A Pride of Eagles
The Story of Rhodesia's Air Force
By Air Marshal M. J. McLaren, CLM
RULER WITH THE COMMON TOUCH
Profile of Air Marshal McLaren
THE YEARS OF ACHIEVEMENT
History of the Air Force
THE EYES AND TALONS OF THE EAGLE
The Air Force in action
No. 1 Squadron
LAST LAP TO "WINGS"
No. 2 Squadron
THEY DELIVER THE GOODS
No. 3 Squadron
No. 4 Squadron
LONG ARM OF DEFENCE
No. 5 Squadron
SCHOOL OF THE AIR
No. 6 Squadron
WORKHORSE OF THE FORCE
No. 7 Squadron
No. 1 Ground Training School
ITS A DOG'S LIFE!
No. 2 Ground Training School
The Rhodesian Women's Service.
A BASE IN THE BUSH
The Forward Air Field
NERVE CENTRE OF THE WAR
The Operations Room
The Volunteer Reserve
JACK OF MANY TRADES
The Helicopter Technician
THEY'RE 'CHUTING HIGH
The Parachute Training School
The General Service Unit
The Technical Wing
The Badges of Rank
CHAIN OF COMMAND
The Air Force Structure
The following abbreviations are used throughout this supplement:
AVM Air Vice-Marshal
Air Cdre Air Commodore
Gp Gpt Group Captain
Wg Cdr Wing' Commander
Flt Lt Flight Lieutenant
Air Lt Air Lieutenant
WO 1 Warrant Officer, Class 1
WO 2 Warrant Officer, Class 2
MS Master Sergeant
FS Flight Sergeant
SAC Senior Aircraftsman
LAC Leading Aircraftsman
A PRIDE OF EAGLES Is published for The Rhodesian Air Force by by The
Graham Publishing Company (Pvt) Ltd as a supplement to ILLUSTRATED
LIFE RHODESIA, in association with the Public Relations Section of
The Rhodesian Air Force.
Printed by Mardon Printers (Private) Limited, Salisbury, Rhodesia.
The Commander of the Rhodesian Air Force
Air Marshal M. J. McLaren, CLM.
I AM PARTICULARLY pleased to be able to introduce this supplement since it gives me the opportunity to highlight some facts of military life which are seldom publicised, and to pay tribute to the many people and organisations without whom the Rhodesian Air Force would find it difficult to operate.
That air power is the key to victory is today universally accepted. The principle has been seen for decades to apply to what we call conventional war, but only very recently has it also applied to anti-terrorist operations. Indeed, the classic communist blueprint has designed all terrorist initiatives to negate the fire power advantages of conventional defence forces and particularly to make impotent their air superiority.
The terrorist is supposed to be an invincible foe; difficult to find, hard to identify and impossible to destroy. Over the last 10 years, however, we have been able to demonstrate that air power is not only useful but is actually essential to combined anti-terrorist operations. Hundreds of terrorists HAVE been found and identified, and destroyed from the air - and air support enables our ground forces to move rapidly around the operational area. Air resupply keeps them equipped and air rescue facilities boost their morale and save their lives.
The techniques of the use of air power in an anti-terrorist campaign are still being developed and refined. Suffice it to say that the young men of Southern Africa, who are involved in that
development, are contributing greatly to the thwarting of the blueprint and the confounding of our enemies.
Yet, at this time of attention being focused on our border areas, we are very conscious of the need to avoid putting all our eggs into the anti-terrorist basket. It is imperative that we maintain an ability to defend Rhodesia farther afield than merely from our own backyard. We must have a viable air defence capability and must also retain the vital long-range strike potential which is a powerful deterrent against attack.
In each of our roles our efficiency Is determined by both manpower and material resources and by the levels of training and experience available. It is no secret that we have suffered some difficulties in the area of material procurement, but neither is it a secret that the leeway has been more than made good by the calibre of our manpower resources.
This supplement will serve to illustrate the part played by some of Rhodesia's airmen, but at best it can sketch only broad outlines of the major units of the Force, and I would like to place on record my appreciation of the efforts of those who do not feature in these pages.
THE individual weapon of any Air Force is, of course, the aircraft and its crew. They are both the instruments of our power and the reason for the existence of the rest of us, for the daily task of every man and woman in the Force is directed in some way towards getting an aircraft off the ground. Every apprentice and tradesman, every instructor, every cook, clerk and policeman supports that airborne effort in his own way.
Every man and woman is an indispensable part of the team, and each is mutually supporting, regardless of training, rank or race. The African airmen of our General Service Unit, for example, are every bit as keen and every bit as valuable to us as their colleagues in other units of the Force.
Our Regular Force is numerically very small, but is backed up by the Territorial Force, the General Reserve and the Volunteer Reserve. I would like to pay tribute to the men in each of these organisations for the support which they give to our corporate effort.
In particular, the members of the Volunteer Reserve are especially deserving of our appreciation. Little enough has been written for this supplement of the work of the VR, but I can say with all sincerity that at present levels of operational manning we would be unable to meet our commitments without them, and that their self-imposed standards of professionalism are an example to us all.
Outside the Force, too, we have had tremendous support. We are continually encouraged by messages from people all over Southern Africa, and heartened by the welfare assistance they have arranged on our behalf. The Border Patrol Welfare Fund and the Southern Cross Fund, amongst many other Forces' charities, have made major contributions to our well-being and morale.
The wives, girlfriends and families of our airmen are of enormous importance to us, and they merit recognition for their domestic support - often in conditions of increased difficulties and prolonged separation from their menfolk.
Finally, all those business organisations who have supported this supplement with advertising, or who have made welfare donations in lieu, have earned our gratitude; I can assure them all that their contribution is greater than they might think.
As the following pages will indicate, the Rhodesian Air Force is equipped and trained for a number of highly specialised tasks in the defence of our country. The support of the peoples of Rhodesia and South Africa does much to guarantee determination and dedication in those tasks.
M. J. McLaren
A Ruler with the Common Touch
Air Marshal McLaren rose from an inauspicious start to the Air Force's supreme position in near-record time - but he controls his men with the expertise of a born leader.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue; Or walk with kings, nor lose the common touch
THOSE words of Kipling's epitomise Air Marshal M. J. ("Mick") McLaren CLM, Commander of the Rhodesian Air Force. Here is a man whose full and varied life has equipped him to see all points of view; whose dedication to the Force, tested to the hilt by the rigours of his early training as a part-time airman, has given him a fine insight, but also a driving determination that nothing but the best is good enough for the cause he serves; and whose innate humility has endeared him to all his men as a memorable commander who is nonetheless never aloof.
He is 45, but looks younger and manages to keep reasonably slim despite the social load that goes with the job.
I think that if you're aware you're not looking quite as you should, especially in uniform, it affects your work potential to some extent," he says. "The same applies to tatty long hair — we in the Air Force like to keep our hair fairly short. It's all part of discipline."
Reserved and eschewing publicity (this is the first time since he took command of the Force that he has consented to a personal interview) he has, however, a relaxed, informal manner and a ready smile which immediately pets one at ease.
His reminiscences of his 24 years in the Air Force are peppered with humour, but beneath it all it is clear to see that each experience has been absorbed, digested and utilised eventually in some way, invariably for the ultimate benefit of the men beneath him.
Born in Mafeking, South Africa, the son of a lawyer, he has one brother. He was educated in Kimberley at the Christian Brothers' College. As a schoolleaver, he had no definite ideas as to what shape his future should take.
The outdoor lif
"I'd been through the same aspirant engine-driver scenes as any other youngster ... the one thing I was pretty sure about was that I didn't want to work in an office. I was keen on a more outdoor life.
"If I had any ambition, it was to join the Navy. But one had to go to the General Botha Training School as soon as one had completed Standard Eight and my mother insisted that I should stay on at school and get my Matriculation.
"I thought of the South African Air Force, but at that time — the end of 1947 — they weren't running any pilot training courses."
The family had relatives in Rhodesia, so the young Mick McLaren decided to come up to Salisbury where he joined his uncle's accountancy firm. Adept enough at figures (he had shone at mathematics at school) he found three months of this desk-bound existence quite enough and returned to South Africa, hoping that by this stage suitable courses would be available in the Navy or Air Force.
But this was not the case. So he joined De Beers as a diamond sorter. "I spent approximately a year sitting at a long table, sorting through heaps of diamonds grading them, weighing each packet and then recording this."
Dull stuff indeed for an adventurous teenager and eventually he went back to Rhodesia where he joined the Department of Justice.
But he found himself immured in a tiny office, stamping deeds most of the day — so he found another job, this time with the advertising department of the Rhodesia Herald
IT MUST have been a desolate time for him, but Fate was about to intervene, albeit initially in the mundane form of his Territorial Force training — "square bashing at the Drill Hall every Thursday evening.
"Then volunteers were called for to train in the Air Force on a part-time basis. I applied and was accepted. At last, it seemed, I would be doing something that really interested me."
There followed two years of a routine so gruelling that any half-earthed student must soon have fallen by the wayside. Fortunately for Rhodesia, Mick McLaren so revelled in all he was learning that he accepted cheerfully his new lifestyle.
At 4 am each morning, he would cycle to Cranborne for his flying lessons, then cycle back to town in order to start his job with the Rhodesia Herald
at 8 am.
At 5 pm he would bike back to Cranborne once more, for lectures which finished around 8 pm — "and then of course we would adjourn to the mess, where we often stayed rather late, so if I got two or three hours' sleep per night, I counted myself lucky."
Air Marshal McLaren makes appreciative mention in this context of the instructing staff at that time.
"The Force was so small then that almost every pilot was an instructor also. They had to be there too, at 4 am — and after they'd finished the instructing, they then had to begin their normal flying duties for the day.
A viable Force
"The technical staff worked equally hard. There was a keeness all round to get on and build a viable Force."
It took two years for the part-time students to earn their "wings", qualifying them as pilots. Half way through this course, the Short Service Unit scheme was introduced and the full-time members of this received their wings within 12 months.
The "moonlighters" could have been forgiven for regarding the "newcomers with a jaundiced eye.
But they took it in good part, and in fact the development further fired young Mick McLaren's determination to join the regular Force.
"After much badgering (obviously, I wasn't as good as I thought I was) I became a regular — coming in with the rank of corporal — 21 days before we were due to be 'winged'.
"There was of course a selection board to be faced before I was accepted into the Regular Force. I had to appear before Air Vice-Marshal 'Ted' Jacklin, the Air Force's first commander, and various other officers, .including Air Vice-Marshal Hawkins (then a
"One had to answer all sorts of what seemed inane questions. A standard one was: 'Do you drink'.
I THOUGHT this was a surprising question to ask of me, since for the past two years I had sat night after night in the mess with some of the very gentlemen across the table from me. So what should I reply? Yes? No? Occasionally?
"All this was going through my mind as I sat in perturbed silence, when Air Vice-Marshal Hawkins turned to Air Vice-Marshal Jacklin and said: 'This applicant reminds me of the chap who once appeared before a selection board and when asked if he drank, looked at his watch and said: "9.30 am ... well, not normally at this time of day, but if you're having one, I'll join
you." ' "
Once he received his wings, Cpl McLaren was promoted to the dizzy heights of sergeant pilot. I well remember Wings Day. As a special favour, we four NCOs were allowed to join the Short Service Unit chaps — who were by then acting second lieutenants — for a sherry party in the officers' mess, then for the ball that evening.
"Well, the sherry party went on longer than it should have done and somehow a window pane got broken ... we were consigned back to the sergeants' mess in a hurry.
All was forgiven
"However, all was forgiven apparently, for we were invited to, the ball after all."
The sergeant pilots were to serve 18 months before being commissioned. "Those early days were fascinating. There weren't many opportunities for a posting to an operational squadron, and most of us became instructors.
"This, I believe, is an excellent thing for any pilot: if you really want to learn to fly, it's important that you do an instructor's course.
"I count myself especially lucky in that around this time I was privileged to fly one of the Spitfires brought out from England to Rhodesia. It was probably the nicest aircraft (although not the easiest) that I have ever flown."
His was the last batch of NCO pilots; the decision was made that in future, pilots would become officers automatically upon receiving their wings.
Air Marshal McLaren comments: "I think this is a good thing. In training a pilot, you give a young man immense responsibilities at an early age — he could well receive his wings before his 21st birthday. Today's aircraft are expensive and sophisticated; he has to make vital decisions, often entirely on his own. "Also, in giving support to other elements of the Security Forces, he may well have to deal with higher ranking officers. All told, I believe that in keeping with these responsibilities he warrants commissioned rank. This of course applies to our navigators too."
1954, AND the Royal Rhodesian Air Force, as it then was, moved into a significant and busy phase: jet aircraft were introduced and to keep pace with the growth of the Force, it had been necessary to move the airport from Cranborne to New Sarum. .
Air Marshal McLaren recalls: "We were detached to Livingstone for six months. Everyone had to go along, but wives and children couldn't accompany us. We stayed in the chalets there and I must say that in that time we built up a wonderful esprit de corps.
"A weekly Dakota (known as the Passion Run) flew members back to Salisbury ... although after the two-hour flog in the 'Dak', we were feeling anything but passionate by the time we arrived."
Soon after his stint in Livingstone came a golden opportunity for an ambitious young officer: his first trip overseas.
"A Vampire ferry was planned and I was chosen to help fly them out. This was my big moment, I thought. Well, I took three weeks' leave beforehand and when I came back from this I was told to get myself jacked up by doing a bit of flying before we left.
"I dashed off in a Vampire, completed a normal sortie and roared back into circuit feeling pretty bucked at the thought of the impending trip.
"I did all the final checks — or thought I did — and landed on the runway without my wheels down, thus joining the illustrious band who have committed that particular crime.
"Needless to say, I received a large rocket from Air Vice-Marshal Jacklin. My heart was in my boots — I was certain I'd written off my chances of joining the ferry.
"But this wasn't so — an example of what I like to think is the true spirit of the Rhodesian Air Force: everyone makes the occasional mistake and this should not be held against a person."
However, it took Fit Lt McLaren, as he was then, a long time to live down his faux pas.
"When I was just about to depart from Benson in England, strapped into my Vampire, our liaison officer in Britain came up and said quietly: 'Mick, don't forget about your undercarriage ...'
"Even today when I have the opportunity to fly an aircraft, I always check about 14 times at least that my wheels are down before I land ..."
There was a disappointment in store for him when he got back; he had longed to join the first operational detachment to Aden, but instead found himself posted to Thornhill in a training capacity.
"I was a fairly bitter young officer," he says. "Of course now I understand why these things happen, in that I myself have to do them to other people!
"However, I was one of the first group to open up Thornhill and this presented a great challenge to us all. Facilities were few indeed; the citizens of Gwelo seemed pleased to see us, though, and the hospitality was overwhelming. I've had a special feeling for Gwelo ever since."
Then came another trip to Britain: this time to Bassingborne, to undergo a five-month conversion course on to the Canberras which the Rhodesian Air Force had just purchased.
Having previously flown as a singleton, this was Air Marshal McLaren's first taste of working with a navigator.
THEY were recruited from all over the place — the RAF and the SAAF mainly — and we all met up at Bassingborne. Then on the flight out to Africa, I had to subjugate myself to the fact of a
chap sitting in the back of the aircraft telling me what to do and where to go."
The two of them had a ticklish hour or so en route when, during some formation practice they, and another Canberra, got lost. There was a lot of cloud, and as time went on, the navigator's brow became increasingly furrowed.
"Once we let uncertainty get the upper hand we made all the mistakes in the book. I had visions of our commander's reaction when he heard that a couple of Canberras had been lost on the way out. My thoughts at that time were that it would be better, under the circumstances, if we didn't survive ..."
Happily, they eventually found the airport and landed with precious little fuel left.
Whilst in Bassingborne, the McLarens' youngest child and second daughter was born. Air Marshal McLaren had met his wife Rita in Rhodesia and they were married in 1954.
They have three children. The eldest daughter is a beautician, their son is currently doing his National Service with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and plans to go to Gwebi Agricultural College thereafter, and the younger daughter is still at school.
Following his conversion on to Canberras, Air Marshal McLaren joined No. 5 Squadron, and was part of the annual detachment to Cyprus, which he much enjoyed.
His next post was that of projects officer at New Sarum, dealing with certain developments with regard to aircraft weaponry.
At this point, the Air Force was about to acquire its first Alouettes from the Sud-Aviation company in France. Air Marshal McLaren hoped to be chosen to go to France for the conversion couse.
"But I was brought swiftly to earth with the news that I'd been appointed personal staff officer to the Chief of Air Staff, and that subsequently I would be attending Staff College in England for a year.
"This was all totally disenchanting to a chap who wanted to spend his life flying. I can say in retrospect, though, I'm glad that the wisdom of the Force prevailed. That year at Staff College was genuinely beneficial. It's a very important part of one's education in a career such as this."
The beginning of the McLarens' stay in England was not auspicous. They arrived to find England in the throes of one of her coldest winters ever and the married quarters allotted to them came as a distinct shock.
Air Marshal McLaren says with a grin: "As our taxi drove through the grounds of Bracknell, we saw some lovely double-storeyed married quarters on one side of the road and on the other, a number of prefabricated buildings.
" 'I wonder why they have the stables here,' my wife remarked. We soon discovered that the last stable' on the right was ours."
Outside appearances were deceptive though and it was a comfortable and cosy little quarter — and despite these initial setbacks, the family enjoyed their stay.
Air Marshal McLaren found the work fascinating and not too onerous. "Before leaving Rhodesia, I'd taught myself to touch-type as it was essential to hand in typed exercises. I'm a great believer in tackling tasks as quickly as possible, not leaving things to the last minute.
"I never let myself get behind with work — I think that's the secret. And Rita gave me a lot of assistance."
On his return to Rhodesia he was posted to Air Force Headquarters. Then, in 1966, he was appointed OC Flying Wing at Thornhill.
"This was a milestone. I'd always wanted this position. It was my ultimate ambition since the job is still actively associated with flying. But you know, one does gradually get weaned from flying as time goes on."
Operation Nickel broke out in August 1967, and so it was a gripping, satisfying period at Thornhill. But immediately after this, Air Marshal McLaren was moved to the Joint Planning Staff.
"I felt a bit divorced from things because I stayed there a comparatively long time. But one of our projects was writing up all the histories of the operations and that was interesting."
After three years at JPS, he was promoted to Air Commodore and then Air Officer (Administration) at Air Force Headquarters.
"Once again, I thought the gods were agin me. But actually, it's essential to get a grip on what the pilots call the Third Floor. So my time as AOA transpired to be very worthwhile."
THERE came a spell as Director General of Operations, in charge of air staff; and after that he became Deputy Chief of Air Staff, with promotion to Air Vice-Marshal in 1972. When Air Marshal A. O. G. Wilson retired in 1973, Air Marshal McLaren was appointed Commander of the Rhodesian Air Force.
Now in the last year of his tour of duty, he says: "Whereas I certainly believe in delegating responsibility where necessary, I've tried at the same time to keep abreast of everything which happens in the Force. I don't like to lose touch.
"To me, the worst thing today is the fact that by virtue of the size of the Air Force now, there are some chaps whom I don't know.
"I enjoy any opportunity of going to a station, visiting all the sections and then having a few drinks with the members in the mess afterwards.
"I wish I could spend more time in the operational area than I have been able to do. I like to visit each area, do a bit of flying with the chaps, get the feel of things and what problems they are facing."
During his three years in command, Air Marshal McLaren has had one main goal: "that of re-equipping the Air Force so that it will continue to be ready and able to meet all the demands upon it, providing the operational backing that is so necessary
"Air power is immensely important today. If the anti-terrorist war 'escalates, the Air Force will move even more into the picture. Thus w^ have got to have a balanced and viable Force: and that is going to cost money, but it is essential.
"However, the primary part the Rhodesian Air Force has to play is that of acting as a deterrent. It is vital that this country possesses this sort of ability to deter any enemies."
Air Marshal McLaren speaks with admiration and gratitude of the exceptional calibre of the men in the Rhodesian Air Force.
"The spirit and dedication is second to none. And I have a high regard for the youngster of today — not only our pilots, but the navigators, the technicians, the General Service Unit members, the Security element, the Reserves, in fact everyone.
Source of satisfaction
"A never-ending source of satisfaction to me within the past three years has been the high level of co-operation between all branches of the Security Forces. There is an understanding of each other's problems, an ability and willingness to work together that I believe is unique."
He has much praise for that patient and long-suffering lady, the Air Force wife. "The biggest thing in a serviceman's life is the support he gets from his wife. And if she provides this constantly, she deserves a medal."
Air Marshal McLaren has no concrete plans as yet regarding the years ahead after his retired. One thing is certain: this man will not be content to potter around at home, doing nothing — he thrives on a
Despite the heavy burdens of his office, he has always found it easy to relax and unwind.
Golf is his favourite leisure-time activity. He also enjoys doing crossword puzzles. Although he says that he has never been an outstanding sportsman, he has played every possible sport: "I think one should try everything."
"Challenge" is a word he often uses. Throughout his career, he has met each new problem — and surmounted what sometimes at first appeared to be dreary obstacles — with unfaltering zest, never content to stand still, always searching for a fresh field to explore and conquer. He is a fitting symbol of the Force he commands so wisely and so well.
|The culmination of a dream , the young Cpl McLaren receives his coveted "wings"|
from the Governor of Southern Rhodesia, Sir John Kennedy.
|The Commander in action, with the Army Commander, Lieutenant General Peter Wails, and the |
Prime Minister, Mr Ian Smith, Air Marshal McLaren (left) tours Air Force installations in the forward area
|In the relaxed, informal atmosphere of the officers' mess. Air Marshal McLaren (second from the right) is most at home. A recent visit by British comedians Eric Sykes (right) and Jimmy Edwards was the occasion for the presentation of unit badges.|
The Years of Achievement
Rhodesia's Air Force has always been a tiny organisation with a
disproportionate achievement to its credit. Trained and equipped, for most if
its existence, to defend the British Empire, it has now swung smoothly into the
very different responsibility of territorial defence.
IN COMMON with many other similar services around the world, the Rhodesian
Air Force exists as a result of a somewhat confused gestation and a very
uncertain birth. The date on what might be described as its birth certificate
reads November 28, 1947. for this was indeed the date of the official beginning
of the Force as a regular defence unit.
But the event occurred as a direct result of actions taken 13 years
before, in the mid-1930s.
On April 23, 1934, the Member for Bulawayo North, Colonel Brady,
introduced a loyal motion
that a contribution should be made to help the Royal Navy in its defence
of the British Empire. The, House approved the motion enthusiastically, and the
sum of £10 000 was allocated to the cause.
However, before matters could be taken further, the Imperial Defence
Committee intimated that a more practical use could be-found for the money in
the provision of an ar training unit to be established in Rhodesia.
And so the De Havilland company was commissioned to supply aircraft and
undertake the elementary training of pilots, and military aviation was to start
awaking its mark upon the country's history.
The Air Unit was established on a Territorial Force basis as part of the
Rhodesia Regiment, and the training of its members began in November 1935 at
Belvedere Airport, Salisbury.
The first course of six trainee pilots attended instructional periods on
weekends and on Wednesday afternoons. Their aircraft were Tiger Moths, popularly
held at the time to be so safe that they would crash only if deliberately flown
at the ground.
Soon after flying started, two important steps were taken to ensure a
future for the new air arm. In 1936 provision was made for airmen to join the
Permanent Staff Corps of the Southern Rhodesian Defence Force as regulars, and
the first course of apprentices was sent to Britain for technical training.
Maj Dirk Cloete, then Director of Civil Aviation, commanded the new unit
as staff officer Air Services for the next two years. Of the apprentices who
received their training at RAF Halton, three subsequently played vital parts in
the growth of the Air Force and retired at senior ranks.
Hawker Hart biplanes
But despite the long-term planning, the attention of all in those early
days was focused principally on immediate developments. In 1937 six Hawker Hart
biplanes were bought from the Royal Air Force and two, experienced flying
instructors were obtained from the same source on secondment.
On May 13,1938, the first course of six Rhodesian pilots received the
wings which to this day still incorporate the national coat-of-arms as a central
design. Later in the year they were to prove themselves by flying the next batch
of aircraft to Rhodesia.
With war clouds looming over Europe, the Territorial Force members of the
Air Unit were called up for full-time service in August 1939, and by the end of
the month the aircraft were on the move. Ten pilots (amongst whom was Lt E. W.
S. Jacklin, later to befcome the first postwar Chief of Air Staff) and eight
aircfraft left Salisbury on August 27 to fly to Nairobi — constituting the only
aerial force available to Imperial Authorities in East Africa.
Within a few short years, the 1935 decision to divert Rhodesia's
contribution from naval to air power had been amply justified!
NAIROBI proved to be merely a staging post on the route north, for within
two or three days all the Rhodesian aircraft had been moved up to the Northern
Frontier District on the Abyssinian border. On September 19,1939, the Air Unit
officially became the Southern Rhodesia Air Force, and the flights on service in
Kenya were designated No. 1 Squadron of that Force.
In April 1940, all Southern Rhodesia Air Force personnel were absorbed
into the Royal Air Force, and No. 1 Squadron was redesignated No. 237 (Rhodesia)
Squadron. As a tribute to its preparedness, it was allowed to adopt the motto
"Primum Agmen in Caelo," which may be translated as "The First Force in the
By November 1941, No. 237 Squadron was equipped with Hurricanes and was
embroiled in the see-saw battles with the Afrika Korps and the Luftwaffe. In
February 1942, it was ordered back to Ismailia in the Canal Zone before
travelling yet farther east.
The next year was spent covering the Iraq/Persia sector with the squadron
operating, from such bases as Mosul, Kermanshah and Kirkuk. In March 1943, it
returned to the Canal Zone, where its role was changed from army co-operation to
A long spell of operations across North Africa followed, during which the
squadron moved progressively westward.
Disbanded in 1945
But with the war obviously coming to an end, the squadron was gradually
losing its all Rhodesian nature. It became increasingly difficult to replace
personnel who had completed their operational tour, and after two more moves to
France and Italy, the squadron was eventually disbanded in 1945.
But 237 was not the only unit to operate as a "Rhodesian" squadron within
the Royal Air Force. In August 1940, No. 266 Squadron was officially designated
a "Rhodesian" unit and the decision was made that aircrew from Rhodesia should
be posted to it. The following year, No. 44 Squadron of bomber command followed
In addition to the Rhodesians who fought in these three squadrons, there
were obviously many more who played their part in other Air Force units and in
other theatres of operation.
During the six years of war, the total numbers of Rhodesians in Air Force
blue stood at 977 officers and 1 432 other ranks. Of these, 498 were killed — a
proportion of one man in every five who went to war.
But one further casualty of the war was the Air Force itself — certainly
as far as Rhodesia was concerned. No. 1 Squadron of the Southern Rhodesia Air
Force had been turned into 237 Squadron, which had then been disbanded.
Further, the training element of the old SRAF had been absorbed into the
Royal Air Force and had become the nucleus of the huge Rhodesian Air Training
Group. But in doing so, it had lost its identity.
It was not, however, a situation that was to last long, and the vacuum was
soon to be filled. In the immediate postwar period, men trickled back to
Rhodesia after being demobilized from the British services. Some of them
rejoined the Southern Rhodesia Staff Corps, generally at very lowly ranks, and
it was from this nucleus that the Air Force was to rise once again.
MANY of the ex-Air Force members of the Staff Corps itched to re-establish
military aviation, but the prospects were far from promising. There was no
money, there were no aircraft, and even the original SRAF buildings at Cranborne
had been appropriated for use by immigrants and by various Government
However, the enthusiasts cajoled and persuaded, and eventually they
attracted to their cause Sir Ernest Guest, then Minister of Defence, and Col S.
Garlake, Commander of Military Forces in Southern Rhodesia.
The result was the provision of a budget of £20 000 and the instruction to
form an air unit. The financial grant was woefully inadequate, but there were
almost limitless reserves of enthusiasm and resourcefulness to call upon.
Under the leadership of Lt Col E. W. S. Jacklin, the dozen or so officers
and men of the unit set about acquiring some aircraft. The Royal Air Force
contributed a war surplus Anson, and then a major salvage exercise started.
The men went on forays through the old RAF maintenance depots and even old
scrap dumps. Tools, raw materials, spares, supplies and even trained personnel
filtered through to the little unit at Cranborne from all over the country.
Eventually, using basic tools and equipment, the unit had rebuilt six
scrapped and abandoned Tiger Moths.
On November 28, 1947, the Government Gazette carried a notice establishing
the Air Force as a Permanent Unit, and this was the real beginning of the
Rhodesian Air Force of today.
The six rebuilt Tigers were joined by six Harvard trainers purchased from
the Rhodesian Air Training Group, and later there were 12 more Harvards obtained
from South Africa at nominal prices.
The work paid off in gradual expansion; more ex-Air Force personnel joined
the unit, and gradually a varied selection of aircraft was acquired.
By 1951, a Leopard Moth, a Dakota, Rapides, Ansons, and Austers had been
collected from a variety of sources, and the unit operated with a small regular
element and one active auxiliary squadron — No. 1 Squadron.
By this time the Berlin Blockade, the clamping of the Iron Curtain across
Europe and the onset of the Korean War had made it obvious to all that the
preservation of peace was to be more a matter of armed preparedness than of
So once again the Southern Rhodesia Government made a contribution to the
defence of the Commonwealth; this time it was in the form of two fighter
From Britain 22 Spitfires were successfully ferried out (in spite of dire
predictions and a certain amount of betting from a number of British aviation
experts) and full-time flying training was reintroduced in the form of the
"Short Service" training scheme.
In 1952 the Force moved from Cranborne to Kentucky Airport, which
subsequently became the huge airfield jointly used by New Sarum Air Force
Station and Salisbury International Airport.
This was the Air Force's first permanent home, and it was the first time
that it had occupied buildings and facilities specifically designed for its
THE expansion continued in 1954 with the acquisition of Vampire
fighter/bombers and Provost piston-engined trainers. Seven more Dakotas and two
Pembrokes were acquired to replace the Ansons and Rapides, and further aircrew
and technicians were recruited.
By the beginning of 1956, the Air Force boasted four active squadrons, two
Vampire fighter squadrons, a transport squadron and a flying training squadron.
Africa was now being subjected to the first of the many political changes
leading up to the withdrawal of the colonial nations. The Federation of Rhodesia
and Nyasaland was formed and, in its turn, caused some major changes within the
The title was changed to Rhodesian Air Force, and then Queen Elizabeth
conferred the "Royal" prefix. As the Royal Rhodesian Air Force, the unit forsook its
Army ranks and khaki uniforms and adopted ranks and uniforms similar to those of
the Royal Air Force.
But the major change of the Federal inception was one of scope and
responsibility. From being a minor, self-contained Force preoccupied with
territorial defence, the RRAF was now responsible for the defence of the
Federation as a whole and was also to acquire a wider responsibility as a part
of the Royal Air Force's potential in the Middle East.
During 1959, Canberra jet bombers and Canadair C-4 transport aircraft were
acquired. The RRAF was obtaining the potential it might need to make its
contribution to Commonwealth defence.
Rhodesia did make its contributions and acquitted itself well enough to
gain an envied reputation for efficiency amongst the RAF units in the Middle East. From
1958 on, the RRAF fighter squadrons regularly took part in RAF operations
against dissident elements in the Arabian peninsular.
The reputation was enhanced by Rhodesian transport support to the British
Army during the Kuwait crisis of 1961 and during the Kenyan flood-relef exercise
of the same year.
Again, the Rhodesian bomber squadron acquired an increasing reputation
from its first training visit to RAF bomber squadrons in Cyprus in 1959.
By the fourth and last visit in 1963, the squadron had developed its
skills sufficiently to win the coveted Middle East Bombing Trophy from under the
nose's of the RAF units — most of whom operated newer aircraft and more
However, by the early 1960s it was obvious that the pattern of events was
changing. The winds of political change were blowing through Africa and carrying
with them many of the old ties and loyalties, many of the old treaties and
It seemed that while Rhodesia might still be ready to offer support to the
Commonwealth, that body would be unable to accept it. Indeed, it seemed possible
that the Commonwealth might become so fragmented that it would cease to exist at
But above all, it seemed likely to the farsighted that the role of the Air
Force would have to change yet again. In the face of threats to her own
security, Rhodesia would be forced to abandon any thoughts of external
responsibilities and would have to concentrate once more on territorial defence.
F1961, Air Vice-Marshal E. W. S. Jacklin, the . "father" of the modern Air
Force, retired from the service and was replaced by Air Vice-Marshal A. M.
Also in that year a Volunteer Reserve of officers and airmen was started
to provide a pool of essential skills throughout the country. The VR today
consists of a well-trained, enthusiastic and efficient support for the Regular
In 1962, a squadron of French Alouette helicopters added a badly needed
vertical support and rescue capability, and the following year a squadron of
Hunter jet fighters added strike potential.
By the break-up of the Federation on December 31, 1963, the RRAF had
achieved a workable balance of potential spread through its squadrons. In the
aftermath of the Federal dissolution, a number of aircraft were relinquished and
there was a small reduction of manpower, but the Air Force was largely
unaffected. Its control, however, automatically reverted to the Southern
During the next two years, the RRAF pursued a training programme aimed at
improving territorial defence procedures in concert with Police and Army
authorities. The first signs of terrorist activity became apparent along
Rhodesia's borders, and the country's Forces adapted their methods to deal with
In 1965, AVM Bentley, was succeeded by AVM Harold Hawkins. But the new
Chief of Air Staff had little time to settle himself in before the
Anglo-Rhodesian political confrontation came to a head.
War of sanctions
On November 11, 1965, Rhodesia declared UDI and soon the economic war of
sanctions was started. For an Air Force whose aircraft and equipment were almost
entirely British, the situation presented some major difficulties.
Not only was the RRAF prevented from purchasing new equipment in its
traditional markets, but it was also cut off from overhaul and repair facilities
and from a valuable recruiting area.
Once again ingenuity and improvisation proved their worth, and under the
impetus of the needs of the moment, the difficulties were gradually overcome.
New methods and new thinking reduced expenditure and improved efficiency — often
with startling results.
One post-Independence invention reduced the cost of starting a jet engine
from $10 to 30 cents, replacing imported materials with local, and extending the
life of the starter system in the process!
How Rhodesia's Air Force has managed not only to survive but to maintain
operational efficiency under the restrictions of sanctions is a mystery that is
baffling aviation authorities around the , world. But to judge the extent of
that efficiency it is necessary only to study the record of the years since
One of the early triumphs in the economic battle was the acquisition of
yet another squadron of aircraft. Light transport and reconnaissance aircraft,
they arrived in large, unmarked wooden crates — which might account for the
application of the local name "Trojan".
They were assembled and were quickly in service, for by now the Air Force
had its sights set. In co-operation with the Army and Police personnel on the
ground, the Force carried out border patrol missions and effectively dealt with
all terrorist incursions as the need dictated.
IN 1969, Air Vice-Marshal A. 0. G. Wilson succeeded AVM Hawkins as Chief
of Air Staff — in time to preside over the most recent change in the status of
In March 1970, the "Royal" prefix was dropped, and the official title of
the Force became Rhodesian Air Force. In the same month, the new aircraft roundel was
adopted, and in April the new Force Ensign incorporating the roundel was
unfurled for the first time. Badges of rank were also changed to incorporate the
Rhodesian Lion design.
On May 25, 1971, the Rhodesian Air Force as a whole was accorded the
honour of Conferral of the Freedom of the City of Salisbury..
The presentation was in "recognition of the proud record of the Air Force,
and of its honoured traditions and proud achievements and in its continuing defence of our
country which has contributed so notably to the welfare and peaceful progress of
all our people."
The following year saw the Force reach its first 25 years of continuous
service. Thus, on November 28, 1972, the then President, the Hon. Clifford Dupont, presented
the Air Force with its first Colour in a formal parade at Government House, Salisbury.
The presentation was followed by a ceremonial march through the city with
the new Colour flying.
On April 13, 1973, Air Marshal M. J. McLaren assumed command of the Force,
on the retirement of Air Marshal Wilson.
By early 1975, the military forces of Rhodesia had been engaged in
full-time anti-terrorist activity for some years, and the problems associated
with continued deployments and call-ups of reserves were placing considerable
strains on the pool of available manpower.
The decision was taken, therefore, to enlist women members of the Regular
Army and Air Force to replace men in some occupations in Base areas. The first
course of recruits included seven women who appeared proudly in Air Force blue
in 1975. Since then more women have followed and the scheme has been amply
A shaky beginning the Force may have had. But it did survive and grow, and
its existence is no longer in doubt. Now the skills, the dedication and the
courage of its men and women will ensure that the existence of Rhodesia itself
is similarly assured.
A simple enough ambition for a Force whose motto is:
"Our wings are as the fortress to our land."
|Rhodesian Vampires at Aden in the Fifties. The aircraft had all to be flown in a formation one morning before British officers would believe the 100 per cent serviceability returns|
|November 28th, 1972 — the Air Force contingent, having been awarded the Presidential Colour, marches through Salisbury "with bayonets fixed, drums beating and flags flying."|
|Harvard trainees of the pre-Federal era display the SRAF roundel of red, white and blue flanked by|
the green and yellow flash
|Rhodesian Canberras on training detachments to Cyprus bear the "three-spear" Federal roundel|
The Eyes and Talons of the Eagle
The Air Force today has four distinct roles to play. These are: to defend Rhodesia's air space, to act as a strategic (or political) deterrent, to support the ground forces in internal security operations and to support the civil power for all non-military purposes.
ASK THE average city dweller for his mental picture of the Air Force, and the chances are that he'll visualise jet fighters screaming over Salisbury or Gwelo; perhaps helicopters whirring in to a hospital landing zone: and smart blue uniforms.
There is so much more to it than that. Whereas in our present circumstances, ground forces are understandably committed almost totally to eradicating the terrorist canker, the vital primary role of the Air Force is to see to it that other inimical outsiders are never tempted to maim Rhodesia on a more serious scale.
There are always two ways in which this protection is implemented. Firstly, the defence of our air space — the denial to the enemy of any part of Rhodesia's skies.
The ability to intercept the enemy in our own skies and the fact that our foes are aware of this potential, involving highly efficient aircraft able to tackle all comers, mean that a hostile intruder would be foolhardy indeed to set as much as one wing, uninvited, across our frontiers.
Secondly, it is imperative for Rhodesia to possess a strategic (or, if you like, political) deterrent.
To appreciate this, draw an imaginary line 1 000 nautical miles in length, from each section of Rhodesia's borders — north, south, east and west. Then join up the farthermost points to form a circle.
This, as you will see, encompasses the entire subcontinent. And those farthermost points making up the circumference are within our striking range, should the need arise.
The Air Force's Canberra bombers, which each carry 8 000 lb of bombs, are capable, in the event of attack, of racing out to blast that aggressor's military potential and key installations, 1 000 miles away perhaps, and returning to Salisbury within a matter of hours.
At this present time, the Canberras work only within Rhodesia, training for their various strike roles and carrying out photographic survey work.
But the mere fact of their presence in the Air Force, and their known potential in time of conventional war, are "big sticks" indeed in their country's armoury.
The third role of the Air Force is that of support to the ground forces in the internal security operations context.
Although its seven squadrons are based at Thornhill and New Sarum, their members — and especially those of Nos. 4 and 7 Squadrons — spend the greater proportion of their time in the operational area.
I saw many more combat denims than spruce blue uniforms during my weeks of researching this supplement.
The Force's supportive activities, including air striking, trooping, casualty evacuation, reconnaissance and supply work, are covered elsewhere in this supplement, but a factor worthy of mention is that the Air Force can establish an operational air field within 24 hours at any one of the thousands of rough grass air strips in Rhodesia.
Let's suppose that Security Force Headquarters have decided that a new temporary forward air field is required at XYZ in Rhodesia — a spot which at the time the decision is made, consists only of a turf strip.
Immediately the Air Force swings into action. Men, ammunition and fuel are flown to the site, light aircraft and helicopters accompanying them so that air power can be provided within minutes should a contact take place in the sphere of activity.
At the same time, transport aircraft fly in, laden with all the domestic facilities — food, kitchen, messing and ablution equipment, bedding ... everything, in fact, from portable toilets to knives and forks.
Simultaneously a communications caravan arrives, self sufficient with its own aerial systems and power supply.
The generator is started, the aerial is erected, and with the first plug in, an instant mobile operations room is in existence, and in touch with all other military bases in Rhodesia.
All this takes place within 24 hours — from one dawn to another, a hitherto deserted strip has been converted to a fully operational airfield.
More durable fixture
If events indicate that permanent air presence is going to be needed in this area for some time to come, the temporary facilities will soon be replaced by more durable fixtures.
The Air Force's fourth role is support to the civil power. This task stretches from riot control capabilities to casualty evacuation of civilians; courier work, VIP transport and the photographic survey work done for the Surveyor General's Department — in fact, the use of the Force's aircraft for anything other than purely military purposes.
Casualty evacuation is available and readily supplied to everyone in dire need throughout Rhodesia. A telephone call to the Ministry of Health from a civilian doctor in a remote spot, on behalf of an ailing patient, instantly precipitates the Air Force being called upon to send an aircraft — fixed-wing if a landing strip is nearby, a helicopter if landing facilities are virtually non-existent — to pick up the patient and fly him or her with all possible speed to the nearest hospital. Thousands of lives have been saved this way, over the years.
These, then, are the diverse faces of the Rhodesian Air Force: versatility indeed, which it has had to acquire and maintain during the past decade.
Up until 1963, when Rhodesia was still under Britain's roof, the Force in this country was trained, equipped and organised chiefly for the purpose of helping out with Empire defence.
Her aircraft and personnel were frequently called upon to join the RAF in Aden, Cyprus and other trouble spots; the presence of air power in Rhodesia was also considered a strong political deterrent for Britain's benefit.
But by 1964 it was clear that Rhodesia had to become more self-protective, more introspective
as regards the use of her military might.
With the advent of the anti-terrorist war and with the isolation that followed November 11, 1965, she had to begin thinking mainly in terms of territorial defence.
It is to her credit that she adapted so swiftly and so well; and her Air Force's smooth switch of emphasis to that of internal security operations (involving extensive modifications concerning aircraft and general modus operandi) is perhaps the Force's most signal achievement in its 29 years of continuous existence.
However, it is ever mindful of the need for perpetual vigilance: maintaining those muscles which would come into play in the event of conventional warfare being waged upon Rhodesia... and which therefore represent a distinct disincentive for this country's enemies.
Money and manpower
Money and manpower for this aspect are just as essential as for meeting the current counter-insurgency demands upon the Force.
In the diary of a terrorist captured recently, its owner had written: "The situation at home" (his camp) "is not very bad, but the problem is Air Force. If you attack anywhere, it doesn't take time for Air Force to come."
Simple words, but in a nutshell they sum up the ineffable value of the Rhodesian Air Force to its nation.
|Hunter (foreground) and Vampire aircraft provide an air defence capability as well as deadly ground attack potential.|
|Without helicopters the bush war would be a very different story.|
The air is the only method of moving troops rapidly in rough terrain
|A squadron of Canberra bombers represents enormous military potential, and|
therefore considerable political influence
|Casualty evacuation by air is available to anyone in Rhodesia — the only qualification being dire need.|
|Photographic surveys from 10 miles high have saved the country millions of dollars. |
Here technicians of the Photographic Section check prints of each film before despatching them to the Surveyor General
(No. 1 Squadron)
The high flyying Hunters of No. 1 Squadron are Rhodesia's first line of defence
against air attack, but they have also proved their worth in a ground attack
role in the anti-terrorist war along our borders.
IF THE Trojan is the work horse, then the Hawker Hunter is certainly the
racehorse of the Rhodesian Air Force stables. Sleek, swift and spectacular, she
is the star of any air display, and a source of pride and satisfaction to the
men who fly her and maintain her.
No. 1 Squadron is the "Hunter Squadron", but this was not always so. In
fact, the history of this unit goes back to 1939 when, just after the outbreak
of the Second World War, the Air Unit officially became the Southern Rhodesian
Air Force, and the flights on service in Kenya were designated No. 1 Squadron.
In 1940, when all Rhodesian Air Force personnel were absorbed into the
Royal Air Force, No. 1 Squadron was re-designated No. 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron,
and carved an illustrious name for its country in the years following.
Battle of Britain
With peacetime, and the re-establishing of an air unit in Southern
Rhodesia, No. 1 Squadron rose again ... and from it grew the Rhodesian Air Force
In 1956, No. 1 Squadron acquired its first jets — the Vampires. In
September, 1957, 12 RRAF Vampires streaked over Salisbury, Lusaka and Blantyre,
to commemorate the Battle of Britain.
A newspaper reporter was taken along for the ride, and breathlessly wrote:
"Strapped in an ejector seat, I toured the Federation in just over four hours'
January, 1958, and the squadron was detached to Aden for what was
officially termed "operational training with the RAF" but which later transpired
to be, as a soft drink commercial says, the Real Thing — combating insurrection
in very rugged terrain indeed.
At a farewell parade before the departure for Aden, Lord Dalhousie, the
Governor-General of the Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland at that time,
commented that few fighter squadrons anywhere could claim similar statistics of
hours flown, or similar mastery of their weapons.
"ONE of the old lion's sharpest claws" — that was his description of No. 1
Squadron — and he went on to speak of it as "a unit happy in itself, and
confident of its ability to handle any situation, whatever it is, and whatever
Lord Dalhousie would have been amazed that day were he to have been able
to peer into Rhodesia's future, and witness how ironically prophetic his words
were; they apply just as well, if not more so, to No. 1 Squadron today.
The unit received even more intimidating "claws" in 1962 when its first
Hunters arrived in memorable style.
Wrote the Rhodesia Herald: "The latest addition to the RRAF arrived in
Salisbury with the biggest bang ever heard over the city — it brought a stream
of protests from people in the Salisbury area."
The report went on to say that two of the jet fighters "screamed about 1
000 ft over the city, at 400 mph" and as a result, the newspaper offices were
inundated with complaints about crying children, swooning ladies and comatose
The first Hunter conversion course (which lasts a total of 38 flying
hours) had taken place in November.
First militant task
In January, the new aircraft were given their first militant task, when
four were requested to hot-foot it to Ndola because United Nations jets had been
spotted well inside the Rhodesian border.
Reconnaissance duly took place, but evidently the intruders had retreated,
Much of 1963 was spent practising battle formation and mounting bombing
trials. The Hunter's formidable armaments comprise rockets, cannons and bombs —
each round from one cannon has the same shrapnel spread as that of a
It is estimated that each Hunter has the equivalent fire power of a
The Hunter can keep firing for up to 14 minutes at a time, depending upon
switch selection, and its skilful technicians can effect an armament
"turn-around" in six minutes, replacing the ammunition in entirety.
All told, the refuelling, checking and re-arming process, from engines off
to airborne state ready to fight once more, can be done in 18 minutes — a great
advantage in wartime where speed is of the essence.
The Hunter can cover 16 km (10 miles) in one minute — the Gwelo to Cape
Town trip takes two and a half hours, and is comfortably within the aircraft's 2
880 km (1 880 mile) range.
Its maximum height is 45 000 ft, and its high rate of climb (11 minutes to
reach 45 000 ft) makes it ideal for interception work, although its present
major task in our current anti-terrorist war is that of ground attack.
November 1965, and the Rhodesia Herald reported that "the RAF's 29
Squadron is in a huff ... because of the Zambian Foreign Minister's gibe that it
is no match for Rhodesia's Hunter Squadron".
With enemies like that, the gratified Rhodesians might well have asked,
who needs friends?
When the anti-terrorist war broke out, the Hunters had a chance to show
their muscles. The squadron diary records that in August 1967 — "for the first
time in six years, the squadron became engaged in active operations.
"Operation Nickel found us carrying out a 15-minute standby for some three
and a half weeks, during which *** and *** (two of the pilots) were scrambled
and fired RP and 30 mm into a prescribed area."
In October that year, rockets were fitted to all the Hunters. Nine months
later, the diarist wrote: "Bang! bang! the war was on again, for us, with
Operation Mansion giving us a chance to display our weapons capability."
But it has undoubtedly been Operation Hurricane which has brought the
Hunter into the limelight. In February 1973, No. 1 Squadron carried out its
first Hunter strike during Operation Hurricane, and under difficult conditions.
The target, a terrorist base, was in a ravine, the ground rising 100-150
ft at the far end, with the cloud base just 100 ft above this. However, level
attacks were carried out on target.
MARCH and April also saw action for the squadron, and in May, Hunters
provided top cover while rescue operations were under way to retrieve the bodies
of two Canadian girls and an American man from a gorge in the Zambezi River,
after they had been shot dead by fire from Zambian soldiers on the opposite
September 21 was a special day indeed for the squadron: it became the
first in the Rhodesian Air Force to be presented with a Standard.
Enquiries had been made to the Royal College of Heralds, and it was
established that No. 1 Squadron had the right to receive a Standard, and to
display the Battle Honours to which No. 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron had officially
Several former pilots of that gallant band were present to watch Air
Marshal A. O. G. Wilson present the Standard.
A moving prayer
In a moving prayer, Major the Reverend John Fall of the Rhodesian Army
said: "Forasmuch as men at all times have made for themselves signs and emblems
of their allegiance to the rulers, and of their duty to uphold those laws and
institutions, which God's Providence has called them to obey ... (we) are met
together before God, to ask his blessing on this Standard, which is to represent
to us our duty towards our country,
and to pray that it may never be unfurled save in the course of justice
and righteousness, and that it may be an abiding symbol of our resolve to guard,
to cherish and to sustain the great tradition of valour and self-sacrifice which
we are proud to inherit."
That "resolve to guard" has involved No. 1 Squadron in a number of tense
moments over the years of counter-insurgency warfare although they have flown
all missions without loss. Incidentally, for the edification of those few
civilian faint-hearts who mutter about the magical Strellas and Sams, it is
appropriate here to note that during the Angolan war, the MPLA units equipped
with SAM 7 missiles did not score a single hit, either against aircraft or
On the lighter side, No. 1 Squadron had a singular challenge recently when
a South African magazine wrote that Rhodesian jet pilots were so skilled that
they could shoot up a dustbin in a "jungle clearing".
No. 4 Squadron promptly acquired a dustbin and presented it to No. 1
Squadron, who picked up this unusual gauntlet.
Rich Brand, OC of No. 1 Squadron, who is respected as one of the best
marksmen in the Rhodesian Air Force, placed the dustbin in the midst of a target
training ground, and during a training flight, swooped in on it at approximately
720 km per hour, flicked the button of one of the Hunter's cannons and blew a
gaping hole in the receptacle ... which, now galvanised, stands at Air Force
THIS incident, needless to say, delighted the wags of other squadrons, who
have since had a field day making mock of the coup de feu.
The resident cartoonist of No. 6 Squadron produced several masterpieces,
my favourite depicts a gang of six terrorists squatting round a camp fire (one
wearing a T shirt with the legend "Terrs Are Super" and with a Jebel Cat motif,
which consists of the very frank backview of a torn cat, long since adopted by
No. 1 Squadron as its symbol.)
In the background a Hunter flashes in, cannons blazing, upon a dustbin
which is frantically running away on tiny stick legs. One terrorist is saying to
another in blase fashion: "Oh, no — not another dustbin-shooting display."
Rich Brand took over command of No. 1 Squadron in January 1976, and says
of the Hunter: "A most enjoyable aircraft to fly: it handles very nicely, and
its manoeuvrability is a great advantage."
Before he took over No. 1 Squadron, Sqn Ldr Brand embarked on a personal
physical fitness campaign.
"A fighter pilot has to be fit," he says. "You're pulling 6g (six times
the force of gravity) on a sortie, and the more unfit you are, the lower your
threshold of endurance."
Mark Vernon, 20, is No. 1 Squadron's newest pilot. He joined the Air Force
in 1974 and went through the usual processing at the Ground Training School —
the initial training phase, then six months flying Provosts, followed by six
months on jets (Vampires).
Then came his operational conversion, consisting of 26 sorties and
intensive tuition. Conversion to Hunter flying begins with a total of 10 hours
in the .simulator, which is a duplication of a proper aircraft.
First solo trip
All instruments and controls are operated electrically by means of a
computer. On a console, the instructor is able to monitor all the pilot's moves
in the cockpit, and feed in simulated emergencies to him. After this comes the
pilot's first solo trip in a Hunter.
Mark is now a fully fledged jet pilot, but for the next few months, he'll
be going out on sorties in
tandem with a more experienced colleague.
I asked him what he liked best about the Hunter? Unhesitatingly he
replied: "The fact that it's a single-seater fighter."
Weekends in Gwelo
He's naturally pleased to have completed his two and a half years of
training, but the only fly in the ointment about being fully operational and
thus prone to standbys is, as he says wryly, "having to spend one's weekends in
As I talked to the members of No. 1 Squadron, they were "scrambled".
Within minutes, several aircraft were streaking off into the skies, bound for
the Operation Thrasher area, which they would reach in not more than a quarter
of an hour, if that. I heard later that 13 terrorists had been accounted for
during that particular strike.
The "old lion", which Lord Dalhousie spoke of, may nowadays be regarded as
somewhat toothless, but its Rhodesian cub — now grown to independence and
maturity — has powerful claws indeed, of which No. 1 Squadron is still
undoubtedly an impressive part.
THE OFFICER COMMANDING: SQN LDR RICH BRAND
IT IS said that Rich Brand has only aviation fuel flowing in his veins — a
volatile mixture of paraffin, high octane petrol and just a touch of ether for
For his whole life has been occupied with model aircraft (he achieved both
Rhodesian and South African champion status with his radio-controlled models)
and with the real thing.
It may well be that the mould was set decades ago, for he is the nephew of
Sir Quintin Brand who was the first aviator to arrive in Rhodesia in 1920 when
he and his co-pilot Sir Pierre van Ryneveld brought their aircraft, "Silver
Queen", to rest on Bulawayo racecourse.'
Sqn Ldr Brand, 37, was born and educated in Johannesburg. He joined the
RRAF in 1960 and was appointed to command No. 1 Squadron in February 1976. He
and his wife — the daughter of another airman — have two children.
The Last Lap to 'Wings'
(No. 2 Squadron)
The Vampires of No. 2 Squadron provide an aerial classroom, where the
youthful pupils are taught the deadly skills of defence.
NO. 2 SQUADRON has had several forms of existence. But despite subsequent
due demises, like the Wild West heroes, it has lived to fight another day.
First born in January 1956, at Salisbury's New Sarum, its primary role was
that of providing advanced flying training for Short Service Unit pupils.
The squadron was disbanded in June 1957 though, and the staff pilots
posted to No. 1 Squadron, the advanced flying training being undertaken by "A"
Flight of that squadron.
In September 1958, No. 2 Squadron was reformed, this time at Thornhill,
and managed to see members of No. 2 Short Service Unit through their advanced
flying training period before the squadron was once more disbanded, and its
staff pilots posted to attend Canberra conversion courses in England, prior to
the formation of No. 5 Squadron.
In March 1960, it was yet again decided to reform No. 2 Squadron as a
training unit, to pave the way for the reintroduction of flying training in the
The squadron was to train flying instructors on both the Percival Provost
TI and the Vampire T11, before the commencement of the basic and advanced flying
training of pupil pilots under the new pilot training course scheme.
Secondary roles allotted to the squadron comprised internal security
duties for the Provosts, and ground attack/day fighter operations for the
Flying training began in August 1960. The rest of that year was taken up
not only with this work but with deploying aircraft in the squadron's secondary
role to various parts of the Federation.
In addition, the unit had also to play its part in a number of air
January 1961 marked the completion of the flying instructors' -course.
"From these small beginnings, the squadron forged ahead," the squadron diary
records, "carrying out its task of basic and advanced flying training of pupil
pilots to 'wings'."
(The awarding of his 'wings' signifies that a pilot has passed both his
basic and advanced flying training.)
In December 1961, Vampire pilots were detached to No. 1 Squadron,
operating from Ndola, at the time of the Katangese crisis.
But apart from spasmodic flurries such as this, the day-to-day training
schedule continued, and in 1962, such was the heavy flying training commitment
and the resultant aircraft establishment, that more technicians had to be posted
IN THE October of that year, the squadron began operational conversions on
the Vampire of selected pilots from the pilot training courses.
By 1964, the basic flying training role had been given to No. 4 Squadron,
and No. 2 Squadron's roles were now that of advanced flying and operational
conversion, plus the Vampire's ground attack/day fighter potential.
Trials at Kariba in October 1966 established that the Vampire fared well
in take-offs from short runways at high environmental temperatures.
The outbreak of the anti-terrorist war made further demands on No. 2
Squadron. In August and September of 1967, visual reconnaissance flights were
made along border areas.
The Vampires, although comparatively elderly, were a definite asset in
counter-insurgency work. The aircraft's maximum speed is 520 mph at 30 000 ft,
and its maximum height 38 000 ft — though in Rhodesia it normally operates at
between 15 000 and 22 000 ft.
Blooded at last
Its possible armaments are relatively formidable: cannons and rockets
normally, but if the drop tanks are removed, it can carry a fair load of bombs.
In March 1968, the squadron saw action for the first time, when it was
"scrambled" to New Sarum, and a live air attack was carried out against
terrorists during Operation Cauldron.
The diary recorded jubilantly: "After years of training, and innumerable
standbys, the squadron has finally been 'blooded'."
Further airstrikes were made by squadron members during Operations Griffin
and Mansion, with excellent results. Other operations in which No. 2 Squadron
has figured include Teak and Hurricane; but reconnaissance flying and flare
drops have also been carried out.
Air displays usually feature Vampires, and the expertise of their pilots
was remarked upon by the Prime Minister, Mr. Ian Smith, at Que Que in 1970.
After a fly past and display of aerobatics by Vampires, he said:
"We are a pocket-sized Air Force set-up here, but there is no doubt about
the efficiency of these men.
"I spoke to someone who has on occasion been to Farnborough, regarded as
the greatest air show in the world, and I can tell you that the sort of thing we
saw here today would not be out of place on an occasion such as that."
OF THE daily round at No. 2 Squadron, Sqn Ldr Chris Dixon remarks: "Our
primary role is that of churning out pilots. We did have an operational
commitment, but this doesn't apply at the moment."
After completing their basic flying stage with No. 6 Squadron, the trainee
pilots move to No. 2 Squadron where, during a six-month period, they undergo
advanced flying tuition, which includes learning how to handle a jet aircraft.
Once the pilot has passed through the advanced flying stage (AFS) he is
awarded his 'wings'. Then comes the operational conversion unit, of which the
most important facet is an intensive weapons course. Thereafter the pilot is
judged ready to fly in the operational area.
"Then he is posted to another squadron," Sqn Ldr Dixon explains. "In some
cases, of course, he might stay with us. At his new squadron, he will undergo
conversion as regards the type of aircraft he will be flying there.
Specialist weapons course
"In addition to our AFS work, we run periodic specialist weapons courses,
for more experienced pilots. We are also called upon to handle what we call 'refamiliarisation'.
"An example might be a pilot who has been flying helicopters or piston
aircraft for some years and who is about to be posted, say, to No. 1 Squadron
where he will be flying jets again."
At No. 2 Squadron, the pupil pilots are taught more than just the
mechanics of flying a jet. Great pains are taken to enhance their leadership
qualities; to imbue them with the confidence and maturity of judgement so that
they will react sensibly, and not always in a textbook manner, to a variety of
As Sqn Ldr Dixon puts it: "The idea is to teach them to think for
themselves — to be flexible within the system."
THE OFFICER COMMANDING: SQN LDR CHRIS DIXON
"WE TAKE the young pilot straight from his 'wings' course. He's had 18
months of training and we've spent about $100 000 on him — and he's totally
Sqn Ldr Chris Dixon, 33, was not at all downhearted as he spoke. For, he
went on: "All they can do at that stage is fly an aeroplane. They can all do it
very well, but we need more than that.
"We need them to fly the aircraft as a WEAPON — and that's what we teach
them to do. After all, that's the big difference between an Air Force and a
It's certainly no flying club that Sqn Ldr Dixon runs. Described as
"rather Cagneyesque," he knows what he wants — and gets it.
Born in Shabani, he received his education at Plumtree School. He was
promoted to his present job 13 years after joining the Force in 1962. He is
married with a family of two.
|The two-seater Vampire T11|
|Pilots of No. 2 Squadron at a briefing before setting out on a training exercise|
They Deliver the Goods
No. 3 Squadron)
From transit passengers and freight to the paraphernalia of
warfare — everything from a pin to a PM — is routine cargo for the
transport aircraft of No. 3 Squadron.
THERE'S a poem in the office of Sqn Ldr George Alexander of No. 3
Squadron. One of the verses reads thus:
Douglas built this ship to
last, but nobody expected
This crazy heap would fly and
fly, no matter how they wrecked it.
While nations fall and men
retire and jets get obsolete,
The Gooney Bird flies on and
on at 11 000 feet..
Many a true word spoken in jest indeed: the Douglas Dakota (or DC 3
— the Americans call it the C47) is the grand old lady of the
Rhodesian Air Force — sturdy, trustworthy, capable of nipping in and
out of short air strips even with a sizeable load on board ... "the
immortal old girl", as Sqn Ldr Alexander describes her. "There'll
never be another aircraft designed or built like this one."
The DC 3 first took to the skies in the early 1930s, but she really
shone during the Second World War — Arnhem was just one occasion on
which the Dakota played an essential part.
The RAF found the Dakota ideal for supply dropping during the
counter-insurgency war in Malaya during the 1950s — but in the
Rhodesian context, the story of No. 3 Squadron begins further back
Early in 1947, a small Communications Flight, within the framework
of the Southern Rhodesia Staff Corps, was formed in Salisbury, and
commanded by one Lt Harold Hawkins (later to become AVM Hawkins, and
now, of course, Our Man in Pretoria.)
Its aircraft consisted of one Dakota (presented to the Southern
Rhodesian Government by Field Marshal Jan Smuts) one Leopard Moth,
one Avro Anson, one DH Rapide and two Harvards.
In September 1953, No. 3Transport Squadron, as it was then called,
was given the job of escorting the first Vampire ferry from England.
A routine shuttle
When, five years later, the Vampires were deployed for training and
exercises in Aden, No. 3 Squadron was used to place spares along the
route, and to ferry the servicing teams. It also operated a routine
shuttle, carrying members of the RAF to Rhodesia for leave.
On home ground, the Nyasaland Emergency of 1959 meant a busy few
months for No. 3 Squadron. On February 20th alone, 129 troops were
airlifted to Blantyre; during March, a total of 1 017 troops were
moved by Dakotas from Nyasaland to Salisbury, within three days.
With the birth of C Squadron, Rhodesian Special Air Service Regiment
(or the SAS as it is more familiarly termed) No. 3 Squadron took on
a very important additional role — that of paratroop dropping.
The first live drop, when an evaluation was being made as to whether
or not there should be an airborne sub-unit, took place in February
Since then, by virtue of the fact that this task is No. 3 Squadron's
exclusively, there has been close liaison with the SAS. (Special Air
IN JULY 1960, the Dakotas were called in to help with the flood of
refugees pouring into Rhodesia from Katanga. The squadron flew day
and night, ferrying people from Ndola to Salisbury, and on the
return trip bringing in bedding and rations to border points.
A year later, No. 3 Squadron was also extensively involved in
carrying civilians: when all Central African Airways' Viscounts were
temporarily grounded by their makers, No. 3 Squadron was requested
to run the airline's schedules, and rose to the occasion
magnificently, doing 19 scheduled runs between January and March.
There was more warlike work, however, for the squadron later in the
year, when a state of emergency was declared in Kuwait, and three
Canadairs were deployed to Khomaksar to help with the movement of
troops from the 24th Brigade of the British Army from Kenya to
Kuwait. A total of 757 troops were carried in 230.20 hours' flying
The Katangese crisis and resultant troop movement; the dropping of
food supplies to flooded areas in Kenya, the carrying of ballot
boxes during the first general election after the break-up of the
Federation, the transportation of 12 ostriches from Wankie National
Park to Salisbury's Lake McIlwaine National Park ... these are but a
few of the many and diverse incidents from the pages of No. 3
Squadron's diary before the
outbreak of the present anti-terrorist war.
1968, and the advent of Operation Cauldron, brought a vast increase
in the squadron's work volume. 150 000 lb of freight was carried in
the April of that year, and these sort of figures have continued
At the beginning of Operation Hurricane in early 1973, the weather
was so bad and the roads in the area resultantly so quagmired that
the Army depended to a very large extent upon No. 3 Squadron, which
worked around the clock, moving troops in and bringing fuel and
Night supply dropping is also done; and when an SAS officer lost his
fingers as the result of a parachuting accident, the Dakota sent to
"casevac" him had to land by the lights of cars parked near the
The Dakota is ideal for "sky shouting" — and in February 1968,
trials of this took place. Thereafter two large loudspeakers were
fitted in the rear doors of each aircraft and "beamed" to the
After a bout of sky shouting during Operations Teak and Birch in
1970, a number of terrorists surrendered, and commented afterwards
that they had become so disenchanted with being on the run that they
had heard with great relief the broadcast message inviting them to
Other individuals of this genre have not been quite so receptive,
though: during the settlement talks of December 1974 when No. 3
Squadron was given the task of sky shouting the news of the
ceasefire to the terrorists, one Dakota received a couple of bullet
holes in its fuselage as a reply in true raspberry fashion.
LEAFLET dropping, another important aspect of the psychological war,
has also been carried out by No. 3 Squadron.
Essentially a transport plane, the Dakota has always been used in
Rhodesia for the taxiing to and fro of Very Important People, and
the annals of No. 3 Squadron are studded with such illustrious (in
some cases, one might say nefarious) names as Harold Macmillan, "Rab"
Butler, Ian McLeod, Duncan Sandys, the Devlin and Monckton Com-
missioners and certain African nationalist leaders.
Other VIPs who have been flown around Rhodesia by No. 3 Squadron
include the late Lord Llewellin (first Governor of the Federation)
his successor, Lord Dalhousie (in May 1963, upon the break-up of the
Federation, it fell to a No. 3 Squadron Dakota to fly the Dalhousies
to Nairobi, where they caught a flight for Scotland), Lord
Mountbatten, Gp Capt Sir Douglas Bader, Captain Walter Schirra, the
astronaut, and recently comedian Jimmy Edwards, who used to pilot
Dakotas in the RAF during the Second World War.
When the President, the Prime Minister, any Cabinet Ministers or
senior Government officials require air transport, this is nearly
always No. 3 Squadron's job. Their proudest moment? Sqn Ldr
Alexander says unhesitatingly: "The presentation of the squadron's
Colours on April 7th, 1975."
The reviewing officer was none other than AVM Harold Hawkins, and he
must have been indeed proud of his former squadron's record, over 28
The Air Force's Dakotas are superbly maintained and in first-class
condition, so the penultimate line of the "Gooney Bird" epic does
not apply, but certainly the last line is relevant:
" They patch her up with masking tape, with paper clips and
And still she flies and never dies, Methuselah with wings."
THE OFFICER COMMANDING: SQN LDR GEORGE ALEXANDER
THE PILOTS of No. 3 Squadron tend to be somewhat older than those on
other units, which leads to a number of good-natured cracks about
"the wheelchair squadron".
Not, of course, that that worries Sqn Ldr George Alexander much. He
returns a remark about "youngsters
flying kiddie-cars" and carries on with the job — and for him,' the
job is definitely the thing.
Sqn Ldr Alexander, 46, has flown with No. 3 Squadron since he joined
the Force in 1968. He came to Rhodesia from the RAF where he
collected a DFC for air transport operations in Malaya.
He was born in Vereeniging and educated at the Gymnasium High School
in Potchefstroom. Married with two children, he values a job which,
whilst offering immense variety and scope, is geographically static.
|A Dakota dropping supplies by parachute|
|A tense moment as parachute instructors prepare for a high-level practice jump from a Dakota.|
(No. 4 Squadron)
The Trojans of No. 4 Squadron keep watch over the operational areas
ready to assist the ground forces in the hunt for the enemy.
THE STORY of No. 4 Squadron is a chequered, though proud one. Diverse have
been its roles- and aircraft, but it has adapted to each change with the
enthusiasm and efficiency which indeed characterise the whole of the Rhodesian
Formed in January 1956, its sole job at the beginning was that of
maintaining internal security. Its aircraft — Percival Provosts at that stage —
had arrived in December 1955, as part of the RRAF's re-equipment plan.
In the years preceding the break-up of the Federation, the Provosts of No.
4 Squadron were speedily on the spot when any tense situation threatened to
degenerate — the Nyasaland Emergency of 1958-59 and the Congo border
disturbances, to name but two examples.
January 1964 brought radical changes for the squadron; namely, the taking
on of an additional role, that of handling basic flying training. This involved
moving to Thornhill and taking over No. 5 Squadron's premises when that unit
transferred to New Sarum.
Alas, the swop over had not been coordinated too well, and the members of
No. 4 arrived to find that there was no furniture or telephone available for
them until No. 5 Squadron departed on January 16th.
"This meant just hanging around looking pretty till Friday the 17th," the
squadron diary records.
However, the squadron was soon to prove it was not just a pretty face:
flying began on January 21st with 12 pilots, 15 ground crew and 13 Provost
On November 11th the following year (UDI day) there was a temporary
reversion to internal security work, when two Provosts were deployed to Wankie
and Kariba to guard key installations in case of a hostile attack from outside
This one incident apart, though, up until June 1967, No. 4 Squadron's
security role was more that of the strong arm than the mailed fist.
Then, to all members' delight, came a signal from Air Force Headquarters,
authorising a No. 4 Squadron detachment to Kariba (for by then the
anti-terrorist war was under way) to use weapons if necessary in self-defence.
In the event, the detachment proved to be a quiet one; but the saga of —
as the squadron's diary has it — the "Phyting Phourth" was under way.
August 1967 was equally momentous, in a different way. The squadron was
split in two, and No. 6 Squadron, which took over the pilot training role and
most of the Provosts, hived off.
At this time, newspaper reports that Aeromacchi Lockheed Trojans were
being assembled in Rhodesia for future use in security operations were
strenuously denied by the manufacturers concerned.
In truth, one of Rhodesia's greatest coups had quietly taken place. On
August 9th the first Trojan was flown by a Rhodesian Air Force pilot, in
preparation for the forthcoming conversion course for squadron members.
The Trojan is described in textbooks as a light transport, support and
reconnaissance aircraft, which performs with great- versatility in a variety of
Particularly suitable for thickly vegetated terrain such as that found in
Rhodesia, it can easily cope with rough, short airstrips.
It can seat six, or carry up to 1 000 lb of cargo; or convert to a flying
ambulance, carry two stretcher cases, one sitting case and one medical
attendant; or act as a paratroop carrier; or be utilised for supply drops.
Its maximum speed is 125 mph, and maximum range 600 miles. Possible
armaments are bombs or rockets.
Operation Nickel had broken on August 1st, 1967, and on the 12th of that
month, No. 4 Squadron entered the fray, firing on the 14th at a terrorist
THE London Daily Telegraph commented: "The arrival of these aircraft (the
Trojans) is another demonstration of Rhodesia's ability to beat sanctions
"This month's clashes with better armed and more determined guerillas than
have been encountered before has demonstrated the need for this type of support
for the ground forces" (preceding paragraphs had dealt with the Trojan's
resupply, troop deployment and air reconnaissance roles) "but by killing or
capturing 24 out of the group of 33 who crossed the border, the Rhodesian forces
have shown themselves well able to deal with the threat."
Operation Nickel was over by early September, and so the squadron could
afford to spend a fair amount of time on Trojan training programmes, climb
trials and in amassing performance and fuel consumption data.
In November, the "Trog" —as it is affectionately nicknamed — came into its
own, with increasing use of it in the light transport communications role.
Several changeovers of troops in the south-west of Rhodesia were
completed, and the squadron was also tasked to do several casualty evacuations.
Very busy month
March 1968, and Operation Cauldron was on the boil: the squadron diary
notes that 510.40 flying hours were completed during the month.
The diarist's conclusion was: "An extremely busy month, during which more
was learnt about the operation of the Trojan in all its roles. It is becoming
increasingly obvious that to fulfil all the requirements on No. 4 Squadron
efficiently, the members are going to be some of the most active people in the
By April, in eight months of Trojan usage, over 2 000 hours had been
During both Operations Griffin and Mansion in July, the squadron played a
comprehensive part on the air support side, providing services to both air and
A month later, with Operation Excess, the Trojan went into battle "in its
full role for the first time", as the dairy says. "The morale of the squadron
was very high, mainly because it was now able to hit back, and did so
In June 1969, No. 4 Squadron was awarded the Jacklin Trophy, which is
presented annually, for all-round achievements, to the most highly rated
In his presentation speech, Air Vice-Marshal A. M. Bentley, a former
commander of the Rhodesian Air Force, said: "In its operational role, the
squadron has consistently set a standard of inter-service co-operation which
might well be the envy of other air forces in the world."
Fine examples of this liaison took place in quick succession during
Operations Pluto, Chestnut and Granite, with Trojans providing top cover, armed
reconnaissance and radio relay throughout. Operation Hurricane brought an even
greater workload in January 1973 alone, 642 hours were flown as apposed to an
average of half that number for each month in the preceding year.
IN MAY 1973, the Trojans were used for the first time in an airstrike in
the Hurricane area, and one pilot scored a "kill".
Two months later, three No. 4 Squadron pilots came under fire from
terrorists: in the first incident, during an airstrike, a pilot was fired upon,
but nevertheless managed to destroy the terrorists' arms cache.
No. 4 Squadron hit back in September, when a pilot spotted five
terrorists. Swooping low, he gave chase and killed one. As he pulled out, he
damaged the wing of his aircraft on a tree, but kept control and later landed
Visual reconnaissance, the quickest means otf gleaning information as
regards ground movement of terrorists, is an art that has been perfected by the
Rhodesian Air Force in recent years, and it is a speciality of No. 4 Squadron,
the Trojan being ideal for this type of work.
Aerial tracking is now of such a high standard that a skilled pilot can
determine whether the blurs in the grass below denote merely a game trail, or
have been hacked by terrorists to make a path.
In one especially notable incident, 13 terrorist bases were located by
means of visual reconnaissance, and dealt with promptly by No. 4 Squadron
together with the Army's RLI. (Rhodesian Light Infantry)
Six terrorists were accounted for, and a goodly amount of weaponry and
valuable documents captured.
Though, as can be seen from the above record, No. 4 Squadron has
contributed handsomely in bellicose fashion to the war effort, it performs other
roles too, of which casualty evacuation is a major one.
The pages of the squadron diary are peppered with such accounts: an
African child with a broken femur being flown from Kanyemba to Kariba; a soldier
who had been shot in the groin being rushed to Salisbury Hospital; a white
civilian heart attack victim being taken from Binga to hospital in Bulawayo.
Search and rescue tasks, deployment of troops, air resupply to Security
Forces in for war areas, leaflet dropping, courier duties — all these are part of
No. 4 Squadron's brief, and the sturdy Trojans have coped admirably."
THE OFFICER COMMANDING: SQN LDR DAVID JONES
TOGETHER with their colleagues in the helicopter squadron, the pilots of
No. 4 Squadron represent the Air Force's principal contribution to the
anti-terrorist war. At the time of writing, members of the unit are spending an
average of 295 days out of each year on bush duty.
"It makes for a few problems here and there," said Sqn Ldr David 'Dag'
Jones, "but for all that the spirit is pretty high.
"The chaps have learned to adapt to operating in the bush and we're in
among the kills pretty often. There's a very high level of co-operation with the
Browns on the ground and that helps to get the job done too."
Sqn Ldr Jones, 33, was born in Cape Town and educated at that city's
Diocesan College. He joined the Air Force in 1963 and was appointed to his
present command in February 1976.
He was recently married, but says he is "far too busy," for parenthood as
|The Trojan — an ideal aircraft lot visual reconnaissance|
The Long Arm of Defence
(No. 5 Squadron)
The Canberra bombers of No. 5 Squadron provide the long-range threat
which keeps aggressors at their distance. They also assist map-makers in a
valuable photographic capacity.
THE ENGLISH Electric Canberra, according to my Observers' Book of
Aircraft, is a "multipurpose aircraft suitable for low altitude night
interdiction and high altitude level bombing ... and also photo reconnaissance."
An aircraft for all seasons, in fact — "and a reliable one with no vices,"
comments Sqn Ldr 'Randy' Du Rand of No. 5 Squadron—which came into being on
April 13th, 1959, when 18 Canberras were acquired, and 16 RRAF pilots duly
completed a Canberra conversion course in England.
The aircraft were originally bought to play a part in supporting the
Federal Empire Defence commitment, but now form what one Air Force officer
described as "the very front line of Rhodesia's defence".
In fact the Air Force's claim that the Canberra's range and bomb- load —
which enable it to strike targets throughout Southern and Central Africa — have
a powerful deterrent effect on would-be aggressors, is well-founded.
Many are the speeches made by the Malawian President, Dr Hastings Banda,
in the past, warning African politicians of the ability of Rhodesia's bomber
force to strike effectively at ranges over 1000 nautical miles beyond our
"The knowledge that we can flatten Dar es Salaam, or Lusaka, or Maputo if
we get stroppy enough is never very far from the minds of the politicians in
those cities," said one young officer of No. 5 Squadron.
The squadron's first long trip took place in September 1959, when six
aircraft were sent on detachment to Cyprus for a month. (This was to become an
The imminent break-up of the Federation triggered off internal unrest. No.
5 Squadron increased its ground attack capabilities, and was also called upon to
carry out "flag wave" flights throughout the crumbling Federation.
Classically, the Canberra is ideally suited for strategic bombing work —
the elimination of enemy munitions and factories etcetera in time of
conventional war. But in a country such as Rhodesia, clearly efficiency in
tactical bombing was the top priority.
Thus, in 1961, the squadron extended its capabilities to include low-level
operations and rocket firing. That same year, two pairs of aircraft were sent to
Bahrein and Aden, where together with No. 8 Squadron RAF, they took part in
Operation Sea Sheik.
Because of the Canberra's high flying (45 000 ft) capacity, and speed
(seven miles a minute) direct flights from Ndola to Aden presented no problems
... although the crew, immured in a freezing cockpit for four hours on end,
might perhaps have begged to differ!
The early Sixties, for No. 5 Squadron, saw a timely emphasis being placed
on counter- insurgency requirements. To this end, rocket firing continued, but a
bomb box was developed, to be carried in the bomb bay, and capable of holding a
large number of 20 lb fragmentation bombs.
This weapon, together with the introduction of the lead bomb technique,
vastly increased the squadron's strike power. Fixed head sighting was also
With the first large-scale terrorist incursion in 1967, the squadron came
into its own: it continued to develop new techniques, to be used against the
Canberras were involved in an airstrike during Operation Nickel and were
also used in Operation Cauldron.
In early 1968, two long-range tanks were fitted to the bomb bay, each
carrying valuable, extra pounds of fuel and increasing the aircraft's range and
A FURTHER innovation in 1971, harmonising the low-level bombing sight,
resulted in a substantial saving of time and bombs, since it obviated the
necessity for calibration bombing.
From then onwards, there was a marked improvement in the results achieved
Operation Hurricane blew up in December 1972, and thereafter No. 5
Squadron carried out daily armed flights over the operational area. In January
1973, alone, 10 armed reconnaissances were chalked up, and nine airstrikes made
against terrorist bases on the north-eastern border.
All Rhodesian Air Force Canberra pilots have had several years of flying
Provosts and Vampires before they are posted to No. 5 Squadron.
The navigator is first taught bomb aiming and high-speed navigation, then
serves a year or so in the squadron before he undergoes a two-month course in
Photographic survey work is ar integral part of No. 5 Squadron's
existence. As a result of its efforts in recent years, Rhodesia's standards of
mapping are highly rated.
Working with the Surveyor General's department, it is responsible for the
remapping of this country, and each year certain maps are revised, so that over
a five-year period, the whole of Rhodesia is re-photographed
The wide-angled lens cameras lie in the belly of the Canberra, and the
navigator/photographer lies on HIS belly, looking out through a perspex portion
of the aircraft's nose and operating the cameras from there, by remote control,
as it were.
This of course requires infallible teamwork between pilot and photographer
— too much tilt, or a slight drift sideways, and the photographs will have to be
redone, because a gap will have resulted ... and when you're flying at 30 000
ft, with a 60-70 knot wind buffeting you, that sort of precision is difficult
The photographers of No. 5 Squadron scan the skies as searchingly as does
any Rhodesian farmer: as little as two eighths cloud, and photo survey work is
out for that day.
When the weather is suitable, however, the crew can look forward to a
lengthy stint on duty: a four-hour sortie, photographing: three hours or so to
develop the film at the photographic section at New Sarum (the negatives having
been meticulously checked first to ensure that the correct portion of Rhodesia
has been covered) and then two hours marking the film up.
The prints are then sent off to the Surveyor General — "quite a long day,"
as Sqn Ldr Du Rand observes.
"And once you fall behind, you never seem to catch up again, so you must
be prepared to work late into the evening in order to complete that day's task."
HAPPILY, there's never been a vestige of what Sqn Ldr Du Rand terms "a
trade union attitude" at No. 5 Squadron. He has particular praise for the ground
crew — "an excellent bunch".
"Despite the fact that, working with 1 000 lb bombs as we do, the usual
loading time for four aircraft is officially five hours, I've seen these men of
ours bomb up four aircraft in three hours.
"On one occasion, they were even running around in pouring rain in their
underpants (because they had no raincoats with them that day) so that we would
be ready on time to participate in an airstrike.
"And everyone helps everyone else, if necessary. Theoretically, for
instance, the engine fitter need not assist the armourer, but because of the
magnitude of the armourer's job, you'll often find him being given a hand by
No. 5 Squadron works closely with Nos. 1 and 2 Squadrons — "at any time,
we can do a strike together without lengthy briefings," says Sqn Ldr Du Rand.
"As a rule, a mere telephone call suffices, to arrange position in
formation and the geographic point at which we'll join up."
On the civilian side, because of its speed, the Canberra is sometimes used
for courier work. One example of this was the occasion on which a specific serum
was urgently required in order to save the life of a man who had been bitten by
a rare type of snake.
A Canberra hastened to Johannesburg to fetch the serum, and within a very
few hours, the essential substance was being administered to the patient in
As I prepared to leave No. 5 Squadron, a Canberra was about to take off
for Mount Darwin, 140 km away. It would be there in under 20 minutes, Sqn Ldr Du
Rand told me.
Speed, versatility and adaptability all contribute towards making the
Canberra a great asset indeed to the Rhodesian Air Forcetoday.
THE OFFICER COMMANDING: SQN LDR 'RANDY' DU RAND
IN MANY ways our job is a negative one — the maintenance of a deterrent
weapon always is. You can never tell whether the absence of an attack is due to
the other side being frightened of you or whether they're just
too switched-off in the first place!"
That's how Sqn Ldr 'Randy' Du Rand describes half of his job. But the
other half is very different.
"Photo survey is a most rewarding type of flying," he says. "You fly for a
few hours and bring the film back, and then several months later a new map comes
out which you know is much of your own work. There's a great sense of
constructive achievement about it."
Sqn Ldr Du Rand, 39, is very much a local boy. He was born in Salisbury
and educated at Bothashof School.
He joined the RRAF in the late Fifties and completed several years service
before leaving to join the South African Air Force where he flew Canberras and
He rejoined the Rhodesian Air Force in 1968 and was appointed to command
No. 5 Squadron in 1973. He is married with two children.
Source Supplement to ILLUSTRATED LIFE RHODESIA, 22rd July, 1976
School of the Air
At No. 6 Squadron, the instructors turn schoolboys into
accomplished pilots with above- average flying skills.
My immediate impression of the members of No. 6 Squadron was that of
enthusiasm: the fact that each staff member genuinely found his work
enjoyable and challenging.
Although far removed from the drama of battle, theirs is a
particularly important task. The elementary flying training of the
Air Force's fledgling pilots rests in their hands - and an excellent
job they are making of it.
The Squadron's history is mingled with that of No. 4 Squadron until
August 1, 1967, when the training side of that unit hived off to
become a separate entity and was designated No. 6 Squadron.
Seven Percival Provosts were allotted at that time to the new
squadron, whose personnel comprised six pilots and 19 ground crew
Flying training for 12 cadets commenced on August 21. But six days
later, staff pilots and aircraft were brought to an operational
standby state, at an hour's readiness, to support - if the need
arose - No. 4 Squadron in the field.
A call-out did take place, and four pilots and two aircraft
delivered the air tasked load as directed. This incident serves to
indicate the alternate roles of the Percival Provost in the Air
Force today - that of light ground attack, and support for ground
The Provosts' armaments can consist of two machine guns, as well as
bombs and rockets; and if it is required for riot control in urban
areas, it is suitable for equipment with teargas.
However, the Provost (which first took to the skies in 1950, the
armed version appearing four years later) is nowadays used almost
solely for pilot training.
"It's one of the best basic trainers available in the world today,"
says one of the No. 6 Squadron instructors, Flt Lt Roger Watt.
"The Provost can be hard to handle, so it gives the raw recruit
valuable experience. But it's a forgiving aircraft; make a mistake,
and generally you don't have too much difficulty sorting it out."
The Provost is yet another example of the wise choices made by the
Air Force in its selection of aircraft - lately vindicated by air
Back to Provosts
The USAF, in Vietnam, soon discovered that their latest
sophisticated supersonic jets were too fast and costly for guerilla
warfare, and so they recalled obsolete aeroplanes such as the
Skyraider and the Mustang.
Recently the RAF have reintroduced the economical and efficient
Hunter; and on the training side, although many forces had started
their pupil pilots directly on to jets, they began switching back to
piston aircraft such as the Provost when it became apparent that
both physically and emotionally, the youngsters were not yet ready
to cope with the super-de-luxe models.
Once a cadet has been through the mill on a Provost, he's equipped
to handle any kind of emergency, and in the event of engine failure,
say, his reactions will be vastly superior to those of a pilot
trained exclusively on jets.
The Provost's maximum speed is 200 mph at 2 300 ft, and its maximum
range is 400 miles. Steady and un-temperamental, it has no nasty
surprises for the "rookie" when, with trembling hands, he clambers
into the cockpit for the first time.
The progress of the learner pilot is charted fully in the feature on
No. 2 Ground Training School, but let's examine here more fully his
six months with No. 6 Squadron - his basic flying stage.
There are 12 instructors altogether at present, and that means
virtually individual tuition for the pupils. I spoke to Flt. Lt.
David Thorne, acting squadron commander, when I vistied No. 6
Flt Lt Thorne suffers uncomplainingly the quips about "elderly
gentlemen" from his subordinates, referring to the fact that after
eight years in the RRAF, he spent nine years in Civvie street,
flying 707s for Qantus. He's been back with the Rhodesian Air Force
for two and a half years now, and is happy to be so, especially as
regards his present job.
He says: " I prefer the basic flying stage training to that of the
AFS (advanced flying stage) because here you're making men out of
schoolboys - as well as treaching those schoolboys to fly an
aeroplane. All told, it's most rewarding."
"When the cadets, whose ages range from 17 to 24, first join No. 6
Squadron, each is taken up for a preliminary flight by one of the
Effects of gravity pull
Bug- eyed, he watches the whole complex procedure of keeping an
aircraft aloft, and, unless he has a superbly deadpan facade, his
inner conviction that he'll never be able to emulate this, shows
clearly in his face.
Any other routine initial reactions?
"A psychedelic yawn," says Flt Lt Thorne grinning - a graphic
description of the effects of gravity pull, let alone that of any
loops and rolls, on the cadets . . . who are green in complexion as
well as in experience by the time they thankfully stager on to terra
firma once more.
Their first attempts at handling an aircraft alone often result in
mild chaos, and resultant panic - a most frequent error being that
of ground looping, in which the cadet loses control of the Provost
while it is till on the ground, and the aircraft then spins round
and round while its novice pilot stares in helpless horror, no doubt
reflecting that the Octopus at Luna Park was a breeze compared with
Life at No. 6 Squadron is not all learning to be a Magnificent Man
in a Flying Machine. There's plenty of theoretical work to plough
Besides comprehensive lectures each day there is the mass briefing
before each flight, in which the cadets are told about the
Then each pupil has an individual pre-flight briefing, which lasts
up to 15 minutes. As soon as he touches down, he will receive an
after-flight briefing. The instructor thereafter writes up a full
progress report on each pupil.
Weekly, fortnightly and monthly summaries are completed by all the
instructors so that Air Force Headquarters and No. 2 GTS are
perpetually conversant with the performance of each student.
EVERY effort is made to ensure that each cadet is given maximum
opportunity to succeed. Should it be suspected, for instance, that
there is a personality class between a pupil and an instructor, that
instructor will then be swopped with another one.
"The cadets are generally of an exceptionally good calibre," says
Flt Lt Thorne. "But of course there are occasionally one or two
which cause one to wonder how they ever got through the Selection
("Sometimes, this sort of chap later turns out to be the best pilot
in his squadron — initial immaturity and lack of confidence were
obviously all that were inhibiting him.)
"They tend to come here with set ideas and wrong impressions about
flying; also with the thought that it's glamorous.
"It isn't glamorous at all — it's hard work. The cadet's average day
stretches from 6 am to 6 pm.
"He has to complete 115 flying hours with us, and since each course
starts in August, we are often hampered by weather, so that the
flying has to be crammed into a period when conditions are
Flt Lt Thorne speaks with appreciation of the excellent work done by
the ground crew at No. 6 Squadron, who have to rectify any
mechanical bungles perpetrated by the cadets, as well as constantly
servicing the hard-working Provosts.
"The aircraft have got to be in top condition for cadets to fly," he
says. Servicing of a Provost takes on average half an hour.
When I visited No. 6 Squadron, I met qualified flying instructor Flt
Lt Giles Porter, and trainee instructors Flt Lts Roger Watt and
Stephen Caldwell. The latter two officers had come to No. 6 Squadron
from No. 7 Squadron, the helicopter unit.
I asked them if they missed the excitement of "chopper work",
involved heavily as it is in the operational area.
Each said that he was happy to be with No. 6 Squadron (and the boss
wasn't around at the time!) and was finding the work satisfying and
As Flt Lt Porter says: "You can see the progress of the cadets,
almost day to day, at this basic stage. That's what makes it
THE OFFICER COMMANDING: FLT LT DAVID THORNE
|A technician of No. 6 Squadron checks a Percival Provost before take-off.|
AS A JUNIOR officer acting in command of a squadron,
Flt Lt David Thorne, 38, has a big job on his plate. And although it
is a job by no means big enough to dismay him, it is rather
different from flying Boeing 707s on intercontinental routes — which
was the last job he had.
David Thorne was born in Bulawayo and educated at Churchill School,
Salisbury. He joined the RRAF in the late Fifties and served for
several years before being recruited by the Australian national
airline, Qantas. He returned to Rhodesia and the Air Force in 1974.
"There's a very special people to fly," he says, "and a lot of
reward in seeing them graduate.
"I enjoyed my time on the 707, but this is very definitely my niche,
Workhorse Of The Force
(No. 7 Squadron)
The helicopters of No. 7 Squadron travel anywhere and do almost everything. They are equipped for rescue and recovery work, and they also provide deadly firepower in the anti-terrorist war.
THE ADVENT of helicopters revolutionised modern warfare. Korea saw the first "choppers'' whirling their way into combat; the 1950s thereafter witnessed a spate of helicopter births, among which, notably, was the Sud-Aviation Alouette, flown for the first time in France on March 12th, 1955.
The Royal Rhodesian Air Force (as it was then), perceiving the value of such an aircraft in a country where much of the terrain is rugged, accordingly purchased a number of Alouettes and established No. 7 Squadron on February 28th, 1962.
Although the embryonic squadron's initial strength comprised two pilots, four technicians — and no aircraft as yet — one mere month later, the first three Alouettes were airborne.
Within two months they were really working for their keep, when politically inspired unrest broke out in some of Salisbury's African townships, and two Alouettes were called out to assist police patrols — an auspicious beginning to No. 7 Squadron's story, in which close liaison with all other branches of the Security Forces has been the keynote.
Police and Army authorities had not been slow to appreciate the possible benefits of helicopters, and by mid-1962 comprehensive plans had been made regarding the creation of landing zones at all police stations in Rhodesia, the carriage of tracker dogs, fitment of police radios and the concept of dropping tear smoke.
June saw three aircraft moving northwards to participate in emplaning and deplaning drills, an Army-Air Force co-operation exercise and an exercise with the RAR.
When the Katanga crisis erupted in December two Alouettes wrere sent to the Northern Rhodesian border to assist the Federal Armyin border control.
When the anti-terrorist war began in July 1964 after the murder of Mr. Petrus Oberholzer the Alouettes came into their own, carrying teams of detectives to remote areas and bringing back quantities of suspects for interrogation.
An operation in April 1966 marked the milestone of No. 7 Squadron's first "kill", when three aircraft were called out to assist in the rounding up of a certain gang.
When flushed out, the terrorists resisted, and a running battle ensued, in which ultimately all seven were killed — one as the result of fire from a helicopter.
(In the 10 years since then, No. 7 Squadron has notched up some spectacular successes in this sphere. In early 1976, working first with a PATU stick, then with a Police Reserve Air Wing aircraft, then with police trackers and finally with the RLI, (Rhodesian Light Infantry). No. 7 Squadron was involved in a contact in which no less than 17 terrorists were killed and one captured.)
The past decade has been busy indeed for No. 7 Squadron, assisting ground forces in the capture of terrorists and the recovery of arms and ammunition; providing top cover; flying in ammunition and supplies and flying out casualties.
TWO members of the squadron were awarded the Bronze Cross of Rhodesia for their work in Operations Griffin and Cauldron. Since then, members of No. 7 Squadron have received more awards for gallantry than have the personnel of any other squadron — these include two Silver Crosses as well as a goodly number of
The supreme advantage of the helicopter in counter-insurgency work is its ability to land vertically, and virtually anywhere: during one follow-up in Operation Birch (1970) an Alouette landed troops so close
to the enemy that contact was made almost before the aircraft engine was out of hearing.
On a subsequent operation, a helicopter landed again so near to its adversaries that one terrorist, after his capture, was able to describe accurately the pilot and technician, even to the point of recounting the inscription on the back of the technician's "bone dome" (helmet) which was: "I'm mad!"
This close proximity to the fray has its perils, of course: soon after the commencement of Operation Hurricane in December 1972, a helicopter, while dropping an Army stick, was hit by two rounds and the pilot injured in both his right leg and right arm.
Through a combined effort, he and his technicians succeeded in landing the aircraft some distance away.
March 1974 saw the beginning of a concentrated helicopter effort that was to lead to the highly successful "Fire Force" concept — which since then has paid substantial dividends.
Fit Lt Rob McGregor, second in command of No. 7 Squadron, says: "The idea is quick deployment of troops to a certain area — normally following the sighting of terrorists by a Security Forces observation post.
"One helicopter contains, besides the pilot and gunner, an Army officer. He and the pilot plan where the ground forces should be placed; the other helicopters are informed of their decision and drop troops at the chosen spots.
"Where trackers have picked up spoor, the helicopter can be used to catch up with the terrorists. One recent example was the occasion on which it was estimated, in the morning, from their tracks, that the terrs were 12 hours ahead of us in a certain direction.
"As a result of bringing in helicopters, a contact took place that very afternoon. Fixed-wing aircraft can 'aerial track' — pick up spoor from the air. The helicopters then move in to drop trackers at the appropriate spot"
Of course, life on active service is not all dramatic.. As Fit Lt McGregor says: "Out of 10 'fire force' call-outs, nine may well be what we call 'lemons'. But if one of those 10 alerts results in a kill, then we feel we're doing the job."
Casualty evacuation work, however, takes precedence over all other work for No. 7 Squadron. Destination depends upon the seriousness of the injury.
Generally patients are taken back to JOC (Joint Operations Committee) headquarters where preliminary medical treatment is given and, if necessary, from where a fixed-wing aircraft can then fly the injured person to the nearest hospital.
But where the injuries are critical, or where movement of the patient must be minimal (in cases of spinal damage, for example) the helicopter then heads straight for Salisbury or Bulawayo.
There is a helicopter landing zone in the grounds of Salisbury's Andrew Fleming Hospital, so that the patient may be taken straight from the aircraft into hospital without further ado.
I know personally of one young African private in 1 RAR (Rhodesian African Rifles) who sustained major wounds in the chest and arm during a 1974 contact with terrorists on the north-eastern border.
Thanks to the prompt arrival of a helicopter, he was in a forward hospital within 25 minutes and is now completely recovered and" back on active service.
At present African civilians, victims of landmine explosions, comprise the majority of "casevacs" handled by No. 7 Squadron.
Evacuation of injured military personnel sometimes takes a hazardous form, as when an RLI officer and a trooper were wounded at nightfall and fell close to the terrorists' position.
The helicopter involved had to land by night in a drizzle, its only guideline a phosphorus grenade which was hurled by ground forces to light the way — another Alouette flying overhead to draw the terrorists' fire. The mission was accomplished successfully, and both men were soon in hospital.
Other bread-and-butter work for No. 7 Squadron in the operational area is the vital resupply system: delivering rations, water, fuel and ammunition to troops and tactically deploying men, as required by the
Army and Police.
That's the militant face of No. 7 Squadron; but its versatility makes it an invaluable standby in the civilian context.
As previously mentioned, the helicopter today is an intrinsic arm of riot control. Fire-fighting and rescuing of victims, vis-a-vis a "towering inferno" situation, is another possible role.
Talking of rescue work, though, the history of No. 7 Squadron would not be complete without the mention of just a few of the tasks it has tackled over the years.
EXAMPLES include the picking up of an injured climber in the Chimanimani Mountains, in which a helicopter had to land on a narrow shoulder beneath a massive cliff; the recovery of the body of a hang-glider pilot, who plummeted into the mountain face beneath World's View, Inyanga (this particular job entailed some; tricky hoist work); and the rushing of fire-fighting equipment to the scene of the Trelawney rail collision in 1974.
Happily, the Air Force has suffered very few losses of aircraft, but on the rare occasion when an aeroplane has crashed, helicopters are sent to the area concerned for the personnel and wreckage.
This of course also applies to lost civilian aircraft; and when Mr. Gerald Hawksworth was abducted by terrorists, No. 7 Squadron assisted in the search for him.
At the time of writing, life is hectic for every man in the squadron, be he a pilot or a technician. The average pilot spends 295 days of each year in the "sticks", says Fit Lt McGregor (who was there to show me around
the squadron because Sqn Ldr Harold Griffiths was currently in the operational area), and can count on flying for around 60 hours per three-week period on active service.
His week thereafter back at New Sarum is no sinecure: he is constantly tested on all facets of helicopter work (instrument flying, night flying, cargo swinging and hoisting, to name but a few), and brushes up on these, by means of a meticulously kept roster system, during his time at base.
The squadron's pilots have all had at least four years' experience flying fixed wing aircraft before taking to "choppers"; the intensive conversion course lasts three and a half months. Interestingly, most trainees are volunteers.
All of them know full well the demanding and unceasing work load that lies ahead of them, but the versatility and flexibility of No. 7 Squadron, coupled with a superb esprit de corps, add up to a total of unbeatable job satisfaction.
THE OFFICER COMMANDING: SQN LDR HAROLD GRIFFITHS
COMMANDING No. 7 Squadron is rather like running a unit by mail. The officers and technicians who make up the helicopter crews spend around 80 per cent of their time in the bush.
"It's been a long time since I've seen even half my blokes all together," says Sqn Ldr Harold Griffiths, "and years since we had anything like a representative squadron party."
The answer to the dilemma for this particular squadron commander is to meet up with his pilots and technicians in the bush and to try to arrange his own tours with different crews each time.
Sqn Ldr Griffiths, 33, was born in Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (as it then was) and was educated at Churchill
School, Salisbury. He joined the RRAF in 1961 and has commanded No. 7 Squadron since 1975.
He is married with one son and three daughters so, as he says: "Half the time I post myself' to the bush just to get some peace and quiet!"
|The helicopter hard at work, troops are rapidly deployed into bush clearings in the unceasing hunt for the terrorist enemy.|
|In more tranquil times.|
A formation-flying practice with aircraft bearing the "single-spear" roundel of the immediate post-Federation years.
The helicopter winch can lift the injured to safety or lower the crewman to assist in any emergency.
Turning Out Top-Class Technicians
(No. 1 Ground Training School)
In a full apprenticeship course. No. 1 Ground Training School
imparts the knowledge and skills which add up to professional
technical training in a field where lives depend on each operation
THERE would be no magnificent men were there no flying machines —
and there would certainly be no airworthy flying machines in the Air
Force without the solid backing of top-class technicians.
No. 1 Ground Training School at New Sarum sees to it that a constant
flow of new blood is injected into the Force's technical arteries;
and as the result of discussions with the Apprenticeship Board, the
Air Force is now able to make the mechanically-minded youngster
interested in such a career, an offer he would be foolish indeed to
Not only does he find, throughout his five-year apprenticeship with
the Force, that he has substantially more pocket money each month
than does his civilian counterpart, but he also receives a superb
training, rounded out with much practical experience, and at the end
of his five years, subject to certain conditions, he is awarded his
The only return the Air Force asks is that he signs on for a further
five-year period. After that, should he wish to leave the Force, he
can enter civilian life with impeccable qualifications — and
I spoke to Air Lt Ken Scott, chief technical instructor at No. 1 GTS,
who, with WO1 Matt Caton, told me how the school had expanded since
1958 when it was confined to just two classrooms.
There was little requirement in those days for local training; most
technicians were either recruited, fully trained, from Britain, or
pupils were sent to Halton, the Royal Air Force's training school in
The impending break-up of Federation alerted the Rhodesian Air Force
to the possible loss of technical personnel.
"So we began crash courses," WOl Caton recalls, "and luckily, by
1965, we were fully independent of overseas recruitment."
Nowadays, No. 1 GTS is a large and high-powered establishment: by
the end of 1977, it will be handling three courses simultaneously
per year, each one averaging 35 pupils.
What educational qualifications does a school-leaver (age range:
16-21) require in order to be considered for the Air Force's
Air Lt Scott says: "For basic engine and airframe trades, and
armaments, he must have passed his RCE (Higher), and we insist on
his having passes in English, mathematics and one science subject.
General aptitude test
"For trades such as radio, electrics and instruments, he must have
passed his 0 levels with, again, passes in English, mathematics and
one science subject — physics and chemistry, say, in the case of a
chap who is keen to go in for radio work."
Once he has applied, he sits an induction examination and undergoes
a general aptitude test. The former assesses his academic standards
(and these, in this modern world of ever-advancing technology and
the subsequent reams of printed information, are important.) The
results of the latter will indicate his technical potential.
He is then interviewed by a board, which generally consists of Air
Lt Scott and various Air Force staff officers. Finally, should he be
deemed suitable, he is made an offer commensurate with his
Throughout his initial five years, each apprentice's progress is
followed carefully, by means of reports and also a graph showing his
marks (there are weekly tests) in comparison with the class average.
Coasters are soon spotted and, after fair warning, eliminated.
Whatever his chosen trade, the new recruit first learns to be an
airman. He undergoes a basic training course at No. 1 GTS, in which
drill, weapon training, physical training and lectures concerning
Air Force organisation and administration, all feature.
Thereafter he begins his technical training. The modus operandi of
this varies depending upon his trade: those specialising in engines,
airframes, electrics and instruments, study basic principles at No.
1 GTS for 12 weeks, and are then released to the squadrons on the
station for what is known as on-the-job training.
However, they return to the school one day every week for
theoretical work. This includes mathematics, applied science and
technical drawing — all of which are preparing them for the National
Technical Certificate (Nl) which they must obtain through an
examination at the end of the year.
The youngsters who have elected to specialise in radio or armament
work, study at the school for six months. Once they have passed a
trade examination at the end of that period, they are posted on to
station — either New Sarum, or Thornhill in the case of armaments.
The radio apprentices are phased through the Salisbury Polytechnic,
studying for their City and Guild qualification; and the armament
apprentices, similarly, are released on a block basis to the
Back, though, to those who are training in the four basics —
engines, airframes, electrics and instruments: their second and
third years follow much the same pattern as did the first, in that
they spend 12 weeks at the school, then return to station for
practical work on the squadrons.
Out on station
The N2 examination must be sat at the end of the second year, and
the N3 at the end of the third. In the fourth and fifth years of
their apprenticeship, they are known as improvers and are
exclusively out on station.
Simultaneously, the apprentices are slowly climbing the Air Force
rank ladder. At the end of their first year, they not only study for
the N1 but also for the examination which, if passed, will qualify
them as leading aircraftsmen.
A year later they sit their senior aircraftsman examination, and so
it goes on; by the time they complete their fourth year, if they
have done well throughout, they should have attained the rank of
Once they become journeymen — fully qualified in their trades —
receive their papers and sign on for a further five years' service
in the Air Force, they have invariably reached the level of
sergeant. "But promotion is purely on a recommended basis," WO1
Money to spend as he never could during his school days, is of prime
importance to the young apprentice — and here the Air Force trainee
has the edge over his civilian colleague.
Look at these figures: the minimum wage for first year apprentices
with RCE, as laid down by the Apprenticeship Board, is $125 per
month (and an unscrupulous civilian employer would be perfectly
within his rights to stick to that sum), whereas the Air Force pays
its first year apprentices, with RCE, $189 (those with M level
passes receive $210 in the Air Force as opposed to the $155 minimum
ordained by the
The fifth year man receives $331 basic salary — and then his trade
pay and allowances on top of that; the Apprenticeship Board's
stipulated minimum is $255.
IN ADDITION to his basic pay, of course, there are other perks for
the Air Force apprentice, such as uniform, free medical and dental
attention, and low mess bills as regards accommodation and food.
I talked to 19-year-old Gavin Conway, Rhodesian born and educated,
who joined No. 1 GTS in February 1976 for the first year of his
apprenticeship, specialising in engines. Initially he plumped for
radio work, but soon found that it was not his metier.
The instructors suggested his changing to engines, and he says: "I'm
enjoying it much more. It's interesting finding out how all the
different components work ... and I don't think the workload is all
"We finish at 4.30 pm each day, and then have a certain amount
ofrevision to do, but after that, our time's our own.
"Financially, I think I will be better off than my civilian friends.
The living is much cheaper here and I generally have between $120
and $125 spending money each month once I've paid my income tax,
messing bills etcetera."
Training of apprentices is not No. 1 GTS' sole concern. Territorial
Force technicians — qualified journeymen already — undergo a
three-week general service course at the school, so that by the time
they are sent out on station they are fully conversant with the Air
Direct entry courses
Senior NCOs' administration courses, junior officers' administration
courses and direct entry courses (for those journeymen who have just
joined the Air Force on a regular basis but, like the TF members,
need to become Air Force-orientated) are some of the other types of
training supplied by the school's instructors.
There are both uniformed and civilian tutors — generally two of each
type on each course. The civilians have, as a rule, retired from the
Air Force but have then returned on a non-military basis and because
of their wealth of experience, they are valuable acquisitions
A former chief technical instructor of No. 1 GTS, and a number of
ex-squadron leaders have been amongst the band of civilians who have
come back to help the uniformed instructors to groom the Air Force's
apprentices to international standards.
|Air Lt Scott takes a lesson in radio theory in a well-equipped laboratory/classroom.|
|Towards the end of the apprenticeship course, the "improver" is entrusted to work alone as he gains experience.|
It's A Dog's Life At This School
No.2 Ground Training School
The strict regimen of the pilot training scheme is often a distinct
shock to the young pupils, but for the successful graduates the rewards are
I found it very rough. I was I quite unfit when I started and the physical
side, for me. was strenuous at first But I'm pleased now with the results and
it's broadened my outlook. I feel more able to cope with life now."
That's an 18-year-old cadet at the Air Force's No, 2 Ground Training
School (pilot training) speaking: he was almost at the end of his initial
When I talked to the cadets, they were in motley garb — one trying cn a
miniskirt for size, another carefully wedging a cornflake box on to his bead.
Lest it be suspected that the rigours of that first 18-week period had
unhinged the lads, let me hasten to explain that they were preparing for their
course concert, tbe script of which they had written themselves — "and which
gives us a chance to get back at the instructors and officers," said one cadet
with a fiendish smile.
With the exception of one gouged thigh (the result of a mishap on an
assault course) all the rest of the 18 cadets were in fine fettle, despite their
having just returned from a 10-day survival course in the wilds.
Here tbey were shown by a Rhodesian Army Selous Scouts instructor what
could be eaten and what not to attempt (scorpions, baboons and a
maggot-marinated impala were the main fare); the art of tracking; how to conjure
up a fire without matches; how to make string, shoelaces and hide shoes; and
generally how to exist indefinitely In the bushveld.
"One night we .we re dropped in the bush in pouring rain and given a
rubbing stick, a base for it, and an egg. We were told to produce a boiled egg."
23-year-old Eugene Loftus told me.
"Our day began at 5.30 am, and finished officially at 6 pm. All told, it
was a very good experience, if not too enjoyable at the time! At the end of the
10 days we had to walk 44 km to Mtoko."
Eugene is older than the average cadet (the age range for applicants is
17-24) because he had spent several years at university before applying to be
considered for pilot training.
"I failed the final year of my B.Sc, and decided to join the Air Force and
subsequently complete my degree by means of study leave. I'd always been
interested in flying, anyway.
"Now we've done 13 weeks of our initial training phase. It's been quite
hard work so far: I think we're all looking forward to flying.
"You don't know, of course, how you're going to adapt to this; whether
you've got it in you. However, we've all been given a pretty good background,
and this builds up a little bit of confidence."
Not all the cadets will be moving on to No. 6 Squadron for their basic
flying training; a small number who complete the initial training phase are
destined for civilian work in air traffic control.
One such is 18-ycar-old Charles Ashford. He spent a month at Salisbury
Airport learning the basics of air traffic control before joining the cadet
course at No. 2 GTS in Thornhill.
He told me: "I leave at the end of the initial training phase and go back
to Salisbury Airport in training for two further years. Then I'll probably be
transferred to an outpost for a year before I finally return to Salisbury
Had Charles resented having to walk 44 km on a Sunday, dining on
scorpions, and swinging across an assault course which might have given Tarzan
himself a few qualms — and all to prepare himself for a civilian job at an
Charles shook his head: "I think it's helped me. I believe I'm better
equipped to face any problems which may come up in my future career."
THE educational qualifications required by the Selection Board are a
minimum of five 0 level passes, and these must include English, mathematics and
But much more is sought by the Selection Board than mere paper
achievements: the future pilot, who will automatically be an officer, has to be
a special person indeed, as is indicated by the fact that for the present course
of 18, 100 applications were received.
Aptitude tests, academic tests, a thorough medical examination and a
session with a psychologist are all part of the intense scrutiny of each
Motivation is studied carefully: any hopeful who said he wanted to join
the Air Force because he liked the smart blue uniform would be promptly shown
Sqn Ldr Peter Nicholls, Officer Commanding No. 2 GTS, says: "The board and
the psychologist get together to discuss every applicant in detail.
"I think it can be said that the board's system is now proven: very
occasionally, it will push through a borderline case and invariably that chap
will remain borderline throughout the course."
Once a youngster has been accepted, what can he expect from that moment
First stop -a haircut
I spoke to W.0.2 Robert Meecham, the drill and physical training
instructor at No. 2 GTS, who said: 'The first stop is definitely the
hairdresser, who crops him like a newly-sheared sheep. He's then photographed,
documented and given his basic kit.
"As soon as they come here they go straight into basic drill — two hours
per day. 5.30 am is when they start their day — with a swim, throughout that six
"They have lectures from 7.30 am to 1 pm and then drill in the afternoon,
plus games. We encourage them to take part in all possible sports ... and I'm
very good at spotting malingerers!"
W02 Meecham speaks scathingly of the average cadet's physique when he
first sets foot upon No. 2 GTS's sports fields.
"Most of them to start with are bloody useless — the postures
particularly. Too much lounging about in cinema seats.
"I try to put some starch in their spines and generally toughen them up.
They shed surplus weight very quickly during the first few weeks here, believe
The academic side of the initial training phase is fairly high-powered:
maths, physics, aerodynamics and navigation are just some of the subjects
Grooming for officer status is catered for by study of general duties (how
to write a service letter correctly, for instance); military etiquette and the
roles and history of the Air Force.
The official day finishes at 6 pm, but then there's homework to be done.
"Staff members are available to help out if necessary," says Sqn Ldr
Nicholls, "but we enter the students' lounge at their request only."
THE pupils are pressurised, deliberately, in order to assess whether or
not they have sufficient inner resources and emotional equilibrium to withstand
this. The man who panics is not going to make a suitable pilot, however
academically gifted he may be.
"Only one has succumbed on this course," Sqn Ldr Nicholls told me.
Once the cadets have completed their initial training phase, they move on
to their basic flying stage. (BFS) spending from 6.30 am to 1.30 pm each day at
No. 6 Squadron, learning to fly Provosts.
In the afternoon they return to No. 2 GTS for academic work. Should the
weather be unsuitable for flying, then the entire day will be spent at their
Once the BFS is under their belts, the cadets go to No. 2 Squadron for
their advanced flying stage (AFS, Advanced Flying Stage) learning to fly
Vampires and, as with the BFS, continuing with ground school work in the
Upon completion of the AFS, they arc awarded their "wings", qualifying
them as pilots, and then they undergo the operational conversion unit with No. 2
No. 2 GTS generally runs two courses simultaneously, the one overlapping
the other by six months. Though the establishment comprises four instructors,
other specialists are called upon from time to time to lecture to the students
when this is required.
For example, as regards Air Force law. a member of the Department of Legal
Services would be requested to speak.
If there is ever any personality conflict between student and instructor,
this is certainly fleeting and soon forgotten. I was impressed by the palpable
good relationship which existed between staff and pupils — the result of
hand-picked teachers and students who, after that meticulous filtering process
of selection, are clearly the best vintage available, the dregs having been
discarded long since.
Cadets at No. 2 GTS are known colloquially as "dogs". They accept this
with equanimity and the entrance to their lounge is papered with such warning
legends as: "Beware Of The Dog" and "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie".
The "dogs" have little time for slumber at the ground training school:
that well-rounded and highly efficient moulding process converts, within less
than two years, a schoolboy to the sort of pilot of whom it may well be said, in
the words of the Air Force motto:
"Our wings are as the fortress to our land.."
|In the decompression chamber, pupils are taught how to operate their aircraft's oxygen systems.|
|Just before the big moment of that first flight, a pupil meets up with his aircraft for the first time|
(The Rhodesian Women's Services (Air Force))
When the idea of the Rhodesian Women's Services was first
announced, much muttering into beer mugs took place as
prognostications of dire chaos were made by the Mess Cassandra's. A
year later, "Les Girls" have clearly won the battle, with nary a
shot fired in anger.
"Birds" is something of a misnomer — they're strictly chair borne,
but the jobs which the Rhodesian Women's Services (Rhodesian Air
Force) have taken over since those blue skirts blossomed upon the
scene in 1975, have made just as important a contribution to the war
cause as does the glamorous men-only activity of flying a fighter
The sheer enthusiasm and pleasure at being able to contribute
actively to fighting the anti-terrorist war are the main reasons why
thus far the RWS have shaped so well.
Every girl I spoke to was unreservedly happy in her job, and glad
that she had joined up. And the wide spectrum of posts available
means that there's a niche for everyone, whatever her aptitudes and
Those interested in joining the RWS (Rhodesian Air Force) must be
between 18 and 50 and in good health, but that is the only definite
Marital status is irrelevant and no specific educational
qualifications are required, although naturally the woman with, say,
A levels, will be offered a higher rate of pay than would her
counterpart with just an RCE (Rhodesian Certificate of Education).
The successful applicant undergoes an intensive two-week training
course and is then posted to a unit — in her home town, if possible.
Her working day will officially end at 4.30 pm but she may, from
time to time, be required to do overtime when necessary.
Mrs.Joan Webster, who is in her 30s, is separated and has two
children. Initially she lived in Guinea fowl and worked mornings
only there for the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation.
When a move to Salisbury and altered domestic circumstances made it
necessary for her to seek a full-time job, she came across one of
the RWS advertisements and thought that a career in the Air Force
Free medical attention
"I applied, was accepted and the salary I began on proved to be $3 a
month more than the wage offered to me by a civilian Salisbury
Of course, there are other advantages in being in the Air Force: the
free uniform (this cuts clothing costs tremendously, I find)
pantyhose allowance, free shoes, bag ... let alone the free medical
and dental attention."
Mrs. Webster joined the RWS in February 1976, and after completing
her basic training she was posted to the Security Section at New
"I have a variety of responsibilities, among which are to keep
records concerning everyone's whereabouts at forward air fields, and
to ensure that every member is given his rest and recreation break
at the right time.
"Perhaps the most interesting part of my job so far was the 10-day
security course I attended. We were taught the basics of security
work — military law, how to deal with theft and arson, finger-
printing, traffic control and generally all the duties expected of a
member of the Provost Section.
"But also we had a stint out in the bush, during which we studied
explosives, such as landmines, and did some shooting practice too,
which I love."
WHAT are the main difficulties involved in stepping into what has
hitherto been a man's world?
Mrs. Webster says she has only once been really nonplussed, and that
was the occasion on which she arrived unexpectedly at the New Sarum
swimming pool to stumble across two male nude sunbathers.
Unaccustomed to Eves wandering into that particular Garden of Eden,
they had long been in the habit of "skinny dipping" at that time of
Inevitably there has been some outside criticism of the RWS. I
mentioned two such points to Mrs. Webster.
One school of thought believes that these ladies tend to play upon
their femininity and are sloppy when it comes to military
discipline, lounging about when they ought to be leaping to their
feet, saluting an officer; and moving too readily to Christian name
terms with officers and
Mrs. Webster does not feel there is much justification for this
gripe. "I have heard the odd girl get a 'rev' for not saluting," she
says, "but on the whole they're pretty good about this. "The men are
inclined to call us by our Christian names, but most of us address
them as 'Sir'. It's a military establishment and we respect that."
Some wives regard the RWS, both Air Force and Army, with a jaundiced
eye, and various stories circulate about the RWS drinking in the
bars with officers after work (they are permitted in the officers'
mess by invitation only) and less innocent pursuits resulting.
Mrs. Webster is adamant that any hanky-panky while in uniform is
immediately stamped upon.
Meeting the wives
"Should any girl behave in a way which is causing general talk
reflecting badly upon the Air Force, then either my colleague, Mrs
Tyler, or I would instantly speak to her and also bring the matter
to the attention of a senior officer.
"But really, apart from Wednesday afternoons at the sports club — at
which we get to meet the wives and families too — there just isn't
the opportunity for this sort of thing.
"All of us RWS members live in town, and can't afford the petrol to
drive to and from work. Thus we've got to be on that bus, which
leaves New Sarum at 4.35 pm every afternoon."
A keen squash and tennis player, Mrs. Webster much appreciates the
sporting facilities available to all Air Force personnel.
"We in the RWS are members of the sergeants' mess, and we pay only
50c a month sports fee. On Wednesday afternoons, if the work load
permits, we are encouraged to play sport. Afterwards we often stay
on for a drink at the all-ranks sports club."
Sport apart, the RWS probably have less trouble containing their
curves than do most other women, They have an hour's drill every
Thursday to keep them up to scratch. and when I interviewed Mrs.
Webster she told me that on the following day, the RWS were destined
for the assault course in combat kit.
This intimidating stretch, chockfull of the sort of hurdles and
obstacles that civilian women encounter only in nightmares, is
normally used by male Air Force members.
Although some of the RWS are in their late forties, all were ready
to tackle the course, though they admitted that their efforts might
well be worth a laugh a minute.
Miss Val Hunt, 23, was a qualified teacher before she joined the Air
After her basic training, she was posted to air traffic control at
Thornhill. Her day begins at 6.30 am but ends at 1.30 pm, which
means the added bonus of free afternoons.
When I visited the air traffic control tower to see Val at work she
was preparing control slips.
Sqn Ldr John Digby, senior air traffic control officer, explained:
"For every aircraft movement within the area, a control slip is made
out, giving information on levels and timings and generally
supplying all the data the controller needs.
"There is constant liaison between the Department of Civil Aviation
and all out stations throughout Rhodesia. A qualified air traffic
control officer used to do this particular job; Miss Hunt's arrival
has allowed us to release such men to the forward areas." Since her
predecessor had undergone formal training, had Val experienced
difficulty in having to pick up the job as she went along?
Sqn Ldr Digby said: "She probably found the language a bit of a
problem at first — both the official terminology ... and the
"Certainly she got used to the air traffic control terms very
quickly - and as for the other sort of words, I think the
controllers have adjusted well too ... Altogether, I'm very
pleasantly surprised with the speed at which she is learning the
Her most hair-raising moment? Val told me: "Definitely my first day
on duty, when I was nervous and unsure anyway, and a spurious flight
plan was filed. I spent the whole day looking for an aircraft which
Val's is a dual role: every fortnight she moves from the air traffic
control tower to the operations room at Thornhill, to act for two
weeks as an assistant there - a task she enjoys equally.
She sums up her new career this way: "It's the best thing I've ever
done. There's a purpose to this work and I feel it has a potential
|Woman in a man's world .|
Val Hunt has earned her seat in the tower between two air traffic controllers.
|Weapon training for four members of the RWS.|
A Base in the Bush
(A Visit to the Sharp End)
A forward airfield is both a fighting base and a home to dozens of
airmen. Often established in a hurry, it gradually puts down roots.
When I visited a forward airfield (which is in the operational area) the
Air Force members there were crestfallen. "We haven't killed a terrorist this
morning as yet," one officer explained (and it was 10 am at that stage). "The
day's just not the same without knocking off at least one terr."
Usually the figure is far greater than that. In the past six weeks in this
particular area, the grand total of 76 terrorists had been wiped out as the
result of combined Army-Air Force operations, and many more captured.
This air involvement amply illustrates how deeply committed the Air Force
is at this present time to the operational zone, and on a permanent basis —
manning its many forward airfields, in addition to the four main airfields in
Personnel of Nos. 4 and 7 Squadrons live at the forward airfields for most
of their working year, constantly in a state of readiness to be called out.
For security reasons, it would be unwise to specify to which forward
airfield (from henceforth, referred to as a FAF in this article) I was .taken.
The locale is largely immaterial, however, since the routine and
administration of these vital outposts is much the same throughout Rhodesia.
This particular FAF was commanded, at the time of my visit, by Sqn. Ldr.
Graham Cronshaw, who was nearing the end of his eight-week stint there.
Originally a helicopter pilot, his permanent post nowadays is an
administrative position at Air Force Headquarters in Salisbury, so he had
greatly enjoyed the stimulus of FAF life — as had his second in command, Air Lt
Charlie Connolly, who is usually an air traffic controller at Thornhill.
The hurly-burly of running a crucial base in the operational area is far
removed from the remote control implicit in Air Lt Connolly's normal work in the
But, said Sqn. Ldr. Cronshaw, his second in command had "very quickly
picked up operational procedures, and now is well able to take over as acting
FAF commander whenever I'm called away to meetings."
The appeal of FAF life lies in its infinite and frenetic variety: no two
days are ever alike. But to appreciate fully the work of the Air Force in
action, I singled out just one 28-hour period in a FAF's diary of events.
Because the nightly meeting of the Joint Operations Committee at each JOC
Headquarters has direct bearing on most df the next day's assignments, the "day"
starts at 6 pm the previous evening, when the FAF commander meets with his Army,
Police and Internal Affairs opposite numbers to discuss the current situation
and the air requirements apropos Army and Police action scheduled for the
Once the joint plan of action has been decided upon, the FAF commander
returns to the airfield to brief his pilots accordingly.
"I leave it to the senior pilots to work out their own schedules," says
Sqn Ldr Cronshaw. "Tasks
such as relay changes have to be fitted in when operational commitments
5.25 am: Information has come in, via the operations room at the FAF, that
terrorists are at such-and-such a spot. (Their presence in the area has been
reported by African villagers, in this instance.)
Sqn Ldr Cronshaw immediately hastens to JOC Headquarters to liaise with
other members of the Security Forces, then returns to brief his pilots on this
6 am: The information received has been checked upon. Terrorists are
definitely in situ, and so the Fire Force is deployed, airborne within three
minutes. However, the result is disappointing: "cold food but warm tea," as one
pilot says when he returns to the FAF.
The terrorists had indeed been in that temporary camp, but had for some
reason departed hurriedly a short while before.
Breakfast is served
Trackers are deposited in an effort to trace the enemy, but the trail
peters out near an African kraal.
6.30-7 am: Breakfast is served for those who are available to eat it.
Mealtimes are prodigiously elastic at a FAF: on one occasion, after a markedly
hectic day, weary pilots and technicians finally devoured their "breakfast" at
7.30 am: The FAF commander and the camp commandant meet to discuss camp
matters and any problems which may have arisen.
7.45 am onwards: The domestic activities of the FAF start up. The camp
commandant tours the camp, checking upon the guards (which comprise Regular,
Territorial Force, Volunteer Reserve and General Service Unit personnel). Food
supplies, bar stocks, building operations under way which currently
include new revetments — are also checked.
But there are a myriad other projects in hand: this FAF is comparatively
new, and consequently raw-looking, since it was constructed upon a site hacked
from virgin bush veld.
When you have to spend most of your working life in the operational area,
with all its attendant stresses, it helps if your surroundings are reasonably
So grass is being planted between the pine buildings, and the FAF
commander has established an aloe and cactus garden. Rubble is being cleared so
that a maze of smooth pathways may be constructed.
One spare block is being converted into an officers' mess, and the men
concerned spend much of their spare time giving a hand with the d£cor to ensure
that it will be spectacular indeed by "Sticksville" standards.
Emerald quartzite, donated by a Territorial Force member, is being
used,for the bar and the walls are covered with hessian.
Sun filter curtaining has been supplied by a well-wisher, and a Volunteer
Reserve member in the plastics industry has provided mock-wood moulded panelling
squares for the ceiling at a drastically reduced price.
A former Air Force member has offered to weld a wrought iron gatewhich
will stand between the bar and the ante-room.
The only things they are lacking now are a Jetmaster fireplace unit, a
deep freeze or refrigerator and carpeting (which will be a distinct asset since
howling winds hurtle around a FAF, especially in winter, and always manage to
find their way through the chinks in the wooden walls). Any offers?
Don't let this interest in a mess make you imagine swimming-eyed pilots
propping up the bar counter when they ought to be dashing out to exterminate the
NO AIR Force bar is ever open for the sale of alcohol at lunchtime — and
at night, the FAF bars close at 9.30 pm sharp Anyway, morale and self-discipline
is such that those flying early the next morning don't usually indulge at all
the night before.
11 am: More terrorists have beer sighted (perhaps the original bunch) and
the FAF commander and his Security Force colleague; formulate their modus
The Fire Force is deployed, by helicopters as is the usual practice to the
scene and a contact ensues.
Because of the density of vegetation in the area, it is decided that
heavier air strike effort is required, and so the operation room summons several
Hunter from Thornhill, many hundreds of kilometres away.
Within 50 minutes they have arrived, flashing in with cannon and rockets.
Some terrorist manage to escape — for the time being — and thus the contact
continues spasmodically for almost five hours.
12.15 pm: An African civilian bus has detonated a landmine and there are
many casualties -children and babies with limbs and faces blasted into bloody
pulp, crying women in agony, old men staring dumbfounded at mangled stumps which
were, moments before, the legs that they depended upon.
The Air Force copes with all the casualty evacuation, whisking an Army
doctor to the scene instantly deal with the most critically injured, then flying
all the wounded to the nearest hospital.
Soon the hospital becomes so overcrowded that a Dakota has to be called
from Salisbury in order to transport various cases to Salisbury Hospital.
12.30 PM: Lunch (steak, chips and vegetables, followed by apple and
custard) for the few who are at leisure to consume it.
1 pm: A Canberra, in the area on a routine patrol, hails the FAF by means
of a low-level fly past.
3.45 pm: The contact draws to a close. 11 terrorists have been killed and
all the others finally captured, together with quantities of arms and equipment.
The Air Force crews return to the FAF and Sqn Ldr Cronshaw holds a
debriefing in order to obtain every particle of data on the events of the past
5 pm: At last the relay change, requested by the Army's Corps of Signals,
can be carried out, and a helicopter sets off for a hill to replenish batteries
at that communication point.
5.20 pm: Another "chopper" is required at a relay station this time to
drop off medication for the treatment of "blister beetle" wounds. These
pestilential insects, prevalent in the operational area, crawl over the skin and
leave their wake a trail of itching painful blisters.
As soon as one of these eruption: is punctured, the resultant liquid
precipitates further irritation in the immediate area.
In the vicinity
6 pm: The FAF commander, who has spent most of the afternoon in the
operations room, monitoring the contact, travels to the JOC meeting.
9 pm: A call comes in from an Army base for "casevac" action: a soldieir
has fallen into a slit trench and broken his shoulder. There is an airstrip near
to the post in question and so a fixed-wing aircraft is sent to fetch the
The Army lay a flare path so that the aircraft can land in safety; the man
is uplifted and flown to a hospital in the vicinity.
10 pm: Dinner — a sort of running buffet — has taken place somewhere along
the line. Those due to fly at first light the following morning are long since
asleep Others may read, listen to record or play cards before retiring.
And so to bed ... perchance indeed to dream: of home comforts, cinemas,
restaurants and all the trappings of civilisation. Or the fact that, as the song
says, there is nothing like a dame (particularly a the all-male bastion of a
FAF). And perhaps of the phantom wail of the scramble hooter, calling the men of
the Air Force into action to save few more lives or, as they say at the Sharp
End, "zap a few more terrs".
|Security is the watchword. Airfields are guarded round the clock to protect men
|Not quite like Mum's kitchen, but the caterers produce the goods regardless and FAF food is the subject of few complaints.|
|A 'pub' to relax In. Air Force bars are all teetotal at lunchtime and have strictly limited opening hours in the evening.|
|The resupply Dakota is always a welcome sight at a FAF, bring in the mail, the news and the rations.|
Nerve centre of the War
(A visit to the Sharp End)
This is where, in the realm of the forward air field, it's at. The " ops
room" is manned, generally by four people at a FAF, on a 24-hour basis. A
continual stream of messages flows into that small centre which, in essence, not
only controls all air activity at the airfield itself, but for many hundreds of
The first intimation that air is needed for an impending contact with
terrorists is radioed through to the ops room.
While the contact rages, the FAF commander sits in, listening, ready to
summon heavier air strike power if necessary from New Sarum or Thornhill and
ready to send his causality evacuation teams to the should any soldiers be
In the event of a farmhouse being attacked in the area — 16 000 km in case
of the FAF I visited — the ops room will hear first of this, the farmer
concerned calls for help via his Agric-Alert system.
Homestead owners have been requested to supply their local FAF's the
detailed diagrams of their domestic areas so that when a helicopter flies in
(probably with a stick of troops lest the terrorists still there) to rescue the
beleaguered family and evacuate any casualties, its pilot knows where to find
the landing zone -the farmer himself must construct — and which
obstacles to avoid en route.
No means are all the ops room's involvements this dramatic of course. All
daily manners pertaining to the FAF are relayed through it.
When the recent permanent embodiment of Territorial Force members came
into being, various personal problems arose.
Five men asked for leave to return their home towns in order to sort out
domestic, financial and career dilemmas. The requisite arrangements were made
and implemented through the ops room.
One TF member was about to sit the finals in the Chartered Institute
Secretaries examination and pointed out that should he have to miss these, it
would set him back professionally.
The FAF commander radioed Air Force Headquarters in Salisbury to this
effect and the examination papers were subsequently flown to the FAF, where on
three consecutive evenings, an officer invigilated and saw to it that the
completed submissions were despatched without delay to the appropriate
At present, each TF member spends 42 days in the field, then has 10 days
rest and recuperation at home before returning to the operational area. The ops
room ensures that all the ferrying to and fro, of the right men at the right
time, takes place without a hitch.
Resupplying of a FAF takes place twice a week. This involves the ops room
too, as should there be any delay in the cargo reaching the airfield, the camp
commandant has to be informed immediately so that he can make alternate
Fuel, the lifeblood of a FAF, closely concerns the ops room. One instance
of this comes about if a few of the FAF's aircraft are called upon to help out,
either in a Fire Force capacity or for casualty evacuation work in another area.
The ops room pertaining to that district will contact its opposite number
with information regarding the whereabouts of fuel, so that helicopters and
fixed-wing aircraft will know which small airstrips will be able to assist in
Visits from Government officials, military transport requirements by the
FAF, members on counter-insurgency courses at the School of Infantry touring the
operational area, journalists about to descend, details of all these, and much
much more, are channelled through the ops room.
Around the clock it receives and transmits: the all-important bridge
between the Air Force in the combat zone and the outside world.
|Round the clock, messages flow into the forward airfield's operations room|
- the all important bridge between the Air Force and the outside world.
(A visit to the Sharp End)
The camp commandants on forward airfields are all members of the
Volunteer Reserve, which provides a manpower pool of dedicated
All commandants of forward airfields at this time members of the
Volunteer reserve (colloquially known as Retreads"). Behind that
bald statement of fact lies a considerable implicit tribute to men.
Such is the confidence that the Air Force has in the capabilities of
its part-time airmen that it entrusts to them this sort of post- —
which requires a high degree of efficiency, administrative acumen,
strength of character, tact, stamina and a sense of humour, combined
The Volunteer Reserve was formed in 1961 to provide an additional
source of manpower to support the regular Air Force in time of
Since the beginning of the anti-terrorist war, the Volunteer Reserve
has supplied superb and faltering backing to the Regular Force, its
members not only coping with administrative tasks in order release
Regular members for field service, but also in recent years working
in the operational area themselves.
A number of VR personnel are trained pilots, some of them having
flown in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and in 1963
the first VR co-pilots qualified.
Ten years later, they were admitted to command posts to pilot
Dakotas. Now, they are called out on a day-to-day basis as required.
At a forward airfield, I spoke to Flt. Lt Ken Sampson, 50, a company
director in civilian life. He joined the VR in 1965 after several
years in a Rhodesia Regiment battalion.
A lot of people don't seem to realise that you don't need to have
Air Force or aviation experience in order to become a member of the
VR," he said.
"I started at the bottom as an aircraftsman. VR parades are held
once a week, on Thursday evenings. Then there's a Saturday parade
once a month and a long weekend of training every second month.
In order to climb the promotion ladder in the VR, examinations have
to be passed, just as in the Regular Force. VR members serve in four
categories: security (in which there are elementary, intermediate
and advanced examinations); administration (two examinations);
operations and intelligence; and air movement in which members are
responsible for working out load sheets for transport aircraft,
organising cargo and other connected matters.
Flt. Lt. Sampson, now adjutant of No. 108 (Field) Squadron, says:
"In our squadron we have our own duty roster. I can expect to serve
at least twice a year in the operational area, three weeks at a
time, though this is up to you yourself to decide. You can plump for
a longer, or shorter period, according to your business commitments.
"At the end of my stint as camp commandant here I'll hand over to a
chap from my own squadron useful, in that we all know the routine
and each man's way of doing things."
Control over discipline
Although responsible to the FAF commander, who is always a regular
Air Force officer, the camp commandant has complete control over
discipline, domestic matters and general administration of the FAF.
He handles all the finances; , keeps track of all personnel as
regards rest and recuperation, sick leave etcetera, and informs Air
Force Headquarters in Salisbury accordingly; ensures that standards
of hygiene are being maintained and sees to it that messing runs
The day I visited the FAF had been a pretty average one for Flt. Lt.
Sampson: that is, crammed from dawn to dusk with a diversity of jobs
to be completed and problems to be tackled.
The water level in the FAF tank was getting low, so he had had to
contact Water Development for more.
He had given the caterer cash to buy perishables (although FAFs are
resupplied twice weekly from town with meat and tinned goods, to a
large extent they do their own "housekeeping", this means it is the
camp commandant's responsibility to decide how best to stretch the
certain amount of money which is allotted per head per day).
He had had, as always, to keep his imprest up to date and to make
out a pile of daily vouchers and there had been several welfare
problems dumped in his lap.
One such concerned a TF member, married two months, who had been
receiving distressing letters from home to the effect that his new
bride was in a bad nervous state, not eating, not sleeping, grieving
for and worrying about him.
The young husband had sufficient sense of duty not to attempt
begging off, temporarily, in order to sort out this unhappy
situation. But he felt that if he could give his wife a firm date as
to when he would be home for his next 10 days of rest and
recuperation, it would help her emotionally.
Flt. Lt. Sampson immediately looked up the roster and told him the
date, but also made a mental note to check on this case within the
next few days. Had the wife's mental condition not improved by then,
he would signal Air Force Headquarters to ask that she be contacted
Then there was the TF man who had his own business and who came to
Flt. Lt. Sampson to say that he was suffering financially, not only
through being called up on an indefinite basis which made him unable
to run his organisation properly, but also because he had to
maintain the office, paying the staff and rent.
Flt. Lt. Sampson advised him that he was entitled to apply for a
supplementary allowance and assisted him in doing so.
Probably the person who causes the camp commandant least hassle at
this particular FAF is Air. Lt. Benjie, a scruffy wire-haired
terrier crossed with Heinz 57.
Initially found wandering in the Centenary area, he was adopted by
the Air Force. Originally he was a flight sergeant, but one day he
found two puff adders in a gun pit, took immediate action and
despatched the enemy and received field promotion to his present
rank. His citation hangs in the all-ranks mess.
He, and another canine with no visible officer qualities, by the
name of Dogmatics, live royally at
the FAF, sleeping on the airmen's beds and being pampered with all
'sorts of delicious tidbits as well as with dog biscuits bought
regularly by the men themselves.
Late afternoon tour
As we prepared to leave the FAF, Flt. Lt. Sampson was about to make
his regular late afternoon tour of the camp to check on security
arrangements, particularly as regards the guarding of the airfield.
Soon he would be back in Salisbury, picking up the threads of his
normal life once more. "You learn, over the years, to switch on and
off, from civilian existence to military," he says.
Most VR members are over 38, and have completed their National
Service and Territorial Force commitment. They come from all walks
of life: the case of a VR squadron leader who is a salesman in ciwie
street and one of his aircraftsmen who is actually his managing
director back in the city is not an unusual one.
These men have a difficult task: there is the disadvantage of age
and the sneaking suspicion that some of the youngsters they will
have to command may at first regard them as ignorant old boozers
playing at being airmen. But time and again they have proved their
worth and won the respect of all those regulars who have worked with
them. The members Of Dad's Air Force have a very real contribution
|The camp commandant is administrator, catering officer, father confessor and paymaster. |
Bush duty is no excuse for not getting one's pay!
Jack Of Many Trades
(No. 7 Squadron)
Operating helicopters in bush conditions is a two-man job - and pilot and technician are a tightly-knit team. The pilot's role is often publicised, but little is said about the work of his technician. This is part of the story.
IMAGINE a job in which you might well rise at dawn, snatch half an hour here, 50 minutes there, for the nitty-gritty part of your work, before being whisked off to join battle with terrorists, and possibly turn gunner; returning at dusk to tackle a comprehensive checking routine, no detail of which can be skimped; and ultimately going off duty around 8.30 pm.
Perish the thought? The technicians of No. 7 Squadron would disagree, to a man. They seem to thrive on this existence, the reason appearing to stem from that old cliche of variety being the spice of life.
By the very nature of counter- insurgency warfare, there's no such thing as a typical 24 hours in the life of a helicopter technician in the operational area.
To gain an overall picture, however, I spoke to both a warrant officer and a flight sergeant in No. 7 Squadron.
WO2 Geoff Dartnell has been a member of the Air Force for 13 years. He began his service career in the RAF, but two and a half years in Singapore entrenched in him a "complete intolerance of British weather" upon his transfer back to England.
He likes the variation
So he decided to emigrate to Rhodesia and join what was then known as the RRAF.
After a stint in each of the Rhodesian Air Force's squadrons, he joined No. 7 Squadron in October 1973, and now says he enjoys the work here most of all.
"I like the variation: although our basic work comprises taking troops into the operational area and bringing them out, as well as relay changes, there's the spotting role, the casevac role, the rescue work ... as a crew man, one's tied in with it all."
The technical expertise required by No. 7 Squadron is of a high andcomplex standard. A tradesman must undergo a stiff two-month course versing him in all aspects of helicopter maintenance: from the engine to the blades, the airframe to the instruments, the electrical side to armaments.— for he must also be capable of acting as a gunner.
Upon completing the course and passing the final examination, he must then notch up 100 hours in the air.
'Thereafter," Geoff says, "he is considered to be fully operational. He takes over a helicopter; the entire maintenance of that aircraft is his responsibility."
At present, he can count on spending three weeks in the operational area, and one week back at base. A fair proportion of those 21 days in "sticksville" will consist of what Geoff calls "total boredom" — nonetheless, he will spend the time checking and rechecking his aircraft.
A stimulating day
Let's look at a more stimulating day, though. Our man could be called out before first light, and told that this aircraft is tasked to transport troops to a certain point.
The helicopter sets off as the sun rises, picks up the troops and hastens to the point in question. Should the aircraft's role that day involve the tactical deployment of troops, it would duly land its cargo of men at the appointed landing zone, possibly pick up a number, and set off back to base camp.
Instead, however, its job might be providing top cover; acting as. the command aircraft and carrying an Army officer who, with the helicopter pilot, maps out the best method of attack and deploys the troops accordingly.
Where normal work is concerned, the helicopter can travel for at least two hours before having to refuel. In a trooping role, only one hour's fuel is carried on board — 200 litres' worth.
The Alouette costs between $180 and $200 per hour to run, but fuel costs are only a part of this sum. Each component has a certain life span — for example, 2 500 flying hours as regards the all-important blades — and when the allotted limit (carefully diarised) is reached, that aircraft is not permitted to fly until the relevant part has been replaced.
"An administrative headache," Geoff Dartnell admits. But on the credit side, he says of the Alouette:"a tremendous aircraft — incredibly reliable.
"I have known of only one case of engine failure in the 14 years ofNo. 7 Squadron's existence, and that was before the introduction of air filters. These are now fitted to all our helicopters.
"Remember that the engine turns at 33 500 rpm; if dust were to lodge itself in the compressor and turbines, damage could result. This, however, has been obviated."
The necessity for periodic replacement of the parts is in itself an advantage: the Alouette thus possesses longevity indeed, the mechanical embodiment of a transplant surgeon's wildest dreams. ,
Take, for example, just one of the first three Alouettes assembled at New Sarum in March 1962: the shell is the sole remaining section of that original aircraft. Every other component has been replaced, time after time.
But back to the technician's daily round: each working aircraft in the operational area must undergo three basic services — the pre-flight inspection, the "turn-around" check and the after-flight, or final service for the day.
Each scrutiny consists of a thorough examination of the helicopter. Lubrication is done after every five hours' flying — but certainly at least once a day.
The completion of 25 hours' flying signifies the need for a primary servicing, which includes a thorough lubrication of the entire aircraft, with particular attention being paid to the cleansing of air, oil and fuel filters.
"All this depends upon the availability of time," Geoff Dartnell stresses. "When you have a spare half hour, you try to fit in part of the servicing routine."
Checked and signed
It is essential in the operational area that no helicopter is ever totally grounded through servicing, and requiring several hours of work before it is ready to fly once more.
Each servicing job completed has to be checked and signed — the vital tasks, such as those involving the engine and flight controls, are examined by an independent observer and counter-signed.
Says Geoff: "The standards of serviceability and workmanship are high — especially so when one considers that for the most part these are maintained under difficult conditions.
IN ADDITION to their three I weeks in the operational area, our technicians have to do their stint of base flying and aircraft servicing. Time off is therefore restricted at present, and a considerable amount of overtime is being worked.
"In general, the men don't grumble about it — probably because of the diversity of the work, and the resultant interest factor.
"They're a bunch of roughnecks - they have to be, in order to mix with all sorts out there in the bush - but they're a first class bunch of blokes and are doing a tremendous job.
"The wives also should get a special mention, I feel. They're putting up with an awful lot, alone for weeks on end."
I had a final word with Flt Sgt Norman Farrell, who has been with No. 7 Squadron for three and a half years. He's spent most of that time on active service, and says with a wry grin that he's seen a lot more of Rhodesia than he might otherwise have done.
Nonetheless, like all his fellow technicians, he would be loath to be transferred. "Choppers" are a form
of addiction, it would seem. Once they're in your system, you're hooked — and happy to be so.
|Geoff Dartnell completes a routine change of blades to a tail rotor.|
They're' Chuting High
(Parachuting Training School)
The instructors of the Parachute Training School are responsible
for teaching parachuting skills to the men of the SAS. At the same
time they often pioneer new techniques.
SQUADRON Leader Derek de Kock comments of the Parachute Training
School he commands: "I believe that to pass out of here after a
parachute training course can only make a better soldier out of any
man. Mind you. in the three weeks that he's here, he'll probably age
I can see his point. Merely watching the school's instructors
hurling themselves out of a Dakota at 8 000 ft and free-falling 2
500 ft before they opened their parachutes made me feel more like a
stiff vodka afterwards than the excellent cup of tea with which the
school provided me.
On that particular morning, a trainee instructor, Cpl David
Rainbird, was making his first free-fall. Originally a boilermaker
in civvie street, he'd joined the Air Force, and undergone the
static line course at the Parachute Training School. Now he was
learning the intricacies of free-falling.
While Sqn Ldr de Kock, three other parachute jump instructors and
Cpl Rainbird climbed into the Dakota preparatory to taking off, I
was driven by Sgt Mike Wiltshire to the airfield where the men would
make their jumps.
There, a medical orderly joined us, as is always the case when any
jump is taking place - except that when a proper course is being
trained, a qualified doctor is present instead.
Sgt Wiltshire and an African aircraftsman immediately set up the
necessary equipment: a radio in order to keep in touch with the
aircraft; sheets of red rubberised fabric, which were set out in the
shape of a large arrow, to denote the spot at which the parachutists
should aim; a wind gauge on top of the Land Rover, registering knots
and a windsock to indicate in which direction the wind was blowing.
Wind is all-important in parachuting, particularly, as regards
free-falling. The red arrow is arranged pointing into the wind and
the aircraft flies up the shaft of the arrow, so to speak.
Depending upon the strength of the wind, the parachutists jump a
calculated distance away from the red mark so that a combination of
wind force and the steering with which one is able to control the
parachutes used for free-fall work, will bring them as close as
possible to the dropping zone.
The parachute jump instructors at the school are perforce the guinea
pigs: if the Army require a new way of landing their airborne
troops, it's up to the squadron leader and his instructors to devise
this and test it thoroughly themselves before they deem it safe to
teach to their pupils.
(For instance, a while ago the school was requested to teach
paratroops how to land in trees. The instructors duly went through
the paces — or branches — themselves, and were then able to pass on
the new technique, which has proved highly successful.)
Cpl Rainbird sampled this tough side of instructing life for himself
on the morning of his free-fall. Hitherto, the first free-fall was
always done from 3 000 ft, which allowed the novice only five
Now the Parachute Training School are instigating an initial jump
from 6 000 ft — "which means 25 seconds to get things sorted out,"
Sgt Wiltshire explained to me.
The instructors themselves that day would be jumping from 8 000 ft —
and if you think that sounds alarming, let me tell you that jumps
from 18 000 ft are not uncommon for the experienced free-faller.
All jumps in excess of 20 000 ft mean that the parachutist has to
carry oxygen with him. But of course the supreme advantage, in the
military context, of plummeting from such a height is that the
aircraft cannot be seen nor heard, and thus the paratroops
themselves appear suddenly like pennies from heaven, visible only
for a matter of seconds before they land.
Precision work indeed
Back to Cpl Rainbird, though: the Dakota passed overhead, and Flt Lt
Frank Hales, second in command of the school (and who has over 1 000
jumps to his credit) threw out a streamer in order to assess the
wind's direction and strength.
Sgt Wiltshire noted where it fell, and reported over the radio to
the men that "the despatch of that streamer was spot on."
Precision work indeed, since in the six minutes in which we'd been
there, the wind had already increased from five to nine knots and
the windsock had swung round 30 degrees.
The Dakota had reached 6 000 ft when suddenly a tiny black dot
hurtled out, falling a breathtaking 2 500 ft before a parachute
It is fitted with a safety device ensuring automatic opening -
should the parachutist lose consciousness, for instance, his
parachute will open of its own accord, prompted by the altimeter
attached, before he's less than 1 700 ft from the ground.
Cpl Rainbird was followed by Sgt Kevin Milligan, who was
scrutinising his performance. Tumbling, "barrelling", spinning,
pulling either too low or too high once the parachute opened — all
these would count as black marks against the trainee.
AT 8 000 ft, Sqn Ldr de Kock and the other instructors jumped. All
five men, facing into the wind, landed within a few metres of the
red arrow, having steered themselves by means of the toggles
on-their parachute harnesses — which control the wind vents in the
Sgt Milligan reported approvingly on Cpl Rainbird's performance. The
novice himself was somewhat pallid but stoically silent, except to
remark that he'd never before counted so fast in his life.
The parachutes and concomitant equipment were then stowed away in a
trailer and taken back to the school; they would subsequently be
sent to the safety equipment section for checking and repacking.
Today had been a relatively quiet day for the Parachute Training
School: at this point in time, they were having a rare breathing
space between the courses they run almost continually, and their
operational duties (three parachute jump instructors must be present
to despatch airborne troops each time a descent is made.)
The PTS records show 3 632 descents for 1975; in the first five
months of this year, despite inclement weather, 1 280 descents had
been notched up. After 15 years of existence, the school is nearing
a total of 25 000 descents.
The beginnings of the Parachute Training School go back to January
I960, when a Pembroke carrying FO (now Sqn Ldr) George Alexander,
plus a parachute jump instructor seconded from the RAF, reconnoitred
the first dropping zone, evaluating whether or not there was a
potential in Rhodesia for airborne trooping.
(Rhodesia's 5 000 ft altitude meant conditions far different to
those to which the RAF was accustomed; here, one descends more
swiftly than at sea level -12 000 ft a minute, to be precise.)
The first live drop took place soon afterwards, and as a result it
was decided that there would be a Special Air Service commitment in
Rhodesia. Accordingly, a full-time parachute training school, to be
run by the RRAF, was established.
Sqn Ldr de Kock — then a sergeant — was amongst the first five RRAF
men selected to go to Abingdon, England, for a six-month parachute
jump instructor's training course.
On October 30th, 1961, the first parachute training course for SAS
troops, mounted by the newly qualified instructors, began — but it
really got off the ground when on November 1st, the instructors
staged a demonstration jump for the benefit of their pupils.
(It must have been something of a relief to begin instructing: each
staff member had had to take his turn as carpenter, rigger, steel
erector, painter and general dogsbody in order to get the school
ready for the start of that first course.)
WITHIN just three and a half months there had been 1 000 descents,
and when in September 1962, politically inspired unrest broke out
throughout the Federation, the first operational drop of SAS troops
Twenty men jumped into the Melsetter area, 26 a few days later at
Kutama Mission, and subsequently 40 were dropped in the Inyanga
district and 40 at Domboshawa, all on internal security operations.
During the course of these jumps, the 2 000th descent was completed.
The break-up of Federation hit the SAS hard — members resigned or
transferred to other armies, and until numbers had been built up
again through recruiting, the Parachute Training School experienced
a very stagnant period indeed, as can be seen by the total of annual
jumps — a "high" of 1 432 for 1963, which dropped to 649 in 1964.
Came November 11th, 1965, and for a short while, troops from the RLI
took over the PTS hangar in support of airfield defence. Once the
school had its premises to itself again, it began in earnest
attempting and perfecting new techniques — such as the first water
descent, into Lake McIlwaine, in December.
Turbulent years ahead
In March 1967, the first military free-fall — by Flt Lt Hales, from
10 000 ft over New Sarum — took place. This was the start of a
method which was to stand Rhodesian troops in good stead in the
turbulent years to come.
Night descents have also become an intrinsic part of the parachute
"We are the only unit in the world which doesn't mark our landing
zones," Sqn Ldr de Kock told me. "The pathfinders go in beforehand;
the aircraft is 'talked in' by these men on the ground, and the only
aiming equipment the parachutists then possess are two Mark 1
"When you're landing in hilly country this can be hairy indeed - but
we've had great success so far."
The past 10 years of anti- terrorist warfare have meant a packed
schedule for the Parachute Training School staff, which now numbers
Nonetheless, because the maximum number of pupils they can handle at
any one time is 24, the novices receive almost individual attention
— and this, coupled with high and rigid standards, combine to
produce, at the end of three weeks, a paratrooper of international
(The staff is justly proud that its meticulous methods have led to
the injury rate at the school being if not the lowest, then
certainly among the lowest in the world — .47 per cent to be exact.)
LET'S examine those 21 days in the life of an SAS or Selous Scouts
member, from the time he sets foot over the PTS threshold.
He'll work five days a week, from 8 am to 5 pm, and he'll begin by
what Sqn Ldr de Kock calls "intensive and continuous physical stuff
— rolling around the mats, learning how to fall."
Then he graduates on to the swings, slides and finally the "fan"
which simulates a descent — the "fan" works against the
gravitational forces of the body.
After six days' such training, he carries out his first parachute
descent, at 1 000 ft, and from then onwards he can expect to jump
every day of the remainder of the course (this includes one night
descent) until the passing-out parade, when a demonstration jump is
staged for the onlookers - wives, parents, relatives and
high-ranking Army and Air Force personnel.
Sometimes Lt General Peter Walls, the Army Commander, who has been
an enthusiastic parachutist ever since his SAS days in the1950s,
will jump with the newly qualified men, and then present their
"wings" to them.
While 95 per cent of the Parachute Training School's pupils are SAS
or Selous Scouts members, Sqn Ldr de Kock says that by his terms of
reference, he must train anyone the Army cares to send to the school
— doctors and chaplains have been amongst his trainees.
But all must first undergo a strenuous selection course beforehand
to ensure that they are fit and "parachute-orientated".
And should they not succeed in attaining the standards laid down by
the school, they will fail the course, regardless of rank or stature
— "parachuting is a great leveller," says Sqn Ldr de Kock with a
Discipline is vital
Discipline is vital: within the first few days of a course, a
trainee must be as conditioned to obeying without question the word
"go" as were Pavlov's dogs to reacting to their bell.
"I believe that if I had them standing on Kariba Dam wall at the end
of the 21 days," says Sqn Ldr de Kock, "and I shouted 'Go', they'd
all jump off unhesitatingly!"
A number of African troops have qualified as paratroopers, and
regular such courses for the future are scheduled.
Candidates for the free-fall course must have completed the basic
static line course just described. Free-falling takes four weeks'
training to perfect, and during this time 30 free-fall descents are
made - the first being completed at dawn on the fourth day of the
By the time the pupil has completed 20 descents satisfactorily, he
is judged capable of attempting the free-fall with full combat
equipment on him - his rifle, ammunition, rations etcetera.
He must of course be able to carry out basic manoeuvres in the air,
and once he has mastered the type of parachute used for free-fall
jumps, this can be exhilarating.
As Sgt Wiltshire says: "You can close up, sink, and catch up with
someone else below you; you can pull up so that the man above you
can catch up with you; you can steer to the right or to the left...
in fact, you're able to do everything a bird can do, except fly
The wind force has a great effect on a free-faller's liberty of
movement. If the wind is in excess of 15 knots the injury rate
quadruples. At 17 knots there's a 10 per cent injury rate, at 20
knots a 25 per cent injury rate.
THE highest wind Sqn Ldr de Kock has ever jumped in was 30 knots,
and he admits that this was an intimidating experience. Like almost
every other member of the Parachute Training School staff, he's had
his share of broken bones over the years.
Injuries apart, though, medical opinion has calculated that one
parachute descent is the equivalent, physically, of eight hours'
The staff have had their chuckles - chilling as these mishaps were
at the time: the occasion on which one instructor missed his footing
and fell out of the aircraft at 15 000 ft ... the day on which
something had gone amiss with the red and green lights in one
aircraft, and a trainee instructor was learning to despatch.
The instructor recounts: "The warrant officer with me said:
'Disregard the red light; I'll tell you when to despatch them.'
"Well, I got the first bloke ready, but in my panic, when I saw the
light, I shouted 'Go!' and then, in horror, 'NO!' as he went heaving
Instilled reflex action
"I caught a glimpse of his startled face staring up at me in dismay
before he disappeared from sight."
Fortunately, such is the quality of tuition which all trainees
receive at the Parachute Training School that such accidents never
end in tragedy: an instilled reflex reaction takes over, whatever
the initial error.
My favourite anecdote of all concerns Fred Bear, the school's teddy
mascot. Occasionally Fred is tossed put of the aircraft — complete
with his own parachute — in order to test wind drift.
One day he descended straight into the new sewage farm, where gangs
of African labourers were digging. Aghast, they watched Fred plop
into a big pit — then one of them rushed to fetch their employer.
Would he please get the bear out? the labourer asked earnestly. The
men had seen him land and peered over into the pit, but he wasn't
moving, so he was obviously dead.
Today Fred Bear is unscathed and in fine fettle — and that goes for
the whole of the highly efficient institution over which he reigns.
|The jumps are not always over a soft hospitable airfield.|
Here a stick of paratroops make a practice descent over Inyanga.
|Free as a bird - and almost as manoeuvrable. Parachute instructors regularly practice free-fall -techniques.|
|High above the clouds, he start of a long free-fall drop for instructors of the Parachute Training School.|
|The interminable checks. Making sure time and time again that the 'chute will open is one routine to which nobody objects.|
|High above the clouds, he start of a long free-fall drop for instructors of the Parachute Training School.|
(General Service Unit)
The African members of the General Service Unit carry out a wide
range of security which provide essential support for the Force
DURING my research for this supplement, one of the most memorable
people I met was a Warrant officer class 1 at New Sarum. Most WO 1's
are in their forties, this man was just 32.
Nonetheless, he obviously commanded much respect and loyalty; the
Rhodesian Women's Services member who introduced us after duly
calling him "Sir", said afterwards to me: "He's a charming person.
Highly efficient (he knows the name, rank and member of every man in
the squadron) a nice sense of humour - we all like him a lot."
There was, in fact, only one difference between Peter Ngulu and the
other warrant officers I had hitherto interviewed: he is black.
As a result of the opportunities for advancement in the Air Force's
General Service Unit, he has risen through the ranks within only 12
years to the senior position he now holds, and which his abilities
Born in the Seki district of Rhodesia, he was educated first at
Crowhill School near Domboshawa, and then attended secondary school
in Malawi. As a school leaver, he was undecided as to what sort of
work he wanted.
Firstly he tried a job in a transport firm, then he worked for a
brewery. In 1964 he joined the Air Force. "I felt the job would be
more secure'' he says.
Applicants wishing to join the General Service Unit must be between
18 and 22, have passed Standard Six (Grade 7) and, like any other
recruit, be medically fit.
For the successful (and usually four times as many applications are
received from Africans as are required per intake) there follows a
six-week basic course, involving drill, weapon training, physical
training, and lectures on the structure and roles of the Air Force.
Then the new aircraftsmen are posted to various units: dog-handling,
investigations, police (all of which are under the Air Force
Security umbrella); the fire section; military transport; the
station hospital unit; telephone exchanges; or to clerical posts at
headquarters. WO 1 Ngulu was sent to the dog section, and remained
there as a handler throughout the years until in August 1975, he
received promotion to his present rank, and took charge of
administration for the entire GSU at New Sarum.
(There are currently another three warrant officers on station — the
headmaster of the New Sarum School, a WO 2 in military transport and
a WO 2 in stores.)
Mr, Ngulu is also responsible for the welfare of all GSU members and
their families and he makes regular official visits to the men in
the operational area.
HIS CAUSTIC sense of humour is legendary. I was told about the
recruit who was apt to make a nuisance of himself and who came up
one day when WO 1 Ngulu was particularly busy sorting out some other
The "rookie" began pestering:
"Sir, please sir, I want to see you, sir."
WO 1 Ngulu turned his not inconsiderable frame around, first one
way, then the other, and rapped out: "Face, chest, shoulders, back
of head, shoulders, backside. You've seen me — now get on with your
Mr. Ngulu, his wife and their two-year-old child live at present in
the married quarters on station, but new houses are being built for
senior ranks and the Ngulu family will soon be moving into one of
He welcomes the development of recreational facilities too: "A new
senior NCOs' mess and a junior NCOs' mess are also being
constructed. Then there is a second football field under way — with
a field track and changing rooms."
I asked WO 1 Ngulu if he were happy in his work.
"Very — otherwise I wouldn't have spent 12 years here!" he said.
"It's a very challenging job — I feel I'm making a worthwhile
"A" Squadron of the GSU is situated at New Sarum 3" Squadron is at
Thornhill. I talked to Fit Lt Peter Cowan, OC GSU (Security), at "B"
He told me that the unit was started in 1961 when a number of
African guards were seconded from the Army, in order to guard the
airfields. From these small beginnings a sizeable establishment has
The bulk of GSU members are engaged in security work — dog-handling,
investigations and police duties.
Flt Lt Cowan told me As regards dog handling, after his six-week
basic course, the new
aircraftsman is sent for a three-week dog handling course at the Dog
Training School, New Sarum.
He becomes a multi-handler straightaway — though there are at the
moment six single handlers, with dogs entirely their own.
"After this course, the handler may return to Thornhill to carry out
general duties on station. From time to time, he'll be sent to the
The dogs, which except for two Dobermans', are all Alsatians, are
trained in every possible facet of counter-sabotage operations.
Landmine tracking is a specialty, though an object that large is
simple stuff for these highly trained animals which, as one dog
handler put it, "can find a five cent piece in an acre of long
AFRICAN investigators in the GSU are trained on station in all
aspects of internal security. Any case of theft on station is turned
over to these members, and like the Canadian Mounties, they
invariably get their man.
New members posted to the fire section undergo a course in aircraft
fire fighting. Theirs is a vital job and they are drilled
constantly, so that should a fire break out they will be on the spot
within a few moments.
Motor transport is another section which offers the African recruit
a training that will stand him in good stead should he one day wish
to return to civilian life: he receives the appropriate heavy
vehicle tuition from a fully qualified driving instructor.
At Thornhill, the GSU School caters for children of both Air Force
and Army African personnel. There are at present 200 pupils and the
grades run from 1 to 7.
Also provided for GSU members at Thornhill is a comprehensive
selection of sporting facilities (soccer, volleyball and baseball
are the most popular, but a tennis court and a swimming pool are
planned; and the expertise of the Thornhill GSU shooting team is
Housing is free and there is even a church on station. Annually a
"Best House" competition is held; senior officers' wives are the
judges and the GSU member with the most spruce home and garden wins
There are 10 prizes for runners-up. All profits from the African
messes and bars on station are ploughed back into causes such as
Contented In His Work
Let the last word come from one of the GSU's younger members, AC
Pharaoh Katche, aged 22. Born in Mrewa, his father was a member of
the GSU and so he attended the New Sarum School.
There was never any question in his mind as to what shape his future
would take. After his six-week basic training course in the Air
Force, he was posted to the dog section, and he has spent the past
four years there, very contented in his work.
He is appreciative of the "extras" tacked on to his basic pay —
"which is OK, anyway" — such as the free schooling for children of
members, free housing (once he obtains his marriage certificate,
which he has not yet got, he will be eligible for this) free medical
attention for himself and his family and free rations for his wife
when he is in the operational area.
He mentioned all these benefits, but when I asked AC Katche what
appealed to him most about his career in the Air Force, he answered
unhesitatingly: "I like to serve the country of Rhodesia, and here I
think I am doing a valuable
|WO 1 Peter Ngulu teaches a bunch of new recruits how to salute. |
WO 1 Ngulu is a firm disciplinarian who has earned the respect of his men.
|Dog handling is one of the many security tasks of the GSU. |
The bond between guard and dog is extremely close.
|A GSU medical orderly checks a patient's blood pressure. |
The orderlies are well trained and competent to perform a wide range of medical services.
WHEN I asked Air Lt Cedric Herbert, the station photographic officer
(New Sarum) what had been his biggest assignment recently, he cocked
a somewhat sardonic eye at me and said: "Producing 100 photographs
in the last week for A Pride Of Eagles
If that, to a civilian photographer, sounds like hard work, let me
tell you that it has formed just one item on the Photographic
Section's list of tasks.
The expansion of the section early in 1976 was timely — such was the
mass of work flooding in that it was imperative to split the unit
into two separate parts — one dealing with air photography work and
the other with ground assignments.
In toto, between 2 500 and 3 000 prints are filed by the section's
library each month.
A large proportion of the air photography ties in with No. 5
Squadron's photographic survey work and photographic reconnaissance.
Since Air Lt Herbert's team of 11 are all trained photographers and
are each thus capable of tackling any aspect of processing, they
can, if necessary, produce prints within 50 minutes from all the
film taken over four hours by a No. 5 Squadron crew. (In cases of
emergency, prints have been ready within 20 minutes.)
Other aerial work often includes obliques of various Rhodesian
towns, for Government brochure purposes. There is also a certain
amount of cine filming done, particularly for parachute training
WHERE ground work is concerned, every possible facet of both black
and white and colour photography, art work and silk screening, has
been covered by the section over the years.
Prints for Air Force advertising and public relations publications,
graphic displays for the Air Force stands at the Trade Fair and
Salisbury Agricultural Show, photographs for the identity cards
issued to every member of the Air Force, deckles for aircraft
marking, photographic records of damaged aircraft and vehicles ...
the spectrum is vast indeed.
I was interested in the mention of photographic records of crashes
and general mishaps (technical faults are also placed on film.)
Surely the photographer himself has to possess a high level of
"Well, you learn as you go," says Air Lt Herbert. "But yes, I think
most of us are fairly technically minded now."
The extensions to the Photographic Section at New Sarum house the
latest in equipment and have facilities that I imagine would make
even Lord Snowdon's mouth water.
Air Lt Herbert's current pride and joy is a large edifice rather
resembling a super deluxe washing machine, but which in fact tests
cameras for electrical faults. Designed and built by the Air Force's
Electronics Development Section, it is entirely "home-made".
Incidentally, the cameras used in the belly of the Canberras weigh
214 kg apiece, so servicing and overhauling is a strenuous business.
What Air Lt Herbert most enjoys about his job is the diversity of
subjects it encompasses. "We've got the most varied photographic
work you could possibly imagine," he says, "far more so than any
civilian establishment would encounter. You never know what you'll
be doing tomorrow."
The following day, for Air Lt Herbert, held one definite
appointment: to photograph members of the Rhodesian Women's Services
going over the assault course.
This assignment, I suspect, he was quite relishing. But others have
proved distinctly less congenial, such as the occasion on which a
pilot was about to take off when he came face to face with a
ringhals in the cockpit.
He managed to leap out of the aircraft unscathed, and needless to
say with all possible speed, but it was then up to the Photographic
Section, for posterity's sake, to persuade their first reptilian
subject to "say cheese".
Aircraft skin damage or snakes, an aerial view of Mukumbura or much
binding in the assault marshes ... nothing is beyond the capable