Congolese Mercy Airlift

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name:
Congolese Mercy Airlift
Republic of the Congo
July 15–October 3, 1960
Emergency: When civil war threatened to destroy the newly independent Republic of the Congo, the leaders of the country appealed to the UN for troops. Food shortages and the need to evacuate refugees required humanitarian airlift missions.
Organizations: 322d Air Division, MATS Air Transport Wing (Provisional) (Europe), and 1602d Air Transport Wing
Airlifted: 1,074 tons of food and 2,540 refugees.
Aircraft Used: C–130 and C–124 (numbers unknown)

Almost immediately after Belgium granted independence to the Republic of the Congo at the end of June 1960, tribal warfare, provincial secession movements, mutinies among Congolese military units, power struggles among political leaders, and racial violence tore the new nation apart. Belgium sent troops in an attempt to restore order. The prime minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, and the country’s president, Joseph Kasavubu, feared reimposition of the colonial regime and appealed to the UN for troops to replace the Belgians. While the United States sent no ground troops, it did join other nations in providing airlift for UN forces.

Lasting from July 1960 through June 30, 1964, Operation New Tape was the largest Air Force airlift since the Berlin blockade of 1948–1949. United States Air Forces in Europe C–130 Hercules and MATS C–124 Globemaster aircraft carried 16,000 of the 20,000 UN troops airlifted, from 16 of the 23 nations that sent troops. The 322d Air Division initially directed the U.S. airlift under the command of Col. Tarleton H. Watkins. The Military Air Transport Service supported the airlift, first with a provisional air transport wing and then with the 1602d Air Transport Wing, which operated C–124s out of Chateauroux AS, France. In October 1961, MATS took over responsibility for the Congolese operation.

Most of the New Tape flights involved moving combat troops and thus were not strictly humanitarian. Some missions, however, transported refugees and food for civilians. The first set of those missions is included in this airlift.

Initial humanitarian airlift operations in the Congo began in July 1960 after Clare Timberlake, U.S. ambassador at the Congolese capital of Leopoldville, notified the State Department about food shortages in the city. The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Henry Cabot Lodge, on behalf of the Eisenhower administration, promised food deliveries.

Between July 15 and August 10, the 322d Air Division flew 79 C–130 and C–124 sorties to airlift more than 1,000 tons of food to the Republic of the Congo. During this period, 43 C–124 and 29 C–130 sorties delivered 974 tons of food from Chateauroux and Bordeaux, France, and Rhein-Main AB, West Germany, to Leopoldville. On July 17 and 18, seven C–130 sorties airlifted 100 tons of food from Lomé, Togo, to Leopoldville.

The struggle between Congolese and Belgian troops during the crisis led to attacks on whites in the Congo and many sought evacuation. More than 2,500 refugees, including at least 300 U.S. citizens, flew out of the Congo on Air Force C–130s and C–124s between July 15 and October 3. They landed at Brussels, Belgium; U.S. air bases in France and West Germany; and four UN “safe haven” stations in Libya, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal. The New Tape operation continued into 1964.

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My late father was also sent TDY while my mother was pregnant with my younger brother. Peter had never met our father until dad’s return. Years ago I saw a silent supper 8 home movie on You Tube that contained about 30 seconds of my father getting off the plane when he returned to Dover. The video was labeled as in observance of the 50 th anniversary of the Congo airlift. If any one can direct me to that video, I would appreciate. My brother would like to see it. Thank you.

I was an aircraft electrician at Rhein-Main AB, during the airlift. On a Sunday I was working on one aircraft after another. I had 22 planes with gigs waiting for me. At one point, I was working on the clamshell door actuator on a C-124 from the fold-down upper deck. When I finished and started down the ladder, it gave way and I ended on my back on the deck. The aircraft commander, a Major, asked if I was hurt. I said, “No, but I’m tired.” Anyway, he asked how long I had been working and I said since Friday, to which he said he could help me so he went to the first-aid kits that lined the aircraft and got out a bottle of Seagrams VO and offered me a drink. I took two swigs from the bottle and went back to work. I don’t know that Major’s name but he saved a poor A/1C electrician’s life that morning.

I’m a Belgian national and I was 12 years old in July 1960, living in Bakwanga (now Mbuji Mayi). On 13th July the ANC (Armée Nationale Congolaise) mutinied. Belgian paratroopers came from Kamina Air Base in Dakotas to keep the ANC at bay. Me, my mother and three sisters and other European mothers and children were evacuated by Dakota to Kamina. A few days later with other refugees we were flown from Kamina to Salisbury (now Harare) by Globemaster II. I remember clearly as if it was yesterday walking up the nose ramp of the Globemaster. The USAF personnel were very kind to us. Thank you guys.

I was stationed at Dover AFB in Delaware as a flightline mechanic for C124s in 1960. I left on what I believed to be a 2-week TDY trip to France. We stayed a few days in Chateauroux, France when we got orders to go to Berlin. While we were in the air we turned around on orders to head to Libya. The day we arrived at Wheelus AFB in Tripoli, Libya, some of us guys headed to the beach on base. Three of us airmen got sunburned so severely we had to be hospitalized for 2 days. This caused our plane which was to leave the next day to be delayed. Our commanding officer was very upset and threatened to court martial us but luckily never followed through with his threat. We then went to Leopoldville in the Congo to be part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission and my operation was named Long Thrust. After 2 months of arriving at an airstrip in the jungle, we were allowed to go into the town of Leopoldville one time with armed guard escorts. When I had left Dover, Delaware my wife was pregnant with our second child. However after we left Chateauroux, France, I had no contact with her as we had no access to mail or phones. So for over 13 months I had no knowledge of my wife and daughter and did not know if I was a father to a girl or boy. My favorite memories during my surprise duty was the comradery I developed with my fellow airmen and the great food prepared for us as we were sequestered in a hanger on this airstrip in the Congo. This surprise TDY caused me to also have a delay in my discharge from the Air Force, as I was scheduled to get out in just a few months after I had left Dover, Delaware for Chateauroux, France. By the way, I had a healthy girl born during my time in Leopoldville.

Hi there,
Did you know my father, Terrence Mahar? He flew missions to the Congo and was based out of Dover. I’m his son, Tyson.

I was also temporarily stationed at Chateauroux, France from Dover AFB during this period. We flew all over Africa mostly carrying
United Nations troops. I remember we had to wear civilian (non military) clothes. I was in Kano Nigeria , Lake Victoria and numerous other places. We were stationed in Leopoldville. We had cinemascope movies flown down daily from Wheelus AFB, Tripoli and steaks. Good fun duty. Spent 5 days in New Delhi changing a jug (cylinder) on a C124.

I went to Chateauroux France as a mech for the 1607th Flight line maintance squadron on C-124’s. Had many stops all over Africa in 1961
Really enjoyed it.

In 1961 I was stationed at Dover AFB. I was a flightline mechanic (43151B) maintaining C124s. I worked in postflight dock #12, TSgt. Spencer Kelley was my crew chief. In April of that year I received orders assigning me to operation New Tape which was a part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Congo. I departed Dover AFB 15 April 1961 and flew to Chateauroux Air Station, Chateauroux, France. During that operation I spent most of my time in Chateauroux working on the C124s that transported UN troop and material into and out of the Congo. There were four times during that deployment that I was stationed in Leopoldville. During my stay there me and my fellow mechanics were bunked in the hangar at the airfield. I did have several layovers at Whellus AFB, Tripoli, Libya. The Airman’s Club at Whellus was great. From time to time me and my buddies would go into Chateauroux to experience the culture. One establishment sticks out in my memory – The Frog Pond.

Went to Kano Nigeria in Old Shakey in 1960 to provide flight line maintenance during the extraction of Belgium troops from the Congo. Flies were in everything including in your mouth as you walked on the flight line.

My father was a USAF C130 pilot involved in the UN Congo airlift. He was stationed at Evreux-Fauville Airbase and flew all over Europe, Africa and the Middle East during the early 1960s. I am grateful for this article which sheds some light on his experiences.

My father was also stationed at Evreux and was a C 130 navigator and participated in this airlift. I was born there in France inn1960. Thank you all for the stories.

I was stationed at Evreux-Fauville Airbase during the Congo airlift as a crew chief on a C-130A (55-014). I was assigned to the 39th TC squadron. I remember staying on duty around the clock to service our aircraft for the return trip. Remember cleaning out some of the unusual items the air crew brought back with them, like a banana stalk and wooden bowls. I heard that one guy brought back a small monkey. Great memories. Others stationed at Everuex still hold reunions with the 317th TC Veterans Group.

Did you know Donald Hepner? He was involved with the airlift while we were living in Evreux. He brought home some ivory and ebony carving and a Belgian rifle, if I recall correctly. He is gone now. But I was just old enough to remember it.

I was checking this site out to sort out my feelings about owning a lot of ivory, including a lovely bracelet I still wear. They are technically legal, as they are pre-ban. Knowing that they were acquired as a result of a compassionate endeavor, I am now at peace with them.

My dad was also stationed at Evreux and part of a flight crew participating in the Congo airlift. Frank Taylor. He passed away two weeks ago. How I wish I had discovered this sooner. I went to kindergarten in Evreux. Wonderful childhood memories.