Major Stewart Finney DFC Bar
Major Stewart “Bomb” Finney was a pilot in the South African Air Force (SAAF) during World War II, and he played a crucial role in the Allied efforts in the Western Desert campaign. He was one of 14 South African fighter pilots to be awarded DFC with Bar in World War 2.
Finney joined the SAAF in 1940, and after completing his training, he was deployed to the Western Desert campaign in 1942. He was known for his bravery and skill in the air. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal with Bar for his achievements.
Finney carried out over 143 missions in the Western Desert and often experienced being shot at and sometimes hit by Messerschmidt 109s which were faster than the Hurricanes he flew. On the day before his 22nd birthday he was shot down by an 109 which hit his engine causing it to catch fire. He managed to reach a nearby airstrip where he crashes landed. The 109 returned to attack again but Finney managed to scramble out of the cockpit and hid on the wing. Unfortunately, he was hit in the leg but managed to reach and near gun emplacement. The 109 returned once again and destroyed Finney’s aircraft.
The pilot of the 109 that shot Finney down was the German ace pilot Otto Schulz who, on the same day shot down two other South African pilots, Biden, and Powell. Schultz had been transferred to Africa after fighting in the Battle of Britain. He recorded 73 victories in 825 combats in the period September 1941to June1942 when he was shot down and killed in Libya. Many of his victims were South African pilots. He had been awarded the German Knights Cross of the Iron Cross.
Finney spent a month recuperating in hospital in Alexandra. While he was on the Red Cross ship being transported to Alexandria, the ship was bombed three times. After returning to base, Finney once again landed in the desert but this time to save a fellow pilot, Tom Meek, whose engine had failed and made an emergency landing in the middle of nowhere. They had to stay on the ground overnight when they were surprised to be joined by an American pilot who had been shot down a few kilometres away. The next day Finney flew back to base and a rescue team was sent out.
In 1945 Finney was posted to Italy as the Commanding Officer of the Spitfire Squadron and was promoted to Major. He passed away peacefully in Pinelands at age 94 in 2014.
Major Arthur Geater DFC
Arthur Geater joined in the South African Air Force in 1944. In mid-1944 he was sent to Biferno in Italy where he flew the iconic heavy fighter aircraft, Bristol Beaufighter.
His first operation, with four other aircraft in September 1944, was to find and destroy enemy ships. In the late afternoon they spotted a German ferry, Siebel Ferry near the island of Ithaki. As he attacked, he was hit in both engines by anti-aircraft fire and was forced to ditch into the Mediterranean Sea. Both he and his navigator, Stanley Darrow, climbed into a dingy from the aircraft and were rescued by Greek fishermen and taken to the island. The next day it was discovered that the Siebel had beached on the rocks not far from the village. While the Greek People’s Liberation Army was moving them by sea to a safer area, their boat was stopped by a German vessel looking for Geater and Darrow. Geater dived overboard but Stanley could not swim and ended up as a POW in the Sagan Camp in Poland.
Geater was able to swim for over three hours before reaching land. The next day he escaped into the mountains where he sheltered in a monastery. From there he moved from village to village where he was always treated as a hero. He arrived in one village that was in the middle of internal guerrilla warfare and quickly moved on. In October the British Navy finally rescued him from the Ionian island, Cephalonia.
Due to his skill and bravery and despite being shot down on his first mission, he flew on a further forty-eight missions in the Balkans, which were some of the most dangerous missions, including reconnaissance and successfully attacking shipping and gun emplacements. In February he took part in the sinking of the Kuck-Kuck, a German mine layer for which he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross medal.
His last completed mission was to lead a formation in an attack on a pontoon at Bos Gradiska in April 1945. After the war he entered the printing industry and passed away in 1992.
FOOTNOTE : As a boy on the Greek islands Makis Sotiropoulos had heard the sortie of the plane falling out of the sky and as scuba diver was intrigued. In 2008 he took up the challenge to find the wreck. After five years of research and searching he found it using sonar. Later divers confirmed that it was Geater’s aircraft. The actual site has not and will not be revealed due to trophy hunters.