Durban municipal aerodrome was
built on part of the flat land between the North Beach and
the rising ground of the residential area of Stamford Hill.
It was officially opened on December 5th 1936 with an air
pageant attended by 30,000 people. The grass field had a
maximum landing run of 1,300 yards. The terminal building
has the form of swept back aeroplane wings, with a central
two-storey control tower, designed in International Style
with Art Deco references.
The aerodrome was requisitioned
by the Department of Defence on September 1st 1940 for the
South African Air Force (SAAF). The Natal Military Command
headquarters and barracks were established adjacent, south,
and station personnel were accommodated there. SAAF units
known to have been operational from the field include No.s 6
and 10 squadrons which arrived during April 1942 for local
defence duties, equipped with Curtiss Mohawk, later Curtiss
Kittyhawk and North American Texan.
RN use of the airfield
The Admiralty had negotiated
lodger rights for one disembarked squadron when needed, soon
after the airfield came under military control; the first
recorded use of the lodger rights was on January 20th 1941
when a detachment of 3 Swordfish of 814 squadron flew ashore
from H.M.S. HERMES; they re-embarked on the 29th.
It was not until April 1942
that a permanent RN presence was established on the station,
Sub-Lit. (A) (P) G. C. H. Morgan RNVR, is recorded in
the Navy List as being the only Air Branch officer on the
books of H.M.S. AFRIKANDER IV, the fledgling RN Base at
Durban. At this time it is assumed that the lodger facility
was upgraded to accommodate an RN Air Section to provide an
aircraft storage element as well as supporting disembarked
The storage section received its first aircraft in April,
Walrus W2756 and Swordfish V4696 arrived from
RNAS Wingfield, along with 3 replacement Swordfish for issue to
810 squadron. No. 810 Squadron disembarked from the newly
arrived H.M.S. ILLUSTRIOUS on April 22nd,; she had arrived
in Durban from Freetown to take part in the upcoming
landings at Diego Suarez, Madagascar – operation IRONCLAD.
The squadron had 5 serviceable Swordfish and with the three
new airframes already waiting for them they had increased
their strength to 8 before they re-embarked on the 28th.
Another aircraft from ILLUSTRIOUS
was to be the first naval casualty at Stamford Hill when, on
April 25th a visiting Martlet fighter of 882 squadron, flown
by Sub-Lt D. G. Dick, failed to brake sufficiently while landing.
broke through the southern boundary fence and ran into an army
mess where it caught fire; the pilot was slightly injured
but the aircraft was burnt out. The next visitors did not
arrive until July 13th when a detachment of 4 Albacores from
827 squadron disembarked from H.M.S. INDOMITABLE,
re-embarking on the 18th.
In late September 1942 H.M.S.
ILLUSTRIOUS returned to Durban after being released from the
final allied operations to capture Madagascar - Operation
STREAM; on the 21st her two small fighter squadrons, the 6
Fulmars of 806 squadron, and 9 Martlets of 881 squadron were
disembarked. Three days later a hangar fire broke out which
destroyed 3 Swordfish and 2 Walrus, while damaging a fourth
Swordfish and a Martlet, AJ112 ('B') of 881 Squadron; a
small amount of hangar equipment was destroyed and
considerable damage done to the hangar itself. Sabotage was
ruled out. 829 squadron flew ashore from ILLUSTRIOUS on
September 29th witrh their remaining 7 Swordfish to operate
from the station; they were joined by 810 squadron on the
31st when ILLUSTRIOUS entered Durban dockyard for a short
Accommodating the ILLUSTRIOUS
air group meant Stamford Hill was quite crowded, the four
naval squadrons on site total around 30 aircraft in addition
to those held by the storage section. However the situation
was short lived, 829 was disbanded on October 7th their
crews and aircraft being absorbed by 810 which re-joined
ILLUSTRIOUS on October 13th with 15 aircraft. The following
day 806 and 881 departed to re-join ILLUSTRIOUS.
On November 11th 1942 the local
Naval Base was commissioned as an independent command with
the ship’s name H.M.S. KONGONI, the RN personnel at Stamford
Hill becoming borne on the books of “KONGONI” from that
726 Fleet Requirements Unit
A permanent resident squadron
formed on July 7th 1943 when No. 726 Fleet Requirements Unit
was formed, Lt. Cdr (A) (P) F. G. Hood SANF(V) in
command. he was joined by Sub-Lt. (A) (P) A. W. K. Foxon
RNVR, together they formed the entire squadron aircrew until
a maximum strength of 6 was reached during 1944; initial
equipment was two Vought Kingfisher Is for radar calibration
duties; by the war’s end the squadron strength had included
5 Kingfisher, 4 Defiant, 8 Martinet, , 1 Beaufighter II,
several Fulmars, Swordfish and Walrus aircraft. Squadron
tasking included target towing for air to air and ship to
air firing, radar calibration and communications flights.
The first Kingfisher mishap occurred on September 13th
1943 when Sub-Lt. M.E. Maguire of the Air Section was flying
in FN731, the aircraft tailplane struck a wireless mast near
the airfield but managed to land safely. 726 received 4
Boulton Paul Defiant Target Tugs at the start of 1944; one
of them was lost less than a month later when DR939 ditched
on January 23rd after its engine failed, the pilot, Sub-Lt.
M. E. Maguire RNVR of the Air Section, was rescued safely.
It was February 4th 1944 when
the next visiting squadron arrived; the 7 Swordfish & 6
Seafire aircraft of 834 composite squadron disembarked from
H.M.S. BATTLER for a short 10 day stay, re-joining the ship
on the 13th. Also during February Lieut. (A) (P) D. C.
Langley SANF(V) arrived to assume command of 726
An independent command
The RN Air Section was
commissioned as an independent command as H.M.S. KONGONI II
on March 31st 1944, its accounts were still held by
Tragedy struck 726 squadron on March 20th 1944 when newly
arrived pilot, Sub-Lt. .G. D. Hunter was killed; while
conducting exercises with the Durban Gunnery School his
aircraft, Kingfisher FN719 went into the sea 2 miles to
seaward of the gunnery range of HMS ASSEGAI. The following
day the aircraft of 834 squadron arrived back on the
station, this time for a three month stay while the ship
entered the dockyard for a refit.
Lt. D. C. Langley SANF(V) put a
second of 726 squadron’s Defiants out of action June 13th
when he made a belly landing attempting to land in DR883.
The aircraft of 834 squadron re-embarked on June 24th.
Later in the summer of 1944 726
began to receive its first of eight Martinet Target Tugs,
issued by RNAMY Wingfield. One of these, NR497 flown by
Sub-Lt. H.B. Irvine SANF(V), fell foul of the grass
surface when landing downwind on August 18th, overshot and
hit the boundary fence.
The next unit to arrive brought
a completely new aircraft type to the station, the Fairey
Barracuda, when 12 Barracuda IIs of 817 squadron flew ashore
from the maintenance carrier H.M.S. UNICORN on November 18th
1944. Individual aircraft had already called in at the
airfield earlier in the month; Barracuda P9836 made an
appearance on the 3rd but filed to negotiate the grass
airfield when the pilot, Sub-Lt. S I. Craik landed on the
starboard wheel first witch resulted in the undercarriage
leg collapsing. No. 817 squadron spent Christmas 1944 ashore
at Durban before rejoining UNICORN on New Year’s Day 1945
for passage to India.
In February 1945 another new
aircraft type arrived when the 12 Avenger Torpedo Bombers of
851 were disembarked from the escort carrier H.M.S. SHAH on
the 23rd when the ship entered dry-dock in Durban. The
squadron re-embarked on April 5th when SHAH sailed for
One final squadron was to be received by the RN Air Section
later that month; the 24 Hellcat fighter bombers of 896
squadron arrived on the 22nd. They departed from
RNAS Wingfield calling overnight at SAAF
Port Elizabeth. The airfield at Stamford Hill presented new
challenges for the arriving pilots, firstly they were
arriving after dark at a grass airstrip with a flare path
laid out with goose-neck paraffin flares, and secondly it
was necessary to approach in a right hand circuit - the
opposite of that at Wingfield. Only 18 aircraft arrived on
time. 6 others remained at SAAF Port Elizabeth as their
clocks had been stolen; they were further delayed by bad
weather and arrived several days later. The squadron’s
aircraft were towed through the streets of Durban and
hoisted on board the escort carrier
H.M.S. AMEER from the
quayside on April 24th and 26th.
The Air Section continued
maintaining a storage section, as well as operating the FRU,
until after the war in the Far East had ended; 726 was
disbanded here on November 3rd 1945
The RN presence at Stamford
Hill was finally paid off on January 31st 1946. The airfield
remained under SA military control until August 1946 when it
was returned to civil authorities.
Click here for a list of
Confidential Admiralty Fleet Orders:
12 June 2020