Tuesday, June 19, 2018
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France honours SA World War II veteran

Albert Gotze.At a ceremony held in Cape Town this past Tuesday, Ambassador of France to South Africa, Mr Christophe Farnaud, bestowed the signet of Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Legion d’Honneur (Knight in the Legion of Honour) on World War II veteran Albert Richard Gotze.

The French government has been awarding the Légion d’honneur, the highest French order for military and civil merits, to D-Day veterans from many different countries since deciding on the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June 2014 to honour foreign veterans and thank those who fought and risked their lives to secure France’s liberation during the Second World War.

Götze, 95 years old, was born in Prieska in January 1923 and participated as a member of the British Royal Air Force No 127 Spitfire squadron. While operating as part of the UK defence unit, Götze flew cover over the various beaches of Normandy, France on D-Day, 6 June 1944 as part of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II.

Speaking to Götze, Farnaud noted that France and South Africa shared a common military history: “Sir, you are a living witness to history, you fought on our soil. A history and friendship between our two people.

“This ceremony is not only a thank you to men like you who were willing to give their lives to liberate us, it is also a message that we, the French people, shall never forget…our South African friends.”

South Africa and France also share a common maritime border in the South Indian Ocean and the militaries regularly interact, such as with the joint French-South African naval exercises. The latest edition of Exercise Oxide took place on and around the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion in November and December last year.

“So even today this spirit of friendship and comradeship remains,” Farnaud said.

Thanking the French, Götze retold the experience of flying over the dangerous beaches of Normandy on D Day.

“At that stage, everything was in such a bloody muddle,” he remembers, “We went down there thinking, well, we don’t know what the hell is going to happen because everybody was shooting at everybody and you don’t know who is shooting at me! You tried to get out of there as quickly as you can.”

Götze joined the South African Air Force (SAAF) in mid-1942 and was selected for fighter pilot training. After he finished flying training he was sent to the Middle East where he joined up with British Royal Air Force (RAF) No. 127 Spitfire squadron in April 1944.

127 Squadron moved to England and from there they operated as a UK defence unit. They flew patrols and bomber escorts to mainland Europe as well as some fighter-bomber work. During this time Götze was involved with shooting down four German V-1 flying bombs and also flew cover on D-day.

Several operational sorties were flown by Götze in support of the invasion force, including beach patrols, bomber escorts and sweeps over enemy territory. Götze’s squadron was transferred to the B-6 Allied airfield in France on 31 July from where operations were continued. Götze volunteered for Hawker Typhoon training in England and returned to France with RAF No. 137 Squadron in early September 1944 to the Allied occupied airfield at Amiens.

After the war, Götze participated as a navigator in the Berlin Airlift of 1949 where they flew around the clock supply flights from West Germany.

In 1951 Götze completed a combat tour in Korea, flying the F-51D Mustang with 2 squadron, SAAF.

Götze had a long and successful career in the SAAF, retiring from the Air Force in 1978 with the rank of Brigadier General. He was responsible for the introduction and implementation of the South African Air Defence System, including the underground station at Devon.