No 1 Squadron's Fornation History
It is now a matter of common knowledge amongst the Force, that No 1 Squadron is by far our oldest unit, having been formed as war threatened in 1939. Prior to its formation, the aircraft and pilots of what was then the Territorial Force Air Unit had been called up for full time service and hurriedly dispatched to Kenya. Their mission was to provide an Empire air presence in the area to counter the threat posed by Italian forces in Ethiopia, but it was a somewhat irregular unit which flew north. The position was resolved on 19th September 1939, when the Air Unit officially became the Southern Rhodesia Air Force and the flight on duty in Kenya became No 1 Squadron, Southern Rhodesia Air Force.
However, the designation was to last for only seven months, and in April of 1940 the Squadron as a whole was absorbed into the Royal Air Force and re-numbered No. 237 Squadron. Since that merger the arguments as to precedence have raged whenever Rhodesian airmen have gathered. Did No 1Sqadron cease to exist when swallowed up by 237, or was 237 merely an RAF number for what continued to be the same Rhodesian unit? Could a squadron which at times contained many airmen from all over the Empire genuinely claim to be Rhodesian? And has No 1 Squadron a valid claim to the battle honours earned by 237 Sqhadron of the Royal Air Force?
The answers to all of these questions may be found in wartime correspondence which is held at the National Archives and in reports of wartime discussions held in London. Col. C. W. Meredith the then Commander of the Southern Rhodesia Air Force returned from an Air Ministry conference in December 1939 and reported on preliminary negotiations on the possible absorption of Rhodesian Squadrons. "It was agreed", he said, "that it would be more convenient and also avoid confusion if the number of the Rhodesian Squadrons were those of the Royal Air Force formations and it will therefore be necessary very shortly, I suggest, to re-number No I Squadron at present in Kenya. In regard to other Rhodesian Squadrons the decision will naturally be deferred until it is decided whether we are to take over existing Squadrons or whether new squadrons are to be formed.
My memory is, that when approximately one third of the personnel in any squadron is Rhodesian, that the word "Rhodesia" would be added to the existing designation, e.g. No .... (Rhodesia) Squadron Royal Air Force, and that at a later stage when the whole of the personnel were Rhodesian, Air Ministry would be prepared to consider dropping the words `Royal Air Force' and substituting therefore `Rhodesian Air Force' but retaining the original Royal Air Force number."
Thus was the stage set. But before negotiations had progressed much further a new factor was to simplify the issue and it was this factor which was finally to decide the Squadron's fate. On the question of finance the Air Ministry stated that if the Southern Rhodesia Air Force became an R.A.F. responsibility for all maintenance costs including pay for all personnel would come from London. Indeed, the subsequent signal authorising the transaction arranged for Rhodesians to be paid by the R.A.F. even before they had re-attested into that service. In the event a telegram from London informed Salisbury that, "As from 1st April, 1940, No 1 Squadron Southern Rhodesia Air Force was renamed number 237 (Southern Rhodesia) (Bomber) Squadron, Royal Air Force."
The wording of that message places beyond doubt the matter of No I Squadron's right to recognition. The Squadron was not "replaced by" or "absorbed by" No 237 Squadron - it was merely "renamed" and therefore continued to exist essentially as before under its new title. It is also pertinent to note that the unit which has always been regarded as our premier fighter squadron actually saw the majority of its action as an official bomber squadron. However, back in 1940, the squadron was soon to be in action, for the Italians entered the war in June and fighting broke out along the Abyssinian border. "A" Flight provided air cover during the battle around the Moyale, whilst "B" and "C" Flights patrolled the Somali border.
In September, 1940, the squadron rejoined for a move to Khartoum, and two months later it received Westland Lysander aircraft to replace the Hardy's with which it had been equipped. Four months later one Flight was further re-equipped with Gloster Gladiators, and then in April 1941 the squadron moved to occupy Asmara after the Italian surrender. Further moves took it to Wadi Haifa in June and Kasfareet in August and then its attention was turned towards Libya and the Western Desert.
By November 1941, No. 237 Squadron was equipped with Hurricanes and was embroiled in the see-saw battles with the Afrika Korps and the Luftwaffe. In February 1942, it was ordered back to Ismailia in the Canal Zone before traveling yet farther east. The next year was spent covering the Iraq/Persia sector with the squadron operating from such bases as Mosul, Kermanshah and Kirkuk. In March 1943, it returned to the Canal Zone, where it's role was changed from army co-operation to fighter reconnaissance. A long spell of operations across North Africa followed, during which the squadron moved progressively westward.
April 1944, saw No. 237 Squadron equipped with Spitfires and based first at Serragia and then at Kalvi on Corsica, whilst it operated against the enemy in Northern Italy and Southern France. With the war obviously coming to an end, the Squadron was gradually loosing it's all-Rhodesian nature. It became increasingly difficult to replace personnel who had completed their operational tour and after two more moves to France and Italy, the Squadron was eventually disbanded in 1945.
On a historical note the Southern Rhodesia Staff Corps Air Unit became the Southern Rhodesia Ait Force in 1951 and then the Royal Rhodesian Air Force after the formation of the Federation. After UDI the Queen withdrew the entitlement to the Royal prefix and it became Rhodesian Air Force and in 1980 the Air Force of Zimbabwe. I am sure it was the only Air Force in the world that had 5 different official titles in 30 years!
Anon. Extracted from the Bateleur Newsletter
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