Our Speaker on Thursday 12 April 2018 was Mr Michael Schoeman, the distinguished author of the seven volume Springbok Fighter Victory series on the SAAF fighter operations during the Second World War, who is also a long-standing member of the SAMHS. The talk was on the South African airmen who served in the First World War 1914-1918, the topic of his recently published book.
The First World War was to see the development of the aeroplane from a flimsy machine barely capable of flying, to a fast and highly manoeuvrable aircraft. At first the aircraft were unarmed and were used for observation purposes only. The animosity between the warring nations soon led to the pilots to start innovating ideas of destroying enemy aircraft.
South Africa had a very limited Air Corps before the war but a few intrepid individuals did qualify as pilots. Mr Schoeman introduced his talk by discussing the first three pre-First World War pilots. Under the Defence Act of 1912, South Africans were restricted from any military operations outside the South Africa borders. Therefore, all South African men who took part in the war were volunteers. All-in-all just under 3000 South African men served as pilots during the war.
Lt Evelyn “Bok” Driver was the first South African to formally qualify as a pilot. He flew the first air post in SA on 27 December 1911. He served with the SAAC in German South West Africa and 26 SA Squadron in German East Africa until his health broke down.
The second South African pilot to qualify was Lt Claude Bettington. Sadly, he was killed in a flying accident on 10 September 1912 and was the first South African military airman to be killed while flying.
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Crashed aircraft of 2nd Lt Bettington
The third pilot 2nd Lt later group Captain Norman Spratt, qualified on 22 October 1912. He became an exhibition and test pilot before the war. He served in France in August 1914 and scored one of the first aerial combat victories when he forced an enemy aircraft to crash-land inside British lines on 24 August 1914. This was the first aerial victory by a single seater in the war and the first by a Sopwith type. Lt Spratt was mentioned in dispatches and was the first SA airman to be honoured during the war.
Tragically, Lt Charles G.G. Bayly who was born at Rondebosch and went to school at Bishops, later moved to England with his family and was the first British airman killed during the war on the 22 August 1914.
Mr Schoeman then spoke about Brigadier General C.F. Beyers who had been greatly impressed by the aeroplanes in Europe which led to the establishment of a flying school at Kimberley, started by Mr C. Compton Paterson, where South Africans received their initial flying training. The initial aircraft was damaged beyond repair in a flying accident and six candidate pilots were sent to the UK for further training. When the war broke out Wallace, Creed, van der Spuy, Emmett and Turner requested permission to serve with the RFC in France. This request was approved and they became the first British Commonwealth airman to serve with the RFC in the in Europe. They later served in German South West Africa in the SAAC and German East Africa in 26 Squadron RFC.
Fighting during the First World War was stressful and the long-term effects of the conflict were illustrated by the example of Major Jacob Guy Swart, a South African who joined the RFC in the latter months of 1914 and remarkably survived until February 1918 when he was hospitalised, suffering from exhaustion. Mr Schoeman pointed out that only kite balloons observers had parachutes and explained if a pilot was killed or wounded in an observer plane the observer chances of survival by landing the aircraft were very slim, he gave as an example the case when 2nd Lt Edwards Taylor of Kalk Bay was killed in action in the 20 July 1916 his wounded observer 2nd Lt J.G. Robinson managed to land the aircraft and was captured.
As pilots did not have the luxury of a parachute, some pilots chose to jump from the aircraft rather than suffer burning to death. The skill of the Observer Corps was illustrated by the action of 2nd Lt T.E.G. Scaife from Cape Town, who was mentioned a number of times in the British Official History War in the Air as one of the most notable Corps observers during the battle of the Somme.
The loss of pilots suffered by both sides was heavy, requiring constant replacement. Mr Schoeman then described the remarkable achievements of Major Alistair Mackintosh Miller educated at Sacs, St Aidan’s College and Rhodes University. He left for England in 1912 to study engineering at London University. Soon after the outbreak of the war he was commissioned in the Royal Scots Greys and served in France. He joined the RFC in 1915, qualified as a pilot and was awarded the DSO during the battle of the Somme. In October 1916 Major Miller was sent back to SA to recruit 30 candidates, but due to the magnetism of flying he managed to recruit 400. The RFC was so pleased with the excellent young recruits that Major Miller had acquired that they sent him out again, this time with two BE 2E aircraft, and afterwards two NCO’s to assist him.
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Major Miller went all round South Africa and Swaziland and selected 2000 men from the reputed 8000 applications. The arrival of his aircraft which often had to land on a golf course was greeted with wild enthusiasm everywhere he went. After the war he made a major contribution to SA civilian aviation and served in the SAAF during the Second World War.
Major Miller’s most famous recruit was captain Andrew Weatherby Beauchamp Proctor who was South Africa’s top scoring ace with 54 victories. He was also the top scorer for balloon busting of the RAF. In six months he became South Africa’s most highly decorated war hero winning the VC, DSO, MC and bar and DFC.
Mr Schoeman explained that the training of many of Major Miller’s recruits was terminated by the end of the war. Many of them had previously served in German South West Africa and German East Africa in the army and a large number of them also joined in the Second World War and others, such as 2nd Lt Gideon Johannes Malherbe, who was commissioned in August 1918 and qualified as a pilot moved to the United States of America in 1927 and in 1963 was project engineer of the main contractor for the Manned Space Centre at Houston.
Initially the training of pilots was very rudimentary, but many new innovative ideas on training pilots was initiated by the implementation of the “Gosport System”. Major Euan Gilchrist, MC, DFC from Stellenbosch was the first South African to score a kill with an air to air missile when he shot down a kite balloon over Bapaume with a Le Prieur anti-airship rocket on 15 September 1916. In September 1917 he set out the main part of Smith Barry’s “Gosport System” on paper – the first sematic syllabus of flying training in the world and which was retained after the First World War.
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Sopwith Pup with Le Prieur rockets
There were many pilots who achieved fame, notably Col later General Sir Helperus Andrias “Pierre” van Ryneveld was in England when war was declared. After serving in the British Army he was transferred to the RFC in April 1915. He had outstanding leadership skills. Sir Pierre van Ryneveld was chief of the SA General Staff from 1933-49.
Captain S.M. Kinkead of Johannesburg joined the RNAS and became the South African First World War ace with the second highest score of more than 35 victories. He was awarded the DSO, DSC and bar, DFC and bar and three Russian orders. Sadly, he was killed whilst attempting to break the world absolute speed record on 12 March 1928.
Captain Ian Pyott, DSO, destroyed Zeppelin L 34 over the sea near Hartlepool. He returned to South Africa after the war and formed Pyotts Ltd.
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After Mr Schoeman’s talk, Cmr ‘Mac’ Bisset shared slides of some of the South African airmen of the Great War. One photograph showed Paddy Wright in his Mafeking Cadet Corps uniform during the siege. His unit was the forerunner of the Boy Scout movement. The cadets were all awarded the Queens South Africa Medal 1899–1902 which must have led to many questions.
Mr Bob Buser thanked Mr Schoeman for his most comprehensive coverage of the topic and presented him with the customary gift. We are particularly thankful to Mr Schoeman for speaking to us despite the fact that he is in poor health.
Mr Johan van den Berg and Mr Ray Hattingh have both resigned from the committee for personal reasons. Both gentlemen have served for many years and have been the mainstay of the committee and have left a large hole for the new committee members to fill.
A new committee of seven members was elected at the AGM:
|Chairman :||Mr Carl Burger|
|Vice Chairman :||Mr Alan Mountain|
|Secretary :||Mr Ian van Oordt|
|Treasurer :||Mr Bob Buser|
|Scribe :||Mr Mac Bisset|
|Member :||Mr Jack Liebenberg|
|Member :||Mr Tony Westby-Nunn|
The new committee met on 17 April 2018 to discuss the way forward and to distribute the workload amongst the committee members. The new committee have decided to implement some changes with regards to the newsletter. In future to reduce costs and workload we will only be sending out a newsletter every second month. This has necessitated that the lectures be planned well in advance. We are hoping to plan to secure at least two lectures in advance. We appeal to all members to contact a committee member should they be aware of a lecture and lecturer that may be of interest to our members.
In future, one of the committee members be assigned to the duty of ‘meeting and greeting’ new members and visitors at the lecture. We appeal to all members to assist and make all visitors feel welcomed.
We also appeal to all members to be patient with us and to assist us in correcting any problems that you may have. We look forward to serving you.
THURSDAY, 10 MAY 2018: LIVING AND WORKING IN THE FORMER USSR
Fourteen years on the front line – Colin Sutherland
An illustrated presentation with a military slant of events and people met, from time spent in Novosibirsk, Minsk, the Silk Road cities of Almaty and Bishkek, Kiev, Moscow and Mongolia.
The dramatic economic and social changes after 1991 will be highlighted from the experiences of manufacturers of military equipment in Siberia, army pensioners in Kyrgyzstan and airline pilots everywhere.
Starting from his home base in France, Colin Sutherland recalls events and incidents from the day-to-day life. Never a tourist, and managing to work and shop between plus and minus 40 degrees centigrade, a good sense of humour and much empathy with the citizens was required and expected.
Colin Sutherland is a chartered accountant and former university professor.
THURSDAY, 14 JUNE 2018: AN ILLUSTRATED TALK ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF A PROFESSIONAL WORLD CLASS MINE COUNTER MEASURES CAPABILITY IN THE SA NAVY IN THE 1970’s – Captain Peter Rogers.
Captain Peter Rogers SM, MMM, SAN retired, completed his schooling at the nautical school SA General Botha in 1957. Joined the SA navy in 1958 and retired in 1992. Served in all 3 president class frigates as the anti-submarine officer. In 1974 he was appointed to command SAS Durban, a Ton Class mine sweeper. He was the Commanding Officer of the mine counter measures flotilla from 1982-1988. He served until his retirement 1992.
Ian van Oordt (Secretary) 021 531 6612
Tony Westby-Nunn (Editor) 083 4444 662