Training air machine gunners at No 23 Air School, Waterkloof, South Africa, 1943
Despite the prewar South African Air Force (SAAF) expansion plans, the start of the Second World War in 1939 caught the SAAF unprepared. New flying schools had been established at Pretoria, Germiston, Bloemfontein and Baragwanath, while a training command under Lieutenant Colonel W.T.B. Tasker would oversee the SAAF’s overall training programme.
With the establishment of the Joint Air Training Scheme (JATS) 38 South African–based air schools would be employed to train Royal Air Force, SAAF and other allied air and ground crews. Aircraft and other equipment required for the training was provided to South Africa free of charge by the United Kingdom. Under this scheme, the SAAF, by September 1941, increased the total number of military aircraft to 1,709 while the personnel strength had grown to 31,204, including 956 pilots. During its five year existence, the JATS was ultimately to turn out a total of 33,347 aircrew, including 12,221 SAAF personnel.
A flight of North American Harvard IIAs from No 20 Service Flying Training School being flown in formation by RAF trainee pilots participating in the Commonwealth Joint Air Training Programme at Cranborne, near Salisbury, Rhodesia.
On the outbreak of war in September 1939, the Government of Southern Rhodesia made an offer to the British Air Ministry to run a flying school and train personnel to man three squadrons (44, 237 and 266 (Rhodesia) Squadrons), which was duly accepted. The Rhodesian Air Training Group (RATG), operating 1940–1945, was set up as part of the overall Commonwealth Air Training Plan. In January 1940 the Government announced the creation of a Department of Air, completely separate from that of Defence and appointed Ernest Lucas Guest as Minister of Air.
Guest inaugurated and administered what became the second largest Empire Air Training Scheme,beginning with the establishment of three units at Salisbury, Bulawayo and Gwelo, each consisting of a preliminary and an advanced training school.
Rhodesia was the last of the Commonwealth countries to enter the Empire Air Training Scheme and the first to turn out fully qualified pilots. No. 25 Elementary Flying Training School at Belvedere, Salisbury opened on 24 May 1940. The original programme of an initial training wing and six schools was increased to 10 flying training schools and bombing, navigation and gunnery school and a school for the training of flying instructors as well as additional schools for bomb aimers, navigators and air gunners, including stations at Cranbourne (Salisbury), Norton, Gwelo and Heany (near Bulawayo).
To relieve congestion at the air stations, six relief landing grounds for landing and takeoff instruction and two air firing and bombing ranges were established. Two aircraft and engine repair and overhaul depots were set up as well as the Central Maintenance Unit to deal with bulk stores for the whole group.
The trainees came mainly from Great Britain but also from Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, USA, Yugoslavia, Greece, France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Fiji and Malta. There were also pupils from the Royal Hellenic Air Force in training. Over 7,600 pilots and 2,300 navigators were trained by the RATG during the war.