Don Tilley

 Tribute page: WW2 SAAF pilot  Don Tilley, DSO, DFC and Bar.

Hi and welcome to this site!

I met Frank Tilley and he kindly allowed me to copy his dad's war memorabilia including photographs and flying log book. Don Tilley was one of the top SAAF achievers of World War Two and this page is a gesture towards his remembrance. 

Donald Pax Tilley  joined the SAAF in late 1940 to complete his initial pilot training in Rhodesia. After qualification Don was seconded to the RAF and did training in Scotland as a torpedo attack pilot. He was then transferred to RAF No.39 squadron stationed in the Middle East.

It was with this squadron, in 1942-'43,  that Don's outstanding skills as an anti-shipping pilot flourished. He was credited with several torpedo strikes  that resulted in the damage and destruction of a number of enemy ships. The highlight being Don's torpedo hit in February 1943 on a 10 000 ton Italian fuel tanker that caused it's destruction, depriving Rommel's Afrika Korps of the desperately needed commodity.

Whilst with 39 squadron, Don was promoted twice and ended with the rank of Major. He also received the Distinguished Flying Cross twice for his ship-busting successes.

Don flew shipping strikes with the slow and cumbersome Bristol Beaufort medium bomber. His aircraft was hit on occasions but Don always returned to base safely. 

It is said that Don is the record holder (shared) in the RAF for the amount of confirmed torpedo hits  on enemy shipping. Pilots seldom survived more than 3 shipping strikes unscathed. Don was  lucky and completed 10 strike sorties.

Don returned to South Africa and served in SAAF coastal patrol squadrons. 

In mid 1944 he was posted to the Middle East with RAF No.227 squadron,  later to become SAAF No.19 squadron,  stationed in Italy. 19 Squadron was equipped with  rocket firing Beaufighters.  Don stayed with 19 squadron until the end of the war. He became their OC in early 1945. 

19 Squadron flew mostly ground attack- and ship busting sorties  to the Balkans across the Adriatic.  At one stage Don was shot down over enemy territory but found refuge with marshal Tito's partisans. He stayed with them for 30 days before he could safely return to the squadron.

Don's most famous achievement with 19 Squadron was the well planned and executed rocket strike on the German mine layer ship, the "Kuckuck". Don planned this raid and with perfect navigation and marksmanship, he and his flight was able to successfully sink this ship at it's mooring in Fiume harbour, Yugoslavia. An immediate DSO was awarded to Don for the "Kuckuck" sinking.

Don flew a total of 40 operations with Beaufighters when the war ended.

After the war Don had a successful career in the  aviation insurance  industry. He remained active in the Citizen Force squadrons. 

Don passed away in 1978.



 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 Don, 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

May 2015





 A Beaufort in Malta from 39 Squadron,  1943.








 Military Career

01/12/1940    RAF Initial Training Wing (I.T.W.), Kumalo, Rhodesia. Ground Training

14/02/1941    RAF No. 26 Elementary Flying Training School (E.F.T.S.), Guinea Fowl, Rhodesia.  50 hours on Tiger Moths

05/03/1941    First solo after 10:15 hours of flying.

31/03/1941    EFTS assessment: Average, recommended for twin engined types

01/04/1941    RAF No. 22 Service Flying Training School (S.F.T.S.), Thornhill, Rhodesia, 100 hours on Oxfords

04/07/1941    SFTS assessment: average

28/07/1941    No.12 Navigation and Reconnaissance War Course, George. Flying Avro Ansons.

17/10/1941    Course assessment: 77.8%

12/12/1941    Bournemouth, England

28/01/1942    No.5 Operational Training Unit (O.T.U.), Chivenor, North Devon,  Bombing training, 55 hours Beauforts

13/04/1942    5 OTU assessment: Average, recommended for GR pilot

29/04/1942    Torpedo Training School Abbotsinch, Scotland. Beauforts 23 hours, Bothas 16 hours

25/05/1942    RAF 217 squadron, Leuchars defence station, Scotland

18/06/1942    O.A.D.U. Lyneham, Wiltshire, England

Tiger Moth 



03/07/1942     RAF NO. 39 SQUADRON OPERATIONAL SERVICE (Beaufort aircraft)

17/07/1942    Torpedo strike 1 -  From LG 226 near Alexandria, Egypt: , 6000 ton merchant vessel (MV), no result observed,  1 crew fatally wounded

31/07/1942    Forced landing, LG226,  undercarriage unserviceable, belly landing

21/08/1942    Torpedo strike 2 - From Malta: 10500 ton MV, 5 drops of Corfu, Hits observed, ship beached.

27/08/1942    Torpedo strike 3 - From Malta: 6000 ton MV, 1 drop, south west of Crete. Hit, ship burned from stem to stern, halve submerged when leaving.


04/09/1942    Unsuccessful Torpedo strike  - From Malta: ship not sighted.

22/09/1942    Torpedo strike 4 - From Malta: 6-7000 ton MVl, 3 drops, near Anti Paxos, hits observed

27/09/1942    Torpedo strike 5, by moonlight: From Malta, 6-7000 ton IMV, 4 drops, hit confirmed.

27/10/1942    Torpedo strike 6, from LG226, fuel cargo ocean barges, 3 drops Tobruk bay, result not seen, aircraft hit by  flak from coastal battery.

30/19/1942    DFC awarded

03/11/1942    Unsuccessful torpedo strike, from Gianacilis (Egypt) to Tobruk bay, saw no ships except red cross ships.

22/11/1942    Bombing sortie, 

28/11/1942    Unsuccessful torpedo strike, from Malta, Maritimo, saw no ship due to bad weather.

07/12/1942    Unsuccessful torpedo strike, from Malta, Kerkennan, saw no ship

19/12/1942    Force landed near Martuba, Libya

31/12/1942    Force landed at Sidi Bee 05?, Libya

23/01/1943    Torpedo strike 7, from Malta by night, North of Ustica Island, 5000 ton MV, hit confirmed.

25/01/1943    Unsuccessful torpedo strike, from Malta by night, off Sicily, no contact, rain

31/01/1943    Gardening (mine laying) sortie, Trapani

02/02/1943    Night Rover with torpedos, north of Bizerta, no sighting

09/02/1943    Gardening, Trapani, 

15/02/1943    Torpedo strike 8 , from Malta by night, ssw from Maritimo, 4 drops, bad weather, results not seen.

17/02/1943    Torpedo rover by night, no sighting.

21/02/1943    Torpedo strike 9, from Malta, 10 000 ton tanker, hit confirmed, hit started a fire, after 3d hit the tanker blew up


26/02/1943    Night torpedo rover, no sighting

17/03/1943    Torpedo strike 10, from Malta, daylight: 10 000 ton tanker, 3 drops, near cape stilo, sunk. Aircraft hit in starboard engine, S/E landing.

09/04/1943    Bar to DFC awarded

Bristol Beaufort 


02/05/1943    Returned to South Africa

01/06/1943    Posted to SAAF No.25 Squadron for 3 weeks, Port Elisabeth, Coastal patrol, Venturas

10/07/1943    SAAF No.23 Squadron, Bredasdorp, Darling, Lombasi, coastal patrol, Flying Venturas and Ansons

07/03/1944    Zwartkops Air Station, Pretoria

25 Squadron Ventura


Avro Anson


30/06/1944    RAF No.227 SQUADRON, OPERATIONAL SERVICE, BERCA III landing station, BENGAZI, LIBYA, flying Beaufighters

05/05/1944    OP 1: Attack R.D.F. Installation at Kapsala, Greece. 

06/05/1944    OP 2: Sweep. Attacked 2 x Caique fishing boats

07/07/1944    OP 3: Armed recce. Attack 4 x Caiques 

09/07/1944    OP 4: Armed recce. Attack  Caiques in Vatni and Kalamos (Greece) 1 x 100-150 t Caique damaged, 8 x 80-100t Caiques damaged

11/08/1944    SAAF No.19 SQUADRON, OPERATIONAL SERVICE, BIFERNO, ITALY, flying rocket firing Beaufighters

14/08/1944    OP 1: H.Q. Buildings at DUBROVNIK, serve as anti-flak to 16 sqdn, (20 naval officers killed and 27 injured)

16/08/1944    OP 2: Bombs and canon on  motorized transports (32 destroyed, 85 damaged, w workshops destroyed)

21/08/1944    OP 3: Anti-Flak to 39 squadron,  ZAKINTHOS Harbour, 3 armed trawlers. A/C was hit in stb nacelle and aileron control servo

28/08/1944    OP 4: Sweep,  KEFLINIA, LEKAS, BRINDISI: 1 x 80-100 ton Caique damaged

05/09/1944    OP 5: Strave troops in village, train busting west of BROD, 1 x Loco destroyed and 3 x probable locos destroyed

16/09/1944    OP 6: Rocket attack on gun emplacements at NOVIS, sporadic flak, confirmed 2 destroyed and 2 damaged

20/09/1944    OP 7: Attack barracks with rockets at BANJA LUKA

23/09/1944     To CRATAGLI but recalled

24/09/1944    OP 8: Rocket attack on 105mm guns at SADENA in support of commandos. probable

26/09/1944    OP 9: Attack coastal ammo dump? on CORFU. hit a coastal gun with 20mm canon.

05/10/1944    OP 10: Anti Shipping sweep: ZARA to TRIESTE

09/10/1944    OP 11: Crash and ditched on sweep take-off.

11/10/1944    OP 12: to BJELOVAR, returned bad weather

12/10/1944    OP 13: O.P. and Billets at ELBASAN

16/10/1944    OP 14: Monastry and tanks at TOMISLANGRAD. 1 x tank on fire. 20mm on tank and MT.

18/10/1944    OP 15: BJELOVAR, returned, bad weather.

20/10/1944    OP 16: Attack H.Q. in BJELOVAR with rockets and 20 mm. Hits

24/10/1944    OP 17: Rocket attack on KRIS siding, strafed trucks and cavalry. Port engine on fire. Belly landed in Bacuga area, Yugoslavia.

Stayed with Partisan forces for one month

02/12/1944    OP 18: Rocket attack on barracks at BJELOVAR, salvo in "priority" building

03/12/1944    OP 19: Attack gun emplacenents at LUSSINO island.

06/12/1944    OP 20: Attack GRACAC in support of Partisans

15/12/1944    OP 21: Rocket attack on M.T. in "POD" pocket

17/12/1944    OP 22: Rocket attack gun emplacements LUSSINO island.

18/12/1944    OP 23: Attack on armed trawler in KHARLO BAG, confirmed sunk

26/12/1944    OP 24: KHARLOVAC, unsuccessful, target not visible in cloud. S/E landing

03/01/1945    OP 25: Attack Marshalling yards at KHARLOVAC, 300+ ??, large explosion

24/02/1945    OP 26: Rocket attack on 4200 ton minelayer "Kuckuck" in FIUME, hits confirmed, ship  SUNK

13/03/1945    OP 27: Attack marshalling yards at KARLOVAC, petrol fires led to explosions blocking all through lines

17/03/1945    OP 28: Attack gun positions RAB

20/03/1945    OP 29: Attack castle occupied by A.O.C. Balkans at CERNIK. a General killed, Capt, Dixon crashed

01/04/1945    OP 30: Attack a strong point east of Sarajevo

05/04/1945    OP 31: Attack a pontoon bridge at BOS GRADISKA. Cut in 2 places, hits confirmed, floated away

09/04/1945    OP 32: Attack town of ST LUCIA, fire started

16/04/1945    OP 33: Attack town of  ZOLLA

18/04/1945    OP 34: Attack town of JASTRE BASKO

21/04/1945    OP 35: Attack remains of bridge at  BOS GRADISKA

27/04/1945    OP 36: ZOLLA, aborted due to weather

22/05/1945    DSO awarded

01/01/1946   Mentioned in Dispatches awarded

A 19 squadron Beaufighter 


VIDEO: How the Kuckuck was sunk as told by Lt. Steve Stevens DFC




 TRAINING 1940-1942


Rhodesia 1940-1941



Navigation and reconnaissance course in George, 1941


UK 1942

5 OTU Chivenor 1942


Four South Africans together on course: Heydenrich, ?, Ted Strever, Don

RAF No.39 SQUADRON 1942- 1943

 Don with his crew and their Beaufort: "Doug, Cobber, Self and Eve"

 Don left in front


Malta: loading an aerial torpedo  into a 39 Squadron Beaufort.

 Ship hit by a torpedo

 On the occasion of awarding the Distinguished Flying Cross, 15/10/1942. Don fourth from the right.



 Torpedo strike

39 Squadron Beaufort with crews

 RAF No.227 Squadron and SAAF No.19 Squadron 1944- 1945

 SAAF 19 squadron Beaufighter.

November 1944, meeting the Air Vice Marshall Lord Portal, Chief of the RAF.


 Don as OC of the squadron  with his adjutant , Frank Veich

 Biferno, Italy, home of SAAF No.19 Squadron


19 Squadron ops room, Biferno. 

Attack on barracks at Bjelovar 

Attack on pontoon bridge 

Attack on a building in Dubrovnic 


"Kuckuck" 1945 

SAAF No.19 Squadron War Diary report on the sinking of the "Kuckuck"


 Location of Fiume in Yugoslavia

 Don's aircraft attacking the "Kuckuck" with a salvo of 6 solid shot armour piercing rockets.

 Perfect hits just below the water line. Don's aircraft banking away.

 Don's gun camera photograph

 Lt. Steve Stevens' attack, hits were observed above the waterline. Splashes from Don's salvo strikes are visible.

 War-time reconnaissance photograph showing mole 7 in Fiume harbour.

 Fiume today, now called Rijeka  in Croatia. Mole 7 is indicated

 Reconstruction of the attack showing the position of the ship and the aircraft attack vector. The war-time photograph is imposed on the Google image.

 Modern Rijeka: Google Earth

 Crews that participated in the "Kuckuck"  attack:  Capt. R F Dickson, F/O G T Craven, Lt. Col. Tilley, Capt. A Geater, Lt. G R Widdicombe, F/O F G Brace (Stevens and Bartlett not present)

 SAAF No.19 squadron War Diary sortie report.



Information supplied by Jurica Vucetic on the  "Kuckuck". Feb 2016


The building was start on 1st July 1942 as a ship No. 223 in shipyard Cantieri navali del Quarnero Fiume in town Fiume in Italy for Italian company Tirrenia in Tunisia. The first 4 ships of that class - POETI class - (VINCENZO MONTI, ALESSANDRO MANZONIALFREDO ORIANI and GABRIELE D` ANNUNZIO) was ended in year 1942. and other 3 ships (NICOLO TOMMASEO, VITTORIO ALFERI and GIACOMO LEOPARDI) in year 1943. In june 1943. VITTORIO LOCCHI was launched but it was not fully equiped when German army enter in town of Fiume on 10th Semptember 1943. The Germans was not interested in that ship because it was unfinished and in shipyard were more war ship to finish. In try to find in my doucments when Germans start to convert Locchi in minelayer ship but I did not find the date. But that was probably in second half of year 1944. In War Diary of German Adriatic Admiral for date 6th November 1944 the ship still has a name "Vittorio Locchi" and I can read that the ship must be put in use. It is probably beacuse the day before minelayer ship "Kiebitz" was sunked in port of Fiume.

The first planed armament on "Kuckuck" was 2x76 mm AA guns and 4x 20 mm Breda AA guns. Also ship would take a 200 mines. I also find that the later planed armament were 3x105 AA guns, 10x37 mm AA guns, 19x20 mm guns and 6x86 mm AA rocket launcrs. The ship would take a 290 EMC mines. 

The first probe sailing of "Kuckuck" was on 15th February 1945. All was fine and ship returned for final works. But on the next day Allies bombers attack shipyard with bombs and

bomb directly hit a ship in stern and the ship rudder was destroyed. That is why it must stay in shipyard for more days. The ship AA arrmamnet was take out from ship and put arounf shipyard for AA defence. Now we know why ship did not had AA guns on 24th February 1945.

On 17th February 1945 bombers again attack the shipayrd and the port of Fiume, but "Kuckuck" was not damadged hardly. Almost every day after that the town of Fiume was under attack from air.

On 24th February 1945 the ship was atacked by SAAF. It was hit and the fire started. On 14.33 h te ship turn over and sunked on 23 m deepth near pier. Because of the sloping terrain and sea current the ship was slipped in the middle of the shipyard.

After the war, diving crew started to dig out the ship in April 1949. On 29th May 1949 the ship was almost all out of water but it`s suddenly sliped again on the bottom. But finally the ship was raissed out on 4th June 1949. It was converted into merchant ship and o 1st May 1951 it was given to company Jugoslavenska linijska plovidba with name Ucka. In year 1968 it was sold to company Losinjska plovidba. On 6th January 1978 the ship run aground near port of Tripoly in Libia. It was refloat fast but the old ship was damadged to much so it was scraped in March 1978.


Poeti class:

Lenght: 116,9 m

Beam: 15,2 m

Depth (full): 6,39 m

Gross tonnage: 3162 GRT

Displacement: 4570 T (max) 

Speed: 14 kts / 17 kts max

Engine: 2 Ansaldo 8-cylinder 2-stroke diesels with 4375 hp

Armament: 1x120 mm gun and 7x20 mm Breda AA guns


1st photo - refloating of the ship

2nd photo - as Ucka

 Position of the sunken ship

 Raising of the ship 1949

 Refurbished  Kuckuck with new name Ucka



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