1 SAI - 61 MECH - Operation Dolfyn - Camps
(1982-83, 84 & 88)
Donald reported for national service in 1982 at 1 SAI. He did Junior Leaders Course, and then as a Lieutenant he was sent to replace a casualty in Operation Dolfyn. After this he returned to a training role at 1 SAI, where he trained soldiers who went on to be involved in Operation Askaris. In 1984 he did a camp at Etale and in 1988 at Nepara.
EDITOR'S NOTE: During the interview, Donald was often referring to Willem Steenkamp's `South Africa's Border War'. I'm aware that this piece is somewhat scrappy, but the contributor is not presently available to assist with a more detailed edit, and I have no indication as to when he will be. I am publishing it anyway, in the `rushes' section, for those interested enough to extract what information they can from it.I had a better known soldier who was involved in earlier stages of Op Dolfyn review that section, and I add his comments in red.
PRIOR TO REPORTING
When I was at school I saw `Brug 14', [but never realised that I would get involved in anything like that.]
Precall up: I didn't want to go. I was very anti-army at school. I wouldn't even do cadets at Queens. I was a pacifist. I just wanted to get the army out of the way. I didn't know what I wanted to study. That's the reason that I went to the army first. At that stage we were living in the Transkei, and they wouldn't take me because I was living in the Transkei. It was too late to register for university. I didn't have a course, and I didn't have a clue what I was going to study.
My parents live half in SA and half in Europe. I have a very European upbringing. Being English and having a liberal background, I could have evaded national service if I wanted to. I came to write my matric, not having a clue what I was going to study - the only options open was to go to university not knowing what to do or to go to the army and sit down and work out what I wanted to do. So I took the army option. I had thought of studying medicine, and I thought that I would end up being a medic and having a nice cushy job at Oshakati or Ondangwa, but that just never happened. A lot of it was never really planned - it just worked out that way. It isn't in my character to have worked out the way that it did. I wasn't militaristic at all.
I phoned up the army and I said; "I'm coming to the army." I got a call up to 1 SAI.
BASICS AT 1 SAI (BLOEMFONTEIN)
I started at 1 SAI in January 1982. We got to 1 SAI and it wasn't a case of who wants to do this and who wants to do that. They just said "All of those who have Matric stand over there. All of those who are bilingual, stand over there - I'm very bilingual - all you G1K1s stand over there. Right. You are leadership group." So I was in the leadership group, hardly knowing anything about what was going on. From there it just went on. I became a Loot.
Koei kamp. That's where we used to live at De Brug. The 1 SDB guys used to attack the parabats, until they killed two of them. They would take their tokkeltou, put bricks in their tokkeltou and jump over the wall. It was in our time. Two of the guys jumped over the wall ...
They used to make us eat loads of watermelon and then we had to roll through the koeikamp. It was full of thorns. The guys used to throw up. They used to roll us through the koeikamp.
If all the guys who were bitching about basics actually went in and had to live off the land for three or four months - `Why do we have to learn First Aid?' and then suddenly there's a guy with his stomach shot out ... also to handle stress. You see the logic of it.
After going into Angola and being left on our own you realise why we did all of that. If I hadn't been operational, I would have thought that basics was a complete waste of time, but after living in the bush like that and having to leopard crawl and hit dekking and come under fire.
Horror stories of basics become absolutely inconsequential - meaningless when it comes - you go in and you [practise] all these things and you never really think that you are going to do it one day. That you are actually going to use it.
There were about a thousand of us at 1 SAI who were sectioned off into one company. At 1 SAI it was Charlie Company. You weren't called `Leadership wing' or anything - we did section leading, and by then about half the people had dropped out. Half of those who completed the course got one stripe, and at the end, of the thousand 180 got rank - half became Loots and half became corporals. All the best officers were English - it was an academic thing - I could pass all the exams. Most of the people who were going to do medicine or the people who had five As and a B would have gone to University first and not the army. So you ended up with a national serviceman intending to end up in medical school so you have half a brain and you will end up - most of the officers course was exam based - orders, and working out, and battle groups and whatever.
Its not because of your physical ability - leadership will come - 90 of the guys became loots - of the 90, ten were English, and all ten came in the top 20. All the English loots were very laid back. They didn't really give a shit. We all stuck together and we all got through it. I became, without even trying or making a conscious decision, became a Loot.
I did officers' course at 1 SAI. It was at Bloemfontein, and it was Ratels. It was the first place that Ratels started out. I did the Ratel course and then I went to Infantry school for a couple of months. We had to do a specialisation on Ratels.
Three quarters of the 1 SAI Loots would end up at 61 Mech - that was the breeding ground. Of the 90 Loots that qualified, probably thirty stayed back at 1 SAI and 60 would have gone up and done the job. When I went operational it was a skive - I wanted to go to 61 and not actually end up doing anything. It didn't work out that way. I ended up being the only national serviceman in a camper brigade, which was rather bad luck. Funnily enough I had never intended to have an army career like that - I ended up there purely by default. I suppose that Angola would change you anyway. Its not about how GV you are. There's a job to be done, and you do it.
Junior Leader course (JLs) - because it was an operational unit, there was less `Lets learn how to teach' for a month. You went in and did normal basics for 10 weeks, and then you did section leaders for 10 weeks. Some of the people on the section leaders course would drop out, get one stripe, and join their troops and do the Ratel course. After that there was a survival course which involved walking for millions of miles - then you do peleton bevelvoerders - you had to do all the infantry stuff and then Ratels. You had to get to know the vehicle and then you had to practise doing attacks and `stop stap uit' - climbing out - you had to add that on where the courses at infantry school
[Ratels had] that horrible little driver's compartment. On ops all the crew would have to do a bit of driving and the thing you never get used to was you cannot hold on to the steering wheel, if you hit an obstacle the steering wheel would spin around and bruise (break) your thumbs. After a few weeks in the bush you would notice a few guys walking around with bandaged thumbs. (I seem to remember the steering wheel being a lot smaller on later versions of Ratel 20's).
The driver's shoulder blades were positioned right in front of the commander boots (if the commander was standing up in the turret) so if a driving instruction was not followed, a sharp kick in the back normally rectified the situation. (Often if the commander was standing in the turret and needed to drop into the vehicle to avoid a branch etc. the kick in the back for the driver was mandatory)
The command Ratels were a posh version of the Ratel 20, with a fridge and aircon.
I remember training on night sights for R1 (COT or LOT, on was sights and the other were binoc type things , not quite sure which was which. I think the binocs were infra red) In 1982 we had something like 'Starlight, starbright type glasses' to drive Ratels at night.
I did mortars and forward fire control. A Forward Fire Controller controlled 81mm and 120mm and 155mm artillery (was trained to call in an air strike) and was either infantry Corp or artillery Corp.
The infantry had Forward Observation Officer to locate targets and call fire from 60mm and 81mm mortars (in my time; 1983) 120mm mortars were under artillery control.)
I trained on [equipment using radar to detect the source of incoming mortar rounds] something like this in 1982. Used mostly in a fixed base, basically you place out 4+ microphones on specific bearings that uses direction and time delay (vector geometry ) to calculate the position of a detonation. The system had on problem, it did not distinguish between mortar in pipe and mortar hitting ground so the inevitable happened:- an outlying group got revved so the base camp using the system fired there mortars at the position indicated by the system. The next day the 82mm fins and 81mm fins were found together on the same target - yep you guessed it, we fired on our own troops thinking they were Swap base plates. (you might be asking whether nobody picked up that the target GR was an own forces area :- lets just say they were blinded by Science). The army were planning to modify the system to eliminate these errors.
I went to Outshoorne. We had heard that it was such a hard place. Outshoorne was a joke! We were very viciously trained, partly because we were going to go operational. If you go to Outshoorne, probably only 5% of those guys would go operational into Angola on Ops. If you were at 1 SAI the chances were 50% that you would end up in Angola. Our training was very different - it wasn't about how shiny your boots were, but how well you could do a fire fight or do a frontal assault or this or that attack.
Inf. school - you arrived there having done basics somewhere else. You would arrive there, do courses and then do specialisations. We were in Golf Company which was support and mortars and whatever. I did mortars and I wanted to do forward fire control - control artillery and aircraft - being academically strong meant that you walked through all of those courses. The reasons that a Lt became a Lt and a corporal became a corporal was that the Lt had the mental ability - they could sit down and do orders, and sleep deprivation and they would make you plan things and take your troops out and then come back and be completely buggered and then sit down and they would give you another situation, and you would work out the orders and no sleep and carry on - that sort of things. It was not so much that you were physically fitter or stronger or more paraat or more GV - it was the fact that you could manage to quickly assess a situation and work out a plan. It was nothing to do with your physical prowess or how well you could shoot. Leadership was learned, but the academic side of it was most important.
We hated Outshoorne. When we arrived there they thought we were drivers because we were so scruffy. We were much fitter than all the Outshoorne guys - when we competed, our platoon that had come up from 1 SAI would win everything because we were much fitter. The mind set for training us - the mindset when they trained the guys at Outshoorne was more for leadership and to look good and to train troops, not about ending up operational.
A HISTORY LESSON
Then the guys were sent off operationally. I didn't want to stay in the base. I had been out with Infantry school and it was quite relaxed. Infantry school's camp is right near 61 at Oshivello.
At that time 61 were doing Ops. Meebos which was when they took Mupa. That was the follow up. They had already taken Ongiva. North of that was Evale and Mupa, and the next big town was Cuvelai, which they took in 1984. They did a clean up and then came back. With Protea and Smokeshell they again took Ongiva which was 40 ks in. That was in 1981. In 1982 the July intake did Meebos, which was taking Mupa. There wasn't much there; just a massive big church in the middle of nowhere. Thats where McAleese must have been involved. He must have been in Meebos because they took Mupa. There was a very famous fire fight in the church involving the parachute battalion. The guys were chased into the church and they had a massive fire fight, and if you go into the church -all of that was untouched - so when we went in - we were the next lot - my platoon went in and did the Recce for Mupa. There was nothing there by then. What would happen was after every operation they would just have gone a bit further. Ongiva was the biggest town which they took in Protea and Smokeshell. The next things were Evale and Mupa which they took. The next place was Cuvelai which was really huge. That was where they supposedly ran into 8 Battalions of Cubans - we were told that there was between 3 and 5 thousand troops barracked in Cuvelai. I think that most of the Cubans withdrew the moment there was any problem.
PREVIOUS EXPERIENCES OF THE 82 MECH BN
In 79-80 they get to there and there, and 1982-3 they get there and there. The guys knew it was coming but it got more and more difficult with the element of surprise. Op Protea at Ongiva was a chicken shoot because the guys weren't expecting it. They had this major incursion in.
In Smokeshell - they took Ongiva - as we were coming down the road the guys were saying `This is East of Ongiva' they started the attack, went in, climbed out of their Ratels - the area was just a maze of trenches – the guys had moved out of a town situation and had made a massive filed of trenches. When the guys got into the area they got out of their Ratels and started their frontal attack and had all these terrorists jumping out behind them. They had aerial photographs and they knew that the trench system was very large. They could compare them because they had done them all. They used to send the same guys every year.
In 76-79, there were major contacts in SWA
In 79-80 the Ratels really came into their own. You needed a mobile infantry force. Then they started slowly going in further.
There were ops all the time, mostly named after trees and animals.
OPERATION DOLFYN (Dolfyn ran from March to May 1983)
I was Mortar Platoon commander / forward fire controller, callsign 62A. We were Battlegroup Bravo. 1 SAI troops became 61 Mech - 82 Mech was Regiment Groot Karoo (Campers).
When I said that I wanted to go up to the border when I was a national serviceman - I didn't want to go into Angola - I just wanted to go because I would get more money, and I wouldn't have to run around and be so paraat as I had to be as a Lt at 1 SAI. What I wanted to do was to go up to 61 and chill out - I had been up there - none of the other guys had been up except those who had been to Outshoorne who went up and camped right outside 61. I thought; `That's the place for me!' When we were there, the 61 guys were just lounging - they'd come back from Ops and they would just lounge for two months and do nothing. No training! Nothing! Just sit in the bar. I thought; `That's for me! I want to go to 61!' I said to `Kaffir' - he called me one day and said; `You can go!"', and I thought; `Great! Off to 61. Party.'
I landed. `Where's my unit?'
`Your unit are lying on the kaplyn. They are probably going over the kaplyn tomorrow."
"Oh, my God! What have I let myself in for?"
Those were interesting times.
I was at 1 SAI, carrying on with my troops - they were still in training - when all at once I got this message that I had to go up. (My troops were 81mm mortar troops trained in Delta company 1SAI.) A guy had been injured [and I was to replace him]. I met them on the border and they were going over the next day. The 20 mm gun hit a tree and jumped back out of its mountings and broke his hips. It must have been the beginning of March when I met them. I met them at the border about 5 ks south of the cutline. We were very close to Santa Clara.
I hardly spent any time on the border. I went straight into Angola. At that stage there were very few units that would go into Angola. At that stage 61 wasn't in. While 61 were training they would probably send in a camper brigade, just to have a presence, and then the next Op 61 would probably do. The parabats were always in there, blocking escape routes and things like that.
Because the Americans were monitoring us with satellites we had to move the vehicles at night. We weren't supposed to be in. There were problems. I think that at that stage the Americans must have been under a lot of pressure at the United Nations because of Resolution 435.
The problem was that the satellite would watch the border. Strategically the Americans would say; `Don't go in.' We'd go in around and have a presence and if its spread out you're not really going to pick it up. I have the feeling that we were hiding from the Americans - and the Russians as they would have had an interest with the Cubans being there.
Dry-runs. You would have a presence - the further in they got - they couldn't actually to a surprise attack - at Evale you could probably manage to get over the border.
In the night we drove from just South of the border post and went in where there was nothing. We had to cross in the middle of the night and each vehicle had to be apart. - we crossed over and went up into that bare space and we hung around there for a while.
There was nothing apart from thick bush. They must have planned it that way. There were no towns. You never saw anybody. We spent a couple of weeks there - Nahone and Unca - we moved across to Evale – had a couple of contacts and whatever - we used to move on foot. Travelling with the vehicles - we used to leave the Ratels behind and go on a foot patrol. The guys would move along and leave the vehicles further back.
I got the feeling from the orders that they already knew that they were going to attack at Christmas time. The SADF's plan was always to harass. The major problem with Cuvelai was - Cahama was on that road as well.
In Protea a year before, they took that area on the road (shown) - you could go to Ongiva in half a day. That's what they did. They attacked Ongiva at first light. Here you were 250 ks into Angola.
The problem in our time was that our supply lines were so stretched. We used to go without supplies for ages. We used to go without rations for three or four weeks at a time. We were just too far, especially when we went out on our own - when we used to camp out on our own and feed ourselves.
We were worried about the MiGs at Lubango.
We went in and around and swept down, not straight in as they would have expected. There was a SA base at Ongiva with an airport - a permanent base. There were a lot of tanks lying on the runway at Ongiva. Russian T54s on the runway. I think they kept them there.
When the guys attacked in Protea there weren't any Cubans there.
Often I know the inside of a lot of the ops because the troops that I got weren't national servicemen. They were 82 Mech - a camper group of Ratels - the regiment that I went with was Groot Karoo which was stationed in Graaf Reinet. 82 was the camper equivalent of 61. 82 had done all the ops. Every year these guys would be called up, and when I got them a lot of them were 27 and 28. It was to be their last ops, because they would have done their ten years and be out. As a unit they had done Protea, Reindeer and Smokeshell. They told me everything about where they had been. They had already been to some of the places so it was going back.
There was a place called Denau - and Evale - just north of Ongiva is on the road is Onhanka, then Evale and then Mupa and then Cuvelai. At Evale the town was just deserted. The villages were beautiful. The Portuguese left stuff behind. The guys were really naughty. Some of the guys in my platoon were car collectors and they found two cars from 1936. When we got there we were told that things were booby trapped, but the guys went into the buildings and found all the mopeds and things like that. The guys nicked two cars, put them on the tank trailers and we took them back. We buried them. We got into so much shit.
So you come into this village. I don't know why no one had looted it. The town was as intact as it would have been when the Portuguese left in 1976. There were cars in the garages. I think the reason that they took all the stuff out was because we flattened it after that. We thought we were going to Cuvelai. That was the mission - we weren't allowed to go about the 32nd parallel. There was a line that we weren't allowed to go above. We were told that we had to turn back, but we had already started the ops.
We did a dry run at Evale, and we flattened it. It had been a beautiful town. We just practised - artillery - a practise run on attacking a town. Ratel 90s. We did have gun ships. By then we had become veg groepe - we had all the `Noddy Cars' (Eland / Panhard armoured cars) - I don't think they ever took tanks into Angola at that stage. They just had Ratels and elands. We had a couple of contacts and hit a lot of land mines. We had a FAPLA contact - we got all the FAPLA cammo - we weren't supposed to engage them, but we did. We all ended up with a Cuban summer uniform. We were never allowed to ride on the road. If someone from another platoon hit a land mine, then, as platoon commander - we would write reports
I had a Command Ratel on Dolfyn but we only had one tape in the whole company. `Yazoo: Upstairs at Eric's', our prized possession (That is not counting our foam rubber lined ammo box toilet hanging off the back door) . We killed it completely playing it over the intercom for 2 months. (I do not remember the tape deck but that is probably why we missed important messages on the B25 (A56).) I cannot remember if it had a 20mm cannon or 60mm mortar? Did it really have aircon?
My company hit 9 landmines (not a problem in a Ratel)
We went up to Mupa - only our platoon - we got into trouble for that as well. We weren't told to go and do a reconnaissance at Mupa because we were based to the East of Mupa. This was when the shit started. We used to have an HQ and the different companies went out - 60 miles that way, and that way. We were probably in for 3 or 4 months. This was in the months of the Pretoria bomb blasts because I remember hearing about that. I heard that on the radio. [The Church Street Bomb, Friday, 20 May 1983]
THE CHURCH AT MUPA
Firstly I believe the bloke is telling more or lessthe truth, the whole thing rings true. His description of Mupa Mission is good, I've been there many times to draw water. Some old kaffir looked after the mission diesel water pump and we would pull in for water re-supply. The locals would wait for us and swarm in when we turned the pump on.TheMission was the onlygood water in the area, and the population had grown largerover the years of Portuguese control and were dependent on pumped water.
Mupa was just this mission station. Here is the cathedral - a beautiful marble cathedral "quote" Can you imagine coming to this beautiful marble cathedral in the middle of the Angolan bush? (P115)
Our man joined 61 Mech for the party. I believe it as we had a few [chaps] like that as well. Colonel Viljoen soon sorted them out! The church at Mupa, that was not marble but it was a big beautiful church. It's state of repair was about as he described it, I first saw Mupa Mission in July '83.
You just drive along and suddenly there's this huge church in the middle of nowhere. There's no reason for it to be there. When we went in we knew because all the rounds were still there. Obviously they had come in - you could see where they had shot the guys. There were still the marks on the floor from that. When I came back I spoke to the guys. By this time I was getting shat on because the troops were running around in ceremonial gear
This platoon went North. My platoon went to the church.
(Steenkamp - p. 121) "returning stature of Christ looted during Askaris"
I've got a cross out of that church. The church was buggered, but its cleaned up there. Someone must have gone in and cleaned it up. The guys had taken all the chalices and things. So what happens is a few months later someone else goes and takes it. There was a big wooden crucifix there, and they told me to take it back. I said; `I'm a catholic. I'll look after it.' It's in my aunt's house in Port Elizabeth. The first people to actually loot that church were my troops.
The church didn't look like that when I was there. They cleaned it up quite a bit. There was blood all over the place. None of the local people had gone in. They were probably too scared to.
It was amazing. If you went back into the priest's place, there was a massive library. I took books from there, partly because they were beautiful books. I took the cross for religious reasons. I'm a Catholic. I had been an altar boy and everything else. Even when I went down to Sector 10 I said; `No one's taking it off me.' So there's a nice little relic for somebody in there.
That time that I went in the church. Lo and behold - they guys had nicked all the garments. I walked into the church and everything had been shot up. Nothing had been moved or anything. I told the guys that they couldn't go in because it was booby-trapped. Sometimes the guys were silly - they walked in - everything had just been left in the church as it was. I couldn't believe that the church was built from Marble. Where did they get all that marble? It was in the middle of nowhere. You just came around the corner and there was this massive - to me it was awesome because I hadn't seen a building for a couple of months. It looked to me like a cathedral.
You wouldn't want pictures of the desecrating the church. We went and put it all back. We actually cleaned the church up. I didn't know the guys had the stuff. We took it all back; the chalices and everything. You don't want that to come out. What did you do in the war? We desecrated the church. Actually I made the guys go back on my own accord. That's one thing that I can say. I wasn't all that bad. Weird.
My troops nicked all the cassocks, and they didn't tell me. As we drove back into base they put on all these cassocks, so I had these 8 Ratels with all these guys coming in with these church garments blazing in the wind. It was like something out of the movie; `The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' [Australia/ Dir Stephan Elliott, 1994]. They were all standing up with these [gowns flowing out behind them]. I was pulled up for that.
One company - we were stationed East of Mupa. We went to do recon on Mupa. One of the companies went North - they had a huge contact on the left hand side of the river - probably 20ks south - it must have been closer because we came within firing range of Cuvelai. The guys said that they were travelling along and they had a massive contact. They withdrew and came back. Infantry to infantry. The guys would park the vehicles up and go ahead on foot. There was a massive amount of movement because Cuvelai was the main base - there were a lot of terrorists moving through.
We were driving through and the doctor looked at a guy, and this guy was looking a bit strange because he was standing there in civilian clothes. The doctor thought that he looked too neat. We got down and went over to him and searched, and we found his weapons. He was a high-ranking SWAPO guy. This was on Dolfyn, at Mupa. They caught quite a few people like that.
If you are in a base you have a fireplan, which is where you [fire at predeternmined targets.] Cuvelai went into fireplan which meant that they locked at certain key points - you would practise with your artillery to hit certain points, and you would have all those readings ready on the artillery - all the guys would know the key points. If a patrol saw some movement then they would say `500 m NE of point A' - they would shoot in at point A, and you could just direct the fire to wherever they were. The mortar guys would have all the readings on their ??stippers already. Especially at night you could immediately go in - the mortars would be set up on a fire plan, and every troop would know where they would go to, and have a skietsvlak, so you covered the whole area. Cuvelai must have had one of those.
When I went in I only had a few black troops. By the time we got to Mupa they had chucked out all their black troops and I had them.
Being English and Liberal, that's why I ended up with all the black troops. I said; `Bring them in', because the other guys were horrible to them. Each section had about 5 black troops - two from Unita and a couple from 101 and a tracker. They were really good. The UNITA guys weren't even getting paid, so I got them paid and fed. The UNITA guys never got army pay - they were voluntary - so when they came I got them army pay. They were very chuffed.Well good on him, I just don't happen to believe him. I had enough trouble getting my blokes paid and this [chap] is arranging money for UNITA in the field!
We must have had about 5 or 6 companies. Each platoon used to have at least two or three troops from UNITA, mainly because we were operating in UNITA's area in the beginning, so if we ever hit a contact – what used to happen - if there were signals, we would need to know whether it was UNITA or not. They also learned that if the guys came into big shit - if the terrorists found themselves under fire - they would surrender and say they were from UNITA. There used to be signals. Unita used to control that eastern part - the SADF moved in the corridor - north but not too far east. The eastern part was held by UNITA which was more above 70 than 10. We were on that border because we had moved so Far East in the beginning. Each platoon used to need to have some troops from UNITA, and then we used to have trackers from 101 or 201 - bushmen. Later on - I don't know how - I ended up with a section from 32 as well. At that stage we were really far in. They were all black Portuguese speaking; they couldn't speak to anyone, and a corporal - a white corporal - he was from Veldrif in the Cape.
The guys were very upset because some guys had got shot. They would become uncontrollable - they wouldn't listen to me. I would stop them from - if we were following a spoor which took them into a kraal, and if the guy wouldn't tell them, they would want to shoot him. They used to do what the other guys were doing. We never did.
They treated the prisoners very badly, and I would always object and complain being the paraat little national serviceman loot. We were supposed to take the bodies out and bury them, not blow them up. When I got back I saw that the commandant had given me a very shit report. I never participated in anything like that, and I would not allow my troops to do it. I didn't mind so much when they looted cars and stuff. I didn't regard that as a crime. We were going to flatten the town anyway. I can honestly say that I never contravened the Geneva Convention.
Whenever we got a kill, they would blow it up. They wouldn't bury it. They would just pack it with P4 and blow it to smithereens. [Clarification: This was done at least once, shortly after I arrived.]
Confirmed, seen it done. But who would have such large quantities of PE to blow up somany bodies, a few ja, but not lots.
Those were the smaller contacts we had when we first went in and went down the road, and we started off at De Haag. On the first contact the guys blew up the bodies of the enemy who were killed. I could understand it. These guys had done all the ops. They weren't spring chickens. That was their way. I used to get into a lot of shit because being a national serviceman I didn't approve of a lot the things that were going on - the treatment of prisoners - I objected to that and got into all sorts of shit. The standard technique was to bury their heads in the sand.
I used to take a lot of shit because I was the only national serviceman in the whole thing - I was about nineteen and my own troops were about eight years older than me. The camper regiment was Groot Karoo and the campers were 82 Mech. Group. They were wonderful. They really did support me. They knew I knew nothing. Most of the time they would come up and quietly suggest - my sergeants would `quietly suggest' how we do this - the best or the safest way.
My men were ou manne and you couldn't tell them what to do. I was 19. They were great to me. Especially in that situation, I'd have to organise all the food and all the booze - we weren't supposed to have booze in those days. As long as I got them booze.
Op Dolfyn - there might be little on it because it was done by a bunch of campers. That might be why there is no documentation on it.
Because they were campers, the discipline - especially for me coming from national servicemen and coming from 61 where it was very strict and very regimented - you can't really be because these guys are so `together'. You don't have to worry about the safety aspects because they guys were so careful. They had wives and kids that they wanted to get back to. They would always look after each other, and be minimal, and not GV at all. The 61 guys just wanted contacts. These guys just wanted minimum. They didn't want to endanger themselves in any way, which was good.I find interesting as it may demonstrate a reluctance by some CF regimentsto fight. Something we were becoming more and more aware of at the time. The old patriotism was fading away. Long wars are bad, and this one had been going since '75.
19 year old commanding 25 year olds:The worst emotional side of all of that was having to censor their letters. That was horrible. There I was, 19 and without a care in the world. They were all married, all with kids. They would write home to their wives and kids. The most depressing aspect of all that. They were very strict about censorship. I would censor letters and they would pull one in ten letters, and if I hadn't censored it, I was in huge shit. So I had to sit there with a black pen, censoring all these letters that the guys were writing home to their wives and kids. They were all much older and settled down. It didn't bother me with my national service troops. They you are so boggle-eyed - your biggest fear is failure, so you try so much harder.
TOO CLOSE TO CAVELAI
I was on Dolfyn early 1993. I was a DP Lt sent to join Reg Groot Karoo 82 Mech. We were Battle Group Bravo and went up to Cuvelai. (From your correspondence on army-talk it looks like you were more to Cahama side.) I am busy discussing this with Barry and trying to find out about certain aspects of the ops. We had a big contact just south of Cuvelai from which we were given a bit of a blood nose. I am trying to sort out what happened that day since our calls for an air strike was not heeded and we therefore presumed that it was an own forces contact. (After we retreated South to
Mupa Brig Joubert flew in and made use go back the next day to the contact area with 44 Para's in support. All rather strange!)
I was 81mm PC-OP for my battle group. If I remember the guys that went to Cahama were Battlegroup Alpha. I was not aware that they had the evil red-eye. It seems our mission to Cuvelai was a similar 'See how far you get before they notice you'. While we were still at Mupa on of our companies had a big contact west of the Cuvelai river and it was decided that as a battle group we would move up the east side of the river remaining out of range of Cuvelai. We moved up north the next day and after deciding to camp near the river two scouting parties were sent out, my platoon West towards the river and another North. I new there was a problem because I found the river to quickly and realised that we were all a lot further north than we thought.
The scouting platoon that went north made contact with a Russian Truck and opened fire on it. (I was listening to this on the radio).
Cuvelai then starting shooting a fire plan (the evil eye) and kept going on through the night. We had no direct hits during the night but some were pretty close. The next morning as we were crossing the river to sweep southward toward the previous contact we come under heavy fire. I think it lasted about an hour before we did a hasty retreat. We were not given any air support and were told to bring our casavacs back down to Mupa before they could be picked up by chopper.
That afternoon Brig Joubert flew in to Mupa and told us we were going back to the place of contact (I think we nearly had a mutiny on our hands). Toward evening time I was told that I had to take my platoon of Ratels south toward Evale to fetch Jap Swart and 44 Parachute Brigade riding in a convoy of Buffels. The only way was to use the road and I still do not know how we did not hit a landmine. I fetched 44 and the next day we went back up North and moved through the contact point and the area was clean and the rifles and radios that were left behind were gone as well . (While we were withdrawing from the contact one of the Ratels crashed into a Buffel and that was left behind , and this was gone as well). It all seems a bit strange, why no air support? Why send us back the next day? We started to assume that it was an own-forces contact and I have heard rumours in later years that it was true. (Some of our troops said they saw Cuban and Russian troops during the contact). I suppose it was a MPLA -Cuban contact!
END OF EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
(About 10km south of Cuvalai on the West bank of the Cuvalai river, I think at around 10am on a Sunday and the contact lasted for about an hour. Sunday 10/4/1983 sticks in my head, I might be wrong )
I think what saved me was the other company came back and they had had a huge contact. Two of the guys got taken out on that - the idea was that where they had had the contact - and this is where it does start to get very strange. They had the contact - location - about 60 ks north of Mupa - this is where the commandant in charge started to get into trouble. I think the idea was to show force, but not to go near Cuvelai - the way that I look at it now was to have a constant operational presence, and then they would never expect the South Africans to attack at Christmas time.
We went north early in the morning from right of Mupa - right beside the river. We made a camp near a huge tree. Because I was a national serviceman I had to go right up front and do all of the navigating. At one stage I got it wrong because we were far too far north. We pulled up and made a camp. We would send out companies north, east west just to see where we went. We went East.
There were 5 Ratels to a platoon. We had brand new Ratels, which meant that we had Command Ratels. I had a Command Ratel that meant that you've just got your gunner and your driver, but you've got lots of radio space. There was a fridge and we used to keep all the booze in there. You have a Command Ratel and then four sections in each vehicle. If you didn't have a Command Ratel, then one of the other Ratels would be used and the Lt would go in, but with one section.
We went out at about lunch time and came back. The group that went north had a big contact. They must have been right up near Cuvelai. We were all pulled back and we dug in at last light that evening. We had come north and stopped, and a smaller group would go north. My platoon went East to find the river so we could work out where we were. On the map we were supposed to be close to the river where it bent, but we weren't so we must have been further north than we thought we were. The platoon that went north has a contact with a vehicle - they pulled back, and the next thing the whole of Cuvelai erupted. They started a fire plan and that's when we realised that we were far too much north, because we were within range and they were shooting us with rooi oe which is the 122m rocket.
Then these guys came back and said that they had heard tanks. `Shit!' We cut all radio contact, and we were supposed to dig in, but we just slept in the Ratels. They were shooting a fire plan - sometimes they were close and sometimes they weren't - they didn't know exactly where we were. They were expecting an attack, and they might have been waiting for the air strike.
We got up early next morning - we were camped on the right hand side of the river and half of the battalion was going to cross over. The idea was that - the contact that they guys had had before was on the left side of the river. The idea was that we were going to come up here, go over the river and sweep down, so we would come from the top. I think we had gone too far north. This is what I think happened. There's no way that anyone's going to go that close to a major base without being very vigilant. It was very quiet the next morning when they guys went over.
Slowly, as you get closer to Cuvelai or whatever - we ended up in a massive contact - in the chaos we all made errors and I think that some of our mortars took out some of our own guys - they needed mortar support. There wasn't time. The contact happened and the next thing the guys said `here we are'. There's no such thing as - I can't remember whether my 32 troops were with me - they just aim the mortars. In training you would take a compass bearing and put out a pole and then you would work out an elevation and a reading - none of that in a contact. You whack the mortars down. There are no markers. There's no observer saying; `That hill there.' There's nothing. It's all flat. If the guys are having a contact there, you whack some mortars down - align them, and then throw. If the guys say; `We're short' you push them up, and that's how it used to work. We did try smoke - but there was so much chaos. You would say `The red smoke' - just get the HE down. We used to do that.
It was more after the time that the wounded were in a lot of distress and they wouldn't fly the choppers in, and then its no good just getting on the radio and just going completely ballistic. There's no one to shout and scream at. You just have to follow the orders and follow them to the letter. If they say to you - that's the sort of stress. A lot of it was putting my own troops into stress. You can imagine that night when they told us we had to go back - you can imagine what the guys were like. That sort of stress.
Joubert was only there for about ten minutes. The chopper came in - we all sat around - he gave us a little speech and said `You're going back' and the guys were saying; `No we're not' Its being able to keep a level head under those situations. The minute your troops see you - that night you had to keep the troops together. Some of the guys had never slept the previous night at Mupa, so you could imagine - I went to bed and slept - I don't know how I managed it. I remember we had to switch off all radios and all engines - everything had to go dead. There wasn't allowed to be any sound. We were worried about heat seeking ... You can imagine the things that go through your mind then. Suddenly realising that you must be about eight miles from Cuvelai where there were about 3 000 Cubans. You think; `If they come running over those hills tomorrow morning'
Some of the troops didn't sleep. The next morning they went in. We pulled out that afternoon. That afternoon the brigadier flies in and says; `You're going back.' Now the guys don't sleep that night either. You've got troops that are completely knackered and aren't interested. `We're not going in. We're just going to sit here.' You've got to go against your own instincts - I didn't sleep that night. No one slept. The guys hadn't slept for days. They were all stressed and no one was interested. You just had to keep it together. It was that kind of stress.
Battle stress - there was no element of that - at least not how I remember it. Is it a rewrite? It would be interested to see an official account and to see how I interpreted things about what actually happened.
I've never sat down and recalled the whole thing until now. When you think back you just remember certain things. The night that we camped - in the dark we were trying to get all our weapons ready. I had the white phos grenades. I was detting them, and a box of dets fell on my hand. Those dets go off - if you hold a det, it will blow your hand away. I was there feeling the heat of the dets. I've just remembered that now. I thought: `That's it. Here I am. 300 miles from no-where and now I'm going to casevac myself through touching some dets.' Wrong WP grenades were packed ready to go.
With that big contact, I didn't actually bother about anything. I was sticking to my task and throwing in the mortar fire and doing everything and being so focussed on what I was doing that I didn't notice anything else. That was all due to that - it just kicked in - I used to think' `Why are they doing this to us? Making us work under these conditions. Making us walk for days on end and do all of this." When it actually came to the crunch, you could perform outside yourself. People said; `Were you sacred?' and I say; `I didn't have time.' My first few rounds of mortars probably killed some of our own troops - they were short - those are the things that you are worrying about - fire control and keeping the guys together, and focussing under stress conditions - focussing so well that you saw the end result.Bullshit, is he having PTSD or what? This part does not ring true, if he killed any own forces with his 81s [?] there would have been hell to pay and out he would havebeen sentback quick smart.
I think it was Easter time - the 10th or 11th of April. It was a Saturday. The guys crossed over and they must have dug in during the night, because as the guys went over the river - there must have been about two companies - they were pinned down. I was forward fire control then. I was still on this side. Chaos rained for about an hour. We called in fire support and the choppers wouldn't come in. Cuvelai went into fire plan. They must have thought; `The Boere are coming'. We had it from behind and we had it from the side. Eventually we withdrew - a lot of the guys just chucked their weapons in the river, and just pulled back across the river. They were pinned down. We couldn't get reinforcements to them. It was a big fire fight. We didn't think that those guys would have come in and dug in like that. At night we used to set up the claymores, and two of the claymores went off so they must have walked into them. They killed some black guys there, but we didn't know who they were. They could have been 32 or whoever.This is far too hectic to be true, didn't happen as far as I know. He is laying it on too thick here I believe. Your mate should research that carefully. References to claymores going up because they were walked into? Claymoresare command detonated.
The white guys in 32 would be blacked out if they were operational. You couldn't tell if they were black or white.
No way, he's way of the track here, Conroy was James and so called.
We loaded the casualties into the vehicles. We wanted the guys to come in and fetch them with the choppers, but they said no. We must withdraw all the way to Mupa. Later on we found out that they had Sam 9s - the new ones that had just come into operation. That was the story why the choppers didn't come in. We withdrew back to Mupa and there must have got there at about 3 pm - it was pretty late. We camped down and the guys were not impressed. Then in flew Joubert, head of Sector 10. Might also have been Bestbier. I can't remember how many casualties we had. I remember the one guy - from Durban - sergeant - he died in my vehicle on the way back -that's why we were so upset, because they wouldn't come in and casevac anyone.
I think it is important to mention that what aroused our suspicion about the own forces contact was that we requested air support during the contact but none arrived and our casavacs in the contact had to be transported to Mupa before they were casavaced.
One of the guys who was killed was a sergeant and he had red hair and he was from Durban. I know that he was from Durban because he always made a story about it. I think his name was Rusty or something - I think it was on the 10th of April - they had been to all of these places.
They would only casevac the guys from Mupa. Then you're not interested. You don't want to know at all. We just wanted to bugger off home. My troops just weren't interested. In flies Joubert and he comes in and says; `You guys are going back tomorrow.' The troops just wanted to tell him to fuck off. He told us we had to go.
They wanted someone to go and fetch 44 - Jap's Ratels. 44 were just north of Evale - they were about 60 ks. No-one would go to fetch 44. So of course kiepie (me) because he was a national servicemen - by that stage the guys were really not keen. It could have been very catastrophic because the other guys were dug in - these guys crossed the river and they didn't have their vehicles with them. I don't know the exact facts because at that stage all hell just broke loose. I know that in the rush one of the Buffels was ridden over by a Ratel in the panic. It was gone when we went back. That's why there was all the suspicion. Joubert says; `You guys are going back.' No, they're not going back. He says; `Yes, you are.'
Joubert came to me and said; `You're going to go and fetch 44.' `Where are they?' `They're at Evale'. `How am I going to bundu bash with Ratels from here to Evale, get hold of them and escort them back up?' because they were just in Buffels. He said; `That isn't my problem.' Basically he was saying to me that I would have to ride on the road, and we had already pushed a couple of mines on that road on the way up. It was quite a hard road, that white road which was the road to Ongiva, Evale, Mupa, Cuvelai. I went to my company commander and said `We've just got to do it because we need reinforcements.' The way I see it is that they had decided that they had to save face there. The guys had retreated in a very - we each had to fill in a loss report -some of the guys just chucked their rifles in the river, and swam across, and there were radios and things crushed in the panic. The guys just wanted to get out of there.
`We just have to do it because 44 have to be here. These guys won't go in on their own. 44 were the camper parabats, but they had some national servicemen as well. He's legendary - Jap Swart - he has slanty eyes and he looks like a Chinaman. I took six ratels and I asked `Who wanted to go, because they didn't have to go .' All the guys decided to come, which was nice. So we all packed up. I had everything unpacked from and taken out of the Command Ratel - all the ammunition so if anything happened. At that stage my company had already had 9 mines, but they were all cheese mines - cheese mines don't do anything. If you hit a cheese mine with a Ratel you just hang a wheel. What you worry about is a cheese with a Mk. 8 anti-tank - I don't know where they got them from - Most of the mines we hit were our own mines. We hit some Mk. 8 mines which were planted before - I don't know when - on the big road, years before they had planted British Mk. 8. This was a rock hard white road whereas Oom Willies was sand - during the rains, you'd be riding along this decent road and all of a sudden - Boom! After a while we realised that these weren't cheese mines because they were anti-tank mines. The people who we spoke to said they were planted years before when the guys - probably 32 and Recces - would go in and mine all the big roads.All this talk of mines is disjointed and wrong. The enemy did not have any number of our No 8s as mostly they were laid with anti-lifts, I know I laid'em. The British mine was a No 7.
I drove from Mupa to Just North of Evale (probably an hour) with my Platoon of Ratels on the White Road (mined at the time) to collect Jap in a convoy of buffels who were bundu bashing alongside the white road. My task was to demine the road (with ratels )so they could get up to Mupa before nightfall. That was irresponsible. Sending people out on mined roads. It didn't bother me at the time. I just did it. It was only later on I thought about it.
We decided that with my Ratel we would just fly ahead - we would go as fast as we could - and you guys come on behind us. We drove down there at the speed of light, and we thought; `Any moment now!' It was like the longest journey that I've ever done.
We would be echeloned, and we would actually see the guys planting the mines. They would see the guys going down the road, and they would come in and plant the mines on the road. It was just pure luck that we didn't hit a mine there. It might have been because other guys were using the road as well. In those days you weren't allowed to be within ten metres of a designated road, but we all used them -after a while you just got sick of the constraints.
Eventually I got hold of Jap. They weren't on the road. We didn't hit any mines on the way down. I told Jap that he must come. It was nearly dark and you didn't want to be there, to get absolutely nailed. I said; `No problem. I'll just bos-breek this road for you. We didn't hit any mines now, so we'll just go in front of you.'
I took Jap up to a couple of ks north of Mupa. The next morning we did a first light attack into that area. There was nothing. I don't know why. The guys said they couldn't find anything. There was no ammunition. There was no sign of the Buffel that had been run over. I don't know if they had gone to a different place. We went through the area, went on the other side of the river. There was nothing. No mortar craters. Nothing! That's why we were always very curious about it. That was what made us suspicious.
It will be better for me to know if it was an own forces contact. Why do you think it was own forces? The first inkling we got that something was strange was when General Joubert made us go back. Why? And then we found nothing. That was when I thought that there was something very wrong there. That the commander of 10 flies in and makes us go back. Brings in a whole Bn of parabats to support us. I can remember that Jap wasn't happy at all with us. They must have had to travel all day from when we had that contact - I don't know where they had been - I imagine that they must have been in South West and have driven up in Buffels. It was such a big fire fight. They were dug in and they were well organised.
When we spoke about it that evening, the guys were saying that they heard the enemy speaking Russian. If it was 32 troops, then it could have been Portuguese.
Here you see how the campers were disregarded. It ways; `61 Mech and a citizen force unit.' They're not interested enough to say which citizen force unit. Ours would never have made it (into the book) We were campers. No one gave a toss about us. One doesn't really have to make it.
END OF `TOO CLOSE TO CAVELAI'
After that we slowly went back down south. We picked up the cars and took them back. We drove all the way down to the Gate at 10 at Oshivello. That's where we went back to, because I still know where the cars are buried. Where the red zone started. The gate at Grootfontein. The guys had loaded the cars on to the long tank transporter type things. The troops hid them. We got down to the gate. Some of my friends were killed there when they were showing off grenades. When I went to Outshoorne some of the guys who had been with me went up and did their training at the gate, and they were showing them the grenades, and gave them Russian grenades -a live grenade - one of those ones with the button - they pushed the button and it just went off.Good one, correct a Jugo M60 works like that, the story rings true.
Until then we had been with campers, and suddenly we were surrounded by MPs and national servicemen again. The guys had to bury the cars. There were some nice cars as well. There were about three or four cars. I know that one of the guys in my platoon had a car. I remember the guys there digging to bury the cars. Marking the spot. That was about it.
Some of the people I knew in Intel at Oshakati confirmed that it was an own forces contact. Very few guys actually do the operation. There's only certain units that do anything really. Parachute, 61 Mech and 4 SAI.
When I came back from Ops Dolfyn I went to Oshakati. They wanted to interview me. This is where this whole thing falls in about the court marshal. That's where I get the story from. They wanted to speak to me about the ops. I think they pulled me in because I was a National Serviceman. I remember that I didn't have any uniform. I had come straight out of the bush and I hadn't even changed. I arrived there and they just had a go at me.This talk of BOIs and courts martial is to confused to make sense. Thestory of stolen cars and looted vestements sounds a bit worse than our man ownes up to. If he had no control of his men, as he admits, they were fucking the local women for sure, I know these CF dudes. What was our bloke up to, what were his blokes up to out there, why was he grilled on his return?
I think when the guys were at Anhanka the guys accidentally killed two 32 guys. They guys were armed with AKs. In any contact situation, the guys weren't going to ask any questions. Two companies from 32 were working that area, stopping the SWAPS (SWAPO) from coming through. We were too far north, and not supposed to be that far north anyway. Contact the day before and they went up with 32, and the 32 guys probably thought that we were Cuban or troops from Cuvelai.Page 11 para 3, bullshit!
Driving around like that in the middle of nowhere and being so casual about it - if we had been ambushed, we would have been buggered.
You weren't supposed to have white phos. It was against the Geneva Convention to have white phos mortars. We had 81mm white phos mortars. They didn't used to throw smoke - they just used to throw white phos. It was Portuguese white phos - it must have been their own. I swapped them out. I said; `I'll have some of that' and I gave them a whole pile of HE and we took white phos just for fun.
By that time a lot of us were using weapons we had acquired after contacts. We took the weapons and we carried them with us. By that stage I had an Ak and a Mokorov and a Tokerev - one is Ak round and the other is a Russian 9 mm round. We confiscated weapons as we went along and we found loads of weapons caches. We would come in and get somebody to take us to caches. I had basically locked my R4 up, and ran around with my Tokerev. The joke at the end of the day was that the weapons we took were better than the weapons that we had. I used to have a Star 9 mm which was crap. I just locked those away and used the makarov and tokorev. By that time I had all the black troops and they had the whole assortment going from G3s to R1s to Kalishnikovs to R4s. They had a complete mixture. We didn't want to much up our weapons because we would have to hand them in eventually.
The Ak was a far better weapon to use on those trips than the R4. The R4 would block up a lot because of the dust. The Ak - you could carry it around and not clean it. If you're operational in a vehicle, when you come to use your rifle, its totally buggered.
You could use an AK round in an R4, but not the other way around. They are both 65.5, but the ak round is shorter. The AK was a much better weapon to have where you weren't regimented and sitting at night cleaning your weapon. We used to travel during the day and come back, and at night we would pull into a laager in case we were revved. We would dig in and sleep, and then wake and start all over. We dug in just enough - The only night that we didn't dig in was at Cuvelai - we were told to dig in, but we had a vote on it, and we decided that we would all just sleep in the vehicle.
Page 11 para 7 and 8, please, what utter crap!
I heard that the Commandant was Court Marshalled. Commandant Van Lil - he was demoted after that to Major - He was my OC.
I believe this bloke, he's confused as I would expect any badly trained NSM lieutenant to be. He has put in a few things he heard of as fact, and big noted himself a bit. Naughty but not death sentence stuff. His geography is good.
The 32 guys with us was a mortar section (4 81mm mortar pipes) under my command. It gets very interesting when you try to move fire and it takes you a few rounds to realise that the HE is not yours but theirs.
On Ops Dolfyn I directed fire for a 32 Bn and was surprised when they shot in with white smoke (my unit shot in with HE but nose cone on delay (look for the plumes of sand)). There fire was good so told them to throw HE. I was told in no uncertain terms that they did not use HE and continued to throw smoke. I quickly realised that there brisant was actually WF 81mm (not standard issue I believe). Always a good idea to stand upwind when these guys were at it. They were great at making firebreaks.
The only guy that I remember vividly was the sergeant from Durban. He was shot in the stomach, and we took him back, but I think he was dead already. I wrote to his parents. I had all their post from censoring them. When we got rations I would hand in the letters - I would censor them and keep them with me. I knew everyone's girlfriends, and how many kids they had and everything. That's how I knew the address. The letters probably went once every three weeks when we got wet rats.
AFTER OPERATION DOLFYN
After I came back from ops Dolfyn in June 1983 I was given the task of testing and evaluating the first Ratel 81mm prototype. I spent a month on De Brug putting the vehicle through its paces. It was great because it was the first Ratel (I think) that was fitted with a Marconi Gyroscope navigation system. (This had no satellite component, the vehicle knew its position by using the Gyro and how far it had traveled. If an OP gave you a target position, you just entered it into the onboard computer and aimed the vehicle precisely at the target and fired). The army's main concern was whether the Ratel suspension could take the pounding of firing the mortar on charge five, giving you a range of 5km. After the month was up some bigwigs came from Pretoria to watch and assess the vehicle. On the day I was riding in the turret and we were firing mortars all over the place. This Ratel did not have a 20mm cannon but a 7.62 browning mounted on the turret. I got very enthusiastic and decided to fire the browning to show the vehicle's fire power, and the barrel fell off. That took the shine off proceedings but the generals liked the Ratel. I then spent a week up at Armscor giving a report on the vehicle (I think it was to a Commandant Swart, head of that division)
In 1982/83 we were issued suede (pigskin) boots at 1SAI. They were pretty comfortable but after a few months on the border they deteriorated considerably. The soles were not stitched but stapled so after the boots were wet for some time they just came apart. I managed to get a pair of Spes. boots (the ones with canvas (?) ankles) but these were nicked in no time. Around this time there was a lot of non-standard kit that was hard to get. Prized items was a hooded parka (supposedly Israeli) and parabat bushjacket (supposedly Israeli) and at the time, new H-frame burgeons.
(This was after Donald had klaared out)
My own troops never knew they were going. They were told that they were going out on a field trip for a day or two, and then they were going over. All their equipment was in South West when they went over, so we had no changes of clothes - we had nothing. That's a popular trick, so that you don't write home and say; `We are now going over the border.'
Askaris - my own national service troops did that. I went back to the small range before Christmas and the big range between February and April. The rumour was out that when we came back, the question was phrased; `Why didn't we do it?' Why didn't you take Cuvelai then?
The way I think they had planned it - the normal cycle would be that the attacks on the bases would normally happen in around from April to August. 61 used to have a June intake - Delta Company. I think one of the companies with the highest kill ratio in the SADF of national servicemen was Delta Company. One of the reasons why there would never be an attack over Christmas was because the new intake would have become operational - guys like me finished at the beginning of December and the next lot would come up, and the June intake was very small. Delta Company of 61 Mech in 1982 they were the guys - 1981&82 - Those were the guys who did Protea and Smokeshell. It was phenomenal. We used to be in awe of them. The idea was that we would never attack then because it was a religious holiday. Over December all the campers would come up and run all the bases in South West. That's what I used to do when I was a student. Every December and January I used to be called up and I would go to Evale or wherever.
When we came back the rumour was already out that the next big op would be against Cuvelai. Cuvelai and Cahama. I hadn't even heard of Cahama then. When we got the ops report we realised how many Cubans were supposed to be there. 3000 Cubans at Cuvelai. The rumour was out that the attack was going to be at Christmas time. I went back home, got my own troops and trained them up. I had an inkling - they would have gone to 61 Mech and they would have done the op. I klaared out on about the 10th of December. They had already gone up. I had handed them over command early. Normally you would only hand over in December. We gave them over to the new guy in about September already, and they had gone. We finished with the army and they let us go. They must have gone up, done the dry run and then done the Askaris. They were the mortar platoon.
When I left 1 SAI, my brother klaared in, and he was a Ratel driver. It was quite horrible for him because his Lt had been one of my troops. When he walked in the Lt asked if he was my brother, and my brother just died from then on.
(Brother) George - they went really far north into Angola and ran into getting bombed by MiGs. We never had that to worry about. They went up to Quito. He was bombed by MiGs. He lost 40% of his hearing. He came to see me afterwards at Tygerberg hospital because he couldn't hear anything. I sent him and they tested him at Tygerberg. I never talk about the army with my brother. We went in in 1984 and was operational in 1985 - he was a Ratel driver with 61 Mech. He was a Ratel driver. They were stationed far in. They came within range of the MiGs. He said that they were throwing thousand pound bombs at them. They got involved with UNITA.
Donald was a training lieutenant when his younger brother, George, was a young recruit at 1 SAI. New to the army life, George saw Donald in the distance, and ran over enthusiastically to greet his brother, a familiar face in the sea of strangers. Donald was having none of this! Donald snapped at him to stand to attention and salute, and then sent George off to fetch his corporal. When the corporal arrived, Donald took him to task for allowing the troops in his charge to run around in such an undisciplined fashion. George and has platoon spent the next couple of hours doing corrective training (also known as `punishment PT') while Donald and his friends watched with amusement from the Officers' Mess, where the sipped chilled beer.
I had klaared out of the army, and been out of the army for two weeks and all of a sudden I got the letter. I could see that it was army related and I knew that they guys were going up, and I opened up the letter and the letter is just one long anguish story about the Ops. I don't remember the name of the guy who replaced me.
Something that bothered me was that I tried to sign on short service to do the op, but they wouldn't let me. I just wanted to do the Op. I already knew that they were going to attack in December. I wanted to sign on and go with them. If I had gone with them, I would have been a lot more cautious, having been up there - I would have been very cautious. I went to them and said; `Can I sign on and do the Ops?' and they said; `What Ops?' That was how it was done in South Africa when I got back to 1 SAI. They said; `You have to go to university. What if something happens to you and you can't get back in time?'
I was never ever GV. There was no bloodlust. Having been there and done it. Their new Lt had only had them for a month or six weeks. I thought it would have been better if I had gone with them, but then I would have had my head blown off which wouldn't have been a good idea.
If I could do it over, I would have tried to arrange to go to their funerals. I wrote to the parents and wives of the guys who were killed in Angola during Dolfyn.
When I finished my national service I did not want to find out certain details about my time in Angola in March-May 1993. (How my troops were killed and did we have own-forces contacts etc). The things that interest me - there's something very funny about that contact during Dolfyn, and also finding out more the reality of the story.
I had just got to university - it must have been mid January 1984 and I got a letter from one of my troops saying that 6 of them were killed at Cuvelai, and the platoon commander had his head blown off. There was no coverage on SABC TV. I destroyed the letter. I read it but I didn't really. My driver was the guy who was driving for him - they were driving along with the radios - they put their 22 mm anti aircraft guns - the ones with the wheels - took his head clean off. They were driving along - he didn't fall down into the vehicle at all - he just stood up - it was the driver that wrote to me - you were all on intercom in the Ratel - they were getting no response from hi, so he looked up and he saw ... Then I just destroyed the letter.
I read the letter once, and didn't really read it, and then just destroyed it and never questioned it again. I just left it.
Letter: one of the Ratels got trapped in the mine field, leaving them in the death acre - that was Charlie Company - the first Ratels went into the mine field and got trapped. Got the letter about 16th January. 13 killed - 6 were mine. One platoon of C Coy was decimated. I seem to recall from the letter that some troops were killed in a Buffel when a mortar shell hit the roll bar. The Lt was killed with an 82mm mortar.
How would I know that Okahana wasn't taken, but that Cuvelai was taken. It must have been in the letter. There's no way that I would have known that. At that time that wouldn't have been common knowledge.
Sometimes I thought that I'd dreamed about the letter. I always have associations with Christmas and the letter. I have a feeling that they were killed on Christmas day. The letter arrived when I started at university. The letter was something that I just didn't want to get. I think it came from the driver. I think I threw it away.
My national service troops that were killed - that doesn't seem real. I didn't see any of the names on the wall of remembrance. Who is interested in a bunch of campers going in there and getting their arses shot off.
Names? I blanked them. I would recognise them if I saw them. Most of them were Portuguese - they had come from - my trainload all came from Hillbrow. They were all Portuguese - a couple of the guys who were killed were strongly Portuguese. That must have come out of the letter.
After Askaris - the one I was involved in - I wasn't interested. There was a big change. I didn't bother. What bothered me was that the guys were doing full frontal attacks on Cuvelai, and no one knew. People think that what I was involved in couldn't have happened. That's the biggest problem. Quito came into the public domain, but then I was a student and I didn't want to know.
ADJUSTMENT TO CIVVY STREET
One of my friends from Stellenbosch was a verkenner, a pathfinder, for 44. We sat and spoke about it because there was common ground. Pathfinders were very hot.
When I went into my residence at Stellenbosch only two of us out of 136 had been to the army. I went two weeks early to university with the army guys for orientation, and I met some of my friends there and we just carried on with our 40 days. We got into the pub and just drank ourselves silly.
When I went to university, it became a different life. Can you imagine going from running around in Angola being completely silly and then ending up in medical school? It was a complete change. I ended up in an environment where no one had been to the army - no one at medical school had been to the army. There was a growing liberalisation at Maties at the time that I was there - the guys were getting involved with the ANC and becoming quite liberal.
When I went to university I just didn't want to know. I never denied having done the army. You must remember that I did camps, so I would be seen to go off. I would mention Angola, but I wouldn't talk about ops and casualties because a lot of the time people wouldn't believe you. The females tended to have the idea that the guys would go to South West and walk on some patrols, and chased some spoor.
My parents think it effected me hugely - when I came back from the Operations. My dad had a completely different view - Italy - they follow the summer - that struck my dad as very funny, because he knew that I didn't want to go into the army and that I would hate it. You hated the first couple of months, but then, thinking back - part of the fear was that you wouldn't make it because you weren't hard enough. I think that when you realise that you can actually do it, and that you can do it well that you feed on that - you feed on that community. I think I changed from being totally anti-army to getting through and achieving all that, getting onto COs etc.
A FACE FROM LONG AGO
When I was a medical student at Tygerburg when I was a 4th or 5th year student - 1988/1989 - I was in the reception area and there was a black guy sitting there. I walked past. The guy got up, saluted, and said; `Lieutenant'. It was my 101 section leader, Johannes. I remember I used to reach him to write, but he always used to write backwards. It was so funny. He was flown down from South West to have all his teeth out. We just sat there. He was the only person I ever met afterwards who had been there with me. Johannes - it was so funny - Imagine in Tygerberg Dental hospital this black Owambo guy getting up, just coming up - being so happy to see somebody that he knew - coming down to Tygerberg being very ill - we were having a huge commotion there, and one of the doctors came through and called me over and said; `What are you doing? You can't do this.' I said; `You can stick it.'
Johannes - 1988 - he must have been at Quito. It was funny that he recognised me after all those years. We just sat there, and all the white patients were sitting there, totally agog.
I had to do camps. People used to ask why I was doing them. I used to be earning good money as a student from the danger pay. I remember as a student earning more than R 2000 a month doing those camps. I think it was about R 1,300 plus danger pay. I would go up just for the money. That's unfortunately the way that things worked.
If I had to do a camp, then I wanted to go operational because I would get danger pay. I wasn't interested, and I had become fairly anti. I had never been Gv or ever really wanted to do anything. It was more circumstances than anything.
I was a university student and I was doing medicine which meant that I used to go up as a medic, but I refused to change berets, so I used to go running around with my Ratel balkie. People looked at me strangely. You had a little Ratel on the badge. 61 had a nice badge - a dagger with three lightening strikes through it.
It was partly a combination of having been to Cuvelai, and having lost some my camper troops, and then losing some of my own troops later, going through the same place. It was terrible. Before they left, Delta Company - the company at 61 had a competition to see which was the best company at attacks at Bloemfontein. The company that won would lead the attack on the next op. In the letter - the first platoon
CAMP AT ETALI 1984
In 1984 I did a camp at Etale, north of Alpha and Bravo tower - between them ..., doing Com-ops which meant going around the kraals trying to repair the damage done by 911 Romeo Mike's and Koevoet i.e broken fences, destroyed crops etc. This meant creeping to the local headmen. On these visits we were instructed not to offend the headman and this entailed having to drink muhango beer :- a horrible concoction of muhango (a grain crop) and milk (very very curdled). You graciously accepted the drink in a calabash drinking it very slowly so that if there were any flies in the drink they would stick to the sides of the calabash. Muhango would give you gippo guts for at least 4 days.
If the headman took a shine to you he would give you the Owambo version of Skokijan (a clear spirit). We never could establish what was in it (supposedly battery acid). I would get back to camp completely hammered. In the evening I used to open the bar for Cmdt Hill's guys from 5 Recce (VK). Everybody drank Red Heart and coke till the early hours of the morning then Kailua, milk and crushed ice for breakfast. Sweep Oom Willies half way to Eenhana then do a spot of Com-Ops. I was pissed the whole camp :- I got kidney stones for my troubles.
I wanted to go to Opuwa to see the elephants. I couldn't get there so I ended up at Etali. That's how we used to organise ourselves.
I'M NOT QUITE SURE WHERE THIS FITS IN - SEEMS TO BE 1984 CAMP
Oom Willie's - I have swept - Alpha Tower is at Santa Clara - a white road - west -east. Evale is 30ks north of the border. The road had to be swept every morning from Etali - along Oom Willies - and there was a big tree - from Eenhana the road went on to Napara - a SAKK base. At Napara the fire plan was - what you would do was - you would select certain key areas that you would map out and set ranges for your mortars - and the machine guns and you would practise to make sure that you covered everywhere.
I went to Eenhana - just sweeping. We used to sweep from Etale - one section would sweep half way to the Groot Boom (Big Tree) and then Eenhana would sweep to the halfway line. That was in the middle of no where. It was on the way to the other camp that I was at.
I did a camp in 1988 at - that was really in the middle of - Nepara - that was the problem. It was very dry there
Captain Rutter's Sergeant major was from the British army. All the senior NCOs in 5 Recce were British. I remember Commandant Hill because he was the GV - he was `The man'. Short squat little guy - he looked like he was somebody's grandfather. Captain Ritter was with him. There was an AO1 and an AO2 who were from the British army.
There were other foreign guys involved as well. I came across this American guy. I can't remember their names. They never used to wear their names. I remember Commandant Hill and Captain Ritter because everyone spoke about them. The small tactics team used to fly back and they would want a drink. The first night that they did that - they flew into Umtali - I didn't run the bar, but at that stage I used to be in the officers bar all night getting completely smashed. I would open the bar because I wanted a drink then, and I would sit and drink Kalhua and milk all day long, and I would just get pissed. These guys arrived. One of the corporals came and woke me up and said - I didn't even know that they were in our base. It was the first time that I had met them. I went in half asleep because I had the key for the pub. This was about two in the morning - I went in to the officers bar and Ritter came to me and said; `Can my NCO's come in?'
I said; `Of course they can come in. Everyone can come in.' I didn't know who they were. It was just this guy came in with epaulettes on. He brought them in. They were British guys. I remember the first guy walking up to me and saying; `Thank you sir for allowing us in.' He had a British accent. Afterwards as they were starting to drink they started talking. I just stood behind the bar, and I think one of the British NCOs said; `What are you having to drink, Sir?'
I said; `I'm on the rum'.
He said; `A bottle for you and a bottle for me.' We sat there and got absolutely shot. At about 5 in the morning, the captain said; `Come on, chaps. We're flying out in an hour.' They all got on the top of the bar and they rolled out. They got on top of the bar and they would do a huge roll. You would open the door and they would roll out of the bar. This happened every night from then on. I used to have an early night waiting for them to come in.
At that stage I wasn't operational at all. I refused to go anywhere. My time was done. For me it was just interesting. One of the reasons that I got on so well with them was that I had been operational. Quite often when they were in the bar, the national servicemen would be in awe of them. After a while I said that I'd been there. They checked me out for a while, and when they found that I had worked with the 32 guys, then they opened up a bit more. I'd been there and done that, so that was okay.
I couldn't walk for all of the drinking. I was ill. I was drinking every night with them, and then I would wake up. I would drink with them right through until the morning.
At six o'clock I would have to sweep because I decided that I would take the sweepers patrol out. I used to sweep as well because I got bored. If you sat in the vehicle, it was hot, and you just died. I used to go out and sweep the first stretch until the turn off road, and then I would come back. And these guys would fly back in - from Etali base. It was a strange base - the Koevoet guys and the Recces would operate from the base, and we were just a skeleton crew to man the base.
It was Christmas time and there were no national servicemen - they were thinly spread because those guys leave the base at the beginning of December and there's no new recruits in until January. I met some of the interesting boys.
I escorted Ritter down to Ondangwa. We were drinking and we drove all the way down, and he didn't say a word to me, and then he just gave me a bunch of photos
At that stage I wasn't doing anything. I just wasn't interested. I was just there to party. I was drinking to entertain myself. I think these guys realised this. At any time of the night they could come and wake me up. They knew where my tent was. They could wake me up and I would open the bar for them.
I was on the border with Breytenbach. We flew down to watch the north south game and came back the next day. We flew from the airport at Caprivi. We got the message; `Who wants to come and watch rugby?'
Some camps later, at Sector 70 - it was terrible. I ended up - one a June Camp - going to the North South rugby match. That must have been 87 or 1988.
I used to do what I wanted. I would arrive and no one would give me shit. I would do what I wanted to do. If they didn't like it, they could bugger off and I wouldn't do anything.
Evale is in Angola, Etale is in SWA.
Koevoet Romeo Mike base just north of us at Evale. 4 RR was also stationed there, so we had Commandant Hill in 84 - 4 or 5 Recce.
The camps were lovely because I used to meet interesting, wonderful people. In camps - 82 - I used to go where I wanted to go. You'd been there and done it. At end of 1984 I went up to Etale - I wasn't very interested in the army at that stage. I would get myself a nice cushy job.
Because I had been operational - I just used to entertain the reconnaissance guys. I met Wilhelm Ratte - he was at Evale with us. I used to drink with Commandant Hill and them. Having been operational I fitted in better with them that I did with the other people. I used to drift around up there. There were some very interesting characters. That was December January 1984 up at Etale.
I don't know why the place was so disorganised. The Koevoet Romeo Mike teams used to come and eat there, and they didn't have enough food. Koevoet Romeo Mike teams were the vicious variety - they used to drive into camp with their kills over the mud guards.
GOING BACK LATER
1997 I went to Fort Doppies - there's nothing there. I took Sharon on Safari. I went to 201 - that's still there. The bushman village and the barracks and everything.
There was the one road going north from Eenhana, Ngiva, Evale, Kuveli, and the other road going Hunkanoni out that way, and then another going to Ondangwa and Okahana.
Stofstreek Viljoen. The troops used to run away from him. He was such an over powering figure. Quite short, but always paraat. As a general he used to walk around with his R5 ready to go. He came to us when we were in Ondangwa – they brought us down for Christmas and we had our Christmas lunch at Ondangwa and he came to speak to the troops and all my troops just ran away. He has these blue eyes and they are so intense. The general walks up to the troepie. The troepie shits himself. Can't say a word.
"Witkop Badenhorst - he was at Infantry School as well.
Published: 30 May 2002.
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