Hermes' Wings

History, Writing and Personal Musings

The War in Biafra

Biafra Mast

The following art is for a new research project, titled: The War in Biafra.

(Temporarily on hold until several other book projects are completed)

If you were a participant in the war, or were a witness in any way or form to the conflict, or happened to be in Nigeria during the critical years from 1964-70, worked for the Red Cross, the PR outfits or the churches, or even protested the conflict in the United States and Europe over continued British aid to Federalist Nigeria, or stood against the Biafrans, or simply have something to say, I am interested to hear your story. Drop me an e-mail by using the “contact me” page linked in the menu above or leave a message on this page.

All images are in medium resolution; click for larger picture.


What this is all about (a brief explanation): Look at world maps today and you will find no mention of the nation of Biafra. It has  suffered an attempt at being expunged from the consciousness of human history.

The country of Nigeria in West Africa, recently known for its e-mail scams, is at the center of this story. Essentially a British construct brought into a national identity without considering regional loyalties, Nigeria can best be identified as the unnatural union of three culturally disparate territories often at odds with each other — the largely-Muslim North, the traditionalist West and finally, the Christian East which in 1967, seven years after Nigerian Independence from Britain, christened itself as Biafra and broke from the Federation because of violent persecution. Biafra’s most numerous peoples are the Ibos, the so-called “Jews of Africa” because of their formidable intellect and perseverance but also as one historian recently argued, because of an ancient link to the tribes of Israel.

But the stunted potential of the Ibos has been written about in the past. One famous writer, Frederick Forsyth, was so committed to Biafran cause that he wrote one propagandized book on the matter and later published a bestselling novel about mercenaries who conquer a new African country for the Ibos (remember The Dogs of War?).

Nigeria, incensed by the Biafran secession, engaged in a police action which soon transformed into a full blown war, fought not only in part over oil in Biafra, but also over personal ambitions and British interests in policy and investment — reasons which gave the world its first prototypical image of the starving African child, and the combatants the ignominious honor of conducting the first modern war in Africa. It was also a war between two English-trained African armies, internationalized by mercenaries and adventurers, gun-runners, journalists, pilots, aid workers, the clergy and the World Council of Churches, who as the months wore on stepped in to aid the starving and a country.

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A Note on the Process: All art was drawn using Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator and are in the guise above for purely illustrative purposes on this site. The map, composed at 1:1,000,000 scale, took about 47 hours of work, spread over 5 days. It survived to see completion despite my working while on a three-day visit to a friend’s house at the other end of the state, in a house packed with overzealous little kids and hyperactive dogs. The version of the map posted is at medium-low resolution. (11-02-2011)

22 responses to “The War in Biafra

  1. Friedrich Plechinger February 2, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Very interesting and can´t wait to read the book.
    I am a pilot myself, flying with a B747 400 for a Cargo Operation and many time in Africa.
    I heard of a person called Hank Wharton once, who was also involved in the Biafran Aviation Scene, but I guess more weapon dealing than humanitarian flying.
    Can I buy this book or order it somewhere?
    best regards,

    Freddy Plechinger

    • Akhil Kadidal February 2, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      Yes, Hank Wharton was a German-American who ran as many guns as he did humanitarian supplies. He made a tidy profit until the Red Cross and the Church aid organizations got their act together and formed their own airlines – effectively cutting him out of the picture. In all, he was a pretty colorful character despite his dubious persona. But of course, as you may know, Wharton is only part of the story. During my research, I’ve discovered information and events that are simply astounding in their reality. Truly epic stuff.

      I’d be happy to sell you a copy once the book is published, but at the moment I’m still in the process of writing it. I still require at least three or four months to finish the manuscript, but as I intend to take a hiatus soon (because of unavoidable personal commitments), that time-frame will undoubtedly extend.

      In the meantime, allow me to recommend another book: “Shadows – Airlift and Airwar in Biafra and Nigeria,” by Michael I. Draper (1999) – a good book with a lot of meat to it in the form of tables and photographs, even thought it lacks some of the richness of narrative which normally elevates history into the realm of greatness. Also, I have an acquaintance (whom I found during the course of my research), who is preparing to publish his memoirs in the next few weeks. He worked for UNICEF and Church Aid during the war and has some very interesting stories to tell – including a run-in with a particularly soul-less American mercenary in Biafra. I believe his book is well worth the read. Naturally, I would be happy to put you in touch with him.

      Finally, if you don’t mind my asking, which cargo carrier do you fly for and to which African countries? I’m curious as hell.

      • David Davis May 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm

        Interested in the book. Hope you are able to complete it. My father, now 91, was a Baptist missionary during the war and worked at a hospital in Joinkrama after fleeing from Enugu, Port Harcourt, and Owerri. He eventually flew out on one of the relief flights from Uli piloted by Count von Rosen. I have some oral histories of his time there which I hope to write about in the future.

  2. Mark Mahaffey December 4, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    This looks amazing. Is is available yet?

    • Akhil Kadidal December 4, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      No, not yet. Still conducting interviews and some research. I can only suggest that you check back in a few months.

      Thanks for your interest.

      • Nda Uko August 26, 2013 at 12:58 am

        Akhil,
        I was in Biafra as a kid, saw the war, knew the combatants on both sides, and have interviewed nearly all the key players. Let me know if you want to exchange notes and contacts. I’m trying to reach Ares Klootwyk, the great airman.

  3. tinpotrevolutionary April 17, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    Most inspiring work!! Congratulations.

  4. Ares Klootwyk June 2, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Hello Akhil, I googled my name, and your site came out on the top with my name as the Tag archive. A surprise, as Biafra is ages ago, and I am long retired from flying and living back in South Africa. If your book is not yet edited / published, I would be pleased to assist you with details, reminiscences, photos, [ most of which Mike Draper has used ] should you so wish.

    • Herb Howe January 9, 2014 at 3:53 pm

      Dear Mr. Klootwyk,
      I am a retired African studies professor from Georgetown University (Washington, DC) and have had a long-standing interest in the Nigerian civil war (I was a teacher in Nigeria in ’66 and ’67). I’m gathering information on Count von Rosen, including how other pilots during the war regarded his MFI operations in 1969. I’d appreciate any reflections by you.
      Thanks

  5. Ubong Essien Umoh October 2, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Please Akhil kindly send a mail to ubongessienumoh@gmail.com when the book is ready.
    Ares, I am carrying out my Ph.D research on Mercenaries in the Biafran War. Can you assist me with some information? My email is ubongessienumoh@gmail.com.
    Thank you.

  6. Hakan Halen February 18, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    I worked as a radio operator on the island of Sao Tome in the late 1970s and until the war ended in January 1970. Our radio station was located in the tower building at the airport and we had contact with radio stations at airfields inside Biafra. We communicated on shortwave via both telegraphy and speech.

    • Nda Uko February 18, 2014 at 10:34 pm

      Hi Hakan,
      Fascinating! I have a few questions. What was the name of your station? Was it part of the airlift? Who did it belong to: Sao Tome or Biafra?
      Thank you.
      Ndaeyo

      • Hakan Halen February 19, 2014 at 2:49 pm

        Hi Ndaeyo,
        We had two radios at Sao Tomé. One PYE 125T SSB/CW Transceiver as back up and one Collins KWM-2A SSB/CW Transceiver. The radios belonged to Nordchurchaid (Danchurchaid Denmark, Kirkens Noedhjaelp Norway, Lutherhjaelpen Sweden and U-landshjaelpen Finland). Our callsign at Sao Tomé was CAS and at the end of the war we had contact with three stations in Biafra. CAW at Ubulu, CAB at Uli and CAU at Owerri. They used the PYE 125T SSB/CW Transceiver.
        Kind regards,
        Hakan

      • Akhil Kadidal February 19, 2014 at 9:41 pm

        Excellent information, Hakan. Thanks for sharing with the community at large.

      • Nda Uko February 21, 2014 at 10:57 pm

        Illuminating info, Hakan. Thank you ever so much!

  7. Anonymous September 28, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Ask Mr.Jakob Riegler, he lives in Innsbruck or nearby, he was the maintainance chief in São Tome for JCA. He is often named in the book “Shadows” from Michael Draper and Frederick Forsyth(Hikoko Publikation). Michael Ugboma,representative of the secessionist of Biafra lives in Rome,Italy.

    • Akhil Kadidal September 29, 2014 at 12:36 am

      Hello Peter,

      Thanks for the information. I have a copy of Draper’s excellent book “Shadows” and thus, familiar with Mr. Riegler’s role in the airlifts. I was not aware of his current whereabouts, however. You wouldn’t happen to have any contact information for Mr Ugboma, would you?

      Kindly shoot me an email if you should. Thanks.

  8. Bryan Butrum September 29, 2014 at 7:09 am

    Interested in your work on this and hope you get it published soon . I’ve just started reading ” The Biafra Story ” and would love to get a copy of ” Shadows ” , although the cost is prohibitively high right now. I’m particularly interested in the characters who flew these planes , as well as their opposites on the Nigerian side. This should be a movie.

    • Akhil Kadidal September 30, 2014 at 1:13 am

      Thanks for the interest Bryan. I’m afraid this project is on hold as I am trying to wrap up my book on the siege of Malta, and preparing for other tasks.

      However, most of the research for “The War in Biafra” is complete – a narrative which encapsulates as divergent a collection of people as it speaks about the human condition in times of war. You’re right. This could easily be a movie. After all, where else would you find so many quixotic characters? People such as the Swedish idealist Count von Rosen who organized and led a Biafran air strike force, the heroic British mercenary Major “Taffy” Williams who by all accounts, was a little crazy; the celebrated poet, Christopher Okigbo, whose beautiful hill-top home was so close to the frontlines that he joined the Biafran defense and paid with his life, and the Nigerian commando general Benjamin “Black Scorpion” Adekunle, who like a great actor, played a role, donning on the mask of ruthlessness and mercy when it suited the situation. Of course, the Biafrans couldn’t have held out for as long as it did without the sacrifices of the people in the International Red Cross and Joint Church Aid.

      It’s very easy romanticize war, and certainly the Biafran conflict had a lot of romantic qualities. But there was also much which was terrible and atrocious. It was also a conflict complicated by politics, and its after-effects continue to reverberate in Nigerian society.

      But don’t count on Hollywood to make a movie about it anytime soon. It’s Africa.

  9. Bryan Butrum October 7, 2014 at 7:02 am

    True. Get Brad Pitt and you make money.

    How’s about some sketches of Biafran Air vets ? That would be cool.

    • Akhil Kadidal October 7, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      Yeah, I’ve considered a few sketches/detailed watercolors of that part of Nigeria, not so much of war veterans, but of the land.

      But as I’ve said, I’m in the process of wrapping up my manuscript on Malta, and I’m not even sure anymore that I want to publish my “Malta” art. Some of it is fine, but it all detracts from the central process of research and writing. Couple this with the fact that I’m a full-time journalist, well… there just aren’t enough hours in a day. I’d like to return to the Biafra project, maybe in 2016. I’ll consider any art then.

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