This Article is divided into three parts for ease of reading…
Our aircraft were fueled and armed before dark in preparation for an early start. The others thought I was an old lady to drain my tanks, check the filters and then pass my gallons through a chamois to remove impurities and water. Too often a flight had been condemned by bad fuel.
Someone had given me a 1:25,000 map, which was roughly 2.5 miles per inch. I penciled in our track with a few way-points to check our progress, and briefed the mission in simple terms. We had been told where the Nigerian jet aircraft were parked and studied a hand-drawn diagram of the airfield.
Everyone would follow me to the target.
I squirted myself with bug-spray and got a fitful night’s sleep on the ground beneath the wing of my little fighter. Some believed I was taking things a little too far, but my life depended on the machine.
A hot coffee in my little metal cup washed down a few soda crackers.
It was still dark when we launched. There was a lot of adrenaline around the aircraft as engines started and we taxied out. I was first off and initiated a rate one turn to port, circling the field as the rest of the formation joined up. A loose gaggle with 2 aircraft on each side, slightly above me, then straightened out and set course into history.
We never climbed above 300 feet and dropped down to very, very low level within a couple of miles from the target. I entertained a terrible uncertainty about missing the field when a Cessna 172 rose above the trees ahead.
We were dead on track!
Pressing the transit button on my throttle I called: “Two miles to go..” A series of two-click transmissions – the international acknowledgement, sounded in my headset.
At tree-top height we popped over the perimeter, I then dropped a few feet to flash across the grass at a shattering 135 mph, throttles against the stops, leaning forward in the harness as though this would add speed. In recalling those moments, I would swear that my spring undercarriage bounced on a grassy hump as I rushed towards my target.
Rockets shot past on both side of my plunging aircraft to hit open spaces in front of me. At least two of my associates had fired a way too early, wasting 24 rockets on empty ground. But then, ground attack is not an “on the job training” situation.
Parked aircraft were about 20 degrees port. I altered course pointing the nose of my ride directly at them.
Several MIGs, Il-28s, a DC-6, Dakota and Harvard made impressions on memory cells.
Close, very close – about 300 yards – pointed directly at a MIG-17 I pressed the “doorbell button.” With a whoosh my 12 explosive tipped Matra 98mm rockets accelerated away.
Several hit the MIG.
How could I miss?
We were “bore-sighted” on it!
The jet erupted in a giant fireball. At least two rockets hit an Il-28. This collapsed, broken where it sat. There were eruptions further along, among the other aircraft.
Back on the stick to lift over the targets. With an involuntary movement I leaned forward in my harness, to duck as my aircraft charged through the orange and black eruption. A smell of burning jet fuel lingered in my nostrils as I ran for the far perimeter of the landing zone. I can vividly remember the claustrophobic expectation of ground-fire perforating me from behind, and scrunched down in an optimistic attempt to make myself a smaller target.
No bullets shredded my fabric-covered aircraft in which I sat unprotected.
Over the perimeter tree line and down a few feet to head away across the countryside to safety – pulse thumping in my ears.
None of our aircraft took hits. Surprise was total, but there is an old saying, forewarned in forearmed. Perhaps we would not be so lucky in the future.
I found myself destroying at least one target on each strike. I had experience, while the others didn’t. I understood the value of getting close, then closer! My 10 years flying fighter aircraft was finally bearing fruit.
The first 5 missions:
- May 22 PORT HARCOURT Airfield,
- May 24 BENIN Airfield,
- May 26 ENUGU Airfield,
- May 28 UGHELLI DELTA 1 POWERPLANT, and,
- May 30 TROOPS – didn’t participate, and formation didn’t find target.
The airfield attacks effectively neutralized the Nigerian jet advantage with no losses to our side.
I would fly 12 strike missions. Five against airfield concentrations, one against a power plant and the rest against oil pumping/terminal facilities. I avoided missions aimed at attacking concentrations of ground troops in the belief that these were a potentially dangerous waste of valuable aircraft and pilots. I had been advised to concentrate on attacks against infrastructure such as petroleum facilities.
Others were caught up in the adrenaline game of shooting rockets. In the long-run 2 MFI-9s with pilots were lost to ground fire on these shoot-ups.
As a result of my on-the-ground analysis, and the intervention of 5 “Biafra Babies,” the 4 Boeing C-97s were dedicated to the project and Russ O’Quinn’s crews would fly over 1,000 support missions, saving many, many lives.
We were fighting a gradually losing battle against far superior resources of the Nigerian government, backed by international Goliath like SHELL/BP. A handful of nations had recognized Biafra. The vast majority maintained their support of Nigeria, including the United Kingdom, and the United States, focused upon petroleum resources of the region. This was the focus. 50,000, 100,000 children could starve to death, forgotten in the long-run as corporate/national greed took center stage.
My memories of that sad period are focused upon the children.
One image is burned into my memory. It is that of a small girl, patiently waiting for death. He Mom had placed a necklace around her neck in an effort to give the child some dignity in this battle against a cold reality of geopolitics. The International Committee of the Red Cross in September 1968 estimated 8,000–10,000 deaths from starvation each day. She was but one of these faceless, nameless victims.The Biafran government reported that Nigeria was using hunger and genocide to win the war, and sought aid from the outside world. Private groups in the US, led by Senator Ted Kennedy, responded. No one was ever held responsible for these killings.
These are the things that must be remembered.
Also, we must remember Count Gustaf von Rosen. Without him the Biafran Babies would never have existed. He was the catalyst that made the reduction of Nigeria’s jet force, to near zero, a reality. Without these weapons Nigeria’s leadership could not continue its murderous bombing and strafing assaults upon the Biafran civilian population.
Count Gustaf von Rossen would move on to a new challenge
Later models of the Malmö Flygindustri MFI-9 became the SAAB MFI-15 Safari, with official modifications, developed from the Biafran concept, to facilitate the dropping of food supplies from underwing hard points. Von Rosen was utilizing this type in Ogaden when he was killed during a rebel ground assault.
If ever there was a man who deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, it was Biafra’s friend, Count Gustav von Rosen. Unfortunately, he was gone before anyone thought of this. Perhaps there could be a reassessment of rules governing the award so that our friend, Gustav von Rosen could receive the posthumous recognition he deserves for a life’s work, but specifically, his existence as the catalyst that effectively generated an action to eliminate the deadly threat of Nigeria’s jet fighters and bombers, flown by foreigners. Countless lives were saved by removal of their murderous bombing and strafing of civilian targets, coupled with the unimpaired flow of relief supplies via the air bridge.