South Africa relied on the assets of its national airline to carry out its first aerial action of World War Two, explains Andrew Thomas
When war broke out in September 1939 the South African Air Force (SAAF) found itself lacking modern equipment. Its only option was to commandeer 18 Junkers Ju 86Z- 1s being used by South African Airways (SAA).
First it was necessary to convert them for combat, which included adding external bomb racks, greater fuel capacity, dorsal gun positions and a ventral turret.
As the security of the sea-lanes around the Union of South Africa’s coastline was the priority, four squadrons were formed at coastal locations – each equipped with three Ju 86s. Initially they wore their civilian registration with the addition of SAAF roundels, with most of the pilots being ex-SAA crewmen. These sorties also carried a naval officer though there were no navigation aids, life jackets or parachutes.