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South African Air Force (SAAF) Buccaneer

The South African Air Force (SAAF) was the only export customer for the Blackburn Buccaneer. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the Canberra bomber was sold in Rhodesia, New Zealand, Venezuela, Peru, Pakistan and India and was made under licence in large quantities in America. The Hunter was sold in Equador, Iraq, Jordan, Denmark and elsewhere, the Folland Gnat was sold in Yugoslavia and Finland, and the Shackleton in South Africa. The NA39 Blackburn Buccaneer was sold in South Africa.

South Africa was the only country other than the UK to operate the Buccaneer, where it was in service with the South African Air Force from 1965 to 1991. In 1963 negotiations were entered into with the South African Government for the provision of refuelling bases and repair facilities in South Africa for British military aircraft. An extension of these facilities was sought as part of a military deal with the South African Government under which obtained Buccaneer bombers. This kind of military deal with South Africa was deeply deplored by all civilised opinion in the UK which was not happy to see this kind of quid pro quo bases for Britain against bombers for South Africa when the armaments would be used for the oppressive policy of apartheid.

Chief Albert Luthuli, Africa's first winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace and president of the ANC until his death (under mysterious circumstances), made a plea, that many other countries which now supply arms to South Africa have "known the travail of war, of conflict against ruthless oppression; have known the bitterness of race hatred and the wounds of armed conflict.... Yet these countries today, and Britain foremost among them, are guilty of arming the savage Nationalist Party regime. The Saracens built in Britain have already left an indelible blot on the history of my country; now it seems that your Buccaneers and your tanks must leave their foul imprint. Perhaps it is futile to appeal to those who put profits before justice and human lives. Nevertheless, in all sincerity, I appeal to them to pause and re-think their sense of values which puts material values before human lives. For this is the meaning of their making available their murderous wares to the South African Government."

Alan Green, MP from Preston South, said in the debate on relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of South Africa, on 31 May 1963 that "These are long-range naval aircraft now coming into service with the Royal Navy. Their performance and role makes them quite unsuitable for use in suppressing civilian disturbances. We believe that South Africa, like other foreign countries with whom we are in normal relations, is entitled to buy arms for external defence. But we examine all requests from the strategic, economic and political points of view before they are authorised. The possibility that a particular supply of arms may be used for measures of internal repression is taken into account. The South African authorities know this."

Of the 16 aircraft ordered, one was lost on its delivery flight, and 15 entered service. SAAF Buccaneers saw active service during the Border War in South West Africa, notably at Cassinga. The attack on Cassinga was extremely controversial, as SWAPO claimed that the base had been only a refugee camp and that almost all of those killed had been innocent civilians. It was the largest airborne operation to be carried out by the South Africans, and was considered by them to have been singularly successful.

Pre-dawn on Thursday 4 May 1978, four Canberra bombers and four Buccaneer strike aircraft took off from Pretoria to fly directly to Cassinga. The attack on Cassinga commenced at 08H02, while those in the base were on morning muster parade. First the four Canberras swept in to drop anti-personnel bombs, followed immediately by the four Buccaneers doing precision bombing of pre-selected targets. However, the drop was less than successful. Subjected to small arms fire during the run-in and with the target obscured by smoke and dust from the air strike, most of the aircraft dropped their paratroopers late.

Initially, resistance was light, but it soon stiffened. In the north, a platoon had been clearing some isolated buildings when a Forward Air Controller with the paratroopers mistakenly authorised an air strike on them. A fifth Buccaneer, armed with rockets, had been doing a combat air patrol above Cassinga. It now attacked the buildings, and two paratroopers were badly wounded by shrapnel before the strike was called off.

The paratroopers were able to take their objective, as all further resistance evaporated. This had no sooner taken place than the Buccaneer reported that an armoured column was approaching from Techumatete. The anticipated counter-attack was about to commence. The Buccaneer engaged the Cuban armour, which then ran into the mines laid by the paratroopers.

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Page last modified: 22-05-2013 19:42:16 ZULU