Author Archives: Guy Ellis

It took 15 years to save MT-2800

After decades of neglect and threat of destruction MT2800 has a proper home and a future.

Zulu Jetty
Zulu Jetty – boats at the Umsingazi base jetty (Robert Page and FAD)

MT 2800 built by British Power Boat Company at their Hythe yard as a 24ft marine Tender Mk II and was assigned the Yard number 1961. She was completed and taken on charge by the RAF at 62 MU Dumbarton on 24 September 1941, allocated the RAF hull number 2800 and was immediately allocated for service in Durban in South Africa, arriving there in late 1941.

She served until the 1990s and then languished in various locations, her continued survival fought for by a few dedicated individuals who have passed on the baton of care from one to the other. Durban Harbour on the East coast of South Africa is renowned as a major port, but from the 1930’s to the late 1950’s it was an important hub for civilian and military flying boats.  Imperial Airways Short C class, which opened the first commercial air route to Europe, and warlike Sunderland and Catalina flying boats that watched over the convoys of World War II and ships in peace time, used the harbour as a base.

Sunderland - A 35 SQN Sunderland lies moored at the base at Congella. The aircraft's name painted on her nose is 'Little Zulu Lulu'. Launch 999 is a sister ship to 2800 (Lebbeus Laybutt and FAD)
Sunderland – A 35 SQN Sunderland lies moored at the base at Congella. The aircraft’s name painted on her nose is ‘Little Zulu Lulu’. Launch 999 is a sister ship to 2800 (Lebbeus Laybutt and FAD)

The MT was assigned to Durban to support the flying boat service between South Africa and Great Britain and then to 262 Squadron RAF from November 1942. Initially operating Consolidated Catalina aircraft the squadron patrolled the increasingly busy Indian Ocean, watching for U boats and giving assistance to vessels in distress. The many ship convoys that stopped in Durban for resupply interfered with flying and the RAF operations were moved to Langebaan on the west coast and St Lucia in the then Zululand in 1943.

The Catalina’s were being gradually replaced by the large Short Sunderland Mk 5 which drew over five foot of water and St Lucia proved to be  too shallow. Looking for deeper water the Squadron moved to Umsingazi toward the end of 1944. RAF records show that 1961/MT2800 was based at St Lucia in 1943 and it is probable that she moved to the new base in 1944. Contemporary photographs show a number of similar vessel tied up to the Squadron jetty. By 1945 there were so many South Africans on strength that it was decided to transfer the squadron to the SAAF and it became 35 Squadron SAAF.  Once again operations returned to Congella in Durban.

However the planes were not allowed to land in Durban at night for fear of colliding with the fishing boats active in the harbour and the Umsingazi base was retained as an alternative alighting facility. With the war over the famous SAAF shuttle service was put in place to bring the troops home. One route was flown by the flying boats from Cairo to Durban. During November and December 1945 it was recorded that 1022 troops had been brought home and 72526lbs or 32966kgs of Christmas packages delivered to the waiting men in Egypt. The last Sunderland left North Africa on 26 February 1946 with the commander of the South African 6th Armoured Division, Major General Evered Poole on board. Records show that MT2800 was based in Congella in February 1945, and it is possible that she was used to transport many of these returning soldiers from flying boat to shore.

Although the days of flying boats drew to close in the 1950s the SAAF retained some elements of it is maritime unit that had saved over 600 lives during the war. MT2800 served at Langebaan lagoon attached to the No I Motor Boat Squadron and was then transferred to No 3 Motor Boat Flight along with 3 SAAF 63ft Miami class high speed launches and two dinghies on 5 December 1956. Service continued with the Air Force until the Navy took over the marine unit in 1969. MT 2800 was eventually ‘Struck Off Charge’ by the South African Navy (SAN) in 1990. In SAN service she was painted grey with a green deck, yellow engine cover and displayed her number in yellow on the bow. For a short time she was used as a pleasure craft and was painted blue and christened CAMERON L, the name she still carried into the new century.

Willie Burger, of the West Coast SAAFA, saved the boat from destruction when the tender was up for disposal in 1997. He highlighted its’ historical importance and made plans for its preservation. Funding was difficult and there were ideas that using her as a pleasure cruiser would pay for the upkeep, but these plans failed. She was stored undercover in a set of open sheds within a secure lock up outside the Langebaan air force base, where she suffered very little damage, but was under continual threat of a scrapping order. The Old Boat Trust was established by Guy Ellis in 2003 to preserve the boat. For two years various schemes and ideas were explored to find a location or organisation which could provide a secure future for MT2800. Westlake Technical College came to the rescue. Westlake 2006 The College had established a shipwrights’ school and agreed to take the boat on as an educational project. One hot February day in 2006 the SAAF provided a large truck and staff to load the boat and drove it south to Westlake. Unloading a two and a half ton boat and its cradle took a great deal of ingenuity and muscle power, as there were no heavy lifting capabilities at the College. Through brute force, clever thinking and care MT2800 was put under cover.

Westlake store At this stage she represented the last vestige of an RAF link to Westlake, which during the war had served as barracks to the RAF personnel who served on the SAAF air sea rescue launches. It is a good possibility that some men who had been accommodated at Westlake had at some stage driven or been transported by MT2800.

Modern day boat building does not demand the skills needed to work on a clinker built wooden marine tender. There was no space in the curriculum for work on the boat and it remained untouched, luckily mostly undercover and reasonably secure. By the end of 2009 it was clear that a new location had to be found. Richard Hellyer began to investigate the feasibility of returning the boat to the UK for the Portsmouth Naval Trust. There were no funds for the building of a new cradle or to cover the costs of shipment on a container vessel. When it was clear that MT2800 would remain in South Africa, Charles Hellyer took on the task of finding a solution.

These ranged from a private organization to mounting the boat at the entrance to the collage as a gate guard. The former would not have ensured her existence as an artefact of military history and the later was fraught with issues around protecting the boat from the elements and vandalisation.

Removal 2012

Contact was made with of the South African Navy in November 2011 and through the efforts of Leon Steyn of the Navy museum she was moved to Simons Town naval base on 6 September 2012. Here she will be restored over three years as part of the Armscor apprentice scheme and put on display when complete.

Simonstown 2012


Hellyer, R., British Military Powerboat Team, Jackson, Allan., Facts about Durban, Ellis G., Serve to Save, The South African Air Force at Sea, Freeworld Publications, 2001

Thanks to:

Richard Hellyer Charles Hellyer John Leech South African Navy – Cdr Leon Steyn Westlake Technical College – Mark Cornelise, Tracy-Lee Anderson, Johan, Mike and the Class of 2006 SAAF – Pretoria – General Derek Page Langebaanweg – Herman Els, Mattrass van Staden and Col Jacques Niemann

Donation of Aeroshell W120 for the Griffons

Category : Contributors , News , Projects

The South African Air Force Museum and the Crew of 1722 take the opportunity of thanking Mr Freddi Stafford of SOS Oil for the desperately needed generous donation of a drum of Aeroshell W120 oil for our four hungry Rolls Royce Griffon 57A’s.

Wings and Wheels 2011 Air Show Participants

Image by Irene McCullagh


Air Show Helpline Number: 021 508 6414

  1. JET PROVOST                                                         FLYING DISPLAY
  2. L39                                                                             FLYING DISPLAY
  3. L39                                                                             FLYING DISPLAY
  4. 2 X MX2                                                                    FLYING DISPLAY
  5. 4 X HARVARD                                                        FLYING DISPLAY
  6. P51 MUSTANG                                                        FLYING DISPLAY
  7. SEA FURY                                                                 FLYING DISPLAY
  8. YAK 55                                                                       FLYING DISPLAY
  9. PITTS SPECIAL                                                       FLYING DISPLAY
  10. CRISTEN EAGLE                                                    FLYING DISPLAY
  11. BELL 47                                                                     FLYING DISPLAY
  12. GAZELLE                                                                  FLYING DISPLAY
  13. BOSBOK                                                                   FLYING DISPLAY
  14.  2 X RV73 (FORMATION)                                    FLYING DISPLAY
  15. 2 X RV8                                                                    FLYING DISPLAY
  16. PREMIER JET                                                        FLYPAST & STATIC
  17. C172                                                                           FLYPAST & STATIC
  18. AC500                                                                       FLYPAST & STATIC
  19. PREMIER JET                                                        FLYPAST & STATIC
  20. PC12                                                                          FLYPAST & STATIC
  21. BARON                                                                     FLYPAST & STATIC
  22. NAVY HARVARD                                                   POSSIBLE FLYING
  23. BOSBOK                                                                   STATIC
  24. CHIPMUNK                                                             STATIC
  25. TIGER MOTH                                                          STATIC
  26. PIPER CUB                                                               STATIC
  27. SAVANAH                                                                 STATIC
  28. HUGHES 269                                                           STATIC
  29. HUEY                                                                         STATIC
  30. GRASS HOPPER                                                     STATIC
  31. MAGNI GYRO                                                         STATIC
  32. SANKA HELICOPTER                                          STATIC
  33. WILGA                                                                      STATIC
  34. STEARMAN                                                             STATIC
  35. TITAN TORNADO                                                 STATIC
  36. VANSIN                                                                    STATIC
  37. RAVEN                                                                     STATIC
  38. JODEL                                                                      STATIC
  39. CX4                                                                           STATIC


  2. HAWK
  3. C47TP
  6. ORYX
  7. LYNX
  8. AUGUSTA A 109
  10. C130




C47 (DC3)








CAPE TOWN CAR CLUB:                                    BEST 300 CLASSIC & VINTAGE CARS

FRANSCHOEK MUSEUM:                       30 VEHICLES (









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)

AFB Ysterplaat – 70 Years of Aviation Excellence – Part One: Introduction



Introduction to flight in South Africa

The dream of flight was long given hopeful expression in the mythology of the ancient civilisations and indeed the great Leonardo de Vinci also saw the possibility of flight and drew it on paper centuries before it became reality. And when flight did indeed become reality it is not precisely known who was the first man to take to the skies from Ysterplaat.

There is a strong belief that, in the early 1870’s John Goodman Household and his brother Gordon built a glider and launched it and from the top of a 300 metre precipice on the farm Der Magtenburg, in the Karkloof area of KwaZuluNatal. The first flight was just over 1 kilometre and a height of 50 to 80 meters was achieved. During the second flight the craft soared for a while before beginning a rapid descent in which it clipped a tree and crashed, breaking his leg in the process.


John Goodman Household

It was the first ever recorded heavier-than-air flight and Goodman and his brother could have been accorded a place in history had it not been for their mother. When she heard of the crash she persuaded them to abandon the project out of fear that the family would incur the wrath of God for challenging their natural state of being earthbound. It is believed that the glider was stored in a barn and eventually burned with other rubbish.

All drawings, sketches and calculations were supposedly burned at John Household’s insistence so that he could abide by his promise to his mother never to discuss or attempt flying again. The Goodman Household Monument has been erected near Curry’s Post, in the KwaZuluNatal midlands to commemorate his achievement. There is then no evidence of any drawings or designs surviving Household who died in 1906. And what is more remarkable is that this had been achieved nearly ten years before the balloon flight of Major Elsdale in 1885.


Otto Lillienthal

This allowed the German Otto Lillienthal to take the honour when he made a successful glider flight in 1896. Eight years later, Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first powered flight at Kittyhawk in the United States. It was the dawning of a new era; an age of adventure, excitement and glamour that gripped the world, and indeed the then Union of South Africa.

This first properly recorded flight in South Africa took place on the border of South Africa and this is what is known of that very significant event. Major Elsdale of the Grenadier Guards with 8 NCO’s and men arrived aboard the Pembroke Castle in March 1885 with 7 tons of hydrogen balloons and associated equipment.  The detachment transported the equipment up to Mafeking where Elsdale first flew on the 9th April 1885. The balloons were used for aerial reconnaissance and artillery spotting for the Bechuanaland Field Force.


60 000 Cubic feet Montgolfier Balloon

The first balloon flight in Cape Town was by Mr Stanley Spencer who after several attempts to get off the ground in his 60 000 cubic foot Montgolfier balloon finally succeeded on Saturday 6th February 1892. This was the first time that Capetonians could see that a man could get off the ground without having to climb a tree or fling himself off Table Mountain.

The first official heavier than air flight in the Southern Cape was undertaken by Ralph Mansel in a Voisin glider from Somerset West in the October of 1908.

Albert Kimmerling was the first man to achieve powered flight on the afternoon of the 28th of December 1909 over the racecourse at East London. He attained a height of 6 meters and newspaper reports of the day make for interesting reading.

In the early December of 1911 Dr Weston and “Bok” Driver took to the Cape Town sky in a Farman and a Bleriot and therefore they were the first to fly over the city in a heavier than air machine. From where they took off and landed is as yet unclear.

As aviation progressed, early flights began and ended depending on the mission, the weather, and the mechanical state of the aircraft and the whims of the pilot. There were many quite suitable landing grounds in and around the Cape. However in these early days of flight in South Africa, a hesitant public stood firmly on the ground and watched until aviation had proven itself and won its wings. It was also a time of crushed hopes, dreams and aircraft. Conversely it was also a period of spirited decisions by intrepid men and women whose vision took them to the clouds and their place in history.


SAAFA Cape Town Notice

SAAFA Lunch Arrangements – Officers’ Mess, Ysterplaat.

Our next Lunch will be on 12th April 2011, and will be held at the Officers Mess, Ysterplaat.

NOTE WELL! Please book as early as possible so as to allow Juliana to finalise arrangements in good time with the Mess.

Date: Tuesday 12th April 2011

Lunch: 12h30 for 13h00

Venue: Officers’ Mess, AFB Ysterplaat

Cost: R50 per head

As always, please confirm if you wish to attend the lunch. You may do so either by replying to this e-mail, or by contacting our secretary Juliana via one of the following contact numbers:-

Office Number:   021 508 6138

Fax Number:       021 508 6192

Cell Number:       072 6777 800 (SMS or leave a message).

E-mail:        or

We look forward to seeing you there!

Lee Hall

On behalf of the Committee of SAAFA (Cape Town Branch)

The Shackleton in the SAAF

And what is it then that this old “grey lady” does to all who come into contact with her? It defies logic, even the men who fly and maintain her are also tightly bound within that intrinsic aura that surrounds Pelican 22.

The aircraft has a long and illustrious history. The Shackleton was born due to the need for a long range extra endurance maritime reconnaissance platform. The German Navy of World War 2 had taught the British some harsh lessons in the North Atlantic in the opening stages of “the Battle of the Atlantic” when shipping losses due to enemy action in the form of surface raiders and submarines became unacceptably high. By 1943 a project was implemented to design an aircraft specifically to provide maritime reconnaissance and effective defensive and offensive aerial cover for the many shipping convoys between Great Britain and the rest of what was left of the then free world. The importance of the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope was a strategic issue then as it still is today. Shipping losses in South African waters were exceptionally high (105 vessels sunk due to enemy action) between 1939 and 1945.

Aircraft of the South African Air Force and the Royal Air Force patrolled these waters with aircraft such as the Sunderland, Catalina and Ventura PV1. At the end of the war, maritime operations were downscaled to a large degree.

Developed from the design of the AVRO Lancaster and subsequently the Lincoln, the first proto type Shackleton flew in the March of 1949. The type went into production for the Royal Air Force and was taken into service in February 1951.

The threat of the emerging cold war in the 1950’s again emphasized the importance of the Cape sea route and the ageing Sunderlands needed to be replaced. After a lot of consideration the Shackleton was identified as the right machine for the job, but only after a number of major modifications had been brought on. It must be kept in mind that the Shackleton was originally designed as a tail dragger, but the South Africans wanted tricycle landing gear, additional tip tanks to improve range and better soundproofing inside the aircraft. Considering that the British had improved upon the Shackleton Mk I and already had a Mk II in service, this new version for the South African Air Force was designated the Mk III as we know it today. Subsequently the RAF also bought Mk III’s, and only the two Air Forces ever operated Shackletons.

The SAAF took delivery of the first Shackletons in May 1957 and they arrived in South Africa in the August of the same year. The aircraft were numbered successive to the serial numbers of the Sunderlands, the first Shackleton of a total order of eight was numbered J 1716, an aircraft that was fated to die in a spectacular albeit tragic manner in the Western Sahara Desert on her ill fated trip to RAF Fairford in the early hours of 13 July 1994.

The second batch of Shackletons arrived on 26 February 1957, amongst them P 1722, the only one of eight still flying in the 21st Century.

The sound of the Shackletons was to become well known to the citizens of the Cape and the maritime community. Although the role of the Shackleton was primarily aggressive, it became better known as an ethereal angel of mercy to those merchantmen, fishermen and other sailors who so often found themselves adrift in the treacherous seas off the South African coast. Of the eight Shackletons that were operated by 35 Squadron, only two crashed, and only one with a total loss of 13 crew members when 1718 crashed into the mountains near Stettynskloof Dam on the night of the 8th August 1963.The remaining seven aircraft carried out front line service up until November 1984, by which time the Sanctions imposed by the United Nations against the Government of the day made it nearly impossible to keep the aircraft in service. At the time, Pelican two- two and her sister aircraft had patrolled both the eastern and western coasts of South Africa for twenty -seven years.

After the last fly past of three aircraft (1716, 1722 and 1723) over Air Force Base Ysterplaat the seven Shackletons were dispatched to various locations throughout South Africa for static display purposes. In the Cape Argus of the 22 November 1984, a cartoon appeared on the editorial page of this Cape Town afternoon newspaper. It was of a man in the water desperately trying to get the attention of the last Shackleton flying away from him towards Table Mountain. The accompanying editorial summed up the meaning of the Shackleton not only to the people of Cape Town and the Western Cape, but also, to the international maritime community. “No one can be happy, except possibly the Russians, at the news that after twenty seven years of meritorious service patrolling the Cape sea route the Shackletons, this country’s only specialized maritime reconnaissance aircraft have made their last flight”. ” During theses years the Shackletons became a living legend, famed for their reliability and honoured for the many lives they saved in search and rescue operations under the most difficult conditions”. Starved of spares by a UN arms embargo, only the great dedication and ingenuity of their Ground Crews have kept these aircraft serviceable for so long”. ” But now, they have had their day, and the world’s nations – and especially crews who round the Cape of Storms – could well be the losers”. And so ended the Shackleton era, but the stories and legends that proliferated around them live on today. Many of the men who flew and worked on them became legends in their own right, some still surviving and many passed on.

“Pottie” with Denise Dos Santos

Shackleton 1716 and 1721 were sent to the SAAF Museum at Air Force Base Swartkop for preservation. For some obscure reason, 1722 remained at 35 Squadron at Cape Town International Airport and was quietly maintained by Warrant Officer Potgieter in his spare time. This single act of dedication to a machine he loved so much was going to provide the SA Air Force and it’s Museum with the world’s last flying Shackleton Mk III.

It is interesting to note that the SAAF Museum has been approached by the RAAF Museum and the Royal Dutch Air Force Museum for assistance relating to operating and preservation procedures and policies for their respective historic flights. Once again Air Force Base Ysterplaat to the rescue and leading the way. In Andrew Schofield’s Documentary “Shackleton 1722” the viewer of this film will also find it a love story between man and machine. The footage of Brig General Ben “Gun” Kriegler’s last flight is memorable. Attention is drawn to the end titles set to the classical “Highland Cathedral” performed by the SA Army Band and the closing landing of the Shackleton as the concluding footage.

The DVD is available at the SAAF Museum and costs R170.00. The SAAF Museum gratefully acknowledges the roles of CFS, 22 and 35 Squadrons and the many members of Air Force Base Ysterplaat for their roles in the making of this documentary.

C. Teale