The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 2 No 6 - December 1973


by Squadron Leader D.P Tidy


No 9

Major Cornelius Arthur van Vliet, DFC

Cornelius Arthur van Vliet (known to the South African Air Force as Corry) was born in Johannesburg on 27th March, 1918. His parents had come to South Africa from Holland at the turn of the century, and he was one of a family of six, having two elder brothers and sisters, and a younger sister. His junior schooling from 1925/30 was at Yeoville Intermediate School, and he modestly confesses to average performance both scholastically and in the sporting field. His senior schooling was at the school which has produced so many personalities of South African life, Parktown Boys' High, Johannesburg. He was a prefect in 1935 and again, modestly, (modesty is Corry's middle name) he says he 'made the 1st XV at rugby but never considered myself much good. I was not very interested in cricket and played tennis, and swam, as my summer sports.' He was a student officer in the school cadet corps and 'very proud of my 2nd Lieutenant's pip.' He took his duties seriously and enjoyed the military atmosphere. In fact he very nearly filled in the necessary enrolment forms to join the S.A. Merchant Navy Academy, 'General Botha', at Simonstown (which had earlier nurtured Sailor Malan, as described in No.2 in this series in Vol.1, No.3).

Major C A van Vliet, DFC. In the background is a wrecked Me109

Corry matriculated at the end of 1935 and, like so many other lads, did not know what career to follow. An old friend of the family, a stockbroker, Mr. J. B. Lithgow, strongly advised him to take up accounting and introduced him to the firm of George Mackenzie and Company to whom he became articled. Mr. Lithgow lost two sons flying with the SAAF; one, Timmy, over Warsaw, and Jock, over Italy, in a Spitfire.
During 1936, Corry agrees that he was a fairly diligent articled clerk and passed his first accountancy examination; but then the flying bug bit him. At the time the SAAF had a scheme for university students to fly part-time and qualify for their flying badge, the coveted 'wings'. In 1937 applications were invited from non-university students for training as pilots. The scheme entailed flying instruction at light aircraft clubs, and then full-time training at military centres. Ultimately the students could qualify and become officers in the Special Reserve of Flying Officers.
At this time there were three light aircraft centres in Johannesburg which undertook the training. The Johannesburg Light Plane Club at Baragwanath, The Rand Flying Club at Germiston and the Witwatersrand Technical College Flying School, also at Germiston. Corry was fired with terrific enthusiasm and applied, not rating his chances very high with his usual modesty. He says that he could not claim a robust physique, 'in fact I was skinny'. Neither did he think he had the necessary attributes upon which the final selection would depend. To his amazement he was one of about 24 who were selected from what he understood was a field of about 800.
On 1st July 1937 he had his first flight in a DH 82A, the 'Tiger Moth' on which so many great pilots started, with Bob Southey as his instructor, at the Witwatersrand Technical College Flying School. From then on, lectures on the theory of flight, air navigation and meteorology became far more important to him than debits and credits and bills of exchange.
On 15th August 1937 he had a very lonely five-minute first solo flight. He confesses that he was hardly a natural, having taken some 19 hours of dual to get to that stage.
However, one should not compare this with private flying conversion as his was a military syllabus, and most solos took about 12 to 15 hours of dual.
By the end of September 1937 he had 50 hours logged (dual and solo), and during October 1937 did his first fulltime spell at a military base at Roberts Heights (now Voortrekkerhoogte) Swartkops Air Station. The aircraft used for the training were Westland Wapitis and he still remembers how enormous the wingspan seemed in comparison with the Tiger Moths he had flown up till then.
From November 1937 to March 1938 part-time training at the flying school, with a few weeks on Wapitis, occupied Corry's time, followed by a final spell at Swartkops on Hawker Harts, and so to the great day when he qualified for his 'wings' and was awarded his commission as a second lieutenant in the Special Reserve of Flying Officers in April 1939, having flown Harts, Wapitis, Tiger Moths, Miles Magisters, Bucher Jungmanns and Jungmeisters.

Then came a sudden void, as the Pupil Pilot Scheme did not allow for training once a pupil had his 'wings', and few articled clerks could afford private flying. After a few months of flightless frustration he and a colleague from flying course, Don Ord, felt they should do something about it. At that time there were reports of air warfare in China, so they went along to see the Chinese Consul in Johannesburg, but their day-dreams were dashed on finding that they would have to pay their passages to China out of their own pockets.
In any case, by then it was July 1939, and the war clouds were gathering over Europe, and this kept alive their hopes of real military flying. When Britain declared war on 3rd September, 1939, Corry was quite annoyed that it took the South African Government a few days to follow suit.
He was equally frustrated when, after numerous phone calls, it took the Defence authorities about a fortnight to call up the Reserve Officers. Looking back, however, Corry admits that the SAAF mustered a fairly effective force in a few weeks.
He had already had several training flights on the Hartebees before September ended, with the emphasis on gunnery and bombing. With 75 hours solo in his log book he was 'ready to take on the whole of the Luftwaffe', he recalls wryly. He was posted to No 2 Bomber Fighter Squadron at Waterkloof Air Station under Captain J. A. de Vos, flying the Hartebees (which was, of course, the South African-built Hart).
He enjoyed the next seven months from a flying-training point of view, but found them frustrating in that there were no signs of moving to an operational theatre. The highlight of this period was his being allowed to fly the only Fairey Battle (K9402) in South Africa; in fact the only modern bomber in the SAAF.

On 6th May 1940 he was posted to No 11 Bomber Squadron under Major R. H. (Bob) Preller and shortly afterwards received the news that the Squadron was 'going North'. By that time Italy was obviously coming into the war and, with her military presence in Abyssinia, prospects looked bright for some real action.
The next few days and nights were a hectic scramble for spray guns, and grey, green and brown camouflage paint. Each pilot had a mechanic allocated, and worked with him as a team responsible for getting their particular Hartebees ready for the trip.
On 19th May 1940, No 11 Squadron left Waterkloof Air Station with 24 Hartebees, the first to fly north as a unit with its own aircraft ready for battle. Girl friends, wives and families were allowed entry to the station to say farewell. With a large number of aircraft flying as one formation (apart from an advance flight of three), the hops were short and the route was:

Although the hops were short it must be remembered that the Hartebees only had a range of about three hours and that tradition and etiquette ('presumably from World War I', says Corry) demanded that the CO took off last and landed first. Conversely the most junior pilot took off first and landed last. Each flight formed vics of three and there were seven vics of three to form up before setting course (the advance flight having gone on ahead, as noted previously). Corry recalls, 'Invariably someone had trouble starting, so it took some time before the Squadron set course. Being on the outside of the Squadron the most junior officers had far more throttle movement to keep position and accordingly used far more fuel. It was, therefore, a nail-biting exercise when you got to your destination to await your turn to land, knowing you only had minutes of fuel left. Some pilots did break sequence but it was a matter of pride not to do so as tradition had to prevail at all costs. I well remember the landing at Mpika where I had about two minutes fuel left when I started my approach, with absolutely no prospect of going round again. Fortunately I made a good landing, but as I started to taxi in, my engine cut. I was well and truly bawled out by Major Preller for cutting it so fine - but tradition had been upheld!'

When he got to Nairobi he had 'the magnificent total of 167 hours' flying'. At one minute past midnight on 11th June Italy declared war. At 0800 No 12 Squadron's converted Junkers 86s set out from Eastleigh on the first bombing raid on the enemy.
Corry's first raid was flying one of three Hartebees on 16th June. The target was supposed to be Mega, but he still has his doubts that the leader found the correct target 'but it was good fun dropping real bombs on real buildings'. His operations at that stage were short-lived however, for on 21st June 1940 some of the Squadron were sent back to South Africa to fly up the Fairey Battles with which the Squadron was to be equipped, the Hartebees being taken over by No 40 Army Co-operation Squadron under Major J. T. (Jimmy) Durrant (later Major-General, CB, DFC and OC 231 Heavy Bomber Group, RAF, and post-war Director General SAAF with rank of Brigadier, the highest rank in the SAAF at that time). The Battles could only carry 1000 lbs of bombs for 1000 miles at 240 m.p.h. On 7th August 1940 Corry flew one back to Nairobi and, by 12th August, the Squadron had re-formed and was stationed at Archer's Post, a bush aerodrome about 40 miles north of Mount Kenya on the fringe of the North West Frontier District, fifteen Battles being assembled there. The 'aerodrome' was notable at that time as a landing strip used by Martin Johnson, a well-known big game hunter and photographer. It was actually only a clearing in the bush.

In taxying out for take off on 17th August 1940 to go to Wajir for an overnight stop, Corry burst a tail-wheel tyre and was an hour behind the others. At that stage he had done no night flying, and had to find Wajir in the moonlight and land by the light of a few army trucks placed in a line. He made a good landing but, when taxying back, fell into a bomb crater made that afternoon by Capronis which had bombed Wajir. Luckily he suffered no damage and was later pulled out.
Next day, 18th August, the first flight of four Battles under Major Preller (of which Corry's was one), failed to reach the target, Mogadishu, owing to adverse weather conditions, and struck at Merka instead, damaging a Caproni and administrative buildings.

On 21st August 1940, Corry flew on a raid against Mogadishu once again. The drill was to take off from Archer's Post and fly to Habaswein, a long stretch of semi-desert which was a natural landing ground.
During a low-level pass over Mogadishu, Corry's aircraft was hit by machine-gun fire and Lt W. J. B. Chapman, the Squadron Armament Officer, 'who had come along for the ride', says Corry, was wounded in the leg. As he was bleeding fairly badly, Corry got back to Habaswein and procured medical attention for him as soon as possible. James Ambrose Brown, in 'A Gathering of Eagles' (Purnell) says: 'The Squadron's photographer being in Nairobi with the photographs taken on 19th August, Lt W. J. B. Chapman, familiar with the F24 camera, volunteered to act as photographer. He took the initial photographs but, after being wounded during the third bombing dive and unable to stand to operate the hand-held camera, he instructed Air Sergeant Wright how to use the camera and they brought back useful photographs'. Three aircraft were destroyed, six seriously damaged, five hangars damaged and the covering of a petrol store destroyed. One rear-gunner claimed three mobile kitchens and the Italians confirmed destruction of five Capronis, according to Brown (ibid).

Having been in the accountancy field, Corry was made bar officer which had its advantages, with regular trips to Nairobi to keep the bar stocked. On 7th September he took part in another raid on Mogadishu, the targets being aircraft and a 'motor transport yard'. During one of the bombing runs he suddenly found an Italian Romeo 37 (a reconnaissance aircraft the Italians were obliged to use as a fighter) just ahead of him. Unfortunately the Fairey Battle had only one forward firing gun which jammed after a few rounds had been fired. Major Preller wrote later of this target:
'The big joke was that the collection of vehicles (Corry's "motor transport yard") was a collection of ancient derelict vehicles abandoned since the Abyssinian war' (Brown ibid).

On 12th September 1940 (at the height of the Battle of Britain over far-distant England), Corry was led by Captain J. R. de Wet, in company with Lieuts E. G. Armstrong and J. E. Lindsay on the other two Battles. Brown (ibid) reports 'The Italians had also learned from experience that the South Africans attacked at three-day intervals'. They were ready with fighters when No 11 Squadron returned to Shashamanna on 12th September. Three Fairey Battles made low-level and dive attacks, scoring a direct hit on the headquarters building with a salvo of 250 lb bombs, destroying one Savoia and seriously damaging another. Four CR 32s engaged the Battles, one of which crashed in flames, killing Lt E. G. Armstrong and A/Sgt C. C. Adams.
The fourth Battle, flown by Lt J. E. Lindsay, had orders to take photographic evidence of the bombing, says Brown, and 'turned back for its base at about 2000 feet. Warrant Officer Marescal Gobbo (a veteran of the Spanish Civil War) came out of the clouds below. Before Air Gunner V. P. McVicar could get in a burst, he had opened fire, wounding McVicar and Air Sergeant L. A. Feinberg, the photographer. The aircraft caught fire. Lt J. E. Lindsay put the Battle down in a small opening between trees. As it landed it struck and killed a villager and burst into flames. The escaping crew were set upon by armed natives and would probably have been killed had not the Battle's ammunition begun to explode. The villagers fled and the Italians, arriving on the scene, took the airmen into captivity, the wounded being flown to Addis Ababa for treatment'.
This, says Corry, was the first time it really dawned on him that in a war, bullets went both ways. (Louis Feinberg survived and lives in Johannesburg and we often meet for a chat about old times.-AUTHOR).
Months after the crash, a propeller blade from the crashed Battle was found among the Shashamanna graves, with a fence round the wreck of the aircraft, a cactus plant at each corner, writes Brown (ibid). On the metal of the propeller was engraved: 'Luggotente (sic) E. G. Armstrong 11 Squadrone Bombardamento, SAAF 12.9.40.'

On 14th October 1940, Captain J. de Wet led Corry and Lt Hamilton on a bombing raid on the aerodrome at the western town of Jimma. Corry destroyed a Caproni, but when re-forming, the formation was attacked by two CR 42s; they took cover in some very welcome cloud. The three Battles were in formation and heading, Corry thought, for home. Brown writes (ibid), 'The controls of Captain de Wet's aircraft were badly damaged by a CR 42, and a burst of anti-aircraft fire put the instruments out of action.' Corry recalls that it was the custom in those days 'to set the compass for the course to the target, and on returning to merely steer the reciprocal, i.e. red on red to the target, and red on black for home. It was all pilot navigation and no luxuries such as radio, or even oxygen. Suddenly Lt Hamilton waggled his wings violently and broke away from the formation. I thought he still had a bomb left and had gone to drop it as we didn't worry overmuch to stay in formation, and raids were semi-individual affairs. After formating on Jannie de Wet for about 45 minutes, I happened to take a more serious look at my compass and was amazed to see it was red on red and not red on black! I immediately closed my formation position with Jannie and made violent arm signals for him to turn back (no radio), but he didn't understand my signals. I was on the point of turning back myself when a large river showed up ahead of us. Navigation at that time was a matter of map reading and compass and Jannie realised we had got to the Blue Nile - in fact we weren't very far away from Addis Ababa!
'He waved me forward to lead and I immediately turned 180 degrees for home. On a rough calculation I knew we would be lucky to get out of enemy territory, and fuel economy was vital. I climbed to 21 000 feet which I felt was the maximum we could risk as we were not fitted with oxygen, and throttled back to minimum cruising revs. By this time I had been in the air for about six hours and badly needed relieving. This was achieved with the aid of an empty Verey cartridge shell which I normally used as an ashtray. After that incident the perspex covering never lost its stains.
'I was making for a landing strip at Lodwar as I was not aware of one at Lokitaung at the north end of Lake Rudolf Jannie knew of the existence of Lokitaung and, when he broke away to land, I thought he was out of fuel. I knew I wouldn't make Lodwar with my fuel but thought it best to get as far as possible. Being a semi-desert area, I felt I had a good chance of doing a dead engine forced landing and decided to fly to the last drop of fuel. I am still amazed how I missed all the boulders when I finally had to land. From 21 000 feet the ground looked like one big areodrome, but at 500 feet you see all sorts of unpleasant things especially when you have a dead engine and no chance of going round again! Anyway, my luck held, and I did a successful wheels down landing. Air Sergeant Wright (my gunner), and I, collected the canisters of water and iron rations, and started our hike to Lodwar some 60 miles away. I had seen a road track from the air which we reached fairly soon. We walked until some time after dark when we saw car lights in the distance. I was fairly sure we were out of enemy territory, and waved the vehicle to stop. It was an army vehicle going to Lokitaung. We got there to find Jannie de Wet had crash-landed as the fighters at Shashamanna had damaged his elevator controls (he had landed using only elevator trimming tabs.-AUTHOR).
'The following day we returned to my aircraft with some fuel and I carried on to Lodwar for a proper re-fuel. The total time in the air was 7 hours 40 minutes which I think remained the record on the Squadron with the normal fuel capacity, without special tanks.
'An interesting side issue was that Lt Hamilton got back to base and told Major Preller he had left me flying on the wrong course. Major Preller predicted correctly that, when we reached the Blue Nile, we would realise our mistake and turn back, and also predicted almost exactly where we would finally force land.'

After a few more routine jobs without incident Corry was sent to Lokitaung to carry out an offensive reconnaissance for the King's African Rifle Regiment stationed there. He recalls: 'I had a full bomb load of small anti-personnel bombs in containers, which meant that they were instantly live when they left the container, and therefore were not a very pleasant load with which to carry out a forced landing - especially a belly landing!
'I took off from Lokitaung with Air Sergeants L. Lamont and E. Murphy as rear-gunner and observer. We flew at a fair height above what appeared to be a military encampment of sorts, but at that height I couldn't observe any particular activity or detail, and so made a low-level pass over the area. Too late I realised that there were machine-gun nests on either side of me and I collected a shot in the glycol radiator. My pass over the encampment was fortunately in the direction of home so I continued flying low and straight ahead with white smoke pouring out. I considered I probably had about five minutes of flying before my engine packed up. With mixed feelings of trying to get as far as possible but yet not wanting a forced landing with a probably white-hot engine, and still lots of petrol around, I decided to get a little more height. I also still had to make a decision about a belly landing with a full bomb load, as I certainly would never make the necessary height to jettison the bombs.
'The area was fairly level with scrub bush, and as the temperature gauge left the clock, I let the wheels down and took a chance on what lay straight ahead. Just before landing we saw hostile Merille tribesmen ahead. They were the Italian mercenary counterparts of the Turkana tribes supported by us. The Merille in particular had a reputation for performing certain anatomical operations on their victims, and certainly would not have been very partial to us in view of prior bombing raids.
'As we touched ground, the left wheel hit a bump. The wheel was torn off, hit the tail of the aircraft and came bounding forward past my head. The aircraft slid along on its belly on a dry mud swamp, and we held our breath, hoping the bombs wouldn't explode. Our luck held, and we scrambled out to see smoke coming from the engine. We quickly collected two water containers holding about 2,5 gallons but, fearing that flames might burst from the engine at any moment, we did not wait to collect food. I took my rifle.
'We cracked a hole in the internal fuel tank (with the axe carried on board) before leaving, and heaped our maps and other documents in the cabin. I fired a Verey pistol into it and the machine blazed up.
'We cleared off for all we were worth, covering more than half a mile before we looked back, when we saw a mushroom-shaped column of smoke 50 feet high and heard the rumble of explosions. We made for a hill, knowing that the Merille tribesmen would easily track us across the soft, dried mud of the swamp. After an hour's walking and running we crossed the border. Later we saw a lorry approaching. A small advance party of one officer and two Askaris came forward and our anxiety about their identity was dispelled, for they were friends. They had seen us come down and had come forward to rescue us.

The next three months were occupied bombing enemy airfields and supporting the army advance which was putting the Italians to flight. By March 1941 the Squadron was based near Mogadishu, where the former CO, now Lt-Col Preller, was at Wing HQ. He wanted to get a captured Italian Caproni 133 bomber down to South Africa, and it was Corry and Captain Meaker who flew it down after heroic efforts to make it serviceable. The three-engined monoplane was the first captured aircraft to be seen in South African skies and Mrs Smuts, wife of General J. C. Smuts, the Prime Minister, flew with Corry around Pretoria with her family in the aircraft. He relates:

'The Caproni had a form of stable door on the port side at the rear. The top half when open allowed for a machine gun. I was horrified during a left turn over the city to see all the children (four of the Smuts grandchildren and Mrs Smuts's daughter, Mrs J. H. Coaten, were in the aircraft with Mrs Smuts.-AUTHOR) leaning over the top of the door to get a better view. I hurriedly changed the left hand circuit to a right hand, with visions of scattering the Prime Minister's grandchildren all over Pretoria.'

The captured Italian Caproni CA133 at Broken Hill on the flight to South Africa, 27 March 1941. The crew (left to right) Lt C A van V, Capt J Meaker, A?Sgt Knottenbelt and WOII Botma

Corry was then supposed to take the Caproni on a recruiting tour, but got bored and asked for a posting to No 1 (Fighter) Squadron in June 1941. Normally it was very difficult for a bomber pilot to transfer to fighters, but due to a shortage at the time he managed to work it, and was promoted to Captain as well. He flew by BOAC flying boat to Cairo and went on to join the Squadron at Fuka, Waterloo.
On 2nd August 1941, Corry and Bennie Osler, with their number 2s, Lts Dunne and Coetzee, had been ordered to remain over two British destroyers north-west of Sidi Barrani. As described in No 8 in this series, (Vol 2, No 1), they sighted 20 Ju 87s escorted by 20 Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Corry was at 11 000 feet and was unable to intercept the Stukas before two of them had bombed, but he went down steeply on them as they were diving away from the ships.
Corry opened fire on the leader's aircraft at 200 yards, and after three long bursts it exploded, fragments striking Corry's aircraft. He at once attacked the second Stuka and, after giving it a long burst, black smoke began pouring from it. He was then attacked from the rear by two Macchis and had to take evasive action, but the Stuka was observed by the Navy to go down and they confirmed that five Ju 87s, one Messerschmitt Bf 109 and two Hurricanes went into the sea.

In the combat above Halfaya Pass on 24th September 1941 (reported in detail in No 8), Corry was shot down, after being attacked by three Bf 109s which shot away his controls. He baled out and landed safely, but injured his shoulder, but then he was lucky because he was picked up by our forward troops. He was sent to Mersa Matruh for medical treatment and, as soon as he could (after three days), he rejoined the Squadron with his arm in a sling, and walked into the Mess to a rousing cheer, looking much his old self. He was out of action for most of October owing to the shoulder damage, but on 4th December 1941 he led 10 Hurricane MIs as top cover for No 274 Squadron, Royal Air Force, in the Bir el Gubi/Gabr Saleh area. Eight enemy aircraft were seen in a gaggle (i.e. in no particular formation). No I Squadron's ten Hurricanes were flying in pairs, line abreast, a formation which had shortly before taken the place of the former vic.
Corry climbed in a left hand turn to meet the MC 202s and the final score in the encounter was two Macchis destroyed, three probably destroyed and three damaged. Next day, again with No 274 Squadron, RAF, Corry led his formation of 10 Hurricanes to the west, turning north on spotting a MC 202 which dived in the rear of the formation. At the same time his formation was attacked by several aircraft which dived out of the sun. In the mix-up which followed one Bf 109F was claimed as a probable, three damaged and a MC 202 damaged.

On 17th December 1941 only eight Hurricanes could be mustered by No 1 Squadron SAAF, to provide a close escort to five Blenheims of No 84 Squadron RAF and three of No 14 Squadron RAF, bombing Derna. Coming back, 12 miles south-east of the target, 12 Bf 109s attacked the formation of eight Hurricanes and eight Blenheims. Corry, leading the escort, saw two of the Messerschmitts, for no apparent reason, fly right across the front of the Blenheims. Without altering course he was able to open fire from a range of 50 yards, and one of the Bf 109s pulled away and burst into flames. Corry saw the tail weavers drawn away from the formation, and fall back to protect the rear. He fired a short burst at a 109 which pulled out of an attack on a Hurricane, but Corry observed no effect of his fire. He saw two Hurricanes hit the ground and flame, and also two Bf 109s.
Captain Voss reported that two Bf 109s shadowed the formation all the way back to Gazala. Near the airstrip one of them dived from 3000 feet, then levelled out and began an attack on the Blenheims. The 109 opened fire on the rear bomber at a range of 100 yards, but did no damage, as Corry got in a full-deflection burst on him at only 50 yards, and forced him to pull out in a climbing turn, and break off the engagement. This was the only attack made on the Blenheims, the Messerschmitts having made many attacks on the Hurricanes, apparently intending to draw them away from the bombers. Although no Blenheim was damaged, four Hurricanes were lost, three pilots killed, and two Hurricanes, (one of them being Corry's), very badly damaged by cannon fire. For the remainder of December 1941 and early January 1942, heavy rains made the landing ground unserviceable. On New Year's Day came news that Corry had been Mentioned in Dispatches for his work with No 11 Squadron in Kenya, and on 7th he was awarded the DFC for his flying with No 1 Squadron, SAAF, the citation being carried in the Government Gazette for 20th January 1942. A suitable party followed, as Benny Osler's DFC was announced in the same Gazette.

The end of January saw a general withdrawal as the Germans pushed back the Allied forces in the desert. In the afternoon of 5th February 1942, Corry led four Hurricanes on a strafe of the coastal road north of Tmimi. Leading the aircraft out to sea, he crossed the coast a mile north of his target, and completely surprised motor transport and gun posts along the road, and the run was almost complete before army guns opened up. Two lorries were set on fire, two more damaged and several gun-posts were attacked.
By now he had flown 144 operational sorties, and had 355 operational and 261 non-operational hours, and was ready for a break when he was ordered back to South Africa, arriving on 19th March, 1942 for a month's leave. He spent seven months with No 10 Squadron SAAF in Durban, flying Mohawks and Kittyhawks and also flew a captured Italian CR 42. He recalls that the most exciting moments of those months were flying a Kittyhawk as target for searchlight practice.

In December 1942 he was promoted to Major and formed No 3 Squadron, sailing from Durban in the Nieuw Amsterdam (as I had in March-AUTHOR), and finished up in Aden training new pilots.
He found this rather boring and managed a transfer to No 7 Squadron SAAF in the Western Desert. The Squadron was equipped with Hurricane IIDs (Tank Busters) fitted with 2 x 40mm cannons. He spent April 1943 training against ground targets, but the IIDs were withdrawn and the Squadron re-equipped with IICs, so he never flew the IID on operations.
May to July 1943 saw Corry mainly in the Derna area, doing a few patrols over convoys, but there were no engagements with enemy aircraft. The only highlight of this period was operation 'Thesis' on 23rd July 1943 (in which my Squadron, No 74 (F) RAF also took part.-AUTHOR). Over 100 aircraft attacked various targets in Crete. It involved over an hour right down on the sea to avoid early warning to the enemy, and there was heavy flak over the island.

In August 1943 No 7 Squadron was re-equipped with Spitfire Vcs and stationed at St Jean in Palestine. Soon after it moved to Gamil Landing Ground at Port Said. The buildup for the Kos episode (reported in detail in my article 'Dodecanese Disaster', in Vol 1, No 2.-AUTHOR) began and the Squadron went to Antimachia on Kos.
After Kos, at the end of October 1943, No 7 Squadron was stationed at Savoia in Italy, and Corry handed over to Major Stanford and took over No 4 Squadron at Palaba near Foggia. November and December 1943 were fairly active on fighter/bomber sorties and ground strafing enemy transport. Some of the sorties were over the Adriatic into Yugoslavia, attacking trains and road transport. Although the enemy never showed up in the sky, the flak and ground fire were intense and No 4 suffered quite heavy losses. Corry thinks that this and delayed nervous reaction from Kos had their effect. He had logged 180 operational sorties and had 419 operational hours and 406 non-operational by then.
The Squadron Doctor told him he should leave the operational sphere as he was worn out after the strain of these campaigns, and he returned to South Africa in 1944. With his usual total modesty he says: 'One feels a little crushed and subdued to feel one had to drop out but I think, on statistical averages, I had been very lucky to last as long as I did.' He had no need to feel crushed; he had done more than most, and should feel great pride that he had lasted so long. Rob McDougall, who was with him on Kos, told me recently, 'Corry is the bravest man I know', and Rob knew many.
From March 1944 to December 1944 he was Chief Flying Instructor at 10 Operational Training Unit at Waterkloof Air Station, and during this year on 8th June he received a second Mention in Dispatches for his part in the Kos operations.

In January 1945 he was posted to England with Major L. B. van der Spuy for the Central Gunnery School course at Catfoss in Yorkshire, and the Fighter Leader School course at Tangmere in Sussex. He achieved a distinguished pass, the gunnery being done on Spitfire Vcs and the FLS course on Typhoons and Tempests.
He recalls: 'I was essentially a single-engine pilot but was foolish enough to accept the offer to fly a Mosquito. Swinging on take-off, I still don't know to this day how I pulled it over the line-up of parked aircraft and the hangar behind.' He also flew the jet Meteor in 1945 which was a novelty at that time. From Harts and Wapitis to Meteors in six years was quite a contrast!

During the FLS course at Tangmerc, VE (Victory in Europe) Day was celebrated and shortly after, Douglas Bader, the famous legless fighter leader, became the operational instructor.
Corry returned to South Africa and, during August 1945, there were some possibilities of operations in the Far East but September brought Victory in Japan (VJ) Day and peace, and Corry's thoughts turned to civilian life. October to December 1945 saw him in charge of N'changa (Northern Rhodesia), a refuelling point for the shuttle service bringing troops home from Cairo. He had an Anson for his personal use at this time to enable him to visit various radio stations in the area.

In January 1946 he returned to South Africa and went down with a severe attack of malaria. The nurses told him afterwards that it was just about 'tickets'. March saw Corry return to his old firm to finish his Chartered Accountancy Examinations.
He returned to flying to do a short refresher course at Waterkloof in August 1948 and had some hours on a Spitfire IX which he had been very keen to fly on operations years earlier, but had been confined to Vcs. He also got some flying with the City of Johannesburg SAAF Reserve Squadron at Baragwanath during 1948/49 with a farewell beat-up of Virginia Farm Golf Course on 15th October 1949. (He reports wryly that the police wanted to prosecute for this beat-up!). Since that day he has not touched the controls, and he went to Rhodesia at the end of 1949 and is now the Chief Financial Executive of the Cold Storage Commission of Rhodesia which handles almost the entire beef trade in Rhodesia. He remains as quiet, modest and charming as ever; one of the most efficient and gallant of the South African Air Force pilots of World War II. It was only with great difficulty that I persuaded him recently, when he was on a rare visit to South Africa, to let me write this. He claimed that he was of no importance and still does so, but it was such as he that made the SAAF a household word for steadfast and brave service.

(The Author would like to record his sincere thanks for Major van Vliet's kindness and courtesy in filling gaps by his personal reminiscences in conversation and by letter).

Return to Journal Index OR Society's Home page

South African Military History Society /