Canada’s C-130s to the Rescue – “Operation Preserve” August to December 1991

 

1 Djibouti Title Photo

Good day CANAV supporters … here’s the next action-packed session on the CANAV Books Blog, but before getting into our lead story covering “Operation Preserve”, here is some important information and some fascinating bits of history.

D-Day Celebrations at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton

D-Day was so well covered this year, whether locally in one Canadian community after another, or in Normandy itself. As is a tradition, the fantastic Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton went all-out, especially with its fly-over program. Gus Corujo was there with his cameras – Gus rarely misses any aviation event in his wide-ranging travels around Ontario. Here is his CWHM D-Day 2019 presentation for you to enjoy: http://gusair.com/htdocs/Airshows/2019/19D-DAY/19d-day.html

Book Reviews

Unless someone pulls a mighty impressive new book out of the fire, Aviation in Canada: Fighter Pilots and Observers 1915-1939 will remain Canada’s aviation book of the year through 2019, likely into 2020. “FPO” is a treat for any serious aviation reader. It will you give years of enjoyment and your order will help CANAV to get ahead with Vol.9.

Here’s what the great Denis J. Calvert writes about “FPO” in the May 2019 edition of “The Aeroplane”: “This is volume eight in CANAV’s series detailing Canada’s aviation heritage. Those who have read – or own – earlier volumes will be familiar with author Milberry’s style of writing, which strikes the happy, but all too rare, balance between being easy to read and rigorously detailed … Illustrations are excellent.” Here are two other reviews to check out: “Britain at War” (November 2018) and “Flypast” (March 2019). Don’t sit on your hands, get your order in today! Meanwhile, I also attach CANAV’s current booklist – it’s well worth a look. It’s packed with a best in aviation reading, the sort the will keep your attention span being reduced to 3 minutes (by playing around way too much on the internet, right).
FYI … CANAV’s Curent Booklist is right here: 1 CANAV Booklist Spring_Summer 2019

1 Blog Gibraltar North Star 506

1 Blog Gibraltar Argus 737

The Rock of Gibraltar + Some Alberta Treasures

Next … recently I came across these old photos of RCAF aircraft at Gibraltar in the 1950s-60s. If there isn’t a book full of such “Rock of Gibraltar” airplane photos, someone needs to do one. Shown first is one of RCAF Air Transport Command’s famous Canadair North Stars from the 1940s-60s. Then, a “Wilf White Collection” Kodachrome showing RCAF Argus 20737, likely coming or going re. some Cold War anti-submarine exercise. I wouldn’t be surprised in the 2010s to see photos of RCAF Auroras, CF-18, Hercs, etc. with “The Rock” as backdrop.

1 Blog Gibraltar B-17 in colour

The RCAF had first started using “Gib” in WWII, when it operated a mail service from Ottawa (168 Sqn) all the way through to Cairo, mainly using B-17s converted to transports. This pioneer effort turned into an RCAF gold star success.

As I was writing the history of Canada’s vast air transportation heritage in the 1980s-90s, I decided to include a gallery of original aviation art. Always fascinated by the amazing overseas work of 168 Sqn, I commissioned my great friend, artist and photographer, the late Robert “Bob” Finlayson, to paint a 168 Sqn B-17 over “Gib”, since 168 on the Mediterranean route stopped there countless times going and coming. To this day I count Bob’s painting as one of the treasures in Canadian aviation art. He always seemed to pull a piece together so nicely. He did his research thoroughly, then got his plane, sky and background nicely together on his board. After decades of work, I finally got the book into print – Air Transport in Canada. You can find the details in the CANAV 2019 booklist above. This is another Canadian aviation heritage book that you definitely will treasure.

Alberta Snapshots Surface

Fascinating historic aviation photos keep surfacing as the years pass. This spring Ken Townend of Calgary (one of CANAV’S earliest readers) sent me these b/w prints. First are two photos that he took of RCAF Hurricane 5414 (then with 135 Squadron at Tofino) in Edmonton in April 1945. This was a Victory Loan event on the east side of 101 Street south of Jasper Avenue. People going by could get a close look at a Hurricane, at this time frontline RCAF equipment. You can see that the passersby were keen to have a look. Notice the “Let’s Make a Clean Sweep” propaganda billboard on the street corner. In a few weeks the jig would be up for the Germans, and the Japanese soon would follow. Clean sweep accomplished!

Here’s one of Ken’s shots from a visit to Edmonton airport in the late 1940s. Shown are RCAF Mosquito KA115 and one of the RCAF’s first two Gloster Meteor jet fighters. Next, a closer view of KA115, which was struck off strength in June 1948. Notice the airport elevation on the hangar across the field – 2185 feet above sea level.

American military planes had been passing through Edmonton flying to and from Alaska since the 1920s. One day Ken Townend got to watch a squadron of USAF F-80 Shooting Star jet fighters during their refuelling stopover. Ken notes, “The US F-80s shot up the airfield, then landed from the north. At least two of them were unable to slow down sufficiently to turn off at the end of the runway, so got stuck in the gopher holes and grass. I clambered over the fence and took a couple of photos.” This view is really interesting for the Edmonton background. Since the airport closed a few years ago, nothing much remains of the old hangars, etc. The final shot is another F-80 taken at Edmonton about the same time by Leslie Corness.

Ontario Regiment Royal Canadian Armoured Corps Museum Annual Open House “Aquino Tank Weekend”

On Saturday, June 9 we attended this year’s Ontario Regiment RCAC Museum annual weekend open house at the museum’s Oshawa airport location, about an hour’s drive east of Toronto.. This was one of the most fantastic armoured history events anywhere on the globe for this season. I’m not particularly a tank/armour history follower, but certainly will be showing a lot more interest from now on. For this blog item, I’ll simply show you photos of a few vehicle types that were operating among what must have been 50+. Also … some misc. displays.

    At one point alone there were five operating ex-Canadian Army Leopard I main battle tanks on the field. There were numerous Allied and German tanks, tank destroyers, armoured personnel carriers, jeeps, artillery pieces, etc. all manned by expertly-trained operators, There also was a mass of Gulf War equipment, and Allied and German re-enactors put on a mock battle based on one of the Canadian engagements during the Liri Valley battlefield period in WWII Italy – the Battle of Aquino, May 14, 1944 (see Wiki, etc.). Here are a few photos to whet your appetite for a visit to this magnificent museum. “Impressive” does not begin to describe this museum adequately.

Thousands of these Commonwealth “Bren Gun Carriers” served the Canadian Army in WWII. Some 29,000 alone were built by the Ford Motor Co. in Canada. You can find all the details for such vehicles by checking on Wiki, etc. Besides all the “heavy metal” roaring around on the display grounds, there was at least and acre of fascinating static displays. Above is the artillery piece being towed by the Bren Gun Carrier.

Typical German hardware of WWII. The Allies had to confront such formidable armour wherever they fought from North Africa early in the war on to north Germany into May 1945.

Canada operated the British-built Centurion main battle tank (static view above) through the Cold War. It finally was replaced by the German-designed Leopard I. Next … two of the five operating Leopard Is on the field this day.

A wide view of some of the vehicles that we saw in operation during the morning action.

Several of Canada’s D-Day veterans were present. After being introduced, they made the circuit of the grounds in several types of wartime vehicles.

A German medium tank and tank destroyer on the move. Then, “German” re-enactors dismounting and setting up to drive the Canadians from Aquino airfield. This fellow is ready to create mayhem for the Canadians with his MG42.

A Bren Gun Carrier arrives with Canadian troops.

Stewart and Chaffe tanks roll out, then one of the museum’s mighty Shermans.

Canadians on the defensive. All the weapons here were operable and 100s of rounds were banged off in these realistic demonstrations. Lee Enfield rifles, Thompson submachine guns, Bren guns and side arms all were fired. Then, a German half-track on the attack.

This Canadian Army Chevy truck tows a 25-pound (87.6 mm) artillery piece and ammunition limber. The 25-pounder fired several blank rounds.

This current Leopard II recovery tank came in from CFB Borden. Then, yet another piece of heavy WWII German equipment.

Radio-controlled scale model tanks; then the large battlefield diorama where they were rolling around all day.

Some of the amazing Gulf War armour on show including (last shot) a Russian T-62 main battle tank, the much-feared type still used by Russian client states.

Nearby the tank museum (which is at Oshawa airport) is an important RCAF monument – a sparkling Canadair F-86 Sabre V. (Photos by Shannon and Marin Milberry; Blog Master, Owen Milberry)

 

Now … Djibouti 1991

CanForces C-130 Hercules 130326 taxis through the pigeons at Djibouti (formerly French Somalia) in November 1991. It was headed out on one of hundreds of “Operation Preserve” missions on behalf of the UN World Food Program. Then, Herc 130333 loading at Djibouti for yet another trip into the Ethiopian “outback”. All this food aid arrived in Djibouti by sea, then was trucked to the airport. This brought employment and cash into the local economy and organizers made the most of it. Loading a Herc with as much as 22 tons of grain or corn was never a speedy process, since it was being paid for at an hourly rate. At the offloading end, the locals weren’t in it so much for the money, so could empty a Herc in 10-12 minutes (the record during Operation Preserve was eight minutes).

Region in Turmoil

The Horn of Africa has been in turmoil for centuries. In more modern times, there was a horrendous 3-decades war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In 2018 the warring parties finally agreed to a peace. In another infamous case (1977-78) there was all-out war between Ethiopia and Somalia, backed, respectively, by the USSR and USA. The opposite recently had been true, so the Soviet-backed Ethiopian air force went to war with US-made Northrop F-5s, while the US-backed Somali air force flew Soviet MiG-21s. The “MiGs” soon ruled the skies. The main fighting took place in the northern Ogaden region lying between the two countries: Having a dream of a “Greater Somalia”, in 1977 President Siad Barre launched his attack on the Ogaden, looking to annex this ethnically Somali territory, where the main centres were Diradawa and Jijiga. Not far across the border in Somalia was Hargeisa. Barre’s forces ploughed ahead. Just as Ethiopia was near defeat in 1978, however, it was massively reinforced by Cuban, South Yemen and the USSR. Ethiopia now turned the tide, Somalia withdrew and Ethiopia retained the Ogaden (see Wiki, etc., for all the details, e.g. such items as “Somaliland: Hargeisa – The Invisible City”). Humiliated, President Siad Barre punished his own military in the north, having many top officers executed. Like a mini-Stalin or Mao, he also led a campaign to exterminate Somali clan resistance, starving to death and mercilessly bombing his own people. This led to unrest among northern Somalis. A revolution ensued, the north eventually declaring independence as Somaliland, having Hargeisa as its capital. Barre then used his artillery and tactical MiGs to destroying much of Hargeisa. In 1991 Barre was overthrown and eventually replaced by another strongman – Mohamed Farah Aidid. Aidid ushered in his own reign of terror during another ugly period of Somalia clan violence. The United Nations interceded, establishing UNOSOM – United Nations Operations in Somalia, which would count heavily on Canada. For today, however, let’s go back to 1991 when the Horn of Africa was not so much at war (although clans still were at each other’s throats) as it was starving due to crop failure caused by drought.

Operation Preserve

At the UN’s behest, beginning in August 1991 Canada began flying food aid to Ethiopian centres from its ALCE (Airlift Control Element) at Djibouti International Airport. This was known as Operation Preserve. The mandate was to fly four relief missions per day, each carrying as much as 22 tons of food. Three CC-130 “Hercs” from Air Transport Group at CFB Trenton were provided – two for daily operations plus one back-up. The Hercs were crewed from ATG’s various squadrons and supported by about 60 personnel – airframe and engine techs, logistics people, administrative and medical staff, etc. The ALCE “opened for business” on August 7, the first mission being flown five days later. Destinations were in the Ethiopian provinces of Bale, Hararge and Tigre. “Preserve” was planned for three months, but Canada later responded to a UN World Food Program plea for an extension. In November, I was invited to visit the operation to report first hand. I had a week to get everything organized – gathering the paperwork that DND needed, studying about the Horn of Africa (geography, weather, cultures, etc.), checking out camera equipment, stocking up on film, etc. Finally, on November 24, I rendezvoused with the CF public affairs co-ordinator in Ottawa for the first leg of the trip – a 6.5-hour flight to Canada’s airbase at Lahr, Germany on a DND charter. Our transportation was Nationair’s C-GMXY, an old DC-8-62 that had begun with Swissair in 23 years earlier. The trip started in leisurely fashion, since we had some time to enjoy Lahr and the Black Forest area. Then, on November 28 we set off in 436 Sqn C-130 130323 (UN Flight 6165) with Capt Dave Ross and crew. Our destination was Iraklion, Crete, where a few hours later we landed for fuel in the dead on night.

CanForces Herc “323” during our night refuelling stop at Iraklion, Crete. Delivered to the RCAF in 1967, “323” would serve Canada for some 44 years before retiring in 2012. Within an hour we were airborne for Djibouti, where we landed at 0940 (local) after a trip from Lahr of some 3000 nm. Shuttled downtown to the Sheraton Hotel, we started with a detailed briefing from ALCE commander, LCol Marc Dumais, who also organized a bus tour of the city to get we media people oriented.

A aeronautical map section of the general area being supplied by Operation Preserve during its final weeks. The main centres that I visited are to the south – DireDawa, Jijiga and Hargeisa.

Canada’s makeshift ALCE comprised a few sea containers and tents in a grubby corner at Djibouti International Airport. Canada’s military is famous for getting the job done in such barebones set-ups. This goes back at least to the Korean War when the RCAF’s modest fleet of North Stars made hundreds of trans-Pacific supply, passenger and medevac trips with little fanfare. On any day it may have had 10-12 North Stars available. So busy were they that the USAF assumed that the RCAF must have had hundreds. So it usually goes with a Canadian ALCE – no fuss no muss, just get the job done to specs.

The inevitable crazy signpost seems quickly to appear at any distant ALCE.

The ALCE seen from a giraffe that I briefly commandeered. A spare engine (lower right) and prop always are essential for such an operation.

A few steps from the ALCE, CanForces Herc crews chitchat between missions. The Operation Preserve Hercs this week were “326”, which had an airframe time of 30,433.1 hours as of December 1; “333”– 19,325.6 and “337” — 9445.7. There’s plenty of fun on such an operation. Some cocky 429 Sqn graffiti artist sent this message to the other squadrons at Djibouti.

ALCE commander LCol Dumais (right) with some of his staff at Djibouti.

My first trip from Djibouti began at 0400 on November 30 with a bus ride to the airport with the Dave Ross crew. Things were a bit dicey right away, since some rough-looking airport security fellows with AKs pulled me into a guardhouse, while the crew went ahead. Problem? Who was this Canadian not in uniform? After a few minutes, one of my crew returned to straighten things out. Soon I was around the table at the ALCE taking in the briefing. It was still dark as we climbed out of Djibouti en route to Jijiga, a distance of 144nm. This is how most days began – get out of Djibouti ASAP, so as to land with at destination just about sunrise.

Capt Dave Ross (right, aircraft commander) during mission planning about 0500 just before we headed for Jijiga on November 30. Left is S/L John Barras (nav, RAF on exchange with 436 Sqn). Standing is Sgt Dave Preston (ALCE operations), then, Capt Pete Stolz (pilot). Next, three fellows from the other early crew: LCol Jim Skinner (OC 413 Sqn), Capt Frank Costello (nav) and Capt Vince Schurman (pilot). An old joke about flight planning and paperwork noted that a Herc would not be dispatched ‘til the weight of the paperwork equalled the weight of the plane itself!

Under call sign “Canuck 36”, the Dave Ross crew was airborne at 140,000 lb at 0545. We touched down on Jijiga’s rough little strip (Runway 03-21, barely 2500 feet) at 0630. One of the first things that caught my eye was a crowd of local men heading towards us out of the dusk. These fellows were keen to load the trucks with the 19 tons of corn we had just flown in.

Workers get busy offloading 800 x 55-lb bags. Unloading was competitive, each man hustling as many sacks as quickly as possible. Sightseers from nearby were milling around taking in the excitement on which – in a way – their lives depended.

Herc “333” soon joined us at this dusty airstrip.

S/L Barrass and Capt Ross inspect one of the many dud artillery and tank rounds scattered over Jijiga airport, where fighting during the earlier Somali invasion had been intense.

The flight deck of Herc “333”at Jijiga with flight engineer Don Levins, pilots Rich Pittet and John Pedneault of 435 Sqn, plus UN field worker, Tracy Buckenmeyer.

Our visit to Jijiga soon shaped up beautifully for photography. Here are two more views of “326”. In the second, S/L Barrass is monitoring the start-up. We were airborne again at 0700 this time at 98,000 pounds heading back to base to collect another load. The return trip totalled 1.7 flying hours.

Capts Ross and Stolz in their front office – best seats in the house! As a rule, pilots alternated seats on each leg.

Typical desert between Djibouti and Jijiga. In a good season, this land could produce plenty of food, sometimes even a surplus. In 1991, however, draught was the problem, so there was little sign of any crops or anything green. Notice the small family farm enclosures. The homes are rounded huts mostly made of local materials.

Back at base I joined “Canuck 29” 130333 bound for Diredawa with a 429 crew under Capt Vince Schurman with LCol Skinner of 413 Sqn. Here, “333” loads at Djibouti. We departed at 0845, landed at Diredawa (a distance of 135 nm) at 0930, left again at 1005 and were wheels on back at Djibouti at 1045.

LCol Skinner piloting “333”. Our load in this trip was 20 tons of wheat (400×110-lb bags). Then, a grab shot as we scorched across Diredawa, a city (at this time of some 350,000. Notice the Dechatu River and the railroad (one of few in this part of Africa), which connects Diredawa to Djibouti.

Offloading scenes at Diredawa on November 30. It wasn’t always clear where all this food aid ended. Word was that some was regularly siphoned off to local bandidos, according to accepted local customs. Hauling food grains around was not the best thing for the “care and feeding” of a C-130. S/L John Barrass told me one day about how loose grain readily germinated under a Herc’s floorboards. This could cause damage and expensive clean-up. I no longer wondered why loadmasters sometimes were seen vacuuming the heck out of their Hercs. Another issue was insects, which thrived in sacks of grain and inevitably infested airplanes, making fumigation necessary.

Diredawa was another good place to photograph the CanForces at work, but something else caught my eye. The place was a major military base. There were fighters all over the place, but how to get access? Someone got me an escort onto the MiG-21/MiG- 23 tarmac, but no photos allowed. I could see that there was no activity– the MiGs simply were basking in the sun with nobody in sight. I heard that these MiGs had been used on some recent operations flown by Communist Bloc mercenaries. Apparently, the jets were some sort of rentals, and always ready to relocate to the next war or uprising. There’s a story here, but someone “in the know” will have to write it. In the distance I also could see MiG-15s and -17s. What a hot spot for the aviation geek, eh! Here’s a view of 8800×150 foot Runway 15-33. Notice the MiG compound in the mid distance.

It was OK to photograph this abandoned Aeroflot MI-8 at Diredawa. The MI-8 first flew in 1962. Some 7300 of this astoundingly versatile and reliable helicopter were manufactured. Many were exported to USSR client states and still do great work.

On departure in “333” I was able to grab some “quickie” shots of the MiGs. I wonder if those 15s and 17s are still there? Warbird collectors would go wild if there was a chance of an acquisition.

Our shadow rips along a dried river bed around Diredawa. Back at base I quickly teamed with ”Canuck 29” for another trip to Jijiga in “333” with the Dave Ross crew. We departed at 1245, were airborne for home from Jijiga at 1350 and back at “Silo Ops” (the ALCE ops tent) at 1545. Along the way I learned a few interesting bits of trivia, including how Op Preserve’s C-130s had been lightened from a basic empty weight of 82,000 lb to 75,000 lb (so they could carry more payload); and how there was a strict notice that no aircraft enter Djibouti air space below 15,000 feet (without prior notice). Any lower and who knows what might happen. Maybe an intercept by the French AF Mirages based at Djibouti?

Crew do some on-the-spot fix to “326” while we were at Diredawa on December 1. Ingenuity is the mother of invention, as they say, but this was not a job for strict union workers, that’s for sure. I also made a trip this day to Jijiga in “333” with the 435 Sqn crew of Capt John Pedneault. Here they are at day’s end back at “Silo Ops”: Capt Rich Pettet (pilot), Capt Rolly Tassé (loadmaster), Capt John Pedneault (aircraft commander), Maj Tom Whitburn (nav) and Sgt Don Levins (flight engineer). Although I met many young aircrew on this operation, at this time Capt Tassé was one of four ATG commissioned “loadies” and talk about experience. Having joined the RCAF in 1955, he transitioned from the C-119 to the C-130 in 1962. Prior deployments included Biafra, Congo, Gulf War I and Peru on earthquake relief. By now he had 6200 flying hours on Hercs plus about 2000 on Cosmos. He also had been chief loadmaster instructor at the CF Tactical Airlift School in Edmonton. Where could the RCAF get such experience today? Pretty well impossible.

Herc 326 departs Jijiga on December 1, 1991. Aircraft take a good beating on such operations, where landings and takeoffs always are “max” efforts, e.g. full brakes, flaps and reverse props for landing after landing. Once our Hercs finally go home to Canada, you don’t even want to hear about the cost of repairs.

December 2 was an exciting day. At 0525 we were off Djibouti in “326” as “Canuck 36” under LCol Dumais with Capt Jacques Dufort, the rest being from Dave Ross’ crew. At 0600 we landed at Jijiga, where the runway was one long mud puddle after heavy overnight rains (we might have gone through with this landing because of low light masking the ugly runway conditions). A few minutes behind us, along came “Canuck 29” under Capt Vince Schurman, who first did a low pass to inspect conditions. We on the ground all were watching with interest. Would “Canuck 29” give it a go? Someone commented, “We’d be hard-pressed to find anything around here to drag them out of the mud – if worse comes to worse.” Here (in the distance) Vince banks into his downwind leg to try a landing.

Here’s part of the scene as “Canuck 29” splashes down, slithers through a mass of giant birds and mud, then gets squared away and taxies in behind “326”. Nothing to it, right! Someone reported later that several birds had left wings, fuselages, undercarriages, etc. on the runway. These photos were hard to really wire, considering the poor light, also the limits of 25 asa and 64 asa Kodachrome back in these prehistoric days of (actual) photography. Our own departure from Jijiga was briefed as a “soft field takeoff, 95,000 lb” with a proviso: “We’ll only return to this strip if we really, really have to”. On leaving Jijiga, LCol Dumais detoured to Degeh Bur for a low-level inspection and video of the runway re. possible relief flights. We noticed the wreck of an old DC-3 beside the runway. LCol Dumais did a touch-and-go to get a feel for the runway surface, then turned north for Djibouti.

LCol Dumais flies “326” to Degeh Bur on December 2, as RAF S/L John Barrass (nav) looks on. Then, Capt Dufort at the helm on the same trip.

On Day 1 at Djibouti I spent some good time watching the technical staff change an engine on Herc “337”. Here they were in a remote place doing sophisticated work out in the blazing African sun, but this really was no big deal for ATG. After all, what’s it about? Training, experience and dedication, three hallmarks of Canada’s military. First, here’s the big picture with “337” on the ramp. Then, MCpl Bob Gauthier atop the troubled engine, and Cpl Jeff Hamilton gathering some wrenches.

Contemplating the new engine. Then, the prop is readied for installation. Finally, the new 4000-shp Allison T56 engine is run up for the first time as the airport fire brigade stands by. Job in the bag in 12 hours, no sweat!

Djibouti is a fascinating place. Take some time and read up about it in the “interweb” (the world of the 3-minute attention span, right). This is a place where, in the main market, we saw such eye-popping displays as AK-47s for sale for a few American dollars, gold in any form one might desire, and raw elephant tusks stacked up ready for anyone with the cash – save the elephants be damned. It’s also where we enjoyed a pizza one evening where our host was a retired Foreign Legionnaire. On the wall was a pair of snowshoes that, as a young soldier on winter exercise in northern Quebec one year, he had brought home. Yes … Djibouti is “something else”. But it must be much changed today, when the main foreign influence is China, not France. The airport itself is a busy hub with many civil and military aircraft to photograph. Djibouti being a former French colony and still (in 1991) a French Foreign Legion outpost, I wasn’t surprised to see this 747 “Classic” on the ramp. F-BPVA was Air France’s first 747, having been delivered in March 1970. Majestic as it was, it went to the boneyard in 1994.

The French military also was evident in Djibouti, but I couldn’t get permission to visit. Mirage fighters were coming and going on some sort of counter-insurgency missions, and this Breguet Atlantique was present, patrolling the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea. There also were some Transals. One day I watched one of these “mini Hercs” take off and disappear into low cloud. Not long afterwards, a large number of Foreign Legionnaires came floating down onto mid-field, having completed a jump in complete “IFR” conditions.

Ethiopian Airlines seemed almost to be Djibouti’s national airline. Seen are 707 freighter ET-AIV, 727 ET-AHM and Lockheed L-100 Hercules ET-AJK. Delivered originally to Braniff in 1967 and later with Trans Mediterranean, “AIV” served EAL 1985-98. Sold then into the DRC, it was wrecked at Kinshasa in Y2K. 727 “AHM” came new to EAL in 1979, serving there into 1992. It migrated to Canada in 1997, where it served Cargojet of Hamilton as C-GUJC into the 2010s. Herc “AJK” was a jack-of-all-trades, frequently doing UN relief operations.

Alyemda was operating scheduled Dash 7 service across the narrow straight from Yemen to Djibouti. 7O-ACM had been sold new to Alyemda in 1980. Dash 7 No.31 (of 113 built in Toronto), “ACM” lasted into the early 2000s, but eventually went for scrap.

Originally delivered to Yemen Airways in 1976, 737 “200 Series” 7O-ACU was seen almost daily at Djibouti. It served into the early 2000s before retiring.

By 1991 the impressive Cessna 208A Caravan was making welcomed inroads throughout Africa. 5Y-ZBZ (s/n 201) had arrived in the region on October 24 for Mission Aviation Fellowship. Using long-range tanks, Tony Pettinger had ferried it across in 46 flying hours. First, he collected “ZBZ” from Cessna in Wichita, then flew it to Bangor, Maine, where two 180 gallon ferry tanks were installed in the cabin. These supplemented the 165-gallon tanks in each wing tank. He next flew to St. John’s, Newfoundland, then to Birmingham in 12:05 hours, finally on to Southend, Luxor and Nairobi. For another Caravan (HB-CKK, Red Cross) also doing relief duty here, the engineer was Anil Patel of Montreal. A graduate of Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Anil previously had worked for Bearskin Airlines and norOntair in NW Ontario, then went to Africa in 1984. He noted that there were about 100 Canadians doing relief work at this time for NGOs in this region. These seemed to be loosely under the “Horn of Africa Committee” of the Canadian International Development Agency in Ottawa.

Another bit of “Canadiana” at Djibouti in 1991 was this clapped out DHC-4 Caribou. Delivered new in 1971 as JW9013 to the Tanzanian Air Wing, nobody around the airport seemed to have any history for it, other than that it had made a very hard landing here one day. The airframe was hopelessly bent, so the Caribou was abandoned. At this time, several local young men were using “9013” for low cost housing.

Off the end of Runway 09 at Djibouti in 1991 lay another off-beat bit of aviation history – some superannuated French Air Force F-100 Super Sabres cooking in the Africa sun. Look at the massiveness of this scrap yard. I wondered why the local government hadn’t turned all this into millions of dollars in scrap business? Since China now holds sway in Djibouti, perhaps it’s finally been shipped off for recycling. You can see that a lot of the photos that I’ve used here are grab shots. As any day unfolded, there were endless subjects to photograph, so I had to have cameras ready. Things could come and go in a flash. This was not a great job for the photographer who is anal about photographic form. For me? I was happy, since I’m mainly content-minded. Shoot first, shoot fast!

Around the pool at the Sheraton one evening I met some fellows from the Mission Aviation Fellowship, a Christian organization doing good works in the Horn of Africa with Caravan 5Y- ZBZ. Eventually, I asked about a flight to see what was doing with the MAF, and this quickly was OK’d. Early on December 3, I met my MAF contacts at the airport – Ramesh Peshavaria (seen at the controls of “ZBZ”), Tony Pettinger and Tad Watts. At 0905 we took off on the 133 nm flight to Hargeisa, capital of the unrecognized state of Somaliland (formerly Italian Somalia). We climbed to 10,000 feet, cruised smoothly along, then landed at 1000. Here “ZBZ” sits at the Hargeisa terminal.

 

What caught my eye instantly as we taxied in at Hargeisa was a row of three Somali AF F-6 tactical fighters (Chinese-built MiG-19s). The story behind these old warbirds was not a pretty one, for they had been “flying artillery” for Siad Bari’s repressive regime, bombing nearby Hargeisa into rubble in recent times. An F-6 could make bomb run after bomb run through the day, since its targets were just a few seconds/minutes away. Nobody was around who could give me any actual details, although a very poor- looking fellow on crutches told me that he had been an F-6 pilot “back in the day”. It’s not always too easy to get people in such countries to talk openly.

MiG and a Mil-17 hulks at Hargeisa. As I polked around this corner, some friendly fellows in the distance yelled for me to clear off, warning that there still were land mines in this patch of the airport. I made my way back to the tarmac taking very long strides!

A bird’s eye view of the airport terminal from “ZBZ”.

General views around Hargeisa on December 3, 1991. The city had been a ghost town since 1988, the main population having fled across the border to Ethiopia. We were told that the population was about 70,000, but this was starting to rise as people began filtering back home. Thousands had died here, but the survivors were set on making a new beginning. First, an aerial view from “ZBZ”. This neighbourhood still looked uninhabited. Today, Hargeisa is home to more than 600,000 and has great prospects.

A local fellow with his camel. Then, two young men employed in Hargeisa’s de-mining “industry”. Many Somalilanders had become land mine victims during the region’s horrible times, as in 1988-91. One-legged people were everywhere, and humans and animals still were been killed by mines in and near Hargeisa. Alf Slingsby of the UK de-mining company Rimfire showed us samples of neutralized mines supplied to Siad Bari’s brutal forces by arms dealers from many nations. His teams were recovering about 1000 mines per month, and there was no end in sight for the process.

While climbing out from Hargeisa bound for home base, we spotted a herder with his goats. Raising and dealing in goats, cattle and camels remains the region’s chief economic activity. Then, a typical scene en route. This area is desert and mountains with the prominent Durdur River system. This is really wild country. We were back at Djibouti at 1415 to face the only glitch of the day – Djibouti customs officials were unhappy that I had “illegally” crossed into the non-existent nation of Somaliland. My passport was confiscated, but was returned later in the day for a small fee.

Another day I joined a convoy driving across the back country to a vast refugee camp in the middle of nowhere – Dharwanaji six miles from the Somaliland border. The place housed 121,000 homeless people, but was overseen by armed hoodlums. Here’s a grab shot looking ahead at our convoy just as there was a panic about a possible ambush. Our “guns-for-hire” suddenly were fanning out, weapons ready.

The panic arose due to a traffic hold-up at this crossing, where a heavy water truck headed for Dharwanji was bogged down. All was well. Note the machine gun atop the pick-up, and the camels in the distance.

Even out in such sparse backcountry there was plenty to see. We passed a battleground littered with Soviet-era tanks destroyed during the recent Ethiopia – Somalia shoot-out. Cameras were not welcomed, so I kept a low profile. Here, we pass a pick-up loaded “to the gunwales” with militiamen.

En route we stopped briefly in the hamlet of Lafaisa. First, a street scene as a local water cart passes on its rounds. Then, typical Lafaisa housing, boys tending cattle, and camels at work. Little wonder that wherever we travelled, people would shout “Canada (or USA) Number One” and sometimes ask what we could do to help them get out of wherever they were stuck.

Finally, we reached Dharwanaji. This is what we saw spread out to the horizon — thousands of grubby little huts called “akuls” or “aqals”, and people mainly just waiting passively for their next meal.

Just inside the gate sat a mountain of thousands of grain and corn sacks. We heard that the camp had formed when refugees poured in from Somalia starting in February 1991. Under the gaze of the “camp mafia”, the UN was feeding the place. There was a daily limit of 500g per person, except for children and pregnant women who received a bit extra. People were dying almost daily of starvation and disease. Armed militiamen guarded the food aid and seemed to have control as to how it all got distributed.

A couple of Dharwanaji honchos guard the entrance to the camp strongman’s office.

Keeping more than 100,000 desperate people alive … this is what it was all about, including what Canada’s Hercs were doing so far from home. This was the scene at one of Dharwanaji’s six feeding centres. Mothers and children are having their turn in this session. But things perpetually were on the edge. In the second photo, an infant has just been declared dead, said to be from malnutrition.

Food prep in the kitchen tent; then a scene in the medical clinic. Among people’s endless health issues at Dharwanaji, tuberculosis was rampant.

Other camp scenes. You can show your kids these pictures next time they start complaining about anything, right! Besides barebones care provided by the UN and NGOs in this region in 1991, there was a longterm effort to resettle the refugees. Most of those at Dharwanaji in 1991 gradually returned to Somaliland, from whence they had come.

My visit to Djibouti ended on December 4 when I boarded Herc “334” at Djibouti (UN Flight 6166, Major Wayne Davidson and crew). First we flew to Larnica on Cyprus (7 hours) to pick up passengers and fuel, then continued to Lahr (Capt Pedneault and crew, 5.5 hours). I continued back to Ottawa on December 6 aboard Nationair 757 C-GNXU.

Operation Preserve summary: flying from their Djibouti ALCE, from August 12 to December 12, 1991 Canada’s C-130 Hercules flew 853 food aid missions to points in hard- pressed north Ethiopia. Some 16,000 tons of grain and corn were delivered. Summarizing things, LCol Marc Dumais noted, “The operation was an overwhelming success thanks to the planning that went into the initial recce and to the professionalism and positive attitude of the personnel who were assigned to the mission”. Canada’s air force would go on to many further such humanitarian mission from the collapse of Somalia, when the warlords took over, to Rwanda, hurricane relief in Honduras … on and on to the present. Through the week of June 3, 2019, RCAF Hercs were busy evacuating forest fire- threatened Pikangikum, a town of 3800 in Northwest Ontario (55 miles north of Red Lake). One of the great aspects about travelling around the world with the Canadian Forces was meeting so many exemplary Canadians proudly wearing the uniform. It’s been fun keeping in touch over the decades and seeing how people finished their careers. LCol Marc Dumais, for example, retired to “Civvie Street” in 2012 as MGen Dumais, Commander of “Canada Command”.

 

 

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One response to “Canada’s C-130s to the Rescue – “Operation Preserve” August to December 1991

  1. Another brilliant piece Larry. One minor nit, the “T-62” in the Aquino piece is actually a T-54, aside from that ….. Outstanding !

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