Major Charles James LAUBSCHER
His career during the War is interesting in that there are two very different deployments that also reflect the changing role of the SAAF fighters as the war progressed. Firstly, he served as a fighter pilot against the German and Italian fighters over the Western Desert and a short interlude when he was based on Malta with both the RAF and SAAF flying Hurricanes, Tomahawks and Kittyhawks. Incidentally, he flew Kittyhawks coded DB-H before Major DB Hauptfleish (or was it the plastic kit makers?) made it famous. Secondly, during the Italian Campaign he flew Kittybomber MkIVs in the dive-bomber role in support of Gen Mark Clark’s American forces with 11 Squadron SAAF.
A special thanks to Col Graham Du Toit for the use of the unpublished photographs of 11 Squadron SAAF and William Marshall for permission to use images from South African Colours and Markings Volume 1 Number 2.
Charles Laubscher was born in Benoni on 27 May 1916.
Whilst reading Law at Oxford University Laubscher joined the University Air Squadron and was a member from 1935 through 1938. He was commissioned in the RAFO whilst in England due to his membership of the Oxford Air Squadron becoming a Pilot Officer in Class ‘C” by 1937 (technical, accounts and other duties).
Laubscher was called up by the RAF in early October 1939 as a Pilot Officer with special duties in Admin and SD Branch; he was however a practicing Advocate in Johannesburg at the time. He was required to report to Cairo which he duly did.
Laubscher undertook his flying training at 4 FTS (Flying Training School) Habbaniya, Iraq. He graduated in April 1940 and was posted to 267 Communication Flight, which was later to be upgraded to a Squadron, at Heliopolis, where he crashed an Anson. In November Laubscher was transferred to 274 Squadron taking part in the first Libyan Campaign. Laubscher was returned to General Duties Branch as a Flying Officer on 24 October 1940.
Laubscher was shot down by light anti-aircraft fire near Tobruk on 21 January 1941. He was slightly wounded. To add to his misery, Laubscher was shelled by artillery after force-landing outside the fortress perimeter. After this episode HQ 202 Group telephoned 73 and 274 Squadrons RAF with instructions that their Hurricanes were not to fly lower than 12,000ft while over enemy territory, orders which were contradicted by 258 Wing HQ to the effect that the Hurricanes could drop to 6,000 ft to gather information on enemy troop and transport movements. Laubscher was flying Hurricane MKI V7213 of 274 Squadron.
MARCH 1941 – MALTA
On 17 March 1941 274 Squadron RAF was required to dispatch one of its flights to Malta to aid the defence of the island which was suffering sustained attacks by the Luftwaffe. Seven aircraft and eight pilots were sent, led by Flying Officer E M Mason, DFC. With him went Flying Officers CJ Laubscher and JS Southwell, Pilot Officers TB Garland, and DF Knight, and Sergeants TA Quinn, MP Davies and RJ Goode. The flight landed to refuel at El Abaqar, but in doing so Garland crashed suffering slight burns. Against advice he continued to his destination aboard a Wellington which navigated the Hurricanes across the sea to the island. They were not to return to the squadron. Southwell, Garland and Knight were killed shortly after their arrival, Mason and Goode both being wounded. Mason, Laubscher and Quinn returned to North Africa with 261 Squadron whilst Davis and Goode were posted elsewhere. Mason and Laubscher were to return to action later in the Western Desert, but of these eight pilots only Laubscher would survive the war.
Flight Office Charles Laubscher later gave his impressions:
“My feelings were mixed at this news of the move to Malta. On the one hand there was at last the opportunity of some concentrated action and, with Imshi Mason leading us, one could feel reasonably confident. On the other there was the undoubted fact that one would be on the receiving end. The Illustrious had been subject to vicious bombing only a short time previously, the defending fighters had been battered by swarms of ME109s and Macchis. There was one compensating factor, however. We were to fly across, which suited me, as I had a morbid fear of being torpedoed at sea. Long range tanks were fitted and tested, guns were checked and the Hurricanes generally prepared for flight from Benina (near Benghazi) to Malta. We set off from Amiriyah on 13 March and spent the night with 73 Squadron, as El Adem was unsafe due to the unfriendly attention it was receiving from enemy dive bombers. Our escorting Wellington was delayed due to phenomenal sandstorms in the Delta area, and it was only on 18 March that it arrived and we set off to Beninia to refuel before the sea leg to Malta. ‘Mickey’ Garland crashed on landing, and journeyed to Hal Far as a passenger aboard the Wimpey. It was a pity that he was not left behind with his aircraft, as he was put on standby, as soon as we arrived at Takali, and was killed on his first operation in Malta…”
On 28 March 1941 Flying Officer Bellamy records the following during a raid when bombs had fallen on Takali:
“Charles Laubscher and I were on standby and for some reason did not hear the scramble. Ju87s were dive-bombing the aerodrome. Charles dashed past my aircraft – I followed in haste but was too far from the slit trench to make it. I saw/heard a large bomb leave a Ju87 and was certain it was coming straight at me. I through myself flat and heard a ‘whompf’ and felt a mild warm blast of air. I was completely unharmed! Apparently I was on the edge of the crater and the main blast had gone over me. The only effect on me however was a slight deafness for a few hours!”
On 20 April 1941 Laubscher claimed his first two victories of the war when he claimed the downing of 2 CR42’s of 23⁰ Gruppo CT. Flight Officer Charles Laubscher and John Pain intercepted the first Italian raid on Grand Harbour in some time. Laubscher relates how his journey to becoming an ace began:
“I was detailed with Tiger Pain to give top cover to the Squadron, and we were allotted two of the new machines. Operations reported that a big raid was building up over Sicily, and shortly afterwards the aircraft were scrambled. We took off towards Rabat as usual and climbed. Although laterally we were little more than abreast of the Squadron, we were already 600 0r 700 feet above them. We held climb at full throttle. Tiger on my starboard flank, and searched the sky for enemy fighters while trying to keep an eye on the squadron to port and soon well below us.
“I think we reached about 11,000 feet when the barrage opened up over Valletta and, against the white puffs, I saw seven biplanes heading directly towards us in a shallow vic formation. CR42s! This was literally manna from heaven. For once we had height advantage, possible 300 or 400 feet, but sufficient, I believe, for their top mainplanes to conceal us from their pilot’s sight. I wheeled left towards them and called tiger on the R/T to take the outside man on the port flank. We closed rapidly and I opened fire at 800 yards, sighting a little high at first, then dropping the bead to centre on the machine. Things happen fast in a head-on attack and in two or three seconds we had passed directly over them. I immediately went into a steep turn to port to attack again. I saw to my great satisfaction that the centre of the vic was empty and there were only two planes on the left.”
At that moment two of the top cover, reported by Laubscher to be Messerschmitts, flash past in a steep dive. His aircraft was not hit, and he again closed in on the remaining CR42S:
“The five survivors of the CR42 formation were swinging to their right, towards and below me, which made it difficult to attack the three planes nearest me, so I chose the outer of the two planes on the left, laid off a deflection and opened fire again. My tracer passed in line with the machine, but behind it and, rather than stop firing, I pulled back steadily on my control column until the tracers crept along the rear of the machine and into the cockpit. I knew immediately that the pilot was finished, and stopped firing. The CR42 hung on to its side for a moment and then slipped gently into a dive. I did not watch him all the way but looked for another target. The sky now seemed suddenly clear except for a CR42 going down in a spin ahead of me. I gave him a full deflection burst for good measure and then my ammunition ran out. It was time to return home so I jerked the machine into a spiral dive, just in case the remaining CR42s or the two 109s were still in the vicinity, flattened out at about 800 feet and jinxed my way back to Takali. It was a wonderful feeling to put up an affirmative two fingers as the mechanic helped me taxi in. That night Ops confirmed my claims for two CR42s.”
Italian records, however, show only one CR42 missing on this date, SErg Guiseppe Sanguettoli of 74^Squadriglia being killed. The Macchi pilots of 23°Gruppo CT made numerous claims. Cull and Galea suggest the claims could have been for Macchi’s.
On 21 April 1941 Laubscher became Leutnant Klaus Mietusch of 7/JG26 eighth claimed victim after his Hurricane was heavily shot-up. In fact Laubscher managed to land the Hurricane back at base.
I have been unable to trace a source that gives a definitive answer, but Laubscher gives a good description of the day’s action:
“We were flying across the southern end of the island when Control came on the air with the warning that two bogies were in our area. The R/T was bad and I thought he said ‘below you’ so I concentrated on that section of sky almost exclusively, leaving it to Dick to watch above us. Suddenly he swung up close to my port side, waggling his wings frantically pointing downwards. I thought he has seen enemy aircraft and, as he winged over into a steep dive, I followed him without question. Our speed built up rapidly and the inside of my cockpit started to mist up. I tried to pull the canopy back but it was impossible against the dive so I flattened out and throttled back. As my speed dropped I again tried to open my hood, fortunately with my left hand. Suddenly there was an ominous popping of cannon-fire behind me and little white balls seem to float past both sides of the cockpit. I dropped the my right wing suddenly as if I was turning into the cloud and immediately swung over into a steep left-hand turn. There was a split second of violent clattering as cannon shells hit the machine and then I was clear, and in a 270° turn which took me across my flight path and into the safety of that wonderful cloud. Even then I jinked from side to side as I pulled the hood back.
“I gave myself a minute or two to get my nerves under control and ventured outside the cloud, briefly at first then more confidently when it was apparent that the dangers had passed, for the sky was clear of aircraft. I looked at my port wing to judge the extent of the damage and saw some nasty holes there, while my instrument panel had also taken a slight hammering. It was obvious that my aircraft was not in any condition to do any more fighting and I flew a zig-zag course back to the drome, keeping a very watchful eye on the sky .around me. When I landed I taxied to the dispersal point, an awed group of aircraftsmen crowed around the machine to examine the damage. I was told later by the Flight Sergeant that they counted five cannon and 30 7.62mm holes in the machine. One of the light caliber bullets missed the top of my head by one and a half inches.”
On 9 May 1941, Ju87s from both II and III/StG I launched an attack as the small ships of a convoy were entering the harbor. Two Hurricanes from ‘B’ Flight, 261 Squadron were scrambled. Flying Officer Laubscher recalls:
“I was leading Sgt Peter Jordan on a patrol when we were vectored onto a flight of Ju87s which had attacked Grand Harbour. They had turned back to Sicily and I couldn’t see a formation but spotted a straggler who, curiously enough was flying diagonally across our line of approach and not heading pell-mell for home. He was only 100 feet or so above the sea and we closed on him rapidly. I instructed Peter to keep a sharp lookout for enemy fighters and then to follow me. I started a quarter stern attack and had the unpleasant experience of flying down the middle of a tracer cone from the rear-gunner. I held my fire until the enemy was in range. When I pressed the button there was a ripping noise that was characteristic of the Hurricanes eight guns and I saw strikes on the fuselage of the Stuka. The rear gunner was killed by the burst, as his gun swung up in a vertical position as he slumped down. I tried to turn in behind him but found I was going to overshoot and pulled away to starboard.
“I swung in a wide circle around the machine, climbing slightly to lose speed and come at him again from dead ahead and slightly above. The pilot of the Stuka had plenty of courage and pulled up his nose to have a crack at me with his forward firing guns. I was so surprised that I involuntary pulled up slightly and passed over him before I could get him in my gunsight again. At that moment Peter came in from the port quarter, misjudged his deflection by a fraction and blew of the Stuka’s tail. When I turned to I saw a long patch of fluorescent dye that Germans carried staining the sea a light yellow-green, but couldn’t make out the pilot. Nevertheless, we circled the spot and radioed Control to get a radar fix on us and send out a crash boat. They never found him and I often wonder whether he went in with his machine and dead gunner, or he managed to bale out and was picked up by a flying boat they had stationed in Sicily.”
Jorden added: “One of the crew baled out – nearly hit mine the process – but I didn’t think his parachute would have open properly at that height.”
It is thought to be Oblt Ulrich Heinz’s aircraft (J9+GL) of 9/STG1.
By early May 1941 Laubscher was leading ‘B’ Flight of 261 Squadron RAF. During May the Squadron left Malta for North Africa.
On 12 May 1941, Flying Officer Laubscher was chosen to lead the flight of Hurricanes, accompanied by a Wellington bomber, being sent to reinforce the Desert Air Force. Laubscher describes the trip:
“I was given the unenviable task of leading a flight of six Hurricane Is, fitted with long-range tanks, from Malta to Mersa Metuh, a flight of about 600 miles. The Wimpy (crew) which navigated us across the Mediterranean had never flown in the area before and did not knew nothing of the compass deviation which had to be allowed for when travelling across the Mediterranean. Five and a quarter hours later we hit the coast ten miles away from Alexandria about 180 miles further than we planned, a fantastically long flight for a Hurricane. We naturally missed the flying boat waiting at Mersa Matuh to ferry us back to Malta but, when a second flying boat was laid on at Aboukir two days later, we missed that one as well due to a farewell luncheon of gargantuan proportions at Petit Çoin de France.”
Laubscher describes the return trip to Malta and his welcome:
“We arrived at Hal Far on the night of 21 May. When we got back to Takali we found that our dispersal area had been moved across the drome to the Rabat side. Although we had only just finished a nine-hour Sunderland flight we were put on readiness immediately. A scramble followed. After a few minutes the Controller reported that the bogies had gone away. I landed and then opened my throttle and ran across the drome, my tailwheel raised to get back to dispersal for refueling as soon as possible. I saw erks standing around waiting for me as I throttled back and started breaking. As I stopped the engine and was busy loosening my harness straps I suddenly realized there was not a person near me. I looked to the left and saw a peculiar wisp of white smoke coming out of the ground about 50 yards away. I looked quickly to starboard and saw an enormous black column of earth erupt into the sky! I didn’t even wait to undo my parachute but scrambled out of my machine, parachute thumping behind, and dived under a heavy lorry to find my fitter and rigger lying there. A Ju88 had appeared out of the blue and dive-bombed the dispersal point. I still believe he was trying to hit me personally – a most unfriendly gesture! Two days later we were again flying Hurricanes across the Mediterranean but this time they routed us directly to El Amriya, south of Alexandria. This flight lasted five and a half hours and we just made it with aircrafts ‘tanks already showing empty.’”
JULY – AUGUST 1941
Laubscher rejoined the reformed 261 Squadron in July and in August 1941 he took part in the occupation of the Iranian oilfields. The Supplement of London Gazette dated 19 December, 1941 records that C J Laubscher (70834) was promoted from Flying Officer to Flight Lieutenant effective 24 October 1941 in the General Duties Branch of the Reserve of Air Force Officers.
Laubscher then suffered an attack of cerebral malaria and on recovery requested a transfer to the South African Air Force.
A SHORT HISTORY OF 2 SQUADRON SAAF – “The Flying Cheetahs
The Squadron Title comes from the two cheetahs given to the Squadron as mascots in Kenya in late 1940. The Squadron became known as the Flying Cheetahs and adopted the Cheetah emblem of the Squadron in late 1941, which eventually became its badge.
The Squadron was formed at Waterkloof in January as 2 (Transvaal) Squadron. On 31 August 1939 it was redesignated as 2 Bomber/Fighter Squadron. In December 1939 the Squadron was renumbered as 12 (B) Squadron. Reformed from the scattered 1 Squadron detachments in Kenya on 1 October 1940, 2 Squadron continued to exist from 1940 to 1945.
2 Squadron claimed 108 confirmed victories, 30 probably destroyed, and at least 69 damaged enemy aircraft. Current research indicates that the number is 99½ victories, 30 probably destroyed, 69 damaged with the following breakdown: East Africa 1940-41 3 victories, North Africa 94 victories; 30 destroyed, 67 damaged; Italy 2 victories and 2 damaged.
2 Squadron lost 59 fighters in air combat. 2 of the aircraft were shot down by enemy aircraft in East Africa where the pilots ended up prisoners of war. Of the 57 shot down in North Africa 25 were killed in action, 6 were taken prisoner, 1 escaped and evaded. A further 59 aircraft were badly damaged and 24 more only slightly damaged.
The Squadron received 16 Distinguished Flying Crosses including 5 immediates, 4 bars to the DFC including 1 immediate, and 3 Mentioned in Dispatches, The ground staff received 1 MBE, 3 BEMs and 11 Mentioned in Dispatches.
The Squadron started with the code letters “TA” which its aircraft wore from 15 November 1941 until May 1942 when the code was changed to “DB”. The “Flying Cheetah” emblem which became the squadron badge was carried on some aircraft as early as late 1941. Some of their Kittyhawks from 1943 carried the 7 SAAF Wing Badge of a springbok superimposed on a map of Africa.
The Squadron callsign in 1942 was “Springbok” but by April 1944 it was “Topper”
The Squadrons Campaigns include East Africa 1940-41, North Africa May 1941-May 1943, Tunisia 1943, and Italy September 1943 –May 1945.
The list of officers commanding 2 Squadron is a who’s who of the SAAF fighter leaders of WW2: Maj DH Loftus, Maj AC Bosman, Maj JDW Human, Maj H Gaynor, Maj SA “Bomber” Finney and Maj AM Colenbrander to name but a few.
2 Squadron also flew a wide range of fighters: Hawker Fury, Gloster Gladiator, Hawker Hurricane, Curtiss Tomahawk IIa & IIb, Curtiss Kittyhawk I, Ia and III, and Supermarine Spitfires Vc, Vc (4 Cannon), F.VIIIc, F & LF IXc, HF IXe, IXe.
The airfields that 2 Squadron operated from are too numerous to mention in this article.
JANUARY 1942 – JOINS THE SAAF
In January 1942 Laubscher was posted to 2 Squadron SAAF in Libya, where he became ‘A’ Flight Commander and after 2 months work-up training 2 Squadron SAAF returned to operations. Laubscher remained with 2 Squadron SAAF until June 1942.
Laubscher’s start with 2 SAAF did not get off to a very good start as on 15 January 1942 whilst on the afternoon patrol, he and Lt Isaacs got lost in bad weather and had to land at Agedabia having taken off from Martuba, 2 SAAF Squadron’s new base.
The weather on 31 January 1942 deteriorated and two 2 SAAF Squadron pilots ended up putting down at the Tobruk Airfield and spending the night – visibility having been so bad that the two pilots, Flight Lieutenant Laubscher and Lieutenant Monzali, were not aware of each other’s presence until the following morning!
On 2 February 1942 Flying Officer Laubscher flew a training sortie from 0700 to 0830 in Tomahawk 404.
On 10 February 1942 whilst landing Tomahawk IIb AN453 at Landing Ground 15, Flying Officer CJ Laubscher suffered from a faulty undercarriage at 1150. The aircraft was category 2 damaged.
On 15 February 1942 Flying Officer Laubscher flew 2 training flights. The first flight was in Tomahawk 475 from 0845 until 0945 and the second in Tomahawk 278 from 1015 until 1115.
On 21 February 1942 Laubscher now recorded as a Flight Lieutenant flew two training missions in Tomahawks 249 and 295, from 0900 to 1000 and 1720 to 1750.
Flight Lieutenant Laubscher flew two one-and-a-half hour training flights in Tomahawk 249, the first at 0900 and the second at 1100.
On 23 February Flying Officer Laubscher did a training sortie in Tomahawk 249 from 1200 to 1325.
It would seem that Laubscher had taken a liking to Tomahawk 249 as he did training sorties of 50 minutes starting at 0915 on the 24th , and on 25 February 1942, 35 minutes taking off at 0735 and a further 45 minutes taking off at 0955.
On 27 February 1942 Flight Lieutenant Laubscher added a further hour and 10 minutes to his and 249’s logbooks. On 28 February 1942 the 249 Laubscher partnership completed another two training flights, one of 20 minutes at 0905 and one of 75 minutes at 1050.
On 13 March 1942 Flight Lieutenant Laubscher flying Tomahawk 345 led Lieutenants Monzali, Ford and Wright as a Jumbo patrol taking off at 1725 and landing at 1750. Results negative.
2 Squadron SAAF was sent out on a diversionary sweep over Timmi on 15 March 1942, 30 minutes after 4 SAAF Squadron had taken off in response to the presence of 6 enemy aircraft above the Gazala line busy with a bombing mission. The diversionary sweep was to give the Desert Air Force bombers escorted by two RAF squadrons a gap. Flight Lieutenant Laubscher was leading 12 Tomahawks, 6 of the pilots being on their first mission with most of the rest on their second or third. The Squadron was jumped by three Bf 109s. According to the War Diary: “The pilots appear to have panicked slightly.” Lt Lindsey’s aircraft received a burst wounding him in the leg as did Ford’s. To add injury to insult the British AA opened fire on the formation for good measure near Gazala. The War Diary records Reynolds being wounded by the AA, but does not mention Lindsey being injured but does record damage to Ford’s aircraft. The 12 Tomahawks were Flight Lieutenant Laubscher (219), Lieutenants Lindsay (399), Lipawsky (429), Smith (438), Colman (475), Higgo (173), Saville (345), Ford (321), Monzali (278), Reynolds (354), Aneck-Hahn (397) and Berrange (454). They were in the air from 0930 to 1050.
On 18 March 1942 Captain Baker (Tomahawk 334) led 9 Tomahawks including Flight Lieutenant Laubscher (345) on a bomber escort mission. The rest of the escort was made up by Lieutenants Morton (447), Lipawsky (429), Monzali (278), Hopkins (249), Isaacs (451), Ball (173) and Saville (475). The mission was successful and the bombing was described as fair.
On 21 March 1942 6 2 Squadron SAAF Tomahawks took off at 0740 to do a sweep north of Tobruk – Gazala – V7080 20 miles south of Gazala – home. Flight Lieutenant Laubscher was flying Tomahawk 345 and accompanied by Lieutenants Morton (485), Lipawsky (429), Allen (397), and Capt. Human (524) and Lt Bryant (278) who return to base early at 0800, with the rest of the patrol returning at 0900 only to report nothing seen.
On 22 March 1942 Flight Lieutenant Laubscher led a bomber escort of eleven 2 Squadron SAAF Tomahawks taking off at 1110 and landing at 1240. Laubscher was once again flying Tomahawk 345. The other 10 Tomahawks were flown by Capt. Human (524), Lieutenants Ball (485), Morton (447), Bryant (278), Lipawsky (429), Reynolds (439), Smith (334), Ismay (451), Saville (475) and Burdon (452). Whilst it was a simple mission with no enemy interference, 3 of the pilots had some adventure. Reynolds and Ismay got lost in cloud and separated from the Squadron and returned to base on their own landing at 1200 whilst Burdon, also lost in the clouds joined up with 4 Squadron SAAF only landing at 1330. March 26 1942 saw Flight Lieutenant Laubscher led twelve 2 Squadron SAAF Tomahawks on a feint attack taking off at 1445 and returning at 1600. The twelve pilots and aircraft were Laubscher (345), Captain Human (447), and Lieutenants Howard (295), Reynolds (439), De Waal (452), Saville (334), McLeod (533), Allen (485), Burdon (278), de Villiers (249), Lipawsky (429) and Smith (397). Unfortunately nothing was seen.
2 Squadron SAAF provided an escort for the bombers on 28 March 1942. The following Tomahawks provided the muscle: Flight Lieutenant Laubscher (438) and Lieutenants Bishop (524), Saville (475), Allen (485), Bryant (278) and Ismay (451). The mission lasted from 1240 until 1420.
On 29 March 1942 2 Squadron SAAF launched 13 Tomahawks to intercept an enemy aircraft over their base north of Tobruk at 0700. The following Pilots and Tomahawks were launched: Flight Lieutenant Laubscher (345), Captain Human (278) and Lieutenants Reynolds (354), Ford (249), De Waal (452), Paddon (334), Morton (397), Higgo (451), Ball (485), Hopkins (429), De Villiers (439), Burdon (533) and reserve McLeod (475). The first plane to return to base was McLeod at 0730 as he was the reserve pilot and deemed unnecessary even though Morton had landed back at base at 0720 with a U/S aircraft. Ford returned at 0730 because he misinterpreted the radio instructions. Human, De Waal, Paddon, Higgo, De Villiers and Burdon returned at 0810 whilst the rest landed at 0830. No enemy aircraft was encountered. On 31 March 1942 Flight Lieutenant Laubscher was once again to lead a sweep of twelve 2 Squadron SAAF Tomahawks. This time the brief was 11000 ft north of Tobruk over the sea to MenaloaBay to Tmimi over Gazala and return to base. 274 Squadron RAF was available as back-up in the Gazala area. The take-off time was set for 0945. 2 of the Tomahawks 485 Lt Ball and 334 Lt Paddon did not take-off due to mechanical issues. The 10 aircraft on the mission were Flight Lieutenant Laubscher (345), Captain Human (524), Lieutenants de Villiers (249), Burdon (533), Saville (475), Bishop (278), Howard (354), McLeod (460), Reynolds (438), and Higgo (451). They reported nothing seen and landed at 1105.
In early April 1942 Rommel’s forces were pushing forward and consolidating their positions.
2 Squadron SAAF was heavily engaged on the 6 April, between Tobruk and Gazala, by about 20 C.202s. During this battle Lt Danny Saville shot down 2 and damaged another becoming the SAAF latest Ace. The fighting was however not one sided, Charles Laubscher had a torrid few minutes whilst acting as ‘weaver’ on 2 Squadron SAAF sweep flown in conjunction with 94 Squadron RAF and 4 Squadron SAAF. The 2 Squadron War Diary further states that the Tomahawks were supporting the SAAF Bostons who were bombing Derna.
Laubscher describes the action:
“The Squadron was top cover to Bostons raiding Martuba. Three aircraft in my flight were forced to return to base so I roved alone above squadron. We were attacked during the homeward run by a 109F, diving almost vertically, about five miles south-east of Martuba. I turned tightly to port in the standard evasive action and saw him half roll onto his back, which enabled him to lay off a deflection shot. I pulled on my stick to tighten my turn and my Tomahawk promptly went into a spin. Straightening out at 5000 ft, I found myself in a hornet nest of 109fs flying in sections of 3, line astern at different altitudes. I saw at once that one section would pass directly ahead of me at a range of approximately 250 yards, so I laid off a full deflection on their number 3 and fired a long burst, but I didn’t wait to see what happened to him, heading back to our lines at full throttle. Two 109Fs attacked but I out-turned them at about 300 feet.”
Laubscher was then attacked by more Bf 109s, but he managed to evade them. When he returned to base he was able to claim his first Tomahawk (and third overall) victory:
“North-west of Gazala I saw a section of three 109Fs, flying in echelon port were overhauling me and I guessed that 2 were almost certainly pilots in training. I did a steep turn to port back towards them and did a head-on attack on No.3. Fired a good burst into him as we closed without any return fire. Immediately did a steep turn to port and headed back to Gazala, ducking over the escarpment down to the level of the mud flats. Only two aircraft closed on me, now more appropriately line-astern. Never saw what happened to their No.3. Waited until they were committed to a quarter stern attack from the left then turned tightly towards them, at about fifty feet above the ground. They were obviously unable, or too nervous, to turn as tightly as I did at this almost zero altitude. As they overshot I again headed for our lines, which were by now close, and they left me. I prayed that our army types would not be trigger happy and I was low enough for our chaps to see the roundels and no shots were fired. I thought I could only claim a probable and a damaged, but a telephone call from the bomber wing we had been escorting stated that a rear gunner had seen an aircraft go in south east of Martuba. As no other aircraft fired a shot, this was clearly my 109F, and I was able to claim it as destroyed.“
The DAF claimed 3 109s destroyed and 2 damaged whilst the Germans recorded no losses for the day!
On 24 April 1942 during a wing sweep over Bir Hacheim down at the southern extent of the Gazala line, 2 Squadron’s 11 Tomahawks SAAF once again found themselves in a position to jump the 109s. Three were seen, being a reconnaissance Bf 109 E of 4(H)/12 and two escorting Bf 109Fs of III/JG27. Lt E Smith shot down the 109E, his first victory. The escorting 109Fs had virtually no time to react, Laubscher and Lt AD Allen damaging both.
The events of 25 April 1942 are quite interesting and there are a few versions especially as to what aircraft and as to which Squadron Laubscher borrowed it from. I will present the facts and then using the latest research try and sort out what actually transpired. Schoeman has Laubscher flying a Kittyhawk MkI borrowed from 94 Squadron RAF and Laubscher claiming a BF109F probably destroyed and another damaged.
Shores et al state that Laubscher gave the impression that he borrowed the aircraft from 4 SAAF Squadron but at that time the only Squadron in 233 Wing that had Kittyhawks was 260 Squadron. Laubscher recorded his impression of his first flight in a Kittyhawk:
“As 2 Squadron was only on standby I borrowed a Kittyhawk for a brief test flight. I tried out the guns (6X.5”) and was impressed by their fire power and the tracers which were clearly visible – also by the machine’s power and manoeuvrability, the excellent field of vision from the cockpit and, inter alia, the pilot’s relief tube! Landed after 20 minutes and, as I was taxying in, all squadrons in the Wing were scrambled.”
Laubscher then gives his impression of the combat that took place:
“Took off without changing aircraft [still in Kittyhawk – Author], with 11 Tomahawks from 2 Squadron SAAF, 12 Kittyhawks from 4 Squadron SAAF [4 Squadron was not equipped with Kittyhawks yet – see Shores et al] and 12 Kittyhawks from RAF Squadron in the Wing [Yes 260 Squadron RAF see Shores et al]. Climbed at full bore as Control’s orders had been ‘Buster’, all aircraft virtuallywere in a straight line hoping to catch a Stuka squadron which had bombed the troops etc. at Tobruk. The Squadron to the north of the line [4 SAAF Sqn?] tallyho-ed as they saw the Stukas flying low over the Gulf of Gazala, and the other two squadrons swung north-west towards them in time to be met by a gaggle of 109Fs and Macchi 202s, numbering about 35 to 40 aircraft. What I believe the biggest dogfight of the desert war developed.One moment two or three of us would be firing at a single enemy aircraft, the next you were dodging an attack from two or three 109s or Macchis. Classic remark over the R/T from Lieutenant Syd Cohen from 4 SAAF Sqn who was being given a particular torrid time by four 109Fs: ‘Christ, do these bloody Germans think I am the only Jew in the South African Air Force!“
“Whilst weaving around I saw a 109F creeping up the tail of a Kittyhawk about 300 feet below and the same distance ahead of me. I yelled into over the R/T: ‘Kittyhawk below me – turn, for Christ’s sake turn!!’ He must have heard loud and clear for he went into a steep turn to the starboard immediately, followed by the 109F which could not lay off a deflection. I cut the corner diving towards them, allowed as much deflection as I dared (my reflector sight dot was on the Kittyhawk’s fuselage) and fired a long burst. Saw good strikes on the 109F’s wings and fuselage and he slid slowly downwards in a steep dive. Couldn’t follow him down as I had to dodge an aircraft attacking me from my port stern quarter. Attacked another 109F head on and saw a streak of fire along his cowling as I passed over him. Chased another 109F to Timimi, firing at long range. Tracers appeared to strike him, but tracers can be deceptive and he did not go down. Nearly jumped twice by 109Fs but outmaneuvered these aircraft. Chased another 109F out to sea but could not catch him so I returned to the combat area. Sky was now clear of aircraft so I headed back to base, guns almost limp from all their efforts. Armourers advised that I had shot 1,100 rounds (including the short test burst naturally). The Wing lost six aircraft in the engagement and we heard later that the enemy losses were similar.”
Shores et al record that there were 6 P40s shot down with 5 damaged, whilst the Luftwaffe lost 2 109s shot down by P40s, one crash landed after being in action with P40s and one was lost due to anti-aircraft fire. Alas the clams never seem to balance!
The 2 Squadron War Diary provides more detail of the day’s action. 11 Tomahawks and 2 Kittyhawks, the Kittyhawks exchanged for Tomahawks with 94 Squadron RAF, together with 260 Sqn RAF and 4 Sqn SAAF encountered what was described by the pilots as the whole Luftwaffe over Tobruk – Gazala area. It would appear that numerous 109s, some said 30, others less, escorted the Stukas bombing Tobruk. A terrific dogfight ensued and individual attacks and counter attacks were carried out. The results of this operation were Lt Howard was killed, Lt Hall was missing in action, Lt de Waal was shot down after being repeatedly attacked by 3 109s; Lt de Waal claimed one probable and one damaged. He was only just able to get out of his aircraft when it burst into flames. Lt Harrison arrived back slightly wounded, his aircraft badly damaged. Lt Ismay also claimed one damaged. The Diary only mentions F/Lt Laubscher claim for one 109 damaged and not the 109 probable destroyed that Schoeman and Shores and Williams credits him with.
The SAAF and Flight Lieutenant Laubscher had a quiet May 1942. Laubscher only flying only 3 combat sorties totaling 4.15 hours and 3 communication flights totaling 2.55 hours.
On 2 June 1942 Flight Lieutenant Laubscher was part of a 10 aircraft sweep led by Major Human over the Tobruk – El Adem Area. Laubscher was flying Kittyhawk “H”. 2 Squadron SAAF flew at 10,000 feet as top cover for 260 Squadron RAF. There was 5/10 cloud at 10,000 feet but the patrol did observe 200 motor transports going east at Mteifel.
On 4 June 1942 F/Lt Laubscher led 7 aircraft on an anticipated Stuka party without incident. Laubscher in fact led the 7 Kittyhawks into the air twice, the first time was at 1540 but they pancaked almost immediately landing at 1555. The second time the seven aircraft took off at 1715 and stayed airborne until they landed at 1840 having seen nothing. On the first sortie Laubscher flying Kittyhawk “H” was accompanied by Captain Reynolds (“F”), Lieutenants McMaster (“S”), Lindsey (“A”), Ismay (“Q”), Bryant (“R”) and Morton (“P”). On the second sortie Lt Frewen flew in Lt Lindsey’s place in “A”.
On 5 June 1942 2 Squadron SAAF provided an escort to the bombers who were tasked to blow a gap in the minefield. Flight Lieutenant Laubscher flying Kittyhawk “H” was one of the 8 aircraft led by Major Human. They set course at 1205 with the bombers dropping their load at 1240 from 8,000 ft. The fighters were providing cover from 10,500 ft. The fighters were attacked by 4 ME109Fs after the bombs had fallen. There were Motor transports in the target area and the bombs fell amongst them, 3 fires were observed. Little anti-aircraft fire was experienced.
On 8 June 1942 233 Wing consisting of the 3 SAAF fighter Squadrons and ten Kittyhawks from 260 Squadron RAF flew a sweep after being directed from the Knightsbridge area to sweep the Bir Hacheim area. Whilst flying Kittyhawk AL134 DB-H Laubscher had seen two MC.202’s attack and shoot down Lt HS McMaster (Kittyhawk “V”). McMaster baled out and was safe. The Squadron reformed when a second attack commenced. Laubscher turned sharply to the right, meeting the Macchi in a quarter frontal attack. His tracer appeared to strike home. Turning back, he joined the three Kittyhawks milling about, and they flew east, before turning to the west. Laubscher saw a Bf 109E low down and went after it. The enemy fighter evaded his first attack by a steep climb and a stall turn. Captain Reynolds (Kittyhawk “G” and Lieutenant Bryant (Kittyhawk “R”) then attacked. The Bf 109E took the same evasive action. Laubscher gave chase again. The 109 zoomed up; Laubscher [Kittyhawk I AL134 ‘H’] fired at close range, seeing his bullets strike it. A puff of smoke came from the cowling. The 109 dived away, Laubscher followed until his guns jammed up. Shores and Williams and Shores et al have Laubscher credited with a 109F damaged on this date, not an E, and no mention of the Macchi.
There is an interesting anomaly in that Laubscher’s combat report for the above action is dated 8.5.42, see below but the 2 Sqn War Diary Entry is on 6 June 1942 and records the 109s and 109Fs.
Here is Laubscher’s account from the Combat Report:
“Jumped by MC202. Lt MacMaster shot down in flames and seen to bale out. Formed up again. When a/c commenced second attack I turned sharply to the right to meet it, and had a quarter frontal attack on Mc202. Tracer appeared to hit him. Turned back and joined three Kittyhawks milling around. We flew east and then turned west. I saw a 109E low down, and went down after him. Delivered a quarter attack which he evaded by a steep climb and stall turn. Capt. Reynolds and Lt Bryant then attacked him and he took the same evasive tactics. I chased him and as he zoomed and commenced another stall turn, turned inside him and fired into him from short range, and saw my bullets strike, and a puff of smoke from his cowling. He dived away and I followed but had to dive away as my guns had jammed.”
Laubscher had used 580 .50 rounds.
TURKISH AIR FORCE
In June 1942 Laubscher was posted to Turkey where he served as an instructor with the Turkish Air Force until he returned to Egypt and the SAAF in September 1942.
BACK IN THE SAAF
Returning to Egypt, Laubscher exchanged his Flight Lieutenant rank for that of Captain, and was posted back to 2 Squadron SAAF as a supernumerary, remaining with then until December 1942. The Supplement to the London Gazette of 10 November, 1942, under the Reserve of Air Force Officers, General Duties Branch, records that Flt. Lt. C. J. Laubscher (70384) relinquishes his commission on appointment to the SAAF effective 15 October, 1942. It is interesting to note by the time that South Africans who had joined the RAF before the war and who had survived till 1942-43 (the first time during the war when anybody had time to think ahead), most had advanced quite far in wartime rank with the RAF and joining the SAAF with equal rank and status was becoming problematic. By now the SAAF had expanded and numerous pilots had advanced to command in the limited number of positions available. Charles Laubscher and Maurice Barber (both notable RAF fighter pilots) took the chance by resigning from the RAF and joining the SAAF. They both got equivalent ranks to their former RAF ranks, but only Laubscher managed to get an operational fighter position.
Laubscher arrived at 2 Squadron sporting his new SAAF rank on 21 October 1942.
On 10 November 1942 12 Kittyhawks of 2 SAAF Squadron were covering 260 Squadron RAF on a fighter sweep to Tobruk. Flying Kittyhawk DB-Z, side number ET977, some 30 miles west of Sollum, Laubscher’s section came across a formation of four Bf 109s, and having dived after one, Laubscher sighted a second. Laubscher described the action as follows on the Sortie Report: “Two Me 109s passed underneath the formation and the formation turned and dived onto them. One ME turned left under my section so I went down after him but could not follow him when he turned, so pulled up. I saw another ME flying west near the ground, and as the formation was still milling around I went down after him. He pulled up in front of me but I caught him in a climb and had a deflection shot at him as he turned left. He half rolled into a dive and I followed him, firing about three more short bursts. When I thought he couldn’t pull out I pulled up and saw him hit the ground.”
Shores et al have a longer report from Laubscher which gives more detail so I am including here for completeness:
“Flying top cover for wing sweep over Tobruk, West of Sollum two 109Es flew below the formation, leader section turned after them but they evaded the attack. Went down on one but could not turn with him due to the speed built up in my dive, so pulled up again. Saw the second 109E heading west low down. Put my section into line astern and went after him, but this time I throttled back in my dive. As I was coming in on his tail he saw me and pulled his emergency boost and literally jumped forward into a climb. I opened my throttle wide and caught him in the climb. He turned and I had a deflection shot at him. He half rolled and I rolled with him firing as I was on my back. He went into a spiral dive and I followed him down, firing as he came into my sights. I suddenly saw the ground coming up fast and pulled out hard. Blacked out completely, and waited for the impact. As I ‘greyed-in’ I found I was flying straight and level between two big sand dune ridges, below the level of the ridge tips – must have cleared the valley by not more than 20-30 feet at the bottom of the pull out. Looking behind me saw the column of smoke and flames where the 109E had gone in.”
Laubscher’s victim was Lieutenant Konrad Fels of I./JG77. Fels was in fact flying BF 109G-2 trop WNr 10453 Black 10. He was reported as Missing-in-Action. This was his first victory since rejoining 2 Squadron SAAF.
During this action Major JE Parsonson flying Kittyhawk EV325 was shot down and captured. He escaped after a few days dressed as an Arab. During his capture he saw Rommel drive by 4 times in one day!
Seniority problems now blocked promotion, so Laubscher obtained a secondment to 242 Squadron RAF, as a Major and second in command.
On 17 November 1942 Captain Laubscher took two pilots of 2 Squadron SAAF up to Gazala 2 and then on a patrol from Benghazi to Magrun to intercept Ju52s. Unfortunately, nothing was seen. They did however strafe the Airfield destroying a JU88, of either II/LG1 or 1(F)/121, and damaging a Bf 109 possibly of III/JG77. The JU88 was credited to Lieutenant PD Bryant.
On 22 November 1942 the sole operation carried out was a reconnaissance of the Agedabia area by Capt. Laubscher and Lt Moon. A number of enemy aircraft, tentage and motor transport were sighted and pinpointed during the two hour flight. The 2 Squadron SAAF War Diary records 19 sorties totaling 35.40 hours for Capt. Laubscher for November 1942. Only Capt. VML Lindsey with 21 sorties totaling 37.55 and Major HEN Wildsmith DFC with 20 sorties but 35.05 hours did more.
At 1555 on 1 December 1942 Captain Laubscher, Flying Kittyhawk ET822 DB-R, led 11 Kittyhawks of 2 Squadron SAAF on a forward patrol after four Italian aircraft were picked up by radar. On reaching Agedabia flying at 4,500ft, they were advised of enemy aircraft passing west in the Brega area. Bombs were seen falling on the right of the road between Agedabia and Brega. Four Macchi 200s were seen shortly after this at about 500ft above the Squadron. The Italians turned out to sea with the Kittyhawks in hot pursuit. 16 km out, north east of Mersa el Brega, Laubscher, Denis Quin and Jock Wright, closed right up behind them. Laubscher fired two bursts which hit one Macchi from astern, causing an apparent explosion, white smoke coming out. The enemy aircraft still smoking went down. The no. 4 Macchi was closing with Laubscher from his port quarter. Evading it, was about to attack it when he saw his first target flying at wave top level still smoking. Captain Parsonson dived on it, firing a deflection shot, which missed. Turning behind it, he fired a long burst. The Macchi pulled up in front of Laubscher, turning left. Laubscher fired a deflection burst which scored, then closed from right behind and fired again. Part of the rudder and tailplane blew off, the MC200 rolling over as the pilot fell clear. Even as his parachute was opening, Laubscher called the Squadron to reform.
Laubscher’s Sortie Report provides his first-hand account of the above action:
“Intercepted 4 MC200s 10 miles out to sea and about 10 miles NE of Brega after chasing them from the coastal road. I led Lt Quin and Lt Wright in the attack from dead astern. I fired 2 bursts at my a/c, both of which hit him; the second causing an apparent explosion and a cloud of white smoke. The Macchi went down with smoke pouring from him, so I broke off the attack and evaded the fourth Macchi which had not been engaged yet and which was coming in at me from the port rear quarter. I went down after this Macchi but overshot so pulled up. I then saw that the first Macchi I has attacked was flying at sea level, still smoking. I started to attack him but saw another Kittyhawk attack from the starboard quarter closing to stern. I saw a good burst hit and then the Macchi pulled up in front of me and started turning to the left. I fired a deflection shot which hit him and then closed in from dead astern and fired another burst which blew his rudder and tailplane off. Almost simultaneously I saw the pilot commence baling out so I broke off the attack and called up the Squadron to reform.”
Laubscher used 400 .50 rounds in this sortie.
Shores et al once again have an alternative version in Laubscher’s own words:
“My last combat occurred on 1 December when we spotted four aircraft bombing while on an offensive patrol over the Agedabia-Marsa Brega area south of Benghazi. We overhauled them rapidly and identified them as Macchi 200s – I attacked the leader and set him smoking but had to break away to avoid an attack from another Italian. I saw my No. 3 attack the one I’d just damaged obtaining a good hit. The Macchi pulled up in front of me in a left turn and I again hit him with a deflection shot. I then swung in behind him and fired from dead astern. Almost simultaneously the pilot baled out, releasing his ’chute immediately. It fouled for a second, then pulled clear but I think he must have caught my last burst.”
S.Ten Guiseppe Calsolaro of 92a, 8̊ Gr, 2̊St CT was shot down and despite his wounds he was able to bale out and fell into the sea, and swam to the coast. He was later picked up by Italian troops. He was flying MC.200 MM8186.
The 2 Squadron SAAF War Diary records 6 sorties at 11.30 hours for Capt. Laubscher, quite a drop from November, but the highest flown in December was 7 sorties by Lt JP Kryshaar at 13.10 hours and Major JE Parsonson at 13.00 hours.
An odd addition to the SAAF Mohawks already in the Union was one acquired from the RAF in Egypt, still in its 1940 French Air Force markings. Charles Laubscher flew it to Almaza where it was subjected to 147 flying hours of tests under the supervision of Curtiss with Hinton Brown as Pilot. Upon reaching Germiston it received the SAAF side number 2535.
On 10 July 1943 a dozen Spitfires of 242 Squadron RAF led by Squadron Leader Boddington were over the CENT area between 0845 and 1000, including two flown by Lieutenant Colonel Laurie Wilmot and Major Charles Laubscher of the SAAF, both of whom were acting in a supernumerary role. A fire was observed burning five miles south of Licata and a medium-size vessel was on fire offshore, before two Bf 109Gs and a Macchi appeared at about 0950, but owing to the adverse direction an attack was not possible.
Sinus problems made high flying difficult for Laubscher, so he applied to go to the UK to a low level unit, returning to Middle East, HQ. Laubscher was sent home on long leave. Laubscher returned when it was proposed to setup a Fighter Training School in Ankara. This did not materialise, and he returned to Egypt.
10 Squadron SAAF which had waited in vain for a Japanese attack against the South African Coast in 1942 was reformed at Almaza on May 1944. The Squadron’s OC and the majority of the pilots arrived the same day. Major CJO ZULU Swales, the Malta veteran, had two excellent flight commanders in the persons of Captains CJ Laubscher and SW Bill Rabie.
8 WING SAAF
This is the order bringing 8 Wing SAAF into being. The first two Squadron’s assigned to the Wing were 87 and 185 Squadrons Royal Air Force. The next Squadron to join was 3 Squadron SAAF. The final Squadron that joined 8 Wing was 11 Squadron SAAF with Major Laubscher in command.
JUNE – OCTOBER 1944
In following Major Laubscher’s time with 11 Squadron SAAF through Italy the Author has used both the 11 Squadron and 8 Wing War Diaries. The 8 Wing Diaries are a summary of the 4 Squadrons in the Wings activities whilst the Squadron diaries are obviously more specific.
For unknown reasons the 11 Squadron’s Diaries are not included in the Nation Archive in the United Kingdom.
On 21 June Captain Laubscher belly landed Spitfire Vb ER525, he was injured and the Spitfire was Category A.
11 Squadron was formed at Almaza near Cairo following the request two weeks earlier for the SAAF to provide a further fighter Wing in Italy on 29 June 1942. Under the Command of Major CJ Laubscher, the Squadron moved to Idku on 20 July 1944 where it received the stores and Spitfire MkVs of 9 Squadron SAAF.
In spite of Laubscher laying down a strict time table for the training, a number of accidents occurred including a fatal one on 29 July 1944 whilst bringing 11 Squadron SAAF up to operational standard. Laubscher with his experience in the Western Desert and Malta was ideal for getting the youngsters into shape. He achieved his aim by carefully scheduling the air and class room training of his pilots with the limited number of aircraft and the inexperience ground crews made available to him. With training considered complete by the end of August 1944, the unit was told it was to exchange its Spitfires for Kittyhawks.
11 Squadron moved to Italy on 11 September 1944, arriving at Taranto on the 16th before moving to Pergia for conversion onto Kittyhawks on the 26th.
As 11 Squadron operated from a different landing ground to the rest of the Wing their daily sortie reports for November are included in the Diary out of date sequence and are not as detailed.
On 4 November 1944 11 Squadron SAAF attacked Stores at L791878 with 6 Kittybombers scoring 7 direct hits.
On 5 November 1944 6 Kittybombers attacked buildings at M021705 scoring 2 direct hits. The Squadron operated from Perugia. 8 Wing Diary does not indicate who led this raid. The 11 Squadron Diary states that 6 aircraft led by Major Laubscher dive bombed a Stores dump at Malalbergo at map reference M0270 dropping from 10,000ft to 4000ft scoring 8 direct hits stores, buildings and 1 very near miss. 2 direct hits were scored on a building at M021705, 2 direct hits on buildings at M015704 and M015705, and 2 direct hits on building at M274710. Strafing runs used 1020 .50 rounds.
Just after 0900 on 8 November 1944 Major Laubscher led six Kittybombers of 11 Squadron SAAF to attack a temporary pontoon bridge at map reference M402240. Bad weather forced them to abandon the raid and the bombs had to be dropped into Lake Trasimeno. A second raid after midday got through and scored two near misses on a bridge at map reference M428276 despite smoke screens laid by the enemy. One aircraft was force to land at Rimini with a mechanical defect. The plane jettisoned its two bombs. The Pilot was safe. This was operation No. 9 of the Squadron.
Operation 12 of 11 Squadron SAAF took place on 10 November 1944 when 4 Kittybombers led by Capt. Glover and 6 led by Major Laubscher taking off at 1500 attacked the same target, a railway line. Laubscher’s aircraft attacked from 8,000ft releasing their bombs from 1,500ft at 1545 whilst Glover’s four dropped down from 9,000ft to 3,000ft before releasing theirs at 1547. The railway line received direct hits at M271460, M270445 and M269424 expending 4,000 .50 rounds. A light anti-aircraft position at M269440 was strafed and claimed destroyed. All aircraft returned to base at 1645.
For 11 Squadron’s Mission 16 Major Laubscher was instructed to cut the railway line in 3 places between Fannza and Lugo on 12 November 1944. To perform the task Major Laubscher tasked 8 Kittybombers. They dropped their bombs at 1205 dropping from 9,000ft to 2,000 ft. The results included a direct hit on the line at M3633, but the wrong fork! A direct hit was also recorded on the embankment at M3534 and a direct hit on a house at M5632. For the remainder no results were observed. They encountered some medium accurate anti-aircraft fire. The strafing runs consumed 190 .50 rounds.
On 20 November 1944 Major Laubscher was instructed to cut the railway line in the area of L710854. Six 11 Squadron SAAF Kittybombers dropped down from 10,000ft to 2,000ft before releasing their 12x500lb bombs at 1320. The results were as follows: one direct hit on line at L7537, one direct hit on embankment at L7458 and two near misses (15/20 yards) south of railway line at L7258. No flak was encountered. The duration of the mission was from 1255 to 1405.
On 21 November 1944 a formation of 6 11 Squadron Kittybombers MkIV armed with 12x500lb bombs were tasked with cutting the railway line at L710582. Major Laubscher got the formation airborne at 1235. The formation released their bombs from 2,000ft at 1320 scoring a direct hit on the line at L7357, a direct hit on the embankment at L7458, and 2 bombs fell south of the rail line at L7258. On 22 November 1944 Mission 56 was to cut the rail between Bologna and Ferrara and it was assigned to 6 MkIV Kittybombers of 11 Squadron SAAF under the command of Major Laubscher. 10x500lb bombs were dropped from 2,000ft after dropping from 10,000ft at 1205 scoring 1 direct hit on the line in the station at San Pietro, map reference L946710, 1 direct hit cutting the line at L921644 and 2 very near misses within 5 yards of the line at L924661 straddled it. They also strafed a motor transport tanker moving at L908594 and it was riddled. The contents were seen to stream across the road. They also strafed and destroyed a motor car at L8060 as well as a motor cycle and bicycle with the riders being forcibly dislodged. One aircraft landed at 1240 whilst the rest touched down at 1300 at Peretola Landing Ground. 2 bombs were jettisoned. 980 .50 rounds were used during this operation.
On 26 November 1944 Major Laubscher was once again tasked with leading a raid to cut railway lines with a force of 4 Kittybombers MkIV. However immediately after take-off he had to “Moscow” due to engine trouble with Lieutenant Hunter taking over command.
27 November 1944 saw Major Laubscher leading 4 Kittybombers MkIV of 11 Squadron SAAF on another railway line cutting sortie. Tasked with cutting the line between map references L6067 and L7474 the Kittyhawks dropped 8x500lbbombs at 1430 from 200ft (I would assume a typo in diary and it is meant to be 2,000ft) after dropping down from 9,000 ft. A mixed bag of results was achieved with a direct hit on a building at L6570 and a near miss on the embankment at L6169. Horse drawn vehicles were strafed and destroyed at L5559, L6475 and L5679 using 2550 .50 rounds. Signs of repair to the railway line were observed near Navicell. No flak was encountered. The mission lasted from 1355 to 1555 and it was 11 Squadron SAAF operation number 31.
On 29 November 1944 Major Laubscher and 4 Kittybombers from 11 Squadron SAAF were again tasked with rail cutting duties at map reference L6067 to L7474 as 8 Wing’s Mission 126 of the day. The formation had to jettison their 8x500lb bombs in the Po Valley due to 10/10ths cloud base. The mission lasted from 0850 until they touched down at 1050 at Peretola Landing Ground. The second mission, also by 11 Squadron SAAF, also resulted in the bombs being jettisoned in the Po Valley. 8 Wing cancelled all operations for the day. It was Operation 33 of 11 Squadron SAAF in Italian Campaign.
On 10 December 1944 on 8 Wing’s Mission 129 of the Day and the Squadron’s mission 39 of the Italian Campaign; Major Laubscher was tasked to lead 4 Kittybombers from 11 Squadron SAAF on another rail cutting operation, this time the target was the line between Parma and Riggio, map reference L1285 to L3075. The formation dropped their 8x500lb bombs at 1050, dropping down from 9,000 to 2,000ft. They scored 1 direct hit at L210805which fortunately cut both lines. For the remainder of the bombs no damage was claimed. 2 horse drawn vehicles (HDVs) and an armoured staff car were strafed at L2085 and claimed probably destroyed. 1 motor transport, an Italian 3 tonner, travelling south-east at L4468 was destroyed killing 15-20 Germans with overcoats and helmets while they debussed. 8 horse drawn vehicles travelling east evenly spaced in convoy on a secondary road at L7766 were strafed and 4 HDVs were destroyed. The 4 aircraft expended a total of 1780 .50 rounds. At approximately Cooler called on Guestroom Red Leader and reported a ME109. Call went unacknowledged due to RT transmission being unserviceable. The formation landed at Peretola Landing Ground at 1150.
Adverse weather cut down on 8 Wing’s operations in December 1944. Major Laubscher also left the leadership of the 11 Squadron formations to Captains Dove, Sinclair and Glover. Laubscher however took the lead on Mission 129 on 30 January 1944, another rail cutting operation at map reference F4505 to L5483. The formation of 4 Kittybombers MkIV dropped 8x500lb bombs at 1430, diving down from 9,000 to 2,000ft, scoring 1 very near miss east of the line at l5078 whilst 1 direct hit cut the line north of a bridge at L5197. The rest of the bombs were near misses but no damaged was claimed by the four pilots. 8 or 9 trucks were strafed at L5098 and strikes obtained. A total of 110 .50 rounds were expended. They landed at Pontedera Landing Ground at 1550. The duration of the mission, the Squadron’s 76th of the Italian Campaign, was from 1400 until 1550.
On 31 December 1944 8 Kittybombers of 11 Squadron SAAF were tasked to dive-bomb the railway bridge at L6265. The SAAF force was made up of two sections; one controlled by Major Laubscher and the subsection controlled by Captain Dove. The Kittybombers time over target was 1450 when they dropped down from 7,000ft and dropped their 15x500lb bombs from 1,500ft. They scored 2 near misses to the left of the bridge and 1 to the right of the bridge. 1 bomb was a direct hit on the eastern approach to the bridge. Results were obscured by smoke but the bridge remained intact. 1 motor transport was strafed scoring strikes at L1979. 110 .50 rounds were expended. 6 motor transports were observed standing at L1867 and numerous horse drawn vehicles were observed on the approaches to Modena. The mission lasted from 1420 until 1540.
On 2 January 1945 8 Wing SAAF sent out 7 Kittybomber IVs from 11 Squadron SAAF under the command of Major Laubscher to attack a bridge at grid reference L9793 on its Operation 101 of the day. The aircraft took off in two batches at 0850 and 0920. One aircraft returned early at 0955 after jettisoning its two bombs due to engine trouble. 11x500lb bombs were dropped in two batches of 3 aircraft at 0950 and 3 aircraft at 1000 from 2.000ft after dropping down from 7,000ft. One direct hit was scored on a block of buildings 15 yards south of the bridge setting the whole block on fire. The rest of the bombs fell around the target area with nine near misses. The Squadron then destroyed one motor transport travelling south at L7766 and damaged a civilian truck at L7867. They used 1020 .50 rounds in their strafing runs. They experienced light inaccurate anti-aircraft fire over the target area. The duration of the mission, number 81 of 11 Squadron SAAF’s Italian Campaign, was 0850-1035 for 3 aircraft, 0920-1050 for 3 aircraft and 0920-0955 for 1 aircraft.
On 3 January 1945 8 Wing tasked four 11 Squadron SAAF Kittybomber MkIV to dive-bomb 3 guns at L736354 under the leadership of Major Laubscher. At 1230 the Kittybombers released 8×500 pound bombs from 1,000ft, after diving down from 7,500ft, scoring 2 direct hits, or possibly two very near misses, in front of a house at L736355. Two bombs were apparent near misses, 10 yards on apparent center gun pit, 2 were 50 yards to the west and two were wide. Strafing after the bombing run scored hits on the gun pits and on the house west of the gun pits. The four aircraft used 1560 .50 rounds during their strafing runs. There was moderate accurate light anti-aircraft fire from north of the target. Mission duration was from 1205 until 1310.
On 4 January 1945 Major Laubscher led 6 Kittybomber IVs from 11 Squadron SAAF to dive-bomb a bridge located at map reference L7961. At 1050 the Kittybombers released 11x500lb bombs from 2,000ft after diving down from 9,000ft, scoring 1 direct hit on line cutting track at L794614, 1 bomb was a direct hit 10 yards north of L794614, 1 was a very near miss falling in the river east of the bridge, 1 was a direct hit on the northern end of the bridge knocking out supports and leaving the line in suspension. Also one direct hit was scored on the embankment on the northern side of the bridge. The Squadron strafed and destroyed one staff car, 2 people were seen running from the vehicle and taking refuge in a house at the side of the road. The Squadron used 320 .50 rounds during strafing. The mission, number 91, lasted from 1015 to 1155.
On 6 January 1945 Laubscher’s Kittyhawk MkIV FT922 was hit by anti-aircraft fire. No mention is made of this incident in the 11 Squadron SAAF’s War Diary for 6 January 1945.
On 9 January 1945 on 8 Wing SAAF 15th operation of the day, 11 Squadron SAAF led by Major Laubscher with 4 Kittybomber IV’s dropped down from 8.500 to 1,500ft releasing 8x500lb bombs at 1610 on a gun emplacement consisting of 3 gun pits at map reference L823392. Two hits were scored on a building at map reference L823393; there were two near misses on the center gun pit and two very near misses of the western gun pit hitting the south edge of the road. One aircraft was holed and was category 1 damaged. There was intense light and slight heavy accurate anti-aircraft fire from the target area. This was 11 Squadron SAAF’s 100th mission of the Italian campaign.
Once again finding their gun emplacement target obscured by cloud, Major Laubscher led the four 11 SAAF Squadron Kittybomber IVs in an attack on a railway siding at Carpi, map reference P541820 on 10 January 1945. At 0915 the Kittybombers released 7x500lb bombs, diving down from 7,500 to 1,000ft, on two groups of railcars, one of 4 and one of 6. Two direct hits derailed 2 cars and 3 direct hits were also scored on buildings alongside the west side of the tracks and 1 on the east side of the tracks. The buildings were left burning. After the bombing run all the trucks were strafed by the Kittybombers using 500 .50 rounds. The duration of the mission was 0835 until 0930.
On 11 January 1945 11 Squadron SAAF was required to bomb a gun emplacement at map reference L925385. Major Laubscher led 4 Kittybombers MkIV on the bombing run at 0830, dropping down from 9,000 to 1,500ft, they dropped 7x500lb bombs suffering 1 hang-up. Even though they saw no evidence of the gun pits at the site. They scored direct hits two on the center of the target and scored two near misses to the south, one to the east and one to the west whilst one bomb fell a 150 yards west of the target. The four aircraft then flew 4 strafing runs over the target area expending 1900 .50 rounds. They experienced some light return fire from the target area. It was 8 Wings’ Mission 102, the second mission of the day, 11 Squadrons’ 104th of the Campaign and lasted from 0810 – 0930.
On Mission 116 of 11 January 1945 four Kittybombers MkIV under the leadership of Major Laubscher of 11 Squadron SAAF at 1535 hours recorded what the 8 Wing War Diary describes as a “good effort.” Whilst attacking gun position L777359. 7x500lb bombs were dropped from 2,000ft on 3 gun pits; the middle pit was seen to have a gun in it. The middle pit suffered 2 direct hits, 2 bombs were 20 yards to the west of the western pit, 2 were near misses 10 yards east of the eastern pit and 1 30 yards east of the eastern pit. The Kittybombers also strafed the pits during the dive using 190 .50 rounds. The mission lasted from 13.10 until 1415.
11 Squadron SAAF’s Mission 109 of the Italian Campaign took place on 12 January 1945 when 4 Kittybombers under the leadership of Major Laubscher were tasked to dive bomb an ammunition dump at map reference P757126. At 1100 the 4 Kittybombers MKIV dropped down from 7,000 to 2000 ft bombing east to west they released 8x500lb bombs. 2 bombs fell on the western edge of the target area, 2 on the eastern edge and 4 fell outside the target area. The aircraft strafed during the dive using 5640 .50 rounds.
There was no operational flying on 13 and 14 January 1945 due to the weather. Mission 105 on 15 January 1945 was against gun position L628281 (11 Squadron Diary gives the Position as L623381- Summation typo by 8 Wing?) and Major Laubscher once again led 4 Kittybombers MkIV from 11 Squadron SAAF at 1010 hours. Unlike their effort of 11 January 1945, this bomb run could not be described as a “good effort” as all 7 bombs overshot the targets. The Kittybombers did however conduct 6 strafing runs hitting the gun pits and 2 buildings. The 7x500lb were dropped from 1,500ft after the planes had dropped down from 7,000 ft. 6 strafing runs were made using 1920 .50 rounds. After a 0940 take-off they were back at base at 1040.
There was no flying on 16 January 1945 due to the weather.
8 Wings’ Mission 103 took place from 0805 – 0855 on 17 January 1945 with the target being an Ordinance Depot at map reference P652087. (11 Squadron Diary gives the map reference as P652687 – a typo by 8 Wing in their summation?). The 8 Wing War Diary describes this mission under Major Laubscher’s leadership as a “very successful mission”. 4 Kittybombers MkIV of 11 Squadron SAAF bombed south to north and released their 8x500lb bombs from 4,000ft at 8:30 after dropping down from 11,500ft. They scored with 2 direct hits south of center of western building causing considerable smoke and possible fire. There were 2 direct hits north of building in the north-east corner of the target, causing a large fire. 2 bombs were direct hits on the south end of the western building and 2 direct hits in the target area, results obscured by smoke and dust. 2 aircraft strafed the area using 600 .50 rounds. The fire was visible from the mouth of the Arno River. The Kittybombers experienced moderately heavy inaccurate fire from the target area and light inaccurate fire from the west from a fort on a hill south-west of the target area.
Major Laubscher and his 4 Kittybombers MkIV second mission of the day was gun pits at map reference L857398. At 1545 hours they released 7x500lb bombs from 1,500ft after diving down from 8,000ft. 2 bombs were 15-20 yards south of the eastern gun pit but they damaged a house, 2 were 25 yards south and 2 overshot the eastern gun pit by 25-30 yards. The 7th bomb hit what appeared to be 3 abandoned gun pits 100 yards north of the targeted gun pits. There was slight but fairly accurate fire from the target area. 4 strafing runs were made with many hits scored on the middle and eastern gun pit. A total of 1200 .50 were used. The Kittybombers also observed 4 Austers at L883345.
Schoeman has Laubscher wrinkled the mainplanes on Kittyhawk MkIV FX568 on 17 January 1945. The aircraft was classified category B. No mention is made of Major Laubscher damaging his aircraft in either War Diaries.
On 18 January 1945 Major Laubscher once again lead two missions, 8 Wing Missions 101 and 109, 11 Squadron Missions 118 and 119. Mission 101 was an attack on a Motor Transport Car Park at map reference P719401 and lasted from 0835 to 1005. Major Laubscher led 8 Kittybombers MkIV from 11 Squadron SAAF on this Mission. The aircraft were divided into two sections of 4 aircraft, Laubscher’s Red Flight and Captain Muller’s Blue Flight. They dropped 15x500lb bombs at 0915 hours from 1,500ft after diving down from 9,000 ft. Whilst 6 bombs overshot; the other 9 set numerous buildings on fire with 2 houses in the center emitting black smoke with intense flame. 2 Strafing runs were carried out using 600 .50 rounds.[iv]
The second mission on 18 January 1945 was aimed at the Training Centre and Billets at Spezia. The operation took place from 1140 to 1240 hours and was led by Major Laubscher and the usually 4 Kittybomber MkIVs from 11 Squadron SAAF. The Aircraft released 8x500lb bombs at 1200 from 4,000ft after dropping down from 11,000 ft scoring 2 direct hits on buildings and throwing up masonry dust in the north-west corner of the target area. 2 bombs scored a direct hit on the east corner of a square building in the eastern end of the target area causing a large explosion with a column of smoke rising to approximately 1000ft which was visible at the Arno River Mouth. 2 bombs scored hits amongst buildings at map reference P678060 and the final 2 fell harmlessly in the sea! Moderate to heavy inaccurate fire was experience from Spezia. Strafing used 900 .50 rounds.
There were no missions flown on 19 January 1945 due to the weather.
On 20 January 1940 3 Kittybombers MkIV of 11 Squadron led by Major Laubscher attacked an enemy Ammo Depot at map reference P806245. The Kittybombers dropped 5x500lb bombs at 0950 dropping from 2500ft to 1,500ft. 2 bombs undershot south of the target area, one hit buildings to the east causing damage, and the final 2 fell south causing smoke which cleared quickly. Moderately accurate heavy anti-aircraft fire was experienced from the target area. The mission, Mission 122 of 11 Squadron SAAF, lasted from 0920 to 1015.
No operations were flown by 11 Squadron SAAF on 23, 24, 25 and 26 January 1945 due to the weather.
On 27 January 1945 11 Squadron SAAF was tasked with attacking a Stores and Equipment Dump at map reference L862855. Major Laubscher led 8 11 Squadron SAAF Kittybombers MkIV on 8 Wing’s Mission 101 of the day. Once again the 8 aircraft were split into two flights. Red Flight under Major Laubscher and Blue Flight under the command of Captain van Reenen. At 0938 13x500lb bombs were dropped from 1,500ft having dived from 8,000 ft. They scored 2 direct hits on the southern end of the western building, 2 direct hits on the north end of the same building, 2 direct hits on the center of the east building, and 1 near miss 10 yards south of the target. The other 5 bombs were around the target causing no damage. 4 Aircraft strafed in the dive and 16 strafing runs were made resulting in many strikes and apparently causing a small fire in northern building of target area. 5,900 .50 rounds were used. They also reported tracks in the snow indicating that the roads to the north of the depot were in recent use. There was moderate heavy accurate anti-aircraft fire from south-west of the target. (8 Wing Diary states from the south-east of the target)
On 29 January 1945 Major Laubscher was leading 11 Squadron SAAF Kittybombers to attack a heavy gun near Casalecchio di Reno at 0837 diving from 2440 meters and pulling out at 457 meters, when Lieutenant J Lithgow’s aircraft for no apparent reason burst into flame and crashed within 200m of the target. No flak had been visible. Lieutenant Lithgow was the Squadron’s first operational fatality. The two War Diaries provide more information about the mission, mission 101 of the day which was an attack on heavy gun at map reference L815470. At 0857 7x500lb were expended by the 4 Kittybomber MkIVs from 1,500ft. 2 bombs were 20 yards short, 1 overshot by 20 yards and 1 by 75 yards. Lt Lithgow’s Kittybomber was seen to burst into flame and crash 200 yards south west of the target area. No parachute was seen. No anti-aircraft fire was observed in the area. The Kittybombers strafed 7 trucks using 520 .50 rounds and 5 apparent dummy trucks using 1410 .50 rounds on a railway line at map reference at L634538 were the remaining aircraft did encounter anti-aircraft fire. The 11 Squadron Diary reported Lithgow as missing presumed dead.
Mission 111 of the 29 of January 1945 required 11 Squadron SAAF to bomb enemy occupied area at map reference L995375. Major Laubscher led 12 Kittybombers MkIV. The Kittybombers were split into 3 flights: Red flight led by Major Laubscher, Blue Flight by Captain Sinclair and Black flight by Lieutenant Cohen. They dropped 20x500Lb bombs at 1450 from 2,000ft after diving down from 9,000ft. The bombs were quite wide spread with 5 confirmed in the target area. The aircraft strafed in the diving run and made 4 strafing runs after bombing scoring hits on buildings in the target area. A total of 3850 .50 rounds were used. Light moderately accurate anti-aircraft fire was experienced. After taking off at 1415 all 12 aircraft were back at 1535. On 30 January Major Laubscher led a section to cover two C-47s on a supply drop. Following a delay at the RV, they set-off but no supplies were seen to be dropped. The weather was hazy and the transports were probably unable to locate their drop zones with certainty. This was 8 Wing’s Mission 104 for the day and it lasted from 0945 to 1205. The War diary however indicates that there were 3 C-47s and the drop zone was at map reference P9030. 11 Squadron War Diary however agrees with Schoeman that there were only 2 C-47s.
1 aborted mission was flown on 1 February, none on 2 and 3 February 1945 due to the weather.[i]
11 Squadron SAAF’s 146 Operation of the Italian Campaign did not get off to a good start as Major Laubscher and the 4 Kittybombers were unable to locate their target, the 232 Divisional Head Quarters in a house at L478329, so they attacked the alternative target – the Parma-Spezia railway line. They dive-bombed a rail bridge at P829673, diving in from east to west from 11,000ft down to 4,000ft releasing 6x500lb bombs. 2 bombs overshot by 50 yards west of the bridge, 2 overshot about 75 yards south-west of the bridge. One was apparently a direct hit on the line east of the bridge; the other was a direct hit on the embankment on the line north of the line. One aircraft “moscowed” at 1445 having jettisoned its bombs in the sea west of Pisa. The mission lasted from 1330 to 1505.
On 8 February 1945 Maj Laubscher of 11 Squadron SAAF with his 4 Kittyhawk MkIV flew an escort mission for 2 C-47s who dropped their supplies without incident at map reference L2030. The group did observe a fire with brownish smoke at map reference P7807. Some Anti-aircraft fire was experienced from Spezia Harbour. The mission lasted from 1010 until 1210.
Major Laubscher and 11 Squadron SAAF were again tasked at 1610 on 8 February 1945 to attack a Motor Transport Depot at Pontrenoli, map reference P719401 with 8 Kittybombers MkIV. Major Laubscher led Red Flight whilst Captain Muller took control of Blue Flight. The 8 Kittybombers MkIV released 13x500lbs at 1640 from 2,500ft after diving in from 8,500ft. There were 2 direct hits on the north east buildings, 2 direct hits were recorded on buildings in the western portion of the target area, and a direct hit was recorded against buildings on the buildings in the south-west corner of the target area. 2 overshot by 75 yards, 1 overshot but hit buildings outside the target area, whilst 2 overshot and hit houses outside the target area. 2 bombs were unobserved. Several buildings were badly damaged in this attack, particularly in the northern and south west part of the target area. An amusing note in 11 Squadron’s Diary is that the pilots had observed that buildings had recently been repaired! 3 Aircraft strafed in the diving run and 7 strafing runs were made after the bombing run. Hits were scored on numerous buildings. 2,600 .50 rounds were used. There was fairly intense moderately accurate light Anti-aircraft fire from the houses north of the target area, from a triangle between houses north-east of the target area and from a hill and houses on the hill north-east of the target. Having taken off at 1610 the aircraft were back on the ground at 1720. No missions were flown on 9 February 1945 due to the weather.
On 10 February 1945 11 Squadron SAAF was tasked with Mission 110 of the day to attack gun position at map reference L66373645. 4 Kittybombers MkIV under Maj Laubscher command took off at 0745. They were unable to identify the gun positions as briefed. A light brown camouflaged net which stood out quite clearly against the snow, was observed slightly south east of a house in the target area so this was attacked. 2 direct hits on this were scored by Maj Laubscher with 500lb bombs. The house was destroyed with 3 direct hits by Lieutenant Topps who left it in a cloud of masonry dust. The remainder of the bombs landed south of the house. The position attacked was approximately 100 yards north-west of L664365. Strafing runs consumed 600 .50 rounds. A fairly intense light anti—aircraft fire was encountered. Some seemed to be firing from north-east of the target area. They were back at base by 0840.
On 11 February 1945 another ammo depot was bombed, this one was located at map reference P872207. Maj Laubscher led 8 Kittybombers MkIV from 11 Squadron SAAF. Once again Laubscher leading Red Flight and Captain Muller leading Blue Flight. The target was well camouflaged and only indicated by a track leading to it. At 1555 15x500lb bombs were dropped from 2,000ft after the dive down from 9,000ft. 5 landed in the target area and 2 bombs were direct hits on a house south of the target area causing a fire with an intense flame with an unusual colour. The remainder of the bombs overshot the target. 6 aircraft strafed in the dive followed by 4 strafing runs scoring strikes in the target area. 2380 .50 rounds were used. Moderately intense heavy anti-aircraft fire was encountered. The aircraft were back on the ground at 1635 after having taken off at 1530.
On 13 February 1945 from 1010 to 1230, Major Laubscher with 4 11 Squadron SAAF Kittyhawks escorted 6 C47s on a supply drop. After circling the drop zone at P6050 for 30 minutes the C-47s returned without dropping their supplies. This was 11 Squadron SAAF’s 172 mission of the Italian Campaign.
While regularly escorting supply drops to the Italian Partisans, the Wing did not neglect their opposite numbers, the Fascists, and eight 11 Squadron SAAF Kittybombers led by Major Laubscher, Red Flight and Captain Dove leading Blue Flight, on 16 February 1945 attacked the Italian Fascist Command Post at Ricco at 1640. The aircraft dropped 17x500lb bombs from 1,500ft after diving down from 8,500ft. During their strafing runs expended 3050 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition. The two War Diaries provides additional detail to this operation. The command Post was located at map reference P946751, with 15 bombs falling within the target area, scoring near misses on numerous buildings. One building was claimed as semi-demolished.
On 17 February 1945 following the escort of a B-25 Major Laubscher, Blue Flight, and Captain Colin Sinclair, Black Section, led an 11 SAAF Squadron attack on the locomotive repair sheds at Borgo di Taro, map reference P649529, with 8 Kittybombers MKIV. 20x500lb bombs were released at 2,000ft after diving down from 10,000ft. Seven direct hits were scored on the central building, with others on the subsidiary sheds. Very little of the main building was left standing. An impressive explosion and column of smoke was seen in the area of the Brenner Pass during the Mission. Having attended to these they were nearing base at Pontedera when one of the sections was forced to dive out of the way of a P-47 formation approaching at the same level dead ahead. Major Laubscher looked round to see a broad streak of fire from the engine of James Burnard’s Kittyhawk and immediately ordered him to bale out. The fighter was diving from 1,070 meters, the pilot getting free at a mere 180 meters. Watching Italians saw the parachute stream at a mere 18 meters. It was too late. It was uncertain whether the USAAF had scored its last SAAF aircraft shot down in the War, of if the sudden dive had perhaps started the fire in an engine perhaps already failing from some mechanical defect or damaged received and not detected over the target.
8 Wing War Diary provides additional information. The loco sheds were situated at map reference P649529. Major Laubscher led 8 Kittybombers who dropped 20x500lb bombs at 1230 from 2,000ft scoring 7 direct hits on the main building. 5 additional hits were scored on auxiliary buildings completely destroying one. The direct hits on buildings were scored by Major Laubscher, Captain Sinclair and Lieutenants Andrews, Topp and Hunter. The HDV’s were strafed between map references P9580 and L1523. A very large explosion was observed in the Brenner Pass with smoke bellowing up to 5,000ft. Lieutenant FL Burnard was seen to crash at 1330 hours at map reference Q275630 with his aircraft alight.
On 21 February 1945 4 Kittyhawks under Major Laubscher were tasked to escort 4 C-47s on a re-supply mission to P6050. Supplies were not dropped due to weather. The patrol observed a petrol fire on sea 7-8 miles 280⁰ from Arno River Mouth at about 1105. Laubscher went down to investigate but observed no wreckage or bodies in the vicinity. The mission, number 109 of the day lasted from 1015 until 1125 when the Kittyhawks touched down on Pontedera Landing Ground.
On 20 and 21 February 1945 8 Wing was tasked with destroying an Ammo Depot at P727427. Major Laubscher led Mission 113 of these attacks. At 1400 hours Eight 11 Squadron Kittybombers under his leadership dropped 15x500lb bombs from 4,000ft after starting their dive at 10,000ft. 7 bombs were in the south end of the target area, 1 was in the north east end of the target area, 3 undershot, 1 overshot and 3 bombs were in the center of the target area, one being a very near miss on a building starting a small fire. 5 aircraft strafed in the dive and 8 strafing runs were made after the bombing. The target appears to have been well plastered with bombs and the grass in the south end was on fire. 3370 .50 rounds were used during strafing.
Also on 22 February 1945 at 1545 Major Laubscher led 4 Kittybombers MkIVs to attack the stores dump at L572505 again on the day’s mission 68 and thereafter to recce the road between Bologna and Ferrara. 7x500lb bombs were dropped at 1615 from 2,000ft after the dive from 9,000ft and east to west. Lieutenant Geviser scored 3 direct hits on the south building, Lieutenant Smithers scored a direct hit in the center of the southern building probably destroying it, and ¾ of the roof. They strafed the target area as well as a staff car scoring hits and causing it to burst into flames at map reference L912658. They strafed numerous vehicles at various locations including destroying a truck carrying tyres at L912950 on which they made 6 strafing runs. Strikes were scored on 3 ox drawn vehicles but no claims were made. In all 3660 .50 rounds were used.
On 6 March 1945 7 Wing attacked numerous ground targets. Major Charles Laubscher led 8 Kittybombers MkIV of 11 Squadron SAAF on a dive-bombing operation. Captain van Reenen was Red Flight leader and Laubscher was Black Flight Leader. They dropped their 15x500lb bombs at 1,500ft after swooping down from 9,000ft. Five direct hits on the south end of the boiler house of the Sugar Refinery at map reference L111856 caused a large fire with greyish black smoke. In total 15x500lb bombs were dropped from 1,500ft at 1515 hours. 3 Aircraft strafed in the dive. They then strafed a staff car moving south at F0202, one motor transport on the outskirts of Parma and one motor transport moving north east at L2567 which exploded. 2040 .50 rounds were expended (not very clear). They observed runways and the roads leading to aerodrome at Parma demolished. Captain van Reenen called up to say he was baling out, white smoke was seen pouring from his aircraft. He was seen to land safely, hide his parachute and disappear. There was no apparent flak in the area. While leaving the target area control warned the pilots that there were enemy aircraft in the area. Two silver aircraft were seen heading for them. Turning about the Kittyhawks found themselves confronted by two P-47 Thunderbolts. Feeling disappointed, they headed for home. It was Mission 67 of the day and Mission 258 of 11 Squadron’s Italian campaign. Captain van Reenen returned to the Squadron and was soon leading missions again.
On Mission 58 of 7 March 1945 8 Kittybombers MkIV under the leadership of Major Laubscher attacked a Fuel Dump between map references L025882 to L085861. Major Laubscher overall commander led Red Flight whilst Captain Glover led Blue flight. At 0915 they released 13x500lb bombs from 2,000ft at 0915 having dived down from 9,000ft. All the bombs fell either side of the road in the target area. There was a red glow fizzling out in white smoke at the base of high tension pylons. 16 strafing runs were made but no fires were started. 6 strafing runs were made on 3 light anti-aircraft positions at L053873 scoring strikes. 4040 .50 rounds were used on this mission.
The most unusual mission of 11 March 1945 was flown by 11 Squadron SAAF. Major Laubscher led a section of 4 Kittyhawks that morning to cover a lone dark green Italian CO-Belligerent Fi156 Storch to map reference P.9345 for a secret mission. This was to rescue Lt James, a 12th Air Force pilot. For once the Kittyhawks found they were too fast for something else! Despite weaving transversely across and above the Fiesler’s flight path, they had difficulty in keeping the plane in sight. The pick-up point was a specially prepared landing strip of barely sixty meters in the Apennines. The Italian pilot had the choice of landing downwind or up the mountain; he chose the former and crashed. It was a brave attempt. The port undercarriage was seen to fold up and the port wing trailed. He climbed out of the crashed plane and waved at the SAAF pilots. The landing gear was repaired locally and a borrowed propeller parachuted in. The Italian Pilot, Tenente Furio Lauri, who was decorated for this mission, managed a safe return. Lauri claimed he had shot down a number of SAAF planes whilst serving on the other side earlier in the war in North Africa. His SOE handling however credited the above 11 Squadron SAAF mission to the USAAF! This was Mission 52 of the day and lasted from 1245 to 1425 hours. The Kittyhawks were relieved by 4 Spitfires of 185 RAF Squadron who carried out an armed reconnaissance of the area.
Mission 53 of 12 March 1945 was aimed at motor transport in the town of Pievepelago at map reference L300188 and 8 SAAF Wing tasked 11 SAAF Squadron under the leadership of Major Laubscher to carry out the mission. 4 Kittybombers MkIVs dropped 6x500lb bombs from 3,000ft at 0845 hours. 2 bombs fell on the corner of a building on the east side of the quadrangle, 3 fell inside the quadrangle, 1 was 150yards outside the target area, still hitting a building. One aircraft strafed in the dive. No motor transports were seen in the yards or on the roads.
Mission 64 of 12 March 1945 saw Major Laubscher and 3 Kittyhawks from 11 SAAF Squadron rendezvous a B-25 over the dropping area at 1505 and escort it back without incident. Total mission lasted from 1440 to 1605.
On 21 March 1945 11 SAAF Sqn was tasked with escorting 6 C47s as Mission 56 of the day. (The diary later describes them as bombers – not sure if the C-47 crews would have been impressed!) Major Laubscher and the 4 11 SAAF Squadron Kittyhawks arrived at the rendezvous point early to find that the C-47s/bombers had set course without waiting for the fighters. The Kittyhawks only caught up with them south east of Castelnuovo. Supplies were dropped between 1140 and 1205. The duration of the mission was from 1110 until 1240. Captains Glover, Dove, Muller, Sinclair and van Reenen as well as Lt Cohen and Lt Harly had all started playing an increasing role in leading 11 SAAF Squadron on Missions taking the load off Major Laubscher’s shoulders.
On 28 March 1945 Major Laubscher led 4 11Sqaudron Kittyhawk MKIVs on an escort mission, 11 Squadrons’ 297th mission of the Italian Campaign. 4 C-47s successfully dropped their supplies at map reference P9050. No flak was encountered. After an hour and 50 minutes the fighters were back on the ground at 1150.
Major Laubscher led 11 Squadron SAAF again on the 30 March 1945 on Mission 54 of the day on an attack on Fuel Depot situated at map reference P309090. The 8 Kittybombers took off at 0925 loaded with 17x500lb bombs. The Kittybombers released their load from 3,000ft at 0950 hours after dropping down from 10,000ft. 9 bombs fell within the target area, 3 were very near misses on a house in the western edge of the target area, and 5 bombs were wide of the target area. 1 Aircraft strafed in the dive using 300 .50 rounds. A heavy barrage of 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft fire was encountered from the target area. Moderately accurate anti-aircraft fire was experienced from 4 guns in a radius of 50 yards from map reference P769032.
Mission 60 of 31 March required an attack on the Valezzo Oilfield in Area C. 11 Squadron Diary[i] is more specific stating the target was in fact a power house in area “C”. The attack was tasked to 8 Kittybombers of 11 SAAF Squadron. Major Laubscher led the mission. At 1020 the 11 Kittybombers took off from Pontedera Landing Ground and released 19x500lb bombs from 2,000ft. Unfortunately no direct hits were claimed. In fact all bombs fell within 50 yard radius of the target but no damage was observed! 2 Aircraft strafed in the dive and 8 strafing runs were made scoring strikes. Moderate ground fire was experienced from target area and moderate light fire from east of the target area. The rest of the mission the Kittybombers strafed motor transport, destroying two, and damaging an armoured car which was forced into a ditch at map reference P871798. Strikes were also scored on 2 railway trucks and 4 motor transports at map reference K880030. In all the strafing activities 4,000 .50 rounds were used. The mission lasted from 1025 until 1220 and was 11 Squadron’s 305th.
On 1 April 1945 8 Kittybombers of 11 SAAF Squadron took off from Pontedera landing ground at 1605 to attack a Methane Gas Station at L068848 on the outskirts of Parma. Major Laubscher led the bombers from the south-east to north-west as they dropped 15x500lb at 1635 from 7.000 down to 1,500ft. There was one suspected direct hit on the compressor building, 2 bombs crated the road alongside the milling station, with remainder of the bombs being near misses with no damage being claimed. 1 strafing run was made in the dive and 24 strafing runs were made after the bombing scoring strikes leaving the maintenance building smoldering. 4610 .50 rounds being used. The operation lasted from 1605 until 1750.
It seems that Methane Gas Stations were to be targeted during this period. Once again Major Laubscher led 8 Kittybombers of 11 Squadron SAAF on 2 April 1945 against the target at map reference P973903, taking off from Pontedera at 0915. 16x500lb bombs were released from 1,500ft at 0955 after dropping down from 9,000ft. A number of near misses damaged the building. 3 aircraft strafed during the dive, whilst 12 strafing runs scored hits on the building but with no apparent damage. The formation then went on to strafe a horse drawn vehicle at P7967 and but made no claims. 3250 .50 rounds were used. They landed at 1055. It was 8 SAAF Wing’s Mission 61 of the day and 11 Squadron’s 311th Mission of the Italian Campaign.
On 4 April 1945 8 Kittybombers under the leadership of 11 Squadron SAAF OC Major Laubscher were tasked as 8 Wing SAAF Mission 51 of the day to attack troop concentrations at Prigmano map reference L363438. The Kittybombers took off from Pontedera Landing Ground at 0840. They split into 2 sections of 4 aircraft each north and south of the target. At 0910 they released 15x500lb at 1,000ft after dropping down from 10,000ft. They bombed from the north-east to the south-west and from the north to the east. The northern section had a direct hit on a house demolishing it. The other 9 bombs fell short or wide of the target area. 1 aircraft strafed during the dive. They then made 16 strafing runs but did not report any observations. The southern 4 aircraft’s were more accurate with 4 of their 5 bombs reported as near misses. No troops or motor vehicles were seen. 2800 .50 rounds were used.
At 1345 6 April 1945 8 Wing SAAF’s Mission 63 and 11 Squadron SAAF’s 330th mission commenced with an attack led by Major Laubscher by 8 Kittybombers of 11 Squadron SAAF on Occupied Buildings at P885031. Major Laubscher led Black flight and Lt Cohen led Red Section. 13x500lb bombs were released from 2,000ft after a dive down from 9,000ft. Their accuracy was much improved from the April 4. 11 bombs fell in the target area, of which 6 were direct hits on buildings and a further 3 possible direct hits on buildings. 1 bomb in fact fell in the quadrangle. There was dust and smoke to 1,500ft. The two bombs that were wide cut a railway track.[i] The buildings were also attacked by 4 Spitbombers of 3 Squadron under Captain Southey. Of their 4 bombs only 1 was a direct hit. No strafing was carried out.
8 Wing’s SAAF Diary has their Mission 66 of 6 April 1945 led by Lt Dove whilst 11 Squadron SAAF Diary lists it as Mission 332 with Major Laubscher leading the 4 Kittybombers in a “Rover Joe” (Cabrank) attack on gun positions at P901017. The 4 aircraft bombed from East to west down from 10,000 to 2,500ft dropping 11x500lb bombs. 5 bombs fell in target area and the rest fell wide. 5 strafing runs were made on the target area using 1365 .50 rounds. An empty gun pit was observed in the center of the target area. Rover Joe said: “Magnificent effort.” The pilots thought this judgment quite unsound! 1 aircraft was holed although no anti-aircraft fire was observed. Both sources record the mission lasting from 1705 until 1810.
On 7 April 1945 11 Squadron SAAF was required to provide 4 Kittybombers for Cabrank duty at 0710. The Kitty bombers were under the command of the Squadron OC Major Laubscher. Rover Joe gave the Kittybombers instructions to destroy 4 gun pits at map reference P910003. 7x500lb bombs were dropped from 2,000ft at 0755 with two aircraft attacking a possible gun pit in a small field next to a road. Two bombs undershot by 15 yards and 1 overshot by the same distance. The other two aircraft attacked another possible gun pit. 1 bomb overshot the gun pit by 30 yards whist the other bomb hit a house 30 yards from the gun pit damaging it. Three aircraft strafed in the dive and 4 strafing runs were made, but no results were observed.
There is some confusion as to the date of the next big attack led by Major Laubscher. Martin and Orpen in their iconic Eagles Victorious record the attack on 9 April 1945 when 8 SAAF Wing sent 39 aircraft against enemy positions across the Senio at Lugo and that 11 Kittybombers of 11 Squadron SAAF were led by Maj Laubscher who opened that attack with several hits in the target area, before Maj CA Golding’s Spitbombers of 3 Squadron SAAF and those of 87 and 185 squadrons RAF followed. The area was left below clouds of smoke and dust.
The 8 SAAF War Diary reports that the Wing was tasked to provide 40 aircraft to attack the Headquarters of 1 Para Corps at Map reference M136463 on 10 April 1945. Mission 51 for 10 April 1945 in fact states that only 39 aircraft did in fact attack the Headquarters. Now let us look at Major Laubscher’s part in the action. He had 11 Kittybombers under his command divided into 3 sections: Major Laubscher was Red Flight, Captain Muller was Blue Flight and Captain van Reenen was Black Flight. They released 20x500lb bombs from 2,000ft at 0930 hours down from 10,000ft. Eight of the aircraft concentrated on buildings on either side of the road. 1 bomb fell in the target area, 3 overshot hitting a building north of the target damaging it, 5 undershot, and 6 bombs no result observed due to the dust. The remaining aircraft attacked a small building to the north of the above target. They scored 2 direct hits of the building with the remaining 3 bombs undershooting. 2 aircraft strafed in the dive and the aircraft experienced inaccurate light anti-aircraft fire. Major Golding did lead the last attack at 0950 with 12 Spitbombers from 3 SAAF Squadron.
So where did the confusion come in? Whilst the facts all reflect the incident of 10 April, 8 Wing also attacked the Headquarters of 26 Panzer Division on 9 April 1945. 11 Squadron SAAF provided 4 Kittybombers under the leadership of Captain van Reenen with subsequent attacks by 3 Squadron SAAF and 87 Squadron RAF. Could this attack on a similar target possibly have led to Martin and Orpen’s date confusion?
11 April 1945 the OC of 11 Squadron SAAF was tasked with leading an armed reconnaissance taking off from Pontedera Landing Ground at 1155 the 3 Kittybombers observed no movements so they attacked a bridge across a railway line at L897925. 4x500lb bombs were released from 2,000ft at 1300 after a dive from the north-east to the south-west. No claims were made from the bombing. They then strafed and destroyed a HDV (Horse drawn vehicle) moving east at L010778 before landing at 1400. 100 .50 rounds were used. 1 bomb was retained on the aircraft. Mission 61 on 12 April 1945 target a Synthetic Fuel Plant at Map Reference O949561. The attacking force consisted of 4 11 Squadron SAAF Kittybombers led by Major Laubscher taking off at 1000. At 1050 the aircraft dropped down from 10,000 to 3,000ft where they released 5x500lb bombs. 2 direct hits were scored on the eastern edge of the target area causing an explosion and a fire emitting black smoke, 1 overshot falling amongst buildings north of the target, 1 was on northeast corner of the target, and one cratered a railway line to the south of the target. 2 aircraft strafed in the dive and 4 strafing runs were made scoring strikes. 550 .50 rounds were used. 2 merchant ships with single funnels were observed in the western harbour apparently undamaged at map reference O940475. There was moderate inaccurate 20mm, 40mm and 88mm anti-aircraft fire from south of the target area. The aircraft landed at 1150.
On 14 April 1945 four Kittybombers of 11 Squadron SAAF under the command of Major Laubscher were assigned Cabrank duties, 8 Wing’s Mission 116 of the day. The aircraft took off from Pontedera Landing Ground at 1310 hours. The first target they were assigned by Rover Pete (RP) was obscured by clouds. They were then tasked to attack the village of Tole at map reference L660306. 3 of the Kittybombers attacked this target at 1415 releasing all their bombs from 1,500ft. All the bombs fell in the south western half of the town damaging buildings and causing a small fire with white smoke. 2 of the aircraft strafed in the dive and a further 4 strafing runs were made scoring many strikes. Horsefly congratulated the formation on its bombing run. Major Laubscher bombed the village of Cereglio at L655285, where RP had reported the presence of Germans, unfortunately the 3 bombs undershot. The aircraft landed at 1450.
At 0845 4 Kittybombers of 11 Squadron SAAF took off from Pontedera to attack a Food and Ammo Depot at map reference L603315 on 15 April 1945. Once again the target was obscured by cloud but the 4 aircraft managed to attack through a break in the cloud at 0930 when 8x500lb bombs were dropped from 2,000ft on a bomb run south-west to north-east down from 9,000ft. 3 very near misses damaged the corner of a building on the western edge of the target area, 3 bombs undershot cratering the road and final 2 undershot doing no damage to the target area. 1 Aircraft strafed in the dive and 5 strafing runs were made but no results were observed even though 550 .50 rounds were used. All aircraft landed safely at 1000.
On the afternoon of 16 April 1945 at 1430 Major Laubscher led his usual formation of 4 Kittybombers to attack a Bivouac and “Xcommand” Post at map reference L883346. (11 Squadron SAAF War Diary has the map reference as 885346 – typo on copying?) At 1500 the Kittybombers released 10x500lb bombs from 2,000ft west to east with all the bombs falling in the target area starting a small fire. Unfortunately due to the dust an accurate damage assessment could not be reported. 3 aircraft strafed in the dive and a further 4 runs were made using 1150 .50 rounds.. No results were observed. They did however observe P-47s dropping FTI bombs on a hill south west of their target before and after their bombing run.
17 April 1945 started early for Major Laubscher as he lead his flight of 4 Kittybombers off Pontedera Landing Ground at 0745 heading to map reference L861349, a target described as “occupied Area”. 10x500lb bombs were dropped from 2,000ft at 0820 from north-east to south-west with 6 falling in the center of the target area, 1 on the eastern edge and 3 overshot the target area by 30 yards. 4 Aircraft strafed in the dive by no results were observed using 750 .50 rounds. The mission was delayed by 10 minutes as P-47s were operating in the area. The 11 Squadron SAAF pilots did observe many small fires in the area.
Having started early on 17 April 1945 allowed 11 Squadron SAAF Major Laubscher and his flight of 4 Kittybombers to fly a Cabrank mission taking off at 1600hours. Once in position at 1630, Major Laubscher contacted Rover Joe and was given occupied houses and a self-propelled gun at map reference L869348 as their target. 8X500lbs were released from 1,500ft at 1640 in a bomb run from east to west. There were 6 direct hits on the north house which was left burning and 2 were very near misses on the southern buildings. 3 aircraft strafed in the dive and 7 strafing runs were made scoring strikes with 920 .50 rounds being used. The road just north of the target was also strafed where movement was observed by Rover and the formation leader but no results were observed. Rover Joe reported that the self-propelled gun had ceased firing and complemented the formation on an “excellent show”.
11 Squadron SAAF’s 382nd mission of the Italian campaign was a “Cabrank” mission. The two War Diaries differ on whether Rover Pete assigned the mission to Major Laubscher and his 4 Kittybombers. 11 Squadron state that when they were on station at 1530 Rover assigned them the target, whilst the 8 Wing Diary states that Rover had no targets for them so they attacked a fort at L655611. They bombed east to west from 10,000 down to a release height of 2,000ft when they let their 10x500lb bombs go. They scored 3 direct hits on the north outer perimeter building, 1 very near miss and 3 direct hits on the east outer perimeter building, adding to the already extensive damage, 3 undershot on the east side of the target falling near a small building. 2 aircraft strafed in the dive followed by 4 strafing runs all on the target area. 1 sidecar and motor cycle was seen moving south 5 miles north of San Giovanni, it was attacked. The driver took cover in a field. Some cyclists were also strafed but with no results observed. In total 2200 .50 rounds were used. The mission lasted from 1510 until 1655.
Mission 109 of 22 April 1945 called for an Armed Reconnaissance Patrol to take off from Pontedera at 1245hours. Major Laubscher and his formation of 4 Kittybombers from 11 Squadron SAAF were tasked with the mission. At 1350 two tanks were attacked at F618260 when the Kittybombers dropped 6x500lbs from 2,000ft after diving down
from 7,000ft. 1 bomb fell between the tanks in the middle of the road, 1 was 25 yards east of the tank, and 4 were unobserved. At F150112 the formation strafed a mule transport along a road which dispersed. 450 .50 rounds were used. They observed motor transport on the north bank of the Po River and north of Reggio and an ambulance at F430105 towing a gun! There was light anti-aircraft fire from L480970 and slight light accurate anti-aircraft fire from F150112. 1 aircraft was holed by flak and was category 1 damaged. Interestingly 11 Squadron War Diary does not mention the damage to the aircraft. The aircraft returned to base at 1445.
Mission 124 of 22 April 1945 was another Armed Reconnaissance Patrol assigned to Major Laubscher and his flight of four 11 Squadron SAAF Kittybombers who took off from Pontedera at 1720. It was Mission 398 of 11 Squadron SAAf’s Italian Campaign. The first target that the formation attacked was 3 groups of motor transport at L8998 on the road. 6x500lb bombs were dropped at 1755 from 1,500ft. 1 bomb fell between 3 motor transports knocking 1 into the ditch, 1 was a very near miss on a motor transport, and for 4 no damage was claimed. 4 strafing runs were made scoring hits but claims were made. Rhubarb instructed the leader to area 8 miles North West of Bondeno. 15+ cyclists and more than 4 horse drawn vehicles were seen going north down a secondary road at L8993. These were strafed and damaged was done. 1 motor transport was strafed at L8795 leaving it a smoker. One motor transport was left in flames after being strafed at L9293. Strafed 8+ motor transports and Horse drawn vehicles at L9095 leaving 1 a smoker. 1 aircraft was holed by flak although none was observed. In all strafing operations 2200 .50 rounds were used. Once again no mention of aircraft damaged in 11 Squadron Diary. It was category 1 damaged.
On 23 April 1945 Major Laubscher and his 11 Squadron SAAF formation of 4 Kittybombers flew the first mission of the day, Mission 101, taking off at 0615 from Pontedera Landing Ground on an Armed Reconnaissance. The formation attacked 30-40 motor transports between Parma and Spezia, map references P7825 and P7830 releasing 4x500lb bombs from 2,000ft at 0650. 1 bomb scored a direct hit on a motor transport destroying it, was a very near miss on 2 motor transports causing probable damage, 1 was a near miss on a motor transport but no claim of damage was made and the fourth cratered the road. Many strafing runs were made, 3 motor transports close together disintegrated and 7 were damaged. 3 light anti-aircraft positions, 1x40mm and 2x20mm, at P7825 were strafed with the individual pits being targeted. All 3 guns ceased firing. 2650 .50 rounds were used during the strafing runs. The formation reported moderate inaccurate anti-aircraft firing from the target area during the mission.
At 0940 on 23 April 1945 Major Laubscher and his formation were on their next armed reconnaissance of the day as far as Aulla, Mission 115. The first target was 8 stationary motor transports on the road between Aulla and Aivizzano at map reference P850201. 6x500lb bombs were released from 1,500ft at1000 hours. 2 bombs were near misses about 15 yards off, 3 fell amongst the motor transports but no damage was claimed. 1 was a probable direct hit on a motor transport destroying it and damaging 2 others. 1 aircraft strafed in the dive and 5 strafing runs were made but to results were observed. Next two heavy tanks at map reference P830201 were strafed scoring strikes, but the tanks showed no ill-effects. 1300 .50 rounds were used. 1 aircraft was holed, possibly by machine gun fire from one of the tanks. Once again there is no mention in 11 Squadron War Diary.
At 1350 on 23 April 1945 Major Laubscher and his flight took off on their third armed reconnaissance of the day, Mission 130. At map reference P800328 they attacked 3 Motor transports in a small village dropping 8x500lb bombs from 2,000ft at 1350. 4 bombs overshot slightly, 2 were direct hits on the motor transports, and another caused a larger explosion with blackish smoke. 16 strafing runs were made on the area. Another explosion was seen, followed by a smaller one probably caused by another truck. The formation claimed 2 motor transports destroyed. Two motor transports were bombed next to a landslide at P601235 but no claims were made. Strafing runs were made scoring strikes. The formation observed a large explosion at 1350 from Aulla with brown smoke to 3-4,000ft, No movement was seen on the secondary roads north of Spezia. There was inaccurate heavy and light anti-aircraft fire from P800328.
On 24 April 1945 Major Laubscher and his 11 Squadron SAAF formation of 4 Kittybombers continued with armed reconnaissance missions, theirs being Mission 105 of the day and Mission 413 of 11 Squadron’s Italian Campaign. At 0805 the Kittybombers swept down from 6,000ft to release 6x500lb bombs from 1,000ft on a bridge at map reference K640061. 3 were near misses to the western side, 2 were 15 yards off and 1 was unobserved. They then strafed a horse drawn vehicle with no observed result at K6602. They did not report using any .50 ammunition! They also observed a large explosion 1 mile south of Piacenza.
Mission 116 of 25 April 1945 saw Major Laubscher and his flight of 4 Kittybombers once again tasked with an armed reconnaissance taking off from Pontedera Landing Ground at 1050. Two aircraft attacked 2 motor transports at F165043, 3 bombs under shot cutting the road and 3 overshot also cutting the road. After the bombing run they strafed 15+ enemy cyclists and a motor cyclist heading south. 4 cyclists and 1 motor cyclist were killed. The remaining 2 aircraft attacked possible stores buildings at F0019. There were 3 direct hits on buildings and 3 bombs overshot. 4 strafing runs were made. 1 motor transport was strafed and damaged at F300175 moving west. Between F000090 and F025000 a large formation of infantry, about 1,000, with horse drawn vehicles, odd motor transports and cyclists were seen moving North West. Kodak Red told the aircraft to attack. Many were killed. The 4 aircraft used 2300 .50 rounds. The Kittybombers landed at 1300. It was 11 Squadron SAAF 425th Mission of the Italian Campaign. 20 minutes later the 4 Kittybombers took off again on Mission 126, 11 Squadron SAAF’s Mission 426th, another armed reconnaissance. 3 of the 4 aircraft attacked 25+ horse drawn vehicles (HDVs) at F0408. The bombing run was east to west, from 7,000 down to 1,500ft. 3 bombs overshot cutting the road, one was a direct hit on the building next to the horse drawn vehicles and the final bomb fell amongst the HDVs. 3 aircraft strafed in the dive and 19 strafing runs were made. Many of the horses were killed. The other aircraft attacked 6 HDVs on road between F0507-F0408. The bomb overshot 20 yards. Two motor cycles were strafed and strikes scored. The aircraft landed at 1450.
The 8 Wing War Diary has no more entries for April 1945.
On 28 May 1945 the Desert Air Force held a fly past over Campoformido. It was a roll call of honour as the great fighter wings roared overhead. Apart from the SAAF formations there were many seconded SAAF pilots in the RAF formations, some as Squadron and Flight Commanders. 239 Wing which was in the lead, included 5 Squadron SAAF (Major Odendaal), 250 Squadron RAF (Major Weingartz), 285 TacR Wing, followed by 40 Squadron SAAF (Lieutenant Colonel Rodgers). This was followed by 244 Wing with 92 Squadron (Major Gasson). The SAAF’s 7 Wing formation came next led by Colonel Moodie, with 1 Squadron SAAF (Major Lipawky), 2 Squadron SAAF (Major Finney), 4 Squadron SAAF (Major Brunton), and 7 Squadron SAAF (Major Brebner). Next was 324 Wing including 92 Squadron RAF (Major Taylor), next came the American FG79 with their P-47s forming a giant 79 formation. Colonel du Toit followed with 8 Wing SAAF, comprising 3 Squadron SAAF (Major Golding), 11 Squadron SAAF (Major Laubscher), and the wings two RAF Squadrons 87 (S/L McKay) and 185 (S/L Christopherson). The bombers of 3 SAAF Bomber Wing brought up the rear.
June 1945 found 11 Squadron SAAF at Campoformido and each pilot was required to complete 15 hours of training which included Fighter Interception exercises with Baltimores from 15 and 500 Squadrons, dummy dive bombing attacks, close and battle formation flying, and during the last week of the month a number of close support exercises under the control of Rover David situated 15 miles from the aerodrome. 11 Squadron SAAF flew 154 sorties totaling 168.45 hours.
11 Squadron received MKIX Spitfires in August 1945 maintaining the code ND.
Laubscher was finally awarded his DFC in September 1945, the citation crediting him with five and one shared victories. The Supplement to the London Gazette of 21 August, 1945 lists the award of the DFC to Major Charles James Laubscher (203576V) of 11(SAAF) Sqn.
LIFE AFTER RAF AND SAAF Laubscher was released from service in Johannesburg in October 1945. He rejoined the local Bar. Laubscher then left the legal profession to join the Jockey Club of South Africa in July 1946, becoming Secretary in 1948. In 1953 he moved to the Rand Show becoming General Manager in 1955. After resigning in 1960 he joined a small political party that folded in less than a year due to a lack of funds. After several years as a salesman, he joined the Personnel Department of South African Breweries Limited, subsequently forming a private company to operate the Peromnes System of Salary Surveys, which he had invented.
Shores and Williams credit Laubscher with 4 and 2 shared destroyed, 2 probable and 3 damaged. Schoeman credits Laubscher with 4½ destroyed ½ shared destroyed 2 probable and 3 damaged.
|2 CR42s||Hurricane II||Rabat||261 Sqn RAF|
|9 May||½ Ju87||Hurricane II||Malta||261 Sqn RAF|
6 Apr 6 Apr
|Tomahawk IIb “H” Tomahawk IIb “H”||Derna |
|2 SAAF 2 SAAF|
|24 Apr||Bf109F probable||Tomahawk IIb||Bir Hacheim||2 SAAF|
|25 Apr||Bf109F probable||Kittyhawk I ex RAF 94 Sqn||Tobruk||2 SAAF|
|25 Apr||Bf109F damaged||Kittyhawk I ex RAF 94 Sqn||Tobruk||2 SAAF|
|8 Jun||Bf109F damaged||Kittyhawk AL134 DB-H||2 SAAF|
|10 Nov||Bf109F||Kittyhawk ET977 DB-Z||Tobruk||2 SAAF|
|1 Dec||½ MC200||Kittyhawk ET822 DB-R||Agedabia-Marsa Brega||2 SAAF|
Spitfires coded LE-? with 242 Squadron Royal Air Force Hurricane Mk II with 274 Squadron RAF V7213
Hurricane Mk II with 261 Squadron Royal Air Force who coded their aircraft with a single letter.
Tomahawk IIb coded TA-H with 2 Squadron SAAF
Coded TA-L see page 7 of this article.
Kittyhawk AL134 coded BD-H with 2Squadron SAAF
ET977 coded DB-Z
ET822 coded DB-R
Kittyhawk Mk III coded ND-various with 11 Squadron SAAF see pages 24, 30 and 32 of this article.
- Brown, James Ambrose 1974. Eagles Strike – The Campaigns of the South African Air Force in Egypt, Cyrenaica, Libya, Tunisia, Tripolitania and Madagascar 1941-1943. Purnell Cape Town.
- Caruana, Robert 2008. Hawker Hurricane. Periscopio Publications, Greece.
- Cull, Brain with Minterne, Don, 1999, Hurricanes over Tobruk – The Pivotal Role of the Hurricane in the Defence of Tobruk, January – June 1941, Grub Street Books, London.
- Cull, Brian and Galea, Frederick 2001. Hurricanes over Malta: June 1940 – April 1942, Grub Street Books, London.
- Cull, Brian with Malizia, Nicola and Galea, Frederick, Galea 2000. Spitfires over Sicily, The Crucial Role of the Malta Spitfires in the Battle of Sicily, January – August 1943, Grub Street Books, London.
- Dundas, Hugh 1990. Flying Start, Penguin Books, London.
- Holland, James 2008. Italy’s Sorrow. Harper Press, Bury St Edmunds.
- Martin, HL and Orpen, Neil 1977. Eagles Victorious – The Operations of the South African Air Forces over the Mediterranean and Europe, in Italy, the Balkans and the Aegean, and from Gibraltar and West Africa. Purnell, Cape Town.
- Mclean, Steven 2005. Squadrons of the South African Air Force and their aircraft 1920 – 2005. Self-Published, Cape Town.
- Schoeman, Michael, 2002. Springbok Fighter Victory, SAAF Fighter Operations 1939 – 1945. Volume 1 – East Africa – 1940 -1941, Freeworld Publications CC, Nelspruit.
- Schoeman, Michael, 2009. Springbok Fighter Victory SAAF Fighter Operations 1939-1945 – Volume 2 – Crisis above the Desert 1940-1942, Freeworld Publications CC, Nelspruit.
- Schoeman, Michael, 2011. Springbok Fighter Victory SAAF Fighter Operations 1939-1945 – Volume 3 – Victory over North Africa – 1943-1944, Freeworld Publications CC, Nelspruit.
- Schoeman, Michael, 2011. Springbok Fighter Victory SAAF Fighter Operations 1939-1945 – Volume 4 – Fighters over Sicily, Italy and the Med – 1943-1944, Freeworld Publications CC, Nelspruit.
- Schoeman, Michael, 2011. Springbok Fighter Victory SAAF Fighter Operations 1939-1945 – Volume 5 –Victory On All Fronts – 1942-1945, Freeworld Publications CC, Nelspruit.
- Schoeman, Michael, 2011. Springbok Fighter Victory SAAF Fighter Operations 1939-1945 – Volume 6 –Index, Statistics, Aircraft and Unit Histories – 1939-1945, Freeworld Publications CC, Nelspruit.
- Shores, Christopher and Cull, Brian with Malizia, Nicola, 1987. Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-1941. Grub Street, London
- Shores, C & Williams, C 1994. Aces High, Grub Street, London.
- Shores, Christopher 1999. Aces High Volume 2, Grub Street London
- Shores, Christopher, Massimello, Gionanni with Guest, Russell, 2012. A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945 – Volume One: North Africa June 1940 – January 1942, Grub Street, London.
- Shores, Christopher, Massimello, Gionanni with Guest, Russell, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2012. A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945 – Volume Two: North African Desert February 1942 – March 1943, Grub Street, London. (Copyright 2012 but released July 2014)
- Thomas, Andrew 2002. Tomahawk and Kittyhawk Aces of the RAF and Commonwealth, Osprey Aircraft of the Aces38, Osprey Publishing, Oxford.
- Thomas. Andrew 2003. Hurricane Aces 1941-1945, Osprey Aircraft of the Aces57, Osprey Publishing, Oxford.
- Van Schalkwyk, Piet and Marshall William 2000. South African Colours and Markings Volume 1 Number 2, Colours and Markings Publications, Pretoria.
- AIR 54/202 – 8 SAAF Wing January to June 1945. The National Archives, United Kingdom. Retrieved 18 March 2014 http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/browse/C2109
- AIR 54/109 – 8 SAAF Wing June – December 1944. The National Archives, United Kingdom. Retrieved 18 March 2014 http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/browse/C2109
- AIR 54/33 – 2 Squadron SAAF August 1941 – October 1942. The National Archives, United Kingdom. Retrieved 18 March 2014 http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/browse/C2109
- .AIR 54/34 – 2 Squadron SAAF October 1942 – October 1943. The National Archives, United Kingdom. Retrieved 18 March 2014 http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/browse/C2109
- 11 Squadron SAAF July 1944 – May 1945. Copy kindly made available to the author by Col Graham CL Du Toit.
Newspapers and Gazettes
- Supplement to the London Gazette, 19 December 1942. Retrieved 10 March http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/search
- Supplement to the London Gazette, 10 November 1942. Retrieved 10 March 2014 http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/search
- Supplement to the London Gazette, 21 August 1945. Retrieved 10 March 2014 http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/search