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Jack Malloch – the last of the true African legends – Part 1

Rob Russell

John “Jack” Malloch born on the 8th October 1920, was a true legend of African aviation. From his early days, he was never far from controversy. Be it schooling, early business days, flying, gun running or sanctions-busting, Jack was always fully committed to whatever he was doing and was not afraid to lead from the front

His early days were spent in Natal, but as a result of his father losing his job, the family moved to Southern Rhodesia, where his father gained work, as a driver, for Rhodesian Railways based in Umtali. Jack grabbed every opportunity to travel with his dad and was involved in fixing trucks and helping his dad do running repairs. This interest was to serve him well in later days.

Jack was bought up as Seventh Day Adventist and his parents were very religious. This influenced their decision to send him to The Seventh Day Helderberg College, in Somerset West. His parents were not very wealthy and had to spend a lot of money-saving for his education. Jack was, however, never happy at school. He was not academically minded and decided to leave the school and find his way back to Umtali! Hitch-hiking rides in trucks and on railway coaches, his parents were not impressed when he arrived home. He was sent back to the school but did not enjoy it. He was, in fact, happier fixing the schools tractors and ground equipment than being in a classroom. His father was soon transferred to Fort Victoria and Jack left the school and started work as a motor mechanic at a garage near to his parents home.

At the beginning of 1939, Mr Trycos, a good family friend, and wealthy Greek local businessman offered to sponsor two young people with the chance to obtain a pilots license. Jack was an obvious choice and on the 6th July 1939 – a Thursday – Jack took to the air, for the first time in a Tiger Moth. It was to be the start of his aviation career. He soon built up enough hours to go solo, flying around Fort Victoria and went solo on the 26th of July.

As a result of the war breaking out, Jack’s instructor left to join the RAF and Jack’s flying came to an end. After a number of determined efforts to join the Rhodesian Air Force – he was repeatedly rejected because of his poor academic record – his persistence paid off and he attested into the RhAF in 1943. He gained his wings and was soon sent off on operational duty to Italy, at a 237 Squadron, flying Spitfires. It was here that he grew to love them and was determined to own one himself. Despite being shot down and a dramatic escape, he returned to fly in Italy, but at the end of the war, and after a brief relationship with the lady that helped rescue him, he was demobilised in 1946.

237 Squadron

He was unemployed and after a brief period as a diamond prospector, which proved disastrous, he returned to Fort Victoria, where his father was a partner in a garage and was Jack was employed as a mechanic.

In 1948, he attested into the Reserve Force of the RhAF and was shortly thereafter to renew his love affair with the Spitfire, when he was chosen to fetch the first batch of Spitfires, the RhAF had bought from England. The return flight was one of epic proportions and he made up his mind, then, that he wanted to have his own Spitfire.


Jack was determined to own his own aviation company and with the help of his wife, Zoe, and family friends Jamie and Dorothy Marshall, Jack registered his first company on the 1st August 1951. Aptly named FishAir, the idea was to use a two-seater Ercoupe to fly fresh fish from Beira to Marandellas. Despite a good start, they soon ran into financial problems and the Company was almost liquidated early in 1952. Jack was not deterred and soon found a bigger aircraft – a Fairchild Argus. He now moved into the charter market and returned to the fish market as well.

Fairchild Argus

Jack’s financial problems would not go away and he soon ran into cash flow problems again, It was about this time that an English firm, Hunting Clan Aviation was wanted to expand its business into Africa. They bought out Jack, to get his licenses, kept him on as a Dak pilot and in 1955, Fish Air and its assets were fully bought out by Hunting Clan.

Hunting Clan DC3 Dakota

It was soon after this that the political problems caused Hunting to shut its African operations. Jack was now unemployed, but was, with the experience he gained at Hunting, determined to start his own airline. After taking a Hunting Dak back to England, Jack caught up with old friends there and with their help, he set about looking for a Dak to buy. As luck would have it, Hunting had a spare, very old Dak and after much bartering and negotiating, primarily to find finance, the deal was done. When asked what airline he represented, he said “Rhodesian Air Services”. And so his first airline was born.

He raced home to Salisbury and went about registering his airline. He persuaded the Department of Civil Aviation to give him back his old Vilanculos licence back. He gathered all his savings and soon finance was approved on the 26th March 1960, RAS took to the air with their first flight – a charter to Joberg and back.


On the 30th of June, that year, Belgian Congo gained its independence and was renamed, the Congo. The Province of Katanga was determined to gain its own independence as well and needed support, in its battle against the Congo. Jack undertook a repatriation flight to Katanga. Unwillingly, though, but he needed money as RAS was having cash flow problems – not unusual for Jack! He did another charter to Durban a few weeks later and was introduced to another legendary mercenary, Jack Hoare. He undertook a few flights for Hoare, and on one of these flights to Katanga, he was introduced to the new leader, Tshombe. He was the owner of a VIP DC4 – and it was soon loaned to Jack to fly and operate. This was to be the first of Jack’s many 4 engined aircraft. Tshombe fearing the future of Katanga, allowed Jack to transfer it to the Rhodesian registration. Jack promptly stripped it and turned it into a freighter. It was around this time that a tragic accident resulted in the loss of one of his DC3s and all on board. Jack set out to find another DC3 to replace this one – and he found one in the UK.

It was at this time that he registered Trans African Air Services, a handling service to look after his freight flights to Europe. This was at the same time, that after delicate negotiations between the Rhodesian and British Governments, that Jack was allowed to operate scheduled flights into Gatwick, under the guise of Rhodesian Air Services. The first flight was on the 9th of October 1962. However his DC4 was getting old and parts were a problem, as was keeping the aircraft serviceable.

It was around about this time that he met another legendary mercenary, Bob Denard, who persuaded Jack to look into gun-running flights into Yemen. The first flight was on 7th August 1964 and was routed from Frankfurt via Prague, carrying Czech weapons and ammunition. Engine problems necessitated an unplanned stop in Djibouti.

They managed to keep local officials from inspecting the aircraft and after repairs were carried out at night, got airborne for the unmarked desert strip in Yemeni. The first flight was completed successfully. The British Special Air Services got to hear of this flight and asked him to resupply them too! He was soon doing another “military Mission” for the British!

Shortly after this, the British Overseas Mercenary Organisation approached Jack to undertake gun-running flights into Sudan. The trusty DC4 was now really working flat out and keeping her serviceable was a major problem. After the loss of an engine, at Addis Abba, on one of these flights, he was forced to turn to his father to finance the costs of a new engine. Jack really was on the bones of his money and things were not good. It was in 1965 that Jack was able to get his stuck DC3 out of Monongo and this proved to be a valuable help. Thanks to his involvement with the CIA, who was now very much involved in the Congo, Jack managed to acquire a second DC4.


With the changing political situation in African and the threat of UDI in Rhodesia, Jack was worried about the future of his airline. The future of Rhodesia was sealed on 11 November 1965, when Ian Smith announced the UDI. Rhodesia was soon subject to sanctions which made Jack’s operations impossible to sustain. He lost his landing rights in the UK and the UK imposed hard sanctions, including fuel sanctions in Rhodesia. With the loss of so many routes, he was forced to liquidate his business, again, in January 1966.

Jack’s financial problems were to haunt him and with the help of Olympic swimmer, turned opposition politician, David Butler, Jack started a new Company out of shuffling the Trans African Air Services company around to Air Trans Africa. He set his sights on getting hold of a DC7 and after finding one in Italy, the sale of which was cancelled by red tape and politics, he found an ex PanAm one in Florida. After many delays, red tape, bureaucratic bundles and secrecy it was flown out of America, via Recife. It eventually left there and arrived in Luanda where it was flown across to Salisbury. Two days later it started its first flight to Gatwick, with the flight plan saying it originated in Luanda.

The British Government and secret service were none the wiser. To make things easier he registered his DC3 and DC4 in Bechuanaland, although essentially operating ATA routes. Jack felt he was not out of clandestine military flying, and was now using the DC7 and occasionally the Bechuanaland DC4 to undertake sanctions-busting flights into Europe, with flights to Holland, Spain and Germany.

Despite determined British efforts to bring Rhodesia to its knees, and another unsuccessful attempt at buying another DC7, Jack managed to keep going and despite the Rhodesia Herald running a report of a Salisbury based airways company ferrying arms to Biafra, which was obviously pointed to ATA, Jack denied these and managed to carry on with these clandestine flights in early 1967.

With Butler losing interest in the airline, Jack turned to the Prime Minister for financial help, as he was now active in sanctions-busting. With help from Smith and a sympathetic banker, Jack was able to acquire an ex VARIG Super Constellation. It was delivered in April of that year and was soon used to catch up with the backlog of freight flights.

Shortages of fuel in Zambia meant the British Government paid Botswana National Airways to fly fuel for them into Zambia. Jack registered a DC4 in Botswana and was soon carrying fuel for the British Government under contract. However irregular payments from Botswana National Airways resulted in cash flow problems. His faithful DC4 was proving problematic and after suffering a loss of the no 4 engine on a flight into Francistown, An engine change meant a three-engined ferry flight to Salisbury. The first of many of these flights.

Jack was to continue his various gun-running flights into countries around Africa, having many lucky escapes. Some of the flights included flying currency around and using it to trade for weapons. It was on one of these flights, that his luck was to run out and he and his crew were taken captive and held in prison in Lome. The crew were convinced they were going to spend many years in jail, until a local lawyer, Dr Santos came to their aid in early January 1968. With no one to run Air Trans Africa, it was in deep trouble. The men appeared in court in June of that year and Jack was given a three-month sentence and fine but was released in lieu of time already served. He headed back to Salisbury to sort out ATA.

In January of 1969, Jack was back in Salisbury negotiating to buy a DC7 from sources in Europe and he was able to buy another one – this time ex KLM. It was put on his European routes. In April that year, he was to acquire another 2 DC7s from European sources. He was now fully committed to gun running in Biafra and it was a vital source of cash – much needed to keep his airline operations going. He also needed a secure base in Africa, from where he could tranship the cargo he carried and he chose Libreville. It was to be a good choice.


Jack soon got involved indirectly buying arms and in May of that year he undertook the first of many flights around Africa to Israel to buy arms, These were shuttled via Libreville, where he had a permanent presence and the arms were offloaded, stored and delivered to Biafra from there. It was in June that on one of the flights, they carried on to Salisbury and delivered new arms directly from Israel. This was to be the first of his sanctions-busting flights. The arms were to be shared by the Rhodesians and the South Africans.

Jack also got involved in flying tobacco out of Rhodesia, to Europe – it was disguised as having come from Gabon. In order to keep people away from querying his aircraft and their loads, he had to pay careful attention to the registration of the aircraft! Several aircraft had several registrations and careful management of this was very much necessary. With the help of the French Secret Service, the South Africans and a few other organisations, the gun-running into Biafra became a very well organised and profitable operation.

It was in October that Jack, through his friends and connections, realised there was a need to export the quality beef that was available in Rhodesia and after preparations, his first meat running flight was in October, for the Gabonese High Command. He started a company, Soduca, in Libreville ostensibly to handle meat exports.


With the end of the Biafra gun-running episode, Jack’s cash flow problems returned. Jack’s aircraft were paid off and he had plenty of assets, but no routes and income. Jack had a permanent presence in Libreville and had established a healthy relationship with the President Bongo of Gabon. Jack wanted to legalise his operations and needed an airline. He realised he was not the ideal person to run an airline, gun-running yes, but not something according to IATA standards. He turned to his old friend, John Aldridge and appointed him as Chief Pilot. Jack was a stickler for rules and regulations. With his presence in Gabon, Affretair was registered and began operations taking over the various aircraft from ATA, except for the Dove. ATA was to handle to keep the sanctions-busting flights on their books and Affretair was to handle all the other flights, albeit using the same aircraft. Soon flights were going via Libreville and to a lesser extent Abidjan, carrying beef, clothes, tobacco and other fresh produce. Some of these flights would carry on up to Europe.

But his aircraft were getting old and harder to keep in the air. Parts were a problem and engines were also a serious problem to get hold of. A nasty accident in December 1971, resulted in the loss of a DC7, whilst landing at Libreville, carrying a full load of beef, for Gabon and onwards to Europe. Cattle carrying flights into Angola also proved to be very profitable, but with ageing aircraft, they were difficult to complete. His relationship with John Aldridge proved a difficult one and this was soon ended, after firing him about flight operations into Angola, leaving Jack to run the business himself.

In August of 1972, Jack’s ageing fleet of DC7s were proving all the more difficult to service and maintain and were often flown in an other than airworthy state. It was at this time that Jack discussed, with the various shareholders about getting a jet – a DC8 for Affretair. The need for bigger, more modern and longer-range aircraft took on a sense of urgency need. Jack and a team of people, from Affretair, left for the States and in October, and were able to acquire an ex Flying Tiger freighter jet. The Americans were suspicious of the purpose of the jet and after refusing finance for it, were surprised with the Gabonese Government financing the jet.


The jet was immediately flown out of the States, to France, and the UTA hangars, at Paris. Once back in Rhodesia, it was re-registered and immediately put to use flying beef from Rhodesia, but with fake veterinary certificates obtained in South Africa, to Greece, via Lisbon. It was made to look as if the beef was from South Africa. It was at this time, that the ageing DC7s were mainly used to fly cattle to Angola and it was a growing and very profitable market for Jack. His constellation that had broken down in Luanda, was now repaired and flying scheduled services, under the guise of Afro Continental Airways to Windhoek.

But it was only time before these beef carrying flights attracted attention. After the appearance of an article in May 1973, a British journalist joined the dots and worked out that Affretair was in fact a successful sanctions-busting operation.. His article was published in the Sunday Times. The Americans were embarrassed and put pressure on the Gabonese. French, Dutch and Greek Governments demanded to know what they were doing to stop these sanction busting flights. The Greek Government were quick to respond, saying they did not approve any meat flights from Rhodesia and the article was thus false and incorrect. After a frenzy of activity, the media hype around the flights subsided and flights carrying beef into Greece became less and less. However, Jack found another destination for the beef – Amsterdam and flights soon increased there.

Jack was very happy with the success of the DC8 and set about to acquire another one. A suitable one was found at Seaworld Freight Airlines. However, the American Government was not interested in giving permission for it to be sold to Jack.

In April 1974, President Bongo converted to Islam and was getting agitated at the Americans not approving his “new jet”. The Americans were not willing to support it but felt they could not alienate themselves from Gabon and Africa. They turned to the OAU for help and advice, saying they would approve the deal if the OAU were happy with it. President Bongo provided the OAU with paperwork saying he needed the jet and UTA would provide technical support and servicing for it. Jack’s connections in Gabon and France, were proving very influential and working in his favour for the second acquisition. So when Gabon asked for a decision at the Mogadishu OAU conference in June, and this was still not approved, the Gabonese Foreign Minister welcomed the opportunity to reveal to the conference how many other countries were actually trading with Rhodesia. The Zairian delegation requested the motion be removed, as there were now daily flights between Libreville and Zaire carrying Rhodesian produce. Something they did not want the world to know about. The OAU approved the deal. President Bongo now turned his attention to the Americans, threatening to expose all their illegal deals in Africa. The Dutch were now quick to deny that there were any illegal flights into Holland and all flights were legal and in compliance with legislation.

Ongoing fights between the OAU and the American Governments caused Jack to look around for another DC8 and he soon found one in Belgium. Jack put in an offer for one of their jets and despite threats from the Americans, who tried their best to stop the jet from flying, they were not successful. Jack filed many flight plans, and between him and Captain Colin Millar, it was quietly flown out of Europe and into Salisbury, where it was supposedly kept in a hangar for a few days to see if the Press had found out about it.

It was at this time that Angola and Mozambique imploded and the Portuguese fled from there, so no one was interested in a jet parked in a hangar in Salisbury. On the 16th of September, one of Jack’s DC7s made a night flight into Luanda to get the Rhodesian diplomatic staff out. Jack thought by now the world did not know about his new acquisition but the Americans did and it went all the way to Kissinger, who on the 17th September sent a note to all American Embassies saying the Rhodesians now had 2 DC8s. This was the first indication the jet had slipped through the sanctions net. No evidence could be found who financed it, but it was believed to be the Rhodesian Government, through Affretair. It was even rumoured the SA Government had stood security for the deposit.

After a few weeks, the US Embassy in Libreville said they had not seen another DC8 and all diplomatic chatter dried up and Kissinger was left wondering if his information was correct. The world was curious as to where the second jet was and what was it doing. It was only in May 1975 that the jet was registered on the Gabon register. 8 months after Kissinger had heard Jack had acquired the jet from Pomair, which had now been liquidated and stopped operations.

But the drama around getting the second DC8 was bittersweet. The Angolan and Greece meat operations had stopped, the Constellation was too old to fly and its routes had stopped and Affretair’s Gabon had been horribly exposed. Jack needed another Affretair and another Gabon.

To be continued...................



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