Sunday, 7 July 2013

Aviation in Central Africa


Above: The old and the new. At the top is seen the first aircraft to land in Rhodesia, a Vickers Vimy bomber named the Silver Queen. This National Archives picture was taken on the race course at Bulawayo in 1920. Below it is one of the world's latest civil airliners now calling at Salisbury airport on regular flights between London and Johannesburg, the Boeing 707.

For the size of its population the Federation is today one of the most developed countries in the world for air transport. Thanks to those who accepted the hazards of flying in its early days and who foresaw its tremendous advantages, the growth of aviation has been remarkable, for it is only 40 years ago that the first aeroplane was seen in Rhodesia. The story, told here by Ted Scannell of the development in the Federation which has made air travel almost as commonplace as a car journey is one of adventure and achievement.

About Ted Scannell

Ted Scannell was a journalist on the Rhodesia Herald and moved on to become the editor of "Horizon" magazine in then Northern Rhodesia. (1959 to 1970.) Horizon was an in house magazine for the RST Group of Copper Mining Companies (no longer in existence). It was awarded house magazine of the year in both Britain and America for three consecutive years, beating the likes of the great Bell Telephone Company America and BICC Cables of Britain.

Horizon was mostly compiled by two men, Ted Scannell, journalist / editor and a brilliant photographer, Peter Winterbach, also ex Rhodesia Herald. Peter was awarded 100% for his photography in the international magazine competitions mentioned above. Because Ted wrote the bulk of the copy for Horizon many of his stories were written under a pseudonym. 



Above: A Blackburn Bluebird of one of Rhodesia's early commercial concerns, the Rhodesian Aviation Company, in the  I930's (National Archives picture.
    LONG DISTANCES with indifferent roads. a rainy season that made quagmires of the roads that did exist, and a lack of adequate water transport made it inevitable that Central Africa should become highly air conscious. But, although many Rhodesians had served as pilots in Europe in the First World War, it was not until February 28. 1920, that the first aeroplane arrived in Rhodesia. It landed in Northern Rhodesia at Abercorn.

A Vickers Vimy bomber, it was flown by two R.A.F. men, Pierre van Ryneveld= and Quinton Brand, both South Africans who were later knighted for their feat of flying from Britain to the Cape. Sir Quinton Brand has since settled in Rhodesia and now farms a few miles from Umtali. The fliers had left Brooklands, in England, on February 4. Their first LONG DISTANCES with indifferent roads. a rainy season that made quagmires of the roads that did exist, and a lack of adequate water transport made it inevitable that Central Africa should become highly air conscious. But, although many Rhodesians had served as pilots in Europe in the First World War, it was not until February 28. 1920, that the first aeroplane arrived in Rhodesia. It landed in Northern Rhodesia at Abercorn.

A Vickers Vimy bomber, it was flown by two R.A.F. men, Pierre van Ryneveld=and Quinton Brand, both South Africans who were later knighted for their feat of flying from Britain to the Cape. Sir Quinton Brand has since settled in Rhodesia and now farms a few miles from Umtali. The fliers had left Brooklands, in England, on February 4. Their first aeroplane was completely wrecked in the Sudan, but neither of the men was injured, and the R.A.F. immediately made available another Vimy to enable them to continue their flight. This aircraft took the same name as its predecessor, the Silver Queen.

After the Silver Queen left Abercorn, three cylinders of the starboard engine failed and the plane began losing height. As Van Ryneveld and Brand were contemplating landing in thick bush they sighted Ndola and managed to bring the plane in.

Rain delayed their departure again, but eventually they left Ndola on March 2 for Livingstone. The two men were teased like royalty at Livingstone, where they were again delayed by rain, but eventually on March 5 they took off for Bulawayo, where they landed on the race course.

In Bulawayo they were given another tumultuous welcome, and two days later the whole town turned out again to cheer the Silver Queen off. The two men climbed back in, waved farewell, and the Silver Queen, its motors giving an occasional splutter, taxied down the racecourse and rose into the air - but not for long. In view of thousands it lost height almost immediately and crashed in the bush between the town and Hillside. The Silver Queen was a complete wreck, but again neither of the men was badly hurt.

Eager that South Africans should be the first to fly from Britain to the Cape, the South African Government flew a DH9 aeroplane, named the Voortrekker, from Pretoria to Bulawayo so that Van Ryneveld and Brand could continue. Van Ryneveld and Brand left Bulawayo on March 17 in the Voortrekker and continued without undue mishap to Cape Town.

The success of this flight involved a tremendous achievement. A string of about two dozen aerodromes had been built with great difficulty down Africa for the Silver Queens or their successor. At Ndola, for instance, 700 Africans worked from April to August in 1919, moving 25,000 tons of earth, much of this being made up of anthills standing 25 feet high and with bases 45 feet in diameter.

Despite the achievement of Van Ryneveld and Brand in flying the length of Africa, trans-continental air travel had not yet really arrived. The Times in London gloomily summed up the historic flight in this way: was completely wrecked in the Sudan, but neither of the men was injured, and the R.A.F. immediately made available another Vimy to enable them to continue their flight. This aircraft took the same name as its predecessor, the Silver Queen.

After the Silver Queen left Abercorn, three cylinders of the starboard engine failed and the plane began losing height. As Van Ryneveld and Brand were contemplating landing in thick bush they sighted Ndola and managed to bring the plane in.

Rain delayed their departure again, but eventually they left Ndola on March 2 for Livingstone. The two men were tesed like royalty at Livingstone, where they were again delayed by rain, but eventually on March 5 they took off for Bulawayo, where they landed on the race course.

In Bulawayo they were given another tumultuous welcome, and two days later the whole town turned out again to cheer the Silver Queen off. The two men climbed back in, waved farewell, and the Silver Queen, its motors giving an occasional splutter, taxied down the racecourse and rose into the air - but not for long. In view of thousands it lost height almost immediately and crashed in the bush between the town and Hillside. The Silver Queen was a complete wreck, but again neither of the men was badly hurt.

Eager that South Africans should be the first to fly from Britain to the Cape, the South African Government flew a DH9 aeroplane, named the Voortrekker, from Pretoria to Bulawayo so that Van Ryneveld and Brand could continue. Van Ryneveld and Brand left Bulawayo on March 17 in the Voortrekker and continued without undue mishap to Cape Town.

The success of this flight involved a tremendous achievement. A string of about two dozen aerodromes had been built with great difficulty down Africa for the Silver Queens or their successor. At Ndola, for instance, 700 Africans worked from April to August in 1919, moving 25,000 tons of earth, much of this being made up of anthills standing 25 feet high and with bases 45 feet in diameter.

Despite the achievement of Van Ryneveld and Brand in flying the length of Africa, trans-continental air travel had not yet really arrived. The Times in London gloomily summed up the historic flight in this way:




Above: Aircraft of the I940's and the present. A Hornet Moth of Southern Rhodesian Air Services( top ), in a picture taken by Jack McAdam, contrasts with a Viscount of Central African Airways.



Above: The second plane to arrive in Rhodesia, the Voortrekker. This DH-9 from South Africa enabled Van Ryneveld and Brand to complete their flight from Britain to the Cape (a National Archives picture).

"The art of flying across Africa is to know how to crash."


   However, in Rhodesia no time was being lost. On April 8, 1920, within three weeks of the departure of the Voortrekker, Airoad Motors, Ltd., was registered as a company in Bulawayo'— the first air undertaking established in Central Africa. But it appears to have acted merely as a selling agent, and it soon folded up.

 On Monday, May 24, 1920, two months after the departure of the Voortrekker from Bulawayo, an Avro, probably belonging to the South African Aerial Transport Company, was brought to Bulawayo by Messrs. Rutherford and Thompson and gave "joy flips" at three guineas for 10 minutes. This was the first direct commercial profit made from the air in Rhodesia.

 The plane then flew on to Salisbury and did the same thing there. It was the first aeroplane seen in the capital.

 Two years later, on May 29,1922, a new company, Rhodesian Aerial Tours, came into being in Southern Rhodesia. It was floated by Major Alistair Miller, a former Royal Flying Corps pilot and a pioneer of aviation in the Union. This was the first active company with a Rhodesian- based machine an old Avro brought from the Union. But the career of the machine and of the company was short-lived. A few weeks later Major Miller crashed into a tree on taking off from the golf course at Rusape. Though Major Miller was unhurt, the plane was a write-off and the company ceased to exist.

 But Rhodesians were now becoming inured to the hazards of flying, and were beginning to realize more fully its advantages. [n the mid and late 1920s several little companies blossomed, wilted and died, some performing valuable services.

 In 1927 the Rhodesian Aviation Syndicate was formed. Four years later the Rhodesian Aviation Company was floated and absorbed the Syndicate. Then in 1933 the Company itself was absorbed by the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Airways — RANA as it was affectionately called by everyone.

 In Rhodesia in the 1920s there was also the Aircraft Operating Company which carried out extensive aerial photographic and reconnaissance work on the Copperbelt. The first company to use an aeroplane for ts own private business in Rhodesia was the London and Rhodesia Mining and Land Company (Lonrho). The air service was started for the operation of the company's expanding interests, but soon built up into a regular public service. By 1938 Lonrho was operating a fleet of aero planes, mainly de Havilland Dragons and Rapides, and carrying hundreds ol passengers a year.

 A pioneer aviation refueller, Mr. R B. Marshall Symons, of Bulawayo, recalls some amusing incidents during the late 1920s. On one occasion a Captain Rod Douglas arrived at Bulawayo to demonstrate the Puss Moth. As he flew over the field he throttled back, opened his window, leaned out and shouted: " Is this Bulawayo ?" " Yes," came the reply - and he landed.

 Another well-known aviator, Bill Wiley, would fly over Bularvayo's Main Street and shout down for a taxi to meet him at the field.

 Flying in Rhodesia was nine years old before the first fatal accident occurred.

 An R.A.F. officer, G. W. Burnett, and his mechanic, F. C. Turner, were killed on March 18,1929, during the annual R.A.F. visit to Rhodesia. Their plane crashed on taking off from Gwelo.

 Nearly three years later, on November 20,1931, the first Rhodesians to be killed in a flying accident in their home country met their death, on Belvedere aerodrome at Salisbury. They were D. S. ("Pat") Judson, Daniel Sievewright and George Speight.

 By 1932 the Southern Rhodesia Government had begun to take a deep interest in the development of air transport, and the Prime Minister, the Hon. H. U. Moffat, was an enthusiastic supporter of the growth of aviation. That year the Beit Trust made a £,50,000 grant for the development of runways, radio installations and other aids.

 Meanwhile, new strides were being made in the down-Africa route. In Britain the Post Office announced on November 11, 1931, that Christmas mail would be sent to Rhodesia and South Africa by air - the first official air mail to Rhodesia. The contrasts with a Viscount of Central African Airways. 



Regular weekly services by Imperial Airways were inaugurated on January 20,1932, when a Heracles aircraft, piloted by Captain A. Touell. left Croydon carrying about 20,000 letters for delivery at various points.

Weather conditions in Northern Rhodesia were appalling and caused considerable delay and dislocation both to this service and the north-bound service that left Cape Town on January 27. The south-bound plane force-landed at Shiwa Ngandu, in Northern Rhodesia, but managed to get airborne some days later.

The north-bound plane was damaged while landing on the sodden aerodrome at Salisbury; its replacement force-landed in the bush 55 miles from Broken Hill and became bogged down; after a long search it was found and its mail taken to Broken Hill. Hill by African runner, from where it was flown on to reach Croydon three weeks after leaving Cape Town.

This was a bad start to the regular service, but no serious damage had been done to aircraft and all the Royal mails reached their destination, even though that classic mode of mail transport, the African runner, had to be resorted to.

However, the new service soon settled down with a regularity which enabled the residents of Broken Hill and Salisbury to set their watches by the arrival of the Imperial Airways machines.

In August, 1932, the Aero Klub du Katanga opened the Broken Hill service, which later became part of the joint Belgian (Sabena) and French (Air Afrique) service to and from Madagascar.

With the establishment of the regular Imperial Airways service from Britain, the need was felt for a coordinated air service for the three territories now forming the Federation. When Rhodesia and Nyasa- land Airways Ltd. was formed in 1933, its capital of f25,000 was provided jointly by Imperial Airways and the Beit Trust, with assistance from the Rhodesia Railway

RANA's first fleet consisted of de Havilland Fox Moths, Puss Moths and the Westland Wessex. In 1935 de Havilland Rapides were ordered and this type of aircraft served Central Africa for many years. Some of these Rapides are still flying today.


Above: A formation of Percivol Provosts of the Royal Rhodesian Air Force. These aircraft are used by the R.R.A.F. as basic trainers.


Above: The aeroplane quickly became popular for children making long journeys to and from school. These young air travel "pioneers" are disembarking from a de Havilland Rapide of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Airways, or RANA as it became known.
     
    In the meantime, the Africa route had become a target for every intrepid flier. The record-breaking Britain-to-the-Cape dashes over a period of years can be said to have culminated with last year's flight by an R.A.F. Valiant bomber. It flew 11 from Britain to Salisbury in ten hours 46 minutes, compared with Van Ryneveld and Brand's time of 31 days from Britain to Bulawayo in 1920.

As flying became more commonplace in Rhodesia the problem arose of providing competent servicing and instruction facilities. The distance to Johannesburg, where proper servicing could be done, was too great for healthy development in Rhodesia.

In April, 1934, the de Havilland Aircraft Company in England agreed to float the de Havilland Aircraft Company (Rhodesia) Ltd., which began operations the following year with a staff of two, a manager-pilot- instructor and a ground engineer. By 1938 the staff had grown to 16 Europeans and the company would service any make of aeroplane.

The company became contractor to the Government for the initial training of military pilots. After instruction with de Havillands they were passed to the Rhodesia Air Unit for further training under service conditions. The de Havilland Flying School gave instruction to about 30 pupils a year, and included instruction in blind flying.

Aviation was now growing apace. In 1933 all the companies combined operated 3 11,708 miles and carried 3,496 passengers.

In 1938 they operated well over 1,000,000 miles and carried more than 15,000 passengers.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, the situation in Rhodesia changed drastically. RANA became the Southern Rhodesia Communications Squadron and Avro Ansons were added to the fleet. Under its new designation and organization it carried out valuable work in Central Africa.

The military air force had originally been formed in 1934 when the Southern Rhodesia Parliament voted f10,000 to be used to raise and train an air unit as a contribution towards imperial defence. An air section of the territorial forces had been formed and eight volunteers began flying training in November, 1935, at the de Havilland Flying School at Belvedere.

Then during 1936 work started on the first military airfield at Cranborne. The S.R.A.F. moved to this aerodrome in December, 1937. On August 27,1939, a few days before the war, this unit moved to its station in Kenya -. the first British air unit to cross its borders to take up war duties. Under the command of Flight-Lieutenant Maxwell, three Hawker Harts and three Hawker Audaxes flew to Kenya and were later to become No. 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron of the R.A.F. Together with Nos. 266 and 44 (Rhodesia) Squadrons, it was to build up a proud tradition on many fronts.

No. 237 Squadron, which later switched to Spitfires, fought its way from Kenya through Somaliland, the Sudan, Eritrea and Libya, into Italy and Southern France, Through North Africa and into Europe its spirit of determination earned for the squadron a reputation second to none. It remained until the end almost 100 percent Rhodesian.

No. 266 Squadron, formed on October 30,1939, was first equipped with Fairey Battles, but by January, 1940, was training on Spitfires. Its wartime duties included patrolling, escorting, offensive sweeps along it re French and Belgian coasts and the provision of bomber escorts over the Rhine and France. The squadron was one of the first to be equipped with Typhoons'

Throughout the war the aircrew of 266 Squadron were almost exclusively Rhodesian.

The reverse was true with Rhodesia's bomber squadron - No. 44 Squadron. The country could replace casualties in the fighter squadrons but not, for instance' the 35 men - pilots, navigators, wireless operators and gunners - who failed to return from 44 Squadron's raid on Augsburg After initially flying Hampdens, the squadron was the first to equip with Lancasters.

For the epic raid on Augsburg, to bomb a diesel engine factory that was producing hall the requirements for Hitler's submarine fleet, as well as engines for tanks, army transports and warships, six bombers of 44 Squadron and six from 97 Squadron went into special training.

The attack was to be from a height of only 50 feet. Of Rhodesia's six bombers, led by Squadron Leader J. D. Nettleton, only one returned. Two bombers were lost by 97 Squadron. But the raid achieved its object and Nettleton was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.

A week later 44 Squadron helped sink the German battleship Tirpitz.

The squadron's last raid was on April 25,1945. It was the famous raid that devastated Berchtesgaden, Hitler's fortified hideout in the Bavarian mountains.

At home Rhodesians were also making their own valuable contribution. At the outset of the war, the Southern Rhodesia Government proposed the establishment of one training station under the Empire Air Training Scheme. The United Kingdom asked for three — and got them. In the later stages of the war the Rhodesian Air Training Group had no less than 11 stations in Southern Rhodesia, training thousands of fighter and bomber pilots, navigators and air gunners for the R.A.F.

The training schools continued after the war, the numbers gradually decreasing until the last shut down in March, 1954.

Altogether some 2,400 men from Rhodesia and Nyasaland served in the R.A.F. and S.R.A.F. during the war. They were distributed over all Commands and in every theatre. They earned 146 decorations, including nine D.S.O.s, 106 D.F.C.s. eight A.F.C.s, 22 D.F.M.s, and one C.G.M. Their casualties totalled 498 killed and 97 wounded.
(Suggested reading. http://www.ourstory.com/thread.html?t=297112&comments=1)

After the war the S.R.A.F. was to all intents and purposes disbanded, but in 1947 the nucleus of a small communication flight was formed within the framework of the Southern Rhodesia Staff Corps. Its main purpose Was to provide transport for Government officials between various centres. The scope was gradually increased until in July, 1949. flying training of territorial volunteers started. No. I Southern Rhodesia Auxiliary Air Force Squadron was formed and manned by ex-combat pilots living in Salisbury, who volunteered to carry out squadron training in the early mornings, evenings and all weekends.

The deterioration of the international situation over Korea in 1950 led to the need for accelerated training and the Short Service Unit came into being to give pilots a concentrated two years of full-time training. Spitfires were acquired in 1950 to augment the Tiger Moths and Harvards used until then.

In December, 1953, the first de Havilland jet Vampires arrived and in October, 1954, the Queen gave permission for the Royal prefix to be added to the title of the S.R.A.F. It became known as the Royal= Rhodesian Air Force and at the same time adopted R.A.F. ranks in place of the military ranks that had been in use since the war.

Today the R.R.A.F. has five operational squadrons — two Canberra bomber squadrons, two Vampire fighter squadrons and one transport squadron with Pembrokes, Dakotas and Argonaut troop carriers. In addition there is also a light squadron of Provosts.

With its modern, balanced Jet force, the Federation is now a small working partner in the defence of the free world.

In civil aviation, the Southern Rhodesia Communication Squadron, formerly RANA, became Rhodesia Aviation Services after the war and resumed its commerciak activities. In 1946 the Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland Governments decided that this service should become Central African Airways, capital for the new airline being provided on the basis of 50 per cent by Southern Rhodesia, 35 per cent by Northern Rhodesia and 15 per cent by Nyasaland.

The Corporation's first steps were to order Vickers Vikings for its regional services and de Havilland Doves for its domestic routes. Later Dakotas were also used for the domestic routes, and in July, 1956, Vickers Viscount turbo-prop aircraft came into regional service. Meanwhile on remote routes in Barotseland and Nyasaland de Havilland Beavers replaced the Doves.

At the same time charter operators moved in as passenger and freight requirements rapidly grew.

A nostalgic feature of the Central African post-war scene was the regular arrival and departure between May, 1948. and November, 1950, of the 35-ton Solent flying boats at the Victoria Falls. These huge British Overseas Airways Corporation machines cruised at 210 m.p.h. and carried 39 passengers in the utmost luxury and comfort. Their route from Southampton took four and a half days, with four night stops. Faster and more economical land planes, however, forced out these flying boats.

With the opening of an international airport at Livingstone in 1950 new airliners began to call in the Federation. But partly because it was inconveniently situated for the international routes, traffic began to dwindle. With the opening of the inter- national Salisbury Airport in July, 1956. many world-famous airlines started bringing in regular services, and such names as Alitalia (Italian), U.A.T. (French), Sabena (Belgian), became house- hold words in the Federation, together with B.O.A.S., S.A.A., E.A.A. and C.A.A.


Above: Over Victoria Falls flies a da Havilland Puss Moth. part of the RANA fleet in the I930's.

Above: Some years later the Zambezi was to see aircraft like this. a B.O.A.C. Solent flying boat, moored near Livingstone.

End

Paul Changuion Snr was a personal friend of the late Ted Scannell and therefore ORAFs received the article from Paul via Al Bruce (RhAF) Thanks to both the gents. Thanks also to Mitch Stirling for his assistance.
To view this article on-line please click on the image above or on the link below.

Comments are welcome, please send them to Eddy Norris at orafs11@gmail.com

 (Please visit our previous posts and archives)

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3 Comments:

At 8 July 2013 at 09:46 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Your blogs are always interesting. My mother was a seventeen or eighteen year old, Jeannie Carruthers Smith, later Lacey, and was in that photograph of the Vimy. She had a copy of the photo in an album which I believe one of my brothers inherited. I can remember seeing it often when I was young. Her father was the youngest member of the B.S.A.P. who accompanied the Pioneer Column into Rhodesia in 1890. Times have changed.

Sincerely Colleen Bowker (widow of Neville Bowker from Umtali, Rhodesia.)

 
At 14 July 2013 at 16:34 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

I worked alongside Ted on the sub-editors' desk of the Rhodesia Herald in the 1950s and Peter Winterbach was the paper's chief photographer at the time. Great days.
Maurice Wood.

 
At 10 December 2014 at 03:06 , Blogger Surelia Dev said...

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