THE AIRFORCE - BETWEEN THE WARS
Training of cadets as flying officers and youths in technical trades began in 1925. The artisans were trained to equip them for their trades should they leave the Air Force. One main difficulty, which still exists today, was in regard to mechanics. As a trained engineer, Sir Pierre van Ryneveld realised the value of artisans, who were employed under the conditions of Public Service. This led to him battling with Defence Headquarters and the Public Service Commission to get them better rates of pay as no sooner were artisans trained that they were lured away by the trade through offers of better pay. Sadly, the SAAF's first operation was during the infamous 1922 industrial strike when it supported ground forces engaged in suppressing the striking (white) miners on the Witwatersrand. The Air Force flew reconnaissance missions and bombed the strikers positions. Between 10 and 15 March 1922, 1 Squadron lost two aircraft during the 127 hours flown during the operation. One was shot down in Benoni and the observer shot dead by a striker. The pilot saved his own life by shooting the striker. The other Air Force fatality was the driver of a Whippet tank from the Aircraft and Artillery Depot. He was killed in Fordsburg when a bullet pierced the visor of the vehicle.
The Air Force operated in South West Africa on three occasions: in 1922 against the Bondezwarts Hottentots, in 1925 during the Rehoboth rebellion and in 1939 in Ovamboland when a chief refused to surrender alleged murderers to the police. There were no casualties during these operations.
Apart from these operational tasks, the Air Force played a major role in the development of South Africa. Among the tasks were aerial photography, transporting diamonds from Oranjemund to Cape Town, spraying eucalyptus plantations and for a short period in 1925, an air mail service between Cape Town and Durban. A Central Flying School was established at Zwartkoops in 1925.
The depression was to take its toll on the Air Force. So severe was the rationalisation during 1929 that Sir Pierre van Ryneveld was in charge of the Air Force, officer commanding of the troops in Roberts Heights (Voortrekkerhoogte) and commandant of the Military College. On 30 April 1933 Sir Pierre van Ryneveld became Chief of General Staff as a Brigadier General when the post of Director of Air Services was abolished, but retained command of the Air Force.
The depression, however, did not stop the Air Force from acquiring new aircraft. The first locally produced aircraft for the Air Force was the Westland Wapiti, with the first licence built example of 27 built flew on 4 April 1931. This was followed by 65 Hawker Hartbees and 52 Avro Tutors, all built locally from imported materials.
In 1936 the Union Government approved the Air Force development programme which made provision for the expansion of the Air Force by training 100 pilots, establishing a photographic survey squadron, five service squadrons and the organisation of SA Airways into two bomber groups, one medium and one heavy. and for the establishment of a reserve.
Waterkloof Air Station was constructed and opened on 1 August 1938, with 1, 2 and later 3 Squadrons in residence. Outstations were established at Bloemfontein, Cape Town and Durban. Flying schools were established and pilot training was undertaken on SE 5's and DH 9's.