From Fledgling To Eagle
The South African Air Force during the Border War
Author: Dick Lord
Reviewed By: Dean Wingrin
Dick Lord certainly needs no introduction, having already authored Fire, Flood and Ice (SAAF rescue missions), Vlamgat (the story of the Mirage F1 in SAAF service) and From Tailhooker to Mudmover (an autobiography). All have have excellent reads, with the first two books becoming collectors items. This book, his fourth, recounts the story of the South African Air Force during the Border War.
Having said the above, it should still be mentioned that although Lord was born in Johannesburg, he initially flew Sea Venoms and Sea Vixens aboard Royal Navy (RN) aircraft carriers and, for two years, A-4 Skyhawks and F-4 Phantoms while on a two-year exchange tour with the US Navy. After 12 years with the RN, Lord returned to South Africa, joined the SAAF and flew Impalas, Sabres and the Mirage III. During the Bush War, he commanded 1 Squadron (Mirage F1AZ) before running airforce operations out of Oshakati (SWA). Lord retired as a Brigadier General in 1994 and is certainly well qualified to write about the Border War.
From Fledgling to Eagle chronicles the evolution of the SAAF in the ‘Border War' that raged in Angola and South West Africa (Namibia) from 1966 to 1989, covering all the major South African Defence Force (SADF) operations from Omgulumbashe to the ‘April Fool's Day war' in 1989.
During the 23 years of combat, the SAAF was transformed from a peace time ‘fledgling' to a formidable strike force (the ‘Eagle'), taking on the best Soviet air defences of the time. In fact, southern Angola was considered as the most defended piece of terrotory on Earth after Eastern Europe, with a huge array of modern Soviet aircraft, radars, surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns, manned by Angolans, Cubans and Soviet 'advisors'.
After an introduction to the area of operations, the communist strategy for southern Africa and a brief history of the SA military and SWA Territory Force, the layout follows that of a diary, with the involvement of the SAAF in combat described per year.
Lord writes in a ‘from the cockpit' style and has drawn on his own first-hand operational reports and diaries, incorporating anecdotes from dozens of aviators from a wide variety of squadrons. These include many amusing stories about the difficulties of day-to-day living in the operational area. He also expands on the close relationship the SAAF had with the ground troops in a variety of operations- such units as the Parabats, Recces and Koevoet. The development and use of tactics used by the SAAF are described in detail, together with general weapon release criteria.
While not a definitive account of the SAAFs involvement in the Bush War, this book fills a long-overdue void regarding the day-to-day activities of the SAAF in the Border War. Certain sections leave the reader wanting more details of the overall SADF involvement in Angola or more details of certain incidents. This, however, should not detract from the book. Also included are details of the SAAFs partipation in Rhodesian operations, in co-operation with the Rhodesian Air Force.
Lord studies the broader ramifications of the conflict and is unafraid to admit SADF mistakes as well as analysing the Communist threat in southern Africa and their tactics to achieve their aims. Lord (correctly) does not get into the politics of the day, but his dislike of Communism does show through.
A large number of maps, many from that period, are included in the book, together with a wide variety of photos. A number of appendixes complete the story, including a chronology of operations, air combat diagrams, lists of SAAF aircraft losses and a glossary. Many of the appendixes, however, are also contained in the author's previous books.
This book pays tribute to the bravery and sacrifices made by the combatants on both sides of the conflict. The SAAF can be proud of their conduct in a war run, ultimately, by politicians and Lord is to be congratulated in his meticulous record keeping and in publishing this book.
It is highly recommended to both SAAF enthusiasts and military tacticians alike.