No. 5 Squadron (SAAF): Second World War

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No.5 Squadron (S.A.A.F.) was a fighter squadron that took part in the fighting in North Africa in 1942 and early 1943, the invasion of mainland Italy and took part in raids over the Balkans.

The squadron was formed at Zwartkop on 7 May 1941, equipped with the Curtis Mohawk. At the end of the year the squadron moved to Egypt, although its pilots spent December 1941 and January 1942 at Operational Training Units in the Sudan, converting to the Curtiss Tomahawk.

The squadron finally reached the Western Desert early in March 1942, under the command of Major John E. Frost, the most successful fighter pilot during the campaign in East Africa, and the leading South African ace of the Second World War. The squadron joined No.233 Wing, and was given the task of patrolling the sector between Sollum and Mersa Matruh. Its first action came on the afternoon of 5 March when it was scrambled to intercept some Junkers Ju 88s.

The squadron played a major part in the fighting during the retreat from Libya into Egypt in the summer of 1942, starting with the battles over the Knightsbridge box and the Free French fortress at Bir Hakim.

The squadron suffered very heavy losses during the German offensive in the summer 1942, including four commanding officers. Amongst them were John Frost, killed after a fight with Bf 109Fs on 16 June 1942, his successor Louis Botha, who was lost on the very next day, and Major Dennis Lacey, who was shot down on 7 August while attempting to limp home in a damaged aircraft.

The squadron continued to operate the Tomahawk during the battle of El Alamein, only receiving the Kittyhawk in January 1943, in time to use the new aircraft was used during the advance into Tunisia. The squadron didn't take part in the invasion of Sicily, but did move to the island in August 1943, to provide fighter support for the invasion of mainland Italy.

In September 1944 the Kittyhawks were replaced with North American Mustang IIIs. The new aircraft were used on strafing and bombing missions and to escort USAAF and SAAF bomber aircraft on raids in Italy and across the Adriatic in the Balkans. The squadron was often used in the 'cab rank' system, providing close air support under the control of a airborne forward air controller. The fighting continued right up to the German surrender in May 1945, and the squadron lost its commanding officer, Major H. Clarke, on the last day of April 1945. During an attack on enemy shipping between Trieste and Grado his aircraft crashed into the Adriatic.

After the war the squadron remained in Italy until it was disbanded on 19 October 1945.

Aircraft
May 1941-December 1941: Curtiss Mohawk
February 1942-January 1943: Curtiss Tomahawk Mk.IIB
January-December 1943: Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk.III
December 1943-September 1944: Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk.IV
September 1944-October 1945: North American Mustang Mk.III
March-October 1945: North American Mustang Mk.IV

Location
7 May-December 1941: Zwartkop
December 1941-February 1942: Training in the Sudan
February 1942: LG.99
February-May 1942: LG.121
May 1942: Gasr el Arid
May-June 1942: Gambut II
June 1942: LG.167
June 1942: LG.115
June 1942: LG.09
June 1942: LG.106
June-July 1942: LG.85
July-November 1942: LG.97
November 1942: LG.75
November 1942: Gambut Main
November 1942: Martuba
November-December 1942: Msus
December 1942-January 1943: Antelat
January 1943: Belandah
January 1943: Hamraiet
January-February 1943: Bir Darragh
February 1943: Zuara
February-March 1943: Nefatia
March-April 1943: Hazbub
April 1943: Sfaz/ El Maoui
April-May 1943: El Adem
May-June 1943: Sorman
June-August 1943: Ben Gardane South
August-September 1943: Agnone
September 1943: Grottaglie
September-October 1943: Bari
October 1943: Foggia Main
October-December 1943: Mileni
December 1943-May 1944: Cutella
May-June 1944: San Angelo
June 1944: Guidonia
June-July 1944: Falerium
July 1944: Crete
July 1944: Fermo
July-August 1944: Crete
August-November 1944: Iesi
November 1944-February 1945: Fano
February-May 1945: Cervia
May-October 1945: Lavariano

Squadron Codes: GL

Duty
March 1942-October 1942-: No.233 Wing, No.211 Group, Air Headquarters Western Desert
July 1943: No.7 (S.A.A.F.) Wing, Desert Air Force, North African Tactical Air Force, Northwest African Air Forces

Books

The Decisive Campaigns of the Desert Air Force 1942-1945, Bryn Evans. . Looks at the activities of the RAF's tactical air force in the North Africa and Italian Theatres, where it developed many of the close support techniques used with greater fame by 2nd Tactical Air Force in Normandy. This is a valuable account of the services of a key, but often overlooked, part of the wartime RAF. [read full review]
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ow to cite this article: Rickard, J (31 October 2009), No. 5 Squadron (SAAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/SAAF/5_wwII.html


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