Military Flying Boats in Durban

By Allan Jackson - 3 March 2004

Durban was host to various military flying boats from around 1942 and a fulltime presence was established early in 1943 when 262 Squadron of the Royal Air Force moved into a base complete with hangar and slipway adjacent to the BOAC facility at Bayhead. The squadron flew reconnaissance patrols out to sea from here and from lakes St. Lucia and Umsingazi in Zululand in their American Consolidated PBY Catalinas.

These two pictures were taken during an air survey of Durban in 1948. The one on the left shows the SAAF 35 Squadron Flying Boat base at Bayhead. Marked with a 1 is the base junk heap on which can be seen the remains of the Catalina aircraft which the squadron operated during WWII. On the right is the mooring basin in front of the SAAF base and, marked with a 2, the deserted BOAC hangar and slipway which had been used until the previous year by the aircraft plying the passenger and mail route between South Africa and the UK.

Pictures courtesy Director: Survey,
eThekwini Municipality.

Click pictures to view enlargements.

The photograph of Catalina FP257F being
piloted by F/O Dick Lawson was supplied by the Bull family of Sydney, from
the Service Records of the late F/Lt Jack Bull (Pilot of Catalina FP288G)

Click image to view enlargement

Catalinas going on anti-submarine patrol from Durban would take off from here and land at Eastern Shores, Lake St Lucia, or later at Umsingazi, to be loaded with depth charges before flying their patrols. The Catalinas were usually prohibited from taking off from Durban with depth charges aboard because of the fearful consequences to the tightly-packed shipping in the harbour if a flying boat packed with high explosive were to crash on take-off.

Aircraft from 262 Squadron attacked a surfaced U-boat (U-859) 300 miles South West of Durban of Durban on July 5, 1944. It was later found that the U- boat had been seriously damaged in the attack with one crew member being killed and three wounded. So many South African pilots joined the squadron that it was eventually assimilated into the South African Air Force as 35 Squadron with the Zulu motto Shaya Amanzi (Strike at the Water). The squadron received the Short Sunderland V (a military version of the Empire C-Class Flying Boat) in 1945 and continued to fly out of Durban until 1957 when all maritime reconnaissance duties were taken over by land-based Avro Shackletons at the Cape.

Picture courtesy World Air News.


This picture was taken by Tom Chalmers on the last occasion a Sunderland took off from Durban Bay.


<== Click picture to view wallpaper-size enlargement. (1024x768px)

My informant Tom Chalmers took the picture above in 1957 on the day before the last official Sunderland flight was to take place from Durban. By coincidence he was to be a passenger on the last flight but it never occurred because two of the engines failed on take-off and the aircraft swung in towards the quay knocking off the end of her wing on a bollard and making a number of fishermen jump for their lives in to the bay. [Read his story about the incident]

Added 12 October 2005: A close inspection of the book Flying Boat by Ivan Spring reveals that the accident referred to above took place on 28 August 1957, meaning that the picture must have been taken on 27 August. The picture probably does not show the last take-off from Durban Bay after all, because Flying Boat records the last Sunderland flight as having taken place on 8 November 1957.

Sunderland news clipping

In a packet of pictures and memorabilia I received from Barbara Le Grange (see here), there was a news clipping from the Natal Sunday Post of 3 August, 1947. The pictures include one of a Sunderland of 35 Squadron, South African Air Force, landing on Durban Bay. Other pics include a Sunderland being towed out into the bay ready for take-off, the seaplane tender and a view of the Sunderland's cockpit shortly after take-off. In the cockpit are pilot Lieut. J.S. Montgomery, left, and co-pilot Lieut. R. Richards D.F.C.; T-Jetty is clearly visible through the aircraft's windscreen.

Pictures courtesy Barbara le Grange
The pictures are not great because they were scanned from an old newspaper but the enlarged images are reasonably clear. Click the images to view the enlargements.

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