In the census of 1810, it is listed that on the 31st December 1810, one Willem Caesar and the widow Priem and her two children are resident at d`Yzere Plaat, (Ysterplaat) a hay farm belonging to a Mr. J. P. Eksteen and that they owned two draft oxen. Some time later as Cape Town expanded, the area then became known as Maitland Common and according to the Title Deeds for AFB Ysterplaat, that some of the property eventually belonged to Sir de Villiers Graaf. An initiative by the Cape Town City Council to provide a municipal airport for the town led to what we know today as Air Force Base Ysterplaat. The name of the farm, and subsequently the name of the Base are named after the natural geographical feature of the ground and are translated into English as “Iron Plate”.
The SA Air Force’s relationship goes way back to when the airforce started what was then known as the SAAF Diamond Mail Service in 1925. At the request of the Department of Mines, the SAAF instituted regular mail flights between Maitland and Alexander Bay. Cape Town would, it then appeared, have to become used to seeing SAAF aircraft in its skies.
Union Airways, started by Major AM Miller of RFC fame, began operating a scheduled airmail service which used Brooklyn as its Cape Town terminus from 1927 for about two years before the operations were moved to Wingfield.
The History of Ysterplaat 1941 – 2011, 70 Years of Military Aviation Excellence
The Cape Argus of 5 March 1940 reports of the extension scheme at Brooklyn Aerodrome. Prior to the construction of the Base, the grass runway at Brooklyn was only 900 yards long, but the adjoining land to the East and the South was Government property and if this land was utilized, 1500 yards of runway could be built. The surface of the runway was also a deciding factor due to its foundation of rock and a good sand overlay. The rock made the surface sound for aircraft of any weight and size. It was finally decided at a conference in Pretoria on 2 May 1940 to proceed with the development. Apart from the land which already belonged to the aerodrome, more land had to be obtained from the Graaff Trust, as well as from the Citizen’s Housing League Company. The land needed from the Graaff Trust could not be purchased and the rental for the 148.5 morgen was then fixed at ₤145.00 per annum.
The initial phase of development comprised the construction of 1600 yards of runway. The tasks included leveling, grading, grassing, creating a drainage system and fencing the area. Planned new buildings consisted of 25 Bellman hangers, 4 single storey workshops, accommodation and sport facilities for 2200 personnel. A bulk fuel installation and a railway siding to supply it were among the more expensive constructions to be undertaken. The original old wooden control tower was also to be replaced by a more sturdy and permanent steel construction.
Whilst construction was still underway and up until 22 October 1941, all administrative duties were performed at the Ottery Road Camp in Wynberg. During September 1941, while the grass runways were still under construction, it was decided that a hard surface runway had to be constructed. The construction of the hard surface was started immediately and by the end of December 1941 a runway, direction North-South, of 800 x 200 yards and two taxi ways of 100 feet were completed.
Most of the RAF personnel who were to serve at AFS Brooklyn had docked in Cape Town on the 2 September 1941. They were temporarily housed in a camp at Pollsmoor. Although the Base was still to a larger degree still under construction the first Christmas dance was held in the Airmen’s Mess, which together with the Sergeant’s Mess and canteen had been completed.
It was a big day for Brooklyn when the first aircraft, an Avro Anson, landed on the newly constructed airfield on the 10th of January 1942. Soon afterwards, on the 19th of January, the first batch of aircraft assembled at this depot took off for flight tests. With the assembling section now in full swing, the personnel numbered 1200.
On 20 January 1942, No 9 Air Depot, with all their WAAF members and RAF personnel, moved from Wingfield to Brooklyn whilst the SAAF personnel stayed behind until the last assemblies had been completed. They too then, also moved to AFS Brooklyn. A ferry flight of 32 pilots was established to deliver the new and repaired aircraft wherever they were needed.
With the increasing air traffic, the go-ahead was given in February 1942 to construct a wireless station with transmitting and receiving buildings. Accommodation facilities were also increased so as to accommodate up to 1600 members. The construction of camp facilities for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force was completed in March 1942.
Construction began on the new Airmen’s mess in spetember 1942. The station Strength is now 52 Officers, 30 Warrant Officers, 441 NCO’s and 1320 Airman, the total strength then 1843 personnel.
Post War Years
The first jet propelled Meteor III aircraft was assembled at Brooklyn in 1946. Its first fight took place on the 14th of May 1946 and was piloted by Captain Jack Meaker. By the 18th of October 1946, the aircraft had already flown eighty hours and was at Brooklyn for inspection and further tests at sea level.
With Brooklyn now an air base of a peacetime air force, the duties of the air station were now of a more supportive nature and it was visited by a number of missions, commissions, etc.
Owing to the fact Brooklyn housed several permanent force squadrons and all the necessary security facilities, it proved to be the most suitable home base for the City of Cape Town Auxiliary Squadron. 17 Squadron was officially reopened on the 4th of October 1947 but was to close again in 1955. The initial program included dual instruction for the squadron pilots on Harvard aircraft, where the permanent force instructors at Brooklyn played a vital role.
The Base then became known as Air Force Base Ysterplaat.