South Africans destroy 101 Enemy Aircraft in East Africa

This is an interesting photograph of South African Airforce personnel celebrating a significant milestone.

The photo was taken during the East Africa campaign in 1941. Pilots and ground crew of No 3 Squadron, South African Air Force, chalk up their 101st enemy aircraft destroyed on the fuselage of a captured Italian CR 42 fighter.

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It must however be noted that this milestone was not 101 aircraft destroyed in air combat, and would be inclusive of aircraft destroyed whilst on the ground.  Nonetheless it provided for good propaganda and moral.  “Tiny” South Africa and a bunch of very brave airmen, in conjunction with The Royal Air Force and other Commonwealth Air Forces, decimated a European ‘superpower’s’ Air Force.

The East African Campaign – also known as the Abyssinian Campaign, started on 13 June 1940, with an Italian air raid on the base of 1 Squadron Southern Rhodesian Air Force (237 (Rhodesia) Squadron RAF) at Wajir in Kenya.

The campaign  continued until Italian forces had been pushed back from Kenya and Sudan, through Somaliland, Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1940 and early-1941.

The SAAF No.3 Squadron campaign began on 14 January 1941 the squadron was equipped with the Hawker Hurricane. It was used to support the invasion of Italian Somaliland, then after the fall of Mogadishu (25 February) took part in the advance into Ethiopa, moving to Jigigga on 24 March.In late October 1941.

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SAAF No.3 Squadron gained a second flight. This formation had originally been formed as No.41 Squadron Fighter Detachment, and was equipped with the Curtis Mohawk. This detachment was moved from Nairobi to the border town of Aiscia, where on 5 October 1941 it achieved the only Mohawk victory in Africa, shooting down a supply plane attempting to reach the isolated Italian garrison of Djibouti. Only after this did the detachment become ‘B’ Flight, No.3 Squadron.

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At the end of 1941 the squadron returned to South Africa before been redeployed to North Africa.


Feature image copyright IWM Collection. Reference, Wikipedia and the historyofwar.org.

As they like to say in the military “Karma is a Bitch!”

There’s a sarcastic saying in the military – “Karma is a bitch!” It’s a flippent manner of saying they had it coming, what goes around comes around – and this is an example of it.

The featured image is that of Gestapo member Johannes Post, executioner of Sqn Leader Rodger Bushell (known as ‘Big X’ as he masterminded “The Great Escape”), the moment the death sentence was announced at Post’s post war trial. He was hanged.

Roger Bushell’s story is nicely summed up by Buskriut Burger in his dedication to him;

Roger Bushell was born in Springs, South Africa in 1910. Paul Brickhill, who met Roger in Germany (POW) and later wrote THE GREAT ESCAPE, stated that “at the age of six, he (Roger) could swear fluently in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa and spit an incredible distance.”

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Roger Bushell (left), Janet Montagu and Paddy Green

Roger was educated in England, became a barrister and spoke fluent French and German. As a pilot in the RAF, he rose to the rank of Squadron Leader (equivalent to a Major in the South African Air Force). On 23 May 1940 he was leading 601 Squadron (12 Spitfires) over Dunkirk, when they were attacked by 40 German (Messerschmitt) aircraft.

Before being shot down, he destroyed two of the attackers. He bailed out and was taken prisoner of war (POW). During the next four years, he was a thorn in the flesh of his captors. Only his experience as a barrister saved him from being shot for habitually escaping, insubordination, resisting arrest and alleged spying and sabotage charges.

Sandy Hanes adds to this;

Roger Bushell is also oddly connected to Reinhard Heydrich’s assisination, he was recaptured due to it and worked over by the Gestapo as they believed he was involved in it (which he was not). The people sheltering him were executed for doing so.  It is suspected that this is when he began to hate the Nazi Germans with a passion.

In his final escape Roger masterminded, organized and orchestrated the “Great Escape” from Stalag Luft III POW camp in 1944. He was one of the 76 prisoners who escaped through the tunnel, and also one of the 73 recaptured. Squadron Leader Roger Bushell (RAF) and three South African Air Force airmen were among the 50, whose execution was ordered by Hitler.  Lt Johan (Boetie) Gouws, Lt Rupert Stevens and 2/Lt F.C. McGarr. Their names appear in the the South African Air Force Roll of Honour.

Roger Bushell’s ‘Great Escape’ was fictionalised to a degree in the movie “The Great Escape”. The character played by Richard Attenborough, Roger Bartlett, is modelled on Roger Bushell.

Karma is indeed a bitch – certainly for Johannes Post.  Roger Bushell is remembered on three war memorials, notably the one in Hermanus, South Africa.  Johannes Post has no such memorial and instead occupies a black stain in the annuals of history.


Insert picture of Roger Bushell thanks to Tinus Le Roux.  Composition article by Buskruit Burger, Sandy Evan Hanes and Peter Dickens

“Tomorrow I am going to die”

This is what Captain Walter ‘Jack’ Webb told his fellow 40 Squadron pilot, Lt. Michael Welchman, on the day that Mike snapped this photograph.

“Tomorrow I am going to die”

The very next day, 4/11/1942, Jack was shot down over the Alamein front whilst doing a tactical recce sortie on enemy positions. He forced landed on friendly territory but unfortunately landed in a mine field with tragic consequence that ended his short life.

19105707_10154760075403269_1391824141783588154_nJack was a survivor of three times being shot down but returned to the squadron unscathed every time . When he did not return after this particular sortie no one in the squadron were too much worried as they were confident he will pitch up on foot soon, but it never happened.

Jack was promoted to the rank of captain just days before his death and was recommended for an immediate DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) award.

What a poignant and sad image of someone clearly philosophical of his fate, and resigned to it.

May South African heroes like Capt. Walter John Stanley Alexander Jack’ Webb forever Rest in Peace. In the full knowledge that they are not forgotten and their sacrifice is a direct reason for all our modern-day liberties and freedoms.

He is buried in Egypt at the El Alamein War Cemetery. Grave Reference: Plot XXIII. Row A. Grave 8


Image colourised and caption researched by Tinus Le Roux – with kind thanks

Photo credit to Michael Welchman (left) who is still around and lives in Hermanus, this is the original shot he took (right) of Captain Jack Webb.  Headstone image courtesy Brett Fennell.

Supreme South African heroism on Omaha Beach, Lt. Royston Turnbull DSC

Remember the shattering opening of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” starring Tom Hanks commanding US Rangers as they storm ‘Omaha Beach’ and take out the German positions pinning everyone down on the beach during D Day?

Well, there was also one South African D Day hero and DSC (Distinguished Service Cross) recipient for gallantry in the centre of that specific firefight. Lieutenant Royston Davis Turnbull who had served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in Cape Town before the war and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry, on Omaha Beach itself.

His citation reads:

“This officer showed a magnificent example to his Flotilla when very heavily opposed whilst landing the 2nd Battalion United States Rangers near Vierville. Seeing three of his craft stranded on the beach and being subjected to intense mortar and machine-gun fire, he returned to their help. His hard work before the operation and his courage and leadership in the assault was an inspiration to all”.

Able, Baker and Charlie Companies of 2nd US Rangers were landed along with the 5th Rangers, the 1st Infantry Division and the 29th Infantry Division at Omaha Beach. Their action was fought near and at Vierville-sue-mer.

Rangers, Lead The Way!

During D Day the 2nd and 5th US Rangers on Omaha beach found themselves coming to the aid of elements of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division who were pinned down by murderous machinegun fire and mortars from the heights above. It was there that the situation was so critical that General Omar Bradley was seriously considering abandoning the beachhead, instead of sending more men to die. And it was then and there that General Norman Cota, Assistant Division Commander of the 29th Infantry Division, gave the now famous order that has become the motto of the 75th Ranger Regiment: “Rangers, Lead The Way!”

The 5th US Rangers broke across the sea wall and barbed wire entanglements, and moved up to the pillbox-rimmed heights under intense enemy machine-gun and mortar fire and with A and B Companies of the 2nd US Rangers Battalion and some elements of the 116th Infantry Regiment. They advanced four miles (6 km) to the key town of Vierville-sur-Mer, thus opening the breach for supporting troops to follow-up and expand the beachhead.

The magnificent eleven 

The feature photograph is one of the “magnificent eleven” photos taken by Robert Capa and shows this exact firefight as landing US troops are pinned down on Omaha beach, seen here taking cover behind the beach obstacles from the highly effective machine gun fire coming from a nearby German pillbox. The landing craft that would have concerned our hero – Lt. Royston Davis Turnbull are similar to those seen in the background.

This opening sequence of the beach landing in “Saving Private Ryan” was so accurately played by Tom Hanks and his men acting as the 2nd US Ranger Battalion, landing on Omaha beach and taking out these pillboxes, that the actual surviving veterans of the beach landing could not sit through it. Such was the intensity and accuracy of the harrowing memory it brought back to them.

To think that we had our own South African in the middle of this epic moment in history earning a decoration of gallantry is quite something, and we should stand very proud of Lt. Royston Davis Turnbull DSC.


Image copyright Robert Capa, and has been colourised. Story by Peter Dickens with assistance from Sandy Evan Haynes.  Film sequence copyright Paramount International. Reference: SOUTH AFRICA’S D-DAY VETERANS Cdr w.M. Bisset – SA Naval Museum, Simon’s Town.

South African bravery on D Day, Capt. Lyle McKay.

18839888_1970607699834885_1633886504255988424_oCapt. Lyle Louwrens Archibald McKay, was part of South African forces attached to the Royal Marines on D Day, 6 June 1944.  He showed remarkable courage on this most significant day in history – as this insert attests.

“Captain McKay showed qualities of initiative, energy and courage in a high degree by spotting and engaging enemy strong points, machine gun positions and anti-tank guns from the beach throughout D-Day.

In the course of the day he was wounded by a direct hit from a 75 millimetre shell which put the main armament of his Sherman tank out of action, but he nevertheless continued to engage the enemy with his .300 Browning machine gun until he finally moved inland from the beach with only one of four Centaur tanks, the remaining three still being out of action through damage to tracks on landing.”

The featured image shows a Sherman tank of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group, to which Capt. Mckay would have been attached, seen here during D Day operations – 13 June 1944, near Tilly-sur-Seulles.


Reference: SOUTH AFRICA’S D-DAY VETERANS Cdr w.M. Bisset – SA Naval Museum, Simon’s Town.

A ‘Living’ War Memorial, The Comrades Marathon

Did you know that the Comrades is actually a war memorial?

claphamAt the start of the First World War Vic Clapham signed up with the 8th South African Infantry which was sent to German East Africa (now Tanzania). During this time he marched over 2700 kilometres in pursuit of the German General Paul von Letter-Vorbeck’s Askari Battalions.

After the war ended, Clapham wanted to establish a memorial to the suffering and deaths of his comrades during the war, and their camaraderie in overcoming these hardships. He conceived of an extremely demanding race where the physical endurance of entrants could be put to the test.

Clapham asked for permission to stage a 56-mile (90 km) race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban under the name of the Comrades Marathon, and for it to become a living memorial to the spirit of the soldiers of the Great War.

He approached the ‘Comrades of the Great War’, a returning soldiers veterans association to underwrite the race.  Who would know that this simple vision of Vic’s would result in the worlds greatest ultra marathon nearly one hundred years later?

He maintained that if infantrymen, drafted into the armed forces from sedentary jobs, could endure forced marches over great distances, trained athletes could cover the distance between the two cities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban without great difficulty. Clapham, also wanted to remember those who had fallen in the war, and he felt the best way to honour this was by the ultimate testing of body and mind, and triumphing.

SALegion_FinalLogoLayout_GreenPrintTextIn the same year – 1921, the Comrades of the Great War was reborn as the British Empire Services League – South Africa, and since then is now known as The South African Legion of Military Veterans.  The South African Legion  has continued it’s association with the Comrades Marathon over the years and are involved in refreshment stops and hand poppies of Remembrance to participants.

The Comrades is still regarded as a ‘living war memorial’ like that of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.  A truly inspiring legacy.

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Reference Wikipedia

Springbok Valour

Speech by Peter Dickens on the Centenary of the Battle of Delville Wood

Thiepval Memorial, France 10th July 2016

Springbok Valour – Speech by Peter Dickens, Chairman of the Royal British Legion South African branch, in commemoration of 100 years of South Africans on the Somme and Battle of Delville Wood. Held at the Thiepval Memorial, France on 10th July 2016.

14495490_644871705682565_2175144210739678305_n“On behalf of The Royal British Legion South African Branch I would also like to welcome all here today, it is our privilege to honour the South African sacrifice during the Somme offensive – especially at Delville Wood just a short distance from this memorial.

We started this memorial service, with short blasts from World War 1 replica whistles, this was the signal blown by individual officers to send their troops “over the top” during the Somme Offensive and aside from the gun and artillery fire this is the last mechanical sound thousands of soldiers heard.

Frightening isn’t it? The sound of these whistles had some men literally freeze in pure terror. What a harrowing and poignant start and to consider that it was a sound that was going to repeat itself again and again all along the Somme salient.

Why is the Thiepval memorial significant to South Africans? It’s a surprise to many in The Royal British Legion and in South African veteran and military circles, but the official designation of this memorial is the “Memorial to the 72, 195 British and South African servicemen, who died in the Battle of the Somme of the First World War between 1915 – 1918, with no known grave”.

This memorial is built right across the front lines as they stood on the 1st July 1916, the very same day the British Army suffered 20 000 men killed and a further 40 000 wounded – it’s literally on this very ground that we are standing on now that much of this massive bloodletting took place. Humbling – no doubt!

This memorial however, speaks not simply of that first day but of the whole Battle of the Somme. On stone panels around the memorial’s arches are recorded the names of the men of the United Kingdom, 71,336 and 858 South Africans.

There is also one Irish born South African Victoria Cross recipient listed – Captain Alexander Young, awarded the Victoria Cross during the Boer War, Young served with the South African Scottish Regiment and was killed in action in October 1916.

To, think – these are only the ‘missing’ from the battle of the Somme – men who have no known grave, or on whose gravestone is inscribed the words “unknown soldier”. As to names on actual headstones, around us are thousands. The Somme Offensive is off the scale – it is the most bloodiest battle in the entire history of mankind, – the sad truth – it advanced only 10 km along the front with the grim total of 1 million men dead or wounded from both sides littered in its wake.

And it all began with a Bang!, a very big one. Soldiers of the British Forces here and soldiers of the South African forces just over the way at Delville Wood witnessed the biggest explosion ever seen until then – The Lochnagar mine explosion was so big that debris from the explosion hit a British spotter plane 4000 ft up in the air, the detonation of this large mine and 8 others under German positions was said to be heard as far as England, and it was the start of carnage on a epic level.

On the South African side of the Somme Offensive things started off remarkably well, the 1st South African Brigade was ordered to advance and to capture Delville Wood on the 14th July and “hold it at all costs”.

At first the attack progressed smoothly and by the end of the day the South Africans had secured the wood, now spread along the perimeter in groups forming machine gun nests.

But, rather than having “secured” the wood, the brigade was now in a trap, with only the south western base in contact with the 26th Brigade in Longueval. All troops were equipped with spades but digging within the wood was made extremely difficult by roots and tree trunks, preparation of proper trenches was impossible, the South made do with shallow burrows. With these unprepared trenches just over 3000 South Africans faced over 7,000 German troops, holding the wood was going to be extremely difficult!

The Germans launched one of the heaviest artillery bombardments of the war in an effort to dislodge the South Africans. At its peak the rate of firing exceeded 400 shells per minute and to think this relentless volley of shelling for days on end, and it was into a wood no bigger than a square kilometer in size.

There is a reason there as so many “missing” South Africans listed on this memorial – this rate of artillery fire literally vaporized these men or blasted them beyond recognition. This is why Delville Wood itself is such a humbling experience – many of these men listed HERE are still THERE, unfound even to this day.

Of the 121 officers and 3,032 men of the South African Brigade who launched the initial attack, only 29 officers and 751 men eventually walked out. These men held the wood at a massive cost, even reverting to hand to hand combat at stages – the depth of bravery required to do this under this sort of fire power is simply too staggering to contemplate. The losses sustained by the South Africans were one of the greatest sacrifices of the war.

The South African Brigade suffered 80% loss, yet they managed to hold the Wood as ordered. This feat has was described then as “… the bloodiest battle hell of 1916.”

But something very important also happened during the Battle of Delville Wood – the South African nation as we know it today was born. It was out of this horrific baptism of fire, of South Africans from across ethnic, language and cultural divides – fighting as one in union and strength, that the newly formed Union of South Africa’s national identity was forged for the years come.

“Nancy” the Springbok, the South African Scottish mascot on the Somme, had been the symbol of home for all the men during the fighting, she proudly led four battalions of the South African Brigade to the first Delville Wood drum head service after the battle in 1918.

Prancing on her thin little legs, it’s almost as if she knew that she was the darling of every soldier on parade – and of those they were coming to honour – because from here on out these South African fighting men had walked into history as a force to be RESPECTED and the legend of the fighting Springbok was born.

The veterans bond

14502685_644871315682604_1764889988260960146_nI would like, if I may, to talk about why is the Battle of the Somme, something that occurred 100 years ago, is so important to us as veterans?

Forgive me if I read an abridge version from these very poignant memoirs. One from a South African who had just survived Deville Wood in France in 1916, one from a survivor of the SS Mendi in 1917 and the other is from a South African who survived an air attack during Ops Modular in Angola in 1987.

Lance Corporal Frederick Charles Lee, the only surviving NCO in his company to come out of Delville wood.

“After five days of absolute awfulness poor Angus Brown, my pal, died of wounds after about three hours awful suffering. He had both feet blown off by a shell. I saw him a little while after he was hit. I gave him a drink of water, and the only complaint he made at that time was “My God, Fred, the pain is awful “. With that I ran down to the dressing station and got the doctor to give me some Morphine. When I got back Angus was just about finished’

The next from Matli, a survivor of the SS Mendi

“George Mathibe said to me when I found him, we are about to die, but one of us will live to tell at home how members of the tribe had died with the ship Mendi, and I hope it will be you” at that point Matli gave Mathibe his warm great overcoat, promised to return to him but was unable to do so.

70 years later, Cpl Dave Mannall, writes the following from Ops Modular after the Ratel 90 Infantry Fighting Vehicle next to his took a direct hit from a Mig fighter jet ‘s parachute retarded bomb:

“Frikkie De Jager died from multiple shrapnel injuries before the helicopters arrived, his death was extremely hard for us boys, watching that death slowly unfold over eight hours took a far greater toll on our morale, especially for all of us who had become brothers in arms with him during our year in 61 Mech”.

Although separated by 70 years, all these brave South Africans – Angus Brown, George Mathibe and Frik De Jager share a bond between themselves and that same bond is shared with us as their brothers in arms.

They all died in excruciating circumstances brought about by War but, most importantly, they all died in the arms of men would have gladly given their lives for them instead … and that is a very special bond indeed.

That bond of brotherhood stretches in countless names from Frikkie all the way to Angus, before and after. It is a bond that we all share, and it’s a bond that is never broken.

It really is not the job of Politicians to carry the flame of remembrance for our brothers, nor can they really understand the bond we have for them. There is no political currency to be made out the war dead, to do this is to absolutely dishonor them.

Because of this unique bond – It is our job – the job of the Veterans to carry this solemn flame of remembrance – this RED Poppy – it is our duty to carry that unique thread that links us here today with the men buried in the ground we are standing on and with those South Africans who where sacrificed nearby at Arques-la-Bataille or on the SS Mendi – even those who lie in graves far off in countries like Angola and Namibia from a forgotten war … and we prepare to stand by those who WILL fall in the years to come.

Today! – our bond remains with those South Africans who fell in Delville Wood and those who where never found during the Battle of the Somme and are immortalized on this very monument – and after 100 years OUR bond is as strong as ever.

Lest we forget”

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