South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our speaker on 9 November 2017 was fellow-member Mr Greg Pullin, whose topic was his recent visit to England where he visited the RAF Museum at Hendon and the IWM Museum at Duxford. He also attended the Flying Legends Air Show at Duxford and the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, one of the largest annual air shows in the world. As Mr Pullin's hobby is photography, his talk was copiously illustrated with photographs taken at these venues. To comment on all or even a portion of these would be impossible, as they were all of them superb, and space in the newsletter would be insufficient.

Our speaker started with Hendon. The RAF museum at Hendon is situated in the London suburb of Colindale, some 7 miles north-west of Charing Cross. Its origins go back to the 19th century when it was used for balloon flying. The first proper flight of an aircraft took place on 28 April 1910, when the Frenchman Louis Pailham took off and flew to the outskirts of Manchester - a truly long flight for its time. The airfield itself was developed by Claude Grahame-White and, from 1912, annual air shows were held, which were very popular as few people had ever seen an aircraft. In 1922 the first RAF Pageant was held and these too became very popular, attracting big crowds.

In 1916 the War Office took over the airfield and it became part of the air defence of London during the first Blitz. This was before the Royal Air Force was formed in 1918, when the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were merged. Hendon remained an active RAF fighter station and served as part of Fighter Command in 1940 and 1941. It had three runways but the area round Hendon had by then been developed with housing estates up to its boundaries. In addition, the runways had become too short, so it was used as a transport base until the end of the war.

The whole area round Hendon was by then built up and flying operations had ceased by November 1957. The last recorded landing took place in 1968 when a Blackburn Beverley arrived to become an exhibit at the new RAF Museum. Part of the area which had formed the airfield is now occupied by the Hendon Police College and a housing estate, while the rest has become the RAF Museum. A separate building houses the Battle of Britain Museum and another houses a collection of WW1 aircraft. The bulk of the exhibits are contained in two very large hangers. The Museum has an example of nearly every aircraft used by the RAF since it was formed in 1918.

Of note in the above picture is the wooden lattice structure
of the original hangar in which some of the aircraft are housed.

Our speaker noted that taking photographs of aircraft inside the museum is very difficult largely because of the cramped conditions with large and small aircraft all parked next to one another. He did succeed in taking many stunning photographs.

The collection holds the only existing examples of a number of WW2 aircraft including the Fairey Battle light bomber, Bristol Beaufighter, Westland Walrus seaplane, Stranraer flying boat, Boulton Paul Defiant two-seat fighter and Hawker Typhoon and Tempest fighters.

The aircraft include both British and American built aircraft and all are in immaculate condition. The period pre-1939 up to current date is covered and any WW2 aviation history enthusiast would be in his seventh heaven. A military aviation fanatic can see in the flesh, so to speak, the aircraft which were in use during the campaigns he is reading about. There are also a few examples of German and Italian aircraft from the Battle of Britain-era on show and the Battle of Britain exhibit is well laid out. The main focus of the museum is the aircraft and the exhibits of other items are quite skimpy.

Space precludes discussing all of the aircraft on display but the photographs shown gave the audience a good idea of what they looked like.

The RAF Museum has a branch at RAF Cosford in Shropshire, which is not well known. This was not an operational airfield. Construction was started in August 1937 and completed the next year. It served during WW2 as an Aircraft Storage Unit and a large number of similar technical units were established there during the war. Prior to WW2, RAF Halton was where all RAF technical personnel were trained but it soon became clear that the numbers produced were insufficient, so a further School of Technical Training was set up at Cosford and this produced large numbers of aviation technicians for the Air Force. Many of the units stationed there are now Defence and not RAF, including a School of Photography and a Radio School. Aviation technicians for air force, army and navy are trained there. A branch of the RAF Museum is also at the base. This has collections of experimental aircraft, training and transport aircraft, missiles, bombs and other equipment but is smaller than Hendon.

Our speaker then discussed the collections at Duxford, situated some 15 km south of Cambridge. This was built in 1918 and served as a fighter base defending the Midlands during the First World War and right through to WW2. It was a 12 Group Fighter Command sector station and many famous units served there, including the first Spitfire squadron No 19, the first Polish squadrons, 310 Czech Squadron and 242 commanded by Douglas Bader. The Air Fighting Development Unit was set up there and, in 1943, the US Army Air Force took over the base and operated P47's and later P51's from there. Returned to the RAF in 1945, it remained a fighter base until 1961, when it was abandoned.


In 1969, the Imperial War Museum took over the field and it is now run in cooperation with the Cambridgeshire County Council and the Duxford Aviation Society as a museum. The main runway is still in operation and many of the original buildings including the sector operations room and 5 of the original hangers are still in use. Another hanger was blown up during the making of a film. The collection of aircraft includes the IWM-owned aircraft and those owned by the Fighter Collection, the Historic Aircraft Collection and other similar organisations. The US Air Force Museum is there, commemorating the WW2 service of the USAAF in the European Theatre of Operations.

US Air Force Museum

Maintained by the USAF, this has a large number of US aircraft and is also the War Memorial for the 84 000 US airmen who died over Europe in WW2. It is like a large concrete egg-shell with a huge glass window facing the airfield and with the rear and sides buried in a mound of earth. The is situated at the rear of the museum.

War Memorial

There is also an enormous hanger with 12 000 m2 of floor space and there are plans to build another to house the valuable collection of civil aircraft, including the first Concorde. But this is delayed due to lack of funds. There are other outside exhibits and the two buildings of the Land Warfare Museum and the Royal Anglian Regimental Museum, as well as the Airborne Forces Museum, recently transferred from Aldershot. The very large collection of tanks and other armoured vehicles is also there. These are all in working order and have their own show, usually in mid-winter when there is a lot of mud. North of the field are the old married quarters which now house more workshops and archives of film, photographs books and other records kept in climate-controlled buildings, as well as items not yet prepared for exhibition.

The first Concorde

Our speaker spent a number of days at Duxford - the Air Show lasts for two and a half days. The weather was good and he was able to take many superb photographs as many of the aircraft which were in flying condition were lined up next to the runway. As Mr Pullin had been to Duxford for these air shows before, he was able to join the professional photographers in the "parking area" to photograph the aircraft from close up and, during the Show, go to the two areas where photographers could photograph aircraft taxying out for take-off, taking off, doing their demonstration, landing and taxying back to the parking area. There were 9 Spitfires of various Marks all of which were airworthy, a similar number of Mustangs, some Hurricanes and three Bristol Blenheim 1 bombers and some German fighters. The ME 109's were in fact built in Spain after 1945 for use by the Spanish Air Force They are fitted with Rolls Royce Merlin engines.

These took off and flew in a large formation and Mr Pullin's photographs did full justice to the occasion. Other aircraft taking part includes a variety of US Grumman naval fighters, P40's, a Corsair, De Havilland Comet, Gloster Gladiator, B-17G, Catalina, Dakota and others. Many more aircraft can be seen in the hangers, these being under restoration or maintenance. Here one can talk to the technicians doing the work. Our speaker ran out of time and was not able to show us his photographs taken in the Land Warfare halls or the tank park.

This Duxford Show concentrates on WW2 non-jet aircraft. The modern jet aircraft are displayed in other shows. The premier air show for modern aircraft is the Royal International Air Tattoo held at RAF Fairford each year. This is regarded as the largest air show for modern aircraft in the world. In 2003 535 aircraft took part.

Fairford is an airfield in Gloucestershire and is currently under care and maintenance, but is periodically used by the USAF as it is the only airfield that can accommodate American heavy bombers in Europe. It was built in 1944 and was a base for the large number of Gliders used by the airborne forces for the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944 and the Arnhem-Nijmegen landings in September 1944. The USAF used it for a number of years but has now concentrated its forces at Mildenhall and Lakenheath.

The air show is organised by the RAF and the proceeds go to RAF charities. Most of the leading Air Force aerobatic teams in the world take part in this show and the most modern aircraft take part. The Duxford Air Show enjoyed a week of splendid good weather and our speaker was able to take many superb photographs. The Fairford Show takes place on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This year it was heavily clouded and rained on the first two and a half days and remained cloudy on the Sunday afternoon, so many of the aerobatic teams and solo pilots had to curtail their performances which was disappointing for the spectators. We were not shown any of our speaker's Fairford photographs as it was getting quite late.

Our chairman thanked Mr Pullin for a most interesting talk illustrated by a large number of superb photographs of the historic aircraft which were in the Museums or which took part in Duxford's annual air show. He then presented him with the customary gift.



THURSDAY, 9 NOVEMBER 2017: (1) A Short Overview of Cape Coastal Defences with Reference to Fort Wynyard by Maj Willem Steenkamp (JCD), and
(2) Impressions of S.A. Coastal Defences as compared to the Defences of (British) Bermuda and an Overview of U.S. Coastal Defences in Overseas Territories by Glen M. Williford and Terrance McGovern (USA)

Original lecture details:

Major Heitman has been confirmed as the speaker for this month. His annual overview of the security situation in Africa has never failed in the past to draw a full-house as far as attendance is concerned - this year it certainly would be no less so, in view of the continuing unstable political situation and economic turmoil in many an African state. As with his previous lectures, he will probably start the evening with a short introductory talk on an as yet undisclosed subject. This will be the final lecture in the year's programme. Make sure you don't miss it.
The lecture will be illustrated.

PLEASE NOTE: Our sincere apologise and on behalf of Major Heitman for this last-minute change of speaker and topic(s) and any convenience caused. Major Heitman had been instructed at very short notice by the Chief of the Defence Force to attend the review of a defence policy document authored by him and which unfortunately coincides with our meeting this week.



No lectures are scheduled for December as the Cape Town Branch will be in recess in view of the upcoming summer holiday/festive season at the end of the year. The Branch will routinely commence with its activities on the third Thursday of January, the date being the 18th of January, 2018.


THURSDAY, 18 JANUARY 2018: The Speaker and subject will be announced closer to the date.


BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Asst. Scribe
Phone: 021-689-1639 (Home)

Phone: 021-592-1279 (Office)

South African Military History Society /