THE EARLY HISTORY OF BROOKLYN AERODROME:
As early as 1929 civilian pilots were using the grass airfield that was to become known as the Brooklyn aerodrome. 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 for about two years before the operations were moved to Wingfield.
In those early days, Brooklyn consisted of one small hangar and a large square grass airfield without runways (the same hangar that has been moved to form part of the SAAF Museum at Ysterplaat).Union Airways was based upon a weekly service which left Cape Town after the arrival of the Union Castle Mailship on Monday mornings. In the opposite direction, the fights were timed to reach Cape Town before the departure of the Mailships on their north-bound voyages. The service would unite Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban with Cape Town.
The inaugural flight of this new airmail service took off from Brooklyn at 07H42 on 26th August 1929 with 5 bags of mail from the Royal Mailship "Saxon". The pilot was Major Alister Macintosh Miller, Managing Director of Union Airways. The aircraft was a De Havilland Gipsey Moth (DH 604), blue and silver, ZS-ABC. Four hours later he landed at Fairview Aerodrome, Port Elizabeth. Next morning, 30 August 1929, the combined mail was flown to Brooklyn by Maj. Miller, arriving at 13H40 in goal time to connect with the Northbound (RMS) "Carnarvon Castle). This became a regular pattern that continued with commendable regularity until Wingfield became the terminus in 1931.
There were no radios or blind flying instruments. Aircraft flew over certain Post Offices en route, who immediately telephoned head office in Port Elizabeth to report the aircraft registration number and time. Weather forecasting was very rudimentary, and the weather office in Cape Town was run by Mr Law for many years.
PUPIL PILOT SCHEME:
The scheme to train 100 pilots for the SAAF began in about 1938. 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 Baragwanath opened up at Brooklyn, with a contract to train batches of civilian pilots to 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.
Aircraft 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 Afro Avion owned by Traffic Cop Naude (later of Skeleton Coast fame). At this stage, Brooklyn consisted of one hangar, one office block 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.
When war broke out, AAT was moved form Brooklyn to Tempe, near Bloemfontein, and was absorbed into the SAAF.
BROOKLYN AIR STATION:
Brooklyn Air Station was officially established on 24th October 1941. The purpose of the unit was to support Air Depots that were to assemble aircraft for the Wartime Air Training Scheme (WATS).
The first Officer Commanding was Wing Commander C.N. Carpenter and his temporary HQ was at the Ottery Road Camp. It is interesting to note that the strength of Brooklyn was 7 Officers and 51 Other Ranks. The WingCo was transferred to DGAF and replaced by WingCo J.J. Murphy who assumed command at the end of January 1942. Many of the Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel who wee to serve on AFS Brooklyn had docked in Cape Town on 2 September 1941 and were housed in a camp at Polsmoor.
Although the station was not yet active, a Christmas dance was held in the Airmen's Mess, which, together with the Sergeant's Mess and Canteen, had already been completed. 3 and 9 Air Depots began their move onto the partially ready station on 10 January 1942. Two days later the first workshop was in action.
By the end of that first month 124 crated aircraft had been received from the docks and, more importantly, 58 assembled aircraft had flown off to the waiting flying schools. Station strength on 9 February was 17 Officers, 61 NCOs and 603 airmen.
The underlying political situation in the country had its effect on activities at Brooklyn. Not everybody in the Union supported the War and the Ossewa Brandwag (OB) were a threat. Attempts were made one night to set the piles of crated aircraft alight. Fire fighting facilities were non-existent and hurried consultations were held with the Salt River Fire station as to what action should be taken in the event if a fire. 12 Aircraft were found to have their undercarriage levers in the "Up" position after one aircraft's carriage collapsed. This was suspected sabotage. Attempts were also made one night to break into both armouries on the station.
9 Air Depot's first and only air crash took place on 25th March 1942. Capt J.J. Theron crashed an Oxford 3564 close to the airfield and was killed.
To meet the demand for Baltimores, the OC's Station and 9 AD agreed early in May to the production of 25 aircraft a month. The first Baltimore arrived on June 1 and was test flown on the 21st of the month. The target of 25 aircraft was achieved in October but thereafter lack of spares bedevilled the delivery of these vital aircraft.
Living conditions on the Station were basic and the Cape weather did not help. Late in May it started raining continuously and the tent camp had to be abandoned. The personnel were accommodated by doubling-up in the huts and misappropriating the recreation hall. Heavy rains and hail storms struck during the small hours of 6 June.
The first batch of Kitthyhawks was received from the docks during this period and work started on continuous 8 hour shifts to cope with the number of aircraft to be assembled.
There were more than the usual sort of domestic problems at Brooklyn. Plates had to be washed 8 times during dinner times as there were insufficient as to go around. The WAAF Officers requested and were refused permission to dine in the Airwomen's mess.
Discussions were held by the British on methods to prevent imperial troops marrying coloured girls. There were no sports fields and practice soccer matches were permitted on the threshold of the N-S runway. It was decided that this could continue until proper sports facilities could be created. Squadron Leader Lancaster visited in July in connection with the start of work on sports fields as well as methods of growing grass on the airfield.
Also in that month complaints against messing were investigated by the higher HQ. The Station Commander inspected Airmen's Dinner meal in August. He noted a "general slackness, lack of supervision of native labour and direction of European staff including messing orderlies". Capt (Mrs) Slade arrived to inspect the non-existent WAAF mess! She was permitted to inspect the combined RAF/SAAF/WAAF Mess. The Church Of England Chaplain was so unpopular with the men that attempts were initiated to have him replaced.
On the positive side, construction of the present squash courts at Officers Mess was started on August 24, with completion a month later! In September 1941, erection of the new Airmen's Mess started, with accommodation for 384 details.
It was also decided to drop the three shift system in favour of two shifts. By this time, the Station strength was 52 Officers, 30 WOs, 441 NCOs, and 1 320 Airmen, to bring a total of 1 843.
The station also had its moments on the flying side. F/o Fox (RAAF) who was attached for Baltimore test flying, had to appear on the carpet before the Station Commander after an alleged low flying incident over a prohibited area, in the vicinity of Sea Point (Maybe Sandy Bay???). He was suspended pending further investigation. 2/Lt Watson was charged for drunken behaviour after the Wynberg MPs reported him. The case was, however, dropped after investigation. According to the War Diary, 2/Lts Currie and MacDonald were reproved instead for "doping" Watson's drinks.
And so this chapter of the Brooklyn Air Station comes to an end. The next Officer Commanding Col J.A.B. Sandenbergh took command in February after a "mutiny" by some of the men. The legendary RSM, WO Charlie Knoessen, refers to it as a "strike", while one of the RAF men of Draft 206, Mr Jock Green, says it was a "wee bit of trouble". The men used to spend Tuesday nights doing domestic chores, darning socks and the like, while they actually would have preferred to spend the night on the tiles in Cape Town. One Wednesday morning in January 1943, they appeared on the parade in their pyjamas and hoisted a pair of panties to the top of the flag pole. With that Wingco Murphy departed but the story does not end there.
Lord Haw Haw, the notorious German propagandist, broadcast this event as proof of the support at Brooklyn for the German War effort. Once the station had sorted out its problems with the new OC firmly at tits helm, the Erks dispatched a message to Hitler in the form of a 4 000lb blockbuster to prove where their sentiments actually lay. That sort of positive spirit is still part of Ysterplaat today!
CONDENSED HISTORY OF AIR FORCE BASE YSTERPLAAT:
Air Force Base Brooklyn and 9 Air Depot were separated from each other on 31 March 1944. All activities at the base were included under the activities of 3 Air Depot. Activities at Brooklyn Air Base had decreased and were of such a minimal nature that the airfield was nearly handed over to the private sector in 1945. The only thing preventing this was the enormous capital that had been invested into the base.
In 1946, 300 Harvards were crated by 3 Air Depot and shipped out of Cape Town. On the positive side, the first jet aircraft, a Meteor III, was assembled at the base during this year. The first flight took place on 14 May 1946.With the dissolving of 11 Air Depot in 1947, 2nd Wing and 3 Air Depot combined, under the suggestion and guidance of Captain D.F. Cohen. The base was hence known as Air Force Base Ysterplaat.
17 Squadron, known as the "City of Cape Town" squadron, was established at Air Force Base Ysterplaat on 4 October 1947. In 1951, 7 and 21 Squadrons were established as Active Citizen Force Squadrons on Ysterplaat Air Force Base. These squadrons were equipped with Harvards and Venturas. Although 6 and 22 Squadrons had not settled at Ysterplaat by the early fifties, the Unit was still responsible for their service and maintenance. The first Vampires arrived in 1949 and were assembled at Ysterplaat.
On the 20th April 1953, the Air Navigation School moved to Ysterplaat. The Air Navigation School had never had their own aircraft. Initially, navigators were trained in Venturas and later in Dakotas from 25 Squadron. The Air Navigation School moved to a new home at Langebaanweg in 1981. Dakotas are still used for training flights.
In 1957, 35 Squadron moved to Ysterplaat from Durban. The first two Shackletons arrived in the Cape on 19 August, 1957. After 17 Squadron was re-established at Langebaanweg in 1957, they moved to Ysterplaat in July 1961. At that stage, 17 Squadron was equipped with helicopters.
In October 1962, 2 Aircraft Maintenance Unit and 11 Air Depot were established. In the same year, 17 Squadron was divided into 3 flights whereof 1 flight remained at Ysterplaat Air Force Base, as a Helicopter Support Unit, to give basic training to helicopter pilots and flight engineers. This Unit was transferred to Bloemfontein in 1977, after they were renamed as 87 Advanced Flying School. 402 Flight Maintenance Unit achieved Unit status in 1964.
The present Air Force Base Ysterplaat was officially established on 1 February 1968, after the Railways gave up their ownership of part of the land. On this same date, 16 and 25 Squadrons were established, with 16 Squadron taking over the core of the old 17 Squadron and 25 Squadron becoming Transport Squadron. It can be said that 25 Squadron took over the war time role of 22 Squadron, as well as the task of Unit Fight that had previously flown Dakotas from Ysterplaat.
On the same date, 88 Maritime Operational Training School, previously known as Maritime Operational Training School, was established. Their task was to train the flight crews of the base's Maritime Squadrons: 35 and 27 Squadrons. It was also decided that the Harvards would henceforth form part of Dunnotar Air Base and the last Harvards departed from the Cape on 14 February 1977.
On 6 July 1978, the Ysterplaat Officers Mess burnt down. Work was immediately commenced with to build a new Mess and this new Mess was available for use on 5 November 1980. The NCO Mess was also replaced with a superb new building and this was used as from 5 December 1984.
27 Squadron's Dakotas were replaced with Albatross's in 1968. In the following year, 17 Squadron moved to Durban and later on to Pretoria. 22 Flight, who were equipped with Westland Wasp Helicopters, finally achieved Squadron status in 1976. Alouette III helicopters were added to the Squadron in 1978. 11 Air Depot moved to Epping and the opening of their new premises was on 8 November 1979. With the establishment of 30 Squadron (Frelons and Puma Helicopters) in December 1980, 16 Squadron was dissolved and the A-flight moved to Port Elizabeth.22, 25 and 30 Squadrons thus operated from Ysterplaat Air Base with Wasps and Alouette IIIs, Dakotas and lastly Pumas and Super Frelon Helicopters respectively. 35, 27 and 7 Squadrons operated from D.F. Malan airport, as Ysterplaat Squadrons, with Shackletons, Albatrosses and Impalas respectively.
Further air units under Ysterplaat's command were 109 Commando Squadron in Mossel Bay and 110 Commando Squadron at Ysterplaat. 93 Tactical Flight Field Unit's home base was also Ysterplaat.
Notwithstanding the emergency services that Ysterplaat's Squadrons became famous for, great work was also being done on technical aspects, especially with modern equipment and excellent workmanship. This proficiency was recognised in 1983 and 1984 with the SAAF Operational Effectiveness for Support Units award.
The manufacturing capability of 2 Air Servicing Unit led to the establishment of 2 Air Depot with effect from 1 November 1984. It has subsequently been renamed 2 Air Servicing Unit again. (2000).
After Namibia became independent in 1989, great change took place in the whole of what was then known as the South African Defence Force. Air Force Base Ysterplaat did not escape the process, with 25 and 27 Squadrons being stood down (disbanded). The Squadron Colours were laid down on 26 October 1980, and are on display at the Air Office in Pretoria. Further to this 88 Maritime Operational Training Unit was also closed and 80 Navigation School was relocated from CFS Langebaanweg to AFB Ysterplaat detached at Cape Town International Airport. The unit will be relocated to AFB Ysterplaat by the end of 2002. 35 Squadron took over the roles of 25 and 27 Squadrons which resulted in 35 Squadron being a multi role Squadron having a Maritime and Transport function. By 1991, 22 Squadron and 30 Squadron were merged, flying Alouette and Puma helicopters. 402 Squadron was also stood down. With the closure of Southern Air Command and Air Force Base Port Elizabeth, 108 Squadron came under the command and control of Air Force base Ysterplaat. Today, 22 Squadron operate Oryx and Alouette Helicopters, 110 Squadron is still based at Air Force Base Ysterplaat with 35 Squadron relocating to Air Force base Ysterplaat from Cape Town International by the end of the year 2002.
THE WAAFS OF BROOKLYN AIR STATION:
Ladies in uniform played a vital role in the entire war effort and their role in Brooklyn Air Station was no less important. They fulfilled numerous functions, thus releasing men for service closer to the front lines. Any reader will however be surprised to learn of the full extent of their involvement. Many were involved in radar at secret stations around the Peninsula and actually sighted submarines loitering outside the harbour. There were ferry pilots and almost every other mustering that can be imagined. The contribution of these ladies in uniform to aircraft maintenance and assembly at Brooklyn is not all that well known.
In the interests of Women's Lib, an entry in the Station War Diary made in September 1941 is repeated below:
"It is desired to place on record the progress made by WAAF personnel at this depot and the influence they have on production. As the WAAF fitters now have a good grounding, working in parties with male personnel, it was decided to advance them to more responsible work. A party, with a RAF Sergeant in charge, was therefore detailed to splice Baltimore fuselages. This brought them into direct competition with the men, the second splicing layout being operated by male personnel and the two layouts being in close proximity. It may here be stated that consistent efforts have been made to reduce the man hours taken up by this operation with the following results:
(1) Average man hours taken splicing first batch: 484;
(2) Average man hours taken immediately prior to WAAFs undertaking splicing: 260;
(3) Average man hours during period under review (men and women): 159;
(4) Average man hours under review (men only): 90;
(5) Average man hours during period under review (women only): 216.
The reduction of time taken between (1) and (2) above is due to personnel becoming acquainted with the work and the provision of special spanners and tools as experience indicated. Although the final time taken by the WAAFs is considerably less than that taken by the men, it is also much less than that taken originally by the men as in (1) and (2). The effect of this competition on the men is surprising as will be noted by the man hours taken, their time finally being reduced to 90 hours. Unfortunately at this juncture, the supply of Baltimore's for assembly failed and it was therefore impossible to continue the observation. There is no doubt whatsoever that the WAAFs would have considerably have reduced the time taken, as they gained experience. It can also be stated that period to this Engine installation crews, comprising solely of WAAFs, have proved to be slightly slower than men, but infinitely more tidy in their work".
The use of WAAFs was discontinued after the war but females have subsequently become a permanent part of the SAAF. At AFB Ysterplaat, the Chief Air Traffic Controller is a lady and the fairer sex is also represented by the Personnel, PRO and Supply Branches. Recently, ladies once again made their appearance on the workshop floor with the arrival of several female fitter aircraft apprentices. They will, no doubt, carry on in the fine tradition of the "Brooklyn Baltimore Fuselage Splicers" of yesteryear.