The Long Life of Ethiopian Fairey Fireflies

Page 1

served as a pilot wit11t~ 936 and had made a roo1 AVING NO TIES to any colonial power. F.thiopia had on the E~nperor.In late 1945, lion Rose1 been invaded by the Italians in the ~nid-1930sbut had new chief of the flying school and de fac been l i t ~ r a t e dby t\llied forces in 1941. A n y,bry~n;:-" all Ethiopian military aviation. Then in tlx: ;r$jiu.6ti opian Air Force was already in place in The 1930s'& the first group of 20 S~vedistiinstructors and administrators participated in the struggle against the Italians. arrived in Addis Ababa. ew start was made in 1944, under the name Eth Over the next few years a new air force, rhe Imperial , when a group of Afro-American personne Ethiopian Air Force (LEAF) was built up from scratch. The --. .arrived to set up a flying school. First aircraft were main base was moved to Bishoftu, 28 miles (45km) wtsi& de llavilland Tiger hloths, supplied by the RAF in 1945, Addis Ababa, where two runways were construct& rlt ire r the next couple of years two more Tiger Moths and altitude of 6,250ft (1,900m) above sea level. New airAvro XlXs were added from British sources, while tw@ were also purchased, mainly from Sweden, with an ink&&$ sna UC-78 Bobcats and two Stinson L-5 Sentinels wera five SAAB 91A Safir trainers arriving in late 1946. A fuided as US military aid. The flying school had son@ I$ 40-odd Safirs of various versions wepe delivered through to tile 1960s The SAAB B17.4 light bomber was chosen as the Neither the UK nor the US showed an); major inter- b main combat type; partly because the Swedish personnel ce to the Ethiopian Air Ewm, were familiar with it, but also because it was rugged and instead turned to SweclenW uncomplicated. An initial batch of 16 B17As %.ere flown choice? Swedish COPS&Cr&= to Ethiopia in late 15 followed by 30 Inore in the early 3 .3 - ; , . ... 3



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roles, the type was a reasorlaule culllplulrurt: a3 a ~n~~~~ IEAF combat type. In July 1950, the Admiralty declared that, in view of the Korean War and other world events, it would not be possible to release even Firefly for re-sale. Even so, on August 1, 1950, von Rosen placed an order for 35 Fireflies with Fairey, requesting deliveries to commence in January 1951. When it became clear that used aircraft were unlikely to be available, the Ethiopians asked for 12 newly-produced Mk.Ss, but this was blocked by the Royal Navy which wanted all them for itself. In November 1950 the Admiralty relented and agreed to release nine in early 1951 for re-sale to the &IF, and just before Christmas agreed to send a further two batches later on, for a total of 35. The first batch was eventually modified to include eight and a single T.2 and these were transferred to Fairey at Ringway, near Manchester, in February and March 1951. Here they were to be overhauled

The five Fireflies took off from Ringway on September 22, 1951. The three Swedish mechanics flew in the back seats of three of them, while the last two had Ethiopian radio operators in the rear. The route taken was Manchester-LyonTunis-Benghari-Cairo, where the group made a two-day stop to look after the aircraft. Bo Ekberger was in charge of maintenance during the delivery. The aircraft then continued



and reconditioned before delivery to the IEAF. The agreement with Fairey only covered supply no British personnel were hired to go to Ethiopia to fly or maintain them. Instead, the IEAF intended to integrate them into the existing, Swedish-run organization. Although the RSwAF never operated the Firefly, eleven had been delivered to the Swedish company Svensk Flygtjlnst AB by the end of 1950 for use as target-tugs. One of that firm's mechanics, Bo Ekberger, was hired by von Rosen in mid-1951 to take charge of their maintenance. In August 1951 he went to Fairey for a two-week Firefly training course, together with two other Swedish mechanics sent up from Ethiopia. After the Fireflies had been overhauled they were repainted in a new camouflage consisting of dark brown and sand on top, with light grey on the lower surfaces. On delivery, the spinners were sand-coloured. The aircraft were marked with Ethiopian national insignia in six positions and had the serials 601 and upwards, painted in large numerals across the finand rudder. The serials were in keeping with the general IEAF system during the post-war years 101 upwards had been used for Safirs, 201 etc for Tiger Moths, 301 for B17s, 401 for Bobcats and 501 for L-5s.





First Deliveries As the delivery date of the f i t batch of five approached, five

ferry pilots arrived from Ethiopia. The ranking officer was Colonel Assefa Ayene and he had with him Swedish Major Frank Lonnberg and three Ethiopian pilots. They had all previously flown the B17 and now converted onto the Firefly at Ringway. The Firefly was larger and more powerful than the B17 and had a marked tendency to swing on take-off, due to the torque from its Rolls-Royce Griffon, but the conversion flights were completed without incident. Pilots found that landing the Firefly was no worse than the B17 because the Firefly's large flaps had been designed for carrier landings. Once all the aircraft had been tested, they were officially accepted and signed for by Colonel Assefa.

splnner: Propeller: Engine: Oil cooler: Liquid cooler: Airframe: Tail-plane: Centre section:

lmpactea all blades broken lower part of cowling destroyed destroyed destroyed lower half of firewall and belly impacted minor damage to control surfaces minor damage to underside; left wing tanK ; : im~acted Left undercarriage- ' fakings destroyed Right underyrriage: fairinos destroyed Flaps: . f left and right destroyed Wings; 2 left and rightqestroyed beyond repair Pilot's canopy: missing Radio: \ units removed from the a/c by Mr Unnergd~u [an IEAF technician] L. Magneto: ' .removed from the engine by Mr Unnergard Armament: two of the cannon bent; the gunsight . removed by Mr Unnergdrd seereport bylCaptMeticka main fusehx destroyed; the aircraft batteries removed by Mr UnnergdrdDire-Dana October 8,199 Bo Ekberger, Ground School Instructor -)




IEAF Coloriel Assefa Ayerieslgns the l ~ b o k of s fl'ePrstbatC1l to

~~~~~~~~ by SwedislI Ma,or Liltl,lbcrg nnd Uiree Etliiopiari ferry pilots.

L E n i~ e flrst five IEAF Firepies Nned rip nt the Fairey facility at Ririgway, Mancl~ester,in Septerirber 1951. 605 a t the fnr erid of tlie Iiire has yet to have its serinl applied. In the backgroii~dare two Inter variant Fireflies of the Fleet Air Arrri. '

IEAF Corii~iinnder Ci-Cliicfi Swedish Corort CnrlGustnf vorr Rosen, visitin# Riirgwny it#coiirpnriy wit/? Swedisli officers servitrg witla the IEAF. At the rmr is Bo Ekberger, who was iii clrarge of 1EAF Firepy niairitcnni~cr. ALL FAIREY VIA


on via the Sudan to Bishoftu in Ethiopia, where they arrived on September 28, after some 25 hours' flying time. The IEAF remained a somewhat amorphous organizationat this time and, indeed, did not become a properly constituted and official part of the Ethiopian armed forces until the late 1950s. Among other things, this meant that obtaining funds to run the operations was a constant struggle, since it always involved haggling with various officials at the Imperial court and at the ministries. Allocations were often reduced or withdrawn, and this may have been why no spare parts of any kind had been purchased for the Fireflies, not even tyres and other consumables. This proved to be a major maintenance headache for the next few years. In 1951, both the Fireflies and the B17s formed part of the single operational IEAF unit, known as the Attack Squadron, based at Bishoftu. Bo Ekberger was in charge of maintaining the Fireflies, while the other two Swedes who had trained at Fairey reverted to other duties. When the Fireflies arrived, no Ethiopian mechanics had been allocated to work on them. Bo kept asking for personnel since he could hardly

The flrst batch of Firefliespiirclrased fro111Fairey included a single T2 tminer, which pmved very riseful in Etiiiopian sewice u~ifflgoing unservlcenble for n lengthy period. FAIREY VIA BO EKBERGER

the allocated pilots current on type. In January 1952, a second IEAF group travelled to Manchester to pick up the remaining four aircraft of the original order, 606 to 609. The lead pilot this time was Swedish Lieutenant Lars Ljunggren. They spent about a week at Ringway while the Fireflies were test flown. On the first attempt to set out towards Ethiopia, one of the Ethiopian pilots immediately got lost in fog and landed at Stoke, and the flight had to be aborted. The second atternvt a couple of dayllater was better and the four flew a first leg down to Nice on the French Riviera. From there, the group followed the route of the first delivery flight, four months earlier. Once again, Bo Ekberger was in charge of the maintenance en route. The four Fireflies reached Addis Ababa around noon on January 30, 1952. The airfield at Addis was quite dangerous in the middle of the day, due to updrafts. Landing speeds were also higher than usual, since it was 7,900ft (2,400~1) above sea level and the air was thin. The first two Fireflies got down without any real problems, but 608, flown by Aberra

Voldemariam, got caught in an updraft just as it was touching down and stalled in. Bo, who was strapped in the rear seat, was thrown about so violently that his head smashed into the rear canopy glass and aacked it. (Voldemariam became the Commander-in-Chief of the IEAF in the early 1970s.) To make matters worse, the last to land - 609, piloted by Assefa Josef - ground-looped. Half of the second delivery batch was out of action on arrival. 608 was so badly damaged that it never flew again and was reduced to components, somewhat alleviating the spare part situation. The IEAF was also able to claim the value of the aircraft against the insurance taken out for the delivery flight. 609 suffered only minor damage but it took around two years before it flew again because there was no spare propeller or other parts available. Only a couple of weeks later, 601 suffered engine damage and was also put out of service for an extended period, in this case 18 months or more. Any unserviceable aircraft that looked outwardly complete would be wheeled out to the flight line whenever the Emperor was coming for one of his periodic inspections, to give the greatest possible impression of strength. maintain five aircraft on his own, and after about a week five Ethiopians in native garb turned up, bowing deeply to him. Through an interpreter - none of the new Ethiopians spoke English, the usual worlung language of the IEAF - he established that they all came straight from 'the bush' and had no technical training whatsoever. Each one was therefore initially trained to perform a specific task: one was taught to check the tyres, another to top up the hydraulic fluid, a third to fill the coolant tank, and so on. Very gradually they were given more qualified duties to perform. During the first few months, flight operations with the Fireflies was kept to a modest scale, just enough to keep

A Firefly in theair overtl~eIEAFrt~"ir1 Flight Operations at *is'rofh'~ Flying at Bishoftu began early, around 07:00, to take advantage ~


toSwedis,l speci~cntiolu~ BO EKBERCER

of the cooler morning temperatures. There was usually an ~ ~ ~ ~ extended lunch break followed by more flying in the afternoon. The schedule was based on practices in the RSwAF; exercises performed included practising landings, formation flying, navigation, gunnery and bombing. There was a bombing range only a few miles from Bishoftu. Racks on the Fireflies were modified locally to take llOlb (50kg) bombs of Swedish manufacture, which were also used on the B17s. Rockets were E-. another armament option available for Fireflies.


Ethiopian pilots were quite well regarded by their bweaisn counterparts and normal flying seldom caused any problems. Their gunnery was also good, but navigation skills were often below par. Pilots were usually most reluctant to fly on instruments and would go to great lengths to avoid having to fly through clouds. On one occasion, a formation of six Fireflies made a long detour around a cloudbank that began well inland and ended up out over the Red Sea. More luck than judgement they eventually managed to land at an airfield near the coast, many having virtually no fuel left. Ethiopians also tended to be susceptible to influences from each other and if a pilot one day entered a complaint about, for example, elevator flutter in the logbook, many of the others were likely to make corresponding entries the next day.

Orre of tlre IEAF Firefly warrrriirg rrp for a nissiorr, in the liands of arr Ethiopian pilot. 0 WBERGER

an nyarauuc proulerll o11 ~ e y r e ~ l AJ, ~ u de i~~ u11du LU uc lrll behind at Bishoftu, together with 601, 608 and 609. This left only five operational aircraft to relocate to Asmara. Not long afterwards, these were formed into the 1st Squadron of the newly-established Attack Wing of the IEAF. The 2nd and 3rd Squadron were both equipped with B17s. All three had Asmara as their main base. Following RSwAF practice, the units were allocated red, blue and yellow as their respective squadron colours, and the spinners of the Fireflies were repainted red. The previous shortage of funds and spare parts was just as bad after the move to Asmara and in 1953 IEAF flying operations were greatly reduced, grinding to a virtual halt in the case of the B17s. Some flying continued with the Fireflies, however. A technical report, dated October 1953,

One of the more unusual missions the Firefly was used for was to bring in Santa Claus to Bishoftu at Christmas. One of the Swedish mechanics, already in possession of an impressive beard and dressed up in suitable Santa garb, was discreetly taken aloft in a Firefly, flown around the airfield, and then with great fanfare brought in to land in front of the assembled Ethiopian and Swedish children on the base. After the aircraft had taxied in, 'Santa Claus' got out, explaining t o all and sundry that he had just arrived from the far north, and proceeded to distribute gifts to the children. This was a great success.

Flag waving to Asmara Ethiopia's neighbour to the east, Eritrea, had been an Italian colony until invaded by the Allies in 1941. Since then the territory had been administered by the UK under a United Nations' mandate. In 1950, the UN voted to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia, paying little heed t o the wishes of the Eritreans themselves. The merger was put into practice in September 1952 and Emperor Haile Selassie decided to visit ihe Eritrean capital of k m a r a only ten days after the federation. It was ordered that that the IEAF should put on a flypast to mark the occasion. Asmara, located in the mountains not far from the Red Sea coast, already had a large airfield with paved runways and well-developedgeneral facilities, maintained under contract by a British company. The airfield was mainly used for civilian traffic but there had previously been some military use by both the Italians and the British. The IEAF hastily flew in some aircraft and on September 21, the Emperor's triumphant entry into Asmara was covered by a section of Fireflies and two sections of B17s. A large proportion of the IEAF's combat aircraft were moved to Asmara in autumn 1952, including most of the remaining Fireflies. The single Firefly trainer, 603, developed

A grorrp of Etlriopian pilots iri @it of a Finfly of the secorid delivery batch. nre coirstructiorr rirrnrber, whiclr seerrrs to read F.5645, car1 just be rriade orrt oa the fiselage urider the tailplase, probably slaking this 607, ex 22100. BO EKBERGER

described the condition of each aircraft. By this time 607 had come down with hydraulic problems, leaving only 602 and 604, 605 and 606 in service. Their total flying hours after overhaul at Fairey's varied between 55 and 80 hours, which translates to a mere two or three hours' flying every month each. In contrast, the trainer (603) had averaged over ten hours per month while serviceable, but it had been out of commission for more than a year by this time. In the same report, Bo Ekberger outlined the maintenance personnel of the 1st Squadron. He himself was Squadron Engineer, with the rank of lieutenant, and had in his employ five Technical Sergeants and eight Assistant Mechanics, the latter all newly-employed.This staff could keep up to three aircraft flying every day, until such a time that the first Firefly reached 100 flying hours since overhaul at Fairev.

The squadron's flying operations would then have to cease for about a week while the 100-hour inspection was carried out by Bo and some of the mechanics, since there would be no-one available to supervise the day-today maintenance work. Even so, it was impossible to perform inspections due to the almost complete lack of tools.


1 I 1

Enter the Canadians Although the stated intention had been to order a total of 35 Firefliesfrom Fairey, only the initial order for nine was placed. Instead, in late 1953or early 1954, the IEAF was offered a batch of early Fireflies from Canada, where they had been stored after retiringfrom first-lineservice with the Royal Canadian Navy in 1950.The price was very attractiveand the IEAF would receive the RCN's considerablespares holding. Adeal was struck and in March 1954Fairey learned that the IEAF had bought a total of 14 Fireflies from Canada: nine FILls, three and two T.2. They were ferried to Europe aboard the carrier HMCS Magnificentand off-loaded at Antwerp. lnformation gleaned by Fairey also claimed that the IEAF had purchased nine Fireflies from the Royal Netherlands Navy, the Marine Luchtvaart Dienst - MLD. The Dutch had gradually retired the 12 suniving examples of their between 1952 and 1954: the type last served with 1 Squadron, MLD, in the Dutch Antilles. Information received by the British Foreign Office suggested they were in very poor condition and not worth the cost of transporting to Ethiopia. Swedish mechanics serving with the IEAF have no recollection of receiving any former Dutch aircraft. On the other hand, Bo Ekberger is positive that 16 additional examples were delivered in 1954, as opposed to the 14 known to have been supplied from Canada. This leaves the possibility that a couple of MLD aircraft were indeed received by the IEAE There is also a chance that the Canadian Fireflies

were trans-shipped in the Netherlands, which means that two additional airframes could conceivablyhave been added to the consignment there. From Antwerp, the Fireflies were transported to Ethiopia aboard a small German freighter. About ten were loaded in the hold, the rest going as deck cargo, together with a large quantity of spares. The ship amved at Massawa, Eritrea, on April 25,1954. Massawa was the only port which had harbour cranes - dating from the Italian days - still in working condition. Once off-loaded onto the quay, the Fireflies were immediately inspected by Bo. Surprisingly, none had been damaged. The Canadians had also been careful to conserve the aircraft properly before putting them in storage, and as a result they were in good condition. From the port, the Fireflies were towed to a disused airfield with a small hangar, a couple of miles outside Massawa. The runway there was too short for them to take-off and instead they were disassembled and prepared for transportation by road to Asmara, 8,200ft (2,500m) up in the nearby mountains. Fuselages were placed on a specially-constructed cradle mounted on an old Fiat lorry, wings following on a second lorry. Each aircraft was driven to Asmara under police escort, up the 70 miles of tortuous, serpentine road, with its 1,100 hairpin bends.


Firepy 609 was one of the second botch, delivered in January 1952. Jungiilgfmfn photos, is possible that these aimnfi had a slightly more blrrish tinge to their underside than the first batch. BO EKLIERGER

LEFR The 14 Firefb sold to Ethiopia by fffeRoyal Canadian Navy on fftcirwny to Europe aboanl HMCs 'Magn~cent' in early 1954. The a i m still cany theirRCN codes.


Eurperor Haile Selasste with entourage passes wRCN Firefly 610 in one of the hangars a t Asiitara, during an inspection tour in the inid-1950s. LENNARTJERLSI'R~M


Second Firepy casualty in actual IEAF service (not counting the ill-fated second delivery fi'ight) wns trainer 615, which overran the nrnway a t Bisho/?u, probably in 1957. BO U(BERGER

IEAF personnel sfllvage whnt lrseable parts remain on the burnt-out airfmnre of 615. 8 0 EKBERGER

betore uley cowu or LMUL LLLW JCAvlLc, ulc to be thoroughlyinspected and overhauled.Three additional Swedish mechanics - Lennart Jerlstr6m, Harry Larsson and Sven SellstrBm - were taken on, along with three or four Ethiopian mechanics. First priority was to prepare one of the T.2s1 as a trainer was urgently needed. Over the next two years or so, a further nine aircraft followed. During the overhaul, all the arrester hooks were removed, as were any other unnecessary fittings. Original radio equipment and instrumentation was retained, without being updated. It would have been technically possible to prepare additional aircraft for service, but there was no requirement for more. Surplus airframeswere stripped of some of their parts before being stored in an old Italian garage on the airfield. The exact combination of versions which were renovated and taken into service is not known, but of the ten at least three were trainers. The only major differencebetween the T.1 and the T.2 was that the former was normally unarmed

while the latter had two 20mm cannon, one on each wing. However, there was no real problem over mounting guns in the as well -or with removing those in the T.2s - so it is possible that the IEAF Fireflies did not always conform to the original configuration in this respect. The new Fireflies were given the serials 610 to 619 (though it appears that these were not necessarily in order of completion), continuing the sequence from the original batch. Serials were applied using the same RSwAF-style numerals as on the B17s. Unlike those supplied directly from Britain, the ex-Canadian ones were not repainted in desert camouflage. Instead, the retained their RCN colours of dark grey on top and light grey underneath, while the trainers remained all-over yellow. The spinners were painted red. Glory days and decline With the new arrivals, and the old 'hangar queens' restored to service via the spare parts now available, for a short while 1st Squadron was at its peak strength of 16 Fireflies. On one memorable occasion, 1st Squadron managed to put all 16 into the air at the same time. The usual practice was to keep only six on the flight line; each of these would be flown for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. The squadron had 12 pilots, who consequently each got about an hour's flying time every day. On missions, there would a radio operator in the back seat. Even though acquiring spare parts was no longer such a problem, maintaining the Fireflies still posed major challenges. Chief among these was the lack of a central maintenance unit, like the one that existed at Bishoftu for the B17s. Bishoftu would only handle a few special items for the Fireflies, such as carburettors, pumps and magnetos. Everything else, including the 300-hours overhauls, had to be performed by the squadron itself. Bo designed and



hydraulic systems, and modified the aircraft systems to suit local conditions. The standard of Ethiopian mechanics gradually improved, though they could still give their Swedish instructors grey hairs at times. One incident involved a mechanic who was told to run-up a newly-overhauled Griffon - the importance of taking it easy and keeping the revs within certain limits was stressed several times. Once in the pilot's seat, he started up the engine and immediately took it to full throttle, keeping it there for several minutes. The propeller wash made it impossible for anyone else to approach the cockpit, the time the mechanic decided of his own accord to throttle back, the engine was completely ruined. One technical problem which had begun to appear by the time the ex-Canadian Fireflies began to come into service concerned engine camshafts. At low revs and high temperatures, the lubrication became very poor and the camshafts quickly wore out. This was a peculiarly Ethiopian problem, caused by the hot climate. The trick was to keep the oil pressure up and the oil temperature down, and Bo gave the pilots frequent and detailed instructions about this. The first few years of service had been relatively accidentfree, apart from the day when the second batch arrived. However, with the increase in flying operations, attrition began to set in. First to go was trainer 603, which crashed around 1955. It had taken off from Asmara for gunnery practice near the Red Sea, but halfway down to the coa

the pilot had, for some reason, descended into a valley. The propeller clipped the tops of some acacia trees and the aircraft hit the ground. "The guy in the back seat was black and blue all over, but otherwise completely unharmed," Bo recalls. "But of the front cockpit, where the pilot had sat, there was no trace."



A second trainer, 615, was lost at Bishoftu, probably in 1957.

Work was going on to enable the airfield to support larger aircraft, such as the USAF1s Douglas C-124 Globemaster I1 transports, and half the runway had been dug up as part of operations to strengthen its foundations. The Firefly landed too far down the remaining section and rolled into a pit at the end. Fire immediately broke out. A Norwegian working for the building contractors ran up, opened the canopy and managed to drag out the pilot (the rear seat was empty) just moments before the cockpit was consumed by flames. In the autumn of 1957, FR.l 611 belly-landed not long after take-off from Asmara, due to fuel starvation caused by vapour locks in the fuel pipes. On take-off, it was important to turn on the booster pumps in the tanks in order to avoid this problem, but the pilot had forgotten to do it. The crew survived but 611 was considered beyond economic repair

Swedisir rt~echanic Lerrnart Jerlstriint orr the atng of trairrer 619, believed to have been tine last operatiorrnl IEAF Firefly,amrrnd 1%2. Note the serial repeated on tile nose, ~virlclrwas added quite late in the Firefliesi service fife. LENNART IERLSTROM

(see panel). The IEAF was short of heavy ground equipment, which posed a problem when it came to recovery. In the end, the US monitoring station in Asmara was contacted and agreed to loan a five-ton Brockway wrecker and a low loader to lift and transport the Firefly back to the airfield. A third Firefly was lost in 1957 or 1958when a pilot named Tessfay flew it into a mountain-top at an altitude of nearly 13,000ft. The crash site was so close to the summit that the engine, which broke off, continued over the crest and down the other side. It was later discovered that the map Tessfay had been using was wrong and that some of the mountains in the area were higher than had been indicated. Bo left 1st Squadron in late 1956 and transferred to the IEAF Ground School at Bishoftu. His place was taken by another Swedish mechanic, one who had no background 1958. These were followed in 1960 by North American F-86F Sabres, the latter forming a new 1st Squadron.The B17A.s also remained in service, albeit in declining numbers - in March 1960, 15 of them remained on 3rd Squadron strength.

79te sfght tirat met the Canadian recovery reant in Anttaro, Erltren In 1993, where hvo Firepies were standing irr revehtrentr at the air base. n t h IS ~X-DKW, , arrrerrtly with i NteCanadian I NaHorrnl Aviation Mrweurn. CANADA AmRIImEIM




Final Fling The Firefly was to enjoy a brief revival with the IEAF. In 1960, British Somaliland, together with the former Italian Somaliland - under British administration since World War Two -gained independenceas Somalia. The new country had a long common border with Ethiopia and groups of civilians began to move across the frontier from Somalia in search of water or grazing. Soon they were followed by soldiers out of working with Fireflies. This was probably a major reason for private plunder. To begin with, there was no organized why the technical problems, especially those concerning infiltration and therefore no military clashes of any size. the camshafts, quickly got out of hand, and why by 1958, After a while, the IEAF was ordered to show itself in the or possibly 1959, all the Fireflies were grounded and 1st border region to scare off the Somalis. The Firefly was Squadron effectively disbanded. The survivors were stored considered a suitable aircraft for the job, due to its long in a hangar with their wings folded, and squadron personnel endurance. To improve this further, extra 90-gallon (409 were transferred to other duties. litres) tanks could be fitted. These had not previously been Although technical problems certainly contributed to the used by the IEAF, except on the ferry flights from England, Firefly's demise in Ethiopian service, another reason was that but they had been retained in storage. A more serious problem the IEAF was graduating to more modem equipment. An was that all the Fireflies had been out of service for some agreement concerning military assistance between Ethiopia time and their engines had worn-out camshafts. Swedish and the USA had been entered into in 1953, and in 1957the mechanic Lemart Jerlstrbm suggested sending one of the Americans offered to provide the IEAF with jets. The first to camshafts to England for renovation. Instead, a whole batch arrive were three Lockheed T-33As, delivered in the autumn of was sent off by the Ethiopians, a move which turned out to


Previously FAA M8434 FAA MB476 FAA M8382 FAA M8497 FAA M8737 FAA 22026 FAA 22100 :AA 21955

Served from Sep 28,1951 Sep 28,1951 Sep 28,1951 Sep 28,1951 Sep 28,1951 Jan30,1952 Ian 30,1952 (Not taken up)




, uselage extant Asmara 1993? Crashed into valley between Asmara and Red Sea. Written off







T.Z?,: FR.l

c1954 c1955 c1955 c1955 c1955 c1956 c1956 (Not taken up?)



(Not taken up?)

I*--C - 9 1


Ground-looped at Addis Adaba on Jan 30,1952, on arrival of ferry flight from England. Written off Withdrawn. Extant Asmara 1970s. Crashed near Dire-Dana due to fuel mismanagement. Written off Vlthdrawn. Extant Asmara 1970s and Addis Adaba 1996; to South Africa.


*-gar% : -.-



: ( : I

Withdrawn. Extant Asmara 1970s.



:rashed into runway repair area at Bishoftu and burned. Withdrawn. Extant Asmara 1993. Withdrawn. Extant Asmara 1970s. c1962



Withdrawn. Believed to be the last operatjonal IEAF Firefly. IEAF 619 Bought 1954, likely used only for spare parts. Extant Asmara 1993; to Canadian National Aviation Museum, Ottawa. Bought 1954, likely usedonly for spare parts. ExtantAsmara 1993; to CFB Shearwater Aviation Museum, Halifax, Canada I-





Notes: FAA - Fleet Air Arm. RCN Royal Canadian Navy. One unidentifiedaircraft crashed into a mountain, in 1957 or 1958. All remainingaircraft withdrawn from use. In addition to the four ex-RCN serials mentioned above, the following aircraft were supplied: DK535, DK537, DK560, DK561, PP402 ac< PPA57; T.1s DK445, DT975 and MD443; T.2 PP408. Two further aircraft, possibly ex-Dutch, may have been received, but this is unconfirmed - see main text. , . i.-



Tlris arorc or less lrrtact Firepy FR.1, 616, left belrind by the Catrndinrrs in 1993, rlmy still be at Asrnara. CANADA AVIATION


be nothing less than a waste ot money. wnlle awaltlng tnelr return, the best-preserved Firefly was selected from those in storage at Asmara and prepared for flight. This is believed to have been 619, one of the armed trainers. By this time, 1961 or more likely 1962, only two pilots were left in the IEAF who could be considered current on the Firefly. In the end, Major Lulseged was selected to fly the mission. He took the Firefly down to the border area where he made a number of dives and low passes over groups of Somalis. He fired his cannon and a few rockets to frighten them a little, but was careful not to kill or injure anyone. This show of strength appeared to have the desired effect and the area was reported calm for some time, though fighting between Ethiopian and Somali army units broke out again in 1964. So ended the operational career of the Fairey Firefly in Ethiopia. (And indeed anywhere -ED.) It is ironic that the very last mission was, by all accounts, the only time any IEAF Firefly fired its guns in anger, and this was in an action which was a throwback to the 'pacification flights' first made by the RAF in Somaliland in 1920. From 1961, the lEAF received several North American T-28A Trojans, which were allocated to the Attack Wing. When these were followed some years later by a number of T-28Ds, there was really no further reason to contemplate bringing

rouna on eltner, so 11u nlgnly u e l y rnar rriey uelv~lgeuw the g o u p of aircraft which were never taken on IEAF charge but only used for spare parts. Disassembly proved something of a challenge but in the end the components were loaded onto pallets and flown back to Canada. One aircraft went to the Canadian National Aviation Museum at Rockcliffe, Ontario, and the other to the Shearwater Aviation Museum, at Halifax, Nova Scotia - on the air base where the RCN Fireflies used to be based. This example is scheduled to be returned to flying condition; the Firefly at Rockcliffe has been re-erected, k remains unrestored.


Also at As~rrara in I993 were the firselages and centre sections of one of the Firefly bougllt front Fairey in 1951-1952 and one of the exCanadian miners. CANADA AVIATION

Musemi REP 352920

the Firefly back into operation. In true Ethiopian tradition, the aircraft were not scrapped, but just stored and quietly wasted away. In the 1970s, there were reports that Fireflies were being offered for sale, and it was later claimed that two had been restored to flying condition for an US buyer around 1974, though in the end no sales were completed.

New life There the situation remained until the early 1990s, when a Canadian military attache noticed some Fireflies standing out in the open at Asmara airfield. He suggested an attempt should be made to obtain one or more of them for museum purposes. This was towards the end of the liberation war ~ r i 6 e ahad been mounting against Ethiopia since the early 1960s. In May 1993 Eritrea formally became independent, and weeks later a deal was struck between the new government and Canada to trade two of the Fireflies for food and medical supplies. A team of technicians arrived in Asmara in a Canadian Armed Forces Lockheed C-130 Hercules in midSeptember that year and proceeded to dismantle ready to take them back to Canada. The aircraft selected were the ones which had reputedly been put in order for sale to an American in the 1970s. These were sitting i n two small revetments near the airfield apron and were still reasonably complete, even though a further 20 years out in the open had left their mark. No IEAF serial number was subsequently

The end of the war with Eritrea resulted in Ethiopia also deciding to clear out old 'junk' which had accumulated over the years. A request for offers was sent out to various foreign companies in 1995, and the following year a South African firm purchased a large number of aircraft located at Addis Ababa and Debrezeit (formerly Bishoftu). These included two Fireflies: an FR.l and a T.2. The former, 612, was in a small museum at the old airport in Addis Ababa, while the latter stood outside the air force headquarters at Debrezeit. The IEAF serial for the trainer has been quoted as 610, but there is photo evidence of 610 being an FR.1. Possibly the aircraft was 613, or 619. Either way, the two Fireflies were both in good condition and in due course were dismantled and shipped to Lanseria in South Africa for restoration. The removal of these four examples left three dilapidated Fireflies still at Asmara, lined up in a quiet corner of what was said to be an old minefield, next to a wrecked MiG-23 Flogger. One - FR. 1616, ex DK565 -was more or less in one piece, though the cowlings, rudder and various other bits were missing. The other two were reduced to just fuselages with wing centre sections and were also missing their tail sections and propellers. The first of these was an FR.l: some details in its camouflage pattern suggest that it may well have been 602. The last airframe was an unarmed ex-RCN trainer, which remains unidentified. It is not impossible that these aircraft are still at the Asmara airfield today. If this is so, they are surely among the last aircraft of World War Two vintage anywhere in the world which remain unclaimed by any museum or warbird operator. This article is primarily based on interviews with Bo Ekberger and Lennarf Jerlstriim, and with Ed Patten who was part of the Canadian recovery team in 1993. Thanks also to Andrew Barber, Ernest Cable, Ric Larsen, Raymond Long, Stephen Payne, Leo Pertipar, Steve Sauve and to the Canadian National Aviation Mtseum, for permission to use some of their photos.