This is a true story by a brilliant Pilot.
Buccaneer to the Rescue
by Andries Marais.
armourer Flight Sergeant didn't like it one bit 'Captain, our orders
were to load your aircraft with 72 standard HE rockets. I cannot change
that on your request!'
He was quite correct of course. The type of
weapon used in an air attack is determined after careful target
analysis, and we were going to give close air support to our armoured
fighting teams mopping up the Swapo camp at Chetequera. It had been
decided by Strike Command that 68 mm high explosive rockets were the
As it was, we had recently returned from a similar
sortie over Cassinga, after helping the Parabats with some heavy
machine-gun positions which had been troubling them following their
silken let-down into that little town which had suffered a surprise
attack at sunrise by some Canberras with anti-personnel bombs, and
seven Buccaneers, each off-loading eight thousand-pounders.
could not explain the reason for this highly irregular request, but
repeated it nevertheless:'I want every third rocket to have an
armour-piercing head, and that is final! And please hurry up; we must
be airborne in fifteen minutes'.
Navigator Ernie Harvey looked
even more perplexed when we ascended the ladder and lowered ourselves
into the Bucc's large but cluttered cockpit. He was, however, soon too
busy setting up the Nav. Computer to say anything. Those moments prior
to start-up for a strike mission are very tense, very personal, and can
only be appreciated by one who has lived them. More so for the
Navigator/Weapons System Operator who has no control over the aircraft
in any way, and is completely at the mercy of his pilot.
engines have been started, nerves loosen up, as the task at hand
requires the crew's total attention, and soon we were crossing the
border into Angola at something under the speed of sound, on track and
on time for Chetequera.
Ernie was just about to check in with Tactical Headquarters at Ondangwa when things started going mad on the Ops frequency.
Warneke, having relieved us at close air support, reported an armoured
convoy consisting of tanks and BTR 152 personnel carriers was
approaching Cassinga from the south...
We heard two Mirages being scrambled, and the flight leader reporting
that they had no rockets, only 30 mm cannon, but with no
armour-piercing rounds to stop the tanks, I again made a decision
against all planning, and understandably drew some comment from my
navigator who had the very difficult task of keeping us on track to our
planned target over the featureless Southern Angola countryside. 'Do
you still have the Cassinga maps with you?' I enquired, Ernie said
'No', but, bless him, he had not cleared the target co-ordinates from
the navigation computer which, incidentally, was the only one installed
in our squadron at that time.
The next moment I had track and
distance (and time to go) on my Horizontal Situation Indicator, and not
being able to get a word in on the, by now, completely cluttered
frequency, I took up the indicated heading and felt the thrust of power
from the two Rolls Royce Speys, as I opened the throttles.
ten minutes from Cassinga when I was for the first time able to break
in over the radio chatter and ask permission to terminate our flight to
Chetequera and attack the tanks, mentioning that we were carrying
armour-piercing rockets. Major Gert Havenga, who manned the Ops
frequency at Tactical HQ, also a Buccaneer pilot and never afraid of
assuming responsibility, did not hesitate. You are cleared, and I will
back you up'. What a man!
Surprise and Concentration of Force
are key principles of any assault action, and by the grace of God we
again achieved them that Sabbath of 4 May 1978. As I rolled into my
dive attack on the tanks which had by now reached the outskirts of
Cassinga, in front of me, just settling into their attack, were the two
Mirages. The 30 mm HE rounds of the first one exploded ineffectively on
the lead tank and I called out to the second aircraft to leave the
tanks alone and go for the personnel carriers. The pilot confirmed my
request and the next moment I was overjoyed with pride as I witnessed
my closest friend, Major Johan Radloff, whose voice I had immediately
recognised take out three BTRs with a single burst from his twin cannon
Ernie gave me a selection of 12 rockets which also flew true,
and then we had to break off violently to avoid flying through the
debris from the exploding tank.
Turning round for another pass, we
could see the first tank burning like a furnace, and on this run, the
lead Mirage pilot destroyed no fewer than five BTR's with a long burst,
running his shells in movie-like fashion through them. 'Dis hoe die
boere skiet, julle .... sems!' were my thoughts and then our second
salvo of 12 rockets, every third one with an armour piercing head, also
In a matter of seconds, two tanks and about 16 armoured
personnel carriers had been completely destroyed, and then the Mirages
were down to their minimum combat fuel and they had to retire leaving
us to deal with the rest.
We decided to concentrate on the tanks,
and then things started happening. Most of the BTRs were trailing
twin-barrelled 14.5 mm anti-aircraft guns, and some of them were now
deployed and shooting at us. Even one of the tanks was firing with its
main weapon and I remember being amused at the gunner's optimism at
hitting a manoeuvring target travelling at 600 knots.
Ernie on the
other hand was far from amused as he was not, like me, in a state of
aggression and experiencing tunnel vision. Keeping a good look out all
around, he was actually aware of several AA positions firing at us. He
was even less impressed at my dismissal of the problem, but my whole
system was now charged to take out the remaining tanks.
As we turned in again, these two tanks left the road and disappeared
into the bush. We destroyed another BTR, but decided to save our
ammunition for the tanks. Flying around trying to locate them, I became
annoyed with one AA site which kept up a steady stream of tracer in our
direction and decided to take it out. It was, in fact, the gun which
had been towed by the BTR we had Just destroyed, and to this day I can
only have respect for the discipline and courage of the gun crew and
some troops who kept up their firing - even with their small arms -
until my rockets exploded amongst them, killing the lot and destroying
As I broke off from this attack, the huge gaggle of
helicopters passed underneath us and landed in the pre-planned area to
pick up the troops. By this time I had learned that the Chief of the
Army, Lieut-General Viljoen, was on the ground with them, and that
there was grave concern for his safety.
Then, as the helicopters
were landing, the remaining two tanks reappeared on the road and
started shelling the landing area which was in a shallow depression.
Because of this, and the inability of that particular type of tank's
inability to lower its gun far enough, they were fortunately over tank,
and calculating that we had 12 rockets left, I asked Ernie to give me
only six, leaving another salvo for the other tank.
critical as the tanks were beginning to find their range. I realised
that they HAD to be stopped. It was a textbook, low angle attack, and
the 'Buc' was as steady as a rock in the dive. It was like lining up on
a trophy kudu bull after a perfect stalk, but when I pulled the
trigger, nothing happened - no rockets, not even one.
the aircraft around, almost in agony, cursing Ernie for having selected
the wrong switches. He was quite adamant that he had selected the
switches correctly, and then we went in for another attack, but with
the same heart-stopping result.
Without really thinking it out, I opened the throttles wide and kept
the aircraft in the dive, levelling off at the last moment, and flying
over the tank very low and doing nearly Mach One.
Turning, we went
in again from the front, this time doing the same thing with the tank
once more shooting at us. I assumed that the crew would have no idea
that we were out of ammunition, and hoping to intimidate them, we
continued to make fast, head-on low level mock attacks. The Buccaneer
from close up is an intimidating aircraft. Flying low, it makes a
terrific amount of noise compressed into a single instant as a shock
wave, and if this had an amplified resonance inside the tank, the crew
would have to be well-trained to stay with it, were my thoughts!
I can only praise God, for I remember distinctly having felt during
those minutes which followed, being an instrument in His hands; myself
a perfect part of the aircraft, and He the Pilot. As it was, the tank
crews were eventually sufficiently intimidated to once again seek cover
in the heavy bush, enabling the helicopters to load their precious
cargo and get away safely.
After returning to base at
Grootfontein, 17 hits were counted on their Buccaneer, including a 67mm
hit through one of the wings, a 37 mm AA hit through the Port flap,
there were 14.5mm hits through both engines although not one were fatal
and finally a 14.5 hit right in the middle of the windscreen.
as I am sure you will agree, not only commands respect for the
incredible strength off the windshield but equally, respect for the
entire aircraft aswell.
Andries Marais was awarded the Honoris Crux medal for an action of bravery while his life was in danger.
Navigator Ernie Harvey received the Chief of the Defence Force's Commendation medal for his truly commendable actions.