting 3,329 Guardsmen and 272 RAF personnel, 370 vehicles, 272 trailers, 40 guns and 1,546,5591b of freight from El Adem to an airhead at Tmimi. Pioneers and Whirlwinds then provided the troops with landed supplies, followed by the Beverleys undertaking air drops. RAF El Adem was also a major staging post for aircraft heading to the Middle East and Far East. It closed when the RAF left Libya in 1969 following a revolution in the country.
Beverley C.I XB284 of 47 Squadron based at RAF Abingdon, c. 1957. At the time of its introduction in March 1956, the Beverley was the largest aircraft ever operated by the RAF. It became the backbone of RAF tactical transport during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Forty-seven were delivered, serving with 30, 47 and 53 Squadrons based at RAF Abingdon, 34 Squadron at RAF Seletar in Singapore and 84 Squadron at RAF Khormaksar in Aden. For its size, it had a remarkable short takeoff and landing capability, which proved useful when operating during the campaigns in Borneo and Aden. Air drops could be made from the rear of the fuselage, for which the doors were removed pre-flight, while parachute troops could also be dropped from a hatch in the tail boom. XB284 was transferred to 84 Squadron in July 1967. In September 1967, all remaining Beverleys, including XB284, were retired and struck off charge.
In March 1956, the first Beverley C.1 was delivered to 47 Squadron at RAF Abingdon. Among the Beverley’s first tasks was the delivery of Sycamore and Whirlwind helicopters to Cyprus. Over short distances, the Beverley could carry up to ninety passengers, seventy paratroopers or a payload of 20 tons (44,000lb), which for the first time could be loaded and dropped from the rear fuselage.
Emergency aid for Hungary
In October 1956, following an unsuccessful uprising by the Hungarians against the occupying Soviet forces, Valetta C.1 aircraft of 30 Squadron, normally based at RAF Dishforth, flew emergency aid and medical supplies from RAF Wildenrath, Germany, into Vienna to provide assistance for around 100,000 Hungarian refugees who had escaped the Red Army by moving across the border into Austria. A total fleet of twenty-one aircraft (including Transport Command Hastings and Beverley C.1 aircraft) eventually flew a combined load of 112 tons of aid on behalf of the Red Cross.
King Hussein requests assistance
From 1955, the Soviet Union had provided military aid to both Egypt and Syria, including the supply of aircraft and the building of airfields in Syria. These airfields, located to the west of Syria, clearly threatened Lebanese and Jordanian integrity. In February 1958, the United Arab Republic (UAR) was formed between Egypt and Syria. Simultaneously, Iraq and Jordan agreed to an anti-communist, anti-Nasser Federation. The tension at the eastern end of the Mediterranean grew with a revolt in Lebanon and, following the assassination of the Iraqi president, King Hussein of Jordan appealed to Britain on 16 July for assistance in maintaining stability.
The request was immediately supported and on the following morning 200 troops were moved to Amman from Cyprus by Hastings aircraft of 70 Squadron. For a time they seemed to be isolated, since Israel temporarily refused permission for further overflights. After pressure from the US Government, Israel relented and successive flights of RAF transport aircraft were escorted by US Navy fighters from the Sixth Fleet.
By 18 July, 2,200 troops were in Amman with light artillery support. Reinforcements had been flown into Cyprus by Comet C.2s of Transport Command’s 216 Squadron, assisted by Shackleton aircraft drawn from 42 and 204 Squadron. Meanwhile Beverley C.1 aircraft (including a number from Transport Command squadrons) flew in heavy equipment from Cyprus. The troops were followed by a detachment of Hunter F.6 aircraft from 208 Squadron on 20 July from Akrotiri.
King Hussein established a pledge of loyalty from the powerful Bedouin tribes on 11 August and British troops began withdrawing after a UN resolution called for an end to Western intervention later in the month. The last British troops left on 2 November 1958.
38 Group and Starlight
In January 1960, 38 Group was set-up within Transport Command. Its first major strategic task was the detailed planning and execution of Exercise Starlight in March 1960. The exercise was held to test the deployment of the air-portable strategic reserve from the UK to an ‘undeveloped country’ and the maintenance of air support during the period of operations. The aggressor was a ‘middle-eastern country with modern weapons, including tanks’. The strategic airhead was at El Adem, and by the end of the exercise the brigade airhead had moved forward some 60 miles to Tmimi with the ground forces a further 50 miles beyond that (at the limit of air supply by Beverley aircraft). A total of 3,550 personnel, 670 vehicles and trailers, 40 guns and almost 900 tons of cargo were moved through Tmimi. The RAF forces involved were Britannia aircraft of 99 Squadron; twelve Beverley aircraft of numbers 47 and 53 Squadrons; and four Hastings aircraft, all providing strategic airlift; with eight Pioneers from 230 Squadron and twelve Whirlwind helicopters from 225 Squadron operating short-range air supply flights in-theatre.
Not all of the tasks could be planned to the same extent as Starlight was. Very often, Transport Command was called upon to assist with natural disasters, all over the globe. Early in 1961, the RAF brought relief to tribesmen in the northern provinces of Kenya where serious famine had resulted from failure of the rains the previous year. In Operation Maize Bag detachments of Beverley aircraft from numbers 47, 50 and 30 Squadrons flew thirty-one sorties dropping over 300,000 lb of maize, 20,000 lb of dried meat and 2,000 lb of dried milk. The supplies were dropped in 100-lb containers, in an area virtually inaccessible to overland transport.
Ironically, in the autumn of the same year, RAF transport aircraft from the UK and the Middle East Air Force were again called upon to help Kenyan Africans, now cut off by floods. Known as Operation Tana Flood and later extended into Somalia, almost 2,700 tons of food was dropped from the air. The RAF element also involved Twin Pioneer aircraft of the locally based 21 Squadron along with Valetta C.1 aircraft of 233 Squadron
From 1963, the RAF used the experience it had gained during the Malayan Emergency in an undeclared jungle war with Indonesia on the Island of Borneo. Ground forces operating from forward bases in remote parts of the island relied entirely on air power for reinforcement and resupply. Two Blackburn Beverleys from 34 Squadron and two Armstrong Whitworth Argosys from 215 Squadron from Singapore were detached to Labuan and Kuching to resupply troops via drop zones in the jungle. Pioneers and Twin Pioneers of 209 Squadron provided a light supply, troop lifts and casualty evacuation capability from forward airstrips, aided by Bristol Belvederes of 26 Squadron and by Whirlwinds of 103, 110, 225 and 230 Squadrons, which most notably inserted troops over the Indonesian border on secretive Claret operations. Between November 1964 and October 1965, the monthly average weight of stores delivered to front-line bases was nearly 3,000,000lb. In addition Javelins of 60 and 64 Squadrons and Hunters of 20 Squadron from Tengah, Labuan and Kuching undertook air defence patrols following an increasing number of incursions by the Indonesian Air Force.