A lot of Brits would probably struggle to say exactly where Chad is, so it’s perhaps no surprise that it’s one of those countries we haven’t had a lot to do with on the invading front. Having said that, Chad does play an interesting and, at one point, vital role in British military history.
In the 1820s, a small British expedition reached Lake Chad, the first Europeans to reach it, and elements of the expedition seem to have ventured into what is now Chad. In the nineteenth-century imperial carve-up of Africa, however, Chad went to France. The border was undefined for a while, so again it’s possible British troops may have been on the other side of it at some stage. You will probably have heard of Darfur, now sandwiched between Chad to the west and the rest of Sudan to the east (South Sudan), well it was Britain that first brought that troubled region to the notice of the Western world. Up until the First World War, the region had been mainly independent, but by 1916, as we fought the Turks, we were afraid that the ruler of Darfur might side with the Ottomans, who were looking for Muslim allies, against us. Consequently, we started by arming Arab tribes, who promptly used their weapons to advance across Darfur and fight tribes inside Chad. We then sent a British and Egyptian invasion force into Darfur to occupy the region.
In the Second World War, Chad from the start sided with the Free French against Vichy in our conflict with Vichy, so we didn’t get an opportunity to invade it then. Instead, it was to become a vital part of our war against the Axis powers in North Africa. For instance, early in the war the Long Range Desert Group used Chad as a base to launch attacks, with the Free French, against Italian garrisons across the border in southern Libya. On one occasion they attacked the Italian garrison at Murzuq and destroyed the airfield there, before heading for Zouar in French-controlled Chad. Of rather more overall strategic importance, though, was something called the Takoradi Route, or more officially, the West African Reinforcement Route, because of which Chad became vital to British airpower in North Africa and the Middle East, and was consequently vital to victory both in the area and in the Second World War itself. It’s one of the Second World War’s great but little-known stories.
Early in the war, with most of Europe and North Africa in German, Italian or Vichy French hands, there was no safe way to get planes to our forces in the Middle East and North Africa, except by hugely lengthy sea voyages. So, planes were shipped from Britain in kit form and reassembled at Takoradi in Ghana. They were then flown via a series of landing strips across Africa to Khartoum. And one of the stops on the way was at Fort Lamy (now N’Djamena, the capital) in, you guessed it, Chad.