No. 21 Squadron (SAAF): Second World War

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No.21 Squadron, S.A.A.F., was a medium bomber squadron that operated the Maryland, Baltimore and Marauder bombers in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.

No.21 Squadron, S.A.A.F., was formed in Kenya on 8 May 1941, where it received its Martin Marylands. In July the squadron moved to Egypt, where in mid-September it joined Nos.12 and 24 Squadrons, S.A.A.F., in No.261 Wing. In the following month No.261 was renumbered as No.3 (S.A.A.F.) Wing, and would retain this identity for the next few years.

Martin Maryland II of the SAAF, December 1941
Martin Maryland II
of the SAAF,
December 1941

The squadron began operations on 24 September 1941, attacking Axis bases and airfield. During this period it lost two aircraft in a collision of 30 October, and two shot down by Italian fighters early in November. As a result of these losses a rear firing 'scare' gun was added, and on 15 November one of these rear firing guns may have destroyed a Bf 109.

The squadron was heavily involved in Operation Crusader, losses four out of nine aircraft during an unescorted raid on El Adem on 20 November. In December more losses were suffered during an attempt to use the Maryland as a long range fighter, operating against Junkers Ju 52/3m transport aircraft flying supplies to North Africa. Although one Ju 52/3m was claimed on 11 December the squadron suffered heavily when its aircraft were intercepted by Bf 110s, and it returned to normal duties.

Martin Baltimores on Malta, 1943
Martin Baltimores on Malta, 1943

On 13 January 1942 the squadron was withdrawn to Egypt to convert to the Martin Baltimore, but the new aircraft didn't arrive until August, and operations with the new aircraft didn't begin until October. The squadron used its Baltimores during the Battle of El Alamein, but was then left behind by the rapidly advancing Allied armies, and didn't return to the action until January 1943, when the front stabilised around Tripoli.

In July 1943 the squadron took its Baltimores to Malta, from where it supported the Allied invasion of Sicily. This was quickly followed by a move to Italy, where the squadron operated as a day-time tactical bomber squadron, attacking German positions, bases and communications.

B-26 of No.21 Sqn SAAF, by Jim MacNee
B-26 of No.21 Sqn SAAF, by Jim MacNee

In July 1944 the squadron converted to the Baltimore, resuming operations on 15 August. The new aircraft were used to attack German communications targets in northern Italy as part of efforts to isolate the German front line.

After the war the squadron was used for communications flights. It was officially disbanded in Italy on 10 September 1945, but remained semi-operational for long enough to fly back to Egypt, from where its personnel returned home.

Aircraft
May 1941-February 1942: Martin Maryland II
August 1942-July 1944: Martin Baltimore III and IV
July 1944-September 1945: Marauder II and III

Location
May-July 1941: Nakuru
July-September 1941: Shandur
September-November 1941: LG.21
November-December 1941: LG.76
December 1941-January 1942: Bu Amud
January-July 1942: LG.98
July 1942: El Firdan
July-August 1942: Kasfareet
August-September 1942: Shandur
September 1942: LG.Z
September-October 1942: LG.Y
October 1942: LG.98
October-December 1942: LG.Y
December 1942: Soluch
December 1942-January 1943: LG.98
January-February 1943: El Chel II/ Gzina
February-March 1943: Sertain Main
March 1943: El Assa
March-April 1943: Zuara
April 1943: Senem
April 1943: Hazbub Main
April-June 1943: El Djem
June-July 1943: Ben Hagan
July-August 1943: Hal Far
August-October 1943: Cuticchi
October 1943: Gerbini
October 1943-February 1944: Tortorella
February-June 1944: Biferno
June-October 1944: Pescara
October 1944-June 1945: Iesi
June-September 1945: Rivolto

Squadron Codes: D (Maryland), Q (Baltimore), R (Marauder)

Duty
September-October 1941: No.261 Wing
October 1941 onwards: No.3 (S.A.A.F.) Wing
   -November 1941-October 1942-: No.3 (S.A.A.F.) Wing, Air Headquarters, Western Desert
   -July 1943-: No.3 (S.A.A.F.) Wing, Tactical Bomber Force, Northwest African Air Forces

Books

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (4 November 2009), No. 21 Squadron (SAAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/SAAF/21_wwII.html

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