British Overseas Airways Corporation

Between 1939 and 1945 6,000 passengers were transported by BOAC between Stockholm and Great Britain.

British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) was a67 British state-owned airline created in 1939 by the merger of Imperial Airways[1] and British Airways Ltd.[2]

On November 24, 1939, BOAC was created by an Act of Parliament. On 1 April 1940, BOAC started operations as a single company. Following the Fall of France (June 22, 1940), BOAC aircraft kept wartime Britain connected with its colonies and the allied world, often under enemy fire, and initially with desperate shortages of long-range aircraft.

During the war, the airline was sometimes loosely referred to as ‘British Airways’, and aircraft and equipment were marked with combinations of that title and/or the Speedbird symbol and/or the Union Flag. BOAC inherited Imperial Airways’ flying boat and flew the Horseshoe route, between Sydney, Australia, and Durban, South Africa, via Singapore, Calcutta, and Cairo during World War II.

Mail could then be sent by sea between South Africa and Britain. Using Short Empire C Class S23 and S33 flying boats, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) operated the section between Durban and Singapore while Qantas Empire Airways operated the section between Singapore and Sydney.

In October 1941, Qantas took over the Karachi – Singapore section as BOAC was short of pilots. BOAC’s most famous wartime route was the ‘Ball-bearing Run’ from Leuchars to Stockholm (Bromma) in neutral Sweden. Initially flown with Lockheed 14s and Lockheed Hudson transports,

the unsuitable Armstrong Whitworth Whitley “civilianized” bombers were also used between 9 August and 24 October 1942 (“Civilianised” meant that all the armaments and unnecessary guns and turrets had been removed, a legal requirement for operating a commercial civilian service to a neutral country).

The much faster civilian registered de Havilland Mosquitoes were introduced by BOAC in 1943. Other types used to Sweden included Lockheed Lodestars, Consolidated Liberators, and the sole Curtiss CW-20 (C-46 prototype) which BOAC had purchased; these types had more payload, and some had the range to avoid the German-controlled Skagerrak direct route.

Between 1939 and 1945 6,000 passengers were transported by BOAC between Stockholm and Great Britain. At the end of the war, BOAC’s fleet consisted of Lockheed Lodestars, lend-lease Douglas DC-3s, Liberators, converted Sunderlands, and the first Avro Lancastrians, Avro Yorks, and Handley Page Haltons.

The Short Empire, Short S.26, and Boeing 314A flying boats, plus the AW Ensigns, were due to be withdrawn. In May 1952 BOAC was the first airline to introduce a passenger jet into airline service. This was the de Havilland Comet which flew via Nairobi to Johannesburg and via the Far East to Tokyo. All Comet 1 aircraft were grounded in April 1954 after four Comets crashed, the second last being a BOAC aircraft at altitude.

The next major order of Boeing aircraft was for 11 Boeing 747-100s. On 22 April 1970 BOAC received its first 747, but the aircraft did not enter commercial service until 14 April 1971 due to BOAC’s inability to settle crewing and pay rates with the British Air Line Pilots’ Association. BOAC’s successor British Airways later became the largest Boeing customer outside North America.

  • Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde (test flown by BOAC, then to British Airways for passenger service)
  • Airspeed Consul (1949–54)
  • Airspeed Oxford (1948–53)
  • Armstrong Whitworth A.W.15 Atalanta (1933–41)
  • Armstrong Whitworth A.W.27 Ensign (1939–46)
  • Armstrong Whitworth A.W.38 Whitley V (1942–43)
  • Avro Lancaster (1944–49)
  • Avro Lancastrian (1945–51)
  • Avro Tudor (1946–51)
  • Avro York (1944–57)
  • Boeing 314A Clipper (1941–48)
  • Boeing 377 Stratocruiser (1949–60)
  • Boeing 707-300 & -400 (1960–74)
  • Boeing 747-100 (1969–74)
  • Bristol Britannia (1955–66)
  • Canadair C-4 Argonaut (1949–60)
  • Consolidated Model 28 Catalina (1940–45)
  • Consolidated Model 32 Liberator (1941–51)
  • Curtis Wright CW-20 – one aircraft (1941–43)
  • de Havilland DH.86 Express (1934–41)
  • de Havilland DH.91 Albatross (1938–43)
  • de Havilland DH.95 Flamingo (1940–44)
  • de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito (1943–45)
  • de Havilland DH.104 Dove (1946–60)
  • de Havilland DH.106 Comet (1952-54 & 1958–69)
  • Douglas DC-3/C-47 Dakota (1943–50)
  • Douglas DC-7C (1956–65)
  • Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor- one Danish Airlines aircraft interned (1940–42)
  • Handley Page H.P.70 Halifax/Halton (1946–48)
  • Handley Page H.P.81 Hermes (1949–57)
  • Lockheed 10 Electra (1937–44)
  • Lockheed 14 Super Electra (1938–44)
  • Lockheed 18 Lodestar (1941–48)
  • Lockheed 414 Hudson (1941–45)
  • Lockheed L-049 & L-749 Constellation (1946–59)
  • Short S.23, S.30 & S.33 Empire (1937–47)
  • Short S.25 Sunderland/Hythe (1942–49)
  • Short S.25 Sandringham (1947–60)
  • Short S.26 (1939–47)
  • Short S.45 Solent (1946–50)
  • Vickers VC10 & Super VC10 (1964-1974)
  • Vickers Viking (1946–47)
  • Vickers Warwick – one aircraft (1944–45)
  • Vickers Wellington (1942–43)

The Beatles’ song “Back in the U.S.S.R.” was released on November 22, 1968, and mentions BOAC in the lyrics. Written by Paul McCartney and credited to the Lennon–McCartney partnership the lyrics are “Flew in from Miami Beach BOAC, Didn’t get to bed last night, On the way, the paper bag was on my knee, Man, I had a dreadful flight”.

In the song Montego Bay by Bobby Bloom, the first line is “Vernon will meet me when the BOAC lands”. In Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, a BOAC aircraft is hijacked by the villain, Auric Goldfinger, and James Bond is held captive in it until he is able to retrieve the situation.

  1. Imperial Airways was the early British commercial long-range airline, operating from 1924 to 1939 and principally serving the British Empire routes to South Africa, India, Australia, and the Far East, including Malaya and Hong Kong. Passengers were typically businessmen or colonial administrators, most flights carried about 20 passengers or less. Accidents were frequent: in the first six years, 32 people died in seven incidents. Imperial Airways never achieved the levels of technological innovation of its competitors and was merged into the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) in 1939. BOAC in turn merged with British European Airways (BEA) in 1974 to form British Airways. [Back]
  2. British Airways Ltd was a British airline company operating in Europe in the period 1935–1939. It was formed in 1935 by the merger of Spartan Air Lines Ltd, United Airways Ltd (no relation to the US carrier United Airlines), and Hillman’s Airways. Its corporate emblem was a winged lion. [Back]

Further Reading



Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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