by John H Marsh

DOWN at Combined Headquarters at Cape Town, more than 1,000 miles away from the marooned party, there was great activity, as plans were made to rescue it.
When it was known that aircraft would have to drop supplies to the castaways to keep them alive until help could reach them, no time was lost in arranging for a plane to be despatched. The officer commanding No.23 Bomber Squadron, stationed not far away, Major Gey van Pittius, was instructed to select a suitable pilot and crew, give them the best aircraft available, and despatch them first thing next day to render the required assistance. A message was also sent to the naval control service officer at Walvis Bay advising him that the plane would reach there next morning, December 3, and that he should purchase and have ready food and water supplies to last 65 people three days. The plane would pick these up and try to make its first flight to the wreck the same afternoon.
Choice of a pilot for the plane fell upon Captain Immins Naude, a young Cape Town man of 31. No better man could have been found for the job. Tall, broad-shouldered, dark, with a lean face and firm chin, he was one of those devil-may-cares, always game for anything. In civil life he had been a traffic policeman with the Cape Town Traffic Control Department. Always interested in aeronautics, he joined an air training scheme and learned to fly in his spare time. His father helped him to buy an Avro Avian, and he became known in the Cape as "The Flying Traffic Cop". A few months before the outbreak of war in 1939 he resigned his job and went off to America to take up civil flying as a career. He came back as soon as hostilities began, and being on the South African Air Force Reserve, was called up for active service.

Naude chose for his crew three young men like-minded as himself. As co-pilot he picked Lieutenant Paddy Nicolay, of Durban; as observer, Lieutenant Johann Doms, of Cape Town; and as radio operator, Sergeant Bentley Chapman, also of Cape Town.
At Brooklyn Airfield Naude was told to choose any plane he liked. His pick was a brand new Lockheed Ventura bomber, one of the first of many that America was supplying to the South African Air Force. It had done only 50 hours flying. One of its chief advantages was its long range. Naude knew that he would have to fly more than 800 miles over sand dunes where there were not even emergency landing grounds.
Under the pilot's directions mechanics fitted food and water containers in place of the bombs that would normally be carried, and filled and serviced the plane in readiness for the take-off first thing in the morning.
At the same time that Combined Headquarters was arranging for the plane to be despatched, an urgent telephone call was put through to Windhoek, the capital of South West Africa, 800 miles north of Cape Town and about 180 miles east of Walvis Bay. Lieutenant-Colonel R. Johnston, deputy-commissioner of the South African Police commanding the South West Africa division, was asked to organise a rescue expedition to go overland and bring back the survivors.
It was no small thing to ask of anyone. Between Windhoek and the survivors was more that 600 miles of more or less unexplored country. Only one white man had ever made the journey, and only one motor vehicle had ever travelled that way. There was a poor gravelled road for the first 200 miles or so to the railhead, Outjo, then an ill-defined native track through bush and high grass to Zesfontein, another 220 miles further on. The final 200 miles were through trackless desert and sand dunes, uninhabited, with water holes few and far between. Whole expeditions that diamond seekers and others had sent out into that forbidden land in times past had been known to vanish without trace. The rescue expedition that Colonel Johnston was asked to organise would face unknown dangers and almost insuperable difficulties, and might itself be marooned and have to be rescued.
These risks must be taken, however, if the lives of those men, women, and children were to be saved. There was no time to lose. Colonel Johnston, after a short discussion with Combined Headquarters on ways and means, agreed to take on the job. He was told that the Union Defence Force would give every aid, and that the British Admiralty would foot the bill.

His first move was to contact Colonel C. A. van Coller, who as officer commanding the South West Africa command at Windhoek, was in charge of all Union Defence Force units in the territory. Colonel van Coller agreed to provide six three-ton Ford troop carriers, a repair van, a 100-gallon water trailer, and an ambulance, all with drivers, together with rations, water, and medical supplies. He arranged for a military doctor, Captain E. L. Hutchinson, of the South African Medical Corps, to accompany the convoy.
While the vehicles, stores, and personnel were being assembled in Windhoek, Colonel Johnston telephoned Omaruru, on the railroad half-way to Outjo, and instructed Captain W. J. B. Smith, the district police commandant there, to go by car at once to Outjo and await the arrival of the convoy, of which he was to take command. Smith was a middle-aged policeman who had proved his ability in the wide open spaces. Colonel Johnston knew that he could depend upon him as a leader, and he was not to be disappointed.
Constable A. B. Geldenhuys, from the Omaruru station, who knew something of the country to be traversed, was instructed to accompany Smith. Arrangements were also made for Special Constable F. G. Cogill, of the Outjo post, to join the expedition. Cogill probably knew as much of the Kaokoveld as any man in the country. It was he who, eleven years previously, had actually penetrated deep into it by motor truck to capture four Portuguese diamond-poachers from Angola, who gave themselves up when they were facing death from thirst. He had again made part of the journey to Zesfontein, and thence north to the Angola border region, only a few months before, when he took supplies of petrol to the emergency caches arranged for the South African planes that were operating the dangerous Windhoek-Angola air service.
Within an hour of receiving the request to organise a rescue expedition, Colonel Johnston was able to report over the telephone to Combined Headquarters that the arrangements had been completed and that the expedition would start that same night. He explained as exactly as possible the route that would be followed, and, as the convoy would be travelling "blind" with no means of communication with the outside world during the latter part of its journey, he was given an assurance that aircraft would supply its "eyes" and drop messages to guide it to the castaways.

Colonel Johnston estimated that, provided nothing happened to delay it seriously, the convoy would reach the stranded party in three or four days' time. He was told that a plane would be sent from Cape Town to diop three days' supplies to the survivors, and that it would be kept at Walvis Bay to drop further supplies in the event of the overland convoy being unexpectedly delayed.
Before darkness fell that evening Smith and Geldenhuys were on their way by car to Outjo, which they reached shortly before midnight. At 10 p.m. the motor convoy started out from Windhoek on its all-night, non-stop journey to Outjo.

Copyright Michael Marsh(2020)

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