Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Nigerian/Biafran War

Nigeria is a Federal Republic,
compromising four regions, the
richest of which is in the south-
east of the country, primarily
populated by Ibos. In the same
area considerable oil reserves
were found, and there were
reasonable expectations Nigeria
to become highly influential in
the development of the whole
African continent, if not even
outright African superpower.
Nothing of this happened:
instead in 1966 a military junta
came to power in a coup,
however, and after riots and
massacres against Ibos, on 30
May 1967 the Governor of the
Eastern Region, Lt.Col. Ojukwu,
announced an unilateral
secession of the state of Biafra.
There was a serious chance of
Biafra managing to gain and
remain independent, then the
independence was widely
supported by the local
population, the country could
reach back on its oil resources,
and had also a long coast with
several ports. Although the
secession was being prepared by
Ojukwu for quite some time, and
considerable Nigerian
government funds were
transferred into Swiss bank
accounts to finance the new
state, the junta was taken by
surprise and it was not before
the summer of 1967 that there
was any significant reaction.
Even then, it was foremost
thanks to the direct or indirect
involvement of foreign powers –
foremost the Great Britain and
the USSR – that the central
government became capable of
starting a war against Biafra.
The Biafrans were swift to
understand the importance of air
power and to start organizing a
rag-tag air force, as well as using
transport aircraft for brining
supplies of weapons into the
country. Regular flights of Air
TransAfrica DC-7s from South
Africa were undertaken already
since the summer of 1966: other
aircraft operated from Portugal,
via Portuguese Guinea (today
Guinea-Bissau), and Cameroon. In
October 1966, for example, a
Royal Air Burundi DC-4M
Argonaut, flown by a mercenary
Henry Wharton/Heinrich Wartski,
crashlanded at Garoua, in
Cameroun, while carrying a load
of army from Rotteerdam. The
same pilot supposedly flew also
the Transportes Aereos
Portugueses (TAP) Super
Constellation (5T-TAF),
impounded with a load of
weapons at Malta, in September
1967. More aircraft were to
become involved subsequently,
including time-expired
Constellations (some wearing
bogus Nigerian registrations like
5N83H, 5N84H, and 5N86H),
DC-4s, DC-6s, and a AirTrans-
Africa DC-7 (VP-WBO/ZP-WBO),
flown by Ernest Koenig,
Rhodesian Jack Malloch, and
British mercenaries Alistair
On 23 April 1967 a Nigerian
Airways Fokker F.27 (5N-AAV)
was hijacked while underway
from Benin to Lagos, and forced
to land in Enugu. The aircraft was
later equipped as makeshift
bomber. A second transport, a
DC-3 (9G-AAD) of Ghana Airways,
was added on 15 June, after
being hijacked from Port
Harcourt. From early July also an
ex-French Douglas B-26R Invader
(41-39531) was operational
from Enugu, after being delivered
to Biafra by Jean Zumbach (also
known as Johnny Brown or
Kamikaze Braun). A second B-26
(41-34531) was to follow in
August. In July also a US-
registered Riley Dove (N477PM)
was delivered to Port Harcourt
from Switzerland, by Andre
Juillard/Girard/Gerard, carrying a
load of 2.000 Hungarian-
manufactured rifles. The aircraft
was used for reconnaissance,
but already on 13 July 1967 it
was forced down inside Algeria
and then impressed into service
with the local air force.
The federal army started
mobilizing only on 6 July,
initiating the war several days
later by securing Ogoja, Nsukka,
and the oil terminal at Bonny.
But, already on 10 July the
Biafran Air Force (BiAF) hit back,
sending its aircraft to bomb the
airfield at Makurdi, where several
civilian DC-3s – used for transport
of federal troops - were
damaged. In the following days
the sole B-26R was used to strike
Lagos and Kano, both of which
caused only slight damage: due
to the NAF still being
inoperational, there was also
hardly anything to hit on either
place. On 26 July the B-26 and
the hijacked DC-3 were used to
attack the destroyer Nigeria,
which was blockading Port
Harcourt. As soon as the second
B-26 arrived in Biafra, on 12
August 1967, both Invaders
were used to attack and sink a
ferry across he Niger.
With the Biafrans being
completely uncontested in the
air, the federal forces became
desperate to obtain combat
aircraft, and after negotiations
with the Soviets and Great
Britain, from 13 August the USSR
started delivering first MiG-17s
from Egypt to Kano IAP,
simultaneously sending a large
shipment aboard a Polish
merchant. Sudan also lent two Jet
Provosts, but these were soon
inoperational. The BiAF reacted
with a series of strikes against
Kano, on 19 and 20 August,
destroying several MiGs on the
ground. Lacking conventional
bombs, the Biafrans improvised,
Nevertheless, the MiGs became
operational and flew their first
combat sorties on 30 of the
same mount, attacking the
Onitsha airfields. The NAF
achieved its first success on 10
September when the MiGs
destroyed one of the B-26s on
the ground at Enugu.
Kano – Mallam Aminu IAP,
Nigeria, August 1967; the first
eight MiG-17s (NAF603 thru
NAF610) and two MiG-15UTIs
(NAF601 and NAF 602) supplied
to Nigeria came all from Egypt,
being flown to Kano IAP aboard
several Aeroflot An-12 transports.
They entered service with the 1st
Fighter-Bomber Squadron, and
were relatively easy to
distinguish by the remnants of
the white identification strip
around the rear fuselage and
crude national markings,
consisting only of the green
colour (white fields were left in
bare metal).

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