Operation Carrot (1981)
Objective of the Operation
Operation Carrot was launched to locate and destroy the SWAPO special unit forces who were sent on a mission to infiltrate the white farmer settlements, attack and kill farmers, sabotage railway lines and water installations and shoot at passing vehicles.
Composition of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group
Commander: Commandant Roland de Vries.
Second-in-Command: Major Thys Rall.
RSM: WO1 M.C. Barnard.
Intelligence Officer: Captain Gerrie Hugo.
Signals Officer: Captain Paul Roos.
Unit Chaplain: Padre Koos Rossouw.
Logistics Officer: Captain Giel Reinecke.
Light Work Shop Troop (LWT) Commander: WO1 Duppie du Plessis.
Alpha Company Commander: Captain Cassie Schoeman.
Bravo Company Commander: Captain Koos Liebenberg.
Charlie Squadron: Major Joe Weyers.
Artillery Commander: Captain Bernie Pols.
Personal Impressions of the Commander
OPERATION CARROT APRIL 1981- FAST AND FURIOUS
By Roland de Vries
Introduction – Let the Winter Games Begin
This story is about counter insurgency warfare in northern South West Africa-Namibia. The dramatic event happened in April 1981. More specifically it is an account about Operation Carrot and the role 61 Mechanised Battalion Group played therein.
The said operation took place from 6 until 18 April 1981 in the farming districts of Tsumeb, Otavi and Grootfontein – the so called Death Triangle – which lay in the area of operations of Sector 30.
Operation Carrot was fast and furious. It was a military mêlée of search, destroy and capture. The operation was successfully completed within thirteen days.
Twenty two insurgents of the South West Africa Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) surged into the Death Triangle and were straight away taken account of. The insurgents from their Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) were either killed or captured, only one combatant escaped.
The aforementioned operation was a military safeguard against deep terrorist incursions south of the Red Line. The Red Line lay parallel from west to east across the northern part of the Etosha Game reserve and also connected Oshivello to Tsintsabis – it was also referred to as the Bravo cut-line.
During the days of peace-full farming the Bravo cut-line formed the barrier for mouth and foot disease between: The northern border region, encapsulating Ovamboland and the Okavango Province and; the southern farming district. The said Bravo cut-line was now primarily used to demarcate the area for military purposes.
The Bravo cut-line was a straight and narrow sandy road hemmed in by two cattle fences – when crossed by the enemy the saving of innocent lives of local inhabitants became the highest military priority. Conversely the slaughtering of souls clad in Chinese camouflage fatigues and armed with AK-47s became serious hands on business – deadly more likely.
When the enemy crossed the Bravo cut-line the Death Triangle was instantly converted into a killing zone.
Search and destroy missions were performed by a combined counter insurgency task force hastily activated for such eventualities as Operation Carrot. The stand-by force comprised units from the South African Defence Force (SADF) and South West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF).
61 Mech usually provided the major share of the aforementioned task force and commanded the operation. The latter counter insurgency mission referred to was conducted under overall command of Sector 30.
The twenty two perpetrators who infiltrated the Death Triangle in April 1981 were highly trained insurgents from the Special Unit of the South West Africa Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) – in particular the Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN).
Deep southward surges from the relative safety of southern Angola where our enemy was protected by Angolan government and Cuban forces were annual undertakings. These deliberate infiltrations by PLAN into the farming districts were usually undertaken in April-May, in the rainy season. It was therefore aptly referred to by the South African counter insurgency forces as the Winter Games.
On 6 April 1981the next annual suicide mission of SWAPO welled southwards across the Red Line into the Death Triangle.
The military mission of 61 Mech for Operation Carrot was straightforward: Destroy the insurgent foe that had infiltrated the Death Triangle as swiftly as possible.
In all due respect the enemy should not have crossed the Red Line in the first place. The latter operational responsibility was collectively borne by Sectors 10 and 20 to the north of 30.
61 Mech was usually at the receiving end and had to contend with this unhealthy situation once the insurgents emerged in the Death Triangle. This usually came as a surprise for Sector 30; which it should not have been if the operational approach by them had been more pro-active. Near real-time tactical intelligence, early-warning and pre-emption always seemed to be the route causes of the dilemma.
Let the next episode in the Winter Game series begin.
Revolutionary versus Counter Revolutionary Warfare
The war for South West Africa-Namibia was of the revolutionary and counter revolutionary kind. It was referred to by the South Africans as the Border War or Bush War. It was a war which became closely intertwined with the Angolan Civil War. It was a protracted low intensity type war, which had raged across the SWA-Angola border intermittently since 1966. The first shots were fired in anger at Ongulumbashe on 26 August 1966 in northern Ovamboland – where the Border War began.
The revolutionary threat since 1966 had been successfully contained by the SADF in the northern border region of SWA. In 1980 SWATF was established in addition to SADF units deployed in this particular theatre of war. This was to give the counter revolutionary war a more local colour and to provide indigenous units to support the elongated military struggle in the northern border region.
Mobilisation of the people and engendering external support has forever been the main pillars of a protracted revolutionary war. For this reason SWAPO needed to prove its worth as part of its revolutionary struggle to the outside world and to the population of SWA-Namibia.
It was therefore essential for SWAPO to launch regular daring incursions into the so called “White Farming Areas”. PLAN needed to demonstrate its striking capability to the international community and the people. International funding as well as external political, propaganda and military support for SWAPO depended on the revolutionaries successfully completing military operations.
Somehow SWAPO’s definition of success and ours varied. The latter will always remain a matter of perception and interpretation, depending from which side you looked at it and how you perceived the fairness of the raging conflict to be.
SWAPO had something to prove by selecting the Death Triangle as its prime annual target for its Special Unit. Every incursion undertaken was a dramatic show of arms and overly tangible in the tremendous propaganda value it caused. The annual incursions therefore were high-flying events, made prominent through the eyes of the media. These audacious events performed by their Special Unit to the far south basked in national and even international limelight.
SWAPO’s annual deep incursions were therefore staged as major military shows of force. Each operation undertaken by SWAPO into the Death Triangle yielded immense political as well as propaganda value for their revolutionary aims.
Each of the aforementioned operations undertaken by SWAPO was viewed by the SADF as suicide missions and ended as a failure for SWAPO military wise – not so in the propaganda value SWAPO was to be credited with each and every time. Their best interests always seemed to lead to the death of others.
Remember well that the outside world perceived differently to us about what was unfolding in SWA-Namibia. Whilst we basked in our military successes, measured by heads counted of those killed, our enemy revelled in revenues created through propaganda.
I could not but otherwise admire the immense effort of our foe to infiltrate so deeply by foot, even though each escapade was assuredly marked as a suicide mission from the outset. For those young insurgents it was not to reason why, but to do or die. What were their leaders thinking – those who summarily sent their soldiers south to die.
For the enemy blood was the price of victory. Assuredly we did not fight according to the same norms beheld by our enemy.
Composition of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group for Operation Carrot 1981
At the time of Operation Carrot in April 1981 61 Mech was deployed in readiness at its military base at Omuthiya – approximately 120km north of Tsumeb and 110km south of the SWA-Angolan border.
Our fighting unit comprised the following key personnel and sub-units:
Commander: Commandant Roland de Vries.
Second-in-Command: Major Thys Rall.
RSM: Warrant Officer Class 1 M.C. Barnard.
Intelligence Officers: Captains Rolf van Zyl and Gerrie Hugo (seconded from Sector 30).
Signals Officer: Captain Paul Roos.
Unit Chaplain: Padre Koos Rossouw.
Logistics Officer: Captain Giel Reinecke.
Light Work Shop Troop (LWT) Commander: WO1 Duppie du Plessis.
Alpha Company Commander: Captain Cassie Schoeman.
Bravo Company Commander: Captain Koos Liebenberg.
Charlie Squadron: Major Joe Weyers.
Artillery Battery Commander: Captain Bernie Pols.
Anti-Tank Platoon Commander: Second Lieutenant Chris Walls.
Mortar Platoon Commander: Second Lieutenant: Ettienne Gertzen.
Setting the Scene for Operation Carrot 1981
I took over command of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group from Commandant Johann Dippenaar in January 1981. My second-in-command was Major Thys Rall. He had served with Dippenaar in 1980 and was a veteran of Operation Smokeshell and Carrot in 1980.
One of our fighting unit’s ordered commitments at the time were to conduct search and destroy missions against the Special Unit of SWAPO, when ever they infiltrated the Death Triangle. The code name given to this particular counter insurgency operation was Operation Carrot.
Operation Carrot formed part of the military framework to counter terrorism in northern South West Africa (SWA). Sector 30 was in overall command of Operation Carrot. At the time Colonel J.T. Louw commanded Sector 30 from his military headquarters located at Otjiwarongo.
To the north of Sector 30 lay Sectors 10 in the west and 20 in the east, the operational areas of the latter which incorporated Ovamboland and Okavango respectively. Sector 30 lay to the south of the so called Red Line, which formed the boundary with Sectors 10 and 20 to the north.
Delineated on a map the Red Line could be drawn as a parallel across SWA, through the Etosha Game Reserve and the Oshivello Gate, which provided access to Ovamboland and therefore the northern operational area.
Deep incursions by the insurgents of Special Unit were conducted regularly during the rainy season. The latter terrorist operations were directed at the northern farming community of South West Africa (SWA).
The enemy came from save havens located within southern Angola. The terrorists were therefore obliged to infiltrate from Angola through the operational areas of Sectors 10 and 20 to strike south of the Red Line.
The enemy soldiers infiltrated far distances by foot to reach their target area – from the border to the Red Line was approximately 120km. From the Red Line to Tsumeb was a further 120km.
During the rainy season drinking water was in abundance for the insurgents. It was also then more difficult for hot pursuit, especially when employing vehicles through inundated shonas and marsh-land. The rainy season in SWA and Southern Angola normally prevailed from December until May. Operations against SWAPO from April onwards were therefore aptly referred to by the security forces as the annual Winter Games, as previously stated.
Terrorism forms an essential component of revolutionary warfare. This was exactly what the deep incursions of SWAPO aimed at – terrorising the community who were not supportive of their revolutionary struggle
The insurgent threats were harrowing, traumatic and disruptive for the SWA populace south of the Red Line. The enemy’s wrath was directed at the farming communities and some of the major towns in the district, such as Otjiwarongo, Outjo, Tsumeb, Grootfontein and Otavi. The towns referred to were thriving settlements providing home and hearth to civilian populace, commerce and industry. The towns and the people were all sought after targets for SWAPO.
Towns like Grootfontein, Tsumeb, Ondangwa, Oshikati, Umbulantu and Ruacana could be found in SWA’s operational areas in the northern border region. These small towns generally throve in those days and provided sustenance for military logistics and some resemblance of sanity.
Operation Carrot in a Nutshell
Major General Charles Lloyd, the General Officer Commanding the South West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF), had phrased Operation Carrot 1981 a “mini blitzkrieg” – a lightning war. He had publicly announced that the operation was an astounding success and that it served as a benchmark for the successful conduct of similar counter insurgency operations to be undertaken in future in SWA.
The above-mentioned announcement by Lloyd was a feather in the cap of 61 Mech and all the units who had contributed to the overall success of this remarkable operation.
Twenty two terrorists had infiltrated south across the Red Line on 6 April 1981 (also referred to as the Bravo cut-line). Eighteen insurgents were killed and three captured during a furious mêlée, which only lasted thirteen days. It was an unlucky thirteen for SWAPO.
Only one insurgent returned safely back to his home-base in Angola at the end of April 1981. This lucky SWAPO member is still unaccounted for until today – not withstanding Colonel Tommy Thomasse of the SWA police’s great investigative skills and meticulous bookwork and record-keeping.
Colonel T. M. Thomasse was the District Chief of SWA Police in Tsumeb. During both the 1981 and 1982 incursions Colonel Thomasse acted as my partner in command. For exceptional services rendered in this regard Thomasse received the “Chief of the Army Commendation”. The aforementioned honour was bestowed at the Rear Administrative Headquarters of 61 Mech in Tsumeb in October 1982. The local media in SWA described this as an exceptional honour. The Chief of the Army Commendation was one of the first to be enacted either in SWA or South Africa to a member of the police services.
I commanded the counter insurgency task force, which included 61 Mechanised Battalion Group. The composition of the task force will be addressed in more detail below. The task force operated under the overall command of Colonel J.T. Louw of Sector 30. The headquarters of Sector 30 was based at Otjiwarongo.
Sector 30 resided under the command of the SWATF. The Headquarters of SWATF was housed at Bastion in Windhoek.
Interestingly enough the HQ of the national army of SWAPO today resides in Windhoek as well. SWAPO maintained the name of the erstwhile SWATF HQ and today still calls it Bastion.
At the Call of the Guinea-fowl
Operations to counter surprise incursions south of the Red Line were immediately activated by the call of the code word “Guinea-fowl”. In Afrikaans the code word was “Tarentaal”.
The code word Tarentaal was issued by both SWATF and Sector 30 when an incursion south of the Red Line became a reality. Through the issuing of this code word counter insurgency contingency plans were immediately activated and previously arranged combat and support resources were released for action.
The respective part-time area force units (AFU – similar to erstwhile commando units in South Africa) were the first-line responders. 61 Mech was always first on the scene, soon to be followed by SWA Special Unit. At the time SWA Special Unit was based at Otavi under command of Commandant Buks Koen.
Other additional forces as planned and readily scheduled were rapidly mobilised and released for the operation by the HQs of the South West African Territorial Force (SWATF), South African Army and South African Air Force. This happened according to elaborate stand-by arrangements.
On the Code Word Tarentaal appropriate and adequate forces were scrambled from wide and far – even from South Africa. The forces employed in this role became popularly known as Tarentaal Forces (Tarentaal Magte).
The force composition included military as well as police forces. The air force composition always included local AFU pilots from SWA, who new the terrain extremely well. One of the well known SWA air force pilots was innovative Tickly Kessler. Tickly Kessler had the knack to track terrorists from his Beechcraft Bonanza when they moved through long grass. He could drop hand grenades on the enemy from his Beechcraft by means of specially fitted pipes. One of the interesting attachments to his light militarised- civilian air craft were the twin AK-47 rifles it carried under the wings.
Transport aircraft, helicopter gun-ships and light reconnaissance and liaison aircraft flew in to Tsumeb Air Field as if cheaper by the dozen. The mini air force was then available around the clock for the counter insurgency operation at a moments notice.
The other military sectors in SWA usually released tracker assets to assist at the counter insurgency operation’s point of main effort. One such tracker specialist was part-time force Regimental Sergeant Major Hennie Blaauw of the Otjiwarongo AFU. He usually assisted me as a personal advisor for the employment of the combined tracker capability provided for the operation.
Planning is Preparatory for Action
Soon after I took over command of 61 Mech in January 1981 I was thoroughly briefed by Commandant Johann Dippenaar and Major Thys Rall of a possible April incursion by SWAPO. I viewed the latter commitment as one of my immediate operational priorities.
There was much to do and much to think about. This implied that I had to do a proper command appreciation. I needed to initiate procedures to prepare for such a possible operation. This eventuality required deliberate research, debate, assessment, planning, preparation and rehearsal beforehand – or war gaming as we preferred to call it at 61 Mech.
There was not much time to sleep or to unnecessarily rove about. With my staff and the AFU Commanders, who presented the local knowledge base-line, we did a proper military appreciation of all incursion possibilities. The outcome was a well written operations order as a contingency plan. This all the relevant subordinate commanders and operational staff carefully studied, prepared for and war gamed. Every commander involved in the operation literally carried the contingency plan in their back-pockets.
When SWAPO came in April 1981 our forces were married-up (military term used for force integration and war preparation) and painstakingly prepared and ready – not only combat ready, but mission ready as well.
The work of 61 Mech inter-alia entailed providing training support and paying regular visits to the said part-time force units by me and my staff. This included scheduled inspections as well to ensure high levels of readiness. This, although important work, was also extremely time consuming.
During lulls in the terrorist fire storm the AFUs prepared comprehensive intelligence folders (“Snuffel Pakke” it was called in Afrikaans) for every farm. The said intelligence folders were diligently kept up to date and maintained at each of the local AFU HQs. This all formed part of the intelligence system for counter insurgency contingencies. All of this was carefully linked into the overall integrated command and control system throughout Sector 30.
The intelligence personnel of 61 Mech played an invaluable role in supporting the local AFUs in preparing and maintaining their intelligence systems. Folders and maps contained adequate information for tactical assessments and for the briefings of operational reaction forces. Reaction forces were mobilised in times of crisis in order to support farms coming under attack by SWAPO insurgents.
All the farms were near adequately prepared to protect their own lives and livelihood against terrorist attack. The families participated in these security ventures as close knit military teams, from babies to fathers and mothers. The farmers followed a set of guidelines specifically conceived for this purpose. This specific military doctrine was themed: “Protection of Home and Hearth”.
I sometimes deployed our mechanised infantry companies to Ovamboland for short operational bouts to gain experience in counter insurgency warfare. This not only allowed valuable knowledge to be gained. Operational exposure also developed leadership and the mastering of the harsh environmental and terrain conditions that we were subjected to in Northern SWA and southern Angola – some excitement was also to be had in a realistic and risky way – you never knew when you were going to run into a surprise fiery encounter with the foe.
In March 1981 Bravo Company of Captain Koos Liebenberg was deployed to N’Kongo for a period of two weeks to undergo some valuable operational experience. He moved directly north with his mechanised company from Omuthiya to his designated deployment area to practice bundu-bashing, operational movement and field tactics. Bundu-bashing became to be the forte of 61 Mech. I had arranged for his aforementioned deployment with Sector 10. They welcomed Bravo Company as a valuable addition to their usual counter insurgency force levels.
I joined Bravo Company for a while. Koos Liebenberg and his men had some excitement when they followed a large group of enemy tracks for a few days. The responsibility to continue the follow-up was eventually handed over to 32 Battalion. By then it had become time for Bravo Company to return to Omuthiya.
Bravo Company had now been in theatre for quite some time and I was content with the sharpening of their operational performance. I was especially impressed by the navigational skills aptly demonstrated in the bush by young national service Second Lieutenant Chris Walls. There in the bush I befriended young conscript officers Gert Minnaar and Ariel Hugo. Today these two officers manage the veteran affairs of 61 Mech. We still remain close friends until today. They were nineteen then; they are now in their early fifties with families.
The bush experience gained by Bravo Company in counter insurgency stood them in good stead when they were hastily employed for Operation Carrot on 6 April 1981.
Military operations at 61 Mech could range from small-scale tasks and contingencies to large-scale armed conflict fought in any latitude, terrain and climate of northern SWA or southern Angola. It was therefore essential that our fighting unit, the soldier, his arms and equipment, command and control and support, be ready and readily adaptable to meet all these said contingencies – either within the domains of counter insurgency or mobile conventional war fighting.
It is needless to say that the all encompassing security systems applied in the war against terrorism were never full-proof. At times the counter measures faltered. Many local farmers were killed either in attacks on their farms, were ambushed along the roads or came to their demise through land mines.
Neither husbands and wives nor children were spared when the chips were down in the Death Triangle. At times it became a ferocious game of hide and seek. Fore example at the farm of Klaus Meich Riche near Oshivello I found that his family resided every night in the close embrasure of an armour protected look-out tower – at night every nook and cranny was carefully locked down and battened up, with all their guns locked and loaded
Command and Control and Foregoing Operational Disposition
On taking over command of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group in January 1981 our unit had a territorial responsibility in addition to its role as a conventional mobile reserve for the SWATF. This implied that there was a dual command responsibility respectively towards: SWATF for our unit’s role as conventional mobile reserve on the one hand; and obviously, towards Sector 30 for our territorial responsibility.
The head quarter arrangement of 61 Mech facilitated an initial territorial command commitment towards Sector 30, as well as for its primary operational responsibility to the SWATF as its mobile reserve.
• Omuthiya, the operational base of 61 Mech, had its own operations and signals centre. The whole of our fighting unit was based at Omuthiya, which lay 120 kilometres north of Tsumeb. The main road to the north passed Omuthiya near Oshivello and followed on to Ondangwa and Oshikati. This was a semi-permanent base in the bush with tents and some pre-fabricated structures. The base of 61 Mech was extremely well equipped for its operational role and was remarkably comfortable.
• To expedite the mode of counter insurgency area operations a temporary military base was located at Tsintsabis under the command of 61 Mech at the time. An infantry company under command of 61 Mech was based at Tsintsabis. It had its own facilities, which included a small operations and signals center. Another smaller infantry platoon base, similar in stature, was located at Ozivazondo in the Etosha Game Reserve to the west.
• Permanently deployed counter insurgency forces operated in Buffel mine protected vehicles from these last-mentioned field bases. From here the designated area of operations were regularly patrolled and the cut-lines swept. This all formed part of an early-warning scheme. The latter forces however were insufficient to cover the possible approaches of the insurgents around the clock.
• Early in 1981 I placed a company size force at Tsintsabis under the command of Captain Daan Liebenberg. The company was now called the “Northern Border Company” (“Noordgrens Kompanie”). Daan Liebenberg was a diligent infantry officer who originated from the local Etosha AFU. He knew the area and the farmers well. This helped tremendously in establishing a close knit militarised community alongside the Bravo cut-line as a bulwark against terrorist incursions from the north.
• The Etosha Area Force Unit (AFU), the Grootfontein AFU and the Otavi AFU at the time were placed under the operational command of 61 Mech by Sector 30. 61 Mechanised Battalion Group early in 1981 therefore shared a territorial responsibility with Sector 30 for counter insurgency operations in the Tsintsabis – Tsumeb – Etosha – Grootfontein – Otavi farming area.
• Every AFU had its own HQ in their respective home towns. Each HQ boasted a dedicated operations centre with guaranteed telephone and radio communications.
• The region sported a military area radio network (MARNET). This military telecommunication system was an extremely reliable counter terrorism communication network. The local radio network linked all the farms and the respective HQs of the respective AFUs in the district. The network was used for early warning of terrorist activities, for sharing real-time and near-real-time intelligence and for command and control purposes. Needless to say the network was linked to the operations centre of 61 Mech at both Omuthiya and the rear HQ at Tsumeb, as well as the TAC HQ at the Tsumeb air field. The aforementioned TAC HQ was only activated during terrorist incursions into the Death Triangle.
• In addition adequate communication systems, such as telex, line and radio linked 61 Mech with the HQ of SWATF at Bastion in Windhoek and Sector 30 in Otjiwarongo. Our unit similarly maintained constant communication links with the HQs of Sector 10 at Oshikati and Sector 20 at Rundu.
• Communication forums were established with local municipalities to facilitate close cooperation with the local community and for operational expediency in case of crisis.
61 Mechanised Battalion Group in addition had the means to field a tactical headquarters for any operation quite rapidly; if and when so required by any operational expediency.
For mobile operations 61 Mech commanded from their Ratel command vehicles. These command vehicles were adequately equipped with superb communication systems. This included frequency hopping radios. This was extremely helpful in maintaining secure communications against enemy interception. The frequency hopper was a first in the world and at the time invented and produced in South Africa by Racal.
The main HQs of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group during Operation Carrot was still situated at Tsumeb. Subsequently, in May 1981, I moved the main HQ of 61 Mech to Omuthiya were I believed it should rightly be. Omuthiya was more expedient for the primary role of the unit as the mobile reserve of SWATF.
The airfield at Tsumeb in addition boasted an adequate facility for the deployment of a Task Force Tactical HQ. The air field was suitably used as the Task Force HQ in times of crisis. The centre was readily equipped and maintained by 61 Mech with the necessary radio equipment, furniture, stationary, planning aids and maps.
For these said counter insurgency operations into the Death Triangle, as mentioned above, 61 Mech immediately established its tactical headquarters at the air field. Similarly a tactical headquarters could be established at Kamanjab in the west if so required.
61 Mech adopted an integrated command and control concept for Operation Carrot. This implied that all operational planning and control assets provided for by the respective participants were integrated into specialist or functional teams. Such as for operations, intelligence, counter-intelligence, combat support, combat service support and even specialist tracking services. Combat support included strategic communication and psychological operations as well. Combat services support included personnel, logistics, and signals, medical and technical.
Area of Operations – Cut-Lines and Killing Fields
The operational area of responsibility for 61 Mech at the time of Operation Carrot encompassed an extremely broad front. It extended from west to east along the so called Red Line as the northern boundary – approximately 220km. It included the Etosha Game Reserve in the west and reached as far as the tar road leading to Rundu in the east.
The territorial responsibility was extensive as it included the farming areas of Grootfontein, Tsumeb and Otavi – even Otjiwarongo and Outjo at times. Operational depth covered Haak-and –Steek, other thorn bush, mountain-ness terrain and farming land, close on 200km from north to south.
Three cut-lines, prepared, maintained and patrolled traversed across SWAPO’s infiltration front as previously explained above. The Alpha, the Bravo and the Charlie cut-lines extended from the Etosha Game reserve in the west to the Rundu tar road in the east.
The Bravo was based on the Red Line; the Alpha was located parallel to the Bravo ten kilometres further to the north; the corresponding Charlie lay approximately 30 km further north inside Ovamboland.
On completion of Operation Carrot in April 1981 it was decided to develop an additional cut-line further to the south of the Bravo. The aforementioned cut-line was still being constructed when Operation Yahoo commenced on 14 April 1982. It was known as the Delta cut-line and lay approximately 20 km south of the Bravo – it cut across farms and fences from east to west.
The cut-lines together with the excellent road network in the region facilitated rapid movement by own forces for follow-up and cut-off deployments. Enemy tracks crossing these control lines equally provided early warning of crossings and valuable tactical intelligence regarding SWAPO infiltrations and ex-filtrations.
The terrain in general south of the Red Line differed remarkably from the area to its north. In the south soft sand was exchanged for hard ground. This made the tracking of insurgents extremely challenging. Many farms and fences were encountered in this area of operations as well.
The fences were a problem when hunting and destroying insurgents at high tempo. Fast hunting was at the order of the day and the follow-up groups could not be bothered with fences; they summarily drove over these hindrances with their combat vehicles.
Farmers hated broken fences and became extremely agitated when this happened. In April 1982 this situation required repair teams standing by to repair fences around the clock. I had learned this from my April 1981 experience. In April 1982 I immediately appointed a full time board of inquiry when the incursion commenced. The latter contingency effectively managed the continuous occurrence and aftermath of the broken fences problem – thus effectively managing cause and effect. When the operation ended the board of inquiry was completed and the problem solved.
Vast areas of dense bush were entangled with seemingly impenetrable “Haak-en-Steek” (a dense vicious clawing type thorny bush). This made hiding easy for SWAPO, but it invariably also made movement at night difficult for them. In some instances it had a canalizing effect, especially when moving on foot.
Good roads infrastructure in the operational zone to the south was excellent for the rapid traversing of forces to deploy, to cut off and to follow-up. Air fields and air strips were in abundance. Helicopters could even land at farms and refuel there from previously positioned fuel drums. Here the gun-ships waited close by for the right moment to be dispatched and to strike. Radio and telephone communications were superb in the region and could be described as one of our main force multipliers.
One of the major problems posed to own forces was the formidable mountain area which lay between Tsumeb, Grootfontein, Kombat and Otavi. The inhospitable mountains did not favour guerrilla hunting. It took all our means to keep the foe out of its protective embrasure. When we at times did not succeed in this it took some innovative thinking to get the terrorists out again. In April 1981 the enemy did not truly succeed in gaining the safety of the forbidding mountains.
We rather needed the enemy in the inhabited farming area, which allowed our counter insurgency forces free hunting in the more open killing locale of the farms and the surrounding bush.
What counted in our favour was the advantage of having real time and near-real-time intelligence provided for by the local population. The intelligence system for the area was linked into a comprehensive informer scheme. The extensive network of intelligence contacts and agents were linked by the military area network and local telephone system.
Such was the influence of terrain, as the neutral factor, on counter insurgency operations in the Death Triangle. Terrain was a constant factor that was assessed minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, and daily. The perpetual questions asked in relationship to what the enemy was doing in terms of time and spaces were the following:
• What does the terrain allow us to do; what does the terrain force us to do?
• What does the terrain allow the enemy to do; what does the terrain force the enemy to do”?
The answers to the aforementioned questions led to plausible courses of action, contingency planning and the timely dispatch of follow-up teams, rapid reaction forces and cut-off groups. The latter process included the timeous deployment of farm protection elements in front of the enemy’s surge.
It was an invigorating experience to make better use of the terrain than the enemy did. The quest for continuous situational awareness and keeping our sub-ordinate commanders informed minute-by-minute gave us the operational edge.
A constant command initiative practised and repeated on an hourly basis, in relationship to time and space (terrain), was the exciting play-off between the intelligence and operational staffs: “Where, when and how will the enemy act within the next hour and over the next 24 hour period? How will the predictions concerning enemy operations influence the readying of own forces and own possible courses of action”?
The aforementioned “mini war-games” were repeatedly performed at our Tac HQ at Tsumeb. This happened every time an incident occurred or after each bloody encounter with the foe.
Keeping the finger on the pulse and staying one step ahead of the enemy became the norm. From these planning and thinking exercises followed quick orders for rapid force employments.
The well trained infiltrators of SWAPO’s Special Unit were regularly dispatched for their “heroic mission” to the south of the Red Line in the winter season. The twenty two enemy insurgents we encountered in April 1981 came from southern Angola. The Special Unit of SWAPO formed the elite strike force of their military wing (PLAN – Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia).
The strength of Special Unit by January 1981 was about 120 men. The operational base of the unit had moved in 1980 from Chivemba (20km north of Mongua) and Shitumbo (15km east of Anhanca) to Lubango.
In December 1980 a reconnaissance element of Special Unit left for Okavango under command of Hinaunya. This group of eight members joined up with forty nine combatants of Akushinda’s group and another eight members from the group of High Court. The remainder of Special Unit was made ready to infiltrate the Death Triangle in March 1981 from Lubango.
SWAPO’s yearly infiltrations into the white farming communities of SWA/Namibia was an attempt to move the revolutionary war into areas where it would be felt by the white affluent population. This was an extension of their revolutionary war beyond Ovamboland and their other operational target zones, which lay in the northern border region of SWA.
SWAPO habitually only dispatched small groupings of their Special Unit to infiltrate the death- triangle – from April 1982 onwards this changed when larger insurgent groups were dispatched southwards.
The enemy rarely succeeded in infiltrating beyond the Tsumeb – Grootfontein -Otavi triangle. On rare occasions individual insurgents and small groups reached remote areas such as Outjo and Otjiwarongo. A few reached Windhoek by car and then magically disappeared into the vast unknown wide open spaces of SWA. They are probably sitting in Namibia’s parliament today.
The insurgent force crossed the SWA-Angola border mostly in the east and at rare occasions in the west and occasionally from both ends simultaneously – all of the aforementioned happened in an extreme endeavour to infiltrate to the far south. The vast dry Etosha Reserve environs forced the enemy to come around its sides. The route via Kamanjab for them in the west was perilous due to distance, heat, drought and sparse cover. The infiltration routes to the east were therefore favoured. This approach centred through the sweep of territory between the Etosha Game Reserve in the west and the Rundu tar road in the east. The enemy usually approached out of Ovamboland, which provided adequate cover for our uninvited friends from the very far north. The area had lush high bush cover and underbrush in abundance and enough water for drinking purposes, especially in the rainy season.
Before Operation Protea in August1981 the insurgents drove close to the border in military trucks to commence their devious business southwards. After Operation Protea they had to walk much further. This however did not deter them at all. They still came. In April 1982 they came in countless numbers. This was to be one of the largest and most deliberate incursions ever encountered into the triangle. Operation Yahoo (April-May 1982) will however be addressed in much more detail in a separate supporting script concerning the military operations of 61 Mech.
The enemy usually came across the Bravo cut-line and then bomb shelled – which implied suddenly scattering into smaller groups of three to ten and then deploying in all directions. The smaller groups allowed easier contact with their respective agents and to perform diversified acts of terrorism more clandestinely in the farming community.
The insurgents then usually moved progressively southwards in their dispersed groupings. They cowardly terrorized harmless civilians, placed landmines, ambushed, lay booby-traps, attacked farms and shot at innocent people in cars. For them the local population obviously were legitimate targets, even innocent Black people did not escape their wrath. This was all part of the opaque world of terrorism. This apparently is what terrorists did then and still do today.
The insurgents regularly met with their agents living on farms, in informal settlements or dwellings situated in and around the towns. They spread their propaganda messages, pamphlets and SWAPO badges for what it was worth.
The invasion by Special Unit in April 1981 can be summarised as follows:
• The April 1981 invasion of Special Unit to the farming district south of the Red Line unfurled under the command of well known insurgent commanders such as Ignatius, Nyalo, Engine and Ruddy.
• By the end of March 1981 the insurgent group of Engine was transported by vehicle from Lubango to Shitumbo. Here they joined an escort group of thirty members. The insurgents were issued with R100 each in cash and also received tinned food and ammunition. From here they moved by foot further southward.
• The escort group of thirty turned back north approximately one day-march away from the Charlie cut-line. The twenty two insurgents of Engine advanced progressively southwards and crossed the Bravo cut-line to the north of the farm Vaalwater at approximately 07h00 on 6 April 1981.
• Up to now Sector 10, 20 and 30 as well as 61 Mechanised Battalion Group were oblivious of the aforementioned moves and schemes diligently performed by Special Unit.
• The tracks of the insurgents where they had crossed the Bravo cut-line were located at approximately 10h00 on 6 April 1981.
• Engine then split his group of twenty two insurgents into two groups of eleven. The groups of eleven then sub-divided into groups of three to four.
• Engine tasked his own group to operate against the local inhabitants near Otjiwarongo and Otavi. Little was known about the tasking of the other insurgent groups. Engine was killed in the ensuing action.
• Another insurgent group of about fifteen members we new less about, tried to infiltrate at the same time in the west through the Kamanjab corridor. However security forces operating in Sector 10 were following their tracks and made contact on two occasions. On 10 April 1981 two insurgents were killed by the security forces in the central part of western Ovamboland. The remainder of the insurgents’ bomb shelled and fled north. This was the last we heard of the group in the west.
• The insurgents were not really successful. Terrorist actions were restricted to four mine incidents, three sabotage occurrences and one successful break-in at a farm.
• Near fifteen contacts were initiated by the security forces from 6 April to 18 April 1981.
• Sheendo, the murderer of farmers Dressel and van der Bank from the 1980 infiltration was also killed in action.
• Four insurgents who had participated in the 1980 infiltration were killed by the security forces in April 1981 during Operation Carrot. These insurgents were: Sheendo, Bybel, Nakule and Mukondo.
Own Forces – The Bulwark against Terrorism in the Death Triangle
The main operational component for Operation Carrot in 1981 was provided for by 61 Mechanised Battalion Group itself. 61 Mech was forever poised and operationally ready to strike from its operational base located at Omuthiya.
Major Thys Rall was my Second-in-Command. Thys was an excellent operations officer. He was well versed in the operational ways and tactics of 61 Mech and I could tap into his knowledge base for Operation Carrot. He was a veteran of Operation Smokeshell in June 1980 and had experienced a similar infiltration by SWAPO into our area in 1980. Similarly experienced was my Regimental Sergeant Majoor, Warrant Officer Class One M.C. Barnard. My trusted logistician was Captain Giel Reinecke who did an excellent job at keeping our force rolling during Operation Carrot. Captains Rolf van Zyl and Gerrie Hugo were my intelligence officers. Hugo was especially gifted in the ways of the foe. He was transferred to 61 Mech in 1982 as our intelligence officer. Our unit padre was Koos Rossouw – the “soul technician” Our commander of the light technical workshop was Sergeant Major Duppie du Plessis – the real technician.
Our two mechanised infantry companies were respectively commanded by Major Cassie Schoeman (Alpha Company) and Captain Koos Liebenberg (Bravo Company). Both these officers were gifted commanders and close friends of mine. We knew each other from serving together at 1 South Infantry Battalion (1 SAI) in Bloemfontein in the mid seventies.
The armour squadron of 61 Mech was commanded by Major Joe Weyers. Captain Henro Grobler of the armour corps at the time was his second-in-command. The artillery battery was commanded by Captain Bernie Pols.
All the above-mentioned officers were outstanding military men; they were ardently committed to their operational work and the mission and as anxious to gain operational experience. I dearly respected, appreciated and enjoyed them. We had become a close knit team by the time SWAPO crossed the Bravo cut- line into our area of operations in April 1981.
An important asset which came under command of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group for Operation Carrot was the Paratrooper Company of Major Herbie Pos. Herbie Pos was seconded from 1 Parachute Battalion in Bloemfontein. Herbie Pos and his paratroopers provided invaluable operational services during Operation Carrot.
Another exceptionally gifted operational service was provided for by the super efficient specialist counter insurgency unit of the police. This unit participated with 61 Mech during Operation Carrot and was extremely successful at hounding the foe in their special meticulous way.
Major role players and key decision-makers in the war against terrorism in the Death Triangle were: Colonel T.W (Tommy) Thomasse of the SWA Police and the respective part time force commanders of the local area force units (AFU) at Grootfontein, Tsumeb, Otavi, Etosha and Outjo.
The area force units provided the main fabric for the counter insurgency war inside SWA, South of the Red Line: These part-time units were commanded by SWA part time force commandants (equivalent rank of lieutenant colonel). They were exceptional in character and seasoned in experience – important names recalled were: Commandant C. H (Stoffel) Rothman of Outjo; Commandant L.M.J. (Uncle Lucas) Nel of Etosha; Commandant P. C. (Piet) Oosthuizen of Grootfontein: Commandant H. (Henne) Volkmann of Otavi. These officers and their families all became close friends of 61 Mech through years of working together, bound by shared responsibilities and danger.
The commanders and the personnel of the respective AFUs were characterised by selfless service to their respective communities. Many of their members sacrificed their lives for SWA during military operations. They were part-time-force units that were highly trained for their counter insurgency area responsibilities. They possessed valuable local knowledge and were exceptionally well networked in the community.
Colonel T.W. Thomasse was the regional SWA Police Commander. His headquarters was situated in Tsumeb. It was adjacent to the headquarters of the Etosha Area Force Unit of Commandant Lucas Nel. He was an animated character extremely easy to work with. His forte was investigative prowess. He could keep meticulously track in his ledger of all SWAPO’s devious doings. Together we formed a powerful partnership, which contributed to the swift demise of PLAN’s Special Unit, respectively during Operation Carrot in 1981 and later during Operation Yahoo in 1982 as well.
Extraordinary people like Rheinard Friedrich, Alex Britz, Frank Bosch, Ockert Britz; Dave Keyser, Horst Körner, Daan van der Westhuisen, and Klaus Meich Riche and many others played incomparable roles in the security and livelihood of the region. Many of these people I mentioned were farmers in the region. All of these men belonged to the area force units in the region.
Most farmers boasted well trained and readily available tracker teams. They became legendary in SWA. The tracker teams were ordinary farm workers, Ordinary Black and White people earning their daily life and bread with the danger and the hardship. They all stood by on their respective farms for terrorist incursions at immediate beck and call. Such was the ordinary life of those exceptional farmers and their workers in the northern region of SWA.
The farmers and their tracker teams operated as one with the respective follow-up teams of the counter insurgency force for Operation Carrot. Similarly these part-time AFU members provided invaluable service as guides and operational advisors. The locals were integral to our planning, ingrained so to say; they knew the habits of the enemy, more importantly so, they knew the terrain.
AFU Lieutenant Daantjie van der Westhuizen and his son-in-law Rifleman Hendrik Potgieter from the farm Koedoesvlei sported such an exceptional tracking and field craft capability. Both these officers gave their lives in a vicious skirmish with SWAPO which ensued close to Tsintsabis during Operation Yahoo in April 1982. Another master-tracker who died in the same skirmish with SWAPO was Bushman Jan Kouswab (64). He was caringly and respectfully referred to as Jan Kaka by the troops and the local community. He was buried with full military honours at Tsintsabis in 1982.
For Daantjie van Der Westhuizen’s ultimate sacrifice and bravery I wrote a citation for his Honoris Crux decoration. The decoration was awarded posthumously to his wife Ms. Pompie van der Westhuizen in 1983. The ceremony was officiated by Defence Minister Magnus Malan of South Africa.
“Tannie Pompie” van der Westhuisen, the wife of Daan van der Westhuizen mentioned above was a full fledged part-time force member of the Etosha Area Force Unit. She provided invaluable service by operating a 24/7 radio relay station on their farm Koedoesvlei close to Tsintsabis. She formed the crux as well as the rallying point around which the military area radio net (MARNET) functioned.
Major Alex Britz of the Etosha AFU was a farmer who lived just outside Tsumeb alongside the main gravel road towards Tsintsabis. Invariably he became the operations officer for 61 Mech during every incursion. Alex Britz was granted the honour of accompanying 61 Mech during Operation Meebos deep into Angola in July 1982. He was an exceptionally fine man and a superb operations officer. He became a true friend as well as an honorary member of 61 Mech.
The South African Air Force provided a dedicated mini air force for the support of all operations in the Death Triangle. The air component consisted of a number of light reconnaissance air craft, Alouette gun-ships and Puma troop carriers.
The small air force for Operation Carrot was based at Tsumeb air filed. The air force commander and his operations team formed an integral component of the integrated command and control system for Operation Carrot.
Fondly remembered from the Air Force were officers such as Brigadier Bossie Huyser, Colonel Ollie Homes, Commandants Hap Potgieter and Daantjie Beneke, Major Jaap du Preez, Major Mossie Basson and Captain Neall Ellis. These officers were extremely important to the air support effort 61 Mech enjoyed during operations. There were many other air force members deserving our appreciation and respect, which are not mentioned in the script. There are just too many names to be recorded accurately.
The Northern Logistics Command (NLC) at Grootfontein provided combat ready logistics and transport services assets especially scheduled and kept in constant readiness for Operation Carrot. NLC was commanded by Colonel Willem Enslin. Enslin’s second-in-command was the super efficient Commandant Thys Snyman. NLC gave 61 Mech magnificent supports during all the operations the unit was involved in from 1981 to 1982.
Serving with the “Loggies” was the super energetic, somewhat hyper active, Commandant Callie Kaltwasser of the Technical Service Corps. He commanded 101 Medium Workshop and guaranteed the second line vehicle maintenance and repair services for 61 Mech during every operation.
Commandant Buks Koen commanded the SWA Special Unit at Otavi. This unit provided an excellent tracking capability and could deploy motor cycles, horses and dogs in an operational role. This unit became closely allied to 61 Mech and the local area force units, especially during the habitual annual SWAPO incursions into the Tsumeb-Grootfontein-Otavi area.
With SWAPO’s infiltration during Operation Carrot in 1981 61 Mech worked as a close-knit team with other allocated units from the SA Army, SWATF, South African Air Force and the SWA Police Services.
In this manner the separate operational, intelligence, air and support components of the combined force became integrated entities. Common purpose was used to focus collective energy and responsibilities were shared by all members. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts – a high performance fighting team, which was second to none.
Operational Concept – Counter Insurgency Warfare Concepts in the Death Triangle
Combat operations for 61 Mech implied the fusion of classic conventional type military operations with counter insurgency warfare tactics. This was an essential requirement because of the stand-by commitment of 61 Mech for the annual incursions by SWAPO. These invasions usually occurred during April. This implied that our fighting unit had to be mission and combat ready by at least the first of March each year for the incursions into the Death Triangle.
The mechanised companies of 61 Mech were trained for their role in hot pursuit and ambushing; the armour squadron for area patrolling and for stopper groups; whilst Sierra Battery was mission trained to provide “farm protection elements”, for these said counter incursion eventualities.
The counter strategy and operational plans to thwart SWAPO’s habitual April surge by Sector 30 was comprehensive. Sector 30 with its HQ based in Otjiwarongo was responsible to counter the insurgent threat into the so-called “White Farming Area” situated south of the Red Line. It centred on towns like Grootfontein, Tsumeb, Otavi, Outjo, Kamanjab and Otjiwarongo.
Sector 30 was reliant on the intelligence from and insurgency counter-actions by Sector 10 and Sector 20 to the north regarding the unwelcome and bothersome crossings. The insurgents had to cross through these last mentioned sectors to reach Sector 30. This arrangement supposedly had to enhance early warning and provide operational depth. It rarely worked satisfactorily and SWAPO invariably succeeded in regularly striking undetected south across the Bravo cut-line (Red Line).
The enemy tracks were usually only detected shortly after they had crossed the Bravo cut-line (Red Line). Then it was the call for “Tarentaal”, all systems charge-up, scramble and go for the insurgents at full force. This to my mind was a more re-active than pro-active operational stance.
The comprehensive series of cut-lines crossing the Sector’s operational front formed an integral component of Sector 30’s operational concept as was explained above. The plan with the cut-lines was simple.
• The Bravo cut-line was swept on a daily basis. The operation was effectively directed and controlled from Tsintsabis. This contingency provided early warning and intelligence: How many insurgents in; how many out; where; when; why; how?
• The idea furthermore was to find, fix and destroy the foe between the Charlie and Alpha, or at least north of Bravo. Keep them from crossing the Red Line was the plan. This rarely worked due to lack of appropriate early warning, insufficient intelligence and the lack in infantry force numbers to effectively cover the Charlie and Alpha cut-lines.
Fortunately for Sector 30 in 1981 and 1982 they had 61 Mech readily available. This was not only advantageous in terms of the unit’s striking distance from Omuthiya, but also in terms of viable force composition and numbers and the impressive command and control infrastructure 61 Mech boasted. Our mechanised unit was always ready to deploy at a minutes notice when the sudden need arose to stop any incursion in its tracks.
Major keys to success were mobility and sound command and control in unremitting well coordinated sequenced search and destroy missions. The mechanised infantry companies of 61 Mech were designated for this eventuality, as part of our previously well worked out contingency planning. Together with the armoured car squadron of 61 Mech the infantry could also provide hastily deployable stopper groups. The artillery battery provided the teams for farm protection as already stated above.
61 Mech with the part-time area force units (AFU) of Tsumeb, Grootfontein and Otavi could hold the field in an emergency until additional forces were provided. These last-mentioned units could be viewed as the first line of defence.
Central to success were real-time and near-real-time tactical intelligence, together with local knowledge. This was provided through well established AFU infrastructure superbly networked into the local community. The farmers were part of this network. Some of the farms had elaborate protection schemes. Many farmers were integral to the AFUs as members and provided invaluable local tracking capabilities.
Two-man protection elements were usually deployed on individual farms in front of the insurgent surge.
Finally what delivered the dividend were superior command and control arrangements, extensive and reliable communications and unparalleled teamwork.
Hunting terrorists were solemn business and all combat participants involved were totally focused, committed and deadly serious about this.
Recount of Operation Carrot 1981
By early 1981 the operational picture in SWA was steadily building towards the initiation of Operation Protea. At 61 Mechanised Battalion Group we just did not know this yet. The operation was kept a big secret in Pretoria and Windhoek. Operation Protea was scheduled for August 1981 and 61 Mech was going to participate in the said operation as one of four conventional battle groups.
The insurgents who struck into SWA came from safe SWAPO lairs, which were located inside southern Angola. The safe enemy bases inside Angola were the thing which irked the South Africans. Our forces could not satisfactorily pre-empt the strikes of SWAPO to the south as they were protected by the conventional army of the Angolan government.
SWAPO therefore skulked in close protective proximity of the Angolan army’s defences. The “Forcas Armadas Popular de Angola” (FAPLA) was the army of the governing People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola – “Movimento Popular Libertacao de Angola” (MPLA) in Angola.
Operation Protea therefore in August 1981 struck at the brigades of FAPLA defending the strategic towns of Xangongo and Ongiva in southern Angola respectively. The plan was intended to remove SWAPO’s protective screen in southern Angola.
Both Operations Carnation and Ceiling in July-August 1981 were external operations of SWATF, which served as forerunners for Operation Protea.
However first things first, before Operation Protea 61 Mech had to account for the twenty two terrorists who had infiltrated the Death Triangle.
Major General Charles Lloyd, the General Officer Commanding SWATF, publicly provided the opening gambit for Operation Carrot. He addressed the media in Windhoek on 7 April 1981. He told the public that a ferocious group of twenty two insurgents had struck south of the Red Line and that they were now active in the Tsumeb-Grootfontein-Otavi district. The local population was forewarned about the terrorist threat. The security forces Lloyd said “were in hot pursuit”.
By the end of the operation on 18 April 1981 the media in SWA referred to the deep incursion by SWAPO as a suicide mission. They reported that SWAPO had found no place to hide. The extent of the enemy’s operation threatening the farming community was publicly announced in the media as follows:
“A group of SWAPO terrorists who tried to penetrate into the farming areas of northern South Wes Africa were tracked down and killed by the security forces with determined skill. The gang heavily armed with Russian-supplied weapons, were on a futile mission to wreak havoc and destruction among the innocent inhabitants in the area. The quick response by the security forces caught them off guard”
On 8 April 1981 the enemy succeeded in blowing the railway line near Jakkalsberg between Tsumeb and Otavi. In addition to blowing the railway line the insurgents succeeded in destroying or damaging water installations, laid a few landmines and severed a few telephone lines – then the security forces were on to them and there were no more minutes left for respite.
Operation Carrot unfolded over thirteen fast and furious days. The above-mentioned twenty-two terrorists had infiltrated the Tsumeb-Otavi-Grootfontein area of operations on 6 April 1981. I had the dubious privilege of shooting down one of the last remaining fleeing insurgents on the 18th of April 1981 – thirteen days after the operation had started.
Operation Carrot was a record operation in the counter insurgency annals of SWATF.
A more detailed account of the counter insurgency operation itself will be told forthwith.
On the 6th of April 1981 I was busy performing my command duties at Omuthiya, minding my own business. At approximately 13h00 the same afternoon I was called to our operations centre. I took a radio call. I was duly informed by the Etosha AFU operations centre that an unspecified group of terrorists had infiltrated across the Bravo cut-line. The crossing was in an area close to the farm Vaalwater near to Tsintsabis. I was also informed that the special counter insurgency platoon of the police had been activated. They were on their way to investigate and start follow-up procedures at break-neck speed.
I duly tasked my Second-in-Command Major Thys Rall to confer with the commander of Sector 30 about the developments and to keep me informed about what he said. In addition I gave him the command to place 61 Mech on immediate stand-by and to await my further instructions. In the same vein I instructed all the operational participants to be issued a warning order and to await my instructions. I requested my operations staff to immediately activate the TAC HQ at the Tsumeb air field as per the approved contingency plan of 61 Mech.
I summarily mounted my Ratel command vehicle and with my crew rapidly ventured from Omuthiya to the location where the insurgent tracks were found for the first time. I was accompanied by my logistics officer Captain Giel Reinecke.
A patrol of the Etosha AFU awaited us at the said destination near Vaalwater I was fast aiming for. On arrival I conferred with the patrol of the AFU and confirmed the information first hand. Yes, we could clearly discern the well known chevron pattern of the combat boots of SWAPO. The specified numbers of terrorists were not that clear yet. We could however make out from the tracks that it was a reasonably large group; at least more devious souls than twenty I surmised.
We followed the tracks for some time to make dead certain that this was our enemy. This became apparent as we tracked them for a while through the dense thorny underbrush and entangled “Haak-and-Steek”. In some areas we found clusters of hair clinging to the Haak-and-Steek thorns. Here and there we found pieces of cloth from rice-patterned camouflage.
I was now dead sure this enemy incursion was the real thing. Once again I established radio communications with Major Thys Rall and instructed him to activate the contingency plan for Operation Carrot. The artillery battery of Captain Bernie Pols needed to deploy as farm protection elements immediately in front of the phalanx of incoming insurgents. I requested Thys Rall to have the immediately available operations participants available for orders at the Tsumeb HQ on my arrival – they could expect me to arrive at approximately 21h00.
I then made radio contact with Brigadier J.T. Louw, the commander of Sector 30, as I started high-tailing it towards Tsumeb air field in my Ratel command vehicle. I informed Louw of the intelligence which I had confirmed about the terrorist incursion, what I was doing about it and that it was necessary to activate “Tarentaal” immediately.
I reached theTsumeb air field at approximately 21h00 the evening of 6 April 1981. My sergeant major had a steaming cup of coffee ready for me and I could say thank you with deep appreciation. As I entered the conservative operations centre at the air field I saw that it was filled with all the familiar faces. I immediately experienced great relief and comfort washed over me. With amazing confidence I started the operational dialogue. As a high performance team we started sharing and assessing the latest intelligence. We soon arrived at a point were we could decide on the course of action for the next twelve hours.
As if by magic and with the greatest confidence we could activate the operational contingency plan we had so carefully prepared before hand. It was now all operational systems go.
The next day our mini air force and the paratrooper company of Major Herbie Pos arrived. We were ready and raring to go. The special counter insurgency platoon of the police was closing in on one terrorist group just north of Tsumeb – contact was imminent. Contact was good; it implied fresh intelligence, especially if we could capture one or two insurgents.In close on fifteen contacts and near close encounters the twenty two insurgents were either hunted down or captured over the next thirteen days. Only one escaped the wrath of the pursuers.
During Operation Carrot in 1981 the following SWAPO insurgents were captured by our task force, namely insurgents: Lucius Nangala Malambo; Theofilus Jason; Josef Sagarius. My Intelligence Officer at 61 Mech, Gerrie Hugo, came to know them well.
During their trial that followed later in Windhoek the three captured terrorists shared interesting accounts of their respective lives and adventures with the judicial authorities and the media.
• Lucius Nangala Malambo gave a detailed description of his training in Angola. He explained that SWAPO gave him instructions to blow up railway lines near Tsumeb. Their military objectives were not achieved because they ran into soldiers and in a shootout he was captured and all his comrades killed, with none escaping, he said.
• Theofilus Jason described that he was a member of a group of 22 who infiltrated the triangle of death, the bulk of them exterminated in 15 contacts with the security forces.
• Josef Sagarius was badly wounded in a shootout with the security forces. He told the story of how they were trained and prepared in Angola to sneak back to SWA as guerrillas. They were told by their commander in Angola to go to Southern Namibia (SWA) and to destroy all railway tracks and windmills. Once they reached a town they were to buy private clothes. Their mission included the handing out of SWAPO badges to the people and to inform them what SWAPO was about. The commander also told them to lay ambushes next to main highways and fire at passing vehicles on the roads. They were tasked to stay for two months and then to return to Angola. All instructions were given in the Kwanyama tongue the witnesses said.
SWAPO to my mind were amazing people especially when considering the above-mentioned stories conveyed by the respective captives. What astounded me most was how unrealistic their mission and subsequent lower level tasks were. In sharp contrast to their mission as explained by them they were pounded into oblivion by our fast moving task force within thirteen highly active and eventful days.
Mr. Anton Lubowski appeared Pro Deo for the three above-mentioned insurgents. He was supported by Mr. Pio Teek, Windhoek’s practicing Black member of the Bar Council. Teek was instructed Pro Deo to appear on behalf of the insurgents as well.
Anton Lubowski became internationally renowned for his alleged killing by some of the operators of the intelligence community of South Africa. These stories all came to the fore during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) proceedings in South Africa after 1994.
Through all of the aforementioned we now became engaged in a broiling long drawn out court case due to the three captured insurgents. We had handed the captured insurgents over to the civil authorities. I had to send Major Thys Rall to attend and attest at their trial in Windhoek.
It was a problem for me being without my second-in-command (2IC) for long periods at end, because of the amount of work waiting for us at Omuthiya. We were shaping 61 Mech into an awesome force, without knowing it yet that the higher level preparations for Operation Protea were already brewing. Operation Protea was destined for August and August was approaching fast. The planning for the operation was all ready on the cards and being conducted in utmost secrecy by the operations staffs in Pretoria and at Bastion in Windhoek.
On completion of the aforementioned trial Mr. Justice Kenneth Bethune eventually found the three young insurgents guilty and they were convicted under the Act of Terrorism.
Due to the downbeat experience we had with the court case of our three captured insurgents we decided no more of this for the next round of infiltrations – no devious tactics or intentions however intended.
During Operation Yahoo in 1982 we captured fifteen insurgents. Strangely enough without undue persuasion they were all turned by our intelligence specialists to work with the security forces. The fifteen insurgents then, to my complete surprise, in total abandonment and enthusiasm pursued their erstwhile comrades together with us. Until this day their sudden change in loyalty has never ceased to amaze me.
More Hawk than Guinea-Fowl – Action by the Grounded Airborne Forces
It is a great pity that I had way-laid the official de-briefing report on Operation Carrot. Fortunately Major Herbie Pos compiled his own de-briefing report for Bravo Company of 1 Parachute Battalion. He handed me a copy of his report in September 1981. I kept his report and still have it today.
The report by Major Herbie Pos was a brief summary of the said operation which covered some of their own achievements. It included lessons learned and the operational hints expressed by the paratroopers who participated in Operation Carrot. What follows is a brief summary of their account of the operation. Many of the young paratrooper fledglings had matured swiftly into hawks it seemed.
When the code word “Tarentaal” was uttered by SWATF HQ on 6 April 1981 the paratrooper company was employed in a high density operation far to the north of Omuthiya in Ovamboland. Major Herbie Pos and his company were under command of 52 Battalion with its HQ deployed at Ogongo. The paratroopers were immersed in a high density counter insurgency operation in the area of Tsandi.
On receiving the code word “Tarentaal” the company of paratroopers of Major Herbie Pos immediately withdrew to Ogongo for redeployment to Tsumeb air field. The first half of the company was immediately ferried to Ondangwa air field by means of Puma helicopters. Their half-a-company of almost fifty five men was then flown rapidly to Tsumeb air field with a Transall C-160 of the South African Air Force.
The company’s second-in-command, Lieutenant P.J. Steyn, was firmly in charge of the first batch of airborne soldiers to arrive at Tsumeb. It was midnight and the day was just changing over from a charged 6 April 1981 to an eventful 7 April 1981. Lieutenant Steyn forthwith joined the operational planning cycle of our task force under my command. Thus far the planning and dispatching of forces had been an all night affair. Steyn was immediately welcomed into the close knit operational fold of the task force. He was swiftly subjected to an induction about the mini war closing in on Tsumeb from the north.
Major Herbie Pos soon followed with the remainder of the paratroopers. They were flown in by Puma helicopter to Ondangwa air field by 14h00 on 7 April 1981. From there the force was immediately dispatched by Dakota air craft to the air field at Tsumeb.
When Herbie Pos arrived for his first briefing at Tsumeb he found his first delivery of paratroopers already deployed in observation posts (OP) on the high ground north of Tsumeb. The OPs by now were linked by radio to the counter insurgency platoon of the police. The police follow-up force was chasing down a group of terrorists progressively moving towards Tsumeb. The remainder of Herbie’s company was put on stand-by at the Tsumeb air field. They were ready for instantaneous hot pursuit. Their vehicles were hastily issued to them; alternatively the Puma helicopters and the Alouette gun ships were standing ready for the airborne warriors in case of hot pursuits.
I duly had a Ratel command vehicle (Ratel-60) issued to Major Herbie Pos. The paratrooper was now mobile and thus enabled to command on the hoof. All subsequent follow-up commanders were thus equipped to facilitate common radio communications and effective mobile command and control. Driving around in a Ratel was a new experience for my latest paratrooper who had arrived in the thick of things.
One of the platoons of Herbie Pos immediately deployed to the farm Toevlug near Oshivello, where they joined up with tracker Klaus Mais Riche and his team of Bushmen. They were soon in hot pursuit of a small group of insurgents.
One section of paratroopers was attached to the counter insurgency platoon of the police as their rapid reaction force. The remainder of the paratrooper company remained on stand-by at the air field awaiting developments as a rapid reaction force – they were ready to move at a second’s notice – either to be dispatched by Puma helicopter or by vehicle.
On the 10th of April terrorist activity was reported in the area of the Otjikoto Mountains north-west of Tsumeb. Our task force commenced with the planning of a high density operation in this area for the next morning. The paratroopers were made ready to deploy for this operation.
On 11 April 1981 one group of paratroopers was dispatched to Palmenfarm to commence with a follow-up on enemy tracks that were reported in the area. On the same day Cassie Schoeman’s Alpha Company from 61 Mech was jointly involved with Herbie Pos and a platoon of paratroopers as they hunted down some enemy infiltrators near the Otjikoto Mountains. The Alouette gunships circled above whilst the hunter-killer teams of Cassie Schoeman and Herbie Pos were ardently searching for the enemy in the “Haak-and-Steek” below. The enemy succeeded in evading the pursuers and stopper groups in the dense bush and the darkness and started fleeing in a northerly direction. The operation was called off at last light. The bush was too dense to operate through the night – tomorrow was another day – catch you later.
In the meantime elements of Bravo Company of Captain Koos Liebenberg were deployed in area ambushes ahead of the escaping insurgents. One of his platoon commanders, Second Lieutenant Ariel Hugo, recently gave me a map indicating the area ambush deployments of his Number Two Platoon. The deployments were clearly indicated as follows on provisional map 1:50 000, Grid Zone 33K, 1817 DA. The deployments were stretched out from east to west slightly south of the road leading from Tsintsabis to Oshivello.
• 1St Deployment – Corporal Joubert (Call Sign 22B) at Koedoesvlei (851225, reservoir).
• 2nd Deployment – Lance Corporal Kruger (Call Sign 22D) at Hoheneck/Vaalwater (817288).
• 3rd Deployment – Corporal van der Merwe (Call Sign 22A) at Hoheneck (778303, reservoir).
• 4th Deployment – Second Lieutenant Hugo (Call Sign 22) at Reservoir at Kakuse West (731331, reservoir).
• 5th Deployment – Sergeant Marais (Call Sign 29F) at Kakuse West (695299, reservoir).
• 6th Deployment – Corporal Coetzer (Call Sign 22C) at Kakuse (721260, spot height 2473).
On or about 12 April 1981 I had also deployed a two-man reconnaissance team under command of Second Lieutenant Chris Walls to frequent the “Shabeens”. Many of these local pubs dotted the informal settlements surrounding Tsumeb. This was to gather intelligence as the terrorists usually visited these places. Chris Walls and his mate wore some of my civilian clothes, which were later on returned to me somewhat tattered.
On 12 April a group of terrorist’s fired at a passing civilian vehicle on the main road near the Otjikoto Lake slightly north of Tsumeb. A paratrooper follow-up team was immediately launched into hot-pursuit.
On 13 April one of the paratrooper follow-up groups made contact with the enemy on the farm Sachsen near the Tsintsebis – Oshivello road. Three of the insurgents were summarily dispatched to the after-life.
On 16 April whilst in hot pursuit of a terrorist group the paratroopers near the farm Horentia detonated a landmine. Two of the paratroopers were lightly wounded. They were evacuated within 15 minutes by Puma helicopter to the military hospital at Grootfontein. Close by on the farm Sachsen two terrorists were wounded and captured by one of the follow up groups of 61 Mech.
On 17 April; two sets of enemy tracks were found leading north towards Ovamboland. The remaining enemy now folded under relentless pressure and they were feverishly fleeing away from the peril. Herbie Pos and a paratrooper follow-up team were immediately dispatched to pay personal attention to the fleeing. The ending of this particular story will be dealt with in the next part of the script below.
On 18 April the operation ended on a fitting note. Detailed account had been given of our dear departed enemy. The paratroopers withdrew to Sector 10 for further deployment in the counter insurgency war to the north of us.
Our paratroopers had done an excellent job. Of the twenty two terrorists they had accounted for five of the insurgents eventually killed in action. Only two paratroopers had been wounded in the fray.
Major Herbie Pos in his report at the close of the operation summarised the following lessons learned:
• The value of having sufficient tracker teams available to rotate rapidly during mobile hot-pursuits was emphasised.
• Good intelligence, thorough planning and rapid response were the factors pursued which turned the tables on the enemy.
• Initiatives together with decentralised control, which was allowed to flourish at lower levels of command, were found to be invaluable for operational success. The commanders and their men were always well informed and knew exactly what was happening in every busy corner of the area of operations.
• Initiative and creativity at lower levels were encountered and encouraged in abundance. In actual fact any member of the operational team were freely allowed to generate bright ideas. This according to Herbie Pos contributed to shared responsibility, force cohesion and high spirits.
• The local tracker teams, their superb tactical prowess and knowledge of terrain paid immense dividends and invariably led to the success of the operation.
• The immense planning effort invested, together with the excellent management of operations and intelligence led to a number of rapid successes during the operation.
All I could add to what Major Herbie Pos had so aptly expressed was:
“What an amazing effective team those paratroopers were. It was an honour to could have served with them”.
My Deadly Encounter with SWAPO – One Unforgiving Minute in the War
The next short story adds on to the recount of Major Herbie Pos as expressed by him in the script above. The telling evenly reflects on my personal encounter with the foe during Operation Carrot.
We were relaxing and lounging around in the operations room at Tsumeb Air Field. It was early morning the 18th of April 1981. It was the last day of an immensely successful operation. We were monitoring the final hot pursuit of the exfiltrating SWAPO insurgents escaping northward. The last two groups of the April 1981 incursion were fleeing north through the dense bushes of Ovamboland.
Major Cassie Schoeman in command of a 61 Mech follow-up group with a platoon of Alpha Company was ardently pursuing one of the last remaining insurgents. They were to the east of Tsintsabis on the fringes of the Okavango Province. They had just crossed the Alpha cut-line.
Cassie’s lonely terrorist was now well on his way into southern Ovamboland fleeing furiously. The safety of Angola was beckoning Cassie’s escaping SWAPO comrade.
Just about 25km to the west of Cassie’s pursuit, Major Herbie Pos and a paratrooper follow-up group, totally immersed in their work, were pursuing another two remaining insurgents. The two terrorists were fast escaping northward as well. The border of Angola was still about 100km away. Herbie was commanding from a Ratel-60. His paratroopers were mounted in a few lightly armoured Buffel mine protected vehicles.
It was a maddening chase with tracker teams, Ratels and Buffels. A few helicopter gun-ships were standing by. A light aircraft was soaring, twisting and turning overhead to observe and to spot. It was overkill at best – but, what the hell?
Meanwhile my command group at the Tsumeb Air Field Tactical HQ was restless, whilst ardently listening in to the chatter and exchange of information and quick commands of the pursuers over the radios. Tsumeb was about 130 km due south of the pursuits.
With me in the operations centre were: Thys Rall my 2IC, Giel Reinecke my Logistics Officer, Gerrie Hugo my Intelligence Officer, M.C. Barnard my RSM and Warrant Officer Class 1 Hennie Blaauw.
Hennie Blaauw was a renowned master tracker from the Otjiwarongo AFU. Hennie had been seconded to our task force as an advisor to me on the optimum utilization and employment of our tracker capability. On his shoulder he proudly wore the unit flash of the Otjiwarongo AFU. It was a “Wag-n-Bietjie-Thorn” (Wait- a- Bit-Thorn) displayed in red and white on a black shield.
The Wag- n -Bietjie could be found in abundance in the operational area of SWA. The Wag-n Bietjie thorn bush demanded its pound of flesh and it was not easy to extricate oneself from it once you had walked into it – especially at night.
Being a bit bored of the now suddenly low intensity rate of the on dragging operation I suddenly asked my command team: “Who wants to go out with me and shoot a few terrorists?” Giel and Gerrie were still immersed in some unfinished business and said “no thank you, not today, perhaps later”. Giel later the day when I returned to Tsumeb said to me: “Hell, I was stupid that I did not go with”. I summarily answered, “Sorry for you”.
It was a sweltering day. We mounted my Ratel command vehicle and a few minutes later was fast driving north with dust trailing. Thys Rall was standing to the right rear on the rear gunner’s jump seat located there for the 7, 62mm Browning anti-aircraft machine gun. The machine gun was not mounted. Thys’ 5, 56mm R-4 Rifle was cradled in his arms. Hennie Blaauw duly armed with his assault rifle was standing close-by, slightly to my right-rear. He was poised with his upper torso outside the vehicle, standing on a seat and observing sharply from one of the commander’s open hatches. I was positioned on the left in the turret of my command cupola standing on the seat. My brand new never before fired commander’s R-5 Rifle was lying in front of me with two semi round-shaped 50-round magazines. My gunner was sitting to the right of me manning the 20mm quick firing gun. My driver was just to the front below my feet within comfortable kicking distance. Without any complaining and completely focused he was steadily driving northwards. We were on our way to join up with Herbie Pos and his pursuit team. We were keeping contact by radio. We were ready to join in the action.
We followed the gravel road to Tsintsabis, and then turned sharply west on the Oshivello road. We drove on until we found the vehicle tracks of Herbie Pos where they had crossed northward. We were now rapidly following on the pursuit path and started encountering dense bush. Much further to the east Cassie Schoeman informed me by radio that they were closing in fast on their potential foe. The tracks were 20-minutes old he excitedly declared. Herbie Pos furthermore reported that contact with his small group of insurgents was imminent.
We soon arrived on the scene joining Herbie’s follow-up group on the move. At 16h45 our command Ratel joined the mobile ranks of the paratroopers. Herbie swung to the left and I moved to his right in a two-up formation with our Ratels – similar to the horns of an ox. The trackers were in the centre in line with us, now running nearly at full speed in hot pursuit. Ever so often they would be exchanged with a next team of freshly rested trackers from a Buffel. The assault force was right behind the trackers. All around adrenaline was surging.
Soon after joining Herbie I spotted what I thought were two fast running insurgents in Chinese rice patterned camouflage. They were running slightly to the front of our pursuit line. I confirmed my observation with Herbie Pos, making dead sure it weren’t our own forces. The Alouette gun-ships in the meantime were scrambled as well, but they eventually arrived too late for our unfolding overkill.
I informed Herbie Pos by radio that I was going to make a fast right sweeping outflanking move with my Ratel to cut off the fleeing enemy. On doing this we came to an area where the thick bush opened up slightly. There the two insurgents were running at full speed, about 300 meters in front of us. They were fast closing in on another dense thicket.
A maddening careering rush of the two Ratels in hot pursuit now ensued. Herbie Pos came briefly to a stop when his vehicle ran into a massive ant-hill. My Ratel was now on its own right in front of the pursuit line and I started firing from my turret at the two fleeing insurgents. Thys Rall also opened up from behind me shooting perilously close over my head. So I glanced back quickly and gave him the knowing look – he stopped firing. My driver did not even get a chance to get his 20mm going. Hennie Blaauw was also not firing yet. It was my tracer’s flying and bullets kicking up dust all around the two fast running insurgents.
The one insurgent looked back, his face fear-struck, stopping and staring at the careering oncoming six-wheeled monster. I commanded my driver to stop briefly next to him. Hennie Blaauw jumped off, falling on top of the insurgent and capturing him. We were quickly off in hot pursuit again. I never stopped firing. The lone insurgent fell.
Once again I ordered stop, jumped from the Ratel and started running towards the single fallen enemy soldier. I still fired a few shots spraying the area were he lay hidden in the thick grass. When I came to him he was twitching and then turned towards me. His AK-47 was pointing directly at me; I was staring down the barrel of his AK. He then succumbed to his wounds and collapsed on the ground. When I inspected his rifle I found that a 7, 62mm round had turned skew in the breech of his rifle causing it to jamb – luckily for me. His body was pierced with seven shots from my R-5.
The dead SWAPO soldier was a section commander. He had a map-case and a Russian Tokarev pistol with him. He wore a camouflage forage cap with a metal SWAPO badge proudly displayed on the side. I still have the forage cap today. I kept it in remembrance of a brave soldier. The soles of his feet were thin from walking hundreds of kilometres in utmost danger. He was a brave man. Completely outnumbered and in grave danger he did not stop to surrender.
Cassie called me on the radio and said they had lost their track close to a local village now already deep into Ovamboland. He sounded somewhat disappointed. Operation Carrot was over. Cassie did 180 degrees and drove southwards. We returned to Tsumeb, the last of the enemy accounted for.
Colonel Tommie Thomasse of SWA police could now balance his books and draw a line on Operation Carrot 1981.
Aftermath of Operation Carrot
Major General Charles Lloyd requested me to brief his command cadre and senior military staffs on the conduct of the operation. It was scheduled to happen at Bastion in Windhoek the following week. This was good for my own high morale and self esteem as the commander of 61 Mech. I had my people to thank for this – they were superb as ever.
My 2IC Major Thys Rall and Intelligence Officer Gerrie Hugo helped me to prepare the maps, the debrief report and presentation – presentations in those days were still on plastic slides and on overhead projector. I had to borrow an overhead projector for the presentation. Four months later in August during Operation Protea we were fortunate to liberate two brand new overhead projectors and an ink duplicating machine at Xangongo – the proceeds of Operation Protea – with the compliments of SWAPO and FAPLA.
To SWAPO and FAPLA from 61 Mech please accept our heartfelt gratitude.
Command Anomaly Experienced During Operation Carrot
Early during my command term at 61 Mech I experienced an extremely annoying anomaly between the territorial responsibility of our unit towards Sector 30 and the primary responsibility of providing a mobile reserve for the SWATF. To my mind I was spending too much time with the area force units and too little time with 61 Mech.
61 Mechanised Battalion Group in true reality was my primary responsibility. In all fairness the AFUs were the command responsibility of Sector 30. The focus of main effort of Sector 30 was counter insurgency operations in their designated area of responsibility.
I thought deeply about my command arrangement and did my homework. I subsequently compiled a comprehensive staff paper and went off to discuss the situation first with Colonel J.T. Louw in Otjiwarongo and followed the discussion up with a visit to Major General Charles Lloyd in Windhoek.
Sanity prevailed and a command decision was taken introducing 61 Mech to be under the single command of the SWATF. This materialized soon after Operation Carrot ended by 30 April 1981. The command arrangement did not imply that 61 Mech would fully loose its operational stand-by responsibility towards Sector 30, or for that matter towards the other Sectors.
On completion of Operation Carrot I could now concentrate on my primary responsibility, which was towards 61 Mech deployed at Omuthiya. I subsequently moved the main HQ of 61 Mech to Omuthiya. A smaller and much leaner administrative element and operational cell was maintained at the Rear HQ of 61 Mech at Tsumeb.
Captain Daan Liebenberg of Tsintsabis was permanently transferred from 61 Mech to Sector 30. The Northern Border Company (Noordgrens Kompanie) was officially established as advised by 61 Mech. The sub-unit subsequently came to be commanded by Captain Daan Liebenberg with the company headquarters remaining at Tsintsabis. The Northern Border Company now assumed full responsibility for the cut-line operations.
61 Mech maintained an exceptional relationship throughout with Sector 30 and all the respective AFUs deployed within the region.
After Operation Carrot the Etosha, Grootfontein and Otavi AFUs therefore reverted back to under full command of Sector 30. In essence the planning and preparation for the next round of infiltrations weren’t really my responsibility anymore. The AFUs were not too happy with this new state of affairs – they had been quite happy living in luxury with big brother located close by at Omuthiya. They were however now on their own and fully under command of Sector 30.
61 Mech still maintained its stand–by responsibility as part of the “Tarentaal Forces”.
Nothing further was said higher up about the position 61 Mech previously enjoyed as the designated Task Force HQ up to the successful ending of Operation Carrot. So when the next incursion materialized in April 1982 61 Mech was launched swiftly into the fray. After frequent calls to Sector 30 and not being answered in regard to the command status of Operation Yahoo I straight away assumed command. Those were going to be hectic days once again. We just did not know it yet.
De-Briefing Operation Carrot in Otjiwarongo and Getting Into Trouble
We occasionally played, celebrated success and got into some trouble as well. The aftermath of Operation Carrot saw a comprehensive debriefing exercise materializing at the HQ of Sector 30.
We were staying in the Hamburger Hoff Hotel in the centre of Otjiwarongo. The hotel had an extremely pleasant bar. It was the final evening of the de-briefing session and we were going to celebrate. The evening found Gerrie Hugo my intelligence officer walking about with a large square German beer advertisement board under his brown uniform combat jacket. He looked like the Mad Hatter out of Alice in Wonderland. He was not walking so straight anymore. He however remained quite content with his surroundings – SWAPO was no more.
Somehow the above-mentioned encounter in the bar bomb shelled into the passageway of the hotel and up to the 1st floor. Cassie Schoeman was now lying flat on the lower shelf of a stainless-steel mobile serving tray. How Cassie ever got in there in the first place or how we ever got him out later I never found out – the investigation continues.
Cassie Schoeman had a fire extinguisher in his arms pointing in the general direction of any unsavoury foe. Apparently he was the front gunner, as our pilot was flying the mobile serving tray; which was just touching ground here and there.
The follow up ended in the room of distinguished Commandant (Uncle) Lucas Nell. Somehow the white powder of the fire extinguisher was discharged by Gunner Cassie Schoeman – this part of the investigation continues as well.
The hotel was now filled with fine white powdery dust, including the room of Uncle Lucas Nel, as well as the now less distinguished looking Lucas Nel, as well as the moustache of Lucas Nel.
Entering the scene was our master tracker Uncle Daan van der Westhuizen. Being of exemplarily tracking stock he promptly responded and declared that the tracks in the room of Lucas Nel were approximately 20 seconds old and that contact was imminent.
For some unknown reason to us (intelligence not confirmed yet by Gerrie Hugo) Lucas was extremely unhappy with this rude awakening. I consoled Lucas by telling him that these were extraordinary operational circumstances. To no avail – I never knew him as a person not to understand trivial realities. This was a first for him as well. One must realise that he was tired and that all his tethers had recently endured an extremely taxing Operation Carrot. He was the oldest of us all having served in World War 2.
I left at 03h00 that same morning for Windhoek to catch a flight to Cape Town – I was on my way to give a presentation at the Artillery Symposium – I was not feeling to operationally sharp. I left Major Thys Rall in command in Otjiwarongo. We knew that there was going to be trouble and some of the other proverbial matter. He was to make amends with the hotel proprietor and send a SITREP to me as soon as possible. I told him to keep the evidence we had now relieved Cassie Schoeman of – the said red fire extinguisher – but to leave the mobile serving tray behind.
When Thys phoned me the next day in Cape Town he told me it was more serious than what we had anticipated. The situation had escalated out of proportion. Colonel J.T. Louw the Sector Commander had received a full intelligence report from an unknown source and he was furious (De Moer in, in Afrikaans). The hotel proprietor luckily, as was the case with some experience gained on turning captured SWAPO in the past, had been turned and was now fully on the side of the illustrious 61 Mech.
I did a pre-emptive strike and immediately phoned Colonel J.T. Louw from Cape Town and said “Sorry sir, I will come and see you as soon as I return” He did not sound overly friendly. I thought deeply about our predicament and knew that emotions would dampen with time. I was also thinking deeply about the “strategy of the indirect approach”. So I phoned Thys Rall and asked him to have the fire extinguisher bronzed for me. The fire extinguisher at that stage was the centre of gravity regarding our unholy predicament.
So a few days later I sallied forth to Otjiwarongo and met with Colonel Louw. I presented him with our prize gift, a bronzed fire extinguisher, on behalf of 61 Mech and once again said, “Well we are sorry, but hell it was great fun”. Being a true soldier he understood and Colonel J.T. Louw remained a true friend of 61 Mech.
Incidentally, the following year, Daan van der Westhuisen was tragically killed on 15 April 1982 during Operation Yahoo.
Thus Operation Carrot ended on a high note, with a humorous rite of passage thrown in to boot. It was an engaging moment amongst comrades and something of shared value that we can all still remember from those trying days to share with a smile today.
Every person who attended the de-briefing received a silver beer mug proudly displaying the insignia of 61 Mech. Inscribed where the words “Operation Carrot 1981”.
In commemoration Colonel Tommie Thomasse gave me a silver beer mug with the compliments of the SWA Police Service. We were cementing friendships and networks for Operation Yahoo. SWAPO was going to cross into our territory again on 14 April 1982.
Recollection of Small Gestures which were Highly Valued
Ending Operation Carrot my dear friend Cassie Schoeman wrote a handwritten letter to me. The letter was written in his typical style, clear and to the point. I still have and cherish it. The letter was dated 19 April 1981 and was signed by Cassie with a flourish. The letter read as follows:
“19 April 1981.
Congratulations with the April birthday celebrations of SWAPO!
The mechanised infantry company of Schoombie wishes to express sincere appreciation for the privilege to could have participated in Operation Carrot.
Congratulations with the manner in which you led and conducted this operation.
Be ensured of the loyalty and friendship of Alpha Company”.
I also received a brief telex massage from Colonel J.T. Louw from Sector 30 on the day following the successful completion of Operation Carrot. Carrot had been an operation one of its kind in terms of speed of execution from beginning to end. For me it had ended on a high note in one unforgiving minute in the fields north of Tsintsabis. The telex read as follows:
Secret: O/OPS/042/Apr 81/182 302B.
From: Sector 30.
To: 61 Mech Bn.
2. With reference to today’s contact.
3. Col Louw personally wishes to congratulate Cmdt De Vries with his outstanding performance. The conduct of the operation was truly exemplarily, continue doing the good work.”
I have included the above-mentioned two responses to Operation Carrot not for a reason to sing my own praises. There were too many revered groupings and individuals involved in the sequel of Carrot for that – in essence it was teamwork at the extreme.
The reason I have inserted these two simple supportive gestures is to say that it is tremendously inspirational to be at the receiving end of it; especially to the person leading such a demanding venture. It principally means something more when it comes from close friends and colleagues.
For any person fortunate enough to command or who will be in that privileged position one day, please remember the same inspirational motivation accounts for those under your command.
Little things make complex ventures successful and life meaningful. It is more so during hardships. All about little things making vast positive differences could be learned from outstanding mechanised commanders such as Cassie Schoeman and the many others I shared my life with.
Conclusion – An Explosive Sequel to Operation Carrot
On conclusion of Operation Carrot and the de-briefing at the HQ of Sector 30, I duly and dutifully went back to Omuthiya.
My command team, 61 Mech and I were now seriously engaged on our focus of main effort. This was the progressive work feverishly pursued in making and keeping our unit combat ready for the next operational task that may arise. This would be Operation Protea in August 1981.
The dramatic defeat of the twenty two insurgents in April 1982 came as a massive blow to SWAPO. The outcome was a tremendous shock to the planners and commanders of the Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia – SWAPO’s military wing. The enemy were going to deliberately debrief and do their homework thoroughly for the next fighting round. Their forward planning was conducted at their military base in Southern Angola code named “Volcano”.
We did not realise that the enemy’s tenacious and fanatical fighting spirit would let them come back with an explosive bang in April 1982. Herein we underestimated the enemy somewhat; they were going to come back in their hordes and they had a few tricks up their camouflaged sleeves.
The regular deep incursions of Special Unit into the Death Triangle should therefore be viewed as a holistic sequel. The reason for this, as explained above, was that that Special Unit’s decisive defeat in 1981 had a marked effect on their operational conduct for their next incursion. The next deep infiltration was set for April 1982. Where as the infiltration in 1981 was charcterised as a suicide mission, the enemy came back in 1982 much better prepared and more dedicated and ferocious than ever before.
Due credit should be afforded SWAPO for their immense terrorist effort launched deeply southward in 1982. It took the security forces close on two months to find, fix and destroy over one hundred and fifty six insurgents in a strenuous counter insurgency operation.
The April-May 1982 incursion of Special Unit into the White farming area was known as Operation Yahoo. Operation Yahoo lasted from 18 April until the end of May 1982.
The counter insurgency operation in 1982, once again, was conducted by a task force under command of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group. My command responsibility in 1982 came somewhat as a surprise for 61 Mech, as the territorial responsibility for the region had fully reverted to Sector 30 by then.
61 Mechanised Battalion Group had not been put on stand-by by Sector 30 for Operation Yahoo. However by March 1982 the possibility of an incursion had been foreseen and 61 Mech had readied themselves for such a possibility.
When the surprise crossing of the Bravo cut -line was reported on 14 April 1982, 61 Mech summarily deployed for the operation. Without wavering 61 Mech took charge of the operation until its command status was naturally accepted by both Sector 30 and SWATF.
Operation Yahoo in 1982 was not going to be as swift and sweet as Operation Carrot was in 1981.
Operation Yahoo is another captivating story to be told as part of the history of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group.