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Buccaneer to the Rescue

Last post 06-08-2008, 6:06 AM by Frikkie. 0 replies.
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  •  06-08-2008, 6:06 AM 5510

    Buccaneer to the Rescue

    This is a true story by a brilliant Pilot.

    Buccaneer to the Rescue
    by Andries Marais.


    The 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 ideal medicine.
    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.

    I 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.
    After the 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.
    We were 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 struck home.
    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 the gun.
    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.
    Timing was 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.

    I jerked 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!

    Again 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.
    This 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.

    Cheers
    Frikkie
    Collector of our ONCE PROUD South African Forces:
    http://www.samagte.co.za/phpbbs

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