The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 14 No 6 - December 2009


Contents page of Journal

EDWIN SWALES, born at Inanda, Natal, was awarded the VC posthumously. He was the last South African to receive the VC. His citation reads:
'Captain Swales was the master bomber of a force of aircraft which attacked Pforzheim on the night of February 23, 1945. As master bomber he had the task of locating the target area with precision and to give aiming instructions to the main force of bombers following in his wake. Soon after he had reached the target area he was engaged by an enemy fighter and one of his engines was put out of action. His rear guns failed. His crippled aircraft was easy prey to further attacks. Unperturbed, he carried on with his allotted task. Clearly and precisely he issued aiming instructions to the main force. Meanwhile the enemy fighter closed the range and fired again. The second engine of Captain Swales's aircraft was put out of action. Almost defenceless, he stayed over the target area issuing his aiming instructions until he was satisfied that the attack had achieved its purpose. It is now known that the attack was one of the most concentrated and successful of the war.

Victoria Cross - from the front cover of this Journal

Captain Swales did not, however, regard his mission as completed. His aircraft was damaged. Its speed had been so much reduced that it could only with difficulty be kept in the air. The blind-flying instruments were no longer working. Determined at all costs to prevent his aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands he set a course for home. After an hour he flew into a thin-layered cloud. He kept his course by skilful flying between the layers but later heavy clouds and turbulent air conditions were met. The aircraft, by now over friendly territory, became more and more difficult to control and it was losing height steadily.

Edwin Swales

Realizing that the situation was desperate, Captain Swales ordered the crew to bailout. Time was very short and it required all his exertions to keep the aircraft steady while each of his crew moved in turn to the escape hatch and parachuted to safety. Hardly had the last crew member jumped when the aircraft plunged to the earth. Captain Swales was found dead at the controls.

Intrepid in attack, courageous in the face of danger, he did his duty to the last, giving his life that his comrades might live.'

(The Springbok, Vol 39 No 6, June 1956, pp 17-18).

Photograph on the front cover of this Journal:
An Avro Lancaster, Second World War, the type of bomber flown by Edwin Swales, VC.

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