South African Military History Society



The lecture room was filled to capacity with the Chairman calling for extra chairs. The Chairman Major Darrell Hall welcomed the members and guests with a special word of welcome to the members of the Polish community who attended the meeting.

THE MAFEKING TOUR: The Chairman confirmed that the tour of the Mafeking, Battlefield was definitely on for the week end Friday 5th August to Sunday the 7th August. He reminded members that it was a "do-it-yourself" tour, those going must book their own accommodation and make their own transport arrangement. Accommodation: Mmabatho Sun Hotel Tel 783- 5333 (Santon) Rooms must be shared (no singles). Fishhoek Hotel at Rooigrond 8km outside Mafeking Tel. 014444-644 (Mrs. Fish)

Make up your own parties, but if in difficulty phone Mike Marsh (Hon. Sec.) Tel. Home: 648-l657 Bus, 648-1150. Also please advise him if you are joining the tour. The Tour starts at 9 a.m. on Saturday 6th August at Mafeking Museum.

M.G.H. presented a further chapter in the series "Military Magazine". This presentation was high lighting military careers of highly decorated heroes in WWII and shorts of the actions that earned them Decorations.
Darrell Hall presented the first hero and most decorated American soldier Audry[sic] Murphy. Slides of Murphy in various actions which earned him decorations and shots of his career as an actor.
Douglas Bader the legless "Battle of Britian" pilot was the next one. This was followed by the "Story of the Ruhr Dam Raid" in 1945. The breeching of the Moner[sic] and Ader[sic] Dams led by Guy Gibson who was posthumously awarded the V.C. This was in fact a detailed description of this raid. 19 aircraft loaded with five tons of explosives took part in breaching the dams.

The main talk of the evening was "The Warsaw Airlift" the speaker Major J.L. van Eyssen. He started his talk by giving a brief history of Poland and of the German and Russian invasion of Poland which was in accordance with a secret pact made between the Germans and Russians for the division of Poland. The Poles started an underground resistance movement against the Germans, this movement was called the A.K. (Home Army). This movement harassed the Germans and passed vital information to the Allies through their shadow Government in London. By 1944 this movement had some 400 000 soldiers as members of which only 50,000 were in Warsaw. Though they had secret workshops making small arms and ammunitions only one in six was armed. With Marshall Rokossovsky's successes in his drive towards Warsaw the Russians urged the Poles in Warsaw to rise and promised support. On the 1st August Gen. Bor-Komorosky in command of the A.K. Warsaw ordered an uprising. The Germans were taken by surprise and for five days the A.K. held 70% of Warsaw but receiving massive re-inforcements the uprising was suprressed. The Poles appeal to the Russians for help was turned down. They also refused landing rights to the Allies. They were only 20 miles from Warsaw. Supplies of arms ammunition, food and medical supplies had to come from Italy which meant a round trip of 2000 miles, Winston Churchill was anxious to help the Poles. Major General Durrant in command of 205 Grour was called in to meet Churchill who accepted that sufficient arms could not be supplied by an airlift but for "morale and propaganda purposes" he wished to fly supplies to Warsaw. The 205 Group which the No. 31 and 34 SAAF Squadrons part of, had been doing long range night bombing and dropping of mines in the Danube which was the main route for the supply of oil from Rumania to Germany. These two Squadrons were equipped with Liberators and they developed the technique of low flying in some of their operations, even as low as 30', which was the height for dropping mines.

The Liberators carried 2300 gallons of fuel for the round trip. The total weight at take off was 33 tons which included 12 cannisters[sic] of supplies, each cannister fitted with a parachute. The flight took them over enemy territory most of the way, a great deal of it in daylight. After crossing the Adriatic, they picked up the Danube and then the Carpathians where bad weather hit them. They avoided Crawcow, which was a Luftwaffe night fighter training centre. Silver paper was used to blind radar beams. As they approached Warsaw, which they were shocked to see was on fire with smoke thousands of feet in the sky, they dropped height, picked up the Vistula and dropped again down to 200' keeping the river on their left and on seeing the flare of the code letter in morse dropped to 150' and dropped the cannisters. A most hazardous undertaking. From 3000 to 500 feet the aircraft was vulnerable to light flak, at the dropping height everything fired at them even pistols.

During the worst nights from 4th August to early Sept., 196 sorties took place, of these 85 aircraft reached Warsaw. 39 Planes were lost. These missions were Brave and heroic efforts and several awards were made. On one of these missions Major van Eyssen' s aircraft was so badly hit by enemy fire that he just managed to fly the Liberator into Russian Territory, on two engines and bale out. He was interned by the Russians and taken to Moscow for interrogation.

The Warsaw airlift has served to form a bond between the Poles and South Africa based on mutual respect and sincere friendship. Every year a commemoration service is arranged by the Polish Community.

The vote of thanks was made by Major Doug Tidy who complimented Major van Eyssen for the simple and friendly way he put it across. After giving a few sidelights on the "trigger-happy" Russians, their food and discipline, he described the "Warsaw Airlift" as a "hairy" operation with a fine display of heroism by the South African Airforce.

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In the June newsletter I gave a very brief description of Flt. Sgt. Ashbreton's experience as the oldest serving flight sgt., in R.A.F. (under the heading from the Old Kit Bag) and stated that Mr. Nic Kinsey had sent it in, this is incorrect it was sent in by Darrell Hall, my apologies to Darrell.


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