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Crash landing among ‘hostiles'

During the Northern Hemisphere winter, delivery of aircraft in World War 2 by RAF transport command to the United Kingdom and beyond was carried out from Nassau.
During the Northern Hemisphere winter, delivery of aircraft in World War 2 by RAF transport command to the United Kingdom and beyond was carried out from Nassau in the Bahamas by No. 45 Atlantic Squadron's No. 113 Operation Wing. Squadron member Flight Lieutenant John Carroll (ret'd) describes an adventure he had on one journey.
AIRCRAFT in the form of heavy and light bombers were delivered to Nassau by pilots direct from the manufacturers in Canada and the United States.

Planes en route to the United Kingdom would set course from Ascension Island for Casablanca, while those bound for north Africa or India would land at Accra Gold Coast (now Ghana).

On August 19, 1944, my crew, after 48 hours spent at Accra, set course in aircraft Dakota KG 789 for Kano, Nigeria.
The weather report we received before departure was normal, with the exception of some squalls.

Flying time from Accra to Kano in a Dakota normally took slightly less than five hours, but four hours into the journey we encountered severe storms.

The pilot took evasive action but the ferocity of the wind, rain and electrical storm could not be avoided.

We lost all navigational and wireless aids and spent the next hour or so seeking out emergency landing strips, but those we located were underwater.

Fuel was becoming short so thought had to be given to an emergency plan.

At dusk, and with the plane hopelessly off course, a decision had to be made whether to abandon the aircraft or crash-land.

We chose the latter, because if the pilot could save the aircraft by performing a “wheels-up” landing, at least all members of the crew would be safely housed in the fuselage.

It should be remembered that during our briefing we were warned that much of Nigeria was swarming with dangerous animals and that the natives were hostile.

Before crash-landing, a corn patch was sighted briefly through the broken cloud. The pilot decided that, even though it contained numerous trees, the patch would make a suitable crash-landing site.

On approach a propeller clipped a fence but we managed to belly land after the engines stalled at about 65mp/h (110km/h).

A small fire in the port engine was extinguished and the aircraft and crew found themselves safely back on terra firma.

As it was dusk we could just make out the figures of the natives behind trees and among head-high corn stalks.
Night fell and after treating our cuts and bruises we settled into our temporary home.

After a night of mosquito raids, dawn came and we endeavoured to make radio contact with the base.

I was eventually successful and passed on our position, thanks to the work of the navigator, who spent the night “shooting the stars” on his sextant. That was our only contact with the RAF for 48 hours.

By daylight a whole tribe of Nigerians had gathered in wonderment near the “big metal bird”.

At the height of the excitement a small boy approached and spoke to us in English. He was the son of the chief and was back visiting “his people” on school holidays.

Naturally, we were very relieved to see him; he said his father would meet us later in the day.

About an hour later there was much activity around the aircraft. Grass huts were erected and the chief and his entourage held court in the largest one.

The chief was very hospitable and offered food and water. His son told us that people from his tribe relayed news of our crash to neighbouring tribesman by running in relay.

Late in the afternoon we were visited by a missionary on a motorbike who had heard of our plight from natives.

About 4pm the next day a rescue crew arrived, having left their vehicles about 20 miles (32km) from our position.

“Is the compass in the aircraft?” the Officer in Charge asked. We assured him it was and from that point on he was much friendlier.

The party stripped the aircraft of its sensitive and secret equipment and, after bidding thanks and goodbye to the chief, we set off on horseback to our transport, which was to take us to Gusau about 200 miles (320km) away.

On arrival in Gusau we were immediately hospitalised for a week as a precautionary measure. We left Accra aboard a RAF transport aircraft and returned to Nassau on August 31.

Footnote: Since my experience in Nigeria I have kept in touch with the Nigerian people through the High Commission and am forever grateful for their hospitality towards our crew.

Through the High Commission and the RAF, I have received information which shows that the Dakota was recovered from the village – Tallato – on September 7, 1944.

On January 1, 1947, having been made airworthy, the aircraft was handed over to the Nigerian Government.

 

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