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

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

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

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

Watch and learn their story.

South African D-Day Hero: Tommy Thomas MC

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Links and Work of South Africans during D Day:

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

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

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

Anthony Large South African D Day hero: Anthony Large BEM

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

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

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

Pride in “Rooi Lussies”(red tabs), branded “Rooi Luisies” (Red Lice) by some.

WW2 South African propaganda poster, promoting the ‘Red Oath’ and the special volunteer epaulette flash worn by all who took the oath and volunteered for service during World War 2.

This poster is designed to swing opinion in the Afrikaans community where the wearing of the red flash was seen as an oath to the British and viewed by some as betrayal. In these sections of the Afrikaans community they where called ‘Rooi Luisies’ (Red Lice) instead of ‘Rooi Lussies” (Red Tabs), as a means of degrading those who volunteered.

The Red Oath was devised by the Union government to legally allow South African Forces to serve in the war.

U-504: The sinking of the “City of Johannesburg”

The submarine “U Boat” menace of the Second World War became commonly known as the “Battle of the Atlantic”, but it also extended to all oceans and the strategic point rounding the South African Cape became a focus point of the submarine war and German attention – and subsequently the attention of The South African Navy and her British Allies.

A typical example of the danger, survival and sacrifice in South African waters is the story of the sinking of the “City of Johannesburg” by German submarine U-504 (seen in the featured image above).  U-504 was a Type IXC U-boat of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine during World War II, the SS City of Johannesburg was a merchant vessel carrying supplies off the coast of East London, South Africa.

Of the merchantmen on board the SS City of Johannesburg, 90 in total, 4 perished and there where 86 survivors. Their survival in open water is remarkable considering the conditions in South African waters and typical to the dangers of operating at sea in WW2. This is one of many stories of the sinking of vessels and bravery of men off the coast of South Africa.


SS City of Johannesburg

At 23.12 hours on 23 Oct 1942 the unescorted City of Johannesburg (Master Walter Armour Owen) was hit by one of two torpedoes from U-504 while steaming on a zigzag course at 10.75 knots about 80 miles east-southeast of East London, South Africa. The torpedo struck between the deep tank and #4 hold on the port side, blowing the hatches off the deep tanks and opening a hole that flooded these compartments immediately. All electricity failed and the engines had to be stopped when the engine room was flooded a few minutes later, causing the ship to settle by the stern with a slight list to port. No distress signals could be sent as the main aerial was brought down and fouled the emergency aerial and it was later discovered that the portable wireless set had been damaged while lowering into a lifeboat and was useless.

Two lifeboats had been destroyed and the rafts aft were jammed in the rigging, so the 21 crew members, 60 Lascars (Indian sailors) and nine gunners (the ship was armed with one 4in, one 12pdr, two 20mm and four machine guns) abandoned ship in the four remaining lifeboats which were launched safely within five minutes despite rough sea and high swell.

Before leaving the gunners tried to train the 4in gun, but it was damaged and could no longer be turned. The master was the last to leave the ship after making sure that no one was left on board. At 23.40 hours, the U-boat surfaced after firing a coup de grâce at the ship which was hit at #2 hatch on the port side, but only settled further on an even keel.

The Germans then questioned the survivors in one of the lifeboats and left the area after the City of Johannesburg suddenly broke in two amidships and sank at 00.00 hours. Four Lascars were lost.

The boat in charge of the master had 11 persons on board and rescued two men swimming in the water. Quartermaster H. Birnie was picked up by a boat with 28 persons and later stated that he was alongside the U-boat after it had surfaced and even touched the plates when he was told to swim astern to the lifeboat. He was asked no questions and the engines of the U-boat remained stopped until the man was clear.

The other two boats held 19 respectively 25 persons, but owing to the rough sea the lifeboats could not approach each other to even up the survivors in them. The master told the other boats to remain in the vicinity while his boat set sail in order to get help and made 140 miles in 24 hours before he and twelve survivors were picked up by the Dutch steam merchant Zypenberg about 8 miles from the coast in 33°50S/26°50E on 25 October and landed at Durban two days later.

However, the boat with 19 occupants also set sail and only made half the distance before they were rescued by the British motor merchant King Edwin on 26 October and landed at Cape Town three days later. The 54 survivors in the two boats that waited near the sinking position were picked up by the British steam merchant Fort George after 12 hours in 33°24S/28°31E and landed at Port Elizabeth on 25 October.

U-504: South African Patrol

This submarine had caused a lot of damage off the coast of South Africa, here is a short history of her 4th Patrol in South African waters:

U-504 left Lorient on 19 August 1942 and sailed south to the waters off South Africa as part of Wolfpack Eisbär. There, on 17 October, about 450 nautical miles (830 km; 520 mi) south of Cape Town, she torpedoed and sank the unescorted British 5,970 ton Empire Chaucer. On the 23rd she sank the 5,669 ton SS City of Johannesburg, and on the 26th she attacked the unescorted American 7,176 ton Liberty ship Anne Hutchinson. The crew abandoned their vessel after she was hit by two torpedoes and fatally damaged. However the ship remained afloat, and on the 29th was taken in tow by the South African armed trawler HMSAS David Haigh (T13) and a harbour tug. Lacking sufficient power to tow the ship to port explosive charges were set, cutting the ship in two. The aft section sank, and the fore section was towed into Port Elizabeth. Part of the crew were picked up at sea, while the rest made it to land in their lifeboats.

U-504 sank two more British merchant ships on 31 October, about 200 nautical miles (370 km; 230 mi) east of Durban. First the unescorted 7,041 ton Empire Guidon, then the unescorted 5,113 ton Reynolds, which, hit amidships and in the stern, capsized and sank within seconds.

Finally on 3 November she sank the unescorted and unarmed Brazilian 5,187 ton cargo ship Porto Alegre en route from Rio de Janeiro to Durban, off Port Elizabeth. Hit by a single torpedo, the crew abandoned ship before the U-boat delivered the coup de grâce. Only one crew member was lost. The survivors were questioned by the Germans, and later made landfall about 50 nautical miles (93 km; 58 mi) from Port Elizabeth on 7 November.[22] U-504 arrived back at Lorient on 11 December 1942 after a patrol lasting 115 days.

The fate of U-504

U-504 also met a grisly fate.  Whilst on her 7th Patrol U504 was depth charged and sunk with all hands on board (53 in total) on 30 July 1943 in the North Atlantic north-west of Cape Ortegal, Spain, in position 45.33N, 10.56W, by depth charges from the British ships HMS Kite, HMS Woodpecker, HMS Wren and HMS Wild Goose.


Image shows HMS Kite whose Commanding Officer at the time of the sinking of U-504 was the famous U-boat hunter Captain “Johnnie” Walker, DSO and three bars.

The Commander from her one patrol off South Africa to when she was lost are two different men (and possibly evena different crew as well).

During the South African Patrol (4th patrol) the Commander was KrvKapt Hans-Georg Friedrich Poske (he command U-504 for the first four War Patrols). KrvKpt Wilhelm Luis did the next three patrols, his third being the fatal one.

This U Boat spent a total of 372 days a sea and sank 85,299 tons of shipping. All ships sunk were under her first commander KrvKapt Hans-Georg Friedrich Poske and on the second, third and fourth patrols.  U-504’s most successful patrol in terms of tonnage suck was on her South African patrol.

KrvKapt Hans-Georg Friedrich Poske survived the war, he also served post war as well and retired in 1963.  Note on the image below he was awarded a Knights Cross.


KrvKapt Hans-Georg Friedrich Poske

Thank you to Sandy Evan Hanes for additional input, reference wikipedia


The first German General to surrender his forces in WW2 – surrendered to the South Africans

Nugget of South African military history, the very first German General to formally surrender his forces to the Allies during the Second World War – surrendered to the South African forces in the North African theatre of operations.

Generalleutenant Artur Schmidt was the first German General to formally surrender to a Allied General which was General De Villiers (Commissioner of the South African Police) and Commander of the South African 2nd Infantry Division.

As part of General Rommel’s skillful retreat in December 1941 to the El Aghelia – Marda strongpoint in Libya, key defensive actions where set up at Sollum, Halfaya Pass and Bardia. On 30 December 1941, South African troops supported by a heavy air, sea and land bombardment began their attack on Bardia. A counterattack on the city’s perimeter slowed the advance, but supported by tanks the South Africans launched their final assault on 02 January 1942 to take the city. Seen here on that day is General Schmidt formally surrendering himself and the Italian and German forces under his command to the South Africans.

Ironically the South African 2nd Infantry Division would themselves all become captured at the Fall of Tobruk by Rommel’s German Afrika Korps and other Axis forces on 21 June 1942.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 14.14.16Note the identification patch of the South African 2nd Infantry Division on the person standing on the far right of the image.

Not to be confused with the “capture” of Generalleutnant Johann von Ravenstein a couple of months earlier by New Zealand soldiers.   There is a big difference between a formal surrender of forces to an opposing force, than simply been randomly ‘captured’ driving around in a staff car and taking a wrong turn as General von Ravenstein was. General von Ravenstein did not “surrender” himself nor did he surrender any German forces.

Ironically General von Ravesnstien served the first part of his POW life in South Africa before been shipped of to Canada.

Written and researched by Peter Dickens. Thank you to Sandy Evan Haynes for the background information and to Marc Norman for the image.

The worst maritime loss off Durban’s coast; The sinking of the SS Nova Scotia

This rare colour image of U Boat 177 is at the heart of one of the worst maritime losses off South Africa’s coast during WW2 – this is the story of the sinking of the troopship SS Nova Scotia just off Durban by U177.  An “own goal” really as the SS Nova Scotia was returning with fellow Axis Force “Prisoner of War” Italian servicemen.

crew uboat watchout guard tropical binocular2

Rare original colour image of German submariners on the coning tower of U-177 conducting a watch.

During the Second World War, Durban was the embarkation and disembarkation port, first for the East African and Abyssinian campaigns and later for those in the Middle East and Italy. A large military hospital operated at Springfield and hospital ships plied between the port and the theatres of war in the north.

One such ship was the 6 796 ton SS Nova Scotia, belonging to the Furness Withy Group which had been converted into a troop carrier, operating mainly between Durban and ports along the African east Coast all the way up to the Suez. She carried troops from Durban to the “North” and on the return passage carrier Italian Prisoners of War (POW) to South Africa.


SS Nova Scotia

SS Nova Scotia sailed from Massawa, in Italian East Africa (modern day Eritrea), on 15 November 1942 carrying 765 Italian POW’s, 134 British and South African guards and 118 crew.

Just after 06:00 on 28 November 1942 the Commander of U-boat 177, Kapitanleutnant Gysae, apparently sighted smoke from the SS Nova Scotia off the Zululand coast of Natal. Just after 09:00 U177 fired three torpedoes which struck the SS Nova Scotia who sank within 7 minutes. It appears that only 1 lifeboat was successfully launched leaving the rest of the survivors clinging to bits of the wreck.

U177 surfaced to establish the identity of the ship that they sank, but was unable to do so due to the chaotic situation. Two survivors were taken aboard for intelligence. German U-boat Command did inform the Portuguese authorities of the sinking of the SS Nova Scotia. As a result of this, the Alfonso de Albuquerque out of Lourenco Marques reached the scene of the sinking on 29 November 1942 and managed to rescue 190 survivors. Another survivor was picked up by a Destroyer three days later while a fortunate Italian POW floated ashore at Mtunzini two weeks after the incident.

Many of the casualties were washed ashore on the Natal (Kwazulu-Natal) beaches. 118 of the Italian POW’s were buried in a common grave in the Hilary Cemetery, Durban. Three crosses initially marked the grave, but in 1982, using a donation from the survivors of the SS Nova Scotia still living in Mozambique a new memorial was erected. This comprised a circular tomb topped by a broken stele rising from the waves inscribed with the words “To the memory of the Sons of Italy who were overcome by the ocean in the sinking of the S/S ‘Nova Scotia’ XXVIII-XI-MCMXLII The survivors sheltered in Mozambique”.

Since then the 118 casualties from the “SS Nova Scotia” have been exhumed from the Hilary Cemetery and along with the remains of the 35 Italian POW’s who died in the Natal Province are now buried in the grounds of the “Master Divinae Gratiae” Church, Epworth Road, Mkondeni, Pietermaritzburg. The church was built by Italian POW’s in 1944 and is today a South African National Monument.

The only woman to survive the ordeal was Alda Ignisti (later Lady Taylor) who, along with her daughter Valcheria, was on her way to Durban having been stranded in in Italian East Africa (modern day Eritrea) following the death of her husband.

U-177 also met with a watery grave – on 6 February 1944, she was sunk in the Atlantic west of Ascension Island, in position 10°35′S 23°15′W Coordinates: 10°35′S 23°15′W, by depth charges dropped by a PB4Y aircraft from US Navy Squadron VB-107. 50 men were lost; 15 survived, they were picked up by USS Omaha.

Similar to the sinking of the SS NOVA SCOTIA, here is U 177 again – however this time the ship shown sinking in the photo is the American ship MS ALICE F. PALMER – sunk by U-177 south of Madagasgar off the east coast of Africa on the 10th of July 1943.


Information source –  Charles Ross, additional research by Peter Dickens. The colour photo of U-177 is from the personal album of Burkhard Heusinger Von Waldegg who was the first watch officer of U-177 – here is an image of him above – seen standing on the right.

Sailor Malan – “in his own words”

Sailor Malan – a true South African WW2 flying ace and national hero “in his own words” – a very rare recorded interview with him.

This is a fantastic historical record of a personal interview with the great WW2 South African fighter ace Adolph “Sailor” Malan, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar.

Note in this recording, clearly taken as a public relations exercise to install confidence in the British public in the Royal Air Force and it’s pilots, Sailor Malan comes across as a little over-confident and quite flippant.

Also noteworthy is Sailor Malan’s WW2 era cultural expressions, delivery and sayings which were so typical to Allied Air Force officers at the time – terms like:

“Hun” – meaning Germans – a derogatory term insinuating barbarism dating to the First World War.
“Squirt” – meaning a short burst of gun or cannon fire.
“Jerry” – meaning Germans – a derogatory term pertinent to the Second World War.
“Pumping Lead” – meaning a high rate of machine gun fire
“Tally Ho” – a Fox-hunting term meaning to spot a target and call to action.
“Cut yourself a slice of cake” – a favourite term used by Sailor Malan meaning to get into the fight and have a piece of the action.