Charlie Nel

 Tribute page:  WW2 SAAF bomber pilot Charlie Nel

Hi and welcome to this site!

I have met Charles Nel, nephew of the late WW2 bomber pilot Charlie Nel. Charles allowed me to copy his uncle's war documents including the flying log book. Thanks to Charles for the scans and giving me all the relevant information. Thanks also to Charles and Helen's kindness during the visit to their home in George 2014.


Charles Paul Nel Joined the SAAF in 1941 after he finished his matric in Oudshoorn. After qualifying as a pilot he was appointed  as flying instructor at No.7 Air School, Kroonstad.

In mid 1944 Charlie joined SAAF No. 31 heavy bomber squadron in the Middle East, flying B-24 Liberator aircraft. From Italy they flew mostly sorties to targets in Southern Europe.  Charlie also participated in the Warsaw supply drops where half of the squadron was wiped out.

Sadly, on the night of 12 October 1944, while on a supply drop mission, Charlie's aircraft together with 5 other aircraft of the squadron,  crashed in the Italian Alps with a total loss of life. 

The remains of Charlie with his aircrew were found and buried by locals at a small town in the vicinity of the crash site. After the war they were reburied at the Commonwealth  war cemetery in the outskirts of Milan.

There is an epic story of how Charlie's brother Woody, who served in the SA army in Italy, went back to the crash site in search of Charlie just after the war ended.

Charlie Nel, pupil pilot 1941/1942

 This is a living web site. Any input and/or participation will be much appreciated regarding additional information, correctness, information from relatives of members who served with Charlie in his  squadron, photographs, stories etc. Please e-mail me. 

If you perhaps have a family member who served as a SAAF fighter pilot during WW2 and you would want to find out more about his war service please contact me, hopefully I can be of some help.

Tinus le Roux

January 2016 







Military service

 28/04/1942   No 75 Air School 

03/01/1942    No 5 Air School

03/03/1942    No 7 Air School

15/03/1942    No 27 Air School

24/08/1942    No 6 Air School

16/11/1942    No 7 Air School

20/04/1944    No 31 Bomber Squadron, Middle East, training in Lydda, Palestine

24/05/1944    Op 1 Raid on Crete

31/05/1944    Op 2 Bombed Iraklion aerodrome, Crete

03/06/1944    Op 3 Bombed Iraklion harbour, Crete,  heavy  flak, target hit

16/06/1944    Fly to Foggia/Celone in Italy

25/06/1944    Op 4 Bombed Koolaz Shell Oil Refineries, Budapest

01/05/1944    Op 5 Belgrade, "Gardening" mine laying in Danube, low level drop

09/08/1944    Op 6 520N Bathely Landing, Hungary, Hit target, flak, fighters  

18/08/1944    Op 7 Bombing marshalling yards Bologna, Italy, target hit, fires

??/08/1944    Op 8 Bombing Troop concentrations, Pesaro, Italy, Target hit

??/09/1944    Op 9 Bombing Troop concentrations, Pesaro, Italy, Target hit

04/09/1944    Op 10 Venna, Italy, marshalling yards, target hit, heavy Ack-ack

05/09/1944    Op 11 Ferrara, bridge, Italy, slight heavy Ack-ack

06/10/1944    Op 12 Tactical bombing marshalling yards, Bologna Italy.

09/09/1944    Op 13 Ravenna, Italy marshalling yards, direct hit, heavy AA

10/09/1944    Op 14 Marshalling yards Milano Italy 

13/09/1944    Op 15 Tatoi aerodrome, Athens Greece, target unidentifiable, flak and search lights

14/09/1944    Op 16 Tatoi aerodrome, Athens Greece, target identified and hit, flak 

18/09/1944    Op 17 Troop concentrations Rimint, Direct hit

19/09/1944    Op 18 Marshalling yards, Szekesfenervar, Hungry, target hit, fighters, heavy flak

21/09/1944    Op 19 Supply drop, Warsaw, Poland, successful drop on target

26/09/1944    Op 20 Bombing Borovnica, R/R bridge, Yugoslavia, bombs drop accidentally on target run when bomb doors opened

04/10/1944    Op 21 Supply drop Yugoslavia successful

12/10/1944    Op 22 Supply drop to Italian partisans in Nort-West Italy,  no supplies were dropped, aircraft crashed on return, death of all crew

Charlie 1942 





Training:  Lydda, Palestine, 31 Squadron

 Charlie on the right with another aircrew

SAAF B-24 Liberator  aircraft  (photographs from Santi Metelerkamp's album)

Briefing for a training flight over the  Mediterranean. 

Operations from Foggia, Italy

Charlie flew 22 operations in bombing-, supply drops- and mine laying sorties. He was killed on 12 October 1944 with an accidental crash while on the return flight from a supply drop sortie in North West Italy.

 Charlie in the cockpit of a Liberator

Charlie's crew:

Standing L.t.R.;  Sgt. E F Rogers, Sgt Eric Lockey,  F/O Jack Boswell, Sgt Henry Foy, P/O Robert Johnson, unknown ground crew,   unknown ground crew

Middle row L.t.R.:   unknown ground crew,  unknown ground crew, Lt. CP Nel, Sgt Harry Austin, Lt. Coen Vorster, unknown ground crew,

Front: unknown ground crew

Extract from Charlie's personal diary:

"Sunday 13th Aug.

Operation tonight Warsaw Poland, Dropped supplies to partisans. 500 feet over City. One mass of flames. 2 A/C failed to return: Bob Klette and crew.  Bill Norval and crew (16)

Monday 14th Aug.


Target tonight Warsaw Poland again. Same mission. Heavy ack ack. 3 Crews fail to return. Hells bells what good blokes too. van Rensburg and crew. Grattan Hooey and crew, and Capt Jack van Eyssen + crew. (24). One bloke,  Capt Senn, badly injured.

Tuesday 15th Aug

Everybody very quiet today.

We have suffered very heavy losses in the last 2 nights. 5 crews totalling 40 chaps. Nobody feels like talking much today. Everybody sitting by himself, his thoughts his company. God give that this beastly war ends soon.

Wednesday 16 Aug

Two machines went to Lyon in France last night. All returned safely. Thank God.

Thursday 17 Aug.

Last night another supply dropping raid to Warsaw. Oh my God another 3 aircraft failed to return.  Mai. Odendaal and crew. Capt. Lawrie and crew. Capt Allen and crew. 

Never before in the history of the S.African A Force has a Squadron been wiped out so quickly. Our mess is absolutely empty and all my pals are gone.

The few of us that are left are like Brothers.  Here we have to go 2000 miles to Warsaw when the Russians are right at the doorstep. Poor old Johnny Watson from George gone too. This war must end now."


 Lt Coen Vorster, F/O Jack Boswell, Lt Charlie Nel, P/O Robert Johnson, Sgt Henry Foy, Sgt Harry Austin, Sgt Eric Lockey, Sgt E F  Rogers.


Tragedy 12 October 1944

On 12 October 1944,  20 Liberators under the command of 31 Squadron, were sent to North-West Italy on a supply drop mission to partisans at 4 different drop zones. 

Bad weather caused at least 10 aircraft not to find the designated target areas. A further 6 aircraft failed to return to base and was subsequently reported as missing.

5 Crash sites were found in the Alps  but the wreck of the sixth plane has never been found. It is generally assumed that  the missing Liberator crashed into the sea.

It is believed that the tragic loss of the 6 aircraft with crews,  was due to the bad/changing weather conditions and failure of the ground navigation electronic assistance system that night, forcing human navigation error.


A funeral held in the small town of  Ceres in Northern Italy, 1944. The funeral was organized and attended by partisans. Note that only four coffins are present. The remains of the crew was in such a state that the people who recovered the remains thought there were only four bodies instead of eight.

Woody Nel, Charlie's brother, together with some Italian police, standing at the graves of KG999's  crew in the town of Ceres. This photo was taken just after the war in 1945.

Grave of  Lt. C P Nel alongside his other crew members in the Commonwealth war cemetery at the outskirts of Milan


 A commemoration plaque, unveiled on 2/6/2002 at the crash site of Liberator KG 999.

 Present at the unveiling event in 2002: Charles Nel junior, Charles and Helen.

At the crash site high up in the Italian Alps 

KG 999 aircraft relics found at the crash site 

Relics including Partisan supply stock found at  the crash site.

2012, At the crash site, more  relics were found of Liberator KG 999. 

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