T-28 Trojan Foundation

click on photo for Jon Merriman's recollection of his dad 50 years ago.
Links:
Congo 1960-1968  CIA Document 180 - American Pilots in the Congo
CIA's Covert Operations in the Congo, 1960-1968 - Newly Declassified Documents
The CIA's Covert War Against Fidel Castro - BillMoyers.com
Photo of John Merriman and Jack Varela
provided by Gustavo Ponzoa
courtesy of Janet Ray of the Makasi Legacy Group
John Merriman is honored on the CIA Memorial Wall
Mike Hoare is probably the most famous mercenary in modern history, this book is his story.  Moïse Tshombe hired "Major" Mike Hoare to lead a military unit called 5 Commando ANC (Armee Nationale Congolaise) made up of about 300 men most of whom were from South Africa. The unit's mission was to fight a revolt known as the Simba Rebellion. Later Hoare and his mercenaries worked in concert with Belgian paratroopers, Cuban exile pilots, and CIA-hired mercenaries who attempted to save 1,600 civilians (mostly Europeans and missionaries) in Stanleyville from the Simba rebels in Operation Dragon Rouge, saving many lives.
excerpt:  A pair of T-28's was flying a reconnaissance mission along the Sudanese border and was forced off course by a storm.  Both aircraft ran low on fuel and made crash landings.  One of the T-28's, flown by Juan Peron, with CIA officer Richard Holm in the backseat, caught fire on impact.  Both survived but Holm was badly burned.  Peron hid him then found help in a friendly village.  The villager's cared for Holm, removing worms from his skin and covering his burns with a tribal remedy that included boiled snakes...the Cuban pilot of the other T-28 on the mission, Juan Tunon, met a far worse fate.  Peron and the village chief found his crashed T-28 near the village, but there was no trace of Tunon.  It was not until several months later that reports from missionaries confirmed that Tunon had been captured by the Simbas, then killed and eaten. Another Cuban pilot, Fausto Gomez, was also cannibalized.  When his body was found, it had been butchered.  It was not until June 1965 that the mercenaries launched Operation Imperial Violets, which cleared the last two towns of Simba troops.  The CIA T-28's and B-28K's supported the final drive.  In late December 1965, the war in the Congo was effectively over.
excerpt from Twilight Warrior:   In late 1963, Intermountain Aviation in Marana, Arizona was training exile Cuban pilots for combat missions over the Congo.  As stateless persons, they had no visible links with the US government and could be labeled white mercenaries employed by the Congolese army.  Some of them - Jack Varela, Rene Garcia and Gus Ponzoa, for instance - were veterans of the Bay of Pigs.  Others such as Juan Peron had no military experience.  Intermountain Aviation pilot, John Merriman trained many of the Cuban pilots on the T-28's.  On Ponzoa's first flight with Merriman, the Cuban was to perform a series of acrobatic rolls.  Ponzoa had trouble flying the aircraft, allowing the g-forces to build up.  As a result he got airsick.  By the following day, Merriman had him flying the T-28 proficiently.  Ponzoa left Marana on 29 May 1964, arriving a month later in the Congo to head up a group of fifteen Cuban pilots.  Merriman soon followed.  He had volunteered for duty in the Congo as head of the CIA's air operations.
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Making a Difference in Eastern Congo

Ben Affleck founded ECI in March 2010 as a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization with the vision to help make eastern Congo vibrant with abundant community based opportunities for economic and social development, where a robust civil society can flourish and to provide US humanitarian relief.
Cuba and the Congo have not changed much since the Revolution

At first glance, Cuba’s basic political and economic structures appear as durable as the midcentury American cars still roaming its streets. The Communist Party remains in power, the state dominates the economy, and murals depicting the face of the long-dead revolutionary Che Guevara still appear on city walls. Predictions that the island would undergo a rapid transformation in the manner of China or Vietnam, let alone the former Soviet bloc, have routinely proved to be bunk.  Far from treading water, Cuba has entered a new era, the features of which defy easy classification or comparison to transitions elsewhere.  Council on Foreign Relations:  Cuba After Communism


The Congo has become a never-ending nightmare, one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II, with more than five million dead. It seems incomprehensible that the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa and on paper one of the richest, teeming with copper, diamonds and gold, vast farmlands of spectacular fertility and enough hydropower to light up the continent, is now one of the poorest, most hopeless nations on earth. Unfortunately, there are no promising solutions within grasp, or even within sight.  New York Times:  Congo's Never Ending War by Jeffrey Gettleman
On July 26, 1953, the barracks was the site of an armed attack by a small group of revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro. This armed attack is widely accepted as the beginning of the Cuban Revolution. The date on which the attack took place, July 26, was adopted by Castro as the name for his revolutionary movement (Movimiento 26 Julio or M 26-7) which eventually toppled the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959.  - acig.org
FAR T-28A flying in tribute during the 1960 anniversary of the attack against the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba on 26 July 1953. The day is depicted on the fuselage. 
Photos from Albert Grandolini Collection
When one mentions aerial operations over Cuba, the most famous that spring to mind are those during the Cuban missile crisis from 1962 and the Bay of Pigs invasion attempt a year earlier; but the longest and most intense was the COIN campaign fought by Batista's forces against Castro's insurgency. This civil war is often overlooked - especially the aerial side of the operations - Krzysztof Dabrowski  Air War Over Cuba 1956-1959

Before Castro gained control of Cuba, his small band of rebels formed their own air force on January 1, 1959 called Fuerza Aerea Revolunionara (FAR) outfitted with a handful of T-28A's obtained from the FAEC's military aviation school but the aircraft were never delivered to Cuba.  The photo shows the aircraft parked in Miami waiting for export permits, in the meantime they were sabotaged and a few destoryed. - H. Murphy
Cuban Missile Crisis
Villafaña explores reasons for Castro’s involvement in Congo. He considers whether Castro was operating with a master plan, of which Africa was a key. He discusses why Castro chose Che Guevara to head the ill-fated military expedition. He contemplates why the United States allowed Castro to freely export his revolution, and why it used Cuban exiles to prevent the mineral riches of Congo from falling into the hands of international communism. Villafaña shows that CIA-sponsored Miami Cuban exiles were instrumental in thwarting Castro’s plans for the Congo, which were believed to have included a confederacy with Tanzania and Congo (Brazzaville), to gain control of Central Africa and its vast resources.  click on book cover to purchase at Amazon
Secret CIA Operations: Felix Rodriguez, The Bay of Pigs, the Death of Che Guevara & Vietnam
Helen Murphy © 2009-2017  All Rights Reserved
At the height of the Cold War, the CIA orchestrated a top-secret battle deep inside Africa’s Congo.  Unbeknownst to the American public, the CIA contracted an elite group of Cuban-exiles to carry out these clandestine operations.  Today, the details on the Congo operation remain classified by the CIA.  "A Secret Legacy" is a documentary in production, by Filmmaker/Director Sandra Alvarez-Smith, that tells the personal journey of Frank Alvarez, a 61-year-old Cuban immigrant, on a quest to find out the truth about his deceased father, Panchito, who was one of the CIA-hired veterans.
Visit documentary website: http://www.asecretlegacy.com/
Click on two thumbnails to enlarge
The success of initial air operations and the magnitude of the Eastern-bloc response caused the CIA to greatly expand its Congo air force. The CIA replaced Tshombe's T-6s with new T-28Ds, and recruited additional pilots and ground crew to operate them. The new air campaign required a far larger investment in personnel and equipment than had hitherto been the case. More than twenty Cuban pilots were now flying in the Congo, supported by Cuban ground crews. But the rapidly expanding operation required more personnel than this "sanitized" and "deniable" recruitment source could provide. So the CIA formed a shell company with the unlikely sounding name of Anstalt Wigmo, incorporated in Liechtenstein in 1964. This would pose as a private contractor doing maintenance work for the Congolese air force.  

The shorter-ranged T-28s could be farmed out to fields around the country, where they could respond to calls for close air support much more quickly than the B-26s. Though it never operated under more than nominal Congolese control, the unit was given a Congolese identity to disguise its all too obviously American character. It became the 211ième Escadrille, 2ième Groupement, Force Aèrienne Congolaise.  The CIA aircraft carried then-standard USAF COIN camouflage schemes. The T-28s were painted USN light-grey above and white underneath.  At first, the airplanes carried few markings: partial USAF serial numbers on their fins and the Congolese star-and-bar insignia in the four, standard, USAF positions. A Congolese flag was soon added to the fins. Then the squadron added a unit insignia to the noses of the aircraft: the black bull trademark of the locally brewed Makasi-brand beer.   Heart of Darkness:  The Tradegy of the Congo 1960-1967.
"Going to Baraka" - the hills in the background are "no mans land"   "Baraka - a mission not easy to forget"
Ivan S. Maritz, CIA mercenary pilot in 1967 operating in the Congo during the 1960's Congo Crisis
Photographs provided by Ivan D. Maritz, son of Ivan S. Maritz.

CONGO & CUBA