• George M James


I am at times astonished at what I find when researching a book. When I wrote Code Name Ghost, the South African Navy submarine book, as we refer to it, I came across the following story which I describe in Code Name July 27: “It is claimed that the SAS Maria van Riebeeck, a sister submarine of the Johanna van der Merwe (featuring in Code Name July 27), shot a Cuban helicopter down with a torpedo when trapped close to Luanda harbour. It is a story worthy of a book in itself and surely unique in the annals of sea warfare. Whether it happened or not is not really known with many stating flatly that it is only a story and nothing more. But, according to the rumour, they launched a torpedo which was guided by wire to where the helicopter was hovering and detonated it 41 feet below the surface. The waterspout knocked the helicopter down and that was it for that Mi-8. The submarine then left for safer waters. Whether this happened or not is left for the reader to decide.

Since the Daphne class torpedo warhead consisted of hundreds of pounds of high explosives, it is technically possible but only if you could know exactly where that helicopter was hovering which sonar will tell you. We often deal with explosives, military demolitions (including assassination) inside the GMJ Books. Of course, you will not become an explosives expert by reading these books (on purpose, they are written like that) but the historical and technical details are covered and are 100% correct. In Code Name Ghost we looked at shaped charges. “What you should remember when dealing with explosives, is that the energy released, the direction, can be controlled by shaping the charge into a beehive. Doing such things increases the effectiveness beyond belief and is used for nuclear weapon detonation, armour penetration and “cutting” through metal or other objects like a bridge span. You can even manipulate water into a shaped charge, it is used with bomb disposal (a water cannon, destroying everything including the bomb’s mechanism, Angelique). There is nothing new about shaped charges either, in science it is called the “Munroe or Neumann” effect. In fact, the idea of hollow or shaped charges was tried out in 1792 by German mining engineer Franz Xaver von Baader. However, they were not true shaped charges as we understand the concept. In those days, they did not have high explosives but used gunpowder, impossible to get the Munroe Effect with, it just does not burn fast enough to do so (modern explosives “move” at 32,808 feet per second, Angelique). The first true hollow charge effect was achieved using nitrocellulose also known as guncotton. In 1888, Charles E Munroe, working at the US Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island, as a civilian chemist, noticed the manufacturer's name was edged into a piece of metal after an explosion and wondered why, this was the Munroe Effect as we understand it today. The effect was already known for about five years by then but not why and Mr Munroe gave it his name. Tests showed that you can increase the destructive power of the explosion by 7 to 10 times if you are really good by using a shaped charge and that is the real magic I would say. Shaped charges are the way to go anywhere. (Okay, let me explain practically as I did with Lise and Odette, age five at the time: “Girls, imagine your rifle’s bullet (they shared a rifle then, a SAKO 85, Foxtrot) thrown into a fire at a campsite and you will regret doing so if I catch you doing that so don’t try it, the bullet will cook off but it is not focussed energy and although dangerous, not as dangerous as the following example. Imagine the same bullet coming at you, from a barrel of your rifle, the energy is focussed to get it speeding at you at tremendous speed… accurately also if either myself, your daddy or Uncle Geelslang is doing the aiming. You get? That would be the difference between a shaped charge and a normal charge, one is focused and the other not, but both are dangerous if too close to you. Now shaped the C-4 in front of you into a nice beehive for us, Angelique.”)

In Code Name July 27 we look at the combined 1 & 4 Recce attack on an oil refinery next to Luanda taking place in 1981 (Operation Kerslig, elements of the South African Navy and 7 Medical Battalion were also there). The mission succeeded and much damage was caused. However, some of the explosive charges went of too early. One operator, Captain de Kock, died and another two were seriously injured but made it out. There was a “debriefing” at Speskop afterwards where senior officers shamefully tried to shift blame which is revealed in Code Name July 27 (that debriefing was in plain Afrikaans ‘n uitkak parade, GMJ). What went wrong with the explosives I cannot reveal without spoiling the book for you but the lessons were implemented to this very day.

Code Name July 27 is due for publishing on 27 July at my website and Amazon.

​“When you hear a story, you remember, when you see the PowerPoint slides so beloved by Western Militaries, you forget within minutes and fall asleep. We don’t do boring and we count success by results, not money wasted or tons of bombs dropped, we want to win at any cost payable by the enemy.”

- Major Geoffrey Foxtrot to GMJ.

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