Notes from the Past

SCADTA Joins the Fight

Preface:  We owe thanks to Rainer Fuchs for this interesting story of a rare postal history item.
SCADTA (Sociedad Colombo-Allemán De Transporto Aéreo -- Colombian-German Air Transport Corporation) was the first commercial airline in the western hemisphere.*  It began operations in Colombia on October 19, 1920.  It was the product of German businessmen, war surplus airplanes and personnel from the World War I Luftwaffe along with Colombian capital.  By the end of 1920 SCADTA had an exclusive airmail contract with the Colombian government. The contract, which lasted eleven years, included the right to print and sell their own SCADTA airmail stamps.  The government required regular Colombian postage be affixed alongside the SCADTA stamps for their income from the contract.  Interestingly, it was SCADTA's aggressive expansion throughout South and Central America during the 1920s that led to an appropriation by the U. S. Congress to provide funds for the Post office to subsidize domestic and foreign air transport expansion in 1925.  This was the Kelley Bill, the Air Mail Act of 1925.

The history of SCADTA deserves a book of its own.  For example, Pan American Airways secretly owned a major part of the airline which it had acquired during the early days of the depression with help from the U. S. Secretary of State.  This ownership led to PAA ownership of 65% of AVIANCA which was formed from SCADTA when it was nationalized by the Colombian government of President Dr. Alfonso López in 1934.

In August of 1930 war broke out between Colombia and Peru when the Peruvian army occupied the remote Amazon river port of Leticia. In early 1932 during this war, Herbert Boy, a former German fighter pilot of the first World War and Chief Pilot of SCADTA, offered the Colombian Government the SCADTA Junkers - F13 and their German and Colombian pilots to participate in the conflict. The president accepted and a special squadron was formed under the command of Boy, now an honorary officer of the Colombian Air Force with the rank of Major. The squadron established its base in a place called "El Puerto" on the Caqueta river where they trained and became a very efficient military unit. Once the first operations started, Major Boy was named Commandant of the South. While the Colombian Navy sent some canon-boats, traveling from Cartagena to Brazil, up the Amazon river via Manaos toward Leticia, Boy and his squadron flew from the Caqueta base to the Amazon "frightening" and attacking the Peruvian units.  This action marked the turning point of the war.

Toward the end of the conflict, the village and base "El Puerto" were renamed by presidential order "Puerto Boy" in honor of Herbert Boy.  The name remains today.  Boy, still of German nationality was promoted to Honorary Colonel of the Colombian Armed Forces and received Colombian citizenship. After the conflict the Junkers returned to their normal routine flights with SCADTA and the pilots held their military ranks while some Colombian pilots returned later to the Armed Forces.

In October, 1932, after the first missions, Boy organized a Military Airmail from the base in Caucaya, Potosi to Bogota. Mail was sent from the bases to Bogota and from there by other SCADTA planes to Barranquilla, SCADTA's main base.  Covers bearing a circular handstamp are known from Caucaya, Potosi and Bogota. Some also bear a 2 line handstamp of "Ejercito de Colombia" (Army, not Airforce !). Known dates are the 13th, 17th, and 19th of October. Not all have the POTOSI transit handstamp. At this time only 7 such covers are recorded.  The covers were carried as Official Mail and didn't require any additional postage.
 

SCADTA Military Mail Cover - Front
 

SCADTA Military Mail Cover - Back


* Editor's Note:  Regularly scheduled commercial air service was provided from January 1, 1914, until the first week of May, 1914, by the St. Petersburg - Tampa Airboat Line.  This 'airline' provided twice daily flying boat service across Tampa Bay in Florida.  This service started more than six years before SCADTA.

Bibliographical Note:  Contextual material from an  article by George W. Hoffman entitled "SCADTA the First Commercial Airline in the Western Hemisphere" published in the 1968 Congress Book (American Philatelic Congress annual) has been added.

 Posted March 16, 2000
 

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