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Scientia Militaria: South African Journal of Military Studies

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The South African Air Force, 1920–2012: A Review of its History and an Indication of its Cultural Heritage

A Wessels

Abstract


Although a South African Aviation Corps existed for a few months in 1915, and although several South Africans saw action in World War I as members of Britain’s Royal Flying Corps, the history of the South African Air Force (SAAF) – the world’s second oldest air force – strictly speaking only dates back to 1 February 1920. In this article, a review is provided of the history of the SAAF, with specific reference to its operational deployments in the 1920s; the difficult years of the great depression and its aftermath and impact on the SAAF; the very important role played by the SAAF in the course of World War II (for example in patrolling South Africa’s coastal waters, and in taking part in the campaigns in East Africa and Abyssinia, as well as in North Africa, Madagascar, Italy, over the Mediterranean and in the Balkans); the post-war rationalisation; its small but important role in the Korean War; the acquisition of a large number of modern aircraft and helicopters from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s; the impact that sanctions had on the SAAF; the SAAF’s role in Northern Namibia and in Angola during the war years, 1966–1989, and the SAAF in post-apartheid South Africa. Throughout the article, historiographical matters are mentioned by means of references – either in the text or in footnotes – to the most important available sources.

Keywords: South African Air Force, Second World War, Korean War,
Border War, South African air force museums, aviation/cultural heritage




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