The SAAF, the Museum and our Heritage.

Swartkop in the late 1940s: Spitfires and Harvards in the foreground, with Dakotas and then Venturas behind them. Note how bare the landscape was.

Heritage is a word which has many strings to its bow. Its meanings include birthright, inheritance, patrimony, bequest & estate, endowment, objectives & qualities, traditions & culture. Which means:

Our South Africa. Our SAAF. Our Museum. Our airbase. Our warbird.

The Imperial Gift was bestowed on South Africa at Swartkop when the Bessoneau hangars were erected. These were of canvas and wood construction, some of which had been used in World War One by the Royal Flying Corps on the western front in France. These were superseded with 16 steel hangars with concertina wooden folding doors, which heavy-duty steel doors have since replaced. The hangars you see today are some of those.

In 1947 a Ventura (6501) of 60 Sqn left Swartkop. It was to escort the incoming Spitfires from Egypt. Sadly, it crashed near Khartoum, killing all four crew and 11 Spitfire pilots. 53 Spitfires eventually arrived in South Africa by air route; some of these were damaged during the flights. But we know of no further casualties. Later, a further 83 Spitfires were delivered by sea.

Spitfire Project members share their heritage.

Two of our team members have strong connections with early South Africa and have contributed hundreds of hours to the Spitfire Restoration Project.

Vincent van Ryneveld:

Vincent has made an incredible contribution to the Project. He kindly donated a Project branded Gazebo and banners for air shows and events. Those who have visited our Gazebo at shows would have seen his Project-branded vehicle too!

Vincent is the Great Grandson of Sir Pierre van Ryneveld, the South African Air Force’s founding commander.

Sir Pierre was also an aviation pioneer who opened the air route from London to Cape Town with Quintin Brand, and his ceaseless efforts drove this development.

Van Ryneveld began his military career in the First World War, in which he served in the Royal Flying Corps and later the Royal Air Force. For his service in the war, Van Ryneveld was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Military CrossMentioned in Despatches and presented with the French government’s Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.*

After the war, Prime Minister Jan Smuts called Van Ryneveld back to South Africa to set up the South African Air Force (SAAF). He flew back home, across Africa, in a Vickers Vimy – a pioneering feat for which he and his co-pilot Quintin Brand were both knighted.

(L-R) Lt Col van Ryneveld with First Lt Quintin Brand, February 1920, in front of Vickers Vimy Silver Queen, before their England to South Africa flight

Colonel van Ryneveld established the SAAF in 1920, and directed it until 1933, when he was promoted to Chief of the General Staff (CGS), in command of the Union Defence Forces. However, for the next four years the SAAF remained under Van Ryneveld’s direct control as no one was appointed as the Air Force’s director until 1937.

Van Ryneveld served as CGS for sixteen years, including the whole of the Second World War. He retired in 1949. 

(L-R) Lt Col van Ryneveld with First Lt Quintin Brand, February 1920, in front of Vickers Vimy Silver Queen, before their England to South Africa flight
Prime Minister, General Jan Smuts

The Spitfire Restoration Project Gazebo and banners which Vincent van Ryneveld donated. 

Don Sutton:

Our project manager Don, who now lives in Australia, has spent untold time and effort setting up our business structure to enable us to succeed with our project. His family are part of the Reitz dynasty, which included FW Reitz, a former president of the Orange Free State, and Denys Reitz, the famous Author and minister in the government of Jan Smuts.

Two family members served in the SAAF in World War Two, and a tragedy occurred at Barberton in 1952 when Lt. CM Denys Reitz, serving with 4Sqn SAAF, was killed in a flying accident.

President Reitz in top hat, to the left of President Kruger.

There must be many others with their own links to our Heritage.  We would love to hear your stories. Feel free to leave a comment below.