, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 459-463

Trans-South Atlantic air link in World War II

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Abstract

German-Italian military successes and the fame of General Rommel's Afrika Korps in 1941 spelled disaster for the British war effort in Libya-Egypt. American military assistance was requested and freely given; this was several months before the United States entered the war! Pan American World Airways was the chosen instrument for building a series of airfields in Africa capable of receiving the planes ferried across the ocean from Recife, Brazil.

Besides its reputation as the world's leading airline, Pan Am already had a major aircraft servicing facility at Recife. Liberia, because of its proximity to South America, became the first major West African bridgehead for this South Atlantic ferry route. A few existing and numerous newly constructed airfields between Liberia and Khartoum served as the emergency landing, refueling, maintenance and housing sites. The Nile was followed downstream from Khartoum; American-supplied warplanes played an important role in the pivotal Egyptian battle of El-Alemain in October, 1942. Once the threat to Egypt had subsided, the Brazil — West Africa air link was expanded to include a route through Central Africa, primarily to tap a supply of uranium from what was then the Belgian Congo (now Zaire). Khartoum served a new air ferry route to British India via Aden and Karachi. Transport aircraft used in the China-Burma-India theatre of operations were supplied over this ever-expanding air link. A spur to Basra (Iraq) and Tehran provided a secret diplomatic connection to the Soviet Union before the epic struggle at Stalingrad began in earnest. General Doolittle's surviving Tokyo raiders returned to the United States over segments of this long air route. Most of the airfields lost their locational significance after the war. A few, however, were to become their countries' international airports.

More correctly, the “Trans-South Atlantic Transport and Ferry Service”. The author appreciates the fact that except for a secondary route through Central Africa, this wartime air connection was to the North of the Equator and technically, in the North Atlantic. Use of terminology then as now is to differentiate this particular route from the important Newfoundland to Prestwick (Scotland) air bridge.