THE AIRFORCE - SOUTH AFRICAN AVIATION CORPS
The South African Aviation
The earliest roots of the SAAF can be traced back to the early 1900's when two men, McCompton Patterson and Driver mad two successful flights in a Bleriot Monoplane and Patterson Biplane, flights which greatly aroused public interest in the possibilities of powered flight.
Following the visit by the Commandant-General of the Union Defence Force, General Beyers, to military maneuvers in Germany during June 1912, the South African Aviation Corps was formed, receiving Cabinet approval in 1913. A flying school, under the tutorship of Patterson, was formed at Alexanderfontein, near Kimberley. Six officers of the Corps qualified in April 1914 and were sent to the Royal Flying Corps in England for a further year's training. At the outbreak of World War One they were permitted to volunteer their services to the Royal Flying Corps.
At the outbreak of the war, Mr. DH Cutler owned a Curtiss seaplane and had the unique distinction of being the world's only one man Coastal Command. He and his aircraft were commandeered by the British Admiralty to reconnoiter the South African Coastline. The aircraft was transported by man-of-war to East Africa where he spotted the German Cruiser 'Koenigberg'. As a result it was sunk and the Defence authorities became conspicuous of the potential striking power an active Aviation Corps would have in South West Africa.
In November 1914, the Union decided the Aviation Corps was necessary to conduct a campaign against German South West Africa and a new squadron was formed including the six graduates from the Royal Flying School who were recalled from Europe. The South African Aviation Corps (SAAC) was formed 5 February 1915 and on 6 May 1915 the Corps commenced operations, mainly reconnaissance, in that area. General Botha, who had previously depended on mounted men for reconnaissance, declared 'Now I can see for hundreds of miles'. The aircraft were also used on bombing raids and the South Africans were able to out manoeuver the Germans, leading to their surrender three months later after the South African Aviation Corps entered the campaign. The Corps was awarded the South West African battle honour, a unique award as battle honours are normally only awarded to units.
The South African Aviation Corps ceased to function as a separate unit from the end of the South West African campaign in October 1915, yet it was only officially disbanded in 1921. Members of the Corps were incorporated into 26 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. The Squadron saw service in East Africa in support of South African forces under General Jan Smuts. The main task of the squadron was reconnaissance. The bush was so thick it gave the enemy complete protection from aerial reconnaissance and bomb action that all they really could do was to report on the whereabouts of towns, railways, roads and rivers. The squadron was disbanded in July 1918, before the end of the First World War.
During the First World War, South Africans were recruited for service in the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service. Best known amongst them was the brilliant pilot, Capt. Andrew W Beauchamp-Proctor, who was awarded the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross and Bar, Distinguished Flying Cross, French Croix de Guerre and Legion of honour.
The South African Commander in Chief, General, Smuts, was a member of the Imperial War Cabinet and in 1917 was asked by the British Prime Minister to investigate the question of air defence against Zeppelin raids. The select committee he chaired recommended the creation of an Air Force as a separate arm of the service. Gen. Smuts was given much of the credit for the reorganisation of London's air defence, the introduction of training and instruction for fighting in formations.