Operation Sandy Beach
Primary Operating Location: Bamako, Mali
– Detachment 1, 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron
Start Date: 29 August 1961
End Date: ? September 1961
Summary: On 15 August 1961, two SC-47 aircraft from Detachment 1, 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron flew a circuitous route from the US to Canada, then across the Atlantic to Lajes Field in the Azores, followed by a stop in France, and then on to Mali in Northwest Africa via Mauritania. The aircraft and their crews were on their way for the first overseas mission for the US Air Force’s new unconventional warfare unit, Operation Sandy Beach.
Mali had only become independent from France in September 1960. For a brief period before that it had been independent, but as a part of a federation that also included Senegal, another former French colony. Operation Sandy Beach was part of efforts to build the capabilities of the Malian military and hopefully keep them aligned with the West. During the mission, the Air Force personnel shared ramp space at Bamako airport with Soviet and Czech aircraft, as well as planes from Air Mali. Air Mali provided ground support for the US forces.
The unit faced numerous challenges in the Mali mission. The two SC-47 aircraft were clearly worn out and crews practiced ditching exercises before departing the US in case of a catastrophic failure over the Atlantic. Both required time consuming repairs en route to Africa. In Africa, one of the aircraft was further damaged by the prop-wash from a transient C-124 transport that had brought additional members of the unit and supplies.
In spite of all this, the Air Force personnel successfully trained Malian paratroopers from the nation’s new Parachutist Company in early September 1961. On 2 September 1961, 55 jumpers exited Detachment 1’s SC-47s. On 3 September 1961, another 63 jumpers trained from the aircraft. More jumps followed and a ceremony was held for the Malian paratroopers on 16 September 1961. The mission culminated with the US aircraft dropping paratroopers during Mali’s first ever independence day celebrations on 22 September 1961.
The mission was also a dry run for 4400th CCTS, which the US planned to send to South Vietnam later in the year. In late 1961, Detachment 2, 4400th CCTS deployed to South Vietnam as part of Operation Farm Gate.