The Flying Boats of Durban.

This past month I was sent a photographic essay comprising of a series of photographs of Imperial Airways flying boats taken at the flying boat base in Durban Harbour.   The sender was Dennis Hewer and I thank him for allowing me to add this to the Facts about Durban archive.  Dennis’s grandfather H. W. Anderson (sic) appears in one of the photos, the photos being in possession of Dennis’s mother. I would venture to say all the photos were taken on the same day.

I would dare to say that there cannot be too many people in Durban alive today who were able to experience a flying boat voyage from England to South Africa when the route was re-introduced just after the end of World War 2.  The flying boat route to South Africa was actually in service in 1937 and this was extended to India, Hong Kong and Australia.  From a source I have, the flight from England to South Africa took 5 days and there were two services a week.  In the 1930s international long haul routes were limited to an extent by the amount of fuel that aircraft could carry thus most trips consisted of hops from point A to point B.  The flying boat service came into its own at this time as refuelling could be done en route with several stops along the way. The pace was slower but more restful, possibly safer and sightseeing could be included. Routes were planned and at the various stops passengers alighted and were taken to hotels for overnight accommodation.  So it was that in South Africa two bases were created as flying boat terminals , one at Vaal Dam and the other at Durban.

My first contact with Durban’s flying boat base was through my late uncle who took me along on his fishing trips when I was very young. One fishing spot we visited was what was called the slipway.  Actually if I recall there were two of them.  These were situated at the head of the bay in the vicinity of the Prince Edward dry dock.  What my uncle liked about them was that you could park your car on the slipway, set chairs up and fish in comfort.  When I first visited the slipways roughly in the mid-1950s there was nothing about that indicated what the slipways were used for.  I recall my uncle saying he thought they were built to haul flying boats out of the water. As I found out in later years, this proved to be true. In the vicinity as well was the floating dock and a wharf where tugs were tied up when undergoing repairs. Seeing these photos immediately took me back many years.

I mentioned above that Dennis named his grandfather as H. W. Anderson.  In subsequent correspondence Dennis told me that his grandfather’s father had emigrated to South Africa and had worked at the whaling station.  Dennis also told me that the family home was at 391 Berea Road.  Knowing Berea Road fairly well I was curious where 391 was, and referring to an old Durban Directory discovered that 391 was then the residence of H. W. Andersen. That residence is now no longer as it and adjoining plots were bought by Telkom to accommodate the new Tollgate Telephone Exchange which I knew well.  For those not familiar with the exact area, the Masonic Lodge Building is next door to the exchange as well as Park Lodge Gardens, a block of flats set back from Berea Road.

I informed Dennis that the directory had Anderson as Andersen and I tended to think the directory was usually correct as it sourced information from reliable sources.  Dennis reverted to an aunt of his and the directory proved to be right, the Andersen is with an “e” which ties up with the whaling and the Norwegian way of spelling it.

CLICK on pictures to expand.

The  slipway where we used to fish. On the opposite side was the SAMANCOR loading berth for SA Manganese.

The flying boat hangars. These must have been demolished when the service was terminated.

Note the Liberty ship in the background.
The Golden Hind

Dennis’s grandfather working on the engine nearest the camera.

Pilots’ positions in cockpit.
Interior seating
Cabin crew
Note British Airways sign. In later years British Airways amalgamated with Imperial Airways to form British Overseas Airway Corporation BOAC.

Flying Boat Registration reads G-AFCI ….The Golden Hind one of three built in Rochester England. Launched 1939.
The C Class Canopus built 1936 undergoing repairs in Durban.


There are 24 photos in the collection and I am posting all.  I will comment where I can but having never seen the flying boats they are now a forgotten part of Durban’s past history. Perhaps there may be some people who do remember them and they are invited to comment.


4th June 2021

Received a picture of a flying boat taking off from Durban Bay en route to England.  Date given as 1939.

Share this:

5 Responses

  1. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    From Geoff Street a contact, I post here the routes that were followed by the flying boats.

    ” There were in fact two routes and from my notes talking to my Dad, these are them – The Original route which used the “C” Class flying boats between 1937 and 1940ish was much longer and time consuming as it offered more stops depending on passenger requirements – so this route went – Southampton – Marseille – Rome – Brindisi -Athens – Alexandria (this is where the India and Australia routes branched off – known as the Horseshoe Route used between 1940 and 1946) – Cairo – Luxor – Aswan – Wadi Halfa – Khartoum – Malakal – Juba (there was a Wartime route that branched off to West Africa from here) – Laropi – Port Bell on Lake Victoria in Uganda – Kisumu in Kenya – Lake Naivasha – Mombasa – Dar-Es-Salam in Tnzania – Lindi – Mozambique Island – Beira – Inhambane – Lorenco Marques – Durban. However with the introduction of the Solent class flying boats and their much longer range the route was changed to the one I think most of us are more familiar with and this route went – Southampton – Sicily – Alexandria – Port Bell – Lake Naivasha – Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi depending on passenger requirements – or direct to Victoria Falls – Vaal Dam Johannesburg South Africa, this route was operated from the mid 40s to the closure of the flying boat service.”

  2. Lyndon Williams
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing this. Very interesting indeed.

    Apparently my grandfather, Terence John Flusk, used to work for Imperial Airways. He was a pilot I believe. I can’t confirm that though. I do know that he served in the RAF in WW2. This is what brought him to Durban, where he met my grandmother. I don’t remember meeting him as he died when I was very young. (Mid 1970’s) My grandmother kept her itinerary of the flight that she took to the UK on this particular flying boat. She also had some pictures of her journey. She told me that they would fly low, every now and again so that they could see the animals beneath them. Something that she never forgot.

    • Jack Tubb

      I recall fishing with my Dad and watching a BOAC Sunderland take off – with a crashboat ahead to break up the water ahead. My Grandad Jack Tubb was a fitter with BOAC at Bayhead. I still have his. Security pass

  3. Paul Edgar
    | Reply

    My dad passed at age 96 in 2020, was a sunderland fitter stationed at Lui, Freetown, Sierra Leone for a while. Afer the war he moved from UK to Cape Town in 1947, and ended up working in the SA Air Force ASR at Gordons Bay and Langebaan on ASR Launches called Crash boats. They had Catalina’s stationed there and were visited by Sunderlands as well as French flown Martin Marlins. I was 6 years old when the French were visiting. What a privelage it was to grow up on the west coast during the 60’s.

  4. David Pay
    | Reply

    I was a pupil at Bushlands primary school on the Bluff during the 1950s. You could see the whole of Durban harbor from the school grounds. Flying boats would take off starting at the dry dock end of the bay and head towards the Point. You could often hear the engines revving up to take-off speed before you would be able to see the moving aircraft. Usually the aircraft would lift off and easily clear the buildings at the Point. However, on occasions when the plane was heavily laden and took longer to become airborne, the aircraft would fly between the taller buildings!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *