Rhodesian Spitfire Pilots

The most famous of all the Rhodesian RAF pilots of WWII was Ian Smith, who was later to be Prime Minister of the country, and declared independence in the 1960's. He learnt to fly in Rhodesia after volunteering in 1941 for the Empire Air Training Scheme, and soon found himself flying on operation over Iraq and the Western Desert. Whilst flying over the desert his plane crashed and he broke his jaw and suffered facial disfigurements which required pioneering plastic surgery.

After recovering he began flying again, and was promoted to a Flight Lieutenant. He flew a Spitfire Mark IX on operations over Italy. His Spitfire was hit by flak on the 22nd June 1944 whilst on a strafing mission over the Po Valley, and he bailed out using his parachute. After hiding for a week with an Italian family he was introduced to Italian partisans and he agreed to help them with their resistance fighting. For the next 3 months he assisted in sabotaging bridges etc and eventually made his way on foot across the Alps to Allied lines.

Three Rhodesians took part in the Battle of Britain as Hurricane pilots. Pilot Officer John Chomley was just 20 years old when his plane crashed into the English Channel after a dogfight with German planes. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial. Sergeant Claude Hodson survived the Battle of Britain and went on to fly in North Africa and Malta and survived the war.Flight Lieutenant John Holderness was based at Hendon & Tangmere during the Battle of Britain. He also survived the war and went back to farming in Rhodesia.

There was other Rhodesian fighter pilots, and they also served in Bomber Command as pilots and aircrew and also Rhodesian women served in the WAAF. In the decade after the war No 1 Squadron Southern Rhodesian Air Force had 7 Spitfires, which were later replaced by more modern planes in the years that followed.

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