5 December 1940
Three Junkers Ju.86 of No.12 (SAAF) Squadron take off for an armed reconnaissance of the Mega – Moyale sector.
The fort of Mega is bombed, without success, but n°656 is hit on the right engine. It cuts soon after and the aircraft is forced to land in Italian territory. After landing, three crewmembers remain near the wreckage, while three others decide to take a southern route on foot in hopes of joining an advanced patrol of the King’s African Rifles. The other two planes returned to Nanyuki at 15h25 and an intensive search was launched by No.11 and No.12 (SAAF) Squadron.
It was not until 10 December that a plane finally found the wreckage and the three crew members (Flight Sergeant J.W. Armstrong, Arthur R. Ingle and Air Mechanic T.A.C. Cockilin) sheltered under a tree. Food rations are immediately dropped, while elements of the 2nd (South Africa) Infantry Brigade are dispatched from the fort at Marsabit. They returned to Kenya on 13 December with airmen exhausted by eight days of waiting. The pilot, Lieutenant P.H. Vermeulen however is missing with the other two crew members who accompanied him on the march south.
The search continues and tragically evolves when Fairey Battle L5176 (n°918) crashes, killing the entire crew (Lieutenant Murdock MacDonald, Flight Sergeant Paul C. Marais). The body of Lieutenant P.H. Vermeulen will finally be found lifeless a few months later, while the two others are still missing (Warrant Officer Marcus M. Hough and Air Sergeant William Roller).
This tragic event led the SAAF to adopt several resolutions for missions carried out over Italian territory. Now, before each mission, one or more zones, depending on the distance, must be determined, in agreement with the troops on the ground, to allow the forced landing of damaged aircraft in order to facilitate search. At the same time, crew members were instructed to remain in the immediate vicinity of the wreckage except in special situations. The equipment is also reinforced and the crews are now receiving additional maps covering the entire territory, while the supply of a pigeon cage is envisaged in order to allow better communication with the troops on the ground. This practice is not new within the SAAF as the units of the Coastal Air Force in South Africa already use this solution. A first experiment with 200 birds will take place on February 1941.
Two Junkers Ju.86, of No.12 (SAAF) Squadron in Kenya. In the foreground is No.656 (c/n 086/2020, ex ‘ZS-AND’). Collection : SAAF Museum, via Tinus le Roux.
Five Hawker Hurricane of No.3 (SAAF) Squadron are sent to Sudan, under the orders of Major Laurence A. Wilmot, to join No.1 (SAAF) Squadron, which he takes command. As before, they took off at 07:10 with a Junkers Ju.52.
Finally, No. 14 (SAAF) Squadron is declared operational, on this day, on Glenn-Martin. A first mission is carried out when one of the aircraft (Major Charles E. Martin, Lieutenant H.A. Launder and Warrant Officer Farr) takes off at 07:15 from Nakuru for a photographic reconnaissance of Kismaayo. The mission is successful, despite an interception attempt by an Italian fighter.
 No.12 (SAAF) Squadron : War Diary. Kew : TNA, AIR/54/4 ; December – Narrative Northern Operations SAAF. Kew : TNA, AIR/54/9 ; BROWN, James Ambrose. A Gathering of Eagles : The campaigns of the South African Air Force in Italian East Africa (1940 – 1941). Cape Town : Purnell and Sons, 1970. p.97 à 98 ; MCLEAN, Steven. Squadrons of the South African Air Force and their aircraft (1920 – 2005). Cape Town : [s.n.], 2005. p.123 et 131 ; SHORES, Christopher ; RICCI, Corrado. Dust Clouds in the Middle East – The Air War for East Africa, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Madagascar, 1940 – 1942. London : Grub Street, 2010 (Reprinted). p. 81