NEWSLETTER NO. 365
The DDH was by Terry Treamearne who admits to being close to 82: "How I got to be shot down in Italy in December 1944"
Terry entertained us with a light-hearted tale of his experiences from volunteering for the SAAF in 1942 to returning to the Union in 1945; but hidden in his story were some very interesting and informative comments about the aircraft that he flew.
Terry's group of 4 left Durban by train for Roberts Heights; two were killed in action. Testing was rigorous; about 10% failed the medical while a further 15% failed the aptitude tests. He described the devastating effects of lack of oxygen on a pilot's ability.
Flight training progressed from Tiger moths to Oxfords. One pupil pilot set out on a cross-country solo navigational exercise: he didn't come back. A search yielded nothing. It turned out that he had seen the Limpopo, crossed it (!) and finally landed next to a trading post in the bush. The trader had no phone, but he sent a worker on a bicycle to the nearest police post with news that the "pilot" was OK.
The trip from Pretoria to Cairo was by Dakota; 3 overnight stops. After R and R in Cairo, he was introduced to the Martin Marauder: a hot number, with two motors delivering 4 OOOhp compared with the venerable Flying Fortress whose four motors delivered a total of 4 8OOhp. (The difference in technology of 1942 versus 1935). Once you had learned to cope with the fast landing, the plane was great for photo recon and shoot-ups.
The squadron moved up to Italy. It was summer 1944 so you could fly two raids per day. We heard of the famous long-drop with its long queues, before each raid. A mix of bombs were used, some instantaneous some having a six hour delay.
Came the fateful day, 11 December 1944. They have a new navigator who has been expounding in the mess how to win the war. They are flying along, and then bump, the three gunners bail out. Try to fly the plane on trim, no go. Terry bails out, parachute opens, and the plane goes in. Navigator? He bailed out before anyone else. Terry landed midway between the kitchen and the pigsty of an Italian farmhouse. He was allowed to keep his parachute, which he showed us, together with 1cm diameter escape compass.
It is now mid 1945. By this stage he had done 54 points for raids and a further 10 points for bailing out. So on 1 July 1945 he flies into Cairo to be demobbed back to South Africa. It becomes obvious that he is at the back of the line, so he makes a plan. He goes to the chaplain and says: "I need your help. I have met this beautiful 16 year old Egyptian girl and I want you to marry us." The Chaplain says: "I'll be in touch tomorrow." Next morning Terry is told: "Pack now, you're on the next flight back." And so he returned to South Africa.
Main Talk: "The participation of 15 Squadron SAAF in Mozambique during 2000" by Lt Col Peter Harvey
The presentation was richly illustrated by remarkable film footage, courtesy of ITV, which allowed us to see many of the incidents; the exploits of the pilots and crews of the helicopters can only be described as heroic.
The action begins in January 2000, when 15 Squadron is put on standby. This is due to heavy rain in Northern and Eastern Transvaal, Kruger Park and Swaziland. A glance at the map shows that the Komati, Crocodile and Sabie rivers will flood and possibly threaten Maputo. 15 Squadron moves to Maputo. But only 5 aircraft are available because the SAAF is committed in the Cape for fifefighting and in the Kruger Park for flood rescue.
Within a week, Pretoria warns that Cyclone Eileen is dumping water into the Limpopo, Olifants - Letaba river system. Expect major flooding down the Limpopo within 24 hours.
The "river" was now 27kms wide, more than 1 meter deep; the town of Xai - Xai was under water. The local population was sheltering on the roofs of the houses and in the treetops. This was a major catastrophe about to happen. The 5 SAAF helicopters now had to be rescue these thousands of desperate people.
Picture the difficulty. The Oryx could not just land, pickup passengers and take off. The choppers couldn't come down too low because of the spray the rotors downdraft would create and they could not land safely in lm of water. So they had to hover and lower volunteers on the line and pluck people out of trees and off the roofs of buildings. A mother gave birth in a tree and this was how the mother and her baby were rescued from a tree. The hard part was to say that the helicopter was full and then to leave people still clinging to trees or on a roof. Many times when the helicopter came back the people were gone.
The helicopters battled to take off being so madly overloaded and the high temperatures made it even tougher for those pilots. They flew from dawn to dusk, made possible by the SAAF engineers who worked through the night to service and keep the choppers in the air. (Removing mud, water, leaves, branches and even snakes from the choppers and then refuelling chopper and fixing broken radios)
This rescue mission was miraculous. Some 140 000 people were rescued, 72 000 by 15 Squadron, of these 2 700 by Lt Col Peter Harvey; and 2 800 tons of food was brought in. Eventually help arrived from Britain, France, Germany, Spain and USA mainly bringing in supplies. This was towards the end as the floodwaters were starting to recede.
To get a feel for the scale of the operation, find a map of Mozambique and look for Xai-Xai on the coast about 180km up from Maputo. The little towns of Chibuto (inland) and Chongucue were critical to the success of the rescue mission. It was to Chibuto where most of the rescued people and the incoming supplies were delivered. The map shows quite clearly that the land between Xai-Xai and Maputo is flat and that the Limpopo and Komati rivers meander through low-lying swamps and lakes. We can expect a similar massive flood in the future It is not easy to predict when or where but we have had our warning.
Vote of Thanks
This was an excellent evening with plenty of questions from the audience. Adrian thanked Peter Harvey for what can only be described as an inspiring presentation of selfless devotion to duty by men who gave no thought to their own safety but pressed on regardless to save many thousands of lives.
Adrian also thanked Terry for his great story and the many anecdotes such as the making of underwear for his girlfriend from the silk of his parachute. It is always a pleasure to hear reminiscences from a WW2 veteran.
Please remember that the April meeting will be held on THE FIRST THURSDAY OF APRIL, being the 6 APRIL 2006 in the Civil Engineering Building.
NOTES FOR YOUR DIARY
The 4th Swartkop Challenge, this year being held for the first time on Wagon Hill, will be held on Sunday 2 April 2006, starting at 1100 hours, with team practices being held on Friday 31 March. If any members have yet to experience this remarkable event, we strongly urge you to attend. To compliment the event the Siege Museum in Ladysmith is holding a comprehensive programme over the weekend with the "Challenge" being the core part of the proceedings. For further information please contact Charles Aikenhead on 036 631 4990 or get further information on the Internet on www.campaigntrails.co.uk or www.swartkopchallenge.com
Subscriptions for 2006 are now due Membership has been increased by R1O, to R140 per year for Single membership, and R160 for Family Membership (for a maximum of 2 members of the same family). Please send your subscription ASAP to Joan Marsh in Johannesburg, or directly into the Society Account at FNB Bank, Park Meadows Branch, No 50391928346, Branch code, 25-66-55, Name: South African Military History Society
Please note the change in the date of the April 2006 meeting due to the clash of dates with Easter 2006
SEE YOU ALL ON 6th APRIL 2006
NOTE CHANGE OF VENUE FOR March MEETING
We will be back in the usual 124 (Murray Theatre) venue in the Civil Engineering Building
If further information is needed please contact one of the committee members listed below:
Mike Lang 031-205-1951
Phil Everitt 031-261 5751 (after hours)
Adrian van Schaik 082-894-8122 (after hours)
Bill Brady 031-561-5542 or 0832285485
Ken Gillings 083-654-5880
South African Military History Society / firstname.lastname@example.org