Category Archives: Posts

Reconnaissance Car (Marmon Herrington)

Reconnaissance Car (Marmon Herrington)

Restored by Eric Tyler

The South African Reconnaissance Car, also known as the Marmon-Herrington Armoured Car, was produced in South Africa during the Second World War.

Initiated in 1938 by the South African Government, the first version was based on a Ford 3 ton chassis, imported from Canada, and fitted with a four wheel drive conversion kit from the American company Marmon-Herrington. The armour was produced by the South African Iron and Steel Industrial Corporation. Final Assembly was carried out by the Dorman Long Company.

The MkI, of which model 135 units were built, entered service in 1940. This was a 2 wheel drive model, armed with two Vickers guns. This saw brief action against the Italians in the Western Desert, but was rapidly consigned to training duties.

The MkII and MkIII were 4×4 models, and were used extensively during the North African campaign, mainly in a reconnaissance role. The normal armament was a co-axial Bren Gun, and one or two Anti-Aircraft machine guns, and a Boyes Anti-Tank rifle mounted in the turret.

Many armament modifications were carried out in the field, and among the variations was the installation of the 20mm and 47mm Breda, the German 37mm Pak, the French 25mm, the 20mm Oerlikon cannon and the British 2 pounder Anti-Tank gun.

A MKIV in Bloemfontein.

In 1943 a completely redesigned MkIV entered the fray. This had a 2 pounder gun as standard armament, with a .30 Browning machine gun mounted next to the 2 pounder. Another .30 Browning was normally fitted to turret as an Anti-Aircraft weapon.

A number of other models were built. In 1943 a MkIVF was introduced due to the difficulty of obtaining the Marmon-Herrington conversion kit. This unit was based on the Canadian F60L four wheel drive 3 ton truck chassis. Interestingly, the vehicle was still referred to as the Marmon-Herrington.

In 1942 the Mk V, an 8 wheel prototype based on a German design, was built. This single unit was followed by the MkVI, of which two units were built. MK VII and MKVIII were similar, but had different armament.

The units were used by many armed forces, and saw service in the Greek Army until the 1990’s.

  • -

Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain – Adler Tag

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
Jessica Teale

David Lithgow and Jessica Teale, Survivors of the Battle assisted at the exhibition.

Pat Wells, with Heinz Migeod (Standing)

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.

Avro Shackleton

View through the bomb-aimer window.
Brig-Gen Ben Kriegler was one of the elite ‘shack’ crew.
“They don’t REALLY bend like that, do they?” (Image by Gordon Clarke)

A descendant of the Lancaster, the Shackleton is an experience to see and hear.

Often described in terms far from complimentary, the Shackleton is a marvelous aircraft,  and to be involved in assisting in the protection and upkeep of this important piece of  aviation history, this “Katherine Hepburn” of the skies, is a remarkable privilege.

WO H. J. “Pottie” Potgieter, project leader of the dedicated team who keep the ‘Shack’ flying.

A dedicated band of volunteers and reserve SAAF members are involved in maintaining  this incredible aircraft.

The following terms are some of the terms used to describe the Shackleton.

“This aircraft looks like a box of frogs”

“The Shack reminds me irresistibly of an elephant’s bottom – gray and wrinkled outside
and dark and smelly inside.”

“10,000 loose rivets flying in close formation”.

“The contra-rotating Nissen hut”

The Prototype Shackelton GR 1 first flew in 1949. The first MR3 flew in 1955. The MR 3 has a length of 28.2 meters, is 7.11 meters high, and has a wingspan of 36.52 meters.

Powered by four Rolls Royce Griffon 57A piston engines delivering 1831 kW (2455 hp) each,  and equipped with contra-rotating propellers, the aircraft can move it’s gross mass of 45 360 kilograms at 486 kilometers per hour at 3657 meters above sea level. With an service ceiling  of 5852 meters and a range of 6782 kilometers, this aircraft and it’s crew of 13 could cruise at 322 kilometers for hour over a large area.

Armed with 2 x 20mm Hispano cannon in the nose, the bomb bay could carry a large range of  items. These included three Mk 30 or Mk 44 torpedoes or depth charges, or nine Sonobouy or  nine 250lb bombs. On search and rescue operations, the Lindholme gear, consisting of a set of five containers with supplies, including a dinghy, could also be carried. The use of the SARO lifeboat, which was fitted to the outside of the bomb-bay doors, was discontinued by the SAAF.

Father of the SAAF


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.

(All images from Vincent van Ryneveld)

  • -

Korean War 60th Anniversary

Stunning hand-built model of a Sabre sits on the port wing of Sabre No 372. Model by Jon Durant, image by Greg Pullin

Dean Wingrin conducted a series of interviews for the Anniversary:

Joe Joubert

A veteran of the Berlin Airlift, Joe flew the P-51D Mustang during the Korean War.

Joe was the only SAAF pilot to reach 175 combat missions, achieved during two combat tours.

He was also the only recipient to receive the Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a second Distinguished Flying Cross.

Lombard Chris-s
Chris Lombard

Chris was flying a P-51D Mustang, attacking a power station near the Yalu River, when he lost all

electrics of his aircraft and had to bail out.

He was captured as a POW and despite numerous escape attempts, was only released after the

Armistice, having spent 22 months and 22 days as a prisoner.

Porky Rich

A bomber pilot in WWII and a navigator during the Berlin Airlift, Porky completed

72 sorties flying the Mustang in just under four months that he was in Korea.

Sweeney Horse-s

A Veteran of WWII, Horse was in the first group of SAAF pilots to go to Korea.

His aircraft was hit by ground fire on his 53rd mission and despite injuries and blood loss, he

successfully landed at a nearby airfield.

George Thom
George Thom

A Sabre pilot, George was the last SAAF pilot to be taken POW when he was shot down whilst attacking vehicles.

Although he only spent 41 days in captivity, he lost 40 pounds.

Visser Piet-s

Piet completed four missions on the Mustang before he converted to the Sabre.

During one of his Sabre missions, having bombed a target, he experienced pressurisation

problems and found that he could not lower his undercarriage for landing.

He then performed a belly-landing with minimal damage to the aircraft.

Neville Coxon
Neville Coxon

A radio technician, Neville was in the first group of 21 SAAF members to go Korea (via ship). He spent 14 months in Korea before returning to South Africa.

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


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

Pelican 16


On the morning of July 13th 1994, the headline news read “SAAF Plane Down in Desert”.

Avro Shackleton, number 1716 was one of eight four-engined maritime patrol aircraft commissioned by the South African Air Force in 1957.

1993 saw an ambitious plan to restore one of these decommissioned aircraft and turn it into a flying museum. The name of this aircraft: Pelican-16.

July1994, after ten years on the ground and two years of restoration work this magnificent aircraft flew again. Following an invitation to take part in the 1994 summer air-show circuit in the UK, Pelican-16 and its crew of 19 took off from Cape Town and headed north.

But then in the dead of the blackest night, high over the Western Sahara the unthinkable happened; two engines on the starboard side failed within a period of just ten minutes. The aircraft and its crew went down.

Image by Brig-Gen Derrick Page

Flight commander Eric Pienaar and his crew performed a miraculous crash landing from which all walked away unaided.