Operation Silkman: What Was The Last Solely British Military Campaign?

The parachute drop during Operation Silkman formed part of a series of military demonstrations by the UK Armed Forces in Sierra Leone.

In January, the Royal Air Force commemorated the 20th anniversary of an operational parachute drop carried out by II Squadron RAF Regiment in Sierra Leone.

The drop was part of Operation Silkman, the last solely British military campaign.

What was Operation Silkman?

The drop during Operation Silkman formed part of a series of military demonstrations by the British military to show the UK's commitment to the Sierra Leone government.

The demonstrations showed the Rebel United Front (RUF) and their Liberian backers that British forces could arrive at any time and conduct aggressive military operations if required.

Operation Silkman allowed the British-trained Sierra Leone armed forces to take back control of the disputed areas of the country and end the civil war.

The squadron was flown in three RAF C-130 Hercules transport aircraft from Ascension Island, a British overseas territory located in the South Atlantic Ocean, and parachuted onto a drop zone at Yongro, near the capital of Sierra Leone. 

As the drop on 13 January 2001 was planned, intelligence had uncovered a meeting was due to take place between the RUF leader and his Liberian backers to discuss illegal diamond trading.

Members of II Sqn RAF Regiment at the back of a C130 Hercules during Op Silkman EXACT DATE UNKNOWN CREDIT RAF
Members of II Squadron RAF Regiment at the back of a C-130 Hercules aircraft during Operation Silkman (Picture: RAF).

The drop was then well-publicised and watched by the then-President of Sierra Leone, his Minister of Defence and Chief of Police.

Also watching were a number of journalists and, as a consequence, the media coverage at the time was widespread and the meeting between the RUF and Liberians did not happen.

After landing, gunners of II Sqn carried out joint activities with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) personnel.

They also carried out public demonstrations of the General Purpose Machine Gun and Mortars, as well as jungle patrols.

Operation Silkman was part of the last phase of the British military action to support the government of Sierra Leone's successful campaign against the RUF.

The parachute drop followed on from a large-scale amphibious assault demonstration the British Armed Forces had carried out the previous November.

Operation Silkman ended the following year in 2002, with the Sierra Leone government and its military in control of the country.

The parachute drop was the first British mass-parachute airborne operation since Suez in 1956.