by John H Marsh

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 time.
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 foothold.
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 with it.
The other two had escaped more lightly, though both had received stunning blows on the head, and many superficial cuts and bruises.
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.

Copyright Michael Marsh(2020)

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