I wrote in May about the development of the Alpha cluster bomblet in Rhodesia during that country’s brief and violent existence. The person most responsible for its development was Peter Petter-Bowyer, who rose to the rank of Group Captain (equivalent to Colonel) before Rhodesia lost its war and became Zimbabwe. I wasn’t aware when I wrote those words that he had died a couple of months before. It seems he had an allergic reaction to treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
I had the privilege of meeting Group Captain Petter-Bowyer on more than one occasion in South Africa during the 1980’s. He was a most interesting man, with all sorts of stories to tell and many accomplishments to his name. Apart from being an operational fighter and helicopter pilot with vast experience, he also helped to design a range of deceptively simple, low-cost yet amazingly effective air-dropped weapons that were well suited to manufacture in a low-technology economy such as Rhodesia’s, and perfectly adapted to counter-insurgency warfare. They included:
- The aforementioned Alpha bomb, later further developed by South Africa into the CB470 cluster bomb;
- The Golf bomb, which resembled nothing so much as a gas cylinder with a long probe on the nose (to ensure an air burst rather than allowing the bomb to bury itself in the ground) and tail fins at the rear. It had a double casing, the space between them being filled with thousands of short pieces of scrap rebar, making it a horrendously effective shrapnel device. Filled with ANFO, they proved devastating in combat. The large version equipped Hunter fighter-bombers. A smaller version was developed to equip light aircraft such as the Reims 337 (a French-manufactured version of the Cessna Skymaster, used by the US armed forces as the O-2A). Here’s a picture of a Reims 337, known as the Lynx in Rhodesian service. The small-model Golf bomb is beneath its starboard wing, with its long nose probe clearly visible. (Note, too, the .30-caliber machine-guns installed in pods above the wings. Click the image for a larger view.)
- The Frantan, a small but highly lethal napalm bomb. “It was made from woven glass fibre set in a phenolic resin binder & was aerodynamically shaped, incorporating tail fins for stability. It contained, when filled, 16gall of napgel & had a large pocket of flash powder to ignite all the napgel. Improved initiation was achieved by using two slightly modified Alpha bomb fuses. The improved accuracy of delivery, the complete shattering of the case on impact, the total ignition of the napgel & the improved & predictable ground spread made this frantan ideal. This improvement was such that it was even used by Hunter aircraft in preference to the imported 50gall frantan, which gave inferior performance.” (A Frantan is mounted on the outboard pylon beneath the port wing of the Lynx aircraft pictured above.)
- Several other innovative air weaponry solutions.
Group Captain Petter-Bowyer’s autobiography, ‘Winds Of Destruction‘, is an excellent memoir of his military service and a fine history of the Rhodesian Air Force. For all that it was small and ill-equipped, this air arm performed a vital function during Rhodesia’s gallant and ill-fated war, and established a stellar reputation among fighting airmen everywhere. I highly recommend his book as essential reading for all military aviation enthusiasts – and it’s available in an inexpensive Kindle edition, which makes it even more accessible. You can also read an extended interview with him here.
I feel a very personal sense of loss at the news of Peter Petter-Bowyer’s death. He was a remarkable man. I’m honored to have known him.