Swedish Barrels in Africa

You don’t think about the Swedish Air Force ready to drop napalm in Africa, but it was a thing.

Official caption, 60 years ago this week: “Two Swedish S29 SAAB Photo-reconnaissance jet planes arrived in Leopoldville, the Republic of the Congo, on October 23rd, 1962. Sweden has also supplied four J29 fighter jets with pilots and crew to the United Nations Forces in the Congo (ONUC). At Ndjili Airport is the United States Air Force MATS C-133 cargo plane unloading the planes after bringing them directly from Sweden.”

UN Photo # 113781

Back in the good old romantic mercenary days when you could grab a ticket to Africa and pick a side, the mass of confusion that was the 1960s Congo Crisis– which was later seen as downright gentlemanly compared to the pure shit show that was Biafra a few years later– saw a huge influx of non-aligned UN Peacekeepers from countries like Ethiopia, India, Sweden, Ireland (of “Siege of Jadotville” fame) and the like who, contrary to the UN of the 1990s and 2000s, often pulled triggers and dropped bombs in the interest of waging peace.

Cue the curious Saab 29 Tunnan.

Saab 29, colloquially called Flygande Tunnan

First flown in 1948 at a time when the Messerschmitt Me 262 was arguably still the best jet fighter in the world, the swept-wing turbojet Saab 29 Flygande Tunnan (“Flying Barrel”) set a world speed record of 607 mph and was put into production in both fighter (J= Jakt or “fighting”) and reconnaissance (S =Spaning or “scouting”) variants.

Capable of toting four nose-mounted 20mm cannons and equipped with 10 hardpoints for rockets, missiles, and light bombs, the J29 variants could take off and mix it up for an hour or so, with a combat radius of about 250 miles.

Royal Swedish Air Force SAAB J- 29 Tunnan after Napalm bombing in front of Hailie Selassie at Rosersberg in the Uppland province.

The Swedes would send a total of nine J 29B fighters and two S 29C photo reconnaissance Tunnans (the two shown in the first image above) between September 1961 and 1964, under the banner of Flygflottilj 22. They were soon joined by Iranian and Filipino F-86 Sabers and a force of Indian B-58 Canberras, giving the UN its first “Air Force.” 

Kamina Airport, UN Force in the Congo, January 1963, four Imperial Iranian Air Force F-86F Sabers of the Shah’s 103rd Tactical Fighter Squadron in the foreground, five stubby Swedish Air Force Saab 29 Tunnan to the right, and five Philippines Air Force Sabres. Also note the C-46 and two Sikorsky UH-19Ds.

A flight of four Swedish Saab 29 Tunnan (J-29) jets in the Congo

They eventually picked up a special “Congo” splinter camo scheme that they carried after late 1962.

While some of the only combat aircraft operated by the UN on the ONUC mission, Tunnan rarely engaged in combat missions or shoot down the mercenary-flown Fouga Magisters that had harassed the Irish at Jadotville. However, they were effective to a point.

From A Walter Dorn’s study: 

Active patrolling of the skies by the Swedish J-29s effectively cut the air bridge between Katanga and its allies in Portuguese West Africa and Southern Africa, precluding the introduction of new aircraft.[59] From 28 December 1962 to 4 January 1963 a total of 76 sorties were carried out by UN aircraft against Katanga’s airfields and aircraft

In the end, with the type withdrawn from service back home as they were replaced by the more advanced Saab J32 Lansen and J35 Draken, when ONUC wrapped up the Swedes destroyed their Tunnans on the ground in the Congo and flew their maintainers and pilots back home via SAS.

They have been remembered in box art and scale models. 

“Saab J 29B Tunnan Over Congo” by Zdenek Machacek

And, in semi-related news, let’s tap in Roland The Thompson Gunner…

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