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By Bob Dethlefsen.

Here was an airfield, operated by the RAF, inhabited by aircraft, with all Pan-Am personnel servicing all aircraft, with all Pan-Am personnel servicing all types of American except RAF living in a BOAC Guest House. It was intended to be only a refueling stop but, early on, the word had gotten around that Francois, the PAA chef, had been head chef at one of the finest bistros in Paris. This sometimes resulted in more overnight stays because of "mechanical difficulties" than the place could handle. Dinner was often served in three shifts and those of us at the bottom of the totem pole sometimes wondered why Francois had such a great reputation.

Presumably, the P-40s would have completed their crossing within a week, or perhaps two weeks at the most and I would then be recalled to Accra or, better yet, sent on my way to war-wherever that might be. Colonels, Admirals, Congressmen, Senators and at least one General. Washington had discovered the existence of this remote outpost and began to send all sorts of directives, requests for morning reports and even a complete set of War Department regulations. By now we boasted a roster of 4 officers and about 40 enlisted men, but no one in a category to replace me.

It wasn't until late November, after almost six months in Africa, that one sunshiny day a 1st Lt. arrived to take over as Control Officer. It took a couple of days to make the transfer complete but now that I was once again on my way, another day or two made little difference. It was necessary to return to Accra where I had to fight off attempts to transfer me to ATC, before I was handed new orders directing me to "proceed on original orders" to Karachi, India.

As I would greet each one deplaning , more often than not I would be asked "what are you, a pilot, doing here"? After telling them my sad story the response was almost always the same-"wait 'til I get to Cairo, or Accra, depending upon which direction they were headed, and I'll get you out of here. Of course, none of these people were nearly as influential as they thought they were and I continued to spend my days swatting flies and the evenings watching the sun go down, and the nights marveling at the lightning flashes that never seemed to end.

On one occasion, I confronted one of my superiors with a request for some kind of orders to back up my present situation. When he claimed that, since I didn't belong to the ATC, they were not in a position to issue orders, I informed him that I would be leaving on the next aircraft headed east. He changed his mind, and wrote some orders! At the same time he did come up with an explanation as to why I was still there. Seems as though the entire contingent of ATC personnel that was to have replaced the Pan Am people had been diverted to man a new route across the southern part of Africa.

The next morning, the first airplane from the east arrived with the Colonel on board. He requested that all Pan Am personnel be assembled in my office. After introducing himself, he produced a book containing the Article of War, which he proceeded to read, emphasizing the section that, in effect, states that any US citizen, in a war zone, that refuses to follow orders is guilty of treason. When he asked who now wished to return to their normal duties, the response was 100% affirmative.  

The traffic through El Geneina was not heavy. An average day might see 3 or 4 C-47s, maybe a few assorted BOAC, RAF and an occasional US Army stray. It left a lot of time for seeing the local area which was not very extensive. Probably the only thing that had ever caused the airfield to be built was Geneina Fort. This was straight out of a Beau Geste movie lacking only a Clark Gable or Errol Flynn. It was built of stone, with corner blockhouses and a small town within its walls. In command were two "Bimbashi", with the rank of Major in the British Army.

If such a thing is possible, 11 miles from the geographical center of Africa, they lived in splendor. I would not have believed it outside of a movie! Their command was Number 1 Company, Western Arab Corps, Sudan Defense Force. I have no idea what they might be defending as there was not even an all weather road within hundreds of miles. There was also Geneina Town but this area was the poorest of the poor with little to see or do.

Meanwhile, as the days dragged by, more and more Air Corps people were arriving and the Pan Am people were either integrated into the Army or sent home. It was only after I was given control that I discovered that there was a small warehouse, jam packed with all kinds of delicacies that had been reserved for the Pan Am elite and anyone they chose to have as guests at their table. And there had been some rather prominent folks go through.

The P-40s came and went, but no new orders came for me. Instead, more US Army people began to arrive. A weather officer with two EMs were the first to arrive, followed shortly by a Communications Officer with two or three EMs. Before long a bunch of construction workers showed up and before long they had built a concrete block building with living quarters and offices for US personnel. Weeks were going by and every time I asked to be relieved I was told to sit tight, further orders would be coming. Then one day I got the word.

Pan Am's one year contract to operate the route across Africa was coming to a close and the US Army was taking over, with me now in charge of the El Geneina operation. the only problem was that, even though there were now, weather people, communications people and mechanics, there was no one to run the cargo handling and aircraft dispatching operation. The Pan Am people quit working as of midnight on the appointed day even though they were receiving orders, relayed through me, that they were to continue performing their usual duties until relieved.

The Pan Am station manager took the stance-We do not take orders from the US Army. It took a few days, with pilots refusing to leave without a weight manifest, until they fully understood that the would not get one from me, but I eventually convinced my new boss, a Colonel in Cairo, that his orders were being ignored.  



Since 2007 -