Angola Air Support (Part 2)

SAAF Mirage F1AZ

As mentioned last month, in November I’ll be putting on a demo game of the 1978 South African airborne assault on Cassinga, during the Angola ‘Border War’.  This scenario requires rather a lot of South African air power, so I’ve been making new models and sprucing up old models for the game, as well as digging out some more models from the war that haven’t seen the light of day for ten years or more.

I covered the SAAF’s Mirage F1, C-160 Transall, SA-330 Puma, Impala Mk II and Buccaneer S Mk 50 in the last article, so here are a few more aircraft from that war, as well as a small tutorial on how to convert a Shapeways 1/100th Cessna 175 into a SAAF Cessna 185A air observation post:

Above: The mainstay of the SAAF’s fast jet fleet at the start of the Border War was the Dassault Mirage III, of which South African had been a very early customer during the 1960s, having bought 15x Mirage IIICZ and 3x Mirage IIIBZ trainers.  This was followed up in the late 1960s with a further purchase of 16x Mirage IIIEZ, 3x Mirage IIIDZ trainers and 4x Mirage IIIRZ reconnaissance aircraft.

However, the SAAF’s Mirage III fleet was getting rather long in the tooth by the mid-1970s and the SAAF was looking for a replacement.  The Mirage F1 seemed to be the ideal candidate and negotiations were started with Dassault to enable licenced manufacture of the F1 within South Africa.  However, international sanctions against South Africa were ramping up and there was simply not going to be time to start a South African production line, so Dassault frantically rushed out a delivery of F1s to South Africa before sanctions stopped trade.

With fewer Mirage F1s than expected, the SAAF was going to have to keep the Mirage III in service for longer than planned and so with secret Israeli assistance, they began upgrading their Mirage IIIEZ  fleet.  This project eventually produced an advanced version of the Mirage III called the ‘Cheetah’, but this aircraft did not enter service until the 1990s; long after the reason for its existence had passed.

In the meantime, the Mirage IIICZ soldiered on and at Cassinga the Mirage IIICZs of No. 2 Squadron provided a Combat Air Patrol over the operation, as well as conducting strafing attacks against ground targets with the 30mm cannon.

Models of the Mirage III are readily available in 1/100th, with Heller and Tamiya both having produced plastic kits.  However, this one is a die-cast model by Italeri-Fabbri – originally painted in Israeli markings, I’ve repainted it as a SAAF machine.

Note that national and unit markings were routinely deleted from SAAF aircraft over Angola, so that does make painting the things slightly easier (though if you want to mark them, SAAF decals can be found in the Tamiya 1/100th Buccaneer kit, as mentioned previously).  The only markings here therefore, are the aircraft’s registration number, the ubiquitous ‘Mirage III’ logo and the ejector seat warning triangles.

Above: The arrival of the MiG-23ML ‘Flogger’ in Angola in the late 1980s came as a very nasty surprise to the SAAF, who had become rather used to getting their own way against the more typical MiG-17s and -21s.  The MiG-23ML was a considerably more capable aircraft than the older MiGs and Sukhois and also had the edge over the SAAF’s Mirage types.  Although marked as Angolan Air Force (FAPA-DAA), they were routinely flown by experienced Cuban pilots, as well as some Soviet and East German advisors, making them an extremely dangerous prospect for the SAAf to take on.

Following an engagement in 1988 where a SAAF Mirage F1 crashed on landing after being damaged by a missile from a Cuban-piloted MiG-23ML, the SAAF had to concede that they had lost air superiority over Angola.  This incident, as well as the increasing threat from large numbers of Soviet-supplied SAM-systems such as the SA-13 ‘Gopher’ and advanced MANPADS such as SA-16 ‘Gimlet’, forced the SAAF to withdraw its more vulnerable aircraft such as the Impala Mk II the theatre and restrict most of its operations to night-time.  Nevertheless, the SAAF still managed to shoot down twenty-five MiGs and Sukhois during this period (though no MiG-23s), for the loss of one Mirage F1 to an SA-13.

My MiG-23ML attacks UNITA forces during our Operation MODULER game at Bovington in 2008

Our MiG-23ML model was converted by Martin from an extremely rare MiG-27 ‘Flogger D’ plastic kit by Takara (the MiG-27 was the dedicated ground-attack version of the MiG-23).  The conversion basically involved changing the shape of the nose-cone from the MiG-27’s chisel-shape to the pointed radome of the MiG-23. and removing the long tail-rake that extends along the spine of the aircraft from the tailfin of the MiG-27 (and some marks of MiG-23, but not the ML).

I’ve spent the last ten years trying to find another Takara MiG-27 for my Soviets, though without any luck.  There is no other model of the MiG-23 or MiG-27 available in 1/100th. 🙁

Above: The Cessna 185A was used by the SAAF as an unarmed air observation post and liaison aircraft during the Border War.  They were eventually supplemented and largely replaced in the front line by the Aermacchi AM-3 Bosbok, which was an Italian-built and upgraded Cessna 185, having a much more powerful engine (and longer nose) and the capability to attach guns, bombs and rocket-pods for counter-insurgency work and target-marking.

At Cassinga a single Cessna 185A was used as a Forward Air Controller to coordinate and de-conflict the various air missions over the battlefield before being eventually driven off by anti-aircraft fire from the Cuban relief column.

However, there is no model of the Cessna 185A available in 1/100th.  I was going to do a ‘fudge’ and instead use a Cessna O-1 Bird Dog (which looks vaguely similar, though has a rounded tail-fin), but then I noticed that Shapeways produce a 3D-printed Cessna 175… The Cessna 175 is essentially the same aircraft, though has a tricycle undercarriage arrangement, whereas the Cessna 185 has a ‘tail-dragger’ configuration which is better for rough-field operations.  I thought that conversion would be an easy process, so ordered the Shapeways Cessna 175…

Above:  This is how the model looks when it arrives from Shapeways.  It’s a single-piece 3D-printed model and very nicely produced.  I need to turn it from a tricycle-undercarriage configuration into a tail-dragger:

Above:  The first job is to cut some bits of brass wire to make the landing-gear struts and steal some spare wheels from another kit:

Above:  Then bend the ends of the wire at a 45-degree angle and superglue on the wheels:

Above:  Snip off the existing undercarriage, sand smooth and then drill holes for the new undercarriage just forward of the wing-strut roots. Also drill a hole under the tail for the tail-wheel:

Above:  Cut the brass wire struts to length and superglue ’em in the ‘oles. Also add a small piece of bent brass wire to form the tail-wheel strut:

Above:  Job jobbed! 🙂


Above:  Another view of the finished and painted Cessna.  I’m very pleased with it and to be honest, it’ll also pass muster as a Bosbok (below).

This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: First Echelon, Cold War, Cold War - Angolan Border War, Painted Units. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Angola Air Support (Part 2)

  1. shaun holdsworth says:

    Hi Jemima
    I super glued paper clips to the underside of my rotor & it seems strong and not to visible
    regards Shaun

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