The South African fighter ace who allegedly 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.

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.

It was unfortunately an air accident that would end the young life of J.J. Le Roux, during a fateful cross-channel flight on 29 August 1944, whilst doing a ‘booze run’ – taking alcohol back to his squadron at Tangmere – that he crashed into the channel in bad weather. According to Paddy Barthropp, ‘Chris’ Le Roux was without a dinghy and was sitting on numerous bottles of champagne, which do not float. It was indeed a tragic end to one of South Africa’s most popular and gallant fighter pilots.

His cheerful and very happy disposition made him one of South Africa’s most popular fighter pilots, and this is seen in No.111 Squadron Operations Record Book which contains the following reference to him, it relating the story of his having made a good landing in very dirty weather and the mud described earlier, and finishes up: “I didn’t realise I was down until I heard the ground crew clapping!” He was a very worthy member of “the gayest (happiest) company who ever fired their guns in anger.”

Le Roux left behind an English wife and two children, at the time resident in Shropshire.

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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.

Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

“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.

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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

Operation Market Garden, a South African Captain remembered

Not many people know it, but a small number of South Africans participated in Operation Market Garden during World War 2.  Today we remember one of them.

Operation Market Garden was an unsuccessful Allied military operation pioneered by Field Marshall Montgomery to end the war by Christmas 1944, it was fought in the Netherlands and involved taking bridges ending with the prize bridge over the Rhein at Arnhem and then on into Germany. This key bridge was to be taken and held by British paratroopers from the 1st Airborne Division and they were due to be relived by XXX Corps an Allied ground force rushing up through the Netherlands taking key strategic points as it went.

But largely due to intelligence failures, delays crossing rivers, logistics issues and communication breakdowns the relief never arrived leaving the British paratroopers in a desperate and un-winnable fight. Operation Market Garden was the largest airborne operation up to that time and it was an unmitigated Allied failure with severe loss of life.

The air re-supply of the British airborne forces in the Arnhem area was particularly hazardous as they became isolated and surrounded.

This image taken on 19 September 1944 shows a burned-out Douglas Dakota Mark III, KG401, of No. 48 Squadron RAF based at Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, which crash-landed in a field near Kessel, Holland, after parachuting supplies over Arnhem.

The aircraft had just dropped its supplies from 700 feet when it was met with intense anti-aircraft fire. Sixteen aircraft of 48 Squadron participated in MARKET III, flying through intense flak with no fighter escort.

Many aircraft were hit and two, (KG401 and KG428), failed to return. Over the following four days the Squadron lost another six Dakotas on re-supply missions to Arnhem.

One of these was piloted by Captain C.H Campbell, a South African Air Force (SAAF) officer seconded to 48 Squadron RAF and was lost in his RAF C47 Douglas Dakota on 21st September 1944.

Some additional information courtesy Sandy Evan Hanes

CAMPBELL, C.H, Colin Herbert, 25
Captain 12211V
SAAF, Pilot
48 RAF Sqn C-47 Dakota Mk.III, KG-346

21.09.1944
KIA Runnymede Memorial, Panel 264, United Kingdom

Son of John W. and Hilda M. Campbell, of Claremont, Cape Town, South Africa

May he rest in eternal peace, his sacrifice to the freedom of Europe as we know it today remembered with honour.

Image copyright – Imperial War MuseumSouth

When the SAAF went to Warsaw, we Remember – 1st August 1944

Take a few minutes out of your day today to remember the 1st August 1944 and watch “The Men Who Went to Warsaw”: The Warsaw Uprising Airlift 1944 – a short dramatisation and interviews of the brave South African men who actually went on this mission.

Produced by Tinus le Roux as a non commercial historical archive, this film and others he has produced, all aim to capture the stories of South African Airmen in WW2 before they are lost.

70 Years ago, 13 August 1944; the first South African Air Force Liberators took off on a suicidal mission to Warsaw. This was the start of arguably one of the most daring and tragic series of missions ever flown by heavy bombers as they had to fly at night only 450 feet high at landing speed over the enemy infested city.

Watch and learn their story.

South African D-Day Hero: Tommy Thomas MC

Today we profile another one of those South African heroes who served with the Royal Navy Commandos on D Day and who went on to win a Military Cross for Bravery – Lieutenant D.C. “Tommy” Thomas MC from Maclear in the Transkei.

12074843_501711933331877_2278790879846881223_nHis most painful recollection of D-Day was the stormy passage he and his contingent had to undergo in crossing the Channel in their landing craft.The seas were running high, and hardly a man escaped sea sickness. They landed in the second wave at first light, their boat receiving a direct hit as they approached the shore, half-a-dozen men being killed, and Thomas found himself up to his neck in water after having jumped form the landing craft as it struck the beach.

The Commandos, having “dumped” their steel helmets, promptly donned their green berets as they went ashore, it being “more comfortable”.  They had a specific job to do which was to connect up as soon as possible with the paratroops who had dropped further inland, and encountered fire, but “did not wait to deal with the resistance at the coast, pushing inland instead with all speed”.

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Royal Marine Commandos attached to 3rd Division move inland from Sword Beach on the Normandy coast, 6 June 1944.

It was “tough going through the minefields but they got there”. “And were the paratroops glad to see us!” remarked Lt. Thomas, who further remarked that for the next few days none of them knew much of what was happening, and could not be sure whether the invasion was a success or not.

All they knew was “that in their own sector on the left flank of the beach-head they were kept hard at it”, and the toughening they had had in advance was to prove more than useful.

According to plan, they kept on the move all the time -”frigging about” as it was called in Commando terminology, snatching some much-needed sleep in slit-trenches during the day, while at night they were patrols or raids to be carried out. It was while returning from one of these ”nocturnal excursions” that Lieutenant Thomas shared with his sergeant and another man “the benefit of a German hand-grenade”, and was to later return to England with several “little shrapnel souvenirs still in his leg”, but otherwise was “none the worse for wear”.

Commenting on how the Normandy landings compared to his time in North Africa, Lt. Thomas was to say that “it was worse”, elaborating that “for one thing, in the Desert, you could see whom you were fighting, but in Normandy most of the time you couldn’t.”

Lt. Thomas was also to add that he was wondering how he would “be able to settle down on the family farm in the Maclear district of the Transkei after all this excitement”.

Military_CrossLt Thomas won the Military Cross (MC) for his actions in World War 2.  A significant decoration, it is awarded for gallantry in combat. The MC is granted in recognition of “an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land to all members, of any rank in Our Armed Forces”.

The unfortunate truth is that it was highly likely that his participation in D Day ultimately killed him years later. After the war but he developed an alcohol dependency problem whilst suffering with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), very sick he eventually shot himself when he was also diagnosed with cancer. A real tragedy and the end of a fine South African hero, close family and fiends described him as an AMAZING man, brave, humble and very caring.

People who knew him well said he was never the same after the war, and today we honour his extreme sacrifice and we will remember him.

Related Links and Work of South Africans during D Day:

Albie Gotze “This bastard is going to kill me”; Albie Götze’s Legion d’Honneur

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

Cecil Bircher South African D Day Hero: Lt. Cecil Bircher MC

Anthony Large South African D Day hero: Anthony Large BEM

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


Posted by Peter Dickens. Reference – Two South African “Royal Marine” Commandos and the D-Day Landings, June 1944 By Ross Dix-Peek.

Photo of Tommy courtesy and copyright of his old girlfriend – Mrs A Mason (from Mrs Mason’s personal album), with grateful thanks.

South African D-Day hero: 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.

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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 HMS Holmes (K581) was a Captain Class frigate, originally intended for the United States Navy she was transferred to the Royal Navy before she was finished.  The HMS Holmes found itself in the thick of battle during D-Day on the 6th June 1944 as an escort.  She was alongside escorting large battleships like the HMS Rodney as they fired at shore targets in Normandy. Operating off the Caen beachhead and Le Havre, this Royal Navy flotilla known as Bombarding Force D, including the HMS Holmes, opened the channel for invading forces.

In this dramatic photograph the crew on the bridge of the frigate HMS Homes keep watch as gliders carrying 6th Airborne Division reinforcements to Normandy pass overhead on the evening of 6 June 1944.

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Naval operations for the invasion were described by historian Correlli Barnett  as a “never surpassed masterpiece of planning”. In overall command was British Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay who had served as the Flag Officer at Dover during the Dunkirk evacuation four years earlier.

Operation Neptune, as the ‘D-Day’ operation was codenamed was quite something.  Consider these staggering statistics. The invasion fleet was drawn from eight different navies, comprising 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft of various types, 736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels. The majority of the fleet was supplied by the UK, which provided 892 warships and 3,261 landing craft. There were 195,700 naval personnel involved.

HMS Holmes

HMS Holmes (K581) during Operation Overlord

Available to the British and Canadian sectors were five battleships, 20 cruisers, 65 destroyers, and two monitors. German ships in the area on D-Day included three torpedo boats, 29 fast attack craft, 36 ‘R’ Boats and  36 minesweepers and patrol boats. The Germans also had several U-Boats available, and all the approaches had been heavily mined.

At 05:10, four German torpedo boats reached the Bombarding Force D Task Force and launched fifteen torpedoes, sinking the Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Svenner off Sword beach but missing the battleships HMS Warspite and HMS Ramillies.  Not far from this action was our South African hero and the HMS Holmes.

Here the battleship HMS Ramillies shelling German gun batteries in support of the landings on Sword area, 6 June 1944. The photo was taken from the frigate HMS Holmes.

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HMS Ramillies Sword area, 6 June 1944.

The British Empire Medal (BEM) awarded to Anthony Large is a significant British decoration, the medal is issued both for gallantry or meticulous service medal, however during the war it was generally awarded for gallantry to uniformed personnel, usually non-commissioned ranks below Warrant Officer.

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British Empire Medal (BEM)

Related Links and work on South Africans during D-Day

Albie Gotze “This bastard is going to kill me”; Albie Götze’s Legion d’Honneur

Tommy Thomas South African D Day Hero: Lt. D.C. “Tommy” Thomas MC

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

Cecil Bircher South African D Day Hero: Lt. Cecil Bircher MC

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


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens Photograph copyrights and caption references – Imperial War Museum

One of the greatest Allied fighter pilots of WW2 was a little known South African! Meet Pat Pattle.

1972284_264945320341874_456274533_nMeet the all time highest scoring British and Commonwealth forces WW2 fighter ACE, a South African named  – Marmaduke ‘Pat’ Pattle DFC & 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 Western Allied Forces fighter ace of WW2, this South African stands heads and shoulders above other British, British Commonwealth and American fighter aces of the war, however he remains a rather unsung hero. Precious little is known of him by many of his countrymen today, no significant war memorials exist in South Africa that even bear his name – but he is indeed one of South Africa’s greatest sons and one of the greatest heroes of WW2.

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 4 aerial victories but had been shot down once himself.

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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 3 were German. Pattle claimed 5 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 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.

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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 Johannesburg.  However little other recognition is given to him in South Africa.  Pat Pattle, like so many other great South Africans of WW2 serving in the Royal Air Force – Roger Bushell, Sailor Malan, Zulu Lewis, JJ Le Roux, Stapme Stapleton, Geoffrey Haysom, Dutch Hugo, John Nettleton VC and many more, suffered from the incoming race politics of the Nationalists in 1948, their memory ridiculed and branded as ‘traitors’ for siding with the British, their legacy subject to systematic erosion during the years of Apartheid. To the extent that today, in the changed politics of South Africa, we find them almost completely forgotten.

To think that we have in our midst in South Africa, some of the greatest men of the war to liberate the world of Fascism and Nazism, we have so much to be proud about as a nation, we even hold the honour of having the greatest Western Allied fighter pilot of the war … and nobody knows.

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Pilots of No. 33 Squadron RAF, at Larissa, Greece, with Hawker Hurricane Mark I, V7419, in background. from left to right, Pat Pattle stands at the centre.


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

Smuts’ keen sense of smell detects Germans hiding nearby

An interesting snippet of history happened during this visit by Smuts and Churchill to Monty’s headquarters. While visiting the headquarters and as senior officers stood outside with the Prime Minister (Churchill), Field Marshal Smuts sniffed the air and said, “There are some Germans near us now…I can always tell!”

And low and behold, just two days later, “two fully armed German paratroopers emerged from a nearby Rhododendron bush, where they had been hiding all along (they had become isolated from their unit, seeing that they were unable to rejoin they chose to surrender). Had they used their guns and grenades on Churchill (and Monty as well as Smuts), everything would have changed.

There you have it, Smuts’ keen sense of smell and intuition is another attribute you can add to the very very long list of honours attributed to this great South African.

The feature image shows Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Jan Smuts accompanied one another just after the D Day landings to General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s headquarters, 12 June 1944.

Left to right: Lieutenant-General Sir Richard O’Connor, commanding VIII Corps; Churchill; Field Marshal Jan Smuts; Montgomery; Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Here these Allied commanders are seen looking up at aircraft activity overhead.

Reference: Nicholas Rankin “Churchill’s Wizards”. Image copyright – The Imperial War Museum.

A part of Arlington will forever be South African

Arlington National Military Cemetery – Virginia, reserved for American servicemen of the United States of America, but there is a South African soldier buried in the cemetery. He was “discovered” in 1981.

For nearly 50 years World War II soldier Lieutenant Victor Potgieter lay unacknowledged in a common grave in the U.S, until his family learned of his whereabouts in 1981.

The fate of Lt. V. Potgieter, who grew up in Carolina, Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga) and attended Wits University before volunteering for active service in 1940, what happened to him remained a mystery for half a century. He went missing in 1944 and his family in South Africa did not know his fate until 1981 when they read a newspaper article about an unknown soldier named Potgieter who lay unaccounted for in the United States; in their most revered military cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

The lieutenant’s brother, Ben Potgieter of Arcadia, told the Pretoria News in 1993 that he believed his brother was involved in a clandestine operation when his plane was shot down and crashed in Greece.”Victor was home on leave from Egypt two months before his death,” Ben Potgieter was quoted as saying. “He told me he had volunteered for a mission and he would be photographing bridges there were to blow up.”When Victor Potgieter was first brought to the United States, all the authorities knew was his name. He was not registered as being on a mission in the area with any army. With no other leads, his headstone was marked as a British soldier.

Corrections have since been made to the headstone by the authorities at Arlington and Victor Potgieter is now correctly identified as a South African.

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Rest in Peace Lt Potgieter, a part of Arlington will forever be South African.

South African D-Day Hero: Cecil Bircher MC

Two South Africans seconded to the Royal Marines were awarded the Military Cross for gallantry on D-Day. This is the citation for one of them Lieutenant Cecil Arthur Douglas Bircher, South African Forces (attached to the Royal Marines).

“Lieutenant Bircher was Officer Commanding Troops in a Landing Craft Tank known as a LCT(A) carrying part of his troop. The craft engines broke down and it was towed from a position off the Isle of Wight to the assault area by a LCT and a LCI. On 6th June 1944 when approaching the beach at Bernieres-sur-Mer these craft had to cast off the LCT(A) which was left drifting sideways in a strong tide about 150 yards from the beach.

Although there was a heavy sea running and the beach was still under close range fire, Lieutenant Bircher, without hesitation plunged into the water and swam about 100 yards to the shore with the beach lines. On arrival on the beach he secured the lines to some stakes, enabling his craft to beach, and disembarked his section of Centaur tanks.

He subsequently led his section from the Canadian Sector in which he had landed into the sector of the 50th (N) Division to which he was attached although enemy opposition still persisted between the two sectors . Throughout the operation Lieutenant Bircher showed personal courage of the highest order and unflinching determination in the most adverse conditions to get his guns into action at the right time and place.”

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The chosen image shows Commandos of HQ 4th Special Service Brigade, coming ashore from landing craft on Nan Red beach, Juno area, at St Aubin-sur-Mer, 6 June 1944. An LCT (Landing Craft Tank) of the type that Lt Bircher was commanding troops in can be seen in the background.

The type of tanks Lieutenant Bircher was off-loading from the LCT were Centaur IV tank of the Royal Marines Armoured Support Group, here is an image of one during Operation Overlord at Tilly-sur-Seulles, 13 June 1944.

RM tanks

Related Links and work on South Africans during D-Day

Albie Gotze “This bastard is going to kill me”; Albie Götze’s Legion d’Honneur

Tommy Thomas South African D-Day Hero: Tommy Thomas MC

Lyle McKay South African D-Day Hero: Lyle McKay

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

Anthony Large South African D Day hero: Anthony Large BEM

Jan Smuts South Africa’s role in giving D-Day the green light


Posted by Peter Dickens. Image copyright – Imperial War Museum. Caption and citation reference ‘South Africa’s D Day Veterans’ by Cdr W.M. Bisset – SA Naval Museum.