Author Archives: Cameron Kinnear

Sunderlands of Lake Umsingazi

THE SUNDERLAND FLYING BOATS OF LAKE UMSINGAZI

By Jeff Gaisford
Jeff Gaisford has a deep interest in the flying doats which operated in Zululand and this led to the writing of this article. It first appeared in World Air News and is reprinted here with kind permission.

262 Squadron RAF used Catalina Bay at the southern end of Lake St Lucia as a forward operational base in 1943 and ‘44.  Initially they flew the sturdy Catalina flying boats, but these were gradually replaced by much larger four engined Short Sunderland Mark 5 flying boats. These drew over five foot of water and St Lucia was too shallow for them. This forced the Squadron to look for an alternative landing site with deeper water. They chose Lake Umsingazi at Richards Bay, and the squadron relocated there lock stock and barrel in the course of 1944.  In 1945, there being so many South Africans on strength in 262 Squadron, it was decided to transfer the whole operation to the South African Air Force. This was duly done and 35 Squadron SAAF came into being. The squadron base was at Congella in Durban and this required the big flying boats to land in the harbour. They were forbidden to land there at night, however, due to various after dark hazards that included the large number of small “fishing”craft, and the flying boats had to land at Lake Umsingazi.

A 35 Sqn SAAF Sunderland with the registration letters RB-N crashed and sank there on the night of 1 November 1956 in bad weather after a navigation exercise to Europa Island in the Mozambique Channel.

A young crewman, 18 year-old Henry van Reenen, survived the crash and, now a respectable businessman in Gauteng, recently told me his tale:
“Three Sunderlands flew on the navigation exercise from Durban to Europa Island – their serial numbers were RB-D and RB-N which was the aircraft I flew in. I cannot recall the registration of the third one. En route our radar set failed. Great waterspouts were rising all around us, forcing us to dodge backwards and forwards and it wasn’t long before our navigators had no idea where we were. Without radar we were almost blind.

The other two Sunderlands completed the exercise, turned for home and landed safely at Lake Umsingazi. We eventually packed it in in the late afternoon and headed back towards the South African coast. A thunderstorm had come up, waterspouts kept forcing us to change course, so we headed towards Durban and then turned up-coast in order to find our landing area on Lake Umsingazi.  Late that night we sighted the lights of the flarepath on Lake Umsingazi and came down on our final approach. The thunderstorm was still raging with high winds, very heavy rain, hail and great flashes of lightning that lit the sky around us.

The Sunderland was about 60 feet off the water when for no apparent reason we dropped onto the surface, hitting very hard. We bounced, then hit the water again. I fly privately now but in those days wind-shear was a little- understood factor.  Our pilot, Capt Naude, rammed the throttles open to abort the landing and go around once more, but at about 100 feet the Sunderland stalled under full power and crashed into the lake. The nose was partially broken off, the co-pilot Lt Col Thys Uys was flung bodily through the cockpit canopy and landed almost 200 yards away. Capt Naude’s harness snapped and he was flung back-first against the instrument panel, injuring his back. I was seated in the wardroom below the flight deck with three other crewmen and was catapulted against the bulkhead ahead of us and knocked unconscious. Two of these crewmen were the only fatalities. I came to a few minutes later underwater and in pitch darkness. I found some air trapped above me and, after taking a deep breath, swam back through the wardroom into the galley – there I opened a hatch that led to the flight deck, but this was also under water. There was a small perspex dome used by the navigator just aft the main canopy. I found some air trapped there and this gave me a few more gulps.
Acting more on instinct I swam along a passageway to the weapons deck intending to exit the Sunderland through one of two machine-gun hatches situated on either side of the fuselage just aft of the wing trailing edges. Some flame floats in this compartment had ignited and the interior of the compartment was aflame so I swam underneath the flames to get to the left hand hatch. The rest of the crew were sitting on the left hand wing and Jan Knoll, a Dutch radio officer, heard me yelling. He had been in the wardroom with us and had swum out through the galley and through the viciously sharp tangle of wreckage where the nose had been. He jumped into the water and helped me out, swimming with me to the wing where my friends pulled me up and out of the water. They battled to pull me up because a hook on my Mae West buoyancy jacket had caught on the wing trailing edge. All their pulling was pretty painful! I passed out from the pain of my injuries – I had broken both ankles – and only came to briefly on the boat taking us to shore.

We were given first aid and bundled into the back of 1947 Ford ambulance that bounced its way across a terribly rough track to the Empangeni Hospital. Both my feet were dangling off the end of the stretcher and were being mercilessly bounced up and down. One of the medics realised that I was in agony and they shifted me up a bit. At the hospital they cut off our flying suits and gave us another thorough wash! We were later flown to Durban and spent a few weeks recovering in Addington Hospital before being flown to Cape Town in another Sunderland,” he told me.

Richards Bay in those days was still very wild and the bodies of the two men who died in the crash were only recovered some days later because crocodiles were nosing around the wreck and keeping the divers away. Thys Uys was a bit of a legend in his own right having being involved in the attempted rescue of the survivors of a wrecked ship, the Dunedin Star, on the Namibian coast in 1939 flying a Ventura.
As a boy I saw the stripped  hull of the Sunderland being winched out of the Lake Msingazi in about 1958. Only recently have I found out that full salvage was not possible and the hull was let slip back into the lake.  A local man salvaged the right hand wing float at that time and converted it into a catamaran ski-boat powered by an old flathead Ford V8 engine and with one of those domed Perspex cake covers usually found in a Greek tearoom as a canopy. This contraption, looking like something from Startrek, actually went out to sea and must still be in the area somewhere!
The natural beauty of Lake St Lucia and Umsingazi has hidden this story for many years.
To the average visitor today the thought of those beautiful lakes being the scene of such amazing military aviation activity would be strange – but these events are a part of the fascinating history of Zululand and definitely part of the aviation history of South Africa.

Westland Wasp HAS. Mk1

Wasp #93 at AFB Ysterplaat.  Image by Jens Schmidtgen

Wasp #93 and website author at AFB Ysterplaat in 2002. He served on the SAS President Kruger, which operated Wasp helicopters in an anti-submarine role.

SAS President Pretorius.  Image by C K Kinnear

Taken by the website author in 1981 from the helicopter deck of the SA Navy Flagship SAS President Kruger, SAS President Pretorius and WASP HAS. MK1 operate south of Cape Point.

Note the forefoot of the frigate is completely out of the water.

Wasp #85 operating off the SAS President Kruger in 1981.    Image by C K Kinnear

The first prototype flew in the UK in 1958, and the first production model flew in 1962. Developed as an antisubmarine ship-based unit, the aircraft carries a pilot and a flight engineer and three passengers. Armed with either two Mk 44 torpedoes or depth charges, this aircraft had a range of 488km and a maximum speed of 104 knots, or 193 km/h.

Image by Elmarie Dreyer

Powered by a Rolls Royce Bristol Nimbus 503 turbo shaft, the SAAF ordered 17 WASPs of which 16 were delivered.

Image by Irene McCullagh

Sikorsky S55 Whirlwind (HAS 22)

 

A5 (cn 55-959) (Image by Gunter Grondstein)

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The S-55 was introduced into the SAAF in 1956, with further airframes arriving in 1956 and 1957. These were assembled at Ysterplaat, and joined an S-51 as the Helicopter flight at AFS Langebaanweg. This flight was later re-established as 17SQN.

WV 224  HISTORY

1953 – Built by Kaiser Corporation and delivered to Sikorsky on 26/05/53 after making an acceptance flight on 11/02/53. WV224 arrived at Gosport, UK on the 26/09/53 and issued to 706 Squadron (coded 733/gj) Fleet Air Arm on the 14/10/53.

1954 – Transferred to 845 Sqdn. On 01/03/54 and coded “s”, whilst with 845 Sqdn WV224 would almost certainly have taken part in the Suez operations of 1956 flying from HSM Theseus, the first British amphibious assault using helicopters.

1957 – Sent to RNAS Lee-On-Solent on 01/04/57 and passed onto Westland Helicopters at Illchester for cat 4 reconditioning on 29/05/57.

1958 – Returned to Lee-On-Solent via RAF Shawbury on 27/04/58 from Westlands and issued to 848 Sqdn coded “354” on its formation on 15/10/58, departing to Malta on HMS Victorious.  NOTE:  Code 354 is reported but can not be confirmed.

1960 – Transferred to RNAS Hal Far SAR Flight Malta 01/01/60 and may have been coded “958”.

1962 – Returned to the UK (details unknown) and arrived at Westlands, Weston-Super-Mare for cat 4 reconditioning on 21/05/62.

1964 – Sent to NARIV?  Lee-On-Solent for UHF installation on 04/11/64.

1965 – Issued to 728 Sqdn at Hal Far Malta for SAR duties on 23/03/65 to replace WV203 and coded “961”.  WV224 was flown back to the UK from Malta on 30/08/65 arriving back at Fleetlands on 04/09/65.

1966 – Joined 781 Sqdn at Lee-On-Solent on 23/02/66 and was sent to NARIV for installation of MAD gear (Magnetic Anomaly Detection) still coded “961”.  Returned to NARIV on 14/09/66, presumably for MAD gear removal, moving to Fleetlands on 28/09/66, rejoined 781 Sqdn at Lee-On-Solent on 20/10/66 on a temporary basis and sent back to Fleetlands on 17/11/66 for storage.

1970 – Sold to Autair Helicopters on 19/11/70 and departed on 01/03/71 to be used as a spare source for other Autair helicopters.  WV224 arrived at Port Elizabeth with  3 other ex RNAS S55 airframes.

It’s believed these were flown by Autair to Grand Central Airport in Johannesburg from Port Elizabeth .

s551_3

The only information we have is that they languished in a hanger and in due course given to the SAAF Museum at Swartskop with WV224 finding it’s way to Ysterplaat.

COLOUR SCHEMES:

706 and 845 squadron Oxford Blue. It is believed it was refinished in extra dark sea grey with upper surfaces and sky lower surfaces while with 848 squadron.

Back to Oxford blue when it was transferred to SAR Flight, Malta.

829 squadron RAF blue grey.

This particular airframe is another volunteer project, and is being restored under the  guidance of Richard Woodard, who became particulary intimate with the type when  he was posted to RAF Kuching in Borneo, serving with 225 SQN.

Jeep towing the S 55 prior to restoration.
Restoration complete

Mustang P-51D-20NA

Category : Aircraft , Features , Posts , Publications

Mustang '325' at Swartkops, 1999

Serial Number 44-72202 was delivered to the USAAF in September 1945

12/21/46: Delivered RSwAF 26112 F4, later F16
1952 Dec: Delivered Dominican AF FAD 1917
1984: (Johnson Av.)
1987: SAAF Historic Flight -restoration
1993: SAAF Museum -restoration
1998: Flying again as SAAF 325
2001: suffered a wheels up landing (repairs began)

The airframe was acquired for the SAAF Museum by Lt Col Tony Smit in 1987 from the USA and
it was shipped to Cape Town. It was found to be very corroded and stripping commenced immediately
after the crated aircraft arrived at AFB Swartkop. It is recorded that bad luck, missing parts, stretched
cables and a lack of funds resulted in the restoration taking some 12 years of work.

The aircraft had a mishap when one side of the undercarriage failed to rotate and  the aircraft was damaged. The pilot was Lt Col N. Thomas.

General Characteristics

Length of 9.8 metres, wingspan of 11.28 metres, height of 4.08 metres.

Powerplant is a Packard V-1650-7 liquid cooled supercharged V-12.


Aeromacchi Atlas MB326M Impala Mark I and Mark II

Category : Aircraft , Features , Posts , Publications

Impala 531, in Silver Falcons scheme, taken at Hoedspruit in 1997.
Impala Mk II #1027 taken at Bloemspruit in 1997.
Impala #524 taken at the SAAF Museum at Swartkops in 2003.

An Italian design, the South African versions are known as Impalas. The dual seat prototype first flew in 1957, with the single seat version’s first flight occurring in 1970.

The power plant is a Rolls Royce Viper Mk 540 turbojet offering 1547kg’s of static thrust.

The principal dimensions include a wingspan of 10,56 metres, a height of 3.72 metres, and a length of 10,65 metres.

Top speed at sea level of 770kmh, with a service ceiling of 12500 metres and a range of 1665 kilometres.


North American Harvard

Taken at Swartkops in 1997.
Taken at Swartkops in 1997.

The first prototype flew in 1937, the T6G had a top speed of 341 kmh at sea level with an operational ceiling
of 6500m.

A batch of 9 Mk I’s were delivered between 1940 and 1942, and the SAAF took delivery of their first batch of Harvard Mk II’s in 1942, with deliveries continuing until four Harvards were purchased from the Belgian Air Force in 1961.

The SAAF operated a number of variants, including the MkII (Designated in the US as  AT-6C), Mk III’s (designated in the US as AT-6D or SJN-4) and the T-6G, the rebuilt version of World War II vintage machines.


Super Frelon 321L

Super Frelon #314 is cared for in a running condition at the Museum at Ysterplaat Air Force Base.
Frelon #314 dwarfs the Ford Canada CMP truck.

The first prototype flew on December 7th, 1962, and the first production model flew on November 11th, 1965.

This French aircraft was powered by three Turbomeca Turmo IIIC turbo shaft engines rated at 1320 shp (985Kw) each. The fuselage is 19.4 metres and the rotor diameter is 18.9 metres. The gross mass is 13 000 kilograms.

The aircraft had a maximum speed of 275kmh at sea level with a range of 820 kilometres. The service ceiling was 3150 metres. A crew of pilot, co-pilot and engineer, and 27 passengers could be carried.


Fieseler Fi 156 Storch

The first prototype flew in 1936, and the aircraft became one of the greatest recconaissance aircraft of all time.

Powered by an Argus AS 10-C eight cylinder air-cooled piston engine of 176 kW, the aircraft has a wingspan of 14.22 meters, a height of 3 meters and a length of 10 meters. The maximum speed is 175 k/mh. The SAAF aquired it FI 156C-7 in 1946.


DASSAULT-BREGUET MIRAGE F.1, Mirage III, 111EZ, AND 111CZ

Louis Trichardt, 1999.
Image by Neil Commerford

The first production F.1 flew in 1973, with South Africa receiving it’s first delivery in 1975. Powered by a Snecma-Atar 09k-50 turbojet rated at 5035 kg (7166 kg on afterburner) the Mirage is capable of Mach 2.2

The length is 15 meters, the height is 4.5 meters and the wingspan is 8.4 meters.


Douglas C-47 Dakota

The most famous of the C47’s, 6832 was the aircraft that was sent to retrieve the coelacanth in 1952.

Image by Irene McCullagh

C47 Dakotas 6862 and 6869 at 35 Squadron, Cape Town International in 1996. 6862 was sold shortly after this image was taken.

The C47 prototype first flew in 1935. One of the most famous aircraft of all time, the ‘Dakota’ was powered with two Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 radial piston engines of 1200 hp (882 kw)

With a length of 19,66 meters, height of 5,16 meters and wingspan of 28,96 meters. The maximum speed at sea level is 346kmh and the service ceiling is 6300 meters.

Known by many names, this aircraft has been used for many purposes. Over 10000 were produced, the last rolling off the assembly line in May 1946. Over 40 were operated by the SAAF, with the first delivery to the SAAF having taken place in June 1943.

The SAAF still operates a number of these aircraft, having performed a turboprop conversion.