top of page

Adolph Gysbert Malan DFC

(1910 to 1963)

Famous South African pilot in World War 2 - Known as "Sailor Malan" Distinguished Flying Cross

Adolph "Sailor Malan" was born in Wellington, Cape Province, in 1910 and joined the Union Castle Line of the Mercantile Marine at the age of 15, from which service he derived his nickname "Sailor". His initial seafaring training he received at the South African Merchant Navy Academy, and was one of the stars produced by that fine training ground for quiet heroes. His wife Lynda always called him John, and it was by this name that he was known to a few of his closest friends, but to his Squadron as a whole, and to the world, he was, and always will be, "Sailor". When the danger signs from Nazi Germany were recognized, he learned to fly on Tiger Moth aircraft at an elementary flying school near Bristol, England, and he first took to the air on 6th January, 1936. From there he graduated to more advanced types of aircraft and learned the first steps of his new profession. He duly passed the course and received his pilot's wings. On 20th December, 1936, he was posted to No. 74 (Fighter) Squadron. It was his first and only squadron, and was the squadron's most famous fighter of all time in the opinion of all those who served in it. This was the great Tiger Squadron (so called because of its fierce fighting record and its badge: a tiger's face surmounting the motto "I Fear No Man") which the young Malan heard about when he reached Hornchurch. Few dreamed then that under his leadership the Squadron would achieve even greater fame in the desperate years to come. In January, 1937, Sailor was promoted to Pilot Officer and while in that comparatively humble rank was appointed in August, 1937, as acting Flight Commander of "A" Flight. He quickly showed that he was an outstanding marksman in air firing practices and, as a Flight Commander, soon developed qualities of leadership which established him as a first-class shot and a fine leader. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant just before the war began, and at ten minutes to three on the morning of 4th September, 1939, fifteen hours after war had been declared he led Red Section of "A" Flight into the dawn sky. He was flying Spitfire K9864, and was ordered to patrol to intercept an enemy raid approaching the British coast from Holland. The "raid" was later identified as some friendly bombers returning to Britain and the frustrated "Sailor" landed just after four in the morning. However, 74 Squadron had been into the air with attacking intent for the first time since 1918; they were at war once again. After the fierce fighting over France on 28th June, 1940, Sailor was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. King George VI presented Sailor with his DFC, and Sailor commented: "The first letter of congratulation that I received came from an insurance company, a firm whose correspondence used to frighten me because the only time they ever wrote me was when I was behind with my premiums. This time they never mentioned a word about any money owing".‍‍

< Previous

8 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page