The First Secretary of the British Embassy (Wright) to the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)


Dear Mr. Berle: You may recall that towards the end of April you discussed with Sir Ronald Campbell a request previously put forward by this Embassy on behalf of His Majesty’s Government for landing rights for flying boats on the British Overseas Airways Corporation at Fisherman’s Lake in Liberia, and that you referred in this connection to the views of the United States military authorities on certain aspects of the services performed by British Overseas Airways [Page 716] Corporation in West Africa, and on the advantages, in terms of increased pay load, which could be expected if the facilities in question were granted.

I now write to inform you that, in view of the possibility of using Abidjan for the purpose in view, His Majesty’s Government do not wish for the present to press their request for facilities at Fisherman’s Lake.

At the same time, in view of the fact that some of the statements which you conveyed to Sir Ronald Campbell during the interview seem to be based on a misunderstanding of the status of British Overseas Airways Corporation, and on the nature and purpose of its operations in Africa, I take this opportunity of transmitting herewith two memoranda, the first63 of which is a statement by the Permanent Under Secretary of State for Air on the relations, financial and other, of British Overseas Airways Corporation with His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, and the second64 deals in detail with the specific points raised in regard to the Corporation’s activities in Africa.

Yours sincerely

Michael Wright

The following is a list of statements by United States military authorities regarding the operations of British Overseas Airways Corporation in Africa as reported by Mr. Berle of the State Department in conversation with Sir Ronald Campbell, together with the observations of His Majesty’s Government thereon.

First Statement—“It does not appear that the B.O.A.C. land planes are primarily carrying military cargo or personnel but that they are largely interested in commercial passengers and freight.”

With rare exceptions (see observations on statement No. 3), traffic in the United Kingdom–West Africa and trans-African services of B.O.A.C. is allocated by the Air Transport Priorities Boards in London or in Cairo, who give space only to official passengers travelling on business connected with the war effort, and to official freight. Such official passengers or freight are not, of course, necessarily military, and a civilian passenger may well be much more important than a given military passenger from the point of view of the war effort.

Second Statement—“At Kano in Nigeria there are said to be 150 tons of spare parts for British aircraft awaiting transport, which are never picked up by B.O.A.C. planes.”

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His Majesty’s Government are, of course, aware of the large accumulation of dead load awaiting onward conveyance at Kano. Recently the accumulation has been considerably reduced by the intensification of Ensign operations between Khartoum and Kano and by R.A.F. Dakota shuttles. But the presence of an accumulation of cargo at Kano should not prevent B.O.A.C. from endeavouring to clear heavy loads on the through route from Lagos to the Middle East.

Third Statement—“The passengers carried are reported to include Syrian traders.”

As stated in the observations on Statement No. 1, exceptions are occasionally made to the rule that only official passengers are carried on B.O.A.C. aircraft. It is sometimes possible to take on a non-priority passenger either on a lightly loaded intermediate section of the route or in the event of a priority passage being suddenly thrown up at very short notice. The Syrian traders referred to in this statement are cases in point; such traders have been carried from Khartoum to Lagos and on to Accra, as the B.O.A.C. services are lightly loaded in the westbound direction and there is occasionally capacity to spare on this stage, after official demands have been met.

Fourth Statement—“At [Maiduguri]65 on several occasions members of the R.A.F. have applied to the Air Transport Command for transportation to the next stop on the B.O.A.C. line, this taking place on the same day that the B.O.A.C. was running a plane carrying an almost total load of civilian passengers”.

The fact that there has been no capacity available for military personnel whose journeys originate at Maiduguri is not surprising. There is no excess capacity out of Maiduguri and therefore sectional traffic originating there can only be carried at the expense of through load. As regards transportation of civilian passengers, see the observations on Statement No. 1.

Fifth Statement—Doubt is thrown on the statement made in a letter from Mr. Hayter to Mr. Alling of the State Department dated March 23rd to the effect that “the ability to use Fisherman’s Lake would improve the pay load of both Sunderland and Boeing type flying boat by over 2000 lbs. in each case …” and it is suggested that the saving would in fact amount to only a little more than 1000 lbs.

An analysis of the loading table for Boeing type flying boats on the West African route shows that the pay load for the Bathurst–Lagos section would be increased by no less than 2,722 lbs. if the flight were interrupted at Fisherman’s Lake for refuelling. See attached table.66

  1. Not printed; it explained that the B.O.A.C. was in no sense a commercial undertaking but was operated as a service of the British Government.
  2. The enclosure printed below.
  3. Brackets appear in the original.
  4. Not printed.