South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our speaker on 21 January 2010 was Col Johan (Gerrie) Radloff, a former officer commanding 1 Squadron SAAF, which Brig Genl Dick Lord, who introduced the speaker, described as the best SAAF Squadron during the Border War. Genl Lord was also commanding officer of this squadron at an earlier stage of the Border War! He explained that our speaker had been faced with the almost impossible task of finding ways to counteract the superior Russian weapons systems (both aircraft and missile) used by the enemy. It should be remembered that the enemy included not only Angolans but also Russians, Cubans, East Germans, Libyans, Algerians and SWAPO.

On a lighter note, he recalled an encounter with the Angolan Navy deep inside Angola - a sailor punting a canoe! The SAAF fighters hurtling over his head at 50 feet so shocked him that he fell overboard and the canoe capsized.

Col Radloff explained why his presentation on the laptop bore the SAAB logo. When he retired from the SAAF, he joined the South African subsidiary of this well known Swedish Company.

Our speaker introduced his talk by giving an overview of the Border War which lasted from 1966 to 1989. South Africa first assisted the Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique until the Portuguese withdrew from their colonies in 1975. We then assisted the two pro-Western liberation movements UNITA and RENAMO. We also lent helicopters and provided personnel to help the Rhodesian Forces in their war until 1979.

Col Radloff described the course of the continuous counter-insurgency war which usually peaked in the rainy season, when the bush gave the enemy forces cover and provided sources of water other than established waterholes. This on occasion turned into full scale conventional warfare during cross-border operations and especially in the last couple of years when UNITA and ourselves were fighting the Cubans and Angolans in a conventional war. Note that the Cubans had 60 000 men in Angola well-equipped with modern Russian weaponry lavishly supplied. The Angolans were similarly equipped.

Our speaker then displayed a map of Northern SWA and Angola with the main combat zones - the Caprivi Strip, Ruacana (important because of its Hydro Electric power station), Central Ovamboland and South East Angola, where UNITA's Headquarters was. He discussed the enemy's radar coverage of the Southern Angola area. This cover extended down to SWA where some of our operational airfields were covered by the Angolan radar. Enemy targets were usually well inside Angola and our aircraft were at a distinct disadvantage as they could only operate for a few minutes (sometimes as little as 2 minutes of combat flying!) before having to return home. Pilots spent a lot of time checking their fuel state to ensure that they could get back to one of our airfields.

Our main combat aircraft were the Mirage F1A and C, Mirage 111C and R, Buccaneer, Canberra and Impala 11. These were faced by the enemy's MiG-21, MiG-23, Su 22 and Su 25 types. With the exception of the MiG-21, the Russian planes were more modern than our combat aircraft.

We used the French-supplied Alouette, Puma and Super Frelon helicopters while they used the Mil Mi-8, Mi-17, Mi-25 and Mi-35 helicopters. We had no attack helicopters, while the Mi-25 and Mi-35 were very good attack helicopters. Therefore, to avoid detection, most combat operations were flown under radar control. Our pilots were very well trained and were given much more freedom of action.

The enemy enjoyed considerable cover from a menagerie of missiles and anti-aircraft guns. The network of anti-air weaponry and its radar cover grew denser and more sophisticated as the war ground on and this made the task of our pilots ever more difficult.

The Russian missiles used included the radar-guided, static SA2 (Guideline), SA3 (Goa), SA6 (Gainful), SA8 (Gecko), SA9 (Gaskin) and SA13 mobile missiles. There were also infra-red guided MANPADS - SA7, SA14 and SA16 missiles The latter missiles were especially dangerous as they were man-portable and could be launched from anywhere. Radar guidance could be detected but not infra-red which made these doubly dangerous.

There were numerous anti-aircraft guns as well. These included the optically-guided 12,7 mm, 14,5 mm, 20 mm, 23 mm, 37 mm and 57 mm guns, all of were very useful in ground combat situations! The radar-guided guns were the 57 mm and the tracked, self propelled SU 23-4 "Shilka", a quadruple 23 mm weapon with its own surveillance and fire-control radar fitted. A deadly weapon much respected by our forces, as one never knew where they were going to pop up!

Col Radloff then discussed our aircraft losses. He pointed out that our helicopters were frequently under fire when conducting casualty evacuation or combat search and rescue operations. In one case, the fact that both the doors in the troop-carrying compartment were open, saved a helicopter from being destroyed. The missile passed through the open doors without causing any damage!

Col Radloff then summarised the various losses of SAAF aircraft, grouped into categories of loss.

Ground Fire -- small arms fire brought down nine aircraft - three Alouette and two Puma helicopters, two Impalas, one Canberra and one Mirage 111RZ.
Anti-aircraft guns brought down six aircraft - two Alouettes, two Pumas and two Impalas.
RPG7s (an anti-tank weapon!) brought down two Alouettes.
This included losses in Rhodesia and Mozambique, as well as over SWA and Angola.

Most of these losses occurred prior to 1980 when the pilots were still in a learning curve. Lessons were learned fast and were applied by the pilots with a large reduction in losses. There were, of course, many hits which left minor damage.

MANPADS (Man-portable Air Defence System) - destroyed two Impalas and damaged other aircraft. 80% of all missile launches were of MANPADS missiles.

Vehicle launched IR missiles - damaged a number of aircraft.

Good tactics included flying at altitudes which prevented the missiles from locking on and counter measures such as IR signature suppression and installing pods dispensing illuminating flares.

Radar-guided missiles - one light aircraft lost.

Our speaker discussed the reasons why these aircraft were lost in some detail. This included a Dakota which had been repaired and gloss dope applied to the material covering the repaired aileron. The polished fuselage reflected the sunlight and attracted a missile which hit the tail of the aircraft, blowing most of the control surfaces off. The pilot managed to keep the plane in the air, controlling the plane's trim by asking the passengers (very senior officers including the Chief of the Navy Vice Admiral Syndercombe and Commodore Woodburne) to move forward or backwards inside the aircraft so that he could steer it! They landed safely after some brilliant flying - and with a lot of luck.

Col Radloff then discussed some of the methods used to counter the dangers of missile hits. MANPADS and anti-aircraft artillery were two highly effective methods of air defence as there was no warning prior to the launch or the opening fire of the guns. So it was difficult to avoid these. The best way was to adopt Hi-Dive tactics - to stay beyond the engagement range for as long as possible and to spend as little time as possible in the kill zone, while manoeuvring in all directions as fast as possible to deny tracking solutions.

A thorough knowledge of threats was obtained from the examination of captured missile systems and other intelligence. Infra red suppression systems were developed.

In the case of radar-guided missile systems, radar warning systems and the use of chaff were useful means of defence.

Suitable tactics were developed. Pilots were taught to follow the procedures set out below:

* Signals intelligence could locate missile sites and radar emissions could be detected - until the enemy improved its emission control procedures!

* Radar warning systems were improved, Electronic Intelligence gathering processes improved as were the various radar warning systems and other electronic equipment. Also, good planning to stay out of kill zones for as long as possible (minimum or maximum altitudes and ranges) as well as exploiting minimum reaction time of missile systems within kill zones.

* Countermeasures included exploiting the terrain where possible - the countryside is very flat, open terrain in SWA but with many trees in Southern Angola. Low level detection of approaching aircraft was difficult so low-flying became a way of life - this meant really low. 100 feet/30 metres or even less was the norm - even for fast jet aircraft!

* Helicopters operated even lower and avoided all open areas. Tactical night flying capabilities were developed for all types of aircraft. If penetrating a kill zone was not avoidable then standard operating procedure dictated flying either within the minimum or beyond the maximum engagement ranges and altitudes and within the minimum reaction time of threat systems as far as possible.

* A long toss bomb attack tactic was developed for Mirages and eventually air-to-ground missiles with a stand-off capability were developed. Pilots learned never be predictable, to vary tactics, never to fly in line astern, never re-attack the same target right away and do not use the same routes in a set pattern. When taking off from an airfield, never take off one behind the other but stay low and randomly turn in various directions before using full power to get through the danger zone as fast as possible.

* When landing, either stay high and then spiral down to land or stay low, very low, and come in to land as fast as possible. Of course the best way to discourage MANPADS operators lurking near an airfield is to have a helicopter gunship (Alouette III with a 20 mm cannon) airborne and well positioned!

To summarise - know the threats you are up against, plan properly, know your own capabilities and limitations, operate at the edge of these, reduce effective tracking by the threat systems by combining flying manoeuvres and electronic counter-measures and be continually aware of the current situation, reacting accordingly.

The above deals with the tactics which had to be followed by aircrew. Col Radloff then detailed a few of the more notable examples of damage to aircraft resulting from missile strikes.

He noted that a sustained effort was launched to establish a comprehensive Electronic Warfare (EW) capability with the priority areas being Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Self Protection EW. The former remain secret but the latter included a variety of devices:

* Counter Measures Dispensing Systems - these included chaff and flare dispensers which proved successful and were fitted to all fighter and attack aircraft in the mid-1980's.

* Radar Warning Systems - fitted to combat aircraft as well as transport aircraft and many helicopters, mainly Pumas. Fitted in the 1980's, these worked very well and saved many aircraft.

* Active Radar Jammers - mounted in pods, these worked very well and were fitted to Mirage F1AZ and 111RZ, Buccaneer and Canberra aircraft.

* Active Infra-Red Jammers - an omni-directional IR jammer was developed which worked well against AM type missiles but not against FM type missiles, so was not taken into production.

* Infra Red Suppression - this involved the screening of engine exhaust pipes, cooling of exhaust pipes and camouflaging of aircraft using special paint which scattered IR energy to prevent reflections. These were successful when used on aircraft with an IR signature hat was not too large.

Various test, measurement and evaluation systems were also developed to test the effectiveness of the systems developed and the flying tactics developed to use these systems.

Armoured protected seats were developed for use by aircrew in helicopters and transport aircraft. Flak jackets were also worn by helicopter crews.

Are the lessons learnt in the Border War and the equipment developed then still applicable to today's international peace operations - which could include any or all of the types of peace operation -enforcement, maintenance or support operations. Also to be considered are the prevailing political, military. Social and economic situation, the mind set of the people involved the terrain and infrastructure or lack thereof.

In carrying out these operations, one must note that intelligence is probably unreliable. Transport aircraft and helicopters are vulnerable to attack, when arriving ay or departing from airports. So the old lessons of not following routine, developing and using countermeasures and good tactics and flying skills still apply.

Signature reduction no longer works as it did in the past due to new advances in missile technology. Missile warning systems need to be automated to speed up the process as technology is advancing fast. Radar warning systems are required and chaff and flares and other decoys must be supplied in sufficient quantity. Operating procedures need to be as unpredictable as possible and the principle of spending as little time as possible in the Kill Zone is as important as it was during the Border War.

In conclusion, don't be complacent, think innovatively, know the threats and stay alert to even small changes in the operating environment and NEVER UNDERESTIMATE YOUR ADVERSARIES!

After questions, Brig Genl Dick Lord thanked the speaker for an enthralling lecture and presented him with the customary gift.



Three new members joined the Society in January - Lt Col L E McKenzie and Messrs F Peters-Hollenberg and M J le Roux. We welcome them and look forward to seeing them at our lectures. Col McKenzie had a long involvement with the Cape Town Branch even before joining. He assisted - in collaboration with a previous well-known and popular committee member, John Mahncke - in advertising our meetings on Radio Fine Music, with whom he have had a long association. We again would like to express our appreciation for his generous assistance on behalf of our Society.

We are always looking for new members. If you know of anyone who is interested in military history and who might like to join the Society, please bring them along to the next meeting or otherwise persuade them to join.

This month's newsletter will include the MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL FORMS FOR 2010. Due to a marginal increase in the annual national membership fees, the Full Membership rate will be R255,00 and the Affiliate Membership will be R60,00 for 2010 (Please note that full membership includes receiving the bi-annually published Military History Journal, containing diverse articles of historical interest to both the professional and amateur military historian, and in addition, the newsletter of the Johannesburg Branch). Affiliate members will only receive the Cape Town Branch Newsletter.


FORTHCOMING PROGRAMMES (SECOND THURSDAY of the month for the rest of the year)

THURSDAY, 11 FEBRUARY 2010: Re-enactment - Revisiting the Battle of Gettysburg (1863); The visit of the CSS Alabama to the Cape of Good Hope (1863), and the Battle of Little Big Horn (1876)
Our speaker will be fellow-member Stan Lambrick who in the past have given us his personal impressions of what is a major interest to him: the American Civil War and Indian Wars. Members who have attended Stan's talks in the past will recall his lectures being extremely fascinating and characterised by his enthusiasm for his subjects and illustrated to the minutest detail. Due to his passion for these subjects, Stan have made numerous staunch friends in the USA and he has had the pleasure of visiting the USA on numerous occasions, as well as on occasion attending re-enactments of some of the great historical events, even to the point in participating in person in a re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg! Stan will also be addressing a historical event of local importance - the reburial of Lt. Cummings of the CSS Alabama, who was killed accidentally on South African soil, buried here, but later disinterred and subsequently re-interred in the USA.

THURSDAY, 11 MARCH 2010: Africa: The Current African Military/Political Situation
Our speaker will be Maj Helmoed-Römer Heitman, well-known author, local/international defence correspondent and commentator on military matters. He will give us a detailed oversight into the current security situation on the African continent.

THURSDAY, 8 APRIL 2010: Experiences as a Royal Netherlands Naval Fighter Pilot
Our speaker will be Mr Ben van den Berg (not a relative of our chairman!), who was born in the Netherlands and later joined the Royal Netherlands Navy, serving as a fighter pilot on the aircraft carrier RNS Karel Doorman. He will give us an account of his experiences during his time of service, which included operation off Korea during the Korean War. Mr van den Berg spoke to us previously on his wartime experiences as a boy in his hometown in the Netherlands during the Occupation between 1940 and 1945

THURSDAY, 13 MAY 2010: Blitzkrieg!: The Invasion of France & the Lowlands - 10 May 1940
Our speaker will be our Chairman, Mr Johan van den Berg, who will give an illustrated talk on the Blitzkrieg campaign of 10 May 1940 - the Battle for Flanders of May 1940 and the Battle of France in June 1940, which took place exactly seventy years ago. The campaign is generally viewed as one of the classic battles in the history of western "civilization", by no less an authority than Maj.-Gen. J.F.C. Fuller, the well-known and acclaimed military historian and -theoritician.


BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Scribe
Phone: Home: (evenings) 021-689-1639
Office: (mornings) 021-689-9771

Phone: 021-592-1279 or 021-531-6781

South African Military History Society /