Flying Boat Eyewitnesses - 35 SQN Shuttle Service

By Allan Jackson

I somehow missed mentioning in my recent article on the Flying Boats in Metrobeat magazine, that 35 Squadron SAAF had flown its Short Sunderland flying boats between Egypt and Durban, helping to bring South African troops back home from the fighting after WWII. Bob Fraser reminded me about the episode and was kind enough to share some of his experiences of the trip with me.

I had a look in Ivan Spring's book Flying Boat and saw that the squadron flew a survey of the proposed route, leaving Durban on 1 September 1945 and arriving in Cairo on 9 September 1945. It was decided to use Kasfareet as the northern terminus of the shuttle flight because the Nile at Cairo was choked with BOAC Flying Boats. Kasfareet was also very handy for the Helwan Transit Camp where the passengers could be accomodated.

The night stops on the route were Durban, Beira, Kisumu, Khartoum and Kasfareet. Arrangements were made to provide 45 000 gallons of fuel per month for the Sunderlands at each stop. The aircraft had six crew and were to carry 36 passengers from RAF AIR HQ in East Africa to Cairo and 40 passengers from Cairo to Durban.

The shuttle service began in mid-November and, by the end of December, 1022 passengers had been landed in Durban, while 72526 lbs of Christmas packages had been transported to the troops still in Cairo.
The last Sunderland left Egypt on 26th February, carrying Major General Evered Poole, who had commanded the South African 6th Armoured Division in Italy, and arrived in Durban on 2 March 1946.

It is not yet entirely clear to me how troops qualified for a seat on the shuttle but my Uncle, who was with 6th Division in Italy, tells me that they were usually allocated to people who needed to be back in South Africa in a hurry, to attend university for example.

*** A story I have not been able to check, but was told by an informant is that General Poole smuggled his pet dog into the country by making it swim to shore after the flying boat landed and picking it up later after all the fuss and furore had subsided.

Bob Fraser (as told to Allan Jackson)

Bob was one of the troops fortunate enough to get a place on the flying boats and flew from Kasfareet to Durban sometime at the end of 1945 or the beginning of 1946.

One of the abiding memories Bob has of the trip is flying over the Serengetti with Mt. Kilamanjaro in the distance, as perfect as a picture postcard, and the troops lining up at the open window to photograph it. He also remembers the heat in Mombassa which, he said, was extremely thirst-provoking, and the fact the water was like a millpond, making it very difficult for the aircraft to take off.

Pilot Eric McTeer had told the passengers that the flying boats tended to stick to the water like glue unless it was a bit choppy. The water being flat, Eric positioned the aircraft for the longest possible take-off run with the tail actually over the beach at one end. He then gave the plane full throttle and roared off across the bay and only just made it into the air with Bob later claiming that he could have leant out of the window and picked a leaf from a passing palm tree.

Durban had had a major storm just prior to the flying boat's arrival and the bay was choked with debris including logs and large items which could have damaged the aircraft on landing. The flying boat had to fly many circuits around Durban while crash boats buzzed around clearing the debris in the landing channel. On one circuit, Bob caught sight of his family home in Overport with a servant hanging washing on the line, oblivious that he was circling overhead. Many Durbanites must have been worried that there was something wrong with the flying boat as it circled overhead, but it landed safely as soon as the channel had been cleared.

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