SCHOOL OF ARMOUR - 4 SAI - Operation Hooper (1987-1988)

By William Surmon

The photo of me as crew commander on 59s (Mine Rollers) is the only photo that I did not take. I found this picture in a SADF photographic magazine; otherwise all the other photos I've sent, or will send are my own.

I was conscripted into 1 SSB in Feb 1987, after requesting to do my service in the Armoured Corps, as did my father. I was selected as 1 of 100 servicemen, to be trained as crew for the only national Serviceman tank squadron in SA ( F Squadron - School of Armour, D Squadron - was the JL squadron for tanks ). I qualified as a gunner & crew commander on the Olifant CBT. Our training was done at the School of Armour, De Brug & Lohatla Army Battle School. During Operation Hooper, I took part in the attack on 21st Fapla Brigade before being casevaced with malaria. I was a crew commander on an Olifant Tank. We were part of School of Armour, which was affiliated to 4SAI, which formed 'Veg Groep Charlie' (Combat Group Charlie).

Hotlinks to the following collections of photographs:

Basics & 2nd phase including Lohatla

Operation Hooper

Operation Vuiswys, Linger & the Calueque incident

Calueque incident bomb damage & honour guard for the Dead

Exercise Excalibur II & III

Operation Paal (1993 Transkei Border)


Basics & 2nd phase including Lohatla

Basic Training - 04/02/1987 - 18/05/87

I was called up to do my National Service at 1SSB. We left Sturrock Park by train for Bloemfontein on 04/02/87. For the next few days, we 'skoffeled' around the camp. we also received our first taste of ‘Op die maag af. Staan op. Op die rug af' by a Corporal who couldn't remember names, he called everybody 'Annaman'. Our first haircut was quiet amusing, and it was a battle to recognise your new buddies. Of course some poor guy had long hair, and became the RSM's focus area. ' Girlie, kom tree sommer hier voor in die ry'.

On 10/02/87, we left 1SSB for the School of Armour. There we received our kit & rifle, and of course, we did some more 'skoffel'.

Our basic training officially started on Monday 16/02/87. On 14/05/87, we received our first pass, and went home for 4 days.

Gunnery Training - 19/05/87 - 28/07/87

Gunnery training was a welcome change to basic training. The content of our training was comprehensive, and the quality of our instructors was excellent. We mostly theoretical, training at School of Armour. Thursday 18/06/87 saw us going home for 6 days.

More intensive practical training followed at the Gen. de Wet training area (de Brug). We officially qualified as Tank Gunners on the evening of Tuesday 28/07/87, after a traditional ' Gunner's Eve'. On 30/07/87, we went on pass 5 days.

Crew Training - 04/08/87 - 14/09/87

On 08/08/87, we were divided into crews to commence our crew training. I was selected as crew commander on 61B Tank registration number R40525, along with Lister, Fellies & Shaun. The training was brilliant, and the sense of pride at being a 'Tanker' was phenomenal. We went on pass from 11/09/87 for 4 days.

Troop Training - 15/09/87 - 1/10/87 Competed at the de Brug training ground. Pass from 02/10/87 to 05/10/87

Lohatla - 12/10/87 - 11/11/87

Took part in Exercise Krawats from 22/10/87 to 23/10/87. Mon 02/11/87, briefed by senior command to expect either to do exercise Sweepslag 3 or to depart for operational duty. Orders received on 7/11/87 to return to School of Armour by 11/11/87. Went on pass 13/11/87.

Competed at the de Brug training ground. Pass from 02/10/87 to 05/10/87

Operation Hooper 26/11/87 - 02/02/88

As Ops Modular came to an end, our training was cut short, and we were flown to Rundu, where we spent 10 days acclimatizing in a Duurgangs Kamp [Transit Camp] +/- 10 kms into Angola. We were then flown by Hercules to Mavinga, where we took over the tanks used in Modular. we replaced the track pins, filters, and did general maintenance on the tanks. I gave my tank the nickname of Morning Glory, as I thought it had one Major Hardon. The army chaplain thought otherwise, and complimented me on my choice of name.

Anyway, we spent time doing integrated training & maneuvers with Unita etc for another +/- 10 days. On Christmas Eve we crossed the Lomba River. On 3rd January we bombarded the 21st Fapla Positions from across the river on their Northern Side. On the way to the attack, my tank was the lead tank behind the Ratel with the `sat nav' system. At that point I had already got malaria, my driver & loader had hepatitis, and my gunner had chronic diarrhea. It was raining and heavily bushed. I lost sight of the Ratel, and promptly took the Vegroep in the wrong direction. After much maneuvering we arrived 45 minutes late for the attack.

On 13th we attacked the 21st Fapla Brigade. My tank was fitted with Mine Rollers. ( Further details to follow when I send you my diaries. There are dates etc, which will be a lot more accurate).

On 31 January I was casevaced to Mavinga, then to Rundu, then to 1 Mil hospital.

Detailed time line Operation Hooper

22/11/1987 - Return from 7 day pass

23/11/1987 - Draw extra kit (tank overalls, R5 magazines) speech from Col Byleveldt Cmdr school of Armour

24/11/1987 - Hair cuts, weapon inspection & speech from Dominee

25/11/1987 - Formal tea with Colonel Byleveldt

26/11/1987 - 12H15 Hercules departs Bloemfontein for Rundu. 15h25 land at Rundu. 18h30 Enter Angola

27/11/1987 - 6/12/1987 Border routine, courses in navigation, Tactics & Concert by the group ' Seagull'.

7/12/1987 - Depart for Mavinga by Hercules from Rundu - fly tree top level.

8/12/1987 - Received tanks from Ou Manne. I am given 50A Tank. Met troops from Unita.

9/12/1987 - 21/12/1987 - Simulated attacks, maintenance.

22/12/1987 - Departed for Cuito Cuanavale =/- 480 km into Angola

24/12/1987 - Traveled up to Lomba River. Rained hard. Closed hatches, but tank leaks like a sive. traveled past midnight, wished each other merry Xmas over the radio. Set up laer 20 km passed Lomba

25/12/1987 - Slept for 2 hours. Arrived at gathering point at 06H30. Did maintenance till 11h00. Went to fill up with Diesel & get another 5 days of Rat Packs

26/12/1987 - Had a bit of a wash.

27/12/1987 - Moved to new location 30km From Cuito. MIGS flew over (Victor Victors)

28/12/1987 - Arrived at new location

29/12/1987 - MIGS flew over

30/12/1987 - Enemy seen 4km from us. We received post

31/12/1987 - final preparation of tanks, expected attack 01h00 on Saturday


01/01/1988 - Depart for attack position at 19h00. going to bombard 21st Fapla Brigade east of Cuito from 01h00 till 05h00, then withdraw to hiding place for 2 days while Unita attacks

02/01/1988 - 01h39 Attacked 21st Fapla Brigade. Bombarded their positions from across the river till 05h00. received enemy fire mainly mortars, BRDM &BMP 21, but their fire is 500m out. Departed for hiding place 15km away. We are attacked by MIGS at tree top level. Our water bunker is hit. 17h30 departed for new position 30km away. Arrived at 22h00. Bombs fell less than 100m away during MIG attack.

03/01/1988 - Continuous harassment from MIGS during the day. Repaired damage to tank from Bush Breaking : Left Bin smashed, long bin badly damaged, wire bin lost, Ac Ac mounting ripped off, Gun crutch broke off, Rear hull bin lid ripped off, 2 smoke launchers ripped off. 2 of us have bad trots.

04/01/1988 - MIGS bomb own forces. Received post & pakkie

05/01/1988 - Given new tank 59S. Had a spare bogey wheel jam between hull & turret. Major Rudman gave us the 3rd degree. still not feeling well.

06/01/1988 - MIGS attacked us at 06h00. Bombs landed close to us. Dived into fox holes. Moving position tonight 30km away.

07/01/1988 - New position actually 42km away. We arrived in the early hours of the morning. Not feeling well - continuous headaches. Did maintenance on tank.

08/01/1988 - Did maintenance.

09/01/1988 - Final preparation for Monday mornings attack on 21st Fapla Brigade. we have to totally annihilate them. The faster they are all dead, the earlier we can go home.

10/01/1988 - Departed 10h00. Boresighted in Shona. traveled to new Laer +/- 45km away. stay in this position till 03h30. Air force is planned to attack at 06h00. We attack at 08h00. I'm a bit nervous, I hope it gets finished quickly.

11/01/1988 - Attack delayed for 24 hours due to the Campers tanks not being ready. received an OpVok with a Ratel towbar.

12/01/1988 - Departed 03h15 to get into position for attack. my tank is fitted with mine rollers. If a mine field is encountered, I go upfront. MIGS delayed attack.

13/01/1988 - Our air force attacks 21st Fapla Brigade. Our position is 6km from 59th Fapla Brigade & 10km from 21st Fapla Brigade. Left position at

11h00. Hit contact with enemy forces. Our 51 tank was hit not serious. I withdrew to help an ARV that threw a track - worked all night.

14/01/1998 - left position at 05h30 to catch up to main force.

15/01/1988 - Rode till 23h21. Set up laer, slept till 07h00. Moved laer again. Reached new laer at 21h00. Received post. I became quiet ill that 16/01/1988 - Went to see the doctor. treated for Malaria. Our water has run out, hope to get water soon. Received a visit from Major & Kommandant.

17/01/1988 - Still not well, cold fevers, headaches, the trots & vomiting.

21/01/1988 - Rained heavily

27/01/1988 - Transfered as Gunner to Major Rudman's tank. We attack 59 Brigade on Friday

29/01/1988 - Being casavaced today. 13hour trip by Kwevoel to Mavinga. Reached Mavinga at 08h00

30/01/1988 - Spent day at Mavinga airstrip waiting for flight to Rundu. 13 casavacs, 4 of us from tanks.

31/01/1988 - Hospitalised at Rundu

01/02/1988 - Left Rundu at 10h05. taken to 1 Mil. Spoke to parents. I couldn't believe I was home.

2nd Trip to Angola

07/06/1988 to 18/10/1988

I will send this detail soon

Operation Vuiswys, Linger & the Calueque incident 07/06/88 - 18/10/88

In June we were sent back up to Sector 10 with 61 Mechanized to prevent Swapo & Fapla forces taking over the SWAVEK hydro electric station at Ruacana. We crossed into Angola at Calueque and hit contact with Fapla south of Techipa. ( More details below).

Calueque Incident 13/06/88 - 04/07/88

We departed from Bloemfontein at 09h20, and flew to Grootfontein by Hercules. We were then driven by Kwevoel to 61 Mech's headquarters at Omateia (forgive my spelling ). We took over the Olifant Mk1 tanks that were serviced, after seeing action during earlier months. On 08/06/88 we received our tank S2 - R21813. The Mk1, lacks the upgraded fire control system of the Mk1A. On 13/06/88, we travelled to Ruacana, and based ourselves next to the runway at Hurricane base. We stayed at Hurricane Base till 17/06/88, after which we relocated to the bombed resort next to the Ruacana stop wall (SWAVEK). We stayed there for 5 days until 23/06/88, after which we departed for Calueque.

We crossed into Angola on Monday 23 June and travelled about 10km into Angola. On 24/06/88, we travelled a further 5 km into Angola. On 25/06/88, we spent the day resting. On 26/06/88, we went into a position 10km from the Cuban/Fapla columns. That evening, at 18h00, our artillery engaged the enemy with MVLs, G5 & G2 cannons. We also managed to get the enemy to fire at a balloon with their SAM 6s. That evening, we slept inside the tanks.

Early on Friday 27/06/88, our Ratels were attacked by enemy forces. I remember hearing the initial shot from the enemy T55, and the reaction from a Ratel 20. ARatel was shot out, resulting in the death of Lt Meyering. We were sitting on the engine decks trying to brew some coffee, when this happened. We immediately jumped into the tank, started up and prepared to receive orders. Our squadron engaged the enemy tanks.53Bshot out a BTR 60 & 52A shot outa T55, which had enemy troops riding on the back.

At this point we came up against a regiment of enemy tanks & 3 battalions of mechanised infantry. We were only 1 squadron of tanks with a company of mechanised infantry, so the obvious route, was to withdraw. While we were heading south, 8 Migs flew over, and bombed the Calueque dam wall. I remember them flying over, 2 silver Mig 21, 2 camo Mig 23 & 2 Black Mig 23 (My memory might be rusty). 12 Soldiers were killed, when their Buffel was hit.

We then turned towards the low water bridge at SWAVEK, and managed to sneak over the low water bridge at 19h00. Two of the enemy columns were trying to outflank us, and to cut us off before we could reach SWAVEK. Our artillery engaged the enemy from inside SWA, and managed to bye us sufficient time to get across the bridge. My thanks to those gunners concerned.

We stayed at Ruacana on 28/06/88,and departed for Hurricane base on 29/06/88. On 30/06/88 we received post. On 3/07/88, we left Hurricane base, and took up residence in the bush next to Ogongo base.

We stayed at Ogongo, and began to get into a routine. On 24/07/88, we had a briefing from Intelligence, who said that the enemy comprised of 2 Companies of T62, 3 Companies of T55 tanks, 3 Battalions of Infantry. 1 Mig 23 was shot down.

We were advised that we would be upgraded with olifant Mk1A tanks before taking part in Operation Vuiswys from 11/08/88 to 21/08/88. We received a visit from Col Byleveldt (Commander of School of Armour). He was a great OC.

On the 04/08/88 we took part in a training exercise called Operation Harwet. This continued until 06/08/88. On 14/08/88, we received a visit from General van Logenburg.

On Friday 19/08/88, our convoy was attacked between Hurricane base & Ogongo base. Our Sgt Major's Ratel was hit by two RPG7. Cpl Raymond Jagga was killed. This was our squadron's first loss. Koevoet followed up the attack, and the SWAPO terrorists involved were killed.

Ops Linger, was really the overall time spent at Ogongo after Ops Harwet and was followed by Ops Vuiswys [Show the Fist] (We drove all over the place, to give the impression that a greater force was stationed on the border than what was realy there.). On 20/09/88, we received a visit from General Geldenhys.

On 18/10/88 we returned to Bloemfontein & School of Armour and were discharged in November..

Camps 1989 & 1990: Exercise Excalibur II

In September the following year, I was transferred to 1 Light Horse Regiment (Eland 90s ). We took part in Exercise Excalibur II. The following year we took part in exercise Excalibur III.

Operation Paal (1993 Transkei Border)

In 1993, when Chris Hani was assassinated, we were called up to do Ops Paal in Natal. This was to protect the border with Transkei.

Published: 20 June 2002.

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