A bad ‘driver’ and an equally bad ‘siren’ suit

Looking at this image I’m reminded of two things not known to many people about Smuts and Churchill and both are equally bad.  That Winston Churchill invented some bizarre things, including the rather unflattering ‘siren suit’ and Jan Smuts as a family man, whose entire family would vanish whenever he got close to his automobile.

smuts:chuchill

Taken on the 23rd August, 1942 in the gardens of the British Embassy, Cairo, this photo shows Winston Churchill in his infamous siren suit and wearing yet another odd hat.  The small boy is Victor Lampson, the son of the British Ambassador to Egypt, who seems uncertain as to whether he wants to pose for Jan Smuts’ camera (seen in his left hand) as Churchill looks on in cheerful mood. Photo: Birmingham Mail and Post

Jan Smuts and automobiles 

So, lets kick off with Jan Smuts’ ability to make his family collectively disappear whenever he proposed driving them somewhere in his car.  Simply put, this Reformer, Prime Minister, Lawyer, Philosopher, Military Strategist and Botanist – with all his unsurpassed intelligence just could not get his great intellect around the simple idea of safely driving a modern automobile.

Smuts used to head off from his home in Irene, just outside Pretoria, with his grandchildren on the back seat of his car.  Whilst driving along some or other interesting idea would enter his mind and he would take his hands off the steering wheel, turn around – taking his eyes off the road completely and address the kids on the back seat on the subject at hand.  Much to the collective terror of everyone in the car except Smuts, the car would then veer off the road and careen into the veldt and fields until Smuts paid attention to it again and brought it back onto the road.

So whenever Smuts proposed going anywhere in the car, with him driving it, his family, in fear of their lives would suddenly make themselves very scarce.  Clearly he was more comfortable riding a horse, which by all accounts during the Second Anglo-Boer War he was very good at.

Jan Smuts Cars

Jan Smuts’ Cars – taken at the Smuts House Museum near Pretoria. The black car is his 1946 Cadillac which he used when he was Prime Minister. The other car looks like a 1948 Buick, photo thanks to Brian Parson.

Thank you to Philip Weyers, Jan Smuts’ great grandson, for that interesting insight into his family.

Winston Churchill and siren suits 

As to another intellectual giant, Sir Winston Churchill, note Winston Churchill’s “siren suit” and wide-brimmed hat (he loved hats) which he used when resting to totter around the garden in, building walls, painting but he also unabashedly wore them meeting Presidents, Cabinet Ministers and Generals.

Similar in style to boiler suits or overalls worn by many workers including mechanics, brick layers and tank crews to protect their standard clothing, the ‘siren suit’ was a more upmarket version of a boiler suit and is said to be invented by Churchill as an original leisure suit in the 1930s.

Churchill played a large part in popularising his all-in-one suit as an item of clothing during World War 2, wearing it regularly, including when meeting other important people such as U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, General Dwight Eisenhower and even Joseph Stalin.

During the Second World War it was marketed as a one-piece garment for the whole body which is easily put on or taken off, originally designed for use on the way to and whilst in air-raid shelters. The suit solved the problems of warmth and modesty encountered when seeking shelter during night-time air raids.  It was said to be roomy and could be put on over night-clothes quickly when an imminent air raid was announced by the city’s warning sirens.  Hence the term ‘Siren Suit’.

1666

They are perhaps more commonly associated with pop starlets and reality television stars – but the true pioneer of the onesie was Winston Churchill. Photo Life Magazine

Winston Churchill had a number of these gormless ‘onesie’ siren suits, and some of them were even designed for him by the best tailors of his time – a pin stripe version which he wore during the war years and then for portraits was made by Oscar Nemon and Frank O. Salisbury.   After the war in the 1950s another siren suit, made of bottle-green velvet, was created for him by Turnbull & Asser. It is also claimed that Austin Reed made a siren suit for him.

In Conclusion

So there you have it, the awful ‘onesie’ was pioneered by Winston Churchill and Jan Smuts was an awful ‘driver’. For all the intellectual brilliance both these men represented, both men were just that – men, and they both had the usual flawed human traits and odd quirks.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Related Posts and Links

Churchill and Smuts on D-Day: Jan Smuts, Winston Churchill and D-Day

Churchill and Smuts’ friendship: Churchill’s Desk

Thanks a Million!

Whoo-hoo … my blog, The Observation Post just hit the 1,000,000 views mark!

I started this blog after my father’s death around this time in Hermanus, South Africa – fondly known locally as ‘Prof Dickens’ to many locals, it was just three short years ago and in a way it is a homage to the library of military history books he left to me to reference, his passion for the subject and it was really set up in his memory.

In my small way I wanted to capture the joint passion for the subject we both felt, debated and endlessly discussed over a glass of whiskey – very often overlooking Schulphoek bay from his art gallery surrounded by all his military aviation and maritime artworks.

The work in essence was a cathartic experience for me at the difficult time of my Dad’s death as it gave vent to all the knowledge and nuggets of South Africa’s military history imparted to me or inspired by my Dad, and I’m extremely happy to share all his legacy, he would have been pleased as punch with it – there are now 323 stories published, 57 stories currently been ‘polished’ waiting to go and well over 200 more stories in basic draft pending.

Both my Dad and I were Marketing people in our time and The Observation Post can now be found in multimedia, it has a blog with an e-mail subscription, a linked Facebook ‘Page’ (just click like and click the prompts to follow it), a linked Twitter account and even a Facebook ‘Group’ discussion forum were you can interact with me directly and share your own interesting historical nuggets with like-minded people.

Blog: https://samilhistory.com

FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/samilhistory/

FB Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1987664881245816/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/samilhistory

Aside from my Dad, ‘Thanks a Million’ to you, all the avid followers of the blog, the readers of the material, it’s your support which keeps it going and it’s your feedback that motivates me to bring more historical nuggets so often gleaned over, written out of the school history books and ignored for political expediency in South Africa.

Here’s to another Million Dad – Cheers!

Peter Dickens

Remembering a South African killed in the Vietnam War

Yup, you’ll find the South African connection in nearly every major modern-day conflict, even in the Vietnam War,  Today we remember a South African of dual nationality who died during the Vietnam War, Lieutenant John Louis Molynaeux Jr. We’ll also recall the  tumultuous events surrounding his death, as this was the peak of the Vietnam War around period of the ‘Mini Tet’ offences which took place some months after the main ‘Tet offensive’ in 1968.

Background

1006774

1st Lt John Louis Molynaeux Jr

John Louis Molynaeux Jr was born in Australia on the 13th January 1946 and grew up in South Africa as a naturalised South African – going to St. Charles College, Pietermaritzburg, Natal before returning briefly to Australia.  At the onset of the Vietnam War he went to the United States and volunteered to join the United States Marine Corps.

He was mustered into the 1st Battalion 5th Marines, known as 1/5 , these US Marines were deployed to some of the heaviest fighting in Vietnam. The 1/5 participated in action around Chu Lai, Danang and Quang Nam.  During the war Lt Molynaeux found himself as a Junior Commissioned Officer in A Company 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, III MAF.

Tet 

The Tet Offensive was a series of surprise attacks by the Viet Cong  (rebel forces sponsored by North Vietnam) and North Vietnamese forces, on scores of cities, towns, and hamlets throughout South Vietnam.  The Tet Offensive was the most defining battle of the Vietnam war, where planning and infiltration of North Vietnamese Army regulars into South Vietnam continued relatively unnoticed over an extended period of time, and it resulted in a multi-faceted and well-coordinated attack designed to destabilise the South and enact a complete people’s overthrow of South Vietnam, with all its American and the Allied forces included. It all kicked off on a day the American and South Vietnamese forces least expected it – on the evening of the 30 January 1968 during the Tet holiday festivities (the Vietnamese New Year).

The Tet Offensive was audacious to the say the least and it even included the ‘safe’ capital city of South Vietnam, Saigon – where insurgents even breached the embassy of the United States. The Tet offensive was to cumulate in the historic city of Hue, with its iconic Citadel and Imperial Palace as a backdrop.  The battle at Hue was a gruelling street to street, house to house affair not seen since World War 2 and it took place mainly between the US Marines alongside the South Vietnamese troops (ARVN) fighting in a ferocious battle against North Vietnamese Army regular troops (NVA) and Viet Cong irregulars. It was a desperate battle which literally flattened the beautiful city of Hue.

The intensity of the US Marines’ battle for Hue is seen in this short video clip.

In the middle of the battle for Hue, on 12 February 1968 was the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines as they joined the South Vietnamese Army (the ARVN), moving into the city from the north by helicopter and landing craft. The Marines went in on the left flank; the 3d ARVN Regiment was in the center, and the Vietnamese Marines, who had replaced the airborne battalions, were on the right flank. The attack ground inexorably forward. On 22 February, the Marines seized their final objective, the southeast wall of the Citadel.

By prior agreement, the Marines stayed out of the fight for the Imperial Palace. At dawn on the 24th, the South Vietnamese flag went up over the Citadel; and that afternoon, the Black Panther Company went into the now deserted Imperial Palace. Mopping up of the NVA remnants went on from 25 February until 2 March when the battle was declared over.

38875411984_0187f890f4_b

Marines assaulting Dong Ba Tower in the City of Hue, Feburary 15, 1968. Photo By John Olson. (Photo Courtesy Atlantic Monthly Press)

Mini Tet

After the failure of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong irregulars withdrew into the country side and regrouped.  By mid to late 1968 a second Tet Offensive opened up, phase 2 of the Tet Offensive, especially in areas surrounding the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). These offensives became known as ‘Mini Tet’.

The US Marines initiated two key operations using the 1/5 Marines (and other Marine Battalions) to seek and destroy the enemy during Mini Tet just south of Danang, Operation Allen Brook which was quickly followed by Operation Mameluke Thrust.

e0ba3758756c9c23e27ffbee54349d17

Members of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Division Regiment on patrol (Marine Corps/National Archives).

From the 1st to the 31 August 1968, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines found themselves taking part in Operation ‘Mameluke Thrust’ in the Southern part Dai Loc and northern part of Duc Duc districts in the Quang Nam Province.  Known generally as ‘Happy Valley’ by the Marines  the ‘operation took place just southwest of Danang in August 1968

KIA

1-5_battalion_insignia1st Lieutenant John Louis Molynaeux Jr was tragically Killed in Action towards the end of Operation Mameluke Thrust on the 31 August 1968 when he detonated a Viet Cong ‘Booby-trap’ (now know as an Improvised Explosive Device or IED) whilst on patrol in Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam. He was 22.

The US Marines took a heavy toll during Operation Mameluke Thrust, in all the Marines had suffered 269 dead and 1730 wounded, however in the standard of the time of counting ‘death toll’ or ‘body count’ they saw it as a victory claiming the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong lost 2,728 killed and 47 captured.

Remembrance

Today 1st Lieutenant John Louis Molynaeux Jr (service number 0103695) is remembered by both The United States of America and Australia.   His name can be found on the Vietnam War memorial –  45W LINE: 015 for anyone to pay respects to him.

14271_337213799781692_3855693545408206866_n

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard takes a rubbing of John Louis Molynaeux Jr’s name the Vietnam War memorial in Washington DC.

The then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited the United States Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington on March 7, 2011 and she took the special time to take a rubbing of his name.  Sadly, no such tribute or recognition has been paid to him by his other country of naturalisation – South Africa.

USMC-Officer-EmblemNext time you are in Washington and visit the Vietnam War Memorial, be sure to look him up, the Observation Post salutes you John Louis Molynaeux Jr, may your memory be forever kept alive, under all the nation’s flags with whom you served and made your home, including South Africa.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

With thanks to Graham Du Toit for his on-going work in keeping memories of these brave South Africans alive on digital media.  Mast image shows marines on patrol in ‘happy valley’ in mid 1968 during ‘Mini Tet’ – Operation Allen Brook, it would have been on a similar patrol that John Louis Molynaeux Jr would be KIA by triggering a IED.

 

Recommended for the Victoria Cross; Battle of Britain hero; Percy Burton

Today we highlight an act of bravery by a South African during the Battle of Britain which could have earned him the Victoria Cross but unfortunately did not – heralded and remembered in the United Kingdom, his act is hardly known of in South Africa.

30705995_626178271052359_5928681187911401472_n

Flight Officer Percival Ross-Frames Burton

So let’s have a look at this remarkable South African and his action, and lets remember what ‘sacrifice’ actually meant to the small group of South African airmen defending the last bastion European modern democracy and liberty against the invasion of a Nazi totalitarian tyranny.

There is truth in the words of Sir Winston Churchill when he said “never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few” – and in truth Percy Burton’s death epitomises exactly the type of sacrifice made by these ‘few’.  His action is astounding and it’s one which reflects the desperate nature of the fight between young men on both sides and in so it is as deeply tragic as it is liberating  – this is the true ‘Price’ paid.

Background

Percival (Percy) Ross-Frames Burton was born in 1917 in Cape Province, South Africa.  A military man from the outset, during peacetime he initially joined the South African Coast Garrison and Citizen Force in 1935.

Before the start of the Second World War, Percy decided to read Jurisprudence at Oxford University attending Christ Church College in 1938. An active sportsman’ he took part in the University’s rowing team and boat races and was the reserve cox for the Oxford crew.

Whilst at Oxford, Percy Burton also learned to fly with the University’s Air Squadron.  At the onset of war in October 1939 he volunteered and took up a commission in Royal Air Force Reserve (Service Number 74348), and after completing his training at Flight Training School Cranwell he arrived at 6 OTU, Sutton Bridge on the 22nd June 1940 to convert to Hawker Hurricanes.

After one month of training on hurricanes Flight Officer (F/O) Percival Ross-Frames Burton found himelf in RAF No. 249 Squadron.  Just in time to walk straight into The Battle of Britain which kicked off in earnest from the 10th July 1940, and he was to fly alongside another great South African hero in the Battle of Britain – Albert ‘Zulu’ Lewis DFC and Bar.

16462891_419761298360725_9162465937904396469_o

249 Squadron – Left to Right P/O Percival Ross-Frames Burton; Flt/Lt Robert ‘Butch’ Barton; Flt/Lt Albert Gerald ‘Zulu’ Lewis; P/O Terry ‘Ossie’ Crossey; P/O Tom ‘Ginger’ Neil; P/O Hugh John Sherard ‘Beazel’ Beazley; Sqn/Ldr John Grandy C/O; P/O George Barclay Flt/Lt Keith Lofts. (Colourised by Doug)

A ‘successful’ days’ action

On the morning of 27th September 1940, No.249 Squadron was scrambled into action. Burton took off from North Weald in Hurricane V6683 at about 08:50am with eleven other No.249 Squadron Hurricanes.

RAF 249 Squadron’s Hurricanes rendezvoused with Hurricanes RAF 46 Squadron and they began to patrol Wickford before being vectored to the Maidstone area where enemy activity had been reported.

When they got to Maidstone they encountered German aircraft in two defensive formations heading south at low-level.  A defensive circle of German Luftwaffe Bf 110s were spotted over Redhill and above them German Luftwaffe Bf 109 fighters were sighted higher up. Flight/Lt Butch Barton rallied No.249 Squadron into a diving attack the Bf 110 formation from out of the sun and individual combats (dogfights) then ensued.  The German Bf 109 fighters flying top cover for some reason did not get into the ensuing dogfight – it was later assumed they had not seen the attacking RAF Hurricanes.

It was a successful day for 249 Squadron, when the Squadron’s Hurricanes returned to North Weald they claimed an impressive eight enemy aircraft destroyed and a further five probables, but it came with a price and Flying Officer Percy Burton had paid the ultimate price.  However he had done so in a manner which simply breathtaking.

Cutting a Bf 110 in two

42648097_1749994908463627_228479310820802560_n

Hauptmann Horst Liensberger

During the action Percy Burton locked onto and vigorously pursued a Bf 110 flown by Hauptmann Horst Liensberger in a desperate engagement which covered  a distance of about forty miles (64 kilometres), weaving around at an extremely low altitude, often little more than treetop height.

Percy Burton chased the Bf 110 at this low-level, until they arrived over Hailsham, Sussex when Burton’s ammunition had all been fully expended, with silent guns Percy Burton continued the chase and the two aircraft skimmed over the rooftops. The Bf 110 simply could not shake Burton off.

At this point Percy Burton was flying slightly above and behind the twin-engined BF 110 light bomber aircraft when suddenly, and in an unprecedented manoeuvre, he banked his Hurricane, dived down and collided with the Bf 110 in mid-air, literally chopping the Bf 100 into two.

The Bf 100’s Empennage (the tail assembly including the flying surfaces – rudder and elevator) dropped out of the sky and fell into a field, it was followed by the remainder of the severed enemy aircraft’ (the wings, dual engines and cockpit) falling uncontrolled out of the sky into the field – along with Burton’s wingtip.

The Bf 110 pilot Hauptmann Horst Liensberger his rear-gunner, Uffz Albert Kopge, were killed outright. Flying Officer Percy Burton’s Hurricane, now missing its wingtip was also out of control and he crashed into a huge oak tree on New Barn Farm.  The impact of hitting such a large oak tree was so excessive it threw Burton out and clear of his Hurricane.

42592234_1750002985129486_7395982904037212160_n

A powerful artists impression showing the ultimate sacrifice by Percy Burton of 249 Squadron as he rams the Stab-V LG1 Bf110C of Horst Liensberger/Albert Koepge.

Burton was killed and his Hurricane burned out. Eye-witness reports indicated that Percy Burton had deliberately rammed the Bf 110 in a final act of valour.  Percy’s body was found riddled with bullets, which led to speculation that Percy Burton was severely wounded in the attack and had consciously pursued and rammed the Bf 100 knowing he was not coming back.

As to a conscious decision to ram the Bf 100, fellow RAF pilot Tich Palliser who had also witnessed the collision from the air reported:

“I saw his contortions, then I saw him straighten out and fly straight into the German aircraft. I was close enough to see his letters (squadron code-markings), as other pilots must have been who also confirmed the incident, which in itself caused me to realise that my young life and its future, if any, had jumped into another dimension.”

The German witness also tells a tale young lives sacrificed, A colleague and friend of the Bf 110 pilot, wrote at the time of the incident:

“I regarded Horst Liensberger highly as my commander and as a human being… Over the radio we heard his last message: ‘Both engines are hit … am trying to turn … it’s impossible … I will try to land.’ Then nothing more.” 

Recommendation for a VC

249-SqdrnAs all the eye-witness reports indicate strongly that Percy Burton deliberately rammed the Bf 110 in an act of sacrifice. In a letter from Fighter Command to the Hailsham ARP Chief, Percy Burton was recommended that for this action, bravery and sacrifice at Hailsham that he receive a posthumous Victoria Cross.

However, because of the speculated issues surrounding his action, and much to the outrage, displeasure and disappointment of his fellow pilots in No. 249 Squadron, Percy Burton did not receive the VC or any gallantry award for that metter and he was only ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’.

Remembrance 

If you wish to visit another brave South African in a foreign field, Percy Burton is buried in St Andrew’s churchyard, Tangmere, England (Plot E, Row 1, Grave 480). In 1980 a road in a housing estate near the crash site was named ‘Burton Walk’ in his memory. There is also a humble memorial plaque dedicated to Burton’s memory at Hailsham near the oak tree that he hit.

The two German crew were initially buried in Hailsham Cemetery but were exhumed after the war and buried elsewhere.

42677047_745687879101397_8494527446912073728_oLooking at this recently colourised image of Percy Burton by Doug, we are reminded of just how young these brave men were, Percy Burton was just 23 years old when he boldly sacrificed his life.  In perspective he was the ‘millennial’ of his time, however it is very difficult to imagine a modern millenial facing the hardship, morality, bravery and sacrifice that this – the ‘greatest generation’ – faced.

No similar such acknowledgements or symbols of remembrance to Percy Burton exist in South Africa today, it’s also very possible that almost no South Africans even know of his existence or the brave action that nearly earned him the Victoria Cross – and he is not alone, the South Africans who took part in the Battle of Britain remain obscured and his story is one of many.  Their stories left to the wayside after 1948 as seismic political forces over-shadowed these brave South Africans fighting to preserve a liberated world in the sky over England during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940.

In our small way, The Observation Post hopes to keep this history alive, knowing in the full grace of time that these South African men and their very brave deeds are captured and not forgotten.  The Observation Post salutes and remembers you Flight Officer Percival Ross-Frames Burton.


Researched by Peter Dickens

Related Stories and Links

Zulu Lewis ‘Ace in a Day’ TWICE! … Albert ‘Zulu’ Lewis

Ray Davis A USA claimed South African born ‘Battle of Britain’ Fighter Ace

Frederick Posener South African Battle of Britain “Few” – Frederick Posener

Stapme Stapelton ‘Stapme’ the handlebar moustached South African & Battle of Britain icon

Sailor Malan Sailor Malan; Fighter Ace & Freedom Fighter!

David Haysom The South African Battle of Britain “Few” – David Haysom DSO DFC

References and extracts

The Battle of Britain monument, London – on-line.  Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  Colourised images by Doug and DBC Colour.

The sinking of the ‘City of Johannesburg’

The Observation Post

The submarine “U Boat” menace of the Second World War became commonly known as the “Battle of the Atlantic”, but it also extended to all oceans and the strategic point rounding the South African Cape became a focus point of the submarine war and German attention – and subsequently the attention of The South African Navy and her British Allies.

2000px-Pirate_FlagA typical example of the danger, survival and sacrifice in South African waters is the story of the sinking of the “City of Johannesburg” by German submarine U-504 (seen in the featured image above).  U-504 was a Type IXC U-boat of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine during World War II, the SS City of Johannesburg was a merchant vessel carrying supplies off the coast of East London, South Africa.

Of the merchantmen on board the SS City of Johannesburg, 90 in total, 4 perished and there where 86 survivors. Their survival in…

View original post 1,213 more words

‘Hurricat’ Hero

There are pilots, and then there are ‘Hurricat’ pilots – they are truly a breed apart, and as usual in a mustering of elite pilots we find a South African.  So what’s a ‘Hurricat’?  Even to many of the most ardent South African aviation fans, these pilots and this aircraft nickname and type would be relatively unknown.  Well, during World War 2, a ‘Hurricat’ was a Hawker ‘Sea’ Hurricane fighter which was specifically adapted to be catapulted off a ship with RAM boost, hence the combination of ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Catapult’ – Hurricat.’

So why so special?  Simply put this concept of protecting ships with a singular Sea Hurricane fighter came about when there was an urgent need for convoy protection from the air, but the problem was there were usually no places to land them once launched, no handy aircraft carrier deck around and nowhere near a shore and a nice strait landing strip – once catapulted off the ship in a blaze of rocket charge the Hurricat fighter pilot found himself alone, without vast fighter support or wingmen to take on the enemy, and if he survived that singular suicide mission – he then had to find his back to his fleet with the limited navigation aids available to him.  If he made it that far, there was more hazard to come, he then had to ditch his aircraft in the ocean (crash it in effect) to be hopefully safely found and plucked out.

CAM 2

Big seas breaking over the catapult aircraft of a catapult armed merchant (CAM) ship as seen from the bridge. Specially strengthened Hawker Sea Hurricanes are used.

These  men are truly special, men of extreme bravery and there are very few of them, and one South African Hurricat pilot stands out – Flight-Lieutenant Alistair James Hay DFC.  Now not too many South Africans have heard of him, and they should, this is one very remarkable South African, with bravery in buckets – this is his story.

Background 

Alistair Hay was born in Johannesburg on the 13 September 1921, son of Frederick John Gordon Hay and Catherine, nee Metherell.  Alistair was educated at Christian Brothers’ College in Pretoria. As a young man he was also a member of Boys Naval Brigade.  At the onset of World War 2 joined up and was part of the General Botha Cadet Draft and attended the SATS General Botha from 1937-8 (Number 928).

The South African Training Ship (SATS) General Botha (named after General Louis Botha, the first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa) started out as River Class Cruiser the HMS Thames and was donated to South Africa by T B Davis, a philanthropist extraordinary, as a full-time institution for the sea training of South African Naval Cadets.

sats-general-botha

After leaving the SATS General Botha, Alistair James Hay joined the Union-Castle Company, in which he remained until 1940.  Like Sailor Malan who followed a similar path before him on the SATS General Botha, he also enlisted with the Royal Air Force in 1942 as a Volunteer Reservist.  He joined the RAF initially as a Sergeant and was promoted as Commissioned Officer (Pilot Officer) on 18th May 1942, eventually becoming a Flight-Lieutenant on 18th May 1943.

He then signed up for what was one of the most dangerous jobs around, and because of his nautical background on the SATS General Botha he found himself seconded to the Navy again in service as a RAF fighter pilot on a Catapult Armed Merchantman (in short a ‘CAM’).

CAM

During the Second World War, German U Boats nearly won the war all on their own sinking merchant and fighting ships at a phenomenal rate starving the Allies of troops and supplies, and in a desperate attempt to close the gap in the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea that could not be covered by British aircraft flying from England i.e over the U-Boat hunting fields due to range, the concept of the Auxiliary Fighter Catapult Ships (FCS) under the White Ensign, and the Catapult Armed Merchantmen (CAM ships) sailing under the Red Duster was conceived and born.

CAM 1

The Hawker Sea Hurricane being catapulted from the catapult armed merchant (CAM) ship at Greenock. Note the long flame from the rocket assistors.

The idea was simple, one of the ships in the Merchant Fleet had an aircraft to protect the convoy.  The CAMs were equipped with a single fighter aircraft, and had no flight deck with a single catapult structure fitted to the ship’s bow.  To take off the catapult consisted of a girder framework and a trolley, connected by wire ropes and pulleys to the ram of a cylinder. The cylinder was connected by a pipe to the chamber in which a charge was exploded, causing the ram to push the aircraft forward in a blaze of charge and with sufficient velocity to make it air-borne at the end of its very short take-off run.

The merchantmen CAMs were allocated 50 Hawker Hurricane fighters with specially trained RAF crews.  However launching a ‘Hurricat’ usually meant the fighter did not return, it would be ‘lost’ – either be shot down by the attacking enemy or it would be lost to sea when the pilot ditched it, they were a one way and very costly mission.  In spite of the inevitable early heavy losses and the sheer waste of perfectly good aircraft, the catapult ships remained in vital service until 1943.  By 1943 large numbers of Allied aircraft carriers had been built and they in turn took up the role of closing the air cover gap to protect merchantmen at sea.

CAM3

A Hawker Sea Hurricane Mk IA on the catapult of a CAM [Catapult Armed Merchant] Ship at Greenock.

Back to our hero, an article was later published in the “South Africa” newspaper on 14 March 1942 relates just what a special pilot Alistair Hay was:

The hazards of the sea are apparently not enough for the young gentleman trained in the S.A.T.S. General Botha. pilot-officer A.J. Hay, Royal Air Force, from Pretoria, just back from a successful cruise, tells me that his special duty is to be ‘loaded’ into a catapult that will shoot him and his fighter plane from the deck of the ship as soon as his services are needed to attack enemy aircraft. he describes the sensation as thrilling ‘until you are accustomed to it”

The HMS Empire Lawrence 

P/O Alistair Hay, on the 27th May 1942, found himself  serving as the ‘Hurricat’ Catapult Pilot aboard the CAM, HMS “Empire Lawrence”, little did he know that by the end of the day he would be a decorated hero.  The HMS Empire Lawrence was the CAM ship forming part of the Russian PQ16 convoy to Murmansk just east of Bear Island (the southernmost island of the Norwegian Svalbard Archipelago) when the convoy was attacked by German seaplanes.

To fight off the attack, Pilot Officer Hay jumped into his Sea Hurricane and was blasted off the ship to take the approaching formation of German aircraft head on singlehandedly.  The approaching attack was made up of a formation of six German Heinkel 111 and 115.  These Heinkel aircraft were adapted seaplanes for long-range patrolling and whose mission was to sink Merchantmen using torpedos which they dropped in low flight bombing runs.

CAM 5

HMS EMPIRE LAWRENCE, circa 1941. Note the catapult and Sea Hurricane on the bow

Alistair Hay’s mission was to disrupt the torpedo bombing runs and destroy as many enemy aircraft as possible.  He diverted the attack and in the process destroyed one German aircraft and damaged a second one.  In a six against one attack it was inevitable that he would come under extreme fire, and as a result he was severely wounded in the attack, shot in the thigh and bleeding heavily he had to bale out of his aircraft.

The action in the air was recounted by an eyewitness, a naval officer – Neil Hulse, who had been smoking with Alistair Hay on the bridge as the attack unfolded, he recalled: 

He (Hay) butted out his cigarette and put it in his flying jacket. He had no hope of landing on friendly territory. We watched as he took off and remained in communication with him. On the speaker we could hear him going in, and hear his cannon fire in the cockpit of the plane. He got one and there was smoke trailing from the other. Then we heard his cry that he had been hit.

Spotting his parachute, he was picked up from the icy waters within ten minutes by one of the convoy’s escort ships, the HMS Volunteer, who came to his rescue, and funnily enough the Commander of HMS Volunteer was none other than another South African and fellow SATS General Botha graduate – Lieutenant-Commander Arthur Shubrook Pomeroy.  The rescue itself was also very dramatic as the HMS Volunteer also came under attack whilst they were hoisting Alistair Hay aboard and HMS Volunteer had to make some dramatic evasive manoeuvres.

Volunteer

HMS Volunteer underway – Imperial War Museum

Lt/Cmdr Arthur Pomeroy recalled the incident of reusing his fellow South African when he wrote:

“Let me tell you how I met him (Alistair Hay) in the Arctic. Our station was on the port bow of the leading ship of the port column, the ‘Empire Lawrence’, which was fully loaded with explosives and ammunition. Mounted on her forecastle was a catapult with a Hurricane fighter aircraft piloted by Alastair hay. On the first day of intense bombing, he was shot off into the air to engage single-handed the squadrons of Heinkel III and Junkers 88s.

Eventually, wounded, he had to bale out, as there was no carrier to land on. I lowered a boat to pick him up, and just as the boat’s falls were hooked on again for hoisting, two torpedo-bombers came at us low down from the North. With the boat still only a few inches out of the water and my hair standing on end, I ordered Full Ahead and Hard-a-Starboard to steady course to comb the tracks of the torpedoes, which we could see, one on each quarter.

This took us on an exact collision course with the ‘Empire Lawrence’ . There was just time to alter to port ahead of the port torpedo, and then both of them struck her and she disintegrated in an immense explosion, just a grating and a few bits of wood left floating”

43405806_2257964881099164_940755733706702848_o

Nazi Luftwaffe Heinkel He 115 in flight

DFC

For his gallant actions P/O Alistair Hay was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and his citation (Supplement to the London Gazette, vol 35605 pg 2756) reads:

DFCLG“Pilot Officer Hay was pilot of the Hurricane on board a ship fitted with a catapult. On the approach of enemy aircraft he was catapulted off and immediately proceeded to attack and drive off a formation of six Heinkel 111’s and 115’s which were preparing to deliver a torpedo attack on the port bow of the convoy; not only did this prevent synchronisation with an attack which developed from the starboard bow, but he destroyed one Heinkel 111 and slightly damaged another. Pilot Officer Hay was himself wounded and he then baled out and was picked up by one of His Majesty’s ships of the convoy escort. He showed great gallantry and his spirited attack was a great encouragement to all the convoy and escorts, and cannot but have been a great discomfort and surprise to the enemy.”

The Battle of the Falaise Gap

Alistair Hay DFC recovered from his bullet wound, and there was still more fight in him.  He was to join Royal Air Force No. 182 Squadron to take part in the liberation of  Europe  flying Typhoon 1b’s.

Flying Typhoons was particularly dangerous at this phase of the war, they almost always operated at low altitude “on the deck” mainly employed to attack targets such as armour, anti-aircraft installations, specific buildings, transports and enemy personnel.  As a result they were frequently subjected to intense ground fire, for this reason alone, flying in a Typhoon squadron was very high risk.

Typhoon 1b

RAF Typhoon Mk1b

During the Normandy invasion, the defending German were surrounded on three sides into a pocket called the ‘Falaise Gap’, trapped in the pocket they chose to fight their way out with a staggering loss of personnel and equipment, it was a desperate battle as the only way the German forces in Europe could remain in contention was to retreat from the trap and reform – which they ultimately managed to do.

The Falaise Gap was ideal territory for Typhoons as they strafed and rocketed the high congestions of German personnel, trucks, armour, artillery and tanks trying to escape the pocket, but also highly dangerous as they came up against a very desperate defence.

fllt.-alistair-james-hay-dfc-67093-rafvr-age-22-grave-w760Flight-Lieutenant Alistair James Hay DFC was tragically killed on the 18 August 1944 whilst taking part in the Battle of the Falaise Gap flying RAF Typhoon, serial number JP427 and he encountered flak near Vimoutiers and was shot down.

He lies today in France at the St Desir War Cemetery in Calvodos, near Caen, Grave reference V.D.4. should anyone want to visit and salute one very brave son of South Africa.

In Conclusion

So why don’t South Africans know much about these remarkably brave ‘Hurricat’ pilots, their aircraft and their near suicide missions, why has someone like Flight-Lieutenant Alistair James Hay DFC and his rescue by his fellow SATS General Botha fraternity not entered our realm of standout South African military heroes or even into our general discourse and understanding of World War 2 and South Africa’s involvement?

His story like many others is just confined to the SATS General Botha old boys fraternity, his name on their Honour Roll.  We all know the reason as its politics as usual, Smuts sending South Africans to war was bad enough for the Afrikaner nationalists, serving in the ‘hated’ British Armed services was akin to treason in their eyes.  This history was buried after the nationalists came to power and it remains relatively buried to this day as more seismic political forces have over-taken it.

In a small way, we hope to keep this history alive, knowing in the full grace of time that these men and their very brave deeds are captured and not forgotten.  The Observation Post salutes and remembers you Flight-Lieutenant Alistair James Hay DFC – one of our bravest, lest we forget.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Related Work – links

South African Naval Sacrifice in WW2  The South African Navy’s ‘elephant in the room’

South African  Sacrifice in the Fleet Air Arm South African sacrifice in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm

Fleet Air Arm The first man to land on an aircraft carrier at sea was a South African

References

Llarge extracts and references from The Southern African History Musings of Ross Dix-Peek – Alistair James Hay. Hurricane Catapult Pilot from the Transvaal June 19th 2013.  Reference for Lieutenant-Commander Arthur Shubrook Pomeroy’s memories – published in General Botha’s Old Boy Association newsletter, May 2005, Part Two.  Also referenced is the History of 182 Squadron on-line and The South African War Graves Project.  Images – copyright Imperial War Museum where indicated.  Colourised image on the header by Deviant Art.

A farewell tribute to General Gotze LdH

On the 8th September 2018 in Hermanus, South Africa, the South African Legion, Memorable Order of Tin Hats and South African Air Force Association said farewell to General Albie Gotze LdH in a fitting way,

41197444_2241528249409494_4343582043708325888_o

For those who wish to read my tribute at his service, and learn a little more about him, here it is:

KOREA 1952 004.jpg.opt836x629o0,0s836x629

Farewell to General Gotze

I first met Albie in my role of Chairman of the South African Legion of Military Veterans in the United Kingdom. Along with Tinus Le Roux we obtained a mobi-chair for him from the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund – it was the start of a friendship and a bond that is central and very specific to all military veterans.

I have a personal pledge to any veteran I meet who fought in World War 2 – I buy them a beer – it’s a simple gesture and a fellow warrior’s thanks to another who has sacrificed so much in what was the greatest bloodletting war mankind has ever seen – before or since.

Like Albie, I am also a pilot and we connected with our joint love of flying. I had borrowed a very powerful 745 BMW from my buddy ‘Aussie Matt’ – you guessed, he’s Australian, I figured I would take Albie to the Gecko Bar for his beer on me in Matt’s beamer. Driving there I realised Albie, as a pilot would still harbour in him that basic truth to all pilots – THE NEED – THE NEED FOR SPEED.

On the backroads, with Albie’s permission and a very tempting massive engine we decided to give the BMW a full whellie and put the boot to it – I opened up the BMW’s 4.5 Lt engine to full throttle, maximum torque, pushed back in the seats I noticed Albie’s right hand push an imaginary aircraft throttle to full tilt, and instead of scaring the heck out him all I saw was a massive smile on his face and sheer joy – in Albie’s mind he was back in one of the most powerful single engine war-birds ever built.

There’s a lot to be said for a person like Albie, but in his heart was an extremely courageous man, completely unafraid of danger – a fighter pilot – the bravest of the brave, and even in his twilight years a man still built of stronger stuff than most mortals would ever aspire to.

We got talking over that beer, and one story stands out – it’s one which demonstrates just what a man he was and his wry sense of ‘dark humour’ – a humour military veterans share as it comes from extreme adversary.

During the Second World War, Alibe had transferred from flying Spitfires during D-Day – the liberation of France, to flying the extremely fearful all rocket firing fire breathing Typhoon – in his quest to liberate Belgium and Holland as part of Operation Market Garden.

Both the Typhoon and Operation Market Garden were BEASTS in the extreme, the Typhoon was unforgiving on pilots, its massive engine, body frame and incredible amounts of power and torque took special pilots, and the Typhoon on its own claimed some of them. But the biggest claim on Typhoon pilots was Operation Market Garden, it was one of the most bloodiest encounters of the war, the toll on Typhoon pilots was extreme. Albie would later say that the fact he did not die he put down to a basic human dichotomy experienced by all men who have seen war;

… I survived because of sheer luck alone … with God’s grace.

During Operation Market Garden Albie served with RAF 137 Squadron and almost always operated at low altitude (“on the deck”) mainly employed to attack targets such as armour, anti-aircraft installations, specific buildings, transports and enemy personnel. For this reason alone, flying in the Typhoon squadron was dangerous and high risk.

Please excuse the language in the house of God, but this comes from a warrior fighting a war in the  extreme speaking to military truisms. According to Albie, flying the Typhoon at this time was regarded by Allied officers as – and I quote;

“the most dangerous job that these buggers could ever have volunteered for”.

The losses and dangers were extreme. To illustrate just how dangerous this was, Albie said

“we lost a 151 pilots flying this thing (Typhoons), on Operation Market Garden alone, in just one single day we lost 21 pilots on Typhoons”.

Combat was brutal in its simplicity, according to Albie it was as simple as;

“That guys gotta be shot down (the enemy), not me!”

The Typhoon missions, although very dangerous were also very formidable. Albie describes that aside from the rocket firing capability it could also deliver a wall of lead, consider his own words

“Can you imagine yourself flying over there, in Typhoons you have two 20mm guns, each one has 4 bloody spouts .. now, the 20mm shoots 600 shots a minute, can you imagine 600, 4 of them, that’s 2400, and there’s not just that one, there’s another Typhoon behind him (the wingman), that is 4800 bullets you have coming at the enemy”

Albie’s aircraft was hit on many occasions and he made a few crash landings with damaged aircraft. He recalled on such incident as if they were yesterday, this is a very brave account of combat flying, honest, harrowing and even a little funny (in the darkest manner of ‘military humour’).

“I got shot one day, as a matter of fact I was watching this guy shooting at me, with a 88 mm, he shot at me and I looked and I said to myself ‘this bastard is going to kill me’ … he shot me at the back of the fuselage, but, the 88mm did not explode for some unknown reason, God must have said ‘I not gonna put this fuse on’, But it did cut my trim-wire to my rudder and all it does is that your aircraft just rolls over and you go strait in, but fortunately I was able to ‘catch it’ (arrest the aircraft roll with opposite ailerons);

… but I could only fly at an angle a friend radioed and said ‘Albie are you in trouble?’, I said to him ‘yes’, I can’t see out, at this time as I got down into the cockpit and grabbed hold of the rudder bar in order to keep on flying, otherwise I would go down. He said “I will fly on top of you”, been down there you can’t see out of the cockpit, all I could see was up, he brought me home like that, him flying on top (as a visual marker), me underneath. When I did the crash landing, that scoop on ‘the typhoon’ is full of oil and it sparked and catches fire quickly, I was so scared, before the plane came to a stop, I was out of the cockpit and I ran so fast that the ambulance could not catch me”.

Wow, there’s everything in that story, drama, bravery, camaraderie, action and comedy … and this was one of many many simiar stories Albie could relate, not just from WW2, but the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War and the Angolan Border War … this was a man who had truly seen life and death, he had endured some of the greatest blows in history and survived. His testimony is the testimony of true Christian soldier, one of God’s most fearsome and most benevolent of men.

Albie was one of the last of the ‘few’ as Winston Churchill called the brave pilots who saved Britain and liberated Europe and the world of Nazi tyranny, he was also one of a small number of South Africans to take part in D-Day and he’s one of only three South Africans to receive France’s highest award – the Legion de Honour in recognition and grateful thanks from the entire country of France for the freedom they enjoy today. This was a very special man and as a Legionnaire I was extremely proud to be involved in the granting of the Legion de Honour to him.

It is always appropriate when a pilot passes on, for a fellow pilot to recite a poem written by a Royal Air Force pilot – John Gillespie during World War 2 It’s called High Flight and he penned just before he was tragically killed in combat over France in his Spitfire … and I am honoured to read it for Albie today;

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”

You would have witnessed today military people saluting Albie – but what is the salute? The British style of salute – long way up and short way down with open palm has an ancient medieval root – it was used to signify to another warrior that you do not have your sword in your right hand, its empty – you honour a fellow warrior by recognising him, you mean no harm to him and you come in peace. You are a friend.

Brigadier General Albie Gotze Legion de Honour . May you Rest In Peace, your memory will not be forgotten as long as the bond of brotherhood and friendship exists between military personnel. It is in this peace – and with this honour mind, that I as a fellow officer wish you well in your final flight to touch the face of God …. And I salute you.

Peter Dickens

41387977_2241038859458433_827225609041084416_n


Links to Albie on the Observation Post “This bastard is going to kill me”; Albie Götze’s Legion d’Honneur

Painting of ‘Typhoon Full Frontal’ on the masthead, artist Derrick Dickens, copyright Peter Dickens