General de Villiers, when he was told of the plan to organise
another sea expedition, vetoed it, fortunately for the unhappy
airman. He saw little prospect of success from the sea, for even
if the salvage party could be landed, there was not much chance
of getting ashore the heavy equipment that was required.
But that 30,000 Pound bomber was still there among the sand dunes,
and if it was humanly possible, without risking lives, it must be
recovered. So the order was given to try an overland expedition this
Naude, of course, was told off to accompany the expedition.
He had four day's rest at Walvis Bay and was then sent by train
to Windhoek. There the expedition assembled. There were eight
trucks in all, induding a Ford porte carrying a three-and-a-half ton
caterpillar tractor which had been sent up from Cape Town, with
an engineer officer and six mechanics, specially to tackle the job
of getting the aircraft out of the bog. The expedition's total
complement was 27 men, and Naude was placed in command. Cogill,
the police guide, joined later at Outjo.
The convoy left Windhoek at dawn on January 17, and
took nine days to do the journey. Five more trucks, in charge
of Sergeant Schneider, joined at Otjiwarongo, but five had to be
left behind at Zesfontein owing to mechanical trouble. Another
burned out its clutch in the Khumib River bed but caught up the
others after repairs. The tractor facilitated the journey enormously.
Where, with the other convoys, every man had sometimes struggled
for hours to get a single bogged truck onto firm ground, the
tractor now pulled them out in a few minutes. Several times when
every vehicle in the convoy got stuck, the tractor alone defied the
sand and got them all out again in quick time. At one section
it had to pull each vehicle in turn for four miles. Again it pulled
each truck three miles over the sand dunes from near where Smith's
convoy had been finally blocked, to the abandoned camp opposite
the wreck. As the difficulties of the terrain increased, the daily
mileage steadily decreased, from 200 miles on the first day to 18
on the last.
The Ventura was still standing just as it had been left, except
that its wheels had sunk more than halfway into the sand, and
corrosion had set in on them and on the engine casings. The airmen
made their camp alongside, the remainder of the convoy being left on
the beach. The tractor made short work of pulling out the plane,
and Sergeant-Major C. H. Schlengerman, who was in charge of the
maintenance crew sent from Cape Town, soon had his men at work
on the engines and controls.
At the end of four days hard work the aircraft was pronounced
ready to fly again. Having satisfied himself that she was completely
serviceable, Naude got the tractor to tow her to the take-off position.
After taking leave of the men who had gone through so much with
him in order to help save his plane, Naude took his seat in the
aircraft together with the two members of his crew, Air Mechanic
A. V. Rudman and Air Mechanic B. F. Bloemhof.
Just after one o'clock on the afternoon of January 29,
the Ventura roared into the air in a perfect take-off. As she swung
over the sea Naude took his last look at that emergency landing
ground, the survivors' camp, and the wreck, that had made the
last two months of his life seem like ten years. In a few hours, he
hoped, he would be able to close that unhappy chapter in his life,
and relegate it to the healing balm of memory. So he set his course
for Walvis Bay.
After three-quarters-of-an-hour's flying the bomber passed round
Rocky Point, flying at 300 feet above the sea. A few minutes later
the starboard engine emitted thick smoke, vibrated, and seized.
Unable to turn to try a landing on the ridge at Rocky Point, Naude
decided to come down in the shallow water between the surf and the
sand dunes. Before he could put his intention into practice, the air
speed dropped to 100 miles-an-hour, the right wing stalled, and the
bomber nose-dived from 150 feet straight into the sea.
Naude felt a crack behind his head which stupefied him for
a second. Then he realised there was green, rushing water all
around him. He sensed, rather than felt, the downward plunge
arrested. The next second he was struggling for his life in water,
far below the surface of the sea. Instinctively he slipped loose
his parachute harness and safety belt, noticed that the whole
forepart of the plane in front of him had vanished, and tried to
scramble on to his seat and thence to the wing. But something
pinned him down. Frantically he tried to free himself, his mind
numbed by the thought of drowning. Suddenly he realised that
it was his own leg, the left one, that was holding him fast. He
gave it a violent jerk and it came free. A moment later he was
scrambling on to the wing, gulping great breaths of life-giving air.
The aircraft had shaken its two engines out down there and, freed
of their weight, had shot up to the surface again. When they hit
the water, Bloemhof had been sitting in the co-pilot's seat, alongside
Naude. Now he was clambering out of the sea on to the port
wing. Of Rudman, who had been sitting in the radio compartment
behind the pilot, there was no sign. Naude and Bloemhof were
about to search for him when he bobbed up out of the waterlogged
radio cabin. He had a nasty cut on his head, having been flung
up against the roof with the impact, and then lay senseless on the
cabin floor until revived by the inrushing water.
The plane was a sorry sight. The pilot's cabin and the
observer's compartment in front of it had vanished completely.
There were gaping holes in the wings where the motors had fallen
out and both were crumpled. The fuselage was floating, waterlogged,
in three sections, held together by the control cables. There
was no sign of the tail planes or rudders.
Naude looked for the shore and found that they were about
200 yards from it. The wreckage was drifting slowly in and
beginaing to get among the breakers. The three men had to drag
themselves into the shelter of the fuselage to obtain protection from
the waves, which threatened to wash them off their insecure
While waiting for the plane to drift close enough to the beach
for them to be able to swim ashore, the airmen took stock of their
injuries. Naude had damaged his left knee beneath the skin, and
it was swelling painfully. He could not bend it. He had also torn
a muscle in his left arm, above the elbow. He was in no condition
to swim. If the aircraft should sink, he knew, he must go down
The other two had escaped more lightly, though both had
received stunning blows on the head, and many superficial cuts and
Now that he was recovering from the first effects of the shock,
Naude was able to give thought to their predicament. He realised
first of all, that Walvis Bay would not miss the plane when it failed
to arrive. He had not been able to operate the wireless to inform Rooi-
kop aerodrome that he was in the air. He knew, too, that the convoy
had no contact with civilisation and could not have reported his
departure. Its last contact with the outside world had been 11
days previously when it passed through Kamanjab. It was not
likely to return to Kamanjab for a week or more yet. Not until then
would it report the departure of the bomber for Walvis Bay. Then
the authorities would realise that some mishap had befallen the
plane, but they would probably have to send 1,000 miles for a
long-range aircraft before they could institute a search. Long before
they could be found the three airmen would have died of hunger,
thirst, and exposure.
Unless they could intercept the returning convoy. Naude
believed it would have started homeward soon after the plane took
the air. If it followed the same route it had taken on the outward
trip, it would travel down the coast for 70 miles and then go up
the Khumib River bed. He estimated that they had crashed 32
miles south of the Khumib River mouth. Could they, when they
reached land, handicapped as they were by their injuries, cover
those 32 miles on foot, before the convoy men covered their 70
miles on wheels?
It would be a race for life.