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M-62A3 14th Jul 2013 20:32

Aircrew Training in Rhodesia
There is a fascinating and long running thread on the PPRuNe Military Aircrew Forum which was started about 5 years ago entitled "Gaining An RAF's Pilots' Brevet in WWII". There have been many informative reminiscences by RAF airmen trained in the UK and the USA, etc. Sadly there are fewer of those men around now and naturally the thread has progressed onto post war airmen's experiences. Despite hundreds of posts no one appears to have step forward with their experiences wartime flying training in Rhodesia.

The Rhodesian Air Training Group operated from 1940 until 1954 training, mainly pilots, but also Navigators, Bomb Aimers and Gunners up to April 1945.

To quote Wikipedia:
"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."

The aircraft used in this scheme were similar trainer types to those most common in the wartime flying schools around the British Isles, i.e., Tiger Moth, Harvard, Oxford and Anson , but with one stranger to these shores, the Fairchild Cornell in use from late 1943 to 1946.

One of the Air-Britain quarterly house journals is currently publishing a series on the RATG 1940/54. The series author is Dave Newnham but I am assisting him in the collection of Cornell data which has proved sadly brief from the usual RAF records. The copies/scans from logbooks of the RATG students and their flying instructors are now the best sources for our research.

Though I am specifically interested in the RATG Cornells, I know Dave would welcome all RATG logbooks - covering which ever type, school or period.

I would like to ask any former RATG students and Instructors, or their descendents, if they can help would they kindly contact me through this forum.

Thank you, M-62A3

old,not bold 15th Jul 2013 16:25

I can't quite quote personal experiences; however my father was an instructor at No 20 SFTS Cranborne from July 1940 to October 1942, mainly teaching navigation to pilots from the back seat of a Harvard, as far as I can tell.

Was that part of the "RATG"?

Other aircraft he got his hands on in that period were DH Rapide, Oxford, Junkers 52 (how?/why?), Anson and Audax. And DH82, of course, if only for what seem to be jollies with his best friend.

Nearly all the Harvard sorties were "P/Nav test". I'm guessing that the names entered as P2 must be a roll call of students at 20 SFTS.

The Anson sorties were "Astro Practice", with Self as P2.

If anyone wants to see if a name/aircraft number appears, let me know. I don't guarantee to respond quickly, but I probably will eventually.

Fareastdriver 15th Jul 2013 20:23

There was a thread on Thornhill in Rhodesia a few years ago.


M-62A3 16th Jul 2013 00:15

Aircrew Training in Rhodesia
old, not bold,
Thank you for the reply.

Yes indeed, No.20 S.F.T.S. at Cranborne was part of the Rhodesian Air Training Group. I am sure Dave and I would find your father's log book entries very valuable to the project.

Ju52 - very intriguing. Perhaps a captured example or one of the eleven that were operated pre-war by South African Airways and taken over by the SAAF in 1940

If you are able to receive private messages via this forum I will try and contact you that way.

All the best, M-62A3

M-62A3 16th Jul 2013 00:30

Aircrew Training in Rhodesia
Thank you for the link to the Thornhill thread. There are some interesting tales and some very sad Harvard accident photos.

One aspect of the RATG Cornell data I have not been able to access are the accident summaries. The RAF Museum archive has microfilmed copies of the F.1180s, which are cards recording brief aircraft accident details. The files at Hendon include the Fairchild PT-26 Cornell accident cards from India and those of the Fairchild PT-19s at No.3 BFTS in Oklahoma - but none from Rhodesia.
All the best, M-62A3

Warmtoast 16th Jul 2013 23:48

One of the best known personalities to be trained on Cornells with the Rhodesian Air Training Group (RATG) during the war is Tony Benn. Tony Benn was Labour MP for Bristol South-East for 31 years and in 1943 joined the R.A.F. for training as a pilot.

He was posted to Southern Rhodesia for pilot training and the entry below is for 14th June 1944, the day of his first solo in a Cornell PT-26 trainer at No. 26 EFTS Guinea Fowl not far from Gweru (Gwelo) in the middle of the colony.

Wednesday 14 June 1944

At six this morning Crownshaw told me to get into 322 straightaway, a PT-26 Cornell trainer. I apologised to him for boobing the check yesterday and he remarked thet were really only nominal things and that they didn’t really matter.

We taxied on to the tarmac and I got out and walked back with Crownshaw. He said we’d just have a cigarette and then go up again. I was very surprised, but put it down to a desire on his part to finish me off ready for another check tomorrow. However, we took off, did a circuit or maybe two, and then as we taxied up to the take-off point, he said to me, ‘Well, how do you feel about your landings?’ I replied, ‘Well, that’s really for you to say, sir.’ He chuckled. ‘I think you can manage one solo,’ he said. ‘I’m going to get out now and I’ll wait here for you,’ he went on.

So this was it, I thought. The moment I had been waiting for came all of a sudden just like that. ‘OK, sir,’ I replied. ‘And don’t forget that you’ve got a throttle,’ he said. ‘Don’t be frightened to go round again -OK? And by the way,’ he added -he finished locking the rear harness and closing the hood, then came up to me, leant over and shouted in my ear, ‘you do know the new trimming for taking off?’ ‘Yes, sir,’ I replied, and he jumped off the wing and walked over to the boundary with his ‘chute.

I was not all that excited. I certainly wasn’t frightened and I hope I wasn’t over-confident but I just had to adjust my mirror so that I could really see that there was no one behind me.

Then I remembered my brother Mike’s words: ‘Whatever you do don’t get over-confident; it is that that kills most people and I only survived the initial stages through being excessively cautious.’ So I brought my mind back to the job, checked the instruments, looked all around and when we had reached 500 feet began a gentle climbing turn. It was very bumpy and the wind got under my starboard wing and tried to keel me over, but I checked it with my stick and straightened out when my gyro compass read 270 degrees. Then I climbed to 900, looked all round and turned again on to the down-wind leg. By the time I’d finished that turn we were at 1,000 feet, so I throttled back, re-trimmed, got dead on 180 and I felt pretty good about things.

I thought I was a little high as I crossed the boundary so I eased back to 800 rpm, and as I passed over, I distinctly saw Crownshaw standing watching where I had left him. Now we were coming in beautifully and I eased the stick and throttle back. A quick glance at the ground below showed me to be a little high, so I left the stick as it was, gave a tiny burst of engine and as we floated down I brought both back fully. We settled, juddered and settled again for a fair three-pointer.

I was as happy as could be. I taxied up, stopped and braked. Try as I did, I couldn’t restrain the broad grin which gripped me from ear to ear and Crownshaw, seeing it, leant over before he got in and said ironically with a smile, ‘Happy now?’

I was more than happy, I was deliriously carefree, and as he taxied her back I thought about it all and realised that the success of my first solo was entirety due to the fine instruction I had received; it was a tribute to the instruction that I never felt nervous once, and all the time had imagined what my instructor would be saying, so used had I got to doing everything with him behind me. We climbed out, and attempting to restrain my happiness I listened while he told me where and what to sign. Then I wandered back to my billet and one of the greatest experiences of my life was behind me. The lectures were pretty ordinary, and it being my free afternoon I had a bit of lemonade in the canteen and wrote this

His diaries can be viewed online here:
The Benn Diaries: 1940-1990 - Tony Benn - Google Books

megabyte 21st Jul 2013 00:24

RATG and Florida Resource
My websites on RAF Training in In Rhodesia and Florida may be of interest:


RAF in the USA : Florida

The former has helped put people back in touch after 50 years or more and answered questions for many. Sadly man of the people I have spoken with over the last decade have passed on, but equally it is often the family who get in touch.

The site tries not to simply repeat other main sources such as Wiki but to provide a different perspective with anecdote where possible.

Both sites have been neglected a while in the last year and I know have some broken links.

Please let me know if you encounter such and I will address that so that the missing content is restored.

( The Rhodeisan Site in mid make-over ( being done live) so the older 'Main site' ( click the header) has more info and probably fewer breaks and typos - but looks rather old fashioned in web terms.


M-62A3 22nd Jul 2013 11:09

Aircrew Training in Rhodesia
Thank you for the post relating to Tony Benn. I spent sometime reading through the pages made available by Google Books.

It would be interesting to see his log book but I believe he is not to well at present (cancelled appearances).

David Williams (one time Secretery of the Spitfire Society) and the late S/Ldr K.R. "Jacko" Jackson (BBMF and much else) kindly sent me transcripts of their 25 EFTS logbook entries some years ago.

I recall the recently desceased Bill Giunston once wrote an article about his time in the RATG. I think he was there as things were being cut back severely in late 1945/46 and seemed to have spent some of his time dismantling stored and unused Cornells fresh out of their shipping crates.

M-62A3 22nd Jul 2013 11:58

RATG and Florida Resource
What an excellent set of RATG photographs.
Thank you for posting. I have to admit I had not seen your website before.
5 BFTS site also very interesting.

Will be in touch, M-62A-3

Warmtoast 22nd Jul 2013 22:49

I recall the recently deceased Bill Gunston once wrote an article about his time in the RATG. I think he was there as things were being cut back severely in late 1945/46 and seemed to have spent some of his time dismantling stored and unused Cornells fresh out of their shipping crates.
Bill Gunston was ex-Technical Editor of Flight magazine and author of more than 300 books, he was born in 1927 and prided himself as being a DOPE cadet (in for the Duration Of the Present Emergency). I wonder if this is the article you referred to?

‘I remember the thrill I felt when I read in Flight just after VJ-day that future aircrew training would be carried out in Southern Rhodesia. The dream came true. I became part of No. 1 Course, and we sailed from Tilbury aboard the troopship Chitral on 29 November 1946. We docked at Durban on Christmas Day, to find ourselves surrounded by things totally unfamiliar: hot sunshine, giant fruit sundaes, cigarettes in boxes of 50 (price is 3d), flashy American cars, electric shavers, colour film and modern 35 mm cameras, fresh or canned fruit, chocolate, and more liquor than we could take. Austere post-war Britain was 8,012 miles away, and it seemed like it.

‘After two days in trains we unloaded at Bulawayo, spent a day or two at RAF Station Kumalo and then a week or two at 4 FTS, Heany. During the war the Rhodesian Air Training Group had grown to include 15 airfields, using de Havilland Tiger Moths and Fairchild Cornells for elementary pilot training, and Avro Ansons and Airspeed Oxfords for twin-engine qualification and, especially, for training navigators. The RATG and SRAF headquarters was at Cranbourne, outside Salisbury.

‘Along with the rest of what had become the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, the RATG was shut down after VE-day, the stations being put on a Care & Maintenance basis. But the incoming post-war government decided to reopen three stations as the RATW. I would not presume to know the reasons, though obviously the weather was far better than in the UK, and probably overall costs would be lower. The three stations were: Kumalo, HQ and wing admin; Heany, No. 4 FTS; and Thornhill, 5 FTS.

‘After the short spell at Heany about half No. 1 Course, myself included, got back on a train and arrived at Gwelo. This pleasant town was the capital of the Midlands, with Matabeleland on one side and Mashonaland on the other. Today it is called Gweru, and is quite a big city, but 45 years ago Gwelo was a small chessboard of straight streets with one or two substantial buildings and a much larger collection of single-storey shops and dwellings mostly of corrugated iron. It had the air of a Western frontier town, but we loved it. The amazing width of the main streets was explained to us: before the age of the car the streets had to be wide enough to turn a wagon with a long team of oxen.

‘A mile or two outside the town was RAF Thornhill. Its layout followed a familiar pattern. The straight road ran past the guardroom at the main gate. Entering the station, you soon came to a roundabout, with SHQ facing you on the far side and the flag mast in the centre of the grass circle. From this point the station’s built-up area was arranged in concentric semi-circles. Around the outside edge were the four pairs of giant hangars. The latter were of T2 type, but with a row of windows on each side. They were of silver corrugated steel, and so was virtually every other building on the station; I can’t recall a single thing made of brick or wood. Everyone knows the old saying, “If it moves, salute it; if it doesn’t move, paint it white”. This applied to the RATW 100 per cent. Post-war bullshit ruled the day, and the entire station was lined with many hundreds of white-painted rocks. But no problem; this was nothing compared with No. 1 Aircrew Officers’ School at Hereford, which many of us had survived.
‘The AOC of the RATW was Air Commodore G. G. Banting. He was a Grade A1 flying instructor, and he certainly impressed me. We would have seen little of him, but one day another cadet and I happened to meet him in Salisbury. We were in civvies, but he knew who we were instantly, grilled us at great length and put right most of our many beefs almost overnight. Station Commander was Group Captain F. W. Stannard, a no-nonsense cigar-smoker who looked and acted the part, though I suspect the Adjutant, Flt/Lt Hagger, did the routine work. CFI was Wg Cdr Dennis Weston-Birt, who probably wished he was back busting Panzers in the Western Desert as CO of 6 Squadron. SAdO was Wg Cdr E. L. A. Walter, the most hirsute man I ever met; hair bushed out from his cuffs. He was a fitness fanatic, and was heartily disgusted to find hardly anyone on the station who was eager to spend his spare time boxing.

‘The instructors, whom it was my privilege later to join, were naturally ex-operational types who in some cases regarded the job as a chore to be suffered for a short time until their number for release came up. The erks, a splendid lot, were almost all ex-Palestine or Egypt. We soon learned that the truck taking those off duty into Gwelo each evening was actually “a gharry”. And, incidentally, I never found one who didn’t wish he was back in the Middle East.

‘Like most of Southern Africa, Southern Rhodesia is on a high plateau. Though more than 1,000 ft lower than Jo’burg, Thornhill was still 4,680 ft up, so a Tiger was getting on for half-way to its ceiling before we took off. We began on Tigers, and because most of us had already done lots of “gash” flying we soloed pretty quickly. Ian Stebbings made it in 3 hours, and I took 4 hr 50 min. I am sure we had no “washouts”. It was a difficult period for the Air Force but we were lucky in getting plenty of flying in mainly glorious weather with no prospect of being shot at. The very fact that the war was over removed from most of us our reason for being in uniform. Many cadets, especially the navigators, were mature chaps—real oldies, over 25—who had been through the war in ground trades, re-mustered as aircrew and, from 1944 onwards, had spent their time mowing lawns and cleaning out latrines, in between fierce kit inspections and staying up half the night varnishing the coal in the mirror-like scuttles and polishing the soles of their boots. As for the instructors, most were simply counting the days.

‘Half the time, classroom lessons were made up on the spot. F/O Johnson, a nav instructor, thought one day he’d teach us about map grid references. Then he called a cadet out to demonstrate. “Bich” Pope strode up to the blackboard and quickly drew a map and a grid, with the letters QO, RO, SO, TO, etc, and TA, TB, TC, etc. Marking a point, he said, “This is grid reference ROTB 1947.” The whole class was convulsed, because this was a belligerent chant heard day and night, ROTB standing for “Roll on the boat” (to take chaps back to Blighty).

‘Somewhere in between we did a lot of things. When we arrived, our khaki drill shorts reached to our knees, but having seen the vast expanse of bronzed thigh and leg exposed by the local white Rhodesians, we soon cut 10 in off. We got on well with half the locals, though I recall we had an official complaint from the Gwelo Rugby Club who couldn’t take the RAF team’s brandy-soaked breath (this on Sunday mornings, mark you). The other half, of Afrikaner origin, had lain low during the war, but now they came out looking for trouble, and the young ones—locally called Yarpis—caused fights in the town almost every night. Down the road was a town reputed to be 100 per cent Boer—Enkeldoorn—and we were told if we went there we would be unlikely to come back. We didn’t test the belief. On the other hand the congregation of St Cuthbert’s, Gwelo, included several hospitable Afrikaner families who found the aggro embarrassing.

‘We also rehabilitated the station itself, and in our spare time uncrated 115 Cornells, took out the map cases with beautifully hinged lids, which could serve many purposes, and then sledge hammered them into pieces small enough to be loaded into trucks. The Lend-Lease Act precluded their post-war use, and the USA didn’t want them back. We also played a lot of water polo, built a theatre in a hangar, and built dozens of giant flying models powered by Ohlsson petrol engines bought from a shop of the Das Brothers (we’d never seen such things before). In odd moments we learned to fly Harvards. One day two Spitfire IXs arrived with officers of the SAAF who promised us what sounded like an air marshal’s pay, but I don’t think they got many takers. Several of us, me included, though totally unqualified as instructors, stayed on to help teach No. 3 course. I can only remember one prang in two years. S/L Hyland-Smith, a brilliant aerobatic pilot, got caught in a whirling dust devil as he practised his routine in a Tiger for a forthcoming air show. He lay encased in plaster in Gwelo hospital, where the nurses spent much of their time rolling him over to see what we had written on him.

‘Southern Rhodesia obviously has many happy memories for me. The RATW was finally closed in March 1954. Subsequently, Thornhill was to go through dark days in which white Zimbabwe AF officers were tortured during investigations into sabotage of Hawk jet trainers. I hope that by now they have got their act together.’

M-62A3 22nd Jul 2013 23:37

Aircrew Training in Rhodesia
Thank you, yes I am sure that must have been the article. Where was it published - Aeroplane Monthly perhaps?

I am sure some RAF clerk must have made a record of which Cornells were scrapped as described, but I suspect that has not survived either.

canberrasig 23rd Jul 2013 08:48

My late father, Bernard Sheehan did his pilot training in Rhodesia in the latter years of WWII before moving on to 79 and 34 Sqn's flying the P.47 Thunderbolt in Burma, I'd be happy to scan the relevant pages from his log books if they are of interest?


Warmtoast 23rd Jul 2013 10:57


Thank you, yes I am sure that must have been the article. Where was it published - Aeroplane Monthly perhaps?
I just can't remember, but as I'm always interested in events at 5 FTS (RAF Thornhill) in the early 1950's I squirreled it away when I saw as being of interest to me as another view of RAF service life in the colony.

Please check your PM's


M-62A3 23rd Jul 2013 11:18

Aircrew Training in Rhodesia
Yes, please.
I will send you a PM via this forum and then we can exchange e-mail addresses.
Thank you foir replying, M-62A3.

canberrasig 23rd Jul 2013 17:43

Yes sure, I'll get that sorted as soon as I can


canberrasig 23rd Jul 2013 20:51

This is a model of one of the Harvard's he flew whilst training in Rhodesia.

M-62A3 24th Jul 2013 18:46

After looking through the 20 SFTS log book from John and seen the photo of his model, the serial no. EX405 rang some distant bells.

Well over fifteen years ago I copied the log book and the photos of one first Fairchild Cornell veterans I met. He had done his advanced training at 20 SFTS and his photos include some of the school's Harvards. I assumed at the time that he, or one of his colleagues, had taken the pictures but having seen some very similar published since I now wonder they were publicity photos made available to the students.

The two images below relate to Harvards that appear in Bernard Sheenan's log. I have e-mailed copies to John and on reflection thought they might be of interest here.


canberrasig 24th Jul 2013 19:51

Fantastic photos! I wish my old man was still around to see them. Thanks for posting

babil 5th Aug 2013 20:10

4 FTS RAF Heany, Southern Rhodesia
I was one of the many pilots trained post war at RAF Heany (4 FTS) I was on No.8 Course (August 1948 to December 1949) - I'm not sure what information you are looking for, but I can answer any questions you may have (given my advanced age (84) I can't promise to be absolutely accurate!!!).

M-62A3 6th Aug 2013 12:33

Aircrew Training in Rhodesia
Hello babil,
Thank you for replying to my forum enquiry.

The original purpose of my request was to contact the holders of RATG log books and photographs, etc., in the hope of having the documents copied for continuing research. These personal records can add to the details (and in some cases the lack of detail) obtainable from the various formal records, such as Operations Record Books and aircraft movement cards.

Despite the end of hostilities and Lend-Lease funding the training of RAF pilots continued in Rhodesia until 1954. As yet I have not seen any log books from Heany during the period you were there.

Would I be right in assuming you flew Harvards and possibly Ansons or Oxfords at Heany during 1948/49?
Did you attend both Elementery and Service schools in Rhodesia?
May I contact you through the forum's private message system?
Thank you, M-62A3

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