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Rhodesian Air Force

The Sanctions Busters

Author: Winston Brent

ISBN: 0 9584 388 1 1

Reviewed By: Dean Wingrin

The story of the Rhodesian Air Force is a fascinating one, having started out as a small force (Air Force) in 1947,  scavenging from old RAF maintenance depots and scrap dumps in order to rebuild six scrapped and abandoned Tiger Moths. Later, fifteen Harvards were purchased  and 22 Spitifres were ferried out from Britain in 1951. Then, in 1953, the first Vampires started to arrive. With the establishment of the Federation of rhodesia and Nyasaland, the title was changed to Rhodesian Air Force, with the 'Royal' added shortly thereafter. The RRAF even contributed Canberra bombers to RAF operations in the Middle East where they put the local RAF units to shame.

The Federation broke up at the end of 1963 and within three years the signs of insurgent activity became apparent along Rhodesia's borders. When Rhodesia declared independence (UDI) in 1965, the air force was subject to sanctions. For an air force that consisted almost entirely on British aircraft, no one thought the air force would remain operational for long. Yet, when independence was granted fifteen years later in 1980, the airforce has not only proved itself to be a strong and combat proven force, but they has even managed to purchase new and second-hand aircraft! Hence, the subtitle 'Sanctions Busters'. 

During operations against the insurgents, the RRAF earned an enviable reputation during combat operations. When spare parts were unobtainable or too expensive, local ingenuity once again came to the forefront. Many are not aware that the South African Air Force was deeply invloved in helping Rhodesia from 1975 to 1980. SAAF C-130 Hercules transports were used to fly in supplies at night. At least 20 to 30 Alouette III helicopters were based in Rhodesia at any one time, initially under the South African Police name. SAAF Canberras flew sorties with their Rhodesian counterparts. As the author states, 'the purpose of the book is two-fold, to recognise the work done by those who "bust sanctions" and to pay tribute to those South Africans whom without wavering carried out their orders and to give them recognition.'

By it's very nature, the subject of this book is shrouded in mystery, subterfuge and secrecy, even after so many years. The first few chapters document the history of the RhAF from 1947 to 1980,  squadron histories and serial numbering system. Thereafter, the author tackles each aircraft type, listing serial numbers, source and delivery methods. Numerous chapters are devoted to the involvement of the SAAF, making fascinating reading. Many of the missions flown are retold here for the first time. 

The book concludes with individual aircraft histories of all pre- and post-war aircraft, a crash log  and Roll of Honour for the period 1947 to 1980. Although not an in-depth history of the Rhodesian Air Force (for that see A Pride of Eagles by Beryl Salt), it is nevertheless a must read for anyone interested in the RhAF, it's aircraft and tactics as well as the involvement of the SAAF.

298 x 210mm, 190pp,  300 colour and B&W photos, maps

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