DESERT AIR WAR OVER NORTH AFRICA 1942 – A SPECIAL REVIEW 70YRS ON

Throughout WW2, the Desert Air Force or DAF was made up of flying and ground units from the RAF, South African Air Force (SAAF), the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), the US Army Air Force (USAAF), and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

These units flew a large variety of aircraft from fighters, bombers to light aircraft in taking the war to the enemy using a range of types such as Hurricanes, Spitfires, Mustangs, Kittyhawks, Hudsons, Marylands, Beaufighters etc.

The Australian contribution from the Commonwealth perspective included fighter and bomber squadrons, with perhaps the most well known squadron been 3 Sqn which arrived in North Africa in late 1940 with P-40 Kittyhawks and served with the DAF until the closing stages of the war in Europe by which time the aircraft had been upgraded to P-51 Mustangs.  By early 1945, 3 Sqn had the most substantial service record of any DAF combat unit, including the greatest number of air to air kills at 217 claims. Many Australian pilots also flew with other RAF or SAAF squadrons in the DAF as part of personnel exchanges or operational requirements.

The Desert War took its toll on men and machines over the long war. The sand, heat along with the wind was harsh elements to battle against after the allies took on the Germans and Italian forces.
Due to the nature of flying in a desert environment pilots at times became lost because of no easy way to navigate or track their flight plan in a featureless terrain. Many crews died from lack of water and dehydration if they did have a forced land.

During WW2 the Royal Australian Air Force flew in the Northern African campaign in one of its area of operations for a few years using a variety of aircraft. Its role in North Africa was part of the larger Desert Air Force (DAF), which was also known as the Western Desert Air Force or the First Tactical Air Force (1TAF). The DAF was, as an Allied force created initially under RAF Middle East Command in North Africa during 1941 to provide Close Air Support (CAS) to the British 8th Army. The Desert Air war started in 1940 in Africa in Egypt then also grew to encompassed Libya, Tunias and Sicily and by 1945 ended in mainland Italy.

SOUTH AFRICAN AIR FORCE IN DESERT WAR
To coincide with the recent P-40 wreck finding in Eqypt, a photo review of the Desert Air War has been put together to show some of the unseen images of the Desert Air War. Australian Pilot has been allowed access to a large collection of black and white/sepia photos from the Tinus le Roux collection.

This SAAF collection of photos which Tinus acquired, has come from a range of South African Air Force (SAAF) pilots who flew in the WW2 Desert War / Northern Africa campaign and who took photos when they could between mission or on operational sorties.

Tinus’s actions will ensure these pilots photos of their time at war will be preserved for the future. This is a rarely seen insight into the  Desert Air war of 70years ago.

The SAAF provided over a dozen squadrons to the DAF. North Africa was their main theatre of operations, as the South African government had decided their military should not operate outside Africa. Between April 1941 and May 1943, the eleven SAAF squadrons flew 33,991 sorties and destroyed 342 enemy aircraft. The South Africans had the distinction of dropping the first and last bombs in the North African conflict – the first being on 11 June 1940 on Moyale in Abyssinia and the last being on the Italian 1st Army in Tunisia.

FLIGHTGEAR  - The flightgear worn in the desert war was initially of European type gear but over time specific Desert designed flightgear arrived for service with the units, which saw the gear designed having special modifications to make them suitable in the sand and heat.

In the photos you see early examples of the desert flightgear in use such as B type flight helmets with communication cords with bell plugs, Mk 8 goggles, cotton tan shirts and pants and flight suit overalls, 1936 black flying boots, seat parachute harnesses, Mae West life preserver vests, mess dress and Irvin flight jackets as it was cold air temperatures once a pilot left the hot desert ground …

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