If you enter the Royal Air Force club located at 128 Piccadilly, London you are greeted in the foyer by a famous South African statesman – Jan Smuts. A bust of Jan Smuts stands at the entrance, and for very good reason – he founded the Royal Air Force, an Air Force which turned 100 years old on the 1st April 2018.
It was on the ‘Smuts Report’ submitted by in August 1917 that the plans for a separate arm of service, an air service – independent of the services of the Navy and Army were laid down by Prime Minister Llyod George’s war cabinet. The Smuts Report is the ‘Instrument’ by which the Royal Air Force (RAF) was formed.
Smut’s prophetic words in this report still ring true “the day may not be far off when aerial operations with their devastation of enemy lands and destruction of industrial and populous centres on a vast scale may become the principal operations of war, to which the older forms of military and naval operations may become secondary and subordinate”.
The War Cabinet accepted Smuts’ recommendation to amalgamate the two separate air forces (Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service) under one single and independent Air Force. Smuts was then asked to lead an Air Organisation Committee to put it into effect. The Air Force Bill received Royal assent from the King on the 29 November 1917, which gave the newly formatted Air Force the prefix of ‘Royal’ (up to that point the idea was to call it the ‘Imperial Air Force’). To see more on Smuts and the centenary of the Smuts report follow this link (Centenary of the ‘Smuts Report’, the instrument which gave birth to the Royal Air Force )The RAF came together on the 1st April 1918, a date recognised as the RAF’s officially recognised birthdate. On its creation the RAF, in the final year of World War 1, it was the most powerful air force in the world with over 20,000 aircraft and over 300,000 personnel.
The Second World War proved to be the Royal Air Force’s ‘finest hour’ when the tiny airforce held back the entire German Nazi advance on the United Kingdom during ‘The Battle of Britain’, leaving the United Kingdom and its Allies to eventually liberate Europe. A time when Winston Churchill aptly christened the men of the RAF as the ‘few’ and famously said;
“Never in the field of human conflictwas so much owed by so many to so few”.
Many South Africans have served in the Royal Air Force and continue to serve. Some famous ones include Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor VC, Andrew Cameron Kiddie, Sailor Malan, Roger Bushell, Zulu Lewis, Dutch Hugo, Pat Pattle, JJ Le Roux, Dingbat Saunders, John Nettleton VC, Edwin Swales VC, John Howe and many more.
Today the Royal Air Force is a little smaller, but no less effective. The RAF maintains an operational fleet of aircraft described by the RAF as being “leading-edge” in terms of technology. This largely consists of fixed-wing aircraft, including Fighter and Strike aircraft, airborne early warning and control aircraft, ISTAR and SIGINT aircraft, aerial refuelling aircraft and strategic and tactical aircraft. The majority of the RAF’s rotary wing aircraft form part of the tri-service Joint Helicopter Command.
The majority of the Royal Air Force personnel are based in the UK, with many others serving on operations – principally over Iraq and Syria and others are based at long Erving overseas bases on the Ascension Islands, Cyprus, Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.
Recent large scale operations and interventions, after the ‘Cold War’ by the Royal Air Force include the 1991 Gulf War, the 1999 Kosovo War, the 2001 War in Afghanistan, the 2003 War in Iraq and the 2011 Intervention in Libya.
Here is to salute ‘those magnificent men in their flying machines’ and their South African founder – Field Marshal Jan Smuts on their 100th Birthday.
Related Work and links
For more realted work and links on South Africans in the Royal Air Force, follow these Obervation Post Links:
Sailor Malan : Sailor Malan; Fighter Ace & Freedom Fighter!
Roger Bushell: The Great Escape … was led by a South African!
John Nettleton VC: John Nettleton VC – an unknown South African Victoria Cross recipient
Cameron Kiddie: Kimberley’s local baker was also a WW1 Flying Ace
Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor VC: South Africa’s own WW1 Flying Ace
Albie Gotze LdH: “This bastard is going to kill me”; Albie Götze’s Legion d’Honneur
Written and Researched by Peter Dickens. Reference Wikipedia. Oil Painting of Jan Christian Smuts by Marie Vermeulen Breedt.