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
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
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...
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.
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!
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
The Mirage lines up the targets
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.
Mirage 111 CZ 30mm cannon shells strike home.
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.
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.
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!
Marais and Ernie Harvey stand proudly next to their
'Bucc', '416' shortly after returning to Grootfontein
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.
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.
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
Marais and his Father, 'Dries'
taken in 1997
Noctem Per Diem
Through night, Through Day
lewe die herinnering van die Buccaneer'
Firstly, I would like to sincerely thank Louwrens Marais (Andries
Marais's Son), for his friendship over the years
and for his never ending enthusiasm and co-operation in getting
this 'Buccaneer' moment in history onto this page.
I would then of course, like to thank 'Dries' for allowing
me to print HIS story and for the extra info.
And lastly, but in NO ways least,
ALL my mates in South Africa who have played their part, YOU
know who you are, THANKYOU!
Photographs: Thanks to 'Dries' and Louwrens Marais, 24 Sqn
and 2 Sqn SAAF.
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