'UNDER FRIENDLY FIRE'
This chapter contains extracts from the enquiry into an incident at Okalongo Base, Sector 10 (Owamboland) on 29 March 1986. I have translated most of the extracts, preferring to leave the wording as close to the originals as possible. I have left the names and identifying data unchanged. Corporal Swart later recanted his account, which is presented here in colour.
In summary, the action appears to have been that one or two of the garrison were annoyed and became drunk. Smith started off the event by throwing the first grenade, to which the garrison went overboard in their reaction. De Klerk then seems to have become involved in a spree, and seems to spend most of the time during of the incident moving between throwing grenades over the West wall, fetching more ammunition, and then throwing grenades over the South wall. Smith then joined in again. One of them threw a grenade at the Section Leaders Tent, in which Blom was injured. Swart and Pretorius were either tricked or invited into becoming involved. As the stakes rise, the antagonists seem to decide to ease off on what they were doing, which they had finished by the time the helicopter gunship arrived. They then made rather ineffectual attempts to cover up what they had done. I am rather struck that, considering the eventual conclusion that there was no enemy attack, the observers must have been spotting their own mortar rounds landing, which must have almost been a self-fulfilling prophesy. The more they directed fire, the more enemy weapons would appear to have been fired at them, but presumably without enemy weapons appearing to land anywhere near the camp. Also, in spite of the camp expecting to be on the receiving end of a bombardment, their response does appear to be very uncoordinated.
BACKGROUND TO THE CHARACTERS INVOLVED
Lance-Corporal De Klerk was medically unfit because his left hand was in plaster. Lance-Corporal De Klerk was overheard saying that he was dissatisfied with Major Ferreira's actions towards him and Rifleman Smith and the drivers. It seems that Rifleman Smith was a storeman. He got his hand grenade from the SACC when they cleared out without handing it back in. Rifleman Smith had a grievance against Major Ferreira who had given him an extra 69 days of National Service as punishment for an unspecified misdemeanour. Major Ferreira was on detached duty to 53 Bn and was stationed at Okalongo Base as Base Commander.
THAT NIGHT: THE CANTEEN
That evening, from about eight o'clock to 10 o'clock, soldiers from 'Echo' and 'Foxtrot' Company were drinking in the canteen. It seems to have been a party, and they were drinking excessively, more than the 'legal' two beers each per night. They were getting nosier, and at one stage, when Van Vuuren, Lategan, Grove, and Olivier were standing on a table, leading the others in a singsong. Hardwick was in the audience. Major Ferreira came into the canteen and told them to keep the noise down; he didn't mind them having a party but they should keep the noise down. Major Ferreira then left the canteen and when he was out of the door, Lategan yelled. Major Ferreira immediately came back into the canteen and ordered them all to leave the canteen and fall in outside. He told them to clean up the canteen and go to bed. They started to clean the canteen. While they were busy, Lance-Corporal De Klerk came along and invited them along to sing song and barbecue at a fire in front of a tent near the West Wall.
THAT NIGHT: THE FIRE
Having been sent away from the canteen, Lance-Corporal Blom and Hardwick went to their tent and sat there talking to each other. Smuts, Smith, Lance-Corporal De Klerk and Swart joined them. Grove went to the Section Leaders tent where he sat and talked with Lance-Corporal De Klerk. Corporal Swart was already in bed. Around the fire, the soldiers were drinking beer and singing. Smith joked about how the guys would jump ('skrik') if the base was attacked. He said that he would love to throw a grenade over the wall to give the guys a fright. Olivier and Raas and Lance-Corporal Blom heard him say this, but they didn't think he would do it, and that it was just big talk. Lance-Corporal Blom left the fire when it was time for him to go on duty. Smith walked to his tent to fetch his grenade. He returned to the fire and said that he was going to throw the grenade, and they should not be alarmed. Hardwick and Olivier decided to leave and moved to a tent about 50 m from the fire where they sat or lay talking, waiting to see what Smith would do. Then they got scared and Olivier said they should move to their own tent. At 22H40 Lloyd was standing guard at Alpha bunker when Rifleman Smith approached him with an M26 grenade in his right hand. Lloyd saw that the safety pin had already been removed. Rifleman Smith told Lloyd not to be afraid; he was going to throw the grenade because he wanted to get Major Ferreira back for the extra 69 days that he had to do. Smith put his 'fire bucket' (Mug) of brandy down on the ground, and he went outside the bunker and Lloyd saw him throw the grenade outside the base. Smith told Lloyd not to tell anybody that he had thrown the grenade. BANG! Hardwick and Olivier had run about 20 m towards their own tent, and as they ran past the Lieutenants' tent, they heard an explosion and immediately Olivier realised that Smith had thrown the grenade. Just before they reached their tent, they heard a second explosion. They ran into their tent and grabbed their chest webbing and ran to the North bunker. When they arrived at the North bunker, Hardwick heard more explosions and thought that they were being revved. At 22H35 Captain Minnaar and Major Ferreira were brushing their teeth in the officers' bathroom. Major Ferreira heard a dull explosion West of the base. It sounded like a mortar leaving a mortar pipe. Lance-Corporal Blom, who had heard part of the conversation at the fire, was in the Ops. Room busy taking over watch duties when he heard an explosion.
FIRST EXPLOSION - FIRST REACTIONS
After throwing the grenade, Smith ran back to his tent. When he got back to his tent, chaos broke out. [The mortars started to fire as did the troops on the West wall.] While Corporal Grove and others were talking, they heard an explosion. About five to 10 seconds after the explosion, Rifleman Smith came running into the tent and jumped into his sleeping bag. He told them to keep quiet and act as though they knew nothing of the explosion because he had thrown the grenade. Smith lay on his bed and half passed out when he felt a rifle butt strike his cheek. Corporal Grove stood over him and said that he must grab his rifle and go to the wall. He went to the fire at the West wall where he found Captain Minnaar and other troops and they fired blindly into the dark. Captain Minnaar told them to cease fire and keep their heads down. When the grenade exploded, everybody ran to the bunkers and started shooting. The mortars also started shooting. Lloyd heard explosions inside and outside the bunkers. He was scared and lay down with his hands over his head. After a while, the order came to stop fire and the firing stopped. Corporal Swart was in bed in his tent when he heard an explosion. He immediately got up and grabbed his chest webbing and rifle and ran to the third bunker on the South wall. The troops and mortars began to shoot and Corporal Swart then heard other explosions inside the base. Corporal Pretorius was in the Officers' Bar. He had drunk quite a lot, about six beers and four double brandies. At 22H35 he heard an explosion on the West side of the base. He left the bar along with Lieutenant Bothma and Corporal Van Zyl. Corporal Pretorius said they were being attacked and Lieutenant Bothma argued that it was their own forces firing mortars. After some running around Corporal Pretorius eventually arrived at his bunker on the South wall opposite the helipad. OLIVIER: [Immediately the mortars began to fire illumination and the troops on the walls began to fire their rifles.] Olivier grabbed his chest webbing and grabbed his rifle and ran to the North wall. As they reached the wall, Olivier heard other explosions in the base, and he thought that it was a real attack. The explosions continued for about an hour and then it became quiet. FERREIRA: The Captain and Major Ferreira started to move slowly towards the Ops. Room when they heard another explosion and small arms fire. Major Ferreira saw that the mortars started to shoot illumination and then he ran to the Ops. Room. VAN RHYN: Lance-Corporal Van Rhyn was awakened by an explosion and saw troops running to the walls with their rifles. He also took his rifle and went to a bunker in the North wall. They still heard explosions at the West side of the base. RAAS: [After the explosion,] Everyone ran to their positions in the bunkers because they thought that they were being attacked. Raas ran to the second bunker on the West side and [at that stage] the mortars and the troops in the bunkers had already begun to shoot. When Raas got to the bunker, they were ordered to shoot to the West side because the attack was coming from that direction.
SECOND REACTIONS: OPS ROOM
GROVE: [Shots were then fired from the walls and] Grove went to his tent to fetch his rifle. After that Grove moved over to the East wall bunker. After about fifteen minutes Grove moved over to Delta bunker. Corporal Swart, Lance-Corporal De Klerk, Corporal Pretorius and Rifleman G.D. Kruger were in the third bunker on the South Wall. Kruger didn't have a rifle, so Lance-Corporal De Klerk gave him his and his chest webbing. Lance-Corporal De Klerk left the bunker saying he was going to fetch more ammunition. They heard explosions again and it was clear that they were from inside the base. Lance-Corporal De Klerk ran back into the bunker with ammunition and grenades. He told them to keep their heads down because he was going to throw grenades. He pulled the pin out of the grenade with his left thumb and index finger, and threw the M26 grenade towards the helipad. The grenade exploded. He gave them ammunition and left the bunker. Again they heard explosions inside and outside the base. Corporal Pretorius also left the bunker saying he was going to fetch more ammunition. He returned with three signal flares and ammunition. Klerk then came down along the wall and loaded up with ammunition. During this there were continual explosions inside and outside the base. Staff Myburgh and Lance-Corporal De Klerk returned to Delta bunker later to see that everything was all right. The Staff and Lance-Corporal De Klerk then walked further. After a while Lance-Corporal De Klerk arrived with an M26 grenade in his right hand. He said that the Captain had told him to get rid of the grenade. He pulled out the pin with his left thumb and index finger, and threw the grenade over the wall. Then he went away. The explosions stopped and Grove went back to his tent. After a while they received the order 'cease fire' and Raas called to the other bunkers that they should cease fire. Just after the order, Raas saw Rifleman Smith, who was also in their bunker, throw a grenade out of the base. Smith told everyone that another bomb had fallen, and that they should start to shoot again. After that, Captain Minnaar came to the bunker and asked why they were shooting when there was no specific target. Smith told him that a bomb had just fallen in front of them. Captain Minnaar told them to shoot only if they saw something move and if they could identify it.
SMITH MOVES TO THE STORE
At that stage the mortarists came running around the mess shouting 'Storeman Storeman'. Smith then screamed that he would be with them now. Smith then left the bunker. When Smith had gone, there were no more explosions. The mortarists called for the storeman and Smith went to the ammunition store where he issued mortar bombs, 7.62 mm and 5.56 mm rounds and RPG bombs. Lance-Corporal De Klerk then came into the store and Smith saw him take M26 grenades from the box and Smith saw him throw them inside the base. Then it fell silent, and there was just rifle fire from the North bunker. Smith saw Lance-Corporal De Klerk run into his ammunition store and take four or five M26 grenades from a box and run out with them. Smith moved out of the store with the mortarists and helped them carry a box of 81 mortar bombs. When Smith had come out of the ammunition store, he saw Lance-Corporal De Klerk throw an M26 grenade behind the QM store. He moved further and there were two explosions after each other from his direction. After a while Lance-Corporal De Klerk came back to the ammo store and Smith saw him take M26 grenades and go out again. He had not been out long when Smith heard three explosions near the ammunition store. After that, De Klerk was in the store a couple of times, and each time he took some M26 grenades. After a while, Lance-Corporal De Klerk came running to the bunkers and asked for Foxtrot troops. Raas saw that Lance-Corporal De Klerk had an M26 grenade in his hand, and Lieutenant Kitshoff told him not to 'play the GV (Grensvegter)'. Lance-Corporal De Klerk ran straight to the bunkers at the North wall. Raas heard a couple more explosions inside the base. Lance-Corporal De Klerk then returned to the bunker again and said that he was going to throw another two grenades. Corporal Swart watched him do this. Lance-Corporal De Klerk then handed Corporal Swart a grenade and left the bunker and Corporal Swart saw that he had other grenades in his pockets. They heard explosions from the area of the mess. They fired the signal flares up and loaded magazines. Then there was silence and Corporal Swart heard them scream 'Cease Fire VALK 3 fall in'. At 22H40 Major Ferreira heard a definite decrease in the explosions and he gave the order to cease fire. He contacted the platoon commander, Lieutenant Bothma, and instructed him to assemble VALK 3 to commence investigation West of the base. Smith took three grenades from the box and threw them inside the base. There was a continuous commotion in the store. Smith was inside the store when he heard explosions near the mess. He stayed in the store until everything became quiet.
VALK 3 COMMANDER IS TOLD TO FALL IN
Blom heard more explosions after which the mortar fire and rifle fire began. He ran outside, and was on his way to the bunker, when he heard Lieutenant Bothma call for him. He went to Lieutenant Bothma and was told to get the VALK together. He tried to get hold of the VALK but the whole base was in chaos and he couldn't get them together. He shouted for the VALK the whole time and eventually he managed to get a group together. Then they all lay in the Ops Room while there were more explosions.
MORE EXPLOSIONS TO THE WEST OF THE BASE
At 22H48, while they were busy talking, Major Ferreira heard more explosions in the general West of the base. Small arms fire started again, after which the mortars launched a counter bombardment. After about three minutes Major Ferreira called a cease fire again. He went out to tell the VALK 3 Commander to go out again in the general Western direction. Major Ferreira organized ammunition replenishment. He then went to the mess to investigate possible explosion marks and saw various holes in the ground characteristic of explosion marks South and West of the mess. Someone on the East wall started to fire single shots, and then everyone began to shoot again. At that stage, the four of us heard explosions in the area of the Section Leaders' tents. After a while Lance-Corporal Blom ran to his tent to go and get his chest webbing. When he was to the left of his tent, he heard an explosion to his right and he fell flat. He felt a burning pain in his right side and left leg. He stood up and felt that he was bleeding and ran into his tent. Everything was dark inside his tent and he felt for his bed and he felt that everything in the area of the explosion had been blown to pieces. While he was busy searching in the dark for his chest webbing, Corporal Pretorius ran into the tent.
L/CPL BLOM'S TENT IS HIT
Lance-Corporal Blom got his chest webbing and went back to the Ops. Room. When he got back to the Ops Room, he told Lieutenant Bothma that he was wounded and that he was going for medical treatment. He went to the signal room in the Ops room where the medics were with other wounded. After a while Lance-Corporal De Klerk ran into their bunker again and said 'duck' and he threw a grenade inside the base in the direction of the electricity generators. Lance-Corporal De Klerk gave Corporal Pretorius an M26 grenade. Pretorius threw it towards the helipad. Corporal Swart admits receiving an M26 hand grenade from Lance-Corporal De Klerk and throwing it at the helipad on the South side of the base. Lance-Corporal De Klerk threw another grenade in the base. Then everything fell silent. Lance-Corporal De Klerk left the bunker with Corporal Pretorius. Those remaining sat in the bunker and talked. Corporal Pretorius ran in and told Corporal Swart to go and see what their tent looked like. Corporal Swart went and saw that it had been hit by a grenade.
THERE IS A LULL IN THE EXPLOSIONS
At 22H59, while Major Ferreira still stood at the mess, he again heard explosions and at 22H59 accompanied with small arms fire and mortar fire. Major Ferreira then immediately moved back to the Ops Room and shortly after this the first casualty came in. It was Lance-Corporal Blom who had a light shrapnel wound on his ribs and shortly after that Rifleman O'Neil came in with a shoulder wound. The fire leader, Corporal Majiet, gave Major Ferreira regular feedback that he saw explosions West of the camp. This later changed as though they were being attacked from all four sides. Lieutenant Bothma then gave an order that all the VALK troops must report at the Ops Room. When he got to the Ops Room, Hardwick was told that one of the VALK troops had been wounded and he went to the doctor to give assistance. The doctor did not need assistance and Lieutenant Bothma sent Hardwick to the ammunition store to get magazine rounds. After giving the magazine rounds to Lieutenant Bothma, Hardwick went to the Ops room and assisted the doctor because there were other troops wounded. He stayed there until the explosions stopped. After this, the serious casualties were brought in. They were Preen with a bullet wound and Moult with injuries to the back of his head. Both bled a great deal. In between, Major Ferreira spoke with Commandant van der Walt on the radio who informed Major Ferreira that a 'Dragon' (Helicopter gunship?) was on its way. After communication was established with the Dragon, the pilot asked that air illumination flares should be launched on request, and two were fired by Corporal Van Zyl. When they had fired the first flare, the pilot asked that the mortar fire stop, but the small arms fire continued. The Dragon fired about 30 shots after which its weapons jammed. The pilot said that he would return to base after a spotter (plane) arrived to direct their mortar fire. Meanwhile, at 23H50 Major Ferreira ordered cease fire. After seeing the doctor, Lance-Corporal Blom went back to the Ops. Room. He and Lieutenant Bothma then ran to the ammunition store where they found Rifleman Smith. They counted two boxes of 'Instant Light' and went to the South side bunker. At that stage the explosions stopped. At OOHO5 2 or three explosions were heard within the base and those were the last. Meanwhile the spotter plane arrived and the Dragon departed. The spotter plane departed at 02H30.
AFTER IT WAS OVER
At 04H10 2 Puma helicopters landed here with Scout Troops who were off loaded and the three casevacs; Moult, Preen and Haldego, were removed. Orders were issued that the troops should sleep in their bunkers. After they had given covering fire for the helicopter (chopper), Corporal Pretorius returned to his tent and took his mattress and went to sleep in the bunker.
NEXT MORNING AND BEYOND
The next morning Hardwick heard talk in the camp that their own troops had revved the camp and not the enemy. From a bunker in the South wall, Lance-Corporal Van Rhyn saw Lance-Corporal De Klerk walk to a pool of water near the electricity generators. Lance-Corporal Van Rhyn saw that he had something in his hand that looked like a grenade and he threw it in the water. Corporal Immelman and Rifleman Steuneman found four or five grenade pins when they moved the portable store plates from behind the store. Immelman gave them to Smith, who asked him to keep quiet, admitting that he had put them there. Grove noticed that the West and South sides of the base were full of holes from when the grenade exploded. During the day, Lance-Corporal Blom told Grove that Lance-Corporal De Klerk admitted that he had thrown a grenade near the water tanks. That evening, Lance-Corporal De Klerk called Grove to one side and requested him to say that he (Grove) had thrown the grenade from Delta bunker and not him (De Klerk), because he was medically unfit due to his left hand being in plaster.
On 30 March 1986 late in the afternoon, the Chaplain, Dominee Niewoudt came and told Major Ferreira that the troops spoke of grenades having been thrown. Major Ferreira started an investigation and came to the conclusion that the incident was caused by own forces. On Saturday 5 April AO Marais of the Military Police questioned the troops about the attack on the base. Riflemen Olivier, Smith, Payne and Lategan were present when Smith admitted that he had thrown three grenades in and outside the base himself, and that he had seen Lance-Corporal De Klerk throw a grenade in the direction of the mess. Smith admitted started all the nonsense in the base. There was absolutely no enemy attack.
I believe that at least two of those involved in this incident were courtmarshalled and sentenced to a couple of years in Detention Barracks.
81241432BG Rifleman Craig Harold Hardwick - 2-6-65 - 1 Para Bn
80256167BG Corporal Coenraad Grabe Grove 4-12-1964 1 Para Bn
84407519BG Corporal Charles William Swart 16-11-65 1 Para Bn.
81203499BG Rifleman Willem Jacobus Olivier 25-1-65 1 Para Bn.
80569163BG Rifleman Frederick Petrus Jacobus Smith 2-8-63 1 Para Bn.
82341546BG Sapper Gerald Sydney Lloyd 11-7-66 25 Field Regiment
83422055BG Corporal Martinis Wessel Pretorius 13-6-64 1 Para Bn
73216707PE Major Johan Andries Ferreira - 18-9-57 1 Para Bn.
81265084BG Lance-Corporal Andre Francois Van Rhyn -13-10-65 1 Para Bn.
81339566BG Rifleman Andre Raas 1-4-65 1 Para Bn.
82586801BG Lance-Corporal Garett Craig Blom 18-7-65 1 Para Bn.
Published: 1 July 2000.
Here is a shortcut back to Sentinel Projects Home Page.