An evaluation of the SADF’s strategic requirements for the next 10-15 years was carried out in 1960 and a document was issued in November 1960. In this evaluation the need of the SAAF was also identified. One of the requirements was the need to have a strike force consisting of “Light” bombers, which could be used in retaliatory attacks in the event of the then Union of South Africa being attacked or threatened. Secondly the bombers would be seen by potential enemy as a deterrent and should deter them from launching attacks on South Africa.
Types that were investigated and evaluated were the Canberra and Buccaneer from the UK and the Dassault Mirage IVA from France. Initially the Canberra was discarded because of its age, the Buccaneer because of it being new and untried, and the Mirage IVA because it was too expensive.
The SAAF decided to investigate and evaluate the Handley Page Ltd Victor BMK2 bomber, which was offered at R2,5M each. The Victor could fly at 53,000ft, carry a bomb load totalling 54,000lbs, over a distance of 1710 miles, or with 14,000lbs over 2,800 miles. In the last instance a return trip of 5600 miles. Departing Windhoek, Accra in Ghana could be bombed, and the bombers could still return to SA without refuelling. A requirement of 8 aircraft was determined.
The SAAF also evaluated the VC10 as a possible tanker. However, due to operational and financial restrictions at the time, the offer for the Victor bomber was declined by the then SADF.
In a memorandum dated 21 April 1962 from the Chief of Air Staff, Cmdt-Gen B.G. Viljoen a recommendation was made to the Cmdt-Gen of the SADF, Cmdt-Gen P.H. Grobbelaar to purchase 16 Buccaneer Mk2’s (later designated S MK50) and 6 Canberra B(1)8 bombers. The Buccaneer’s were to be delivered in about 1964, and the Canberra’s with spares and equipment, as soon as possible. An option on the 6 Canberra’s was due to expire on 30 April 1962. It was recognised that the Canberra’s would be an interim measure until the arrival of the Buccaneer’s. This was not to be, as the Canberra served for 28 years with the SAAF and would have soldiered on for many more if it was not for the rationalisation that took place in 1991.
The SAAF also considered the Grumman A6 Intruder, but the USA Gov did not want to sell fighters or bombers to the RSA.
Mention must also be made that at this stage SA had for many years relied on the UK for its military supplies, in terms of the Simon’s Town agreement. It was only when Harold Wilson’s Labour Gov came into power that there was a change of attitude towards SA. He indicated his intention to enforce the voluntary UN arms embargo against SA. The Buccaneer order signed in 1963 was thus in jeopardy as none of the aircraft had been delivered at that stage. They actually wanted to sell our Buccaneers to India. However commonsense prevailed and the Buccaneers were delivered. It was Harold Wilson, who refused to replace Buccaneer 417, which crashed into the sea on the delivery flight from the UK in 1965. He also declined SA’s request to order additional Buccaneers in later years, an option for between 14 and 20 was on record.
The Minister of Defence Mr J.J. Fouche authorised the purchase of the 16 Hawker Siddeley Buccaneers for a total cost of R44 Million for delivery from 1965 onwards. The cost of a Buccaneer was R2,750,000 each with ancillaries.
As a matter of interest the 6 Canberra B(1)12 with two Rolls-Royce Avon 109 engines were purchased at a price of R650 000 each, unpacked, in flying trim, with empty tanks. The SAAF could actually have bought 4 Canberra B(1)12’s for the price of one Buccaneer….! although the Buccaneer was a far more modern and advanced aircraft than the Canberra and much more complicated to maintain and operate.