When Holocaust survivors speak, we ought to listen!

Finally! This famous old gritty black and white photo has been colourised to bring this human tragedy into a modern context. This photo is one of the most published images of the Holocaust, the surviving children. So what’s in this iconic photograph taken during the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp by Soviet soldiers on 27 January 1945, what does it actually tell us?

There is a lot more to this than just a photo, it carries with it one of the greatest human failings, it also has a remarkable eye-witness testimony of what actually happened at Auschwitz – from both a survivor and a tormentor, and it even has a South African back story.

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To answer, what’s in a photo! just for starters, there are two sisters in this photo, 10-year-old Eva Mozes and her twin sister Miriam Mozes. Miriam is on the extreme right and Eva is next to her sister slightly behind the boy with the cap.

Zwillinge, Zwillinge!

Eva Mozes is still alive and gracefully with us and she has time and again provided a living testimony to horror – the fact is the Holocaust is still in living memory. She has recalled that her parents Alexander and Jaffa Mozes, together with their four daughters (her sisters) Edit, Aliz and her twin sister Miriam were among thousands of jews who were collected in the regional ghetto of Cehei and transported to their final destination – Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Upon their arrival, the Mozes family was immediately separated for extermination ―her father and Mother together with her sisters Edit and Aliz and twin Miriam were all taken aside to be taken to the gas chambers.

The twins survived the death camp thanks to a single trait, being ‘twins’. Eva revisited Auschwitz on several occasions after the war and stood at the same place where she saw her mother, father, Edit, and Aliz for the last time. She recalled;

“The SS was running from that direction, yelling in German, ‘Zwillinge, Zwillinge!’ which means ‘twins.’ We did not volunteer any information. He approached us, looked at Miriam and me, we were dressed alike, looked very much alike, and he demanded to know if we were twins.”

After this was confirmed, the two girls were taken away from their family, none of whom were ever seen again.

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Eva (right) and Miriam (left), in 1949.

Another fate awaited the twins ―they were both subjected to gruesome experiments conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele himself.

The Angel of Death

Dr. Mengele was known to the inmates at Auschwitz as Todesenge (English; Angel of Death).  He was given a free hand in experimenting on human subjects, an approach unthinkable by any ethical standards in modern medicine. He was especially interested in twins, for his genetic research which revolved around improving the birth-rate of German ‘Aryan’ people.

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Josef Mengele pictured outside Auschwitz in 1944

Twins were subjected to weekly examinations and measurements of their physical attributes by Mengele or one of his assistants. The experiments he performed on twins included unnecessary amputation of limbs, intentionally infecting one twin with typhus or some other disease, and transfusing the blood of one twin into the other. Many of the victims died while undergoing these procedures, and those who survived the experiments were sometimes killed and their bodies dissected once Mengele had no further use for them.

A witness named Miklós Nyiszli recalled one occasion on which Mengele personally killed fourteen twins in one night by injecting their hearts with chloroform. If one twin died from disease, he would kill the other twin to allow comparative post-mortem reports to be produced for research purposes.

Eva and Miriam, who were 10 years old at the time, were injected with various substances and they were constantly compared and tested while living the harsh reality of the concentration camp.

Eva concentrated on how to survive the camp, despite all odds.  She said “at Auschwitz dying was so easy. Surviving was a full-time job.” Her first memory of the children’s barracks in which she was placed was the latrine, in which several dead children were piled up on the floor.

On one occasion, Eva said; “I was given five injections. That evening I developed extremely high fever. I was trembling. My arms and my legs were swollen, huge size. Mengele and Dr. Konig and three other doctors came in the next morning. They looked at my fever chart, and Dr. Mengele said, laughingly, ‘Too bad, she is so young. She has only two weeks to live ..”

Eva knew that the moment she died, her sister Miriam would become useless for experiments. She would be murdered with a lethal injection and sent for a comparative autopsy. This left no other option for Eva but to survive her illness, and after the two weeks that she wasn’t supposed to survive, she got better and started to heal.

What’s in a ‘hug’? 

The Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, finding around 180 children among the survivors, most of them being twins. Eva and Miriam were captured on film that day, exiting the barbed wire corridor together with other children.  On seeing the Russian liberators Eva recalled

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A photograph of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp by Soviet soldiers in January 1945. Eva and her sister Miriam are seen holding hands

“We ran up to them and they gave us hugs, cookies and chocolate. Being so alone, a hug meant more than anybody could imagine because that replaced the human warmth that we were starving for. We were not only starved for food, but we were starved for human kindness. And the Soviet Army did provide some of that.

The photographs and films taken at Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Allied forces shocked the world, but oddly enough they knew exactly where the extermination camp was and exactly what was going on in there – and that is thanks to another photograph – and this one was taken by a South African aircrew who discovered the Nazi extermination camp and exposed it to Allied intelligence.

In the spring of 1944 a South African Air Force Mosquito XVI aircraft of SAAF No. 60 Squadron piloted by Lt. C.H.H Barry and his navigator Lt. I McIntyre discovered and photographed the Auschwitz concentration camp whilst reconnoitring a nearby rubber plant which was earmarked for bombing by the USAAF (USA Air Force)..

This image is an enlargement of part of a photo of Auschwitz-Birkenau taken by the SAAF on Sortie no. 60PR/694.

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For more on this remarkable intelligence gathering by the South Africans – click on this link: The South African Air Force discovered Auschwitz extermination camp

Candles

The Mozes twins made it, they had survived a holocaust, even though their parents and sisters perished in the gas chambers. The twins returned to Romania for a while, and in 1950, they both moved to Israel. Eva recalls that only after reaching Israel did she stop feeling the fear of being persecuted for her ethnicity. For the first time in a decade, she slept through the night.

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Eva Mozes-Kor

In 1960, Eva married Michael Kor, who was also a concentration camp survivor. The pair moved to the U.S. and had two children, while Miriam remained and founded her family in Israel. While in the U.S., Eva established the Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors (CANDLES) in 1984. The main purpose of this institution remains the education of young people about the horrors of the Holocaust. It also served as a place to reconnect the survivors of the infamous Mengele twins experiments.

The scars left by the 10 months spent in Auschwitz were not gone. In 1993, Miriam died from a kidney related cancer. Miriam’s kidneys stopped growing in Auschwitz, caused by an unknown substance that was injected into her as a child. She spent her life living with kidneys of a 10-year-old. Doctors were helpless in determining the true cause of the defect.

“A human being in a SS uniform”

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Hans Wilhelm Münch at the time of his arrest

After Miriam’s death, Eva made contact with an unusual person – a former SS physician who worked in Auschwitz by the name of SS-Untersturmführer Hans Wilhelm Münch.

In addition to other duties SS physicians at Auschwitz were required to be present at the line selections of arriving Jews (and other ‘non Aryan’) to select (or deselect for that matter) Jews healthy enough to be kept for labour and those destined to go straight into the gas chambers.  Most of the SS doctors viewed selections as one of their most stressful and unpleasant duties, unlike their colleague Dr Josef Mengele who undertook the task with a flamboyant air, often smiling or whistling a tune.  

In addition SS physicians were also required to oversee the administration of Zyklon B, the cyanide-based pesticide that was used for the mass killings in the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers.

Dr. Hans Münch was present at various exterminations at Auschwitz, but he was very different to the rest of his colleagues.  He was so against going ‘selections’ which he viewed as “disgusting and inhuman” that he formerly applied to be removed from this duty (which although the application was dimly viewed by his colleagues in the SS he was given exemption). Then he did something completely at odds to the SS doctrine, but perfectly in line with his medical oath and his conscience – he started to save lives and filed ‘false’ experiments to by-pass the system and save people destined to be executed or maimed.

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“Selection” of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Birkenau, May/June 1944

In 1945, after evacuating from Auschwitz, Münch spent about three months in the Dachau concentration camp. After the end of the war he was arrested in a United States internment camp after being identified by another Auschwitz physician.

Münch was extradited to Poland in 1946 to stand trial in Kraków with 41 other Auschwitz staff. However, quite remarkably, although accused of performing inhumane experiments injecting inmates, the inmates stood up for him – one after another testified in his favour calling him the “Good Man of Auschwitz” and referring to him as “a human being in a SS uniform”.

The court acquitted Dr. Hans Münch on 22 December 1947 with this statement; “not only because he did not commit any crime of harm against the camp prisoners, but because he had a benevolent attitude toward them and helped them, while he had to carry the responsibility. He did this independently from the nationality, race-and-religious origin and political conviction of the prisoners.” The court’s acquittal was based, among other things, on his strict refusal to participate in the selections.

No small matter, of the 41 Auschwitz staff tried in Kraków, 23 of them (including the Auschwitz commandant, Arthur Liebehenschel, the Political Department head Maximilian Grabner, and Women’s Camp Director Maria Mandel) were sentenced to death, the rest received heavy prison sentences. It was only Hans Münch who was acquitted and who walked away from the trial a free man.

“Silence helps the oppressors”

Eva Mozes-Kor and Hans Münch, two eye-witnesses to horror – one the Jewish victim and one the SS tormentor, both survivors of the Holocaust in their own way, met and agreed to attend the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1995 arm in arm.

In an act of mutual catharsis Eva formally forgave Münch and her Nazi tormentors and Münch in turn formally apologised and attested the fact that he was part of the SS run systematic genocide machine at the same time also confirming the existence and use of gas chambers to fulfil this end. His document was intended to put to bed once and for all a growing revisionist lobby who try to deny that the Holocaust ever happened.

Gas Chambers copyAs living witnesses Hans Münch and Eva Mozes-Kor signed their respective public declarations regarding what had happened there and declared that such a thing should never be allowed to happen again.

Eva is a woman of substance, she has every reason to hate and demand retribution, but she refuses to be a labelled a victim, she is a survivor. In her journey she has realised that to purge herself of demons and monsters she would forgive them – and only in the act of forgiveness could she move on, she believes that; “Getting even has never healed a single person” and would go on to say  “forgiveness is free. It does not cost anything to let go of grievances and remove the victim label from oneself”.

As to another Holocaust survivor, Leslie Meisels who said silence helps the oppressors”, Dr. Hans Münch later felt compelled to further comment on Holocaust denial. During an interview Münch was asked about the claim that Auschwitz was a hoax, he wearily responded:

“When someone says that Auschwitz is a lie, that it is a hoax, I feel hesitation to say much to him. I say, the facts are so firmly determined, that one cannot have any doubt at all, and I stop talking to that person because there is no use. One knows that anyone who clings to such things, which are published somewhere, is a malevolent person who has some personal interest to want to bury in silence things that cannot be buried in silence”

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Eva Mozes-Kor,and Hans Münch at the 50th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau

In Conclusion

Although Eva’s views stress we should never forget the Holocaust her views on forgiving the perpetrators of the Holocaust sits at odds with many in our modern-day who view the Holocaust differently and demand continual retribution and compensation for it.  In many respects her view echoes in modern-day South Africa – where Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and others (the principal victims of Apartheid) who whilst never forgetting Apartheid also sought reconciliation and peace through the act of forgiveness, and it was in this way they sought to remove the label of ‘victim’ which so crushes the human spirit – and not surprisingly their view is also at odds with modern South Africans who are still seeking continual retribution and compensation for Apartheid victimisation.

It’s a very sensitive subject and there are grounded issues on both sides of the argument, but a lot of learnings must be taken from the people who were ‘there’ and experienced a human failing like the Holocaust (or even Apartheid) at its very worst – first hand. Eva Mozes-Kor founded CANDLES to shine light on the both the dark and bright side of history, because the ‘human spirit’ must always prevail and as Charles Dickens once wrote many years before;

“There are dark shadows on earth, but the lights are always brighter.”


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

References and extracts: Lessons from a Holocaust survivor by Tyler Tucky.  The Jewish Virtual Libuary –  article on Hans Münch.   War History on-line article – SS Dr. Hans Munch, called the “Good Man Of Auschwitz”, How is That Possible?  The Vintage NewsEva Mozes Kor, a Holocaust survivor and a Mengele twin, chose to forgive the Nazis. 

Photo Color by Mikołaj Kaczmarek
https://www.facebook.com/KolorHistorii/

A farewell tribute to General Gotze LdH

On the 8th September 2018 in Hermanus, South Africa, the South African Legion, Memorable Order of Tin Hats and South African Air Force Association said farewell to General Albie Gotze LdH in a fitting way,

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For those who wish to read my tribute at his service, and learn a little more about him, here it is:

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Farewell to General Gotze

I first met Albie in my role of Chairman of the South African Legion of Military Veterans in the United Kingdom. Along with Tinus Le Roux we obtained a mobi-chair for him from the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund – it was the start of a friendship and a bond that is central and very specific to all military veterans.

I have a personal pledge to any veteran I meet who fought in World War 2 – I buy them a beer – it’s a simple gesture and a fellow warrior’s thanks to another who has sacrificed so much in what was the greatest bloodletting war mankind has ever seen – before or since.

Like Albie, I am also a pilot and we connected with our joint love of flying. I had borrowed a very powerful 745 BMW from my buddy ‘Aussie Matt’ – you guessed, he’s Australian, I figured I would take Albie to the Gecko Bar for his beer on me in Matt’s beamer. Driving there I realised Albie, as a pilot would still harbour in him that basic truth to all pilots – THE NEED – THE NEED FOR SPEED.

On the backroads, with Albie’s permission and a very tempting massive engine we decided to give the BMW a full whellie and put the boot to it – I opened up the BMW’s 4.5 Lt engine to full throttle, maximum torque, pushed back in the seats I noticed Albie’s right hand push an imaginary aircraft throttle to full tilt, and instead of scaring the heck out him all I saw was a massive smile on his face and sheer joy – in Albie’s mind he was back in one of the most powerful single engine war-birds ever built.

There’s a lot to be said for a person like Albie, but in his heart was an extremely courageous man, completely unafraid of danger – a fighter pilot – the bravest of the brave, and even in his twilight years a man still built of stronger stuff than most mortals would ever aspire to.

We got talking over that beer, and one story stands out – it’s one which demonstrates just what a man he was and his wry sense of ‘dark humour’ – a humour military veterans share as it comes from extreme adversary.

During the Second World War, Alibe had transferred from flying Spitfires during D-Day – the liberation of France, to flying the extremely fearful all rocket firing fire breathing Typhoon – in his quest to liberate Belgium and Holland as part of Operation Market Garden.

Both the Typhoon and Operation Market Garden were BEASTS in the extreme, the Typhoon was unforgiving on pilots, its massive engine, body frame and incredible amounts of power and torque took special pilots, and the Typhoon on its own claimed some of them. But the biggest claim on Typhoon pilots was Operation Market Garden, it was one of the most bloodiest encounters of the war, the toll on Typhoon pilots was extreme. Albie would later say that the fact he did not die he put down to a basic human dichotomy experienced by all men who have seen war;

… I survived because of sheer luck alone … with God’s grace.

During Operation Market Garden Albie served with RAF 137 Squadron and almost always operated at low altitude (“on the deck”) mainly employed to attack targets such as armour, anti-aircraft installations, specific buildings, transports and enemy personnel. For this reason alone, flying in the Typhoon squadron was dangerous and high risk.

Please excuse the language in the house of God, but this comes from a warrior fighting a war in the  extreme speaking to military truisms. According to Albie, flying the Typhoon at this time was regarded by Allied officers as – and I quote;

“the most dangerous job that these buggers could ever have volunteered for”.

The losses and dangers were extreme. To illustrate just how dangerous this was, Albie said

“we lost a 151 pilots flying this thing (Typhoons), on Operation Market Garden alone, in just one single day we lost 21 pilots on Typhoons”.

Combat was brutal in its simplicity, according to Albie it was as simple as;

“That guys gotta be shot down (the enemy), not me!”

The Typhoon missions, although very dangerous were also very formidable. Albie describes that aside from the rocket firing capability it could also deliver a wall of lead, consider his own words

“Can you imagine yourself flying over there, in Typhoons you have two 20mm guns, each one has 4 bloody spouts .. now, the 20mm shoots 600 shots a minute, can you imagine 600, 4 of them, that’s 2400, and there’s not just that one, there’s another Typhoon behind him (the wingman), that is 4800 bullets you have coming at the enemy”

Albie’s aircraft was hit on many occasions and he made a few crash landings with damaged aircraft. He recalled on such incident as if they were yesterday, this is a very brave account of combat flying, honest, harrowing and even a little funny (in the darkest manner of ‘military humour’).

“I got shot one day, as a matter of fact I was watching this guy shooting at me, with a 88 mm, he shot at me and I looked and I said to myself ‘this bastard is going to kill me’ … he shot me at the back of the fuselage, but, the 88mm did not explode for some unknown reason, God must have said ‘I not gonna put this fuse on’, But it did cut my trim-wire to my rudder and all it does is that your aircraft just rolls over and you go strait in, but fortunately I was able to ‘catch it’ (arrest the aircraft roll with opposite ailerons);

… but I could only fly at an angle a friend radioed and said ‘Albie are you in trouble?’, I said to him ‘yes’, I can’t see out, at this time as I got down into the cockpit and grabbed hold of the rudder bar in order to keep on flying, otherwise I would go down. He said “I will fly on top of you”, been down there you can’t see out of the cockpit, all I could see was up, he brought me home like that, him flying on top (as a visual marker), me underneath. When I did the crash landing, that scoop on ‘the typhoon’ is full of oil and it sparked and catches fire quickly, I was so scared, before the plane came to a stop, I was out of the cockpit and I ran so fast that the ambulance could not catch me”.

Wow, there’s everything in that story, drama, bravery, camaraderie, action and comedy … and this was one of many many simiar stories Albie could relate, not just from WW2, but the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War and the Angolan Border War … this was a man who had truly seen life and death, he had endured some of the greatest blows in history and survived. His testimony is the testimony of true Christian soldier, one of God’s most fearsome and most benevolent of men.

Albie was one of the last of the ‘few’ as Winston Churchill called the brave pilots who saved Britain and liberated Europe and the world of Nazi tyranny, he was also one of a small number of South Africans to take part in D-Day and he’s one of only three South Africans to receive France’s highest award – the Legion de Honour in recognition and grateful thanks from the entire country of France for the freedom they enjoy today. This was a very special man and as a Legionnaire I was extremely proud to be involved in the granting of the Legion de Honour to him.

It is always appropriate when a pilot passes on, for a fellow pilot to recite a poem written by a Royal Air Force pilot – John Gillespie during World War 2 It’s called High Flight and he penned just before he was tragically killed in combat over France in his Spitfire … and I am honoured to read it for Albie today;

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”

You would have witnessed today military people saluting Albie – but what is the salute? The British style of salute – long way up and short way down with open palm has an ancient medieval root – it was used to signify to another warrior that you do not have your sword in your right hand, its empty – you honour a fellow warrior by recognising him, you mean no harm to him and you come in peace. You are a friend.

Brigadier General Albie Gotze Legion de Honour . May you Rest In Peace, your memory will not be forgotten as long as the bond of brotherhood and friendship exists between military personnel. It is in this peace – and with this honour mind, that I as a fellow officer wish you well in your final flight to touch the face of God …. And I salute you.

Peter Dickens

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Links to Albie on the Observation Post “This bastard is going to kill me”; Albie Götze’s Legion d’Honneur

Painting of ‘Typhoon Full Frontal’ on the masthead, artist Derrick Dickens, copyright Peter Dickens

A ‘Star of David’ in defiance of Göring

During World War 1 a non-Jewish German fighter pilot did something very unusual, he painted a ‘Star of David’ – the Magen David, the modern symbol of Jewish identity on the side of his aircraft.  The act was in defiance of anti-Semitism and it has a very unusual South African connection.

Leutnant (Lieutenant) Adolf Auer was the German fighter pilot and he did this defiant act because he disliked Hermann Göring’s anti-Semitism and anti-semitic comments.  Auer’s wingman was a German Jew and also a highly decorated German WW1 fighter ace, his name was Willi Rosenstein.

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The Star of David clearly be seen on Auer’s aircraft

anti-Semitism 

Before Hermann Göring became the infamous right hand man to Adolf Hitler during the Second World War he was a very successful fighter pilot during World War 1, he shot down 22 enemy aircraft making him an Ace and was even eventually appointed as the successor to Manfred von Richthofen – the legendary Red Baron – as the commander of Jagdgeschwader 1 (‘The Flying Circus’) on 14th July 1918.

Between the 17th May 1917 and 28 July 1918 Leutnant (Lieutenant) Herman Göring was the Commanding Officer of Royal Prussian Jagdstaffel 27 (Jasta 27) hunting group, Willi Rosenstein was also part of Jasta 27 and at the time flew as Göring’s wing man.

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Hermann Göring in the cockpit of his bi-plane fighter

During the First World War the anti-Jewish issue in Germany was a latent one but simmering, many Jewish Germans served with distinction in Germany’s armed forces in WW1 and it was just Hermann Göring personal anti-Semitism at the time that he clearly carried with him into the Second World War.

In late 1917 an incident occurred in which Rosenstein became very upset after Lt. Goering made an anti-Semitic remark in front of several people; Rosenstein requested an apology but when Göring refused, Rosenstein asked for a transfer out of Jasta 27.

Willi Rosenstein then joined Jasta 40, and flew as the wing man to Adolf Auer.  In defiance to anti-Semitism and to derogatory comments Hermann Göring had made as to Rosentein whilst he was his wing-man, Auer painted a Star of David on the side of his fighter, this was done to annoy Herman Göring and stand up for his fellow Jewish comrade, he famously said that he would rather be saved by a Jewish pilot than die in a plane crash.

Simply put Göring hated Jews and was an unabashed anti-semitic, after WW1 he joined the Nazi party and rose to become a key leader of Hitler’s Third Reich.  His intense hatred of Jews would eventually lead him to become one of the architects of the Holocaust in the Second World War, even ordering a high-ranking Nazi official to organise the solution to the ‘Jewish Question’ – which in reality meant the extermination of the Jews of Europe in gas chambers and in front of firing squads.  A keen art enthusiast Göring even went as far as illegally appropriating important art work from Jewish victims of the genocide.

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Adolf Auer

Lt. Adolf Auer’s combat record in WW1 is however very short, he scored one victory during the war and was wounded in action when he was brought down on 28th October 1918 and taken Prisoner of War

When World War 2 broke out, Adolf Auer joined the German Luftwaffe, which by this time was headed up by Hermann Göring and although Göring rose to become one of Adolf Hitler’s closest advisers and the second-most-powerful Nazi during World War 2, it appears Göering did not penalize Auer for his antics of painting a Star of David on his aircraft during World War 1 (it was a different time).  However if he had pulled the same stunt in World War 2 he would surely have been severely punished (it could have led to his arrest or even execution in the Second World War).

German Jewish Fighter Ace

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Willi Rosenstein

A different matter for Willi Rosenstein who went on to become a rare thing in WW1 – a German Jewish fighter Ace.  He initially volunteered to fight for Imperial Germany in the army, but transferred to De Fliegertruppen (the budding army version of the German Air Force) on 24 August 1914.   As a fighter pilot he won the Iron Cross, Second Class in March 1915 and was also awarded the Silver Military Service Medal.  By February 1916 he was commissioned as a Leutnant (Lieutenant), in April 1916 he was wounded in action during the Battle of Verdun, and eventually received the Iron Cross First Class  having flown 180 combat sorties to that date.  Upon recovery, he reported to the 3rd Army as a Fokker pilot. He became one of the founding members of one of Germany’s brand-new fighter squadrons, Jasta 9 on 23 September 1916.

He moved on to Jasta 27  on 15 February 1917. However, it would not be until 21 September that he scored his first aerial victory, when he shot down an Airco DH4 over Zonnebeke while on a morning patrol. Five days later, his victim was a Sopwith Camel, he scored his third aerial victory on 26 June, when he downed another DH.4

On 2 July 1918, he received his final war posting, to Jasta 40 where he promptly shot down a SE 5a on 14 July. On 28 September, he received the Knight’s Cross 2nd Class with Swords of the Order of the Zahringer Lion. The following day, he began a run of five victories that took him through 27 October 1918.

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Willi Rosenstein’s bi-plane fighter with its distinctive white heart

The South African connection

After World War 1, Willy Rosenstein became a glider pilot sportsman. Because of growing anti-Semitism and the rise of the Nazi Party (and the likes of Hermann Göring) in the 1930s, and despite being a war hero with 9 British kills, he feared for his life and that of his family and fled to South Africa.

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Hermann Göring as head of the Luftwaffe –  WW2

Rosenstein settled in South Africa and took to farming, though he kept his interest in aviation. His son Ernest took to his father’s love of flying and became a fighter pilot for the  South African Air Force (SAAF) during the Second World War and attained the rank Lieutenant.  Lt. Ernest Willy Rosenstein was tragically killed in action over Italy on 2 April 1945 fighting for the Allies, ironically fighting against his father’s country of birth with its now deeply evil anti-Sematic Nazi manifestations and Herman Göring’s Lufwaffe  – he was aged only 22.  He is buried at the Milan War Cemetery in eternal memory on the SAAF honour roll.

Willy Rosenstein survived both his son and the war. He was killed on 23 May 1949 in a midair collision with a student pilot over his farm in Rustenburg, South Africa.

In Conclusion

Although many Jews served in the German army during WWI, it still appears incongruous to see a Fokker biplane with a Star of David alongside the German Iron Cross in a fighter squadron – Jagdstaffel 40. Adolf Auer was certainly a man who stood by his convictions and his comrades and that is highly commendable by any military code.

Not so commendable is Hermann Göring, now in the annuals of history as one of the most evil men to walk the planet.  After being found guilty after World War 2 of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials, he committed suicide by ingesting cyanide the night before he was to hang for his crimes.

Willy Rosentein enters the annuals of history as a war hero, a fighter ace with an impeccable record.  He’s not only a hero for Germany, but also as a representative of his faith remains a stand out icon and role model.  In the end, as a converted South African citizen we now also have in our midst of military history another remarkable individual whose sacrifice to South Africa’s contribution to modern freedom came in the form of his son.

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Lt. Adolf Auer and his gunner

Related Work and Links:

South African fighter Ace’s of WW1

Dingbat Saunders: Sir ‘Dingbat’ the Knight

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor: ‘Proccy’ – South Africa’s ‘Bravest of the Brave’

Andrew Cameron “Dixie” Kiddie:  Kimberley’s local baker was also a WW1 Flying Ace


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Extracts and references taken from Mail On-line, The Times of Israel and German Jewish World War 1 Aces on-line. Adolf Auer’s images from his collection.

 

Forgotten history – South Africa at its humanitarian best – the ‘Berlin Airlift’

Currently the 70th anniversary of The Berlin Airlift is in full swing, but did you know that as South Africans we can also hold our collective heads high, having played a key role in saving the civilians of war-torn Berlin from starvation and death after the Communist ‘Iron-Curtain’ descended?

For those unaware of what The Berlin Air Lift was, and why it was so important as the saviour of West Berlin’s civilians from certain starvation and death, and even how South Africa played a role of in averting this humanitarian crisis, here’s a quick overview.

Background to the ‘Berlin Air Lift’

After the Second World War ended in 1945, Germany was divided into control zones by the victorious Allied armies so as to prevent Germany from ever re-starting another world war, however, the very act of dividing Germany did start another world war, this time “The Cold War” – and this ideological and economic war to be fought between ‘Eastern’ Communism and ‘Western’ Capitalist Democracy.

The Cold War is misunderstood to many today, as they see it as an ideological one and not a deadly one, a ‘war’ as such was never declared – and by the time the millennium came around the new generation could not understand why such a big deal was made of it.

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However truth be told  – The Cold War was very deadly and was to be fought in proxy wars all over the planet, and it resulted in the greatest stand-off of mutually assured  nuclear annihilation ever seen – with zero dialogue or even a simple telephone line between the main belligerents – Russia (and it’s bloc Allies) one the one side and the United States of America (and its bloc Allies) on the other.  The epicentre of the ‘Cold War’ began with the act of the Berlin blockade in 1948 and subsequent Airlift, and the very first casualties of the Cold War in terms of sacrifice of members of statute forces – also began with the Berlin Airlift.

So what’s with the divide?

Simple put, at the conference on the 5th February 1945 towards the end of World War 2 between the ‘Big Three’ (The US, UK and Russia) at Yalta, Stalin made it clear to America and Britain that Russia was never to exposed to an attack from ‘the west’ again, they had endured the French when Napoleon invaded Russia and then endured the Germans when Hitler invaded Russia, with a massive bloodletting.  In fact Russian bloodletting and sacrifice in World War 2 exceeds the British & Commonwealth, the French and American bloodletting all combined.  Simply put, Stalin wanted a ‘buffer’ between Russia and Europe and everything East of Germany would become a satellite communist state to provide exactly that – with Moscow calling the shots.

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The Big Three’: Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin sit for photographs during the Yalta Conference in February 1945.

With that the independent Parliaments, Kingdoms and Democracies of ‘liberated’ small states like Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia and Poland all but disappeared into a block of ‘puppet’ Communist satellite states.

In dividing up Germany to manage it post war, the ‘Western’ coalition of British, French and American Zones effectively made up what was to become ‘West Germany’ and the ‘Eastern’ Russian coalition zone (the Soviet Union) made up what was to eventually become ‘East Germany’.  The capital of Germany – Berlin, was strategically important to Germany itself and although it was located well inside the ‘Soviet’ bloc it also needed to be divided into ‘West’ and ‘East’ in a similar way.

So Berlin itself had a Western sector which was divided into control zones by the Western allies – The United Kingdom, France and the United States of America, and an Eastern sector which was controlled by the Russian coalition the USSR – The Soviet Union.  As Berlin was 100 miles into ‘Communist’ territory it was fed by a secured road and rail corridor which stretched from West Germany well into East Germany.

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Berlin’s zones as defined after the end of WW2

Berlin, with its ‘western sectors’ was a ‘blot’ in the middle of Stalin’s ‘buffer’, it undermined his complete communist barrier splitting Europe in half (a barrier Churchill tagged very aptly as ‘The Iron Curtain’). Berlin was an island of Capitalism in the middle of a sea of Communism, a beacon of Western democracy contrasting to the ideals of socialist conformity – it simply had to go.

The ‘Trigger’

In June 1948, Britain, France and America united their zones into a new country, West Germany. On 23 June 1948, they introduced a new currency – the Deutschmark, which they said would help trade and aid West Germany’s war debt repayments by pulling it out of recession and the ‘cigarette economy’ it was in.

The Soviets, however, hoping to continue the German recession, refused to accept the new currency, in favor of the over-circulated Soviet Reichsmark. By doing so, the Soviets believed they could foster a communist uprising in postwar Germany through civil unrest. By March 1948 it was evident that no agreements could be reached on a unified currency or quadripartite control of Germany. Both sides waited for the other to make a move.

 

The Soviets, trying to push the west out of Berlin, countered this move by requiring that all Western convoys bound for Berlin travelling through Soviet Germany be searched. The “Trizone” government (Britain, France and the USA), recognising the threat, refused the right of the Soviets to search their cargo. The Soviets then cut all surface traffic to West Berlin on June 27. American ambassador to Britain, John Winnant, stated the accepted Western view when he said that he believed “that the right to be in Berlin carried with it the right of access.” The Soviets, however, did not agree. Shipments by rail and the autobahn came to a halt. A desperate Berlin, faced with starvation and in need of vital supplies, looked to the West for help.

The Soviet Union’s unprecedented move to prevent the introduction of the new currency and cut off East Germany from West Germany by way of a blockade – was the ‘trigger’ and less so the ’cause’, the much-anticipated Soviet Communist ‘Iron Curtain’ finally fell dividing the whole Europe.

As Berlin sat in East Germany, the blockade isolated the western half of the city from supply of vital coal and fuel (for heating and transport) and food. The Western Allies saw this blockade as an aggressive and ‘illegal’ Soviet move to absorb West Berlin into the Soviet Union, and the precursor to starting a 3rd World War with the Western Allies (the Cold War had begun in effect).

The Plan 

The restrictions prevented the supply of food and materials by road from the British, American and French occupation zones in West Germany to their zones in West Berlin. So the Western Allies overcame the problem by creating an air bridge instead and came up with a very ambitious plan to ferry in supplies using transport aircraft – the air-space over East Germany to Berlin was not contested, and the Allies gambled that the Soviet Union would not make the error of initiating an act of war against the West by shooting one down.

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British and American air force officers consult an operations plan giving routes and heights of all aircraft in and out of the Berlin area during the Airlift.

An airlift on this scale had never been attempted before (and has never been achieved again).  It required military transport aircraft to fly into Berlin round the clock for weeks on end, until the Soviet resolve was broken.  It was also critical, the city of Berlin had been destroyed during the Second World War, many of its citizens living hand to mouth.

Logistics 

Nothing short of a logistics miracle to heat and feed West Berlin by air and during the around-the-clock airlift (in the end some 277,000 flights were made), many at 3 minute intervals, flying in an average of 5,000 tons of food and fuel each day.

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Air corridor map to Berlin from the Western Allied controlled part of Germany to the Berlin in the Soviet controlled part of Germany.

The American military government, based on a minimum daily ration of 1,990 kilocalories (July 1948), a total of daily supplies needed at 646 tons of flour and wheat, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons of whole milk for children, 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking, 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt and 10 tons of cheese. In all, 1,534 tons were required each day to sustain the over two million people of Berlin. Additionally, for heat and power, 3,475 tons of coal, diesel and petrol were also required daily.

To complete the task the Western Allied Command turned to the Royal Air Force (RAF), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and South African Air Force (SAAF) for the ‘British’ contribution, the French Air Force (FAR) for the ‘French’ contribution and the United States Air Force (USAF) for the American contribution.

This would be the greatest humanitarian mission ever implemented, and South African pilots, navigators and other air-crew were right at the centre of it.

The Airlift

Operations began on 24 June 1948. The order to begin supplying West Berlin by air was approved by U.S. General Lucius Clay on June 27 with USAF AC-47s lifting off for Berlin hauling 80 tons of cargo, including milk, flour, and medicine. When the blockade first started, the city of Berlin had around 36 days worth of food.

The first British aircraft flew on 28 June 1948. At that time, the airlift was expected to last three weeks.  Nothing would be further from the  truth, the Airlift was to progress through a very cold winter to come.

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Short Sunderland GR Mark 5 of No 201 Squadron, Royal Air Force, moored on Lake Havel in Berlin, Germany. Lake Havel was used by Coastal Command Sunderlands from July until mid-December 1948, when the threat of winter ice suspended further use.

President Truman, wishing to avoid war or a humiliating retreat, continually supported the air campaign. Surviving the normally harsh German winter, the airlift carried over two million tons of supplies in 277,000 flights, and would continue well into the new year, only to finally officially end in September 1949.

To keep the aircraft coming in at the rate of supply needed, fast turnaround was expected on the ground in Berlin.  Pilots and crews generally did not leave their aircraft and were provided with snacks and meals. The German civilian population got into ensuring the airlift was a success and to make up for shortages in manpower. Crews unloading and making airfield repairs at the Berlin airports were made up of almost entirely by local civilians, who were given additional rations in return for their assistance.

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USAF Dakota transport with a cargo of flour during the Berlin Airlift

As the crews experience increased, the times for unloading continued to fall, with a record set for the unloading of an entire 10-ton shipment of coal from a C-54 in ten minutes, later beaten when a twelve-man crew unloaded the same quantity in five minutes and 45 seconds.

The Candy Bombers

At the very beginning of the air-lift Gail Halvorsen, and American pilot arrived at Tempelhof on 17 July 1948 on one of the C-54s and walked over to a crowd of children who had gathered at the end of the runway to watch the aircraft and handed out his only two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum to the children.

The children quickly divided up the pieces as best they could, even passing around the wrapper for others to smell. He was so impressed by their gratitude and that they didn’t fight over them, that he promised the next time he returned he would drop off more. Before he left them, a child asked him how they would know it was him flying over. He replied, “I’ll wiggle my wings.”

The next day on his approach to Berlin, he rocked the aircraft and dropped some chocolate bars attached to a handkerchief parachute to the children waiting below. Every day after that, the number of children increased and he made several more drops. Soon, there was a stack of mail in Base Ops addressed to “Uncle Wiggly Wings”, “The Chocolate Uncle” and “The Chocolate Flier”.

The Allied Command was so impressed by this gesture of goodwill and its ‘public relations’ value that the mission was expanded into “Operation Little Vittles”.  Up to this point the children of Berlin only knew that American and British aircraft brought bombs, fire, death and destruction.  Now, in a pure expression of humanity the aircraft would bring happiness to children in what was to them a break and traumatized time, the Western Allies would now drop candy instead of bombs.

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Children of Berlin wave to a ‘Candy Bomber’ to get the attention of the air crew.

The other air-lift pilots joined in, and when news reached the United States, children all over the country sent in their own candy to help out. Soon, major candy manufacturers joined in. In the end, over twenty-three tons of candy were dropped on Berlin the “operation” became a major propaganda success. German children christened the candy-dropping aircraft “raisin bombers”.

On December 20, 1948 “Operation Santa Claus” was also flown from Fassberg, with gifts for 10,000 children.

Sacrifice 

The airlift was not without its hazards, with that many aircraft on that type of complex operation flying in all sorts of conditions – instrument and visual, and weather, so there we bound to be accidents.

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There were 101 fatalities recorded during the Airlift. The number includes 40 British and Commonwealth air-crew and 31 American air-crew. The majority died as a result of accidents resulting from hazardous weather conditions or mechanical failures. The remainder is composed of civilians who perished on the ground while providing support for the operation or who lost their lives when aircraft accidents destroyed their homes. As aircraft losses go 17 American and 8 British aircraft crashed during the Berlin Airlift.

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In honor of the pilots and aircrews who were lost the Berlin Airlift Monument was created from a fund established by the former Federal Republic of Germany and private donations. It was dedicated in 1951. All together there are three matching monuments: at Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt, at Wietzenbruch near the former British airbase Celle, and at the Luftbruckenplatz (Airbridge Place) Berlin-Tempelhof airfield. The base of the monument at Tempelhof reads, “They gave their lives for the freedom of Berlin in service for the Berlin Airlift 1984/1949.” The location at Tempelhof is presently being considered as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

South African service personnel in the airlift

The full list of South African pilots and aircrew is hard to come by as the commitment of South Africans in the Berlin Airlift is not generally part of the South African national consciousness anymore – whereas in countries like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada it is.

On the 27th September 1948, Union government of South Africa committed 50 South African Air Force (SAAF) crew to the Berlin Airlift, in all the SAAF would provide two contingents of air-crew to the air-lift, most seconded to RAF Transport Command and even one SAAF registered C-47A Dakota transport aircraft (No. 6841) made its way to Berlin to be put into service.

South Africans known to us at the moment who took part in the Berlin Airlift include Steve Stevens, who participated in WW2 as a SAAF Beaufighter pilot, Albie Gotze who participated in WW2 as a seconded SAAF pilot in RAF Typhoons and Spitfires.  Joe Hurst, John Clifford Bolitho, Duncan Ralston, Jenks Jenkins, Pat Clulow, Tom Condon, Johnnie Eloff, Mickey Lamb, “Shadow” Atkinson, Jannie Blaauw, Piet Gotze, Wilhelm Steytler, Vic de Villiers, Mike Pretorius, Nic Nicholas, Jack Davis,  Dormie Barlow, Tienie van der Kaay ‘Porky’ Rich, Ian Bergh (flying Sunderlands in the RAF) are all South African and SAAF pilots and air-crew recorded as taking part.

In addition SAAF pilot Joe Joubert also took part and was even commemorated for his actions during the Berlin Airlift.  Joe Joubert flew as a navigator in the Berlin Airlift and on the 9th July 1949 he and the radio operator were ordered to jettison 63 sacks of coal as the aircraft could not gain height in a severe thunderstorm. This was achieved in a remarkable six and a half minutes and he received a commendation for this remarkable act. This act was certainly helped by the fact that in his spare time Joe practiced weight lifting.

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Joe Joubert (right) – a SAAF pilot in the Berlin Airlift to earn a special commendation

Flt Officer Kenneth Reeves is South Africa’s only casualty during the Berlin Airlift, and he symbolises the greatest sacrifice we as a nation can give.   Kenneth was a navigator on board a RAF CD-3 (Dakota) which crashed in the Soviet Zone near Lübeck, killing all the crew.

Light at the end of the tunnel

By the spring of 1949, the airlift was clearly succeeding, and by April it was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail. On 12 May 1949, the Soviet Union finally realised the futility of the road and rail blockade of West Berlin and lifted it, however tensions remained.

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Air crew of the Royal Air Force (RAF), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) and South African Air Force (SAAF) enjoy an off-duty drink in the officers’ bar at RAF Lubeck. IWM Copyright.

The airlift however continued until 30th September 1949, at a total cost of $224 million and after delivery of 2,323,738 tons of food, fuel, machinery, and other supplies. The end to the blockade was brought about because of countermeasures imposed by the Allies on the Soviet blockade by way of the airlift and because of a subsequent Western embargo placed on all strategic exports from the Eastern bloc. As a result of the blockade and airlift, Berlin became a symbol of the Allies’ willingness to oppose further Soviet expansion in Europe.

In conclusion

There can be little doubt that the Airlift was a success on many levels. It saved millions of lives and preserved the freedom of the city of Berlin. Veterans’ groups world over still celebrate the victory by gathering around the bases of the monuments and laying wreathes and flowers in memorial for those who paid the ultimate cost.  This act of remembrance made even more important on the 70th Anniversary.

However little recognition is given to the Berlin Airlift in South Africa, These are truly “unsung” heroes of South Africa we can be very proud of and not to be forgotten. The South Africans who took part in the Berlin Airlift are icons in Germany, and hardly known in South Africa, such is the strange politics we as South Africans tend to weave.

The Berlin Airlift marks South Africa’s first sacrifice in the ‘Cold War’ – further sacrifice was to come in the other future ‘Cold War’ proxy wars  – fought by South African statute forces against Soviet Allies in Korea, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique.

To many of the South African air-crew and SAAF members who took part in this momentous period in world history, the saving of a city from near starvation, the Capital City of a former enemy now vanquished by the war, with this act of sheer human philanthropy and benevolence was to really end South Africa’s “war” on a very humane high.

We leave the Cold War where it started and in one fitting epitaph the last British pilot to leave Berlin had chalked on the side of his aircraft the words, “Positively the last flight…Psalm 21, Verse 11” That psalm reads:

If they plan evil against you, if they devise mischief, they will not succeed.”

Related links and work

Jan Smuts Barracks Berlin Smuts Barracks; Berlin


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.

Source The South African Air Force Museum.  The Imperial War Museum.  Image copyrights (see watermark) – Imperial War Museum.

Shooting down enemy FW 190 at “point blank range” – SAAF hero; Albert Sachs

Here is a another fantastic colourised photograph of a South African WW2 hero with an extraordinary tale of heroism. Lieutenant Albert Sachs – a member of the South African Air Force (SAAF) who was seconded to No. 92 Squadron of the Royal Air Force.  Here he is seen sitting on his Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIII at Canne in Italy.

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This very heroic South African, known as ‘Bertie’ to his friends is best explained in his own Sortie Reports and Squadron Reports:

30 November 1943

‘I was flying Yellow 3. At 0935 I saw 10+ 109s and 190s which we had been warned of by Control, bombing along the secondary road parallel with the Sangro River towards the River mouth.

I dived on them and as I approached they turned and began straffing the road towards the mountains. I closed in on a 190 and fired several bursts from quarter astern and astern from 250 – 50 yds. He dived N.W. along the side of the mountain and after seeing strikes on the cockpit I saw the A/C (aircraft) half roll and it crashed in the vicinity of H.1898.

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German FW 190

I then broke slightly up as a Warhawk was on the (Me) 190s No 2s tail. The Warhawk fired several shots none of which hit the E/A. He then broke up and I closed in on the 190 and fired a burst at quarter astern from 100 yds. getting strikes on the wing roots, as I was firing the Warhawk flew through my sights so I broke away and then lost sight of the 190. I then rejoined the Patrol.

I claim One F.W 190 destroyed. One F.W 190 damaged.’

Editors Note: the Warhawk referred to here is another Allied aircraft – the Curtiss P-40 – see below, the variants flown by the RAF and Commonwealth forces knew it as a ‘Kittyhawk’ (some variants also became knows as ‘Tomahawks’), the United States Air Force and other US armed forces called it a ‘Warhawk’ – see below.

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American Curtiss P40 Warhawk

5 December 1943

On the 5th of December 1943 Lt. Albert Sachs scored the 99th and 100th victories for his Squadron when he shot down two Focke Wulf Fw 190s near Pescara, before colliding with a third Fw 190 and being forced to bale out.

The Officer Record Brief entry for 92 Squadron provides the following, detailed insight into this engagement:

‘Lt. Sachs destroyed two FW 190s and probably destroyed another. His story is an epic. He positioned himself behind the twelve-plus fighter-bombers while two others attacked the fighter cover. After destroying an FW 190 with a one-second burst, Lt. Sachs saw another on the tail of a Spitfire, so he turned into it, firing a 30-degree deflection shot, then fired again from point-blank range astern.

The aircraft blew up, and portions hit Sachs’ windscreen, smashing it, while another large piece struck his starboard wing.

FW 190s were then diving on him from both sides and one shell exploded on his tail plane, blowing off his starboard elevator. He turned toward another FW 190 which as attacking him at point-blank range on his port side, and felt a jar as he collided with it. The enemy aircraft dived away out of control minus its fin and rudder.

The attack continued and finally, after his elevator and aileron control were useless, Lt. Sachs was forced to bail out. He landed safely in his own lines within 60 yards of the wreckage of his Spitfire.’

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Royal Air Force Spitfire Mk VIII

He was discovered by ‘friendly’ Italians and was able to return to his Squadron to fight another day.  After a period as a flying instructor in the United Kingdom, Sachs, now a Major, returned to Italy to command No. 93 Squadron RAF from September 1944 to February 1945.

In September 1944 No.93 Squadron was moved from operations covering the D-Day (Operation Overlord) forces and moved to Italy, where it operated as a fighter-bomber squadron until the end of the war. At the end of the war the squadron took part in the occupation of Austria, before being disbanded in September 1945.  Albert Sachs was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).

Here pilots from No. 93 Squadron RAF Detachment under Albert Sachs command leave their dugout for a scramble at Nettuno, Italy. Leading the way, from left to right, are: Flying Officer E Stewart of Ipswich, Suffolk; Lieutenant J Marais SAAF of Johannesburg, South Africa, and Sergeant D Karck of Cockerham, Lancashire.

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Salute to ‘Bertie’ Sachs, another very notable, brave and successful South African Air Force pilot of World War 2.


Researched by Peter Dickens.  Photographer: Flying Officer B. Bridge B, Royal Air Force official photographer. Image and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, image and affectional caption work obtained from Colourising World War 2.

A South African Air Force D-Day Hero lost: Robert Cumming

Not many people in South Africa today know of South Africa’s involvement in Operation Overlord (D-Day) as the South African forces in Europe at the time were fighting in Italy and not in France.  However there are a small number of South African Union Defence Force members who did take part in the D-Day operations, most seconded to the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines Commandos and the Royal Air Force.

229A number of South African Air Force fighter pilots served during Operation Overlord flying RAF Typhoons and Spitfires and because of the highly treacherous nature of the operations a handful of about five South African Air Force pilots lost their lives.

The first South African sacrifice during Operation Overlord and the D-Day Normandy beach landings was Robert Alexander Cumming, son of Gerald G and Dora E Cumming of East London, Cape Province, South Africa.

Lieutenant Cumming served with 229 Squadron Royal Air Force, 229 Squadron had been stationed in Malta, and was transferred in April 1944 to Britain and re-assembled at RAF Honchurch, on 24 April. During Operation Overlord (the allied invasion of France) it was equipped with the Spitfire IX operating from RAF Detling.

Lt Robert Cumming was providing cover to ‘day-time’ bombers in raids during the invasion period, and also over the beaches to assist the invading forces. Whilst flying Spitfire MJ219 on the 11 June 1944 (D-Day+5), he and his fellow pilot Flight Lieutenant George Mains flying Spitfire BS167 are believed to have flown into the cliffs at Freshwater, Isle of Wight, in heavy fog.

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The driver of a mobile canteen operated by the Church Army offers tea to a Spitfire IX pilot at Detling, Kent.

Robert Cumming can be found here, may he rest in peace, his name will not be forgotten:

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Lieut. CUMMING, R.A. Robert Alexander 133975V Pilot SAAF 22 † Parkhurst Military Cemetery, United Kingdom Plot 11. Grave 207

 

Related Links and work on South Africans during D-Day

Donald Gray South African D-Day hero (and one-armed movie star): Donald Gray

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

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

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


Written by Peter Dickens. Information from John Bloodworth and Sandy Evan Hanes

 

The day the SAAF nearly killed Jan Smuts

Not a lot of people know this, but the South African Air Force (SAAF) nearly killed General Jan Smuts in a ‘Blue on Blue’ incident – military speak for when you fire on your own forces. The incident also says a lot of Jan Smuts’ character – so what happened?

Prior to the war, Oswald Pirow was the Defence Minister under the Hertzog regime, he was also a key player in the establishment of South African Airways (SAA).  As an ardent supporter of Nazi Germany and the Nazi cause himself he had a keen relationship with Nazi Germany.  He toured Germany on military inspections,  also buying German military hardware on a number of occasions.  As a result  both SAA and the SAAF at the beginning of the war found themselves equipped with German-made aircraft.

One particular aircraft was a German-made bomber made by Junkers, and it was used by both Axis forces in World War 2 and by South African forces – it was the Ju-86.  The difference between the two were slight adaptations and markings.

East African Campaign

At the onset of Word War 2, the South African Air Force’s 1 Squadron moved north in May 1940 for operations against the Italians in East Africa, 6 Hawker Fury fighter aircraft were part of the unit’s equipment.  Arriving in Mombasa, Kenya in June 1940, 6 ex-RAF Fury Is were added to their equipment that August, with 16 more arriving between October and January 1941.

On October 27, 1940, the Furies first saw combat for the first time when 4 Italian Ca.133s from 8 Gruppo, and 25 Squadriglia, attacked their airfield.

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SAAF 1 Squadron Hawker Fury

During October, 2 Squadron was formed out of 1 Squadron, with 9 Furies. On October 31, Hawker Furies from this unit came very close to shooting down two SAAF Ju-86s carrying some very important VIP’s travelling to the SAAF air-base to consult on South Africa’s conduct in the war to date.  The VIP’s included General Jan Smuts (South Africa’s Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief), Sir Pierre van Ryneveld, Major General Alan Cunningham, and Major General Galmen-Austen.  So here is what happened.

Blue and Blue

Within twelve hours of arriving at Nairobi, General Smuts, General Cunningham and the Chief of the South African General Staff were on their way by road to Gilgil, here they were given a rousing reception by 2nd S.A. Infantry Brigade Group whose troops were inspected by General Smuts before his party lunched in the Brigade Officers’ Mess. The party then drove on to Nakuru airfield to meet Lieutenant-Colonel S.A. Melville and men of No. 1 Bomber Brigade and 40 Squadron, SAAF.

On 31 October 1940 General Smuts’ party left at sunrise, not in the Lodestar they arrived in but in a Junkers 86 bomber of the South African Air Force piloted by Captain D. B. Raubenheimer and accompanied by a second Junkers 86 carrying war correspondents, the formation also included a Dragon Rapide and an escort of two Hurricanes.

The aircrafts were making straight for Garba Tulla but changed course because General Smuts had been specially asked to fly over Archer’s Post airfield, headquarters of No. 11 Bomber Squadron, SAAF.

Later on 31 October 1940 the  South African Air Force Ju-86 bomber/transports carrying the VIP contingent did not follow specified procedures to identify themselves as ‘friendly’, as they passed over Archer’s Post. The formation did not signal the specified recognition signal, which consisted of lowering the undercarriage and waggling the wings.

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SAAF Ju-86

Under the impression that the formation was Italian, three SAAF Hawker Furies of 2 Squadron’s ‘D’ detachment, led by Captain J. Meaker, were scrambled and intercepted the formation.

Captain Meaker brought his formation into position quickly and closed to open fire on the bombers. As he manoeuvred to engage the right hand aircraft he noticed that it had twin rudders and climbed slightly to look at its markings, which he immediately recognised. He pulled up and away to the right, but Lieutenant Doug Pannell, flying on his leader’s starboard side, took this to indicate that Captain Meaker had finished his attack.

Meaker had no radio so could not warn the other two Fury that they were SAAF aircraft and he watched in horror as Lt. Pannell went in on attack and opened fire, Pannell only realised his mistake as he broke away.

The pilot of the third Fury did not open fire, and fortunately the Junkers was not shot down.

The Ju-86 aircraft were painted green, still in their original Luftwaffe colour. All SAAF Ju-86 had a 600 series number had a solid nose cone.  They however carried the distinctive South African Orange White and Blue markings and the British and Commonwealth roundel scheme.

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SAAF Ju-86

Close Call

When they landed 8 bullet holes were found in the fuselage and wing root of the SAAF Ju-86 Smuts was flying in, one of the bullets had even passed between Jan Smut’s legs.   In Smuts’ typical stoic, calm and implacable nature he even made light of the entire incident and there were no recriminations to the SAAF pilots involved.

Smuts had been in two previous wars, the 2nd Anglo Boer War and the 1st World War, it was not the first time he had come under fire and he understood the hazardous nature of warfare, his horse had even been shot out from under him Moodernaar’s Poort during the 2nd Anglo Boer War.

Later in the Second World War the SAAF aircraft fleet was modernised somewhat and equipped with more distinctive Allied Hawker Hurricane and Spitfire fighters, Smuts was to regularly use an American made Lockheed Lodestar when visiting South African troops on the ground and air-bases.

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Field Marshal Smuts standing in front of the aircraft in which he made his flying visits. It was an ex-South African Airways Lockheed Lodestar, which retained its natural metal finish when it became No 234 of the South African Air Force. IWM Copyright

In Conclusion

There are still some Afrikaners in the South African conservative right who would wish that the SAAF had indeed killed Jan Smuts, but in truth is he was a very popular World War 2 leader.  His popularity did not only extend the Allied forces, mainly British, American and other Commonwealth countries, it also extended to South African forces involved in World War 2 and domestically, especially amongst white volunteers fighting the war, half of which were of Afrikaner extract.

Smuts’ contribution to the outcome of the Second World War is immeasurable, his membership of the Imperial War Cabinet and his position as Winston Churchill’s personal advisor went a long way to winning the war for the Allies.  An early death of Smuts would have had ramifications on how the war was fought and won.

It also remains a fact that even after the war when Smuts still maintained a high degree of popularity domestically, and when he lost the General Election to the Afrikaner Nationalists in 1948, he still commanded a majority vote from the white electorate and only lost the election on a constitutional seat basis.

Related work

Oswald Pirow; South Africa’s ‘Neuordnung’ and Oswald Pirow

Jan Smuts; “The force of his intellect has enriched the wisdom of the whole human race”- the death of Jan Smuts.

Jan Smuts; A true statesman, Jan Smuts addressing the British Parliament – 1942


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens,  with thanks and contribution from Sandy Evan Hanes and Warren Williamson.  References include ‘Jan Smuts – Unafraid of Greatness’ by Richard Steyn,  Image copyright of Smuts next to Lockheed – Imperial War Museum, Image of SAAF Ju-86 courtesy Tinus Le Roux’s SAAF Legends website.