Q&A – 21 Squadron East African Operations

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Q&A – 21 Squadron East African Operations

Comments: I have a request for information relating to 21 Squadron SAAF that operated in East Africa during WW2 (1941-43?)

On a visit to Kenya earlier in the year I visited the CWG Cemetery at Gilgil and noticed one of the graves bore the Jewish Star of David and was placed on the resting place of Lieutenant S D Davis of 21 Squadron SAAF.

I noted Lt Davis’ was killed on 5th September 1942.

I mentioned this to friends in Israel who discovered that Lt Davis (Observer) was not listed in the Jewish Servicemen  War Dead records so we have now been able to rectify this omission.

I then started to wonder about his fellow crewmen (assuming that it was an aircraft casualty) but I had not looked for any graves that covered the day in question and from SAAF members..but I have now checked the CWG list for Gilgil and have found the graves of two of Lt Davis’ comrades. These are Captain D J Jacobs DFC (pilot) and Air Mechanic W Weekes. Both gravestones refer to 05/09/1942 and 21 Squadron.

From the SAAF references on the websites available I have tried to track 21 Squadron’s sphere of operations. I have only found limited information (21 Squadron operations against Italian forces in Somalia and Ethiopia and also in North Africa) but I have little detail to go on. I wondered if there is a 21 Squadron History in print. I would be very interested in reading it is one exists.

As there seemed to be only a 3-man crew I made a speculative guess that the aircraft involved may have been a Blenheim – is this correct or not?

The nearest sphere of operations mentioned would have been Ethiopia but I am curious as to how Captain Jacobs and his crew were buried in Gilgil which, of course, is some distance from the old Kenya/Ethiopia border. Was any official account of this casualty recorded in SAAF reports?

My interest is entirely historical. I have no connection with any of the three SAAF members.

I hope you can shed some light on this story – for which I thank you in anticipation.

Raymond Batkin, Plymouth, UK

Answer

21 Squadron were heavily involved in the North African campaign in late 1941 flying Martin Marylands. They were active participants in Operation Crusader and suffered extensive personnel and aircraft losses. On 21 January 1942 they were withdrawn to LG98, near Amiriya south of Alexandria, to re-equip with Martin Baltimores.

The first four of the type to arrive were so clapped-out, engineers managed to build 1 flying aircraft from the four delivered ! However further Baltimores eventually made there way to LG98, following which the unit moved to El Firdan and later Kasfareet in July for continued familiarisation and training on the type.

On 24 August they moved to Shandur. It was from here that Baltimore III AH138 was lost on 5 September 1942 when it spun into the ground near Lake Naivasha in Kenya, killing Lt S.D. Davis, Captain DJ Jacobs, F/Sgt RB Jennings and Air Mech W Weekes. I don’t have the squadron files readily at hand, but one must assume they were on a training flight when the accident occurred.

Hope the above answers your query.

Steve Mclean


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