Italian wings in post-war conflicts: the South African MB326 in the "Bush war"

(To Manuele Serventi Merlo)

Placed into service since the early '60, the MB326 of the then Aermacchi immediately found a good success in terms of sales abroad for its undoubted qualities of flexibility of use and ease of use even in poor conditions . Among the air forces that bought the new Italian aircraft there was also the South African Air Force that introduced it initially in the M version (similar to the previous version G), built locally under license by Atlas Aircraft Corporation with the indigenous designation Impala Mk1 starting from 1966.

In the ranks of the South African Aviation, however, these aircraft built under license come into service after the 40 MB326 built initially directly by the Italian plants of the Hermès. Once the Italian assembly line specifically dedicated to satisfying the South African requirements as contractually specified, the Atlas aircraft industries produced a total 125 MB326M national air force.

At the previous M version, the single-seat K version was soon joined. As for the previous model, it too was initially purchased directly in Italy in a small batch of 7 specimens. Subsequently, through the use of special kits, the Atlas industries were able to independently build other 15, soon followed by other 78 after obtaining a production license from Aermacchi also for the MB326K in the 1974, designated in South Africa Impala Mk1 and equipped - also - with local ECM electronic suite.

With the help of these specimens, the South African Military Air Force effectively fought the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (also known by the acronym FAPLA) and the Cuban councilors who assisted them in a whole series of military campaigns. fought between the 1975 and the 1989 commonly known by the unique name of "Bush war" and which will also end with the declaration of independence of the current Namibia in the early '90 of the last century.

In this war context, the pilots of the Impala South Africans carried out their tactical support missions, usually flying at an average maximum altitude of 15 meters on the ground and with a speed of 550 / 650 Km / h in order to escape the violent Angolan anti-aircraft reaction, camouflaged with the standard Dark Earth colors and Dark Olive Green also used on SA.316 helicopters Alouette III and SA.330 Puma as well as on some other aircraft. Anti-aircraft that, thanks to the use of the tactics shortly before illustrated, caught very few centers with the sole exception of a MB326 shot down by an SA-7 missile. Another Aermacchi, however, surprisingly, returned to his starting point despite having a missile driven into the engine area.

For the assigned tasks the MB326 in the two-seater M and single-seat K versions could be armed with various combinations of bombs, rocket or cannon. During the "Bush war" the Aermacchi aircraft flew their war missions using mainly SNEB rockets containing 68 mm rockets - on one aircraft there could be two containing 18 rockets, 4 each from 6 each - and two 30 mm guns with 300 shots about available each. More rarely, however, the MB326s were equipped with the types of bombs then supplied in the SAAF (South African Air Force).

These cannons were the real advantage of the Impala Mk II, contributing decisively to provide superior performance compared to the previous two-seater version that could only be transported in special pods under the wings.

Also for this reason, most of the SAAF squadrons were equipped with the Impala Mk during the years 70 and 80 coming, consequently, widely used in contrast to Angolan militias at least that most Impala were withdrawn from their operational bases in south-west Africa, leaving work to Mirage III and Blackburn Buccaneers before the Moduler operation began.

Alongside the tactical support task, the MB326, further confirming its excellent flexibility of use, also found use as an anti-helicopter interceptor. This was especially the case in 1985, at the crucial stage of the ongoing clashes between the South Africans and their UNITA allies to the Angolans of FAPLA and to the Cuban support troops sent by Castro to help them.

During a strong offensive by the Angolans and their Cuban allies against the UNITA bases, their supply lines were cut off by the joint action of the UNITA rebels and the SAAF planes, causing a dangerous lack of ammunition among the troops engaged on the ground, among which, as already anticipated, MB326 had a lion's share.

To compensate for this, a number of transport helicopters, especially Mi-17, escorted by Mi-24, were heavily employed. But these helicopters ended soon in the sights of the South African pilots Impala so that in a first sortie the MB326 managed to knock down two Mi-24s escorted to the same number of Mi-17s. Days later, the same fate fell to two other Mi-24s and to the same number of Mi-17s that were destroyed by using the 30 mm cannons.

Not even the stock carried out by the MiG-21 to avoid such an event: the Soviet fighters, in fact, were flying at too high an altitude to be able to intervene elficamente in time to counter the attacks of the South African MB326 that had to face the enemy helicopters prepared the simple but fruitful tactics.

This consisted of flying very low following the profile of the ground as in any typical tactical support mission, climbing only when the helicopters were spotted at higher altitudes. After the attack, the South African aircraft had to return to lower altitudes to avoid interception, especially by the MiGs.

When such events took place, however, the war that placed the South Africans on their Angolan and Cuban counterparts was now in its final stages. With the beginning of the 90 years, the World experienced geopolitical upheavals that significantly changed the existing situation. Suffice it to think, only, at the end of Soviet communism that much had helped the Angolans and Cubans in the form of precious logistical and military aid. All of this, combined with the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the advent of the former persecuted Mandela's country of the African National Congress, put an end to the conflict between the various parties.

It also inevitably ended with the operational use of the South African MB326s that remained in service until the end of the 90 years without carrying out any major operational tasks, except to equip the local acrobatic team called "Silver Falcons".

(photo: South African Air Force / web)