Centenary of the ‘Smuts Report’, the instrument which gave birth to the Royal Air Force

August 2017 marks the centenary of the report to form the Royal Air Force (RAF), the idea of an independent Air Force from Navy or Army control is now officially 100 years old, and one key South African statesman, General Jan Smuts, gave birth to it.

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Smuts in WW1

Today, if you walk into the Royal Air Force Private Club in Mayfair, London you are greeted by a bust of Jan Smuts in the foyer, it stands there as an acknowledgement to the man who founded what is now one of the most prestigious and powerful air forces in the world – The RAF.

So how did it come to be that a South African started The Royal Air Force and why the need to have a separate and independent arm of service?

Simply put, during World War 1, the British Army and the Navy developed their own air-forces in support of their own respective ground and naval operations. The Royal Flying Corps had been born out of the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers and was under the control of the British Army. The Royal Naval Air Service was its naval equivalent and was controlled by the Admiralty.

However, the use of air power in World War 1 was developing beyond the immediate tactical use of aircraft by the Navy and the Army. In Great Britain the civilian population had been on the receiving end of extensive German bombing raids dropped from flying Zeppelin airships, the public outrage and the psychological effects of this bombing was having a significant impact on British politicians.

In reaction to this, the politicians proposed the creation of a long-range bombing force both as a retaliation and also as a means of disrupting enemy war production. There were also continuing concerns about aircraft supply and priorities between the services.

The British Prime Minister, Lloyd George asked General Jan Smuts to join his War Cabinet (the supreme authority governing Great Britain and her Empire’s forces in World War 1). Lloyd George then commissioned General Jan Smuts to report on two issues:

Firstly to look into arrangements for Home Defence against bombing and secondly, air organisation generally and the direction of aerial operations.  Smuts is generally accredited with improving British air defence and answering the first priority.

7960001505000118_fillHowever it was ‘Smuts report’ of August 1917 in response to the second of these questions that led to the recommendation to establish a separate Air Service. In making his recommendations Smuts commented that

“the day may not be far off when aerial operations with their devastation of enemy lands and destruction of industrial and populous centres on a vast scale may become the principal operations of war, to which the older forms of military and naval operations may become secondary and subordinate”.

Given this new dimension he commented that it was important that the design of aircraft and engines for such operations should be settled in accordance with the policy which would direct their future strategic employment. On these grounds he argued there was an urgent need to create an Air Ministry and that this Ministry should sort out the amalgamation of the two air services.

The War Cabinet accepted this recommendation to amalgamate the two separate air forces under one single and independent Air Force.  Smuts was then asked to lead an Air Organisation Committee to put it into effect. The Air Force Bill received Royal assent from the King on the 29 November 1917, which gave the newly formatted Air Force the prefix of ‘Royal’ (up to that point the idea was to call it the ‘Imperial Air Force’).

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The War Cabinet during WW1, Smuts seated bottom, far right

The RAF was officially formed on the 1 April 1918 with the amalgamation of the Royal Naval Air Service and  the Royal Flying Corps. Following which Lord Rothermere was appointed on 3 January 1918 as the first Secretary of State for Air and an Air Council established.

To emphasise the merger of both army and naval aviation in the new service, to appease the ‘senior service’ i.e. the Navy, many of the titles of officers were deliberately chosen to be of a naval character, such as Flight Lieutenant, Wing Commodore, Group Captain and Air Commodore.

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Royal Air Force

The newly created Royal Air Force was the most powerful air force in the world on its creation, with over 20,000 aircraft and over 300,000 personnel (including the Women’s Royal Air Force). It now qualifies as the oldest independent Air Force in the World.

General Smuts was to take his recommendations and findings across to form an independent South African Air Force (SAAF).  Smuts appointed Colonel Pierre van Ryneveld as the Director Air Services (DAS) with effect from 1 February 1920 with instructions to establish an air force for the South African Union. This date is acknowledged as marking the official birth of the SAAF.  The SAAF now qualifies as the second oldest independent Air Force in the world.

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South African Air Force

In a nutshell, both the RAF and SAAF as we know them today, were given to us by Jan Smuts as a founding father.  Funnily, Smuts was often criticised domestically as ‘Slim’ Jannie (clever little Jan), a term Smuts hated as it was coined by the Hertzog Nationalists to mean that Jan Smuts was too clever for his ‘volk’ (peoples) and therefore out of touch, it was done for political expediency at Smuts’ personal expense.  Smuts disliked the term as it as it ironically belittled the Afrikaner and positioned his people as ‘simpletons’, something Smuts fundamentally disagreed with, and something they most certainly are not.

That said, domestically Smuts’ political adversaries in the opposition National Party carried on with this belittling ‘Slim Jannie’ nickname to further criticise his ability to command at a strategic level, stating that his approach was too ‘intellectual’ for effective command.

All modern military strategy is formulated on joint arms of service with an independent air arm. You only have to look to any modern military construct of any military superpower today to see just what a visionary and strategist Jan Smuts was. The proof of his ability to command strategically is in the pudding.  Smuts’ ground-breaking report in August 1917 now guides all modern strategic military planning by simple way of how the arms of service are now constructed (Army, Navy, Air Force i.e. ground, sea, air), how they co-ordinate with one another and how they are commanded.


Written and researched by Peter Dickens.  References – Birth of the Royal Air Force (Royal Air Force Museum), Imperial War Museum and Wikipedia.  Images copyright, Imperial War Museum.

South African Battle of Britain Heroine -Jackie Moggridge

jackie-moggridge-woman-pilot-close-3-useThis is a very special South African military heroine. Jackie Moggridge (born Dolores Theresa “Jackie” Sorour), during the Second World War she left South Africa for England and joined the ATA Hatfield Ferry Pool on 29 July 1940, being the youngest of the female pilots to take part in the Battle of Britain, aged just 18.

The ATA “The Air Transport Auxiliary” was charged with delivering new and repaired aircraft to front-line Royal Air Force squadrons and were flown by civilian commercial pilots and female pilots excluded from flying roles deemed as “combative” service at the time.

The initial plan was that the ATA would carry personnel, mail and medical supplies, but the pilots were immediately needed to work with the Royal Air Force (RAF) ferry pools transporting aircraft. By 1 May 1940 the ATA had taken over transporting all military aircraft from factories to Maintenance Units to have guns and accessories installed. On 1 August 1941 the ATA took over all ferrying jobs. This freed the much-needed combat pilots for combat duty. At one time there were 14 ATA ferry pools as far apart as Hamble,  Southampton, Portsmouth, and Lossiemouth near Inverness in Scotland.

The ATA recruited pilots who were considered to be unsuitable for either the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm by reason of age, fitness or gender. A unique feature of the ATA was that physical handicaps were ignored if the pilot could do the job, thus there were one-armed, one-legged, short-sighted and one-eyed pilots, humorously referred to as “Ancient and Tattered Airmen”. However, most notably, the ATA allowed women.

Initially, to comply with the Geneva Convention, as many of the ferry pilots were nominally civilians and/or women, aircraft were ferried with guns or other armament unloaded, however I due course after encounters with German aircraft in which the ferried aircraft were unable to fight back, RAF aircraft were ferried with guns fully armed.

As part of unique and very brave bunch of pilots, mainly women, Our South African hero, Jackie safely handed over 1,500 aircraft during the war, 83 different types and 200 more than any other ATA pilot.

She had a very lucky escape on 5 January 1941 when ferrying an Oxford Mk I to RAF Kidlington, Oxfordshire, with no R/T to meet up with 1st O Amy Johnson who was bringing one in from Blackpool. Both went off course in adverse weather conditions, with Johnson following the rules, bailing out and drowning in the Thames Estuary. Sorour went down to a few hundred feet and found herself over the Bristol channel with 20 minutes fuel remaining. She claimed that she did not want to take to the chute because she had broken her leg during a parachute jump in 1938.

16195937_1899005106995145_1188220574573390828_nJackie also encountered a V-1 flying bomb in the air over Surrey while flying a Tempest. She altered course, fully intending to attempt to topple it with her wing tip but failed to catch up to it.  The standard practice in dealing with a ‘doodlebug’ (as the V1 was nicknamed) was a wingtip topple, it threw the flying bomb’s gyro off its intended target and sent it into open countryside instead of a city.  However the trick was to fly faster than the rocket to do it.  The picture featured shows this remarkable manoeuvre between a Spitfire and an unmanned V1 flying bomb.

Jackie was also the first woman in South Africa to make a parachute jump. (4,000 feet). She was South Africa’s youngest pilot of her time age 17 years. November 1959 was awarded Jean Bird trophy as Woman of the Year . She flew Lancasters, Spitfires and a variety of other planes as a RAF pilot during World War 2. She logged over 4,000 hours flying over Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

She is best described by her Daughters “Jackie was like two women in one: artistic, romantic, forgetful and disorganised, but when she climbed into an aeroplane she became focused, calm and very capable – not our mother at all! She loved many things: singing, dancing, sewing and painting, but her main passion in life was flying. Up in the sky is where she belonged.”

“She really was two women in one. She was a real battler for women to get on in life and just could not imagine that there was anything she could not try to achieve. But she knew, and said, that as a woman she had to have the best results to be taken seriously.”

21265949._UY630_SR1200,630_She was a member of one very elite group and one of only five women to be awarded full RAF wings during the war, Jackie even campaigned to become the first woman to break the sound barrier but was prevented from doing so by the powers that be.

The actions of the ATA are best summed by Lord Beaverbrook in 1945 who said;

“Without the ATA the days and nights of the Battle of Britain would have been conducted under conditions quite different from the actual events. They carried out the delivery of aircraft from the factories to the RAF, thus relieving countless numbers of RAF pilots for duty in the battle. Just as the Battle of Britain is the accomplishment and achievement of the RAF, likewise it can be declared that the ATA sustained and supported them in the battle. They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if they had been engaged on the battlefront.”

After she died, aged 81, in 2004, Jackie took to the skies one last time, for her ashes were scattered from the ‘Grace’ Spitfire ML407.

She is now proudly acclaimed as one of ‘The Female Few’ whose actions in The Battle of Britain and for the duration of the war brought us the freedoms we know today.


Reference Jackie Moggridge’s obituary and Wikipedia.   Researched by Peter Dickens

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

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

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

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

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

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Roger Bushell (left), Janet Montagu and Paddy Green

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

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

Sandy Hanes adds to this;

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

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

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

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


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

Three times winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross – Johannes Jacobus Le Roux

Squadron Leader Johannes Jacobus Le Roux – DFC & Two Bars, Commanding Officer of No 602 Squadron RAF in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire Mark IXb “Betty” MJ584 LO-A, at B11/Longues, Normandy. 10-12 July 1944

Le Roux, a South African, joined No. 73 Squadron RAF in France in 1940. He was shot down twelve times, but enjoyed better luck with No. 91 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. 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.

He won the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) not once, but three times, here are the citations:

Distinguished Service Cross
Awarded 17th October 1941
Citation:

“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.”

Distinguished Service Cross – First Bar
Awarded 11th December 1942

Citation:

“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 Lieu- tenant 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.”

Ultimately, however, like several other truly great fighter pilots, he was not destroyed by enemy gunfire, but by the unfortunate circumstances surrounding a fateful cross-channel flight on 29 August 1944. It seems that he had taken off from France and was attempting to make his way through appalling weather taking alcohol back to his squadron at Tangmere. He never reached the coast and crashed into the Channel. According to Paddy Barthropp, ‘Chris’ Le Roux was without a dinghy and was sitting on numerous bottles of champagne, which, as Barthropp points out, do not float. It was indeed a tragic end to one of South Africa’s most popular and gallant fighter pilots.

His cheerful personality and good looks had made him one of South Africa’s most popular fighter pilots, and he was mourned by all who had known him. The No.111 Squadron Operations Record Book contains a magnificent “line” which remains as a fitting memory of one as young, as gallant and as gay (happy) as Chris le Roux. It quotes him as 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 was to leave behind an English wife and two children, the family resident at the time in Shropshire.

(Image courtesy of the IWM, CL 784) Royal Air Force official photographer F/O A. Goodchild

(Colourised by Benjamin Thomas from Australia), caption courtesy WW2 Colourised photos

South African sacrifice in The Battle of Britain – P/O Frederick Posener

P/O Frederick Hyam POSENER, born on the 11th August 1916 in East London South Africa, a Jewish lad, son of Jack and Cissie Posener.  His father was an insurance agent and the family traveled regularly between South Africa and the Great Britain. He was educated at St. Andrew’s College, Grahamstown.

15284901_10210159757088884_3824330762325074957_nIn 1938 Frederick moved to Great Britain and joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) on a short service commission as part of the Empire Flying Training Wing.

He trained at 3 Flying Training School, South Cerney flying Hawker Harts, on completing his training he joined No. 152 squadron on the 1st October 1939, which was equipped at the time with Gloster Gladiators.

No 152 Squadron became the gift squadron of Hyderabad and took as its badge the head-dress of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Motto “”Faithful ally”

Frederick Posener was one of the first seven Pilot Officers to join the Squadron, and on the 25th November 1939 the “Blue Section” of B Flight, 152 Squadron went to Sumberg to reinforce the Orkney Islands 100 Wing.

On the 15th December 1939 Blue section at Sumberg was handed over to Coastal Command, however in the same month, on the 23rd December, whilst flying Gloster Gladiator N5701, Posener overshot on landing and spun in from 100ft, he was seriously injured in the accident and on recovery he rejoined 152 Squadron at Acklington.

Posener transferred with the Squadron on the 12th July 1940 to the forward Fighter Station at RAF Warmwell in Dorset, the squadron by this time had been equipped with Mk 1 Spitfires.

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Taking a break: July 1940, Pilots of 152 squadron based at RAF Warmwell in Dorset

Death

On the 20th July 1940 in Spitfire K9880 P/O Frederick Posener took off at 12:45 as “Green 3” of B Flight to cover petrol convoy Bosom just off Swanage, 7 miles south east of the coast line in the English Channel, he was acting as a “weaver”.

He was seen still in his position at 10,000ft as the convoy was reached, he was about 200 to 300 yards behind RAF Spitfire “Green 2”.  At this position he was shot down by Oberleutnant Homuth flying Messerschmitt Bf 109 3/JG 27, the lasts word heard from him was “tail”, he then baled out of his Spitfire which then crashed into the sea. He was seen to land on his parachute in the sea near to the convoy but to the rear and starboard of it, this went unseen by the convoy and he was never seen again, he was 23.

Gerhard_HomuthOberleutnant Gerhard Homuth was one of the top scoring German Luftwaffe aces in the Second World War. He scored all but two of his 63 victories against the Western Allies whilst flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109, especially in North Africa, he was later promoted to the rank of Major.  He was last seen on 2 August 1943 in a dogfight with Soviet fighters in the Northern sector – Eastern Front whilst flying a Focke Wulf 190A. His exact fate remains unknown.

P/O Frederick Posener is named on the Runnymede memorial, Panel 9, one of the “South African FEW”, lest we forget.

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Reference: The Kent Battle of Britain Museum and Battle of Britain London Monument and Wikipedia.  The featured image shows P/O Frederick Posener on the left, E.S. Hogg and W. Beaumont are to the right of him.

‘Stapme’ the handlebar moustached South African & Battle of Britain icon

Squadron Leader “Stapme” Stapleton DFC Dutch FC was born on May 12th 1920 in Durban, South Africa, he died on April 13th 2010, aged 89.  He was truly one of the most remarkable characters ever to fly for The Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain, D Day and Operation Market Garden, as this Daily Telegraph “Aircrew Remembered” obituary column outlines:

1307_10153714899566480_6236182998249877025_n“Tall, blond and sporting a splendid handlebar moustache, Stapleton was the epitome of the dashing fighter pilot. As the Battle of Britain opened in July 1940, he was flying Spitfires with No 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron and saw action off the east coast of Scotland. He shared in the destruction of two German bombers before his squadron moved to Hornchurch in late August as the Battle intensified.

Within a few days Stapleton had engaged the enemy fighter force escorting the Luftwaffe’s bombers, and was credited with probably destroying two Messerschmitt Bf 109s. By the beginning of September No 603 was one of the most heavily involved squadrons, and Stapleton accounted for a Dornier bomber on September 3 and a Bf 109 two days later – the latter flown by Franz von Werra, who later became famous as “The One who Got Away”, being generally regarded as the only Axis PoW to escape from Canada and make it back to Germany.

On September 7 Stapleton’s Spitfire was hit by enemy fire, but he managed to force-land his badly damaged aircraft. A young couple having a picnic in an adjacent field gave him a restorative cup of tea before driving him back to his airfield.

On September 15 (Battle of Britain Day) Stapleton shot down a Dornier bomber and damaged a fighter. By the end of the Battle on October 31, he had destroyed two more Bf 109s and probably a further three. On November 11 he gained his final success when he shot down a Bf 109 over Ramsgate. A few days later he was awarded a DFC.

During that summer of 1940, 13 of his colleagues were killed and others seriously wounded – including his friend Richard Hillary (later the author of The Last Enemy), who was badly burned.

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A day with No. 603 (City of Edinburgh) Fighter Squadron who have 128 German aircraft to their credit. The picture shows: Pilots of City of Edinburgh Squadron with their latest addition, a Spitfire presented by natives in Persia.

When reflecting on the Battle in later life, Stapleton observed: “Despite the casualties, when I look back, I recall we also had great fun. It was an exciting time and we made the most of our opportunities to live it up. We tended to treat each occasion as if it were our last.”

Basil Gerald Stapleton was born in Durban, South Africa, on May 12 1920 and educated at King Edward VI School in Totnes, Devon. He entered the RAF on a short service commission in January 1939 and, after a brief spell flying Blenheim night fighters, joined No 603 Squadron.

It was while he was with 603 Squadron that Stapleton got his nickname, “Stapme”. It derived from the exclamation habitually uttered by the newspaper cartoon hero “Just Jake” whenever he spotted an attractive girl. Much to the irritation of his flight commander, Stapleton would pin the daily cartoon strip to the squadron’s notice board.

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Captain A.R.P Reilly-Ffoull was from the wartime cartoon strip ‘Just Jake’. Just Jake ran for 14 years in the Daily Mirror newspaper.

In March 1941 Stapleton was rested, but he soon volunteered to fly Hurricanes catapulted off the deck of a merchant ship sailing with the North Atlantic convoys. He completed four trips without seeing any action before embarking on a second tour of operations as the flight commander of a Hurricane squadron (later Typhoon), flying bomber escort operations over France.

In August 1944, after a period as a gunnery instructor, he was put in command of No 247 Squadron, operating from advanced landing grounds in Normandy – where he discovered ample supplies of Calvados; he not only enjoyed drinking it, but also found it effective fuel for paraffin lamps and his Zippo lighter.

He soon arranged for the squadron intelligence officer, an excellent artist, to paint a logo on the nose of his Typhoon. It showed a Nazi swastika topped by a burning eagle – the result of a strike by a 60lb rocket in the centre of the swastika. He named it “Excreta Thermo”, but the more prudent intelligence officer did not include this wording in case Stapleton crash-landed in enemy territory. In the event, this proved a wise decision.

Stapleton flew his first operation on August 27, when his rocket-firing Typhoons attacked barges on the river Seine. Within days, No 247 started heading eastwards to occupy abandoned German airfields as the Allied armies advanced towards Paris and Brussels. Stapleton and his pilots attacked enemy transports and armour against fierce anti-aircraft fire.

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Ground crews loading 3-inch rocket projectiles onto Hawker Typhoon Mark IB, MN317 ‘ZY-B’, of No. 247 Squadron RAF at B2/Bazenville, Normandy.

On September 17 the squadron was briefed for “a very important task”: the support of the airborne operations at Nijmegen and Arnhem. Stapleton led the initial attack by eight Typhoons against German gun positions threatening the British Second Army’s advance along the road to Eindhoven.

Over the next two days Stapleton led more formations against the enemy, but bad weather forced some sorties to be aborted. The squadron then moved to Eindhoven, where the Typhoons landed between the bomb craters.

After a rowdy night, when much champagne was consumed, his Jeep ran out of fuel returning from the officers’ bar and he had to jump clear as the following vehicle failed to stop in time. Stapleton hit his head on the kerb and needed eight stitches above his eye.

For the next two months Stapleton led many formations against gun emplacements, road and rail traffic and ferries before the German Army launched its counter-attack in the Ardennes on December 17. For days the weather prevented any flying; but finally it cleared sufficiently for eight Typhoons to carry out an armed reconnaissance sortie on December 23.

Despite still dreadful weather, Stapleton pressed on and attacked a train at low level with rockets; but the flying debris from the exploding steam engine punctured the radiator of his Typhoon and his engine failed. He was fortunate to find an area of open farmland in which to make a forced landing.

He had come down two miles on the wrong side of the battle lines and was taken prisoner. He was taken to Stalag Luft I, and remained a PoW until May 2, when the camp was liberated by the advancing Russian Army.

On January 1 1946, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands awarded Stapleton a Dutch Flying Cross for his part in the operations at Arnhem. A month later he left the RAF, believing that he would not fit in with a peacetime air force.

Stapleton joined BOAC, flying West African routes for three years before returning to South Africa. There he spent six years as a technical representative with Dunlop, then seven years as works engineer with Sprite Caravans. Whilst living in Botswana he escorted tourists on photographic safaris in southern Africa before returning to Britain in 1994.
DSC_0208_galleryTo many people Stapleton was one of the real “characters” to survive the war. His favourite aircraft was the Spitfire, and when a colleague described it as “beautiful and frail, yet agile, potent and powerful” Stapleton responded: “I always wanted a lady like that.”

He was a great supporter of the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and in 2007 one of the Flight’s Spitfires carried his personal markings. He was also a regular at many Battle of Britain commemorative events; but his greatest devotion was to the No 603 Squadron Association. With his flamboyant ties, large floppy hat and luxuriant moustache, he was immensely popular at the many events he attended.

A biography, “Stapme” by David Ross, was published in 2002″.

Reference Daily Telegraph Obituary Column, wikipedia, Image copyright Imperial War Museum

South African Battle of Britain hero, G.D. Haysom DSO DFC

South African Durban High School Old Boy, Wing Commander Geoffrey David Leybourne Haysom DSO DFC, seen here during the Battle of Britain in the leading Hurricane.
Geoffrey David Leybourne Haysom, of Durban, South Africa was born in 1917. He was educated at Natal University College and Edinburgh University, where he gained a BSc.

He joined the RAF on a short service commission and began his initial training on 18th March 1937. He went to No. 1 RAF Depot Uxbridge on 18th May for a short induction course before being posted to 2 FTS Brize Norton on 5th June. After completing his training he joined the staff of the School of Naval Co-operation at Ford on 8th January 1938. He joined 79 Squadron at Biggin Hill on 1st November 1938.

Haysom was detached from 79 Squadron to the School of Air Navigation St. Athan on 6th May 1940 for No. 6 Short Navigation Instructors Course. He rejoined 79 Squadron on 31st May.

Near Abbeville on 8th June 1940 Haysom shot down a Me109 over Le Treport. He was appointed ‘B’ Flight Commander on 17th June with the rank of Acting Flight Lieutenant. He took temporary command of the squadron from 7th to 11th July after the CO, S/Ldr. JDC Joslin, was killed.

On 15th August Haysom claimed a Me110 shot down, on the 28th he made a forced-landing at Appledore Station, near Tenterden, when his glycol system was damaged in combat over Hythe.

On 30th August he probably destroyed a Me109, on the 31st shot down another and on 1st September damaged a Do17. Haysom shot down a Ju88 on 20th November 1940 which had been photographing damage caused in the German raid on Coventry.

On 1st April 1941 he destroyed a He111 and on the 4th he shared in damaging another.
He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 29th April 1941) and commanded 79 Squadron from June to 25th September 1941, when he was posted away to 51 OTU at Debden for Controller duties.

In mid-1942 Haysom was posted to the Middle East and he joined 260 Squadron on 19th July, possibly as a supernumerary to gain experience on Kittyhawks. Three days later he was promoted to Acting Wing Commander, to become Wing Leader 239 Wing in the Western Desert. At the end of his tour Haysom was awarded the DSO (gazetted 16th February 1943), being then credited with at least six enemy aircraft destroyed.

In Italy, after his experience of supporting the Army in the Western Desert, Haysom evolved the ‘Cab Rank’ system, which was used with such success in the 1944 invasion of Europe. A squadron of fighters was airborne, generally in line astern and was called up by a Mobile Observation Post with the forward troops to attack specific targets.

Haysom was released from the Royal Air Force in 1946 as a Group Captain. He died in 1979.

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The featured image shows three Hawker Hurricane Mark IIBs of No 79 Squadron RAF based at Fairwood Common, Glamorgan, flying in ‘vic’ formation above South Wales. The pilots were, the South African Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader G D Haysom (leading aircraft, Z3745 ‘NV-B’), and his flight commanders, Flight Lieutenant R P Beamont (nearest aircraft, Z2633 ‘NV-M’), and Flight Lieutenant L T Bryant-Fenn (furthest aircraft, Z3156 ‘NV-F).

Image copyright – Imperial War Museum