February 26, 1979 4 aircraft English Electric Canberra from the 5th squadron of the Air Force of Rhodesia (RhAF) in the course of a brave and very successful raid attacked in Angola, 1,000 km from the border of Rhodesia. The goal was a large ZIPRA camp in Vila da Luso (now Luena), in the province of Moxico, in the eastern part of the country.
Canberra B.2s of No. 5 Squadron
The raids on the territory of neighboring states, with the aim of destroying the camps of the terrorists, were not something special - the Rhodesian aircraft and paratroopers conducted them regularly. However, few people know that in addition to the raids on Zambia and Mozambique, the Rhodesian Air Force conducted a unique operation - the only raid on Angola in history. Neither before nor after this event did the Rhodesian armed forces take an active part in the Angolan war.
On February 12, 1979, the ZIPRA militants shot down a second civil aircraft, the Air Rhodesia Viscount "Umniati" flight Rh827. All 59 people on board died. (before that, the militants of ZIPRA, who entered Rhodesia from Zambia on September 3, 1978, using the Strela-2M MANPADS, shot down a civilian airliner Air Rhodesia Viscount "Hunyani" flight Rh825). Two weeks after the incident, the Rhodesian aircraft successfully bombed the militant camp in Angola.
About 3,000 militants were concentrated in the camp, trained by Cuban and East German instructors.A couple of weeks before the raid, another batch of advisers, numbering about 500, arrived from the GDR in Africa. Some of them were sent to this camp. Both terrorists and advisers believed that Vila da Luso was beyond the reach of the Rhodesian Air Force. The camp was covered by Angolan fighters, 300 kilometers from Vila da Luso was the airfield of Enrique de Caravaglio, on which the Cuban MiG-17 was based. In addition, the path from Rhodesia to Angola was controlled by radars - although Zambia’s air defense was set up and serviced by Britain, and the USSR was in charge of Angola’s air defense.
In the operation "Vanity" took part 4 aircraft from the 5th squadron (one of the aircraft was assembled literally in parts from spare parts). The bomber squadron (“Find and Destroy” motto) was based in New Sarum and consisted of English Electric Canberra B2 and English Electric Canberra T4 bomber.
With the full bomb loading, Vila da Luso was at the limit of the Canberra range. However, several "Hunters" from the 1st Squadron were equipped with additional fuel tanks - they had an order to invade the airspace of Angola and, if possible, to cover "Canberra" from a height, while maintaining radio silence mode.Command "Dakota" was to accompany the strike force, as far as the fuel allowed it, and in case of danger - to call for help South African aircraft.
Three "Canberras" were loaded with Alpha-type bombs, the fourth carried six conventional 500-kg bombs. It was planned that at dawn the planes would take to the air from the Victoria Falls airfield. The departure, however, was delayed by 20 minutes, due to a malfunction with the communication system on one of the bombers. As luck would have it, this plane was the “Canberra” commander of the strike group, 45-year-old Major Ted Brent, who by that time had served in the Air Force for more than a quarter of a century. It was decided that the three “Canberras” would be sent on a mission anyway, and Brent would try to join them later, as soon as the problems were fixed.
The route was planned in advance. From Victoria – Falls, “Canberra” flew to Cazengula (80 km), a small town on the Zambezi River, where the borders of four states converge: Rhodesia, Botswana, Zambia and South-West Africa. From there they headed north-west to the Zambian city of Mongu, also located on Zambezi, 370 km. This part of the flight was the most convenient - the pilots could “become attached” to the river.All further navigation was carried out using the reckoning method, since the flight was made over flat terrain without any reference points. In Mongu, Brent joined the three bombers - his radio was repaired, and he flew to the rendezvous with his group at maximum speed. Mongu was a civilian airfield - when bombers appeared from the ground they were asked to identify themselves. The Rhodesians ignored the request and, turning around, went in the direction of Angola - to the goal to be overcome another 510 km.
Shortly after Mongu was left behind, the link entered the inter-cloud layer — above it was pinnate-layered clouds, below it was high-layered. In these conditions, the pilots could not navigate the map: it remained only to hope for the skill of the navigators and that the compass was not lying. Navigator Brent laid the course in such a way as to reach a point above the Benguela railway, a few kilometers west of Vila da Luso. Actually the camp of terrorists was located somewhat east of the city. Brent decided to “bind” to the railway and go on the attack from the west to deceive ground services - in this case, from the Canberra land they could easily have been considered Angolan aircraft coming from the west coast.
All this time, the bombers were accompanied by a cover from the “Hunters” and “Dakota”. The fighters were above the clouds, while the Dakota was significantly lower. At one point, the Dakota was shot at - the pilots spotted the gap. What exactly it was was not known for sure: either the anti-aircraft projectile or the self-detonating Strela. In the north of South-West Africa, a squadron of "Mirages" of the South African Air Force stood ready - in case Angolan fighters tried to intercept the Rhodesians. However, there was no alarm signal from the Dakota and the South African pilots continued to sit at the airfield.
During this entire flight in the clouds, the Rhodesian pilots did not have the opportunity to navigate either the sun or the ground. After a while, Brenta’s navigator announced that they were approaching a calculated point on the railway. Brent gave the order an order to descend - the planes left the clouds at an altitude of 615 meters and continued to descend to the maximum allowable height to avoid the appearance of Angolan radars on the screens. The link actually went above the treetops - a veld consisting of coppice – mopani was spread under its wings.
Finally, the railroad appeared below.The navigator’s calculations were accurate - the link reached the calculated point, deviating only a couple of kilometers, and one minute late. Making a U-turn, the Canberras headed east, entering Vila da Luso and further on the camp from the west, as planned. But then an unexpected obstacle stood in the way - a thunderhead. There was no way around it, the bombers were going at low altitude, and Brent decided to fly through the storm. Five minutes before the strike, the planes went up to a bomb height of 90 meters. Three minutes later, Brent gave the order to open bomb holes, although the target was not yet visible due to the thunderstorm.
Then, as is often the case in Africa, the thunderstorm suddenly ended, and the reconstructed bombers went out into the open. The camp of militants was exactly in front of them. Thirty seconds later, all the bombs exploded where they were intended. Bombing was successful.
All this time, at an altitude of 900 meters, the Hunters followed the bombers, tracking the radio communications of the Zambian and Angolan Air Forces and Air Defense. Later it became known that on that day these countries did not undertake any activity at all - until the attack of the Rhodesians.It turned out that RhAF took the enemy off guard.
Having bombed, “Canberra” dropped to 30 meters and went south to confuse tracks. Five minutes later, the planes climbed 1,200 meters and headed straight for Victoria Falls. As Brent recalled later, the decision to leave at such a height was risky - it was a so-called. trail height, the height at which the contrails trail behind the plane, which the Rhodesian pilots did not like. However, the pilots were lucky - because of the clouds, the trail was not visible from the ground.
In fact, at the Canberra Victoria – Falls airfield, they actually arrived on an honest word: there was fuel left in the tanks for five minutes of flight. But on this adventure did not end - on the way it turned out that one bomb, already put on a combat platoon, did not come out of the bomb bay. On the way home, the pilot all the time tried to somehow solve this problem, but to no avail. In the end, he had to make the most impeccable landing in the history of RhAF!
When all the planes landed, the ill-fated Canberra was otrulili away from the rest. After that, from the local police station nearby, we had to urgently requisition all the blankets and mattresses - of which they built a huge pillow under the hatch.With the help of a crowbar, the jammed doors of the hatch opened slightly and one of the technicians was able to defuse the bomb. According to Brent, “we were still not completely sure that it was discharged. With the greatest precautions, we plunged her onto this mountain of mattresses, and finally, took a breath. Honestly, I was not afraid - I was terrified! ”
Thanks to the excellent work of the Rhodesian intelligence, the RhAF pilots were able to ignore the anti-aircraft defense of Zambia and Angola, and the Cuban MiGs simply did not have time to react. According to South African aviation, during the raid, 160 militants were killed and 530 were injured.
The officers of the 5th Squadron. Standing from left to right: Greg Todd, Chris Dickson ("Leader Green"), Ted Brent (commander of the strike link of Operation Vanity), Mike Ronny, Doug Pasee, Terry Bennet, Al Bruce. Sit: Jim Russell, Glen Pretorius.
The raid had several consequences. Firstly, the militants of ZIPRA were convinced that even in the supposedly distant Angola they were not guaranteed security. Secondly, RhAF once again demonstrated to all interested parties that there are no impossible tasks for them. And thirdly, the raid was able to strongly embroil the government of Zambia, and without that, is not very pleased with the fact that there are ZIPRA camps in the country because of which Zambia was regularly subjected to attacks, and terrorists.The fact is that immediately after the raid, the camp in Vila da Luso was brought on high alert. As is usually the case, the level of nervousness exceeded all imaginable limits. In the evening of the same day, the totally insane militants, who used to see the Rhodesian airplanes everywhere, managed to knock out an aircraft. What is immediately reported to the world. Immediately it became clear that the plane really belonged to the Air Force - only not Rhodesia, but Zambia. A cadet of the Zambian air force made a training flight on Aermacchi - and ran into an Arrow.