Steve Stevens, DFC (SAAF Beaufighter Pilot)

Steveandkay

Steve and Kay Stevens

Steve Stevens, DFC, is frail, bedridden and in pain. However, there is no doubt that this man is a force, a man who has packed more into his 96 years on Earth than most of us, and who is firmly committed to his goals and his religion.

When I call him to arrange the meeting, he answers the phone himself. We juggle dates; he has an appointment for a radio interview, and I am keen to come and see him at 10h45 on the 11th November so we could pay our respects to the Fallen together. Eventually we settle on a plan.

Early Life

Steve Stevens was born on 27th August 1919 in Amesbury, Dorset. His father George was gassed in Salonica during WW1 and was sent to a special medical facility in Aberdeen for mustard gas victims, and he met and married Dora, one of the VAD’s.

Steve’s father was not expected to live past 40. However, in typical Stevens fashion George Alexander Stevens took no notice of this pronouncement and his health improved enough for him to take up a new assignment in the Army of Occupation in Germany. The family was billeted in a huge house complete with stables, and young Steve was delighted to be placed in the care of a beautiful young fraulien. Steve adored her, and from her learned to speak German better than he could speak English. Steve’s father had improved in health to the extent that he bought a string of polo ponies and a racehorse called Capitas, which he bought for £9 and rode to victory on local army races.

However, George’s health deteriorated and he was given a year’s sick leave, and the family went to live in Switzerland. There, a 7 year old Steve became proficient in skiing, jumping and skating.
With an improvement in health, the family moved to San Remo in Italy, but Steve’s father was soon recalled to his regiment, and made his way to Ireland and The Troubles. Within a year or so the West Yorkshire Regiment was required in India, but medical advice was that Stevens Senior would not survive the climate, and it was recommended that he was invalided out of the army and moved to somewhere warm and dry.

So it was that the family left for a life on a farm in South Africa in November 1929. George’s health improved, but Steve’s mother Dora suddenly fell ill and died of a brain tumour when Steve was only 14.

When WW2 broke out Steve was at the Bible Institute of South Africa. With the decision to close the college for the duration, some of the students joined the Ministry, and Steve joined the SA Air Force. Steve is convinced that the prayers offered three times a day by his father and stepmother kept him safe during the war. Steve joined the SAAF as a trainee air photographer, but soon re-mustered as aircrew.

The Visit

I arrive at the house, and using the information I have been provided, I left myself in. Steve is on his own in the house, and I make my way to his bedroom.

The blue eyes quickly examine me, and I feel thoroughly vetted and I note a long look at my SA Legion tie and blazer badge. We exchange greetings, and we discuss his interest in photography. Then we pause at 11h00 to commemorate the Fallen.

After some reflection Steve informs me that the radio team that came to interview him was despatched through the house to inventory some books he wanted to donate. They had, under his steely gaze, created a list for my perusal so I could choose which books I wanted to pass on to the SAAF Museum and the SA Legion. However, he then decided that we should take all of the books, and I politely declined as I already had a good number. I was informed that on my next visit more books would be provided.

World War Two

attack

This photograph is widely recognised as the most famous Beaufighter air- strike photo of WWII. It shows my plane attacking the Nazi-held medieval walled town of Zuzenberk. That attack by 8 of our 19 South African Air Force Beaufighter squadron resulted in the Yugoslav Partisans recapturing their town that very day. (Steve Stevens)

During the War Steve flew air strikes over Yugoslavia with 19 Squadron, based at Biferno. These strikes included the daring raid on the occupied walled town of Zuzenberk. The image of Steve firing his rockets is one of the two iconic Beaufighter images of the war. It is astonishing to realise that Steve could accurately hit a target as small as a 44 gallon fuel barrel with his rockets.

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Steve photographed Major Tilley attacking the armed German warship SS Kuckuck as Tilley’s number two. It was a desperate sortie which Steve and his fellow pilots fully expected to be a suicide mission. The rockets holed the target under the waterline. The pilots had been briefed by the Partisans that they would face the fire from 140 anti-aircraft guns. Remarkably all four planes returned safely.

60th Anniversary Plaque

Steve and I discuss many topics, and he instructs me to look at a small colourful plaque on a bookshelf. Steve was invited to attend a number of events in Italy, through the efforts of Guiseppe Morini. These events culminated on the 8th May 2005 in Campomarino.

“The ceremonies were in the open air, with a military band, rousing speeches and a fly-past.

Dignitaries from all over Italy were present, while huge flags of all participating countries blew in the wind. The chief of the Italian Air Force, General Leonardo Tricario, was there and a fifty-strong guard of honour marched into the square in our honour. The Italian Air Force also brought in another fifty men – bandsmen who played rousing music.

The warm-hearted Italians responded most generously, and as I put it later to our local newspaper, I’d never been kissed by so many women – and men!”

plaque

When we, Second World War airmen who had flown from Termoli in 1944/5 were presented with these VE Day commemoration plaques, I told them I would value this as much as my DFC because it was a plaque of PEACE. A woman hears the drone of a plane and is in fear of being bombed yet again. But as she looks up she sees it is a PLANE OF PEACE. That’s just what I, and my wife Kay, became involved in Africa with our Mission Aviation Fellowship planes.

Until next time.

All too soon it is time to go when Steve’s team get there to take care of him.

steve-c

I reluctantly leave, but not before I present him with my own beret, which he wears with pride, and when I leave he instructs me to hang the beret on the hat peg next to his SAAF cap.

I leave with a solemn promise we will visit again, and he is looking forward to receiving a membership to the SA Legion UK on our return.

I look forward to meeting him again.

Information with kind permission – Steve Stevens. Article by Cameron Kinnear for the South African Legion – UK & Europe.


 

A South African Air Force 34 Squadron Liberator bomber’s stick of bombs (top left hand corner) on their way down onto the Marshaling Yards at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia during a 2 SAAF Wing Raid on the facility.

Copyright SAAF Museum Collection


The Fire-Force on the move. (SAAF Museum Collection photograph) – courtesy and thanks to Graham du Toit

 

A South African Air Force Mustang undergoing maintenance – part of the British Commonwealth’s contribution to the United Nations Korean War effort.

South Arican Air Force No 2 Sqn flew 10,373 Mustang sorties in Korea, followed by 2032 with the F-86. The SAAF pilots won three Legions of Merit, 2 Silver Stars, 50 DFC’s, 40 Bronze Stars, and 176 Air Medals.

Image and caption courtesy British & Commonwealth Forces Past and Present via South African Legion


 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of this historic flight – 25 May 1965 history was made when Cmdt Bob Rogers and Maj John Murphy lifted off at Holme-On-Spalding-Moor with Buccaneer S MK50 tail number 413 at 16h50 for the flight of the first SAAF Buccaneer to be delivered at the re-formed 24 Sqn at RNAS Lossiemouth.

The flight time was 50 minutes and they landed at Lossiemouth at 17h40 to the delight of all the flight and ground crew members who were all very proud to receive their first aircraft.

Image and caption courtesy of Johan Conradie


 

Lunch at Sidi Barani – SAAF and RAF

World War 2, North African theatre and this image shows the high degree of cross over between South African units and British ones – here standing around the field kitchen are both Royal Air Force and South African Air Force personnel – the South Africans are distinctive in their South African Union Defence Force pith helmets.

These men formed part of No. 204 Group RAF and are taking lunch at Sidi Barrani, Egypt, while their respective units were acting in support of Operation Battleaxe.

Operation Battleaxe was a British Army operation during the Second World War in June 1941, to clear eastern Cyrenaica of German and Italian forces and raise the Siege of Tobruk. It was the first time during the war that a significant German force fought on the defensive but the operation failed as British forces attacked strong defensive positions created by German General Erwin Rommel.

Image copyright, Imperial War Museum. Post for the South African Legion by Peter Dickens


Group Captain P H “Dutch” Hugo (left), Commanding Officer of No. 322 Wing RAF, and Wing Commander R “Raz” Berry (right), who took over leadership of the Wing in January 1943, conversing at Tingley, Algeria. 

Petrus Hendrik Hugo, a South African, joined the Royal Air Force on a short-service commission in February 1939. He flew with No. 615 Squadron RAF during the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, and became a flight commander in September 1941. He was posted to command No. 41 Squadron RAF in November 1941, and then took over the leadership of the Tangmere Wing in April 1942 but was shot down (for a second time) and wounded shortly after. 
On recovery Hugo became Wing Leader at Hornchurch, but was soon posted to lead No. 322 Wing in the forthcoming invasion of North Africa (Operation TORCH). He took command of the Wing in November 1942 and added significantly to his victory score over Algeria and Tunisia. From March to June 1943, Hugo served on the staff at HQ North-West African Coastal Air Force, but returned to command 322 Wing in Malta, Sicily, France and Italy until it disbanded in November 1944. 
Having achieved 17 confirmed and 3 shared victories, he then joined the staff HQ Mediterranean Allied Air Forces and finished the war flying with the Central Fighter Establishment. 
 
Copyright Imperial War Museum Collection

South African Air Force in Gabes in Tunisia April 1943 during World War 2. Rare original colour photo of the Supermarine Spitfire pilot of ER622, No 40 Squadron, South African Air Force as he confers with his ‘No 2’ after landing at Gabes.  

 
Note the ‘orange’ centre on the roundel marking and orange stripe on the fin flash – this was distinctively South African – all British and other Commonwealth aircraft (Australian, Canadian and New Zealand) in the conflict had a red centre in their roundels and red, white and blue fin flashes. 

 
Image copyright Imperial War Museum Collection.


Commandant Johann Christiaan Du Randt (Artillery Observation Officer, 4 Field Regiment) is carried to his last resting place on a gun carriage with full military honours.

He was Killed in Action on the 3rd September 1987 in a 42 Squadron Atlas AM3-C Bosbok, Serial No 934 which was shot down by a Soviet SA-8 Gecko Surface-to-Air Missile South of Lomba river in Southern Angola during Ops Modular.

As the Artillery Observation Officer he was giving battery targetinginformation on the enemy when the Angolan brigades started launching SAM’s at the aircraft. A total of 17 missiles were launched against the aircraft and the Pilot, Lieutenant Richard Glynn successfully avoided three of the missiles before the aircraft was hit by a fourth missile.

Both the Pilot and Artillery Observation Officer were killed instantly in the explosion. SADF Ground Forces in the area successfully recovered the bodies of both crew.

They were:
82430414PS Lieutenant Richard William Glynn (Pilot 42 Squadron). He was 21.
70517313PE Commandant Johann Christiaan Du Randt (Artillery Observation Officer, 4 Field Regiment). He was 32.

Their sacrifice will be remembered. Thank you once again to Grahame Du Toit for his on-going work preserving this memory, the caption and photograph.

 


Never before published photograph of 11 Squadron Canadair CL-13B Sabre Mk VI 380 flying in the area between Potgietersrust and Pietersburg. Photo recently donated to the SAAF Museum. The photograph was most probably taken in the late 1960’s.

Caption thanks and photo Grahame Du Toit and his on-going work.

 

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