An unsung South African hero; Cpl W. Cloete

Honouring real South African heroes and here stands an exceptional one. Corporal William Cloete was a Cape Coloured Corps member and the leader of a stretcher bearer team attached to the Cape Town Highlanders regiment in Italy during the Second World War.

During a fierce fight with German troops when his company was pinned down on three sides by mortar and machine gun fire, under persistent enemy firing, Cloete and his team carried ten of their own wounded soldiers to safety; for this he received the Military Medal for bravery.

Nearly a year later, at the age of 24, Cloete was struck by a bullet from a German sniper and permanently blinded in both eyes. After the war Cloete attended the School for the Blind in Bellville. He became an expert basket-maker for the rest of his working life and passed away in 1993.

On the 11th of November, your fellow veterans salute and remember you Cpl Cloete.

The South African fighter ace who ended Rommel’s war

This South African fighter pilot ace shot up the famous General Erwin Rommel’s staff car in France in 1944. Rommel was thrown out of the car, suffered a severe skull fracture and it was effectively game over for Rommel’s participation in World War 2.

Here is our hero, and there is more to this ace than shooting up Rommel. Squadron Leader J J Le Roux, Commanding Officer of No 602 Squadron Royal Air Force seen in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX, “Betty”, at B11/Longues, Normandy.

Johannes Jacobus “Chris” Le Roux was born in Heidelberg, in the Transvaal, South Africa, in 1920, and received part of his education at Durban High School. He subsequently joined the Royal Air Force, and served with No 73 Squadron in France as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF), where he too part in the latter stages of the debacle that was “The Battle of France”, the squadron withdrawing from France on the 17 June 1940.

Le Roux was then took part in the Battle of Britain, both opening his account on arial victories and having to bale out of a blazing Hurricane. Le Roux is said to have been shot down on no-less than 12 occasions during 1940, which is incredibly remarkable, and if so, it’s a wonder he survived as long as he did.

Le Roux enjoyed better luck with No. 91 “Nigeria” Squadron in 1941 and 1942, shooting down eight enemy aircraft before joining No. 111 Squadron RAF in North Africa. He ended his second tour in command of the Squadron.

Following a rest from operations he was given command of No. 602 Squadron in July 1944.  He carried out an incredible number of sorties – 200 in total.  He won the Distinguished Flying Cross – not once but three times, here are the citations:

DFC, London Gazette, 4 October 1941, Issue 35312, page 6034:

“Acting Flight Lieutenant Jacobus Johannes Le Roux (42240), No. 91 Squadron.

This officer has carried out over 200 operational sorties which have included shipping reconnaissances, during which much valuable information has been obtained, and numerous attacks on shipping and enemy aerodromes in the face of heavy enemy fire. Flight Lieutenant Le Roux has destroyed 3 hostile aircraft in combat and at least 1 on the ground.”

First Bar to DFC, London Gazette, 8 December 1942 (Issue 35819, page 5391):

“Flight Lieutenant Jacobus Johannes LE Roux,
D.F.C. (42240), No. 91 Squadron.

Since being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross this officer has destroyed a further five enemy aircraft. In addition to his air victories he has attacked shipping and targets on the ground with considerable success. At all times Flight Lieutenant Le Roux has displayed a fine fighting spirit.

Distinguished Service Cross – Second Bar

Awarded 9th July 1943
Citation:

“Sqn. Ldr. Le Roux’s magnificent leadership has played a large part in the many successes attained by his squadron. He has personally destroyed 14 enemy aircraft and damaged many others, and has also inflicted much damage on enemy shipping.”

On one occasion  Le Roux’s aircraft was “so badly damaged by flak after he had strafed a convoy of vehicles that it looked impossible for anyone to have flown it, but he made base successfully”. To the airmen of 602 Squadron he was known simply as the “Boss” , “in the air a cool, calculating tactician and disciplinarian, on the ground his personality shone out in the social life of a very happy team”, and his “keen vision frequently enabled him to shoot down aircraft which other members of the squadron flying with him had not even seen” (an attribute he shared with fellow South African RAF air-aces “Sailor” Malan and “Pat” Pattle).

Le Roux is generally credited as the pilot who attacked and badly wounded Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel in his staff car on the road between Livarot and Vimoutiers on 17 July 1944, the day on which he also destroyed two Messerschmitt Bf 109s and damaged two more to bring his victory score to 23.5.

In the early morning of July 17, 1944, a staff car left Rommel’s headquarters at La Roche Guyon. The passengers included Rommel, his aide Captain Helmuth Lang, Major Neuhaus, Sergeant Holke, and their driver, Sergeant Karl Daniel. The journey was one of Rommel’s routine inspections of the front line. By January 1944, Hitler had forbidden Rommel from traveling via aircraft, as several high-ranking officers had been killed in air crashes.

Rommel sat in the front seat, to the right of Sergeant Daniel. Captain Lang sat behind Rommel with Major Neuhaus behind the driver. Sergeant Holke sat in the middle, looking out for aircraft.

Sergeant Holke noticed enemy fighter aircraft diving toward the car. Daniel was instructed to speed up and turn off on a small side road 300 yards ahead, toward a farm. Before the car reached the side road, it was attacked by the first aircraft (piloted by Le Roux) at a range of about 500 yards.

Sergeant Daniel was hit in the left shoulder and left arm by a canon shell and lost control of the car.  The car swerved into a tree stump on the right side of the road and landed in a ditch on the right side of the road.

Rommel was looking backward holding onto the door, and was thrown from the car as it turned over. Rommel suffered a severe head injury that left him immediately unconscious, and he had deep gashes from the shattered glass.

Rommel lay helpless 20 yards behind where the car had finally come to rest Captain Lang had jumped out of the rear door as soon as the attack began. Major Neuhaus suffered a pelvis fracture from shell fragments that hit the holster of his revolver, and Sergeant Holke was not injured.

After a second strafing pass, Captain Lang and Sergeant Holke ran from shelter to carry Rommel to a small cottage on the side of the road.  Rommel remained unconscious as he bled from his left eye, mouth, a deep gash in his left temporal region, and several superficial cuts. The obvious disfigurement of his skull in the temporal region led his comrades to believe he was dead. Captain Lang rode a bicycle to Vimoutiers and returned 45 minutes later with a car.

Lang took Rommel to a Roman Catholic home for the aged. There, he was examined by the first medical professional who made the following diagnoses: “a fracture of the petrous part of the left temporal bone, a perforation of the left tympanic membrane with blood coming from the external auditory canal.” He also had sustained a fracture through the left orbital arch, had a weak and thready pulse, and was in a deep coma, but eventually made a very slow recovery.

Rommel died three short months afterwards on 14 Oct 1944, he was accused of taking part in the assignation attempt on Adolph Hitler and was encouraged to commit suicide. Rommel thought the matter over, when an SS detachment surrounded his village, leading him to conclude that if he agreed to face the People’s Court, he would not reach Berlin alive. With that in mind, Rommel opted to commit suicide by taking cyanide capsules given to him.

The official story of Rommel’s death, as reported to the public, stated that Rommel had died of either a heart attack or a cerebral embolism—a complication of the skull fractures he had suffered in the earlier strafing of his staff car.

To further strengthen the story, Hitler ordered an official day of mourning in commemoration. As previously promised, Rommel was given a state funeral. Rommel had specified that no political paraphernalia be displayed on his corpse (he was a military man at heart and not a strong supporter of the Nazi cause), but the Nazis made sure his coffin was festooned with swastikas. The truth behind Rommel’s death became known to the Allies when intelligence officer Charles Marshall interviewed Rommel’s widow, Lucia Rommel as well as from a letter by Rommel’s son Manfred in April 1945.

Not long after the strafing Le Roux was also dead, on 29 August 1944, Le Roux took off in bad weather to collect some beer for his Squadron from England, but was lost en route, his plane crashing in the channel near the headland of Selsey Bill (West Sussex). Le Roux was to leave behind an English wife and two children, the family resident at the time in Shropshire.

Squadron-Leader J.J. “Chris” Le Roux is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, panel 200

A number of other accounts of Rommel’s staff car shooting have been credited to other pilots, in all a South African (le Roux), a Frenchman (Remlinger), two Canadians (Fox and Rohmer), a American (Jenkins), two Englishmen (Swizer and Baldwin), and a Pole (Stanski) all claimed they hit Rommel’s car in the aftermath of the attack; however it is widely understood in mainstream historical reporting that Chris Le Roux was the man.

Photo and caption reference copyright: Imperial War Museum, Wikipedia and The Southern African History Musings of Ross Dix-Peek and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel: the head injury that may have prolonged the Second World War – Heather A. Fuhrman, BS,1 Jeffrey P. Mullin, MD, MBA,2 and Chris A. Sloffer, MD, MBA

Kruger “blunders” and declares war on the world’s Superpower!

This period cartoon captures that moment when President Paul Kruger, who in a game of political chess with Queen Victoria, is about to make a “blunder” – a disastrous move in chess which is ill considered. The British Army is ominously overseeing the move and Kruger, rightfully so, looks very worried.

The “blunder” move was simply this, after much sabre rattling and posturing by Milner and other British Imperialists in Southern Africa over mineworker representation in the Transvaal, on 11 October 1899 President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal/South African Republic (a day after his 74th birthday) in alliance with another Boer Republic – The Orange Free State, in a rather surprising move to many – declared war on Great Britain.

The move by two relatively small Boer Republics to declare war on what was then the world’s only real superpower came with some astonishment to Queen Victoria and the British Government in the United Kingdom. The British Imperialists in Southern Africa, along with the British Gold and Diamond mining magnets, on the other hand could hardly believe their luck.

Alfred Milner, the Governor of the Cape Colony had taken a belligerent stand with Kruger and pressed very hard for war against the “Transvaal” Boer Republic, it essentially stood in the way of Imperial expansionist plans.  However he did not generally have poplar support back in the United Kingdom for a war .  Once the declaration of war came from Kruger it was used as a “causes belli” (a legitimate justification to go to war) to the British public.

More alarming to the British at home in the United Kingdom was that night 800 men of the Potchefstroom and Lichtenburg commandos under General Koos de la Rey (one of General Piet Cronjé’s field generals) attacked and captured the British garrison and railway siding at Kraaipan between Vryburg and Mafeking, some 60 kilometres south west of Mafeking and well inside sovereign British territory.

Thus, with the invasion by Boer forces of a British Colony, so began the Second Anglo-Boer War. Under the orders of Cronjé the Mafeking railway and telegraph lines were cut on the same day, and the dice was rolled.

Not to trivialise the matter as a game of chess, the move by Kruger would have horrific consequences for the Boer nation. The war would see the desperation of Guerrilla tactics being employed by the Boer Forces, after the “conventional” phase of the war was lost, as a last ditch effort to maintain their sovereignty “in the field”.  The use of this tactic spurred the British to fight the remainder of the war in an utterly ruthless and murderous manner, especially in the treatment of Boer women and children – the British policies of scorched earth and concentration camps would leave a very bitter and tarnished legacy.

The question we ask now, with all the 20/20 hindsight in the world is why? Why on earth would Kruger fall for all the sabre rattling and posturing by The British?   Did he not anticipate the massive mobilisation of biggest expeditionary force the British had ever assembled to go “get their Colonies back”? Did he not see the underpinning greed of mining concerns operating in Africa – did the Jameson Raid not warn him of this?

Contrary to less informed opinion, at the onset of the war there no “massive” build up of British arms along the borders of the two Boer Republics to really threaten imminent invasion of them.  “Sabre rattling” (limited reinforcements where ordered) and warnings – yes, but a vast build up of arms – no. To coin a phrase – they where playing “chess” using an age old tactic to force the hand.

At the on-set the Boer Republics in fact had the upper hand militarily and quickly put siege to the relatively small and isolated British garrisons on the two British Colony’s borders (notably Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking).  At the start of the war, numbers and arms in fact favoured the Boer Republics, it was only after war was declared that a truly massive British Imperial build up of arms and men to be shipped to Southern Africa occurred.

Central to the dispute, for the British at least was the issue of workers rights and political representation of mainly British expatriate population setting up business and working on the Gold mines in the Transvaal. The two sides summited on the 15 May 1899 in Bloemfontein to avoid war and Milner and Kruger immediately clashed over the issue of citizenship – Kruger was only prepared to grant expatriates citizenship to the “Transvaal” i.e. South African Republic after 14 years of residency, Milner insisted the period be 5 years.  The issue came to head and negotiations broke down – both protagonists as belligerent to one another as ever.

Both Milner and Kruger knew that the vast number of British expatriates  in the Transvaal would unseat the Boer government by simple majority if they became citizens, to Kruger the proposals where an attempt by Britain to take over his country (and its resources) by simple subjection.  It is best summed up in his own reply to Milner when he said “Our enfranchised burghers are probably about 30,000, and the newcomers may be from 60,000 to 70,000 and if we give them the franchise tomorrow we may as well give up the Republic.’ Kruger went on to say, “It would be ‘worse than annexation’.

To the British it was a matter of individual rights to political representation in the Republic, which was now at a boiling point on the rand.  Given the simple change in the country’s demographic due to the Gold Rush, this change was likely to be permanent and these rights could not be avoided – in essence the Boer Republic would eventually cease to exist through popular vote, it was just a really a matter of when.

To the Boers it was a fight to remain in power and keep their country. It had been contested before, the British military had already taken over the Transvaal some years before as a British Protectorate (over the issue of representation again – this time the African tribes had disputed the territory) and the British had been outed by the Boers in a small and swift war (the 1st Boer War or “Transvaal War” in 1880/81) which re-gained them their sovereignty over the territory.  It however remained a disputed territory to many, it had now become even more complex with the massive influx of expatriates and business, and the memory of Britain’s control of the Transvaal was still fresh – for both the Boers and the British.

The answer to why Kruger moved when he did, lay in the hope that the initial successes of the Boer Forces against the smaller British Forces garrisoned in Natal and the Cape Colony at the time would bring about detente.  As with the victory of the Transvaal War (the 1st Boer War 1880 to 1881) to out the British from that Republic then, Kruger hoped a swift victory would bring sense to the British position with regard to British expatriates “rights” and “citizenship” on the mines in the Transvaal and put any Imperial British expansionist plans and Milner’s obstinate attitude towards the Boer Republics to bed.

In hindsight, the move was indeed a blunder, Kruger did not get the detente he sought.  Change in the Transvaal’s political and demographic make-up was inevitable, and Kruger would not embrace it – a fierce sense of patriotism and sovereignty where central edifices for him and he chose to take up arms to stall the inevitable in a last ditch effort to keep his country under Boer control (a similar parallel can be drawn years later when the “union” of South Africa was taken back politically by the hard line Afrikaner Nationalists in 1948).

No doubt “Gold” played a role, the simple fact that it was discovered is very central to the dispute.  However of interest is just how much of a factor it played – The Boer standpoint at the time was Britain’s “Gold-magnets” started the war out of greed (the Jameson raid in their eyes proved that to them).  Some modern option is the British wanted to “steal” the Republic’s gold, however the economics of matter is that the Gold was in fact already owned by the British private concerns mining it and they paid a tax to the Transvaal government for the sale of it. This agreement on ownership and tax did not change when the Union of South Africa was established after the war, so there was no real financial gain for Britain in going to war (the fact is they owned the Gold already).

What lies more at the heart of this matter of greed is “Empire” as an ideology central to the world politics at the time – the expansion of territory around the globe by the British – the concept of a “Cape to Cairo” band of control over the whole of Africa and the sun never setting on the British Union flag.  British global expansionism was central to Milner and others as Victorian characters and the two Boer Republics stood in the way of it.

To put perspective on the robust, very brave, tenacious and largely suicidal move by Kruger in today’s context – it would be akin to two relatively small prosperous oil/gas neighbouring states like “Qatar” and “The United Arab Emirates” getting into a coalition and then declaring war against the current global Superpower – the United States of America – who has vested interest in their territories (business and large numbers of expats) and in their product (oil/gas). Today’s “Oil” is yesterday’s “Gold” in the context of global monetary exchange and world dominance (the on-going wars in the Middle East involving all the Superpowers is testament to that).  There would only be one outcome, and it would be as disastrous in this comparison context now as it was for the Boer Republics in their context then.

“Dutch” Hugo another Afrikaner hero who is celebrated as one of “The Few”

Petrus Hendrik Hugo (left in the headline image), known as “Dutch,” was a South African who joined the Royal Air Force and took part in he Battle of France and the Battle of Britain and went on to become a RAF flight commander.

Along with “Sailor” Malan, another famous fellow Afrikaner to fight in the Battle of Britain, “Dutch” is also widely celebrated as one of the “few” (as coined by Churchill) who kept Britain in the war thereby turning the tide for Nazi Germany and ultimately liberating Europe from a tyrannical ideology.  This is one very brave hero and this is his story.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-13-46-09

Petrus Hendrik Hugo was born 20 December 1917 on the farm Pampoenpoort in the Victoria West district, Cape Province. He attended the Witwatersrand College of Aeronautical Engineering and in 1938 he went to the United Kingdom to attend the Civil Flying School at Sywell.

Hugo was awarded a Short Service Commission in the RAF in April 1939. His Afrikaans origins and pronounced accent soon earned him the nickname “Dutch”, and he was known by this throughout his RAF careerHe served at No.13 Flying Training School for six months and was assessed “exceptional” at the end of his course. He attended the Fighter School at RAF St. Athan in Wales, and in December 1939, joined No. 615 Squadron RAF at Vitry, in France, equipped with the Gloster Gladiator.

In April 1940, the squadron re-equipped with Hawker Hurricanes. During the Battle of France, Hugo shot down a Heinkel He 111 bomber on 20 May 1940. 615 Squadron returned to the UK and were stationed at RAF Croydon and RAF Kenley.

On 20 July 1940 Hugo shot down two Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters and shot down yet another Bf 109 on 25 July. He then shared a Heinkel He 59 floatplane with another pilot on 27 July. On 12 August Hugo shot down another Bf 109. On 16 August he claimed a He 111 probably destroyed over Newhaven, but was himself hit by cannon shell splinters from a Messerschmitt Bf 110. Slightly wounded in both legs, Hugo returned to action two days later. He was bounced by Bf 109s of JG 3 and wounded in the left leg, left eye and right cheek and jaw. He managed to crash-land, and was taken to Orpington Hospital. In late August, 1940, the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) was announced. By late September he rejoined No. 615, based at Prestwick in Scotland.

In mid 1941 the squadron, now flying the cannon-armed Hurricane IIc, returned to RAF Kenley. On 14 October 1941 Hugo shared a Heinkel He 59 flying boat shot down with three other pilots. He assumed command of 41 Squadron RAF on 20 November, which was flying Supermarine Spitfires, and was awarded a Bar to his DFC on 25 November. On 12 February 1942 during the channel dash of the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, he shot down one Bf 109 and damaged a second. On 14 March he shot down another Bf 109 over a German convoy near Fecamp, and on 26th he claimed another escorting Bostons raiding Le Havre. Promoted to wing commander on 12 April 1942, he took over as Tangmere Wing Leader, but on 27 April was wounded again, being shot down in the English Channel. In a running fight with Focke-Wulf Fw 190s of II./JG 26 he claimed a probable Fw 190 and damaged a second but was hit in the left shoulder, and had to bale out, being picked up by Air Sea Rescue. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order while recuperating at 11 Group HQ.

In late November 1942 he took over No. 322 Wing RAF. On 12 November he half-shared a Dornier Do 217 shot down near Djidjelli. He claimed a probable Junkers Ju 88 and another damaged near Bougie Harbour on 13 November, and on the 15th a probable He 111 and a damaged Ju 88 over Bône Harbour. On 16 November he downed a Ju 88 and two Bf 109s. He got another Ju 88 on 18 November and three more Bf 109s on 21, 26 and 28 November 1942.

On 2 December he shot down two Italian Breda Ba 88 bombers of 30 gruppo near La Galite, one being shared, and on 14 a Savoia-Marchetti SM.79. He led 322 Wing for the next four months until posted to HQ, North-West African Coastal Air Force, and also awarded a second Bar to the DFC.

He returned to command No.322 Wing in June 1943 and on 29 June destroyed a Bf 109. On 2 September Hugo shot down a Fw 190 near Mount Etna and on 18 November he got his last confirmed victory of the war, an Arado Ar 196 Floatplane of Seeaufkl. 126, over the Adriatic coast.

His final tally was 17 destroyed, three shared destroyed, three probably destroyed and seven damaged. Of these, 12 and one shared destroyed were scored in the Spitfire V

In the header image – Group Captain P H “Dutch” Hugo (left) is seen in his role of Commanding Officer of No. 322 Wing RAF, and Wing Commander R “Raz” Berry, who took over leadership of the Wing in January 1943, both conversing at Tingley, Algeria.

Image Copyright IWM Collection. Reference and caption Wikipedia and the Imperial War Museum

The naked Gladiator pilot

This is a colourised version of a famous original black and white Bureau of Information photograph called “The naked Gladiator pilot” with a caption which reads;

“South African Contingent in East Africa. a SAAF fighter pilot in Kenya preparing to take off to meet enemy raiders. He has removed his shirt because of heat.”

The Gloster Gladiator (or Gloster SS.37) was a British-built biplane fighter. It was used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) , the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (FAA) (known as the Sea Gladiator variant) and the South African Air Force (SAAF).

It was the RAF’s last biplane fighter aircraft and was rendered obsolete by newer monoplane designs even as it was being introduced. Though often pitted against more formidable foes during the early days of the Second World War, it acquitted itself reasonably well in combat due to high degrees of manoeuvrability.

Photograph obtained from the SAAF museum. The colourised photo copyright belongs to Tinus Le Roux, and my deep thanks to him for sharing it.

A Legendary Fighting Hornet – Jack Frost

The Legendary South African Ace – Captain J E “Jack” Frost climbs into a Hawker Hurricane of No. 3 Squadron SAAF at Addis Ababa, after rejoining his unit as ‘A’ Flight commander following an attack of appendicitis.

Jack Frost was the most successful fighter pilot in the SAAF. He joined the South African Permanent force in 1936 and after a spell as a flying instructor was posted to No. 1 Squadron SAAF in 1939. In 1940 he was posted to the Newly-formed 3 Squadron SAAF as a flight commander and saw considerable action in Somaliland and Ethiopia.

He was evacuated with acute appendicitis on 22 May 1941 but rejoined his unit in June and was given the command of No. 5 Squadron SAAF the following month. He led the unit through the heavy fighting in Egypt in May and June 1942, but was eventually shot down and killed while escorting bombers over the El Adem area on 16 June. He was the SAAF’s top scorer of the war with 16 confirmed victories and was regarded as an outstanding pilot and leader.

Note 3 Squadron’s unit emblem on the side of the nose.  This is a comparison with the SAAF 3 Squadron emblem as it eventually evolved to.

12088598_506708752832195_3424448187684868824_n

Image Copyright IWM Collection