Count von Rosen and The Babies of Biafra
May 22, 2007 8:47 AM   Subscribe

On May 22, 1969, the Babies of Biafra launched their first attack against Nigeria. The Babies were a fleet of 5 civilian single-engine SAAB aircraft outfitted with unguided rocket launchers. They were going up against an air force composed of MIGs and Ilyushin bombers, flown by English, South African and Egyptian mercenaries. Their leader was Carl Gustaf von Rosen, a Swede who was Herman Goering’s nephew-in-law. (More inside)
posted by forrest (17 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Von Rosen began his flying career as a pilot in an aerial circus. When Italy attacked Ethiopia, he began flying Red Cross relief missions carrying food and supplies to the Ethiopian refugees. After the Ethiopian war, he became one of the chief pilots for KLM, leaving them to join the Finnish Air Force when the Winter War with the USSR broke out. When he joined, he presented the Finns with 3 KLM aircraft he had purchased with his own money. He is said to have bombed Soviet forces from a DC-2 airliner by shoving the bombs out the passenger exits. When Germany invaded the Netherlands, Von Rosen tried to join Britain’s RAF but was turned down because of his relationship with Goering. He returned to flying for KLM. His wife joined the Dutch resistance and was killed during the war.

After the war, Von Rosen became an instructor for the Ethiopian Air Force, leaving them to become Dag Hammarskjold’s pilot. He was ill the day the UN Secretary General’s airplane crashed under mysterious circumstances during the Congo Crisis.

In August of 1968, Von Rosen flew into San Tomei with a load of medical supplies bound for the new Republic of Biafra. When the mercenaries hired to take the supplies into Biafra aborted their flight, Von Rosen took the supplies into Biafra himself. Once there, he became intrigued with the Biafrans’ plight and came up with the idea behind the Babies.

According to some reports, the Babies destroyed several MIG-17 fighters and three of the six Ilyushin bombers owned by the Nigerian Air Force along with the Ughelli power station and air bases at Benin, Enugu and Port Harcouth. Von Rosen left for Sweden shortly after the Ughelli attack, but the Babies flew until Biafra was defeated by Nigeria.

The Nigerian Air Force was notorious for attacking non-military targets (hospitals, refugee camps, civilian relief convoys), but they scored their only victory against the Babies when a MIG followed two Babies back to their base and strafed them after they landed. Both pilots escaped. Only two Baby pilots were lost during the war.

On 13 July 1977, Count Carl Gustaf von Rosen, still flying refugee relief missions, was killed on the ground in Ethiopia during an attack by Somali guerillas.
posted by forrest at 8:48 AM on May 22, 2007 [3 favorites]

I wish the History Channel did documentaries on guys like von Rosen.
posted by pax digita at 8:59 AM on May 22, 2007

War Nerd Column on Von Rosen.
posted by afu at 9:13 AM on May 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Outstanding post, forrest.
posted by mwhybark at 9:46 AM on May 22, 2007

Hey, this guy's story kinda reminds me of Blackhawk.
posted by mwhybark at 9:50 AM on May 22, 2007

If I ran the universe there would be a bar where this dude and others of his ilk could go and get good beer for free.
posted by The Power Nap at 10:05 AM on May 22, 2007

Super cool post.
posted by Rangeboy at 10:26 AM on May 22, 2007

great post, well done
posted by ersherr at 10:32 AM on May 22, 2007

Now I'm wondering if von Rosen was the inspiration behind this, and if so, is he spinning in his grave as we speak?
posted by chrominance at 11:19 AM on May 22, 2007

Outstanding post forrest.

SAAB is still making civilain aircraft and warplanes. Not bad for a little country with a population of 9 million!
posted by three blind mice at 1:05 PM on May 22, 2007

Great post, and thanks for the Exile link, afu (I love their style: "Von Rosen is such a great character he almost makes me reconsider hating Swedes"). I was pretty bitter about Biafra back in the '60s, and this brings it all back. What a fucked-up country Nigeria is.
posted by languagehat at 1:21 PM on May 22, 2007

Von Rosen is such a great character he almost makes me reconsider hating Swedes

You hear the same sort of sentiment in the Norwegian and Danish sections of Minnesota. Poor ol' oppressed Swedes.
posted by COBRA! at 2:31 PM on May 22, 2007

And of Iowa, where my Norwegian-American mother was from. Jävla svenske... (Not that she would ever have let such a vile phrase cross her lips.)
posted by languagehat at 2:37 PM on May 22, 2007

Great post, thanks heaps.

For true devil-may-care flying prowess and adventureism, one cannot pass by Robert Stanford Tuck

Cool under fire, a devil with the ladies, multi-lingual and bally-well won ww2 single handed- and.... he's Canadian
posted by mattoxic at 5:17 PM on May 22, 2007

Excellent post!
posted by orthogonality at 7:35 PM on May 22, 2007

Real nobility is awesome. Pity it's so rare.
posted by Goofyy at 6:47 AM on May 23, 2007

Good thing he didn't spend time on a Swift Boat!
posted by nofundy at 7:32 AM on May 23, 2007

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