During the height of the Nigerian Civil War, or the Biafran War, Carl Gustaf von Rosen (pictured), a Swedish air pilot, supported the plight of the Biafrans and flew a dangerous relief mission in to the nation on this day in 1968.
Von Rosen, a former aerial circus pilot, began flying humanitarian missions during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War and World War II. He eventually became a commercial airline pilot and was also an instructor for the Imperial Ethiopia Air Force.
When the Biafran War broke out, Von Rosen was angered at how Nigeria treated Biafra and its citizens and the Nigerian government’s meddling of international relief efforts. After flying in to Biafra with supplies that were seized by Nigerian mercenaries, Von Rosen defied their orders and delivered the relief himself.
While there, he saw the carnage and decided to take greater action.
Along with the French secret service, he was able to import the “Biafran Babies” air squadron across country lines, which were five small civilian class single engine Malmo MFI-9 planes. Von Rosen was aware that these planes would be fit for ground attacks in the war zone.
After having the planes camouflaged and weaponized, he and a crew of two Swedes and two Biafrans flew the “Babies” to strike the Nigerian Air Force air fields from where the attacks against Biafra originated.
On May 22, 1969, a days-long clash ensued with Von Rosen unleashing effective ground attacks. Von Rosen’s squadron took out a series of Nigeria’s superior airplanes.
Von Rosen continued his relief flights well after the 1970 end of the Biafran War. From 1974 and 1977, he flew aid to famine-stricken Ethiopia. During the Ogaden War between Ethiopia and Somalia, however, he was killed by Somali soldiers on July 13, 1977.
Von Rosen was 67 at the time of his death.