To commemorate the centenary of the SAAC, the South African Post Office will issue a set of five stamps and a commemorative envelope. Designed by Lize-Marie Dreyer, the stamps depict the SAAC’s pilot wings, shoulder title, tunic detail, a Henry Farman bi-plane and the 1914-15 Star, respectively.
History: The formation of the South African Aviation Corps (SAAC) dates back to a time when flying was still in its infancy. Growing into a formidable force, it played a major role in the South West Africa Campaign during World War I, and is considered to be the forerunner of the South African Air Force.
“The SAAC is remembered by only a few,” observed Major-General Kenneth R. van der Spuy in an article written for the S.W.A. Yearbook in 1979. As the only surviving member at the time of the group of young aviators who formed this unit, he gave his account of how the SAAC came into being and the role it played as the first air unit in South African military history. He remarked that the SAAC “… subsequently grew into the magnificent South African Air Force of today.”
Reminiscing about his experiences, Major-General van der Spuy recalls memories of those days “when flying was still in its infancy – a new form of sport and a great adventure – whether in war or otherwise… “To me it is now rather wonderful to be able to look back and wonder at the fact that notwithstanding the primitive type of aircraft we flew … we were able to demonstrate the effectiveness of aircraft as a military arm. We brought back information that could not have been obtained in any other way,” he added. The earliest roots of the South African Air Force can be traced back to the early 1900s when two men, Compton Patterson and Evelyn (Bok) Driver undertook two successful flights in a Bleriot Monoplane and a Patterson Biplane. These flights greatly stimulated public interest in the possibilities of powered flight.
At the outbreak of the World War I, Mr. DH Cutlerowned a Curtiss seaplane and had the unique distinction of being the world’sonly one-man coastal command. He and his aircraft were commandeered by theBritish Admiralty to reconnoitre the South African coastline. The aircraft was transported by man-of-war to East Africa where Cutler spotted the GermanCruiser ‘Koenigberg’. As a result it was sunk and the defence authorities became aware of the potential striking power an active aviation corps would have in South West Africa (now Namibia).
In November 1914, the Union decided that an aviation corps was necessary to conduct a campaign against German South West Africa; a new squadron was formed including six young graduates from the Royal Flying
School who were recalled from Europe. The SAAC was gazetted as part of the Union Defence Force in terms of Government Notice 130 dated 29 January 1913 and officially published on 5 February 1915. The first operational reconnaissance flight of the German South West Africa Campaign was carried out on 6 May 1915.
After a flight in one of the planes, Commander in Chief, General Louis Botha, who had previously depended on mounted men for reconnaissance, declared, “Now I can see for hundreds of miles.” The aircraft were also used on bombing raids and the South Africans were able to out-manoeuvre the Germans, leading to the Germans’ surrender three months later after the SAAC entered the campaign. The Corps was awarded the South West African battle honour, a unique award as battle honours are normally only awarded to units.
To quote the words of General Louis Botha in a despatch: “Had it not been for our air unit which kept us so well informed in regard to the enemy’s disposition and movements, we would have been severely handicapped and possibly the campaign would have lasted very much longer. I cannot praise the work of the South African Aviation Corps too highly and am convinced that an air unit must become an integral part of our Union Defence Forces.”
The SAAC ceased to function as a separate unit from the end of the South West African campaign in October 1915, yet it was only officially disbanded in 1921. Members of the corps were incorporated into the Royal Flying Corps and formed 26 (South Africa) Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. This squadron saw service in East Africa in support of South African forces under General Jan Smuts.
The main task of the squadron was once again reconnaissance, but due to the dense bush and vegetation, it afforded the enemy virtually complete protection from aerial reconnaissance and bomb action, so all that the squadron could really do was report on the locations of towns, railways, roads and rivers. The squadron was disbanded in July 1918, before the end of the World War I.
Sources: Col. Graham du Toit, South African Airforce Museum, Zwartkop,
Text by Louise van Niekerk
SA Aviation Corps Centenary
5 x Airmail Postcard Rate stamps – 5 February 2015
1 x 5 Stamp Set Mint R30,25 set R6,05 per stamp
1 x 5 Stamp Set Cancelled R30,25 set R6,05 per stamp
NB: Please note that the prices will increase from 1 April 2015 to R33,25 per set and R6,65 per stamp
South African Aviation Corps Centenary
Stamp issue date: 5 February 2015
Artwork: Lize-Marie Dreyer
Stamp sizes: 52 x 26 mm, 52 x 38 mm, 38 x 26 mm, 38x 38 mm
Stamp sheet size: 179 x 98 mm
Perforation Gauge: Not applicable – self adhesive
Paper: Avery Dennison Kraft Back PSA
Phosphor: Yellow/Green phosphor tagged
Gum: WLK6 pressure sensitive adhesive
Print quantity: 100 000 sheets
Colour: CMYK + Phosphor
Printing process: Offset Lithography
Printed by: Southern Colour Security Print, New Zealand