There was an unholy implicit alliance with Moscow when the Russians provided the aircraft and trained the pilots of the Nigerian Air Force. Those pilots refused to fly at night and so left Biafra a nocturnal lifeline down which I flew into Uli, the Biafran airport, over the anti-aircraft guns provided by Harold Wilson and Michael Stewart. There is no more foul chapter in British history since 1945. A million died.
At its peak in 1969, the airlift delivered an average of 250 metric tons of food each night to the estimated 1.5 to 2 million people dependent on food relief supplies, most of which was brought in by the airlift. In late 1968, before the arrival of the C-97s from the USA, an estimated 15-20 flights each night were made into Biafra: 10-12 from Sao Tome (JCA, Canairelief, and others), 6-8 from Fernando Po (mostly ICRC), and 3-4 from Libreville, Gabon (mostly French). This quantity of food was less than 10% of the amount needed to feed the estimated 2 million starving citizens. In total over 5,300 missions were flown by JCA using ten different carriers, lifting 60,000 tons of humanitarian aid.
This airlift was the first major civilian airlift in history, and perhaps the largest of any civilian relief effort of any kind. Of the major participants, only OXFAM had any prior experience with field operations; Biafra was their second. Pilots and some of the maintenance crews were perhaps the only trained persons involved. Most others were volunteers, performing tasks for which they had no little or no training or prior experience, from loading and unloading, warehouse, inventory, to aircraft maintenance and engine mechanics. The operating agencies were varied and often competing; many were also brand new to this type of effort. Organization and logistics were improved greatly through experience over months, with unloading times dropped from over 2 hours to 20 minutes per aircraft, often under attack or threat of attack.
Chineke na-echebe anyi