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The Southern African History Musings of Ross Dix-Peek

Springbok Pilot Leads Attack on German V1 and V2 Rocket Sites, 1944
1943 Reconnaissance Photograph
  of V2 Rockets at Test-Stand VII
Photo: F/Sgt E.P.H. Peek, 504 Squadron)

The V1 and V2 rocket attacks on England during 1944/1945 were debilitating to say the least, and were to do damage both mentally and physically, and so effective were they that the attacks on London became known as the “Second Blitz“. One of the many airmen involved in hunting down and destroying the relevant rocket launching sites (known as “Operation Crossbow", November 1943-May 1945) was a South African from Witbank, Transvaal,  namely Wing-Commander Lewis Alan Lynn, Royal Air Force.  Lynn had initially attended the South African Training Ship (SATS) "General Botha" from 1932 - 1933 before joining the RAF, and by 1944 was operating with No 320 (Netherlands) Squadron, RAF, flying B25 Mitchell twin-engined bombers. A contemporary article published at the time was to write of him: 

“A well-known South African bomber pilot skilled in the art of precision bombing was out this morning helping to smash the launching platforms [in Northern France] from which the Germans are sending their flying bombs across Southern England. He is Wing Commander L.A. Lynn, of Witbank, operating with a Mitchell bomber group of the Second Tactical Air Force [2nd TAF]. Described as one of the most experienced pilots in the group, Lynn led to-day’s assault by the R.A.F. and Dutch Mitchell bomber crews on the flying bomb installations; it was his 85th operational trip.”

“On his return he said: ‘Visibility  was good, and our bombs fell in the target area all right.’ He and his group sought out skilfully camouflaged installations in the Pas de Calais area and the Mitchells hit their targets  squarely despite accurate and persistent flak, some of which tailed the bombers out to the coast on their homeward trip. Flak was thick in the target areas, indicating the importance the enemy attaches to safeguarding the rocket sites. Another “secret weapon” was used against our planes without effect. This consisted of a square box-like missile fired into the air to burst and scatter long strips of silvery and apparently metallic substance, possibly designed to foul the propellors [sic], but it was completely ineffective.”

Wing-Commander Lynn  was  to serve with marked distinction during the war, and was awarded the DSO (1944) and Bar (1944), and the DFC (1942), as well as the Dutch “Bronze Lion” award (November 1944), having flown with No‘s 107 and 320 (Netherlands) Squadrons‘, RAF. His London Gazette citations read as follows:

Air Ministry,11th February, 1944.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve
the following awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the  enemy: —

Distinguished Service Order.
Acting Wing Commander Lewis Alan LYNN, D.F.C. (40124), Reserve of Air Force Officers, No. 320 Squadron.

This officer has completed a very large number of sorties and has displayed skill, courage and determination of the highest order. He is a most inspiring and forceful leader, whose personal example has been reflected in the fine fighting qualities of his squadron which has obtained many successes in recent operations over Northern France. Wing Commander Lynn has displayed outstanding keenness and devotion to duty and his achievements have been worthy of great praise

Air Ministry, 14th July, 1944.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy: —

Bar to Distinguished Service Order.
Acting Wing Commander Lewis Alan LYNN, D.S.O., DF.C. (40124), R.A.F.O.

Wing Commander Lynn has completed a large number of day and night sorties during which he has successfully attacked a wide range of strongly defended targets. He has- maintained a high standard of operational flying and his genius for leadership has been outstanding. His achievements have won great praise.

Southern African RAF Airmen Decorated for Bravery over Dunkirk and Norway, 1940

May and June 1940 were rather dismal months for the Allies during the war, with ill-fated campaigns in Norway and France (which was redeemed at least in part by the heroic evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk), and even that early in the war, and just prior to the Battle of Britain,  southern Africans were already making a name for themselves. Three intrepid airmen hailing from southern Africa and serving with the Royal Air Force (RAF) who were to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC’s) in June 1940, and who were mentioned in the “South Africa” periodical at that time include:

A Lockheed Hudson approaches Dunkirk on a reconnaissance patrol
         during the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force
      from the port in May-June 1940 (IWM Collection)

“Flying-Officer Ronald Nicholas Selley, R.A.F. [39689], a South African, has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Early  this month he commanded a flight of three aircraft engaged in protecting shipping in which the B.E.F. was being evacuated. A formation of some 47 Junker 87’s was encountered and immediately attacked. He shot down two enemy aircraft with his front guns and by skilful manoeuvring he also enabled his rear gunner to shoot down a third and to damage other enemy aircraft [LG, Page 3622,  14 JUNE, 1940]. He was born at Durban in 1917, educated at Michaelhouse, and entered the Royal Air Force as a pupil pilot in 1937.”

Selley flew a Lockheed Hudson during the Dunkirk evacuation, and was killed later in the war, on the 5 March 1941, and his name appears on Panel 4 of the Edinburgh (Warriston) Crematorium. He was 25 years of age at the time of his death.

“Flying Officer Hilton Aubrey Haarhoff, Johannesburg [43156], who has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, was a rear gunner [with it would seem his fellow South African, R.N. Selley, as the pilot] in one of the three aircraft forming a flight which protected the shipping engaged in evacuating the B.E.F. The flight encountered some 40 Junker 87’s which immediately attacked and he destroyed one enemy aircraft and severely damaged another two.”

Actual citation [LG, Issue 34873, 14 JUNE, 1940, Page 3622] reads:

“In June, 1940, this officer was the rear gunner in one of a flight of three aircraft engaged in protecting shipping evacuating the British Expeditionary Force. The flight encountered a formation of some forty Junkers 87's, which were immediately attacked. Taking full advantage of the opportunities afforded by his pilot, Flying Officer Haarhoff destroyed one enemy aircraft and severely damaged another two.”

Acting-Flight Lieutenant C. [Caesar Barraud] B Hull, from Shangani, Southern Rhodesia, a former cadet of the Transvaal Air Training Squadron, has been awarded the the Distinguished Flying Cross  for gallantry. After shooting down an enemy aircraft on May 24 he two days later engaged five enemy aircraft single handed. He shot down four  of them and damaged a fifth. Next day he attacked enemy aircraft greatly superior in numbers until wounded and forced to retire.” (Accomplished while flying with No 263 Squadron, flying a outdated Gloster Gladiators ).

Actual-citation [LG, Issue 34878, 21 JUNE, 1940, page 3784]: Acting Flight Lieutenant Caesar Barrand HULL (37285). After having shot down an enemy aircraft one day in May, 1940, this officer, two days later, relieved the Bodo Force from air attack by engaging five enemy aircraft singlehanded. He shot down four of the enemy aircraft and damaged the fifth. The next day, despite heavy air attack on the landing ground, he attacked enemy aircraft in greatly superior numbers until he was wounded and forced to retire.

Caesar Hull was to command No 43 “Fighting Cocks” Squadron during the Battle of Britain and was killed on the 7 September 1940.