The Nigerian Civil war otherwise known as the Biafran war, (6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970), was a war fought to counter the secession of Biafra from Nigeria. The Biafrans were being pummeled by the newly delivered Ilyushin Il-28 and a MiG-17 of the Nigerian Air force, both aircraft causing massive devastation to the Biafran troops and civilians.
During the duration of the conflict, both side made use of mercenaries heavily but a more notable hired gun was Count Carl Gustaf Ericsson von Rosen a Swedish aviator and mercenary pilot. He flew relief missions in a number of conflicts as well as combat missions for Biafran rebels. He proposed a grand plan of using light aircraft like the MFI-9 to support ground troops and for other roles such as Reconnaissance and food aid drops. Lynn Garrison a lead Biafran pilot describes his experiences and hopes while fighting for the Biafran side.
Lynn Garrison (born April 1, 1937) is a Canadian pilot and political adviser. He was a Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot in the 403 City of Calgary Squadron, before holding jobs as a commercial pilot, film producer, director and mercenary. Later he became a political adviser in Haiti, and is now an author. With regard to flying, Garrison is known for his oft-repeated comment, "If it has fuel and noise, I can fly it."
During the Nigerian Civil War (1967–1970), Garrison joined a group of mercenaries fighting for the Biafrans in their effort to create an independent state. In May 1969, Carl Gustaf von Rosen formed a squadron of five Malmö MFI-9 MiniCOIN small piston-engined aircraft (armed with rocket pods and machine guns) known as the Babies of Biafra, which attacked and destroyed Nigerian jet aircraft on the ground and delivered food aid. Garrison coordinated the attacks, destroying an Ilyushin Il-28 bomber and a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 fighter aircraft. He also introduced a supply-dropping procedure (learned in northern Canada). A bag of grain was enclosed in a larger bag before dropping. When the load hit the ground the inner bag would rupture, while the outer bag contained the contents. Many lives were saved through air drops using this simple concept... (
Tell us a little about yourself Sir.
At the moment, I am in Haiti where I have been involved, one way or another, since 1980 when I came here to do a film on Voodoo. I have been very active in this nation’s affairs, including the time when I lived with their military (1991 – 1994) as the bridge between the American embassy and Grande Quartier General during the embargo. I was strategic advisor to General Raoul Cedras, the COMCHIEF.
I have a number of projects that I would like to see work here. One is HARP – Haitian Aerial Reforestation Project -that would see tree seeds scattered with aircraft. The aircraft could also be used for malaria control.
How did you meet Count Carl Gustaf von Rossen?
Since the age of 17, I have always been involved with aviation and still own the Fokker Triplane that starred in the 1965 film The Blue Max. My son has it in Oregon now.
JAMES BARING/LORD REVELSTOKE: One of my associates was James Baring, of the Baring Bank family. James was an ex-RAF pilot. His father was Lord Revelstoke. James would take the title upon his father’s death.
James owned a 260 civil model that we flew off my grass field outsid of Dublin, Ireland. He and I saw the potential of the Marchetti SF-260 as a military COIN aircraft and convinced the manufacturer of this. The SF-260 Warrior was a result of our proposal. We were also pressing Marchetti for the development of a tandem-seated fighter version, but this did not advance.
We used his civil 260 to practice low-level attack missions around the Irish countryside.
Andre Dehlamende controlled Marchetti distribution from his facility in Gosselies, Belgium. Andre was deeply involved wit a variety of paramilitary projects in Africa. We delivered some SF-260s to Rhodesia during the Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Others went to Singapore.
The Barings owned the Island of Lambey, off the coast of Ireland and had an aviation company LAMBAIR which was the Marchetti dealer for Ireland. James and I used LAMBAIR to sell 12 Marchetti SF-260s to the Irish Air Corps.
How did you come to fly for the Biafran Air Force?
Lord Revelstoke was a friend of Ojukwu’s father. James and I met Ojukwu through friends who had attended Sandhurst with him.
My article will reveal some basic elements that have never been discussed. The idea of small aircraft, in small wars, was generated by me during the very early sixties in California and Biafra saw the elements fall together because of my exposure to Von Rosen.
There was a marked lack of combat skills, among the pilots. It is one thing to get up and down. It is an entirely different matter to fly and fire machine guns or rockets with any certainty of hitting anything, without a lot of training and experience. Same goes for dropping bombs. Anyone can salvo a bomb load, but hitting within a useful distance is something else.
Frederick Forsyth was in Biafra, during the conflict. He went on to write Dogs of War, plus The Biafra Story, from his experiences. We both trained in the RCAF, under the NATO Plan, at the same time. And, during the seventies, he lived off the end of my runway, in Ireland, when I was doing feature films.
What was the true state of the Biafran and Nigerian Air Force then?
It was David against Goliath in Biafra. Unfortunately we had the slingshot and Nigeria had Shell/BP. As you get older you realize how naïve it is to believe in Justice, or simply fairness.
I don't think people realize the timing of the conflict, so soon after Independence, or the fact that the Nigerian Air Forces was in its infancy. We trained some of the early pilots in Canada.
What inspired the Biafran Baby concept? Arming light aircraft for attack missions.
It really doesn’t matter now, but history credits Count Gustav von Rosen as being the overall creator of the Biafra Babie s concept. This was not the case. He was the final initiator for the acquisition of the 5 surplus MFI-9s in Sweden, after I had outlined our concept of armed light aircraft, operating off roads, unprepared fields…..etc. To Ojukwu. Von Rosen possessed the Swedish contacts through which to purchase the aircraft.
Von Rosen had no real concept of the dynamics involved with accurate, low-level rocket attacks or, for that matter, low-level navigation. It is one thing to fly with radio compasses and altitude and quite another to operate at 100 feet with nothing more than a map in your lap and a course in your mind. Things happen very fast and one small mistake can spoil everything.
John Fairey, of the Fairey Aircraft family, was also one of my film pilots. He had contacts within the French aviation industry and was instrumental in acquiring French government support for supply of MATRA rocket pods and rockets.
James Baring’s banking contacts helped with some funding, although this upset his father. The UK government/Shell/BP were firmly behind the Nigerian government and Lord Revelstoke almost had a stroke. Lord Revelstoke was in charge of a European commission to stamp out “barter deals.” He was also upset when I proposed Marchetti provide Ireland the SF-260s in exchange for potatoes, Irish whiskey, mutton and Aron knit sweaters, since the Irish government was short of funds.
The entire Biafran effort was a sort of “old boys network” with pilots from all over Europe and America lending a hand.
One of my directors, Bud Mahurin, got the USAF leadership interested. They offered the loan of 4 Boeing C-97 freighters to create an air bridge into Biafra. At the time Mahurin was a senior level executive in the Apollo Project with North American-Rockwell. Bud was a War Two/Korea fighter ace.
Russ O’Quinn would coordinate this project for them. Russ was an ex-USAF pilot who had gone into test work after getting out of the air force. Flew with Douglas for 10 years. He finally set up his own company FLIGHT TEST RESEARCH as the first civilian group of its type. I sold him a pair of Canadair F-86s MK6 for his operation.
I was asked to do an on-site survey to check the feasibility. Russ’s team would fly over 1000 sorties in support of the relief effort. He used a lot of pilots drawn from Air America. I think John Lear, Bill Lear’s son, an Air America pilot, flew some missions for Russ O’Quinn, and also Hank Warton, a questionable character who really took a lot of money and worked “against” the Biafrans.
I operated out of Ireland for 11 years and shared a semi-detached residence with their Prime Minister, Jack Lynch, during that period.
Please tell us about the famous raids against the Nigerian Air Force air fields at Port Harcourt, Enugu, Benin and other small airports.
During the Biafran War a DC-6 operated from Shannon, Ireland to San Tome with food and relief supplies. It was flown by a guy named Lynch, who had a brother, Father Lynch with CONCERN. It would fly into ULI, or other spots, to drop of the load. Return to San Tome, pick up weapons, and fly these into Biafra. It would then return to Ireland for another load, sponsored by the Catholic group CONCERN.
I led the first 4 attacks at very low-level, with some success. The 5th attack was to be against troop concentrations and I declined this mission.We had some vocal debates about committing the aircraft against targets of low-value.