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.

Finding Geater’s Beaufighter

gtr70The feature image is Major Arthur Geater’s Bristol Beaufighter which was found in Sept 2013 after being undiscovered for 69 years since it was ditched and sank.  The discovery is a story itself, but so too is Arthur’s.

Reginald Arthur Geater joined the South African Air Force (SAAF) during the Second World War and qualified as a twin-engine pilot, he also served for a long period as instructor and in 27 transport/maritime squadron, flying Venturas and Dakotas.

He was eventually sent to Italy in mid 1944 for operational service with 19 squadron, flying the rocket firing Bristol Beaufighter. During his operational service he flew mostly sorties to targets in the Balkans. Missions consisted of  rocket attacks against enemy shipping, motorised transports,  gun emplacements, buildings and rolling stock.

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His operational tour was very eventful. On his very first combat sortie Arthur was shot down over the sea. He and his navigator survived the ditching and he was eventually able to returned to his squadron after a short ordeal behind enemy lines staying with locals on Greek Islands.  So what happened?

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Painting by Derrick Dickens, SAAF Beaufighters attacking German ships in the Mediterranean. Acrylic on canvass – copyright Peter Dickens.

The attack and ditching 

In the afternoon of September 12, 1944  Bristol Beaufighter KV930 of 19 SAAF (South African Air Force) Squadron took off from Biferno (Italy), along with three other aircraft. On his very first mission was our hero for today, Arthur Geater along with his navigator  Stan Dellow seconded from the Royal Air Force.  Their mission was a simple one, search for enemy shipping amongst the Greek Islands and destroy them.

The sortie of four SAAF Beaufighters comb an area of Greek Islands looking for German military vessels, the search are spans from Preveza in northwestern Greece, located at the mouth of the Ambracian Gulf, then across to Lefdaka Island, then over to Kefalonia island with their mission finally taking them as far as Zakynthos Island.

Late in the afternoon at approximately 17:05 hrs. they reach the northern tip of Ithaki Island and spot a German vessel, it is a “Siebel” ferry, and it was hiding from air attack in one of the fjord-like coves of the island.

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German Navy Siebel ferry

The Siebel ferry was a shallow-draft catamaran landing craft operated by Germany’s Wehrmacht (Army) during World War 2. It served a variety of roles (transport, flak ship, gunboat, convoy escort, minelayer) in the Mediterranean, Baltic and Black Seas as well as along the English Channel. They were originally developed for Operation Sea Lion in 1940, the abortive German invasion of England.

The SAAF Beaufighters immediately started their attack, but were greeted with strong anti-aircraft fire from the heavily armed Siebel. Geater’s Beaufighter was hit with both engines receiving hits from multiple Anti-Aircraft rounds.  Oil and thick smoke erupted from the engines and Arthur Geater took the decision to ditch the aircraft in a controlled sea ‘landing’ before it became an uncontrolled one.

The Siebel sustained heavy damage and according to German records and was eventually beached to avoid sinking.

Remarkably an image of the attack also survives, and here you can see the German ship (ferry) that shot Arthur down from a photograph taken during the attack from the SAAF 19 Squadron Officer Commanding’s gun camera.

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Geater successfully managed to ditch the aircraft and both he and the navigator climbed out the sinking Beaufighter and took to an inflatable dinghy which was on board for just such an eventuality.

Local Greek Islanders who saw the Beaufighter ditch rushed to their fishing boats to rescue the two Allied airmen. Keen as punch to do their bit in the war, and with a disdain for their German occupiers, the local Greeks took great pride in rescuing Allied airmen, one local remembered the time and said, “we would row as fast as possible and would even get into a fight with the other Greeks rushing to the scene in order to reach the airmen first!”

Within thirty minutes of ditching the two Allied  airmen were saved by Greeks and taken to Ithaki island, where they were provided with both food and shelter.  Arthur Geater’s adventure was not to stop there, whilst the two airmen were moved in a small fishing boat to another hiding place on the island, they were stopped at sea by a German patrol combing the area trying to locate the airmen.

Stan Dellow could not swim and remained on the boat, Arthur Geater could and he dived into the water and swam to freedom.  Stan Dellow survived the war, but was caught and spent the rest of the war as a POW (Prisoner of War) at the Sagan POW camp in Poland.

Arthur Greater got away and managed link up with the Greek resistance in Ithaki he eventually managed to return to Italy and re-joined his Squadron.  He was never shot down again and stacked up a number of successful sorties against enemy rolling stock, shipping and buildings.  He even participated in a daring SAAF raid when a German mine layer ship, the “KuckKuck” was sunk.

ss7Arthur was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exceptional service. After the war he had a long and successful career in the printing industry and passed away on 3 November 1992.

Finding Geater’s Beaufighter

Makis Sotiropoulos

Makis Sotiropoulos with his sonar equipment

Makis Sotiropoulos, an experienced scuba diver living on Ithaki Island, as a boy he had heard the story from the local Greek Island elders about “the aircraft which fell out the sky in 1944″ and he took to the challenge of finding it.  After many years of research and obtaining eyewitness reports he surveyed the area using sonar.

In September 2013 his search came to an end when then distinct shape of an aircraft, sitting at the seabed was mapped by the sonar.  Major Geater’s Bristol Beaufighter was found.  The wreck was dived and confined it was indeed the SAAF Bristol Beaufighter ditched on that fateful hat day.

The exact position of the aircraft wreck is however not shared publicly now, and for good reason as it is within diving limits and modern-day trophy hunters and looters would strip the aircraft clean.  According to Makis Sotiropoulos “this aircraft should remain as it was on the day it was ditched. We have the moral obligation to keep the Beaufighter out of harm’s way, as many relic hunters and looters would make a fortune out of her parts, thus destroying History”.

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For prosperity, here are some of the underwater pictures of this most remarkable story and equally remarkable find.


Written an Researched by Peter Dickens.  Thanks to Tinus Le Roux and to Julie Geater for all the information and images.  Extracts from Tinus Le Roux’s dedication website SAAF WW2 Pilots Arthur Geater and from Found and identified: The Beaufighter KV930 shot down on 12 September 1944 By Pierre Kosmidis.

Photos and historical research: Makis Sotiropoulos and George Karelas. Diving and Research Team: Makis Sotiropoulos, Dionyssis Giannatos, Vassilis Medogiannis

Artwork by Derrick Dickens, SAAF Beaufighters  – copyright Peter Dickens.  Schematic artwork by Tinus Le Roux, copyright.

South Africa’s one-legged fighter pilot

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Capt. Doug Rogan DFC

Did you know that during World War 2, South Africa had a one-legged fighter pilot?  This is the extraordinary story of Capt Douglas Smith “Doug”/”Shorty” Rogan DSO, DFC.

2 Squadron SAAF

Doug Rogan Joined the South African Air Force as a Permanent Force pilot and he served with SAAF 2 Squadron from September 1941 in the North African theatre of operations.  2 Squadron were known as the ‘flying cheetahs’.

He almost immediately started seeing some success when on the 12th October 1941, he damaged a German Bf-109 flying a SAAF Tomahawk Mk.IIb, however in the engagement he took some damage.  He had another success later that month, when on the 22 October he logged his first confirmed kill of a German Bf-109F near Gasr el Arid, during the battle his SAAF Tomahawk Mk11b again took on some heavy damage, however he managed to get home and score his first combat victory.

By the next month on the 06 November he had further success in the Tomahawk and recorded his second confirmed kill, that of an Italian S.79 short down in the Matruh area.    The S.79 had taken some punishment from other SAAF pilots, but Doug finished it off, so was accredited with the kill.

 

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SAAF 2 Squadron Tomahawks in action by Derrick Dickens

Luck ran out for Doug late in November 1941.  By this time he logged  60 “operation” flying hours,  however during a routine operation on the 24th November he was Wounded In Action (WIA) when his Tomahawk received anti-aircraft ground fire, a  20mm AA shell struck Doug in his right leg.  Severely wounded and losing blood, Doug turned for home and against the odds managed get both himself and his stricken aircraft back to base.  So severe was the wound to Doug’s leg that his leg had to be amputated

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Douglas Bader

Recovering in South Africa, Doug took inspiration from Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader CBE, DSO (Bar), DFC (Bar).  Douglas Bader was the famous Royal Air Force pilot who was a double leg amputee during the war, he was credited with 22 aerial victories. Bader had joined the RAF in 1928 and in 1931, while performing some aerobatics he crashed and lost both his legs. When war broke he insisted on flying, even as a double amputee. His determination saw him become a Battle of Britain icon using a “Big Wing” of fighters to attack enemy formations over England. He also became a Prisoner of War after he was shot down over France later in the war, and despite his disability he frustrated his German captors by embarking on a number of escape attempts.

With this proof positive account that pilots who had suffered leg amputations could still perform in combat, Doug focussed on getting back to flying, and back to combat flying.  Col. Laurie Wilmot promised Capt. Doug Rogan that if he could be passed the “fit for flying” test with only one leg, he would see to it that Rogan got a posting “up North” again (i.e. back to the theatre of Operations in North Africa and Italy).

1 Squadron SAAF

Fitted with an artificial leg Doug resumed flying fighters with 6 Sqdn on home defence in the following year. After a check ride he passed his fit for flying test and was returned “up north” as promised.  Back in combat flying he was posted to SAAF 1 Squadron in November 1942, known as the ‘Billy Boys’.

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SAAF 1 Squadron Spitfire by Derrick Dickens

His return to operations was marred by a couple of errors up front, one occasion he took off with a mechanic still hanging on to his tailplane but managed to land without damage to either the mechanic or his Spitfire. Also, once landing in a dust storm his Spitfire hit that of another pilot’s already on the ground. He however began scoring again later that same month on 13th December 1942, he damaged a Bf-109G whilst flying a SAAF Spitfire Mk.V.   By 1943 his victories started to stack up flying in the famous Spitfire Mk. V,  12th Jan he shot down a Bf-109G (probable), 21st Jan he shot down a MC.202 (probable) in the Castel Benito-Tarhuna area.  By 27th March he attained a confirmed kill of a German Me 210 near Gabes. On the 08 May he is recorded as damaging an Italian Re.2001.

He was “Returned To Union” (RTU – meaning returned to the Union of South Africa) after his successful tour on Spitfires in August 1943, by this time he was with SAAF 1 Squadron in Sicily. In all is final score from the war: 3 Kills, 2 Probable, 3 Damaged.

On the 19th of March 1943, Doug was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his actions and bravery.   In later life he became an air fighting instructor at 11 O.T.U. When he retired from the Air Force he took up residency in the beautiful little coastal town of Knysna.

Another unassuming South Africa hero not known to many now, a true role model and inspiration to any South African, those who have disabilities and even those who do not.


Written by Peter Dickens.  Scorecard comes courtesy of Sandy Evan Hanes’ SAAF Data base. Story content and image provided by Tinus Le Roux on his SAAF Heritage site. Research provided by Sandy Evan Hanes and Warren Williamson.   Artworks of 1 Squadron and 2 Squadron by Derrick Dickens (artist), copyright Peter Dickens.

 

Forget Tigers, The Royal Air Force’s 74 Squadron has a legacy of South African Lions!

One of the most prestigious fighter Squadrons in the history of the Royal Air Force was 74 Squadron, known as the ‘Tigers’.  However, three South Africans played a key role in forging the great fighting legacy of the Tigers, two of them commanded the squadron, one during World War 2 and one took the squadron into the jet age.

So let’s look at these three remarkable South Africans and how they have come to influence not only 74 Squadron, but The Royal Air Force itself.

World War 1

19424342_1982409011988087_4980834163001230819_n74 Squadron was formed during World War 1,Its first operational fighters were S.E. 5as in March 1918, and served in France until February 1919, during this time it gained a fearsome reputation and was credited with 140 enemy planes destroyed and 85 driven down out of control, for 225 victories. No fewer than Seventeen aces had served in the squadron, including one Victoria Cross Winner Major Edward Mannock.  In this line up of aces was one notable South African, and this man came from Kimberley, Capt. Andrew Cameron Kiddie DFC, and he came from unassuming beginnings – he was one of Kimberley’s local bakers.

Captain Kiddie became a flight commander of 74 Squadron in the summer of 1918 and scored fifteen aircraft shot down victories by the end of the war. For this he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and  the Belgian Croix de Guerre.

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To read more in-depth about his remarkable South African follow this link to a previous Observation Post story Kimberley baker was a South African WW1 Flying Ace.

World War 2

malan1World War 2 would shape 74 Squadron as one of the best in The Royal Air Force.  It became the front-line squadron which took the brunt of the attacks during The Battle of Britain, and this time the squadron was commanded by a formidable South African, Group Captain A G ‘Sailor’ Malan DSO & Bar DFC & Bar.

Arguably one of the best South African pilots of the Second World War and certainly one of the best Royal Air Force pilots during the Battle of Britain – now one of the much idolised ‘few’ who, along with his command of 74 Squadron, turned the tide of the war, and he did it based on a set of rules he drew up, now famously known as “Ten of my rules for air fighting”.

Sailor Malan’s rules of air combat were readily adopted by pilots in the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, these rules saved many a pilot and brought down many enemy aircraft, they are directly attributed to the success of the Battle of Britain and in so keeping Britain in the war.

Sailor Malan was given command of 74 Squadron, which by this stage was flying the iconic Spitfire, Sailor, now with the rank of Acting Squadron Leader took command at the height of the Battle of Britain on 8th August 1940. Three days later on August the 11th, the Squadron was in battle, and it was a battle that help turn the tide of the Battle of Britain.  When Sailor finished the day’s combat The Royal Air Force had downed an astounding 38 enemy aircraft.  This day is forever marked now in the history of the Battle of Britain and the squadron history as “Sailor’s August the Eleventh”.

In all, by the end of the war Sailor Malan scored 27 enemy aircraft kills, seven shared destroyed, three probably destroyed and 16 damaged. He was to receive the Distinguished Service Order decoration – not once, but twice and well as the Distinguished Flying Cross decoration, again not once – but twice.

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Much has been written on Sailor Malan on this website, so for an in-depth profile on this most exceptional South African please follow this link: Sailor Malan; Fighter Ace & Freedom Fighter!

The Cold War

But that is not the end of 74 Squadrons remarkable commanding officers, one South African was to take the squadron into the jet age and himself achieve the dizzy heights of Air Vice-Marshal in the Royal Air Force.

21414618_10214639016195019_6362419216829534532_oAir Vice-Marshal John Howe was one of the RAF’s most experienced and capable Cold War fighter pilots, whose flying career spanned Korean war piston-engined aircraft to the supersonic Lightning and Phantom.

Howe was appointed to command the RAF’s No 74 Tiger Squadron in early 1960, the squadron had just been issued one of the fastest fighter aircraft ever built, the EE Lightning and Howe was going to put it through its paces. Once again, we find a South African Lion leading a squadron of Tigers. So how did a South African land up in such a position of Command in the Cold War?

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John Howe in the SAAF

John Frederick George Howe was born in East London, South Africa, on March 26 1930 and educated at St Andrew’s College, Grahamstown. As soon as he left school, he joined the South African Air Force (SAAF) and trained as a pilot. In early 1951 he joined SAAF No 2 Squadron, known as the Flying Cheetahs. John along with 2 Squadron became part of the South African commitment to United Nations to take part in the Korean War.  Here his prowess as fighter pilot took root.

During his first tour of duty in Korea for the South African Air Force he flew the American made  Mustang F-51D fighter-bombers in front-line action.  One notable action took place on June 24, when Howe took off with three others. They responded to an emergency call for air support by a surrounded ground force. In the face of intense anti-aircraft fire, the four Mustangs attacked gun emplacements a number of times. Howe did not expect to survive, but the four aircraft returned to base. All four South African pilots received US gallantry awards. A month later, Howe was forced to crash-land and was rescued by a helicopter.

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In September, as a 21-year-old second lieutenant, he was the leader of four aircraft instructed to attack enemy troops that were threatening friendly forces. Fierce enemy fire damaged Howe’s aircraft but he continued to lead his formation against the target. The US authorities awarded him an immediate DFC, the citation recording:

“He displayed a standard of leadership above and beyond that normally expected.”

After completing his flying tour, Howe remained in Korea on a second tour as a ground based Forward Air Controller for the SAAF, serving with US Infantry and operating in the thick of the fighting. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal from the United States for his service during these actions.

Returning to South Africa after the war, Howe found himself in a changed political landscape.  The National Party had come to power in 1948 with its policies of Apartheid and entrenched hatred of anything British (a legacy given them from the Boer War), by 1954 the political situation in South Africa became more difficult and extreme, especially for senior officers of English origin in the South African defence forces, who were by-passed for Afrikaans officers instead. As was also the case with Dick Lord, John Howe would now find his future in The Royal Air Force (RAF) instead, so in 1954 he decided to resign from the SAAF and moved to England where he transferred to the RAF with the rank of Flying Officer (Service No. 503984) to fly early types of jet fighters.

In April 1956 he joined Royal Air Force No 222 (Natal) Squadron flying the Hunter. When a volunteer was required for forward air controller duties with No 3 Commando Brigade in late 1956, Howe’s experience in Korea helped to land him the job. He sailed with the Brigade for the ill-fated Suez campaign and, at dawn on November 6, landed on the beaches at Port Said with No 40 Commando, to direct aircraft on to targets in the area. In the event, the campaign was short-lived.

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Howe returned to his squadron before joining No 43 Squadron as a flight commander, still flying the Hunter. He was awarded a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air, receiving a second two years later. In June 1959 he started training to take command of his Lightning squadron – No. 74.

Based in Norfolk. The aircraft represented a great advance in technology and performance, with a remarkable rate of climb to heights in excess of 60,000 ft and capable of flying at twice the speed of sound.

With no simulator or two-seat training version of the aircraft, Howe made his, and the squadron’s, first flight on June 14 1960. A few weeks later he was instructed to provide a four-aircraft formation for the annual Farnborough Air Show.

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Despite the inevitable early teething troubles with the complex aircraft, Howe and his pilots flew on all but one day of the show. The squadron was made the RAF’s official aerobatics team for 1961 and was in demand for appearances at British and European shows. For the Farnborough event that year, Howe trained and led a “diamond nine” formation.

Howe realised that air shows were good for publicity and potential international sales of aircraft, but the time devoted to them hindered the development of full operational capability. He drove himself, and others, hard, but he was a highly respected leader. The squadron’s high morale helped it to reach operational status within the first 10 months despite the many problems that had to be overcome. At the end of his tour, Howe was awarded the AFC.

He said of the Lightning: “It was one of the most exhilarating aeroplanes, even by today’s standards.”

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John Howe in a vertical dive flying a RAF EE Lightning

Howe remained in the fighter business, including a tour of duty with the USAF which gave him an opportunity to fly the latest American fighters, including the Phantom. In 1968 he was appointed to command the RAF’s operational conversion unit that saw the introduction of the Phantom into RAF service, his unit being responsible for the conversion of the first squadron crews.

After a staff tour he became the station commander of RAF Gutersloh, the home of two Lightning squadrons and a support helicopter squadron. His fighter squadrons, based a few minutes’ flying time from the border with Warsaw Pact forces, mounted a continuous quick-reaction capability. He rarely missed an opportunity to maintain his fighter pilot proficiency.

After attending the Royal College of Defence Studies he served at HQ 11 (Fighter) Group, and on promotion to air commodore was appointed the commandant of the Royal Observer Corps (ROC). The organisation had a fine record, but Howe justifiably believed that it was in need of modernisation and a more robust attitude. He set about applying the same exacting standards to the ROC that he did to his flying. By the time he left in 1980, the efficiency of the Corps had risen sharply.

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In May 1980 he was appointed the air officer commanding the Southern Maritime Region, a departure from his previous fighter experience and where his usual forceful approach was much in evidence.

His final appointment in the RAF was the dual role of Commandant General RAF Regiment and Provost Marshal of the RAF. He retired in November 1985. He was appointed CB (1985) and CBE (1978).

In his younger days, Howe was a high-spirited officer who knew how to enjoy life – his South African roots never left him and his “Zulu war dance” at social functions was a speciality. But on duty he was utterly professional and he set himself and those around him difficult goals.

22046893_10214639202959688_8200957218336099859_nIn retirement he was a sheep farmer in Norfolk, where he was known as the “supersonic shepherd”; he retired in 2004. He was a capable skier and a devoted chairman of the Combined Services Skiing Association. A biography of him, Upward and Onward, by Bob Cossey, was published in 2008. John Howe married Annabelle Gowing in March 1961; she and their three daughters survive him.

Air Vice-Marshal John Howe, was born March 26th 1930, he died 27th January 2016 aged 85. He remains another one of South Africa’s finest military exports, another South African who truly carries the 74 Squadron motto:

I fear no man

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For some video footage of Air Vice-Marshal John Howe in action and the equipping of 74 Squadron with Lightnings, have a look at this rare footage:


Researched by Peter Dickens.  Primary reference and extract on Air Vice-Marshal John Rowe taken from his Obituary in The Telegraph and Wikipedia.  Images of Air Vice Marshal Howe thanks to Alan Mark Taylor

My recollection of events

By Arthur Douglas Piercy

Honouring another true South African hero – this is SAAF pilot Arthur Douglas Piercy’s crashed Mirage, here is his story:

This is my recollection of events leading up to the accident.

“It was approximately 1500B (local) on 27 September 1987 when all hell broke loose. There had been numerous call-outs previously which proved to be nothing at all, so when the hot line started ringing there was very little reaction. However this time the call wasn’t to go on cockpit standby like before, but rather to scramble immediately.

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The letter home I was writing went flying as I scrambled to get into the cockpit. In a matter of minutes we were screaming down the runway. I was lucky I was number two in the formation as it was about 45 deg C outside and the take-off was hair raising. How numbers three, four, five and six got airborne I don’t know.

19679125_1987189094843412_4188581052706242754_oAfter take-off we remained low level and set heading for the combat zone. It was our intentions to remain low level for as long as possible to avoid being detected by the Angolan radar’s.

The order came to pitch about 10 minutes after take-off and up we soared like homesick angels. We leveled of at about 30 000′ and the mission controller sounded like a horse racing commentator with all the instructions he was giving us to intercept the targets. Next came the order to jettison the drop tanks. This command is a little strange for me, because one never throws the tanks away in training so only when I saw a 1 200 liter tank falling away from the lead aircraft did I know this was no training sortie. It was serious. The adrenaline was flowing.

The next thing I saw was a Mig 23 flying through the formation about 300′ below us. My first reaction was WOW what a great looking aircraft. This was the first time I had seen one in the flesh so to speak. When he started turning only then did I see the second Mig. I called the engagement and started turning. I was doing Mach 1.3 (about 1600 km per hour) and he was going like hell so the turn was so wide I almost lost sight of him.

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This where I get a little frustrated. For 10 years I have trained for this day and the majority of the fight I cannot recall. WHY! Anyway the next thing I remember is this Mig coming head on at me from about my one, two o’clock position. Still turning towards him I remember flicking the trigger safety over to the cannon position. If he was going to fly through my sights I was going to squeeze off a few rounds. Unfortunately for me he got off the first shot.

There was a bright orange flash from his left wing and then this incredibly fast telephone pole came hurtling towards me trailing a solid white smoke trail. What more is that it was cork screwing so I was never sure where it was going.

In all our training we were taught to break towards the missile. This could or should create a tracking problem for the missile and cause it to possibly overshoot.

But faced with reality I found it took a lot of willpower to fly towards something I knew was trying to kill me. However, I kept breaking towards it and I watched it corkscrew over my right wing and disappear behind me. I thought it had missed until I I heard a dull thud and felt a light bump on the aircraft. I immediately scanned all the gauges but there was not indication of any damage. When I looked up again the Mig flew over the canopy and disappeared behind me as well.

I immediate informed the leader that I thought I might have been hit and his reaction was: “OK let’s go home.” I did not need a second invitation and I rolled the aircraft onto its back and headed for the ground.

With hindsight it appeared that the whole fight whole fight lasted no more than 60 seconds from the time we pitched until I got the ‘go home’ command.

This is perhaps where I got a fright for the first time. I had not retarded the throttle any and I was rushing at the ground in a vertical dive. When I pulled the stick into my stomach to recover from the dive all that initially happen was the aircraft changed attitude but not direction. The momentum was so great the aircraft carried on descending. Just when I thought that is the end of me, the aircraft bottomed out just above the trees.

With all this rolling and diving I was separated from my leader and had no idea where he could be. Just then I started getting a radar warning audio in my helmet from my 6 o’clock (from behind). Some radar was looking at me. Was it the anti aircraft batteries or was it the Mig? I radioed to the boss that I thought someone was behind me. His reaction was to tell me get as low as I can, as fast as I can and not to turn to look behind me.

My first reaction was – I was so low I was raising a dust cloud like those crazy American Road Runner cartoons. The leader said he could set any dust trails so I eased the aircraft lower. The radio alt read 50′ and the speed approximate 730-740 knots.

At this stage I was beginning to think that I’d over-reacted and that I might not have been hit. Had I got out of the fight too early? The aircraft was performing as if there was nothing wrong with it. No vibrations and no handling difficulties. Oh well tomorrow I’ll be back I thought.

19667589_1987189318176723_754693072696350782_oIt was now about five minutes later and half-way home when the first warning light flashed on. EP pump failure. Instinct must have taken over because I thought my first reaction was to call the boss and tell him I have a failure. He pulled out his emergency check list, and started reading the failure procedures for me. All the necessary switches had be set. I don’t remember doing them.

While he was reading the EP pump failure I got the second failure, a right hand fuel pump failure. This is not too serious under normal operating conditions as the engine can gravity feed. While the boss was reading the fuel pump failure procedure and I was confirming that they were done the following light on the warning panel appeared. A HYD 2 system failure.

This caused a little concern initially as the aircraft’s main systems use hydraulic fluid. Undercarriage, flaps, controls, airbrakes and of course wheel brakes. After a quick and careful analysis of the situation I relaxed a little. The HYD 2 system is basically a standby system for the main HYD 1 system. All I had really lost with the HYD 2 failure was the nose-wheel steering. It could have been worse.

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Artwork of the incident by Ryno Cilliers

By now we were far enough away from the combat zone and the dangers associated with it, so I started to climb to try and conserve fuel.

The next thing that happened is that I was getting an audio warning but no visual warning when I looked at the panel. The hours of simulator training came into action – a pending OIL failure. This concerned me a little more than the rest of them. There are two critical components that use oil. The throttle and the nozzle flaps on the engine.

Flying the aircraft on the emergency throttle (electrically operated) is not easy. The throttle is very slow and unresponsive.

At this time the leader pulled in next to me to inspect for any damage. He reported fuel leaking out the aircraft and the drag chute was missing. As he said that the 500 liter warning light came on. The fuel gauges still read 1700 liters so now which one is right. A little more pressure was applied to little old me.

19621295_1987189214843400_4368832538098416481_oLanding a perfectly serviceable aircraft on a 7500′ runway requires some work. I was going to have to do it on emergency throttle and without a drag chute – a task I felt I could handle.

I planned to land the aircraft short on a new stretch of runway that was being constructed. This would give me an additional 500′ to play with on the landing roll. I got her down at the threshold but when I applied the brakes the only thing that happened was the expression on my face changed. I pulled the nose higher so that there would be some form of aerodynamic braking but this did not help. About a 1500′ from the end of the runway I applied the emergency hand brake with little effect. The arrester bed or sand pit at the end of the runway was my next hope of stopping this machine.

The aircraft went through the arrester bed like a hot knife through butter. No braking effect whatsoever. The next ‘obstacle’ was the security fence.

Where does ones sense of humor come from in at a time like this? I was about to go AWOL (absent without leave) with a multimillion rand aircraft. The board of enquiry are probably going to ask me who authorized this illegal departure from the security area. At the same time I was scared I was going to drown in the river just beyond the fence. My seat has a land survival pack in it and not an inflatable dingy!!

When I went through the fence I remember putting my hands in front of my face. It was at this precise moment that there was a loud bang. I remember smelling cordite or gunpowder and then everything went black. I felt the rush of wind over my face and the feeling of silk on my cheek. With hindsight I realized that when the ejection seat went off, my helmet must have come off as well and the silk I felt on the cheek was the ejection seat’s stabilizing parachute and not my personal parachute.

19780759_1987189404843381_7792459567201945123_oWhen I regained my senses I was lying in the sand on my right hand side. The first thing I attempted to do was to roll onto my back and when I pushed on the sand with my left arm there was this incredible piercing pain in my arm. The left arm was broken just above the elbow. I then looked down at my legs to see why they had not moved and I could not feel them at all. I realized that the ejection seat was still strapped to my back and thought that this might have something to do with the lack of movement in my legs. I had no idea that the neck was dislocated.

I then started looking around and the first thing I saw was that I was lying directly in front of my aircraft. Here was a F1 Mirage pointing straight at me. The problem wasn’t that the aircraft was pointing at me but rather that there was a fire just behind the left air intake. I know there is a fuel tank there but even worse was the fact that the ammo bins (with over a hundred rounds of 30mm ammunition) was just under the fire. If those rounds started going off I was in the line of fire.

When the fire brigade arrived on the scene they naturally came to my aid first. My immediate advice to them was that no one touches me until a doctor pitches up and that they immediately tend to the fire on the aircraft. There is no way that I want to be shot at by my own aircraft.

When the doctors arrived with the ambulance my first concern was they treat my arm for pain, then they can worry about the rest. Even after 2 morphine injections there was still not relief from the pain. I was later told that the adrenaline in the body was so high that the morphine had no effect.

Just before they pushed me into the back of the ambulance I passed out only to wake up in 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria 10 days later.

It was another seven months before I left the hospital with a C6, C7 fracture of the neck and permanently confined to using a wheelchair”.

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Posted on behalf of Arthur Douglas Piercy, image copyrights – Arthur Douglas Piercy.  Artwork image copyright Ryno Cilliers