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The History of the TSW


Tactical Supply Wing's (TSW) motto is "Support to Strike" - a very apt form of wording as, until 1st October 1999, the Wing's role was to provide support to Strike Command. This short history will trace the history of TSW from its formation through development and participation in operations that it has supported to the present day and the recent transfer of ownership to the new Joint Helicopter Command.

tsw1.jpg (60919 bytes)The Past
NATO's decision in the late 1960's to abandon its 'tripwire' strategy in favour of one of 'flexible response' identified the need for a discrete tactical supply unit consequently "The Tactical Supply Wing" formed at RAF Stafford in late 1970 and supported a number of exercises, before being declared operational on 1 January 1971.
The potential for enhanced flexibility and mobility afforded by TSW being quickly seized upon, thus over the years, TSW has been involved in a great many operations, peacekeeping deployments and humanitarian relief activities.

TSW's Role
TSW's primary role involves supporting deployed helicopter operations: it provides and stores aviation fuel on the battlefield and specialises in providing rotors-turning refuelling to NATO helicopters.

In this short history, attention will be focused on the major operations
that TSW has supported over the years:

Northern Ireland
Soon after its formation, TSW very quickly embarked on its first operational deployment and was sent to Northern Ireland in 1971. These duties have been maintained, without a break, through to the present day. There are currently 22 TSW personnel deployed at 5 security force operating bases throughout Northern Ireland operating 24 hours a day 365 Days a year   


In 1973, TSW supported Operation Khana Cascade - famine relief in Nepal. With elements of the Wing deploying to provide supply support to the Hercules aircraft flying in Nepal.


In 1975 TSW deployed to British Honduras (Belize). This deployment was to become, like Northern Ireland, another long commitment. TSW provided aviation fuel to RAF Harriers and Support Helicopters in Belize until 1979.

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Falklands War (Operation Corporate)
In April 1982, elements of the Wing deployed with Task Force 317 to the South Atlantic.  TSW's task was two-fold.  First, it had to co-ordinate the supply support at Ascension Island and provide aviation fuel to the aircraft based on the island, including the famous Vulcan 'Black Buck' raid and the massive air-to-air refuelling operation.  Secondly, following the successful invasion of the Falklands, TSW personnel were tasked to provide support to aircraft based on the Islands. This task suffered a severe blow when the 'Atlantic Conveyor' carrying much of TSW's equipment was attacked and lost despite this setback TSW were able to establish a Forward Arming and Refuelling Point (FARP) at Port San Carlos supporting both aircraft and ground forces attacking Port Stanley.

Gulf War
Whilst operations in Northern Ireland continued, it was to be nearly a decade before TSW were involved in a major conflict again, however, this was to be in another climatic extreme - the desert.  On 2 August 1990 Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait and Operation 'GRANBY', better known as DESERT STORM was launched.  By 11 August 1990, the first detachments of TSW personnel had deployed to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and Thumrait in Oman.  This pattern was repeated at other bases throughout the Arabian Peninsula as the deployment gathered momentum. As preparations continued, TSW found itself moving further into the desert and concentrating on its core task, that of helicopter refuelling.  TSW personnel refuelled not only the largest helicopter force assembled by the UK, but also on an ad-hoc basis, the helicopters of coalition partners. Working closely with 1st Armoured Division, TSW followed the British tanks, as they breached the Iraqi defences on 25 Feb 91, with convoys of fuel for the Support Helicopters -Within 4 days, elements of TSW were in Northern Kuwait and were one of the first British units to enter Kuwait City. Following departure from the Gulf in May 1991, TSW was tasked to support the Royal Marines engaged on Op HAVEN - the protection of the Kurds who had fled from Saddam Hussein's army.

The Former Yugoslavia
The war in the Balkans has been the unit's principal focus since 1993. TSW's primary role has been to provide the UN and NATO helicopter forces with aviation fuel in locations as diverse as Split in Croatia through to the most northerly parts of Bosnia.  Today TSW have 2 helicopter refuelling sites in Croatia and Bosnia and remain one of the longest serving Units in that theatre.

tsw2.jpg (60919 bytes)Kosovo/Macedonia
In the spring of 1999, TSW personnel deployed to Macedonia to support British forces engaged in operations against Serbian forces in Kosovo.  A team of 11 TSW personnel deployed to Macedonia with the Support Helicopter Force in April. On arrival in Macedonia, personnel were tactically deployed and lived around their vehicles, supporting RAF Chinooks and Pumas.  Having established a Main Refuelling Area in Macedonia, personnel supported 5 Airborne Brigade's entry into Kosovo and established Forward Refuelling Points.  These subsequently played an important role in supporting RAF, NATO and Non-Governmental helicopters operating in Kosovo.  

Op BARWOOD was a short notice humanitarian aid operation initiated in February 2000 in response to severe flooding in Mozambique.  The Limpopo Valley tasking areas were approximately 80 miles from the Main Operating Base at Maputo, established by the South African Defence Force they were left were unmanned and aircraft had to close down to refuel, resulting in delays to tasking.  After only 48 hours in theatre, the TSW team had transformed the sites into efficient refuelling points were all nations took on hot refuels making the operation more efficient and thus more aid was delivered.


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Sierre Leone
In May 2000, TSW deployed to Lungi International Airport in Sierre Leone as part of Operation PALLISER.  Tasked with the rotors turning refuelling of Chinook, Sea King Mk4 and Lynx aircraft, TSW support enabled the aircraft to undertake high readiness sorties in support of Special Forces and 1 Parachute Regiment Battle Group.

In November 2001, TSW deployed to Oman as part of Op ORACLE, tasked with the rotors turning refuelling of multi national aircraft involved with the planned conflict in Afghanistan in the fight against international terrorism and to remove the Taliban region from power. TSW then deployed to Bagram airfield in Afghanistan, setting up an aviation fuel site to support US and UK battlefield helicopters as part of Op JACANA. TSW personnel remained in theatre until they finally pulled out in October 2002.

tsw10.jpg (60919 bytes)Iraq Conflict (Gulf 2)
In Feb 2003 approx 122 personnel from TSW were deployed to the Gulf region on Op TELIC to support coalition forces in their dispute with the Iraqi regime. Two task forces of 29 were deployed to the western region of the Gulf in support of Special Forces and the remaining 93 personnel were deployed to Kuwait, Ali Al Salem, to provide aviation fuel support for US and UK Helicopters involved in the planned conflict. In early March, 14 TSW personnel were detached from Ali Al Salem to 3 Commando Bde in support of Commando Helicopter operations involved in the Al Fawr peninsular task to secure the southern oilfields. Finally, from their holding area at Abdally Farms (10kms south of Iraqi border) the main TSW contingent deployed across the border on the 22 March as one of the first RAF elements to go into Iraq, tasked with setting up a Main Refuelling Area with 350m3 of fuel at Safwan, a disused airfield approx 5kms from the village. Supporting Pumas, Chinooks and Lynx ac from the UK JHC and Cobras and Sea Knights from the US Marine Corps the Safwan Task Force remained until it deployed north to Basra Int Airport at the end of April, where, at the time of writing they still remain with a team of 19 personnel.


The Joint Helicopter Command
Amongst the Strategic Defence Review recommendations supporting a more joint approach to operations, was the formation of a new Joint Helicopter Command.  The Joint Helicopter Command formed at Wilton on 1 October 1999 and consists, in peacetime, of all Battlefield Helicopters (BH) of the three Services: The RN Commando Helicopter Force; all operational Army Air Corps aircraft; the RAF Support Helicopter Force.  The Commander Joint Helicopter Command will also exercise operational command of 16 Air Assault Brigade.  This powerful assault force includes the Parachute Regiments and the new Apache Attack Helicopter.  Acknowledging TSW's role in supporting battlefield helicopters from the 3 Services, TSW is an important logistic asset and provides the Joint Helicopter Command with its own dedicated tactical fuels organisation.

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United Kingdom
In 2001, TSW were tasked to support the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in their fight against a serious outbreak of Food and Mouth disease around the country. Personnel from TSW were deployed on Op PENINSULAR to North Yorkshire to assist local authorities with the quarantine and final disposal of animals affected by the disease. A task that showed the flexibility and professionalism of TSW JNCOs and airmen in such diverse taskings such as this.

In 2002, TSW were also tasked to assist HMG with providing emergency fire cover to local authorities due to the national Firefighters Strike. On what was tasked Op FRESCO, approx 20 personnel were deployed to Wales as drivers, emergency firefighters and tradesmen to provide limited but vital fire cover to the civilian communities.