Memorandum by the Director of the Office of African Affairs (Utter) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Byroade)



  • The Problem of Financing Roberts Field


To find means by which Roberts Field can be maintained and operated during the remainder of FY 1953 and FY 1954.


The Government of Liberia is unable to finance the cost of operating the field.

The Air Force does not wish to continue support of Roberts through the MATS contract with PAA for the remainder of FY 1953 unless assurances can be given that sources other than military appropriations will be sought to continue the financial support in FY 1954.

a) There is no military requirement for Roberts which justifies the expenditures necessary, i.e.:

$320,000 operating costs
211,000 runway repair
$531,000 Total

The Air Force appreciates the broad considerations involved in the continuance of Roberts Field and is therefore willing to carry the program in FY 1953 including runway repair on the basis of (2) above.
The contract between PAA and MATS expires on October 31, and PAA is unwilling to accept a further extension unless assured ways will be found to carry on during FY 1953 and FY 1954.
Unless urgent runway repairs are undertaken within the next few weeks, services to Roberts will be terminated.

Justification for Continued US Support of Roberts Field:

Continued US Government support of the field is justified in view of the following:

Liberia is the only independent sovereign state in “black” Africa. The circumstances surrounding the founding of Liberia and its economic [Page 496] and political development since that date have been characterized by a particularly close relationship with and dependence upon the United States. United States policy toward Africa, as exemplified by the Liberia “experiment” is closely observed by the Colonial Powers. Powerful elements in the western European countries fear the success of the Liberian nation in view of the impact this success might have upon the relationships between the metropolitan governments, private interests and possessions in Africa. Withdrawal of US support of Liberia or the cutting off of direct communications between the United States and Liberia will most certainly be viewed as evidence that Liberia is no longer important to the United States.
American business interests in Liberia, primarily rubber and iron ore, are important to us and to Liberia, The success of the development of Liberian resources through private US capital has been outstanding. It offers concrete evidence of the advantages of development with private investment capital as opposed to investment and aid by Government. American business interests in Liberia require reasonably direct air service to the United States and do not wish to be at the mercy of foreign flag air transport under the control of governments who are, to say the least, less than enthusiastic over the economic development of Liberia under American auspices. Firestone supplies the United States with 36,000 tons of natural rubber annually from sources which are secure in comparison with Far East sources. Republic Steel is exploiting the most important single top grade iron ore deposit recently discovered, and is now exporting 1 to 1½ million tons of the highest grade iron ore annually.
Liberia, if it is to remain free of direct US Government financial support must continue to depend upon the development of its resources through foreign investment. A relatively small amount of money spent to keep Roberts Field in operation in order to support direct American air services on the route between the United States and South Africa will help serve this purpose of assisting US investment in the country.
US air services to South Africa are operated as a national interest route under a certificate approved by the President. The strategic importance of Africa as a source of raw materials needed by the western world makes it essential that at least one US flag air service continue to provide the necessary communications between the west coast of Africa, South Africa and the United States. It would appear reasonable, in the light of the above considerations that this US flag air service should continue to serve Liberia as the point on the route which is characterized by the closest community of interest with the United States. In the event of the loss of Europe to an enemy, Roberts Field would remain as the sole air field in west central Africa under American control.
Pan American Airways is feeling keen competition on the New York–Johannesburg route from BOAC’s Comet. In order to meet this competition over an already thin national interest route, Pan American has put DC–6 B’s into service and is non-stopping points north and south of Roberts. The company prefers for a number of reasons to anchor its DC–6 service at Roberts—a field under American control. Unless this field can be kept open, services to South Africa will no longer operate through Liberia.

[Page 497]


Positive action is required by October 31 if Roberts Field is to remain in operation under American control and if direct US flag air services to Liberia are to continue.


That the President be requested to direct either DMS or the CAB to find means to finance the continued operation of Roberts Field beyond FY 1953 in order that the necessary assurances may be given to the Secretary of Defense re the use of 1953 funds.