Lebbeus Laybutt's Photo Album

By Allan Jackson - 29 May 2006

My informant Reg Laybutt contacted me as the result of an article I had contributed to our ratepayers' magazine Metrobeat. Reg told me that his father had served with 35 Squadron SAAF, which was initially based in Durban and flew flying boats from the bay. He told me that his father had sent him a number of photos as souvenirs when he was a boy, and he very kindly offered to let me see them. The pictures turned out to be very high quality views of the squadron's aircraft and a number of other very interesting bits and pieces.

I have descibed elsewhere on this site how 35 SQN originated as as 262 Squadron RAF, which was posted to Durban in 1942 to fly anti-submarine patrols in their American PBY Catalinas. Lebbeus Laybutt arrived at 35 SQN in 1946 or 1947, after serving with No. 1 Fighter Squadron SAAF, in North Africa, Egypt and Palestine. We can't date the pictures with any certainty because some show PBY Catalinas, which had probably all been phased out by the time he arrived, and a Seafire is pictured, which was probably scrap long before. What I think probably happened is that Lebbeus, who served as Sergeant Major in charge of safety equipment, probably found some of the pictures lying around the unit and sent them to his son. The pictures of the Sunderland aircraft may well have been taken during his time at the unit.

Lebbeus Reginald Laybutt

The picture was taken while he was a corporal in WWII sometime during his service with No. 1 Fighter Squadron SAAF.

A launch tows a 262 SQN / 35 SQN PBY Catalina. Note: The launch is marked RAF 430 which may mean the picture was taken before the Squadron became 35 SQN SAAF in 1945; or, then again, it may not.

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A 262 SQN / 35 SQN PBY Catalina on patrol.

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A rescue launch belonging to No 8 Motor Boat Section SAAF which was based in Durban from 1942 and tasked with rescuing airmen who had forced landings at sea. More details about the unit here.

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A 35 SQN SAAF Sunderland flies above the Point in Durban

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A 35 SQN Sunderland lies moored at the base at Congella. The aircraft's name painted on her nose is 'Little Zulu Lulu'. There is a launch carrying some personnel in the foreground.

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A dramatic picture of a 35 SQN Sunderland taking off from Durban Bay. The quality of the image is unfortunately quite poor because the original was a postcard.

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Nice aerial views of Durban.

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One very interesting picture which was included in those sent to Reg Laybutt was this one, left, of what I first thought was a Spitfire. I am indebted to Alan Taylor of the SAAF Museum who provided some information about the aircraft. The first thing he told me was that the aircraft is, in fact, a Seafire MkII C of 834 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm. The Seafire is a variant of the Spitfire adapted for naval use. LR 702 arrived in Durban on 21 March 1943 aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Battler, along with 5 other II Cs.

The carrier had completed a stint in the Far East and the picture shows the aircraft with the blue and white roundels of South East Asia Command and 834 SQN's 'Z' markings. The Seafires were apparently flown off the carrier and based at Stamford Hill Aerodrome and, later, at Isipingo, while the ship was refurbished and replenished. HMS Battler was re-equipped with Grumman Wildcats beore she left Durban and the Seafires remained behind, most likely to be used for training.

It is not known where the picture was taken but I have the feeling that it must have been on the Natal Coast somewhere. LR702 suffered a heavy landing in Durban on 23 February 1944, while being flown by Lt D.A.E.Holbrook. The damage was later judged to be too severe to fix and, late in 1944, she was retired from service and probably used for spares.

My regular informant Frank Beeton provided the information that LR702 is featured in Ron Belling's magnificent book A Portrait of Military Aviation in South Africa. Belling was one of South Africa's foremost aviation artists and the book contains a collection of his paintings of military aircraft. It is a really great book and a 'must have' for anyone interested in the subject of early South African aviation.

Ron Belling's book above, left, and the page with the painting of LR 702 and HMS Battler off Durban.

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