BIAFRA WAR PART 21: This Was How Many Biafran Soldiers are When They Defeated The Nigerian soldiers in the first session of the war
Biafra had only two thousand troops at the beginning of the war. Most of the soldiers were former Nigerian army soldiers—Easterners who were based in Enugu and other former Nigerian military bases in the east. General Philip Effiong, Biafra’s chief of general staff, quickly recruited an additional twenty thousand men and created a separate Biafran militia of civilian volunteers, who
received on-the-spot training.
The Biafrans were devoid of any heavy military equipment apart from that of the former Nigerian battalion stationed in Enugu, Saracen armored cars, and 105-millimeter howitzers.
Federick Forsyth recalls in an excellent BBC documentary, Biafra: Fighting a War Without Guns, that Biafran soldiers marched into war one man behind the other because they had only one rifle between them, and the thinking was that if one soldier was killed in combat the other would pick up the only weapon available and continue fighting.
The Biafrans were completely outgunned compared to the Nigerians. The Soviet Union and Britain not only supplied Nigeria with brand new MIG-17 and II-28 Beagle (Ilyushin) jets but also with Soviet T-34 battle tanks, antiaircraft guns, AK-47 rifles, machine guns, grenades, mines, bombs, etc.
In light of this imbalance of resources, international support for Biafra was crucial. Arguably the most notable of all the Europeans that came to the aid of Biafra was Carl Gustaf von Rosen. He was a Swedish nobleman and World War II, veteran. Von Rosen became a legend in the 1930s when he volunteered to fly Red Cross relief supplies into Ethiopia and fight for Emperor Haile Selassie against the Italians.
He again came into the world’s consciousness as the pilot of the much-admired United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld, who was widely regarded as a “dove of peace.” Hammarskjöld “mysteriously” died in an air crash while serving as the chief mediator of the Congo crisis of the 1960s, Unfortunately at a time when his much-trusted pilot, von Rosen, was ill.
It was von Rosen’s Biafran involvement, however, that truly catapulted him to worldwide recognition. Von Rosen was outraged by the injustice of the war and Nigeria’s imposition of an economic blockade on the Republic of Biafra, and he was moved to come to the aid of the suffering. It was in part because of this brave man’s involvement that the world was motivated to pay attention to this conflict in a heretofore forgotten part of the world.
Von Rosen bore witness to the atrocities and humanitarian emergency in Biafra and his public statements
and influence propelled a number of Western relief agencies to respond to the
He led multiple relief flights with humanitarian aid into Uli airport—Biafra’s chief airstrip. Fed up with Nigerian air force interference with his peaceful missions, he entered the war heroes hall of fame after leading a five-plane assault on Nigerian aircraft in Port Harcourt, Benin City, Ughelli, Enugu, and some other locations. He took the Nigerian air force by total surprise and destroyed several Soviet-supplied aircraft in the process.
The Biafran air force was composed of a B-26, a B-25, and three helicopters until Carl Gustaf von Rosen came to the republic’s assistance in 1968. By year’s end the government of Biafra had procured a moderate amount of military ammunition from the neighboring former French colonies of Ivory Coast and Gabon.
Indeed, Paris’s ambassador to Gabon at the time of war, Maurice Delauney, worked with Jacques Foccart’s deputy, Jean Mauricheau Beaupré—described by French journalist Pierre Péan as the “chief conductor of clandestine French support to the Biafran secessionists”—to supply arms to Ojukwu’s army.
Uli airport was the major airport in Biafra for military and relief goods at the height of the war, and it was described by various authorities as one of the busiest airports in Africa, with more than 50 flights a night.
Uli airport, originally part of a major highway, had been cut into the countryside in the middle of a tropical rainforest and operated mainly at night. I recall the airport’s traffic control terminal, passenger facilities, and hangars were constructed in such a manner that the entire runway and all of the planes on the ground could be heavily camouflaged with palm leaves and raffia fronds during the day, disguising it from Nigerian army aircraft reconnaissance missions and radar.
At night the airport became a beehive of activity. Incoming flights carrying relief supplies, particularly from international locations such as São Tomé, Abidjan in Ivory Coast, and Libreville, Gabon, were given the airport’s coordinates after appropriate background checks were done. Pilots who were
involved in the airlifts of relief supplies provided a compelling story:
”In the middle of the vast expanse of tropical rainforest, we would be told to descend
from our cruising altitude to about two thousand feet to avoid enemy fire, barely atop
the forest in the pitch dark. All of a sudden, bright floodlights appeared from nowhere,
illuminating the forest floor. Right before us was a breathtaking sight—an entire
airport appearing from nowhere!27”
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