Operation Meebos

Operational Years

Objective of the Operation

The aim of Operation Meebos was to prevent FAPLA from re-occupying the towns of Xangongo and Ongiva.The secondary aim was to pinpoint and destroy enemy headquarters and caches and to disrupt its logistical routes.

As an added instruction the force had to keep the morale of the local population high and also gain local intelligence sources while trying to turn the local population against Swapo and FAPLA.

Operation Meebos was planned in five stages:
1.Reconnaissance and establishment of a helicopter administration area.
2.Airborne operations by a paratroop company in the area north of the cut line
3.Assault
4.Mopping up
5.Withdrawal of own forces in a general line south of Mupa

Composition of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group

At the time of Operation Meebos in July-August 1982, 61 Mech was about 1,000 men strong. 61 Mech comprised the following key personnel and organisational sub-groupings at the time:

• Commander: Commandant Roland de Vries.

• Second-in-Command: Major Thys Rall.

• Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM): Warrant Officer Class 1 (WO1) HG Smit.

• Air Support Officer (ASO) SAAF: Major Jaap du Preez.

• Operations Officer: Major Jakes Jacobs.

• Intelligence Officer: Captain Gerrie Hugo.

• Signals Officer and Commander of the Signals Troop: Captain Sean MacSweeny.

• Unit Chaplain: Padre Koos Rossouw.

• Logistics Officer: Major Giel Reinecke.

• Personnel Officer: WO 1 Jack Sindon.

• Alpha Company Commander (Ratel-20): Captain Jan Malan.

• Bravo Company Commander (Ratel-20): Captain Vissie Visser.

• Charlie Squadron Commander (Ratel-90): Captain Chris Du Toit.

• Sierra Battery Commander: 140mm medium guns and 120mm Medium Range Mortar: Major Chris Roux.

• Anti-Aircraft Troop: Captain Carl Lindsay.

• Light Workshop Troop (LWT) Commander: WO1 Duppie du Plessis.

In addition to the above-mentioned force composition 61 Mech boasted a Ratel-90 anti-tank platoon, an 81mm Mortar platoon, a medical section and a signals platoon.

Included in the 61 Mech arsenal was a Headquarters Company (support company), which was commanded by Major Giel Reinecke, my logistics officer. He was assisted by our RSM, WO 1 H.G. Smit, who commanded Alpha Echelon (administrative echelon). The latter extremely important establishments provided first-line combat service support, wherever 61 Mech moved: administrative; financial; logistical; technical.

A field engineer troop, an air support officer (ASO) and team and an electronic warfare (EW) section were attached to 61 Mech for the duration of Operation Meebos. The EW section was suitably equipped with Ratels and appropriate telecommunications equipment to support electronic warfare practices and to intercept and interpret enemy radio communications.

Personal Impressions of the Commander

OPERATION MEEBOS 1982 – LOW INTENSITY WARFARE
WITH A MECHANISED FLAVOUR

An External Counter-insurgency Operation by 61 Mechanised Battalion Group into Central Southern Angola from 13 July 1982 until 30 August 1982

By Roland de Vries

Overture – Counter revolutionary warfare in Angola

Warfare the African Way – Knocking at the Door of Strategy

In Africa both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary warfare had stepped out of the bounds of tactics and knocked at the door of strategy… Operation Meebos was such a military operation. It took place in southern Angola during the fighting hey-days of the eighties…

This particular military operation was one of those tactical embodiments of counter-revolutionary warfare followed by the South Africans in southern Angola.

As far as it goes with counter-insurgency, Operation Meebos was a fair one considering the difficulty of hunting an illusive enemy in dense bush with meagre intelligence.

Operation Meebos was an external counter-insurgency manoeuvre by the military forces of South African Defence Force (SADF) in Angola. The conflict formed part of the South African Border War and the Angolan Civil War. This specific military operation was conducted on a majestic scale, which followed the African way of counter-revolutionary warfare.

Warfare in Africa as we experienced it was not neat and clean, easily comprehended or linear with peace and war at the end of spectrums. At the flick of a command you could switch from conventional warfare tactics to counter-insurgency and back again, or simply apply a combination thereof. Meebos was a decent mix of these.

By 1982 the South Africans were not too modest about hitting out against our enemies in the deeper parts of central southern Angola. This operational mode had become second nature to the South Africans after they had successfully completed Operation Reindeer in May 1978; Operation Sceptic in June 1980; Operation Protea in August 1981 and; Operation Daisy in November 1981. The battle line was now drawn as far north as the Namibe-Matala-Techamutete-Menongue railway line.

Operating deep into enemy territory had become the name of the counter-revolutionary war faring game for the moment. Deep operation war faring theory underscores the principle of obtaining leverage against the foe.

That is why Operation Meebos was conducted in the typical aggressive South African pre-emptive fighting approach. This style of warfare favoured taking pro-active measures and opting for continued dislocation and disruption of the enemy’s forces.

According to our military way of thinking the deep attack, which threatened the enemy’s strategic base areas, command systems and logistic lines, gave the best leverage. Who could argue with that sound military theory, bar the enemy? A battle proved one which was mixed with a touch of élan audacity, a spot of mobility and a fair measure of violent execution.

The primary enemy remained the illusive nomadic fighters of the Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). PLAN formed the military wing of the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO). The insurgent enemy kept on infiltrating from southern Angola into northern South West Africa (SWA) to fare their devious revolutionary war with vigour. Their aim was to become the liberators of SWA-Namibia. Ever so often the enemy therefore needed to be taught a lesson according our humble supposition; with a long switch to the back-side.

Not for nothing had ‘Old Blood and Guts George Patton’ uttered the dictum, “Grab your enemy by the nose, and kick him in the arse”!

The South Africans fought their counter-revolutionary war with extreme enthusiasm. This was to keep SWAPO out of northern SWA, which was fair according to me.

The fighting flared intermittently across the border as generated through the varying methods and means followed by the belligerent political powers and its military forces spoiling for a fight.

The war had been successfully contained by the South Africans in the most northern region of SWA and southern Angola up to Operation Meebos in 1982. The turbulence would continue cheerfully until heavenly calmness settled over SWA-Namibia by April 1989, when the war ended. Military wise, the enemy just could not barge us out of there beforehand; of course there were the politics.

Perplexingly enough, from 1990 onwards SWAPO’s new army headquarters resided comfortably in their erstwhile enemy’s (us – the SADF) old command centre, christened ‘Bastion’, in Windhoek. SWAPO still calls it by that name to date; nice people really today, our former enemy. I had a beer with some of them the other day in Windhoek.

Our former enemy eventually moved into Bastion after SWAPO had won a fair and free election by 1990 the democratic principled way. That happened soon after the Cubans had left Africa and the SADF withdrew from the new Namibia. Was that not what we had been fighting for? Twenty four years of bush warfare to achieve a better form of peace without a military coup or Communist take-over by the enemy – or something to that effect?

Let us deal with Operation Meebos before we make peace. Man o’ man, those were the halcyon days of South Africa’s military fighting in southern Angola.

A Recipe for Ripples of Low Intensity Warfare – With a Mechanised Flavour

The Angolans called the Operation Meebos operational area the 5th Military Region. It was simply denoted the ‘Area-in-Dispute’ by the South African military.

This vast bush clad hostile salient had been converted into a prime hunting ground by the South Africans since Operation Protea in August 1981. That was when a massive combined task force of the SADF had chased FAPLA, the conventional forces of the Angolan government, with marked disrespect and viciousness out of the Area-in-Dispute. Cheerio FAPLA! Stay on the fringes as we finish off SWAPO in the salient.

The closest enemy brigades of the “Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola” (FAPLA) were entrenched at: Cahama and Quiteve across the Cunene River to the west; Cuvelai-Techamutete-Cassinga to the north; Menongue to the north-east and; Caiundo to the east across the Cubango River. The enemy’s conventional brigades were liberally interspersed with Cuban forces.

It was only the combined FAPLA-Cuban conventional war faring power at Cuvelai and Techamutete-Cassinga which could really interfere with Operation Meebos at the time – that is to say time and space wise, if the enemy had the will to fight.

Dear readers, mark the conventional enemies from Techamutete and Cuvelai well, as they are apt to appear in your sights a bit further down below in the script.

The conventional army of Angola belonged to the “Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola or People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola” (the MPLA government reigning over Angola at the time). The Cubans and the Russians from their side were not shy to support the war effort of FAPLA and SWAPO – in the truest sense they were actually damn keen. So they got fired upon during many angry manoeuvres by either the South Africans or the guerrilla forces of Jonas Savimbi, namely the “União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola or National Union for Angola’s Total Independence” (UNITA). At times this quite spontaneously became a combined shooting affair.

FAPLA remained our ‘unofficial enemy’, together with the Russian military advisors and Cuban military forces; those who dared venture into the cross fire. However for now, with Operation Meebos, FAPLA and the Cubans were hands-off for the South African military. This was because of serious political sensitivities and ongoing peace-talking see-sawing at the time. So it was time for talk-talk with FAPLA by the politicians at interesting venues such as Washington and the Cape Verde Islands. For now there was to be no fight-fight by us mere soldiery mortals on the ground with FAPLA which would have dearly hurt the feelings of overly sensitive politicians on all sides. Nobody said anything about SWAPO. So be it. Out in front we would be watching FAPLA very closely on the ground and in the air, whilst we took on SWAPO violently once again.

You may linger on the fringes of the salient FAPLA, but don’t interfere with our counter-insurgency fighting in our proclaimed Area-in-dispute, on the land or in the air!

That was exactly why 61 Mechanised Battalion Group was deployed for Operation Meebos. The primary role of our unit was to act as a mobile reserve for the counter-insurgency task force and to keep FAPLA off their backs, while the hunt for SWAPO continued merrily.

Fun was still to be had on the ground by the South Africans during those glory days. Our fighting Mirages and Alouette gunships calmly reigned supreme over the hostile skies so as to adequately cover our offensive ground manoeuvres. This happened in spite of the gradual intensifying of the lagging bush war.

At this stage the war for northern SWA and southern Angola could be characterised as the low intensity kind; soon to flair into something more vicious. But that is another chronicle about the Border War to be told at another time.

At this stage of the dangerous game the political wolves from the angry international community could still be kept at bay, but just. Umpteen vicious political packs from the outside world were howling furiously, whilst the merry military games on the SWA-Angolan border continued contentedly. While we were quite comfortable gallivanting around in the salient they, the internationals and our enemy, wanted South Africa out of southern Angola for some or other bewildering reason. There were a few vicious political beasts yelping from inside the borders of South Africa as well.

The ominous signs (or positive, depending on your particular view point) of political change were wafting ferociously in the blustery political weather infusing Southern Africa and South Africa at the time. Things were stacking up progressively towards the dramatic change to follow in the political dispensation of South Africa by April 1994. The rumblings were there in the air. ‘Uhuru’ and the shut-down of ‘apartheid’ were on South Africa’s doorstep.

For now the stage was set for the next major counter-insurgency incursion into southern Angola.

Operation Meebos was launched from 13 July until 25 August 1982 and consisted of a number of deceptive moves followed by sequential ground and air attacks. The fury of a combined counter-insurgency task force was directed at SWAPO’s command and control systems in the vicinity of Mupa, Cuvelai and Techamutete. A neat fighting package was fashioned by combining ground and air units from the South African Defence Force (SADF) and South West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF).

A total of 345 insurgents were killed during Operation Meebos, which lasted close on six weeks. In the process SWAPO’s command structures and insurgent bases were chased hither and thither by a combined SADF/SWATF counter-insurgency task force. The security forces lost only 29 soldiers.

61 Mechanised Battalion Group, with some fervour, was to be part of this next military merry go-round. We would meet up with a large enemy convoy of FAPLA on the road between Techamutete and Cuvelai on the 4th of August 1982 and not deal with them in a too friendly manner. The period of intense fighting in the Area-in-Dispute was to be characterised by many triumphs. There were, however, to be a few tragedies such as the witnessing of the fifteen good men killed on 9 August 1982 when their Puma helicopter plummeted to the ground in the Mui River.

By July 1982 61 Mech was ready to fair deep into southern Angola once again.

Area of operations – an ominous green vastness

The northern quarter of the Area-in-Dispute was selected as the target zone for Operation Meebos. The general target area could be roughly demarcated by following the line of the Cuvelai River north-eastwards towards Indungo; then by encapsulating the densely covered terrain north-westwards towards the Calonga River and Techamutete.

The designated target area lay to the west of the old hunting ground 61 Mech had become to know so well during Operation Daisy in November 1981 – Chitequeta and Bambi.

I have always described this particular target zone denoted for Operation Meebos as the proverbial guerrilla strategic base area. It formed part of an extensive strategic enemy base complex. SWAPO had developed it over time in the general vicinity of the Cassinga-Techamutete-Indungo-Chitequeta-Bambi-Cuvelai-Mupa region.

61 Mech had experienced this first hand when we performed Operation Daisy in November 1981 and Operation Meebos in July-August 1982. The overall area was found to be littered with signs and symptoms of the enemy. Our mechanised force literally criss-crossed abandoned trench systems, caches, bunkers and minefields wherever we went.

The prospective military objectives SWAPO presented were roaming command structures and widely dispersed wandering operational and logistical field bases… The enemy was hidden away in the ominous green of the African bush. When stationary, the enemy was entrenched and well camouflaged from the ground and the air. Hidden positions were protected all-round by defensive fire lay-outs and minefields.

The insurgent enemy was forever disappearing, hiding away or simply holing-up in the dense cover so liberally available in southern Angola. In an all-out effort to elude the security forces, they kept on roving about in its vastness. Escaping and evading was the trait of the guerrilla.

From their seemingly safe havens in the north, the insurgents struck southward to SWA’s northern border region. They struck even further southward to the so called ‘Death Triangle’ (the Tsumeb-Otavi-Grootfontein district), where the white farming areas were. This was the habitual annual target for the Special Unit of PLAN. They came in April-May in the rainy season to wreak havoc.

The Area-in-Dispute was covered by dense African bush. It was permeated by a number of picturesque Angolan rivulets such as the Cuvelai, the Mui, the Calonga, the Bambi and, the Jamba. In many areas these small rivers turned out to be formidable natural obstacles for vehicular movement. In the rainy season of December to April the sandy earth was converted into a quagmire, making it extremely difficult to negotiate with mechanised forces.

Operation Meebos was destined to happen during the enemy hunting season, before the rains came and the natural cover was somewhat sparser.

Overview of the operational situation – prelude to Meebos

Counter-insurgency Operations in the Area-in-Dispute: The Next Phase

By July 1982 Sector 10 was building up seriously towards the next deliberate offensive phase of Operation Meebos… It was time to light the next prairie fire underneath the backsides of SWAPO… No respite for SWAPO, give no inch, no holds barred.

FAPLA had been effectively neutralised in the Area-in-Dispute… SWAPO, however, remained as infamous as ever, lurking in the bushes surrounding Anhanca, Mupa, Evale, Cuvelai and Techamutete.

Operation Protea in August-September 1981 had cleared FAPLA from the Cunene Province in southern Angola quite viscously. Maintaining this favourable status quo from 1981 onwards was in the capable hands of two seasoned SADF warriors, both veterans of Operation Protea. They were Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst the commander of Sector 10 and his Chief of Staff, Colonel Joep Joubert. Joubert would start taking over command of Sector 10 from Badenhorst during the roll-out of Operation Meebos.

Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst commanded Sector 10 from Oshakati in Ovamboland. In September 1981, soon after Operation Protea ended, he had activated the Area-in-Dispute for the conduct of aggressive counter-insurgency operations against SWAPO. Sector 10’s area of operations for all practical reasons now extended into southern Angola up to the line of Techamutete-Cassinga.

A tactical headquarters (TAC HQ) was established at Ongiva to effectively direct ongoing operations against SWAPO in the Area-in-Dispute. The tactical setting at Ongiva included a forward operational base and incorporated joint ground and air operations as well as logistics. From the ideally located airfield near Ongiva, military joint ventures were effectively directed and supported in succession into the hostile hinterland as the regular thing. It remained as such through the operational zenith of 1981-1984.

External counter-insurgency operations were commanded by a colonel. The commander, supporting staff members and forces were provided by the SADF on a rotational basis. Colonel Jan Pieterse was appointed as the operational commander for Operation Meebos at the time. His operation at Ongiva and was supported by adequate staffs, which included: operations; intelligence; personnel; logistics; technical; signals; medical and health. The SAAF established a forward air force command post, which at this level was referred to as a mobile air operations team (MAOT).

Special Forces as well as UNITA provided liaison staffs for the said operation at Ongiva. Reconnaissance teams from Special Forces as well as 32 Battalion and 201 Battalion supported these external operations on a continued footing. The famous scout from 32 Battalion, Captain Willem Ratte, was deployed in theatre virtually throughout operations.

Combined counter-insurgency forces of the SADF and SWATF started operating from forward bases such as at Xangongo and Ongiva, located inside Angola – the tables had been smoothly turned on FAPLA and SWAPO.

Adequate counter-insurgency forces were allocated to the operational command of the TAC HQ at Ongiva. The forces operated on a rotational basis and were provided by the SADF as well as SWATF. This included units such as 61 Mech, 32 Battalion, 201 Battalion (Bushmen), 101 Battalion, 1 Parachute Battalion and, 2 Parachute Battalion (citizen force).
The SADF and SWATF intended to keep the Area-in-Dispute unsoiled by FAPLA, whilst the hunt for SWAPO continued relentlessly. For this reason 61 Mech was permanently on call by Sector 10 for operations into southern Angola and kept at high readiness at Omuthiya.

The next phase of Operation Meebos was to be another one of these deliberate external large scale type counter-insurgency operations.

Operational Relevancies Pertaining to 61 Mech at the Time of Operation Meebos

To appreciate Operation Meebos, it is noteworthy to identify with the position of 61 Mech at the time. It is therefore important to note that 61 Mech had participated in a fair number of internal as well as external operations during 1981-82. Those were: Operation Carrot – April in 1981; Operation Protea in August to September 1982; Operation Daisy in October to November 1981; Operation Makro in December 1981 to January 1982 and; Operation Meebos I – March 1982.

Operations Carrot (April 1981) and Yahoo (April-May 1982) had been the hunt for SWAPO’s Special Unit internally in SWA in the Death Triangle (Tsumeb, Otavi and Grootfontein). The other operations had all been external operations, which had been conducted in southern Angola.

Force Projection Operations by 61 Mech into Southern Angola in 1982

Swift responses were in line with the classic role which 61 Mech performed in the northern operational area of SWA and southern Angola. This was done under the auspices of our fighting unit acting as the mobile reserve of SWATF.

The first such response came with Operation Makro on 29 December 1981 and the second with Operation Meebos I on the 1st of March 1982.

About Operation Makro from 29 December 1981 until 21 January 1982:
• Operation Makro inter alia involved 61 Mech coming rapidly to the rescue of a citizen force unit deployed in Angola at the time. The unit was 2 Parachute Battalion, commanded by Commandant Monty Brett. (Incidentally, Brett was a close friend of mine.) One of his small paratrooper forces had a close encounter with a FAPLA brigade at Evale and a vicious fire fight ensued.
• In a surprise manoeuvre, FAPLA had moved stealthily south from Techamutete-Cuvelai to occupy a hastily prepared defensive position at Evale. The enemy was steadily and cautiously making their way back to capture Ongiva. This followed after surrendering Ongiva during Operation Protea in August 1981.
• During a vicious skirmish which followed at Evale, the South Africans lost an Alouette gunship. The small paratrooper force had to beat a hasty retreat back to Ongiva. 61 Mech linked up with the paratroopers at Ongiva late the afternoon of 29 December 1981. On 30 December 1981 61 Mech moved offensively onto Evale. However, as 61 Mech approached the FAPLA brigade was already beating a hasty retreat back to Techamutete, from where they came.
• By 21 January 1982 61 Mech had restored the situation regarding the distant threat from FAPLA and returned to Omuthiya. The conventional Angolan enemy was back where it belonged.
About Operation Meebos I from 1 March 1982 until 7 March 1982:
• 61 Mech had returned from southern Angola on 7 March 1982 on completion of Operation Meebos I. Meebos I was a flash in the pan rapid force projection exercise to Xangongo, Môngua and Ongiva. These were all well known haunts of 61 Mech from the hey-days of Operation Protea (August to September 1981).
• No fighting with FAPLA had been anticipated – upon the instruction of Sector 10, the operation was intended as a show of force from 1 March until 7 March 1982. It aimed at physically dominating the Cunene Province by means of military power. Once again, this swift intervention had served as a fair warning for the conventional enemy army to remain at bay: at Cahama, west of the Cunene River and at Techamutete and Cassinga to the north – stay there enemy, or else!
• What was the best way to project military force towards the enemy at Cahama, 61 Mech surmised? We duly parked our Ratels in a firing line on the eastern bank of the Cunene River and shot at harmless targets on the western bank. This also served the purpose of improving our gunnery and fire control techniques. Through the evenings and days spent at Xangongo, Major Chris Roux and his gunners had fun directing indirect harassing fire missions at our lamenting foe residing to the west.
• 61 Mech used the time in Angola well for extremely realistic joint training exercises with live ammunition. We mock-battled through all the derelict enemy positions gracelessly left by FAPLA at Xangongo and Ongiva. The exercises also included sharpening our house-clearing and street-fighting skills. We had fun ‘fighting’ through the streets of Xangongo and later on at Ongiva. Our fighting unit gradually made its way back to Omuthiya, training on the hoof as we moved southwards.
• By 7 March 1982 61 Mech was back at Omuthiya, on stand-by at 3-hour’s notice… Again.
About Operation Yahoo from 14 April 1982 until 25 May 1982:

• 61 Mech was back at Omuthiya just in time to conduct Operation Yahoo from 14 April until 25 May 1982.
• On 14 April 1982 61 Mech was launched at hundred and fifty six insurgents of SWAPO’s Special Unit. This was to counter another deep raid directed at the Death Triangle for SWAPO to terrorise and to murder… The communities in the districts of Tsumeb, Grootfontein, Otavi and Otjiwarongo were severely traumatised through these annual Special Unit ventures in the winter months.
• 61 Mech took command of a gigantic 3,000 men counter-insurgency task force which was marshalled for Operation Yahoo.
• Operation Yahoo was the eighth and most serious deep infiltration by SWAPO into the triangle of terror. It was launched from Lubango, deep inside southern Angola developed in two southerly directions: The one via Cahama; the other from Techamutete-Cassinga. The two incursions developed over a wide front – towards Kamanjab in the west and Tsumeb in the east. It was carried out by more than 200 PLAN fighters.
• A total number of seventeen of our own warriors and civilians died in action during Operation Yahoo. All together 44 of our people were wounded in the fiery fray. Five civilians were killed through contacts with the enemy or by landmine explosions and three were wounded. The insurgents succeeded in murdering only two community members over the two month period of operational viability.
• Of the original surge of 200 fighters of Special Unit, 156 combatants succeeded infiltrating the Death Triangle. Of the latter group, fifty six were killed and sixteen of their comrades captured.

• Operation Yahoo, although extremely successful, had been arduous. Many lives had been lost and many of our soldiers had been wounded in the fighting sequel.

• By 25 May 1982 61 Mech was back at Omuthiya on 3-hours stand-by… Again.

The first phase of Operation Meebos, under command of Sector 10, was still ongoing in southern Angola. By 11 July 1982 61 Mech was called upon to participate in the next offensive phase. The latter part of the operation was sometimes referred to as Operation Meebos II.

Politics comes out of the Barrel of a Gun – Talk-Talk, Fight-Fight

During Operation Meebos, I, for the first time, truly came to understand what Mao Tse Tung meant when he said that “politics come out of the barrel of a gun”.

There was another interesting Chinese dictum which came to mind, when discerning our African enemy’s strategies up north: “One step forward, two steps backwards, three steps forward”.

Time, as was protracted war, was on our enemy’s side, was it not? African space, African lethargy, African fighting numbers, African time… I was thinking at times that they could only beat us with their slowness, because of our fastness. It was a helluve thing to say, time will tell. The enemy could however not beat us at the fluid-fast-moving tactical game. So what, if the politicking came into play…?

Operation Meebos was launched at a time of intensive ongoing peace negotiations between South Africa and Angola. This next bout of faltering dialogue lasted from 1982 until 1983. These peace talks eventually drew its bead on nothing. Once in a while the peace talks flared up again, whilst the fighting continued on Mother Earth. Interesting times – talk-talk, fight-fight………

Later on, after 61 Mech had destroyed FAPLA’s 11th Brigade at Cuvelai in January 1984, the peace negotiations picked up again. To simply explain in basic De Vries-type political terms what I understood then:

The Angolan government and the international community wanted South Africa out of Angola. South Africa and the international community wanted the Cubans and the Soviets out of Angola as well. South Africa wanted SWAPO out of southern Angola. Southern Angola it seemed to me had become a preferred destination of the unsavoury.

The scenery was spectacular – Angola really is a beautiful country. The ordinary people on the ground were amazingly friendly towards us. SWAPO, FAPLA and the Cubans were the problem. UNITA was fine as well, as far as I was concerned.

If everybody suddenly left, southern Angola was going to become an empty space, covered with extremely dense entangled bush, permeated by magnificent rivers and fertile floodplains.

The political choices were difficult ones to make when it came down to basic needs and wants of governments and their zealous militaries (Basic security needs; belonging; ego status and more of that ego thing, according to Maslow). It was a difficult time for South Africa with all the political, economical and arms embargoes going on, I recall. Fortunately I had awesome 61 Mech, including our 86 six-wheeled Ratels; I was quite content out there in the bush.

In the meantime the Soviets and the Cubans fervently poured in reinforcements of men and machines by the numbers. By 1987-88 the Cubans had built their force too a cool 55,000 soldiers. The Cubans, as were countless FAPLA brigades, were being ardently equipped with the most modern Russian military hardware.

Luckily for us Savimbi’s UNITA guerrilla forces kept many of the enemy busy all through Angola. However, it was quite disconcerting to see a number of enemy brigades quietly filtering to the south. We were quite content with their overwhelming numbers, ready to stand our ground. Our revered enemy was not too good with the tactics, we could ride circles around them and drive right through the dawdling gaps they left for us in vast Angola – time and space, time and space. During the great manoeuvre battles of World War 2 in the Western Desert, Rommel once stated:

“One should endeavour to concentrate one’s own forces both in space and time, while at the same time seeking to split the opposing forces and to destroy them at different times.”

Seen tactically, Operation Meebos was very similar to what Rommel had expressed regarding the vastness of the northern desert – he would have enjoyed Angola. The enemy helped tremendously with the splitting of their own forces by deploying in useless static defences near the flesh pots all over Angola. Thank you enemy!

The difficult ones to kill and capture were the illusive fighters of SWAPO. They were forever fleeing, hiding away and biding their time to fight again another day. It was not at all easy to find, fix and strike those wily insurgents – they exhibited the true traits of the guerrilla.

At time like these South Africa’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Pik Botha and General Jannie Geldenhuys, the Chief of the SADF, spent countless hours flying to and fro Pretoria dialoguing for peace in Washington and other venues such as the Cape Verde Islands. In actual fact, in August 1982 whilst Operation Meebos was rolling out in southern Angola, Botha and Geldenhuys were in Washington doing just that.

Interestingly enough Mr Pik Botha and General Jannie Geldenhuys had visited the operational training base of Sector 10 at Oshivello in late July 1982. I was flown back to Oshivello by Puma helicopter from Angola for an operations conference held by Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst of Sector 10 at the time.

I had left my second-in-command, Major Thys Rall, in a leaguer somewhere 65km north of Môngua in southern Angola. For the moment he was in charge of our gallant thousand men. They were doing repairs and maintenance to 61 Mech’s arsenal in the bush, whilst completing the final touches for the next round of Operation Meebos.

I had the opportunity to meet both Mr Botha and General Geldenhuys during one of those pleasant interludes in the African bush at Oshivello, with a Windhoek beer in hand. Mr Pik Botha was dressed in military fatigues as the honouree colonel of the SAAF. Minister Botha walked up to me and said tongue in cheek:

“Ah… Roland, nice to meet the commander of 61 Mech… it is a great privilege for me. Your troops are doing a splendid job… As you well know, your fighting unit is not in Angola at the moment”.

I was thinking about my troops leaguering calmly deep inside Angola, north of Môngua at that exact moment, 120km north of the SWA-Angola border.

As I flew back to 61 Mech I had been thinking quietly by myself… Politics in war exerted strong influences on what was happening on the ground in the real world. I did not know it then, but by the 5th of August 1982 I would receive a subtle reprimand from General Jannie Geldenhuys out of Washington. This was for shooting at FAPLA on the road between Techamutete and Cuvelai. The reprimand, however, came with a smile.

I thought that I could understand what Mao Tse Tung had meant when he had said: “Developments of things in life are full of twists and turns and do not run in a straight line. It is the same in war and only a formalist cannot understand this truth”.

The next day at daybreak, still in the leaguer of 61 Mech north of Môngua, some of my troops jubilantly said to me: “Hey commandant, we picked up over our short-wave radios that we are not in Angola. Where are we?”

Funny, very funny!

I adored the young men of 61 Mech and their young-at-heart spirit. With them you could fight a hole through any enemy, no matter the numerical odds. With 61 Mech every man counted, all gallant one thousand!

Operation Meebos was a ‘go’ – the next fiery flurry up further north!

Design for Battle – Find, fix and strike

Overarching Mission – Battles of Encirclement and Annihilation

Operation Meebos aimed at wiping out one of the forward headquarters of SWAPO controlling insurgent activities into northern SWA. It was furthermore directed at destroying a series of SWAPO bases deep inside Angola.

The operation was planned to be executed by a joint brigade-sized counter-insurgency task force. It was designed to develop into a sequence of offensive actions over a six-week operational viability period – more battles of encirclement and annihilation.

It was found in Angola that large scale counter-insurgency operations usually petered out after about six-weeks of intensive hunting. Then time was needed for things to settle down again until the next repeat flurry and fight.

Find the enemy. Fix the enemy. Strike the enemy. Again and again and again!

Command and Control of the Joint Task Force

The task force for Operation Meebos was commanded by Colonel Jan Pieterse, an anti-aircraft gunner by profession. It was a privilege for 61 Mech to participate in Operation Meebos under his command. He really tried his best and it seemed to me as if he was enjoying the experience

Commanding an operation such as Meebos was a new experience for Pieterse. Although conventional in his ways, he was a thorough planner and a good leader of men. He commanded in an unassuming manner I came to appreciate during Operation Meebos.

Roles and Tasks of the Combat Participants in Outline

Operation Meebos was to be commanded and supported from way up front. For this purpose helicopter administrative areas (HAA) were to be established hidden away in the dense bush. The HAA were to be well protected and would not remain stationary (hopefully) for periods longer than three days. The HAA would be selected well within striking distance of selected enemy targets. The position of each HAA would take into account own operational security and the achievement of the element of surprise over the enemy.

Attacks were to be preceded by the gathering of near real-time intelligence through high-altitude aerial reconnaissance, enemy radio intercepts and information gathered from the local population. The final work of fixing the enemy and real-time intelligence were left in the capable hands of the reconnaissance teams of 32 Battalion – highly experienced scouts such as Captain Willem Ratte.

To facilitate guaranteed communications between the scouts and the TAC HQ, an Impala jet fighter would be roving the skies high above to act as a relay station at critical moments.
The Puma helicopters and Alouette gunships would fly back to Ondangwa every evening and join up with the strike force at the HAA the following day. The distance from prospective HAA positions in the northern sector of operations were approximately 280km from the airfield at Ondangwa. This was a laborious process as flying time just from Ondangwa to the TAC HQ at Ongiva was 55-minutes.

Two companies from 32 Battalion and one company from 1 Parachute Battalion were destined to operate as the main strike force. It was foreseen that the operation would take the form of sequential Puma-borne assaults. Every attack was to be supported by Alouette gunships.

The SAAF would provide the required air support for counter air operations as well as for ground attacks. The Mirages and Impalas were based at Ondangwa.

61 Mech was tasked to act as the mobile reserve for the counter-insurgency task force and was there mainly to provide protection against FAPLA’s conventional forces. 61 Mech was sanctioned to strike hard at FAPLA if they dared to intervene with the operation on the ground. It was emphasised over-and-over, from our military high command, that an operation against FAPLA was only, but only, allowed when they interfered.
The first attack on a SWAPO base in the north-western sector of the Area-in-Dispute was planned more-or-less for the last week in July 1982. The search for the enemy was on – the finding part.

By 11 July 1982 the respective combat and support forces were rallying for the deep raid into southern Angola. Captain Willem Ratte and the reconnaissance teams of 32 Battalion were already deep inside Angola searching for lucrative enemy targets.

Enemy Forces encountered and targeted for Meebos

SWAPO’s Command and Fighting Structures in the Central Area

The focus of main effort for Operation Meebos was SWAPO’s command and fighting structures located in the central area of southern Angola.

Intelligence gathering on SWAPO positions in the Area-in-Dispute never ceased. It was mostly done through intercepts of enemy radio messages; through aerial reconnaissance; information gathered from captured documents; interrogations of captured insurgents.

By July 1982 there were clear indications that the Central Area Headquarters (Northern Front in SWAPO terms) of SWAPO was roving in the area of Evale, Mupa and Cuvelai.

The HQ of SWAPO had been instructed from Lubango to move their position on a daily basis. Notwithstanding, the roving HQ had also been tasked to send out combat patrols to strike at the security forces operating in close proximity.

Additional SWAPO activities were reported in the vast area north-west of Cuvelai towards the Calonga River.

There were intelligence reports received of subsidiary SWAPO HQ deployments in the area of Anhanca, such as those of one of the detachments and its three platoons. The forward command post of SWAPO was believed to be operating in the area east-south-east of Anhanca.

SWAPO’s Special Unit was reported in the vicinity of Chifufua near the Mulola River. The Special Unit at the time acted as the transit unit for SWAPO insurgents operating more to the east towards the Okavango.

The Threat from FAPLA – Those Lurking on the Fringes of the Salient

The battle indications were clear that FAPLA was not at all happy with the current state of play. It did not do their self-esteems any good by merrily twiddling thumbs on the fringes of the salient, starring longingly inwards. We did not care a hoot about their self-esteems.

FAPLA had already made their offensive moves towards the recapturing of Xangongo and Ongiva in December 1981 and were beaten off quite easily. It was expected that they would try once again, probably much harder the second time around.

As it were, FAPLA regularly dispatched reconnaissance patrols towards Ongiva to report on the actions, strengths and deployments of the security forces. On the 30th of July 1982 61 Mech would encounter one such ill-fated FAPLA reconnaissance patrol a few kilometres to the east of Mupa – the story follows below.

FAPLA were aided all the way with intelligence gathering on the security forces by SWAPO.

As a counter measure, 61 Mech as a conventional fighting unit and the SAAF were there to thwart any offensive moves made by FAPLA towards Xangongo and Ongiva.

To the west across, the Cunene River, the 21st Brigade of FAPLA was guarding the portals of Lubango from Cahama – SWAPO commanded their war front from Lubango remember.

The 19th Brigade was reportedly dug in at Quiteve alongside the Cunene River, about 65km map distance to the west of Mupa. The SADF’s military intelligence had previously considered the possibility of 19 Brigade making a move on Mupa.

The domicile of the 11th Brigade was the small Angolan hamlet of Cuvelai nestling on the shores of the river with the same name. Here our dear conventional enemy sat in defence with their heavy armaments waiting patiently and wide-eyed behind their earthy ramparts for something exciting to happen. Some of the other fighting and support elements of 11 Brigade was located at Techamutete.

The 11th Brigade was destined to be annihilated by 61 Mech under command of Commandant Epp van Lill in January 1984 – they did not know it yet. 61 Mech found them jittery enough in July-August 1982 to reckon that they instinctively knew something sinister was cooking for them later on – with their new Russian T54/55 tanks and all.

In addition: Within the area of influence of Operation Meebos there were Cuban forces deployed in the Techamutete-Cassinga region and a Cuban brigade at Donga. One FAPLA brigade plus, defended Menongue to the north-west and one FAPLA brigade Caiundu to the east.

Attritionist versus Manoeuvrist Warfare – FAPLA was Amazingly Mindless

Just an interesting observation which came to the fore once again during Operation Meebos… See below and know that this was one of the reasons why Task Force Meebos did not truly expect interference from FAPLA during the course of the operation.

However, during the fluidity of warring actions and the unpredictability of one’s enemy you never truly knew… So, always be prepared and have a few contingency plans in your back-pocket.

We had learned that FAPLA by choice grounded themselves in holes in the ground and near the home comforts of widely dispersed African towns; town such as Xangongo and Ongiva during Operation Protea… Cuvelai and Techamutete during Operation Meebos… This was their culture. Rigidity and over-control by their military manifested as part of their all African political-military scheme and manners.

Their war of position, to my mind, was amazingly mindless. The South Africans could manoeuvre, almost without hindrance, around and through the vast gaps left between their defensive strongholds. This happened during Operation Protea when the 21 Brigade at Cahama sat in suspended animation, whilst Xangongo, Môngua and Ongiva were killed. FAPLA followed Soviet doctrine, which entailed static type deployments and a rigid state of command. Very little initiative was left to the lower levels of command entrapped within those rigid confines.

This also happened in July-August 1982 with Operation Meebos when 11 Brigade at Cuvelai was left in undecided lifelessness. Counter-insurgency Task Force Meebos operated all around FAPLA’s 11th Brigade, which lay uselessly entrenched at Cuvelai and in parts at Techamutete. In the meantime the task force struck at SWAPO lairs in the surrounding bush, without any hindrance from FAPLA and the Cubans. Generous people they were at the time.

It seemed as if the glorious all African Angolan Army had become tied down by their own minds and minefields. FAPLA and their communist surrogates were following positional approaches to conventional warfare. The South Africans on the other hand favoured manoeuvre.

During Operation Protea FAPLA paid the highest price for their thoughtless operational conduct. The question was whether the enemy would continue with their useless attritionist practices of holding ground for the sake of it; would they perpetuate their dogmatic practice into the future, yes or no?

We hoped so, and then we could fight and successfully beat the immense numerical odds that were gradually building up against us. We shall soon see, shall we not?

Marshalling own Forces for the next round

Operational Situation in the Area-in-Dispute from 25 January until 13 July 1982

External operations in southern Angola focussed mainly on keeping the Area-in-Dispute stabilised and free from FAPLA. The salient was ours now!

This was the operational situation from 25 January 1982 onwards, until the next phase of Operation Meebos was to set be launched by 13 July 1982.

The initial phase of Operation Meebos at the time, following on the military activation of the Area-in-Dispute, was still directed from the TAC HQ located at Ongiva. The current operational commander, as previously noted, was Colonel Jan Pieterse.

The overarching operation in the Area-in-Dispute was nick-named Meebos. The operation towards the west (Xangongo-Cahama) was identified as Operation Handsak (Handbag). Towards the east the operation was called Operation Makro (Ongiva-Anhanca-Evale-Mupa-Cuvelai-Techamutete area). The boundary between operations to the west and the east was an imaginary north-south line on the map drawn through Môngua.

The primary missions of the task force deployed in southern Angola operating from Ongiva were twofold:

• The first was to deny FAPLA the Area-in-Dispute and to prevent the conventional enemy from capturing and therefore re-occupying Xangongo and Ongiva.

• The second was to continue with aggressive search and destroy missions against SWAPO to drastically diminish their fighting numbers.

32 Battalion, under command of Commandant Deon Ferreira, was responsible to monitor FAPLA as well as SWAPO deployments and activities towards the west of Môngua – then to do something aggressively productive about it. This particular segment of the operation was conducted under the auspices of Operation Handsak. The operation included search and destroy missions against SWAPO and to prevent FAPLA from capturing Xangongo from Cahama. In this sense 32 Battalion had launched quite a few successful ambushes against elements of FAPLA’s 21st Brigade probing along the tarred road from Cahama towards Xangongo. Three companies of 32 Battalion and two companies from 101 Battalion resorted under command of 32 Battalion for Operation Handsak.

Commandant James Hills, the officer commanding 1 Parachute Battalion, was responsible to perform a similar operation as 32 Battalion towards the east. This particular part of Operation Meebos was referred to as Operation Makro. For this purpose an ancillary task force comprising three paratrooper companies and three reconnaissance groups of 201 Battalion resorted under the command of Commandant James Hills. Operations in the east also included search and destroy missions against SWAPO. In addition, all interests expressed by FAPLA to reconnoitre or probe strongly towards Ongiva from Techamutete-Cuvelai needed to be spoiled. The many tasks of Commandant James Hills therefore included monitoring all main possible avenues of approach by FAPLA from the north towards Ongiva.

The local mobile reserve for operations within the area of operations of Sector 10 was 10 Armoured Car Squadron (Eland-90s) operating from Oshakati. (Major Eddie van Jaarsveld at the time commanded the squadron.)

On completion of 61 Mech’s participation in Operation Makro, from 29 December 1981 until 21/25 January 1982, our unit handed over the responsibility of the operation to Commandant James Hills. 61 Mech then remained on constant standby as a mobile reserve to support Sector 10 and Task Force Meebos with crisis developments in the Area-in-Dispute; either originated by FAPLA or SWAPO. The latter stand-by responsibility of 61 Mech was temporarily relinquished from 14 April until 25 May 1982. This was when our unit participated in Operation Yahoo against SWAPO’s Special Unit in the Death Triangle. 61 Mech was re-established as the mobile reserve for Sector 10 once Operation Yahoo had been successfully completed by 25 May 1982.

Operation Meebos was now primed to enter the July-August 1982 offensive phase.

Composition of Task Force Meebos for the Next Phase

The counter-insurgency task force marshalled for Operation Meebos was a formidable mix of motorised, mechanised and airborne ground units. The grand adventure was to be supplemented by substantial air, medical and logistics support. There were enough South African Air Force (SAAF) Mirages, Impalas, Alouette gunships and Puma transport helicopters available for the next fighting round.

The ground Forces allocated for Operation Meebos were:

• Two companies from 32 Battalion respectively under the command of Captains Eric Rabie and Tinus van Rensburg. Both these officers were tactically gifted. They were creative combat leaders one needed to have on your side and not against you. Eric Rabie was the mischievous one.

• One company from 1 Parachute Battalion completed the strike force. The paratrooper company was commanded by a seasoned veteran of the bush war, Major Jab Swart. It was quite a comfortable thought to have Jab Swart and his outstanding airborne soldiers close-by in the bush.

• Most importantly there was the Reconnaissance wing of 32 Battalion under the legendary Captain Willem Ratte. These wily scouts needed to perform the hazardous probing work on the ground, searching for SWAPO.

• Then there was 61Mechanised Battalion Group designated as the mobile reserve and counter-intervention force against FAPLA. 61 Mech provided the mobile conventional fighting capability for Task Force Meebos.

The seasoned warriors of 32 Battalion and 1 Parachute Battalion were to form our own guerrilla strike force, with 61 Mech acting as its conventional arm. When appreciating the fighting guise of Task Force Meebos, I invariably thought about the wise words of Mao Tse Tung…

“We should strive to make mobile warfare the principle means of fighting… Concentration of force does not imply the abandonment of the operations of the guerrillas. The operations of the guerrillas and the conventional force are complimentary to each other… like the right and the left arm of a man. It would be like a warrior with one arm if there were only the conventional force without the guerrillas.”

Operation Meebos could not have been achieved successfully if it had not been for the substantial and enthusiastic participation by the SAAF. The air force task force mustered for the operation comprised the following air assets:

• One Alouette helicopter for command and trooping purposes armed with a Browning 7,62mm machine gun.

• Seven Alouette gunships armed with 20mm canons.

• Nine Puma transport helicopters for trooping and helicopter landed operations.

• A number of Hercules C130/C160 and Dakota transport aircraft on standby for air transport and air drop missions.

• Two squadrons of Mirage and Impala fighter aircraft on standby for air support missions from Ondangwa.

The fighting gunships were commanded by tactical astute and daring young SAAF Captain Neall Ellis.

Composition of 61 Mech for Operation Meebos

At the time of Operation Meebos in July-August 1982, 61 Mech was about 1,000 men strong. 61 Mech comprised the following key personnel and organisational sub-groupings at the time:
• Commander: Commandant Roland de Vries.

• Second-in-Command: Major Thys Rall.

• Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM): Warrant Officer Class 1 (WO1) HG Smit.

• Air Support Officer (ASO) SAAF: Major Jaap du Preez.

• Operations Officer: Major Jakes Jacobs.

• Intelligence Officer: Captain Gerrie Hugo.

• Signals Officer and Commander of the Signals Troop: Captain Sean MacSweeny.

• Unit Chaplain: Padre Koos Rossouw.

• Logistics Officer: Major Giel Reinecke.

• Personnel Officer: WO 1 Jack Sindon.

• Alpha Company Commander (Ratel-20): Captain Jan Malan.

• Bravo Company Commander (Ratel-20): Captain Vissie Visser.

• Charlie Squadron Commander (Ratel-90): Captain Chris Du Toit.

• Sierra Battery Commander: 140mm medium guns and 120mm Medium Range Mortar: Major Chris Roux.

• Anti-Aircraft Troop: Captain Carl Lindsay.

• Light Workshop Troop (LWT) Commander: WO1 Duppie du Plessis.

In addition to the above-mentioned force composition 61 Mech boasted a Ratel-90 anti-tank platoon, an 81mm Mortar platoon, a medical section and a signals platoon.

Included in the 61 Mech arsenal was a Headquarters Company (support company), which was commanded by Major Giel Reinecke, my logistics officer. He was assisted by our RSM, WO 1 H.G. Smit, who commanded Alpha Echelon (administrative echelon). The latter extremely important establishments provided first-line combat service support, wherever 61 Mech moved: administrative; financial; logistical; technical.

A field engineer troop, an air support officer (ASO) and team and an electronic warfare (EW) section were attached to 61 Mech for the duration of Operation Meebos. The EW section was suitably equipped with Ratels and appropriate telecommunications equipment to support electronic warfare practices and to intercept and interpret enemy radio communications.

61 Mech deploys for Operation Meebos from Omuthiya

The Mission of 61 Mech for Operation Meebos and the Plan – Vague but Factual

Omuthiya 11 July 1982…

The operational base of 61 Mech was located approximately 120km due north of Tsumeb by tarred road; and about 18km further north of Oshivello. The base was hidden away in the most southern part of Ovamboland, close to the tarred road that extended 140km northwards towards Ondangwa. Roughly 32km westwards the eastern fringes of the Etosha pan lay swathed in a humid haze surrounded by the dense bushes of Africa.

From Omuthiya to the SWA-Angolan border was 110km map distance.

Here at the home of 61 Mech our unit continued with force preparation on completion of Operation Yahoo, which had ended on the 25th of May 1982. Our training for conventional operations, with a fresh intake of sub-units, had not yet been satisfactorily completed. This was due to our unit’s participation in Operation Yahoo, which had been a counter-insurgency oriented operation.

In the mean time 61 Mech had remained on stand-by for conventional type operations in southern Angola under command of Sector 10. I received my orders for Operation Meebos from Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst on or about 9 July 1982.
I issued my orders for Operation Meebos at our operational base, Omuthiya, on the 11th of July 1982. Everything happened very quickly and I confirmed my verbal orders with a written one (Secret: 309/1 Op Meebos, dated 11 July 1982). The written operations order was ‘roneod from blue wax sheets. (The said ‘roneo’ machine was one we had liberated from FAPLA at Xangongo during Operation Protea in August 1981.)

The initial orders and mission received for 61 Mech from Sector 10 for Operation Meebos was reasonably vague. The mission stated that:

61 Mech should execute a deception operation in the lower quarter of central southern Angola from 13 July 1982 until further notice. An end date for the operation was specified as possibly being the end of July or the middle of August 1982.

• The higher intention emphasised that 61 Mech had to be ready to prevent the capturing of Xangongo and Ongiva respectively by FAPLA’s 11th and 19th brigades; when it came to that.

• In addition it was stated that 61 Mech should conduct mobile operations in its designated area of responsibility, which was specified as the Ongiva-Xangongo area, east of the Cunene River.

• If it came to that, when so ordered by Sector 10, 61 Mech was to launch a counter-offensive or deliberate attack, either against FAPLA or SWAPO or both. The aforementioned operational forecasting required from 61 Mech to operate either independently or in co-operation with other forces.

The initial part of the operations plan of 61 Mech were to deploy as follows:

• The first phase of the operation was shaped as a series of mobile actions in the areas of Ongiva, Môngua and Xangongo. The aim was to disrupt and overwhelm the enemy’s intelligence collection capabilities. Therefore, the more movements, radio chatter, ruses and feints by separate mechanised entities in that quarter east of the Cunene River, the better.

• The second phase of the operation was to take place at Xangongo and formed part of the deception tactics. The intention was that the enemy should observe the overtly aggressive actions of 61 Mech. Time was also to be used productively to exercise 61 Mech for the coming operation. Force preparation and integration with freshly attached force elements needed to be completed by 27 July 1982.

• On completion of the deception operation at Xangongo, 61 Mech needed to disappear off FAPLA’s radar screen. The next phase entailed moving 61 Mech stealthily to a deployment area in the vicinity of Evale-Mupa and to await further instructions from Sector 10.

• Our unit’s commitment entailed high readiness for offensive actions and to be ready to launch a counter-offensive operation against FAPLA and/or SWAPO when so ordered.

61 Mech Northward Bound to Xangongo from Omuthiya – D-Day 13 July 1982

61 Mech’s D-Day for Operation Meebos was 13 July 1982. This was the day Charlie Squadron, under command of Captain Chris du Toit, was ordered to deploy to Xangongo via Ongiva.
On 11 July 1982 Charlie Squadron was declared combat ready by 61 Mech. The squadron was then detached to under command of the TAC HQ of Colonel Jan Pieterse from 13 July 1982 forthwith, until the 18th of July 1982.

Charlie Squadron was to act as the mobile reserve of Task Force Meebos, under command of Colonel Jan Pieterse. The latter command status remained until the remainder of 61 Mech joined up with the squadron at Xangongo on 18 July 1982.

The combat Group HQ of 61 Mech and the two mechanised infantry companies moved to Xangongo on 18 July 1982. Force training and preparation was then completed by 27 July 1982. Alpha Company was commanded by Captain Jan Malan and Bravo by Captain Vissie Visser.

The support group of 61 Mech moved behind the main fighting column under command of Major Giel Reinecke. Alpha Echelon, under command of RSM WO 1 H.G. Smit, formed part of the extended logistics ensemble of Reinecke.

Sierra Battery, under command of Major Chris Roux, moved to Ongiva on 19 July 1982. There the battery deployed for a while near the TAC HQ of Task Force Meebos at the Ongiva airfield.

Roux then completed the training of the battery on their eight 120mm mortars. This was to make them more versatile for future employment. The battery was fully trained on their eight trusted 140mm guns. The battery joined up with the remainder of 61 Mech at Xangongo on 24 July 1982. Our unit completed its training by means of a few combat group attacks in the erstwhile trenches of FAPLA, which surrounded Xangongo.

The following matters were addressed as priorities during the training at Omuthiya and Xangongo: Training in all topics pertaining to the standing operating procedures (SOP) of 61 Mech; combat team attacks; combat group attacks; mastering the integrated planning cycle of 61 Mech; manoeuvring in dense terrain; trench clearing and fighting; fighting in built-up areas; mine breaching operations and the recovery of vehicle casualties from minefields; fire and movement drills; quick attacks and rapid mounting and dismounting procedures from vehicles; fire support planning, co-ordination and control; quick appreciations and quick battle orders and; first-line support training by Alpha (administrative) echelon, integrated with the combat training. All of these varied manoeuvres and timings formed part of the overall deception plan of Sector 10 and for Operation Meebos.

Whilst at Xangongo we heard that the Mirages had attacked the air defences at Cahama on 21 July 1982, again… This was becoming second nature to the SAAF; we believed that by now they had shares in Cahama.

The deception operation and force-preparation procedures were completed by 61 Mech at Xangongo on 27 July 1982. On this day I regarded 61 Mech combat ready for mobile conventional operations. I was extremely satisfied with the high level of combat discipline, tactical prowess and esprit de corps demonstrated by the respective sub-units and their commanders.

I was proud of 61 Mech. We were ready to be employed for whatever.

61 Mech now needed to disappear off the enemy’s radar screen for a while.

By late July 1982 it was rumoured that the Eastern Area Headquarters (EA HQ) of SWAPO was located in the area of Mupa, or even further north towards Cuvelai. The SAAF had imposed some deliberating restrictions on Alouette gunships to operate on their own.

Notwithstanding, two gunships of the SAAF sighted enemy and made contact with a small element of the EA HQ. Fifteen insurgents were killed by the gunships during the ensuing action. Two were captured when the ground forces followed up. The captives revealed that they were the last to evacuate their base and they had been ordered to destroy every scrap of information the security forces could use to gain knowledge of their new position.

The intelligence picture about enemy dispositions and movements in the Area-in-Dispute remained scrappy.

Meanwhile 61 Mech was preparing to move steadily towards the area of Mupa. The purpose was to deploy in a suitable position from where Operation Meebos could be supported to the north-west, north and north-east of Cuvelai.

Our fighting unit was ready to commence with Operation Meebos. First we had to manoeuvre to the north of Môngua and then assail the African bush in an eastern direction for 56km, past Mupa. Somewhere in the bush, at a given map grid reference, 61 Mech would rendezvous with two companies of 32 Battalion; the one of Captain Eric Rabie and the other of Captain Tinus van Rensburg.

Tactical Manoeuvres – Deploying East then North for Operation Meebos Proper

On 27 July 1982 61 Mech left Xangongo and deliberately followed the tarred road for 45km towards Môngua for anyone to see and report. At Môngua our fighting unit left-wheeled sharply and disappeared from sight into the bushes. From there it was bundu-bashing for approximately 65km, where 61 Mech occupied a hide until the 29th of July 1982.

On the 27th of July I flew by Puma to Oshivello to receive my follow-up orders from Sector 10 for Operation Meebos. This entailed acting as the mobile reserve for Task Force Meebos under the command of Colonel Jan Pieterse. I then returned promptly to join up with 61 Mech again.

On the 30th of July 61 Mech left its comfortable hide and bundu-bashed 65km due east to join up with two companies of 32 Battalion. The two companies were already deployed in a forward assembly area (FAA) approximately 25km due east of Mupa. The latter position served as a FAA for 32 Battalion and 61 Mech to kick-start Operation Meebos. The opening gambit was scheduled for first light on the 31st of July.

On the way to the FAA, after crossing the Mupa-Evale gravel road and travelling for about 5km, 61 Mech swung due north. So it went, as our armoured column grinded northwards through the dense foliage for about 15km, before swinging eastwards again.
The vanguard of 61 Mech was about to be presented with one of those rare juicy operational optional extras in the African bush. The incident to be told below furthermore proved to us that the dear Lord had a fine sense of humour. At times He even spared FAPLA’s soldiers under the direst of situations.
Unsuspected a two-vehicle FAPLA reconnaissance patrol barged into the front end of the awesome 61 Mech – the sharp end that is. The enemy scouts suddenly saw the impressive array of combat vehicles steadily approaching them from the south, with 20mm guns pointing aggressively at the high ready. From my Ratel Command vehicle, four vehicles behind the front Ratel-20s, I could see the whites of the enemy’s eyes and read total astonishment on their faces; soon to be replaced by stark terror.

As if by signal, the enemy soldiers suddenly jumped from their moving open Land Rover type reconnaissance vehicles and fled in all the wind directions, never to be seen of or heard again.

They were probably marked down for desertion by FAPLA for life.

Meanwhile the two vehicles had come to a shuddering-grinding halt against the armour slope of the Ratel right up-front of our 55km extended armoured column.

The enemy had disappeared so quickly from the scene of the crime that we did not get a chance to shoot at them. So be it. Good luck FAPLA! Operations in Angola had its moments of light heartedness and pure fun. We took account of the booty and destroyed the two dilapidated vehicles. It was once again quite an experience to view how disorderly the equipment of FAPLA was stowed on their ramshackle vehicles. Field maintenance and orderliness was not their forte. 61 Mech could teach them something about combat discipline and maintenance.

Our revered enemy never ceased to amaze us.

By late afternoon on the 30th of July, 61 Mech reached the FAA and married up with the two companies of 32 Battalion. We spent some pleasant time with the officers of 32 Battalion, talking about the unfolding operational events and sharing a few war stories. We could listen for hours at end to the tales told by Eric Rabie and the many interesting ordeals shared by him with SWAPO and FAPLA in the African bush

Somewhere, 91km to the north-west of us, in the dense bushes near the Calonga River, Captain Willem Ratte was out scouting. He had established the first viable target for Operation Meebos near the Calonga River.

One of the first tasks of 61 Mech was to set up a Helicopter Administrative Area (HAA) at first light of the 31st. The position selected by the task force for its first HAA was approximately 18km due east of the small town of Cuvelai. The position was near the Cuvelai River and needed to serve the purpose of fresh drinking water for the task force.

It was planned for a fair range of HAAs to be used in succession for helicopter-borne operations against SWAPO in the designated area of operations. The next ones would be selected as the operation unfolded and Meebos developed over time.

Execution – Meebos unfurls in all its fury

The Never-ending Quest for Near Real-Time and Real-Time Intelligence

To begin with the next part of the story………The one where Operation Meebos unfurls in all its fury………

To be fair: For most counter-insurgency type operations, such as Meebos the lack of near real-time and real-time intelligence remained the two key swindlers. Those two omnipotent factors always bedevilled the successful conduct of counter-insurgency operations; more so, to my mind, than typical conventional operations.

It was more or less the same with Operation Meebos. Once again the lack of appropriate intelligence marginalised the numbers of the enemy left dead and wounded from the fighting proceeds; if that is what counter-insurgency was all about.

Simply stated: If the intelligence was of better quality, many more of the enemy would have been killed or either wounded or captured, than the three hundred and forty five of them bagged during Operation Meebos. Still, the latter was a fair number – no complaints. Operation Meebos was a fairly good operation.

What lacked in southern Angola and northern SWA was a coherent enemy picture! The lack of hard tactical intelligence on the ground remained the con-artist during Operation Meebos. This phenomenon was experienced during previous operations such as Rekstok in 1979 and Daisy in November 1981 as well. Whilst Operation Rekstok had been a series of heli-bone strikes against SWAPO bases inside Southern Angola, Daisy had been a mechanised attack on the main target, allegedly to have been pin-pointed at Chitequeta by the SADF’s intelligence community. During both these operations major frustrations were experienced by the security forces regarding accurate and timeous intelligence. In many instances it was found that the enemy had cleared out weeks before, only leaving cobwebs in their abandoned trenches and bunkers. So be it, apparently that was the name of the counter-insurgency game.

During Operation Meebos the security forces tried their darndest. The few scouts on the ground of 32 Battalion worked overtime under the most hazardous of operational conditions anyone could have imagined: Captain Willem Ratte, originally a Selous Scout from the Rhodesian Armed Forces, was such a man.

All I could say about Ratte was that there was none bolder with good broad shoulder. He fought many affray, and fought and won. He’d seen the glory, he’d told the story……Of battles glorious and deeds victorious…

(By the way, at best Willem Ratte should never be requested to wear smart military ‘step-outs’ – he looks very uncomfortable in those.)

Captain Willem Ratte was responsible to reconnoitre the enemy base selected for the first attack of Operation Meebos in the last week of July 1982 – the opening gambit.

The first objective was code named ‘Smelling Rat’. This enemy target lay on the southern bank of the fast flowing Calonga River. Incidentally, this is the river which flows past Cassinga. The enemy base was eventually located by Ratte by the 30th of July 1982. The enemy objective was located about 21km on the western-side of the Cuvelai-Techamatette road and approximately 31km south-west of Techamutete.

Ratte had infiltrated for more than 25-30km on foot, wearing captured enemy boots, with soles which had been reversed. Comprehensive tracking procedures were followed by him. Eventually Ratte lurked well hidden and camouflaged inside the enemy base. From this extremely dangerous position he dispatched bits of information to the TAC HQ via an Impala aircraft relay, which flew high above and to the side out of hearing distance. Ever so often Ratte needed to stop sending scraps of information as some of the enemy passed him by; as he lived on the edge for hours on end.

This is how it went in during Operation Meebos in ever widening ripples: Scout the enemy and find him, fix the enemy and then hopefully strike him…

During Operation Meebos a number of minor as well as more significant contacts were destined to be made with SWAPO. This occurred sporadically from the last week in July until the end of August 1982. The elusive headquarters of the enemy was, however, never found.

Many times the crafty reconnaissance teams of 32 Battalion would find the enemy, only to be rewarded with an empty lair once the ground assault went in. The enemy was extremely sensitive to strange moves in their immediate environ. They were observing carefully for the tell-tales of any unwelcome reconnaissance afforded them. Then it was up-sticks for the enemy within minutes, only to disappear over the next bushy horizon.

Operation Meebos was now ready to commence in all seriousness. The first joint helicopter and airborne assault of Operation Meebos was planned for the 31st of July.

The plan for the first attack was for the paratrooper company of Major Jab Swart to be inserted by parachute from C130/160s at 05h00 to the north of the enemy’s position as a stopper-line. The two companies of 32 Battalion would then be trooped in by Puma helicopter and attack from the west, east and south of the enemy objective. The Alouette gunships were to be used for close air-support.

All the Meebos forces were positioned through the night of 30/31 July 1982, ready to go well before first light.

The enemy just needed to stay were Ratte had located them…

Let the Games Begin – The Airborne Attack on Smelling Rat on 31 July 1982

The night of 30/31 July 1982…

As soon as it was dark 61 Mech started bundu bashing 65km northwards towards a selected possible crossing point of the Cuvelai River. The aim was to establish the first HAA for Task Force Meebos at first light. It was to be a touch-and-go thing.

The position chosen by the Task Force was approximately 18-22km due east of Cuvelai on the northern bank of the river with the same name. Aerial photography had indicated an open area alongside the river on the northern bank which could suffice as the first temporary HAA for 31 July.

Dear readers, please bear in mind that the village of Cuvelai was ardently defended by FAPLA’s 11th Brigade. The Techamutete-Cuvelai gravel road served as the axis of command as well as for logistics supply. This route was used by SWAPO for the same purpose. From Techamutete to Cuvelai was approximately 60km.

The vanguard of 61 Mech arrived on the southern bank of the Cuvelai in the dark. As first light was upon us a suitable fording site now needed to be found hastily, especially for the logistics vehicles and the Samil gun-tractors. The Pumas and Alouettes would soon be arriving for the attack on ‘Smelling Rat’.

The ideal crossing site was eventually found approximately 18km due east of the FAPLA Brigade position at Cuvelai. We crossed the river in darkness and soon found what we thought to be an ideal open area, suitable for the HAA – think again.

It was time for a relaxing coffee break as we watched some of the helicopters arriving and settling down in the flat grassland around us. Captain Neall Ellis, who commanded the gunships, moved over to my Ratel and was invited to a welcome brew of coffee and some chit-chat. I had immense respect for this daring gunship pilot who had hoards of hair-raising operational experiences.

As it became lighter I could see some high ground in the middle distance to the north-west. I still wondered by myself: “Hell, would the enemy have observation post on the high rises?”

All of a sudden it seemed to us as if the sun was rising from the wrong side in the sky. Far to the west towards Cuvelai we could see ominous flashes reflected in the low-clouded sky. Massive explosions started ripping up the earth about 700m to the west and north-west of us. It was away far enough, but still seemed uncomfortably close. My friend Captain Neall Ellis did not seem to be impressed by the current position of the HAA. We left an unending cacophony of exploding enemy artillery shells in our wake. The Alouette helicopters of the not-smiling Captain Neall Ellis followed suit – we had livened up the day for the SAAF. We hastily decided to move the HAA a few kilometres to the east and this was achieved in no time.

I still wonder whether an outpost of 11 Brigade had discerned the movement of 61 Mech to their east and had called for the fire of their long-range Russian D-70s by radio. Anyway, they were shooting away their entire brigade’s artillery ammunition at nothing for quite a while – it was an impressive fire display. Mark you, the expenditure of all their artillery ammunition without restraint, was going to cost them dearly on the 4th of August 1982.

With the alternative HAA rapidly established, Task Force Meebos was ready for its first action. The TAC HQ under command of Colonel Jan Pieterse moved from Ongiva to the HAA. I then forthwith detached the Anti-Aircraft Troop of Captain Carl Lindsay to provide added air and ground protection to the HAA until the end of Operation Meebos. The 20mm anti-aircraft guns of Lindsay, mounted on the rear of the Samil-20s (Ystervark), were potent weapons in the ground role. Lindsay was super efficient and the HAA would be able to employ his troop well.

The first attack, which was launched at Smelling Rat, was disastrous as the airborne part of the operation was called off by Captain Willem Ratte. A suitable drop zone (DZ) could not be found for the paratroopers in time. The Hercules aircraft subsequently returned to Ondangwa without completing the airborne part of the assault.

The attack was now delayed for some hours and there were strong indications that the enemy had started withdrawing. In the meantime the Puma helicopters had returned to Ondangwa to troop the paratroopers to the original target area.

The attack force was eventually on the ground and started skirmishing through the enemy objective, only to find a small number of SWAPO strays. A few fleeing Gaz trucks were knocked out by some of the gunships.

The attack on Smelling Rat the task force had looked so much forward to and made such comprehensive preparations for could only be ticked off as a lost opportunity. An important lesson learnt by TAC HQ Meebos was that time and distance exerted tremendous influences on the planning and execution of an attack. It had taken four hours for ground deployments to be completed by a succession of helicopter trooping. No versatile guerrilla-like foe would afford his enemy the luxury of deploying so languidly – surprise was of the essence.

61 Mech used some of the spare time on hand to move the HAA to a more suitable position about 8km north-eastwards up river. We leaguered close by, approximately 8km further up river, after the TAC HQ and the protection of the HAA had been established by late afternoon. Next to this splendid river our troops had time for some hard-earned rest, bathing in the crystal clear water and the washing of their dirty fatigues. All of us were laughing and splashing in the water, Meebos forgotten for the moment.

The TAC HQ Makes its Plan to Attack SWAPO’s Alpha Battalion and Does it

1 August 1982 found the freshly deployed TAC HQ alongside the Cuvelai River excited by the prospect of striking soon at the Alpha Battalion of SWAPO. The enemy target had been located near a shona in densely covered terrain to the north of the HAA on the banks of the Jamba River. The position of the target and approximate estimates of its properties had been confirmed a few days ago by aerial reconnaissance. It was expected that there were about two hundred insurgents in the base.

The initial plan formulated by the TAC HQ was to strike the enemy with Mirages. An airborne assault by Puma helicopters were then to be carried out by the company of Captain Eric Rabie. The Alouette gunships would provide the functions of cutting-off the fleeing foe and close air-support for the ground attack. The attack was set for 2 August 1982.

The attack went in as planned just before midday. Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst was with Captain Neall Ellis in the command Alouette. Immediately as the air attack went in, the Mirages and the gunships started drawing fire from enemy 14,5mm anti-aircraft guns and RPG-7 rockets. The gunships were now shooting profusely at the enemy on the ground. Eventually it seemed to Neall Ellis in his Alouette flying overhead that the enemy had started fleeing.

The company of Captain Rabie was then deposited by the Pumas and the ground attack went in. A fierce fire-fight ensued on the ground. The Pumas flew back to the HAA area and returned with the first stick of paratroopers from the company of Major Jab Swart. As soon as they were on the ground, Swart’s paratroopers became heavily engaged with some of the fleeing SWAPO. By this time a raging bush fire resulting from the air-attack was threatening the troops of Rabie and eventually the paratroopers of Swart as well. This situation threatened the control of the battle on the ground.

The battle ended after some fierce fighting. One soldier of 32 Battalion had been killed and two were wounded. Of the enemy, 144 lay dead in the immediate vicinity where the fighting had taken place. A large booty of weapons and ammunitions was captured

The 2nd of August 1982 had been one of the successful days for Task Force Meebos.

61 Mech Goes into Action – Surprise Attack on FAPLA from a Hidden Position

From their wastage of artillery ammunition on 31 July 1982 we could hear from radio intercepts our revered FAPLA brigade at Cuvelai screaming for help – it was funny actually.

“We need more artillery ammunition please! We had fired all our artillery ammunition at the enemy! Our situation is abnormal! We are surrounded by the South Africans! We are going to be attacked at any moment…!”

From the enemy’s sporadic-frantic-staccato radio intercepts, two things became crystal clear. The first was that the activities unfolding on 31 July had caught the brigade commander of 11 Brigade unawares; he was trapped for the moment at Techamutete, during one of his liaison visits there. The next was that those at Cuvelai were absolutely sure that they were on the priority list of being attacked next. Apparently General Jannie Geldenhuys had not informed them about the ongoing peace negotiations in Washington and we were definitely not going to help them right.

The consequence of unfolding events for 11 Brigade was absolute terror and prolonged agony. So be it. In a book on mobile warfare I wrote and was published in 1987, I would refer to FAPLA’s current situation as the ‘Catastrophe Theory’. The cusp of terror is reached when you drastically increase the forces of anxiety and alienation on your foe. We were going to practice the concept on FAPLA within the following few days – without political consent I may add.

The funny part was that the FAPLA brigade commander informed Cuvelai by radio from Cahama that there was enough artillery ammunition left in one of the ware-houses at Cuvelai. Yes, the reply went back: “The man who has the key has fled, because of all the excitement”. We listened in wonderment as the messages of the enemy were translated to us in bits and pieces. The intercepts of the enemy’s communications were called ‘comics’ by our intelligence people. I now fully understood why. The man and the key of the warehouse gone, why not break-in to the ware-house, the perfect best practice to be learned from Africa?

Amazing…!

So the comics went on. 61 Mech was biding their time, longingly listening to the near real-time intelligence picture unfolding amongst FAPLA. We knew well that FAPLA was hands-off for us in light of the pending political restrictions laid upon us by our military high command… Or were they not?

On the afternoon of the 3rd of August we received extremely valuable intelligence through the radio intercepts about the predicament of 11 Brigade at Cuvelai. FAPLA was going to dispatch a large logistics convoy from Techamutete that same night to replenish 11 Brigade under the cover of darkness.
The enemy was ready to undertake the treacherous 60km journey in the darkness from Techamutete. We knew they would follow the main track as they rarely varied from their dogmatic practices.

It was about 16h00 when I was briefed about the unfolding situation at the HAA by Colonel Jan Pieterse. The message from Colonel Joep Joubert from Oshakati was clear and simple: 61 Mech was to take out the enemy convoy the same night.

I made a quick map and time appreciation and discussed my plan with Colonel Jan Pieterse and SAAF Captain Neall Ellis. Time was too short and the distance too far to respond with the whole of 61 Mech to ambush the enemy relief column alongside the road from Techamutete to Cuvelai. Our unit was still leaguered approximately eight kilometres away from the HAA alongside the Cuvelai River. The distance from the leaguer position to the road was close on 20km through immensely dense bush. I was also apprehensive of losing the element of surprise by closing in on a prospective ambush position with noisy 61 Mech during darkness.

My plan was simple: 61 Mech would ambush the enemy column with a single platoon, and then pounce on them with the Alouette gunships at first light. I would accompany Neall Ellis in the command aircraft to co-ordinate the ground action. I arranged with Ellis to pick me up at 61 Mech at first light the following morning – done deal, let’s move now, but let’s move fast.

Time was of the essence and 61 Mech had to respond rapidly as dusk was approaching. I therefore immediately requested the Alouette gunships of Captain Neall Ellis to remain in the HAA for the night. (The Alouette and Puma helicopters returned to the safety of Ondangwa 300km to the south just before sunset for the nights). I also requested the Pumas to undertake one more sortie before they left for the safety of Ondangwa – that was to drop one of the platoons of 61 Mech near a possible ambush position close to the Techamutete-Cuvelai gravel road.
The platoon needed to deploy before darkness. The Puma helicopters then had to use some of the remaining daylight to return to Ondangwa. Both my requests were granted by Pieterse and the SAAF command team. The Pumas would be on call for me as soon as I reached the leaguer of 61 Mech.

I had one more appeal for the SAAF before I departed to 61 Mech’s position. I requested a sortie of Mirages to fly a combat air patrol over the Cuvelai-Techamutete road the next morning as soon as it was light. The Mirages would be ready to provide close air-support on request. Captain Neall Ellis could act as the on-board forward air controller.

I was now on my way with my Ratel driving swiftly towards 61 Mech. My choice for the ambush commander fell on tactical astute enthusiastic young mechanised infantry Captain Jan Malan. He was the commander of Alpha Company. Travelling with me in my Ratel was Captain Willem Ratte, scout supreme. I had an important chore for him to perform before my platoon left for the ambushing of FAPLA.

I gave quick radio orders to Captain Jan Malan as I moved. I requested him to hastily prepare a platoon for the ambush. He was to personally command the minute force and was to take some 60mm mortars with the 35-men fighting contingent. When I arrived at 61 Mech’s position, Jan and his platoon were ready – armed to the teeth and camouflaged with ‘black is beautiful’ cream. He had already completed his appreciation of the operational situation and had selected a suitable ambush position on the map. He was ready to brief the commander of the lead Puma.

I had asked Willem Ratte to brief my troops on enemy convoy tactics and counter-ambush drills. He had brought an enemy landmine with him. His other chore was to teach one of our ambushers how to lay an enemy landmine as a little surprise gift for the unsuspecting foe.

When my command Ratel arrived at the leaguer, the platoon of excited young national service men with Jan Malan in the lead were waiting for me. They were the best of men anxiously awaiting the command to fly away westwards into the unknown. I experienced a moment of apprehension on their behalf – what will the night hold for them. At the same time I felt exhilaration at an opportunity to strike at the enemy. As we finished the final verbal briefings our Chaplain Koos Rossouw said his prayer and the Puma helicopters started landing. The platoon duly emplaned and flew off to the west as the sun was setting.

The scene was set for the fireworks that night.

“An ambush is a surprise attack on a moving enemy from a hidden position”.

As the ambush-platoon flew away into the setting sun I briefed my command group and gave quick orders. My command group would occupy some high ground nearby to maintain first class communications with the ambush party of Captain Jan Malan through the night. The communication part was left in the capable hands of our trusty signals officer, Captain Sean MacSweeny. He would also activate the relay station of Ms Pompie van Der Westhuizen on a farm near Tsintsabis in northern SWA – just to make damn sure about our radio communications.
Our second-in-command Major Thys Rall would take charge of 61 Mech at first light. He would advance with 61 Mech to a link-up position with the ambush party of Malan near the Cuvelai-Techamutete road as swiftly as possible the next day. I would join up with 61 Mech at the new position to be delivered there by the Alouette of Captain Neall Ellis as had already been arranged.

61 Mech was ready for the impending developments through the night. We thought with some apprehension about our lonely platoon of thirty five men lying in ominous silence next too the road in ambush. Had we catered for every possible risk? It was now a waiting game! Our thoughts and prayers were constantly with our few at the front. Was somebody out there praying for the enemy?

At stages during the night we encountered some problems with our radio communication and those bedevilling skip-distances. However, close to bewitching first light Jan Malan reported, his voice crystal clear and calm, he could hear the far-away drone of the enemy’s vehicles approaching. There was excitement stirring all around our small vigilant command group.

I reported the news about the approaching enemy convoy to the TAC HQ and confirmed that the gunships as well as the Mirages from Ondangwa must be ready to fly at first light.

Needless to say, the platoon-sized force of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group stopped the FAPLA column of more than twenty two enemy vehicles dead in their tracks. The battle was fast and furious. It happened on the winding gravel track between Cuvelai and Techamutete, approximately 13km north of Cuvelai.

It was an amazingly successful ambush

The platoon successfully destroyed two Russian Ural Trucks. The two enemy vehicles, carrying an assortment of ammunitions, exploded directly in front of the small 61 Mech killing group. Miraculously the ambush group withdrew safely during the early hours of the morning. None of our own force members were injured by the wild explosions of FAPLA’s fast diminishing ammunition reserves. Two enemy Ural trucks were captured intact by the ambush party of Captain Jan Malan that same morning when they swept through the killing area.

I am now going to pick up the enthralling ambushing story as told by Captain Jan Malan. This is from a report that he wrote at my request a few years later (July 1986), when we served together at the Army Battle School. The report included a sketch he made of the contact with the enemy that night. I kept his report and gave him a copy two years ago. Jan Malan, still my friend to date, was ecstatic when he received the report he had written twenty two years ago. Here is his story:

“As soon as I received my instruction for the ambushing of the enemy convoy I made my map appreciation to determine the location of a suitable ambushing site. This was not easy as we only had 1:100,000 scale provisional maps of Angola available. The essential criteria I took into consideration for my mission and the selection of the ambush position were the following: The enemy convoy needed to approach from a rise so that their speed would be lessened; preferably there should be a turn in the road so as to obscure the front-end of the enemy convoy from the rear-end; we needed to be outside the enemy’s artillery range from either Cuvelai or Techamutete. The final ambush site selected was approximately 15km north on the road from Cuvelai.

My ambush party comprised my command element; three infantry sections; two Sappers from the Field Engineer troop attached to 61 Mech; my company signaller; one medical orderly. I instructed the two sappers to take five tank mines with their booty.

Things were happening fast and there was no time available to deploy the artillery battery of 61 Mech any closer. It was thus accepted that we would be operating outside the effective range (10km with rocket assistance) of the 120mm mortars of 61 Mech. The combat group HQ would however deploy closer by through the evening and occupy some high ground to ensure better communications with my ambush party. The Alouette gunships were placed on stand-by to support us the following morning at first light in case the ambushing of the FAPLA convoy was realised through the night.

The remainder of 61 Mech, it was planned, would link up with my platoon early the following morning close to the ambush site I had selected.

By late afternoon four Pumas arrived to uplift my ambush group. I had already given my orders and held my final inspection. We were as ready as can be to deploy westwards were the sun was already hanging low in the fiery Angolan sky.

My ambush party was now duly trooped out by the four Puma helicopters to a landing point four kilometres east of the Techamutete-Cuvelai road. We flew approximately 20km away from the position of 61 Mech. For a brief moment on landing I confirmed my position and direction by means of the compass of the Puma. Then the Pumas were away, flying eastwards to go around Cuvelai towards Ondangwa in the south.

We confirmed our position and direction on the ground by means of prismatic compass and map and then started walking steadily westwards for 4km towards the road. We arrived at our ambushing position selected with a few precious minutes day light to spare. This was time enough for a final reconnaissance and to determine our exact deployments for the night. This was followed by final orders for the impending action.

I decided to keep the ambushing platoon reasonably closely grouped for the night. There were huge trees alongside the road and dense under-cover. I therefore deployed the killing group reasonably close to the road, approximately 20 to 25 metres from the killing area selected. The ambush was set up as follows: Two infantry sections with two RPG-7 rocket launchers and three light machine guns were deployed in an extended formation parallel to the road; my HQ position was selected in the centre of the formation with the platoon commander acting as my second-in-command; the 60mm mortar was positioned close to my HQ position under control of the platoon sergeant; the third infantry section deployed in a half-moon formation behind us to ensure all-round defence; alternative positions were selected for the depth section on the northern flank to thwart a possible enemy counter-attack on our position from that direction, if it came to that. There was no time to dig into the ground, so each member of the ambush party filled two sandbags each with loose sand and placed it in front of them for cover against possible enemy fire.

The platoon sergeant and two sappers were now instructed to plant the tank mines as well as Claymore shrapnel mines in front of us on the road. In addition a few trip-flares (illumination) were placed in the tree line on the other side of the road. Within 30 minutes of returning the two sappers reported to me that they had forgotten to arm the mines with all the excitement. Somewhat disappointed, I decided to leave the mines as they were – there was no time left to go and search for the mines in the darkness to do the arming job now. In retrospect, the not arming of the mines was a divine intervention as we would have been too close to its explosions if activated by the enemy.

The sign to unleash hell on the enemy would be the activation of the trip flares and the illumination of the killing area with 300m illumination flares. By now the 60mm patrol mortar had found a suitable position to fire northwards over the trees towards the rear of the expected enemy convoy. The mortar group would start firing indirectly as soon as the fire-works started. One part of the plan with the 60mm mortar, except for causing additional casualties, was to create havoc and disruption amongst the enemy.

We now established communications with the combat group HQ of 61 Mech with a B25 radio and a dipole-antennae and the waiting began.

At times through the night the troops in the killing area dozed off. They were kept awake by means of jerks on a communications-rope, which we had strung from the one to the other. At about 04h00 we lost communications for a while with the combat group HQ. We felt very lonely out there in front in the total darkness and vastness of Africa.

At about 05h30 we heard the subtle engine drone of the enemy convoy approaching our position from the north. All in the ambushing party were wide awake by now, nerves on end, excitements were stirring amongst us, adrenaline surging. We reported to the Combat Group HQ that contact was imminent. I told the signaller to dismantle the B25 radio. He said quietly to me that the oncoming vehicles sounded to him like Bedford’s.

I now deployed the depth section to our northern flank. The section knew that they had to protect our northern flank from a possible enemy counter attack as soon as our party started withdrawing from the killing area. All the troops by now had packed their kit and were carrying it in rucksacks on their backs. We were now set to initiate the contact with the enemy’s convoy and then withdraw swiftly to safety to the south-east.
At about 05h45 the first two enemy vehicles entered the killing area right in front of us. We could hear from the exchanging of gears further back that the enemy convoy was slowing down one-by-one, as they caught up with the next vehicle on the rise.

The first two vehicles were extremely close to each other and were now in the centre of our killing area – they looked like Russian Ural cargo trucks. The enemy was driving with all their vehicle lights switched off.

At this moment I gave the command to open fire on the two enemy vehicles in front of us. The troops immediately adopted firing positions standing up and started firing short bursts into the killing area. The light machine guns and RPG-7 rocket launcher fire added to the mayhem right in front of us. The two Claymore mines were set off at the same moment. The remains of the exploding enemy vehicles were clearly silhouetted by the blazing trip flares in the trees on the other side of the road. It was not necessary to fire the illumination flares, as the whole area was lit up in front of us. Massive explosions rippled as the trucks had obviously been loaded with mortar and artillery ammunition. It was astonishing that none of us were killed or maimed by the shrapnel flying all around.

The 60mm patrol mortar started firing speculatively on the enemy convoy further to the north. There was instant chaos amongst the enemy’s ranks. We could hear vehicles turning around, people shouting frantically, gears gnashing in panic and metal tearing as some of the vehicles crashed into each other. The convoy to the rear was trying to escape northwards back towards Techamutete, away from the pandemonium in front.

After a short while I gave the killing group the order to cease fire and to make ready to withdraw on my command. The section on our northern flank was now given the command to open fire to cover our withdrawal. All our actions were unfolding calmly as if we were busy with a drill exercise on a parade ground. The killing group started to withdraw orderly along our south-eastwardly withdrawal route to a prearranged check-point. The flanking section was still providing covering fire towards the north. They then ceased fire and followed our orderly withdrawal away from the action. I looked at my watch and observed the hour-hand closing in on 15-minutes before first light

Our ambushing party withdrew for a distance of approximately 3km and then doubled back to lay in ambush on our tracks. The welcoming pleasantness of first light arrived and we could start discerning dirty smiling features all around. Our camaraderie was protected by the denseness of the African bush against any hostiles, which may lurk in our immediate environ. We re-established communications with the combat group HQ and gave them the good news and a brief SITREP (situation report).

There was happiness for our safety and success and congratulations were duly expressed.

Commandant Roland de Vries informed me that two Mirages were on their way from Ondangwa to patrol the road between Cuvelai and Techamutete, parallel 3km to the east of us. He confirmed that he was on his way with the Alouette gunships under command of Captain Neall Ellis. Our ambush party was further more tasked to sweep the ambush site as soon as the gunships arrived on the scene, which would provide close-air support.

We prepared for our next mission. We were extremely tired, although we felt confident and highly satisfied by the extraordinary outcomes of the night. More so, we were fired up, ready to undertake the mopping-up operation with enthusiasm.

As we formed into a sweep-line to patrol back towards the killing area the gunships arrived. I established communications with the command Alouette of Captain Neall Ellis and with Commandant Roland De Vries. We were now ready for the final round of the ambushing operation we had sprung close to first light. There were happy smiles all-round.

I thought that it was amazing what a small group of men could achieve through surprise – that was the magic about ambushing”.
As soon as Captain Jan Malan informed me about the approaching enemy convoy close to first light, the plans for the support by the Mirages and the Alouette gun-shops were confirmed with the TAC HQ. Captain Neall Ellis would pick me up at first light with his command Alouette.

At first light the open formation of gunships were flying aggressively westwards in the direction of the ambush site. The formation was led by Captain Neall Ellis. I was sitting next to him with his 7,62mm Browning machine-gunner poised ready on the jump-seat just behind us.

The platoon of Captain Jan Malan was now about one kilometre from the ambush site.

The two Mirages reported that they could neither observe enemy activity on the road, nor see the vehicles that we say had been allegedly destroyed through the night. We in turn answered: “Search for two black smudges on the road”. The Mirage pilots then observed the black smudges, but even so, there were no discernable signs of Ural trucks. The reason for this we could see as we arrived over the scene with the Alouettes. The two URAL trucks of the enemy, which had been caught in the ambush, had been completely raised with the ground.

We requested the Mirages to fly an interdiction mission between Techamutete and Cuvelai for a while to keep possible enemy interference off our backs as we completed the job.

By now the platoon of Malan was sweeping steadily southwards in open formation using the road towards Techamutete as the axis of advance.

The gunships started firing with 20mm canons at FAPLA soldiers on the ground. It was obvious from looking downward that the enemy left-over were wholly terrified and disoriented. Some of the enemy soldiers were staring up at the gunships with stark terror as they started fleeing in all directions. I momentarily felt a pang of sorrow for the hapless – it was a turkey-shoot. Who was stupid enough to could have given the ill-fated the command to travel the road of death through the night?

Two wretched soldiers of FAPLA were running away from the sweeping platoon of Captain Jan Malan. I instructed Malan to capture one as we dearly required information from our enemy. As I uttered my command I saw the two luckless soldiers being felled by a hail of fire erupting from the platoon. Apparently one of the FAPLA soldiers killed was the convoy commander. He was already wounded and was about to throw a hand-grenade at the platoon.

Incidentally, one of the FAPLA soldiers had worn his badge of rank on his left breast-pocket. One of our troops had neatly double-tapped the enemy soldier through his rank insignia. Jan Malan kept the rank with the two bullet holes displayed and still have it in his possession today.

The platoon came across two Urals that were left completely intact by FAPLA. Our soldiers on the ground duly took possession of their spoils of war. The vehicles were haphazardly loaded with clusters of uniform and food, all thrown together in heaps onto the Ural. We later found loads of Norwegian tuna fish and spaghetti from Spain amongst the bits and pieces of FAPLA uniform. The two vehicles were now driven by two South African national servicemen, without official FAPLA driver’s licences. Seven other Russian Urals were found by the platoon in the surrounding bushes. Those which could not be driven anymore were destroyed with RPG-7s by our men.

The gunships commenced with its sweep along the road in a northernly direction towards Techamutete. I was watching closely for dust cloud from the approximate positions of Cuvelai to the south and Techamutete to the north; that would have been an indication of possible enemy counter-actions ensuing from early morning bedlam. All, however, was quiet on our northern and southern fronts.

The avenging gunships kept on firing at clusters of enemy on the ground.

It was altogether a strange feeling to have a birds-eye view of a contact situation happening between the enemies and own forces on the ground below you. It was captivating in a sense as one experienced a surreal feeling of complete safety, as if nobody could touch you up there. On the other hand there was complete focus on particular segments of events unfolding down below. There was the calm chatter coming from microphone and head-set, the drone of the aircraft’s engine, now and then the stutter of the machine gun next to you…

We flew for approximately 20km northwards and found another eleven vehicles that were rushed away by the enemy through the night and the early morning hours. Many were left abandoned, haphazardly driven into the bushes beside the road; a few had overturned. It was almost macabre to see a gunship hovering, placing a few accurate 20mm canon shells into an Ural, only to fly to the next one, as flame started erupting from a previous one. We flew back to the original position of our victorious platoon. There were eighteen spirals of black smoke gracing the cool Angolan sky

At about 08h00 the ambush operation and the mopping-up had been successfully completed. A complete convoy of twenty FAPLA vehicles had been annihilated and two captured. Well done the gallant thirty five young men of 61 Mech under command of Captain Jan Malan! Well done Captain Neall Ellis and his gallant airborne fighters flying the fighting Alouettes – those respected and courageous chopper boys doing their job; not withstanding how completely vulnerable they were up there during operations such as Meebos. What a day it was for them!
The remainder of 61 Mech, under command of Major Thys Rall, soon linked up with the exhausted platoon of Captain Jan Malan. The gallant thirty five were extremely pleased to get back into their six-wheeled Ratels again. I was landed by Captain Neall Ellis close to 61 Mech and rejoined my combat group HQ. Our combat group moved about 8km north-eastwards were we occupied a leaguer position for the night.

It was time to celebrate and congratulate our victorious young warriors. The spoils of the enemy’s goodies were evenly distributed through the ranks of 61 Mech for a feast on Norwegian tuna and Spanish spaghetti. The two Urals proudly took up position in the marching order of 61 Mech, without there erstwhile FAPLA crew that is.

The successful ambush on the FAPLA convoy north of Cuvelai engendered a subtle reprimand from General Jannie Geldenhuys and Foreign Minister Pik Botha out of Washington one day later. Wow rumours really spread fast! That will keep the politicians busy for a while. The Angolan government had reacted vehemently apparently – that will teach them a lesson to shoot all their artillery ammunition at us near Cuvelai. The peace-talks in Washington were obviously still ongoing. Operation Meebos was obviously ongoing as well.

It was utterly bizarre to me how things could be connected in different worlds. What were going on in the minds of my fighting youngsters, national servicemen of 19 years old? Those we had to keep alive? What were those terrified soldiers of FAPLA thinking in their trenches at Cuvelai? Did anybody inform them about the politics playing out in Washington? If you can think, but not make thoughts your aim – focus Roland!

Well-known military author Al J. Venter in later years wrote a book with the title “Chopper Boys”, wherein he quotes Neall Ellis saying the following about the aforementioned contact with the convoy of FAPLA (incidentally Venter recorded the year as 1983 while it actually happened in 1982):
“The following day we were told that the politicians in Pretoria were unhappy with the fact that the convoy had been knocked out. That FAPLA openly sided with our enemy, SWAPO, seemed to make no difference to the distant observers and we were aware that reports like this did tend to lower morale.

We could never understand that if we were required to wage war against SWAPO, then everything and anyone opposed to us should be wiped out, particularly if they got in our way.”

I could not discern anything being wrong with the morale of 61 Mech the evening of the 4th of August 1982… leaguering comfortably in the African bush somewhere between Cuvelai and Techamutete. To the contrary, I was not fired the following day, neither Colonel Joep Joubert who had given the instruction to slaughter the enemy convoy… Wow, wee!

During a battle field tour in October 2010 I had the privilege to visit the ambush site with a few veterans of 61 Mech and 32 Battalion. It was twenty-nine years later to be exact.

My close friends Camille Burger, Louis Bothma, Koos Moorcroft and Jaap Steyn were strolling along with me as I explained what had happened to our victorious platoon and luckless FAPLA many years ago.

We photographed the wrecks of all the FAPLA trucks which were destroyed in the ambush. All twenty of them are still lying there today alongside the road in the bushes. Adjacent to the two Ural spoils of Jan Malan and his platoon’s mini-war, is a brand new African village today.

The local people seemed totally relaxed and unperturbed by the interest our few veterans showed in the broken relics of a by-gone war. We casually walked about picking up exploded FAPLA mortar and artillery shells and the expended R-4 rounds of Jan Malan’s national servicemen ambush platoon.

My thoughts wandered way back, as I thought of them. I kept a few of their R-4 rounds as souvenirs. At that specific moment in time, on the gravel road surrounded by the thick Angola bush and sweltering African heat, I felt extremely proud to have commanded those young soldiers.

61 Mech Adopts a Mobile Ambushing Position along the Cuvelai-Techamutete Road

On 6 August 1982 we deployed 61 Mech approximately 10km further northwards on the eastern side of the Cuvelai-Techamutete road. Here we remained stationary until the 9th of August 1982.
We reconnoitred possible killing sites along the road and then deployed 61 Mech in an attacking position approximately 5km away from the road. The 120mm mortars were positioned to give indirect fire support in case of an attack by us on enemy travelling on the road in any direction. Listening posts were set up to the north and the south alongside the road to give early warnings of possible enemy movements. Foot patrols were duly sent out to screen our environment.

While we waited patiently and at times not too patiently for enemy developments, the troops did maintenance chores on their vehicles and other equipment. In-between we rested, enjoying a few calm days in the bush. We were ready for our next ambush, this time it would be a mobile one we surmised. Where are you enemy, what are you planning, what are your next moves?

We were given clear instructions by the TAC HQ that we were not to attack FAPLA unless we received authorisation from higher up. Yes sir! Noted…

Our battle maps were put up against the sides of the Ratels of my command group underneath the camouflage nets. During the days I kept my leader group busy with map exercises, mini war-gaming and the preparation of contingency plans. I could see that they were enjoying the intellectual stimulation. The electronic warfare section was monitoring the enemy chatter closely. FAPLA was not at all happy with what had happened to their ill-fated convoy, we discerned. So be it.

The TAC HQ 25km to our east was still in the same position next to the Cuvelai River. If they become too comfortable and did not move soon they would invite an unwelcome attack on their position by SWAPO, for sure. All was quiet for the moment with no fresh intelligence on possible new positions of SWAPO to attack after the success on Alpha Battalion on the 2nd of August.

The TAC HQ eventually moved their position about 15km upstream on the 8th of August.

We were all waiting patiently for the next prospective moves, either by own forces or the enemy. What will it be?

A Tragic 9 August 1982 – We Loose Fifteen Splendid Soldiers in One Swell Swoop

9 August 1982. A crisp winter’s morning in southern Angola with nothing much really happening…

61 Mech was still in an ambush position to the east of the Cuvelai-Techamutete road, somewhere close to the Mui River. New intelligence had been received of a small SWAPO logistics base close to Techamutete. An attack was considered by the TAC HQ. It was however realised that FAPLA could interfere and the idea was scrapped.

The frustrations relating to the finding of the next viable target was now the thing bedevilling the momentum and continuation of Meebos. Was the search and destroy show petering out already?

Captain Willem Ratte and the scouts of 32 Battalion were eagerly searching for the infamous Bravo Battalion of SWAPO – the main enemy 61 Mech had sought and had a few skirmishes with during Operation Daisy in November 1981. They were still out there, roaming the bush. Lost in the same wilderness were the Central and Eastern Area HQs of SWAPO. Don’t forget about the other loose assortments of SWAPO running around in the bush.
Where the hell is the enemy, in six figure map grid reference’s terms…? Show yourself damn it!

The target search by Ratte had now shifted to an area to the north-west of Cuvelai. It was within two hour’s striking distance from where 61 Mech was influencing the road leading north to Techamutete from Cuvelai.

The signs and the symptoms of the enemy were there – the signs had been found by Ratte on the ground. The TAC HQ decided to launch an area operation into the suspect area: fly in with Puma helicopters, patrol, and wish for a number of lucky strikes with the enemy, fly out again, tally-ho. The recipe was the same; the Alouette gunships would provide close air-support. Hopefully as well, during the flying the gunships would pick up the enemy on the ground. Eight Pumas were poised for the trooping mission of the splendid soldiers of 32 Battalion and 1 Parachute Battalion. Ready to go…

Just after midday the Pumas started flying in the troops to the target zone just north of the Mui River about 15km to the west of the Cuvelai-Techamutete road. The route chosen took the aircraft flying along the dry river bed of the Mui River. The flying pathway of the Pumas from the HAA almost took them over the deployment position of 61 Mech hidden in the bushes below.
With their first flight, the Pumas had unwittingly flown over a deployed SWAPO anti-aircraft position. The enemy was lurking in a bushy patch of the Mui River approximately 15km west of the Cuvelai-Techamutete road.

The second time around, at about 15h00, four Pumas again came with a flurry…Again along the dry Mui River with their precious cargo on the way to a landing zone. A curtain of enemy anti-aircraft fire suddenly erupted from below and slammed into the second Puma piloted by Captain John Twaddle. The Puma plummeted to the ground, exploded and burst into flames. Three SAAF crew members and twelve paratroopers were killed instantly – no, for a brief moment one of the paratroopers was still alive…

This was an amazing tragedy. 9 August 1982… We had lost fifteen splendid soldiers in one swell swoop.

Soon after the Alouette gunships went into action. More than thirty SWAPO soldiers running towards the crash site were spotted. A battle ensued and some of the Alouettes took hits from below. One Alouette pilot reported seeing more than hundred SWAPO insurgents dancing around the stricken Puma. More gunships were scrambled and were on their way to the contact site.

By this time the TAC HQ had informed 61 Mech about the unfolding tragedy in the Mui River. We immediately responded and started moving at best speed towards the position we knew were the fight with SWAPO and the gunships were raging. 61 Mech was approximately 23km to the east. Time and distance wise it would take our vanguard close on one hour of bundu bashing to get there. Move! Move! Move!

The battle was still raging at the downed Puma site. The Alouettes were taking fire from SWAPO’s formidable 14,5s and SAM-7s. The gunships needed to return to the HAA to re-arm and re-fuel. At this stage Captain Willem Ratte was still deployed further to the north, close to the Calonga River searching for enemy bases.

61 Mech reached the crash site within little more than an hour. As we deployed in an all-round defensive open leaguer around the crash site we could hear a mini-battle raging just to the north of our position.

My first instruction was for all of 61 Mech to remain extremely alert and to stay mounted on their Ratels until I had assessed the situation. I halted my Ratel next to the Puma helicopter, which was still smouldering. Looking down into the wreck we could see a number of charred remains of the paratroopers. It was obvious that nobody could be alive. However, our biggest fear was that the enemy could have captured someone.

On the command radio-net I then reiterated my command for everyone to remain mounted on their vehicles. As this was as much an army as an air force show, SAAF Major Jaap du Preez and I dismounted to inspect the blazing sight and analyse what had happened – our fear remained the possibility that soldiers have been captured.

About fifty metres to the north we could see where the 14,5s had been positioned – the area was strewn with empty shell cases. The whole area was covered with the chevron boot print of SWAPO. Of the enemy themselves there was no sign at this stage.

Realizing that SWAPO expected us visiting the site, Jaap du Preez and I looked at each other and sort of simultaneously warned: “Watch out for booby-traps and personnel mines.” It was an eerie situation…

The three SAAF crew members had clearly been removed from the wreck by SWAPO soldiers. The three bodies were propped up in their seats as if someone had posed them for a photograph in their scorched flying suits.

Incidentally: In a contact with the enemy a day later a few Polaroid photographs were found on dead SWAPO insurgents, as well as some of the “dog tags” (two metal identification disks worn around the neck) of the paratroopers.

As I stood next to the wreck I momentarily felt an immense sadness, a heavy weight settling on my chest… silent crying. I was thinking of those back home who did not yet know what had happened in the Mui on this fateful 9th of August 1982.

My pondering did not last long as I was interrupted by a Ratel-90 approaching the crash site. Close to me lay one of the doors of the Puma which had been blown to one side.

The approaching Ratel-90 belonged to Second Lieutenant Dewald Weideman, one of the troop commanders of Captain Chris du Toit of Charlie Squadron. Weideman dismounted and started walking in my direction… Why? Chris du Toit shouted at him to get back on his Ratel. As I put up my hand and echoed the warning to halt him, there was a tremendous explosion right in front of me.

Weideman was flung into the air, one foot and the bottom part of his torso was blown to bits, but our man was alive… Medics! Doctor! Medics! Quick! Call for a Puma Casevac now!

Again I shouted: “No one, but NO ONE get off your Ratels!Repeat my message down the chain of command now, AGAIN!”

There was an eerie respectful silence that enshrouded the death site.

Jaap du Preez and I then found a drag mark from the Puma wreck to a lonely tree approximately thirty yards away. We could see the body of one of the paratroopers propped up against the stem of a Mopani tree. We walked very carefully towards the site, searching the earth for signs of booby-traps or personnel mines. The paratrooper was dead, he must have been alive for a while, probably thrown from the Puma by the explosion. His skin was blistered and hung in tatters from him. The pain must have been excruciating. He was shot through the centre of his forehead – was this a coup de grace by the enemy?

Jaap du Preez and I returned to the wreck and started counting the bodies. We repeated the count six times to make very sure that all had been accounted for. We then confirmed our counts.
I then instructed one of the Ratels to drive towards the Puma wreck and for our soldiers to carefully transfer the remains into body-bags. The body-bags were not enough and some of the charred remains had to share bags. A Puma was called in to fly the remains to the HAA and then back to SWA.

61 Mech then left the Puma site and to leaguer a few kilometres to the north of the Mui River for the night. We would return the next day to evacuate the helicopter wreck – we were definitely not going to leave it for SWAPO to use for propaganda purposes later on.

Sadness permeated the leaguer of 61 Mech as the sun set in the west over the Calonga River. Somewhere out there was Captain Willem Ratte and his scouts and the enemy in the darkness…
That night Major Alex Britz made our command group a “Potjie” (typical African stew prepared in a Falkirk three-legged cast-iron pot). He had made a deep hole in the ground for his fire so that the glow could not be discerned by any watchful enemy. We sat on our camp chairs in the bush in camaraderie, surrounded by darkness and the silence from within.

At midnight I was called to the radio by my signals officer Captain Sean MacSweeny. It was the TAC HQ. They had sifted trough the remains of our slain soldiers and could only find signs of fourteen. One was missing. I replied: “No ways, check again.” Captain Jaap du Preez and I checked our counting procedure of the day once again. We were very sure of the numbers; we had counted fifteen, over and over.

At 03h00 the next morning I was contacted again by radio. The TAC HQ informed me that the medical staff at the HAA had found fifteen unique bones, which affirmed the count was correct.

Relief washed over me.

In Memoriam – let us be quiet for a moment:The three crew members of the South African Air Force: Captain John Twaddle; Lieutenant Chris Pietersen and; Flight Engineer Sergeant Grobbies Grobbelaar.

The twelve paratrooper national servicemen of 1 Parachute Battalion: Corporal Esuas Lombaard (20); Lance-Corporal Stephen Hoare (20); Rifleman Andre Wolmerans (21); Rifleman Grant Krull (20); Rifleman Craig Moody (20); Rifleman Andries Hermias van Niekerk (20); Rifleman Anton Kruger (22); Rifleman Martin le Roux (22); Rifleman James Marshall (20); Rifleman Alan de Klerk (19); Rifleman Shane Patrick Mallon (21) and; Rifleman Ruffle Hilton-Barret (21).

In later years I came across the following message on an internet site: “3 April 2009. My brother died in Angola together with 12 parabats and 2 more pilots on 9 August 1982. Chris Pietersen I still miss you and love you to bits. Your sis.”

As darkness settled over the leaguer, some of it also settled in the souls of the one thousand soldiers of 61 Mech who became the lone victims of their own apprehensions and thoughts once again.

10 Augustus 1982 – One Whopper of a Contact by the Strike Force on the Calonga

The next day, 10 August 1982, 61 Mech returned to the Puma site.
The field engineers carefully cleared the area of the wreck of booby-traps and other explosive devices left by the foe. Our RSM, WO1 H.G. Smit, and the Tiffies (technical personnel) then loaded the helicopter wreck onto one of our Samil cargo trucks. The Puma would be returning home with 61 Mech.

Incidentally: This would be the third SAAF helicopter 61 Mech would be taking home in two years. The first was an Alouette gunship shot down by FAPLA during Operation Protea at Môngua on 25 August 1981. The second was an Alouette gunship shot down by FAPLA at Evale on 29 December 1981. This Puma in the Mui River was the third…

In the meantime the strike force at the HAA on the Cuvelai River was raring to go; they wanted to get back at the enemy.
Colonel Jan Pieterse was on his way to 61 Mech at about 08h00 with the command Alouette of Captain Neall Ellis to join us for a few moments, however… On the way one of the reconnaissance teams of Captain Willem Ratte reported that they had sighted suspect enemy movement in the vicinity of the Calonga River to the north of us. Captain Neall Ellis with his command Alouette and two gunships veered away to go and investigate.

Approximately 30km north of Cuvelai along the Calonga River Neall Ellis and the two gunships came across a large enemy group who started firing SAM-7s at them. The enemy started firing in all seriousness with small arms, RPG-7 rockets and 14,5mm anti-aircraft guns.

Ellis immediately suspected that this was the mother-lode. A large group of SWAPO had been sighted evading the danger zone towards the north. The target area was vast as the enemy was spread out over an area of more than two square kilometres. The enemy situation was reported by radio to the TAC HQ. The other gunships were immediately scrambled. Unfortunately it was still early in the morning and the Pumas were still on their way northwards to the HAA from Ondangwa. The Mirages were called in and with the gunships started taking a heavy toll of the enemy on the ground.

The enemy was fleeing in the direction of a fording site over the Calonga River Captain Willem Ratte had come across during one of his earlier scouting missions.

Eventually the helicopters had to return to the HAA to re-arm and re-fuel. The fighting Alouettes soon returned to the contact zone. Close to 11h00 the infantry companies of 32 Battalion and 1 Parachute Battalion was trooped into the contact zone guided by the gunships. At the end of the day one hundred and sixteen SWAPO insurgents were killed and two captured. Many of the enemy’s 14,5s were taken during the fighting. Own forces were intact; none were killed on this victorious day.

It was a great pity that on such a productive fighting day critical minutes had been lost by the Pumas, which had to return after spending the night at Ondangwa… Precious hours were lost each day because of this particular SAAF safety practice.

As soon as 61 Mech had completed the job at the crash site on the Mui River, we moved about 18km north-westwards. We leaguered close to the fast flowing Calonga River. The position was close to the old enemy base ‘Smelling Rat’, which had been attacked on the 31st of July. In actual fact, we had driven through this abandoned position of SWAPO and could see their trenches.

We were now in a position to either react towards the Techamutete road or to support the task force with the fight against SWAPO in the area, if they called on 61 Mech to do so.
The Calonga River was the same river into which paratrooper Human had disappeared with his parachute during Operation Reindeer on Cassinga on 4 May 1978, never to be found.

Following on 11 Augustus 1982 – Operation Meebos Starts Petering Out

On 11 August 61 Mech moved eastwards and then swung northwards to occupy a hide to the north of the HAA. We were now deployed slightly to the east of the high ground of Techamutete. It was rumoured that there was a possible SWAPO logistics base to be attacked at Techamutete and we wanted to be close to the action. Captain Willem Ratte later on reported that SWAPO had withdrawn from the alleged position.

Early the next morning my command group was assembled around me in the centre of the leaguer. It was time for our 5 minute standing conference and quick orders by yours truly and a snap prayer by our chaplain Koos Rossouw.

Under the prayer I spotted one of our soldiers running at high speed towards us from due south. He shouted at me: “Commandant, terrorists, 6 o’clock, they are passing our leaguer”. I immediately shouted at Koos Rossouw: “Koos say Amen, terrorists, 6 o’clock from our position, they are passing our leaguer”. Needless to say, the few ‘terrs’ had by now spotted the leaguered array of Ratels and were high-tailing it out of the danger zone, before we could react.

I could not recollect whether Koos had prayed for them as well. Anyhow, the Dear Lord was good to a hapless few SWAPO that morning.

We could feel that things were quieting down. The next day we moved to the HAA a few kilometres due south of us. The news was that Colonel Johan Roos, an armour man, was taking over command of the task force from Colonel Jan Pieterse.

Area operations still continued for a while but did not produce any spectacular results. Here and there a few small contacts were still initiated with the enemy. It seemed as if SWAPO had evaded to the north in the direction Jamba (a small Angolan settlement near the railway line, approximately 50km north-west of Techamutete not to be confused with UNITA’s traditional base, Jamba, in the far south-east of Angola).

Colonel Johan Roos subsequently gave instruction to end Operation Meebos and decided to move the TAC HQ and the task force back to Ongiva.

61 Mech decided to follow the Mui River back to Ongiva – it was like a dusty highway. We followed the river southwards as far as Môngua and then travelled by tarred road to Ongiva – a leisurely three days, no rush now.

One more spectacle would befall my eyes on the way to Môngua while travelling down the Mui River. It would make me adore and appreciate the troops of 61 Mech so much more.

One early morning before leaving the leaguer with my Ratel a strange spectacle befell my vigilant eyes. A Ratel mounted infantry section of Captain Jan Malan’s forever spirited Alpha Company was passing by, dust trailing. Tethered to the spare wheel on the roof of the said combat ready Ratel was a goat (for messing purposes only, it was later to be confirmed by me). I said to myself, de Vries let it be, a mobile mechanised goat, what the hell next?

However the next day the same Ratel passed me by. This time there were a few mechanised chickens neatly tethered to the camouflage net, cackling happily on the move!

I was curious and I stopped the Ratel for a moment with a hand-signal. I asked the troops what the hell was going on, were they farming or what? What had happened to the goat of yesterday? They said to me in a serious tone: “No commandant, we had swapped our goat for a few chickens yesterday, it is a bargain. We exchanged the goat for the few chickens from the locals, the goat had died – we gave them Ratpacks (24-hour ration packs) as well”. I told them sally forth and enjoy their dinner this evening in the dust, wherever. Good-buy Ratel, good-buy chickens…

For 61 Mech Operation Meebos had ended.

We spent a few leisurely days at Ongiva airfield where we did maintenance chores on all our vehicles and equipment.

By 25 August 1982 our force was released from Operation Meebos. We travelled in luxury by road via Santa Clara and Ondangwa to our pleasant home in the south, Omuthiya.

61 Mech remained on stand-by for the remainder of the year.

On 10 January 1983 I handed over command of 61 Mech to Commandant Gert van Zyl.

Thus one of the most exciting periods of my military career came to an end, after two years of service with awesome 61 Mech in the field; and those wonderful young soldiers I had shared my life with and learned from so much.

Captivating stories about operation Meebos I wish to share

Formal Mess Dinner – 61 Mech, September 1982

Somewhere in September 1982 61 Mech held a formal mess dinner to celebrate Operation Meebos.

Our honouree SAAF air support officer, Major Jaap du Preez and his dear wife, made a special effort to attend from Dunnottar Air Force base (near Nigel). Du Preez was now in part mechanised for purposes of fighting on Mother Earth.

The menu for the evening formal dinner read as follows:

Ratpack Ala SADF
(Packe Willem de Ratte Ala Meebos)


Megafters Ala Calonga


Crema Du Cuvelai


Pesch ALA Ambush Ou De Malan


Mieta Au Campulo De Non De Boere Ala Sauer Moere
Spagheti Ala Bortelle De Erde = Kraute Dou Mui =
Grasse Ala Sjona


Stoui Ala Deliciosse Ou Ongiva


Busquietz Ou Angola Ala Povo Tjiezies


Cafe Du Xangongo


Spirits Au Radarra Dou Dome Du Peez


On Logistics – Major Giel Reinecke and Meebos

From the pen of an outstanding soldier, Major Giel Reinecke, the logistics officer of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group, during my rein of service from 1981 until 1982:

“Sector 10 had decided to launch an operation against a series of SWAPO bases north of Mupa. The operation was nick named Meebos. 61 Mech was to deploy as the task force mobile reserve.

During the planning of Operation Meebos the guidelines given to me were quite simple – keep the echelon and logistics tail as small as possible and be ready for a 10-day independent operation. Our echelon system was established and the allocation of echelon vehicles were done in accordance with the laid down and proved standing operating procedures of 61 Mech – our yellow book (bible more likely). The reserve levels of our commodities to be taken with had been calculated from our previous experiences of operating in southern Angola.

The logistics concept in outline was to provide the fighting troops each with two days of 24-hour ration packs, reserves for three days were held with the sub-unit echelon and five days in the first line echelon of our combat group. The number of water bunkers was limited to one per sub-unit and we had to replenish water from the field within the ten days of the operation running. The field engineer troop would normally assist with purifying and supplying drinking water but it was up to the combat group HQ to find a suitable water source. The operational plan determined the diesel required and the number of diesel bunkers to be taken with during the operation.

After Ops Protea in August 1981 we decided to scale down on the normal first line ammunition for our large number of Ratel combat vehicles. Our experience was that very little of the ammunition was used during the current type of low intensity operations. Once the ammunition packages were opened and filled into the bins, the ammunition could not be properly taken into stock again once we returned to Omuthiya. The Ratels were therefore stocked with scaled down first line, whilst the balance of the ammunition was stowed in the administrative echelon (Alpha Echelon). However, all of the latter planning and provisioning depended on the operational plan. This simple procedure put an end to the unnecessary wastage of ammunition

Our technical staff compiled lists with the spares required for each operation. These lists were used to stow spares on cargo trucks especially rigged for our particular technical requirements.

Careful records were kept of spares in order to requisition in time once the minimum level of spare reserves were reached.

The quartermaster of 61 Mech had lists for general stores required by each sub-unit. Items such as tents and folding tables for planning purposes, body bags, toilet paper, soap, steel wool for cleaning gun barrels, foot powder, etc. We did not make provision for spare uniform items but would order same when it was required.

One particular cargo vehicle was dedicated for canteen stores (cold drinks, tooth paste, shaving blades, etc). The latter items were sold in bulk to the sub-units on an “I owe you” basis. On the return to Omuthiya the sub-units would then recover the moneys from the “bush-pay” of the troops, to pay outstanding bills.

When an external operation lasted longer than 10 days, Sector 10 would provide second line support either from 5 Maintenance Unit at Ondangwa or from the Forward Administration Area (FAA) established at Ongiva.

For Operation Meebos in July 1982 61 Mech initially deployed to the area of Xangongo by road and the movement was easily executed; from Omuthiya via Santa Clara (border) and Ongiva to Xangongo.

The area around Ongiva airfield was developed in a full-blown “Formation Administrative Area” (FAA) – a logistics support base in the field. The tactical HQ for Operation Meebos was located in the terminal building at the abandoned FAPLA airfield. There were various support elements deployed to support the forces deployed for Operation Meebos. Combat units such as 32 Battalion, 101 Battalion, 1 and 2 Parachute Battalion and Koevoet used Ongiva as a transit area. Sector 10 deployed an element of the South African Defence Force Institute (SADFI) at Ongiva to supply the troops with canteen commodities, cold drinks, sweets and other essential personal commodities. It was said that even the local Angolan population supported Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst’s shop in the field, using RSA currency.

From Xangongo, 61 Mech was deployed to the area of Cuvelai to participate in the large scale July-August counter-insurgency phase of Operation Meebos. Our fighting unit operated for some time between Cuvelai and Techamutete.

In our administrative echelon we had a number of fuel bunkers filled with Avtur for the refuelling the Puma and Alouette helicopters.

The HQ Company element under the command of the RSM WO1 H.G. Smit was responsible for the refuelling the helicopters when it came to that. The procedure was well practiced and formed part-and-parcel of the SOP of 61 Mech. Usually the Mobile Air Operations Team (MAOT) of the SAAF would confirm the helicopter’s time of arrival, the infantry would then secure the HAA. The signal for the helicopter that everything was in order was when a yellow smoke grenade was thrown on the ground. After the engines were cut – the fuel bunker would move in swiftly to do the refuelling.

The helicopters at times were also used to re-supply 61 Mech with essential items such as the weekly fresh rations or famous “braai pack” (barbeque pack) for our troops. Urgent spares were usually supplied in the same manner. At times, when we were lucky, a few cases of beers could arrive as well.

We always maintained radio communications with the Rear HQ of 61 Mech at Tsumeb. Occasionally, on Sunday afternoons, the families would go to the radio room at Tsumeb to talk to the fathers.

The duration of Ops Meebos was much longer than the normal 10 days and we usually arranged for liaison visits to the field. Such visits were attended to by out unit paymaster, Second Lieutenant Andy Weyand. He would bring the mail and parcels for the troops and do an occasional pay-parade in the bush. This was also the way to maintain the routine administration of 61 Mech. Somehow the staff officers in Pretoria rarely realised the 61 Mech at times were operating 270km north of its administrative office. While the staffs of 61 Mech were deployed away from Omuthiya the never ending requests for useless returns and routine letters reminding one of target dates never ceased.

Andy Weyand would bring those files and letters which required urgent attention – so life continued in the bush, interesting times.

To sustain 61 Mech for the duration of Operation Meebos we had to plan specific diesel supply convoys from Ongiva to link up with our echelon far to the north of the SWA-Angola border. These bunker trucks would stay with the echelon until they were empty and would then be returned return to Ongiva under escort to wait for the next supply run. It was a never ending process of supply and demand and the relentless pushing forward of supplies – convoy on convoy.

Vehicle spares, canteen commodities, oils and automatic transmission fuels were mostly transported by air. During Operation Meebos several air supplies drops by Hercules C130/ Transall C160 transport aircraft were executed during night times.

A commodity that is underestimated in value until one runs out of it, is requested on SA Army Form DD1000. The precious commodity is better known as toilet paper – kilometres of it. This priceless commodity has many more uses as the one it was originally designed for; there is no substitute for it. I discovered that without toilet paper a mechanised force can become quite useless. In my time at 61 Mech it was used for the following:

• The marking of routes.

• The cleaning of weapon systems.

• The cooling down of beer when doused with water.

• The cleaning of planning boards and maps.

• The covering of minor bruises and cuts.

• The cleaning of posteriors.

Indeed, toilet paper was extremely valuable for a mechanised force: Rule number one was not to get caught without it 270km inside Angola

Towards the end of Operation Meebos, by 27 August 1982, 61 Mech withdrew to Ongiva for about three days. Here we spent a few leisure days. These days were also marked by our unit as traditional “log days” (logistics days) for the cleaning and maintenance of our vehicles and all the other equipment. Time was also used to complete the investigations for losses and damages, before we returned to Omuthiya.

Operation Meebos had been six weeks. We were on the move all the time and the demands on logistics and maintenance and on the support staffs had been intense.

Once again our unit’s concept of involvement of all and integrated planning paid dividend.

Mutual respect and understanding, as well as outstanding team work, that was what ensured the success of 61 Mech”.

Second Lieutenant S.S. Steyn and Rifleman D.P. Crouser – 30 July 1982

My logistics officer Major Giel Reinecke had requested me for an armoured escort for a logistics convoy to follow in 61 Mech’s tracks towards Mupa on 30 July 1982. Our fighting unit in the meantime was deploying northwards to participate in the opening phase of Operation Meebos.

One of the armoured car troop commanders of Captain Chris du Toit’s Charlie Squadron was selected for the job as armoured escort. The man was vibrant national serviceman hyper responsible 19-year old Second Lieutenant Stephanus Steyn.
Steyn commanded a troop of Ratel-90s. With him in his vehicle during the escort mission was an old school friend from Kroonstad, Lance Corporal J.H. Schultz. The crew was furthermore made up of Corporal I. Kriel, Rifleman C.H. Fouche, Rifleman A.R. Coony and Rifleman D. P. Crouser. With the ensemble of a few Ratel-90s and Ratel-20s travelled an 81mm mortar fire group and a few logistics vehicles.
Second Lieutenant S.S. Steyn travelled second from the front in the marching order of the convoy. Suddenly there was an immense explosion and flames and black smoke erupted from beneath the Ratel Steyn was commanding. One of the middle wheels of the Ratel-90 had detonated a double tank mine. The eighteen ton six-wheeled Ratel was flung a few meters to one side.

For a moment the crew did not know what had happened to them – they were totally flabbergasted and overwhelmed by the sudden turn of the event. Steyn and his mates then jumped out of the stricken Ratel, totally disoriented, they had thought that they were in the midst of an enemy ambush. Crew members Kriel, Coony and Fouché were already clear of the vehicle taking cover in the bushes, without their rifles. Steyn shouted at his fellow soldiers to come back.

In the meantime Steyn had evacuated his turret and was grabbing their rifles from a gaping hole on the right side of the Ratel and throwing it to those soldiers already outside. This was the side where Rifleman Crouser had been lying asleep on the interior crew seats. The bomb rack of forty three 90mm projectiles was clearly visible through the large hole ripped into the side of the Ratel. By this time the Ratel had caught fire and was ablaze.

Steyn then saw his friend Schultz lying inside the Ratel as if dead. He immediately tried to evacuate him from the flames but the fatigues of Schultz hooked onto protrusions. Steyn then shouted at Corporal Kriel to come and help. With the support of the others they recovered Schultz to safety, about 50m away from the burning vehicle.

Without hesitation and without thinking about his own safety, Steyn then rushed back to the Ratel to evacuate Rifleman Crouser from the flames. The first ammunition inside the wreck now started exploding. Steyn grabbed Crouser and dragged him to safety as the Ratel exploded behind them and was ripped into pieces.

Rifleman Crouser was dead.

The Pumas arrived a few minutes later to evacuate the wounded colleagues of Steyn and the body of their friend Crouser to Ondangwa.

The level headed Second Lieutenant Stephanus Steyn climbed into the next available Ratel and continued with his escort mission.
For selfless conduct and utmost bravery in the direst situation imaginable Second Lieutenant Stephanus Steyn was later on awarded the Honoris Crux Decoration.

Later on Steyn related with deep felt sorrow about Crouser: “He was my gunner and my orderly, he was a good soldier”.

“If neither foes nor living friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – You’ll be A Man, My Son”

If, by Rudyard Kipling

National Serviceman Frankie Fiser

Young vibrant national serviceman Frankie Fiser served at 61 Mech in late 1982. He occupied an extremely important position as our barman and tuck-shop manager. He was a businessman at heart, well liked by all the staff. He is remembered for his lively disposition and fast mouth, always ready to answer.

Frankie Fiser was not operationally trained and was going to be left behind for Operation Meebos in July-August 1982. Coming from astute and well-groomed Cape Town stock and adequately adept at negotiation, he confronted me directly – he wanted to go with to Angola. I obviously conceded after a while and permission was granted with an obvious proviso; that he did not drive over a mine with his soft-skin mobile tuck-shop or get killed or wounded in any ensuing skirmish with our devious enemy. His was to be the last vehicle in the approximate 55km extended fighting column of 61 Mech.

On returning from Operation Meebos in August 1982, I one day received a telephone call from Dr Frankie Feiser in Cape Town, the father of 61 Mech’s Frankie. On hearing that I was visiting Cape Town in December, he invited me to dinner at his home.

I spent a wonderful evening with Frank’s parents, experiencing their gratitude for, as they expressed it, “the boost in self-esteem and personal growth that Frank experienced at 61 Mech.” This was a wonderfully appreciative and gratifying experience for me. I left their home feeling content and fulfilled.

Frank was enrolled to commence with his studies at the University of Cape Town. Such was the calibre of the soldiers of 61 Mech; to me, all of them were an amazing collection of unusual people; thinking back about it now at times.

Epilogue

So what, I thought when 61 Mech returned to Omuthiya at the end of August 1982 and Operation Meebos had been successfully completed?

Our fighting unit, once again, had done what it had been asked to do. The mission had been executed in a first class professional manner.

Was every sixty seconds worth the distance ran? I thought so. The operation had definitely been a success as far as this type of counter-insurgency operation goes.

The enemy had suffered dearly from the proceeds of Operation Meebos, FAPLA as well as SWAPO.

Winning either a revolutionary or counter-revolutionary war takes massive organisation, dedication, sacrifice and time. Operation Meebos was such an operation. Any government, such as ours, must decide whether it is willing to pay the price. Half-measures lead only to protracted, costly defeats. I was not only thinking of our slain fifteen soldiers of 9 August 1982. The war was not over yet and the conflict was escalating as if unstoppable.

How far were the opposing governments prepared to go with the bush war?

Notwithstanding the politics and the military grand strategies…I was proud of 61 Mech and each one of our young soldiers who had done their duty. I will never forget them!

Soldiers like Rifleman D.P. Crouser, the only one 61 Mech had lost during Operation Meebos, had his place in our hearts. Nobody can hurt you anymore Crouser.

61 Mech was simply the best!

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