A WWII SAAF 60 Squadron recon mission accidental discovery
By Stefan Coetzer
On the 4th of April 1944 a single de Haviland Mosquito took off from its base in Italy on a photo recon mission deep into Nazi held Poland to photograph the rubber factories in the area of Monowitz. Without knowing it that mission would produce the first photographic evidence of Nazi extermination camps. The topic often caused lots of controversy as there were questions why the Allies didn't try to attack the rail yards and tracks leading up to the camp.
The 60 Squadron was founded in Nairobi in 1940 operating the Martin Baltimore. They switched over to the Martin Maryland before they were moved to North Africa. In February of 1943 they received their first Mosquitoes thanks to the help of Field Marshal Montgomery. Soon afterwards they were transferred to San Severo in Italy.
On the 4th of April 1944 a mosquito from 60 squadron took off and headed towards Poland. It was common practice to start a photo run a few seconds before you reached your target to make sure everything worked before you are over the target. It's during this run that the mosquito got the first proof that the Nazi extermination camps were indeed a reality. These photos led to a delay in the attack of the rubber factory at Monowitz until June of that year. It also led to a few more recon flights by the USAAF and the SAAF as well before the raids could take place.
The Photos were lost after the war until they was found in the CIA's archives in 1970. it was first wrongly accredited to the USAAF until it was later accredited to SAAF and 60 Squadron. Copies of the original photos were later given to Israel in 1980 by former president Jimmy Carter.
The mosquitoes of 60 Squadron that survived the war were sent to Bloemspruit AFB until a crash in 1947 saw the end of their careers with SAAF. Only one example is known to be in South Africa. It is suspended at the war museum in Johannesburg where it is displayed in the colours that she flew in during her time in Italy.