Snowy Moody Military Career

Written by Michael Schoeman

Colonel Derrick Dunbar “Snowy” MOODIE, DSO, DFC. 1 ½-0-1 ½         P102683V

“Snowy” Moodie’s combat carreer (1941-45) is interesting for he was the fifth ranking in seniority of the SAAF fighter wing leaders, after Colonels Wilmot, Loftus, Human and du Toit. His small score was just “part of the game” of air combat during his many years of engagements with the Luftwaffe. It was certaily not for the want of trying!

He was at the SA Military College on Course 367G in 1937.  He was “up North” in East Africa with the then non-“op” 4 Sqdn by 4.41, as OC B Flt. (This was typical of an unthinking SADF HQ in 1940-42, sending inexperienced PFs to do jobs requiring actual wartime operational insight without previous training.)  At the end of April he tested the first SAAF Mohawk fighter (2501, a presentation a/c, Die Waterberg) at Eastleigh, Nairobi. He then delivered the first Mohawk to 4 Sqdn on 4th May, at Nakuru. The Squadron was using a mixture of Mohawks (which were restricted until engine problems could be sorted out), Audaxes, and Furies to try and work up to operational status. This was, however, never achieved before the end of the East African campaign. On 8th July one of the Hawker Audax biplanes flew into high ground in mist and Moodie with Air Cpl Kohler set off in another Audax (K7549) to search for it. They suffered engine trouble and going down in the mist, crashed under the same circumstances as the other, south of Nyeri. Fortunatley they survived and walked down off the mountain next day. “Snowy” (called that because of his hair colour) was attached 2 Sqdn 10.41 for “ops” experience of the air war in North Africa.

On 24.11.41 while covering a strafing mission by 2 Sqdn he saw two aircraft below. It was a Bf.110 chasing an Allied fighter, which went down in flames. He peeled off onto the ‘110, firing five bursts as they sped low over the Desert, his bullets kicking up dust on either side of it. Engine trouble forced him to give up the chase, but his No.2, Lt RAB Thorpe, closed in firing three long bursts, hitting it with the second one. Just then Thorpe’s engine cut and he force landed in the desert near a crashed Bf.110. He and the 110’s crew were picked up by SA armoured cars. However, there was no way of knowing if this was their victim and so Moodie and Thorpe were credited only with a shared damaged 110. On 13.12.41 Moodie was jumped by four EA but evaded and, having got lost, returned alone. On 16.12.41 he was shot down by a Bf.110 while other Tomahawks were shooting it down. Moodie baled out near Bir Hacheim and returned on 19th. This was a truely rediculous situation and might come under the heading of carelessness and a great last effort on the part of the stout German pilot. On 22.12.41 he led a strafe of  EA on Magrun LG by 2 Sqdn, having to swerve to avoid another Tomahawk. Moodie became acting OC of 4 Sqdn c11/12.41 and again acting OC 27.3-7.3.42. He was made OC from 8.4.42 as Major.

On 11.4.42  ground control was poor and the 7 Tomahawks of the Sqdn found themselves faced with overwhelming odds, running to some 30 fighters and Stukas. His leader section plunged into the Stukas, and he badly damaged a Ju87 of I/StG.3, before a 109 caused him to break off. His own aircraft (DX-I) was damaged in the fuselage.

Leading a section on patrol on 13.4.42, they were engaged by four 109Fs one of which he  damaged  but did not claim.

On 25.4.42 in a big fight near Gazala, Moodie fired four bursts at varoius EA before his controls were shot away by a Macchi 202. Also hit in the engine, he crash landed near Bir Gabeli in Tomahawk AK469: DX-M. On 17.5.42 he escorted a TacR mission, flying an ex-2 Sqdn Tomahawk, TA-W. On 27.5.42 he force landed in KJ-Y during a sweep. (“KJ” were the new code letters allocated to 4 at this time.)

Early on 31.5.42 he scrambled to intercept Stukas in Tomahawk KJ-O, one controller attempted to take over from another resulting in the usual garbled transmissions. Moodie called and asked that the original controller continue to direct and this was, fortunately, done. Spotting the Stukas going in the opposite direction (he would have preferred to attack head-on) he led a quarter-frontal attack. He fired a long burst at a Ju.87 only to be blinded by cordite smoke from his 50-calibre guns (the breeches where in the cockpit – a bad batch of “ammo”?) and went into a spin. On recovering he saw that the Stukas had jettisoned their bombs and were fleeing west. Over Segnali he got a hot reception from Axis AA fire covering the Stukas. Diving again, he picked on one Ju.87 but he was blinded by cordite smoke once more when he fired, and turned for home. He saw the pilot (2/Lt NW Hancock qv) of a burning Tomahawk, KJ-T, on the ground waving him on as British troops were approaching.

He was now rested and returned to the Union. The award of the DFC was gazetted on 28.7.42. He was made 7 Wing Ops Officer by 10.42 under Loftus. He was posted to 1 Sqdn on 7.1.43 with no previous Spitfire experience and having last seen combat in May, on Tomahawks. Obviously, SADF HQ were always expecting miracles. “Snowy” began “ops” on 12.1.43, leading 1 Sqdn for the first time. They ran into 109s and a hectic 15 minute engagement took place, during which his No.2 (Rogan) lost him. When he fired head-on at a 109, his cannon jammed. He led a scramble on 14th during which he attacked 109s but his cannon jammed again. He fired with his four MGs but missed. He and S/L P Olver RAF, the temporary OC, had been alternating as formation leaders and on 26.1.43 he formally took over command.

Covering Kittyhawks on 5th March, he fired at 109s at 600m above him without result. Next day Moodie had a skirmish with four 109s. On a later mission he engaged 109s again, diving after two and firing. Ju.87s and more 109s then appeared and Moodie fired a short burst into the belly of a Stuka. But Moodie’s cannons had jammed yet again. He then saw his No.2, the totally inexperienced Tyrrell (qv), nail another Stuka with a beautiful bit of deflection shooting. On the day after that (7th) he led a patrol of five Spitfires that had an inconclusive “dice” with 15+ Bf.109s, getting in one burst. He led a later patrol of six Spitfires that engaged ten Bf.109Gs and Macchis during which he only managed to fire at a 202 climbing for cloud cover. On a later patrol he fired at a Bf.109G that was seen to flick over and disappear into cloud cover. On 9th he saw 109s  but these were lost in haze. On 10th Moodie led cover for tank-busting Hurricanes of 6 Sqdn RAF. On 21.3.43 control despatched him too late to intercept EA – only two being seen distantly - and Major Moodie received minor damaged from intense AA to his Spitfire, AX-X, for his troubles. His radio went u/s on 23rd and he had to abort. Missions continued, with often frustrating results such as on 25th when control vectored them “all over the place” but no EA were seen and they ran into heavy and accurate AA fire. On 27th Moodie covered Green Section which chased after Me.210s but the 109s that he expected to intervene were only seen in poor visibility. The Germans did not attack. In the gathering dark he then led his two sections in to attack but he, busy with keeping control of his fighters, failed to score.

On 2.4.43 Moodie led six Spitfire Vs in a diving turn to jump six Bf.109Gs but all but one succeeded in running away. Although jumped by fighters on 6th April, the Germans did not stay around when one of their number was shot up. His leadership managed to catch some 109s on the edge of clouds over Cape Bon, giving three of his pilots the opportunity to score. While covering Kittyhawks on what was to be one of the greatest Flax interceptions, he ordered two sections to participate in the attack, thinking that the Kittyhawks had missed the target. He was wrong by only a matter of moments as the Kittyhawks got stuck in immediately after he had given his order. While on a patrol with four Spitfires on 27th he was distracted by AA fire. Taken by surprise by a quick pass from 109s, Moodie fell into a spin. The 109s, however, did not stick around.

When he taxied out ahead of another mission on 29th, his No.2, “Babe” Brent swung out too far at the edge of the runway and a RAF Spitfire landed on top of him. He died of his injuries. Moodie had to go on with the mission and, finding three enemy aircraft, chased them with grim determination almost to the Island of Pantellaria. However, the EA had a head start and escaped. Covering Kittyhawks on 8th May with six Spitfires, he watched 10+ enemy fighters that dived on them. He gave a turn-about and made a quarter frontal attack on a 109 but it broke away and only one EA was damaged before the rest ran for it. He led another Kittyhawk escort latter that day but Bf.109s that attempted to attack their charges, made their escape when challenged by the Spitfires. The fighting in North Africa ended a few days later and “Snowy” was able to visit 4 Sqdn, his first unit.

Moodie subsequently led 1 Sqdn during the invasion of Sicily. On 19.7.43 he was hit in the engine of his Spitfire VIII (JF421: AX-4) by an enemy fighter. He left 1 Sqdn in 7.43. Following a “rest” he was made OC 16 SOR in North Africa from 1.44 to 1.7.44, occasionally getting in a sortie. He was MiD on 14.1.44.

Posted to Italy “Snowy” became the acting commander of 8 Wing upon its formation at Bari on 24.6.44. This was the second SAAF fighter wing to be formed, but it had two RAF sqdns at first. The SAAF had more than enough trained fighter pilots (and spare fighter Sqdns, e.g. 3, 9, 10, 11 and 41) to man the wing fully with SAAF personnel, but the exigencies of the war apparently required differently. I.e. it was expedient for the RAF to distribute the available squadrons thus. Col SF du Toit arrived in 8.44 to take over and Moodie became Sweep Leader of the Wing. 3 and 11 Sqdns SAAF became operational with 8 Wing in 9.44. He sometimes led 11 Sqdn’s Kittyhawks with his Spitfire IX “R”. (Nobody seems to have taken a photo of such a formation.) On 4.4.45 he was promoted to take over 7 Wing from Col Human. This put him only fourth in line as the SAAF’s premier fighter wingco, and served as signal acknowledgement of his service until now. Moodie had to lead the Wing in the last, desperate weeks of the fighting over Italy. There were triumphs and tragedies, but he did have a laugh when some off-duty personnel went for a “jaunt” in a Wing “hack” Fairchild Argus, and got shot up by ground fire (see pp110/1 of “Springbok Fighter Victory” Vol.5.) A hard-won DSO for leadership was finally gazetted on 20.4.45. He led the Wing in the grand DAF flypast on 28.5.45, which must have been a great moment for him.

While taxying across the airfield at Bari on 2.6.45 in Spitfire LF.IXe PT369 (nominally on 7 Sqdn strength), “Colonel Snowy” suffered minor damaged to the tailwheel when it struck a railway line. He left to return to the Union in 7.45, handing over 7 Wing to Col Bosman. Always, the satisfaction of command, but (regarding his small “score”) always the frustrations of combat. (Sadly, he never wrote an autobiography. It would have been fascinating.)

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