The Martin B26 Marauder in South African Service, By Roger Best
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|During 1944/45 the South African Air Force (SAAF) had no fewer than five squadrons
equipped with the B26 Marauders. These were numbers 12, 21, 24, 25 and 30 Squadrons. The
24th Squadron was selected as the first squadron to be converted to B26s and flew
their last raid with their beloved Bostons on the 8th November 1943 from Tortorella near
Foggia Main, Italy. Later that month 120 squadron members proceeded to Telergma, Algeria
for the conversion course.
12th December 1943, the 24th squadron South African Air Force received its first four Marauders. It was on this day that the advance party of 24 Sqdn arrived at Gambut, which was a base roughly half way between Tobruk and Bardia.
26th January 1944 the O.C. Lt Col. J.N. (Jack) Robbs, DFC landed at Gambut from Italy with fourteen B26s. 31st January 1944 operations commenced when six Marauders bombed shipping at Stampalia west of the island of Kos.
Disaster struck only three days after commencing operations when the O.C. Lt. Col Robbs and his crew were shot down over Suda Bay, Crete in FB478 "T". A photograph of this Marauder going down was deemed to be a freak photograph since it showed an apparently whole Marauder flying below the formation whereas closer inspection showed that the tail section was upside down and several hundred feet above the aircraft. Jack Robbs and his co-pilot Lt. R.K. "Dick" Townsend were the only two survivors while four other crew went down with the plane.
Lt. Col. Oscar Galgut took over temporary command of the squadron when grim losses lay ahead and handled it magnificently. On 6th March 1944 6 Marauders attacked shipping in Scala Bay and 4 were shot down in a running battle lasting ninety minutes. Another Marauder was shot up so badly as to be declared a write off and the sixth got home unscathed. This event became known as the "Marauder Massacre"
28th April 1944 the new O.C. Lt. Col. C.S. Margo DSO, DFC arrived at Gambut but was himself replaced by Lt. Col. R.A. Blackwell on 1st June 1944. 28th June 1944 the squadrons stay at Gambut came to an end when sixteen Marauders were flown from Gambut to Pescara, Italy.
No.12 Squadron flew their last raid with their Bostons on 22nd December 1943 and by the 27th had started to move to Telergma for conversion to Marauders. By the 13th February 1944 the squadron had eighteen Marauders at Biferno and flew their first op on 2nd March. By the beginning of March 1944 3 Wing SAAF was under the command of Col.A.J. "Jack" Mossop and consisted of 12 squadron with Marauders, 21 Squadron with Baltimores and 24 Squadron at Gambut in North Africa with Marauders.
On 18th July 1944 No.21 Squadron flew their last raid with Baltimores, a type which they had been flying for two and a half years and during August converted to Marauders and were back on ops flying from Biferno.
No.25 Squadron were flying Venturas from St Albans in Port Elizabeth at the time the squadron was posted overseas. The sea party sailed from Durban on the 13th May 1944 for Port Tewfik en route to Pomigliano and the first five aircraft left A.F.B Swartkop on the 2nd June. By September the squadron was operating from Campomarino landing ground at Biferno. Nos 16 and 19 Squadrons flying Beaufighters and 25 Squadron with its Venturas were part of the Balkan Air Force which was formed on 7th June 1944, and included a number of other Allied units as well. The Squadron converted to Marauders in November 1944 while still flying Venturas and flew their first Marauder op on 20th November.
It was decided in February 1944 to start a new SAAF Squadron, No.30, to join 3 Wing SAAF and this was to be done by taking over and manning No.223 Squadron R.A.F. From 13th March 1944 223 Squadron flew as an operationally integral part of 3 Wing SAAF based at Campomarino at the mouth of the Biferno river. In April SAAF personnel started infiltrating the Squadron in preparation for the ultimate take over of that squadron by the SAAF. The birth of 30 Squadron SAAF was officially recorded as 12th August 1944.
It will be seen therefore that 3 Wing SAAF consisted of 12, 21, 24 and 30 Squadrons while No. 25 Squadron was part of the Balkan Air Force. On 23rd June 1944 3 Wing SAAF started to move 130 kilometers forward from Biferno to Pescara where they were joined by 24 Squadron on 29th June. In mid-October 3 Wing moved forward again from Pescara to Jesi and this was their last move before the end of the war. The Germans surrendered in Italy on 2nd May 1945 and the war in Europe ended on 8th May 1945.