Port Elizabeth of Yore: Japanese warplanes over PE during WW2

In 1942, Port Elizabeth had some unwelcome aerial visitors. During the period 20-27th April, unidentified aircraft flew over South African ports, including Port Elizabeth. Fighters were scrambled but they never made any contact with the intruders. It was only after the war that researchers and historians found out more about these mysterious visitors. 

Main picture: The Yokosuka E14Y “Glen” Scout Plane painted by Ron Belling

During the early hours of 22nd April 1942, an unidentified aircraft flew over Port Elizabeth, and although none of the aircraft of the 42 Air School was able to intercept the intruder, it is now safe to assume that the guilty aircraft was a Japanese Yokosuka E14Y “Glen” scout plane.

Penang Island off western Malaysia

At that time, the Japanese controlled most of the Far East, and were in the process of extending their activities and sphere of influence further west. It was during April 1942 that five large submarines of the 8th Submarine Squadron left Penang for operations along the east coast of Africa and along the South African littoral. The numbers of these submarines were Numbers I-10, I-16, I-18, I-20 and I-130. They were equipped with a cylindrical hangar forward of the conning tower with accommodated a midget submarine, designed to penetrate harbour defences.

The flagship, No. I-10, also carried an E14Y “Glen” reconnaissance seaplane. Two-armed merchant cruisers, the Hokoku Maru and the Aikoku Maru accompanying the submarines, also carried Glens.

Japanese submarine I-10 at Penang port in 1942

The seaplanes were used to fly over the ports at dawn and at dusk in order to ascertain whether major naval targets were at anchor in the port or the roadstead. If they were, a midget submarine attack would be initiated. The flights of this naval squadron occurred between the 20 – 27th April 1942. Fortunately, no potential targets were identified.

Merchant cruisers, the Aikoku Maru and the Hokoku Maru

On the 29th April, the Glen aboard No 1-10 spotted HMS Ramillies and a tanker at anchor in Diego Suarez, Madagascar. Attacks were launched by the midget submarines, sinking a tanker but also badly damaging the battleship. The HMS Ramillies was brought to the dry-dock in Durban where it was repaired over the following year.

The HMS Ramillies, a Revenge Class Battleship

The E14Y

Two E14Y’s in flight


A Portrait of Military Aviation in South Africa by Ron Belling (1989, Struikhof Publishers)

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