In 1939, Nazi Germany became a threat to world peace when Hitler launched a blitzkrieg on Poland, causing the world to react with a declaration of war. In September 1939, three days after Britain and France, the South African Government announced that the Union was at war with Germany. With this, the country was thrown into full preparation for the conflict. This also meant preparation for the South African Air Force, and the training of pilots started in all earnest for the long struggle, which became known as World War Two.
On the 13th of May 1940, Major N.G. Niblock-Stuart, together with 19 pilots and 24 ground crew, left Waterkloof for Cairo. By June the 1st they began training on Gauntlets at Abu Seur. Another group, under command of Colonel S. van Breda-Theron, received training on Hurricanes and Furies at Air Force Base Waterkloof, and left on the 22nd of May for Kenya. The group left on 26 May by boat for Mombassa. These groups, as part of 1 Squadron, formed the foundation for what was to become 2 Squadron. It was in Kenya where the squadron received two cheetah cubs as mascots and the historic name 'Flying Cheetahs' evolved.
On the 1st of October 1940, 2 flight of 1 Squadron officially became 2 Squadron, manning a base at Nanyuki, and a base at Archer's Post. The squadron formed part of Number 1 Bomber Brigade, and carried out escorts, patrols and defensive recce operations in the East African Campaign. On April the 20th 1941, part of the squadron left via Durban for the Middle East. During this campaign, the squadron confirmed eight Italian aircraft shot down, while only one squadron aircraft was lost and two pilots taken Prisoner of War. The rest of the squadron left Durban harbor on May the 2nd for the Middle East, and was based at Anria. Equipped with Hurricanes, and later American Tomahawks, they flew shipping escorts and patrols with 258 Wing of the Desert Air Force.
In December 1941, ten 2 Squadron Tomahawks engaged more than thirty Stukas, which was under cover of twenty Macchi 200's and Fiat A 50's. Six of the aircraft were confirmed shot down, against the loss of only two squadron pilots. When the Germans attacked the Gazala lines, the Tomahawks were replaced by Kittyhawks, which lead to greater losses against the well-known Messerschmitts and Macchis.
July 1942 saw seven German aircraft destroyed, three possibly destroyed and three damaged. El Alamein was one of the biggest battles during the Desert War, and the counter attack was launched in October 1942. Until November, 2 Squadron -flying as fighter bombers- claimed twenty-six aircraft destroyed and twelve damaged. The North African campaign ended in May 1943.
August 1943, and the squadron moves to Sicily and later Italy, flying Spitfire Mk 5 bombers. In October 1943, they turned to close support operations in support of the 18th Army. The squadron also flew to Bawja-luka in Yugoslavia in April 1944, claiming forty aircraft and damaging six. Two Squadron flew Spitfire Mk 9 aircraft until the capitulation of Germany in 1945. On the completion of World War Two, the squadron was disbanded and re-established at Air Force Base Waterkloof in June 1946 using Spitfire Mk 9's.
In 1950, the South African Air Force obtained Vampire aircraft. Two Squadron was busy converting to the new Jet, when the South African government announced that a squadron of the South African Air Force was to be placed at the disposal of the United Nations for service in the Korean War.
On September the 26th 1950, forty-nine pilots and hundred and fifty seven ground crew of 2 Squadron boarded the Tjisadane and sailed for Yokohama, Japan, for training. Equipped with F51 Mustang fighters, the squadron moved to Korea and operated with the 18th fighter-bomber wing of the US Air Force. The squadron first flew on the 19th of November 1950, from Pusan. They moved to Pjong-jang, Samor and Base 10. The Mustang proved to be an excellent fighter, able to carry machine guns, bombs, rockets and napalm, and was used in attacking enemy convoys and ground forces.
The South African ground crew received great respect from their American allies, for their motivation and commitment to the squadron and its ultimate victory. Life in the camp was far better than that of the Second World War, especially when the men of 2 Squadron could relax at Rorkes Inn, which became a famous institution and popular venue during the time. A healthy camaraderie existed between the South Africans and the Americans, which made K10 a homely place to spend the time away from home. Between the sorties, there was time to wash the Mustangs, do all personal chores and just relaxing with mates.
But it was still war and they kept hitting the enemy with ruthless precision in sortie after sortie. The pilots were attacked on several occasions by the vastly superior Russian Mig 15s, yet only one F51 Mustang was lost. During an attack on a Mig 15, Lieutenant Enslin saw an explosion in the aircraft. His gunsight camera recorded the attack, and the damage. This was to be the first enemy aircraft damaged by a Mustang in Korea. During their service time in Korea, the pilots of 2 Squadron were relieved after 75 sorties. Here Lieutenant Austin returns after his 75 sorties. Lieutenant McClear completed 98 sorties, and Commandant Burger here receives the 2 Squadron laurel wreath for his seventy five sorties.
In the Union, pilots were still trained on the Vampire aircraft, getting ready to be send to Korea as replacements for those whose tour of duty was completed. After a request made by 2 Squadron for upgrading of their aircraft, the North American F86 Sabre fighter jet was received on the 31st of December 1952, putting the South Africans on par with their American allies. This aircraft was the first supersonic jet flown by a South African squadron. Here, after receiving the traditional beer for his 100th sortie, Captain Ed Pienaar is congratulated by the squadron and wing commanders.
During their service in Korea, 2 Squadron had been continually employed in operations, comprising mainly armed reconnaissance, interdiction and close support ofland forces. On the 27th of July 1953, the Korean War came to an end. During this war, 2 Squadron's Mustangs completed a total of ten thousand three hundred and seventy three sorties, and the Sabres two thousand and thirty two, resulting in considerable damage to enemy installations. The squadron was also credited for cutting the permanent rail supply lines in four hundred and seventy two places.
They received high acclaims during this time and this photograph, specially autographed by Marilyn Monroe. They also received presidential unit citations from Korea and the United States of America. In appreciation for the effort by the South Africans, the Officer Commanding 18th Fighter Bomber Wing issued a policy directive, stating: "In memory of our gallant South African Comrades, it is hereby established as a new policy, that at all Retreat Ceremonies held by this Wing, the playing of our National Anthem shall be preceded by playing the introductory bars of the South African National Anthem, Die Stem van Suid-Afrika. All personnel of this Wing will render the same honors to this anthem as our own".
To those who served, this memorial erected at the United Nation's War Ally Cemetery in Pjiontek, Korea, pays homage specially to the 34 pilots and one ground crew member killed or missing in action. Korea was truly a remarkable milestone in the history of the South African Air Force, and 2 Squadron in particular. 2 Squadron was reformed at Air Force Base Swartkop in 1953 and had an inventory of ten De Havilland Vampire aircraft and a few North American Harvards.
During 1956 the South African Air Force acquired the North American F86 Sabre, the first supersonic aircraft in service of the Air Force. 2 Squadron was transferred to Air Force Base Waterkloof and again converted to the Sabre aircraft. At his stage, the squadron had eight Sabres, six Vampires and six Harvards. Another eight Sabres received later, brought the strength to twenty eight aircraft.
This Cheetah cub, received from a Northern Transvaal farmer in 1952, sits proudly in the Sabre air-intake, re-instating that 2 Squadron was indeed the Flying Cheetahs. April 1963. Another highlight in the squadron's history was the arrival of the first Mirage III CZ's from France. The aircraft was assembled and test flown by a French team, but in May 1963, Major Melville SM, OC of 2 Squadron became the first South African pilot to go supersonic low level. It was in November 1964 that the first Mirage III BZ arrived at the squadron. This 8-millimeter film features the Mirage III EZs, which arrived during July 1965, relieving the load of some of the flying duties. Then came the D2Z, the dual for the EZ and, in 1974, the Mirage III R2Z made its appearance at Waterkloof. The Mirage proved to be a very reliable aircraft in all aspects. The Cheetah and the Mirage III - a combination difficult to beat. Once again the squadron was on the move. In December 1978 Two Squadron officially took leave of Air Force Base Waterkloof, and moved to Air Force Base Hoedspruit. 1978 also saw the Flying Cheetahs actively involved in the South West Africa campaign. In May of that year, they took part in Ops Raindeer, March 1979 in Ops Rekstok, and in August 1981 - Ops Protea. The squadron was responsible for eliminating strategic enemy targets, like radar installations and anti-aircraft batteries.
Apart from these operations, the recce flight was deployed regularly for tactical photo reconnaissance. Two Squadron also participated in the Defence Force exercises Quicksilver in June 1978 and Thunder Chariot in September 1984.
Whether it's technical, supply, administrative personnel or ground crew, this is team work at its best. Insuring the serviceability of all aircraft and to keep the squadron operational at all times. This commitment by all its members guarantees that 2 Squadron can to date boast with an excellent safety record. With this kind of support behind them, the pilots of 2 Squadron could confidently perform the duties of interception, ground attack and reconnaissance in the Mirage III BZ, CZ and RZ aircraft.
The following aircraft were flown by 2 Squadron during its first fifty years of existence: The Hawker Fury, The Hawker Hurricane, The Tomahawk, The Curtis Kittyhawk, The Supermarine Spitfire, The F51 Mustang, The De Havilland Vampire, The North American F86 Sabre and The Dassault Mirage III. With an honorable past such as this, it was with pride and fond memories of what has passed, that the flying Cheetahs said good-bye to the Mirage III in November 1990. Major Pienaar flew their last official flight on Friday the fifth of that year in a specially painted Mirage III CZ. This historic occasion was also the foundation for a reunion of ex 2 Squadron Commanding Officers, and members who attended the parade was treated to an unique fly-past by twelve Mirages.
The reunion was concluded by an auction of 2 Squadron memorabilia and a champagne breakfast the following morning. The Mirage touched down on Highveld soil for the last time at Air Force Base Swartkop to become part of South African Air Force history in the Air Force Museum. With her retirement from active service in the South African Air Force, the Dassault Mirage brought to an end a glorious chapter in its history. Two Squadron was again disbanded in October 1990 during the phasing out of the Mirage III aircraft.
Ironically, the closing of Air Force Base Pietersburg lead to the opening of yet another chapter in 2 Squadron's history. When this base closed down in November 1992, 2 Squadron was re-established at Air Force Base Louis Trichardt. Many of the phased out Mirage aircraft were used in the development of the first aircraft flown by this squadron that donned a name suited for the squadron: the Cheetah. Major F.N. Vermaak, brought the first Cheetah D dual aircraft across with General Zac Rhepsold as pax, along with Captain K.A. Fryer with General Tom Steggemann as pax, from 89 Central Flying School Pietersburg.
Commandant C. Turner, at the time Officer Commanding 2 Squadron, and Major J. du Plessis, brought in the first Cheetah C aircraft from Atlas. They flew Cheetahs 341 and 342 respectively. Cheetah 342 was later repainted in the 'Spotty' colour scheme. During the SAAF 75 celebrations in 1995, Spotty was flown mainly by Lieutenant Colonel Cobus Toerien (OC March 1994 to January 1999) as the bogey in the 2 versus 1 air displays that were held across the country during that year.
Currently, 2 Squadron performs the duties of all the previous medium fighter squadrons. The squadron's earlier primary and secondary roles have thus been combined into that of a multi-role function. These current roles are: counter air operations, tactical offensive fire support, autonomous air operations, reconnaissance, electronic warfare and fighter pilot training. All these roles are directed at maintaining the squadron's operational readiness. Two Squadron has thus, like its Cheetah aircraft, evolved into a multi-role entity.
Due to the fact that 2 squadron can no longer train fighter pilots with the aim of sending them to other fighter squadrons, to fly other fighter types like for instance the Mirage aircraft, the squadron's has in effect become its own and only client. Two Squadron is however still involved in joint operations with the Army, the Navy as well as with the South African Police Services. Support is rendered to the SAPD in the form of photo reconnaissance. The squadron furthermore renders support when required, like for instance at air shows and during weapons demonstrations. Two Squadron also participates in fighter support and fighter training exercises with other Air Forces and foreign Navies. The Directorate Force Preparation Year Program forms the guideline for the execution of this squadron's force preparation tasks. The deployments and normal tasks of the squadron for the year is spelled out clearly in this program. A cycle-plan for tasks and training is thus compiled on the grounds of the DFP Year Program. When force application tasks like air shows, international cooperation, reconnaissance and weapon demonstrations are required, 2 Squadron is tasked by the Air Force Command Post.
Currently, 2 Squadron operates the Cheetah C and D types. These aircraft are utilized in securing the air space. The primary roles of the squadron are that of deterrent of bargaining a power position for the government with other countries. In short, 2 Squadron forms part of South Africa's insurance policies against military intrusion by neighboring countries.
The organigram of 2 Squadron comprises of a Commanding Officer, an Ops Officer, and a Flight Commander, who are supported by various aspect-officers regarding operations. The normal channels of command are in place at the squadron. A unique aspect of 2 Squadron is that the entire fighter unit operates as one big family. Everyone performs the same duties and the squadron also deploys as a unit, unlike Chopper and Transport squadrons where everyone operates on their own, conducting different tasks at different places. Even when working alone in the cockpit, a pilot is still an element of the team work process. The cooperation of each member, from OC to operator, is crucial in obtaining any given aim.
The legacy of competency which runs like a golden thread through the history of 2 Squadron, is still adhered to today. This once again became clear when a Russian Delegation visited South Africa, and got the chance of rubbing shoulders with the squadron. After visiting the squadron, the Vice-chairman of the Council of the Russian Service Air Centre sang the following praises to this fighter squadron's pilots on their combat readiness in an article published in a Russian Aviation Magazine: "According to an unanimous estimation of our military pilots, as well as the industry test pilots taking part in the exercises, the aviators from South Africa, in comparison with other countries, seemed more professionally trained. They can perform practically all the maneuvers of close and medium range air combat and they know how to perform anti radar and anti missile maneuvers. In air they feel like fish in water. I estimate that the RSA pilots have surpassed the Americans in many respects. It nevertheless surprised us that the South Africans have completely mastered all modern tactical measures for long range as well as close air combat."
Other recent highlights in the history of this prestigious squadron are the procurement of the Cheetah C aircraft type, which was the most expensive project ever to be undertaken by the South African Air Force and the SA Defence Force; the integration and reaching of operational status in 1996; and the successful completion of the first combined Cheetah C and D operational adjustment. Through this adjustment a saving of three months worth of course time and approximately 9,5 Million Rand is accomplished. Due to a shortage of instructors, the large amount of tasks that this squadron must carry out, along with the fact that 2 Squadron members had to stay on Cheetahs, prompted the squadron to apply drastic changes. One of these was that the previous Cheetah C and D Training Flights had to be combined in a single squadron, due to the fact that there were not sufficient personnel members to manage two separate units. With the same personnel total, all the tasks were taken over and completed. Through devotion and resilience, with the help of a Mission Simulator, the outcome of this shortened course was a more clever end result.
This change in velocity in implementing modern air power was pioneered and developed by 2 Squadron. To date, 2 Squadron is the only medium and supersonic fighter squadron in the country. It is also one of the most sophisticated fighter squadrons in the African continent. As a credible deterrent and one of the oldest squadrons in the world, this squadron indeed has a colorful and illustrious combat history.
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