Lost MiG – pilot Lt Vinez never “defected” to South Africa

Much has been speculated and written regarding the circumstances under which this Angolan MiG-21bis (C340), piloted by Lt Vinez landed up on Schneider-Waterberg’s farm near Otjiwarongo, South West Africa (now Namibia).  However this is the true story.

On 14/12/1988 a MiG-21bis Fishbed of FAPA, took-off from the airfield at Lubango (FNBU position 14:56South 13:35East). Lt Vinez at the controls of the aircraft climbed to altitude on a general heading of 090 degree for a routine ferry flight from FNBU to the airfield at Menongue (FNME 14:39South 17:41East). The aircraft encountered clouds along the route, and Lt Vinez continued eastwards as planned. However on a number of occasions the aircraft entered clouds and upon regaining visual contact with the ground, he no longer could orientate himself as to where he was. After a while, he elected to divert to Cuito Cuanavale (FNCV), South East of FNME.

According to Lt Vinez, he had lost all his visual queues, he had been used to use when navigating between these airfields.

After setting a South Easterly heading, he continued believing that he would soon pick up the beacons of FNCV, this never happened (he was way to the west of the planned route) at this time. The only maps carried in FAPA aircraft were standard ‘Shell’ road maps, these maps are near to useless in the aviation environment, let-alone use it during an Instrument Flight Rules mission!

He continued, after approximately 20 minutes, he had crossed a major river (the Cubago), which he believed to be the Cuito River. The area to the East of the Cuito River was UNITA occupied territory. Continuing on his present course, the aircraft began giving the pilot a ‘Low Fuel’ warning. At that time he elected to attempt an emergency landing, after preparing the aircraft for the Forced Landing, he selected an open field, and executed a near prefect ‘normal’ landing. The aircraft only sustained minor damage.

Fuelled by National Party propaganda and state owned media in South Africa – this event was set up as “defection” to South Africa – in much the same way that Soviet and Cuban Communists defected to the “West” during the Cold War. The truth of the matter is Lt Vinez had no intent on defecting to the Republic of South Africa/South West Africa. During discussions at the accident site with him, his greatest concern was that he was indeed in UNITA occupied territory. It took some time to convince him otherwise.

Content courtesy of the SAAF forum

SAAF Boston Bombers in living colour

Sometimes some well preserved original colour photography can take you right back to South Africans taking part in World War 2 as if it was yesterday.  Here, in Libya March 1943, are Douglas Boston light bomber aircraft of No 24 Squadron, South African Air Force lined up at Zuara, Tripolitania. The nearest Boston is AL683/`V’.

On 5 March 1941 24 Squadron SAAF was formed when No.14 Squadron SAAF and its Maryland bombers were moved from Kenya to Egypt, and renumbered as No.24 Squadron. The squadron then operated alongside No. 39 Squadron RAF as a daytime tactical bomber unit carrying out bombing sorties against targets in the Mediterranean theatre. 24 Squadron was later in the year re-equipped with Bostons.

In December 1943, the squadron was relocated to Algeria and re-equipped with the B-26 Marauders and in 1944 flew to a new base at Pescara, Italy, before later advancing to Jesi, Italy. At the end of the war the squadron used its Marauders as transport aircraft, before moving to Egypt in October 1945 and disbanding on 6 November 1945.

The squadron was reactivated when the Buccaneer entered SAAF service in 1965. 24 Squadron SAAF Buccaneers saw active service during the Border War in South-West Africa,. They flew over Angola and Namibia in the 1970s and 1980s, and attacked SWAPO guerrilla camps with rockets and bombs.

The squadron was disbanded in March 1991 at AFB Waterkloof, Pretoria.

Photo copyright – Imperial War Museum, source IWM and wikipedia


SCOPE Magazine – any troopie’s ‘must have’ reading material

SCOPE magazine – the ‘must have’ reading material for any troop serving in the SADF during the 70’s and the 80’s, many a SCOPE centre-fold model adorned signal/Ops rooms, tents and bungalow walls during the Border War.

By today’s standards SCOPE would be seen as a pretty tame mens lifestyle magazine, but then it pushed the barriers of soft porn and allowable content banned by the government of the day’s censorship board.

The magazine was launched in 1966 by Winston Charles Hyman and Jack Shepherd Smith became the long-time editor. Scope magazine would achieve iconic status in South African media as a publication that petitioned for freedom of the press with its censorship-defying content. The magazine was also known for placing strategically placed black stars concealing certain body parts of the nude female models per the censorship regulations.

The magazine had an on-going battle with the National Party’s Apartheid era policies of media censorship.  In 1972, the censor board of South Africa banned the weekly magazine, but this was overturned by the Supreme Court. This marked the seventh time in four years that the board had banned the magazine. The censor board had taken exception to a photograph published in May by the magazine, that showed a black man in New York embracing a white woman. They also took exception to a semi-nude shoot of a model in the forest and at the beach. In other attempts, the board had formerly attempted to ban the magazine because of a cover article on abortion and a story on test tube babies. In 1975, editor Shepherd Smith maintained that fair censorship was impossible in South Africa because of the cultural diversity of the nation “Whose particular way of life are the censors going to help to uphold?”. In May 1976, again the censor board issued a notice banning the magazine.


However believe it or not, SCOPE also had excellent editorial content and investigative journalism receiving a number of industry awards.

The magazine also covered important crime stories. In 1984 the weekly published a telephone interview with South Africa’s most-wanted bank robber Allan Heyl of the Stander Gang who was in hiding in Britain at the time. The newspaper has also covered political stories and interviewed figures such as the spy Craig Williamson.

Stories also appeared during the South African Border War that celebrated the military training of SADF soldiers and contributed to a sense of heroism. The weekly also published a series on the experiences of Horace Morgan, an ex-psychiatric patient who spent 37 years in mental institutions. Scope conducted interviews with Morgan (who had been admitted in 1937 after losing his memory) and reported the hostility of the institutions and Morgan’s inability to escape the fate of a “wasted, tragic life in a cage”.

Several notable journalists have contributed to the magazine. In 1990, former Sunday Times writer, Jani Allan launched the self-titled Jani Allan column at Scope.  An article written by Allan on 5 October 1990, volume 25, number 20 in the magazine was presented to the South African parliament in 1991 in support of a legislation issue.


As the apartheid policies and governance crumbled in the 1990s, so too did the magazine.  Ironic considering it had played such an iconic role in countenance to Apartheid and it’s policies.  In a sense its success lay in the ability to challenge the status quo and to sensationalise it – it was taken up and enjoyed by thousands of young white South African men seeking an avenue to express their sense of independence and individualism. It was especially appealing to those serving in the armed forces where conformity and censorship was the order of the day.  With no status quo and censorship laws left to challenge, the magazine found itself without a mission.  It suffered from heavy circulation losses and the final issue was published in 1996.

For a great insight into the magazine in its heyday, order ‘The Journey Man” a biography by Chris Marais, Chis was a contributing journalist and his insights into the magazine are second to none – here’s a link The Journey Man by Chris Marais

Researched by Peter Dickens. Source wikipedia.  Photo copyright John Liebenberg

The SAAF’s Mustangs baptism of fire and the urgent need for jet powered fighters

Korean War and the urgent need for the South African Air Force participating in the war  to change from piston driven Mustangs to jet power.

Prior to the SAAF 2 Squadrons deployment to Korea the pilots of the ‘Flying Cheetahs’ underwent concentrated training on Spitfire Mk IXs. Before they were placed at the disposal of the United Nations. They converted to the F-51D Mustang at Johnson Air Force Base, Tokyo, and were attached to the USAF 18th fighter bomber wing at K-9, Pusan and K-24 Pyongyang.

The squadron flew into action to stem the Communist invasion swarming in from the North, the head-long advance forcing it to fall back to K-10 near Chinhae, which remained its permanent base for the next two years.

In this war the SAAF received its baptism of fire from Russian made MiG jets and intensive ground fire – this was party due to the nature of the SAAF sorties at the beginning of the war – close air support to ground troops – coming in low and relatively slow in a highly vulnerable position to ground anti aircraft fire to hit ground targets. Sarcastically these USAF and SAAF pilots were called “mud movers” by pilots and ground troops alike, as at times this is all they seemed to do when dropping bombs or rocketing well defended lines.

In operations using the Mustangs, the SAAF carried out 10 373 sorties, and lost 74 of its 95 aircraft. The high rate of loss is testament to the bravery and commitment of the pilots, but also testament that the SAAF had to convert to jet power to have a fighting chance.

It was this baptism of fire which required a change in tactics and it moved the SAAF from a piston-engined air force into the jet age – and from flying F-51D Mustangs to F-86 Sabre fighter jets.

Image of a crashed SAAF F51D Mustang in Korea – copyright ipmssa.za.org Cooke & Owen Collection

Tragedy on Devils Peak and the end of the SAAF H.S. 125 Mercurius fleet

Tragedy on Devils Peak, 26 May 1971. Three South African Air Force Hawker Siddeley 125 Mercurius jets, on a practice formation flying above the Cape Town peninsula, in preparation for a massive 220 aircraft flypast for a Republic day display,  slam into the mountain just above Rhodes Memorial with the loss of eleven lives.

The mountain was shrouded in mist and it is believed the lead aircraft most probably miscalculated the arch of its turning circle coming from the direction of the Athlone cooling towers.  The lead aircraft’s error in judgement meant the other two tragically followed it into the mountain with the loss of all three.

The accident decimated this fleet, as the SAAF where left with only one H.S. 125 Mercurius jet which was not included in this formation flight.  This was a tragedy which took a long time to overcome and in many senses is still quite raw in SAAF circles and memories even to this day – lest we forget

Photo Copyright; Cape Argus

SAAF Pilot single handedly captures his captors – Lt. Peter During’s amazing story

This colorised image captures a must read story about a South African Air Force pilot who escaped from becoming a Prisoner of War (POW) by capturing his own German captors during WW2.  The image shows South African Air Force (SAAF) Fighter pilot Lt. Peter During (SAAF 7 squadron) with German prisoners in Italy April 1945, and this is the story of how he came capture them.

peter during a.jpg.opt1459x581o0,0s1459x581

Lt. Peter During was shot down behind enemy lines in Italy right at the close of the war,  he survived a crash landing and was promptly taken prisoner by the Germans.  Whilst been escorted to a German Lufwaffe Prisoner of War (POW) camp (he was a pilot and thus his interrogation and imprisonment was the responsibility of the German airforce), he opened a conversation with his captors.

He was quickly able to establish that they could already see the writing on the wall, that the war was at an end and Germany would loose it.  The Germans agreed with him that the best way for them to survive the war was to make it over to the Allied lines and surrender.  He then convinced his four German escorts that he was their ticket to survival and to become his prisoners.  They agreed and then changed direction and headed for the Allied lines instead.

It was a simple agreement really – if challenged by any German or other Axis Forces along the way the German’s agreed to say they were transferring an Allied pilot and continue on their way, and if challenged by Allied troops or the Italian Resistance fighters, Lt. Peter During would be given their MP-40 machine pistol and state he was transferring German prisoners.

On their way they stopped at several Italian houses for food and wine. One of the Germans had a camera and hence the photograph. In the feature picture you can see Peter has the MP-40 machine pistol while they enjoy a glass of wine with a rural Italian family hosting this odd group of men, whilst in other pictures the MP-40 has changed hands. Proof positive that there is some humanity in the craziness of war.

They made it over to the Allied lines, Peter During wrote them a note as to their good conduct which he gave to them as they went into captivity.  The camera was given to Peter for safekeeping as its owner knew it would fall into the wrong hands and be lost once going into captivity.

Despite trying on numerous occasions to track down these men Peter had “saved” after the war ended, he was unable to find them, thank them and reunite the camera with its original owner.  He printed the role of film to discover this priceless snippet of history.

If you want to hear this remarkable story from Peter himself, take the time to watch this video interview he did with Tinus Le Roux, it’s an absolute gem of South African military history.

Written by Peter Dickens. The photograph is from Peter During’s collection and it was given to Tinus le Roux, who has also done this fantastic job colourising it. Photo copyright Peter During and colouring credit to Tinus le Roux.  Video copyright and my deepest thanks once again to Tinus.

Britain never really “stood alone” at the beginning of WW2

Iconic propaganda poster from World War 2 calling for the unification of the British Commonwealth in what was termed at the time in South Africa by Jan Smuts as the “fight for the freedom of the human spirit” – essentially against Fascist and Nazi ideologies of the time.

It’s widely reported now that Britain “stood alone” at the beginning World War 2, but that is not strictly true (for a short while after the fall of Dunkirk, it may have felt like it, but it was not the case) very quickly coming to aid Britain “in her hour of need” and reinforce her troops, airman and seamen where the armed forces of the British Commonwealth – and not only the armed forces but also the raw materials and industry of the likes of Australia, India, South Africa and Canada – an all in effort to aid the United Kingdom, push back the advances of Fascist thinking and change the course of European history.

It’s generally misunderstood – but within a day of the United Kingdom and France declaring war on Germany on 3 September 1939, New Zealand and Australia had declared war on Germany as well.  It was just 3 short days later that an independent parliament in South Africa declared war on Germany on the 6th September 1939 (very early on if you think about it – the fifth country to declare war on Nazism).  Quickly followed by Canada who just four days after South Africa’s declaration also declared war on Germany – 10th September 1939.

In context – the United States of America came to the table much later on declaring war on Germany on the 11th December 1941.  In this respect it can be better argued that Britain AND her Commonwealth of Nations stood alone against Nazism and other forms of Fascism for about two years.

Seen in this poster are the United Kingdom’s key ‘dominions’ – South Africa, Australia and Canada feature in the most pronounced positions in this poster as the leading nations of the Commonwealth.

Representatives of Commonwealth Armed Forces marching toward the right, with a Union flag behind the front figures. Left to right they are soldiers from India, East Africa, a South Africa soldier (in his distinctive “Pith helmet”),  New Zealand, a Canadian airman, an Australian soldier (in his distinctive “slouch hat”) and a Royal Navy sailor (in senior position as the Navy is the senior service).

Poster Copyright: Imperial War Museum

The Soviet domino in Angola

It is widely understood that the Angolan Border War or ‘Bush War’ was part of the ‘Cold War’. The Soviet ‘domino effect’ in Africa (the progressive movement south of Communism down Africa) was a real concern to many South Africans in the 1980’s and one of the primary reasons underlying South Africa’s involvement in Angola.  South Africans only had to look north to Zimbabwe see the wealth grabs of capital and farms and witness the economic and social dangers of communist philosophies in an African context.

To give context to this, and the influence of Soviet Communism in sub saharan Africa, here is the 1987 Soviet Mission to Angola, this picture was taken at Lubango — starting from left to right – Lt. Igor Ignatovich, the interpreter, Dr. Sam Nujoma, Colonel Vladimir Shayda Commander of the Soviet Mission (SWAPO 1985-1988) and Peter Mweshihange.

To understand the “Cold War” in the 1980’s, at the time that this photograph was taken there was virtually no “Western” diplomatic contact with the Soviet Union at all.  It was truly a firm stand-off between two super power blocks with the threat of nuclear attack a constant and present danger.  The Soviet Union and NATO states (USA, UK and Western Europe) were literally in an eye-ball to eye-ball stand-off, each side of a “iron curtain” that split central Europe down the middle.

South Africa, even as an Apartheid State, saw itself as a “Western democracy” allied to the “West” and as a consequence in direct opposition to the spread of Communism. The National party often positioned South Africa as leading the “Cold War” fight against Communism in Africa.  The National Party – from the very beginning of their accent to power in 1948 were fiercely anti-communist in their philosophy and by 1987 the “Rooi Gevaar” (Red Danger) warning was very central to their political rhetoric.

That “Soviet Communism” was going to come to a spectacular end with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was still a couple of years off, and it was this event and the collapse of Soviet communism that was to be the major catalyst for the withdraw of South African forces from the Angolan/Namibian border.

Photo courtesy Outapi War Museum and Igor Ignatovich,

South Africa’s “Vietnam” – the tactical use of the helicopter during the Bush War

South Africa’s ‘Vietnam’ in a Bush War photo not too dissimilar to a Vietnam War image, an elite South African rapid response unit prepares to be debused from a South African Air Force Puma helicopter somewhere on the Angolan and South West African Border. What a great photo by Peter Marlow.

Not interested in keeping permanent “firebases” in Angola to stem insurgency,  similar to the American tactics used in Vietnam the South Africans extensively used the helicopter to shuttle reaction forces directly to an identified target and take them back once their “search and destroy” mission had been completed.

Image copyright – Peter Marlow

‘Severely wounded, he single-handedly attacked a machine gun nest and an anti-tank gun’; Quentin Smythe VC

487590_145585105611230_766406177_nNow this is a very notable South African, and a true hero – Sgt Quentin George Murray Smythe VC,  who won the Victoria Cross in the Western Desert on 5 June 1942.  The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest military decoration awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy” to members of the British armed forces and various Commonwealth countries (of which South Africa is one).

Quentin George Murray Smythe, was born in Nottingham Road, Natal, South Africa on 6 August 1916 as son of Edric Smythe. He was the grandson of the First Administrator of Natal, Charles Smyhte. Quentin Smythe attended the Estcourt High School in Estcourt. After his education he started farming in Richmond.

During the Second World War,  Quentin Smythe served with the 1st Battalion Royal Natal Carabineers, 1st SA Infantry Division, South African Forces in the East Africa Campaign against the Italians before moving to the Western Desert against the German and Italian Axis Forces.

On May 26, 1942, Rommel’s Afrika Korps attacked the British Army ( which had just been weakened by losing two divisions, an Armoured Brigade and some squadrons of the Desert Air Force to the Far East ) in order to pre-empt a new British offensive. The Germans hoped to capture Tobruk and, ultimately, to drive the British back to Alexandria, although this attempt was finally checked at El Alamein by Auchinleck the next month.


A German gun crew manning a 3.7 cm Pak 36 anti-tank gun in the Western Desert, during the Gazala offensive, June 1942.

The initial attack caught the British off-balance, but they recovered and fought back, forcing the Germans to take up a defensive position, which became known as ‘The Cauldron’. Unfortunately, the British were at this stage equipped with tanks and guns which were inferior to the Germans’, and after a number of desperate battles they had to fall back.

For related articles on this retreat – know as the ‘Gazala Gallop’ see “General Pienaar, tell your South African Division they have done well”; The Battle of El Alamein and the Fall of Tobruk “Defeat is one thing; Disgrace is another!” South Africa’s biggest capitulation of arms – Tobruk

On June 5 the South African forces were holding a position in the north of the line (which consisted of defensive “boxes” separated by minefields), and when Rommel launched a heavy attack in the northern sector he encountered strong and determined resistance. The cost in casualties on both sides was high. Smythe, who was then a sergeant, realised that there was no officer to command his platoon and took charge himself, leading his men in an attack on the enemy’s strong point at Alem Hamza, 20 miles south of Gazala

His citation in attacking Axis Forces says just about everything as to how this hero earned his VC and reads as follows:

medalNo. 4458 Sergeant Quentin George Murray Smythe, South African Forces.

For conspicuous gallantry in action in the Alem Hamza area on the 5th June,

“1942. During the attack on an enemy strong point in which his officer was severely wounded; Sergeant Smythe took command of the platoon although suffering from a shrapnel wound in the forehead. The strong point having been overrun, our troops came under enfilade fire from an enemy machine-gun nest. Realising the threat to his position, Sergeant Smythe himself stalked and destroyed the nest with hand grenades, capturing, the crew. Though weak from loss of blood, he continued to lead the advance, and on encountering an anti-tank gun position again attacked it single-handed and captured the crew. He was directly responsible for killing several of the enemy, shooting some and bayonetting another as they withdrew.

After consolidation he received orders for a withdrawal, which he successfully executed, defeating skilfully an enemy attempt at encirclement.

Throughout the engagement Sergeant Smythe displayed remarkable disregard for danger, and his leadership and courage were an inspiration to his men.”

Citation was gazetted on 11 September 1942, see this rare Associated Press video of the actual award ceremony where Sgt. Smythe received his Victoria Cross from Maj. General Dan Pienaar.

When Sgt. Smythe VC returned to South Africa, he returned a national hero, he had won the country’s first Victoria Cross in the Second World War. In all five South African’s won the Victoria Cross during World War 2, of which there are only two very well known recipients, these been our hero today, Quentin Smythe VC and Edwin Swales VC (see Edwin Swales VC DFC, a South African Hero whose legacy has been eroded!)

The remaining three are George Gristock VC, Gerard Norton VC and John Nettleton VC (you can read more on John Nettleton – see John Nettleton VC – an unknown South African Victoria Cross recipient)

Sgt Smythe is well known because he enjoyed great media attention and was presented to the Premier Jan Smuts and this PAHÉ footage captures the occasion.

On leaving the Department of Defence he returned to farming in the Richmond area of Natal. He was an outstanding marksman, a passionate conservationist and animal lover. He died from cancer in Durban, aged 81 in October 1997 and was buried with military honours by his Regiment – The Natal Carabineers.  He left three sons, a daughter and 11 grandchildren.

His Victoria Cross is now part of Lord Ashcroft’s collection and is kept in the Imperial War Museum in London.

Researched by Peter Dickens. Image Copyrights – Imperial War Museum.  Video copyrights Associated Press and British PATHÉ respectively.