Memories are at best times short and for most South Africans knowledge of the part played by pilots of No. 2 Squadron SAAF in the Korean conflict which started many years ago, are at best sketchy.
But the bottom line is these magnificent, unsung heroes in their flying machines carved a distinguished record in the history of the country’s armed forces.
In the closing stages of WWII and once the Soviet Union had agreed to declare war on Japan early in 1945, it was decided that the Soviets could occupy North Korea and the Americans the South. The dividing line ws the 38th parallel.
In 1947, the UN resolved to create an independent Korea. This resolution led to the planting of the seeds of discontent which would lead to the Korean conflict starting on June 25, 1950, and ending on July 27, 1953. Thus Korea became the first theatre of combat between the Western and Communist worlds, and signalled a major upsurge of the “Cold War.”
In response to a UN resolution, both US and Russian forces were withdrawn from Korea in 1949. With the advent of the Cold War, Korea suddenly assumed vital strategic importance, positioned as it was bordering on the Soviet Union, China and Japan.
Korea became the flashpoint of the Cold War when North Korea, with the backing of China and the Soviets, invaded the South. Within four days, the North Korean army had overrun the southern capital of Seoul and was moving rapidly southward. US troops were committed to the Puscan perimeter, where they were joined by reinforcements from the US, Britian and the Commonwealth in July and August.
After bitter fighting, the thrust south was halted and the final offensive of North Korea was repulsed in September, after which the UN forces started their offensive which pushed the Communist forces back over the 38th parallel.
An amphibious landing of UN troops at Inchon leap-frogged the North Koreans and cut off their supply routes, causing a disorderly retreat. By October, the UN forces had passed the 38th parallel and were heading for the Yalu River, the frontier with Red China. The Chinese then entered the war quite unexpectedly and drove the UN forces back over the 38th parallel.
By the end of January, the Chinese had overextended their supply lines and were forced to a halt. They were then once again driven back norht by a massive concentration of UN firepower to the 38th parallel, where fighting settled down to a vicious stalemate.
Armistice talks were launched and continued intermittently for the next two years, while the war of attrition continued unabated. The war in the air resulted in UN air supremacy ove the battlefields bringing it to conclusion, with the armistice signed at Panmunjom on July 27, 1953.
The SAAF goes to war.
The SA Government announced on August 4, 1950, that a fighter squadron had been offered to the UN for deployment in Korea, and three weeks later it was confirmed that the offer had been accepted, and No. 2 Squadron was been chosen for this formidable task.
Just over 200 officers and men were needed to supplement the existing nucleus of the squadron, and when volunteers were called for 332 officers and 1 094 other ranks came forward. On August 27, key posts were allocated to 18 officers plus 32 additional pilots and 157 other ranks. The officers, under Commanding Officer Commandant Van Breda Theron, DSO, DFC, AFC and Deputy Commanding Officer Major Blaauw, DFC, were experienced in their own special fields, and the combat leaders were all pilots who had distinguished themselves during WWII. Flying operations were to be controlled by the 18th USAF fighter-bomber wing.
Pilots of 2 SAAF Squadron, the ‘Flying Cheetahs’ underwent concentrated training on Spitfire Mk IXs
Before they were placed at the disposal of the UN. They converted to the F-51D Mustang at Johnson Air Force Base, Tokyo, and were attached to the USAF 18th fighter bomber wing at K-9, Pusan and K-24 Pyongyang.
Images: 2 SAAF Korea Paintings – by Derrick Dickens (copyright Peter Dickens)
The squadron flew into action to stem the Communist hordes swarming from the North, the head-long advance forcing it to fall back to K-10 near Chinhae, which remained its permanent base for the next two years.
In this war the SAAF received its baptism of fire from Russian MiG jets and moved from a piston-engined air force into the jet age from flying P-51 Mustangs to F-86 Sabres. In operations using the Mustangs, the SAAF carried out 10 373 sorties, and lost 74 of its 95 aircraft.
During the three years of conflict, The SAAF fielded 243 officers, 545 ground personnel and 38 army officers and men. The ‘Flying Cheetahs’ lost 34 pilots in action, almost a hundred percent attrition rate, which attested to the viciousness of the fighting.
The squadron mainly carried out interdiction and close air support missions, sealing off supplies from the Communist troops and disrupting communications. These tasks were invariably performed in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire and counter attacks by MiG 15s.
Early 1953, the ‘Flying Cheetahs’ converted from their F-51 Mustangs to the jet-powered F-86 Sabre operating from K-55 at Osan, south of Seoul. They did conversion training in T-33 Shooting Stars and a week later their first Sabres arrived. Cmdt. Gerneke flew the first operational sortie on February 22. The same day they sighted numerous MiG, but no combat resulted.
By March 12, they were fully operational and flew four counter-air patrolsalong the Yalu River in an attempt to lure MiGs across the border to engage in combat. It was during one of these air alerts when, on March 18, Col. ‘Kalfie’ Martin and Eddie Pinaar intercepted two MiGs. Both pilots attacked and one MiG was seen to explode when it entered some cloud. The kill was credited to Col. Martin.
Images: 2 SAAF Korea Paintings – by Derrick Dickens (copyright Peter Dickens)
During the last months of the war, missions were equally distributed between interdiction, close support and counter-air, with an occasional rescue patrol.
The Sabres were returned to the USAF and the last SAAF officers left Korea on October 29, 1953, thus ending South Africa’s involvement in the Korean conflict.
By the time the armistice was signed, July 27,1953, the squadron had flown 11 843 sorties carrying out fighter sweeps along the Yalu and Chong Chong Rivers, and concentrating mainly on ground attack operations against enemy airfields.
Decorations earned included three Legions of Merit, two Silver Stars, 50 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 40 Bronze Stars and 176 Air Medals. 152 clusters to the Air Medal, one Soldier’s medal and 797 Korean War Medals.
The USA presented No. 2 Squadron with a Presidential Unit Citation, awarded for extra ordinary heroism in action against the armed enemy of the UN.
Korea presented the SAAF with the order of Military Merit Taeguk with Gold Star, to the unknown dead of the armed forces of the Union of South Africa, as well as a Presidential Unit Citation for exceptional meritorious service and heroism.
By the time the ‘Flying Cheetahs’ left Korea, they had established a record which compared favourably with the best of the UN Forces. They lost 34 pilots in flying nearly 3,5% of all fighter bomber sorties, destroying rolling stock, railway lines, tunnels, bridges and locomotives, military equipment, trucks, artillery pieces, and tanks, and accounting for hundreds of enemy troops.
The 826 South Africans who served in Korea all contributed to a combat record unequalled by a force of similar size in previous conflicts.
In honour of the ‘Flying Cheetahs’, 18th USAF Fighter-Bomber Wing issued this policy order:
“In memory of our gallant South African comrades, at all retreat ceremonies,the playing of the American National Anthem shall be preceded by playing the introductory bars of the South African National Anthem and that all personnel of the Wing will render the same honours to this Anthem as to our own.”
This history on 2 Squadron, SAAF in Korea was written by father, who grew up in the 1950’s watching these magnificent Spitfires, Mustangs and Sabre Jets coming in and out of Pretoria, it formed the basis for his love of military aircraft and his lifelong passion as a fine artist painting them. It is with great honour and privilege that I can post images of his Korean War paintings and his written account of the history.
Note, over the years and changes and amalgamations, the 18th USAF Fighter-Bomber Wing is now the 18th Wing – a Composite Wing – at Kadena Air Force base in Japan, it is no longer believed that their band plays the opening bars of ‘Die Stem’ before the American National Anthem. I’m happy to be proved otherwise as its a great pity.
This was a presentation to the President of South Korea on the 60th Annivesary of the Korean war by the South African Veterans Association of the Koeran War at the celebratory banquet in Johannesburg. The painting by Derrick Dickens (and used on this story’s masthead) is being presented by Piet Visser Chairman of the Veterans Association, who flew Sabres in Korea, the painting depicts the two types of aircraft flown by the SAAF “Flying Cheetahs” in Korea. Sabre and Mustang.
Some hidden history – ‘Did you know?’- back of the Chappie gum wrapper facts. Did you know Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris – the famous Commander of RAF Bomber Command during WW2 was in fact a Rhodesian and he also had a very strong South African connection, here’s an interesting story and it involves a bugle, a bombing and a baronet.
At the commencement of World War 1, a unit called the 1st Rhodesia Regiment was formed in August 1914. In October it consisted of 500 volunteers. In November the Unit went to Bloemfontein and on to Cape Town by train. On Christmas Day 1914 the Regiment landed in Walvis Bay to join the 4th South African Brigade. After that there were marches and skirmishes against the German troops. One young man in this Regiment was the bugler.
After one skirmish, he got fed up and buried his bugle. They had marched and marched in blazing desert sun in German South West Africa (modern day Namibia), from January to June 1915, when the campaign finally ended. He swore he would never march another step into battle. The young man was Arthur Travers (Bomber) Harris and with this act he gave up foot soldiering into battle and took up flying into battle instead.
We have all heard about his exploits and management of RAF Bomber Command during World War 2, but few know of his lifelong connection with South Africa. In fact, he was even a founder member and General Manager of SAFMARINE.
First World War
Born in the Gloucestershire, England, Harris emigrated to Southern Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe) in 1910 when he was 17. When the First World War broke out in August 1914, Harris did not learn of it for nearly a month, being out in the bush at the time. Despite his previous reluctance to follow the path his father had in mind for him in the army, and his desire to set up his own ranch in Rhodesia, Harris felt patriotically compelled to join the war effort.
He quickly attempted to join the 1st Rhodesia Regiment, which had been raised by the British South Africa Company administration to help put down the Maritz Rebellion in South Africa, but he found that only two places were available; that of a machine-gunner or that of a bugler. Having learnt to bugle at Allhallows School in Devon, he successfully applied for the bugler slot and was sworn in on the 20th October 1914.
The 1st Rhodesia Regiment briefly garrisoned Bloemfontein, then served alongside the South African forces in South-West Africa under South African command during the first half of 1915. The campaign made a strong impression on Harris, particularly the long desert marches—some three decades later, he wrote that “to this day I never walk a step if I can get any sort of vehicle to carry me”. South-West Africa also provided Harris with his first experience of aerial bombing: the sole German aircraft in South-West Africa attempted to drop artillery shells on his unit, but failed to do any damage. How prophetic that his next idea of a “vehicle” to carry him into battle would be an aeroplane.
When the South-West African Campaign ended in July 1915, the 1st Rhodesia Regiment was withdrawn to Cape Town, where it was disbanded; Harris was formally discharged on 31 July.
He felt initially that he had done his part for the Empire, and went back to Rhodesia to resume work at Lowdale, but he and many of his former comrades soon reconsidered when it became clear that the war in Europe was going to last much longer than they had expected. They were reluctant to join the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment, which was being raised to serve in East Africa, perceiving the “bush whacking” of the war’s African theatre as inferior to the “real war” in Europe. Harris sailed for England from Beira at the Company administration’s expense in August, a member of a 300-man party of white Southern Rhodesian war volunteers.
He arrived in October 1915, moved in with his parents in London and, after unsuccessfully attempting to find spaces in first the cavalry, then the Royal Artillery, he finally joined the Royal Flying Corps as a Second Lieutenant in November 1915.
He served with distinction on the home front and in France during 1917 as a Flight Commander and ultimately CO of No. 45 Squadron, before he returned to Britain to command No. 44 Squadron on Home Defence duties, Harris claimed five enemy aircraft destroyed and was awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC) on 2 November 1918.
He finished the 1st World War a Major and remained in the RAF as a career choice. Although born British, he identified himself as a Rhodesian Intending to return to Rhodesia one day, to this sentiment Harris wore a “Rhodesia” shoulder flash on his RAF uniform.
Second World War
Much is written about ‘Bomber’ Harris in the Second World War and a lot of it very controversial. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Harris took command of No. 5 Group RAF in England, and in February 1942 was appointed head of Bomber Command. He retained that position for the rest of the war.
In 1942, a seminal paper was put to the British Cabinet advocating the idea of area bombing of German cities in a strategic bombing campaign. It was accepted by Cabinet and Harris was directed to carry out the task. It became an important part of the ‘Total War’ strategy waged against Nazi Germany.
At the start of the bombing campaign, ‘Bomber’ Harris famously justified the idea of area bombing by quoting the Old Testament:
“The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”
Images: Colourised images by DB Colour and RJM of Bomber Command Lancaster and crew.
Winston Churchill regarded the idea of area bombing strategy with distaste, official public statements maintained that Bomber Command was attacking only specific industrial targets, any civilian casualties were unavoidable and were unintentional. By 1943, Harris urged the government to be honest with the public regarding the purpose of area bombing and said:
“The aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive … should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilised life throughout Germany … the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories.”
Harris pressed for raids on a much larger scale and launched the first RAF “thousand bomber raid” against Cologne in May 1942, his successes using this method of aerial warfare saw him promoted to Air Marshal and even acting Air Chief Marshal by March 1943.
The Butcher’s Bill
Leading up to and after D-Day, 6 June 1944, the bombing campaign continued to attract controversy, but the most controversial was the bombing of Dresden on the night of 13 February 1945. More than 1,200 heavy bombers dropped nearly 4,000 tons of high-explosive and incendiary bombs on the city in four successive raids. An estimated 25,000 people were killed in the bombings and the firestorm that raged afterward. More than 75,000 dwellings were destroyed, along with unique monuments of Baroque architecture in the historic city centre. The scale of the death and destruction, coming so late in the war, along with significant questions about the legitimacy of the targets destroyed have led to years of debate about whether the attack was justified.
Image: Colourised Royston Colour image of Dresden post bombing.
This issue on whether Dresden qualified a military target or not and in fact may have been an unnecessary bombing continues to this day, with evidence even pointing to targeting the ‘old city’ for a firestorm rather than the industrial sector as was the officially stated objective. In either event, what is known is that area bombing by nature was very inaccurate and indiscriminate and the death toll extreme, and the RAF and Bomber Command would admit that the entire area bombing campaign including Dresden was ‘somewhat overdone,’ but this sentiment was wrapped in secrecy for many years after the war.
To see this Butcher’s bill in total, consider these estimates. Civilian deaths in Germany from Allied bombing was more recently estimated at 380,000. Bomber Command dropped 53 per cent of all the ordnance sent to Germany. Firestorms caused by Bomber Command’s incendiaries killed over 34,000 civilians in Hamburg in July 1943, 5,600 in Kassel in October 1943, at least 7,500 in Darmstadt in September 1944, 25,000 in Dresden and 17,600 in Pforzheim in February 1945 and 4,000-5,000 in Würzburg in March 1945: nearly 100,000 dead for the half-dozen deadliest raids.
The attitudes to this style bombing of Nazi Germany populace at the time were becoming very ‘hard’, an attitude exhibited by nearly all the Allied combatants involved in it, as the war had rung out an alarming butchers bill on civilians in all the countries of Western and Eastern Europe. Notwithstanding the Nazi Blitz campaign of British cities at the start of the war and Nazi ‘wonder weapons’ indiscriminately bombing London’s civilians towards the end of the war. This hard attitude was best surmised by a British Bomber Command air-crewman when he said this during a World at War interview:
“If you couldn’t get the Kraut in his factory, it was just as easy to knock him off in his bed, and (if) Granny Schicklgruber in the seat next door got the chop that’s hard luck!” (The sarcastic reference to Schicklgruber was Maria Schicklgruber, Adolph Hitler’s paternal Grandmother).
Image: Avro Lancaster Bomber ‘B’ MkI ‘Victorious Virgin’ crew showing the attitude of the day, this 4000 pound ‘cookie’ bomb was dropped on an Oil Refinery in Hemmingstedt in March 1945, near Heide in Germany. Colourised by Tom Thounaojam.
The culmination of Bomber Command’s offensive occurred in March 1945 when the RAF dropped the highest monthly weight of ordnance in the entire war, mainly on Berlin to support the Russian offensive to take the city. In all Harris was asked if strategic area bombing would work in winning the war at the beginning of the campaign and his reaction was “we shall see”. In hindsight, the campaign went a very long to way to ultimately break resolve and bring Germany to its knees economically, but it happened at a tremendous cost in human lives, not only civilian, lets examine the butcher’s bill on Bomber Command:
Of every 100 airmen who joined Bomber Command, 45 were killed, 6 were seriously wounded, 8 became Prisoners of War, and only 41 escaped unscathed (at least physically). Of the 120,000 who served, 55,573 were killed. Of those who were flying at the beginning of the war, only ten percent survived. It is a loss rate comparable only to the worst slaughter of the First World War trenches. Only the Nazi U-Boat force suffered a higher casualty rate. On a single night, Bomber Command suffered more losses than did Fighter Command during the entire Battle of Britain.
One must also caution here, whilst the figures on both sides of the Butcher’s Bill are high for British and American combined Bomber Command Ops, Germany by no means comes through smelling of roses – their campaigns and targeting of civilians is staggering – in all about 90,500 British civilians were killed and that’s nothing compared to the estimated civilian deaths in Yugoslavia of 1.2 million, Poland 5.7 million and USSR 7.0 million. To say that attitudes had hardened when it came to the combatants would be an understatement.
It would be unfair with a modern day sense of sensibility to look at Bomber Harris and the men of Bomber Command as a war criminals, one has to look them him in the context of their time and the great struggle surrounding them, especially the extreme choices taken to bring about an end to a war of this nature.
However, in his ‘Butcher’s Bill,’ one cannot help but note there is a ‘World War 1’ mind in Bomber Harris, but it’s not an uncommon one for a Commander in his time, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery can also be accused of the same. It is one whereby ‘attrition’ is used to gradually overwhelm using overwhelming odds, it rings true to the WW1 Battle of Verdun, a meat grinding approach to who runs out of resources, especially human resources first. It eventually wins wars, no doubt, but at a tremendous cost in human lives.
After the war Harris moved to South Africa where he founded and managed SAFMARINE, short for the South African Marine Corporation. Safmarine, is a South African business success story involved in international container shipping and break-bulk shipping services worldwide. It is now owned by its parent company, the Maersk Line.
In 1953 he returned to the United Kingdom to accept a Baronetcy, which strangely, Winston Churchill insisted he receive, and here he lived out the rest of his long life in Goring-on-Thames passing away at 91 years old in 1984. He even managed to see the creation of his much loved Rhodesia into Zimbabwe as a nation state.
In all, it’s a fact that Southern Africa in its harshest form would fashion the man into what Arthur Harris was to become, it’s also clear that the German South West African Campaign in World War 1 would fashion a steel willed and uncompromising attitude of endurance and perseverance in a world of hardships, and one in which he would look to aviation instead of marching into battle to ultimately win wars. With all the modern day accusations of Harris been a ‘war criminal’ for his actions against civilians I wonder sometimes if someone may eventually dig up his buried bugle in Namibia and what that would come to symbolise.
Images: Sir Arthur Harris GCB, OBE, AFC and the Green Park Bomber Command Memorial
To the opening statement, I hear some colleagues say “everyone knows he was a Rhodesian”, well nope- the reason I say his South African and Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) heritage and history is relatively unknown, and for that matter this includes a great many other Rhodesians and South Africans (including two Victoria Cross recipients – Wing Commander John Nettleton VC and Captain Edwin Swales VC) who were sacrificed whilst taking part in Bomber Command operations, is that when the Bomber Command War Memorial was finally unveiled in Green Park in London in 2012, not one South African or Rhodesian military veteran association member and not one dignitary from South Africa or Zimbabwe took part in it. From the Commonwealth, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, even West Indians – all got a nod, I watched the entire unveiling ceremony on BBC and not even a mention of a South African, not even the Victoria Crosses and numerous other decorations for valour won by them whist in Bomber Command.
Some may even say, given all the controversy, better not to have been there anyway. But that would be to dishonour a generation that sacrificed so much, physically and mentally, for our modern freedoms. Especially our countrymen in Bomber Command who found themselves in this most extraordinary and very tragic period of our wartime history, these are men who had to face hard and very fateful decisions, the world at times has forgotten our WW2 contributions, lest we forget them too.
Researched by Peter Dickens.
Large content and additional research with much thanks to Buskruit Burger.
Large extracts from wikipedia and Bomber Command Museum on line. Statistics referenced from Andrew Knapp: The Horror and the Glory: Bomber Command in British Memories since 1945 and the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.
This article has been a long time in coming because it’s really a simple soldier’s story … it’s mine … and I’m a real son-of-a-bitch to consolidate myself with and as such this has been very hard to put together. However, I hope it gives some insight into what it was like to serve in the South African Defence Force (SADF) from the unbanning of the ANC and release of Nelson Mandela on 11 February 1990 to the landmark year for the transformation of South Africa’s democracy in April 1994.
It’s also a testament and a cathartic exercise, as … ta da! No surprise to anyone who knows me personally and what I went through with Covid 19, but I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). So, no surprise on the Covid front, but it’s the root of the PTSD that’s the real problem, and it boils down to my time in the SADF from 1990 to 1994, it settled on ‘Trust’ or lack thereof really.
“Ag Fok man! No more PTSD G3/K3 Fucked Up Kak” some of my fellow veteran buddies may jump to, heck at one stage I felt the same. But bear with me ‘manne’, this is not a ‘outreach’ or a ‘call for help’ .. I’m solid, in good spirits and very stable (more on this later). What my therapy disclosed is in fact a very interesting bit of history not often held up in the narrative of 1994 and it possesses a load of inconvenient truths, that’s what this story is really all about. So, here goes;
Wit en Swart Gevaar (White and Black Danger)
In 1990 Whilst the now ‘unbanned’ African National Congress (ANC) was finding its political feet and locating itself to ‘Shell House’ near Bree Street in Johannesburg, I was located at Witwatersrand Command’s new HQ Building – also in Bree Street a block away – the nearby old HQ at the bottom of Twist Street called the ‘Drill Hall’ had been all but abandoned after it was bombed by a ‘lone’ ANC cadre – who oddly was a ‘white Afrikaner’ from a top Upper Middle Class Afrikaans school, Linden High School, and who had some serious ‘Daddy issues’ with his Conservative father and upbringing. With the building now declared ‘unsafe’ the HQ had moved next door. Here begins my problem in trying to define the enemy – as we had been conditioned by the old Afrikaner Nationalists and in the SADF that the ‘enemy’ was a ‘Swart Gevaar’ (Black Danger) and a ‘Rooi Gevaar’ (Communist Red Danger) – not a ‘Wit Gevaar’ (White Danger) with a Upper Middle-Class sense of Liberalism as the bomber in question, Hein Grosskopf, was.
So, here I am, a freshy minted National Serviceman ‘one-pip’ Loot ( 2nd Lieutenant or Subaltern) seconded to Wit (Witwatersrand) Command Operations (Ops) from my initial placement at D-Ops (Directive Operations) located in a underground circular shafted ‘nuclear proof’ building in Pretoria called Blenny, the building whose Top Secret Ops room looked like a scene out of Dr Strangelove had its entry bunker located near the Pretoria Prison. This underground building is now falling derelict as a SAAF HQ, in my time the personnel stationed there were known as the ‘Blenny rats’ for obvious reasons, and funnily I can count myself as one.
My job at Wit Command (not ‘Wits’ Command mind – that designation was for the nearby University) was to provide Operation Support and send Top Secret daily SITREP (situation reports) from Wit Command to D Ops at Blenny, or just been a ‘Bicycle’ as my fellow senior officers called ‘one pip’ 2nd Lieutenants (you can ‘trap’ i.e. peddle/stamp on a bicycle), the lowest rung on the officer rank profile.
Whilst parking in my cushy post in the Ops room in September 1990 processing a whack of casualties reported on Johannesburg’s railway lines as the ANC dealt with ‘sellouts’ by throwing them off the commuter trains, the Railways Police and Army Group 18 collecting the corpses and sending reports to me for the daily SITREP and suddenly ‘bang’ another bomb blast (more like a muffled ‘thump’ actually), this one a couple of city blocks away in nearby Doornfontein and the target is the old Beeld Newspaper Offices, the bomb later turned out to be placed by the Orde Boerevolk – one of the spin-off militant White Supremacist Groups. Swart Gevaar suddenly turned Wit Gevaar again. Luckily nobody killed.
This ‘White’ Danger did not end there for me that month. Being a ‘bicycle’, 2nd Lieutenant I was given the shift nobody wanted, the weekend shift in the Ops room, the ‘Commandants’ (Lt. Colonels – and there were loads of them in Army Ops), were all at home enjoying their braai’s and brander’s. It was a 24 hour on – 48 hour off gig with no brass around so I enjoyed it. Late on a Saturday night, its all quite and I’m stretched out on a cot behind the signaller’s station watching TV and enjoying my lekker time in the ‘Mag’ when a white Ford Cortina pulled up in Bree Street, four white men in the car, out step two, one of them wearing a AWB arm band hangs back standing watch and the other walks up to the entrance of Wit Command and calmy shoots a 21 Battalion sentry on duty in the reception in the head.
21 (Two-One) Battalion was a ethnic Black Battalion – the SADF was ethnically funny that way, so this was basically a white extremist shooting a black SADF troop as a terror attack. I hear the gunshot, then get a frantic call from the guard room. There is no medic support and only one other officer on the base, so I grab a hand-held radio and the emergency medic bag and give instructions to the signaller to stay on the radio and relay messages. The troopie is fortunately alive, the bullet having passed through his jaw as he flinched away from his attacker’s gun. I patch him up with bandages from the medical kit bag and radio the signaller to call an emergency medical evacuation. I then issue an order to the 21 Battalion Guard Commander to double the guard, take note from witnesses as to what happened and then back to my post to disturb my senior officer’s weekend. ‘Wit Gevaar’ had struck Wit Command again.
Image : AWB Clandestine paramilitary
Given the general carnage in the country created by the AWB, the Inkata Freedom Party (IFP) and African National Congress (ANC) at this time it did not take long for the ANC version of ‘Swart Gevaar’ and it would hit me directly again about two weeks later in October 1990 when I received a desperate call over the Ops room phone from an ANC informant, his cover blown and an angry ANC mob had turned up outside his house in Soweto. I was unable to get an extraction to him in the time that it took for the mob to break down the door and the line go dead after I had to listen to his desperate pleading to me for help, the Police picked up his body later. The dismissive and rather racist attitude of one of the other officers present to the whole incident .. “just another kaffir.”
Shortly after that in October ANC ‘danger’ turned to IFP ‘danger,’ same scenario I’m sat on the weekend in the Ops room enjoying my cushy 24 hours on 48 hours off. This incident strangely happened on a Sunday afternoon, so again the Command is relatively silent manned only by a skeleton staff. Odd for a Sunday, but a small group of IFP supporters banishing traditional weapons (deadly spears and pangas in reality) had made its way down Twist Street from Hillbrow and was making its way past the old Drill Hall to Bree Street, which, as it was still a SADF installation had a group of 21 Battalion guards staying in it. One troop was casually standing outside having a smoke, and I don’t know if it was a ethnic retaliation of Zulu sentiment for a Black SADF troop, but in any event, he got attacked – hit by a panga as he lifted his arms to prevent a killing blow.
Same drill as previous – no medics around and only 2 officers on the base, grab radio to relay instructions, grab bomb bandages, immediately double the guard, relay instructions to my signaller. I get to the troop and start bandaging him up, however as the panga had severed veins and done other general carnage in both his arms it took some bomb bandages and applied pressure to get it the bleeding under control before an ambulance arrived.
Image: Inkata Freedom Party member taunts a black SADF soldier
He lived, but the strange bit for me, next morning – Monday early, I had been up all night and my uniform was covered in blood. The Commandant, whose lekker branders and braai weekend I had once again disturbed, came in earlier than expected at 06:30am, called me in ‘on orders’, and whilst ‘kakking me out’ from high told me I was derelict in my duty for not wearing barrier gloves when treating a casualty, who, as he was a black man (and to his racially ‘verkrampt’ mind) he would likely have AIDS, thus I was endangering myself as government property. That there were no barrier gloves around was not an excuse – and as some sort of punitive measure, he then instructed me to attend the morning parade on the open ground on the Command’s car park (as Ops Officers we had usually been excluded from it). I objected on the basis that I could not change my uniform in time, but he would have none of it.
So, there I stood, an officer on parade covered in blood from saving yet another lowly regarded ‘black’ troopie, watching the sun come up over a Johannesburg skyline on a crisp clear day (if you’ve lived in Johannesburg, you’ll know what this is like, it’s the town’s only redeeming factor – it’s stunning) all the time thinking to my myself “this is one fucked up institution.”
There were more instances of the random nature of violence at the time, I was called to and attended to the stabbing of a woman (later criticised by a Commandant for calling a emergency ambulance for a mere ‘civilian’) – she had a very deep stab wound about two inches above her mons pubis into her lower intestines which looked pretty bad to me, so I called it and I have no regrets. I was also called to help with a off duty white troop who staggered into the Command late Saturday night with a blunt trauma to the back of the skull and subsequently pissed himself and went into shock.
Oh, and if the general populace wasn’t bad enough, then there were the ‘own team’ military ‘idiots’ which posed a danger all of their own, my first ‘Padre’ call out as an Ops officer was for a troop shot dead by his buddy playing around with his 9mm side-arm, and some months later on after a morning parade walking back to the Bree Street building I had to deal with an accidental discharge gunshot in the guardroom of the old Drill Hall which saw two troops with severe gunshot wounds (a conscript Corporal in counter-intelligence decided to check R4 assault rifles standing on their bi-pods on the ground, one discharged taking off a big chunk of his calf muscle which was in front of the muzzle, the bullet then entering both legs of a 21 Battalion guard standing opposite him).
One thing was very certain to me … everyone, black and white .. from white right wing Afrikaners to left wing English and Afrikaner whites .. to militant and angry Zulus, Tswanas and Xhosas and just about everyone in between was a threat to my life whilst in uniform. These instances whilst serving as an Ops officer would later serve as the basis of stressor trigger during my Covid experience. To me in 1990 there was no such thing as a ‘friendly’, extreme racism, danger and hate coursed in all directions and the old Nationalist idea of the ‘Gevaar’ was a crock of shit.
Wit Command Citizen Force
On finishing my National Service (NS) stint, I immediately landed up in my designated Citizen Force Unit, 15 Reception Depot (15 OVD/RCD) which was part of Wit Command and basically handled the bi-annual National Service intakes and call-ups (reserve forces included). It also provided surplus personnel to assist in Wit Command’s administration, and that included Operations and Intelligence work. By 1991, I was back doing ‘camps’ and had impressed my new Commanding Officer (CO) enough to earn my second ‘pip’ and now I was a substantiated Full Lieutenant, an officer good and proper. I had previously keenly jumped at a role as a Convoy Commander escorting raw SADF recruits to their allocated training bases.
Images of Nasrec NSM intakes circa 1990-1993. Photo of Lt. Col Mannie Alho (then a Captain) and Miss South Africa, Michelle Bruce at an intake courtesy Mannie Alho.
These were ‘fully armed’ operations as NSM intakes were regarded as a ‘soft’ and very ‘public’ target, of much value for an act of terrorism. As such each convoy needed an armed escort with a lot of Intelligence and logistics support. If you need to know how dangerous – consider how many times a recruitment station has been bombed in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan conflicts. I volunteered for the furthest and most difficult escort as the Convoy Commander – the bi-annual call up to 8 South African Infantry Battalion in Upington (8 SAI). My ‘escort’ troops were made up of Wit Command reservists, some from Personal Services but most of them with Infantry Battalion backgrounds, Border War veterans in the main and highly experienced.
By 1994 I had really earned my spurs doing ‘long distance’ Convoy Command. In early 1993 my CO – Lt. Col Mannie Alho had seen enough potential in me to kick me off to do a ‘Captain’s Course’ at Personal Services School at Voortrekkerhoogte in Pretoria. At the beginning of 1994 Colonel Alho called me in, handed me a promotion to Captain and gave me his old Captain’s ‘bush pips’ epaulettes he had in his drawer – a gesture and epaulettes I treasure to this day.
Images: … erm, me – in case anyone is wondering why the ‘Bokkop’ (Infantry beret), I started off at 5 SAI, then PSC, then back in an infantry role in Ops.
At this time around Wit Command, a number of significant things happened involving all of us in 15 RCD to some degree or other – some less so, others more so. It was a BIG year. In all, these instances would really question who the enemy was in any soldier’s mind serving in the ‘old’ SADF at that time.
The Reserve Call-Up – 1994
Firstly, the call up of the SADF Reserve in the Witwatersrand area to secure the country for its democratic transformation. Generally, in 1994 the SADF was running out of National Servicemen – the ‘backbone’ of the SADF, the annual January and July intake of ‘white’ conscripts had dwindled alarmingly. Generally, the white public saw the writing on the wall as to the end of Apartheid and the end of whites-only conscription program and simply refused to abide their national service call-ups.
As to the ‘Permanent Force’ (PF), the professional career element of the SADF, many senior officers (and a great many Commandants) along with warrant officers and some senior NCO’s took an early retirement package. They had seen the writing on the wall as to their role in the Apartheid security machine and felt they had been ‘sold out’ by the very apparatus they had sworn their allegiance to. Some would head into politics in the Conservative Party, others would join the AWB structure and other ‘Boerevolk’ resistance movements and some took their Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) amnesty’s and quietly retired. Others would just bow out honourably, their time done. Nearly all of them totally fed up with FW De Klerk and his cabal and feeling utterly betrayed by them – even to this day, and I meet many in military veteran circles.
As to the other part of the SADF ‘backbone’ of which I was one – the Citizen Force, then made up almost exclusively of ‘white’ ex-National Service members now undertaking their ten odd years of ‘camp’ commitments. In 1994, it was on the cards that a future ‘whites only’ conscription would be stopped, but the problem was a great many soldiers would be needed to stop the country falling into a violent abyss and continuing its journey to a free fully democratic election. To keep up with resourcing requirements, the government contested that ‘whites only’ conscripts who had completed their National Service and were now serving in citizen force Regiments and Commandos must continue to do so and attend their call ups (or risk being fined).
Many were simply sick and tired of the situation; they had done their ‘Border Duty’ and ‘Townships’ and had seen the writing on the wall. They knew the Citizen Force structures would be toothless trying to enforce the camp call-ups and ‘fines’. Many just didn’t bother with a camp call up and just wanted to get on with their professional and family lives. A small few however split their loyalty on political grounds and made their way into the AWB and other Boerevolk Armed Resistance movements instead.
Images: AWB Training – note the use of parts of SADF ‘Browns’ uniform
However, and this is a truism, a great many of these active reservists (the vast majority) stayed on out of sheer loyalty to serve their country no matter what, and to serve their comrades (a powerful bond of brotherhood develops when you serve) and to execute their mandates as well trained and professional military personnel. It was to this element of the Citizen Force that the government would ultimately turn to for help and implore them to volunteer to steer the country to democracy. Even the old ‘End Conscription Campaign’ anti-apartheid movement moved to support the ‘camper call up’ for the 1994 general elections.
Personally, I found the SADF military personnel moving to join the AWB and other White Supremist groupings very disappointing as I honestly believe they were hoodwinked and misled. Whilst serving in the SADF, the AWB presented itself as a very distinct enemy and they had no problems targeting the SADF – of that I had first-hand experience, so very little doubt. I find myself often in military veteran circles in contact with some of these veterans and must say I still find it difficult to reconcile with them.
The country’s military also can’t just ‘sommer’ fall apart when a new political party is elected, the loyalty and oath on my officer’s commission is not party political it’s to the State. As a soldier, acting against the State is an act of sedition and all it did was show up these SADF soldiers as loyal to political causes, in this case the National Party’s Apartheid policy and not to the country per se, the military, or their fellow comrades-in-arms still in the military. Having any of them on the ‘inside’ at this time simply qualified them in my eyes as yet another form of ‘Wit Gevaar’.
To secure the transition of the country to its new democratic epoch, CODESA (the Committee overseeing the establishment of a new constitution and transition of power) proposed the National Peacekeeping Force (NPK), a hastily assembled force consisting of SADF soldiers, some ‘Bantustan’ Defence Force soldiers and ANC MK cadres, to conduct peace-keeping security operations and secure the 1994 election. The NPK was a disaster, SADF officers complained of the very poor battle form and discipline, especially of the ANC ‘cadres’ and pointed to basic cowardice. All this materialised in the accidental shooting and killing of the world renown press photographer, Ken Oosterbroek by a NPK member nervously taking cover behind journalists advancing on a IFP stronghold. The NPK was finally confined to barracks in disgrace and quietly forgotten about (even to this day).
Images: National Peacekeeping Force in Johannesburg and surrounds
So, it was the old SADF that would have to do the job of taking the country into democracy. I was at the Command when this news came in on the NPK, and I must say I was very relieved, I felt we had been held back ‘chomping at the bit’ literally, and this was our opportunity to shine. It was the opportunity for all involved in the SADF at the time to redeem its image so badly battered by its association to Apartheid and the controversial decision in the mid 80’s to deploy the SADF in the Townships against an ‘internal enemy’ (protesting South African citizens in reality) as opposed to the ‘Rooi Gevaar’ enemy on the Namibia/Angola border (MPLA, SWAPO and Cuban Troops). Added to this were the emerging confessions of political assassinations by Civil Co-Operation Bureau (CCB) members, a SADF clandestine ‘black-ops’ group off the hinge and operating outside the law.
The decreasing pools of experienced SADF soldiers, the increasing violence between ANC and IFP supporters, the substantial increase in attacks and bombings by armed ‘Boerevolk’ white supremacist movements like the AWB and others, and the disaster that was the ‘National Peacekeeping Force’ and its disbandment; all forced CODESA and the FW de Klerk government to call-up the SADF’s National Reservists. This was done to boost troop numbers and inject experience into the ranks, take over where the NPK left off, and secure the country’s democratic transition and elections.
A Reception Depots primary role is ‘mustering’ and this does not matter if it’s a citizen recruit for Military Service – conscript or volunteer or the mustering of the country’s National Citizen Force Reserve. The mustering of the SADF Reserve in Johannesburg took place at Group 18 (Doornkop) Army Base near Soweto and as 15 Reception Depot I was there with our officer group to process the call-ups, see to their uniform and kit needs and forward these Reservists to their designated units to make them ‘Operational’.
Operational Citizen Force members in Johannesburg and surrounds during 1994
Swaggering around the hanger rammed full of reservists, as a newly minted Captain and trying to look important, I was tasked with dealing with a handful of reservists who had abided the call-up but turned up wearing civilian clothes and no ‘balsak’ kitbag and uniforms in sight. The Army regulations at time allowed National Servicemen to demobilise but they had to keep their uniforms in case they are called back. I was to send them to the Quarter Master Hanger to get them kitted out again but had to ask what they did with their uniforms. Expecting a “I got fat and grew out of it” or “the gardener needed it more” I got a response I did not expect. They all destroyed or disposed of their SADF uniforms – three said they had even ceremonially burned their uniforms when they left the SADF they hated serving in it so much. All of them said; despite this, for this occasion, the securing of a new dawn democracy, for this they would gladly return and serve again, they just needed new browns. It got me thinking, and I felt we were really standing on the precipice of history and as ‘men of the hour’ we were going a great thing. We were the men who, at an hour of great need, had heeded the call to serve the country, and we were to advance human kind and deliver full political emancipation to all South Africans, regardless of race, sex or culture…. heady stuff indeed!
Images: SADF Citizen Force members guarding polling stations and securing ballots during the 1994 election.
A very ‘Noble Call’ and I felt very privileged and excited at the time that I was involved in such an undertaking, I felt like my old ‘Pops’ (Grandfather) did when the country called for volunteers to fight Nazism in World War 2. We were most certainly on a great precipice.
I don’t want to get into the “look at it now” as I type this in 2022 during Stage 5 loadshedding. That was not the issue in 1994, the ANC miss-management and plundering of the country of its finances decades later was not on the cards then, what was on the cards was the disbandment of an oppressive political regime looking after a tiny sect of Afrikaner Nationalists and in the interests of a minority of white people only, and one which was trampling on the rights of just about everyone else. The idea of a country, a ‘rainbow nation’ with one of the most liberated constitutions in the world was paramount at the time, and I’m very proud of my role in this (albeit small), my UNITAS medal for my role in all this still sits proudly on my medal rack.
Newspaper at the time capturing the mutual confidence in the future of a ‘new South Africa’ and avoiding ‘the abyss.’
These ‘white’ ex-conscript reservists guarded election booths, gave armed escort to ballot boxes, patrolled the ‘townships’ keeping APLA, ANC, IFP and AWB insurgents away from killing people – black and white in the hopes of disrupting the election. If you think this was a rather ‘safe’ walk in the park gig, the ‘war’ or ‘struggle’ was over, think again. I accompanied Group 42 soldiers later in an armoured convoy into Soweto and it was hair raising to say the least. Which brings me to the next incident in 1994.
The Shell House Massacre – 1994
As noted, earlier Shell House was located a block away from Wit Command and was the ANC’s Head Office in the early 90’s (Letuli House came later). On the 28 March 1994, IFP supporters 20,000 in number marched on the ANC Head Office in protest against the 1994 elections scheduled for the next month. A dozen ANC members opened fire on the IFP crowd killing 19 people, ostensibly on the orders of Nelson Mandela. SADF soldiers from Wit Command mainly reservists and national servicemen were called to the scene, on arrival, to save lives they put themselves between the ANC shooters and the IFP supporters and along with the South African Police brought about calm and an end to the massacre.
I was not there that day, but some of my colleagues at Wit Command were and all of them would experience ‘elevated’ stress and take a hard line, fully armed response when it came to dealing with protests, especially on how quickly they could go pear shaped. This would permeate to all of us in our dealings with this kind of protesting (more on this later). If you think this incident was yet another in many at this time, note the photo of the dead IFP Zulu man, shot by an ANC gunman, his shoes taken off for his journey to the after-life, and then note the three very nervous but determined SADF servicemen from Wit Command putting themselves in harm’s way to prevent more death.
Images: Shell House Massacre
The Bree Street bombing and 1994 Johannesburg terrorist spree
Not even a few weeks after the Shell House Massacre, the ANC HQ on the same little patch on Bree Street as Wit Command was to be hit again, and this time it was as destruction outside Shell House was on an epic level.
The bomb went off on 24th April 1994 near Shell-house on Bree Street and was (and still is) regarded as the largest act of bombing terrorism in Johannesburg’s history’. It was part of a bombing spree focussed mainly around Johannesburg which left 21 people dead and over 100 people with injuries between April 24 and April 27, 1994. The worst and most deadly campaign of terrorist bombings in the history of the city.
And … it was not the ANC, nope, my old enemy in 1990 had reappeared with vengeance, it was ‘Wit Gevaar,’ it was the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) again. Luckily, I was not at our HQ at Wit Command when the bomb went off, however I was there afterward to see the carnage – the whole city block was sheer destruction – everywhere.
The thunderous blast of a 150 pounds of explosives set off at 09:50 am left a waist-deep crater in the street about midway between the national and regional headquarters of the African National Congress, shattered glass and building structures for blocks and lacerated scores of passers-by on the quiet Sunday streets and residents in the surrounding high-rise buildings. It was the deadliest blast of its kind in South Africa since 1983.
Images: AWB Bree Street Bombing
A total of 7 people were dead in Bree Street, mostly by-standers and civilians from all racial and ethnic groups and 92 people in total were injured. The only reason behind the low death toll is that the bomb went off (and was planned) for a Sunday when the streets were relatively empty. Even though it was a Sunday, members of the Army from Wit Command, SAP and especially SADF Medics quickly moved in to secure the bomb blast area and treat the wounded.
The AWB bombing campaign did not stop there, it continued at pace, the very next day on April 25 a bomb was placed in a trailer allegedly belonging to the AWB leader, Eugene Terre’Blanche (the AWB later claimed it had lost the trailer during its disastrous Bophuthatswana campaign). The Trailer was towed to Germiston where it was left and then detonated in Odendaal Street near the taxi rank at about 8.45am. Again, civilian by-standers took the toll, 10 people were killed and over 100 injured.
Later in the day on April 25 at 11.45am, a pipe bomb detonated at a taxi rank on the Westonaria-Carletonville road, injuring 5 people. Earlier, at about 7.45am, a pipe bomb went off at a taxi rank on the corner of Third and Park streets in Randfontein, injuring 6 people. At 8.30pm on the same day, a pipe bomb attack at a restaurant on the corner of Bloed Street and 7th Avenue in Pretoria killed 3 and injured 4.
To prevent more bomb-blasts in Johannesburg’s city centre on the election day and the lead up to it, Johannesburg’s city centre was locked down by the SADF using reams of razor wire and armed guards. The election booths themselves in the high-density parts of the city became small fortresses with a heavy armed SADF presence, all done so people in the city centre could vote in the full knowledge they were safe to do so.
Then, just two short days later, on the Election Day itself, 27th April 1994 the final AWB election bombing campaign attack came in the form of a car bomb at the then Jan Smuts International Airport (now OR Tambo International). The bomb was placed at this high-profile target so as to create fear on the Election Day itself. The blast left the concourse outside the airport’s International Departures terminal damaged along with a number of parked vehicles on the concourse. Ten people were injured in this blast. If the AWB was going to make an international statement on their objection to the 1994 Election Day itself, this was it.
Images: AWB Jan Smuts Airport Bombing
To try and understand my context, this was violence in the ‘white danger’ context of the ‘Struggle’ it was on top of such a general surge of violence at the time I was serving that was the ‘black danger’, the townships of Johannesburg burned as the IFP and ANC went at one another hammer and tongs leaving thousands dead and wounded. The Human Rights Committee (HRC) estimated that between July 1990 and June 1993, some 4 756 people were killed in politically in mainly IFP and ANC related violence in Gauteng alone. In the period immediately following the announcement of an election date, the death toll in Gauteng rose to four times its previous levels.
Armed ANC, APLA and IFP driven unrest in Johannesburg Townships 1994
I often look at the SADF conscripts from this period – the post 1989 intakes, as having more violent exposure than the majority of SADF veterans called up for the Border War which ended in 1989. Our experience ‘the post 1989 intakes’ was fundamentally different to that experienced by the Border War veterans who stopped doing camps after 1989, and I stand by that. I see this difference in old SADF social media groups especially, if a Border War vet posts a picture showing the war against the MPLA and PLAN prior to 1989 that’s fine, post a picture of the elections showing the AWB mobilising or the MK amalgamation in 1994 and its too ‘political’ for them – our war doesn’t count, it’s all a little too ‘blurred’ for them – no clear cut Rooi-Gevaar and Swart-Gevaar see – no clear cut ‘enemy’, it just doesn’t make sense to them.
The elections, as we all know went ahead, history marched on, but I must smile at the inconvenient truth of it all, it was the SADF, and more specifically the white conscripts serving their camp commitments, who brought the final vehicle of full democracy to South Africa – the vote itself. There was not an ANC MK cadre in sight at the election doing any sort of security, they played no role whatsoever, in fact at the time they were part of the problem and not part of the solution, and their efforts in the NPK deemed too inexperienced, so they were sidelined. The ANC and PAC military wings fell at the last hurdle, they didn’t make it over the finish line of Apartheid bathed in glory, in fact they came over the line a bloody disgrace. To watch them in their misguided sense of heroism today just brings up a wry smile from me.
Integrated Military Intakes
Later in 1994, as a Mustering Depot, we naturally became involved in implementing the newly developed ‘Voluntary Military Service’ program. This was the first multi-racial intake of male and female SANDF recruits. The Voluntary Military System (VMS) was originally established as a substitute for the defunct ‘whites only’ involuntary national service system (NS) and the ‘Indian’ and ‘coloured’ voluntary national service. Also, out the window where the ethnic intakes into ‘Black’ battalions.
In terms of the VMS, volunteers had to undergo ten months basic military training, followed by a further obligation of eight annual commitments of 30 days in the Regiments and Commandos (the Reservist Conventional Forces). The objective was to create a feeder system for the Reservist Conventional forces and eventually balance the ethnic make-up of Reservist Regiments (up to this point they were a near ‘all-white’ affair with black troops and officers gradually joining them).
Our first VMS intake at Nasrec in early January 1995 was historic and very telling. In 15 RCD, some of our battle hardened and experienced escorts had to re-programmed a little. We introduced a policy of minimal force, we were no longer at war and we had to change mindset. We replaced our pre-intake shooting range manoeuvres with ‘hand to hand’ self-defence training instead. The photo on this article shows our escorts getting this training – it was very necessary and vital, times had changed.
Image: 15 RCD Hand to Hand Training NASREC – My photo.
Our intelligence had picked up chatter that the local ANC structures planned to disrupt the intake by spreading the word that the army was now employing – ‘Jobs’, ‘Jobs’, Jobs’ after all was an ANC election promise in 1994 and this a first opportunity for delivery on their promise, you merely had to turn up at Nasrec and a ‘job in the defence’ was yours. Anyone with a brain knows a political party cannot promise jobs, an economy creates jobs – but this did not (and still does not) deter the ANC on trying to fulfil their own propaganda.
And so it happened, two sets of people turned up, one set with ‘call-up’ papers, vetted by the military before mustering and one set, just turning up. The job seekers naturally started to get very upset, angry and uneasy with being turned away and a potentially violent situation began to brew with a large and growingly angry crowd. A couple of other officers and I were called to the situation, and it suddenly occurred to me, as comic as it is serious, that the 9mm Star pistol issued to me was a piece of shit and one of the two issued magazines had a faulty spring – so pretty useless if things go south – and angry crowds for whatever reason in South Africa, even lack of electricity or a delayed train, can get very violent. So much for Denel’s (Armscor) best, but the SADF was like that when it came to issuing weapons and ammo – uber self-confident, during my basic training at 5 SAI and Junior Leaders (JL’s) training at Voortrekkerhoogte, the standard operation procedure (SOP) was only 5 rounds (bullets) per guard – I often wonder how MK would have reacted if their Intel knew just how underprepared and over-confident the SADF was sometimes.
Images: NASREC response, 1995 VMS Intake: My photos
We got to the ‘flashpoint’, and to this day I can kiss Staff Sergeant Diesel, who jumped up onto a Mamba Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), two of which had been brought up, grabbed a loud hailer an told them calmly to go to Wit Command and then he quickly handed out a stack of application forms. His mannerism as a larger-than-life guy and likeability as a person immediately diffusing the situation as they all set off – either home or to Wit Command armed with the correct information.
The intake went on without any further incidence and I have the privilege of having the only photographs of this historic day. I asked VMS recruits what their expectations where, for many ‘white’ VMS recruits their parents (and fathers specifically) wanted them to have the military discipline and camaraderie they had experienced in the old SADF as a life purpose, the ‘black’ VMS recruits were different, they immediately wanted to sign up as permanent force members and make the military a full-time career – they saw the VMS system as a ‘In’.
The First Multiracial Intake: My Photos – Peter Dickens copyright
The VMS system of mustering also went ahead for the first multi-racial female intake, so as to address the balance of female personnel and officers, black and white in the Reserve forces, again I was proud to be involved in that ‘call up’ and again hold the only historic pictures of it. However, again, the general sense that I picked up was these women were holding out for full time military careers, but nevertheless it was critical that militarily trained females were sorely in need to modernise the South African military.
First Integrated Female Intake circa 1998: My Photos – Peter Dickens copyright
For the latter reason, the objective of the VMS was not initially met, many VMS service personnel, after doing their basic training, were in fact able to secure these permanent force contracts as the force experienced a contraction of trained personnel after 1994 and the VMS personnel proved an easy and trained recruiting pool. By 2006 the VMS system had all but served its role and was disbanded, the Reserve Force Regiments would recruit directly under a newly constructed training programme, and with that came the bigger changes that integration required.
Also, I don’t really want to hear the ‘it was the beginning of the end’ bit so many vets now feel, the SADF had to change, ‘whites only’ conscription had to change and Apartheid as an ideology was simply unsustainable and had to go. The SADF had to change – dividing units on colour and ethnicity was not practical, segregation had fallen on evil days to quote Field Marshal Jan Smuts. The Defence Force had to become reflective of the country at large – the extreme lack of Black African commissioned officers in 1994, in an African Defence Force nogal, was alone reflective of a system of extreme racial bias.
SANDF VMS Intake circa 1997, my photos
Remember, in 1994 nobody could predict the future, many held a belief that structured and balanced politics would happen, the Mandela Magic was everywhere, from 1990 to 1994 the violence was extreme and as a nation we had narrowly skirted ‘the abyss’ with a miracle settlement. In 1994, nobody foresaw Jacob Zuma and the ANC’s pilfering of the state from 2009, nor did they see the ANC’s extreme restructuring of the SANDF in their likeness, the ‘rot’ starting as early as 1999 when General Georg Meiring, a SADF stalwart and now the Chief of the SANDF, was dismissed on trumpeted up allegations of presenting a false coupe, making way for General Siphiwe Nyanda, a ANC MK cadre whose subsequent career as Jacob Zuma’s Communications Minister is a corruption riddled disgrace.
The MK Intake – 1994 to 1996
Finally on the 1994 line-up, the amalgamation of the Defence Structures with non-statute forces, the ‘Swart Gevaar’ terrorists. From 1994, 15 Reception Depot became involved to a degree with the mustering of ANC and PAC political armies into the newly SANDF. At this stage I was a SSO3 (Senior Staff Officer 3IC) at 15 Reception Depot and had the privilege to work closely with Sergeant Major Cyril Lane Blake, the unit’s Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) who had been involved with the non-statutory force intake from an Intelligence standpoint. Mustering of MK and APLA took place at Personnel Services School, a military base in Voortrekkerhoogte and at Wallmannstal military base, many of these MK members were then destined to go to De Brug army base for training and integration.
Of interest was the intake itself, of the ANC Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) veterans, only half of them really qualified as trained soldiers, these were the MK members trained overseas – mainly in Angola, they were made up mainly of the old cadres (old guard) of Mandela’s period, trained by the ex-WW2 veterans like Joe Slovo, and they were recruited to MK after the Sharpeville Massacre (a very small contingent) and then the Seventy Sixes (the big contingent), those who were recruited after the 1976 Riots, added to this was a trickle from the 1980’s riots who made it to their Angolan training camps. Out of 32,000 odd MK veterans, there were only about 12,000 MK veterans who were accepted as proper military veterans (about half of them), the rest were ‘stone throwers’ (as some sarcastically called them) recruited rapidly into the ANC MK ranks in 1990 the very minute they were ‘unbanned’ and they just constituted political dissidents with little military experience if any and no formalised military training whatsoever.
Images: MK Intake into the SANDF issued with old SADF ‘Browns’ – Copyright Reuters, RSM Cyril Lane-Blake, my photo and finally ANC supporters appearing in ‘uniform’ as MK at Mandela’s inauguration in 1994.
Of the ‘Untrained’ MK veterans, many of these were the ‘MK’ cadres from the so called ‘self-defence units’ in the townships who had regularly gone about holding ‘peoples courts’ and sentencing people to death with ‘necklaces’ (placing a car tyre around the persons neck, dousing it in petrol and setting it alight).
Also, but not unsurprisingly there were MK ‘chances’ – people joining the intake pretending to be MK so they could get a ‘job in the defence’, BMATT (British Military Advisory Training Team), the British Military task force assigned to the integration, and even the ‘proper’ MK cadres themselves, had a heck of a job trying to identify these chance takers, and a great many ‘slipped’ through with falsified CV’s.
This would later result in what BMATT politely called a ‘hardening of attitudes’ in their report to Parliament, when it come to the way statutory force members viewed these ‘non-statutory’ force members and MK generally, an attitude which in my opinion is getting ‘even harder’ as the years go on as some of these MK vets really show their colours to all of South Africa – involved in corrupt and outright criminal behaviour, degenerating and demeaning themselves, their organisation and their ‘victory’ now well tarnished.
What amazed me was just how structured the MK was when it came to the their proper military veterans, I had been conditioned by the SADF that they were a rag-tag outfit and incompetent at best, but that wasn’t completely true, they had a highly structured command and very defined specialised units ranging from a Chief of Staff, Operations, Ordnance, Intelligence, Engineering, Anti-Aircraft, Artillery to Counter Intelligence/Communications (propaganda), and attached to nearly to all of it was a very detailed Soviet styled military Political Commissar structure. They even had unit designations, and many out of the half of them that had been trained, had decent military training.
I don’t want to get to the Pan African Congress’ APLA veterans, I was told they generally treated their SADF escorts with utter disdain.
Their problem (MK and APLA) is that they were asked to identify and verify all their members for their military credentials, and they quickly pointed out who was and who was not a trained military veteran, and this caused the huge division in the MK veteran structures we see today. The split of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) and the MK Council recently is a case in point – the MK Council are the ones with the military ‘struggle’ credentials and the MKMVA have all the members who do not have any meaningful military ‘struggle’ credentials at all, they’ve all joined Jacob Zuma’s RET hence the reason the current ANC no longer wants to recognise them.
This makes me laugh uncontrollably when the MKMVA used to wheel out Carl Niehaus in his purchased PEP store MK camouflage fatigues pretending to be a military veteran, when in truth he is anything but one, and it makes me cry when the Department of Military Veterans squander all their time and money on the 12,000 odd MK ‘non-veterans’ trying to give them and their families un-earned veteran benefits and bring harmony to the ANC and they almost completely ignore their primary mandate – the 500,000 odd statutory force veterans, proper military veterans – solely because many of them (the majority mind) served in the old SADF and of that a great majority where conscripts.
In 1999, I was assigned to escort Joe Modise, the ex MK Commander in Chief, and Paratus (the SADF/SANDF) mouthpiece published it, yes, I admit it – I even shook his hand (we’ll there is a published photo to prove it – so no point hiding the fact), but again, at this stage in the SANDF we were still confident in the country, little did I know he would be dead two years later and embroiled in yet another ANC corruption and arms buying controversy. I did some more VMS work after that, but that signalled the beginning of the end of my service, reception depots had outgrown their use after 2002 and mothballed – in fact they are still mothballed, waiting for the day to muster the general populace in the event the country goes to war again.
Image: Joe Modise and myself – Peter Dickens copyright
Oh, and if this sounds a bit personal, it is, here’s a big “Fuck You” middle finger to the politically motivated pressure groups in ANC led government departments currently trying to delist the old SADF ‘conscripts’ as military veterans on the basis that they ‘served Apartheid’ and not recognising their role in bringing democracy to South Africa, whereas their ‘heroes’ in MK did. The historic record stands, there’s no changing it and as things go even this missive is now primary documentation for future generations of South Africans to read and assimilate – from someone ‘who was there’ and is a genuine ‘military veteran’ – true reconciliation comes with facing the truth comrades, just saying.
Back to PTSD
So, enough to do with the ANC and their Parliament of Clowns, the old ‘Swart Gevaar’ fast becoming a newly reinvigorated ‘Swart Gevaar’ of their own making and back to the serious stuff and all the ‘Wit Gevaar and Swart Gevaar’ from 1990 to 1994 forming my general mental mistrust of just about everything.
Whilst in hospital with Covid I had a psychological mistrust of efforts been made by Doctors, Nurses and medical assistants (Black and White), I was convinced they were out to kill me and efforts to pump lifesaving high pressure oxygen into me were met with an unnatural resistance and a self-induced gag reflex. To give you an idea of how bad this ‘mistrust’ was, if personnel so much as tried to ‘turn’ me to change bedding or wash me I would go into a panic attack, which resulted in rapid rapid thoracic breathing upsetting my body’s oxygen levels to the point of oxygen starvation and renal nerve release (I’d literally piss myself) – a simple ‘turn’ would become a life and death matter – and nobody could make sense of it, me included. So, in desperation .. enter stage right … the hospital Psychologist … and stage left my lifelong confidant, a solid Free State ‘Bittereinder Boertjie’ with the mental tenacity of a Ratel (an African Honey Badger) … my wife.
To define and understand PTSD, as it’s a much-brandished word nowadays with anyone having experienced a high stress incident claiming it, many using it as an excuse. PTSD is best explained a stressor bucket in your head, you’re born with it and its empty. In life stressful events are sometimes internalised and start to fill your bucket, your bucket usually makes it underfilled to the end of your life and you don’t have a mental meltdown and things make sense and you’re stable, the bucket is very resilient. What happens to military personnel especially is that the stressors they experience are often far beyond normal and it fills the bucket up at an early stage, right up to the ‘nearly full’ mark in some extreme cases, after some significant stressors are added to it later in life, anything really but usually the D’s – Disease, Debt, Divorce and Death. For Military veterans these ‘D’s’ can then ‘tip’ the bucket over and you start to psychologically have a meltdown. This is the reason why PTSD is gradually becoming more and more apparent in ex-SADF conscripts and PF members as they get older.
In extreme cases in the military, you can have that meltdown whilst serving, the old battle fatigue syndrome, repeated life and death experiences unrelentingly occurring end on end filling up the stressor bucket and finally your last one tips the bucket, produces meltdown and you’re withdrawn from the line. Refer to Spike Milligan’s autobiography ‘Mussolini, his part in my downfall’ of his time as a gunner in WW2 and you’ll see how this plays out in a serving combatant.
In therapy trying to get to the bottom on what initially filled my bucket up, and on this the Psychologist and my wife and I settled on ‘mistrust’ initially rooted deep in in my psyche whilst I was in the Army. Mistrust as I could not distinguish foe from friend, ‘swart gevaar from wit gevaar,’ and to me everyone was a ‘enemy’ – that enemy or ‘gevaar’ now included most hospital staff – black and white, and I was the only one who could fight my way out – no help required thanks.
To say my Covid condition was bad and a PTSD issue on its own would be an understatement, I had even died to be brought back with CPR on one occasion and knocked on the Pearly Gates a great deal more with more near death experiences than I can shake a stick at. I was intubated on a ventilator and placed in an induced coma for a full month. This was followed up with two collapsed lungs and a battery of deadly infections, two serious bouts of bronchitis and then bronchial pneumonia. To my knowledge, I walked into history as one of a mere handful of Covid patients to survive the disease with the number of infections and complications I had – 4 months in ICU, 2 months in High Care and another 2 months of Step Down therapy as I even had to learn to simply take a shit in a toilet and even walk again – a total of 8 months spent in hospital and a further 4 months as a oxygen supplement dependent outpatient, before been given an ‘all clear’ a full year later and taken off all drugs and supplemental oxygen.
This is pretty big story for another day, and a lot of people are very intrigued by it, so I am writing a book on it called ‘I’m not dead yet’ – my dark military sense of humour aside, do look out for it.
Images: Me recovering from a coma, giving my best army ‘salute’ just before both lungs collapsed and me sitting up for the first time once lungs drains were removed – copyright Peter Dickens
It took all that to ‘tip my stressor bucket’ – and no doubt I had a massive life and death fight on my hands, but I would have to say this in all honesty, I was substantially compromised by a latent mistrust I picked up as a young man in the Army, especially in 1990. Unlocking that, helped unlock the gag reflexes, which unlocked the fear and ultimately set me on a journey to a healthy recovery – physically and mentally.
Many years after my service, a fellow military veteran, Norman Sander (and ex Sergeant Major in the Natal Carabineers) and I had lunch in London with an ex-BMATT officer, Colonel Paul Davis who had been involved in the South African Forces integration and at one stage headed up the BMATT delegation. He said something interesting, according to the Colonel, the South African Defence Force training modules where draconian at best and styled on the old Nazi Waffen SS model, which demanded absolute iron cast discipline, absolute obedience and absolute goal driven determination to function across multiple voluntary and conscripted outfits often ethnically separated. Notwithstanding his view, I’ve attested to this before, had I not undergone this “draconian” training as an SADF officer I would not have survived my Covid experience, no matter how bad it got I knew I had more in the tank, I’d pushed these limits whilst ‘pissing blood for my pips’ in the SADF as a young man and understood my breaking point from a early age, without this intrinsic knowledge and iron cast focus I would be dead, of that there is absolutely no doubt.
My Commission signed by President F.W. de Klerk, one of his last acts of office
Now, I’m no ‘Grensvegter’ (Border Warrior), I’m a simple pen pusher, my service pales into insignificance compared to a great many veterans, many I’ve had the privilege to serve with, true soldiers fighting a brutal war in a brutal manner. Nope, I’m not one of those, and nor can I ever be, and nor do I pretend to be, to them the kudos of valour and I mean it.
Here’s a simple thought on my time as a Military Conscript and then a Volunteer, this quote from Czech author Milan Kundera and it resonates with me the most;
“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
What this means to us SADF conscripts turned volunteers in 1994, we were on a journey, a ‘struggle’ if you will, to take our fellow citizens out of political oppression into political emancipation and liberty. If we forget our stories in this great struggle, discard them as irrelevant because we are no longer politically convenient, vanquished as ‘SADF’ baby killing monsters, and passed over as fighting for some sort of WOKE idea of ‘white privilege’ – if we don’t resist this and choose ‘forgetting’ instead, then we ultimately betray ourselves, we’ve lost.
On PTSD, it’s manageable for most, but you must get to those internalised ‘stressors’ and truly understand what they are and what caused them. Un-internalising the stressors is a first big step to ridding yourself of PTSD, and that’s why I can say in all honesty I’m happy and stable.
So, I thank all you who have made it to this last part of my ‘story,’ it really is a simple soldier’s small tale with a great deal of political ‘struggle’, and I really hope you’ve picked up some interesting historical snippets on the way, especially the ones which are not really in the broad ANC narrative today of ‘the struggle’ leading to 1994. The ‘truth’ will eventually ‘out’ and I sincerely believe that, and I believe its cathartic and from a cognitive therapy perspective a very necessary ‘out’.
A memoir: By Capt. Peter Albert Dickens (Happily Retired)
What! South Africa never took part in the Vietnam War, true – but some South Africans did, and two of them lost their lives. Of the two South Africans sacrificed in this rather misunderstood, baffling and brutal war, it is this one – Everitt Murray Lance (called ‘Lofty’ because of his height) who really stands out for two reasons – he served as a pilot in the South African Air Force prior to fighting in the Vietnam War and he served with the South African Air Force’s 2 Squadron with distinction in the Korean War (yes, for those who did not know, South Africa did take part in the Korean War).
So, who is Lofty Lance and how the heck did he land up in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War? Let’s have a look at him as his story is an absolutely fascinating one and we hope to do him a little justice in this article.
SAAF and the Korean War
Lofty Lance, SAAF in Korea
Lofty Lance was born in the Western Cape, South Africa on 29th April 1928. After his schooling he his career followed a rather convoluted route, the adventurous life loomed large and he initially joined the Navy and trained on the S.A.T.S General Botha (Cadet 1305) joining the ranks of many ‘Botha Boys’ who would later advance prestigious careers in the military, he then joined his ‘first’ Air Force – The South African Air Force as a fighter pilot.
By 1950 Lofty found himself in his ‘first’ war serving with the SAAF. War broke out in Korea on 25 June 1950 and on 4 August 1950 the South African government announced its intention to place an all-volunteer squadron at the disposal of the United Nations to fight in Korea.
On 25 September 1950, SAAF 2 Squadron (including Lofty), known as the Flying Cheetahs, sailed for Japan. On arrival at Yokohama the squadron proceeded to Johnson Air Base near Tokyo where they completed their conversions on F-51D Mustangs supplied by the United States Air Force (USAF). SAAF 2 Squadron served as one of the four squadrons under the command of the USAF 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing and flew their first mission in Korea on 19 November 1950 from K-9 and K-24, Pyong Yang.
F-51 Mustangs from No. 2 Squadron, South African Air Force (SAAF) conducting run-ups in Korea in 1951. Photo courtesy Mike Pretorius
The SAAF flew with the distinctive Springbok in the centre of the roundel, introduced when 2 Squadron, was sent to Korea. Their role was interdiction against the enemy’s logistic and communication lines, providing protective cover for rescue operations, reconnaissance flights and interception of enemy aircraft.
However, the main the SAAF mustangs took part in ‘close air support’ operations in support of ground troops, often sarcastically referred to them as “mud moving” missions, they were highly dangerous as the aircraft has to get right into the battle at very low altitude and speed. It was a ‘baptism of fire’ for the SAAF.
Before moving onto jet propelled Sabre aircraft, the propeller driven Mustang phase of the war saw SAAF pilots on these sorties coming in ‘low and slow’ into the range of enemy ground based anti-aircraft fire which proved highly dangerous and in operations of this kind using the Mustangs, the SAAF lost 74 of its 95 aircraft – nearly the entire squadron’s allocation.
SAAF Mustangs in Korea – the different colour spinners denoted formation rank
Epitomising the attitude of the SAAF pilots at this time was Lofty Lance who maintained that for all the Mustang’s downsides on the upside it was an excellent aircraft to have a crash in. He would know, during the war he wrote off, not one, but three Mustangs.
Fellow pilot Al Rae recalled Lofty Lance returning his Mustang to base after it was shot up during a sortie. When Lofty selected ‘undercarriage down’ only one wheel, the one on the starboard wing, locked into place. Landing on one wheel he kept the aircraft level as long as possible bleeding off as much speed as possible before the wing dropped, and the aircraft went into the much-expected ground-loop. As the fire engine arrived to pull the pilot out, foam down the aircraft and as the dust settled, the firefighters were surprised to find Lofty as a spectator standing with them. He had long since exited the aircraft whilst it was moving and jumped clear.
Lofty Lance’s SAAF Mustang after one his crash landings during the Korean War
On another one-wheel landing, Lofty Lance’s mustang spun off the runway and ripped through a nearby armoury (which luckily did not explode), tearing off both wings and the rear fuselage. Continuing to slide on for some time was the armoured cocoon containing the cockpit and Loft, once it finally came to a rest and he climbed out completely unscathed.
2nd Lieutenant E.M ‘Lofty’ Lance, for his actions in Korea became the 23rd South African to earn the American DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) in Korea (out of a total of 55 South African pilots to receive it) and the American Air Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters – a brave man indeed.
RCAF, RAF and RAAF
At the end of the Korean War on 27th July 1953, Lofty Lance decided to advance his career in his ‘second’ Air Force – The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Wanting to be a fighter pilot he had to start at the beginning and initially landed up flying RCAF Canadair CP-107 Argus (CL-28) maritime reconnaissance aircraft. After a few years of flying the Argus his aspiration to become a fighter pilot led him to become RCAF instructor as a next step. His wanderlust overcame him and he then joined his ‘third’ Air Force – the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1962.
RCAF Canadair CP-107 Argus (CL-28)
As with the Royal Canadian Air Force, when arriving the United Kingdom and joining the RAF Lofty had to advance his career using the same routine, flying instructor first, and he landed up as a flight instructor at RAF Leeming flying RAF Jet Provost trainers. His attitude however remained that of a combat pilot and he was often heard to say, “sod the briefing, let’s fly”.
He eventually got a break to become a fighter pilot in the RAF and was posted onto the super-sonic and extremely quick RAF EE Lightings (capable of Mach 2) on which he did two very successful tours. Along the way he married Margaret and had three children. Margaret was an Australian and Lofty and his family took the decision to move to Australia.
A Royal Air Force English Electric Lightning circa 1962
In Australia he joined his ‘fourth’ and final Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and starting from the bottom again on his quest for a fighter pilot role he found himself instructing and flying RAAF helicopters. So how did our hero Lofty find himself in the Vietnam War?
Vietnam War and Australia
Here’s a little-known fact – the Australian Armed Forces also took part in the Vietnam War! Yup, alongside the Americans – which given all the iconography and cultural conditioning surrounding the Vietnam War would come as a complete surprise to many South Africans.
Here’s a little background on how Australian armed forces personnel found themselves fighting in mud, guts and blood which was to epitomise the Vietnam War and all its political and military misgivings.
Members of 5 Platoon, B Company, 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR), near Dat Do awaiting extraction from United States Army ‘Huey’ helicopters
The Vietnam War for the Vietnamese has two really distinctive phases – the ‘French’ phase and the ‘American’ phase. Prior to World War 2 (WW2) Vietnam (North and South) was a French Colony. During WW2 Japanese Imperial Forces occupied Vietnam. After WW2, the French moved to re-take control of their old Colony – at the displeasure of the Vietnamese people who were expecting and had in fact declared independence. Independence had been driven by communist guerrillas (ironically supported by the American OSS – the precursor to the CIA) who had initially been in the fight against Imperial Japan led by Ho Chi Min.
As the Indo-Chinese subcontinent was reshaping itself post WW2 in the early 1950’s Vietnam found itself in a similar position to Korea on the chess board which was to become the ‘Cold War’ – with a Communist insurgency starting in the North supported by ‘International Communism’ – in both cases the USSR and Communist China.
French troops in their Vietnam War show the kind of deja vu of what would eventually await American troops
America found itself embroiled in the Korean War alongside a United Nations (UN) coalition (involving Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and even countries like Belgium, Netherlands, Greece and South Africa). ‘Peace’ (actually a cease-fire) was attained when the country found itself literally split in half with a DMZ (de-militarised zone) along a latitude – in this case the 38th Parallel. Communists – North, ‘Democrats’ – South.
Independently of a coalition and more or less at the same time France found itself embroiled in a war in Vietnam with Ho Chi Min’s northern based communist ‘Viet Minh’ army to take back control of all of Vietnam. After slogging it out in the mud, jungles and rain for 7 long years with fierce fighting and atrocities been committed by both sides the French Armed Forces dug in for an all-out toe to toe at Dien Bein Phu in the Vietnamese highlands.
The battle of Dien Bein Phu ended o7 May 1954 as a North Vietnamese victory – it was a shattering defeat for the French and forced the implementation of Geneva Accords in 1954 to split Vietnam in half with a DMZ (de-militarised zone) along a latitude – in this case the 17th Parallel. Communists – North, ‘Democrats’ – South.
General Navarre, General Cogny and General Gilles inspect troops and defences near Diên Biên Phu prior to their embarrassing defeat in May 1954
The French promptly left Vietnam and America found itself in a dilemma, simply put they felt obligated to support the newly formed ‘South Vietnamese Republic’ so as to prevent another ‘Korea’ and defeat of the Indo-Chinese sub-continent to International Communism.
As the inevitable war in the South Vietnam escalated again, America found itself gradually drawn into the war with a slow ‘mission creep’. Wanting another Korean War styled coalition and not wanting to be seen as going it alone, the Johnson administration pressured other countries to join the USA in the Vietnam War (much as President George W Bush would later form a “coalition of the willing to fight the Iraq War).
Initially they turned to their NATO allies and (no real surprise) they found that France had no interest in joining them, for the French the Vietnam war had become known as ‘la sale guerre’ (the dirty war) and domestic support had all but evaporated. Also, the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and USA proved a non-starter and the British withdrew any official support for a war in Vietnam. They also found no appetite for a coalition in the UN.
However, they were able to cobble together a weak coalition of sorts comprising the ‘South Vietnam Republic’ (no surprise there either), South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines.
It was no small sacrifice in terms of actual boots on the ground for this coalition with the USA – in the end South Korea proved the American’s main supporter in Vietnam, providing over 300,000 troops and suffering some 5,000 deaths. Almost 60,000 Australian military personnel eventually served in Vietnam, 521 of whom died, about 3000 New Zealanders served, 37 of whom died.
A squad leader of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) Tiger Division keeps in contact with his men during an operation in the Vietnamese Central Highlands
Not many people know about the sacrifice of countries like New Zealand, South Korea and Australia in the Vietnam War and they should. The same iconography of war and cultural upheaval that took place in the United States surrounding their involvement in the war also took place in Australia and New Zealand, and, like Americans, many Australians to this day struggle to reconcile with the Vietnam War and the values which underpinned it.
No. 9 Squadron RAAF
Australia did not hold back or diminish its support for the USA in the Vietnam War either, it went in all out and sent personnel to Vietnam from literally every arm of service, along with everything from bombers to tanks to artillery – and especially helicopters. As a ‘helicopter’ war the Royal Australian Air Force helicopter (RAAF) squadrons and their pilots were all in supporting both American and Australian ground force operations. By this time Flight Lieutenant ‘Lofty Lance’ was serving as a pilot with No. 9 Squadron RAAF – a helicopter squadron.
Flight Lieutenant (Lofty) Everitt Murray Lance as part of 9 Squadron RAAF standing next to his Bushranger Huey in Vietnam
9 Squadron RAAF started their involvement in Vietnam on the 6th June 1966 sending eight Iroquois helicopters Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), landing at the Vung Tau airbase, Vietnam. The Bell UH-1B Iroquois or “Huey” is almost synonymous with the Vietnam War and for the next five and a half years 9 Squadron’s Hueys supported the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF).
The squadron carried out a number of different types of missions: inserting and extracting Special Air Service patrols, evacuating wounded troops, spraying herbicides and pesticides (now very controversial), dropping leaflets, and flying “olfactory reconnaissance” or “people sniffer” missions (a sophisticated ‘smell’ detector was fitted to the helicopters). The squadron supported every major operation conducted by the Australians, eventually flying 237,424 missions.
Soldiers from the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment unloading supplies from a No. 9 Squadron RAAF helicopter during the Vietnam War in 1967
In 1968 the squadron’s size was increased to 16 ‘Huey’ helicopters. Four of the squadron’s Iroquois were subsequently modified into gunships, which carried twin-fixed forward-firing 7.62-millimetre mini-guns and two seven-tube 2.75 inch rocket launchers, in addition to the two door-mounted M60 machine-guns. Known as a ‘Bushranger’ gunship it was able to cover troop-carrying helicopters approaching ‘hot’ landing zones and provide fire support.
Rather painfully, as just a few months prior to 9 Squadron’s last mission in Vietnam on the 19th November 1971, Flight Lieutenant ‘Lofty’ Lance would lose his life – 7th June 1971.
‘Lofty’ Lance’s final flight
Now aged 40 years old, Lofty was back in the thick of things flying close support missions again in his RAAF Bushranger Huey. On the 7th June 1971 whilst flying RAAF Iroquois Bushranger’ number A2-723, Lofty Lance was providing gunship, ammunition resupply and casualty evacuation support for Bravo Company of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and Centurion tanks of the 1st Armoured Regiment, who were involved in an attack on a Vietnamese enemy bunker system in Long Khanh province as part of Operation Overlord.
During an ammunition resupply, Lofty Lance’s helicopter was hit by enemy fire and crashed into trees killing both him and his gunner, David John Dubber. Lofty’s co-pilot and one other crew member survived with minor injuries. An initial Casevac was attempted but had to be aborted due to intense enemy fire.
Under continuous fire from Bushrangers and US Army Gunships, Bravo Company was resupplied with ammunition and the aircrew casualties were eventually evacuated.
Sappers from 2 Field Troop, 1 Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers (RAE), inspect the wreckage of the Bell UH-1 Bushranger flown by Flight Lieutenant Everitt Murray Lance The sappers later used C4 explosive to destroy the wreckage to prevent any part of it from falling into enemy hands.
As was the case in many instances experienced during the Vietnam War, the Australians won the day clearing the enemy bunkers and were eventually able to review the crash site and take photos of it, only to have to leave it eventually for the Communists to re-take it – and more so by the early 70’s, the withdrawal of American and Australian troops and support from Vietnam would see Saigon (the South Vietnamese capital) eventually fall on the 30thApril 1975 to the Communist backed statutory North Vietnam forces and guerrilla South Vietnamese ‘Viet Cong’ forces.
Final Rest and legacy
The mortal remains of Flight Lieutenant ‘Lofty’ Everitt Murray Lance were sent back to Australia and he was buried with ‘Full Air Force honours’ a week after his death on the 16th June 1971 in the Woden Cemetery, Canberra, Australia.
But what of his legacy?
1970 was a watershed year politically speaking, both in the USA and in Australia, the year saw their respective domestic anti-war movements peak, and it was not a minority of ‘Liberal’ snowflakes, the peak saw significant parts of the voter base from all parts of society stand up against their governments. ‘The Peace Moratorium’ campaign in Australia drew over 200,000 Australians protested across the country and approximately 100,000 citizens participated in epicentre march in Melbourne. In the USA – over 2 million American civilians joined their ‘Peace Moratorium’ marches. The writing was on the wall and by August 1971, the Australian Prime Minister, William McMahon, officially announced he would lead a campaign to withdraw all troops from Vietnam.
Vietnam War Peace Moratorium march in Melbourne, Australia 1970
In Australia, like America, retuning Vietnam War veterans found themselves disillusioned with their country’s commitment to send them to try and win an unwinnable war. In Australia in particular Vietnam War veterans in some instances were even shunned and excluded in their local RSL branches by the old WW2 veterans as not having fought a ‘real war’. The political landscape at home had been changed considerably by the war and continued to change over many years, sadly all this left many Vietnam War veterans and their legacy behind.
The brutality of the war and the deep social divisions created by it left many with very deep psychological wounds and many refused to talk about – and not just the ‘Free West’ veterans from France, America and Australia, many of the Vietnamese veterans, North and South also found themselves in the same boat – it was all just too painful, better to just forget.
As in America, Australia – under its ANZAC values – has in recent times been able to reconcile with its Vietnam War past, especially in understanding the long-term mental effects of the war on its veterans and reinstalling honour to both the veterans and the military personnel who sacrificed their lives when their country called them to duty.
Lofty Lance now occupies a special place of honour on the Australian honour roll, remembered annually on ANZAC day. He is not really remembered on honour rolls in South Africa, he does however occupy a special place on the S.A.T.S General Botha remembrance roll (the South African Training Ship’s base that he initially cut his military career on) and a plaque has been dedicated to him by the ‘Botha Boys’ in recognition of his sacrifice along with that of Albert Frisby a fellow pilot killed in Korea. The plaque was dedicated in an official ceremony to the S.A.T.S General Botha cenotaph and full respect to the Botha Boys for doing the excellent work that they do.
However, nationally he is not really acknowleged as a son of our land lost in one the most tumultuous wars experienced after WW2, in fact it’s very likely that this article will be an eye-opener for many South Africans.
South Africa is a different matter, South Africans in trying to bury their past have simply buried this kind of history with it, and many would struggle to understand why it was necessary to fight Communists and their drive for liberation of their people from ‘Imperialism’ and ‘Colonialism’ after all, in their minds at least, Communist trained and backed guerrillas freed them from Apartheid. It’s a simple and highly misaligned logic – the fact that the advent and advance of Communism as an ideology proved both dangerous and deadly to millions of people around the planet is conveniently ignored.
South African military veterans and wars fought prior to 1994 need to be viewed in their historical context, and this includes Lofty Lance. The ‘Cold War’ was a very real one and the jousting between Communism and ‘The Free West’ was a highly deadly one. As the dominoes fell to Communist backed insurgencies in 1966 on the Indo-China sub-continent, so too did dominos fall on the African sub-continent. The same call to arms which brought American and Australian young men into conflict against Communism was used in South Africa to call men to arms, and many did – not to fight ‘for Apartheid’ but to fight against ‘Communism’. Yes, it’s all rather ‘grey’ now and the values which drove these men to fight are not clear to many as history has also shown that this call to action was also overplayed by governments trying to attain futile political goals in a sea of social dissonance and domestic resistance to their policies.
The Vietnam War would ultimately prove a pivot in the history of ‘western democracy’ – it literally forced the USA to re-embrace the values of ‘freedom’ on which its founders shaped the American nation, changed American culture at its very core and steered the country into its modern identity – from its music to its civil rights.
What is also clear is that serving personnel in the military serve their country against any adversary and the honour to do this is theirs. Men like Lofty Lance made a career of the military, and like many in this career he moved around within his country’s Allies respective armed forces to advance it. Remember that when Lofty served in the SAAF, South Africa was a ‘Union’ and a ‘Dominion’ – Canada, the UK and Australia were all military Allies with South Africa as they were also part of the Commonwealth and all of them took part as partners in WW2 fighting the onset of Fascism and subsequently in the Korean War fighting the onset of International Communism – literally fighting side by side. Given shortages and secondments it was not at all unusual to find South African airmen in Allied Air Forces.
Commonwealth aircraft identification roundels for each air force in Lofty Lance served (L-R) SAAF, RCAF, RAF, RAAF
In doing so, the ‘Allies’ and the ‘Commonwealth’ military coalitions would eventually reshape European democracy and turn the efforts of ‘International Communism’ around. They forged the modern democracies we now find ourselves in with all the modern liberties we now enjoy.
Lance’s service was one of honour and one so dangerous that few men are drawn to it. It is with the same honour that we should remember one very brave South African – Flight Lieutenant (Lofty) Everitt Murray Lance, may you Rest in Peace, your duty done.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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”
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.
“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.
As 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”
Eva Mozes-Kor,and Hans Münch at the 50th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau
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.
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,
For those who wish to read my tribute at his service, and learn a little more about him, here it is:
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.
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.
The Star of David clearly be seen on Auer’s aircraft
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
A 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.
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:
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