Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State ( Webb )1


Subject: Equipping of South African Air Squadron in Korea

Participants: The South African Ambassador, Mr. G. P. Jooste
U—Mr. Webb
BNA—Mr. Shullaw

The South African Ambassador, Mr. G. P. Jooste, called on me today at his request to discuss the problem of equipping the South African air squadron in Korea with jet aircraft. The Ambassador recalled that when the South African squadron was sent to Korea a year ago, it was decided that the squadron would be equipped with P–51 aircraft. Subsequently personnel of the squadron, who are all volunteers, were assured by the South African Minister of Defense, Mr. Erasmus, that he would make every effort to obtain jet aircraft to replace this equipment. The Minister’s efforts to carry out his pledge by obtaining aircraft from the United Kingdom were unsuccessful and South Africa then sought to buy jets in the United States. Mr. Jooste said that the Department of Defense has now informed the Service Attachés of the Embassy that jet aircraft for the South African squadron will not be available until 1953.

The Ambassador said that the problem of equipping the South African squadron was regarded with extreme seriousness by his Government. South Africa has a commitment to supply certain forces for the defense of the Middle East in the event of hostilities. The Korean operation has provided valuable training for South African pilots who could be used, if the need arises, in the Middle East. Use of jet aircraft by the squadron would increase the usefulness of this training. The question of equipping the squadron, therefore, is related to the Middle East commitment. Because of the limitations in the South African defense law, it is necessary to rely on volunteers for service outside South Africa and therefore the ability of South Africa to carry out its commitments is affected by the willingness of South African personnel to volunteer for service outside the country. The Ambassador stated that his Government was concerned by the effect on enlistments of failure to carry out the pledge respecting equipment made by the Defense Minister to the squadron in Korea. Mr. Jooste stressed the adverse effect on morale of the South African squadron resulting from its being forced to operate alongside Americans and Australians who are using jet aircraft. He acknowledged, however, that some American squadrons were also still using P–51 aircraft.

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The Ambassador said that unless jet aircraft for the South African squadron could be obtained during the first quarter of 1952, his Government might be forced to ground the squadron.2

In replying to the Ambassador, I reiterated our appreciation of South African participation in the United Nations action in Korea. I told him it was my understanding that the South African squadron would be equipped with jet aircraft at the same time as the American squadrons now using P–51’s. I said that I did not see how it could be possible to do more than this, and I questioned why his Government would consider itself forced to ground the South African squadron if jet aircraft were not forthcoming during the first quarter of 1952. The Ambassador again referred to the commitment of Mr. Erasmus to the squadron and to the morale factor involved. He remarked that he was unhappy at being forced to refer to the possible grounding of the squadron, but that his instructions were explicit on this point. He said that he understood only replacement jet aircraft were being sent to Korea and that none of the P–51-equipped American squadrons had been changed over to jet aircraft. He added that the South African Service Attachés had been informed by the Pentagon that NATO requirements had priority over Korean requirements.

I assured the Ambassador that his representations on this subject would be brought to the attention of the Department of Defense.

  1. Drafted by Shullaw.
  2. Telegram unnumbered, September 20, from Pretoria, reported as follows on an earlier airing of the same problem raised here by Jooste:

    “Cols. Davis and Bland called on Min Defense Erasmus at his request September 10. Erasmus said he was worried over his present failure to purchase either in the US or UK jet aircraft for the Union’s Korean squadron. He has money in hand and fears recent mounting casualties in South African squadron will lead to polit attacks by opposition in 1952 session Parliament if he cannot supplement his remarks during last parliamentary session that negots for purchasing jets were underway with assurances that they have been obtained. He hinted that if jets could not be purchased South African squadron might be grounded. Col. Bland is reporting this to Dept of Air Force. FonOff has not approached Emb on matter.” (745A.5622/9–2051)