South Africa's Warbirds
A Visit to the South African National Museum of Military History
By Paul F. Straney and Robert Sacchi
Photographs and ancillary material courtesy Anthony Speir, Aviation Curator, S.A.N.M.M.H.
The museum's aviation collection is now housed indoors. Two of the aircraft collection's oldest specimens are from the original "Imperial Gift" to South Africa in 1920. After World War One the British Empire gave aircraft to its larger colonies. These "gifts" allowed the colonies to establish their own Air Forces. These two aircraft are all that remains of South Africa's 110 Imperial Gift aircraft.
At the end of the First World War, the British supplied large numbers of its surplus war stocks to its Empire colonies.
One is an SE-5a, one of 22 such aircraft the British gave to South Africa. There are only six SE-5a's left in the world. Wolseley Motors in England built the museum's aircraft in 1917. It is impossible to trace its British service, since the original airframe serial number is unknown. The SE-5a had a brief active service in the SAAF, before being phased out of fighter service in 1922. The surviving SE-5s were relegated to training.
The SAAF turned the museum's SE-5 over to the Durban Technical College before W.W.II. The college used it for technical training during the war years. By 1945, Durban Technical College turned it over to the 69 Air School as an educational airframe.
The South African Air Force repaired the aircraft, with Professor J.H. Neal's assistance, before donating it to the museum. The aircraft is presently undergoing restoration and is not on public display.
The two-seat DH-9 was one of the best British fighters of 1918. It soldiered on into the Thirties.
The other surviving Imperial Gift aircraft is a de Havilland DH-9. Unfortunately, its British service record is also unknown. The DH-9 replaced the SE-5a in front-line service with the SAAF. The DH-9s were in active service until the SAAF declared them obsolete in 1937. The SAAF sold the museum's aircraft to the African Flying Services in June 1938. The African Flying Services registered it as ZS-AOI . In 1940, the SAAF impressed it for training purposes. The SAAF issued it serial number 2005, but existent records do not indicate if it was used for flight training. Soon after, it was used as an instructional airframe at No. 70 Air School .
A survey board condemned the aircraft in December 1942, and it was struck off charge in April 1943. The SAAF partially restored the aircraft before they turned it over to the museum. A Siddeley Puma 200 hp engine was fitted to the airframe at this time, as the aircraft's engine was missing when it was condemned. The Imperial Gift DH-9s had Armstrong Siddeley Puma inline six-cylinder 230 hp engines.
The SAAF began a major airframe restoration in 1965. They recovered all surfaces as well as other work. The aircraft is presently configured as a dual control trainer, and is one of two known examples left in the world.
A variant of the Hawker Hart, the Hartbees was fast and manouverable.
The museum has the only surviving Hawker Hartbees. The Hartbees is a Hawker Hart modified for South Africa's hot, dry climate. Bearing the serial number 851, it was one of the last batch of 65 kits assembled at the aircraft depot at Roberts Heights (now Vootrekkerhoogte), South Africa in 1938. The SAAF assigned it to the No. 3 (Communications) Squadron, then serving in Kenya against the Italians in Abyssinia. By June 1940, the Fairey Battle replaced the Hartbees. The museum's Hartbees was transferred to No. 40 (Army Co-operation) Squadron, and flew in East Africa against the Italians. By 1941, the Hartbees were returned to South Africa as more modern aircraft replaced them.
The museum's Hartbees joined No. 43 Squadron, and was used for training until 1944. It joined the "Speed the Victory" cavalcade, touring the countryside. After the cavalcade, the Hartbees joined the museum collection. In its life, this Hartbees flew 841 hours and 45 minutes, approximately 130,000 miles (210,000 km). It used four different engines during its service life. The Hartbees underwent a complete restoration in 1964-65.
South Africa, a part of the British Commonwealth, fought against the Axis in W.W.II. Some South Africans fought with the Royal Air Force (RAF). The highest scoring British Commonwealth ace was South African Squadron Leader Marmaduke T. St. John Pattle. His position is unaccredited because the British destroyed his squadron's records during the evacuation from Greece. On 20 April 1941, Pattle and 14 other Commonwealth pilots engaged 90 German aircraft over Greece. During the fierce air battle Pattle shot down two Me-110s and an Me-109. Then Pattle tried to rescue another Hurricane. Two Me-110s shot down and killed Rattle. British pilot, Flight Lieutenant George V.W. Kettlewell avenged Pattle by shooting down the two Me-110s. Pattle scored most of his victories in Hurricanes.
The "official" RAF high scorer for most of the war was another South African, Group Captain Adolph G. "Sailor" Malan. "Sailor" Malan gained his fame flying a Spitfire. The top South African to fly for the SAAF was Major John "Jack" Frost. During the Allied Ethiopian invasion Major Frost scored eight air-to-air victories, and destroyed 21 planes on the ground in a Hawker Hurricane. His final score was 15 5/6 air-to-air victories before he was lost in late June. The museum has several British aircraft preserved as a reminder of South Africa's participation in the fight against the Axis.
The Hawker Hurricane was a sturdy little fighter, though somewhat less glamorous than it's stable-mate, the Spitfire.
The first such aircraft is a Hawker Hurricane IIC, serial number LD619. Hawker manufactured this Hurricane in 1943 at Langley, England. The RAF sent it to North Africa, but it was not issued to an operational unit. The British transferred it to the SAAF in April 1944. The South Africans sent it to their 11 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at Waterford, Transvaal, South Africa. The SAAF changed its serial number to 5285 and gave it the unit markings AX-E. After the war the SAAF retired their Hawker Hurricanes. The SAAF started renovating the aircraft in 1949 and delivered it to the museum for its collection in May 1950.
This Hurricane is fitted with a tropical air filter on the carburetor air intake, to provide extra air filtration for desert flying. It is also equipped with exhaust glare shields on each side of the fuselage to protect the pilot's eyes from exhaust glare during night flying.
Paul F. Straney and Robert Sacchi © 1992