On December 21st, 1938, a strange fish was caught off the East London coast. Professor J. L. B. Smith was fascinated by this fish, identified as a coelacanth. This fish was thought to have been extinct for over two hundred million years.
Excited at the possibility of obtaining a second specimen, he printed hundred’s of notices requesting information on the coelacanth. Almost 14 years later he received a telegram informing him of the capture of another coelacanth in the Comores Islands. As it was December 24th, he found difficulty in arranging transport. In desperation he contacted the Prime Minister and persuaded him of the importance of the find. The Prime Minister instructed the Chief of the Air Force to assist. In due course, a signal was received by the O.C. Natal to send an aircraft to Durban to collect Prof. Smith, and then to travel to the Comores ‘to fetch a fish.’
(l to r) Director of Fisheries, Mayotte, Mr E. Breton; Capt. Eric Hunt; Prof. JLB Smith;Commandant Blaauw; Captain Letley; Lt. Ralston; Cpl. van Niekerk; Lt. Bergh; Cpl. Brink.
At the time the paint scheme was silver, with dark blue anti-dazzle on the nose and engine cowlings. Her squadron code, strangely enough. was K-OD. The Air Force insignia at the time was an orange roundel with Springbok.
Dakota 6832 on arrival in Grahamstown (l to r) Lt. Bergh; Cpl. Brink; Cpl. van Niekerk; Mrs Margaret Smith; Commandant Blaau; Prof. JLB Smith; Capt. Letley; Lt. Ralston; William Smith. The coelacanth is in the box in the foreground. Prof Smith’s son, William Smith, well known for his participation in the TV show “A Word or Two” and his educational program.
Dakota MkII (C47A-10-K) was built in Oklahoma City and allocated Serial Number 42-108863 by the U.S.A.A.F. In February 1944 she was placed on charge by the R.A.F. under Serial Number KG 4434. In March 1944 she was transferred to the S.A.A.F. and received Serial Number 6832. On being transferred to 28 Squadron she received the codes K-OD. 6832 is currently being restored.
Flying Officer Thomas Robert Millar, RAAF
AWARDS : 1939-45 Star; Italy Star; Defence Medal; War Medal 1939-45; Australia Service Medal 1939-45.
Polish Home Army Medal 1939-1945; Warsaw Insurgents Cross 1944.
COMMEMORATION : Panel 16, Col 1 of the Malta War Memorial, Malta.
Bob was born in Narromine NSW, Australia, and educated in Sydney becoming Dux of his schools in 1932 and 1934. He graduated from Sydney University in 1939 with a Bachelor of Economics degree and then obtained an administrative position with the Sydney Gaslight Company.
In January 1942 he married Elizabeth Grace Thompson before enlisting in the RAAF on 22nd May of that year as a volunteer for flying duties. Their daughter, Anne Elizabeth , was born on 3rd February 1943.
His initial training was at Bradfield Park, Cootamundra, Sale, Nhill, and in due course he was commissioned on 4 February 1943. One month later on the 6th March he embarked at Melbourne and travelling via Canada he arrived at 3 Personnel Reception Centre, Bournemouth, England on 18th April.
In England he undertook further training commencing at 4 Air Observer School, West Freugh, Wigtownshire, Scotland (the unit changed its name on 11.6.03 to 4 (Observers) Advanced Flying Unit). Afterwards he proceeded to Upper Heyford, Swinderby and Moreton-in Marsh in England.
In May he spent some time with the PEDDER family of Kenilworth whilst on ‘local’ leave. The family kept in touch with the Millars including sending Christmas cards with a picture of their house. Nearly 60 years later Bob’s daughter Anne was able to identify and visit the house using this picture. Subsequently Anne spoke with the two daughters Susan & Pru.& son John.now all in their 70s.
In January 1944 Bob was transferred to Italy joining 205 Group 104 Squadron RAF until July 1944. He was stationed at Foggia Main air base ,west of Bari and took part in sorties to Italy, Yugoslavia, Austria, Hungary and Roumania.
In August he was seconded to 31 Squadron, South African Air Force and stationed at Celone air base , Foggia. Very soon he was flying to Warsaw dropping supplies to beleaguered partisans who had risen against the German occupation forces. Supposedly Russian armies were approaching Warsaw to relieve the city but they held back at this point leaving the Polish citizens to fend for themselves.
The Warsaw operation was dangerous. Flying time to Warsaw was 5 hours and on arrival aircraft were obliged to fly at a height of not more than 500 feet and sometimes as low as 100 feet taking care to avoid high buildings. According to Neil Orpen’s ‘Airlift to Warsaw’, published by W.Foulsham & Co., and where there are references to Bob on pages 74 and 77, there were 186 sorties from Italy to Warsaw in a six week period and 31 aircraft were lost. Hence Bob was fortunate to survive, and the skill of the experienced South African pilot, Major Urry, and his crew no doubt helped the survival.
THE LAST MISSION
On 12 October 1944 16 Liberators of 31 Squadron and 4 of 34 Squadron SAAF took off on a supply dropping mission to Italian partisans in the mountains of northern Italy. There were 4 different dropsites with five planes allotted to each site. Each plane had 8 crew. They took off in late afternoon knowing that they would be flying in the night as they approached the north. Bob was aboard the Liberator KH158 piloted by Major Urry, SAAF [with drop zone “Morris” ENE of Genoa]. The crew was truly representing the Commonwealth being composed of 5 SAAF, 2 RAF & 1 RAAF as follows:.
Major S.S. Urry SAAF, age 29 born South Africa, 1st Pilot
Lt G.A. Collard SAAF, age 19 born South Africa, Navigator
2 Lt P.J.Lordan SAAF, born South Africa, Air Gunner
WO 1 L.B. Bloch SAAF, born South Africa, Air Gunner
Lt N.W. Armstrong SAAF, born South Africa, Air Gunner
F/O G.E. Hudspith RAF, age 29 born England, 2nd Pilot
Sgt R.C. Fitzgerald RAF, age 19 born England, Sgt Air Gunner
F/O T R Millar RAAF, age 28 born Australia, Bomber/Navigator
Crew : L-R front row Lt Meterkamp ,Maj Urry ,Lt Collard ,F/OMillar
L-R back row W/O Bloch ,Possible 2Lt Lordan ,Lt Armstrong .
Only 7 men as Sgt Lockey RAF is thought to have joined at the last minute
The weather was bad with poor visibility and few crews were able to see the drop site fires so many drops were aborted. Of the 20 planes that set out 6 failed to return. Four crashed high in the mountains, one crashed near Cantalupa but the sixth disappeared without trace. The wreckages of the crashed planes were eventually found but there was no news of the sixth Liberator. The crew members of the sixth Liberator, KH158, with Bob among the crew members, were officially posted missing – a sad ending for brave men. The disappearance of KH158 has yet to be solved.
The citizens of the Italian towns have been most appreciative of the heroic actions of those lost in this operation and a commemorative service was held in Bra ,northern Italy on 25th April 2001. This was attended by the citizens and ex-partisans of Bra and relatives of the crews. The Mayor welcomed and offered hospitality to the relatives and, at a dinner held in the evening, Anne Storm was asked to read the letter her father had written her on her first birthday.
My Dear Daughter, This is the first time I have written to you and although you are as yet too young to read it perhaps mother will save it up until the time comes when you can read it yourself. In 2 days time it will be your first birthday anniversary-a great event for your parents. My regret is that I cannot personally be there to help you blow out your single candle but believe me lassie I will be there in spirit.
I am writing this from a place called Italy which is far away from our fair land-a place where I would not be by choice so far away separated from a wife & daughter so dear to me. But I am here ,precious one , because there is a war on caused by certain people who wished to rule the world harshly & despotically, imperilling an intangible thing called democracy which your mother & I thought all decent people should fight for. You will understand as you grow up what democracy means for us & how it is an ideal way of life which we aspire to put into practice.
All I ask of you, Anne dear is that you stay as sweet as your mother & cling tight to the subtle thing we call Christianity, which has been the core of her way of life & her mother’s & mine. I hope that you will love & respect me as I love & respect my father.
That’s all young lady. Have a happy birthday -may they all be happy birthdays. I hope to be home again one fine day. In the meantime lots of love to you & to mother
From Dad Bob Millar
The wreckage of KH158 has never been found. If you know of any further information regarding this mission, we would very much like to hear from you. Please contact us.
UPDATE – 21st May 2011
On Sunday 15th May a memorial plaque for the 12th October 1944 missing in action crew of Liberator KH158 of 31 Squadron SAAF was unveiled, in a ceremony high in the Ligurian part of the Apennine mountains, ENE of Genoa, Italy.
The plaque is in place on an old “round house” wall in the grounds of a 1944 partisan meeting house, Faggio Rotondo. This is in the vicinity the 1944 partisan supply drop zone area code “Morris ” and near a regular mountain hiking trail.
The ceremony was attended by my family for my father ,F/O T R Millar RAAF-the bombaimer, also family of the pilot, Maj SS Urry SAAF , British , Australian and South African Embassy officials in Rome and Genoa plus the Italian Ligurian officials, Member of Parliament, Mayors from the nearby towns and local people. The event was covered by the Genoan press.
All of this was made possible by an Italian friend who suggested the plaque in remembrance of my father, F/O TR Millar RAAF and approached the local Mayor with his suggestion. He and another friend, who was involved in a earlier airforce commemoration, put most of this event together, with input from myself.
Liberator KH158 is still missing but I feel that this plaque is a culmination of 10 years of research into my father’s wartime life and disappearance .Now more local Italian people and officials know about the loss of the plane and one day someone just might find out information about it’s whereabouts .
The crew were —
Maj SS Urry -SAAF
F/O G E Hudspith -RAF
F/O T R Millar RAAF [my father]
Lt GA Collard -SAAF
Lt NW Armstrong -SAAF
2/Lt PJ Lordan -SAAF
W/O LB Bloch -SAAF
Sgt RC Fitzgerald -RAF
The Exhibition was held to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain and was based on the personal experiences of Survivors of The Battle.
In particular, two survivors were on hand to give first hand accounts of what the experience was like. They explained what is was like to fly their respective aircraft. Heinz Migeod flew the Stuka JU87B dive bomber, and Pat Wells flew the Hurricane fighter. They informed visitors about the time and era, and reminisced about friends no longer with them.
The exhibition did not feature any of the politics or propaganga surrounding the Battle, but focused solely on the individuals involved, including the pilots, ground crews, civilians and families.
Also present were Joan Hutchinson and Jessica Teale of the Women’s Auxilliary Air Force (WAAF), David Lithgow (Air Sea Rescue) and Norman Brason, Aircraft Fitter, among others.
David Lithgow and Jessica Teale, Survivors of the Battle assisted at the exhibition.
Two simulators were specifically built for the Exhibition. Guests could climb into the Hurricane and fly over the patchwork countryside in Defence of the Realm, or fly the nimble ME109E in an escort mission to ensure the bombers get through.
GENERAL SIR HESPERUS ANDRIAS (PIERRE) VAN RYNEVELD, KBE CB, DSO AND MC
Van Ryneveld was born on 2 May 1891 at Senekal in the Orange Free State. After matriculating at Grey College School in Bloemfontein he trained as engineer in London.
In July 1915 he joined the Royal Flying Corps (forerunner of the RAF), and served in WWI as a pilot.
General Smuts, Prime Minister of the then Union of South Africa, decided that South Africa must establish its own air force, and for this purpose the 27 year old van Ryneveld was selected. In 1919 General Jan Smuts recalled him from Cologne where he was serving as a squadron commander.
With effect from 1 February 1920, van Ryneveld was appointed as Director of Air Services, and was instructed to form an air arm that would be part of the army.
He rejected the idea of the Air Force being a division of the Army, and consequently the South African Air Force SAAF was formed as an independent unit.
In 1919 Great Britain agreed to allocate to the Union of South Africa 100 surplus military aircraft, (48 De Havilland DH9s, 30 Avro 504Ks and 22 SE 5a scouts), complete with spares and maintenance equipment. This became known as the Imperial gift, and was instrumental in getting the fledgeling SAAF off the ground.
In 1921 the SAAF bought a site east of Roberts Height (later Voortrekkerhoogte and now Thaba Tswane), near Pretoria, and it was here that the first aerodrome for the SAAF was established and was named Zwartkops.
The Silver Queen
In 1920 the London Times offered a prize of £10 000 for the first person to fly from London to Cape Town. Within a short space of time a Vickers Vimy, piloted by Captains S Cockerell and F C Broome, accompanied by Dr Chalmers Mitchell of the Zoological Society, set off.
However, General Smuts wanted South African aviators to blaze this trail, and authorised the purchase of a Vickers Vimy at a cost of £4500.
It was named the Silver Queen, and commanded by Lt Col van Ryneveld with First Lt Quinton Brand as the co-pilot. They took off from Brooklands (England) on 4 February 1920. After an exciting night crossing of the Mediterranean Sea, they arrived at Derna the next morning.
The Silver Queen was however wrecked during a force landing in bad weather at Korosko in Sudan.
A second Vimy F8615 was purchased from the RAF in Cairo, and the Silver Queen II left Cairo on 22 February. This aircraft crashed at Bulawayo (in Zimbabwe) on 6 March.
Fortunately, with some of the “Imperial Gift” aircraft already in Pretoria, a DH9 called Voortrekker was put together, and dispatched post haste to Bulawayo. Van Ryneveld and Brand were therefore able to complete their flight to Cape Town where the arrived at Young’s Field on 20 March 1920 after a total flying time of 109 hours and 30 minutes.
Both van Ryneveld and Quinton Brand were knighted for this achievement.
In 1929 Van Ryneveld became the officer commanding at Robert’s Heights (Thaba Tswane) and Commandant of the S.A. Military College, but remained Director of Air Services. The post of DAS was abolished on 30 April 1933 and on the following day Col Pierre van Ryneveld was promoted to Brigadier-General and appointed Chief of the General Staff. There was thus no chief of the SAAF and it remained under Van Ryneveld’s direct control until 30 June 1939.
South Africa’s military aimed at greater things, and in September 1939 the Chief of Staff, van Ryneveld, proposed the formation of a Mobile Field Force.
It was intended to be made up of two infantry divisions (each of three infantry brigades), a mounted brigade and an armoured regiment. Together with supporting artillery and coastal defence forces, 140,000 men would be required
Even though it was not formally accepted, the proposal set the prototype for a later mobilisation and force structure. In October 1939, van Ryneveld, as Chief of the General Staff, approved a plan known as the Peace Expansion Scheme, under which a total of 720 aircraft were acquired – 336 of which were fighters.
When Italy entered the war in 1940, South African squadrons were sent to East Africa, later to be supplemented by more modern aircraft. The SAAF played a remarkable role in the victory over Mussolini’s African Empire.
Van Ryneveld retired on 2 May 1949. The distinguished and highly decorated SAAF pilot died in 1972.