Rhodesia

rhodesia

The following is an extract from 'Per Ardua Ad Astra – A handbook of the Royal Air Force' by Philip Congdon and is reproduced with the kind permission of the publishers Airlife Publishing Ltd of Shrewsbury England

The Southern Rhodesian Air Force (SRAF), renamed the Royal Rhodesian Air Force in 1946 in gratitude for the British colony's contribution to the allied war effort, is now a matter of history. It lasted until the announcement of UDI in 1964 and later constitutional changes have, of course, produced the independent state of Zimbabwe.

The SRAF was established on 19th September 1939 from the Air section of the Territorial Force, whose members had been trained by, and gained experience in the Royal Air Force and who had been commissioned directly into the RAF Volunteer Reserve.

It should be remembered that Southern Rhodesia had, by 3rd. September 1939, sent two detached flights to Kenya which bordered Italian Somaliland, thereby having the distinction of being the first colony in the Empire to establish 'war stations' outside it's own borders.

The visionary figure behind the build up of the SRAF was Lieutenant Colonel C.W. Meredith who had a sharp grasp of what was required. The SRAF base at Cranborne was quickly built up with an Air Headquarters established in Salisbury. In December 1939, Meredith visited England and offered the services of the colony and it's Air Force to support the mother country. In particular, he offered the colony's resourses as air training facilities utilising the civil airport at Belvedere and the military airfield at Cranbourne.

The British government jumped at this opportunity and asked Meredith to return to Rhodesia and to prepare further airfield sites. By March 1940, the first RAF draft had arrived to set the foundations of what was to be the Southern Rhodesian Air Training Group (SRATG). Such was the enterprise and urgency that one of the sites was transformed from raw veldt to air station in the record time of eleven weeks.

As the war progressed, the attrition of allied aircrews was horrendous. What started in Rhodesia as a small scale training effort mushroomed, through necessity. In all, some 32 stations were operating by the end of the war, concerned with giving allied aircrews basic and advanced flying training including specialised navigator, air gunner, air bomber and wireless operator instruction. At the same time language schools were opened to instruct Greek, Polish and French aircrews in English. Moreover, during the allied campaign in North Africa, southern Rhodesia became a key staging post in the ferrying of allied aircraft from the Cape to the war theatre.

In the years from 1941 to 1945, it is estimated that over 90,000 allied aircrews were trained under the Empire Air Training Scheme in Southern Rhodesia.

In addition three Rhodesian squadrons flew as part of the RAF. Number 237 squadron operated in the Western desert flying Hurricane and then Spitfire aircraft, number 266 squadron flew Fairey Battles, latterly converting to Typhoons, while number 44 squadron flew Lancaster bombers, both of these units operating from the UK. Because of the casualty rate, none of these squadrons were ever totally Rhodesian in establishment. Nevertheless, all were given the distinction of bearing the title 'Rhodesian' and all had a strong Rhodesian flavour.

In addition, it is worth remembering that Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris had connections with Rhodesia while two other notables were Squadron Leaders Learoyd and Nettleton, both of whom gained the VC and served with No. 44 (Rhodesia) squadron.

there is no doubting the contribution made to the war efford as part of the Empire Air Traing Scheme, nor that of the countless Rhodesian personnel who served in the three RAF (Rhodesian) squadrons or the RAF at large.