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South African Air Force History - Cold War

A New Era (1945 - 1959)

Sppitfires, Hets and Helicopters

After the war the SAAF’s large volunteer force component returned to civilian life and the SAAF restored to peacetime operations once more.

Much in the same way as after World War One, the British Government again made a generous offer of 220 aircraft and equipment to the SAAF. These included 80 Spitfire Mk Ixs, 80 Beaufighter Mk Xs, 48 Warwick Mk Vs and 12 Sunderland Mk Vs.

After some deliberation it was decided to accept the 80 Spitfires as a gift and to buy an additional 56 Spitfires and retain 15 Sunderlands already in South Africa of which three were purchased.

S_16.jpg (4553 bytes) After World War II South Africa received 136 Spitfires from the British Government. This particular aircraft was owned by Mr Larry Barnett and flew in South Africa in the seventies before being exported to the United States

By June 1946 the SAAF consisted of twelve air force stations which controlled four wings, a number of squadrons, training schools and depots.

In 1948 the first of the three Sikorsky 5-51 helicopters was purchased in the USA. Another new creation to arrive in South Africa at the time was the first jet aircraft in the Union, a Gloster Meteor III, on of a number sent to all Commonwealth countries for trails. Both the Meteor and the Sikorsky 5-51 caught the imagination of the public and were major draw-cards at every show at which they appeared. The Gloster Meteor III was operated by the SAAF for two years before being returned to the United Kingdom.

S_17.jpg (4806 bytes) The British De Havilland Vampire was the first jet fighter bought by the SAAF in the early fifties.

The Berlin Airlift (1948 - 1949)

In 1948, against the background of increasingly strained East/West relationships, the Soviets cut the overland communication between West Berlin and its food supplies in West Germany in an attempt to force the Western powers out of the city. As a result all supplies had to be airlifted into West Berlin - no mean feat as the daily requirements of the 2,5 million West Berliners were in the region of 1 250 tons of food and 3 500 tons of coal.

In the event, the SAAF was called upon to contribute to the year-long Anglo-American Airlift to West Berlin by way of supplying 20 air crews for the daily shuttle service.

The SAAF crews, after intensive training at the RAF’s base at Bassingbourne, flew no less than 1 240 missions in the RAF Dakotas out of the German city of Lbeck during the airlift. By 15 April 1949 when the blockade was lifted by the Soviets, the South Africans had airlifted 4 133 tons of supplies into West Berlin.

The Korean War (1950 - 1953)

Just a year after the SAAF’s notable contribution towards beating the blockade of West Berlin, the SAAF’s services were once again called upon to assist the Western and UN powers. This time the scene of operations was Asia, where North Korean forces had invaded the Republic of South Korea in 25 June 1950.

The United Nations acceded to the request of the United States to intervene militarily on the side of South Korea. The Union Government offered the services of the SAAF’s 2 Sqn to the UN forces. The offer was gratefully accepted, and on 26 September 49 officers and 157 other ranks of 2 Sqn, all volunteers, left for Johnson Base in Tokyo prior to their deployment in Korea. The first flight of four F-51D Mustangs departed for Korea on 16 November and the first operational sortie was flown three days later.

S_18.jpg (3357 bytes) A F-51D Mustang of 2 Sqn operating in the extreme cold of a Korean winter (Photo: SAAF: Dave Becker Collection).
S_19.jpg (8370 bytes) The first batch of F-51D Mustangs of 2 Squadron leave Johnson Air Base for Korea (Photo: SAAF: Dave Becker Collection).
S_20.jpg (4005 bytes) In the course of the Korean war pilots of 2 Sqn (the "Cheetahs") earned respect and fame for the daring skill in the F-86F Sabre jet fighter.

2 Sqn had a long and distinguished record of service in Korea flying F-51D Mustangs and later F-86F Sabres. Their role was mainly flying ground attack and interdiction missions as one of the squadrons making up the USAF’s 18th Fighter Bomber Wing.

The first operational sortie was flown at a stage when the United Nations forces were retreating in front of the advancing enemy. In freezing cold and poor weather, the aircraft had to continue operating and by maintained and armed in the open, moving from K-24 to K-13, K-10 and finally K-55 air base at Osan in January 1953, Here the squadron immediately started to convert to the F-86F Sabre jet fighter. On 11 March 1953 the squadron flew it first operational sortie with the F-86F Sabre.

During the Korean conflict the squadron flew a grand total of 12 067 sorties for a loss of 34 pilots and two other ranks. Aircraft losses amounted to 74 out of 97 Mustangs and four out of 22 Sabres. The South African squadron was awarded both US and Korean Presidential Unit Citations. Some of its members were also awarded both US and South African decorations for extreme bravery.

The end of the war in Korea brought some relief to the maintenance organisation. The F-86F Sabres were the first supersonic aircraft used by the SAAF in operations and were well liked. Accordingly and order was placed for 34 of the latest version, the Sabre Mk VI, which were delivered from 1956.

New Aircraft

The fifties saw the delivery and retirement of various aircraft types. The Spitfires were phased out in 1954 and the Sunderland’s in 1957. Eight Avro Shackleton Mk IIIs were delivered in 1957 for maritime patrol duties with 35 Sqn. The remaining Venturas from the maritime units were transferred to 35 Sqn before being finally retired in 1959/60. The new F-86F Sabre (ground attack version) for 1 and 2 Sqn arrived during 1956 and by 1957 each squadron had 16 Sabres, 12 Vampires and 12 Harvard’s on strength.

S_21.jpg (6422 bytes) The Avro Shackleton Mk 3 was used for coastal patrols. The aircraft was withdrawn from service in the eighties.

The Air Defence System

After the Second World War the SAAF became responsible for air defence radars and new equipment was purchased. A Control and Reporting School was established to train fighter controllers and in 1957 a revised system was initiated which culminated in the inaugurations of the Transvaal Air Defence System at Devon on 15 November 1965, later known at the Northern Air Defence System. This was followed by the establishment of 1,2 and 3 Satellite Radar Stations at Mariepskop, Ellisras and Mafikeng together with 70 Mobile Radar Group.

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Page last modified: 16-10-2012 19:11:56 ZULU