AF files, lot 56 D 418, “Roberts Field (Weather) 1952–53”

Memorandum by the Ambassador to Liberia ( Dudley ) to the President 1

In 1942 the United States Government entered into an agreement with the Republic of Liberia to build and operate an airfield for the duration of the war and six months thereafter.2

Since 1945 and the physical termination of the war, the Air Force through the Military Air Transport Service has operated this field on a contract basis with private American companies. Pan American World Airways is the present operator. However, for budgetary reasons the Air Force is now questioning whether its present MATS requirement at the field is sufficient justification to continue the contract with Pan American now due for renewal. The present contract has, therefore, been extended sixty days from the termination date on June 30, 1952 to permit reexamination of the whole problem.

Apart from any present military significance this field may now hold, we believe it to be a vital tool, together with the free port of [Page 486] Monrovia, in implementing our present foreign policy towards Liberia, in particular the Mutual Assistance program, which is geared to assist Liberia in raising its economic and political standards. This program is primarily accomplished through the furnishing of technical assistance to match in dollars funds set aside by the Liberian Government for local services, capital investments, maintenance costs, equipment and supplies.

Roberts Field, the only field in Liberia capable of handling international traffic, is now part and parcel of the economic life of the country. Liberia, in my judgment, is incapable of running this operation without more time under our assistance program to so prepare itself. The part played by Roberts Field in permitting easy access to Liberia from overseas is of real importance. Approximately 1,000 Americans are now in Liberia, many of whom depend on air transport. In addition to Pan American World Airways, French and Portuguese commercial aircraft call at the field.

Furthermore, in view of the extensive private American interests in Liberia, including: Firestone, with an 85,000 acre rubber plantation and 300 American personnel; Republic Steel, as majority stockholder in the Liberia Mining Company, exporting 1,000,000 tons of high-grade iron ore annually; the American shipping firms serving West Africa; the Liberia Development Company’s cocoa project, etc., it would seem unwise to permit this field to go by default either to an incompetent local operating team or, as may be the case, to French operation, which is a possibility. This eventuality would be particularly unfortunate in view of the fact that the Air Force also now has a highly classified research project at the field whose personnel are engaged in work of vital interest to the security of the United States.3

The cost to the United States of operating Roberts Field has been approximately $275,000 per year. Some repairs are now needed on the runways and existing facilities, probably necessitating an additional $200,000 for one year only. Pan American has indicated a willingness to add additional facilities which will probably include a hotel for transients.

In view of the excellent position of American companies operating in Liberia, the favorable balance of trade and our policy objectives towards this country, I strongly recommend the continuation of this operation by the United States Air Force as part of our overall policy for this area of the world.

  1. Dudley had met with President Truman on July 9, and it was at his suggestion that he submitted this memorandum justifying continued operation of Roberts Field by the U.S. Government. Truman thanked the Ambassador on Aug. 9 and referred the memorandum on that same date to Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett with the comment that Dudley’s suggestions were “well worth serious consideration.” For this latter correspondence, consult the Truman Library, Truman papers, PSF file.
  2. The Defense Area Agreement of Mar. 31, 1942 (Executive Agreement Series 275).
  3. In his telegram 332 to Washington of Mar. 27, 1952, Ambassador Dudley referred to a “special project” of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) to which the Liberian Government had given its consent. (711.56376/3–2752) Subsequently in his telegram 514 of June 15, 1953, he referred to project B–145 and the possibility of seeking the permission of the Liberian Government for the persons involved in it to remain if and when the Air Force pulled out. (711.56376/6–1553)