No. 1 Squadron (SAAF): Second World War

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No.1 Squadron (S.A.A.F.) took part in the campaigns in East Africa, North Africa, Sicily and Italy, most of the time providing escorts for Allied bombers.

No.1 Squadron (S.A.A.F.) was the first squadron formed as part of the new South Africa Air Force in February 1920.

Its involvement in the Second World War began in May 1940, when the squadron moved to Kenya with its Hawker Furys, to guard against any possible attack from Italian East Africa. By the time the war spread to East Africa the Furys had been replaced with Hawker Hurricanes, and the squadron had moved to the Sudan.

The Allied invasion of Eritrea began on 17 January 1941. No.1 Squadron (S.A.A.F.) was used to escort RAF Wellesley bombers, and became one of the first Allied units to move into Eritrea, moving to Tessebei airfield during January. The squadron took part in the fighting around the key Italian fortress at Keren, which fell on 27 March, and then in the advance on Asmara, which surrendered on 1 April.

Within days of the surrender of Asmara the squadron moved to Egypt, arriving just in time to take part in Operation Brevity (15 May 1941), the first attempt to lift the siege of Tobruk. This short-lived Allied offensive was ended by a German counter-attack. Operation Battleaxe of June 1941 was no more successful, and also saw the squadron's most successful pilot to date, Captain Ken Driver, shot down and captured. During these battles the squadron concentrated on bomber escort duties.

This was also true at the start of Operation Crusader (November-December 1941). Although this operation eventually lifted the siege of Tobruk, Rommel's daring raid towards the Egyptian border nearly caught a large part of the Desert Air Force on the ground, at Landing Ground 124. No.1 Squadron (S.A.A.F.) was forced to make a hurried retreat to LG.122 and LG.128 until the threat was over. By this date the squadron was part of No.258 Wing, under the direct command of Air Headquarters, Western Desert.

During the second half of the battle the squadron began to operate as a fighter-bomber unit, a role it continued to perform until its Hurricanes were replaced with Spitfires in November 1942. During this period the squadron took part in the retreat back to Alamain.

During the battle of El Alamain the squadron was part of No.243 Wing, part of No.212 Group, still under Air Headquarters, Western Desert. After the Allied victory at Alamain, and the advance west into Tunisia the Allied air forces in Africa were reorganised, and No.1 Squadron (S.A.A.F.) became part of No.244 Wing, No.211 Group, Desert Air Force, itself part of the North African Tactical Air Force of the Northwest African Air Forces.

As part of the Desert Air Force the squadron took part in the invasion of Sicily, providing fighter cover and bomber escorts. In July 1943 the squadron moved to Pachino Airfield on Sicily, one of the first units to move to the island.

In September the squadron moved onto the Italian mainland, where it remained for the rest of the war, where it operated partly as a fighter squadron, and partly as a ground attack unit, attacking German lines of communication behind the front line.

In June 1945 the squadron began to convert to the North American Mustang, but only a few aircraft had arrived before July, when the squadron's personnel returned to South Africa.

Aircraft
-May 1940-: Hawker Fury
-January 1941-: Hawker Hurricane

April 1941-September 1942: Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIB
September-November 1942: Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIC
November 1942-August 1943: Supermarine Spitfire Mk.VC
June 1943-August 1943: Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX
August-October 1943: Supermarine Spitfire Mk.VIII
September 1943-October 1943: Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX
November 1943-June 1945: Supermarine Spitfire Mk.VIII
June-July 1945: North American Mustang Mk.III and Mk.IV

Location
May 1940-: Kenya
-January 1941-: The Sudan (Azzoza and Port Sudan)
-January 1941-: Tessebei (Eritrea)

April-May 1941: Amriya
May-June 1941: Sidi Haneish South
June 1941: L.G.07
June-August 1941: Maaten Bagush
August-September 1941: Sidi Barrani
September-November 1941: Fuka
November 1941: L.G.130
November-December 1941: L.G.124
December 1941: Sidi Rezegh
December 1941: Gazala
December 1941-January 1942: Derna
January-February 1942: Gazala III
February 1942: El Adem
February-March 1942: Sidi Haneish
March-April 1942: L.G.13
April-May 1942: El Gamil
May-June 1942: Edku
June 1942: L.G.15
June-September 1942: LG.92
September-October 1942: LG.154
October-November 1942: LG.172
November 1942: LG.05
November 1942: Martuba
November-December 1942: Msus
December 1942: El Hasseiat
December 1942: Agedabia
December 1942: Merduma
December 1942-January 1943: El Chel
January 1943: Hamraiet Main
January-February 1943: Wadi Sirru
February 1943: Castel Benito
February-March 1943: Hazbub
March 1943: Ben Gardane
March-April 1943: Bu Grara
April 1943: La Fauconnerie
April-May 1943: Goubrine
May 1943: Hergla
May-June 1943: Ben Gardane
June-July 1943: Luqa
July 1943: Pachino (Sicily)
July 1943: Cassibile
July-September 1943: Lentini West
September 1943: Isola
September 1943: Cassano
September-October 1943: Scanzano
October 1943: Gioia del Colle
October-December 1943: Palata
December 1943-May 1944: Trigno
May-June 1944: Sinello
June 1944: Marcigliano
June-July 1944: Orvieto
July-October 1944: Foiana
October-November 1944: Rimini
November-December 1944: Bellaria
December 1944-March 1945: Forli
March-May 1945: Ravenna
May-July 1945: Lavariano

Squadron Codes: AX

Books
Hurricane Aces 1941-45, Andrew Thomas. This book covers the later career of the Hurricane, starting with its final months as a front line fighter in Britain in 1941 before moving on to look at its career in North Africa, the Mediterranean and over the jungles of Burma [see more] cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (30 October 2009), No. 1 Squadron (SAAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/SAAF/1_wwII.html

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