Rhodesian Air Force
History (until the war years)

The Air Force at war

Order of Battle

Equipment Used 

List of Major Operations

The Green Leader Raid

External links to further information/ resources

Sources - bibliography of published material used for information

In October 1939, Rhodesians founded 266 Squadron (the same squadron that Biggles flew); the RRAF was to retain its name until Rhodesia became a republic in March 1970.  Initially, in 1947 some scavenged Tigermoth training aircraft were reconstructed from aircraft abandoned in maintenance areas and scrap dumps. The first fighter aircraft were a number of Spitfires ferried from Britain in March 1951. In 1953 the first jets -  Vampires - started to arrive (more were to be acquired in later years). Rhodesian Canberras were first used in action alongside British RAF units in the Middle East. The Empire training Scheme had formed in 1947 to train pilots and navigators for the British RAF and, although initial membership in Rhodesia was low, later in 1947 the Southern Rhodesian Air Force was officially re-established - the donation of some Avro Anson aircraft as a form of compensation reflected the assumption that, initially, the Rhodesian Air Force would not amount to much.  Harvard training aircraft were then purchased from South Africa, shortly before the Rhodesian government announced plans to create a new airport at New Sarum (Salisbury); the Southern Rhodesian Air Force was to officially move there in April 1952. No 1 Squadron changed from a transport squadron to became a Spitfire squadron. The first jets -  four Vampire FB9 aircraft arrived 12th December 1953;  on May 20th 1954 four Vampire FB9s and one Vampire T11 trainer arrived; four more were to follow on August 10th. 
More important (for later events) was the arrival of the second Douglas Dakota; the last Spitfire (alas, not Jack Malloch's) in Rhodesian service was to fly in December 1954. 1956 was to see great changes in the Air Force - it added another squadron (there were now four) and became autonomous from army control. In 1958 the newly independent air-arm was sent to Aden to support British opposition to the coup in Iraq. But by then, there were more pressing local matters - during the Nyasaland emergency (1959), elements of No. 3 and No 4 Squadron were detached to Chileka airfield in support of the Federal Army. (During the "Emergency" the air force consisted of no more than 2,300 personnel and of those only 150 were pilots. These pilots were qualified to fly all the aircraft within the air force so were often involved in combat missions). In addition, they were rotated through the various units so as to give rest to the airmen who would otherwise be constantly on active service. Whilst still part of the Federation, the first four English Electric Canberras arrived; gradually, more were imported, including an important training variant, until there was a total of 15, which made up No. 5 and No. 6 Squadron (which were soon to be amalgamated as 5 Squadron).  An equally important aeroplane - the first four Hawker Hunter aircraft - arrived to replace the Vampires of No 1 Squadron in December 1962

The RRAF's foreign adventures were soon to begin, with involvement in the Congo crisis, flying out a number of white refugees, but 2 days before UDI all squadrons were placed on stand-by. Five years later, when Rhodesia became a republic the Air Force Ensign and roundel changed, although initially it seemed the most obvious changes were cosmetic; the roundel was changed to incorporate a white centre and a gold lion and tusk, outlined in black with a green outer circle, and the Air Force name changed to Rhodesian Air Force (RhAF); Rhodesian medal awards, rather than British medals, were to be awarded. 

The break up of Federation and the subsequent UDI had led to the reasonable assumption that the Rhodesian Air Force - then heavily dependent on foreign support for both parts and maintenance - would rapidly lose any ability to carry out offensive operations. However, a degree of local determination and ingenuity, coupled with some excellent sanctions-busting and covert foreign assistance, ensured that the Rhodesian Air Force could continue fighting until the end of 1979. Rhodesia managed to obtain the Lynx (Rheims-Cessna 997) and the Genet or Warrior - two versions, trainer and ground-attack of the Saia Marchetti CF260 piston engined aircraft, In a masterpiece of sanctions-busting, Bell 204 Iroquois were acquired second-hand from the Israeli Defence Force, and additional Aerospatialle Alouette III helicopters via covert means, but proved the Rhodesians were unsuccessful in obtaining jet aircraft (except for some Vampire fighters and training aircraft from South Africa). An order for CT/4 trainers was embargoed by the New Zealand government. 

Even at the early stage in the struggle, the costs were rising - in 1972, general defence (not simply the air force) was 2.1% of the GDP. As it seemed increasingly probable that the Air Force would have to be used operationally, a number of JOCs and sub JOCS were established; the "Fire force" tactic was soon to follow; initially, Allouettes were grouped with RAR and RLI battalions, together with the BSAP. 

In March 1970, when Rhodesia declared itself a republic, the prefix "Royal" was dropped and the Service's name became the Rhodesian Air Force (RhAF). A new roundel was adopted in the new Rhodesian colours of green and white containing a lion (in gold) and tusk in the centre of the white. The new air force ensign was taken into use on 5 April 1970. The new flag contained the Rhodesian flag in the canton with the roundel in the fly on a light blue field. This marking was displayed in the usual six positions, together with a green/white/green fin flash with a narrow white stripe as in RAF type C.

Drawing upon counter-insurgency experience gained in the the Second World War, the Malayan Emergency and the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, and adapting more recent Israeli, South African and Portuguese tactics, Rhodesian combined operations (police Special Branch, army, air force) developed ‘pseudo-guerrillas’, such as the Mozambican National Resistance, (RENAMO) that wreaked havoc across the border, where Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) guerrilla camps were razed by ‘Fireforce’ cross-border raids. Fireforce comprised units of Selous Scouts, an undercover tracker battalion of 1,500 troops on double pay, 80 percent black, (many recruited by Special Branch from captured guerrillas facing trial and execution) probing ahead of a parachute infantry battalion and up to 200 Special Air Service commandos. These forces were supported, in turn, by armoured transport columns, mobile field artillery, equestrian pursuit dragoons, (Grey’s Scouts) air force helicopter gunships and bomber squadrons, one newly-equipped with 20 French-made Cessna Lynx low-altitude surveillance aircraft modified for precision ground attacks. Fireforce gathered intelligence, disrupted guerrilla forces, seized equipment and is identified frequently as a precursor of new forms of counterinsurgency warfare. The United Nations condemned the Fireforce raids, especially the use of napalm, but evidence confirming or disproving the utilisation of Rhodesian biological weapons remains inconclusiv


African Aviation Series - Freeworld Publications, Nelspruit, South Africa 
African Aviation Series 3 Canberra in Southern African Service (Hammence, Michael and Brent, Winston) 
African Aviation Series 4 Eye in the Sky - a brief history of the SA Police Service Air Wing (Bosman, Herman)
African Aviation Series 6 Chopper Pilot - the adventures and experiences of  'Monster' Wilkins 
African Aviation Series 9 Rhodesian Air Force - The Sanctions Busters (Brent, Winston)

Cowderoy, Dudley and Nesbit, Roy - Britain's Rebel Airforce (Grubb Street, London, 1998) 

Salt, Beryl - A Pride of Eagles (Covos-Day Books, Oaktree House, 2001) 

Cole, Barbara - Sabotage and Torture (3 Knights Publishing 1988)