South African Air Force

From Academic Kids

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The South African Air Force roundel

The South African Air Force (SAAF) is the Air Force of South Africa. Known in Afrikaans as the Suid-Afrikaanse Lugmag, it is the world's second oldest independent air force.

The SAAF's motto is Per Aspera Ad Astra (Through adversity to the stars).


History of the SAAF

The origin of the South African Air Force can be traced back to 1912, when the Union Defence Force (UDF) was formed. This formation included the South African Aviation Corps (SAAC), which was formed as part of the Active Citizen Force (ACF).

In April 1914 six pupils (with the probationary ranks of lieutenant in the ACF) were sent to England to undergo further training. Five of them eventually qualified.

When World War I broke out in August 1914, these pilots were granted permission to join the newly formed Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The number of South Africans in the RFC eventually reached approximately 3 000, with 260 active-duty fatalities. They took part in aerial reconnaissance and artillery spotting missions over France during the war.

On 1 February 1920 the South African Air Force was established with Col. Pierre van Ryneveld as the Director Air Services.

Its first operation was in 1922, when it helped to crush the Rand Revolt, an armed uprising by white mineworkers. The SAAF bombed targets around Johannesburg, and lost some aircraft to ground fire. Col Sir Pierre van Ryneveld himself was shot down, but survived.

In 1934 a significant increase in the defence budget was approved and in 1935 the Minister of Defence announced that the UDF was to be expanded.

Despite these expansions, the start of World War II in 1939 caught the SAAF unprepared.

This caused the establishment of the Joint Air Training Scheme (JATS) in order to train Royal Air Force, SAAF and other allied air and ground crews at 38 South African-based air schools. This expanded the number of military aircraft in the SAAF to 1,709 by September 1941, with a personnel strength of 31,204 (956 pilots).

The SAAF's full war record was as follows:

  • Home defence (1939-45): patrols of South African waters, where German u-boats were often active
  • East Africa (1940-41): 2 Wing fought in British-led operations against Italian Somaliland and Italian-occupied Ethiopia
  • North Africa (1941-43): 3 and 7 Wings fought under RAF formations in operations in Egypt, Libya and Tunis
  • Madagascar (1942): a detachment took part in the British-led occupation of this French-ruled island
  • Atlantic (1943-45): two squadrons patrolled convoy routes off West Africa and Gibraltar
  • Sicily (1943): 3 Wing provided air support during the Allied seizure of the island
  • Italy (1943-45): 2, 3 and 7 Wings fought in operations to liberate Italy from German occupation
  • Yugoslavia (1943-44): 7 Wing supported partisan operations against German occupation forces
  • France (1944): a detachment took part in the American invasion of southern France
  • Balkans (1944-45): some squadrons served with the Balkan Air Force in operations over Hungary, Romania and Albania
  • Warsaw (1944): 2 Wing air-supplied Warsaw while the city was under siege
  • Greece (1944): 2 Wing supported British operations to liberate Greece and suppress the communist coup.

In particular, the SAAF played a major role in North Africa, where its fighter, bomber and reconnaissance squadrons enabled the allied desert air force to attain air superiority over the Axis air forces by the beginning of 1942. Between April 1941 and May 1943 the eleven squadrons of the SAAF flew 33,991 sorties and destroyed 342 enemy aircraft.

Post-war, the SAAF also took part in the Berlin airlift of 1948 with 20 aircrews flying Royal Air Force Dakotas.

In the Korean War, the famous 2 Squadron ("The Flying Cheetahs") took part as South Africa's contribution. It won many American decorations, including the unusual honour of a United States Presidential Unit Citation in 1952.

When the Union Defence Forces were reorganised into individual services in 1951, 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.

The SAAF was scaled down in the 1950s, and rebuilt in the 1960s, after South Africa had become a republic, and diplomatic isolation and the United Nations arms embargo had begun to bite.

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.

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. It was also heavily involved in the 1987-88 Angola campaign, which was followed by the peace settlement that ended the conflict.

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).

SAAF order of battle

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SAAF flag

(The list below uses the following format: squadron number, base, type of aircraft flown.)


  1. Squadron is abbreviated to "Sqn" in the list.
  2. In addition to the above squadrons there are many other units such as reserve squadrons (flying private aircraft), support units, air depots, security squadrons and training schools.
  3. The headquarters of the SAAF are situated in Pretoria.

See also: List of squadrons of the South African Air Force

Past, current and future aircraft of the SAAF

Main article: List of aircraft of the South African Air Force

See also

External links

Lists of Aircraft | Aircraft manufacturers | Aircraft engines | Aircraft engine manufacturers

Airports | Airlines | Air forces | Aircraft weapons | Missiles | Timeline of aviation


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