Title Graphic



The oldest of the air routes under ATC's jurisdiction, and throughout 1942 the most important, reached from Florida across the South Atlantic to Africa and the Middle East. It had been established in the pre-Pearl Harbor days of 1941 as a lend-lease supply line to British forces fighting in the Near East. Ferrying of aircraft along the route had started as early as June of that year, when a Pan American Airways subsidiary undertook the delivery of twenty lend-lease transport planes to Lagos on the Nigerian coast of western Africa, whence the British had developed a trans-African air route to Khartoum in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. The success of this first operation led to contracts between the War Department and the Pan American organization for more permanent ferrying and transport services all the way into Khartoum. Just before Pearl Harbor similar services under military control were opened into Cairo.*

Direct involvement of the United States in the war brought a quick expansion of the Pan American contract services. Two-engine Douglas transports were placed on the run from Florida to Natal, a move which made it possible to concentrate the few available long-range Clipper flying boats on the overwater hop from Brazil to the African coast. Additional airplanes and pilots were sent out to Africa to build up the trans-African transport service into Cairo. From Cairo the line was extended eastward to Basra and Tehran—transfer points for delivery of lend-lease aircraft to the Russians—and to Karachi, gateway to India. Beyond Karachi the Tenth Air Force opened a trans-India service and began flying supplies over the Hump into China in April 1942. Meanwhile, two other contract carriers had inaugurated transport

* See Vol. I, 319-42, 353-56, for discussion of the early history of the South Atlantic route.


services over the route. Transcontinental and Western Air, employing two Boeing Stratoliners which had been purchased by the government, began flying between Washington and Cairo in February; and Eastern Air Lines, having opened a two-engine transport service to Trinidad in May, extended its operations to Natal in late June, paralleling the existing Miami-Natal service of Pan American Airways. Through most of 1942, lend-lease planes, with few exceptions, were delivered over the South Atlantic route by crews of Pan American Air Ferries. Aircraft deliveries by the Pan American organization had not exceeded ten a month before February 1942, and nearly all of these had gone to the British. But business picked up in March, and by early summer a steady flow of planes was moving out to British forces in Egypt, to the Russians through Iran, and, in lesser number, across India and over the Himalayas to the Chinese.1

By the end of June, 391 of the AAF's own planes had been ferried across the South Atlantic (250 of them by military crews) on their way to India, China, and even the Southwest Pacific. Before the Japanese captured Singapore in February 1942, thirty-six heavy bombers, intended originally for the Philippines, had been flown to India by way of Africa and thence across southeastern Asia and the East Indies to Australia.* Thereafter reinforcements for Australia went by way of the Pacific, but the Atlantic-African route continued to have the most critical importance for military operations in India and China; in Russia, where the great spring offensive of the Germans by July had opened the road to Stalingrad and the Caucasus; and in the Middle East, where Rommel threatened destruction of Britain's long-established position.

The Overseas Wings

The southeastern air route, as it existed in the critical summer months of 1942, began in southern Florida and extended down through the Caribbean and Brazil as far south as Natal. At Natal it turned eastward across the Atlantic narrows to the African coast and then reached across central Africa to Khartoum, where it divided. The main line extended north to Cairo to eastward through Habbaniya and Basra to Karachi, thence across India and Burma into China, with a branch line from Habbaniya up to Tehran in Iran. An

* Of the forty-four bombers ferried to the Southwest Pacific by late February 1942, only eight went by the Pacific route.


alternate route eastward from Khartoum passed through Aden and skirted the Arabian coast into Karachi, where it joined with the route out of Cairo.

Strung along the route were dozens of bases in various stages of construction and subject to a variety of jurisdictions. ATC had actual command over only one of the bases, the staging base for ferried aircraft at Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, Florida; two other Florida bases, at Miami and Homestead, would be placed under its jurisdiction before the year was out.2 Beyond the continental United States the installations through which transient planes passed were controlled by overseas theater or base commands, by foreign states, or by Pan American Airways.3 On such bases the Air Transport Command had a position somewhat analogous to that of a tenant. It depended on theater or base commands for most housekeeping services and for heavier forms of maintenance, but had its own administrative, transient-service, and ground-crew personnel. Many of the bases along the route were used only occasionally as alternate landing fields and so had no assignment of ATC personnel at all.

During the first half of 1942, the Air Corps Ferrying Command had begun to exercise a limited degree of control over transient aircraft through a loosely organized system of "control offices" located at major bases.4 These control offices were not formally activated units; their personnel, often no more than a half-dozen men, were assigned to domestically based squadrons and sent out on detached service. Not until June 1942, when the foreign operations of the Air Transport Command were placed under the direction of five newly activated foreign wings,5 did these overseas units find a place in an organization specifically adapted to their needs. At that time each wing received one or two ferrying groups, later redesignated transport groups, which became the operational arms of the wings. The transport groups in turn controlled flight activities at the bases through subordinate squadrons. As a rule, one squadron was assigned to each base, but at the larger bases there might be two or more squadrons and at the smaller ones only a detachment.6

The group and squadron system of the Air Transport Command grew out of the usual War Department and AAF practice of organizing special units, with rigid tables of organizations, for each type of military activity. But this plan soon proved to be too inflexible for ATC, whose personnel requirements varied from base to base according


to the size and type of activity conducted at each station. After more than a year of experience, the group and squadron system was scrapped in favor of what came to be known, in the peculiar jargon of the military personnel people, as "exact manning tables." Under this new plan, the personnel requirements of each station were measured exactly on a functional basis, and men were assigned accordingly, not to a standard T/O unit, such as a squadron, but to the station itself. The exact requirements of all stations were then consolidated at wing headquarters to form the basis for the wing's over-all manning table. As long as the wing commander stayed within the limits of his authorized strength, he could now shift his men about from job to job or from station to station as required. The new principle provided a necessary flexibility for efficient operation and conserved manpower.7

Along the southeastern route, three wings were organized initially— the Caribbean Wing, with headquarters at West Palm Beach, Florida; the South Atlantic Wing, whose headquarters was located first at Atkinson Field, British Guiana, and later moved to Natal, Brazil; and the Africa-Middle East Wing, with headquarters at Accra in Britain's Gold Coast Colony.8 Following the invasion of North Africa and the extension of ATC activities into that area, the African jurisdiction was divided on 15 December 1943 into two wings: the North African and the Central African.9

The Caribbean Wing had immediate direction over activities in Florida and in the Caribbean area. Its original jurisdiction embraced only the mainland bases and Borinquen Field on Puerto Rico, the most important ferrying and transport base in the Caribbean and a key defense outpost.10 In 1943, however, the wing's limits were extended south to the boundary between French Guiana and Brazil to coincide with those of the Antilles Department of the Caribbean Defense Command, which supplied most of the base services for transient aircraft.11 To a large degree, the Caribbean Wing job remained that of managing the aerial ports of embarkation on the mainland. Most ferried aircraft on the way overseas were given a final checking and servicing at Morrison Field, the major continental ferrying base, and here the ferrying crews had their papers put in order, were issued overseas equipment, inoculated, and briefed on route conditions.12 A few passengers and a small amount of freight were carried on ferried aircraft when there was extra space, but, for the most part, passengers, cargo, and mail moved out of the 36th Street Airport at nearby Miami,


where transport aircraft operating south from Florida were based.13 In September 1942 a third continental base, Homestead Field near Miami, was assigned to the Caribbean Wing in order to insure adequate staging facilities for the heavy flow of ferried aircraft anticipated after the invasion of North Africa. It was also assumed that winter conditions along the North Atlantic route would soon cause ferrying to Britain to be shifted to the South Atlantic.14

Aircraft leaving Florida usually landed first at Borinquen Field, about 1,000 miles to the southeast, before proceeding on to either Waller Field on Trinidad or Atkinson Field in British Guiana. Four-engine planes, however, often overflew Borinquen and landed first at Waller or Atkinson. The few fighters or trainer aircraft ferried to Latin-American countries, or on to Africa, took a short-hop route through the Greater Antilles and the Leeward Islands into the South American continent.15

On leaving the Caribbean Wing, aircraft and crews came under the control of the South Atlantic Wing, whose original jurisdiction extended from Trinidad down along the Brazilian coast to Natal and across the South Atlantic as far as the African coast.16 Along this 5,000-mile segment of the route were located five major air bases and a number of secondary bases, all spaced at intervals of several hundred miles. Waller Field and Atkinson Field were built on sites obtained from the British under the destroyer-base-lease deal of 1940. These were later transferred to the jurisdiction of the Caribbean Wing, but the South Atlantic Wing continued through the war to control ferrying and transport activities at the great bases at Belém and Natal in Brazil and at Wideawake Field on Ascension Island.

Belém and Natal were built by Panair do Brasil, a Pan American subsidiary, with funds appropriated for the Airport Development Program of 1940.17 Both fields were ready for limited use soon after Pearl Harbor, but in June 1942 they were still in a primitive state of development, inadequately manned, and barely able to support the growing volume of traffic. At Natal the Ferrying Command had only four officers and fifty-seven enlisted men as late as mid-May, and only five nondescript buildings stood on the tract of sand and scrub brush traversed by two 6,000-foot runways.18 However, a new construction program just under way would eventually make the Natal base one of the largest and best equipped in the world.19Belém was in much the same shape as Natal at the time Rommel was


marching upon Egypt, but here, too, a new construction program had just been inaugurated.20 Lesser bases were spaced conveniently along the route at Amapa, São Luiz, Fortaleza, and Recife.21

Probably no other air base used by the Air Transport Command had such strategic importance as that on Ascension Island. This anchored airdrome of volcanic rock, covering an area of only thirty-four square miles, was located in the South Atlantic approximately midway between the Brazilian bulge and the African coast. Ferrying Command officials had turned their attention to Ascension as a potential base as early as the fall of 1941, when it became clear that American military as well as lend-lease planes would be flying the South Atlantic route to Africa.22 Situated 1,437 statute miles from Natal, and 1,357 from Accra in the Gold Coast Colony, Ascension would make it possible for two-engine planes to cross the South Atlantic in two fairly easy jumps with a normal gas load.23 Before the base was opened, twin-engine craft could make the approximately 1,900-mile direct flight from Natal to Africa across the narrowest part of the Atlantic only after the installation of extra gas tanks, an expensive and time-consuming modification. Four-engine bombers and transports could fly directly from Natal to Roberts or Hastings Fields in Africa without difficulty, or even to Accra, 2,500 miles away, but, by using refueling facilities on Ascension, four-engine transports could take on a much lighter load of gasoline at Natal, increasing proportionately the amount of payload carried. With a stop at Ascension, it was even possible to ferry fighter aircraft to Africa, as was done with P-38's in 1943,* an accomplishment that otherwise would have been impossible.

In peacetime, Ascension was a British cable station and had a normal population of about 165 cable-company employees, the maximum number that could be sustained on the island by its limited water supply.24 Negotiations were opened with the British early in 1942 for use of the island for an airdrome. Britain readily agreed;25 if for no other reason, she stood to benefit tremendously in the greater ease with which lend-lease deliveries to Africa could be effected. A board of American officers, headed by Lt. Col. Philip G. Kemp of the Ferrying Command, made a preliminary survey of Ascension and selected a tentative site for the airdrome.26 By March 1942 an American task force, made up principally of troops of the 38th Engineer

* See below, pp. 75-76.


Combat Regiment, but containing also coast artillery, quartermaster, signal corps, hospital, army airways communications, and other units, was on its way to the island to begin construction work. Unloading the supplies, machinery, and construction materials from the three freighters was no easy job. Ascension has no harbor proper, and the projecting shelf of volcanic rock prevents ocean-going vessels from making a close approach to shore. Supplies had to be unloaded by barge or lighter, but even this was impossible when heavy southwest rollers were running. 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. In the meantime, the task force had constructed underground gasoline storage tanks, roads, barracks, a hospital, a distillation unit for distilling sea water, an electrical plant, gun emplacements, and ammunition dumps, all carefully camouflaged.27

There was an airman's ditty, originating with some imaginative pilot on the South Atlantic run, that goes:

If I don't hit Ascension
My wife will get a pension....

Actually, the island had a radio beam on it, and the navigators had no great trouble hitting it. The real worry of the ferry or transport pilot, in the early days at least, was taking off from the Ascension runway in the face of a great cloud of birds. It had long been the habit of the sooty tern, known locally as the "wideawake," to come to Ascension to lay and hatch its eggs. Within a few weeks after the Ascension airfield had been opened for traffic, the terns began to arrive on schedule. One large colony's usual nesting ground was located just beyond the far end of the newly constructed runway. This did not discourage the birds, however, and they settled down to lay their eggs and stay for the nesting period. They were a real 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. Heavier planes, unable to climb quickly enough, were obliged to pass right through the mass of birds, running the risk of a broken windshield, a dented leading edge, or a bird wedged in engine or air scoop.28

Getting rid of the wideawakes was a headache that brought sleepless nights to the highest echelons of the AAF. Smoke candles were tried, and dynamite blasts, but both proved equally ineffectual. Someone got the inspired idea that cats would do the job, but when a


planeload of cats was brought in to kill off the terns, the cats were themselves eaten by booby birds, a larger species with an extremely strong beak and neck. Finally, AAF Headquarters sent down a well-known ornithologist, Dr. James P. Chapin of the American Museum of Natural History, who advised that, if the eggs were destroyed, the birds would leave and not again nest in the same area. With some 40,000 of their eggs smashed, the terns began finally to move away from the runway area to join colonies on other parts of the island. AAF officials from Washington to Chungking rested easier.29

A unique feature of the South Atlantic Wing and the Africa-Middle East Wing was that in each case the ATC Wing commander was also the theater commander, for in both Brazil and in central Africa, air transport and ferrying were the principal military activities. Brig. Gen. Robert L. Walsh was placed in command of the South Atlantic Wing in June 1942, assuming at once some of the duties of a theater commander.30 The following November, when a theater command under the name of the United States Army Forces in South America (USAFSA) was organized, General Walsh took over as commanding general. His theater headquarters was established at Recife, about 150 miles to the south of Natal; but South Atlantic Wing headquarters remained at Natal.31

Brig. Gen. Shepler W. Fitzgerald went to Africa in June 1942 as commander of both the Africa-Middle East Wing and a new theater command, United States Army Forces in Central Africa (USAFICA). His headquarters, wing and theater, were established first at Cairo, but were soon moved to Accra, on the Gold Coast, the permanent location.32 There he began the militarization of Pan American's contract operations in Africa, an undertaking that required about six months to complete. Pan American had gone into Africa under contracts with the American and British governments made in August 1941. Starting with seven twin-engine transports in October 1941, Pan American Airways-Africa had thirty-eight planes in operation by the following June and in the meantime had extended its flights from Khartoum up to Cairo and eastward to Karachi. PAA-Africa not only operated a transport service for the benefit of the United States and its allies but also ferried aircraft across Africa, including AAF planes, lend-lease aircraft, and British planes coming down from Britain on their way to the Middle East.*

* See Vol. I, 324-25, 354.


Shortly before Pearl Harbor the Ferrying Command, in anticipation of an enlarged military traffic to the Middle East, had taken steps to station its own military personnel at major bases in Latin America and across Africa. There was no thought, initially, of supplanting the Pan American organization; but under wartime conditions it soon became clear that military control of the African segment of the route, which skirted Vichy French territory and extended into the Middle East war zone, would become necessary for security. Furthermore, the manning of the African bases with both military and Pan American civilian personnel was wasteful.33 General Arnold and General Olds of the Ferrying Command had already reached the conclusion that the trans-African route should be manned exclusively by military personnel when the necessary authority was given in a War Department directive of 18 February 1942.34 This order required the termination of all civil contract activities overseas except in the Western Hemisphere and Hawaii. Militarization, strongly opposed by Pan American Airways, proceeded in the face of an uncooperative attitude on the part of some Pan American officials, leading to a bitter quarrel between General Fitzgerald and the company's manager in Africa. Nevertheless, by December all transcontinental operations and facilities had been taken over by the Air Transport Command.35

The forced withdrawal of the Pan American organization from Africa did not affect its contract services in the Western Hemisphere or its flying-boat, and later C-54 and C-87, operations across the South Atlantic to the western coast of Africa. It even operated transports across Africa to the Middle East and India, as did other contractors, but after December 1942 all planes crossing Africa used bases and facilities completely under military control. The Pan American Air Ferries contract was also canceled, and its lend-lease ferrying activities ceased entirely at the end of October 1942.36

General Fitzgerald had another difficult job in bringing to completion a more southerly and safer route across central Africa, which had been decided upon earlier in 1942. In its original conception, the alternate route, running roughly parallel to and a little south of the equator, was for moving heavy bombers across Africa and the island steppingstones in the Indian Ocean to Australia; but this plan was abandoned when the Japanese advance reached the area of the Cocos


Islands in February.* The Congo route, as it became known, now took the form of an alternate airway into the Middle East. Bases were constructed at Point Noire in French Equatorial Africa, at Leopoldville and Elisabethville in the Belgian Congo, and at Nairobi in Kenya. 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.37

Reinforcements for the Middle East

Through the first half of 1942 most of the aircraft flown from the United States to the British in Egypt had been transport aircraft for the RAF's local air transport fleet in Egypt, but Rommel's threat brought a sudden rush of combat planes. In June, the RAF began receiving Lockheed and Martin medium bombers flown across the South Atlantic.38 By the end of 1942, a total of 398 such aircraft— B-34's, A-28's, and A-30's—had been delivered to the British by Pan American Air Ferries or by military crews.39 Arriving too late to be used in the last-ditch defense of Egypt, these planes were employed to great advantage by Montgomery in the Allied counteroffensive that fall.

Thanks to Britain's gallant stand at El Alamein, the Russians continued to receive B-25's by way of the South Atlantic, and, beginning in October, Douglas A-20 light attack bombers, previously shipped by water, were being delivered by air to Soviet representatives at Basra and other airports in the Persian Gulf area. Altogether, a total of 240 aircraft were flown to Russia by way of the South Atlantic air route during 1942, of which 102 were B-25's and 138 were A-20's.40This does not give, by any means, a complete picture of lend-lease aid to Russia in the form of aircraft during this period. As early as January 1942, A-20's had started arriving by water transport at Persian Gulf ports, where they were assembled, tested, and flown on into Russia; and in September of that year, lend-lease planes began moving to the Russian front by way of the Alaskan ferrying route and on across Siberia,41 a route which became increasingly favored.

Originally, American efforts in the Middle East had been confined to logistical support of the British, who carried the full combat responsibility.

* See Vol. I, 330-31.


But after Rommel's victories in May and June, the United States agreed to commit to that theater a total of nine combat groups, of which seven groups were to be in operation by the end of 1942.* For more immediate assistance, the AAF diverted a detachment of twenty-three B-24's then in the Middle East on the way to China, and late in June it ordered Maj. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton to fly from India to the Middle East with all the few heavy bombers then belonging to the Tenth Air Force. While Brereton took steps to establish the Ninth Air Force, the AAF ordered the immediate movement of three of the nine groups promised for the Middle East. These were the 57th Fighter Group, equipped with P-40's; the 12th Bombardment Group (M), a B-25 unit; and the 98th Bombardment Group (H), its equipment being B-24's. The movement of the three groups to the Middle East was made a special ferrying project which took its name from the American code word for Egypt—HEATH.42

Both Britain and the United States had been transporting fighter aircraft by water to the western African coast and flying them from there along the trans-Africa ferry route to the Middle East and beyond. The 57th Fighter Group was moved out in the same way. The pilots, who had been given previous instruction in carrier take-offs, and their seventy-two P40F's, were taken aboard the U.S. carrier Ranger, which left Quonset, Rhode Island, on 1 July. When the ship was within a hundred miles or so of the western African coast, the aircraft were launched in groups of eighteen. After landing at a coastal base, the planes were then ferried across Africa to Egypt. For the skillful piloting of the P-4o's across the jungles and desert wastes of Africa, the 57th Group received commendations from General Brereton and Brig. Gen. Russell L. Maxwell, the Middle East theater commander. Losses were held to a negligible figure partly through the efforts of ground crews, who followed by air transport. After landing on the same fields as the fighters, the maintenance men would spend the night checking and putting the planes in shape for the next leg of the journey. Upon arrival in Cairo, the group moved on to a temporary station in Palestine at the end of July. Within a month, some of the pilots had flown their first missions over enemy territory.43

* See Vol. I, 569.
See Vol. II, 8 ff.
For earlier movements, see Vol. I, 339-40.


Meanwhile, the 98th Bombardment Group, equipped with thirty-five B-24's, had moved from its training base at Lakeland, Florida, to Morrison Field to prepare for the 10,000-mile flight to Egypt. Because the supply and maintenance facilities for heavy bombers in the Middle East were limited, the B-24's carried a stock of spare parts sufficient for a sixty-day period and as many maintenance men as possible, in addition to the regular crews. The air echelon left Florida, by squadrons, between 17 and 30 July, and by 7 August had assembled in Palestine.44

The air echelon of the 12th Bombardment Group (M), with fifty-seven B-25's, moved through Morrison Field and down along the South Atlantic route to Africa at about the same time as the 98th Group. By way of preparation for foreign service, the organization had already gone through a period of intensive training at Esler Field, Louisiana, and as a result was well qualified and well equipped when ready for movement overseas. The B-25's of the 12th Group were among the first aircraft to make use of the new Ascension base. All arrived safely in Egypt, having covered the 10,000 miles from Florida in an average flying time of seventy-two hours.45

For purposes of contrast, it is worth noting that the ground echelons of the 57th, 98th, and 12th Groups sailed from New York on 16 July and reached Egypt only in mid-August.46

These groups were only the advance guard of reinforcements sent to General Brereton. Replacements soon were flowing, and by the end of 1942 a total of 370 aircraft had been ferried to the Ninth Air Force. While the great majority were P-40's, B-24's, and B-25's, there were also more than 50 twin-engine transports, which made it possible to build an effective local air transport service.47 These transports belonged to the 316th Troop Carrier Group, whose air echelon with its original equipment of forty C-47's had moved out to Egypt by way of the South Atlantic route. It arrived in the Cairo area on 23 November 1942 in time to deliver Thanksgiving turkeys to American air units serving with the British Eighth Army.48

Although the flow of aircraft along the South Atlantic route to the Middle East continued through the summer and fall of 1942, very few of the planes got beyond the Middle East into India and China. From July through December, only 25 B-24's, 33 B-25's, 5 P-40's, and 23 twin-engine transports were ferried to American combat and air transport units in the China-Burma-India theater.49 This uneven


distribution of aircraft was only partially corrected in 1943. During that year a total of 669 planes were delivered to the Ninth Air Force in North Africa, while only 347 were ferried to the Tenth Air Force and only 168 to the Fourteenth Air Force in China.50

Transport Services

The movement of the planes of the HEATH project, and the large number of replacements that came later, across 10,000 miles of ocean, jungle, and desert was no easy job, but it was simple compared with that of building up an air transportation service that would keep a steady flow of aircraft parts, spare engines, maintenance equipment, replacement aircrews, and mechanics moving out to General Brereton's force. The Middle East Air Force* was dependent upon air transport to an unusual degree. Not only was the long water supply line around the Cape a formidable handicap but no sound logistical plan making maximum use of water transport and emergency use of air transport could be devised in advance because the force was thrown together so hastily. The B-24's had carried some spares, and a freighter had started out with a stock of spare parts but was sunk by a German submarine. Among the items lost were extra tires for the B-24's; as a result, General Brereton had to cannibalize about half of his small heavy-bomber force for tires to operate the remainder.51In an emergency of this sort, air transport was the only means of assuring a minimum stock of supplies until the next freighter arrived. A similar disaster occurred when a ship carrying a large supply of American tools and spare parts for two RAF repair depots in Egypt and the Sudan was sunk.52 Had the RAF been forced to wait for the arrival of replacements by water, a large number of combat planes would have been immobilized another three months for want of repair.

At the time General Brereton had been ordered to the Middle East, the Air Transport Command was already overwhelmed by the volume of cargo, mail, and passengers piling up at the Miami port of embarkation and at the transshipment points of Natal and Accra. Already deployed at the end of the South Atlantic air route, before the Middle East Air Force came into being, were British units in Egypt, Soviet forces in southern Russia, the American Tenth Air Force in India, and American and Chinese air units in China—all dependent

* The predecessor of the Ninth Air Force.


to some degree on the air transport line out of Miami. On 17 June, General George, in urging upon General Arnold the need for more transports, reported an accumulation of over 53 tons of cargo awaiting air shipment at Miami, while over 40 tons of supplies, as well as 91 passengers, had piled up at Natal.53 By 12 July, after the movement of supplies to Brereton had started, the backlog at Miami had increased to 138 tons and at Natal to 88 tons, exclusive of passengers.54 At this time there were twenty-four C-47 type transports on the Miami-Natal route, with one Pan American Clipper flying a regular but infrequent schedule. These planes together were capable of moving about 11 tons of cargo a day. On the overwater jump from Natal to Africa were five new B-24D's, four Clippers, and two Stratoliners, the whole having a daily capacity of nine tons. On the trans-African route from Accra to Cairo there were then operating forty-two C-47 type planes, capable of transporting 10 tons daily.55 Because new transports were slow in arriving, the backlogs continued to grow through the summer and into the fall. During August an officer from ATC headquarters found 250 tons of supplies awaiting shipment at Miami, 75 tons at Natal, and over 250 tons at Accra, where the backlog was increasing at the rate of 2½ tons a day. He did not exaggerate when he warned that "grave issues" depended on a more efficient air transport service to the Middle East.56

A chief cause of the congestion at Miami and other points was the shortage of transports, which could be overcome only as the production of new transport aircraft made it possible. Already the South Atlantic run enjoyed the highest priority on available transports. As with the late summer and early fall the first numbers of the long-awaited C-54's and C-87's were put into operation, the South Atlantic service continued to hold its priority. Although a few C-87's had to be sent to the Pacific, Pan American Airways inaugurated a four-engine schedule in August 1942 with four C-54's flying between Miami and Natal.57 The first C-87 was put to work on the South Atlantic run in October.58 By the end of 1942 the fleet operating on the transatlantic jump had been increased to twenty-six planes—nine C-54's, four C-87's, four B-24D's, five Stratoliners, and four Clippers. Their daily capacity was thirty tons, which compared most favorably with the nine tons in July.59

Meantime, ATC had been struggling with the problem of how to assure a more efficient employment of the available capacity. The


first critical point was the 36th Street Airport at Miami, where freight from all parts of the country collected and where ATC had only a small detachment, most of its members totally inexperienced in the handling of cargo. The first step was to activate on 7 July 1942 Air Intransit Depot No. 6, staffed by experienced freight handlers of the Air Service Command.60

As new screening procedures were established for the accumulating freight, it quickly became evident that much of it did not need to be shipped by air. For emphasis, it may be permissible to use an extreme example. In September the depot received, for shipment to B-25's grounded for lack of parts at Natal and Accra, two complete tables of replacement parts for a group, each table consisting of 250,000 parts weighing about 375,000 pounds. Actually, only a very few parts were needed to put the grounded aircraft in flying condition. Having ascertained what those parts were, the depot shipped the critical items by air and rerouted the remainder for water shipment.61

The depot also saved much cargo space by repackaging. A large proportion of the freight arriving at Miami at that time was packed in heavy wooden crates or other materials suitably designed for rail or water shipment but excessively heavy for air shipment. Materials were repacked for the most part in waterproof cardboard containers which were of light weight but at the same time gave sufficient protection against knocks encountered in transit, the weight of other packages, and the humidity and rain of the tropics. At one period during 1942, repacking was required on an estimated 40 per cent of the cargo arriving at Miami, with results calculated at a 30 per cent reduction in weight. The weight saved on some items was almost fantastic. A shipment of P-39 air scoops arriving at Miami weighed 128 pounds per unit, a figure reduced by repacking to 17 pounds. On another occasion, the depot received a package of four elevator assemblies having a total weight in excess of 1,000 pounds. When repacked in packages, each package weighed 108 pounds for a total saving of 588 pounds.62

As these experiences demonstrated, the operation of an air transport service demanded much more than the provision of a sufficient number of planes and crews or the efficient scheduling of their flights. One of the more difficult questions was that of determining priority for air shipment. Much of the backlog at Miami, exceeding at times


even the airport's capacity for storage, could be attributed to the understandable practice by factories and air depots of shipping supplies demanded during these first critical months to aerial ports of embarkation before getting a necessary priority for air shipment from ATC.63 The practice was forbidden by a War Department order of 27 November 1942, which prohibited the forwarding of cargo and personnel to ports of aerial embarkation for shipment overseas unless a priority had been previously granted by the ATC for such movement.64 At the time the order was issued, an estimated 75 per cent of the cargo reaching the Air Intransit Depot at Miami was without priority classification. This had been cut to 25 per cent by January 1943, and by July of that year to about 5 per cent.65

The War Department order gave the Air Transport Command full authority to establish better control over the volume of traffic moving from the interior to aerial ports, but this by no means solved the larger problem of determining which materials should go by air and what was the relative urgency of various shipments. The War Department had said merely that the Air Service Command and other shippers should not decide such questions. It was an ATC responsibility, but the priority officers at ATC headquarters still had to depend very largely on information received from the overseas theaters, where each commander tended to demand the highest priority for his own emergency needs and even, for safety's sake, to exaggerate the emergency. The War Department and AAF Headquarters provided helpful guidance on the relative merits of mounting claims on ATC space, but many decisions had to be made on a purely arbitrary basis until ATC had enough equipment to make a reasonably satisfactory solution possible. In August 1943 it was decided to allot to each theater commander a specific tonnage for movement by air to his area each month, leaving to him within the limit set full right to determine the priorities for movement of the individual items.66 Eight months later, in April 1944, the War Department ordered the setting-up of local priority boards within all the theaters to act as screening agencies to pass on all requests for air transportation and to set priorities for all incoming, outgoing, and intratheater traffic.67 To aid the theater commanders in carrying out their responsibilities, a number of ATC officers experienced in priorities evaluation were transferred to the theaters, where they assisted in setting up screening procedures and, in many cases, acted as executive officers of the boards.68


But all this lay far in the future as during the critical summer of 1942 men struggled all along the South Atlantic route to get the freight through and, in doing so, to learn a new job. Whatever questions of priority might be in debate at higher headquarters, there was one priority that quite clearly remained undisputed—that of the South Atlantic route to Africa over all others. When a few weeks later word came of the Allied landing in northwestern Africa, it became evident to all that this priority would stand for some time to come.


Contents * Previous Chapter (1) * Next Chapter (3)


1 Foreign Ferrying Deliveries, Jan.-June 1942, compiled by ATC Historical Br. Of the total of forty-four bombers ferried to the Southwest Pacific area by late February 1942, eight went by the Pacific route and thirty-six by way of the South Atlantic.

2 Hist., Caribbean Div., ATC, Part II, pp. 6-8; Part III, pp. 57-59.

3 Administrative Hist., Ferrying Command, 29 May 1941—30 June 1942, pp. 83-84.

4 Ibid., pp. 76-89.

5 Ltr., TAG to CG AAF Ferrying Command, 12 June 1942; TAG to CF ATC, 5 July 1942; Administrative Hist., ATC, June 1942—Mar. 1943, pp. 7-8.

6 Administrative Hist., ATC, June 1942—Mar. 1943, pp. 17-18; ltr., TAG to CG ATC, 19 Mar. 1943; ATC GO 4, 29 Mar. 1943.

7 Administrative Hist., ATC, June 1942—Mar. 1943, pp. 161-64, pp. 191-99.

8 Ltr., TAG to CG AAF Ferrying Command, 12 June 1942; ltr., TAG to CG ATC, 5 July 1942.

9 Hq. Africa-Middle East Wing, ATC GO 20, 14 Dec. 1943.

10 Ltr., Brig. Gen. H. L. George to Col. Paul E. Burrows, 31 July 1942; Hist., Caribbean Div., ATC, Part III, pp. 14-15.

11 Ltr., TAG to CG AAF et al., 8 June 1943; Hist., Caribbean Div., ATC, Part III, pp. 55-61.

12 Hist., Caribbean Div., ATC, Part III, pp. 95-140.

13 Ibid., pp. 77-94, 187-251.

14 Ibid., pp. 59, 95-96; ltr., Lt. Col. Frank H. Nightingale to CO Caribbean Wing, ATC, 20 Oct 1942; ltr., Lt. Col. William L. Plummer to CO Overseas Div., Office of the Inspector General, 4 Mar. 1943; ltr., Maj. James C. Jensen to Wing S-3 et al., 11 Sept. 1942; memo for CG ATC from Col. Richard H. Ballard, 23 Oct. 1942.

15 Hist., Caribbean Div., ATC, Part III, pp. 53-65, 96-97, 132-133; Part IV, 1-13.

16 Ltr., Brig. Gen. H. L. George to Col. Robert L. Walsh, 19 June 1942; Hist., South Atlantic Div., ATC, Part II, pp. 2-10.

17 Hist., South Atlantic Div., ATC, Part I, pp. 75-87. For the Airport Development Program, see Vol. I, 321.

18 Hist., South Atlantic Div., ATC, Part II, pp. 12, 19-20.

19 Ibid., Part I, pp. 31-44.

20 Ibid., pp. 12-20; Part II, pp. 12, 18-19, 22-25.

21 Ibid., Part I, pp. 1-44; PART III, pp. 136-202.

22 R&R, ACFC to C/AAF through C/AC, 8 Nov. 1941; memo for C/S from Brig. Gen. Carl Spaatz, 15 Dec. 1941; ltr., Sec. of War Henry L. Stimson to Sec. of State, 199 Dec. 1941.

23 Distances taken from USAF Pilot's Handbook, Africa, April 1949.

24 Hist., Wideawake Field, Ascension Island, ATC, p. 6.

25 Paraphrase of Mes. #568, London to Sec. of State, 7 Feb. 1942, Ann. "A" to JCS 161, 7 Dec. 1942; CCS 28/1, 23 Mar. 1942.

26 Draft of ltr., Sec. of War to Sec. of Navy, 15 Jan. 1942; interview with Col. Philip G. Kemp by Maj. Oliver La Farge, 18 July 1945; Hist., Wideawake Field, Ascension Island, ATC, pp. 7-8.

27 Rpt. on operations at Lawyer by Maj. F. J. Clarke, Corps of Engineers, 30 July 1942; Report on construction of Wideawake Field, incl. to ltr., Capt. Glenn L. Summers, 38th Eng. S-2 to Lt. Col. R. N. Genthon, 13 Oct. 1943; Hist. Wideawake Field, Ascension Island, ATC, pp. 8-24.

28 Ltr., James P. Chapin, Associate Curator of Birds, American Museum of Natural History, to Col. James A. Ronin, 24 Sept. 1942; Impact, I (Aug. 1943), 9-10; Louis N. Ridenour, "Wide-awakes through the Windscreen," Atlantic Monthly, CLXXIX (Feb. 1947), 108-9; History, Wideawake Field, Ascension Island, ATC, pp. 37-38.

29 Ltr., Maj. Gen. H. L. George to Dr. James B. Chapin, 27 Aug. 1942; ltr., Chapin to Ronin, 24 Sept. 1942; Impact, I (Aug. 1943), 9-10; Ridenour in Atlantic Monthly, CLXXIX (Feb. 1947), 108-9.

30 Hist., South Atlantic Div., ATC, Part II, pp. 2-10.

31 Ibid., pp. 205-12.

32 Ltr., Brig. Gen. H. L. George to Brig. Gen. Shepler W. Fitzgerald, 15 June 1942; ltr., Gen. G. C. Marshall to CG AAF et al., 16 June 1942; Hist., ATC in Central Africa and the Middle East, Part III, Vol. I, pp. 4-10.

33 Memo for Mr. Brownell from Brig. Gen. Robert Olds, 13 Feb. 1942; msg., Hardin to Ferrying Command, 22 Apr. 1942; ltr., Gen. G. C. Marshall to Louis A. Johnson, 8 July 1942; Lt. Col. George Kraigher, Reasons for Militarization of PAA-Africa Ltd., 29 July 1942, incl. to memo to Gen. George from Lt. Col. James H. Douglas, 4 Aug. 1942; msg. AM EW 394A, Hq. AMEW to CG ATC, 6 Aug. 1942; memo re PAA-Africa, 6 Aug. 1942, incl. to ltr. Franklin Gledhill to Lt. Col. James H. Douglas, 6 Aug. 1942; Hist., ATC in Central Africa and the Middle East, Part II, Vol. I, pp. 22-40.

34 Draft of msg., Arnold to Adler, 6 Feb. 1942; memo for Gen. Olds from Col. A. W. Vansman, 7 Feb. 1942; memo for C/AAF from Brig. Gen. Robert Olds, 9 Feb. 1942; directive memo for AAG from Lt. Col. Nathan Twining, 12 Feb. 1942; memo for Mr. Brownell from Brig. Gen. Robert Olds, 13 Feb. 1942; ltr., TAG to C/AAF et al., 18 Feb. 1942.

35 Memo re PAA-Africa, 6 Aug. 1942, incl. to ltr. Franklin Gledhill to Lt. Col. James H. Douglas, 6 Aug. 1942; ltr. Brig. Gen. Shepler W. Fitzgerald to Maj. Gen. Harold L. George, 23 Sept. 1942; memo to Mr. J. H. Smith, Jr., from Brig. Gen. S. W. Fitzgerald, 23 Sept. 1942; ltr., American Vice-Consul W. Stratton Anderson, Jr., to Accra Sec. of State, 30 Sept. 1942; ltr., Brig. Gen. S. W. Fitzgerald to Mr. J. H. Smith Jr., 26 Nov. 1942; ltr., Brig. Gen. S. W. Fitzgerald, 28 Nov. 1942 and 1st Ind., Fitzgerald to CG ATC, 16 Dec. 1942; memo to Col. George A. Brownell from Col. James H. Douglas, Jr., 21 July 1942; Hist., ATC in Central Africa and the Middle East, Part II, Vol. I, pp. 20-40.

36 Hist., Ferrying Division, ATC, III, 138-39.

37 Hist., ATC in Central Africa and the Middle East, Part II, Vol. II, pp. 135-36; Administrative Hist., North African Sector, ATC, pp 2-4.

38 Foreign Ferrying Division, Jan.-June 1942, compiled by ATC Hist. Br.

39 Foreign Ferrying Deliveries, July-Dec. 1942.

40 Foreign Ferrying Deliveries, Jan.-June 1942; Foreign Ferrying Deliveries, July-Dec. 1942.

41 Hist., Alaskan Div., ATC, II, 269-73.

42 Mas., TAG to CG to 3d AF, 24 June 1942; ltr., Brig. Gen. Hume Peabody to CG Ferrying Command, 25 June 1942; memo for Lt. Col. Mason from Oliver La Farge, 29 Dec. 1942; Hist., Caribbean Div., ATC, Part III, pp. 145-49; Vol. II, pp. 20, 25-26.

43 USAF Historical Studies: No. 108, the AAF in the Middle East: A Study of the Origins of the Ninth Air Force, pp. 75-77; Hist., 57th Fighter Gp.

44 USAF Historical Studies: No. 108, pp. 77-78; Hist., Caribbean Div., ATC, Part III, pp. 145-48; memo for Mason from La Farge, 29 Dec. 1942.

45 USAF Historical Studies: No. 108, pp. 79-80; Hist., 12th Bomb Gp.; Hist., Caribbean Div., ATC, Part III, pp. 148-49.

46 USAF Historical Studies: No. 108, pp. 77-79.

47 Foreign Ferrying Deliveries, July-Dec. 1942.

48 Col. S. T. More, Tactical Employment in the U.S. Army of Transport Aircraft and Gliders in World War II.

49 Foreign Ferrying Deliveries, July-Dec. 1942.

50 ATC Star. Control Div., Summary of Operations of ATC, Annual Chartbook, 1943, p. 15.

51 Ltr., Capt. Bruce Aitchison to CG ATC, 14 Aug. 1942; ltr., Capt. Bruce Aitchison to CG USAFIME, 3 Sept. 1942.

52 Ltr., Aitchison to CG ATC, 14 Aug. 1942.

53 Ltr. Brig. Gen. Harold L. George to CG AAF, 17 June 1942.

54 Ltr., George to Arnold, 12 July 1942, cited in memo for Lt. Col. Mason from Oliver La Fargo, 29 Dec. 1942.

55 Memo for Mason from La Farge, 29 Dec. 1942, Table I.

56 Memo for Lt. Col. P. N. Montaque from Capt. Bruce Aitchison, 9 Aug. 1942; ltr., Aitchison to CG ATC, 14 Aug. 1942; ltr., Aitchison to CH USAFIME, 3 Sept. 1942.

57 Wkly. Rpts. of Activities of ATC 14 Aug., 4 Sept., 1942; Lt. Col. Oliver La Farge, ATC Transport Aircraft in World War II: A Study of Types and Performance and Fleet Augmentation, pp. 18-19.

58 Wkly. Rpt. of Activities of ATC, 16 Oct. 1942.

59 Wkly. Rpt. of Activities of ATC, 1 Jan. 1943; memo for Mason from La Farge, 29 Dec. 1942, Table II.

60 Hist., Caribbean Div., ATC, Part II, pp. 227-28.

61 Ibid., pp. 233-43.

62 Ibid., pp. 164-65; Part III, p. 235.

63 Ibid., Part II, pp. 157-62; Part III, pp. 241-51; Administrative Hist., ATC, Mar. 1943—July 1944, pp. 178-79; ltr., Col. Charles W. Sullivan to Inspector General, 22 Jan. 1943; memo Regarding Inspector General's Survey of Embarkation, dated 22 Jan. 1943, 1 Mar. 1943.

64 WD Circ. 385, 27 Nov. 1942.

65 Hist., Caribbean Div., ATC, Part III, pp. 247-48.

66 Maj. Howard G. Kurtz, Jr., Air Transport Command Transport Command Transportation Control Plan, 20 Jan. 1943; Kurtz Transportation Control System, Proposed Directive, Forms and Graphic Presentation, 23 Feb. 1943; ltr., Maj. Gen. H. L. George to Wing and Division Commanders, 14 May 1943; ltr., George to Wing and Division Commanders, 1 June 1943; ltr., Col. L. G. Fritz to Wing Commanders, 21 June 1943; ltr., Col. R. W. Ireland to Wing and Division Commanders, 14 July 1943; ltr. Maj. Malcolm A. MacIntyre to Wing and Division Commanders, 6 Aug. 1943; ltr. .Col. L. G. Fritz to Wing and Division Commanders, 7 Aug. 1943; memo to Priorities & Traffic Officers, ATC, from Maj. Malcolm A. MacIntyre, 21 Aug. 1943; Lt. Col. Oliver La Farge, Control of Strategic Transport, 20 Oct. 1945; Administrative Hist., ATC, Mar 1943—July 1944, pp. 178-81; Hist., Caribbean Div., ATC, Part IV, pp. 41-45.

67 WD Circ. 130, 4 Apr. 1944.

68 Administrative Hist., ATC, Mar. 1943-July 1944, p. 182.

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