|South African Air Force|
The SAAF Ensign
|Active||South African Air Force 1 Feb 1920|
|Role||Air supremacy, Air defense|
11,245 (Active personnel)
831 (Reserve Personnel)
|Part of||South African National Defence Force|
|Motto(s)||Latin: Per Aspera Ad Astra (Through adversity to the stars) |
|Chief of the Air Force||Lt Gen Fabian Msimang|
|SAAF Pilot Wings
The South African Air Force (SAAF) is the air force of South Africa, with headquarters in Pretoria. The South African Air Force was established on 1 February 1920. The Air Force has seen service in World War II and the Korean War. From 1966 the SAAF was involved in providing infantry support in a low intensity war ("The Border War") in Angola, South-West Africa (Namibia) and Rhodesia. As the war progressed, the intensity of air operations increased until in the late 1980s, the SAAF were compelled to fly fighter missions against Angolan aircraft in order to maintain tactical air superiority. On conclusion of the Border War in 1990, aircraft numbers were severely reduced due to economic pressures as well as the cessation of hostilities with neighboring states. Today the SAAF has a limited air combat capability and has been structured towards regional peace-keeping, disaster relief and maritime patrol operations.
Establishment to end of World War IEdit
After a visit to observe the 1912 military manoeuvres in Europe, Brig. Gen. C.F. Beyers (who was then Commandant-General of the Defence Force) gave an extremely positive report on the future use of aircraft for military purposes to General Smuts. Smuts initiated an arrangement with private fliers in the Cape and established a flying school at Alexandersfontein[lower-alpha 1] near Kimberley, known as the Paterson Aviation Syndicate School, to train pilots for the proposed South African Aviation Corps. Flying training commenced in 1913 with students who excelled on the course being sent to the Central Flying School at Upavon in Great Britain for further training. The first South African military pilot qualified on 2 June 1914. At the outbreak of World War I, the Union Defence Force had realised the urgent need for air support which brought about the establishment of the South African Aviation Corps (SAAC) on 29 January 1915. Aircraft were purchased from France (Henri Farman F-27) while the building of an airfield at Walvis Bay commenced in earnest in order to support operations against German forces in German South West Africa. By June 1915 the SAAC was deployed to its first operational airfield at Karabib in German South West Africa in support of Gen. Botha's South African ground forces. The SAAC flew reconnaissance and leaflet dropping missions from Karbib and later from Omaruru, where improvised bombing missions were added when pilots started dropping hand grenades and rudimentary bombs by hand. On 9 July 1915, the German forces capitulated and most of the pilots and aircraft of the SAAC were sent to Britain in support of the Commonwealth war effort. Although the SAAC remained active, its activities were limited to ground training at the Cape Town Drill Hall, while the pilots who had been detached to the RFC were grouped to form No. 26 Squadron RFC and later becoming an independent squadron on 8 October 1915. No. 26 Squadron was equipped with Henri Farman F-27's and B.E.2c's and was shipped to Kenya in support of the war effort in German East Africa, landing in Mombasa on 31 January 1916. The squadron flew reconnaissance and observer missions throughout the campaign until February 1918 when the squadron returned to the UK via Cape Town and arrived at Blandford Camp on 8 July 1918 and was disbanded the same day. While the SAAC were engaged in German South West Africa and 26 Sqdn RFC in East Africa, many South Africans traveled to the United Kingdom to enlist with the Royal Flying Corps. The number of South Africans in the RFC eventually reached approximately 3,000 men and suffered 260 active-duty fatalities over the Somme during the war. Forty six pilots became fighter aces.
Inter-war periodEditOn conclusion of the First World War, the British Government donated surplus aircraft plus spares and sufficient equipment to provide the nucleus of a fledgling air force to each of its Dominions. As part of this donation, which was to become known as the Imperial Gift, South Africa received a total of 113 aircraft from both the British Government (100 aircraft) as well as from other sources (13 aircraft)[lower-alpha 2]
On the 1 February 1920 Colonel Pierre van Ryneveld was appointed as the Director Air Service with the task of forming an air force, the date is used to mark the founding of the South African Air Force. In December 1920 the South African National insignia was added to aircraft for the first time. An Orange, Green, Red and Blue roundel was added to an Avro 504K for trial purposes but the colours were found to be unsuitable and were replaced with a Green, Red, Lemon, Yellow and Blue roundel in December 1921. These colours remained until 1927 when they were replaced with the Orange, White and Blue roundels.
The first operational deployment of the newly formed Air Force was to quell internal dissent, when in 1922 a miner’s strike on the Johannesburg gold mines turned violent and led to the declaration of martial law. 1 Squadron was called to fly reconnaissance missions and to bombard the strikers’ positions. Sorties in support of the police amounted to 127 flight hours between 10 and 15 March and this inauspicious start for the SAAF led to two pilot losses, two wounded and two aircraft lost to ground fire. The SAAF was again deployed to suppress the Bondelzwart Rebellion at Kalkfontein between 29 May and 3 July 1922.
World War IIEditAt the outbreak of war, South Africa had no naval vessels and the UDF's first priority was to ensure the safety of the South African coastal waters as well as the strategically important Cape sea-route. For maritime patrol operations, the SAAF took over all 29 passenger aircraft of South African Airways: 18 Junkers Ju 86Z-ls for maritime patrols and eleven Junkers Ju 52s for transport purposes. SAAF maritime patrols commenced on 21 September 1939 with 16 Squadron flying three JU-86Z's from Walvis Bay. By 1940, the Ju 86s were replaced by Ansons and SAAF Coastal Command had been established, eventually consisting of 6, 10, 22, 23, 25, 27 and 29 Squadrons.
By the end of World War II in August 1945, SAAF aircraft (in conjunction with British and Dutch aircraft stationed in South Africa) had intercepted 17 enemy ships, assisted in the rescue of 437 survivors of sunken ships, attacked 26 of the 36 enemy submarines that operated around the South African coast, and flown 15,000 coastal patrol sorties.
East AfricaEditIn December 1939 the Duke of Aosta had sent a report to Mussolini recording the state of chronic unpreparedness of the Allied Forces in East Africa. The collapse of France in 1940 had prompted Mussolini to join the war on the side of the Axis and as a result, air force elements were moved to forward positions in occupied Abyssinia to mount air attacks on Allied forces before they could be re-enforced. These deployments prompted Allied action and on 13 May 1940, 1 Squadron pilots were sent to Cairo to take delivery of 18 Gloster Gladiators and to fly them south, to Kenya for operations in East Africa. 11 Squadron, equipped with Hawker Hartbeests, followed to Nairobi on 19 May 1940 and were joined by the Ju 86s of 12 Squadron on 22 May 1940. Italy declared war on 10 June 1940 and on the following day, the Ju 86s of 12 Squadron led the first air attack by the SAAF in World War II. During the campaign, numerous SAAF aircraft were involved in air combat with the Italian Regia Aeronautica and provided air support to South African and Allied forces in the ground war. By December 1940, ten SAAF squadrons plus 34 Flight, with a total of 94 aircraft, were operational in East Africa (1, 2, 3, 11, 12, 14, 40, 41, 50 and 60 Sqn’s).
During this campaign, the SAAF formed a Close Support Flight of four Gladiators and four Hartbeests, with an autonomous air force commander operating with the land forces. This was the precursor of the Tactical Air Force "cab-rank" technique which were used extensively for close air support during 1943-1945. The last air combat took place on 29 October, and the Italian forces surrendered on 27 November 1940. A reduced SAAF presence was maintained in East Africa for coastal patrol purposes until May 1943.
Western Desert and North AfricaEdit
SAAF fighter, bomber, and reconnaissance squadrons played a key role in the Western Desert and North African campaigns from 1941 to 1943. One memorable feat was the Boston bombers of 12 and 24 Squadrons dropping hundreds of tons of bombs on Axis forces pushing the Eighth Army back towards Egypt during the "Gazala Gallop" in mid-1942. SAAF bombers continually harassed retreating forces towards the Tunisian border after the Second Battle of El Alamein; the South African fighters of No. 223 Wing RAF helped the Desert Air Force gain air superiority over Axis air forces. Between April 1941 and May 1943, the eleven SAAF squadrons[lower-alpha 3] flew 33,991 sorties and destroyed 342 enemy aircraft. Conditions were however not ideal and pilots and crew were required to operate under critical conditions at times. Pilots were frequently sent home to the Union after gaining experience and did not return for many months, after which conditions in the desert had changed significantly and they were required to regain experience on different aircraft, different tactics and operations from different bases. There were cases where experienced fighter pilots were sent back to the Western Desert as bomber pilots for their second tour - compounding the lack of continuity and experience. The South Africans did however command the respect of their German adversaries. The South Africans had the distinction of dropping the first and last bombs in the African conflict - the first being on 11 June 1940 on Moyale in Abyssinia and the last being on the Italian 1st Army in Tunisia. The SAAF also produced a number of SAAF WWII air aces in the process, including John Frost and Marmaduke Pattle.
In fear of Japanese occupation and subsequent operations in the Indian Ocean in close proximity to South African sea lanes, Field-Marshal Smuts encouraged the preemptive Allied occupation of the island of Madagascar. After much debate and further encouragement by General de Gaulle (who was urging for a Free French operation against Madagascar), Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff agreed to an invasion by means of a strong fleet and adequate air support. In March and April 1942, the SAAF had been conducting reconnaissance flights over Diego Suarez and 32, 36 and 37 Coastal Flights[lower-alpha 4] were withdrawn from South African maritime patrol operations and sent to Lindi on the Indian Ocean coast of Tanzania, with an additional eleven Beauforts and six Marylands to provide ongoing reconnaissance and close air support for the planned operation - to be known as Operation Ironclad.
During the amphibious / air assault carried out by the Royal Navy and Air Force on 5 May, the Vichy French Air Force consisting mainly of Morane fighters and Potez bombers had attacked the Allied fleet but had been neutralised by the Fleet Air Arm aircraft from the two aircraft carriers. Those remaining aircraft not destroyed were withdrawn by the French and flown south to other airfields on the island. Once the main airfield at Arrachart aerodrome in Diego Suarez had been secured (13 May 1942), the SAAF Air Component flew from Lindi to Arrachart. The air component consisted of thirty-four aircraft (6 Marylands, 11 Beaufort Bombers, 12 Lockheed Lodestars and 6 JU52's transports). By September 1942, the South African ground forces committed to Ironclad had been party to the capturing the southern half of Madagascar as well as the small island of Nossi Be with the SAAF air component supporting these operations. During the campaign which ended with an armistice on 4 November 1942, SAAF aircraft flew a total of 401 sorties with one pilot killed in action, one killed in an accident and one succumbing to disease. Seven aircraft were lost, only one as a result of enemy action.
Sicilian and Italian campaignsEdit
By the end of May 1943, the SAAF had two Wings and sixteen squadrons in the Middle East and North Africa with 8,000 men. With the end of the North African campaign, the SAAF role underwent change - becoming more active in fighter bomber, bomber and PR operations as opposed to the fighter role performed in the desert. Five SAAF squadrons were designated to support the July 1943 invasion of Sicily - 1 Squadron operated combat air patrols over the beaches for the Operation Husky landings while 2, 4 and 5 Squadrons provided fighter bomber support during the Sicilian campaign. 30 Squadron (flying as No. 223 Squadron RAF during the campaign) provided light bomber support from Malta and 60 Squadron was responsible for photo reconnaissance flights in support of all Allied forces on the island. After successfully invading the island, a further three squadrons were moved to Sicily and the eight squadrons on the island were tasked with supporting the invasion of Italy: 12 and 24 Squadrons were responsible for medium bomber missions to "soften up" the enemy prior to the invasion while 40 Sqn was responsible for tactical photo-reconnaissance. 1 Squadron provided fighter cover for the 3 September 1943 landings while 2 and 4 Squadrons were responsible for bomber escort.
Korean WarEditAt the outbreak of the Korean War the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of the North Korean Forces. A request was also made to all UN members for assistance. After a special Cabinet meeting on 20 July 1950 the Union Government announced that due to the long distance between South Africa and Korea, direct ground based military participation in the conflict was impractical and unrealistic but that a SAAF fighter squadron would be made available to the UN effort. The 50 officers and 157 other ranks of 2 Sqn SAAF sailed from Durban on 26 September 1950 - they had been selected from 1,426 members of the Permanent Force who had initially volunteered for service. This initial contingent was commanded by Cmdt S. van Breda Theron DSO, DFC, AFC and included many World War II SAAF veterans. The squadron was moved to Johnson Air Base near Tokyo on 25 September 1950 for conversion training on the F-51D Mustangs supplied by the US Air Force.
On completion of conversion training, the squadron was deployed as one of the four USAF 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing squadrons and on 16 November 1950 an advance detachment consisting of 13 officers and 21 other ranks (including the Squadron Commander and his four Flight Commanders who made the crossing in their own F-51D Mustangs) left Japan for Pusan East (K-9) Air Base within the Pusan Perimeter in Korea to fly with the USAF pilots in order to familiarize themselves with the local operational conditions. On the morning of 19 November 1950, Cmdt Theron and Capt G.B. Lipawsky took off with two USAF pilots to fly the first SAAF combat sorties of the Korean War from K-9 and K-24 airfields at Pyongyang. On 30 November the squadron was moved further south to K-13 airfield due to North Korean and Chinese advances. It was again moved even further south after the UN forces lost additional ground to the North Koreans to K-10 airfield situated on the coast close to the town of Chinhae. This was to be the squadron's permanent base for the duration of their first Korean deployment. During this period (while equipped with F-51D Mustangs) the squadron flew 10,373 sorties and lost 74 aircraft out of the total 95 allocated. Twelve pilots were killed in action, 30 missing and four wounded.In January 1953 the squadron returned to Japan for conversion to the USAF F-86F Sabre fighter-bombers. The first Sabre mission was flown on 16 March 1953 from the K-55 airfield in South Korea, being the first SAAF jet mission flown. The squadron was tasked with fighter sweeps along the Yalu and Chong-Chong rivers as well as close air support attack misisons. The squadron flew 2,032 sorties in the Sabres losing four out of the 22 aircraft supplied.
The war ended on 27 July 1953, when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed. During the first phase of the war, the main task of the squadron Mustangs was the interdiction of enemy supply routes which not only accounted for approximately 61.45% of SAAF combat sorties, but which reached an early peak from January to May 1951 (78% and 82%). A typical interdiction mission was an armed reconnaissance patrol usually undertaken by flights of two or four aircraft armed with two napalm bombs, 127 mm rockets and 12.7 mm machine guns. Later, after the introduction of the Sabres, the squadron was also called on to provide counter-air missions flying as fighter sweeps and interceptions against MiG-15's, but interdiction and close air support remained the primary mission. Losses were 34 SAAF pilots killed, eight taken prisoner (including the future Chief of the Air Force, General D Earp) with 74 Mustangs and 4 Sabres lost. Pilots and men of the squadron received a total of 797 medals including 2 Silver Stars - the highest award to non-American nationals - 3 Legions of Merit, 55 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 40 Bronze Stars. In recognition of their association with 2 Squadron, the OC of 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing issued a policy directive "that all retreat ceremonies shall be preceded by the introductory bars of the South African national anthem. All personnel will render the honour to this anthem as our own."  On conclusion of hostilities, the Sabres were returned to the USAF and the squadron returned to South Africa in October 1953. During this period, the Union Defence Forces were reorganised into individual services and the SAAF became an arm of service in its own right, under an Air Chief of Staff (who was renamed "Chief of the Air Force" in 1966). It adopted a blue uniform, to replace the army khaki it had previously worn.
From 1966 to 1989, the SAAF was committed to the Border War, which was fought in northern South West Africa and surrounding states. At first, it provided limited air support to police operations against the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (the military wing of SWAPO, which was fighting to end South African rule of South West Africa). Operations intensified after the defence force took charge of the war in 1974.
In July 1964, South Africa placed a development contract with Thomson-CSF for a mobile, all-weather, low-altitude SAM system after a South African order for the Bloodhound SAM system was refused by the UK government. This became the Crotale, or 'Cactus' in South African service. The South African government paid 85 per cent of the development costs of the system with the balance being paid for by France. The system was in service with 120 Squadron SAAF from 1970 until the late 1980s.
The SAAF provided air support to the army during the 1975-76 Angola campaign, and in the many cross-border operations that were carried out against PLAN bases in Angola and Zambia from 1977 onwards.
During the bush war period, South Africa manufactured six air-deliverable tactical nuclear weapons of the "gun-type" design between 1978 and 1993. Each of the devices contained 55 kilograms of HEU with an estimated yield of 10-18 kilotons  designed for delivery by Buccaneer or Canberra aircraft. See History of the South African Air Force#Nuclear and ballistic weapons.
The SAAF was also heavily involved in the 1987-88 Angola campaign, before the peace settlement that ended the conflict. The international arms embargo imposed against the then-apartheid government of South Africa, meant that the SAAF was unable to procure modern fighter aircraft to compete with the sophisticated Soviet-supplied air defence network and Cuban Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23s fielded in the latter part of this conflict. South Africa collaborated with Israel, obtained blueprints by stealth, and innovatively designed and delivered the Cheetah fighter to overcome this challenge, while the Israelis delivered their Kfir fighter out of this joint venture. Both aircraft could use MiG engines which were easily obtained in either region.
From 1990 with the perceived reduction in threat, SAAF operational strength began to be reduced. The first short term steps entailed the withdrawal of several obsolete aircraft types from service, such as the Canberra B(1)12, the Super Frelon and Westland Wasp helicopters, the Kudu light aircraft and the P-166s Albatross coastal patrol aircraft. Other initial measures included the downgrading of Air Force Base Port Elizabeth and the disbanding of 12, 16, 24, 25, and 27 Squadrons. Two Commando squadrons - 103 Squadron SAAF at AFB Bloemspruit and 114 Squadron SAAF at AFB Swartkop - were also disbanded.
During the bush war, the SAAF lost a total of 22 aircraft [lower-alpha 5] (1974–1989) to enemy action. A further 11 aircraft [lower-alpha 6] were lost in the operational area due to pilot error or malfunction.
Air Defence Artillery GroupEdit
After the first multi-racial elections were held in 1994, the SAAF became an integrated air force as part of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
The South African Air Force is currently considered to be the most effective air force in sub-Sahara Africa despite the loss of capability as a consequence of defence cuts after the end of the Border War. These financial cuts have brought about a number of severe operational limitations, compounded by the loss of experienced air-crews. This has placed strain on the bringing new types of aircraft into service, specifically the Gripen, Hawk, Rooivalk, A 109 and Lynx. The cancellation of the SAAF participation and procurement of the A400M in November 2009 has denied the SAAF the strategic airlift capability needed for domestic, regional and continent-wide operations. There is no clear indication as yet regarding how the heavy/long-range airlift gap will be addressed. Current air combat capabilities are limited to the Gripen multi-role fighter and the Rooivalk combat support helicopter - although in insufficient number to allow regional deployments while maintaining national air space protection and training obligations. To overcome this shortfall, the SAAF has designated the Hawk Mk 120 trainers for additional tactical reconnaissance and weapon delivery platforms for targets designated by the Gripens. Financial constraints have further limited flying hours on the newly acquired aircraft; it is planned to keep Gripen pilots current flying the lower cost Hawk aircraft with "Gripenised" cockpits. The number of current Gripen pilots was classified as secret, however the Gripen fleet is being rotated through short term storage to spread the limited flying hours among the whole fleet. 18 of the SAAF's 29 AgustaWestland AW109 helicopters have been grounded due to a lack of funds.
In 2002 the Air Force rank insignia were changed from one which was shared with the Army to a new pattern based on stripes. The Air Force stated that this was "in order to bring it more in line with international forms of rank".
Medals and DecorationsEdit
A new set of emblems, medals and decorations were introduced on 29 April 2003 although medals issued by the SADF can still be worn
Order of battle and equipmentEdit
For weapon system no longer in use, see List of obsolete weapon systems of the South African Air Force.
The Air Force Conventional Reserves are a pool of reserve posts created to serve the SAAF and augment regular units as and when needed. All trades in the SAAF are represented in the reserves, e.g. pilots, security squadron personnel etc. The Air Force Territorial Reserve currently consists of nine squadrons of privately owned aircraft operated by reserve pilots on behalf of the SAAF who assist in light transport and observation roles.
Other establishments and unitsEdit
South African Air Force MemorialEdit
The South African Air Force Memorial is a memorial to South African Air Force members who have died whilst in service of the South African Air Corps and the South African Air Force from 1915 to the present. The memorial is located at Swartkop outside Pretoria.
South African Air Force MuseumEdit
The South African Air Force Museum houses, exhibits and restores material related to the history of the South African Air Force. It is spread across three locations; AFB Swartkop outside Pretoria, AFB Ysterplaat in Cape Town and at the Port Elizabeth airport. Swartkop is the largest of the three museum locations, occupying at least five hangars and contains a number of Atlas Cheetahs as well as a Cheetah C flight simulator.
The Silver Falcons are the aerobatic display team of the South African Air Force and are based at Air Force Base Langebaanweg near Cape Town. The Silver Falcons fly the Pilatus PC-7 Mk II Astra, the basic trainer of the SA Air Force in a 5-ship routine. The main purpose is to enhance the image of the South African Air Force, encourage recruitment and instill national pride through public display.