43 Air School

43 Air School

43 Air School was built for the purpose of providing an Air Observer School for the Royal Air Force/South African Air Force during World War II. It fell under the control of 25 Group, based at Air Force Station St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth.

43 Air School came into existence on 11 November 1940 when 3 Air Operations was redesignated. The School opened on 12 January 1942 and started to commence training under the command of Wing Commander F.W.H. Hall. By the end of January, eight Northrop Nomads and twenty Oxfords were on strength, the former being used as tow aircraft for targets and the latter fitted with turrets for air firing exercises.

The first course trained 56 Observers and these were posted in from 45 or 47 Air Schools (Oudtshoorn and Queenstown, respectively) for the gunnery phase of their course. Later, Wireless Telegraphist/Air Gunners from 64 Air School (Tempe, Bloemfontein) were also posted to 43 Air School for a six-week course.

143 Reserve Squadron was formed at 43 Air School on 21 April 1942 and was to use the Northrops as fighters if the need arose. The Squadron’s role was later altered to that of coastal reconnaissance when Ansons arrived, and good work was done assisting the operational units in this role.

Battles started arriving in July 1942 and there was a great deal of excitement when one of these aircraft located what was believed to be a submarine between the Kowie and Great Fish Rivers. It turned out to be a whale!

Ansons started arriving from October 1942 and gradually replaced the Oxfords. On 27 February 1943, an Anson of 143 Squadron spotted a surfaced U-Boat 8 km south of the Kariega River, but could do nothing about it as the aircraft was unarmed.

By July 1943, 43 Air School had trained 524 Observers for the RAF, another 53 W/T Air Gunners for the SAAF, and had 29 Ansons, 35 Oxfords, 23 Battle Target Tugs and 3 Battle Bombers on strength. The Northrops had run into spares problems by the end of 1942 and were all withdrawn and concentrated at 42 Air School ( South End, Port Elizabeth ). For a while, 43 Air School experienced a shortage of target towing aircraft. This resulted in the training of air gunners having to be shifted to 65 Air School ( Youngsfield, Cape Town ).

In mid-1944, successful tests were carried out using an Anson (Aircraft No. 1101) fitted with Lindholme dinghy equipment for Air Sea Rescue work, and the aircraft was placed into service.

After 25 Group closed down in 1945, 24 Group (based at Swartkop Air Station) took over control of 43 Air School, which by that stage was operating some Ansons fitted with the Bristol B1 MkVI power operated turret. By the end of June 1945, 43 Air School had 79 Ansons and 13 Harvards. The water supply at the Airfield dried up at that stage, so 43 Air School moved to Grahamstown on 23 July, taking over the buildings vacated by 44 Air School when they closed.

43 Air School closed down on 15 September 1946, but a gunnery flight of four Ansons and a navigation flight of 18 Ansons remained until 6 October.

Port Alfred was taken over by 7 Air Depot post-war, and two large batches of Ansons were sold for scrap. Big plans for AFS Port Alfred, including the basing of 6 and 22 Squadrons there, never materialised, and Air Force Station Port Alfred was abandoned in March 1956 and handed over to the Public Works Department on 4 July 1957.

It has remained a civilian airfield since, with a portion being used by the Marjorie Parrish SANTA Centre. In 1989, the School was resuscitated by Mr Jim Davis, who started a civilian flying training school with the very appropriate name 43 Air School.