Operation NIMBLE

International Operation Name: not applicable

International Operation Dates:  not applicable

Mandating Organization: Government of Canada

Region Name:  Africa

Location:  Zambia

Canadian Operation Name: Operation NIMBLE

Canadian Operation Dates: 1965/12/22 – 1966/04/30

Mission Mandate: To airlift bulk petroleum products into Zambia

Mission Notes: 

The white minority government of Southern Rhodesia responded to international economic sanctions following its 11 November 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence by halting the trans-shipment of oil and petroleum products to land-locked Zambia. The United Kingdom immediately undertook to airlift these products to Zambia, and asked Canada to assist. The Zambian President also appealed personally to Canada for help on 19 December.

Operation Sabre

Planning for Operation Sabre began the next day, and following Cabinet approval an advance party was ready to leave for Zambia on 22 December. That same day, at the request of the Minister of National Defence, the operation name was changed from Sabre to Nimble.

Operation Nimble

Initially seen as a four-week commitment, on 5 January 1966 the Canadian cabinet agreed that Nimble should be extended to the end of April, but with a reduced number of aircraft (two, instead of four) after 1 March.

The concept of operations was that the RCAF CC-130 Hercules would fly bulk petroleum products into Zambia, either in drums or in inflatable “pillows.” Ndjili airport, outside Leopoldville, Congo would be the base of operations, with aircraft flying into Lusaka and Ndola, Zambia. The RCAF contingent of about 150 personnel, air and ground crew, would be under the operational control of the local Royal Air Force commander.

The advance party arrived in Leopoldville on 24 December, making arrangements for the start of the oil lift, Hercules operations and accommodations for the air and ground crew. The four Hercules, two from 435 Squadron and two from 436 Squadron, departed on 26, 28 and 29 December, and 2 January, each aircraft taking two days to fly to Leopoldville.

Operations out of Ndjili began on 27 December utilizing the Yukon that had carried the advance party. The first Hercules flight took place on 30 December. The plan was to fly 700 hours a month, with two, then three, shuttle runs daily to Elisabethville/Ndola, and one to Lusaka, until the aircraft returned to Canada on 1 March.

While the initial concept was that 45-gallon druns would be replaced by fuel cells or "pillows," drums remained in use throughout the operation.

On 12 April 1966, External Affairs notified the Zambian President that the RCAF’s participation in the airlift would terminate at the end of April. Over the course of the operation, the RCAF airlifted 4743 tons of fuel.

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