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Military page Summary.
Military page Summary.
Introduction to the Angolan War.
Introduction to the Angolan War.
History of ANGOLA (1300 to 1990).
To read about the geography of Angola, a historical summary, and a detailed history, click on History of ANGOLA or the flag of Angola.
ANGOLA AND SOUTH WEST AFRICA: A FORGOTTEN WAR (1975-1989).
To read the summary of the Angolan War, click on Summary of the Angolan War or the flag SADf flag.
Link to site for account of Battle for Cuito Cuanavale and Cuba-spin http://www.rhodesia.myweb.nl/cuito.htm and http://www.rhodesia.myweb.nl/barber.htm and http://www.rhodesia.myweb.nl/modhoop.htm
The year 1980.
Weakened by this severe blow, SWAPO indulged in desultory guerrilla operations until the end of the year. In the year 1980, the South Africans killed 1,147 guerrillas, and lost about 100 soldiers.
To read about the Medals awarded for bravery in 1980, click on Medals awarded in 1980
Angolan War Statistics.
South Africa helped the West win the Cold War.
Major contenders in the Cold War, USA vs USSR.
The United States showed the devastating effectiveness of this new weapon in 1945 with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Many historians believe that this was to both shorten the war and showcase US military technology to intimidate the Soviet Union. Nuclear weapons insured that regional conflicts did not escalate into a war of global proportions since both the U.S. and the USSR pursued a policy of "Mutual Assured Destruction Deterrence" (MADD) by the 1950’s.
The Cold War was an ideological struggle that involved covert (CIA and KGB) actions in Greece (1947), Turkey (1947) and Iran (1952), and low intensity conflicts (LIC’s) such as The Korean "Police Action" (1950-1952) and the Vietnam War (1963-1975), and LIC "proxy wars" such as Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq and Angola, and regime change by assassination such as Egypt's Sadat.
The Cold War lasted for over 40 years and ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989.
Angola, just another battleground.
As the war escalated the USSR was forced to supply more and more (and more sophisticated) arms and equipment to prevent losing this war. The USSR was also engaged in Afghanistan, and this gave Reagan an opportunity to change "the rules of the Cold War". The USA's nukes strategy conformed with the MADD doctrine where the USA matched the USSR missile production, Reagan identified that this allowed the USSR to balance it's overall production as the situation required.
In the early 1980's, Reagan initiated the "Nuclear Arms Race" where the USA exceeded the USSR's nuke production, understanding that the socialist system and it's centralized economy would not be able to match USA production and it's economy would implode. The USSR fell apart in 1989, and with no more support from the USSR for the Cubans, all warring sides were able to agree on UN resolution 435. The Angolan War was over for South Africa and all SA drafted soldiers!
My Military Service Summary.
Durban, SA: January 1979
My Military Service Details.
Bloemfontein, SA: January 1979
After a couple of weeks you learnt short-cuts or "gypo's" to save time and you would have completed your preparation for inspection before lights out. The bad part was that the instructors knew this and started coming up with ways to consume your personal time. For example, a nice evening jog in full battle dress, rifle etc. would mean you would have clothes to wash (again), webbing, rucksacks and a rifle to clean before the 08h00 inspection. You were never allowed to have a quiet weekend (no pass to leave the camp) with nothing official planned. If you hoped to catch up on your sleep after your Saturday gardening, you would be sorely disappointed.
If it rained there was always hotdogs-and-hamburgers on Saturday night. First crawl around the barracks a couple of times, then roll one lap (this gets you nice and muddy and messes up your carefully levelled and raked perimeter) and then crawl into the barracks through the front door and then crawl over the first bed and under the next, continue this pattern until you have muddied up every bed, all the floors, walls and furniture. If your instructors had timed it right, it would be close to lights-out so would have just enough time for a shower and to think about how the mud will have dried by the time you get back from church on Sunday morning!
We also had a couple of corporals who would be physically abusive. My solution was to leave the barracks if I suspected the instructors had been out drinking and planned to "visit" their troops. I usually went and sat on the obstacle course or somewhere in the darkness where I could see the instructors leave.
First pass after 9 weeks. Tempe organised buses to Joburg and Durban. Buses left Bloem at 17h30 Friday and you were back in base at 4am Monday morning in time for 5am rollcall. We earned R1.05 a day (R35 a month, approximately $35 in 1979) so the R18 ($18) for busfare was pretty steep, the best thing about using the bus was that if it was late, you were not considered AWOL (someone high up in the military must have got paid for allowing a bus service exclusive rights to this profitable business.) One trip the bus hit a horse (fortunately on the return trip) and we arrived at camp about 5 hours late, we missed a large part of the post-pass ritual of tire-flipping and Ratel-towbar PT, and were not singled out for additional punishment for being late. Another advantage of using the bus service was that if they got you to book on the bus and it was confirmed that the bus was running that weekend, your weekend pass would not be cancelled at the last minute for a frivolity as the captain would have to justify the loss of revenue.
Second phase of Basics.
We also graduated from doing PT in running gear to battle PT. The 2,4km test run was now also run in battle dress (BDUs and boots) plus your staaldak, webbing and geweer (helmet, combat webbing and rifle.) Trained in basic survival techniques and camoflage. One of most exhausting days was bayonet training, we ran all day, screaming and yelling, and bayonetted foam-filled sacks from sunrise to sundown. Only one injury, guy put the bayonet through his boot and foot, and into the ground! Trips to the bush - de Brug training area approx. 20km from base. Sleep deprivation was a major part of "training" in the bush. All sorts of creative ways to deprive you of sleep.
Since you knew you were going to the bush for 5 days, but would have to walk/run back (carrying whatever you took with) you packed the bare minimum, this meant that you got wet if it rained, and almost froze to death in winter. Water was also hard to come by, water truck was available to fill your water bottle in the morning and in the evening. Bathing was not an option. Summer and thirst was your constant companion, winter had freezing nights sleeping on the frost laden ground (if you didn't want your rifle to rust, it slept in your sleeping bag with you.) Physically and mentally exhausted after 5 days of harassing, trench digging, running for your meals, training and other mind-games designed to ensure that you never slept for more than one hour in any one place.
Example of activities in the bush: if someone took a crap and did not bury it and it was discovered by an instructor, the company would have to line up and pass the turds from hand to hand until the dump reached a freshly dug hole. There was a lesson in this exercise, hygiene around the camp, but it was lost in the pomp and ceremony of the turd funeral. Also, our minds were not focusing on the crime, but how to clean up our hands without using water - and stay healthy. Sand and damp toilet paper worked for me. This lesson seemed to bring great joy to the instructors, and there was always someone stupid/lazy enough to provide the material. Shaving considered very important part of hygiene. Cold (icy) water and facial cuts were ok in the pursuit of a close shave! Sheer lunacy in a dusty, grimy world with very little water.
When you were not in the base and there was no field kitchen, "hot" meals were brought out to your temporary base in insulated metal containers. I cannot ever remember the instrutors saying, "Okay, get your eating utensils out and line up for your meal." The arrival of the food was the signal for the games to begin. Generally you spent the next 30 minutes running from landmark to landmark, with no discernable goal other than make sure the food was covered in dust from our pounding boots, and/or allow the food to get cold. In winter this made the food harder to eat as the "gravy" would congeal and solidify into a white, fatty gel with pieces of meat hidden in it. You were forced to eat large quantities of fat to obtain any protein. The other problem was cleaning up without hot water and detergent. A smart soldier would always have Glad plastic bags to cover his dixies and dispose of after the meal.
Even a "field trip" to the shooting range was something to be avoided. You did very little shooting, but a lot running and sitting in the sun. A smart-ass comment by me was rewarded with a order to "run numbers to 'E'cho". How to run numbers at the shooting range: Pick up a sealed box of R1M1 ammo (24kg wooden case) "run" to the top of the shooting berm, around the sign designating target A1 and down to the base of the hill. Repeat for A2, A3 thru A7, then B1 thru B7, etc. I have heard of guys being sent to "M" (this usually got you in hospital or you were charged for failing to obey an order - due to your inability to complete the order) but I never saw anyone complete this task successfully.
Weapons training on R1 (Belgian FN 7.62mm), hand-grenade, rifle grenade, 88mm bazooka, Uzzi (9mm), flame thrower, Browning machine gun (7.62mm and .50), Bren machine gun, MAG machine gun, 20mm and 90mm Ratel cannon. We did a lot of shooting usually at 50 and 100 meters, occasionally we did Table2. Table2 is an exhausting format where you started on the 600m mark and shot 5 rounds, sprinted to the 500m mark and fired 5 rounds, repeat until you reached the 100m mark and fired 10 rounds. Your score was then tallied up - it was usually bad, due to your gasping for breath. This was a good indicator of how accurate you would be under battle conditions.
Military promoted "competition" between driver, riflemen and gunners and our neighbour units 1SSB (Special Services Battalion - Armour, including tanks) and 1Parabats (airborne paratroopers.) This was strange considering that in 3 months time, the enemy would become part our fighting team when we were assigned to Ratel crews and fighting companies. One night the gunners came into our bungalow on a friendly "raid", they ran down the aisles and swatted anyone they could with pillows. One beautiful human being responded to the raid with severe prejudice and stabbed one of the gunners in the back with his trusty Okapi knife! These raids were relatively commonplace (and seemed to be tolerated by the camp leadership.) The year before, a Parabat had been killed by a SSB troop - head injuries due to being clubbed by a balsak (kitbag) containing an electric iron. There were also numerous injuries. They were very careful to ensure that we did not have access to ammunition in the base camp as I am sure we would have had sniping incidents. (also suicide prevention)
One day, after we had completed the morning parade, but still on the parade ground, I accidentally dropped my rifle and an instructor saw it. He made me gently lay down my weapon, stand at attention and then fall beside it. Just before I hit the ground I put my hands out to break my fall. This was unacceptable so I had to place my hands in my pockets and fall again. He was only satisfied when saw a perfectly straight body (no bananaring allowed) slam face first into the ground and produce a dust cloud!
At some point during this phase of training, Cpl Dakin took Brian D. and myself aside and suggested that we volunteer for Anti-tank training. This was a huge dilemma for us (you don't volunteer for anything, unless you know exactly what you are going to have to do!), and as there were no anti-tank Ratels in service yet there was a risk that we would move from driving to suicidal tank-busters. We decided to trust our instructor and within days we were on the train to the School of Infantry in Oudshoorn.
Oudtshoorn, SA: May 1979
Back in the base, we were treated like royalty, we had structured classes and actually got into some in depth theory on anti-tank weapons and tactics. Trained to use 89mm rocket launcher, 106 recoilless gun, Entac and Milan missile. They also had a Milan simulator where we practiced for hours and hours, shooting what would have cost millions. (at the time a HEAT missile cost R250,000 each.) This is one of the sweetest anti-tank weapons I know of, I believe the USA started using them in the 1991 Gulf War. It's easy to carry, sealed ammo keeps out water and dust and as long as you kept the little red light on the target, you could penetrate 1 foot of panzer steel or 6 feet of concrete!
Bloemfontein, SA: June 1979
We no longer got "catered" meals brought out to us in the bush, and as we had vehicles to carry our food, we were issued canned food before we left the base. We were generally rationed to 1 can per day per person, and one person from each vehicle would draw the food rations for their crew, while the others were drawing equipment, ammunition etc. We were able to choose your cans from a large bin, the challenge was that there were no labels on the the cans! So you initially made mistakes and you had to eat diced carrots and sliced beetroot for days, but you quickly learnt to identify the contents by the serial number stamped on the cans. The other challenge was that on a lot of the manuevers you were not allowed to make fires or use stoves. This meant cold food and no COFFEE for days! If "activity" was detected, your position was deemed to have been compromised and you would have to abandon the current temporary base (TB) or firing position, follow evasive proceedures and eventually set up another TB, this denied you the opportunity to grab some sleep.
One trip to de Brug I borrowed a Ratel, the driver responsible for the vehicle was not happy with the condition in which I returned it. My crew and I went on orders and were sentenced to "run doggies" after PT for a week. Each one of us had to drag a truck tire (cannot carry it) by a rope for 2 laps around the base (distance was approx 3km) in under 15 minutes. If you missed the time limit, you had to run an extra lap.
Sometime in this phase of training I was also sentenced to carrying a concrete block with me at all times for about a month. My constant companion and I were only separated during parades where was left on the side of the parade ground, and when I went on pass he was left at the front gate of the base and retrieved when I returned. The other object used in this program was a tank-track. The tank-track was easier to handle and strap on your back, but the block got smaller and lighter as it was eroded with abuse.
Just before the July intake of new recruits, Alpha and Bravo company moved out of the base and we built ourselves a tent town at deBrug in the middle of nowhere - actually there were some shower stalls nearby. There was no hot water and the wind whistled through the shelter, making for very quick showers in winter. During this phase every conscripted soldier was ordered to sign a non-disclosure statement, I didn't think much of it at the time but I wish I had been more distrustful. (See Censorship.)
My father called my company commander, Capt Harmse and asked him if I would be able to study by correspondence through UNISA. He assured my father it was possible and then set out to make my life a misery (I am not sure if he was jealous that someone had plans outside of the military, or that he just hated "Engelsmanne") - whenever my unit had offtime, he now had a name and I would be volunteered for extra duties, ensuring that I had no time to study. He died in a operation in Angola in 1981. Apparently he jumped into a bunker holding a grenade with the pin out, a terrorist in the bunker shot him in the stomach and he dropped the grenade....
Potchefstroom, SA: January 1980
Messina, SA: January 1980
Bloemfontein, SA: March 1980
Omuthiya, South West Africa (SWA): April 1980
All outgoing mail was censored. Began the daily grind of practicing attacks on imaginary terrorist bases. After approximately 3 weeks, Alpha company arrived and the base was isolated and no-one was allowed to leave the base. Rations etc. were delivered to the base instead of us drawing them from Tsumeb. We constructed a "terr base" which consisted of a network of trenches and bunkers and began practicing attacks on it. Drivers, gunners and crew-commanders were included in intelligence briefings on what to expect and specific vehicle tasks. The day before departure at about 1am - a company clerk woke me up and told me that the Major wanted me to get a "boomstamper" attached to my vehicle as I was going to be the lead vehicle. I could not find any tiffies (mechanics), or the part so gave up at about 3am. Major Fouche went ballistic, screaming at me, I just switched off and imagined that I was on North Beach in Durban. He was even more upset that he wasn't upsetting me! No-one else he dispatched was able to locate the part he thought he had ordered, so he gave up.
Our convoy left base camp on 8 June and headed north on the backroads towards Angola. A couple of hours up the road, we passed a Buffel that had lost a wheel after hitting a landmine. We stopped outside the Eenana base and refueled, ate our rations and waited for sundown. We crossed into Angola as it got dark and drove with lights on until we pulled into a closed laager (near Mongua, I think) at about 23h00 and slept in shallow trenches we dug for ourselves. The "road" we followed had been marked with tape on the trees by the Recces. Before sun-up, we were driving north again, driving all day and into the night, stopping only to refuel. Finally we pulled into our closed laager positions at 02h00 in preparation for our first-light attack that morning of the 10June1980. We were supposedly close to our first objective and had to remain at our battle stations in case we were detected and attacked. I managed to doze for an hour or so before we began moving towards the SWAPO base codenamed Smokeshell, located 250 kms north of the SWA border.
We finally reached the setup point at 14h00 after starting out at 04h00, and got assembled for the attack. Artillary shells were passing overhead - I found that reassuring - and there was black smoke rising above the trees in front of us. The enemy base was located in a heavily wooded area covering about 65square kms, this made it difficult to keep in visual contact (and to keep in formation.) One of my vehicle's antenna was ripped off by tree branches and we lost communication with our platoon leader. We maintained speed and direction hoping to re-establish visual contact. At one point we moved into an open area of tree stumps which threatened to rip out the front axle, we decided to turn around and skirt the field. This turned out to be a good decision, as we later encountered enemy trenches and if my vehicle had been immobilised, we would probably have been killed. Reached objective and regrouped with platoon leader 72 after only riding over 4 or 5 bunkers and trench complexes and destroying a grass/mud hut at a range of 500m with one 90mm HE round. Made a temporary repair to the antenna mounting and installed a new antenna, but we still had poor communications.
Formed open lager with remainder of Bravo company to provide a safe landing zone for the choppers and waited for them to arrive to casevac the wounded. Bravo company was fortunate to have swept through a lightly defended area and had suffered no losses, a broken arm and a few non-life threatening bullet wounds in arms. Alpha company was not so lucky and had 2 Ratel 20s shot out. Callsign 21 had burned out completely and 9G was riddled with anti-aircraft bulletholes and RPG7 holes. We used sand to soak up the blood and flesh and a driver volunteered to drive 9G back to SWA. Due to mechanical problems, the Command vehicle 9G was on loan to callsign 21C. Our intelligence briefing told us to expect the AA guns to be on scaffolding, however the 12.7mm and 23mm AA guns that did the damage were in the middle of cornfields and slightly dug in, with a bomb-proof bunker nearby for the gunners to retire to. The Ratel drivers did not detect the guns until they were being fired upon broadside and at less than 30 meters away. There were numerous other Ratels that had their armour pierced by AA rounds AP mortars. 13 soldiers from our Infantry unit were dead and ? seriously wounded, 5 of the dead were drivers. We watched in slow-motion fascination as the Puma helicopters came in toward the landing zone to pick up our wounded and came under fire from 12.7mm AA guns and RPG7s. The circling Alouette gunships returned fire as we set up in line abreast formation and then swept through the area to secure the area. The choppers were then able to land and remove our wounded. It was getting dark and 82mm mortars were still falling on us periodically as we worked the next sweep. Darkness forced us to retreat to a secured area and set up open lager. Radio silence, no noise or light, stay at your post, battle ready. We sneaked out of our vehicle one at a time to get water and wizz (first opportunity in 12+ hours.)
The enemy did not know exactly where we were, but they still threw mortars in our general direction, they probably knew they had to run for it before daybreak and could not take their ammo with them. We were exhausted, dehydrated and demoralised. In 3 days, we had eaten twice and slept 4 or less hours. We knew we had lost 2 vehicles (10 soldiers per Ratel 20), but did not know who and how many. Our platoon tracker, Willem from 32 Battalion heard a conversion in Portuguese coming from a nearby bunker. He ordered them out of the bunker - 2 SWAPO terrorists. They were both signallers, about 13 years old and had been abducted by SWAPO a year or 2 before. The one guy could speak 5 languages and had been to Moscow for training, he also knew how to operate the B56 and B26 radios in our vehicles! These would be our only prisoners taken, as our orders were to shoot anyone in the enemy base before they had the opportunity to surrender. There were a few women killed (they were in uniform) and also a few Cubans. We failed to get any of the Russian advisors as they escaped by vehicle and our Parabats (airborne troops) acting as the stopper group were not in position when the Buccaneer bombers had began the initial bombardment.
Sunrise, the enemy was gone, but they had left their dead where they fell. The Lt. stopped at each vehicle and gave us a situation report, (I learned my friend Steve Cronje was dead) and ordered us to clean up the battleground. We then had the tedious task of burying the bodies, tie long rope around an arm or leg and roll/drag the body until you were satisfied there no booby-traps under the body. Untie the rope, grab a piece of their clothing and drag them into the nearest trench. No bodies above ground level and the Lt. verified the body count, we then filled in the trenches with dirt. Cleared bunkers, loaded up ammo on trucks. Destroyed unserviceable equipment and ammo. We found a kraal with 60+ cattle, shot them all, a leg to each vehicle, since we did not have time to cook, we used our rat-pack salt and pepper to make biltong which we hung to dry in the back of our Ratel 90. We poisoned all wells with Phosphorus grenades, or a body in vicinity of the base.
Since the dawn attack on the SWAPO base was delayed and only began in the afternoon, we did not sweep through the entire complex before darkness, the enemy force was able to retreat and avoid our Parabat stopper groups. Based on the body count of 380 and the estimated population of the base, there were still 600+ SWAPO, Cuban and Russians wandering around the southern Angolan bush! We began a systematic sweeping of the region, hoping to intercept the enemy. The Bosbok single engine spotter plane would periodically contact us by radio to let us know if we were on course. Could not drive on any roads, due to landmines, so we made our own. Crossed roads at 90 degrees to minimise exposure to mines. Saw dozens of destroyed civilian vehicles still on the roads where they had hit a mine. After a few days of this, one contact 3 SWAPO killed
Retired to our forward base at Mongua to rest, repair vehicles. We had been having trouble with the Ratel engines catching fire (actually, leaves from the trees were being sucked into the engine compartment and the heat from the engine would ignite the leaves.) The leaves also restricted the air intakes to the radiator which also caused the engines to overheat. We had a shortage of water, so we urinated in radiators (capacity of radiator was 40 liters!), you had to guard your personal water supply to prevent "fellow" soldiers stealing yours! Officers ordered drivers to remove engines and clean out compartment. I decided not to follow orders and opened all inspection hatches and raked most of the leaves out (probably left 2 kms worth of leaves behind.) I also stopped more often to remove leaves which piled up on the engine louvers and caused less air flow and overheating problems. (It went against my sense of self-preservation to disable my vehicle deep in enemy territory! Smart officers?)
Driving the lead vehicle was tiring, you had to concentrate on maintaining the compass bearing (using the angle of the sun and shadows) you needed to keep a firm grip on the steering wheel but be ready to release it in an instant if you hit a trench or log lying in the long grass (feedback caused the steering wheel to do a ˝ turn and back , if your thumb was hit by the steering wheel spokes it was broken, if you held on, you broke your wrist), you also needed keep enough speed to smash into and knock the tree down and continue travelling over the fallen tree without getting tangled up - and with enough momentum for the next tree. Hit the tree going too fast and your crew complained, or got injured when the vehicle's sudden decelleration due to the additional inertia of the tree caused all objects (including crew members) to be catapulted forward if they were not fastened down or strapped in. Because you were the lead vehicle, your cannon needed to face forward at all times and have a HE shell in the breech. As the barrel overhung the front of the vehicle, you needed to avoid hitting trees with the barrel as it usually resulted in your gunner breaking his arm or damaging the cannon or turret itself! Multiple times I did hit a tree and recoil system "recoiled" and ejected the live round into the receiving bin. Also, because the driver has the best view of approx 180 degrees, it is his job to identify targets and communicate this to the turret. You also got more punctures driving in front, at least one a day! Those run-flat Ratel tyres were heavy SOBs to lift up and place on the engine hatches. My commander Major Fouche hated me and I spent 90% of my time trailblazing, I must have driven over 1000 km in front in Angola. Anti-tank platoon was the last one out of Angola, we assisted Tiffies with vehicle recovery and destroyed anything we could not bring back. Someone drove 9G back ,but 21 was dismantled/cut up and trucked out. This vehicle was used to make the "Silver Ratel" monument.
We came back to Ondongwa, SWA for ammunition, water and food, and our first wash in 10+ days. The next day we headed north into Angola to continue the search and destroy patrols. Our company crossed "Oom Willie se Wit Pad" many times. This road was significant because it was the only road that was not submerged in the summer wet season, as it was raised above the surrounding land - it also was well mined, so it was just another landmark!
We attacked a small base, I got stuck in a donga - my air hoses used to activate the vehicle's differential locks had all been ripped out and damaged by tree branches so I only had 1 wheel drive instead of 6. I had to jump out in the middle of the attack and connect the towbar (86kgs) to 72B to pull me out. Bullets still flying, grass nearby on fire, we were lucky that there were no AA guns, in this thinly defended base. We moved further west to where the ground hardened and it was more like open savanna with less trees and open grassland.
One night we set up laager close to a MPLA base - close enough to be within Stalin Organ range. They had listening devices, so we were ordered to keep extremely QUIET, and we were also ordered to dig our regular cosy trench (or grave) to sleep in. The joke was that they selected a dry pan where the ground was so hard that you could not make a mark on the ground without making a noise! If we had been detected it would have been ugly as everyone made the decision to minimise noise and forgo digging their trench. We managed to get some sleep and moved off undetected before sunrise. We continued patrolling with no action to speak of, just miles of nothing, a village scattered here and there. The only inhabitants of these villages were hungry, begging children and military age males with missing limbs. Due to all the landmines, no-one was crazy enough to try plowing and farming the land! Apparently there are still more than 10 million mines lurking in Angola - more than 1 per Angolan.
We set up a TB in a destroyed town which happened to have an airstrip, we did day patrols. One morning we heard a boom and saw a plume of black smoke nearby, we rushed to the scene where an artillery tractor had hit a mine. Fortunately it was an anti-personnel mine and no one was injured other than Tinnitus, amazing since it was not a mineproofed vehicle!
My wisdom teeth had been giving me grief for a couple of weeks, my face was swollen and I was not sleeping well. The Major refused me medical attention until my one eye closed and I was practically useless! I was then casevaced (casualty evacuated) in a Puma chopper to Oshikati hospital with a gunner who had broken his arm when his 20mm cannon struck a tree. It was interesting experienced the triage system, my face must have looked bad as I had to keep insisting that I had no bullet or shrapnel wounds! Next day a doctor gave me a couple of local shots, placed a green cloth and instruments on my chest and whipped my two lower jaw wisdom teeth out. I was assigned a bed in a tent outside the hospital but had access to the hospital bathrooms. My first wash with hot water in 3+months was incredible! My skin was stained with dirt and my uniform was falling apart at the seams. I hitched a ride on a military vehicle to Ondangwa and met up with my company again. My trip to hospital saved me 2 nights in the bush! Drove in convoy on the paved road down to our base, Omuthiya.
The stealing started as units were scheduled to turn in their equipment. The driver that had replaced me had lost all my picks, ax and shovels - them and the bracket was torn off by a passing tree. So I figured I would only have to pay 30 or so bucks. I carefully kept my vehicle locked, but someone used a pair of bolt-cutters (part of the driver kit) and stole my vehicle camoflage net. This was bad, I owed the Army R5000 (about $5000 in 1980.) My friend Brian D. allowed me to cut his net in half and the Quarter Master storeman did not know any better! We were subjected to an intensive search by MPs in Grootfontein for weapons and ammunition. We had to unpack our bags and equipment and lay it out on the airport runway for inspection by the MPs. I brought a Russian helmet out for a friend (put SADF camoflage sacking over it.) I was amazed at how few contraband items were actually found.
Bloemfontein, SA: July 1980
When we were disembarking from the trucks in 1SAI base, we heard over the public address system, "Lock your trunks, lock your cupboards, Bravo company has returned!" Pandemonium reigned as the "Roofs" expected to be assaulted and their equipment plundered. As far as I know, there were no assaults, however I bet there were missing boots etc.
Dankie Tannies (Southern Cross Fund) organised a party for us in the mess hall They had prepared nice food (not the Army shit) and beer (big mistake), the boys poured the beers down their throats as fast as possible (they had to run out, right?) and were getting rowdy before the speeches to thank us for our contribution to "Killing Commies for Christ" started! Even the ugliest, frumpiest woman was being propositioned, it looked there was also going to be some fighting too. As soon as the beer ran out, the guys who wanted to fight stayed behind and the rest got the hell out of the area! The next day we were lined up for a couple of hours of punishment PT and told that there would be a payroll deduction for the whole company to pay for the damages to the hall. We drew our storage trunks and went on our annual 10 day pass in step-outs.
No transport, 17h30 and 850km from home, so it was climb over the fence and begin hitchhiking and walking along with 200+ other soldiers. You needed to get out of the Orange Free State before dark or you would probably sleep on the side of the road due to lack of traffic. It was July and freezing, Brian and I got a ride on the back of an open truck, when the truck stopped, we hopped out and fell to the ground - we couldn't feel our legs. I would just arrive at my parents home, I would not notify them as so often you would call and tell them that you had a weekend pass only to have it cancelled 10 minutes before you were scheduled to be released. You now had to get in line for another hour to call them to notify them of your commanding officer's change of plans. 10 days pass. Reported back for duty and were immediately put to erecting a tent town in the koeikamp, it seemed like the army was expanding, but could not afford to build proper barracks for it's troops.
Omuthiya, SWA: August 1980
One day I had to move my vehicle and as my gunner was not around I just hopped in through the driver's hatch, stretched back into the turret to traverse the cannon to the forward position while holding onto the hatch opening with my left hand. The cannon pushed the hatch lid over and it fell on my fingers that were outside the hatch. I felt no pain and thought I had just chopped off all the fingers of my left hand! Blood started pouring down onto my head, so I had to move and check my hand out. Fortunately they were just cut to the bone across all 4 fingers, if there had only been 1 finger outside it would have been gone.
Patrol Koakaveld region, west of the Etosha Pan game reserve to the desert.
Drive for a couple of hours, walk away from vehicle and take compass bearing, drive.
Clearest skies, could read by starlight, saw USA satellites passing overhead.
Was not allowed to drive as Lt thought I was abusing my vehicle (too much airtime!)
He couldn't differentiate between the nose up/power on soft landing and the 6 wheel slam!
I was "grounded" and was no longer allowed to drive, so I had to be a footsoldier and walk patrols.
One Saturday night in the base camp, the whole company was ordered to form up on parade ground just after lights-out at 11pm. Most of us were drunk, (hit our stash of beer we hid under the sandbags around our tents.) Apparently someone had poured a red fire bucket of water over one of our most disliked officers while he was sleeping. We all thought that it was very funny - he could have had a polished 7.62.mm Nato round placed on his pillow, or even more final, a hand grenade could have been tossed into his tent. He did not see it that way and demanded that the troop who had threatened his life step forward. Of course no-one in their right mind would step forward after being threatened with Detention Barracks etc etc, so the company did pushups for an hour, situps for an hour, leg raises sandbag PT, pressups .... until the sun came up. I felt like this was one of B company's finest days - there were no accusations, the wise-ass comments flowed steadily and non-one cracked. Eventually the camp Kommandant came looking for us as the food prepared for brunch had not been eaten. We were allowed to clean up, eat and then assemble on the parade ground again. This time we were ready and had water bottles as it was going to be a long, hot day (we were fortunate that the night had been cool, so dehydration had not been a factor, we also didn't do any running, they probably thought that the numbers would dwindle in the dark and repeated roll-calls would eat into interrogation time), the officers announced a vehicle "uitpak" inspection at 4pm (this would allow them to sleep while we worked towards a brutal inspection where problems would have severe consequences) Unpacked and cleaned ammunition, cannon and equipment, serviced and cleaned inside and outside our vehicles. We also had to apply diesel onto the matte paint to make the vehicles shiny - slippery, also negated the matte camoflage paintwork! At 16h00 a corporal told us that the inspection was cancelled! A couple of days later we found out that a corporal that had replaced one of ours wounded in Operation Smokeshell had done the water trick. He was lucky that he had connections high up, and was transferred out of our unit before we found out or someone would have hurt him.
Scrambled up to Oshikati and prepared to cross into Angola to rescue a pilot who was shot down. False alarm, he escaped from the MPLA base and walked approx 100km into a friendly base. We went back to our base to continue building a huge swimming pool. It was ridiculously overengineered, the steel reinforced concrete sides were over a foot thick, we poured concrete from sunrise until sunset for weeks! We also did PT every day, often it was towbar PT. Six to a Ratel towbar, 2 carry it at a time and run down to tar road and back to the base. It weighs 186 pounds and cuts into your shoulder, you can't run efficiently and have to "glide" to minimise bouncing as it cuts into your shoulder. Painful, can't sleep on your sides for 2 days. Sandbag PT was another favorite - there are just a lot of sandbags in operation area base - dirty and tiring as the sand seeps out of the bag and coats your perspiring body as you run and crawl in the dirt.
Someone on guard duty said they had seen elephants drinking from our pool. This was not far-fetched as the Etosha Game Reserve fence was about 2 kms from us. After a late-night beer drinking session, some guys camped out by the pool to see if it really was true. One guy lay on top of the diving board (about 10 feet up) and went to sleep. When he woke up he was eyeball-to-eyeball with a large bull elephant - I am not sure who got the biggest fright! One of our jobs was to mine-sweep the 1.5 km dust road from the base to the tar road every morning before the first vehicles used the road. There were so many crushed coke cans (from the combination of littering and heavy vehicles pounding the dirt road) that you gave up after you had dug up 10 or so. We got to recognise the "coke" sound and concentrate on the more life threatening signals. This had to be completed before 08h00 parade, so you had start out in the dark just to make things interesting! I have to believe that we were observed by SWAPO religiously sweeping the road every day, as there was never a mine detonated or detected on this stretch of road the whole time we were at Omuthiya.
Transit camp in Grootfontein for 2 days, waiting for a Flossie. Someone fell into the huge pit latrines, came up bellowing with toilet paper all over him. Everyone he approached ran away from him! Eventually they arranged for him to be taken to the nearest army base to clean up. We had no water available and could only fill up our water bottle when the water truck came around in the morning and again in the evening. Ration packs (same thing day-in, day-out) This time I took a camera and managed to smuggle some pictures out by hiding the film in a rolled up sock. Note: I wish I had taken a camera on my first tour when we did Ops Smokeshell, all the photos on this page were taken on my second tour to the "border". Some of the pictures I took, especially of the inside of our Ratels were also censored by commercial film developers in South Africa.
Bloemfontein, SA: December 1980
My other instructors were generally tough, but fair. Cpl Dakin being the only one I knew of who had plans to further his education beyond Matric. They had a serious job to do, preparing 18 year old kids for war and I think they did a pretty good job. I can distinctively remember being excited/pleased to be taking part in a cross-border operation - the fear would come later - I was finally getting to serve my country. None of us even considered dying, we were immortal teenagers on a dangerous adventure.
Camps with Regiment deLaRey
When I review what I have written above, I realise that I have painted a very negative picture of my SADF experience. Fear, physical and psychological hardships are not pleasant. Soldiering requires that you "practice" being in battle conditions, so that you are battle-ready when the time comes. I just think there has to be a better way to train and prepare troops - remove the pointless mind-numbing games where there is no goal other than to mess you around until a huge chunk of time has been wasted unprofitably!
A lot of activities were actually enjoyable, especially where there was a job to be done - most people take pride in working hard and achieving a goal. Infantry School in Oudtshoorn was the only place that seemed be to interested in imparting knowledge and respecting your off-duty time. I understood that when you went to the bush to do maneuvers there was no time-off, there was no beer, you were in simulated battle conditions! Our training exposed us to dehydration, food issues, unsanitary conditions, sleep deprivation, physical discomfort and exhaustion, but battle conditions require you to dig even deeper into your reserves and keep slogging on, day after day.
Having this experience is now a great asset in everyday life: When I am feeling tired, I know I have not even begun to tap into the physical and mental reserves that I have; When the situation seems bad, I know it could be a whole lot worse.
The other benefit was that I learnt a lot about other people. Some people are "wired" differently and do not operate with the same code of morals and ethics as most rational human beings. Once you understand this and identify these people, you can avoid triggering their animal instincts.
Censorship by the SADF and business
The SADF censored all outgoing mail from operational areas, there was also a major non-disclosure "agreement" that conscripts signed before you went to the operational area. This precluded you from discussing anything military with non-military. This disclosure, my memoirs, could probably have got me jail-time in the Apartheid era! I think this hindered a lot of returning soldier's recovery and integration into normal society. Photographs were also censored by photo developers (blacked out.) I was so pleased when I found a website which has pictures of the inside of the vehicles that we spent a large proportion of lives in. (See the section on "The Ratel")
The Ratel armoured vehicle
If you are interested in the Ratel, click on this link for detailed information and images on these military vehicles.
This page documents the impact my military experiences had on my religious beliefs, philosophy of life, and general distrust of government.
To read further, click on Epilogue
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61 Mech motto: "Mobilitate Vincere" - Destruction of the enemy through mobility.