Sunday, 19 September 2010

RATG – An Overview

by Dave Newnham

Whenever the Rhodesian Air Training Scheme is mentioned a large number of people appear to think that it refers to RAF wartime training, and that Rhodesia played a small part in what was, essentially, a Canadian venture. RATG was an important part of the Commonwealth air training organisation and continued for many years after the end of World War II. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the RATG organisation and the units of which it was comprised.

General Overview
From the 1-May-1940 until the 31-Mar-1954 the Royal Air Force had a presence in Rhodesia in the form of the Rhodesian Air Training Group. RATG trained a large number of aircrew for the RAF, from many different countries, as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme.

During the years of World War II and after, the Royal Air Force was the sole military force to fly in Rhodesian skies. After the end of World War II, in common with all other units, RATG was run down and continued its training task at a much reduced rate. On 28-Nov-1947 The Southern Rhodesian Air Force was re-established as a permanent unit and from that date until RATG closed, both the RAF and the SRAF took to the skies above Rhodesia.

The formation of RATG was announced on 4-Jan-1940 and preparations commenced for the introduction of this part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. Training started on the 1-May-1940 and a sizeable flying training organisation continued to operate throughout the war years. This “wartime” RATG continued its training activities until late in 1945 when the throughput of trained aircrew was no longer needed (there being enough aircrew available).

The force was re-organised on 1-Jan-1946 and continued to function at a much reduced rate until the 1-Dec-1946 when it was again re-organised, loosing its Group status and being re-designated Air Training Wing (Southern Rhodesia), under which title it continued its training function until 10-May-1948, still at a comparatively low throughput.

The escalation of the Cold War and the post-war run down of the RAF resulted in a shortage of trained aircrew. With a renewed need for aircrew training, the RAF re-vitalised the group, re-establishing its “Group” status and once again designating it the Rhodesian Air Training Group (on the 10-May-1948). The advent of the Korean War re-affirmed the need. Training activity then continued at a faster pace, although the organisation did not grow to its wartime level.

For a number of reasons (mainly financial) it was decided to close the Empire Air Training Scheme and return RAF aircrew training to within the British Isles. Thus, the group ceased its task and was disbanded on 31-Mar-1954.

There were thus, four incarnations of RATG; the “wartime” RATG, the post war RATG, the Air Training Wing and the “nineteen fifties” RATG. The units and organisation of each is shown below

The “Wartime” RATG
RATG was organised as a headquarters with training units and supporting units reporting to it and operated from 14-May-1940 to 1-Jan-1946. RATG Headquarters was located in the Salisbury suburb of Belvedere. Supporting the Headquarters and tasked by it, was a Communications Flight provided by Southern Rhodesia Air Services which was located at the nearby Belvedere Airport.

Elementary Flying Training Schools which undertook basic flying training of the pilot cadets, four Service Flying Training Schools which brought the pilot cadets up to “wings” standard and a Combined Air Observers School which trained Navigation/Air Observer and Air Gunner cadets. The provision of instructors for these units was undertaken by a Flying Instructors School and service and maintenance of the groups aircraft was in the hands of two Aircraft Repair Depots.

The Elementary Flying Training Schools comprised: -

No. 25 EFTS
Located at Belvedere until it closed on the 16-Nov-1945, with a relief landing ground at Parkridge from May-1943. The unit flew DH Tiger Moths, Fairchild Cornells and NA Harvards.

No. 26 EFTS
Operated from RAF Guinea Fowl from 8-Aug-1940 till the 14-Aug-1945, with a relief landing ground at Senali. It flew DH Tiger Moths and Fairchild Cornells.

No. 27 EFTS
Sited at RAF Induna from 28-Jan-1940 (prior to the official opening of the Group), until the 21-Sep-1945. DH Tiger Moths and Fairchild Cornells were used by the unit.

No. 28 EFTS
RAF Mount Hampden was the site of this unit from 1-Apr-1941 and it absorbed No. 20 SFTS on the 7-Sep-1945. It closed on the 30-Oct-1945. It's relief landing grounds were Oldbury from Mar-1943 and Rainham from Apr-1943 and it flew DH Tiger Moths, Fairchild Cornells and NA Harvards.

The Service Flying Training Schools comprised: -

No. 20 SFTS
Flew from RAF Cranborne from 10-Jul-1940 to the 7-Sep-1945 . From Sep-1943 it had a satellite at New Martinsthorpe and relief landing grounds at Sebastopol by Apr-1943, Hienzani from 7-Sep-1943 and Inkomo from Sep-1945. It flew NA Harvards, but was absorbed into No. 28 EFTS.

No. 21 SFTS
Operated from RAF Kumalo from 8-Oct-1940 to the 18-May-1945 and out of its satellite Wollendale by Feb-1943. It had a relief landing ground at Marrony by Aug-1943 and flew Airspeed Oxfords.

No. 22 SFTS
Based at RAF Thornhill from 25-Mar-1941 to the 30-Sep-45. It used relief landing grounds at Sendi by Apr-1943 and from 29-Jun-1945 and RAF Moffat from 10-Apr-1945. It flew NA Harvards.

No.23 SFTS
From 8-Jul-1941 to the 30-Sep-1945 it flew from RAF Heany with relief landing grounds at White's Run by Mar-1945 and Sauerdale by Apr-1945. It flew Airspeed Oxfords.

Navigation/Air Observer and Air Gunner training was conducted by No.24 Combined Air Observation School at RAF Moffat from 3-Aug-1941 using Airspeed Oxfords, Avro Ansons and NA Harvards. On the 12-May-1943 the school was re-designated No. 24 Bombing Gunnery and Navigation School. Two new units, No. 29 Elementary Navigation School and an Aircrew Pool were formed and these three units continued the training task, with the same aircraft, until 13-Apr-1945.

To provide flying instructors for the groups schools, the Rhodesian Central Flying School was established at Belvedere on 3-Sep-1941 flying DH Tiger Moths. On 20-May-1942 the unit was re-designated No.33 Flying Instructors School and although it remained at Belvedere the aircraft inventory had increased to include DH Tiger Moths, Fairchild Cornells, NA Harvards and Airspeed Oxfords. On 2-Nov-1942 the unit re-located to RAF Norton. Another change of designation occurred on 9-May-1944 when the unit became the Central Flying School (Southern Rhodesia). It remained at Norton using the same aircraft types until 9-Oct-1945.

Supporting the flying effort and providing aircraft servicing and repair were No. 31 Aircraft Repair Depot at RAF Cranborne and No. 32 Aircraft Repair Depot at RAF Heany, Both were establish on 1-Aug-1941 and each had a NA Harvard on strength for communications work.

RATG Post War
The end of World war II, and the run down of the groups activities saw a re-organisation of RATG on 1-Jan-1946. RATG Headquarters moved from Belvedere to RAF Kumalo and, effectively, RAF Kumalo was the only station to undertake any training activity – and not much of that!

The Air Training Wing
On 1-Dec-1946 the position of RAF training in Rhodesia was rationalised and the organisation modified to reflect post war needs. The Air Training Wing (Southern Rhodesia) was established, in place of RATG, which comprised the headquarters at RAF Kumalo and two stations, RAF Heany and RAF Thornhill. This organisation remained in place until the 10-May-1948.

Headquarters ATW (SR) remained at RAF Kumalo, which also housed the HQ RhATW Communications Flight flying Avro Ansons (albeit the more modern communications version), DHC Chipmunks and NA Harvards.

No. 4 FTS
Was housed at RAF Heany from 1-Feb-1947, flying DH Tiger Moths, NA Harvards and Avro Ansons.

No. 5 FTS
Flew from RAF Thornhill from 23-Apr-1947 until 4-Jan-1948, flying DH Tiger Moths, NA Harvards and Avro Ansons. However, on 4-Jan-1948, it disbanded into No. 4 FTS and No. 3 ANS.

No. 3 ANS
On 5-Jan-1948 the ANS was formed from the navigation sections of No's 4 & 5 FTS. It flew Avro Ansons. From RAF Thornhill with a relief landing ground at Gwanda.

Supporting the flying effort were No. 394 MU, the Aircraft Repair and Storage Depot at RAF Heany and No. 395 MU at RAF Bulawayo. Both opened on 1-Sep-1947.

The “Nineteen Fifties” RATG
The increased training requirement resulted in a further re-organisation on the 10-May-1948 and RATG adopted its final form until its closure on the 31-Mar-1954.

RATG Headquarters remained at RAF Kumalo as did the RATG Communications Squadron which still flew Avro Ansons, DHC Chipmunks and NA Harvards.

No. 4 FTS
Remained at RAF Heany. It flew Avro Ansons, DHC Chipmunks and NA Harvards until its final closure on 26-Jan-1954.

No. 3 ANS
The Navigation school remained at RAF Thornhill, flying Avro Ansons until it was absorbed by No. 5 FTS on 28-Sep-1951.

No. 5 FTS
Was re-established at RAF Thornhill on 22-Jan-1951. It absorbed No. 3 ANS on 28-Sep-1951 and flew Avro Ansons, DHC Chipmunks and DH Tiger Moths until it closed on 30-Dec-1953.

Relief landing grounds used by RATG for training during this period included Kabanga and Pendennis.

A Station Flight was also established at RAF Thornhill but details of dates of existence and aircraft flown have yet to be found.

Both 394 and 395 MU's continued their support of the flying effort from RAF Heany and RAF Bulawayo.

Camouflage and Markings
Wartime camouflage and post war Flying Training Command colour schemes were in accordance with standard RAF practice. Code markings of RATG aircraft are the subject of debate and incomplete evidence and it is hoped to cover these in a further article.

Upon the close down most of the group personnel returned to UK and most of the Tiger Moths, Chipmunks and Harvards were sold or disposed of.. However, it is of interest that several DH Tiger Moths and NA Harvards were passed on to the SRAF.

Between Sep-1948 and Feb-1949 at least 10 DH Tiger Moths were handed over to the SRAF by RATG. It is thought that the number may be higher but 10 have been positively identified. Also in Feb-1949, 12 NA Harvard 2a's were handed to SRAF. Between Mar-52 and Feb-1953 the SRAF and RATG arranged for the swap of 12 of SRAF's Harvard 2b's for a similar number of RATG's Harvard 2a's. Of these, 23 have been identified.

About a dozen RATG Instructors and NA Harvard aircraft were sent to Eastleigh (Nairobi) in Mar-1953 to form No. 1340 Flight which conducted anti Mau-Mau operations until the 30-Sep-1955. 14 Harvards have been identified.


Rhodesia and the RAF a booklet by HQ RATG (February 1945)

Article RAF Training in Southern Rhodesia 1940-1954 by Ray Sturtivant (Aviation News - 18 December 1980)

The Anson File by Ray Sturtivant (Air-Britain - 1988)

The Harvard File by John Hamlin (Air-Britain – 1988)

Article Southern Rhodesian Tiger Moths by Malcolm Fillmore

Bush Horizons: The Story of Aviation in Southern Rhodesia 1896-1940 by Sqn Ldr N.V. Phillips (AFAZ – 1998)

A Pride of Eagles by Beryl Salt. The definitive history of the Rhodesian Air Force 1920-1980 (Covos Day – 2001)

RAF Flying Training and Support Units since 1912 by Ray Sturtivant & John Hamblin (Air Britain – 2007)

Article An Outline History of the Rhodesian Air Force by Peter Cooke (Air Forces Association of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe – undated)

Bateleur; The Newsletter of the Air Forces Association of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe (various issues)

Article The Rhodesian Air Training Group 1940-1945 by Sir Charles Meredith

Article The Story of Royal Air Force Station, Moffat as distributed by ORAF's

Article A personal reminiscence of Royal Air Force pilot training in Southern Africa in World War Two (sadly I've mislaid the name of the author – anyone able to help?)

End of Article

Thanks to Dave for sharing his information with ORAFs.

Please direct mail to Dave on and copy


At 15 November 2016 at 03:44 , Anonymous Joe Flanagan said...

I, Joseph Flanagan, served at RAF Heany from December 1950 to July 1952. I worked in the telephone exchange with Bill Brazier, Jack Drakett, Cliff Dunkley and Stan . . Richards. I was also a member of the horse-riding school and my mates were Ted Lyons. Ezz Charles, Mick Gillam and many others. I would be pleased to hear from any of these lads or, indeed, from anybody who was there during that time.


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