Aerial reconnaissance and survey forms an integral and indispensable part of modern day warfare. The eye-in-the sky approach to espionage is however as old as aerial warfare itself. At the dawning of the Second World War South Africa had at its disposal two air survey organisations, namely the Photographic Section of its infant Air Force and The Aircraft Operating Company of Africa.
Mass mobilisation was an inevitable result of the war, and with the formation of various new units these two organisations united to form 60 Squadron on the 29th of December 1940. Thus was born one of the most formidable photographic reconnaissance squadrons of the war.
On the 3rd of October 1941 the squadron took up its responsibilities in the Nairobi desert and was placed under Number 3 Wing to operate with the Eighth Army. Within two months the squadron delivered photographs covering 69 550 square miles of war land for mapping purposes.
At first 60 Squadron conducted its task with one or two serviceable aircraft at its disposal, more often than not a Gloster AS 31. As demands changed so too did the aircraft. 60 Squadron soon abandoned the Gloster for Airspeed Envoys, a BA Double Eagle, Avro Ansons, Marylands, Baltimores and Mosquitoes.
In 1943 60 Squadron moved to its new home base at San Severo in Italy. Operational sorties were flown across Europe from here until the 15th of July 1945 when the squadron was officially withdrawn from operations. On 22 August 1945 the squadron returned home with a proud record and valuable experience.
It was demobilised on its arrival and redesigned to a medium bomber squadron operating Lockheed B-34 Venturas until its disbandment at the end of 1947. Although 60 Squadron was reformed the very next year as a photographic reconnaissance unit, it was finally disbanded in November 1950.
On the 18th of February 1972 the South African Air Force launched a project to obtain large air-to-air tanker aircraft. It was a leisurely process due to economic sanctions and military embargoes, but eventually, in March 1982 the Air Force was given the go-ahead to purchase Boeing 707 tankers.
Soon after the integration thereof these aircraft were modernised and converted to air-to-air refuelling tankers. The South African Air Force was ready to take on a new defence related function. For this purpose however, a new squadron had to be formed. The choice fell on the ex-wartime squadron, Number 60 Squadron, because it was felt that the old could cope well with the supportive role that was to be played by the new.
Ministerial approval was granted for the establishment of the new squadron on 11 January 1985. One and a half years later, on 16 July 1986, 60 Squadron was re-activated and based at Air Force Base Waterkloof, where it is situated today.
The squadron soon proved its devotion to its mission by utilising its human and material resources so effectively that its first EW flight took place within less than six months after its re-activation. Three months later, on the 5th of March 1987, the first in-flight-refuelling sortie was flown with 1 Squadron's F1AZ Mirages at AFB Hoedspruit. Its first Angolan operation was on 8 September that same year, when 60 Squadron deployed with one aircraft at AFB Grootfontein, 60 Squadron has entered yet another post-war era. Its EW function might have abated close to the point of termination, but its efficiency in other fields of service stands steadfast. First and foremost of these is its in-flight refuelling role.
The squadron takes pride in excellence, a fact that can be noted in the condition of its tankers and their serviceability. 60 Squadron employs the probe and drogue refuelling system with three hoses, thus enabling three fighters to refuel simultaneously. Both the Mirage and Cheetah fighter squadrons are dependant upon 60 Squadron for air-to-air refuelling.
Along with these aircraft, the Boeings of 60 Squadron are an admired sight at air shows and historic events throughout the republic. During these exhibitions 60 Squadron often dazzles its spectators with first-ever like five ship close formation fly-pasts at parades.
The South African Air Force received a unique gift from 60 Squadron on its 75th birthday when three of the squadron's Boeings gave a performance worth remembering during a flypast at AFB Swartkop. Three tankers in close formation graced the skies, each one refuelling three fighters simultaneously.
Another more recently adopted function of 60 Squadron is that of transportation. The squadron assists its home base in the transportation of passengers to various locations within the country. 60 Squadron also assisted in the transportation of mercy aid to Rwanda during Operation Mercy in 1994.
Over the years 60 Squadron has built a sound reputation for itself as a professional and efficient supportive structure in the ongoing quest for excellence marked by the South African Air Force. Focusing on key values like honesty, acceptance of responsibility and the promotion of personnel interests, this squadron remains a formidable role player in creating a legacy of aviation superiority within the South African Air Force.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|