AFB Ysterplaat – 70 Years of Aviation Excellence – Part Two



The History of Ysterplaat 1810 – 1941 (The Early Years)

(View Part One Here)

To a certain extent it is not known precisely when aviators started using Ysterplaat as a landing field, but it is interesting to know some of the background to what we know as Air Force Base Ysterplaat today.

In the census of 1810, it is listed that on the 31st December 1810, one Willem Caesar and the widow Priem and her two children are resident at d`Yzere Plaat, (Ysterplaat) a hay farm belonging to a Mr. J. P. Eksteen and that they owned two draft oxen.

Sir De Villiers Graaff in 1941 as a Major in the “Dukes”

Some time later as Cape Town expanded, the area then became known as Maitland Common and according to the Title Deeds for AFB Ysterplaat, that some of the property eventually belonged to Sir de Villiers Graaf.

An initiative by the Cape Town City Council to provide a municipal airport for the town led to what we know today as Air Force Base Ysterplaat.  The name of the farm, and subsequently the name of the Base are named after the natural geographical feature of the ground and are translated into English as “Iron Plate”.

The Airport Manager's House

Erected in 1917 and occupied by Mr. F. A. N. Duk who worked for Aero Services as a pilot and manager of the Airport. The building is now occupied by AFB Ysterplaat Transport Section. Some of the exterior and interior areas have been slightly modernised, however, the fireplace and all original woodworks are perfectly preserved. Next to it was erected the 1920 Hangar that was subsequently moved to the museum.

Captain Fred Duk in the SAAF Special Reserve Force in 1923

In those early days, Brooklyn consisted of one house, (manager’s office) a lean-to Hangar (Museum Restoration Center) the 1920 Hangar and a large square grass airfield without runways.

Members of SAAF Diamond Mail Service at Brooklyn 1925

The Air Force’s association with the airfield did not begin in 1940 when the Base as we know it was being built. The SA Air Force’s relationship goes way back beyond that as the Air Force started what was then known as the SAAF Diamond Mail Service in 1925.

At the request of the Department of Mines, the SAAF instituted regular mail flights between Maitland and Alexander Bay.  Cape Town would, it then appeared, have to become used to seeing SAAF aircraft in its skies.

It is suspected that from as early as 1915 civilian pilots were using the grass airfield that was to become known as AFS Brooklyn.

Union Airways, started by Major A.M. Miller of RFC fame, began operating a scheduled airmail service which used Brooklyn as its Cape Town terminus from 1927 for about two years before the operations were moved to Wingfield.

Union Airways did not survive the turbulence of the financial melt down in the 1920’s and several flying accidents did not contribute to its well being either and it  was eventually liquidated leading to the formation of the nation’s national carrier.

South African Airways began flying on 1 February 1934 after the South African Government took over the assets and liabilities of Union Airways.

August 1929: Union Airways Gypsy Moths at Brooklyn

Union Airways was based upon a weekly service which left Cape Town after the arrival of the Union Castle Mail Ship on Monday mornings.

In the opposite direction, the fights were timed to reach Cape Town before the departure of the Mail Ships on their north-bound voyages. The service would unite Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban with Cape Town.

The Miller Archives with the history of Union Airways is lodged with the permanent collection at the SAAF Museum.

The RMS Saxon Castle was the first ship to carry airmail collected in South Africa

The Pupil Pilot Training Scheme at Brooklyn

Although Brooklyn Aerodrome was first used in 1925 for military purposes, in 1938, the Chief Instructor of our then very young Air Force, Sergeant E.R. Mauritzi, chose Brooklyn as the most appropriate aerodrome in the Peninsula for training purposes. All flying training activities were then moved from Mariendal Aerodrome near Stellenbosch to the airfield at Brooklyn. And so the scheme to train 100 pilots for the SAAF began. It was known as Union Air Training Group (UTAG). Towards the end of 1938, African Air Transport (AAT), a subsidiary of De Havilland Aircraft Company at Baragwaneth opened up at Brooklyn, with a contract to train batches of civilian pilots to SA Air Force specified standards. The manager of AAT at that time was David Earl, the Pilot Instructors were Eddie Maritz, Jan Jacques, and later Victor smith who joined them in February 1939.

Victor Smith - an AAT flying instructor at Brooklyn Airport


Aircraft used were DH 82A Tiger Moths, ZS-ANE, AJC, ANU and AMZ. There were also the privately owned aeroplanes, a D.H. Hornet, ZS-AOT belonging to Victor Smith, and an Avro Avian owned by Traffic Cop Naude (later of Skeleton Coast fame). At this stage, Brooklyn still consisted of only one hangar, one office block come manager’s house and one lean-to hangar, no runways and no radio.

The course for the first batch of pupil pilots being trained for the SAAF started on 1 April 1939 and was to end on 30 June 1939. The course included: Wildsmith, Bob Kershaw, Fritz Johl, Victor Heimstra (who became a judge), Gordon Pat Patterson, Theo Purchase, Pat Polson, and Traffic Cops Naude and Strydom. Many pilots were trained without incident, a large number to become famous during World War 2, which started soon afterwards.

Bob Kershaw DSO, DFC

When war broke out in 1939, AAT was moved form Brooklyn to Tempe, near Bloemfontein, and was absorbed into the SAAF. Brooklyn was to be developed into a full blown Base.

(View Part One Here)