South African D Day hero: S/Lt. Anthony Large BEM

6th June 1944. D Day, a very significant day in the history of mankind, and albeit on a smaller scale quite a number of South Africans did actually participate in it. The South African Naval Force (assisting the Royal Navy) is one such entity that did and this is one of these South African heroes to come from the D day landings.

Here Sub Lieutenant Anthony Large BEM, South African Naval Force (Volunteers), of Durban, South Africa, is seen taking a bearing on the ship’s compass on board HMS HOLMES whilst she was helping to guard the Allied supply lines to and from the Normandy beachhead. He won his British Empire Medal BEM whilst he was a rating.

The BEM during the war was a gallantry or meticulous service medal and was generally awarded for gallantry in World War 2 to uniformed personnel, usually non commissioned ranks below Warrant Officer.  It is a very significant British decoration.

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British Empire Medal (BEM)

Photograph copyright and caption reference – Imperial War Museum

South African Navy at war against …. Imperial Japan!!

Many people don’t know it – but a small historic fact, the South African Navy was involved in direct engagements with Imperial Japan during the Second World War.

Here ML 475 leads motor launches of the Arakan Coastal Forces in line ahead up the Naaf River on their way to bombard Japanese shore defences and cut cross river communications.

These Coastal Forces were made up of the Royal Indian Navy, the Royal Navy, South African Naval Forces and Burma RNVR and they had covered nearly 30,000 miles in over 40 operations.

Harrassment of Japanese lines of communication and bombardment of shore defences were carried out between the Naaf River and Ramree Islands. Briefed in a Basha hut in their well hidden base, commanding officers return to their ships hidden in the up-river creeks for the nights operations.

Image and caption copyright: Imperial War Museum

South Africa’s greatest WW2 fighter ACE – Marmaduke ‘Pat’ Pattle DFC and Bar

There are great South Africans, and then there are ones who stand on the shoulders of great men, and this man is one of them. Arguably the best Allied fighter ace of WW2, this South African stands heads and shoulders above other Allied fighter aces and this rather unsung hero is indeed one of South Africa’s greatest sons.

Squadron Leader Marmaduke Thomas St. John “Pat” Pattle DFC & Bar (3 July 1914—20 April 1941) was a South African-born Second World War fighter pilot and flying ace— believed to be the most successful Western Allied fighter pilot of the war.

Pat Pattle was born in Butterworth, Cape Province, South Africa, on 3 July 1914, the son of South African-born parents of English descent, Sergeant-Major Cecil William John “Jack” Pattle (b. 5 September 1884) and Edith Brailsford (1881–1962). Marmaduke was named after his maternal grandfather, Captain Thomas Marmaduke Pattle, who resigned his commission in the Royal Horse Artillery and emigrated to South Africa from England in 1875.

Pattle was academically intelligent. He considered a degree and career in Mining engineering before developing an interest in aviation. He travelled to the United Kingdom and joined the RAF in 1936 on a Short Service Commission (SSC). Pattle negotiated the training programs with ease and qualified as a pilot in the spring, 1937.

Assigned to No. 80 Squadron RAF, he was sent to Egypt before the war in 1938. He remained there upon the outbreak of war in September 1939. In June 1940 Italy entered the war on the side of the Axis Powers and he began combat operations against the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) gaining his first successes during the Italian invasion of Egypt. By November 1940 had gained four aerial victories but had been shot down once himself.

In November 1940 his Squadron was redeployed to Greece after the Italian invasion. Pattle achieved most of his success in the campaign. In subsequent operations he claimed around 20 Italian aircraft shot down. In April 1941 he faced German opposition after their intervention.

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Here is a Messerschmitt Bf 109E of III/JG 77 which crash-landed on the airfield at Larrissa, Greece, possibly one of two claimed shot down by the South African Squadron Leader “Pat” Pattle, the Officer Commanding No. 33 Squadron RAF on 20 April 1941.

During the 14 days of operations against the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) Pattle claimed his 24—50th aerial victories; all but three were German. Pattle claimed five or more aircraft destroyed in one day on three occasions, which qualified him for “Ace in a day” status. Pattle achieved his greatest success on 19 April 1941, claiming six air victories.

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Squadron Leader Marmaduke Thomas St John “Pat” Pattle, Officer Commanding No. 33 Squadron RAF (left) , and the Squadron Adjutant, Flight Lieutenant George Rumsey (right), standing by a Hawker Hurricane at Larissa, Thessaly, Greece.

The very next day, having claimed more aerial victories than any other Western Allied pilot, he took off against orders, and suffering from a high temperature to engage German aircraft near the Greek capital Athens. He was last seen battling Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighters. His fighter crashed into the sea during this dogfight, killing Pattle.

Pattle’s death was equally heroic as he had dived down to rescue a fellow pilot who had a Bf-110 on his tail, Pattle managed to save him but at the loss of his own life, as he was also been attacked by Bf-110’s during the rescue – and he chose to ignore them to save his buddy.

Pattle was a fighter ace with a very high score, and is sometimes noted as being the highest-scoring British and Commonwealth pilot of the war. If all claims made for him were in fact correct, his total could be in excess of 51. It can be stated with confidence that his final total was at least 40 and could exceed this value. Log-books and semi-official records suggest this figure while personnel attached to his Squadron suspect the figure to be closer to 60. A total of 26 of Pattle’s victims were Italian; 15 were downed with Gloster Gladiators, the rest with Hawker Hurricanes. He is considered to be the highest-scoring ace on both Gladiator (15 victories) and Hurricane (35 victories) fighters.

Pattle is however regarded as the ‘unofficial’ Highest scoring Western Allied Fighter pilot for WWII. Unfortunately the squadron war dairy and his log books were lost in the retreat from Greece.

Pattle’s medals are on display at the Ditsong National Museum of Military History in Saxonworld Johannesburg.

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Pilots of No. 33 Squadron RAF, at Larissa, Greece, with Hawker Hurricane Mark I, V7419, in background. They are (left to right); Pilot Officer P R W Wickham, Flying Officers D T Moir, and V C “Woody” Woodward, Flight Lieutenant J M “Pop” Littler, Flying Officers E H “Dixie” Dean, F Holman (k.i.a. 20 April 41), and E F “Timber” Woods (k.i.a. 17 June 1941), Pilot Officer C A C Chetham (k.i.a. 15 April 1941), Flight Lieutenant A M Young, Squadron Leader M St.J “Pat” Pattle (Squadron Commanding Officer, k.i.a. 20 April 1941), Flying Officer H J Starrett (died of burns 22 1941); Flight Lieutenant G Rumsey (Squadron Adjutant), Pilot Officers A R Butcher (p.o.w. 22 May 1941), W Winsland, and R Dunscombe (p.o.w. 22 May 1941).

Thank you to Tinus Le Roux for the use of this rather rare feature photo of Pat Pattle, copyright and use to Tinus Le Roux. Content thanks to Wikipedia and Sandy Evan Hanes.  Insert photographs – copyright Imperial War Museum

“Carry On” the South African Army – the story of Sid James

Sid James – the “cockney Jack the lad” star of the “Carry On” movie series. But did you know Sid was a South African by birth and served in the South African Armed Forces in World War Two? Some more hidden history .. inside the chappies chewing gum “did you know” wrapper …. read on.

Sid James was born Solomon Joel Cohen, on 8 May 1913, to Jewish parents, in South Africa, later changing his name to Sidney Joel Cohen, and then Sidney James.

His family lived on Hancock Street in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. Upon moving to Britain later in life, he claimed various previous occupations, including diamond cutter, dance tutor and boxer, in reality, he had trained and worked as a hairdresser.

It was at a hairdressing salon in Kroonstad, Orange Free State that he met his first wife. He married Berthe Sadie Delmont, known as Toots, on 12 August 1936 and they had a daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1937. His father-in-law, Joseph Delmont, a Johannesburg businessman, bought a hairdressing salon for James, but within a year he announced that he wanted to become an actor and joined the Johannesburg Repertory Players. Through this group he gained work with the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

Sid’s abandonment of his career and then his young bride and child was the last straw for her wealthy father (whom apparently ‘put a price’ on our man’s head), so Sid decided to cut his losses and join the army. And, coinciding as this did with the outbreak of World War Two, funnily it actually aided his performing career.

After a stationing with the South African Tank Corps in Abysinnia, Sid then joined the Entertainment Unit of The South African Army, he was initially made a corporal and proceeded to put on shows for his fellow troops.

During this time, he was also caught under heavy fire at the notorious Siege of Tobruk. He was eventually promoted to the rank of staff sergeant and then eventually given a commission as a lieutenant in the entertainment unit, and subsequently took up acting as a career.

Around this time he acquired himself a second wife, another South African – dancer Meg Sergei, and come the war’s end and his demobilisation, the couple’s showbiz ambitions saw them leave their homeland for the glamour of London.

Sid and Meg arrived in the UK on Christmas Day 1946 and, amazingly enough, within days he’d landed himself not just an agent but a small role, the rest is movie and show-biz history.

Ironically Sid died in complete character with his trademark “dirty laugh” at the Empire Theatre on Monday, April 26, 1976. He was appearing in a suitably smutty comedy called The Mating Game. Sitting next to Sid on the stage was actress Olga Lowe, an old friend from his early days in his native South Africa, and he died of a heart attack staring at her breasts … a “Jack the lad” to the end.

Reference wikipedia and The ghost of comic legend Sid James by Ian Robson.

“War is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror”

There is an old saying: “War is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror” and here we see exactly that – aircrews sitting around waiting for instructions, once up in the air, literally in an hour or two they will be in full combat with all the stressors involved in it for only a quarter of an hour or so.

Here aircrews of No. 16 Squadron South African Air Force  and No. 227 Squadron Royal Air Force sitting in a dispersal at Biferno, Italy, prior to taking off to attack a German headquarters building in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. A Bristol Beaufighter Mark X, armed with rocket projectiles stands behind them. 14 August 1944.

The Bristol Beaufighter (often referred to simply as the “Beau”) is a multi-role aircraft developed during the Second World War by Bristol Aeroplane Company in the UK. It was originally conceived as a heavy fighter variant of the Bristol Beaufort bomber. The Beaufighter was a versatile aircraft used in service initially as a night fighter, and later mainly in the maritime strike and ground attack roles; it also replaced the earlier Beaufort as a torpedo bomber.  This tough and versatile fighter bomber served in almost all the major Allied forces of the war: Britain, The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Image and caption copyright Imperial War Museum Collection, additional references Wikipedia.