South Atlantic air ferry route in World War II
The South Atlantic air ferry route was an air route established in July 1941, shortly before the United States' entrance into World War II. It was used initially by Pan American Airways subsidiaries (Atlantic Airways Ltd, then PAA Ferries) and then, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, by the Army Air Corps Ferrying Command to deliver Lend-Lease aircraft to British forces engaged in the Western Desert Campaign.
After the United States entered the war, it was expanded into a series of connecting air routes, which were used to ferry aircraft and transport equipment and personnel throughout the Eurasian and African continents from the United States. The route was used as an alternate Air Route to ferry aircraft to Great Britain when weather closed the North Atlantic Route. It was later extended though the Middle East into Iran to send Lend-Lease aircraft to the Soviet Union, and into India, to transport equipment, key personnel and aircraft into China to aid the Nationalist government of the Republic of China in the Second Sino-Japanese War against the Japanese Empire. The route also extended into Central and Southern Africa.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Operations
- 3 Legacy
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
After the Fall of France in June 1940 and the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Northern Europe after the Battle of Dunkirk, the next major land battle between the Axis powers and the United Kingdom erupted in North Africa in September with the Fascist Italian invasion of Egypt from Libya. The Italian offensive was halted and, in December 1940, the British made a counterattack. What started as a five-day raid turned into Operation Compass, resulting in massive losses for the Italian forces. The Italian's Axis partner, Nazi Germany, provided Afrika Korps, a contingent of ground and air forces, to prevent a total collapse, and Germany became the dominant partner.
The Italian-German threat to the security of the Suez Canal was critical to the British, and great efforts were made to collect sufficient transport ships to convey forces from Britain to Egypt to support the Eighth Army and the Desert Air Force. The British realized the strategic importance of maintaining control of the Suez Canal and Malta, while Hitler saw the war in North Africa as a diversion from his main goal of conquering the Soviet Union. With both Italian submarines and German U-Boats operating in the Mediterranean Sea, the only relatively secure method of transport was sailing south from Britain around the Cape of Good Hope and then north past Madagascar into the Red Sea.
At the August 1941 Atlantic Conference, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill pressed United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt for aid to support the Commonwealth forces engaged against the German Afrika Korps and set into motion a series of events that were to provide an American-pioneered, American-supplied and American-maintained trans-Atlantic air route between the United States and Africa. The air route was then extended across Central Africa and north to the Nile Delta in Egypt, providing a relatively fast method of resupply to the Commonwealth forces.
The job of getting Lend-Lease planes to the British was given the Air Corps, General Arnold found that neither military nor civilian crews with the necessary experience were immediately available. The few experienced Army crews could not be spared; and the country had long since been combed for civilian pilots and navigators for the North Atlantic ferrying service.
Rather than ship the planes by water, the ferrying job was turned over to Pan American Airways, whose experience in the development of commercial airlines through Latin America already had been turned to advantage in the effort to extend and strengthen Southern hemisphere defenses. As early as November 1940, Pan American had been made the agent of the United States government in carrying out the so-called Airport Development Program (ADP) for the construction and improvement of airports on foreign territory throughout the Caribbean area, Central America, and Brazil, as well as in Liberia. Ferrying operations over the South Atlantic route had begun in June 1941 when Atlantic Airways, Ltd., a Pan American Airways subsidiary corporation organized especially for the job, undertook to deliver twenty transport-type aircraft to the British in western Africa.
It was, however, just the beginning of a network of air routes that eventually encompassed two-thirds of the Earth.
Caribbean Air Route
With the spectre of War again in Europe in the late 1930s, hemispheric security became a paramount concern of the Roosevelt Administration. There were memories of German U-Boat activities in the Caribbean and near the Panama Canal in 1918. Two agreements with the British provided for significant United States force deployment to a number of British bases in the Caribbean area, the 1940 Destroyers for Bases agreement and the 1941 Lend-Lease act. As a result of these agreements, United States military forces moved into Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Antigua, St. Lucia, Trinidad, and British Guiana. Military survey teams moved into these areas and construction proceeded in the expansion of existing British facilities and construction of new ones. The Trinidad and British Guiana bases became major stopping points for transient aircraft, bridging the 2,000 miles (3,200 km) that separated Puerto Rico from Belem, Brazil, the northernmost base in that country capable of handling heavy traffic. Other bases used principally for defense but provided emergency landing fields for transient aircraft were constructed through Pan American Airlines agencies in Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela.
The United States and Britain were interested primarily in the ferrying service. Thus, when President Roosevelt announced publicly on 18 August 1941 that the agreements with Pan American had been concluded, stress was placed on the importance of speeding delivery of aircraft to the British. Not until after the United States entered the war, and acquired thereby heavy military commitments of its own that the route went far beyond the prewar lend-lease obligations, did the South Atlantic transport service assume outstanding importance as a support to combat operations. At its inception, transport use of the route was considered merely an adjunct to ferrying.
|Caribbean Wing (re-designated Caribbean Division)|
|Morrison Field||Florida||Opened in 1940 as a Third Air Force fighter base, reassigned to Army Air Forces Ferrying Command on 19 January 1942, 26th Ferrying Squadron flew ferrying operations south into the Caribbean to Brazil. Was initial point of departure for aircraft. Later in 1942 became Headquarters for the Caribbean Wing of ATC. Operated by 1100th AAFBU, ATC. Primary mission was to operate the South Atlantic Transport Route, Placed in reserve status on 1 July 1947. Later re-opened as Palm Beach Air Force Base, 1949|
|Miami Army Airfield||Florida||1105th AAFBU, Prewar 36th Street Airport in Miami. Was base for Pan American Airways contract pilots flying south along route. Returned to Civil Control in early 1946. Major point of departure for aircraft.|
|Homestead Army Airfield||Florida||Opened September 1942. 54th, 75th, 76th Ferrying Squadrons, 1104th AAFBU. Was primary point of embarkation for receiving aircraft from domestic points in the United States and for ferrying aircraft overseas, also served as training base for ferrying pilots. Hurricane in September 1945 caused major damage to the base and facility was inactivated. Rebuilt and reopened as Homestead Air Force Base, 1953,|
|Borinquen Field||Puerto Rico||1106th AAFBU. 976 miles (1,571 km) from Homestead. Prewar base established in 1936. Primary mission was a landing field, refueling station and aircraft service depot for American aircraft of all types flying to the European and African war theaters. Depending on circumstances, they also had the option of stopping in Cuba or one of the other islands. After refueling and servicing at Borinquen, or even staying over for a period of time, the flight crews could continue on to Trinidad or fly directly to Belem or Recife, Brazil. After the war became Ramey Air Force Base, part of Strategic Air Command. Closed 1971.|
|Coolidge Army Airfield||Antigua||572d AAFBU. 363 miles (584 km) from Borinquen. Built after basing rights in Antiqua obtained as part of 1940 Destroyers for Bases agreement with British. Part of Antillies Air Command. Refueling/servicing stop on route south to Brazil. Became Coolidge Air Force Base, Caribbean Air Command after the war. Closed 1 July 1949|
|Waller Army Airfield||Trinidad||1107th AAFBU. 674 miles (1,085 km) from Borinquen. Built after basing rights in Trinadad obtained as part of 1940 Destroyers for Bases agreement with British. Part of Antillies Air Command. Refueling/servicing stop on route south to Brazil. Became Waller Air Force Base, Caribbean Air Command after the war. Closed 1 July 1949|
|Atkinson Field||British Guiana||1108th AAFBU. 1,021 miles (1,643 km) from Borinquen, 1,997 miles (3,214 km) from Homestead. Built after basing rights in British Guiana obtained as part of 1940 Destroyers for Bases agreement with British. Part of Sixth Air Force. Initially constructed as a bomber field to protect Bauxite deposits at Mackenzie, British Guiana and for reconnaissance over southern Caribbean. Primary mission became South American terminus of ATC Caribbean Wing. Became Atkinson Air Force Base, Caribbean Air Command after the war. Closed 1 July 1949|
South Atlantic Air Route
Military intelligence files in the late 1930s were filled with reports about German purchases of large tracts of land and plantations in Latin America. Further, the United States was faced with nations in Latin America with non-democratic governments that had strong ties to Germany. Without exception, all South American nations and some in Central America received arms supplies from Germany during the late 1930s, and some acquired modern German-made aircraft. In addition, a number of Latin American countries had large German immigrant populations, many of whom were prominent in economic and political matters. In Brazil, for example, entire regions were dominated by expatriate Germans, giving rise to fears that Germany would establish secret military facilities there.
These fears resulted in strenuous United States diplomatic efforts, involving both inducements and threats throughout Latin America to forestall military connections by these nations with the Axis powers. Under some pressure, almost all Latin American nations complied with these efforts, although in some cases not without serious internal political struggles, and in most cases only in exchange for military supplies to supplant those they would otherwise have received from Germany. This came at a time when the United States armed forces were struggling to arm themselves, not to mention those of Britain.
The main United States concern, was to develop a staging network of airfields in Brazil to allow the ferrying of aircraft from South Florida, to supplant already controlled facilities in the Caribbean. Negotiations with Brazil resulted in the use of a number of civil airports and the use of port facilities in the northeastern promontory. This was a case of Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor Policy" paying practical dividends, with Brazil permitting American aircraft of all types, whether manned by military or civilian crews, to fly over her territory or land at bases on her soil. Surveying teams from the United States were sent and assessed the availability of the existing facilities in terms of runway lengths, as well as repair and refueling facilities.
Panair do Brasil, a Pan American subsidiary, had undertaken at Belém and Natal the development with ADP funds of facilities destined to serve as major ferrying and transport bases along the South Atlantic route. With the opening of an air base on Ascension Island in July 1942, the ocean crossing was divided into two fairly easy stages and ceased to be a serious operational problem The base on Ascension Island was located on British territory.
|South Atlantic Wing (re-designated South Atlantic Division)|
|Amapa Field||Amapá, Brazil||1160th AAFBU Opened 1941. 480 miles (770 km) from Atkinson Field. Was Pan American Airways refueling stop, became intermediate ferrying refueling/servicing stop on route south to Natal. Closed May 1946.|
|Val de Caes Field||Belém, Brazil||1153d AAFBU 868 miles (1,397 km) from Atkinson Field. Built by Panair do Brasil, a Pan American subsidiary, with funds appropriated for the Airport Development Program of 1940, opened for United States military use in 1941. Primary refueling/servicing stop on route south to Natal. Americans construed two new runways measuring 1500 x 45 meters with concrete and asphalt surface to accommodate ferrying traffic. Eventually one of the largest and best equipped Army Airfields in the world. Returned to civil control October 1946|
|São Luís Airport||São Luís, Brazil||1154th AAFBU. 304 miles (489 km) from Belém. Was Pan American Airways refueling stop, became intermediate ferrying refueling/servicing stop on route south to Natal. Closed May 1946.|
|Adjacento Field||Fortaleza, Brazil||1155th AAFBU. Opened July 1944. 706 miles (1,136 km) from Belém. Was joint AAF/US Naval Air Station. Intermediate ferrying refueling/servicing stop on route south to Natal. Closed April 1946.|
|Parnamirim Field||Natal, Brazil||HQ, ATC South Atlantic Division, 1150th AAFBU. 965 miles (1,553 km) from Belém. Built by Panair do Brasil, a Pan American subsidiary, with funds appropriated for the Airport Development Program of 1940, opened for United States military use in 1941. Was primary airfield for trans-Atlantic crossing of ferried aircraft to Africa. (to Roberts Field, Liberia or British controlled territory). Eventually one of the largest and best equipped Army Airfields in the world. Closed October 1946.|
|Ibura Field||Recife, Brazil||1152d AAFBU. 1,043 miles (1,679 km) from Belém. Opened 1941. Was secondary airport for trans-Atlantic crossing to Africa. Closed May 1946.|
|Fernando de Noronha Airfield||Fernando de Noronha Island, Brazil||Construction began 15 September 1942. Was planned third jumping off point for trans-Atlantic Ferrying to Africa. construction and other issues led to abandonment of airfield by Air Transport Command, turned over to United States Navy in September 1944.|
|Wideawake Airfield||Ascension Island||1150th AAFBU. 1,438 miles (2,314 km) from Natal, 1,405 miles (2,261 km) from Recife. Prewar British cable station. Opened March 1942. Named after bird colony on island, bird eggs constant source of menace to plane and pilot, for every time a plane started down the runway the roar of the motors brought a huge flock of birds into the air right in its path. Located in the South Atlantic approximately midway between the Brazilian and the African Atlantic coasts. Construction work got under way by 13 April, and less than three months later, on 10 July, the 6,000-foot runway was open for traffic. Made it possible for two-engine planes to cross the South Atlantic in two fairly easy jumps with a normal gas load, single engine fighters used external wing tanks. Now RAF Ascension Island.|
The South Atlantic Division developed additional transport and ferrying routes within Brazil that ferried aircraft south along the Atlantic coast to Bahia and Rio de Janeiro. Transport routes also connected Montevideo, Uruguay and Asunción, Paraguay.
Central African Air Route
Related to the United States diplomatic activities in Brazil, United States military teams were active in Liberia to acquire staging airfields to transit ferried aircraft from Brazil through British Colonies in Central Africa en route to the Middle East. Liberia, having a long relationship with the United States, made available a number of airports and port facilities. Monrovia became a key staging point on the route from Brazil, which continued onto Egypt.
Central African Wing
Perhaps the most important link in the whole system of Pan American ferrying and transport services was the operation across Central Africa. In providing a transport service and in maintaining the bases, Pan American Airways-Africa supported the movement across the continent of aircraft arriving from both the United States and Great Britain. Terminal points were established by terms of the contract at Monrovia on the west coast and at Khartoum in Eastern Africa, but after 7 December 1941 the service was extended to Cairo and beyond.
The Trans-Africa route had been pioneered by the British in the immediate prewar years, and at the outbreak of the war Imperial Airways maintained a regular transport service over the run between Khartoum in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and Lagos on the Nigerian coast. Coastal bases had been constructed at Bathurst, Gambia, Freetown, Sierra Leone, and at Takoradi and Accra in the Gold Coast Colony. Across the waist of Africa, airfields had been cut from the jungle or laid out on the desert at Kano and Maiduguri in Nigeria, at Fort Lamy in French Equatorial Africa, and at El Geneina, El Fasher, and El Obeid in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. With the loss of the French fleet in 1940 and the growing activity in the spring of 1941 of German air forces based on Sicily, the British line of air and water communications with Egypt by way of the Mediterranean was virtually closed. Fortunately, the existence of the Trans-African air route enabled the British to avoid shipping aircraft by water all the way around Africa and up through the Red Sea to Egypt. A large base and an assembly plant were developed at Takoradi, and here fighter and bomber aircraft, waterborne from Britain, were assembled, tested, and then ferried across Africa to Cairo. Beginning in the fall of 1940, British ferry pilots began moving Hawker Hurricanes and Bristol Blenheims along this route. The ferrying operation demanded also a transport service for returning.
Initially, the 27th AAF Ferrying Wing, later the ATC Central African Wing, was responsible for moving aircraft, personnel and cargo from West African transport hubs over the Trans-Africa Route via Khartoum (Sudan) to Cairo, Egypt and to Aden, South Arabia and on to Karachi, India. This was discontinued when the route along the coast of West Africa from Dakar, Senegal to French Morocco became available in 1943.
|Central African Wing (re-designated Central African Division)|
|Roberts Airfield||Monrovia, Liberia||1203d AAFBU. 1,913 miles (3,079 km) from Natal, Brazil. Established by Pan American Airways in the 1930s as airport for trans-Atlantic crossings from Brazil. Used for initial ferrying of Army Air Force aircraft to Britain and into India, 1941. Became United States Army Airfield in April 1942. Also operated auxiliary airfield at Fisherman's Lake  turned over to civil control. Now major international airport of Liberia.for overflow inbound air traffic. Initially was primary hub at western end of Central African Route, landing and servicing several hundred aircraft a day of all types coming in from Brazil or later Ascension Island, 1,021 miles (1,643 km) distance. In mid 1943 Central African Ferrying route was closed and most 4-engine aircraft flew into Dakar, Roberts remaining for 2-engine and single engine fighters flying in from Ascension Island. Also northern terminus of route to Congo and South Africa. Remained in operation until February 1947,|
|Takoradi Airport||Gold Coast||1202d AAFBU. 598 miles (962 km) from Roberts Field. Intermediate refueling/servicing stop. Also functioned as a seaport where aircraft were shipped and assembled. Trans-Africa route closed in late 1943, remained open supporting air route to Congo.|
|Accra Airport||Accra, Gold Coast||HO, ATC Central African Division, 1201st AAFBU, 702 miles (1,130 km) from Roberts Field. Opened 1941. Part of British Imperial Empire Airways route to Khartoum, which was used by Ferrying Command for initial ferrying of aircraft to Egypt and India. Major refueling/servicing stop on Trans-Africa route, also operated route to Congo and South Africa. Importance lessened after 1943 when North Africa route was opened, remained open as repair depot until January 1946.|
|Kano Airport||Kano, Nigeria||1205th AAFBU. 772 miles (1,242 km) from Accra. Opened 1941 as waystation/refueling on Trans-Africa route. Former Imperial Airways airport. Ferrying ended in late 1943 when North Africa route was opened. Remained open until 14 July 1945 as communications network site.|
|Maiduguri Airport||Maiduguri, Nigeria||1206th AAFBU. 1,002 miles (1,613 km) from Accra. Opened 1941 as waystation/refueling on Trans-Africa route. Former Imperial Airways airport, listed as ATC Station #12. Ferrying ended in late 1943 when North Africa route was opened. Remained open until 14 July 1945 as communications network site.|
|El Geneina Airport||El Geneia, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan||1207th AAFBU. 950 miles (1,530 km) from Kano. Opened May 1944 as station #6  Remained open until May 1945 as communications network site.|
|El Fasher Airport||El Fasher, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan||1208th AAFBU. 1,138 miles (1,831 km) from Kano. Opened April 1944 as station #5 Remained open until April 1945 as communications network site.|
|Khartoum Airport||Khartoum, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan||1208th AAFBU. 1,631 miles (2,625 km) from Kano. Connection hub to India-China route via Aden ( 859 miles (1,382 km) ) or sent aircraft to RAF via Cairo ( 1,007 miles (1,621 km) ). Ferrying activities ended late 1943. Remained open until July 1945 as communications network site.|
Middle East Wing
At Khartoum on the Central African Route the route divided. Multi-engined long-range capable India-bound planes were sent either across southern Arabia by way of Aden to Karachi. Single-engined fighters were sent up through Cairo, RAF Habbaniya, and Basra to the Karachi gateway following a former British Imperial Airways route that was established in the early 1930s that linked India with Egypt.
Once in Cairo, Lend-lease planes for the Soviet Union were ferried from Cairo to Tehran, Iran where they were turned over to Soviet flyers for onward shipment to Russia via Baku. ATC later operated the Eastern Mediterranean Route via RAF Lydda in British-Mandated Palestine and Beirut, Lebanon, to Adana, Turkey. A ferrying route from Cairo was also established to Naples, Italy after its seizure from Fascist Italian forces, which allowed replacement aircraft to be ferried to Twelfth and Fifteenth Air Forces in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. (MTO). The southern route to Karachi through Aden was closed in late 1943 with the opening of the North African route through French Morocco and Algeria, with units in Aden, Ethiopia, Arabia and Khartoum being reassigned to the Middle East Wing; Cairo and the stations on the Northern Route were reassigned to the North African Route.
Aircraft bound for India and China were sent south along a connecting route at RAF Habbaniya that linked Basara, Iraq with Karachi, India along the Persian Gulf coast. The initial B-29 Superfortress units in India were ferried along this route.
Although aircraft ferrying to India over the southern route was halted, the route between Cairo and Aden remained open as a transport route as part of the North African Division, and was also used to ferry aircraft to and from the Technical Services Command depot at Asmara, Ethiopia from Cairo. The facility in Ethiopia was originally set up in secret during 1941 to provide depot-level maintenance for Lend-Lease aircraft being used by the British in Egypt, however the location at the Horn of Africa allowed reconnaissance aircraft to monitor approaches into the Red Sea and spot any U-Boats or Japanese submarines operating in the Northern Indian Ocean south of Arabia.
|Middle East Wing (Originally 26th AAF Ferrying Wing)|
|Jeddah Al-Matar Airport||Jeddah, Arabia||Was waystation on ferrying route between Cairo (768 miles (1,236 km) and Khartoum. Later became stop on transport route between Cairo and Asmara (429 miles (690 km)). Closed May 1945. Airport now obliterated by urban development, replaced by new facility in the 1970s.|
|Asmara Airport||Asmara, Ethiopia||1209th AAFBU (423 miles (681 km) from Khartoum. Was refueling stop for ferried aircraft to India via Aden. Also supported Kagnew Station/Air Depot Closed May 1945.|
|RAF Khormaksar||Aden, Colony of Aden||1211th AAFBU. (859 miles (1,382 km) from Khartoum. Prewar RAF station used as a servicing/refueling stop connected to India-China Route at Karachi, India (1,669 miles (2,686 km). Ferrying activities ended in late 1943, station remained in use as a communications site. AAF use ended June 1945 |
|RAF Lydda||British Palestine||Det 1, 1264th AAFBU. (243 miles (391 km) from Cairo. Used for ferrying aircraft to Russia and India. Main RAF station in British Mandate of Palestine, Later became ATC hub to Istanbul.|
|RAF Habbaniya||Iraq||1266th AAFBU. (754 miles (1,213 km) from Cairo. Prewar RAF station in Iraq, 60 miles (100 km) from Baghdad. First American personnel arrived 17 April 1943. Used for ferrying aircraft India-China route via Basra or to Russia via Tehran. AAF use ended March 1946.|
|Mehrabad Airport||Tehran, Iran||1265th AAFBU. (1,220 miles (1,960 km) from Cairo. USAAF Activities began January 1942. 11,000 miles (18,000 km) from Morrison Field, Florida. Was transfer point for Lend-Lease aircraft from United States ATC pilots to Soviet Red Air Force pilots; aircraft then flown to Baku after transfer. Home of 17th Air Depot Group (AAF Technical Service Command). Also operated Maintenance facility at Abadan Airport (Station #3) Ferrying to Russia ended September 1945.|
|Baku Airport||Baku, Azerbaijan, SSR||336 miles (541 km) from Mehrabad. Some ATC personnel assigned to coordinate ferrying to Red Air Force. Used as waystation for supplies and transport supporting Operation Frantic, 1944.|
|Basra Airport||Basra, Iraq||Connected at RAF Habbaniya near Baghdad. 302 miles (486 km) On former British Empire Airways route to India.|
|RAF Muharraq||Bahrain||661 miles (1,064 km) from Habbaniya. On former British Empire Airways route to India. Was Servicing/refueling stop. AAF use ended January 1946.|
|RAF Sharjah||Oman, United Arab Emirates||972 miles (1,564 km) from Habbaniya. On former British Empire Airways route to India. Was Servicing/refueling stop connected to India-China Route at Karachi 729 miles (1,173 km).|
Congo Transport Group
Beginning in 1943 the Central African Division also operated a transport route to Léopoldville in the Belgian Congo for the transport of uranium to the United States. This route was later extended to Pretoria, South Africa via Elizabethville, Belgian Congo for the transport of strategic minerals available in South Africa.
The Congo route, as it became known, also took the form of an alternate ferrying route into the Middle East with a connection into Nairobi, Kenya to Khartoum. In the dark days of 1942 this alternate route offered insurance against loss of the central African airway, but the rising fortunes of Allied military operations soon robbed it of value. Even before the fall of Tunisia in the spring of 1943, the Congo route no longer possessed military significance
|Congo Air Route (14th Ferrying Group)|
|Pointe Noire Airport||Pointe Noire, French Equatorial Africa||1,100 miles (1,800 km) from Accra, Gold Coast. Built in 1942 by the United States  to facilitate ferrying route through Southern Africa. Re-purposed as transport route refueling/servicing station on Congo Route to Léopoldville, later to South Africa.|
|Léopoldville Airport||Léopoldville, Belgian Congo||(247 miles (398 km) from Pointe Noire. Initially planned as a ferrying route, Re-purposed as transport and cargo route for Uranium and precious metals.|
|Élisabethville Airport||Élisabethville, Belgian Congo||964 miles (1,551 km) from Léopoldville. Initially planned as a refueling/servicing stop on the proposed ferrying route, Re-purposed as a stop on the transport and cargo route for Uranium and precious metals.|
|Wilson Airport||Nairobi, Kenya||Prewar airport surveyed for use in early 1942 as alternate Ferrying Station connecting from Élisabethville to Aden or Mahé, Seychelles to Bangalore. Never developed or used.|
|Wonderboom Airport||Pretoria, Union of South Africa||974 miles (1,568 km) from Élisabethville. Extension of transport/cargo route from Léopoldville for precious metal shipment. Farthest southern terminus of South Atlantic air ferry route, 8,000 miles (13,000 km) from Morrison Field, Florida.|
North African Division
The Air Transport Command became involved in planning for the Operation Torch invasion of French West Africa and Algeria as early as 10 October 1942, four weeks before the launching of the attack.
French West Africa was by no means easy of air approach. From British bases in the north, General Dwight D. Eisenhower would move down most of the aircraft employed in the initial stages of the attack, but for several reasons this route was unsatisfactory for maintaining continued air communications on a large scale with the Allied forces. While it extended only 1,300 miles (2,100 km) from southern Britain to Casablanca and Oran, aircraft had to fly dangerously close to the German-occupied French coast and had to steer clear of the Spanish and Portuguese coasts. Enemy interception was a constant threat, foul weather was commonplace, and the Gibraltar air base, the only potential refueling point along the way for short-range craft, was too vulnerable to permit heavy aircraft concentrations there over any period of time. Finally, a large proportion of the planes and aircraft supplies moving from Britain into North Africa had first to be flown across the North Atlantic, a route all but closed to normal traffic during the winter of 1942-43.
Obviously, the main flow of aircraft, supplies and materiel had to come via the South Atlantic Transport Route and over one or more of three possible branches stemming from the established Trans-African route. By far the best approach, and the one that eventually became the main route, was along the string of coastal bases from Monrovia. After the Allied position in French Morocco and Algiers had been made secure, and several major airports were seized from the Vichy French. Casablanca and Marrakech in French Morocco, along with airports at Oran and Algiers in Algeria were quickly utilized to bring in reinforcements and to ferry aircraft to the new Twelfth Air Force established in Northwest Africa.
Negotiations were opened with Pierre Boisson, Vichy Governor-General of French West Africa, for the peaceful occupation of Dakar and the whole of that Vichy-held territory. On 7 December, General Eisenhower reached a broad understanding with Admiral Jean Darlan and Governor Boisson, which United States secured the use of airdromes, harbors, roads, and other facilities in French West Africa and the authority to construct a new airfield near Dakar. Dakar's location at the most westerly point in Africa made it a natural landfall on the airway across the South Atlantic to North Africa and Southern Europe. By taking the direct overwater route from Natal to Dakar, the distance was cut down to only 1,872 miles (3,013 km), nearly 1,400 miles (2,300 km) less than the route by way of Ascension Island, Accra, and Roberts Field, Liberia. The limited range of some aircraft made it necessary for them to take the longer route, but four-engine planes could easily make the jump direct to Dakar.
For several months after the invasion of northwest Africa the ferrying of combat planes for General Jimmy Doolittle's Twelfth Air Force continued to be the heaviest responsibility imposed on ATC by the invasion. Meanwhile, the approach of winter had caused the diversion of all ferrying from the North Atlantic to the South Atlantic route. By mid-December, heavy-bomber ferrying across the North Atlantic was also suspended. Until the northern route was again opened to traffic in the spring, all ferried aircraft going either to the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa or to the Eighth Air Force in Britain were dispatched by way of the southern route.
At Marrakech a link was also established with the air route joining North Africa and Britain, a route inaugurated during the initial phase of Operation Torch as bombers, fighters and loaded troop transports of the Allied air forces moved down from Britain to landing fields in the target area. Replacement aircraft continued to flow south from Britain until the very end of the Tunisian Campaign.
As the Allies advanced into Tunisia, this ferrying and transport route brought needed replacement aircraft and supplies to the ground forces pinning the Afrika Corps around Tunis. With the collapse of German forces in Tunisia in August 1943, a chain of airfields was established to Cairo, creating what would become the North African Air Route.
Aircraft being ferried over the North African Route also could be sent to Allied forces in Italy and other points in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO) from Airports in Algiers and Tunis, along with being ferried to the Soviet Union and India from Cairo. As a result, in October 1943, the Central African route from Liberia was discontinued to Khartoum, and aircraft were ferried around West and North Africa instead. The route to the Congo and South Africa from Monrovia, however, remained in use until early 1946.
|North African Division (Formerly North African Wing)|
|Mallard Field||Dakar, Senegal||1254th AAFBU. New airfield, built by the United States, opened June 1944. Originally used Vichy French Airport (Eknes Field) at Rufisque  Closed January 1947.beginning in December 1943 after agreement made with French Government. Mallard Field became primary landing field for 4-engined aircraft being ferried from Brazil, 1,876 miles (3,019 km) from Natal. 2-engined and single engined fighters still were flown to Roberts Field, Liberia 761 miles (1,225 km) due to shorter range.|
|Atar Airport||Atar, Mauritania||496 miles (798 km) from Dakar. 1255th AAFBU. Desert Airfield in Mauritania used as refueling stop between Dakar and Casablanca; much improved by USAAF in 1944. Closed December 1945.|
|Agadir Airport||Agadir, French Morocco||1,197 miles (1,926 km) from Dakar. Built by USAAF in March 1943. Used as refueling stop between Dakar and Casablanca. Closed June 1946.|
|Tindouf Airport||Tindouf, Algeria||1,079 miles (1,736 km) from Dakar. 1256th AAFBU. Opened January 1943. Desert Airfield in Western Algeria used as refueling stop between Dakar and Casablanca; much improved by USAAF in 1944  Closed June 1945 |
|Menara Airport||Marrakech, French Morocco||Seized from Vichy French control as part of Operation Torch, November 1942. Became ATC base, operated by 1257th AAFBU. Received ferried aircraft on South Atlantic route, supporting Twelfth Air Force. Air route to Azores 1,182 miles (1,902 km) established in January 1944. Closed January 1946 |
|Anfa Airport||Casablanca, French Morocco||Seized from Vichy French control as part of Operation Torch, November 1942. Became ATC base, HQ, North African Division, Air Transport Command. operated by 1251st AAFBU. Received ferried aircraft on South Atlantic route, supporting Twelfth Air Force. Air route to Azores 1,140 miles (1,830 km) established in January 1944. Air Technical Service Command 34th Air Depot Group. Also operated detachment at Rabat Airport, . Closed January 1946.|
|Port Lyautey Airfield||French Morocco||Former Vichy French military airfield, seized during Battle of Port Lyautey, 8 November 1942. Used by ATC It functioned as a stopover en route to Oran, Algeria or to Casablanca, for cargo, ferrying aircraft and personnel, also used as ferrying airfield of aircraft from RAF St Mawgan, England to build up new Twelfth Air Force. Much improved by USAAF, early 1943. After the end of the war in Europe, Air Transport Command was assigned several heavy bombardment squadrons by HQ USAFE XII Tactical Air Command to transport key personnel back to the United States from airfield. Closed December 1945.|
|Oran Es Sénia Airport||Oran Algeria||1258th AAFBU. 426 miles (686 km) from Casablanca. Seized during Operation Torch in November 1942. Primarily used for intra-theater support of Fifth Army and Twelfth Air Force during Tunisia Campaign until the end of May 1943. Absorbed Joint US-British Mediterranean Air Transport Service (MATS). November 1943 and established ferrying and transport route to Cairo 1,889 miles (3,040 km), airport used as way-station and refueling facility. Closed August 1945.|
|Maison Blanche Airport||Algiers Algeria||1259th AAFBU. 651 miles (1,048 km) from Casablanca. Seized during Operation Torch in November 1942. Primarily used for intra-theater support of Fifth Army and Twelfth Air Force during Tunisia Campaign until the end of May 1943. Used for ferrying to Cairo beginning November 1943 1,684 miles (2,710 km). Hub to Marseilles and Naples established later in war for transport and ferrying of replacement aircraft to units in France and Italy. Closed February 1947.|
|Bizerte Airfield||Bizerte Tunisia||1,334 miles (2,147 km) from Cairo. Former Twelfth Air Force fighter base, began use by ATC in November 1943. Primarily used for intra-theater support, refueling stop for ferrying aircraft to Cairo bound for Russia or China. Also ATSC Depot.|
|Mellaha Airfield||Tripoli Libya||1262d AAFBU. 1,084 miles (1,745 km) from Cairo. ATC operations established November 1943 after takeover of Mediterranean Air Transport Service. Primarily used for intra-theater support, refueling stop for ferrying aircraft to Cairo bound for Russia or China.|
|Soluch Airfield||Benghazi Libya||1263d AAFBU. 673 miles (1,083 km) from Cairo. ATC operations established November 1943 after takeover of Mediterranean Air Transport Service. Primarily used for intra-theater support, refueling stop for ferrying aircraft to Cairo bound for Russia or China.|
|Payne Field||Cairo, Egypt||1264th AAFBU. Ferrying operations established in late 1941 to supply Desert Air Force and British Eighth Army with Lend-Lease aircraft and supplies. ATC established facilities at Cairo Airport in July 1942. Was a key hub for receiving ferried aircraft over Trans-Africa route beginning in 1941, ferrying shifted to North African Route to Russia and China, November 1943, aircraft being ferried via Middle East Route to Tehran or Karachi. Maintained transport link to Sudan, Ethiopia and Aden until end of war, until end of ferrying operations in September 1945 when closed.|
India-China Air Route
Even before the United States entered the war, it was clear that China must be given enough aid to keep her in the war, if not for China's sake, then certainly that her soil might serve later as the base for a counterattack against Japan. But the outlook was gloomy. Japanese air and naval action in the South China Sea left seaborne reinforcement out of the question. The possibility of establishing a useful air route into China was under serious discussion as early as January 1942, and United States policy was clear that the pathway to China be kept open. Planning then contemplated building up the China National Aviation Corporation with a fleet of seventy-five two-engine transports.
Organized USAAF ferrying activities began in India with the Ferrying Command 1st Ferrying Group being activated on 3 March 1942. It departed the United States for India on 17 March, reporting to the Tenth Air Force Trans-India Ferry Command, which itself was activated on 6 April 1942. The 1st Ferrying Group operated a ferrying route between Karachi as western terminal and airfields in the upper Assam Valley as its eastern terminal.
The Assam-Burma-India Ferry Command, also under Tenth Air Force activated on 17 April with the 2d Ferrying Group. It merged with the Trans-India Ferry Command to form the 10th AF India-China Ferry Command on 16 July. The Trans-India Ferry Command was formally inactivated on 1 December 1942 when the Air Transport Command India-China Wing, (ICWATC) was activated.
Unlike the efforts to supply the British in North Africa or the Russians on the eastern front with aircraft, the primary mission of the ATC India-China Division was the movement of equipment and supplies across India to the combat forces in Burma, or to the Chinese from port facilities in Karachi, Bombay, Bangalore and Calcutta, where large ATC facilities were established. The ground transportation infrastructure in India prior to the war consisted of a string of primitive railroads of varying gauges and limited capacity. The air movement across India of aircraft being ferried to Tenth and Fourteenth Air Force along the route were flown from Karachi, was a tertiary mission.
Karachi became the western terminus of the India-China division, with Air Technical Service Command also operating an Air Depot there. It was chosen due to its relative safety from the Japanese, although it was 1,700 miles (2,700 km) away from the Assam Valley and 1,400 miles (2,300 km) from Calcutta. Calcutta, in eastern India with an excellent airport and port facilities, was so menaced by the Japanese in 1942 that relatively few supplies and men were sent there from the United States. The situation had changed by 1943, and the Calcutta docks was a major shipment destination, but it was still nearly 600 miles (1,000 km) from the Assam terminus of the Hump route, and the line of communication was tenuous.
From Karachi, aircraft bound for Tenth Air Force and United States Army units supporting British Forces in Burma were ferried east to the combat airfields, with China-bound aircraft for Fourteenth Air Force being sent to Chauba in the Assam Valley of northeast India. From several sub-fields provided by the RAF in the Assam Valley, both aircraft and supplies were ferried over "The Hump", a flyable route over the Himalayan Mountains, into Yunnan Province in southeast China, where several airfields were constructed to receive and turn-around aircraft, which then went on to Kunming, the major ATC facility in China.
By the middle of June 1942, ten C-53's had been delivered at Karachi for the use of either CNAC or the Chinese government. In addition, a total of thirty-nine Douglas planes for use by U.S. military crews had been flown to India. However, the situation changed when Japanese ground forces on 8 May took the Myitkyina, Burma airfield that was to have played a key part in the air supply of China. The loss of Myitkyina left only one means of keeping open a pathway to China—the grim prospect of direct flight from airfields in the eastern Assam Valley in Northeast India across the High Himalayas to Yunnanyi, Kunming, or other points in the Yunnan Province of China.
The most vital need was for airfields with hard-surface runways, hardstandings, and taxiways. The United States asked the RAF in India to provide three fields in Upper Assam, including one already being built at Chabua by native labor with primitive tools and methods.
During the war, additional Air Depots were constructed at Bombay, Bangalore and Calcutta which received aircraft sent by sea, assembling and ferrying them to Tenth or Fourteenth Air Force. In 1944, the first B-29s sent to the China-Burma-India Theater to support XX Bomber Command operations in eastern India were flown into Karachi and onto eastern India.
|India-China Division (Originally 1st AAF Ferrying Wing)|
|RAF Jiwani||British India||1306th AAFBU. 392 miles (631 km) from Oman, 1,385 miles (2,229 km) from Aden. Former British Imperial Airways airport on Cairo-Karachi route, used by ATC as a refueling field for ferrying aircraft over Middle East or Central African Route to Karachi. 973 miles (1,566 km)  USAAF operations at base ended, September 1945.|
|Karachi Airport||British India||1349th AAFBU. Activated in March 1942. ATC Station #16. Was western ATC hub of India-China Air Route, receiving large numbers of ferried aircraft from Africa and Middle East. Large Technical Service Command presence and depot facilities. Trans-India movement made via New Delhi and Calcutta for Tenth Air Force aircraft; through Chauba for Fourteenth Air Force ferried aircraft. Also performed air transport of supplies and material in CBI. Moved large amount of shipments from port facility across India via transport aircraft. Detachment was closed on 26 June 1946.|
|Willingdon Airfield||New Delhi, British India||1302d AAFBU. 670 miles (1,080 km) from Karachi. ATC Station #8. First USAAF personnel arrived 25 June 1942 Also 2d Air Depot. Major transshipment point for 10th AF Ferrying unit and later ATC throughout the war. USAAF ended activities 1 May 1946.|
|Agra Airfield||British India||1303d AAFBU. 688 miles (1,107 km) from Karachi. ATC Station #17. First USAAF personnel arrived 19 March 1942, Also 3d Air Depot. Major transshipment point for 10th AF Ferrying unit and later ATC throughout the war. USAAF ended activities 5 May 1946.|
|Dum Dum Airport
Cazes Air Base
|Calcutta, British India||1301st AAFBU. 728 miles (1,172 km) from Agra. ATC Station #19. AAF activities began 1942. Calcutta (later Bengal) Air Depot Large Technical Service Command presence and depot facilities. USAAF ended activities 1 May 1946.|
|Dinjan Airfield||British India||534 miles (859 km) from Calcutta. Activated by 10th AF 12 February 1942. HQ 1st Ferrying Group. Assam Valley transshipment point for supplies, equipment and aircraft ferried to China over Himalayas from Northeast India. USAAF Operations ended October 1945.|
|Chabua Airfield||British India||541 miles (871 km) from Calcutta. Opened early 1942. ATC Station #6. Assam Valley transshipment point for supplies, equipment and aircraft ferried to China over Himalayas from Northeast India. Closed 7 April 1946|
|Kunming Airport||China||502 miles (808 km) from Chabua. Eastern terminus of South Atlantic air ferry route. 23,000 miles (37,000 km) from Morrison Field, Florida. Headquarters, Fourteenth Air Force, prior HQ American Volunteer Group. ATC Station #13. Ferrying Command established HQ in early 1942, later ATC 1340th AAFBU. Intra-theater ATC airlift hub within China for 14th AF. AAF Operations ended October 1946.|
Project X, as the heavy bomber movement to the Far East was designated, became the first major foreign ferrying mission of the war and the first major overseas movement of tactical units. Not until the air echelon of the Eighth Air Force began its movement to Britain in June 1942 would the Army Air Forces face an overseas ferrying job of greater size and complexity. Although a total of eighty four-engine bombers were originally earmarked for the project, something less than that number actually left the United States and an even smaller number reached the Far East.
Project X comprised two separate echelons of heavy bombers. The first of these was made up of fifteen LB-30's repossessed from the British and manned by crews of the 7th Bombardment Group, a group whose air movement across the Pacific had begun on 6 December. Only six of these planes actually went through the South Atlantic, the others being ultimately diverted to California for movement to the South Pacific through Hawaii. Travel orders were issued on 19 December 1941, and within a few days aircraft and crews began to arrive at MacDill Field, Florida, to prepare for the long overseas flight.
The second and more important component was made up of a projected sixty-five B-17 bombers and crews. Most of the B-17's were yet to come from the factory and were to move out in small groups as they became available and after they had gone to the Sacramento Air Depot to be put in combat readiness. Orders were issued on 23 December for the transfer of the sixty-five bombers to the Philippines. Crews of both groups of bombers were ordered to proceed along the South Atlantic route through the Central African route to Cairo, then through the Middle East via RAF Habbaniya to Karachi. The B-17's were ordered to proceed as far as Bangalore, at which point they were to report by secret means via Singapore to General Douglas MacArthur and reinforce Far East Air Force in Java, Netherlands East Indies and in Australia via and await further orders. This route was of most immediate importance in the first weeks of the Pacific War, even though it had the marked disadvantage of stretching approximately two-thirds around the world.
The staging of Project X aircraft and crews at MacDill Field extended over a period of about two months. During that time some fifty-eight heavy bombers of the projected eighty departed for the Far East over the southeastern route. In spite of many delays along the way, forty-four of the sixty-six bombers were delivered to the Southwest Pacific Area over both routes by late February; some had served as a source of spare parts to put the others through. Four of the B-17's were lost completely either in crashes or over the Atlantic, another landed in a swamp at Belém, one was forced to return to the United States for repairs, and one was delayed in Africa awaiting repairs even as late as May 1942. Although none of the bombers reached the Philippines, most of them were put to use in Australia or on other fronts. It was a good record considering the pioneer nature of the job, the inexperienced and poorly trained crews, and the necessity for building a ferrying route organization through the South Atlantic and across Africa and India while the movement was in progress. In assuming the major share of responsibility for controlling the movement, the United States had gained much valuable experience that would prove useful as the ferrying job increased in scope with the growing intensity of the war in Europe and in the Pacific.
Immediately after the Pearl Harbor Attack, the Japanese had cut the central Pacific route from Hawaii through Midway and Wake Island to New Guinea and Australia; the route over which the Far East Air Force had received thirty-five heavy bombers in the fall of 1941. However, this route was also cut by advancing Imperial Japanese forces after the defeat of Allied forces in the Dutch East Indies campaign, Battle of Singapore and the withdraws of British forces from Burma during 1942, although some B-17s were flown back to Bangalore, India from Broome, Western Australia via Ceylon fitted with internal fuel tanks after the route was closed. These aircraft were flown to Egypt where they were used in combat by the U.S. Army Middle East Air Force against German forces in the Western Desert Campaign.
After February 1942 all aircraft flight-delivered to the Southwest Pacific were staged at West Coast United States bases and flown out by way of Hawaii and the chain of new island steppingstone airfields in the eastern and central Pacific extending down to Australia. The initial number of planes delivered for a time was small, but steady progress was made in the construction or improvement of bases and in the installation of weather and communications facilities. This route became the South Pacific Route and was the fourth major Air Transport Command route established.
After the war, many United States military personnel returned home and demobilized, and Air Transport Command shut down operations of many of these wartime airfields and civil airports. The airports were returned to civil control, with the improvements made by the Americans making them more valuable than they were prior to the war. Almost all were utilized by the governments of the nations where they were located as civil or international airports of their country.
The routes established were used by international airlines. As aircraft were developed with jet engines, longer ranges and higher capacity, some of the airports became secondary. Today most remain in existence, even six decades later showing clear evidence of their wartime past.
- North Atlantic air ferry route in World War II
- South Pacific air ferry route in World War II
- Northwest Staging Route
- West Coast Wing (Air Transport Command route to Alaska)
- Crimson Route
- Latin America during World War II
- Stanley, William R. (1994), Trans-South Atlantic air link in World War II, Professor, Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, Geo Journal, Issue Volume 33, Number 4 / August, 1994 pp. 459–463 ISSN 0343-2521
- The Army Air Forces in World War II. The Early Development of Air Transport and Ferrying
- AFHRA Document 00180144
- Harkavy, Robert E. (2007), Strategic basing and the great powers, 1200-2000, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-70176-7
- AFHRA Document 00175860
- John D. Carter, “The Air Transport Command,” The Army Air Forces in World War II, vol. 7, Services Around the World, ed. Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, 42, 44–45 (Washington, D.C., Office of Air Force History, new imprint, 1983).
- AFHRA Document 00175886
- AFHRA Document 00178808
- Mueller, Robert (1989). Volume 1: Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. USAF Reference Series, Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, Washington, D.C. ISBN 0-912799-53-6, ISBN 0-16-002261-4
- Borinquen Field, Early History: 1936-1941
- AFHRA Document 00001788
- AFHRA Document 01023751
- AFHRA Document 00001505
- AFHRA Document 00001504
- AFHRA Document 00006671
- Airway to the Middle East
- AFHRA Document 00180994
- AFHRA Document 00197433
- AFHRA Document 00197543
- AFHRA Document 00197204
- AFHRA Document 00197649
- AFHRA Document 00001957
- AFHRA Document 00190806
- AFHRA Document 00895734
- AFHRA Document 00189703
- AFHRA Document 00181414
- AFHRA Document 00189618
- AFHRA Document 01129689
- AFHRA Document 00189628
- AFHRA Document 00181412
- AFHRA Document 00189666
- AFHRA Document 00181411
- AFHRA Document 00189659
- AFHRA Document 00189668
- Swancara, John (1997), Project 19: A Mission Most Secret, Honoribu ISBN 1885354045
- AFHRA Document 00189654
- AFHRA Document 00189648
- AFHRA Document 00190311
- AFHRA Document 00190136
- AFHRA Document 00096444
- AFHRA Document 00190106
- AFHRA Document 00180149
- AFHRA Document 00130628
- The Army Air Forces in World War II, North Africa and the Mediterranean
- AFHRA Document 00190099
- AFHRA Document 00189728
- AFHRA Document 00244689
- AFHRA Document 00189704
- AFHRA Document 00006873
- AFHRA Document 00189880
- Lajes Field History - The U.S. Enters the Azores
- AFHRA Document 00189820
- AFHRA Document 00096741
- AFHRA Document 00189866
- History of Port Lyautey
- AFHRA Document 00244709
- AFHRA Document 00189849
- AFHRA Document 00190774
- AFHRA Document 00181333
- AFHRA Document 00190208
- Airline To China
- USAFHRA Document 00192232
- AFHRA Document 00190152
- AFHRA Document 00268080
- AFHRA Document 00192104
- AFHRA Document 00003318
- AFHRA Document 00191942
- AFHRA Document 00268057
- AFHRA Document 00192011
- AFHRA Document 00267307
- AFHRA Document 00192368
- AFHRA Document 00191976
- AFHRA Document 00192913