The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 1 No 6 - June 1970


by Squadron Leader D.P. Tidy


The first four articles in this series appeared in previous issues of this journal. They are :

Squadron Leader M. T. St. John Pattle, DFC and bar
Group Captain A. G. Malan, DSO and bar, DFC and bar
Squadron Leader J. J. le Roux, DFC and two bars
Group Captain P. H. Hugo, DSO, DFC and two bars.

No 5

Squadron Leader A.G. Lewis, DFC and Bar

Albert Gerald Lewis, born in Kimberley on 10th April, 1918, joined the Royal Air Force when he was 20, on a four-year Short Service Commission, being gazetted as an Acting Pilot Officer with effect from 29th October, 1938. At No.5 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School, Hanwell, he flew the Blackburn B-2, and in November, 1938, he was posted to No. 3 FTS at South Cerney in Gloucestershire, near the Wiltshire border, flying the Hawker Hart, Audax and Fury. Awarded his flying badge on 14th March, 1939, he was transferred to an advanced training squadron and completed his course on 8th June. On the 15th he was posted to No.754 Squadron Fleet Air Arm and was Staff Pilot, HMS Daedalus at Lee-on-Solent, flying the Walrus, Magister, Mentor, Sea Fox and Swordfish, his Commanding Officer being Lieutenant-Commander E. Esmonde, later awarded a posthumous VC for operations in the English channel against the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen. On 20th June, 1939, he crashed a Walrus, the machine being a complete write-off. Discharged from Haslar Naval Hospital on 12th August, he reported back for duty, and continued his training for alighting on the sea on the Walrus. The outbreak of war on 3rd September found him as Sea Duty Pilot and he received the signal for the Commanding Officer of the unit which directed: "Commence hostilities against Germany at once".

On 18th September, 1939, he was posted to No. 616 (South Yorkshire) Squadron Auxiliary Air Force, which had been formed on 1st November, 1938, for bombing, with Hinds, Tutors and Avro 504N's. When he arrived, however, the Squadron had Gauntlets, Tutors and Battles. He flew his first Gauntlet, serial K5285, from Doncaster Racecourse (where the Squadron was based) on a local reconnaissance. He also flew Tutors and Battles with the Squadron before being posted to No.12 Group Ferry Pool, where he spent most of his time ferrying Gladiators, and practising Fighter Attacks 1 to 5. These were types of formation attacks against unescorted bombers on which squadron training was then based, and they had been worked out by the Air Fighting Development Unit. For example, Fighter Attack No. 3 was the prescribed drill when two sections of fighters met three bombers; these attacks were complicated and time-wasting and all were based on tight V-shaped formations (vics) opening fire together. They were useless for air fighting, and many good pilots heard as their last words "Fighter Attack Number so-and-so - Go" and were then killed. We eventually adopted the German "schwarme" formation which consisted of two pairs, and called it a "finger four", because the aircraft flew in positions corresponding to the fingertips seen in plan view, and suitably stepped up. This formation was loose and manoeuvrable and completely replaced the Fighter Attacks scheme, with great success.

Albert Lewis also flew Tutors at the Ferry Pool before being posted, on 16th December, 1939, to No.504 "City of Nottingham" Squadron, at Debden. The Squadron was equipped with Hurricanes, and on 17th December, he flew the dual Magister, serial L2468, with one of the famous Beamish brothers, Victor, who was the Squadron Commander. On Boxing Day, he flew his first Hurricane, serial L1944, lettered E, on circuits and bumps, and made more training flights from Duxford and Debden, and then from Martlesham Heath.

On 30th January, 1940, he flew Hurricane L1951, lettered L, on a solo trawler patrol, and L1957, lettered Q, on a shipping patrol with Green Section on 11th February, and made his first contact with the enemy, in the shape of a Blohm und Voss long-range seaplane. Mention of Green Section may call for a word of explanation. In early 1940 the fighter squadron of 12 aircraft was organised into two flights, subdivided for air combat into two sections each. The aerial formations were as follows:

"A" Flight: +++ No. 1 Section- Red
  +++ No.2 Section- Yellow
"B" Flight:+++ No.3 Section- Blue
+++ No.4 Section- Green.

The vics were still being flown, as finger four had not yet been adopted, and the formation leader, when he spotted the enemy bombers approaching ahead and to a flank ordered the sections astern, and when they fell into two vics, one behind the other, the section leaders then ordered "Line astern, go" and the formation then formed a long line in single file, which was a convenient formation for a turn-in attack. Having turned and got astern of and slightly below the bombers, the leader then brought his squadron into vics astern in readiness for the attack.

On February 29th (1940 being a Leap Year) Albert Lewis (sometimes known by his second name, Gerald) flew Hurricane L 1912, lettered N, to test the variable pitch airscrew. Up till then all Hurricanes had fixed-pitch two-bladed propellers. For the benefit of the jet age it may be explained that the fixed pitch propeller for an aeroplane with a speed range from about 80 m.p.h. stalling speed to 350 m.p.h. top speed was an almost impossible compromise between topspeed performance and take-off performance. If the topspeed were very good, the take-off was correspondingly poor. The two-pitch (coarse and fine) propeller was something like a two-speed gear box which could give full engine power and efficiency at the low end of the speed range in fine pitch, and at the top end in coarse pitch. A constant speed unit was added, rather like an infinitely variable gearbox (the motorist's dream) and controlled the pitch of the propeller to keep the engine at whatever speed the pilot selected, eg, maximum speed for take off, climb and combat; low speed for economical cruising. The result was maximum propeller efficiency over the whole speed range.

The use of the word "airscrew" for propeller was common at that time. It lasted until a squadron short of propeller spares sent urgently for "12 airscrews". Back went 12 pilots, 12 navigators, 12 gunners and 12 wireless operators to the squadron. What happened was that the signal had been received as "12 aircrews" instead of "12 airscrews"; what happened to the wireless operator concerned is not recorded, but the term airscrew was discontinued, and propeller it has been ever since.

Albert Lewis, in addition to testing the new propeller, flew 306 hours and 45 minutes on convoy patrols, formation practices, night flights, etc., before making his last entry in his log book with No.504 "City of Nottingham" Squadron on 26th April, 1940, and being posted to No.87 Squadron in France, being transferred almost immediately to No.85 Squadron under Squadron Leader "Doggie" Oliver. This crack squadron had been commanded in 1918 by Major E. "Mick" Mannock, VC, DSO (2 Bars), MC (Bar), who was killed in command of the unit.

From 10th May, 1940, for about a fortnight, the Squadron flew from dawn till dusk, most of the records being lost in the final evacuation. Losses were heavy with aircraft being shot up on the ground by Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters and bombed by Heinkel He 111 bombers. (The opening shots of the film "Battle of Britain" give an excellent idea of this period in France.)

On 9th May, 1940, Albert Lewis flew Hurricane VY-D on an offensive patrol, and on 12th, flying VY-E, he shot down a Messerschmitt Me 109E and a Heinkel He 111. On 19th, flying AK-A (an aircraft still bearing No.213 Squadron's marking), he got five confirmed in one day (he was to surpass even this later), two Me 109s on the first patrol in the morning, and three more on the evening patrol, this fight having been witnessed by his CO and the Squadron. He wrote me describing the event: "I was jumped by a patrol of 3 Me 109s as I was about to return to base, troubled by a loose gun panel; became aware of attack as tracer streamed by. Turned in to attack and found the leader coming straight at me. Somehow his cannon shots missed and he rolled into a steep turn almost on his back, and pulled away. Suddenly there was his belly at point blank range. I rammed the nose of the Hurricane down, my head hitting the top of the cockpit glasshouse, and pressed the gun button; fuel spewed out from the L-shaped tank which the pilot sat on, and with fuel streaming behind him, the pilot flew straight down into the deck and exploded. By the way he handled his plane, I imagined the pilot to be experienced, possibly an instructor, with two greenies or fledglings, as the other two made half-hearted attacks, formed up together and headed home, towards Brussels.

"The fight had occurred in the Rubaix area on the Franco-Belgian border. My first inclination was to leave well alone, but realising we had the extra boost in the Hurricane if we needed it for short duration, I pulled out the boost control, and followed the two. I don't think they were aware of me following them as I was able to position myself slightly below and behind. They were sitting ducks; short bursts into each and they plummeted straight down into the deck at a steep angle. I was able to pinpoint the wreckages and submitted my report. The ack ack guns confirmed, and 'Bob' Martin, MC, our Intelligence Officer, had a look at the wreckages. They were fairly close together, in wooded country. The events happened in less time than it takes to tell it.

"On landing at Seclin my ground crew met me with grins and thumbs up signs. Doggie Oliver came over to me and said, 'We have just witnessed a wonderful scrap between one of our lads and three Messerschmitts.' I told him that I had just had three Me's jump me, and had managed to bag all three. He was delighted as he realised he had witnessed, with the ground crews, the action I had been involved in. 'I'm recommending you for the DFC,' he said with a grin." We evacuated Seclin that evening after destroying most of the equipment and the "lame ducks" {the unserviceable aircraft; again the film "Battle of Britain" portrays this aspect of the Battle of France very clearly) and flew to nearby Merville where we were bombed and attacked and our brand new variable-pitch propeller Hurricanes were ground strafed and made unserviceable. Two days later, on 21st May, despite the efforts of the Air Component, which had been meant to supply reconnaissance and protection for the British Expeditionary Force, the RAF was driven back across the Channel with 1,526 men and 931 aircraft lost, 279 of which had belonged to the Air Component. On that day, Albert Lewis flew back to England in one of the 66 Hurricanes which got away, and by the evening a few Lysanders of No. 4 Squadron were the only Component aircraft left in France. He landed at Gatwick, and then took off for Northolt where he was met by Wing Commander (later Air Chief Marshal Sir Harry) Broadhurst, and granted 48 hours leave. He set off, only to fall asleep at a table in the Paddington Hotel, and awake to find people staring at him; he was completely and utterly exhausted.

Sqd. Ldr. A. G. Lewis receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross from King George VI
(With acknowledgements to "Millenial Star" whom we believe received permission
to reprint the original photograph from "Life (C 1941 Time Inc."

On 23rd April he flew a Tutor from Aston Down to Northolt with a passenger, and got another seven days leave and promptly went off to Gloucestershire to marry Betty Yvonne Coxon on the 29th at St. Paul's Church, Whiteshill, Stroud, hard by the land he now farms, some 30 years later. His best man was Geoff Wedgewood who was married to a South African girl, and who had just completed a short service commission in the RAF when war started.

On 1st June, 1940, he flew a Blenheim I (serial L 6652) with Flying Officer Tom Pike from Aston Down to Debden. Tom Pike is now Air Chief Marshal Sir Thomas Pike.

On 4th June, 1940, Albert Lewis flew Hurricane VY-M on an operational patrol and on 5th, in company with Flight Lieutenant Jefferies, flew a reconnaissance from RAF Ford, and they were nearly shot down for their trouble. Landing at Hawkinge he flew a solo recce to Boulogne, Arras, Amiens, Abbeville in Hurricane VY-P. On 28th he flew VY-Z to Castle Camps from Debden; this satellite airfield (originally known as Freddie I) became 85 Squadron's flying base for the early part of the Battle of Britain. It was at this time that Squadron Leader (later Group Captain) Peter Townsend was posted to the Squadron to command. He soon christened Albert Lewis "Zulu", as he had christened his great chum, South African Caesar Hull, in No.43 Squadron, from which he had come. On 26th June, Dickie Lee, "A" Flight Commander, and Zulu Lewis flew in Master N 7546 to Debden for an investiture. Dickie got a DSO and DFC and Zulu his DFC. Pilot Officer "Bob" Martin, MC, the Intelligence Officer, fretted at the inactivity on the ground and became an air gunner, and was killed later in the war.

From 1st July, 1940, operations started in earnest, and three and four sorties a day were flown, usually convoy patrols from Martlesham Heath. On 18th August, flying VY-D on a solo patrol, Zulu destroyed a Me 110, and then the Squadron moved down to Croydon. On 31st August, flying VY-N, he got an Me 109e after being scrambled in a hurry. The combat report reveals that 9 Hurricanes took off at 1917 hours to patrol Hawkinge. They were then ordered to intercept Raid 18c. The first indication of position of enemy aircraft was given by anti-aircraft fire from Dover and then nine Me 109s were seen flying at about 15,000 feet. The squadron circled out to sea as enemy aircraft were on the left, and then wheeled in and caught them by surprise when individual combats ensued. It goes on: "Pilot Officer Lewis fired a four-seconds burst at enemy aircraft from 150 yards on the beam and from slightly below. Black smoke billowed out and enemy aircraft dived steeply. P/O Lewis followed it down to 5,000 feet making sure it was done for and rejoined Squadron. Position then above sea near Eastbourne. . . Nine Hurricanes landed Croydon 20.05 hours to 20.22 hours. Enemy Casualties: 4 Me 109s destroyed. Our losses: Nil."

The Station Commander at Croydon was Group Captain ( later Air Commodore) His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, who was killed flying later in the war. On 5th September, 1940, Zulu flew VY-Z from Castle Camps to Church Fenton in Yorkshire, where he flew routine patrols until posted to the top-scoring Squadron of the war, No. 249, at North Weald, on 15th September, 1940. Other South Africans with No. 249 Squadron in the Battle of Britain, included Pat Wells, now Sales Manager for Cessna Aircraft with Comair at Rand Airport, Germiston. Also in the Squadron was J. T. (Jimmy) Crossey, now running Malta Airways. Yet another South African with the Squadron was Percy Burton who, although mortally wounded, rammed a German aircraft with supreme courage. With No. 249 under Squadron Leader (later Air Chief Marshal) Sir John Grandy, it was all action at North Weald; sorties three, four and five times a day when Zulu Lewis arrived on 15th September, 1940, and straight away he got a He 111, and shared in the probable destruction of another. On 18th he got his twelfth confirmed enemy aircraft. On 27th, flying GN-R, he got nine, six confirmed and three probables. He thus got 11 confirmed in the two days of 19th May and 27th September, 1940, a record for pilots of single-engined British fighters as far as I know.

A distinguished group of airmen of 249 Squadron, Royal Air Force, September 1940.
(Left to right) Percy Burton (South Africa), "Butch" Barton (Cananda),
A. G. "Zulu" Lewis (South Africa) and Jimmy Crossey (South Africa)

The patrol of the next day, 28th, was over Maidstone, and Zulu was shot down in flames while flying the same aircraft, GN-R, after being jumped by a Heinkel 113. He recorded it at the time as a Heinkel 113, but there were no Heinkel 113's in the Battle of Britain, although there were many combat reports for the period August-October, 1940, making reference to sightings and combats with such aircraft. The mythical He 113 was in fact the He l00D, first flown in January, 1938. Seven prototypes, three pre-production and 12 production He l00Ds were built, but not one was accepted by the Luftwaffe for operational use. Six of the prototypes were sold to Russia, and the three pre-production machines to Japan.

The twelve remaining He l00Ds were used as a unit to defend the Heinkel Rostock-Marienehe works and were flown by Heinkel test pilots. To give the impression that the He l00D was in service with the Luftwaffe, many photographs were issued for propaganda purposes by the Germans, showing the l00D in full camouflage and with false unit markings. These were described as photographs of the He 113, and I also have recognition manuals showing these fictitious aircraft, describing them as He 113s. The "snapper" (as we called the German fighter escort aircraft) which jumped Zulu Lewis, was, in fact, a Me 109, as were all the other reputed He 113s.

No.249 Squadron had been in a gentle dive, with Zulu weaving over them, when he was hit from behind by cannonshells and set on fire. He eventually cleared the burning aircraft and Jimmy Crossey followed him down, circling the parachute to prevent any danger of his being shot at. This happened to several of our pilots, despite recent German denials to the contrary. I recall an Me 109 pilot trying to shoot New Zealander Bob Spurdle out of his 'chute on 22nd October, 1940, and Harbourne Stephen circling to protect him. In fairness to the Luftwaffe, however, it should be noted that at least one RAF pilot, to my knowledge, insisted on his right to shoot German pilots out of their parachutes in what he said was "total war".

Zulu landed safely, but was severely burned and was taken to Faversham Cottage Hospital, blind for two weeks, and with shrapnel in his legs, and severe burns on the face, throat, hands and legs. He received his little golden caterpillar with his name engraved on the back while he was in hospital, which confirmed his membership of the select band who have saved their lives by parachute.

After two months, in hospital and convalescing, Zulu returned to the Squadron in December, 1940, having been promoted Flying Officer on 29th November, was flying by 17th January, 1941, and became "A" Flight Commander, and was awarded a bar to the DFC. He flew local, night, enemy and routine patrols and sweeps and then in June he was posted to No.52 OTU as an instructor commanding "C" Flight, being promoted Flight Lieutenant on 29th November, 1941. At 52 OTU at Debden he flew Spitfires for the first and only time in his career, together with Masters, Magisters, Tiger Moths and Hurricanes. John Grandy, by then a Wing Commander, was again his CO in August, when they flew from Aston Down.

Zulu volunteered for overseas service and was posted to command No.261 Squadron (Hurricanes) in January, 1942, and on 31st flew Hurricane IIB, serial 6510, on local flying around Takoradi in Sierra Leone, West Africa. This was the port where aircraft were assembled to be flown to the Middle East.

On February 4th, 1942, still flying 6510, he led 18 Hurricanes from Takoradi to Lagos, Nigeria; then to Kano; to Maiduguri, still in Nigeria, and on to El Genina; then solo to Khartoum and Port Sudan. He comments: "We managed to get all our aeroplanes in convoy to destination without breaking any (sandstorms, the lot) covering 3,000 miles in three days." While at Port Sudan he met up with another South African from Rhodesia, Pierre St. Quentin, who was testing Kittyhawks for the RAF. He persuaded Zulu to "have a go", but although the latter commented, "not bad", he preferred the "Hurribus" in which he had achieved such success in combat.

On 19th February, 1942, F/O Cater, Rear-Admiral Denis Boyd and Zulu flew in a Boston from Port Sudan via Luxor to HQME (Cairo) and Zulu returned to Port Sudan the next day and embarked in HMS Indomitable. On 13th March he flew Hurricane Z 4961 off HMS Indomitable and made for China Bay, Ceylon, but was forced to return to the carrier because of the engine overheating, and to land on the deck without arrester gear. He reported laconically: "Navy very pleased with my effort". He eventually reached Trincomalee in China Bay, Ceylon, to command No.261 Squadron which had been reformed at Hal Far in Malta in June, 1940, with the three Sea Gladiators "Faith", "Hope" and "Charity" which had become famous for the gallant defence of the island (which was awarded the George Cross) and had then converted to Hurricanes.

Zulu recalls that the force consisted of himself as CO, 6 Flt Lts, 3 F/Os, 8 P/Os, 1 WO pilot and 34 Sgt. Pilots. Most of this force were Australian and New Zealand pilots with a few Canadians and an American. China Bay was a grass airfield, or rather, clearing, where a runway was under construction, and everything was pretty primitive.

Along the coast Zulu found a suitable landing strip at Batikaloa, towards Jafna, and the three Flights took it in turns to spend a week there. Malaria was bad; typhoid was caused by foul water supplies, and after Jap bombing, all water-borne sanitation was smashed and cholera added to their troubles. Most of the dead were buried in blankets in long trenches, as there was no time to make coffins. For all that, the force developed a love for the island of Ceylon.

On 9th April, the day before his 24th birthday, Zulu led his Squadron to intercept a Japanese raid and as he was taking off his aircraft was hit by fire from one of the Japanese Zeros. He was wounded in the left shoulder and his arm became useless. On fire, he baled out at 200 feet, his parachute opening just in time. He could see his base being heavily attacked, and for six hours lay suffering from shock until he was found by natives, who revived him with coconut milk, and helped him back to base.

In June, he returned to Britain via South Africa, where he was amazed and embarrassed to find himself "... a local lad who had hit the limelight", as he puts it. He had his portrait painted by Springs artist Johannsen (commissioned by the City Council of Springs) and was given a few days leave to see his folks. He recalls modestly: "It was rather trying, one reception after another, speeches, grinning whether you felt like it or not, and while my ego no doubt was exercised I was relieved when it was all over.''

In Britain he was made Chief Flying instructor at Tealing in Scotland and then went to 10 Group HQ at Box in Wiltshire in 1944-45 (the Air Officer Commanding was another South African, whose statue is at Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg, Air Vice-Marshal Sir Christopher J. Quentin Brand, KBE, DSO, MC, DFC, under whom I had served in 10 Group in 1941). Zulu next moved to 11 Group HQ and left the RAF on 16th February, 1946, having been an Acting Squadron Leader since 22nd April, 1943.

After the war Zulu went to the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester. In 1947 he returned to South Africa and in 1951 joined the Tobacco Research Board in Southern Rhodesia. In 1953 he became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints (Mormons) and during 1953-55 he studied in the U.S.A., but in 1957 he returned to farm in England. Becoming interested in genealogy he attended the World Conference on Records in Salt Lake City, U.S.A., in August, 1969, and he lives a very full life.

Albert Gerald Lewis, as well as being a brave and resourceful pilot, is a sincere and deeply religious man. He provides a better summary of his philosophy of life than any words of mine can hope to achieve:

"As my mind reflects on the Battle of Britain and on the many wonderful characters who formed a part of that scene and died a quarter of a century ago in order that the world might be a better place to live in, as did those in the First World War and indeed all righteous people from the beginning of time - I wonder, have we achieved lasting peace?

"If we are not to disappoint ourselves and all those who have come before, we need a plan - one that is practical and embraces all mankind. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, I sincerely believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only plan which can embrace the world so that all who desire to may live in peace."

No 6

Major J.E. Frost, DFC and Bar

John Everitt Frost (inevitably known as "Jack" Frost) was born in Queenstown on 16th July, 1918, and joined the South African Air Force in 1936. He was soon noted as a future leader and was awarded the Sword of Honour at the conclusion of his training. By 1940 he was a Captain and Flight Commander on No. 3 Squadron SAAF when that unit went north to Kenya late in 1940, with Hurricanes.

Early in 1941, South African and other Allied forces started a twin-pronged thrust out of Kenya into Italian territory. Within a short time the River Juba line had been breached and an ambitious campaign developed to drive the Italians back into the mountains of Abyssinia before the rains came. In the drive to Afmadu in Somaliland, the Hurricanes of No.3 Squadron played a vital part, and Jack Frost was soon in action; on 2nd February, 1941, while the 27th Road Construction Company, South African Engineering Corps, was still constructing a 1,000-yard landing strip at Ali Gabe near Liboi, he shot up an Italian Caproni Ca 133 bomber on the ground at Afmadu, and landed his Hurricane beside the bulldozers. Deafened by their noise and that of the graders, he did not hear three Fiat CR 42 fighters which dived and shot up the new landing strip, causing superficial damage to his aircraft. He immediately took off as the damage was light and next day was in action again, shooting down four enemy aircraft.

The Transvaal Scottish position near Dif was being bombed by a flight of three Caproni Ca 133s when he intercepted. As he attacked the rear bomber, two Fiat CR 42 fighters of the escort came down at him, but he managed to elude them and climbed to intercept the two leading bombers. The Fiats came in again, head on, but he got in a long burst at one of them just before he broke into a steep climb. The Fiat went straight down into the bush and burst into flames. Jack Frost returned to attack the Capronis, which broke formation, the pilot of the first baling out, and leaving the second pilot to make a crash landing. The second was shattered by the Hurricane's eight Browning .303 machine guns, harmonised in a deadly cone, and the third crash-landed after two passes from Jack had probably damaged it. He was awarded an immediate DFC for these four kills in one action and the citation referred to his "skill, resource, determination and courage of the highest order."

Six weeks later, on 15th March, 1941, when the Italians had been driven into the mountains, he was shot down during an attack on Diredawa airfield. Two Fiat CR 32s and a 42 came up to defend but were all shot down, the six Hurricanes shooting up Italian aircraft on the ground. Three Savoias and three Fiat 32s and a 42 were set on fire while yet another Caproni and three more fighters were damaged. The Hurricanes returned to Diredawa, after refuelling and re-arming at the captured Italian airfield at Daghadur. During this attack, Jack Frost's aircraft was hit and glycol coolant streamed back in the usual white mist; this was always a nerve-racking time; one never knew when a blast of flame would come from the violently overheated engine. He landed at a satellite airfield a few miles from Diredawa, and jumped out of his Hurricane, intent on setting fire to it before the Italians could reach him. The guns in the surrounding hills started to fire on him and he was in a tight spot.

Lieutenant R. H. C. (Bob) Kershaw had seen his Flight Commander go down, however, and circled the field to keep off any Italian ground forces that might have tried to capture Jack, and then landed and taxied his Hurricane towards his Flight Commander, shouting to him to jump in. With artillery fire crashing around them, Jack climbed in and flew the Hurricane, sitting on Bob's lap. A most remarkable effort for which Bob was awarded an immediate DSO, the first to be awarded to an officer of the SAAF. His portrait which hangs in the South African National War Museum in Johannesburg, was that from which was printed the famous South African wartime stamp depicting a pilot.

Major (then Capt.) J. E. Frost congratulating Lt R.H. Kershaw
on gaining the Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

In countless strikes and raids Nos. 1 and 3 Squadrons SAAF helped to smash the Italian air force in Abyssinia. No.3 Squadron was based at Nairobi, Mombasa, Garissa, Bura and Luma; conditions in the dry season at places like Garissa and indeed, all over the Northern Frontier District, were pretty grim. The heat was so intense that aircraft servicing stopped at 10 a.m. till 4 p.m. The sand was an added problem for aircraft and transport had constantly to be dug out, while it was impossible to rev engines before take-off because sand whipped back and stripped the fabric from the wooden propellers.

There is a good account of life in East Africa with the SAAF at this time in the excellent SAAF Golden Jubilee Souvenir Book "Per Aspera ad Astra", published in January, 1970, which reads: "The average life of a wooden propeller with fabric covering was twelve take-offs. Living conditions were equally trying, with the pilots and aircrews sleeping out under tarpaulins hung between trees and bushes, with meals consisting of bully beef, black coffee and biscuits. Water was stringently rationed, only a gallon a day per person being allowed for all purposes. In typical undergraduate fashion the pilots adopted various outlandish nicknames. There was the Buna Kid, the Sultan of Osamandela, the Sheik of El Wak, the D.C. of Dalaki and there were the Ginsbergs. On one occasion the Sultan of Osamandela was sitting in a tree, clad only in a singlet, when a scramble came for an air raid. He rushed through the bush to his plane and was soon mixed up in a scrap with a group of Italian planes. A Caproni bomber was shot down. It crashed and burst into flames, four of the crew being killed. One of the survivors, burned and severely wounded, hobbled to a field dressing station. Even after the crash he still looked smart in his Italian Air Force uniform. Asking to meet the pilot who had shot him down he was presented to the Sultan. He took one look, shook his head sadly and remarked: 'To think that an ace of the Spanish War should be shot down by boys who fly naked!'

"When Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Longmore, CCB, DSO, Air Officer commanding RAF Middle East, paid a visit to pilots of the SAAF to congratulate them on their good work, Brigadier Hector Daniel, CBE, MC, AFC, Senior SAAF Officer in East Africa, had to send a message ahead of the visit to ensure that the pilots were properly dressed for the inspection. He knew from experience what the situation was likely to be, because, on a previous occasion, when he had visited one of the Squadrons in the bush, he found most of the pilots so informally dressed that they were only wearing bath towels marked 'Stanley Hotel'."

Jack Frost shot down another Fiat in the valleys near Jijigga on 29th March and on 4th April he led two separate attacks on the Addis Ababa airfield. On the first he set fire to three Savoias and a Caproni, and destroyed two more bombers on the second. These raids were a crushing blow to the Regia Aeronautica, for in the four carried out that day, 30 aircraft were burnt, completely wrecked, or damaged; when the town was taken, the remains were found on the wrecked airfield.

There was some resistance for a month or two in the lake areas of Abyssinia, but the Italians were virtually finished in East Africa. Jack Frost's Squadron had destroyed more than 100 aircraft in the air and on the ground, and he was proclaimed the SAAF's leading ace of the campaign with 7 shot down and destroyed confirmed. Throughout this campaign SAAF Squadrons flew more than 5,000 sorties, destroyed 71 aircraft in the air and at least 70 on the ground, losing 79 pilots and aircrew killed and posting 5 missing; a great contribution to the first victory of the Allies in the war.

Portrait of Major J. E. Frost, displayed at the South African Nationhal War Museum,
painted by Neville Lewis, one of South Africa's official war artists during World War II.

Jack Frost was posted home to the Union and the Squadron was later disbanded; an era was at an end, but Phoenix-like they both rose again. He was promoted to Major, and joined No. 5 Squadron with Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks, leading it to the Western Desert in March, 1942; No. 3 Squadron was re-formed in December, 1942, in the Eastern Mediterranean with Hurricanes. Once again in the Western Desert, as in East Africa, sand was a great enemy. As Chris Shores and Hans Ring reveal in the preface to their "Fighters over the Desert" (Neville Spearman): "The main trouble was sand -- the fine desert dust being driven in clouds of stinging particles by every breath of wind. Great sandstorms would descend at anytime, obliterating the landscape in a swirling fog which found its way into everything. This sand, if ingested into aero engines through the normal air intakes, could wear out the moving parts in a matter of hours, turning the lubricating oil into an abrasive paste. For this reason all aircraft had to be fitted with special air filters which caused drag and resulted in reduced performance. Guns jammed, perspex cockpit canopies became scored and scratched, and food was ruined by the invasion of this menace, which also filled eyes, ears, noses and finger-nails, making life at times a gritty nightmare.

"Due to the length of the lines of communication, and lack of natural supply, water was strictly rationed, and that used for washing or shaving was carefully kept to fill the radiators of motor vehicles. Fresh food was virtually unobtainable, and tinned rations with hard biscuits were the staple diet. The violent heat of the day made most movement impossible during the hours around noon, and the metal parts of aircraft, tanks, etc., became so hot that to touch them was to risk a blistered hand. At night the temperature dropped rapidly, making the use of warm clothing essential. To add to these hardships, the troops were plagued by millions of persistent flies which settled on faces and on food continually. These conditions frequently caused 'desert sores' which, aggravated by heat and sand, festered on for months. Being so lacking in landmarks, the great wastes of undulating sand, rock and scrub were difficult to navigate over; to be forced down in such circumstances was to risk a lingering death from starvation and dehydration.

"To set against the deprivations, the Desert was a place of great comradeship, and, due to the extremes of temperatures, germs could not flourish so that there was no infectious disease. Further to this the Desert was virtually uninhabited, so that the pitiful flight of refugees did not manifest itself, the opposing armies being able to get on with the fighting untroubled by the destruction of homes or the killing of women and children, and so far as it was possible to have a 'clean' war, it was in the Desert that it was fought."

That is just how all of us who were there remember it; I carry the scars of "desert sores" yet.

After Jack Frost reached the desert, No. 5 Squadron joined Nos. 2 and 4 Squadrons in No. 233 Wing as the fighter cover for No.3 Bomber Wing SAAF. Leading three sections of Tomahawks north of Gambut he got a probable Heinkel He 111 with Lt. Whyte on 11th March. On 27th May he destroyed a bomber and although there appears to have been confusion as to type he was credited with a FiatBR 20. Later the same day he was badly shot up and his Tomahawk was severely damaged. On 28th May near Gazala, he shared a Messerschmitt Me 109E with 2nd-Lt. Martin of No. 5 Squadron. This Me 109E had been flown by Feldwebel Willi Langer, of a Luftwaffe Tactical Reconnaissance unit, who was killed. Next day he shot down a Macchi MC 202, and on 30th shared a probable Ju 87 with Lt. Morgan. During June and the retreat in early July the SAAF enjoyed its finest hour in the desert. It supplied a vital contribution to the Allied air effort to save the armies from destruction. The South African bomber squadrons started a systematic attack pattern using 18 aircraft, working almost to a strict timetable, bombing day after day in immaculate formation with hundreds of tons of bombs in a great effort to stop the German advance.

On 3rd June Jack Frost got a Ju 87 near Bir Hacheim. On 5th June Jack was himself shot down in the Knightsbridge area, luckily landing in the lines of the 1st South African Division. Two day's later on the 7th June, he got his revenge getting a probable Me 109 over Knightsbridge, and damaging another on the 8th, over Bir Hacheim. He got a probable (a Me 109) on 9th over Bir Hacheim again, but it was to be his last claim.

A fine study of Major Frost in the North African Desert.
The ensign in the background is that of the S.A. Air Force

So well had No.233 Wing supported the light bombers during this period of the most intense air effort that not one bomber was lost through enemy fighter action. Those lost (2) and damaged were due to anti-aircraft fire. On 16th June, at 1840 hours, six Tomahawks of No.5 Squadron, with four of No.4, and two Kittyhawks of No.2, set off once again to escort the light bombers, Bostons of No. 24 Squadron, raiding enemy transport west of El Adem, with No. 2 Squadron as top cover and No.4 Squadron as close cover. They were jumped by Me lO9Fs and No.2 Squadron lost Lt. De Villiers (shot down in flames, but he returned that evening) and Lt. Bryant, who was wounded and his aircraft badly damaged. Lt. McGregor of No. 4 Squadron was wounded in the face and his aircraft also badly damaged, but he got back safely.

No. 5 Squadron were the heaviest sufferers; Lt. R.C. Denham and Major Jack Frost, DFC, the SAAF's greatest fighter ace, were lost. He was heard to order No.5 Squadron to reform over the landing ground, having fought a running battle to protect the bombers right back to their base, but no more was heard of him. The SAAF's top scorer of the war (credited with 14 and one-third confirmed kills at the time of his death; later figures denote at least 15), was gone. Oberleutnant (later Hauptmann) Hans-Joachim Marseille, the leading German scorer in the desert, credited with 151 victories there (158 in all), was in action at the time in the area and claimed four victories - one of these could have been Frost but as there were several other claims and four by Fw. Steinhausen of the same formation as Marseille it is unlikely that we shall ever learn who shot down Frost. The loss of Jack Frost was a heavy blow; he had doubled his score in a few days, and had led his young Squadron with great vigour and é:lan. Repeated searches were made for him in the next few days but neither he nor his wrecked aircraft was ever found. He passed on, very young, gallant, and supreme in the annals of the SAAF, as the top scoring fighter pilot in its ranks; and he remains so to this day.

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