On May 17, 1942, Michael Gibson leaves Takoradi for Egypt, a trip lasting until May 25th aboard a C-53 Skytrooper.
The Takoradi Route
When finally embracing the allied cause, Brazil would then give a decisive contribution to the war effort with the cession of several naval and air bases along its lengthwise coast. This fact had overwhelming importance. The military complex erected in Natal, with the largest airbase ever built outside USA, served as a springboard to launch thousands of airplanes across the South Atlantic bound for Africa, to Egypt through the legendary TAKORADI route, as far as Russia through Middle East and Iran and even to the Pacific theater across the jungle in India and Burma. When Task Force 3 began its operations in South Atlantic waters, on March 24th 1941, the bases for the establishment of US Navy in Brazil had already been set upon.
These well conceived blueprints were taken into effect after mutual agreements signed in 1940 and 1941. Back in November 1940, the US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, drafted a contract with Pan American Airways, the major and pioneer of American aviation, through its airport corporation branch, to perform the studies aiming to built and enlarge 55 airports in South America, with special focus on those located in Brazilian coastline.
For that urgent task the chosen was the chief of United States Engineering Dept. ADP (Airport Development Program). Brazilian airports extended alongside its extensive 2000 mile coastline, ranging from the dense jungle in northern Amapa, bordering the coast eastward to Belem, Igarape Açu, and São Luis, across the northern deserted coast, to Fortaleza, and turning abruptly southwards at Natal to Recife, Maceio, Salvador, Caravelas, Vitoria and Santa Cruz 20 mile south of Rio de Janeiro.
Takoradi route began actually in US when American aircrafts were ferried across Caribbean, northern South America, South Atlantic narrows and Africa. The longest hop was the lonely and perilous flight across the South Atlantic from Natal in Northeastern Brazil, where USAAF built in 1942 the largest airbase outside US territory. Americans B- 25, B- 24, fighters as well as transports made their way to Takoradi, Gold Coast.
From that tiny point in Western Africa they leaped to the first staging post Lagos, 380 miles away. From Lagos Nigeria to Kano over dense jungle still in Nigeria 520 miles over equatorial forest. Between Kano and El Geneina already in Sudanese barren desert plains some 960 miles with refueling stops at Maiduguri in the heart of Africa, El Fasher, El Obeid, on the long way this time facing typical sandstorms of East Central Africa, until reaching Khartoum the Sudanese capital.
The journey proceeded this time along the majestic sinuous Nile river 520 miles through strategic refueling points at Sueir, and stretching out 560 long miles to Wadi Halfa, Luxor and finally after five days over the perilous jungle and thunderstorms of Equatorial Africa, barrens and desolate landscapes of the semi deserted southern Sudan, then came in sight, the greatness of the pyramids, the historical intriguing city of Cairo, the outpost of Middle East Command.
Takoradi route was one gigantic ferry flight operation in the WWII. More than 5000 aircrafts of several types were ferried across that route from 1940 to 1943. The British RAF, constituted a recovery team, a special skilled group of engineers and technicians to recover crashed aircraft along that route. Tractors and trailers specially designed were precious tools in the hands of those men. Many aircraft crashed in the desert due to running out of fuel or overdue but when they were spotted soon the rescue teams were despatched and soon the crewmembers and plane were saved.
Despite the state of any aircraft they were dismantled and sent back to the RAF maintenance service erected along the route. There the team worked hard to replace damaged parts and put the aircrafts ready to fly again. For those severely damaged, the useful parts were salvaged for re use. The Royal Air Force was in so severe shortage of supply parts that engineers were able to build a new one aircraft from the remains of 2 or 3 others. A truly arise from ashes were in progress.
A truck loaded with one Hurricane arrives at the base. There the maintenance will rebuild the same and put it back to fly to Egypt.
A crashed twin engined Blenheim awaits the recovery team. Soon it will be one new aircraft ready to go to the war front.
View of the port of Takoradi. From there hundreds of ships were loaded with vital raw materiel bound for allied ports.
Several RAF aircrafts seen in one convoy marching to Cairo where they will be assembled and despatched to the combat area. Some of them were involved in accidents and damaged during the long journey. The British teams worked hard to restore them all.
One RAF aircraft is seen being uncrated at Takoradi. Roughly 6,000 airplanes flew across the desert to Cairo their final destination.
Picture shows Takoradi aerodrome where thousands of British planes gathered to undertake the long journey across the Central Africa toward to their bases in Egypt.
A Royal Air Force advanced party of twenty-four officers and men arrived at Takoradi on 14th July 1940. It was led by Group Captain H. K. Thorold, who, after his recent experiences as Maintenance Officer-in-Chief to the British Air Force in France, was unlikely to be dismayed by any difficulties in Africa. Thorold rapidly confirmed the selection of Takoradi, then set his little band to work on organizing such necessary facilities as roads, gantries, hangars, workshops, storehouses, offices and living accommodation. This activity was not confined to the port. Thorold was also charged with turning the primitive landing-grounds into efficient staging posts and perfecting wireless communication along the whole route.
It was certainly a route over which the wireless would come in useful. The first stage, 378 miles of humid heat diversified by sudden squalls, followed the palm-fringed coast to Lagos, with a possible halt at Accra. Next came 525 miles over hill and jungle to an airfield of red dust outside Kano, after which 325 miles of scrub, broken be occasional groups of mud houses, would bring the aircraft to Maiduguri. A stretch of hostile French territory some 650 miles wide, consisting largely of sand, marsh, scrub and rocks, would then beguile the pilot’s interest until he reached El Geneina, in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Here, refreshed with the knowledge that he had covered nearly half of his journey, he would contemplate with more equanimity the 200 miles of mountain and burning sky which lay between him and El Fasher.
A brief refuelling halt, with giant cacti providing a pleasing variety in the vegetation, and in another 560 miles the wearied airman might brave the disapproving glances of immaculate figures in khaki and luxuriate for a few hours in the comforts of Khartoum. Thence, with a halt at Wadi Haifa, where orange trees and green gardens contrast strangely with the desert, and a house built by Gordon and used by Kitchener shelters the passing traveller, he had only to fly down the Nile a thousand miles to Abu Sueir. When he got there his airmanship would be doubtless be all the better for the flight. No so, however, his aircraft.
The main Royal Air Force party of some 350 officers and men, including 25 ferry-pilots, joined Group Captain Thorold at Takoradi on 24th August. Small maintenance parties were sent out to the staging posts, B.O.A.C. navigators were enrolled for the initial flights, and B.O.A.C. aircraft were chartered to return the ferry-pilots from Abu Sueir. It was also laid down as a general principle that single-seat fighters should be led by a multi-engine aircraft with a full crew. With these preliminaries arranged, the first consignment of crated aircraft—Six Blenheim IV’s and six Hurricanes—docked at Takoradi on 5th September.
It was followed the next day by thirty Hurricanes on the carrier Argus. These were complete except for their main-planes and long-range tanks. No time was lost. The Port Detachment of Thorold’s unit quickly unloaded the aircraft and transported them to the airfield. There the Aircraft Assembly Unit took over, exercising much ingenuity to make up for the unexpected absence of various items, including the humble but essential split-pin. Last-minute difficulties like the collapse of the main runway on 18th September were rapidly overcome by hard work, and on 19th September the first convoy—one Blenheim and six Hurricanes—stood ready on the tarmac for the flight to Egypt.
By now French Equatorial Africa had joined de Gaulle, and that pilots had the consolation of knowing that they would be flying all the way over territory which was diplomatically well disposed, if unfriendly in other respects. The Blenheim roared down the runway, climbed and circled, to be joined in a few moment by its six charges. Seven days later, on 26th September, one Blenheim and five Hurricanes reached Abu Sueir.