Objective of the Operation
Operation Daisy was launched on 1 November to destroy the Swapo regional headquarters complexes at Chitequeta and Bambi, cause maximum losses to the enemy, capture maximum enemy equipment and documents, capture members of surrogate forces, deny Swapo and FAPLA their logistical routes from the north and place the RSA and SWA in a better negotiation position with the contact group from the West These two objectives were situated 240 kilometers north of the Angolan border and represented the deepest penetration by South African forces into Angola since 1975.
Composition of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group
|Commander:||Commandant Roland de Vries|
|2IC:||Major Thys Rall|
|RSM:||AO1 M Barnard|
|Alpha Company:||1SAI – Major Leon Marais|
|Bravo Company:||1SAI – Major Koos Liebenberg|
|Charlie Squadron:||2SSB – Captain F Schade|
|Delta Company:||1 Parachute Battalion – Captain Pale van der Walt|
|Anti Tank Platoon:||1SAI – Second Lieutenant Chris Walls|
|81mm Mortar Platoon:||1SAI – Major Kobus Smit|
|Sapper Troop:||Major Taljaard|
|HQ Commander:||Major Giel Reinecke|
|43 Battery Commander:||4 MFA – Captain Bernie Pols|
Personal Impressions of the Commander
OPERATION DAISY 1981 — A BLOOMING FLOWER
By Roland de Vries
Introduction: Just one of those externals, ironically so
This bush war chronicle is about an external counter-insurgency operation known as Operation Daisy. It was conducted in the central part of southern Angola in November1981.
Operation Daisy was a brigade sized military adventure jointly executed by units from the South African Defence Force (SADF) and South West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF). It took place from 29 October until 20 November 1981. The military operation formed an intimate part of the South African Border War and Angolan Civil War.
By the standards of then recent Southern African military history, Operation Daisy was a massive undertaking. It was the deepest mechanised strike ever launched into southern Angola by the SADF since Operation Savannah in 1975-76. Even the air support and logistics mounted for this external operation was of enormous proportions. The organisational extent and operational depth of the cross-border strike by a combined force in November 1981 made Operation Daisy truly unique.
This story centres on 61 Mechanised Battalion Group that participated in the operation as the main strike force.
The enemy was the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) — but, in fact more likely their military wing, the Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). Insurgents of SWAPO they were, who operated from southern Angola into the northern border region of South West Africa (SWA — now called Namibia). Their devious terrorist-guerrilla-like war faring efforts towards the south needed to be thwarted once again. By whom, one may ask and how and where and when and why?
The enemy elements targeted for Operation Daisy lurked approximately 235 kilometres north of the SWA-Angola border. The main military objective came to be known as Chitequeta. The target area surrounding Chitequeta was vast – about 35 square kilometres. By late October this hostile quarter was still shrouded in mystification.
Nonetheless, seventy-one terrorists were killed during the ensuing military action; a few enemy vehicles were captured or merely shot at; a small measurable quantity of equipment, arms and ammunition had been captured. In the end this and the continued disruptions of the enemy all formed part of the marginal proceeds of the operation. Seeing as this particular military mêlée happened only two months after Operation Protea had been successfully completed it was meant to continue frustrating SWAPO.
More than one thousand five hundred SWAPO insurgents had lurked in the vicinity of the target area selected for Operation Daisy. The aiming point for the main attack was Chitequeta. Where specifically on the ground was the enemy — that was the million dollar question?
The enemy groups were scattered into many parts of Angola during and immediately after the main attack was launched on 4 November 1981. In spite of the overall operational scale of Daisy many of the insurgents were able to escape, as into the surrounding bush they forthwith went. Nevertheless the South African forces considered the operation to be a success. Another SWAPO command and logistics system had been destroyed it was said. SWAPO was further demoralised on completion of this little bush war, the SADF and SWATF surmised. Ironically so, it was interesting to contemplate afterwards whether SWAPO would agree with this particular point of view?
Time and space and shelter in Africa often seemed to benefit the illusive insurgent. This allowed the foe to flee, hide away and stike again another day. In many ways, however, Operation Daisy had still been worth our while — continuous disruption of the foe, winning the bush war and learning lessons — and all that trumpeted out for those who wanted to hear.
However, this was probably not quite so and the aforementioned outcomes of Operation Daisy came as a huge disappointment to the security forces who were involved in the tussle. They served as a polite awakening for the high command of the SADF and SWATF; to re-think large-scale counter-insurgency warfare for the future.
The intelligence community became subdued for a while, quietly pondering their recent faux pas. The whopping lesson learned, above all, was about acquiring accurate tactical intelligence and maximising its benefits. This is one of the fundamental norms of warfare, is it not?
Was the SADF’s Operation Daisy not a too elaborate affair for low-intensity counter-revolutionary warfare, one where we were trying too hard?
Did we make Daisy off in the end as a wilting flower, slipping it sideways? Sort of burying it away in the pages, found in the archives, whilst slumping in denial?
I believe Daisy was important, however, another little awakening to be added to an arsenal of knowledge. It was an amazing experience for all of us who had participated. For my men as well, the men of 61 Mech who were part of it. More so, a few good men had died out there, many were wounded……..our friends. We need to remember that!
“Learn, Commit and Do”, they say. Learn what and do what?
How Operation Daisy came about?
During Operation Protea in August-September 1981, valuable bits of intelligence were gathered through interrogations of enemy prisoners of war. From their telling there were indications that an important SWAPO base was located in the vicinity of either Chitequeta or Bambi. Bambi lay approximately 35km to the south-west of Chitequeta.
Captured enemy documentation found at Xangongo further alluded to the fact that the enemy was hyper-active in the general areas of Chitequeta, Bambi and Indungo. From here insurgent operations were launched southwards into northern SWA. The SADF and SWATF were hence immediately fixated on the possibility of yet another juicy target looming in their sights.
Special Forces and 32 Battalion were commissioned forthwith to search the area for our most sought after enemy — the wily fighters of PLAN. The fact that the enemy was exceedingly active in the potential target area was furthermore confirmed by aerial reconnaissance. Chitequeta was duly selected as the most desirable spot in the dense Angolan bush at which to strike at next.
Conceiving Operation Daisy was a grand idea — the operational concept devised by the SADF and SWATF was basically sound, but a mite overbearing perhaps. 61 Mech was not going to complain. We were in for any fight.
The operation was furthermore well planned and executed at all levels under the command of Sector 10. There was only one problem. The targets selected for the respective SANDF/SWATF combat participants were not lucrative. This fact was only established after Chetequera was captured on 4 November 1981. The operation therefore did not yield the enemy numbers killed and equipment captured that had been wished for.
It was remarkable how the vast target area selected for Operation Daisy became saturated with security forces. It was a brigade-sized operation with its own tactical headquarters deployed at Ionde. The operation involved one mechanised battalion group, one motorised battalion, an additional infantry company and five paratrooper companies. Special Forces were also involved from the outset until the day the operation was completed. In addition, the operation was fully supported by the South African Air Force (SAAF) with attack and transport aircraft, as well as helicopters.
Puma transport helicopters and Alouette gunships were deployed at high readiness for the entire operation. The helicopter armada operated from carefully selected and protected helicopter administrative areas (HAA). The main HAA was located near Ionde and was protected by a company-sized ground force of 32 Battalion. The choppers had the operational reach to strike swiftly within the designated area of operations.
We furthermore knew that the area was flooded with scattered enemy forces and smaller insurgent groupings. The targets of the mission included a viable number of command and logistic bases of PLAN, but we just did not know exactly where they were! Enemy elements were therefore lucky during the operation to get away, whilst the security forces were less lucky to effectively find and fix and then strike at them — or was there something else to it?
Overview of the operational overview
Daisy Followed on Operation Protea — Into Southern Angola Again
Operation Daisy followed two months after Operation Protea ended. The last-mentioned surprise offensive was launched against a combined force of FAPLA (Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola) and SWAPO. The fighting referred to played out in the Cunene Province of southern Angola.
The combined task force for Operation Protea comprised units of the SADF and SWATF and 61 Mechanised Battalion Group had participated in this encounter as well.
The main targeted defensive strongholds of the enemy were located at Xangongo and Ongiva, each holding a FAPLA brigade. An enemy mobile reserve of brigade strength was kept at bay within the confines of Cahama, 64km to the north-west, by 61 Mech. The battle was neatly packaged by the SADF and SWATF.
The operation was successfully completed over the period 23 August to 2 September 1981. The enemy was annihilated, left aghast and floundering.
Up to August 1981 FAPLA had effectively supported the revolutionary war effort of SWAPO in the region. Their combined fury was directed essentially at the northern border expanse of SWA. The sneaky insurgents of PLAN operated primarily from the central part of southern Angola. Similarly FAPLA had afforded SWAPO sanctuary against the security forces that operated against them in the contested area.
SWAPO directed its nomadic type operations in the central part of southern Angola from Lubango. They had divided their operational area into Western, Central and Eastern Regions.Each respective subdivision had its own roving regional headquarters.
SWAPO’s area of operations and strategic bases in the Central Region were carefully organised to facilitate command and control over operations and logistics; the operations being directed mainly against northern SWA, particularly Ovamboland.
Ovamboland was the centre of SWAPO’s revolutionary struggle where it rolled into one with South Africa’s counter-revolutionary war. This piece of prime real estate subsequently became the focus of main effort for the opposing sides. Both South Africa and SWAPO applied military and political methods and means to achieve their ends. Neither the Angolan Government nor the Soviets and Cubans cared to keep their dirty fingers out of the pie, whilst UNITA was quite happy to join in the fighting fun. This formed part of their own revolutionary struggle against the Angolan Government, the Soviets and the Cubans all over Angola. It was a merry fighting affair, a war with very few frontiers.
Until Operation Protea the operational design of SWAPO (PLAN) fitted snugly into the protective screen provided by the conventionally deployed forces of FAPLA in the Cunene Province.
What Operation Protea thus achieved was to remove the protective layer of FAPLA from SWAPO in the Central Region — somewhat swiftly and viciously, I may add. This was decisively done by destroying the two main integrated FAPLA and SWAPO (PLAN) defensive complexes located at Xangongo and Ongiva respectively.
The conventional forces of FAPLA were now driven back as far as Techamutete in the north and Cahama in the north-west. This allowed more free hunting space for the SADF and SWATF against SWAPO in the targeted area. UNITA willingly helped further to the east.
The Angolans referred to the aforementioned operational zone as the 5th Military Region. The SADF and SWATF simply denoted it the “Area in Dispute”.
After Operation Protea potential enemy targets still remained distributed throughout the great expanse, where the cunning insurgents were customarily hunted. This was the proverbial guerrilla strategic base area and free zone, to witch a Mao Tse Tung might aptly have referred to.
The prospective military objectives SWAPO presented were roaming command structures and widely dispersed wandering operational and logistical field bases…. Hidden away in ominous green…Shaded in mystification.
The insurgent enemy was forever disappearing, hiding away or simply holing-up in the dense cover so liberally available in southern Angola. In an all-out effort to elude the security forces they kept on roving about in its vastness. Escaping and evading was the trait of the guerrilla.
You seek him here; you seek him there, that damned illusive enemy.
This had become the name of the counter insurgency war faring game: Either being pursued with fighting vigour deeper inside bush clad southern Angola; or closer by within the confines of popular northern SWA.
This was where many of the young men of South Africa went in military fatigues; to the border.
The aforementioned conundrum was characteristic of protracted warfare, especially the low intensity type.For the military it was operation normal, within the milieu of counter revolutionary manoeuvre.
The nature of the war or peace would only change if someone out there thought of changing the political rules of the ongoing game. To my mind the politicians at both ends did not seem too interested at the stage about ending the lagging conflict.
The border war had started at Ongulumbashe in August 1966…The fragmentary conflict, intermittently flaring across the border, was now approaching 4 November 1981, another D-Day. It was a work in progress.
Northern SWA and southern Angola was neatly insulated for the tidy little war out there. Go for it Operation Daisy!
Designated Target Area — Illusive Serenity
The designated target area of the SADF and SWATF for counter insurgency operations in the aforementioned disputed area was enormous.
- The hostile area’s illusive serenity nestled between the Cunene River in the west and the Cubango in the east – a distance of approximately 242km as the crow flies. The operational zone extended from the SWA-Angola border in the south to the Namibe-Menongue railway line beyond Indungo in the north — a distance of about 370km.
- No serious road infrastructure existed in this area. The only tarred road, somewhat pot-holed mind you, stretched from Cahama via Xangongo and Ongiva to the border at Santa Clara/Oshikango. All gravel roads, bush tracks, crossing places over rivers, defiles in the region and occupied or abandoned enemy bases were subjected to severe mining (the explosive kind). An assortment of vehicle mines as well as personnel mines and booby-traps could be found. Many a time a mine’s startling eruption caused endless anguish. This always remained a hair raising situation to the security forces, wherever they searched for or struck at SWAPO.
- The area of operations included African settlements such as: Cahama, Humbe, Peu-Peu, Xangongo and MÃ´ngua to the west; Ongiva, Namacunde and Omupanda to the south; Anhanca, Evale, Mupa, Cuvelai, Techamutete, Cassinga and Indungo to the north; Nehone, Dova, Ionde and Caiundo to the east.
- The area in dispute was covered in dense African bush. It was permeated by a number of picturesque Angolan riverine areas such as: the Cuvelai, Mui, Bambi, Calonga, Dengo, Caiundo and Mulola. In many areas these small rivers turned out to be formidable natural obstacles for vehicular movement. In the rainy season from December to April the small rivers and sandy soils were converted into quagmires, making it extremely difficult to negotiate its deceitful vastness by mechanised and motorised means.
- The terrain was mainly flat. It was covered with thick sandy soil making vehicular movement extremely difficult. The earth’s heavy dust, more often than not, hung over large moving columns hence the preference for night movement to dodge the enemy’s menacing Migs. Near Cuvelai and Techamutete were earthy undulations, higher grounds and rocky outcrops of note encountered for the first time when travelling northwards from the border. Navigation by prismatic compass and protractor in the denseness and darkness of southern Angola was one mean achievement (but all we had at the time).
For Operation Daisy the target zone centred on Chitequeta and Bambi — the point of main effort. This piece of prime real estate nestled in glorious shadowy denseness. Chitequeta was situated approximately 35km east-south-east of Techamutete and Cassinga, 50km south of Indungo, 120km north-north-west of Ionde, 2350km directly north of the SWA-Angola border; and 365km north-north-west of Omuthiya.
The latter locale was where 61 Mechanised Battalion Group was comfortably based. This was the domicile where our fighting unit deployed northwards for Chitequeta on 30 October.
Disputed Ground – A Barb in the Flesh of FAPLA
The aforementioned disputed area had become a barb in the flesh of FAPLA. Their closest conventional brigades were now deployed at Cahama in the west and Techamutete and Cassinga to the north. Their closest airfields threatened the area in dispute from Namibe, Lubango and Menongue. Irksome enemy radars watched the horizon to the south from Cahama.
The conventional army of Angola stared longingly from their trenches at the goings-on of the hostiles gallivanting just beyond their weapons range. Those detested soldiers clad in Nutria, who were now operating more or less with impunity against SWAPO – with free rein and daring so to speak. The disputed ground lay outside FAPLA’s immediate area of influence. Even their menacing Russian Migs remained on its fringes.
For FAPLA the sudden loss of their former military stronghold in the central part of Southern Angola was a bitter pill to swallow— for the moment. For SWAPO it was exasperating — for the moment. For the SADF and SWATF it was fun — for the moment.
External Ventures by Sector 10 — Maintaining Initiative and Freedom of Action
By and large operational successes are ensured by maintaining initiative and freedom of action. Generals in general, or any other militarist worth his salt for that matter, should know this.
Rightfully so the aforementioned yardsticks can be used in warfare to measure either accomplishments or failures. It probably accounts for politics as well. The problem being, as I believed then and now, was that politicians seldom learn the principles applying to war. That is, wherever they are taught about politics and war, and if at all.
The glory days for the SADF and SWATF heralded operations such as: Protea (August 1981); Daisy (November 1981); Super (March 1982); Meebos (July-August 1982) and; Askari (December 1981-January 1984). All of these operations played out in the central part of southern Angola — the area in dispute.
For the moment SWAPO had been curtailed, had they not? FAPLA had totally lost initiative in this particular fighting arena. The SADF and SWATF had won it – they were the stars. More so Sector 10 who bore the brunt of external operations.
FAPLA was effectively neutralised in the area in dispute until 1984. Maintaining this favourable status quo from 1981 until 1984 was the operational responsibility of two military stalwarts. They were Brigadiers Witkop Badenhorst and Joep Joubert. Badenhorst (1981-82) and Joubert (1983-84) had both commanded Sector 10 from Oshakati in Ovamboland and maintained a tactical headquarters (TAC HQ) at Ongiva in southern Angola. The TAC HQ at Ongiva was established by Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst in September 1981. This progressive military undertaking happened soon after Operation Protea was successfully completed by 2 September 1981.
The tactical setting at Ongiva included a forward operational base and incorporated joint ground and air operations as well as logistics. External counter insurgency operations were commanded by a colonel. The commander, supporting staff members and forces were provided by the SADF on a rotational basis.
From the ideally located airfield near Ongiva, military ventures were effectively directed and supported in succession into the hostile hinterland as the regular thing. It remained as such through the operational zenith of 1981-1984. Those were operational heydays for the SADF and SWATF.
This was the state of play at the time Operation Daisy was being conceptualised in October 1981. The main enemy was SWAPO (PLAN). The HQ of Sector 10 at Oshakati and its TAC HQ at Ongiva facilitated the scheming against them.
By October 1981 32 Battalion was fully involved in Operation Dahlia with their seasoned warriors probing, patrolling and striking at SWAPO in the area to the west and north of Ongiva. The wily Bushmen of 201 Battalion were embroiled in Operation Mispel. They roved and searched the area of Ongiva and further to the east, towards Anhanca, Nehone and Dova. Their area of operations lay slightly to the west of Ionde. 201 Battalion was destined to deploy towards the target zone of Operation Daisy at Chitequeta from their aforementioned area of operations.
61 Mechanised Battalion Group was deployed at Omuthiya. At the time our unit was immersed in operational training and exercising. As the mobile reserve of SWATF, 61 Mech maintained high readiness. This was to intervene in the northern border region at a moment’s notice if called upon to do so
Something about Happy Hunting and a Wee Bit about War Escalation
The aforementioned happy mode of free hunting more or less ended in 1984.
Could scheming politics and faltering peace-talks be blamed for this?
This all came about soon after FAPLA’s 11th Brigade was slaughtered at Cuvelai by 61 Mech in January 1984 during Operation Askari. Then the peace negations started up again, to be continuously bedevilled by conflicting politics and military brawling. This was most unsettling for the man at the front on the ground.
Fight-fight, talk-talk, fight-fight…
Nonetheless, the operational freedom of action of the SADF became more and more curtailed from 1984 onwards. The initiative almost passed over. In all fairness to the South African politicians: there were severe external as well as internal pressures on South Africa to withdraw its military forces from Angola and SWA at the time.
The dangerous fighting game was not over yet, not by far. In lucid reality, by 1987-88 the fighting became much worse. The lagging bush conflict was driven to a conventional war fighting cusp by September 1987 in south east Angola — beyond the Cuito Cuanavale River.
The intense fighting which followed lasted from September 1987 until September 1988. It fared from south-east Angola to south-west Angola. The war flared across a front spanning close on 700km. A peace treaty between South Africa, Angola and Cuba was eventually signed in New York on 22 December 1988. Hostilities between the SADF-SWATF and SWAPO only came to an end by April 1989. Wow-wee, peace! Hey man, in Africa…!
Let us first deal with Operation Daisy before we make peace. The next clash with SWAPO, which played out in November 1981, was not as insignificant as we may have thought it was at the time.
Take note that the war for southern Angola was steadily escalating towards 1987, as if unstoppable – a blooming Daisy notwithstanding.
By the way, how did Operation Daisy fit into the larger scheme of things? What about fiery causes and effects from the short to the medium term and in the long run? Who or what will bring this long small war to its final conclusion? First let’s do Daisy.
First Line Fighting Units Always at the Ready
Closely linked first-line fighting units were readily available in northern SWA for Operation Daisy, come October-November 1981. The choice fell on 61 Mechanised Battalion Group, 32 Battalion and 201 Battalion and it was eventually decided that five paratrooper companies should be added to the fighting array. These companies were to be marshalled from 1 and 3 Parachute Battalions from Bloemfontein in South Africa.
32 Battalion was under command of Commandant Deon Ferreira and 201 Battalion (Bushmen) under command of Commandant Frans Botes. They operated from Buffalo and Omega respectively, which were located close to the border near Rundu.
61 Mechanised Battalion Group at the time was under my command. Our unit, as the mobile reserve of SWATF, was comfortably staged at Omuthiya — ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. The operational base of our unit was located 20km north of Oshivello, where the friendly could visit us. The base was hidden in the dense bushes of southern Ovamboland alongside the tarred road leading to Ondangwa and Oshakati. Our nearly undetectable base lay approximately 110km south of the border.
The aforementioned fighting units maintained a high level of combat readiness and were regularly employed in operations. This was either internally in SWA, or externally in southern Angola. The respective commanders maintained close friendships. All three units operated under the command of SWATF with its HQ, suitably christened Bastion, located in Windhoek. Many a time our respective units operated jointly under the command of Sector 10, when we ventured out into welcoming southern Angola.
The General Officer Commanding (GOC) SWATF was operationally astute Major General Charles Lloyd. As front line commanders we had immense respect for Lloyd’s commanding prowess and operational dexterity.
Mid October 1981 – the Scene for Operation Daisy was Set
By mid October the preparations for Operation Daisy were jointly taken in hand by the SADF, SWATF and Sector 10.
At this late stage of planning and preparation aerial reconnaissance over Chitequeta and Bambi had been limited by the high command. Special Forces however had been inserted into the target area beforehand to reconnoitre enemy positions. The main quest was to establish the exact positions of SWAPO.
The scene was now set for the next exciting sparring round with SWAPO. D-Day for Operation Daisy was scheduled for 4 November 1981.
The next deep penetration by the SADF and SWATF into no man’s land was at hand — the clock was ticking, watches were synchronised, excitement was mounting.
Terrain was about to become a Worthy Adversary — More so than SWAPO
For Operation Daisy the terrain was about to became a worthy adversary for us — more so even than SWAPO.
The bush we were to encounter was much more congested and difficult to pass through than we had recently experienced in south-west Angola during Operation Protea. Here in the central southern part of Angola we had to literally bundu-bash tunnels trough the entangled foliage with our awesome Ratels. I could only describe the sandy soil condition as being extremely “heavy”. The terrain was very difficult to negotiate with our assortments of wheeled vehicles. Even movement by foot was exceedingly difficult. Terrain therefore took its toll on man and machine and ate persistently into movement time and logistic reserves.
What’s more, the densely covered terrain allowed our wily enemy to hide from us. The terrain favoured guerrilla type operations and therefore suited the bush fighters of PLAN literally and figuratively, down to the ground. Conversely though, we could approach the enemy under cover and hide from their niggling Migs beneath the thickness of the vegetation.
Mother Nature was the neutral factor. Who of the military contestants would use terrain the best, for what was on the SADF’s fighting agenda comee November?
Enemy forces in the central region of Southern Africa
Stage-setting the Primary Enemy
It was alleged that the Military Command Post of SWAPO had been re-located north-eastwards soon after Operation Protea was concluded by 2 September 1981. This was one of the results of Operation Protea. Enemy HQs were sought after by the SADF. In close proximity to the HQ of PLAN would also be found other juicy targets.
Other important shreds of information gathered from radio intercepts and captured insurgents started filling in the intelligence picture. It became clear that the enemy was attempting to regroup their scattered combatants in the vicinity of Chitequeta and Bambi. It would be noble if the enemy could settle down now and present the next achievable target.
Wary scouts from 32 Battalion and Special Forces were sent out to scrutinise the dense bush and entangled undergrowth for signs and symptoms of our illusive foe. Their quest was to plot the exact positions of the enemy. An area shrouded in dappled shadow near Chitequeta and Bambi in the central region of southern Angola became more and more suspect. This piece of densely bush-swathed land was now carefully scrutinised day-by-day by the SADF’s Intelligence community. Ever vigilant aerial photo interpreters could be found huddled at Oshakati, Windhoek and Pretoria. They were crowding over aerial photography with their stereoscopes carefully annotating enemy locations with Indian ink, laboriously stage-setting the primary enemy to be attacked.
The enemy complex referred to above lay approximately 50km south of Indungo, which became well known during Operation Firewood – a blazing engagement that occurred in October 1987 by when Indungo had become one of the prime lairs of SWAPO. Operation Firewood was conducted by 5 Reconnaissance Regiment under the command of Colonel James Hill. In October 1987 the Recces therefore went deeper still than 61 Mech did in November 1981. Firewood became one of the most vicious counter-insurgency battles ever fought against SWAPO in South Africa’s Border War. Nineteen South African soldiers fell during this operation and sixty four were wounded.
Bambi lay approximately 35km to the south-west of Chitequeta. It formed part of the same extensive strategic enemy base complex as Chitequeta and Indungo. The enemy base area was therefore extensive. These insurgent bases had been developed over time by SWAPO in the Cassinga-Techamutete-Chitequeta-Bambi-Cuvelai-Mupa sector.
61 Mech experienced this first hand when we performed Operation Daisy in November 1981 and Operation Meebos in August 1982. The overall area was found to be littered with signs and symptoms of the enemy and our mechanised force literally criss-crossed abandoned trench systems, caches, bunkers and minefields everywhere we went.
From their seemingly safe havens in the north the insurgents struck southward to SWA’s northern border region. They struck even further southward to the so called Death Triangle (Tsumeb-Otavi-Grootfontein district), where the white farming areas were. This was the habitual annual target for the Special Unit of PLAN. They came in April-May in the rainy season to wreak havoc. It was therefore aptly referred to by the security forces as the Winter Games, deadly as it may have been. 61 Mech participated in all these operations and usually commanded the joint task force on behalf of Sector 30.
In a sense Operation Daisy was therefore also a pre-emptive strike to deter these deep infiltrations by SWAPO. Did this work? Not really as in April-May 1982 SWAPO launched its largest deep infiltration ever into the Death Triangle. The counter insurgency action was to be called Operation Yahoo by the SADF. Yahoo was recorded in the annals of 61 Mech as another successfully completed operation. More about this will follow in the next story about 61 Mech.
By late October 1981 the exact positions of SWAPO had not yet been determined for Operation Daisy. The SADF decided to prolong SWAPO’s agony anyway and by the end of October 1981 Operation Daisy was set to be launched deep into Angola.
What the hell, the devil takes the hind most.
Playing with FAPLA — No Foreplay or Any Other Play Allowed
Would the conventional forces of FAPLA intervene from the north and the northwest? This was one of the questions posed by the planners of Operation Daisy.
The enemy’s conventional army had not been extremely friendly towards us since Operation Protea was concluded in September 1981 — we cared less about how they felt. Clear instructions had been issued by the SADF’s high command to leave FAPLA well alone for the moment. International sensitivities, regional politics and peace talks and all that remained lucid realities in playing with FAPLA. In actual fact, the authorisation for Operation Daisy was still in the balance due to ongoing high level talks between South Africa and the Western Contact Group.
Possibilities were rumoured that the operation could be rescheduled or even suspended all together.
Back to the planning map and areas marked in red: Where were the closest conventional brigades and battalions of the enemy situated? Those deployed within striking distance of the Daisy target area warranted serious scrutiny. This was at Techamutete and Cassinga — something like 35km away. Cuvelai, which lay halfway between Techamutete and Evale, was suspect as well. So, mark Cuvelai in red and note the locale as an essential element of intelligence to be satisfied soonest.
The properties of the enemy positions included tanks and lethal assortments of heavy armaments. These enemy brigades and battalions were interspersed with Cuban mechanised forces. Way back, during Operation Reindeer in May 1978 at Cassinga, our paratroopers had fought a serious engagement with enemy tanks crewed by Cubans.
The gravel road leading from Cassinga via Techamutete and Cuvelai to Mupa was another important consideration. It went right down to Ongiva in the south. This particular road extended from north to south and lay approximately 21km to the west of Bambi and 41km to the west of Chitequeta. The road formed one of SWAPO’s main logistics routes to the south and served as a command axis as well. A grave risk to Operation Daisy was that the closest mechanised forces of FAPLA and the Cubans could use the road to counter-attack from the west.
We did not truly expect any interference from the enemy’s conventional forces deployed at oblique angles to our target area for Daisy. Nevertheless, moments were allowed beforehand for some sober thinking about our enemy’s latent conventional potential. Time and distance and possible approaches for intervention by our conventional foe were carefully considered; as were FAPLA’s will to fight or not to fight. “Not to worry too much”, was our supposition. However, we would cater for flank protection anyway.
We had become somewhat wary about possible enemy air intervention. The enemy could strike from up close. Menongue was a mere 170km away from Chitequeta for their Russian Migs and only 315km from Lubango. For our ground forces this was nothing to be perturbed about too much at the moment. Our air force was still man enough for the foe in the skies. However, Cahama remained a thorn in the flesh of the SAAF as some of the closest enemy radar systems were located in its proximity.
Enemy air reconnaissance posed the larger threat. Our dust in the clear skies remained a major risk and when observed by the enemy could forfeit surprise and give away our position. Worse still, it could beckon an attack.
The known positions of our conventional enemy, who posed marginal threats from ahead and from the sides, were duly marked in red on our battle maps. Aha! The most threatening positions of FAPLA, in this regard, were uselessly dispersed and fixed to the ground. The colourful display was marked as follows:
- Caindu: 1 x brigade.
- Menongue: 1 x brigade plus.
- Techiesso: 2 x battallions.
- Cuchi: 1 x battalion.
- Cuvango: 1 x battalion.
- Dongo: 1 x Cuban brigade.
- Techamutete: 1 x brigade plus, reinforced with one additional battalion.
- Cassinga: 2 x battalions.
Take note that the South African Air Force (SAAF) to some degree ignored the rule of not playing with FAPLA as a few Mig pilots and their mates at Cahama were soon to realise this.
What our High Command Construed about SWAPO
What our high command construed about SWAPO in our target zone was summarised in Operations Instruction Number 21/81 – 309/4/Rekstok, dated 22 October 1981. The latter directive was issued by the Chief of the SADF, from the office of Chief of Staff Operations.
The content of the aforementioned operations instruction was echoed by a similar one, which was issued by Chief of the Army. This directive was dated 22 October 1981 as well, namely Operations Instruction Number 14/81/ – 309/1/Afval. The latter were copies of each other. Who did what planning where, I later thought and how thoroughly was it done?
“Afval” was the code word originally selected for the operation. By late October 1981 the name of the operation was changed to Daisy. Afval would probably have been more fitting.
The information reflected in the mentioned two operations instructions were provided to Chief of the SADF and Chief of the Army by the HQ of Sector 10 on 23 September 1981. Military intelligence surmised that the wily forces of SWAPO (PLAN) were deployed as follows in the target zone designated for Operation Daisy:
- Military Command Post
It was reported that the military command post was located somewhere near Indungo, approximately 20-30km north of Chitequeta.
It was suspected that the HQ comprised 400 men, equipped with about seventy vehicles. It was believed that the position was protected by an assortment of anti-aircraft weapons.
- Bravo Battalion
Bravo Battalion, it was claimed, comprised a few hundred combatants who were allegedly deployed at Chitequeta.
The men supposedly occupied one-man slit trenches. Mortars were deployed to the south of the enemy base; anti-aircraft guns to the east and the west; and B10s (82mm recoilless guns) to the north.
It was presumed that Bravo Battalion was deployed at Chitequeta to protect the eastern flank of the command post against UNITA (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola or National Union for Angola’s Total Independence) — the potent guerrilla force of Jonas Savimbi that was allied to the SADF.
- Protection Battalion
It was suspected that a protection battalion of SWAPO, with 1,000 combatants, lurked to the south-west of Chitequeta, in the direction of Bambi. The battalion, supposedly, was there to protect the south-western flank of the command post.
- Other forces of evil noted
In passing it was mentioned at times by intelligence that a number of enemy bases could be deployed in the region of Chitequeta — up to seven in fact. These groups comprised from 400 up to 1,000 combatants, it was pensively assumed. There were also random talks about numerous smaller insurgent groups with vehicles.
The combat participants of the SADF and SWATF were warned once again that the insurgents were maintaining an effective early warning system — the bush telegraph was formidable, we knew. The enemy did not want to be caught with their rice-patterned pants down again as with Operation Sceptic in 1980 and Operation Protea in 1981.
It was deduced by military intelligence that the enemy would react as follows, following the attack on Chitequeta on D-Day:
- It was expected that the protection battalions would resist any attack fiercely in an all-out effort to protect the command post.
- Serious counter-actions by SWAPO, once they started fleeing after D-Day, was not truly contemplated.
- It was expected that the insurgents would flee northwards and north-westwards, towards Indungo and Techamutete-Cassinga respectively, after the first shots were fired.
All of the aforementioned intelligence and its subsequent inferences were neatly stated and packaged by 22 October 1981. We just did not know exactly where the enemy at Chitequeta or Bambi was!
Our battle maps were marked as if… “Yours is not to wonder why”.
An assumption is the great-grand mother of all f…ups!
Own Forces – ready for a firestorm into Southern Angola
Operation Daisy was to be a Joint Affair
The combat force prepared for the next firestorm into southern Angola was an interesting combination. It was to be a huge joint affair, more or less the same as for Operation Protea. It was to comprise mechanised and motorised forces and substantial air, medical and logistics support. The main difference was that Daisy would include a sizable airborne operation.
The South African Army would act as the main executor for Operation Daisy. The SAAF would provide the air support and the South African Medical Sevices (SAMS) the medical support required. The logistics and other combat service support would be considerable. It would be provided respectively by Northern Logistics Command (NLC) from Grootfontein and Sector 10 from Oshakati.
Somebody just needed to count the water tankers and fuel bowsers to know that it was considerable!
The ground forces comprised a sizeable contingent of mechanised, motorised and airborne forces.
Own combat participants included:
- A Tactical HQ provided for the operation by Sector 10.
- 61 Mechanised Battalion Group.
- 201 Battalion.
- One motorised company from 32 Battalion.
- One company from 1 Parachute Battalion as mobile reserve.
- One company from 1 Parachute Battalion under command of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group.
- Three parachute companies from 3 Parachute Battalion (Citizen Force).
- A number of reconnaissance teams from Special Forces.
- A liaison team of UNITA, which accompanied 61 Mech for the duration of the operation.
- A mobile tactical command team of Special Forces, which accompanied 61 Mech for a major portion of Operation Daisy.
Composition of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group
61 Mechanised Battalion comprised the following sub-structures and key personnel for Operation Daisy:
- Officer Commanding: Commandant Roland de Vries.
- Second-in-Command: Major Thys Rall.
- Air Support Officer: Major Rod Penhall (SAAF).
- Regimental Sergeant Major: Warrant Officer Class 1 M. C. Barnard.
- Logistics Officer and Support Company Commander: Major Giel Reinecke.
- Intelligence Officers: Commandant Louwtjie de Beer (attached for Operation Daisy from Army HQ) and Captain Gerrie Hugo.
- Technical Services Officer: Captain Philipp ‘Jakkals’ Jeackel (originally 1 Parachute Battalion).
- Personnel Officer: Lieutenant Willem van der Vyfer.
- Chaplain: Padre Koos Rossouw.
- Adjutant and Operations Officer: Captain Cassie Schoeman (originally 1 South African Infantry Battalion).
- Commander Alpha Company mechanised: Major Leon Marais (originally 1 South African Infantry Battalion).
- Commander Bravo Company mechanised: Captain Koos Liebenberg (originally 1 South African Infantry Battalion).
- Commander Charlie Squadron: Captain Frik Schade (originally 2 Special Service Battalion).
- Commander Delta Company motorised: Captain Pale van der Walt (originally I Parachute Battalion).
- Commander Sierra Battery 120mm Mortars (from 4 Medium Field Artillery Regiment permanently attached to 61 Mech): Captain Bernie Pols.
- Platoon Leader 81mm Mortar Platoon: Major Kobus (Bok) Smit (originally 1 South African Infantry Battalion).
- Platoon Leader Anti Tank Platoon: Second Lieutenant Chris Walls (originally 1 South African Infantry Battalion).
- Troop Leader Alpha Troop, field engineers (detached from 25 Field Engineer Squadron): Major Tallies Taljaard.
- Troop Leader Anti-Aircraft Troop (20mm Ystervark and SAM-7): Captain Carl Lindsey.
- Commander Protection Group: Major Andy Anderson.
- Light Workshop Troop commander: Warrant Officer Class 1 Duppie du Plessis.
- A Liaison team of UNITA.
- A mobile command team of Special Forces.
By the end of October 1981 61 Mech was combat ready for the next mission on hand.
Air Force Participation
The SAAF support for Operation Daisy was awe inspiring. The following forces were to be deployed in theatre as an all-out air effort to support the ground forces and the air war:
- 12 x Mirage F1 AZ.
- 8 x Mirage F1 CZ.
- 2 x Mirage R2Z.
- 10 x Impala MkIIs equipped for daylight operations.
- 4 x Impala MarkIIs equipped for night operations
- 1 x Impala reconnaissance aircraft.
- 3 x Buccaneer.
- 9 x Puma transport helicopters.
- 10 x Alouette III helicopters.
- 2 x Super Frelon helicopters.
- 9 x Bosbok light aircraft.
- 4 x Dakota transport aircraft.
- 6 x C130 Hercules and C160 Transall transport aircraft.
- 1 x Dakota DC 4 Skymaster electronic surveillance aircraft.
For Operation Daisy the air force operated mainly from its forward airfields located at Grootfontein and Ondangwa. The gravel airfield at Ionde was to be used for the holding and deployment of Dakota transport aircraft, Bosbok light fixed wing aircraft, Alouette gunships and Puma transport helicopters.
The next paragraph lifts the shroud about the air missions successfully flown by the SAAF during Operation Daisy:
From 1 to 17 November 1981, 272 sorties were flown from Ondangwa.
Between 4 and 12 November 1981, 207 Alouette, Puma and Bosbok sorties were flown from Ionde.
Operational framework and design for battle
Major General Charles Lloyd, GOC SWATF, was in overall command of Operation Daisy. He commanded from Bastion in Windhoek.At the operational and high tactical level Operation Daisy was executed under the command of Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst who commanded Sector 10 from Oshakati at the time.
Overall Mission for Operation Daisy
The first mission in the fighting sequel for 61 Mech was Chitequeta, given to us by Sector 10.
For military men the mission is all important, it comes first.
A military mission becomes the centre of one’s being. You live or die for it. It takes strong leadership to do it and the unequivocal commitment from men
It is the product of an accurate intelligence assessment, deep rooted operational thinking, thorough planning, originality in conception and clear direction.
It needs to be achieved in the most professional military manner by you, not the enemy.
You know whether you win or loose. You simply measure the degree of initiative and freedom of action you enjoy, or do not enjoy, during the fighting and at the end of its sequel.
Achieving the mission becomes a domino which should fall during the fighting. It should fall come hell or high water.
During the course of successful military campaigning dominoes should topple in succession; surely, not necessarily elegantly.
A campaign is a serious shake up of the enemy. You win, he looses, or else. In the end someone wins the war. If it goes well all of us win in the end.
It is said that the purpose of fighting is to create a better form of peace. Let us see.
What was the essence of the mission constantly expressed by high command to our combined forces operating in Southern Angola?This was usually to bestow maximum casualties on SWAPO in a not to friendly manner, searching and destroying that is.
That whoever… is herewith ordained by the powers, to sally forth into the wild green yonder… to search for and destroy whatever insurgent forces… wherever… without of course, unduly so, incurring own casualties during any fracas or serious fight… by the way don’t shoot the innocent population. In passing grab a few surrogate prisoners — good for propaganda, mark you.
Such was Operation Daisy.
The next normally on the list was to dutifully count the heads of the dearly departed and the stuff that belonged to them at the end of the warring process; that’s it — report back.
The idea of killing many of SWAPO remained a central military theme throughout the counter insurgency war in the border region. Thinking back about this… the counting of heads as a true measure for operational success makes one think, does it not?
Contrarily as an a side, not a snide remark, whilst our security forces dutifully sallied forth into the wild green yonder: How many local innocent heads under military duress, from both sides of the border, were converted to whoever’s worthy cause ( those we drove pass in our Ratels in the dead of night). By the politicians up high, whose work it really was?
Not too many heads changed over to our side I believe. That was really the point, was it not? One man, one vote, or what was it in the end?
Whilst we were fighting for time many were dying?
How well were missions thought through? How did these fit into the larger scheme of things? Who had said that counter revolutionary war was 80% political and 20% military? It seemed that it was all about the body count, more or less, right or wrong, win or lose, hope and despair ………?
The mission for Operation Daisy was devised to follow up an initial attack at Chitequeta, with seventeen days being allowed for the conduct of area operations afterwards.SWAPO was to be the centre of main attraction once again — find, fix and strike
On completion of the area operation the designated forces for Operation Daisy would withdraw to SWA. This would then allow things to settle down until the next viable target was presented in southern Angola for a deliberate pre-emptive strike. So the tidy counter insurgency war would continue. Counter insurgency business as usual, against SWAPO in southern Angola, would be conducted from cosy Ongiva.
The directives for Operation Daisy were issued respectively by the Chief of the SADF and Chief of the Army to the GOC SWATF on 22 October 1981. The said operations instructions were cascaded down to Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst, the officer commanding Sector 10. By this time the matter of directives was a mere formality.
Similar operations instructions found their way down the line from the HQs of the SAAF and SAMS in Pretoria and soon reached the command posts of the air force and medical task teams located respectively at Windhoek and Oshakati.
The mission as designated by Chief of the Army for Sector 10 via SWATF was:
“To launch an operation against the military command post of SWAPO and other subsequent targets in the area of operations determined for Operation Daisy.
Close co-operation with the air force and medical commands in SWA needed to be ensured”.
The mission for Sector 10 particularly stipulated the following, namely to:
- Destroy the military command post of SWAPO.
- Incur maximum casualties of enemy insurgents during the operation.
- Capture members of surrogate forces if possible.
- Disrupt FAPLA and SWAPO logistics from the north.
The mission in essence entailed the destruction of the military infrastructure of SWAPO in the central theatre of southern Angola in the target area as designated. As I understood the mission, SWAPO’s military command post was to be the focus of main effort. The point being, ironically so, that military intelligence did not know exactly where the military command post of SWAPO lounged between Chitequeta and Indungo.
By mid October to the beginning of November 1981 intelligence was still murky. Six-figure map grid references of enemy positions remained elusive. Own operational planners were pressed for time. The rainy season in southern Angola from December until April was sneaking closer.
Operation Daisy needed to be successfully completed by end November. Go for it!
The Aim of the SAAF for Operation Daisy
The aim of the SAAF for Operation Daisy was to provide maximum support to the ground forces. This was so that the “Browns” could achieve their objectives successfully.
Air operations entailed attacking the main enemy target on D-Day and providing general as well as close air support missions to the ground forces. Air attacks against FAPLA positions were only to be launched in extreme situations – principally when intervention with own ground or air operations became imminent. The air force had fun during Daisy.
In order to achieve the latter the air force was called upon to perform the following tasks:
- Air strikes against pre-planned targets.
- Air defence missions to counter the enemy air threat.
- Close air support for the ground forces.
- Interdiction of enemy logistical supply routes.
- Visual and photo reconnaissance.
- Trooping, paratrooping and re-supply.
- Casualty evacuation and search and rescue.
Overall Operational Guidelines Received
The following operational guidelines and restrictions were laid down by higher command:
- The operation needed to be finalised before the rainy season commenced from December onwards to April.
- Surprise needed to be achieved. This was re-emphasised time and again as being extremely important to ensure operational viability and success.
- Further air reconnaissance of the target area needed to be limited, so as not to compromise the operation or to initiate the early withdrawal of the enemy from the target zone.
- H-Hour needed to be selected as early as possible. This was to allow maximum time for daylight operations, so as to effectively pursue and destroy the enemy in the target area.
- As the operation was to unfold outside own radar coverage, adequate air defence measures needed to be taken. These measures included the employment of own SAM-7 missiles deployed for the mission.
- Own anti-aircraft missile fire needed to be coordinated carefully with the SAAF, so as not to jeopardise the safety of own aircraft.
- Operational planning needed to ensure that FAPLA’s conventional forces did not intervene with own forces during or after the attack on D-Day; especially from the air.
- 61 Mechanised Battalion Group needed to withdraw southwards as soon as possible after D-Day, so as to move back under the safe coverage of own radar.
- Helicopter administrative areas (HAA) needed to be re-deployed frequently for safety and operational viability purposes.
- Contact with FAPLA needed to be avoided, unless intervention or signs of their intervention became evident (take note air force).
- Operational successes needed to be ensured from the outset (take note ground forces).
- The safety of own forces were set as a high priority (yes of course).
- The safety of local inhabitants needed to be ensured, without jeopardising the success of own operations (ops normal).
So what was new?
The Mission of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group within the Larger Scheme
The mission and tasking of 61 Mech in light of the overall mission was meaningful. As the main strike force our unit was destined to literally act as the main initiator of the operation and then, figuratively speaking, to set the bush alight under SWAPO. What did Mao Ts Tung say about guerrilla warfare: “It takes a match to light a prairie fire”?
Chitequeta was designated by Sector 10 as the main target for 61 Mech. I had signed 61 Mech’s Operations Order Number 2/81 for Operation Daisy on 28 October 1981. The order made provision for the main attack on Chitequeta on 4 November by 61 Mech. The plan included the arrangement for the area operations to be concluded by the whole force during the following 17-days, with 61 Mech involved therein.
The mission of 61 Mech stipulated the following:
“61 Mech is to conduct a conventional pre-emptive attack at 08h30 on D-Day against SWAPO’s command post in the Daisy area. The operation should endeavour to cut off the enemy’s escape during the attack, so that maximum enemy fatalities can be incurred. Important prisoners should be captured for propaganda purposes.
The main attack should be followed up with an area operation for a period of 17-days. The further aim is to continually search for and destroy SWAPO.
During the course of the operation SWAPO’s command, control and logistics in the designated area of operations should be destroyed. The latter task includes dominating the command and logistic routes of SWAPO reaching from the north towards Mupa”.
Command and Control of the Ground Force
Paratrooper Commandant Anton van Graan was in command of Operation Daisy on the ground. His Tactical HQ was to be situated at Ionde, which lay approximately 120km inside Angola. It was close enough to the action to facilitate proper command and control.
Anton van Graan at the time served in the position as Staff Officer 1 Operations (SO 1 OPS) at the HQ of Sector 10. He was appointed by Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst to command Daisy.
Commandant Anton van Graan was an ardent paratrooper, who in his earlier military days had commanded 1 Parachute Battalion in Bloemfontein.
Van Graan had also at some stage during his military career, served in Rhodesia. Here he had participated in some of the counter insurgency operations conducted by the Rhodesian forces to the north of South Africa’s borders. I was similarly privileged when I commanded Task Force X-Ray for four months in Rhodesia in 1979, during Operation Bowler.
Commandant Anton van Graan therefore came with the required operational experience and exposure to command Operation Daisy. He was a serious and conscientious military professional. The military commanders in the field trusted and felt comfortable with him in command.
The area of Ionde, with its gravel airfield, was to be converted into a temporary forward operations base and logistics and administrative supply point for Operation Daisy.
Command and Control of the Air Force
The operational headquarters of the SAAF for Operation Daisy was located at 10 Forward Air Command Post (10 FACP), at Oshakati. It was co-located at the HQ of Sector 10. Colonel Ollie Homes commanded 10 FACP.
10 FACP was responsible for operational planning and decision-making by the air force during Operation Daisy. This included the tasking of strike, air defence, and close air support, interdiction, reconnaissance, and air transport and search and rescue missions from Ondangwa airfield.
For most part of Operation Daisy a Mobile Air Operations Team (MAOT) was deployed at Ionde under the command of Commandant D. Foote. It was co-located with the TAC HQ of Operation Daisy under command of Commandant Anton van Graan.
The MAOT was responsible for the controlling and coordination of air operations in the forward areas. This included the tasking and employment of Alouette and Puma helicopters and Bosbok aircraft allotted to it.
An Air Support Operations Team (ASO) was attached to each ground unit. The ASO Teams supported the ground forces with the planning, control and coordination of air operations in their respective areas of operation. This included the planning and coordination of localised air operations and the submission of air requests.
- ASO Team Alpha, commanded by Major R.Penhall, accompanied 61 Mech.
- ASO Team Bravo, commanded by Captain H.P. Cook, accompanied 201 Battalion.
- ASO Team X-Ray, commanded by Major P.W.H. Coetzer, was deployed in reserve at Ionde for the greater part of the operation.
Overall Design for Battle
Operation Daisy was to be commanded from a TAC HQ located at Ionde. The area would be protected by a company from 32 Battalion. Functions of the TAC HQ included the planning, conduct and support of ongoing joint operations as designated by Sector 10. These functions included the evacuation of casualties and prisoners of war.
The operations plan would be adequately supported by the air force to be deployed from Grootfontein, Ondangwa and Ionde. These were to include air strikes on Chitequeta minutes before H-Hour on D-Day. Alouette helicopter gunships would provide fire support.
A main helicopter administrative area (HAA) and forward air force operational base were to be established at Ionde. The overall plan subsequently made provision for the establishment of secondary helicopter administrative areas as determined beforehand and as the operation unfolded.
The plan for D-Day made provision for a combined attack by 61 Mech, three companies of 3 Parachute Battalion and 201 Battalion on Chitequeta.
- 61 Mech, as stated above, was designated for the main attack at Chitequeta from the east. The mechanised fighting unit would eventually strike Chitequeta at H-Hour from the north and the east. The surprise attack would follow a cautious northwardly move from Omauni, which was located on the SWA-Angola border.
- 201 (Bushman) Battalion was to act as a cut-off and flank protection force for 61 Mech. Their deployment position lay approximately 20km to the south-west of the main enemy complex. They were to deploy northwards from Ongiva prior to D-Day. Their selected advance approach chosen followed the course of the Mulola River.
- Three citizen force paratrooper companies from 3 Parachute Battalion were to be inserted by parachute from Grootfontein into the bush northwest of the main objective. They were intended to initially act as a cut-off force. On completion of their mission they were to sweep towards Chitequeta.
One paratrooper company from 1 Parachute Battalion was designated to operate from Ionde for the duration of the operation. This agile force was to serve as a mobile reserve and for the purpose of rapid reaction. Their means of transport were Puma helicopters supported by Alouette gunships. The force was to reside at Ionde at the main helicopter administrative area (HAA).
Special Forces were to deploy ahead of the operation to provide intelligence as well as early warning of potential enemy movements.
The main attack on D-Day was to be followed up with area operations for the next seventeen days. All the forces designated for Daisy were to participate in search and destroy actions.
The relevant details as well as the chronological order of Operation Daisy follow in the script below.
Operational Phases — from one firm base to the next
Lines of operation describe how a complex military undertaking such as Daisy should be effectively planned and executed. This was to achieve the mission and overall objectives in a logical order. It also helped to facilitate command and control.
It is significant and interesting to note how well the overall operation unfurled according to plan, notwithstanding the low yield of enemy numbers killed during the ensuing action.
Sector 10 selected a number of important phases according to which Operation Daisy was planned to develop from one firm base to the next. The phases which were selected for the operation are summarised below. This will furthermore be used as a base-line for the telling of the story following on.
- Phase 1: Planning and preparation for the operation from the outset in mid October until D minus 6.
- Phase 2: Operational movement from the respective staging areas to pre-selected forward assembly areas (FAA), from D minus 5 to D minus 4.
- Phase 3: Operational movement from the respective FAA to final attacking positions, from D minus 4 to D minus 1.
- Phase 4: Execution of the main attack at Chitequeta on D-Day.
- Phase 5: Exploitation of the immediate target area and the conduct of area operations from D plus 1 until D plus 4.
- Phase 6: Withdrawal southwards of 61 Mech to reach own radar coverage. This was scheduled from D plus 5 onwards until the end of the operation. Area operations were to be continued for the next fourteen days by all combat participants.
- Phase 7: Withdrawal of the main combat force to SWA on completion of the operation, from D plus 15 onwards.
- Phase 8: Demobilisation on completion of Operation Daisy, which included finalising all relevant administration and holding a de-briefing of the operation.
Prelude to action
By Way of a General Overture
Lieutenant General Jannie Geldenhuys accompanied 61 Mech during the Daisy excursion He remained with us until the attack on Chitequeta was completed on 4-5 November 1981. He travelled with me and my crew in my command Ratel; he acted as part of the crew and never imposed on my command.
Strangely enough General Geldenhuys lived out of a battered brown leather suitcase whilst with 61 Mech in the field. We somehow found space for his suitcase in our Ratel — after all he was the Chief of the Army.
It was both comfortable and pleasant to have General Jannie Geldenhuys with us. It had a tremendously positive effect on the morale of our troops. It was an extraordinary mark of the generals of the SADF to accompany soldiers into battle, right up to the front-line.
The renowned war correspondent and writer Al J. Venter and his media team also accompanied 61 Mech on Operation Daisy. He recorded a complete video account of the operation and with his team provided pleasant company to the soldiers of 61 Mech.
Bush, Dust, Distance and Darkness — Unending Movement and More
Operation Daisy made me think many a time about the household dictum of the cavalry, which simply states that strength lies in mobility. We had experienced awesome movement challenges many a time at 61 Mech in the past, from 1978 when it all started. Our fighting unit would soon live through it again in all future operations until August 1988. Operation Daisy was no exception.
Cautious movement to achieve operational reach successfully was constantly challenged by four rogues, namely: Bush, Dust, Distance and Darkness. 61 Mech became past masters at movement and at cheating these swindlers. We treated them — with disdain.
During Operation Daisy we learned that a large mechanised force could be inserted deeply into enemy terrain, without being detected at critical moments – for that matter even for most of the times. This would stand the SADF in good stead during Operation Moduler in 1987.
During Operation Moduler one lonely SADF brigade fought successfully against immeasurable odds and numerically superior enemy and won — against more than nine conventional enemy brigades and two tactical groups.
By 1987 the enemy’s Migs reined supreme and uncontested in the skies over Angola. The wings of the Mirages were coming off………..through obsolescence — and lack of radar coverage.
On the ground we had to rely on leadership, tactical prowess, superior manoeuvre and the clever utilisation of denseness and darkness to survive and win in the field of combat.
The enemy air threat remained uppermost in our minds during all movements. It started seriously with Operation Daisy. The dust patiently following our mechanised column in the clear Angolan skies remained a menace. Our fear was that this swirling annoyance could easily be observed from afar by hostile observers floating in the sky.
During the advance prior to D-Day the watchful SAAF had neither warned us about any enemy air activities nor impending air threats. The dangers from above were only truly awoken on 4 November. This happened at 08h15 on D-Day, when the enemy’s radar screens came alive with the flurry of attacking Bosbok, Mirage, Buccaneer and Impala over Chitequeta.
At some stage, whilst on the move from Omauni to Chitequeta, General Geldenhuys cautioned me about the impending air threat. He had observed that ever so often some of our vehicles were inclined to bundle and he was worried about this as much as I was. This was true and of course it posed a threat to man and machine.
I took heed of General Jannie Geldenhuys’ warning. Once again I cautioned my sub-unit commanders about the impending danger prowling the sky. Many of our drivers and young national service troops were however still new at the game, but they were learning fast — on the hoof so to speak. They were experiencing first hand what it was like to operate in difficult terrain and to maintain control within large moving formations. It was somewhat different to what they had been exposed to, not so long ago, in the peaceful serenity of Bloemfontein — the city of roses.
The following brief narrative provides an interesting prelude to and perspective of the deployment and movement challenges experienced by 61 Mech during operation Daisy. The stage set was the central playing field of southern Angola.
The distance from Omuthiya to the forward assembly area located at Omauni on the SWA/Angola border was 575km by road. From there across country through the bush to Chitequeta was a further demanding 250-270km. Then we had to operate for 15-17 days longer in hostile country, before returning to Omuthiya.
Our mechanised-cum-motorised column boasted close on two hundred and twenty vehicles. The force included eighty six Ratels and eight Samil gun-tractors. It was a mobile column, with organised spacing and all, of more than 55km in length. It took more than three hours for the column to pass any point on the ground. It moved at an approximate advance rate of 12-15km per hour. During the operation a distance of 1,600km was bashed through the thickest bush imaginable within the 22 gruelling days. This happened mostly at night. It was amazing that very few technical hitches were encountered during Operation Daisy.
To draw an interesting comparison: It was a distance travelled in extremely thick bush further than from Pretoria to Cape Town. As a rule no roads or tracks were used during the operation once we had crossed the border. This was allowed only for the last part during the return journey from Ongiva. Cross-country expediencies were due to the eternal land mine threat.
Convert the above-mentioned equation into requirements such as for diesel, helicopter fuel and water and the bowsers and bunkers needed to convey these essential fluids. Guess how many spare wheels, engines and axles were required? Draw this operational perspective to interesting conclusions; all the more regarding the logistics requirements to sustain such a large force deep inside Angola. Included in this instance were fifteen mobile tankers with helicopter fuel for the SAAF.
All of the above-mentioned represented a huge operational and logistics undertaking. It presented a gigantic logistics and maintenance challenge, which was handled magnificently by our Logistics Officer Major Giel Reinecke, technical staff officer Captain Jakkals Jeackel and their support personnel. In a sense the all-smeared-in Tiffies (technicians) of Sergeant Major Duppie du Plessis became true heroes of Operation Daisy.
I recall the movement from Omuthiya to Chitequeta as being: Time consuming; fuel consuming; patience consuming and just damn difficult. It was much more than a demanding operational movement endeavour. The bush was extremely dense and the sand thicker and deeper than previously experienced by 61 Mech in Angola. The thorny entangled bush took it out on the staying power of man, machine and pneumatic tyre.
Flat-tyres by the dozens were encountered as broken sticks and stunted Mopani had a field day with us. Amazingly this was only experienced for the first few days. Then the drivers caught on quickly and all of a sudden the back-breaking, time-consuming toil of replacing heavy Ratel, Buffel or Samil wheels lessened dramatically.
My logistics officer Major Giel Reinecke and technical officer Captain Jakkals Jeackel were becoming deeply perturbed about our diminishing reserves of fuel, technical spares and wheels. It was the same with yours truly, where the buck stopped; me being the overall accountable cum responsible one. Considering that wheels, mobility, serviceability, fuel, shooting stuff, ration packs, the safety of own people and the mission itself all went hand in hand. Lucky for me, Reinecke and Jeackel and our sub-unit commanders were the best. So were their loyal supporters.
Keep on keeping moving on. Saddle up 61 Mech; we’re pulling out, again!
As challenges go, there were a few a cut above the rest: Navigation; maintaining movement control; bundu-bashing; keeping sane. In the process of unending forward motion many vehicles had to be recovered from the thick sand with tow-bars, kinetic ropes and recovery vehicles. Many a time during our initial move vehicles needed to race abreast across deep patches of heavy sand encountered in some of the flood-plains. This was to prevent Ratel, Samil and Buffels from bogging down to axle depth.
The sandier and marshier, the merrier it went. The troops started cutting off short stumps from trees with power saws. These stumps were then dumped behind them from their own Ratels to land in watery traps and to be stepped upon by the next Ratel or other vehicle following on; two hundred and fifty in a row. So the mobile fording went on. That was innovation by the young. Nobody had told them to do this. South African troops, awesome! Meanwhile the hour hand was running. Get me to the forming up place on time!
Closer to the objective it was to be all-night movement. We had experimented and practised over and over at Omuthiya. We knew that the enemy could hear our movement and discern the dusty reflection of our vehicle lights low in the sky from approximately 12 to 15 kilometre away. The quest, forever relevant and real, was to maintain operational security and to achieve surprise, onwards to H-Hour.
All the aforementioned bothersome conditions and their effects were more difficult when using a large noisy machine such as 61 Mech. Especially against an insurgent enemy who could easily hide away; one quite adept at running away, to fight again another day.
Hell it was fun being with 61 Mech in the field!
The deep incursion – into Southern Angola we went
Phase 1: Planning and Preparation for the Operation: From 23 September until 29 October 1981 (D minus 42 until D minus 6)
The planning at the strategic, operational and tactical levels for Operation Daisy was founded on the information alluded to in the script above. This included the relevance of the emerging enemy picture, political dispensation, terrain conditions and disposition of own forces.
At 61 Mech we bothered about enemy, terrain, time and distance.
By late October 1981 certain essential elements of intelligence as requested by the planners had not been satisfied. The most important were the exact positions of the enemy and the nature of their deployments at Bambi-Chitequeta-Indungo. The true situation regarding the command post of SWAPO and its protection battalions therefore remained unclear. We were guessing.
In the meantime the designated ground forces as well as the air force were gathering for the next fire storm into Angola. Excitement stirred in the sweltering heat and humid air up north.
Whilst intelligence gathering remained the focus, operational planning and preparation for Daisy continued resolutely. During September-October 1981 Sector 10 duly went into planning mode. Operations orders were compiled, which were cascaded down to the respective combat participants.
Units such as 61 Mechanised Battalion Group, 32 Battalion, 201 Battalion, 1 Parachute Battalion and 3 Parachute Battalion was at the receiving end. As tactical commanders we duly received our warning orders, soon to be followed by operations orders from Sector 10.
I had frequented the HQ of Sector 10 from Omuthiya to participate in the joint planning. At times I was accompanied by my second-in-command, logistics officer and intelligence officer. Our orders, as were those of the other participating forces, became clear cut.
My intelligence, operations, logistics and technical sections had prepared our battle maps and aerial photographs for the planning bout to follow. All this was done under watchful eyes at Omuthiya: Second in command Major Thys Rall; intelligence officer Captain Gerrie Hugo; logistics officer Major Giel Reinecke; technical officer Captain Jakkals Jeackel; operations officer cum adjutant Captain Cassie Schoeman.
Captain Cassie Schoeman was a brilliant operations officer and a leader of men — his troops adored him. We became close friends in the seventies during our training hey-days at 1 South African Infantry Battalion (1 SAI), Bloemfontein.
Schoeman had commanded Alpha Company, 61 Mech, during Operation Carrot in April 198 – with distinction I may add. The latter operation had played out in the Death Triangle (Tsumeb-Otavi-Grootfontein). It had been successfully completed within thirteen fast and furious days. Schoeman then returned to 1 SAI.
I had requested my good friend Commandant Tony Savides to detach Cassie Schoeman to 61 Mech as my operations officer for the duration of Operation Daisy. Tony Savides commanded 1 SAI at the time. 1 SAI was one of our main feeder units that provided combat ready mechanised sub-units and personnel for 61 Mech. Tony Savides said yes.
During Operation Daisy Cassie Schoeman travelled with me in my command Ratel. He was an amazing man, a pillar of strength. Did he ever sleep? I don’t think so. His voice, forever crisp and clear, could be heard over the radios, front to rear. Up to the Dear Lord as well, way pasts the chain of command. He was and still is a faithful man!
During the twenty five demanding days I intermittently had the privilege to glance sideways at Cassie Schoeman. In his jump seat of the Ratel I saw a man: Cool, calm, collected, forever positive and enthusiastic!
I would be fortunate to operate with Cassie Schoeman again during Operations Moduler in 1987 and Prone in 1988. For those trying times I had requested his presence in person at the front from Lieutenant General Kat Liebenberg, the Chief of the Army in person.
As a commandant, through the fighting 88s, Cassie Schoeman commanded 4 South African Infantry Battalion in Operations Hooper and Prone. He did it with distinction once again………….as always.
With my staff, my sub-unit commanders and artillery commander behind me and those troops of 61 Mech, man I oozed confidence. Our medical doctor kept on feeding us Malaria pills; not for chewing purposes. On the side Padre Koos Rossouw was sorting out the souls. It was all 1,000, not necessarily in a row, that would make them vulnerable to attack by other means.
During the planning for Operation Daisy at Omuthiya I said to our Padre Koos Rossouw in a joke: “Koos, remember to consider the devil as a planning factor”. His casual remark to me was: “No, leave that to the anti-aircraft gunners”.
Our second in command, Major Thys Rall, an armour man, was our movement and navigation man. He was exacting when it came to detail and therefore became the patron for movement and navigation planning at 61 Mech. This included supporting me with the combat training of our fighting unit.
Many a time I found Thys Rall, Captain Koos Liebenberg and national service officers Ariel Hugo and Chris Walls pouring over the maps in the operations room. Held in hand were their prismatic compasses and protractors. Great, there was no chance of getting lost in vast Angola with those four. The possibility of getting lost was too ghastly to contemplate. I had a few embarrassing moments of my own in my time. Trust Thys Rall, Koos Liebenberg, Ariel Hugo and Chris Walls to get 61 Mech there.
The maps we used for planning and operations at the time were mostly provisional. A collection of topographical maps was eloquently displayed against the corrugated-iron wall of our treasured operations centre at Omuthiya: Alleged enemy positions and objectives were marked in red; possible enemy counter actions dotted with red arrows; positions of own forces in blue; roads and tracks in black; riverine in blue; choke points — areas where obstacles could be encountered and negotiability could be problematic were shaded in green. Layers of talc (plastic sheeting) lay ready over the maps for the planning to follow on. Coloured Chinagraph pens were kept at the ready — these were important tools of our trade for the planning of any operation.
During October 1981 the command group of 61 Mech could be found at Omuthiya planning and preparing for Operation Daisy. It was serious business as always. Our own plan and operations order ensued from a gruelling joint planning process. My sub-unit commanders and staff officers were extremely good at this.
For the main attack at Chitequeta the terrain allowed us to strike equally easily (or difficultly) from the south, west, north or east, through the dense foliage. We knew anyway that any direction taken would be extremely demanding on man and machine. If anything could do it, our hard-wearing six-wheeled Ratels could.
We decided to strike Chitequeta simultaneously from the north and the east — a two-pronged attack. We realised that this would be the direction least expected by the enemy. More so we calculated this direction of approach would lessen the security risk and hasten disruption. We knew well that a vigilant enemy would be able to hear the growl of our Ratels in the still of the night, whilst we were still 12-15 kilometre away from the target. This we had tested at Omuthiya, over and over again. Artillery fire and an air attack close to H-Hour would have to suffice in allowing us the painstaking approach to contact — this would take 45-60 minutes at least, in the thick of the bush. So be it.
H-Hour needed to be selected as close as possible to first light. However the Bosbok light aircraft, Mirages and the Buccaneers needed some light to acquire their targets. More so, the sun needed to be high enough so that the insurgents could not hide away in dappled shadow. Nor from the wrath of the circling Alouette gunships for which we had planned. 08h30 was thus chosen as H-Hour.
The approach chosen would take us north from Omuthiya: via Omauni further north still, moving northwards halfway between the Cubango River to our east and the Mulola River to our west; to an attacking position approximately 60km east of Chitequeta.
What happened whilst intelligence was being gathered and high-level operational planning pursued for Operation Daisy?
61 Mech was gallivanting purposefully in the training area to the north of Omuthiya – firing and manoeuvring at will with live ammunition — once again furiously training and exercising. Forever sharpening the combat edge was the name of our particular game.
Our incoming regimental sergeant major (RSM), WO1 H.G. Smit, and the troops of Alpha Echelon had composed a little Afrikaans song, whilst we were still at Omuthiya; it went like this:
“Oopse Daisy… Chetequera, jy is ‘n SWAPO nes… Hier kom die Boere en leer jou ‘n moerse les, Jou hart maak tiekie-wawiel….”
Oopse was probably some divine foresight expressed by my gifted incoming RSM. The little song was not that flattering to the enemy, SWAPO that is. It expressed Chetaquera as being a SWAPO nest and that the Boers were going to stuff them up good and solidly, it will strike fear to their hearts……… Well done Sergeant Major H.G. Smit, the psychological is to the physical as three is to one.
Two platoon commanders of Bravo Company, namely lieutenants Gert Minnaar and Ariel Hugo, formed part of the feverish preparations for Operation Daisy. They were 19 year olds then. Both short term permanent force junior officers in their third and final year of service were veterans of Operations Carrot (April 1981) and Protea (August-September 1981). In the script following on below they aptly explain how they experienced force preparation and training at Omuthiya:
Gert Minnaar reflects:
“We believed at 61 Mech in training hard, which made the fighting part easier.
During October 1981 we were at it again, preparing for Operation Daisy at Omuthiya. We knew that it was going to be an arduous undertaking. What we could discern from the planning and the maps was that the target lay more than 250km inside southern Angola. I was excited about our new venture.
I was a mechanised platoon commander under command of captain Koos Liebenberg of Bravo Company. He was a very dedicated commander and looked well after us loots and his men, always trying to do it by the book. We had worked closely with him in the bush for many months now. Bravo Company was a close knit team. Our icon was the Ratel-20. It was armed with a 20mm quick firing gun and a turret mounted 7,62mm Browning machine gun. We could either fight mounted or dismounted.
As young short term permanet force officers we felt extremely confident due to the meticulous force preparation and training we continuously underwent at Omuthiya. This good feeling was amplified by us being veterans now from both Operation Carrot in April 1981 and Operation Protea in August 1981.
What marked our training at Omuthiya day and night in preparing for operations, which I would never forget ever, were: Manoeuvring endlessly in the dense bushes surrounding Omuthiya day and night; navigation exercises; fire and movement and contact drills with live ammunition; clearing enemy trenches and; above all maintaining our vehicles and equipment to a high state of readiness.
We worked hand-in-hand with the other sub-units of the armour, artillery, engineers and support groups.
Omuthiya was our home from home.
We were proud of Bravo Company and of 61 Mech.”
Ariel Hugo continues:
“I commanded Number 2 Platoon (mechanised) of Bravo Company. Our company commander was Captain Koos Liebenberg, in whom we had utmost confidence.
Our company comprised a company HQ with two Ratel-20s and three platoons equipped with four Ratel-20s each. In addition the company was supported by a Ratel armoured ambulance, Ratel recovery vehicle, 81mm mortars and an assortment of logistics vehicles.
Bravo Company was usually organised as a combat team, which normally included four Ratel-90s of 2nd Lieutenant Chris Walls. Walls commanded the anti-tank platoon of 61 Mech. We were both trained at 1 South African Infantry Battalion in Bloemfontein, before we came to 61 Mech at the beginning of 1981. Walls and I had become close friends.
Both Chris Walls and I had participated in Operations Carrot (April 1981) and Protea (August-September 1981). We were veterans and felt good about it. We were old hands now.
Commandant Roland de Vries, the commander of 61 Mech, had observed the unholy alliance of Hugo and Walls. During some of our exercises he made a comment about our navigational abilities with map and prismatic compass in hand. This was not easy in the dense bushes and flat terrain of Ovamboland, or for that matter, southern Angola. As a 19-years old national service officer my chest swelled at the praise.
On or about 15 October 1981 Captain Koos Liebenberg told me and Chris Walls that we had been selected to navigate 61 Mech onto the objective during Operation Daisy. The operation apparently was scheduled for early November 1981. I experienced a surge of apprehension, but pride and anticipation as well.
After this Chris Walls and I exercised endlessly to sharpen our navigational skills. This happened many a time on our own, during the day and night in the bushes north of Omuthiya. There was no way that we were going to get lost.
We were also privileged to plan the operation, especially the movement and navigation part, with the command group of 61 Mech. This was truly an amazing experience for us youngsters”.
By 29 October 1981 the soldiers of 61 Mech were not to wonder how, or who must do what, where, when and why?
Phase 2: Operational Movement from the Respective Staging Areas to Pre-Selected Forward Assembly Areas (FAA): From 30 October until 31 October 1981 (D minus 5 to D minus 4)
29 October 1981 found the force ready to move from its widely dispersed staging areas to pre-selected forward assembly areas (FAA) and eventually to final attacking positions:
- 61 Mech was still deployed at Omuthiya, getting their final things done.
- 201 Battalion was closing down Operation Mispel in the Ongiva-Dova area. The Bushman Battalion was making ready to move northwards towards Chitequeta. Some of their fighting elements were still at Omega and needed to get themselves swiftly westward-ho.
- The infantry company and reconnaissance team of 32 Battalion had moved from Buffalo to Omauni and were still in final force preparation mode.
- The company of 1 Parachute Battalion was finalising their battle preparations at Ondangwa for the airlift to Ionde.
- The three companies of 3 Parachute Battalion were still training and preparing at Oshivello. They were ready to move to Grootfontein airfield at moment’s notice to go and fit their parachutes.
By 30 October the military field base at Omauni beckoned 61 Mech. This was where the forward assembly area (FAA) for our unit had been selected. Here in confined security the final preparations for Operation Daisy would be concluded on 31 October. Hopefully, at this late stage, the exact positions of our enemy at Chitequeta would be known. We were waiting anxiously for the final position of the enemy.
There was no turning back now.
Omauni was situated 15km south of the SWA-Angola border and approximately 250km west of Rundu. This would be our jump-off point for the 250km deep penetration into southern Angola. The actual distance to the final attacking position 60km east of Chitequeta was 295km. It would take us three days to cover the total distance.
The operational move from Omauni into Angola would follow on 1 November, 04h00 sharp.
Omauni served as the training area and FAA for 32 Battalion as well. Here 61 Mech would join up with their company and reconnaissance team earmarked to participate in Operation Daisy. The destination of the fighting elements of 32 Battalion was Ionde.
On 30 October (D minus 4) 61 Mech rose early at Omuthiya and was ready to depart by 04h00. Two routes were followed. They were referred to in our operations plan as Route 1 and Route 2. Route 1 was used to get the heavy six-wheeled Ratels more-or-less undetected to within striking distance of the border at Omauni. Maintaining security was the main consideration for the latter move, apart from the shorter travelling distance, of course. Route 2, however lengthier, suited our four-wheeled vehicles better. Large military convoys on the Grootfontein-Rundu highway did not attract attention anymore. The convoy of 61 Mech following this particular route would therefore not jeopardise operational security.
- The fighting echelon followed Route 1 and moved under command of my second-in-command, Major Thys Rall. His collection included my tactical command group, travelling under supervision of Captain Cassie Schoeman. Route 1 took our fighting component due north through the bushes of Ovamboland, until the Chandelier road was reached. The latter joined Eenhana to the west and Omauni to the east. The column then swung due east and sallied forth to Omauni. Extreme care was taken not to fall victim to the mines of SWAPO buried along the Chandelier. A distance of 195km (14-hours) was travelled across country to reach Omauni on this day.
- The remainder of our force, including the administrative echelon, followed the beaten track we had nicknamed Route 2. The distance by road from Omuthiya via Rundu to Omauni was 575km (14-hours). The gruelling distance was covered in one day. Major Giel Reinecke, our logistics officer, commanded the ensemble of logistics and other supporting vehicles. He was supported by our RSM, WO1 M.C. Barnard. The RSM of 61 Mech commanded Alpha (administrative) Echelon as a rule. Travelling with as the second-in-command of A Echelon was WO1 H.G. Smit. (Smit was in the process of taking over as our incoming RSM. We were close friends from our training days at the Infantry School and 1 SAI). The convoy moved south by road to the Ovambo Gate, which was located at Oshivello. The procession then swung eastwards and followed the Bravo cut-line to Tsintsabis. The straight and narrow road then led further to the Grootfontein-Rundu highway. The tarred road was then used to take the diverse gathering of Reinecke, Barnard and Smit all the way to Omauni.
I had the dubious honour of remaining behind at Omuthiya for the next few hours as the two dusty wakes of 61 Mech receded. The reason was that some of my flock were still arriving in dribs and drabs from Grootfontein. These were mainly our new drivers from Army HQ and supplementary logistics vehicles from Northern Logistics Command (NLC).
In my humble opinion, Army HQ and SWATF please take note of our slight predicament for future reference – this did not make life easy for 61 Mech.
These drivers were not operationally experienced. Neither did we have the opportunity or the time to train or prepare them beforehand at Omuthiya for the mission at hand.
The above training would be left to Reinecke, Barnard and Smit to perform on the hoof in hostile country. Regarding total quality management; the civvies refer to same as ‘continuous improvement’…and risks management.
I made sure that each newcomer was shown the way one-by-one to Omauni with a route map, a cheer and a prayer…………… a route map, a cheer and a prayer………… I now knew what Padre Koos Rossouw felt like in praying for soldiery souls; sorry, drivers
I then left for the airfield (Operet) close by at Oshivello and flew directly to Omauni. A light aircraft was graciously provided by the SAAF. As we flew north-east we could see the dust of the Ratels below trailing towards Omauni. On impulse I thought about the air threat we would face once we crossed the border into Angola and I snapped another prayer for my flock travelling on the Rundu highway. Reinecke and his clan were now 176km further to my east in the haze. The Dear Lord had dedicated a special staff officer up there to minute my snap prayers for drivers with trucks, which needs fuel, which could break and be shot at.
By late evening the component parts of 61 Mech had reached Omauni with a few break-downs. Our flock was together again, including a large number of starry-eyed fledglings. The latter were quickly welcomed into the fold of 61 Mech. Their orders were given, they now belonged to 61 Mech. Keep your distances drivers; when driving in Angola, there are umpteen enemy Migs up there, take note.
At this moment:
- The paratroopers of 3 Parachute Battalion was still busy with their training and force preparation at Oshivello. They would soon move to the airfield at Grootfontein, 160km to the south. There they would conclude their final preparations for Operation Daisy, strap on their parachute harnesses and wait for the dead of night.
- 201 Battalion was already deployed at Ongiva. They were concluding their final preparations as they made ready to move via Dova towards the Mulola River. In due course the Mulola would be followed northwards to Chitequeta. A little fiery surprise and a few enemy mines were awaiting them in the floodplain of the Mulola.
Act I, scene 2 was successfully completed. There was no one to cheer us at Omauni, but It was pleasant to enjoy a cold beer there with my command Group. 30 October had been a long day, not completely without its minor mishaps here and there. Thys Rall was covered in dust. Giel Reinecke looked extremely pale. The troops were relaxing in the easy comfort of Omauni – trouble-free chatter, hot food and two beers per man.
31 October, tomorrow, will be the closing moment south of the border and prelude to action. Check and check again and then final inspection. 61 Mech declared marching ready. Lieutenant General Jannie Geldenhuys then joined 61 Mech. He was duly welcomed and allocated a seat in my command Ratel by Captain Cassie Schoeman. He now belonged to 61 Mech.
The media team of Al J. Venter arrived as well. They were duly welcomed and allocated a Buffel by Major Giel Reinecke, which they signed for! Captain Cassie Schoeman gave orders and assigned their position in the marching order. They now belonged to 61 Mech – cameras, tripods, slouch hats, impressive field wear and gear and all. (Civvies — strange beings).
04h00 on 1 November 1981 was waiting for no one.
We were together, self-assured and ready. 61 Mech was a high-performance fighting team. Somewhat cocky young warriors’ just 19-years of age made it so.
Phase 3: Operational Movement from the Respective Forward Assembly Areas (FAA) to the Final Release Positions Selected for the Attack on D-Day: From 1 November to 3 November 1981 (D minus 3 to D minus 1)
On 1 November 1981 the hour hand at Omauni reached 04h00 – D minus 3. Let us depart the forward assembly area (FAA) at with 61 Mech for Chitequeta; three days and counting.
The exact positions of our enemies at Chitequeta had not yet been confirmed by intelligence from Sector 10.
Damned infuriating and worrying, the enemy situation for all of the participants………
The military field base at Omauni, which we were using for jump-off, was still shrouded in darkness. The growl of engines and the squelch of radios could be heard. 61 Mech was ready to march. The vanguard had already started moving. The red haze of their rear lights faded away to the north in the darkness and the dust.
A reconnaissance team of 32 Battalion was leading our heavily armed fighting procession. 32 Battalion knew the area well and assisted us with navigation for a part of the way on the first day. They were out there in front of our Ratels with their Buffels.
Further to our west, approximately 75km away, 201 Battalion started moving from the area of Dova. Commandant Frans Botes and his Bushmen were to negotiate their way northwards, following the Mulola River. Their aiming point was a deployment position on D-Day, approximately 20km to the south-west of Chitequeta. Mounted in four-wheeled mine protected Buffels and in Samils, they were trailing dust as we did.
At Grootfontein the three paratroopers companies of 3 Parachute Battalion was in final preparation mode for their airborne deployment to Chitequeta on D-Day. Likewise, the paratrooper company of 1 Parachute Battalion was standing by at Ondangwa. They were at high readiness, waiting to be trooped to Ionde as the mobile reserve for Operation Daisy on D minus 1.
Our extended mechanised column was now moving progressively northwards to our final attacking position. It was 295km and 3-days to go. We would leaguer for the first night approximately 20km south of Helicopter Administrative Area Number 1 (HAA 1).
The next lap was HAA 1, which was situated approximately 50km to the east of Ionde and lay on the northerly advance route of 61 Mech towards Chitequeta.
The plan was that 61 Mech would abide for a while at HAA 1, to replenish and to liaise with the command cadre of Sector 10. The movement would then continue to a position further north where 61 Mech would leaguer for the second night.
Here and there, as we moved, we came across friendly UNITA soldiers. They were clad in tattered camouflaged fatigues and carried AK-47 rifles. They waved at us, friendly smiles everywhere to be seen. Thumbs up were spontaneously flashed and was nonchalantly answered by soldiers in the dust of the trailing Ratels.
Our UNITA liaison team on the Ratels with us came erect and swelled their chests. The troops treated our new found UNITA comrades with ration packs. We were obviously still in UNITA’s area, but not for long. I instinctively thought about the security of our movement. Who will report what?
In the meantime the position of HAA 1 had been secured by a company of 32 Battalion earlier in the day by helicopter. Two Puma and two Alouette helicopters with MAOT personnel on board arrived safely at HAA 1 later during the day. Major Knoppies Coetzer was acting commander of the MAOT for the time being. The HAA was established by 19h20. This was done in preparation to receive the mechanised column of 61 Mech the next day.
At 22h38 the MAOT personnel marked the HAA position with strobe lights and flares for a Hercules C130. The droning aircraft passed purposefully overhead on the way to the Chitequeta target area.
The C130 had left Ondangwa at 22h00 with eight Special Forces (Recces) operators on board, who were subsequently successfully inserted to the north-west of the target zone. Their primary mission was to confirm the presence of the enemy at Chitequeta by 18h00 on D minus 1 (3 November); a secondary task was to mark out a suitable drop zone to the north-west of the main target area for the insertion of three paratrooper companies on the night of D minus 1/ D-Day.
Astute Captain Jeremy Wiley of Special Forces was one of the operators on board the cavernous C130. Ever-creative Jeremy Wiley always had a few tricks up his sleeve. He had befriended a captured SWAPO terrorist beforehand. His man knew about the enemy base at Chitequeta and allegedly came from Bravo Battalion. He had deserted because SWAPO had treated him badly.
Wiley’s new recruit became a prized possession of Special Forces. For this dubious honour he was taught how to jump at night from an aircraft with a parachute – thrown out more likely. Wiley and his SWAPO friend were on their way now to reconnoitre the final enemy position at Chitequeta. They were soon to be inserted at the dead of night by parachute to the north-west of the target area. The minutes were ticking.
Jeremy Wiley inter alia maintained radio communications with a mobile tactical headquarters of Special Forces moving with 61 Mech. The diminutive TAC HQ was under command of Special Forces officer Major Charl Naude. His small camouflaged team was enjoying the ride on our Ratels.
Communications between Wiley and Naude were sporadic and sketchy at times due to radio skip distances, perpetual movement and the dangerous work the Recces were doing on the ground. The same accounted for the liaison team of UNITA that was also moving with us. Both these teams used Morse code for radio communication most of the time.
Our accompanying teams from Special Forces and UNITA maintained close liaisons and moved within the tight circle of our combat group HQ.
2 November 1981 — D minus 2
A reconnaissance team of 32 Battalion, under command of Captain Willem Ratte, was trooped from HAA 1 to Ionde by two Puma helicopters to scout the lay of the land. This was where the TAC HQ for Operation Daisy was to be established the next day. The position still needed to be secured by the company from 32 Battalion on D minus 1. The latter task would be achieved by means of a heliborne, air-landed operation.
At 11h00 the first element of over 220 vehicles of 61 Mech started arriving at a HAA 1. The mechanised column refuelled and then continued their advance further northwards.
Six Buffel mine protected vehicles with personnel and equipment of the MAOT, which had accompanied 61 Mech, remained behind at HAA 1. ASO Team Alpha, under command of SAAF Major Rod Penhall, moved further northwards with 61 Mech. He was part of us. The MAOT, currently manning HAA 1, would later on proceed the 50km westwards by vehicle to join the TAC HQ at Ionde.
At 18h34 six Alouette gunships arrived at HAA 1 from Ondangwa to join the two other Alouettes already in situ.
Four additional Puma helicopters arrived at 19h15. The Pumas at HAA 1 now totalled six. Commandant D. Foote arrived with the Pumas to take over the command of the MAOT from Major Coetzer.
We received a situation report (SITREP) from Captain Jeremy Wiley that same evening. He was roaming covertly somewhere in the dense bushes surrounding Chitequeta. He was scouting the target zone, doing what Recces usually do under precarious situations. Theirs was an exciting but highly dangerous sport. This was happening about 136km to the north-west of 61 Mech’s current position. We were gradually closing in on Wiley. His report was that the main enemy base had not yet been located. There were however clear signs of enemy activity in the area.
3 November 1981 — D minus 1
The focus of the TAC HQ and the MAOT on 3 November 1981 (D minus 1) was to secure its command position, the airfield and forward operational base at Ionde. This was to be achieved by means of a helicopter-borne operation.
Ionde lay approximately 120km due south of Chitequeta.
At 06h15 six Pumas with Alouette gunship support departed to Ionde from HAA 1. The assault team of 32 Battalion was now airborne. Ionde was found to be unoccupied by SWAPO. A suspect enemy base void of enemy at Embundo, approximately 6km south-west of Ionde, was also secured by 32 Battalion.
Simultaneously, with the feverish activities at Ionde an air reconnaissance mission was flown at 08h35 by the SAAF to Cahama. The radar installations, which had been destroyed by the air force during Operation Protea in August 1981, were active again.
The radars at Cahama posed some concern for the air force, who wished to ensure a favourable air situation for the duration of Operation Daisy. It was on this information that an air strike was planned on Cahama for D plus 1.
HAA 1of 61 Mech closed down simultaneously whilst the MAOT was being established at Ionde.
Soon afterwards a new helicopter administrative area was established for 61 Mech further northwards on their advance route. HAA 2 was situated approximately 60km to the east-south-east of Chitequeta, about 90km to the north of the previous helicopter base. This was also the final attacking position for 61 Mech, just to confirm.
By 10h45 the TAC HQ and MAOT were established at Ionde. The runway was found to be in a good condition and suitable for the landing of light aircraft and even Dakotas.
At this stage of the operation 8 Alouette gunships and 6 Puma helicopters were already available for deployments from Ionde.
Far to our west 201 Battalion was moving steadily northwards. They were still following the course of the Mulola River to their deployment position south-west of Chitequeta.
On the way 201 Battalion had a surprise encounter with a strong SWAPO contingent. The enemy group was moving steadily southwards when they unexpectedly ran into the vanguard of Commandant Frans Botes and his fighting Bushmen. The position of the contact was given over the radio as map reference XN 450 095 over the radio. Captain Cassie Schoeman duly marked the position on our battle map.
At 14h20 ASO Team Bravo requested two Alouette gunships to provide fire support to 201 Battalion. A heavy firefight subsequently ensued.
Part of the spoils of war was a brand new six-wheeled Volvo field vehicle taken from SWAPO. Botes shared his find somewhat laconically with me over the radio. He was proud of his contact with the enemy. I replied: ‘What the hell about security, Frans?’
Thoughts of grandeur by Frans Botes to use his captured Volvo as a staff car later on at his base Omega was soon smashed by the revered Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst. The latter outranked a commandant by far.
At the end of Operation Daisy this executive toy duly found its way to Oshakati.
At 16h00 two Puma helicopters flew to the position of 201 Battalion to evacuate four wounded soldiers and one captured SWAPO combatant.
Would the recent contact in the Mulola on D-1 compromise the attack on Chitequeta?
Through the remainder of the day Dakotas started landing at Ionde, ferrying in additional personnel for the TAC HC and the MAOT. This included a well organised and suitably stocked medical field post. Twenty Buffel spare wheels, dearly required by 61 Mech, were flown to Ionde as well. 61 Mech was still moving steadily northwards. Somewhere yonder Major Giel Reinecke will bring the Buffel spare wheels together with 61 Mech.
The first of three pairs of Bosbok light aircraft arrived at Ionde. These plucky fledglings were required to support the remainder of the operation.
The last Dakota landed at Ionde at about 18h00. The company of paratroopers from 1 Parachute battalion had arrived. The young airborne warriors would act as the mobile reserve for the duration of Operation Daisy.
Late afternoon found 61 Mech arriving at HAA 2 and completing its leaguering procedure. Final preparation for the assault on Chitequeta the next day was on hand. No further information about the enemy had been forthcoming. Re-assess our position and confirm the orders. So far it was all systems go.
Major Coetzer, the ASO of X-Ray, duly established his position at HAA 2. Here his small SAAF team would remain for the next few days with a few ‘Brown Jobs’ (the nick-name for the army). From here it was much closer to support helicopter operations westwards towards Chitequeta. Unfortunately the position was not suitable for a Bosbok light aircraft to land.
Sixty kilometres to our west the sun set where the enemy lurked and the Recces reconnoitred.
Could there be sixty seconds when you needn’t think of anything — nothing? In the field there was no such thing as nothing, not even in your sleep. Of sleep there was not much.
What must happen next? What could happen during the next tactical bound that was not foreseen…? Perpetual motion had been soothing to the soul thus far, the mind and the body battered by the constant movement of the six-wheeled armour hull. Shaken, but not stirred.
Every sixty seconds was worth the distance – always moving forward. Check and check again. Think one step ahead…To observe, to orientate, to decide and to act, when called for…at moment’s notice…
One thousand people were with me, one thousand thoughts at a time…ecology of ideas…one thousand lives at stake.
Receding light left another arduous day…tomorrow was going to be another demanding day, D-Day.
No sleep for the soldiers of 61 Mech that night, adrenaline was surging. Perhaps some cat-napping could be had in either moving or stationary vehicles here and there further along the advance route.
Nor sleep for the TAC HQ at Ionde surrounded by battle maps and the squelch of radios; the SAAF readying for the air strike; the paratroopers strapping on their parachutes at Grootfontein; 201 Battalion moving stealthily in on Chitequeta from the south; Captain Jeremy Wiley scouting in the darkness surrounding Chitequeta.
The trap was about to close in on SWAPO at Chitequeta.
What is the enemy thinking? What are they doing? Where are they exactly on Mother Earth?
The main challenge now for the remaining 60km was to navigate 61 Mech accurately onto the objective in time.
The plan of attack for the next day called for an initial east flanking approach by 61 Mech. The unsuspecting enemy would then be taken soon after first light from the north and the east of Chitequeta — a two-pronged attack. The rising sun would shine from behind and to the left of our attacking force — excellent for orientation.
The essential of any attack, more so in denseness and darkness lies in reaching the forming up place and start line mere minutes before H-Hour on D-Day. This is the exact hour and minute on which the successes of attacks hinge, the witching hour for inflicting bad things on the unsuspecting foe… hopefully.
For Operation Daisy H-Hour had been carefully selected, 08h30 it was. From this base-line all critical happenings had been organised, either unfurling before or after. It was also the point of coordination for everything following on: Fire and manoeuvre of the ground force; air support and the safety of own aircraft from own fire; indirect fire support and coordination; safety of own forces from own fire. We were now very close to this critical juncture and counting. Well coordinated sequential actions and simultaneous moves were the norms.
An air attack was to precede the calculated assault. It was also planned to have Alouette gunships available to support the attack. It was to be a grand affair and the complete move had been superbly executed as planned thus far.
The key challenges for all the forces participating in the imminent main attack were firstly finding their separate ways to final deployment positions accurately and timeously; secondly, in doing so, not to compromise security. Achieving surprise remained a fundamental rule for a successful attack. 61 Mech had done its level best to successfully achieve all of the aforementioned.
In an extreme endeavour to maintain operational security to the utmost the final movement towards the objective was to be a cautious affair. My trust and that of 1,000 soldiers were in a small team of stalwarts selected to navigate 61 Mech onto the target. They were Captain Koos Liebenberg the commander of Bravo Company and national service Lieutenants Ariel Hugo (Bravo Company) and Chris Walls (anti-tank platoon commander). They had been extremely good at this in the past. They were going to do it once again. The prismatic compass was one of the tools of their trade.
D minus 1 passed into D-Day.
Phase 4: Execution of the Main Attack at Chitequeta on 4 November 1981 (D-Day)
The distance from the final attacking position (HAA 2) to the FUP was 60km. The total time planned for the movement of the main force of 61 Mech to the FUP, from 03h00 to 0830, was five hours and thirty minutes.
Captain Koos Liebenberg, Lieutenants Ariel Hugo and Chris Walls left the safety of HAA 2 at midnight. They were escorted by a mechanised platoon. The plucky team did the navigation for the final 60km to the objective determinedly and accurately.
With the four Ratel-20s they moved cautiously ahead through the night at low speed and engine revolutions. With our trusted company commander who roved in support, Koos Liebenberg, the lieutenants marked the way with Ratel track and toilet-paper. The paper was carefully spaced and placed in the trees at the roof level of a Ratel ………For 45km onwards they grinded westwards through the bushes and the darkness to the pre-selected waiting area.
On the way an Angolan snake had the audacity to fall into the turret with Koos Liebenberg. Some consternation and fury were expended on the snake, but not for long.
Keep on keeping moving vanguard, the main body of 61 Mech will soon follow!
Thus the way for the final offensive forward move by 61 Mech was expertly paved by these young officers and their crews with Ratel track and toilet paper.
The main force of 61 Mech departed HAA 2 at 03h00. Alpha Echelon was left behind at HAA 2. The echelon would re-join us at Chitequeta on D-plus 1.
The immense fighting column advanced as stealthily as possible for the next 45km. The route which had been expertly marked by our navigation team was diligently followed. The aiming point was a temporary stop-over located 15km east of Chitequeta. Here the force joined up with the navigation team at 06h00 on D-Day. The way to the forming up place and the objective was still two hours away.
61 Mech was ready for its final approach to contact exactly as planned. Well done 61 Mech!
To crown some of the operational proceedings of the eventful night D minus 1/ D-Day thus far: The diminutive Special Forces reconnaissance team of Captain Jeremy Wiley had been doing sterling work so far. They were, however, still trying to locate the exact position of the enemy base. His Recce team came into contact with an enemy look-out post in the early hours of the morning as they were scouting for the foe. This happened whilst 61 Mech was still moving.
Shots were fired at Wiley’s Recce team. The hope was that the enemy would surmise that the Recces were locals, or even scouts from UNITA. Wiley’s accurate reporting by radio of these situations to the respective HQs remained problematic through the night due to faltering communications and unnerving skip distances. On the morning of D-Day, at about 04h00, his messages however came through to the mobile TAC HQ of Special Forces travelling with our command group. These messages were passed on to me by Major Charl Naude of Special Forces. The news was not good.
Captain Jeremy Wiley reported that he believed our main objective to be void of enemy. There was no question about it that there were enemies in the target zone, but not where it was originally calculated. The news was disheartening to say the least. In the same vane Wiley reported that he had heard the Hercules aircraft flying to his west as they dropped the paratroopers. He had also heard the indiscernible drone of our mechanised force far to the east, although the direction could not be exactly determined.
Jeremy Wiley furthermore informed us that he had heard movements of several small groupings of enemy throughout the night. True to form the wily enemy was escaping and evading harms way, I thought. We were now forewarned by our plucky Recce that we could expect contact with the enemy anywhere and at any moment! A vast target area still lay ahead of us.
I subsequently reported the aforementioned information by radio to my sub-unit commanders. I cautioned them to remain on high alert and to be ready to fight at moment’s notice. We would continue with the attack as planned nonetheless. The latter decision took into consideration the uncertainty about the enemy and the fluidity of the situation unfolding within our target zone. The target had now become infinite without boundaries.
For a few dreadful moments disappointment washed in ripples over me. I immediately thought about the painstaking preparations and immense effort all the combat participants had put in for Operation Daisy — right at this very moment, finding 61 Mech somewhere east of Chitequeta grinding westwards.
How will this influence the morale of my men?
I knew one thing. I could not allow the situation to wear away the exquisite combat vitality and sound morale of 61 Mech through tiredness and infuriation.
Danger could be lurking anywhere.
Don’t fret, remain composed. Focus on the job at hand, inspire and motivate, goal set through. From one firm base to the next ………
Faith, faith in self, faith in the people around you………. These now were the true pillars of strength……….forward.
Move forward as planned. Assess the current situation as soon as possible. Be ready to adapt at moment’s notice. A plan is a basis for change…………Search for forward ground.
At about 06h00 we picked up Jeremy Wiley and his SWAPO compatriot in one of the Ratels of our combat group HQ. Wiley and his second had moved towards our line of approach. They were extremely pleased to join up with 61 Mech. They were bone tired after spending a long dangerous night in close proximity to the enemy, continuously dodging and diving for cover.
Whist we started moving towards the objective a Ratel equipped with electronic surveillance equipment remained on the alert for enemy radio chatter. Major Peter Lemon commanded the crew of industrious signallers. They were well versed in the tricks of the trade of electronic warfare. However, nothing of value was intercepted on the way.
What were the air force and airborne forces doing whilst the ground forces were closing the net on Chitequeta…?
The main features for the air force on D-Day were an early morning paratrooper drop at P-Hour (similar to H-Hour, which indicates time of attack, P-Hour indicates the time paratroopers are dropped) and the air strike on Chitequeta minutes before H-Hour. For the air force it was to be an interesting and eventful day.
- At 03h00 a combination of six Hercules C130 and Transall C160 aircraft left Grootfontein with three paratrooper companies of 3 Parachute Battalion on board. They were on their way to their pre-determined drop-zone (DZ) approximately 20km northwest of Chitequeta. The paratrooper drop, however, did not proceed altogether smoothly. The DZ was apparently not illuminated in time by the Recces for the airborne insertion. The aircraft had to circle the area to find the DZ, which was subsequently missed by a few kilometre. Into the darkness and the bushes below the paratroopers eventually jumped. Five paratroopers got entangled in their harnesses on the way down to the ground. Miraculously none of the airborne soldiers were seriously injured during the landing in the dense bushes. The paratroopers needed to group and organise themselves hastily in the darkness into some semblance of a viable cut-off group. They were now all safely on the ground, somewhere to the northwest of Chitequeta. This was a difficult undertaking in the dense bushes and the darkness. What had the enemy in the target zone heard and what were they thinking? Nonetheless no regret, one part of the sequential activities for D-Day was completed — tick the box. Our courageous paratroopers were on their way to their cut-off position.
- The first of four Bosbok light aircraft “Voorlopers” were airborne and on its way from Ionde to the target area by 05h45. The other three were airborne soon after 07h30. Through the day the Bosbok forerunners provided invaluable navigational assistance to the ground forces. The young pilots assisted with aerial reconnaissance, forward air controlling of attacking aircraft, aerial observation and artillery fire control. On this day 61 Mech, 201 Battalion and the three paratrooper companies became fully indebted to the worthy services of these few courageous Bosbok pilots.
- Soon after first light, at about 06h00, six Alouette gunships left for HAA 2, situated about 60km east of Chitequeta. Here the gunships remained on call for airborne fire support for the remainder of the day. The Allos were joined one hour later by four Puma helicopters. The Pumas remained on stand-by for the day for trooping and Casevac duties.
- At 08h15 three Buccaneers attacked an alleged SWAPO HQ position near Chitequeta with a low-medium toss bombing profile. Each Buccaneer carried 8 × 460kg bombs. Four bombs became hung-up between the three aircraft during the bombing run.
- High release dive-bombing was executed on the target on Bravo Battalion located at Chitequeta from 08h16 onwards. At 08h16 four Mirage F1s dropped thirty two 250kg high explosive bombs. One of the pilots could observe the trail of a SAM-7 missile as he pulled out. One of the Mirage pilots reported that he saw spectacular secondary explosions as he left the target area. Presumably these were from enemy ammunition caches. At the same time three additional Mirages attacked another section of Chitequeta with eight 250kg bombs each. Enemy anti-aircraft bursts and fire from another SAM-7 were reported. Minutes afterwards another four Mirages streaked into the target zone. Some of the bombs did not release due to electrical malfunctions, whilst some were jettisoned off-target a few minutes later. During ground mopping-up operations two days later it was found that these bombs had killed six insurgents. Anti-aircraft fire and the trail of a SAM-7 were spotted once again. A next sortie of four Mirages screamed into the target zone. This aerial formation observed the airbursts of 23mm anti-aircraft fire at approximately 10,000ft.
- At 08h55 Major Rod Penhall, the air support officer (ASO) with 61 Mech, called in two Mirages for a re-strike in the target zone at Chitequeta. It was an area from where one of the Bosbok pilots had reported anti-aircraft fire coming. The Mirages fired rockets and drew 23mm anti-aircraft and SAM-7 fire as they pulled out of the dive. Another re-strike was called in by Penhall at 09h30. From 10h00 until 12h00 two pairs of Impalas executed air strikes with 68mm rockets on suspected enemy anti-aircraft sites in the target zone. No further anti-aircraft fire was encountered.
- From 12h00 to 14h00 some Mirages and Impalas flew interdiction and air reconnaissance missions over the bush tracks leading from Cassinga, Techamutete and Bambi to the target area. No enemy vehicle or otherwise suspect movement were observed whatsoever.
- At about 14h00 two Alouette helicopters were tasked to search for two paratroopers who became seperated from their main force during the night north-west of Chitequeta. The paratroopers safely rejoined their company later on.
- A Puma helicopter left Ionde at about 15h30 to evacuate a casualty not too far away. The soldier had broken a leg when a landmine exploded under his vehicle.
- At 16h30 the MAOT at Ionde received the sad news that three soldiers of 61 Mech had been killed (later confirmed to be two from 61 Mech and two from UNITA) at Chitequeta during a contact with the enemy. Two Puma helicopters were scrambled from HAA 2 for the Casevac.
- An interesting feature of the day was the increased activity by the enemy Migs. The enemy’s aircraft were scrambled on numerous occasions from their airfields located at Mocamedes, Lubango and Menongue. Thus far it seemed only for defensive purposes of their own airfields. Enemy air activity became more and more apparent as Operation Daisy progressed. Was a hornet’s nest being kicked?
- For the air force the day was both encouraging and disappointing. The air force had done what they were asked to do. The supposed enemies that were plotted and pieced together by intelligence had been bombed on the ground with utmost vigour. No aircraft were lost. The air force was just as disappointed as the ground forces at the close of D-Day.
- All the main targets were found deserted when the mechanised force eventually reached their designated target positions. Some of the targets were more than two months old — only cobwebs and booby-traps remained. Only some areas, outside the area where the Bravo Battalion was supposed to be located, had shown some signs of anti-aircraft activity.
- In their report (61 Mech archive – SAAF Report marked Top Secret: Summary of Air Force Participation in Operation Daisy) the air force stated the following, which aptly echoed the mood of the ground forces:
“Once again a great deal of fire power and effort had been expended with no visible result.
Once again the intelligence regarding the SWAPO bases was found badly wanting.
All the air force had to show for the tremendous tonnage dropped on the target during D-Day was six bodies found two days later.”
In the mean time, by 08h00, the three paratrooper companies of 3 Parachute Battalion had occupied their cut-off position about 15km to the northwest of Chitequeta. They were ready to commence with their sweep operation towards the target area as planned when so ordered.
At the same time 201 Battalion reported that they were in their cut-off and flank protection position 15km to the south-west of Chitequeta. They had occupied their deployment position through the night and were therefore ready by 08h00.
H-Hour for the main attack by 61 Mech was still on for 08h30. This gave sufficient time for the SAAF to complete their numerous pre-planned air strikes as 61 Mech approached the objective from the north and the east. The final milling-and-mincing approach to contact through stifling bushes by 61 Mech was grinding ahead as planned.
The dry river course of the Cuando rivulet now served as the axis of attack from the north onto the objective. Here and there pools of fresh water could be sighted in the shonas and river beds we crossed. The rainy season was waiting for no one, least of all the military.
At 08h30 Sierra Battery, under command of Captain Bernie Pols, came into action 5km to the east of the main objective. The 120mm mortars were deployed well within effective range of the main objective. Of Israeli origin the 120s could fire distances of 10km with rocket assisted ammunition. The eight lethal 120mm M5 mortars immediately commenced with firing at pre-selected targets. Their fire was used in addition to cover the movement of 61 Mech and to mask the approaching noise of the vehicles. (Incidentally, the artillery fired more than eight hundred 120mm mortar rounds on to suspected enemy targets during Operation Daisy.)
Minutes before H-Hour the four Bosbok aircraft executed dummy runs over the target area from the south. The reason for this was to disrupt the enemy on the ground and to deceive them about the approach of attack taken by 61 Mech from the north and the east. They also continued to assist with aerial reconnaissance, artillery target indication and forward air controlling of the attacking Mirages and Impalas.
The offensive launched by 61 Mech called for a two-pronged attack: firstly from the north and secondly from the east. The idea was to roll-up the enemy position at it’s narrowest in sequential attacks from the north and east. It catered for the disruption of the foe by aiming at the enemy HQ as early as possible and by coming in on their natural escape route. Twenty kilometres to the north the enemy’s safety principally beckoned from the shadowiness of Indungo.
61 Mech was organised into three combat teams for the attack on D-Day. Combat teams 1 and 2 were mechanised and 3 motorised. The Ratel-90s of the anti-tank platoon and armoured squadron were interspersed with the Ratel-20s of the mechanised infantry. This allowed for well balanced combat elements, where the 90s could seek out the hard targets and the 20s the soft targets.
The attack was straightforward and was pre-arranged to unfold in three uncomplicated phases:
- Phase 1:
The main attack was to be carried out by Combat Team 2 (mechanised) of Captain Koos Liebenberg. This was in the area where the command position of the enemy was expected to be encountered first. The attack by Liebenberg’s combat team was to be covered by indirect fire following on the air strike. The 120mm mortar fire of Captain Bernie Pols was to be thickened by the close fire support of the 81mm mortar platoon of Major Kobus (Bok) Smit.
Combat Team 1 (mechanised) under command of Major Leon Marais was the mobile reserve for Phase 1. Captain Frik Schade acted as his second in command. The combat team subsequently moved one bound (200m — 400m) behind the combat group HQ and Combat Team 2, on the same axis of attack.
The combat group HQ moved in the centre, slightly to the rear of the skirmish-line of Combat Team 2.
Combat Team 3 (motorised) under command of Captain Pale van der Walt was deployed in a cut-off position 3km to the east of the objective. This was also their attacking position for Phase 3 of the attack, which was set to develop from east to west.
Six Alouette gunships were standing by from 06h30 onwards to the east of Chitequeta at HAA 2. This was to provide supporting fire as required by 61 Mech, 201 Battalion or the companies of 3 Parachute Battalion during the attack. The mission of the gunships entailed on-call services for the cutting off of any enemy fleeing the target zone in a southwardly direction.
- Phase 2:
This phase entailed the continuation of the attack by Combat Team 1 through to the next objective from north to south. Their target was selected further to the south of the first objective. The attack was to be supported by 120mm and 81mm mortar fire.
Combat Teams 1 and 2 were then to follow through with the attack and exploit southwards to the general line of Mabilue. This was a recognisable point, selected from the map, which lay on the southern perimeter of the main target at Chitequeta.
- Phase 3:
Phase 3 made provision for a final attack by Combat Team 3 on a target that was selected further in depth.
Their attack from east to west was to be supported by the six Alouette gunships. For this purpose a helicopter administrative area had been prepared 6km to the east of Chitequeta. Here the helicopters could refuel and re-arm in relative safety.
The plan was then for Combat Team 3 to exploit further westwards to the north-south line of the Cuando rivulet.
For Phase 3 Combat Teams 1 and 2 were earmarked as mobile reserves.
As our fighting line entered the fringes of the objective from the north, we still considered and hoped for the possibility of a major contact with the enemy. However, no defensive fire was encountered. As we continued moving southwards we could clearly discern old signs and symptoms indicating that the enemy had once occupied the base.
The artillery and mortar fire were shifted further southwards in front of our skirmish line.
Everywhere we caught sight of derelict trench systems and bunkers, which had decayed and collapsed over time. Interesting enough, as we swept through the objective we found numerous tree-stumps and stunted trees protruding all over. The trees had been cut-off by the enemy at the axle height of a Ratel. It clearly served as obstacles for an attacking foe.
We could also observe that fields of fire had been cleared carefully, way back when, for defence against a mechanised force. The latter was probably due to the lessons the enemy had learned from Operation Smokeshell in June 1980 when Commandant Johann Dippenaar had commanded 61 Mech. In actual fact at that very same moment he was circling the objective above us in one of the Bosbok spotter aircraft.
We ceased firing with the 120mm and 81mm mortars. The mortars remained on call for opportunity targets to be assisted by our spotter aircraft. I only realised later that the Bosbok aircraft were flying too high to truly assist us with proper target acquisition on the ground.
I called off the planned attack. We however, swept through the target zone more or less following the original plan. This we maintained for a while to make certain that our target area was truly void of enemy.
As we moved through the objective I could hear an enemy 23mm anti-aircraft gun firing far to the south of our immediate target zone. It was later on confirmed that a few stray anti-aircraft weapons had been firing at the attacking Mirages and Impalas. This included a few SAM-7s which were fired at some of the attacking Mirages during the initial air strike. One Bosbok light reconnaissance aircraft (Bosbok 264C) flying Telstar above us in the area to our west had observed anti-aircraft fire to the south as well. (I still have his top secret mission report – Misrep/Top Secret/003/ 4 Nov 81 – from AFCP10 at Oshakati in my possession until today).
The Bosbok pilot dutifully reported as follows on the morning of D-Day, 4 November 1981:
“08h15 to 12h50. Circled area 10km west of target to provide Telstar for ground forces. Plotted Call Sign PC1 at XP 470 080 and Call Sign 10 at XP 500 180, which are battalion stopper groups.
During attack troops reported AA fire from ground photo CJ 089 420. Airbursts exploded 100m from aircraft while at 1,000 feet. AMSL could not determine origin of fire and ground forces reported AA fire at the same time. Impalas were brought onto AA positions. Did FAC (forward air controlling) with Impalas onto another AA position at ground photo CJ 098 436. Results unknown.
On returning to Jump Master (Ionde) engine started running rough and had to fly at reduced power setting. Visibility about 15km here and there in river beds in area 10km west of target”.
Later on, as we swept through the objectives further to the south, we found some tattered enemy corpses in the bush not too far from our target area. Apparently some medical field post was hit by a stray bomb from the attacking Impalas. Well done air force!
By now it was obvious that any sane enemy would be high-tailing southwards out of the danger zone – especially considering the commotion caused through the night by the closing of the trap on the enemy from the east, west and the north.
On penetrating the objective still further for a while and finding it empty we came to a tactical pause. We immediately re-assessed our position. It was thought sensible to exploit and hunt swiftly to the south and the west of the target area. There was enough daylight left.
As previously planned, Combat Team 2 of Captain Koos Liebenberg was released to seek enemy remnants further southwards. Combat Team 1 of Major Leon Marais was to hold fast for the moment as the mobile reserve on the high rise forming the most dominant part at Chitequeta. Combat Team 3 of Captain Pale van der Walt was tasked to sweep in an easterly direction towards the Caiundo River.
It was initially considered to utilise the Alouette gunships to search for escaping enemy. The SAAF, however, had restricted the employment of the Alouette in this manner. Anyway, we did not want to expose the helicopters unnecessarily to own or enemy ground fire, which could erupt at any moment. Another reason was that we did not want to expend precious flying time, until a viable contact had been established with the enemy. Find and fix.
The ducking and diving foe was out there somewhere, in front of our sweeping ground forces. As it were, the search, either mounted or dismounted by the respective combat teams, seemed endless. The grinding through the dense bush was eternal.
By late afternoon, at 16h30, the three mounted platoons of Combat Team 2 were exploiting further and further southwards when they found enemy spoor. As they followed up they spotted seven insurgents running away southwards. Some of the riflemen immediately dismounted and gave chase on foot. The Ratels were pacing the skirmish line, ready to provide fire support.
- During the pursuit the mechanised platoon of national service 2nd Lieutenant Ariel Hugo ran into one of the enemy groups. A vicious fire fight subsequently ensued. The position of the contact was later reported to be at map reference XN 564 913.
- Ariel Hugo’s platoon summarily took account of the SWAPO terrorists. One fleeing enemy was captured and the remainder were killed. AK-47 rifles, military rucksacks and an attaché case filled with documents were secured by the platoon.
- The following own members were killed during the exchange of fire: Major Cabinda of UNITA; an unknown UNITA orderly; Lieutenant Gert van Zyl (one of the SADF’s liaison officers with UNITA); Corporal Johan Louis Potgieter.
- Rifleman George Peter Boorsma and Lance Corporal Russel James were seriously wounded during the contact.
- Two Puma helicopters were immediately dispatched to uplift the bodies and wounded of own forces and the captured SWAPO insurgent. By 17h58 the Pumas flew them back to Ionde. For 61 Mech it was a poignant moment in the bush.
This was yet another typical bush war encounter successfully completed by a mechanised infantry platoon in South Africa’s endless Border War.
The young had been out there in the field of combat. Those in contact with the enemy were national servicemen of calibre, doing the jobs fighting men do. I was proud of them.
Their sad moment was one of triumph as well; for the foe most probably too.
Precious lives were sacrificed and brave deeds were done within minutes of scathing fire erupting from both sides. Nineteen year old Ariel Hugo later on shared the following vivid account with us:
“During Operation Daisy we were ambushed. It happened in the afternoon on 4 November 1981.
When the first shots were fired the enemy instantly killed a UNITA major, his orderly and Lieutenant Gert van Zyl. They were travelling on my Ratel (call sign 22).Gunner Peter Boorsma and Corporal J.L. (Pottie) Potgieter immediately jumped off my Ratel. Peter Boorsma was seriously wounded in his legs in those critical first couple of seconds. This followed in seconds after the three soldiers on my Ratel were killed.
Boorsma was now pinned down 15 meters from his attackers. He came under intense AK-47 fire. Pottie dived forward to cover Boorsma, thereby saving Boorsma’s life. With this heroic act Potgieter was killed – a single shot through the mouth.
In those chaotic moments Rifleman C.P. Spangenberg (Rifleman Number 5 of Bravo Section) jumped up, ran forward and shot the insurgents where they lay hidden in their position. It happened at point blank range, under the covering fire from my other platoon members.
Corporal Potgieter was recommended for a Honoris Crux decoration for bravery. Unfortunately this commendation was declined by Army HQ. Potgieter was a brave man. He was our comrade, a friend and our cook of note in the platoon. We will remember him and all our other fallen “.
Further to the south-west of us, at about 17h00, Commandant Frans Botes of 201 Bn reported that they had come across an empty base and had seized a large quantity of abandoned enemy equipment.
By late afternoon I established the TAC HQ of 61 Mech on a prominent stretch of high ground at Chitequeta alongside the Cuando rivulet.
Tomorrow was another day. What would it hold for us; and for 201 Battalion and the paratroopers surrounding the target zone; and for the enemy?
- The combat teams and supporting units moved into an all-round defensive position at Chitequeta. Our work here was not done yet. We had some mopping-up and exploitation of the target zone to perform the next day — not a pleasant task at all to look forward to. There were landmines and booby-traps everywhere. The main threats were personnel mines and booby-traps, which waited silently to strike at the unwary.
- My second in command, Major Thys Rall, made sure that interlocking arcs of defensive fire were carefully arranged all around us for the night.
- The crews were already busy performing last-parade on their vehicles and equipment. To one side the Tiffies were repairing some of our machines — cool and calm and busy as usual they were.
- A de-briefing was held, thoughts were shared, orders were given. Security for the night had been arranged. The mortars would be performing harassing fire through the night. The echelon, under command of Sergeant Major M.C. Barnard, still needed to join us from HAA 2 the next day.
Some order and calmness settled over us at Chitequeta as the sun set over 201 Battalion and the paratroopers 15-20km to our west.
What shared thoughts lay amongst our command group at the closing of the day? Those feelings and beliefs embedded in the deep recesses of ones mind?
For 61 Mech, regretfully so, the operation was not crowned with impressive operational gains. That is if the enemy head count was to be taken into consideration as the prime criterion.
The designated objective of 61 Mech was found empty on arrival. The old enemy base was found to have been evacuated for some time. This was due to inaccurate intelligence, regarding SWAPO’s exact deployment as was received by 61 Mech during the planning phase; even up to the moment we had approached our FUP at Chitequeta.
How dearly had the operation been compromised beforehand, we pondered? For future reference that is. We could do nothing about that now.
We knew that 61 Mech had not been detected by the enemy along our three day weary easterly approach. This was heartening to realise. Did the enemy pick up 61 Mech’s deployments prior to forming up?
What about the untimely contact by 201 Battalion and their movement further northwards; the unfortunate contact by Special Forces Captain Jeremy Wiley with the enemy near Chitequeta the morning of D-Day; the airborne deployment by the paratroopers, which had been a dead give-away?
The aforementioned movements were all picked up by the enemy and diligently reported by enemy scouts to the PLAN HQ at Lubango.
We were, however, content with out performance. Our unit had done what it was requested to do in the most professional way we could. Our young national servicemen had performed extremely well.
Here we were on the ground deep in Angola. No regrets…learn…focus on the mission.
The importance of reliable tactical intelligence, once again, was clearly accentuated throughout the passing of the day. It was later established beyond any doubt that the objective allocated to 61 Mech at Chitequeta was more than two months old.
Phase 5: Exploitation of the Target Area and the Commencement of Area Operations: From 5 November until 8 November 1981 (D plus 1 until D plus 4)
5 November 1981 — D plus 1
5 November found 61 Mech re-grouping and mopping-up the target area. This included planning the next moves, which meant striking 35km south-westwards towards Bambi soon.
We received some exhilarating news: Further to the west the SAAF had flattened the radar installations, some fuel dumps and parts of the town at Cahama with great success. The air force furthermore flew some reconnaissance missions along the roads near Techamutete and Cassinga. Nothing ominous or to get excited about was reported in the vicinity of the Daisy target area.
By 09h00 Major Rod Penhall had established HAA 3 for 61 Mech in a nearby shona at Chitequeta. The position was close to our tactical HQ. An array of Alouette gunships and Puma helicopters was standing by to support our mopping-up operations and to assist with Casevac and fire-support on call. Major Andy Anderson, as the commander of the protection group of 61 Mech, supported Penhall with the layout of the HAA and its ground protection.
Soon after HAA 3 was established, from 10h00 onwards until about 11h00, we lived through a few embarrassing moments. The combat team of Major Leon Marais, operating to the south-west of Chitequeta, reported suspect vehicle movement south-west of them.
- The combat group HQ immediately went into an assessment and planning huddle. Was there an opportunity to strike either at SWAPO or FAPLA? Excitement was stirring again. We knew well that elements of 201 Battalion were operating to the south-west of us. The movement reported could be them. The problem was that we did not know where they exactly were at the time. This was due to lapses in the accurate reporting of positions and at times faltering communications.
- Our air support officer Major Rod Penhall requested the MAOT at Ionde to investigate by means of aerial reconnaissance. A few Mirages and Impalas were duly scrambled for the said mission. I don’t believe the pilots complained. It was subsequently established by aerial reconnaissance that the combat team of 61 Mech and 201 Battalion operating to the south-west had reported each other’s movements. This was one helluve expensive air force reconnaissance sortie! Rather safe than sorry we thought.
At some stage during the day it seemed to the SAAF that the enemy Migs intended to strike at our ground forces at Chitequeta. Our forces were warned to remain on high alert throughout. Nothing, however, came of this warning. The Migs remained on the defensive to the west, north and the north-east of us. The helicopters, which were deployed in a large shona at Chitequeta, were particularly vulnerable to air attack; as were the more than two hundred vehicles of 61 Mech and their crews, even though they were spread out roaming the target zone.
Through the day the Sappers (field engineers from 25 Field Engineer Squadron), of Major Tallies Taljaard, were doing sterling work in the mopping-up of Chitequeta. This was extremely dangerous work. They were finding numerous bunkers and caches with stocks of obsolete ammunition and mines all over. Nearly all this enemy leftovers were protected by booby-traps, the clearing of which was hazardous, strenuous and time consuming. Each bunker or cache needed to be cleared beforehand with probing sticks and mine detectors.
Another section of field engineers had established a water point in a nearby shona. They were purifying and collecting clean water for the more than 1,000 men of 61 Mech. Three companies of paratroopers were also closing in on Chitequeta; almost 300 extremely thirsty airborne soldiers exhausted to the marrow.
At mid-day we lived through yet another uncomfortable situation — all in a days work at Chitequeta, never a dull moment! A Buffel had accidentally caught alight where it was parked in close proximity to the helicopters and our TAC HQ. This was where one of the Sappers had unwittingly left it. The fire was probably caused by some instantaneous chemical reaction from old ammunitions of SWAPO loaded on to the vehicle. It was almost certainly an old RPG-7 projectile. Major Rod Penhall immediately instructed the Puma and Alouette helicopters to move to safety, as the Buffel started lapping flames. As the drama unfolded Major L.A. ‘Andy’ Anderson casually walked towards the burning Buffel, climbed in, started it up and drove fearlessly away from the helicopters. He climbed out, seeming totally composed. As he walked away the Buffel erupted in flames and black smoke behind him. He never flinched or looked back once at the explosion. Fortunately only three members of 61 Mech were slightly injured during the explosion. They were Sergeant P.J. Slow (our intelligence clerk); paratrooper J.J. Wood; paratrooper A. L. Swart.
Standing there at Chitequeta and observing Major Andy Anderson’s brave exploit clearly demonstrated the calibre of a brave South African soldier. The picture is still vivid in my mind until today.
I had the honour to write the citation for his Honoris Crux Decoration (HC) for bravery. He was a man who did not flinch once when it came to the safety of others or our equipment. His decoration for bravery was subsequently approved and awarded to him by Chief of the Army. This happened a few months after Operation Daisy was completed.
Major L.A. ‘Andy’ Anderson in later years lost both his legs during a land mine explosion in Kaokoland near Opuwa. Until today Andy Anderson still flies micro-light airplanes. This clearly demonstrates his adventurous spirit and one of his personal traits I had learned from him: ‘Let nothing get you down’.
Soon after mid-day some of our ground forces reported an unidentified twin-engined aircraft flying high over the Daisy target area. A Mirage F1 mission was scrambled to intercept the enemy aircraft. The SAAF surmised that it could either have been deployed for electronic surveillance purposes, or for the controlling of enemy aircraft in flight. When the SAAF Mirages arrived at the scene the enemy aircraft was long gone.
At approximately 13h00 Major General Charles Lloyd, Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst and Commandant Anton van Graan arrived at Chitequeta from Ionde by Puma helicopter. The purpose of their visit was to plan the future direction of the operation involving 61 Mech.
What remained was the continuation of the area operation southwards and then to withdraw to SWA as planned. It was decided to launch 61 Mech at Bambi, at first light on 7 November 1981.
Perhaps luck would hold in finding an enemy base, although nothing spectacular as such was really foreseen by us. Enemy remnants were expected to be on the move all over, fleeing the danger zone. The battle field had become completely fluid.
Military intelligence could still not provide a coherent enemy picture. The enemy now knew more about our whereabouts and moves than we did of theirs. We were relying purely on luck and the chance of fleeting opportunistic engagements with SWAPO.
Everyone knew well, that by using 61 Mech in area operations, was akin to swiping at mosquitoes with a bludgeon. Mounted in our impressive array of fighting vehicles we were just too heavy and noisy for this.
Let us venture south-westwards for the search anyhow. Perhaps luck will hold in finding enemy.
Mopping up of the objective continued late into the afternoon. At about 13h00 one of our sappers, Candidate Officer S.F. Coetzee, was tragically killed in a booby-trap explosion. Three other Sappers were wounded during the same incident. One of them was Sapper N.M. Domoney, who was seriously injured. This happened whilst they were meticulously and dutifully clearing abandoned enemy bunkers. The dead and the wounded were immediately evacuated to Ionde by Puma helicopter.
I dwelled for a few precious minutes on the untimely death of our gallant Sapper and his three wounded friends. They were doing their job.
One more death had been offered in a momentous struggle against SWAPO. This time it happened in a two month old abandoned enemy base smothered with derelict Soviet ammunitions and booby-traps. More ammunition would and could be streamed in by the Soviets in any case, unstoppably so, I thought.
Was this one more death and the wounding truly necessary? Who could share the thoughts of the one who stood in command…those of their friends…their loved ones? Those who would soon receive the heart-breaking-soul-wrenching news far away in South Africa?
I could only echo the known words written by Rudyard Kipling of bygone times in salute: “You were men my sons, you ran another 60-second worth of distance”.
Meanwhile the three paratrooper companies were progressively sweeping south-eastwards towards Chitequeta. They were moving towards us in an extended patrol formation from their previous night’s cut-off position. They were searching for enemy strays. At 14h00 they reported that they had killed three insurgents. It became clear to us that the enemy were scattered all around.
At the close of the afternoon Lieutenant General Jannie Geldenhuys, Major General Charles Lloyd, Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst, Commandants Anton van Graan and D. Foote left for Ionde by Puma helicopter. Generals Geldenhuys and Lloyd departed Ionde by 17h30 for Ondangwa on board a DC3 Dakota. It was a pleasure to have been privileged to share the pleasant and supportive company of General Jannie Geldenhuys up to now. 61 Mech appreciated his gallant generally gesture. He now needed to return to Pretoria to do the other things South African generals in general did.
Our courageous Recces, Captain Jeremy Wiley and his SWAPO friend were leaving us as well. They were clad in the fresh fatigues we had dutifully delivered to them the day before. Wiley surmised that a number of the enemy equipped with vehicles, further to our north out of immediate reach, had escaped the net on D-Day.
I could only sigh. Will we ever know what the true deployments of SWAPO were during those eventful days? One day I will ask them. Best wishes SWAPO, until next time.
The sun set on 5 November 1981. Another uncomfortably quiet night was spent camouflaged and dug in at unforgiving Chitequeta. On completion of an evening de-brief every one of my soldiers was left to his own thoughts.
We had lost a few good men until now, our friends. How do you describe to anyone what it is to feel sporadic thrusts of sorrow and utter frustration at the same time? It was buried to the hilt in the innermost.
Still, some joy. How proud you were of young men, such as those of 61 Mech. Men of calibre.
I could hear their quiet sighs and subdued chatter all around me. Similarly the quiet sighs of the armour plate of their Ratels cooling down after an arduous day seemed almost human.
High confidence and self-esteem prevailed throughout the dispersed soldiery lines dug in shallowly all around me. They were breathing equally shallowly, always wary, at the ready… composed.
Countering alienation and anxiety is enhanced by creating safe spaces and assuredness, within surrounding dankness for your people. This is a physical as well as a mental phenomenon. I had marvelled at its encouraging effects under similar experiences in the past. Close camaraderie and sound morale lay at the heart of it all. This builds confidence and cohesion. I knew that our evening de-briefs made life easier and strengthened confidence, as was the value of cascading it down to grassroots.
Focussing self and others on the positives breached the hindrances and the negatives I knew.
Always search for forward ground, either physically or mentally.
6 November 1981 – D plus 2
A gentle day dawned for 61 Mech on 6 November 1981. The continued mopping-up and searching of the area was uneventful really. Time was allowed for planning and the issuing of new operations orders down the line.
Serious maintenance of our equipment was ardently undertaken. The Tiffies and our vehicle crews could be found camouflaged amongst the trees. They were, as usual, busy with the necessary upkeep and repairs of our large mechanised force. Some of our soldiers were jostling and jesting as usual, it was good to see. Their morale was solid and unwavering as usual. “Keep on keeping on” was the motto.
During one of the ground searches our troops came across six already de-composing bodies of SWAPO insurgents.
The most exciting event on 6 November was the shooting down of a MiG-21 by a pair of Mirages. The aerial combat happened towards Cahama-Lubango, to the west of the Cunene River. The Mirage F1CZ pilots involved were Major J. Rankin and Lieutenant J. Du Plessis. Major Rankin did the final honours of shooting down the enemy Mig in flames.
61 Mech was as excited as were the SAAF at the winning of this aerial duel. This was the first enemy aircraft to be shot down by the SAAF since the Korean War in the fifties. The story of Rankin and du Plessis and the unfortunate Mig follows as a separate story alluded to in the script below.
For the first time the enemy’s air force had become overly active in southern Angola. This ominous sign did not bode well for future military operations. We instantly became much more wary about passive air defence measures. We were dusting off our own few captured Russian SAM-7s in our arsenal. Our astute troop leader of the anti-Aircraft troop (20mm Ystervark and SAM-7), Captain Carl Lindsey, remained on high alert. 61 Mech fortunately never encountered any hostile aircraft during Operation Daisy and Lindsay had nothing high-up to shoot at.
To the credit of our artillery gunners, some of them apparently spotted and reported a few of the enemy’s Migs roaming in the skies close to us. It could even have been some of our own Mirages for that matter. I never saw any of the enemy’s Migs. Only in October-December 1987 would I come to understand the wrath of Russian Mig fighters. Those would be the days of high intensity conventional war faring in south-east Angola during Operation Moduler.
During the same day a company of 32 Battalion further to our south made contact with SWAPO insurgents. The fire-fight occurred 15km northwest of Ionde. The attacking force of 32 Battalion stormed in by Puma helicopters supported by Alouette gunships.
Was our enemy fleeing southwards from Chitequeta?
In addition the SAAF dispatched two Pumas from Ionde for water re-supply mission and some trooping of the paratroopers in the Daisy area. The Mirages and Impalas flew more reconnaissance missions in the Techamutete-Bambi area, but failed to locate enemy vehicle movements. Through the day a few Bosbok missions were flown to support the ongoing area operations of 201 Battalion, the paratroopers and 61 Mech in the Daisy area.
7 November 1981 – D plus 3
The next mission awaited. 61 Mech had been ordered to clear the suspected enemy base at Bambi.
We knew well that SWAPO elements were active throughout the whole area. Similarly there were many enemy caches to be found at old enemy bases, such as at Chitequeta and Bambi. This all formed part of an area operation and an endeavour to further disrupt, annoy more likely, SWAPO forces in the north.
We realised that a mechanised force, such as 61 Mech, was not really suited for the more subtle role of finding and killing small groups of enemy fleeing in the dense bush. We were, however, putting our unit to its best use in the current operational circumstances. Anyway, it was a great operational experience for our unit.
At first light on 7 November 61 Mech struck 35km south-westwards towards Bambi. We did not really expect to run into serious enemy resistance, if at all. The move was, however, executed in readiness for an attack. We were ready to deploy into attacking formation at moment’s notice. This was standing operating procedure.
Air force attack aircraft and helicopters were standing by to support 61 Mech if contact was made. The latter package deal had been carefully clinched by SAAF Major Rod Penhall, our ASO. By now he was one of 61 Mech.
The move went swiftly and smoothly. We were getting quite good at this, as if by second nature. Don’t become too nonchalant 61 Mech!
The terrain we were moving through was exotic. Lush African bush and gigantic trees of more than sixty metre high decorated the beautiful landscape. There was some mystique clinging to the entangled underbrush. Ever so often we spotted deserted enemy trenches and foxholes. We dodged tracks and defiles and remained wary of enemy mines and ambushes.
We could discern an alien atmosphere as our vanguard entered the fringes of where we thought the enemy base at Bambi to be from the north-east. Combat Team 2 of Captain Koos Liebenberg was scouting ahead of our massive column.
What we were about to find was another deserted enemy base of course; the story of Operation Daisy. Semi-depleted bunkers, caches and foxholes could now be observed all over. Left-over from SWAPO (PLAN), our esteemed comrades, thank you very much. Some landmines were left as well, more than a few – we did not know it yet. The peacefulness accompanying the pleasant growl of Ratels erupted into an explosion and another one, followed by ominous black smoke.
Two landmines were stumbled across by the Ratels and detonated within fifteen minutes of 61 Mech’s arrival at Bambi. There were mines everywhere it was later discovered, vehicle, personnel as well as booby-traps.
Soldiers are strange beings even under the most unpleasant of circumstance. The other sub-unit commanders and Sergeant Major Duppie du Plessis were sharing the predicament of Combat Team 2 with some amusement. They watched Captain Koos Liebenberg falling victim to those unwelcome exploding devices of SWAPO. For some or other uncanny reason they were smiling in sympathy. Tiffy Duppie knew there was work coming.
For a moment our eminent friend Captain Koos Liebenberg and his trusty followers were obscured by a mixture of dust, black smoke and cordite. Fortunately there were no casualties, apart from wounded self-esteems. I knew the feeling from a previous personal experience and felt for them.
One of the stranded Ratels was call sign I72. This was the Ratel-90 of national service 2nd Lieutenant Chris Walls, from the anti-tank platoon. He had led the vanguard.
Chris Walls appeared out of the dust, somewhat deaf-stricken.
As one of our navigators’ supreme of 61 Mech his chances were high of falling prey to one of SWAPO’s landmines, even an enemy ambush. It was the law of averages. At nineteen years of age he was our point man, one of the most dangerous places to be.
Soon afterwards one of the diesel bunkers ran over a third landmine. Fortunately the smiling driver sustained no serious injuries, apart from painful deafness for a while.
Very little was found at Bambi and consequently the air support stood down with the exception of two Alouette gunships, which remained on stand-by through the day.
61 Mech commenced with area operations in the surroundings of Bambi as planned.
A number of patrols of 61 Mech continued to search the area for enemy along the Bambi River. At about 13h00 some cooking fires which were still warm were found nearby. A GAZ truck was also located in the area. Two Alouette gunships in support of the ground forces fired at the truck. On investigating our ground forces found that the truck had already been abandoned by SWAPO. Was this the remnant of a reconnaissance effort, or what? The ground forces found more abandoned SWAPO bases as they started searching the area.
The aforementioned incident was reported as follows by the Alouette gunship mission:
“From ASO Alpha to MAOT ZULU.
Top Secret/Int 013 Nov 81.
Mission 351- 2 x Alo. Close Air Support.
0712h00 to 0713h30.
Flew from HAG 3 (61 Mechs’ previous position at Chitequeta) to area south of Bloody Mary (Bambi River). Saw big empty camp at XN 240 820. It is about 2-3km in diameter and could house 400 to 500 people. Another empty base was swept by the army (61 Mech) at XN 30 88. There are lots of huts in the base, but no trenches or bunkers were seen by the Alo crews. Fresh vehicle tracks leading to the northwest, west and north from that base. At XP 190 280 the A/C shot at a GAZ vehicle. Ground forces did a follow up and found the vehicle. No anti-aircraft positions were seen and no fire was drawn during the sortie. Small buildings were observed at Bambi XN 23 87.
General: There are lots of water (even in pools) around XN 30 88. The whole area 10-15km and south of the Bambi River between XN 40 90 and XN 17 83 is full of small bases vehicle tracks and Mielielands”.
More air reconnaissance missions were flown by the SAAF in the vicinity of Bambi and Cuvelai through the day. The enemy’s Migs were extremely active slightly to the north of Cassinga, 45-60km away. There was a possibility that the Migs could attack the ground forces at any moment the SAAF reckoned. For such an eventuality Colonel Ollie Homes placed Mirages on hold over Cuvelai for counter air operations. The air operation was controlled from 10 FACP at Oshakati. Nothing further dramatic materialised further from the hostile Angolan skies to the immediate north of us.
We remained wary of the skies; also from the ground. Military intelligence informed us that they had intercepted an enemy radio message in which SWAPO had been tasked to capture one of the soldiers of the SADF operating in the area of Bambi-Chitequeta.
At approximately 15h00 201 Battalion started sweeping southwards from their previous cut-off position. They immediately sent an intelligence report about SWAPO activity close to them — too close for comfort, so to speak. Insurgents were laying mines amongst their dispersed vehicle columns as they started moving. Two Alouette gunships were scrambled to investigate. Nothing substantial was however reported about this bothersome incident.
We found that we were literally entrapped by unmarked enemy landmines and booby-traps at Bambi. We were therefore extremely careful where we walked, even stepped or drove. It was an unnerving experience spending the time at Bambi. We sat stranded for the moment with two Ratel landmine victims.
Our defences were carefully laid out for the night. We were ready for anything coming our way— interlocking arcs of fire was arranged all around. It was mutually supporting to solidify our position. One of our patrols was still outside the perimeter at a water hole, about 500m to our west-north-west. There a few water bunkers were still being filled by the field engineers as dusk settled.
Major Kobus Smit and Captain Bernie Pols had done meticulous defensive fire planning for their 120mm and the 81mm mortars – as usual. The main defensive fire tasks lay to the north. We were also covering the water hole to the west-north-west.
Major Anderson and I spent some time walking about, visiting some of the troops. They were digging in alongside their Ratels and other assortments of vehicles with the clang of “tools entrenching”; some were making coffee and preparing food from their 24-hour ration packs. Haggardness covered in dirt with smiles was what I saw. The smell of food and smouldering Esbit graced the approaching darkness.
Anderson and I came back to our HQ position as it was getting pleasantly dark. Tonight we shall all catch up on some well deserved shut-eye, we thought. Captain Cassie Schoeman, my adjutant, had found some luke-warm Whiskey he had hidden away somewhere. It was gurgling agreeably into a tin cup. I was leaning comfortably with my elbow against the side of our Ratel. Tin cups were offered to our crew by Cassie Schoeman. Much appreciated, where the hell did it come from? Peace settled over Bambi. I sat down relaxing on my army camp chair, canvas nutria, with metal frame folding, mark 1.
We were suddenly entertained by a healthy display of fireworks coming out of the darkness of Angola from our north. AK-47 tracer ripped over us in volleys… crack, thump… crack, and thump… crack, thump… not for too long, fortunately.
I was immediately concerned for our lonely patrol at the water hole a few hundred metre to our west-north-west, outside our defences in the darkness.
Find our lonesome patrol on the radio Captain Cassie Schoeman and report back ASAP!
A lonely SWAPO terrorist group had unexpectedly walked into the northern flank of 61 Mech’s defences. Stupidly so, as they were unknowingly challenging fourteen Ratel-20s and four Ratel-90s extended in a fighting line on their southern front. Two of those Ratels were still land-mine stricken and would limp on five wheels tomorrow, mind you.
The Ratels made up the fighting array of Captain Koos Liebenberg combat team. The terrorists had challenged the firing line of Liebenberg with a pass word sounding very much like ‘Cassinga’. Not finding a satisfactory reply they started shooting at our defensive position; which any sober defence consultant would have advised them not to do.
For a short while there was an impressive display of enemy tracer rounds flying overhead. I momentarily stopped drinking my Whiskey.
‘On my command’, said Captain Koos Liebenberg, ‘Fire-Belt action’ — unleash hell. Together with the direct 20mm, 90mm and small-arms fire cocktail and a few well placed 81mm mortar rounds. The surprised enemy patrol was duly dispatched to the hereafter within a few minutes flat. By overkill mind you, but what the hell… Combat Team 2 had fun.
The discussion I had with Liebenberg over the radio during the fire-show had been recorded on a tape recorder. It was dutifully done by Tannie (Aunt) Pompie 403km due south-south-east on her farm Koedoesvlei, near Tsintsabis. Our revered lady was a member of the Etosha Area Force Unit — a part time force establishment. She was renowned for providing outstanding radio-relay services to the military in the region. She did the same for 61 Mech with each operation we went on. She was therefore considered an honouree member of our unit. Her husband and son in law were tragically killed in action during Operation Yahoo on 15 April 1982, whilst serving with 61 Mech. During the said enemy contact she was relaying to me.
The recording about the contact at Bambi sounded as if we were organising a card game over a telephone amongst friends. For us to listen to the recording later on was interesting to say the least.
‘…2Ø this is Ø… Can you determine what is happening on your front…? This is 2Ø …yes, but we are also somewhat concerned about the patrol at the water hole… A fire-belt action should do the thing…Do you need some mortar fire to the rear of the enemy position…? Roger, out’
The next morning we found some of the dead. One of the deceased terrorists had placed his AK-47 against his throat and killed himself. This showed that 61 Mech could not only drive the enemy insane, but to suicide as well.
Well done Combat Group 2. Liebenberg’s Combat Team 2 felt much better considering their landmine ordeal earlier on.All quiet on the northern front, more or less, we presumed. We could not see further than 50m through the bush and the darkness to give a more detailed report.
We were to spend the next two days at Bambi, patrolling and combing the area and otherwise indulging in maintenances and repairs. This was necessary and we needed to re-fill our water bunkers from streams and waterholes found in the area. The Tiffies had two 18-tons iron clad landmine victims to contend with and one of Reinecke’s Samils.
We kept the Tiffies busy through most of the nights.
Thank you very much sergeant Major Duppie. Mobile again tomorrow, minus two of Liebenberg’s Ratels for the moment!
We would plan our extrication out of the enemy landmine predicament very carefully, once we were ready to depart the shores of the Bambi unscathed.
8 November 1981 – D plus 4
8 November was a quiet day for 61 Mech. This accounted for Operation Daisy as a whole.
The early hours of the morning found the SAAF doing a successful and particularly welcoming supply drop to 61 Mech in the area of HAA 3 (Chitequeta) at 04h00 35km away. Alpha Echelon and their protection group were still there. Another air supply drop was made to 201 Battalion further to our south at 05h00. The Bushmen were patrolling steadily southwards down the Caiundo River.
Our ASO Major Rod Penhall had earlier requested the SAAF to fly an interdiction and air reconnaissance mission from Ondangwa over Bambi and the roads linking Cassinga-Techamutete-Cuvelai. No enemy vehicle movement whatsoever was detected.
At 10h30 two Pumas flew to the position of 61 Mech on a re-supply and communication mission. Later on at 16h30 we heard that two Pumas and two Alouette gunships had flown to the position of 201 Battalion to fetch a Casevac wounded in another landmine explosion.
Phase 6: Movement of the Mechanised Force Southwards to Reach Own Radar Coverage: From 9 November Onwards – Area Operations were to be Continued for the next Ten Days (From D plus 5 until D plus 15)
9 November 1981 – D plus 5
9 November was a noteworthy day for Operation Daisy. A terrorist base had been located to the north of Ionde (the position XN 600 700 was recorded in a mission report fielded by the air force). The sequence of events of a helicopter-borne assault operation, which got underway rapidly, was as follows:
- At approximately 10h20 a command Alouette and four Alouette gunships were airborne, flying a reconnaissance mission up river in the direction of suspect enemy position XN 600 700. On the way up river, however, no enemy presence was located.
- By 10h30 a Bosbok light aircraft Telstar was airborne from Ionde to search the area for enemy.
- At 10h42 four Puma helicopters loaded with paratroopers left Ionde to sweep the area around XN 600 700. The Pumas returned to Ionde by 12h44, without deploying the paratroopers, having found the suspect area deserted.
- At 13h12 four Allouette gunships on reconnaissance refuelled at the HAA of 61 Mech. As the gunships flew back to Ionde they spotted approximately 20 terrorists near the original suspect target area at XN 600 700. This was reported to Major Rod Penhall; the ASO of 61 Mech. Penhall duly informed MAOT Zulu at Ionde about the enemy sighting. He requested the Pumas to immediately troop the paratroopers from Ionde back to the original position.
- At 13h35 two Pumas with the paratroopers were on their way to where the twenty terrorists were sighted. The paratroopers were subsequently deployed with four Alouette gunships providing airborne fire support.
- A massive contact ensued. Twenty four insurgents were killed and five wounded and captured. Out of the twenty four enemy killed the gunships had taken toll of twenty. The enemy group had been more than forty, it was later reported.
- The terrorists were from Bravo Battalion. They had fled southwards after the attack and the bombing at Chitequeta on D-Day. There were clear signs that several enemy groups were fleeing southwards due to the activities by 201 Battalion and 61 Mech to the north.
This had become the nature of the gallivanting game up north, following on D-Day; lose fighting all over with small enemy clusters.
The SAAF jets flew another interdiction and aerial reconnaissance mission between Mupa and Techamutete from Ondangwa at midday. While on route to the target the Mirages were warned that enemy Migs were active to their north. No Migs were seen and neither was enemy activity spotted on the roads reconnoitred.
10 November 1981 – D plus 6
10 November 1981 was another quiet day for Operation Daisy. This day would soon find 61 Mech moving steadily southwards from Bambi towards Mupa. The route as planned would initially follow the dry flood-plain of the Mulola River.
At 06h40 two Bosbok light aircraft left Ionde for the position of 61 Mech at Bambi and the echelon at Chitequeta respectively.
The support by the two Bosbok was an important mission for us. We had planned very carefully to extricate ourselves out of the enemy minefield. This damn hindrance and the two limping Ratels had been curtailing all our movements from the day before.
Fortunately there was no rush. We were enjoying the scenery now.
- The two Bosbok helped our main force, the artillery and the administrative echelon to navigate their ways to safety 20km to the south of Bambi. Three separate routes were used. All open areas, defiles, shonas and other suspect areas were avoided. These were the favourite haunts for enemy mines or even ambushes.
- Our two Bosbok aircraft were later relieved by another pair. As it was, two of our precious Ratels were suspended (“hang-sleep” in Afrikaans) from Ratel recovery vehicles as we bundu bashed southwards. The two vehicles still required replacement axles from the previous mine incidents.
- Whilst bundu-bashing through densely populated bush, at about 12h00, a large tree fell onto one of our Ratels. The broken tree had slammed down onto the head of one of our soldiers as he protruded from his turret. Our medical doctor immediately attended to his injuries and reported that it was extremely serious. Our progressive southwardly movement came to an abrupt halt. We quickly prepared a helicopter landing strip in the thick bush close to the casualty. Our injured man was soon evacuated to Ionde by an Alouette transport helicopter. It was shepherded by an Alouette gunship. Our injured soldier was transported further south by a fix-wing aircraft. He received superb medical care as he travelled down the line back to 1 Military Hospital in South Africa.
- The joint Bosbok-61 Mech mission was achieved successfully and our rendezvous to the south was reached without any further incident.
Thank you once again our unfaltering pilots flying the vulnerable yet venerable Bosbok. They were young SAAF pilots who seemingly could remain in the hostile skies forever.
61 Mech had experienced same with Freddie (surname unknown), our young Bosbok pilot in August 1981 during Operation Protea. Our pilot then had valiantly supported our battle group, whilst we operated on the unfriendly road between Xangongo and Cahama below him.
Heartfelt gratitude could only be expressed by 61 Mech to the SAAF; for undaunted support during Operation Daisy as well as for Protea.
In addition to the two Bosbok for 61 Mech, the SAAF remained in support of the ground forces throughout the day:
- Whilst our mechanised column moved southwards two Mirages had flown a high speed low level interdiction between Mupa and Techamutete earlier on at 08h14. Their flight left jet trails parallel to our position, about 20km to the west. No hostilities were to be found anywhere in their path, it was reported from the MAOT at Ionde.
- At 08h45 a combined air reconnaissance and interdiction mission was flown by two Mirage F1RZs (reconnaissance) and two Mirage F1CZs (combat). This time it was to cover the railway line between Cassinga and Dongo. This was approximately 60km to the north of 61 Mech’s former position at Bambi. Their specific mission was to photograph the bridges along the railway line and to investigate for unjustifiable rail traffic. The mission was aborted due to cloud cover. At 61 Mech we used to joke about how great it would be if we could rip out one of those railway tracks with a Ratel.
- 12h50 had found two Super Frelon helicopters landing at Ionde. They were escorted to Ionde by Impala jet fighters. The two helicopters were carting two 2-ton Ratel axles for 61 Mech. The replacement axles were for the two Ratels which had hit the enemy mines at Bambi. The Super Frelons refuelled and then flew to the position of 61 Mech. The axles were dutifully delivered at 16h30. The cumbersome Frelons were escorted by two Alouette gunships. The axles were replaced the same day in the field by the Tiffies of 61 Mech.
- As 61 Mech moved southwards twenty three Special Forces operators were trooped into the Daisy target area by Puma helicopter from Ionde. This happened at about 17h15. They had arrived by DC3 Dakota at Ionde at 08h10. Their task was to lay mines at Chitequeta and on all the roads and tracks leading towards the Daisy target area. This was done in order to make it difficult for SWAPO to return to their old haunts. The recces remained in the area for two days. We were not finished with SWAPO yet, not by far. We left a few surprises for them in our wake…
- At 22h00 a Hercules transport aircraft made a successful low-level supply drop for 61 Mech. The booty included much needed technical supplies as requested by our technical staff officer Captain ‘Jakkals’ Jeackel and logistics officer Major Giel Reinecke. This was much appreciated, thank you air force! Major Rod Penhall, our ASO, expressed our appreciation to the SAAF. He reported to 10 FACP at Oshakati that the low-level drop had been executed to perfection.
- Some Casevac and trooping sorties had been flown by the helicopters to and fro Ionde and 201 Battalion’s position through the day.
11 November 1981 – D plus 7
SWAPO did not reveal themseves on 11 November. It was to be yet another quiet day for Operation Daisy. The operation was tapering down. This was a natural phenomenon with high density external operations, we had learned. The enemy was lying low, biding their time. We will come at them again, soon.
At 08h30 three Alouette gunships and two Pumas loaded with paratroopers were, once again, well on their away to the north of the former target at XN 600 700. Their mission was to investigate suspect terrorist movement and to strike if necessary. The area was found to be void of enemy and the small airborne force subsequently returned to Ionde.
The same day two Mirage F1 RZs, two Mirage F1CZs and one Buccaneer with electronic surveillance equipment on board found their way swiftly towards Cahama on a photo reconnaissance mission. Their aim was to assess and record the damage caused by the strike of 5 November. It also served the purpose of locating suspect enemy radar to the north-west of Cahama. The mission was successful.
Enemy Migs were scrambled at 09h30, but did not interfere with the missions of the SAAF.
It became clear to the SAAF that their large fighter concentration at Ondangwa was no longer required, although the constant need for re-supply and trooping missions for the ground forces remained. A fair number of helicopters, Dakotas and Bosbok light aircraft would suffice. The HAAs had all but closed down, except the one still required by 61 Mech. As it was, at 13h20, one Alouette gunship and one transport Alouette evacuated a casualty from 61 Mech.
At 14h13 two Impalas flew to Chitequeta to check on the well being of the Recces. They were still busy with their laborious mine-laying operation.
At this stage 61 Mech, 201 Battalion and the three paratrooper companies were working their separate ways gradually southwards. All ground forces were now well inside SAAF radar coverage.
On the way down the Mulola our column had a surprise encounter with the renowned scout Captain Willem Ratte of 32 Battalion. We found him moving northwards up the dry river flood-plain. With him was his trusty platoon of ex-Angolan rebels mounted in four Buffel mine protected vehicles. He was probably on his way somewhere to take on the rest of SWAPO’s army on his own.
I asked Willem Ratte whether he new where we could find some water; 61 Mech was running dry. Ratte subsequently led me down a path (similar to the garden one) to an African village where he showed me four “Gorras”. These were water holes dug in the ground by the locals. Below I could see two inches of dirty brown water seeping through the sandy earth. I summarily said: “Thanks Willem”. He departed, a man with a mission. I duly started up 61 Mech and our 55km-long mechanised column and sallied forth. There was definitely not enough water in the “Gorras” for 1,000 men.
Another eventful day ended. Another night meant another leaguer. We had remained constantly on the move in hostile territory for days on end, only leaguering for short whiles during the nights.
12 November 1981 – D plus 8
61 Mech descended southwards. There was no rush now and we were sparing our labouring equipment. We gradually swung westwards and aimed for Mupa, where the Cuvelai River had fresh water in abundance.
It was SAAF business as usual on 12 November in support of Operation Daisy. At 10h27 two Pumas left for 201 Battalion’s position at Dova with a load of supplies and fuel. The Pumas re-positioned some of 201 Battalions troops in preparation for yet another swiftly construed airborne assault to the south-west of Ionde. Two Alouette gunships flew escort for the Pumas.
At 10h40 an Alouette command craft and two additional Alouette gunships left Ionde for 201 Battalion’s position to provide supplementary fire-support for the airborne assault being planned. The helicopters returned to base at Ionde after 201 Battalion had failed to secure a contact with the enemy.
Far to the east at 11h00, near our old HAA 1 position, two Allouette helicopters supported a few fuel tankers with oil supplies. They were struggling their way southwards to the border near Omauni.
At 12h30 two Impalas flew an interdiction mission between Mupa and Cuvelai where a large column of smoke had been reported. The Impalas, however, had to return due to radio communication failure amongst them.
At 14h14 an Alouete transport aircraft and a gunship fetched a Casevac from 61 Mech. Another of our soldiers had been seriously injured in an open Buffel from a fallen tree whilst we were on the move.
13 November 1981 – D plus 9
From 13 November onwards the SAAF began de-escalating their airborne assets, which had been marshalled for Operation Daisy. The Mirage F1 attack aircraft subsequently returned to their base at Hoedspruit in Northern Transvaal (South Africa).
One more airborne operation was launched by the paratroopers in a staunch effort to strike another blow at SWAPO: Two Pumas were escorted by a Bosbok light aircraft and four Alouette gunships. They flew up the Dengo River to the east of Mupa where suspicious movement had been reported. The gunships delivered speculatively fire into the bushes, but nothing was found and the paratrooper commander called off the mission.
That evening the Dakotas flew eight missions between Ondangwa and Ionde. This was to ferry the paratroopers back to Ondangwa and cold beers. The Dakotas could transport twenty paratroopers at a time.
Cheers paratroopers, it was great working with you! Our airborne soldiers were second to none.
61 Mech kept on moving. On the way travelling eastwards, 61 Mech rendezvoused with a massive convoy of closely guarded diesel bunkers from 5 Maintenance Unit. The latter package deal had been clinched between Major Giel Reinecke, Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst and the logistics staff of Sector 10 on 2 Nov 81, at HAA 1. At the time 61 Mech was still on its way moving northwards to Chetequera. The diesel tanks of all the Ratels of 61 Mech were filled to the brim during a long halt. The fuel gurgled pleasantly, ask Major Giel Reinecke. The leftover full diesel bunkers of Sector 10 were exchanged with the empty ones of 61 Mech. The logistics convoy duly returned on their long journey southwards back to Oshakati.
14 November 1981 – D plus 10
On 14 November the SAAF completed the airlift of the paratroopers from Ionde to Ondangwa. Whilst the airlift was in progress, six sorties of Mirages reconnoitred roads in the area for enemy movement. At the same time they flew armed escort for the Dakotas with the paratroopers on board.
Two SAAF missions of note were flown on this day. The first was a reconnaissance mission by two Alouette gunships to the position of 201 Battalion near Dova. They had reported hearing suspect vehicular movement. The gunships failed to find any vehicles. They however flew over a freshly abandoned terrorist base, large enough to hold more than 200 to 300 insurgents.61 Mech was now close to Mupa.
15 November — D plus 11
On 15 November the SAAF closed down the MAOT at Ionde. The remaining Mirage combat aircraft flew back to South Africa from Ondangwa. A new HAA was established by the SAAF slightly to the north of Dova. This was at the position of 201 Battalion. Two Pumas and four Alouette gunships remained with the HAA at Dova.The Bosbok light aircraft and other Puma and Alouette helicopters returned to Ondangwa.
Commandant Foote from the MAOT at Ionde took over the responsibility of Captain Pete Cook as ASO for Team Bravo, with 201 Battalion. Cook had been flown back to Ondangwa the previous evening.
61 Mech arrived at Mupa where we moved into a leaguer position in the fold of the Cuvelai River. The immediate necessities now were to allow the troops some hard-earned rest, to replenish and to do urgent repairs to our equipment.
The fresh water from the Cuvelai was enough for drinking, washing of clothes and bathing purposes. It was an extremely pleasant site for 61 Mech to linger for a while. Never to be stationary more than two to three days at a time had been the norm thus far. Nonetheless the perpetual grinding through the bushes had been taxing.
In the mean time fresh intelligence had been received by radio about SWAPO’s North East Front HQ (NEF) and North Front HQ (NF). It was suspected that these HQ positions could be in the vicinity of Mupa — more specifically at grid references WM 825 475 (Handa) and WM 819 900. Commandant Frans Botes and I were instructed to plan a combined attack on SWAPO’s (alleged) HQ positions the following day. We had liaised with each other by radio and were standing by to get together swiftly. This was to quickly plan and mount an offensive the next day, if need be. We were just waiting for the intelligence to be confirmed.
I was thinking to myself: Had military intelligence, presumably from Oshakati, concocted yet another fable? Would we believe them this time around? Anyway, the mission always comes first.
Reconnaissance teams were sent out by 201 Battalion and 32 Battalion to search for our illusive enemy and to establish their exact locations. The reconnaissance capabilities of these battalions were superb — they were men the calibre of Captain Willem Ratte.
We requested the SAAF to keep the following air assets on stand-by at Dova in the advent of an attack on SWAPO the next day:
- 1 x Alouette transport helicopter.
- 3 x Alouette gunships.
- 2 x Puma transport helicopters.
The Impalas and one Bosbok light aircraft were to be held at the ready at Ondangwa for the impending attack.
The first evening at Mupa Majors Rod Penhall, Thys Rall and Giel Reinecke arranged for a fresh SAAF ration run. This included some spares and consumables to be flown in by the Hercules C-130s. The drop zone selected was an open area near an African village adjacent to the Cuvelai. The DZ was near our leaguer position.
Midnight was followed by the pleasant drone of the Hercules aircraft flying low from the east in the direction of our winking fire-flies. The large cargo parachutes deployed, floated down to earth and fell with a loud explosive effect amidst the African dwellings. Fortunately no large heavy pallets landed on any of the huts. Silently, out of the night, the troops appeared, grabbed their booty and disappeared into the night again.
I sometimes lie awake at night and wonder with a smile: ‘What the hell were those innocent locals thinking’?
Some of our beers had been flattened. Elementary my dear Major Rod Penhall! The SAAF had packed the Windhoek Lager beneath Buffel spare wheels. Please convey our hearty appreciation to 10 FACP at Oshakati and the air supply unit at Ondangwa.
16 November 1981 — D plus 12
On 16 November Operation Daisy came to a virtual standstill. 61 Mech was still loitering quietly at Mupa. The troops were resting and at the same time languidly cleaning, repairing and maintaining their vehicles and equipment. There was a comfortable atmosphere of lethargy in the leaguer.
It became evident that all our equipment, especially the soft skinned vehicles, had taken a severe hammering. Here at Mupa for the first time, we could assess the extreme damage caused by dense bush and operational exposure over time.
Major Giel Reinecke, expeditiously so, had requested a board of inquiry to be convened by me. He had initiated the taking down of statements, whilst we were deployed in the field at Mupa. Another investigation on the side generated recommendations on the hardening of logistics vehicles and the improvement of our bush-breaking capabilities in general. Reinecke was supported by our energetic hyper-active technical staff officer, Captain ‘Jakkals’ Jeackel. The inquiry as well as the recommendations was to be submitted higher up the chain of command. The administration in this regard would be completed before we left Ongiva on 19 November 1891 as planned.
To one side the command group was pouring over maps again, assessing the situation and planning contingencies for a possible attack against the NEF and NF HQs of SWAPO.
The attack planned by 61 Mech and 201 Battalion for 17 November came to nothing. The reconnaissance teams reported that the enemy had withdrawn the previous day. We had missed the wily enemy by a hair’s breadth once again. Apparently the enemy had been forewarned. Some local inhabitants had allegedly spotted the reconnaissance elements scouting SWAPO’s HQ position. This was not necessarily the only reason the enemy had fled. It seemed to us mere mortals on the ground that SWAPO was not truly keen on meeting up with us anywhere. They were high-tailing it to any place elsewhere, except where we were.
I may add that these said evading moves by the illusive were probably their prerogative, although it was found to be damn infuriating to us. It was like looking for a needle in a hay-stack with a mailed fist.
Damn… damn… damn you… Who? The counter insurgency tactics by Sector 10… And all of us participants in Operation Daisy required serious re-consideration and re-invention.
Stand down 61 Mech and 201 Battalion. This was yet another huge disappointment. Reconnaissance sweeps by the Alouette helicopters over the alleged target areas were equally futile.
17 November 1981 — D plus 13
By 17 November Operation Daisy was nearing its natural conclusion.
The bludgeon needed to return home to go and reflect about the beating-around-in-the- bush.
Not to fret SWAPO, we shall return soon… Always search for forward ground was our maxim.
The same day Commandant Foote and the helicopters returned to Ondangwa. What remained was to withdraw the ground forces safely to SWA. For 61 Mech this meant returning to Omuthiya.
61 Mech left Mupa for Ongiva on 18 November. On the way I received information from Sector 10 of yet another suspect enemy base close by. The grid reference was duly provided by the intelligence section residing comfortably at Oshikati.
The alleged base was about three kilometres to the west of the Mupa-Evale road. I only wondered at this. We quickly moved into an all round mutually supporting open leaguer alongside the road. I sent out a small reconnaissance party under the leadership of mischievous paratrooper Lieutenant Jan Viljoen (one of the sons of General Constand Viljoen, the Chief of the Defence Force) to investigate. He soon came back with the news that another abandoned enemy base had been found. The “terrs” were long gone.
Viljoen came back driving a large brand new red Scania truck. He had found his spoil of war at the abandoned base; with the compliments of SWAPO. He duly drove the truck back to Omuthiya. We knew well that there were no customs waiting for us at the border. We surely did not inform Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst about our booty. The Red Scania was used to good effect at Omuthiya. War, at times, was fun.
During the move further southwards I was contacted on my radio by Commandant Frans Botes, who commanded 201 Battalion. He said:
“Roland please, we ran out of oil filters for our Buffels, do you have some spare for me?” I replied: “On one condition”.
We rendezvoused close to Evale and swapped oil filters for toilet paper. Lessons learned: Never get caught without toilet paper or oil filters in the bush! Being without said essential commodities could become a dirty affair. I requested Major Giel Reinecke to take note. Our toilet paper had been used up by junior officers Ariel Hugo and Chris Walls, when they marked our trail on D minus 1/D-Day, he said.
18 November 1981 — D plus 14
Hugging the bush-line we made our way via Evale and Anhanca to Ongiva. Here we leaguered close to the airfield for the night.
It was a comfortable feeling being 245km away from Omuthiya via Ondangwa by road. Russian and chips could be bought at the stop-over of Portugeuse café owner Tony Banana at Ondangwa.
Phase 7: Withdrawal of the Main Combat Force to SWA On completion of the Operation from 19 November 1981 Onwards (D plus 15).
On 19 November 61 Mech found its way south from Ongiva via Santa Clara and Ondangwa to Omuthiya. At last we were travelling by road. Homeward-bound, it was plain sailing all the way.
By 20 November we reached Omuthiya. I did not know then that 61 Mech would soon find its way back to Evale in southern Angola; somewhat hastily I may add. This was when Operation Makro was anxiously launched by Sector 10 on 29 December 1981.
Makro was caused by the folly of FAPLA. An enemy brigade had unexpectedly moved south to occupy Evale in defence.
In a surprise encounter a few Citizen Force paratroopers of 3 Parachute Battalion on patrol stumbled upon the enemy brigade at Evale. A vicious fire fight ensued. A number of Alouette gunships were called in from Ongiva to join in the battle. One of the Alouette helicopters was shot down as a result.
The surprise manoeuvre by the enemy and the ensuing contact with the paratroopers triggered ructions in the ranks. Angry stirrings reverberated from Sector 10 through to others of good judgment higher up the chain of command. 61 Mech was hastily deployed to the rescue for that reason.
Operation Makro enshrined the rapid deployment capability and operational reach of 61 Mech. The operation lasted from 29 December 1981 until 21 January 1982. This is another chronicle in the historic arsenal of 61 Mech, to be continued.
Omuthiya for 61 Mech was home-sweet-home.
Phase 8: Demobilisation on Completion of Operation Daisy, Including Closing-down Administration and the De-Briefing of the Operation: Followed on 20 November 1981.
What needed to be done on the completion of an operation was done in the peaceful serenity and the comfortable warmth of Omuthiya.
Time was now left for some thinking.
If you can think ……… but not make thoughts your aim……..
A few war stories- for veterans and their young
Shooting Down of a MiG-21 by the SAAF on 6 November 1981
The shooting down of a Mig-21 by a Mirage F1 on 6 November 1981 was an historic occasion for the SAAF. It heralded the first aerial combat by the SAAF with enemy aircraft during the South African Border War — the first since the Korean War.
The shooting down of the Mig marked the beginning of the escalation of the air war in Southern Angola. The Border War, forthwith, would enter a dangerous stage — one in which the SAAF would forfeit air dominance by 1987. This was when a high intensity conventional battle, which became known as Operation Moduler, commenced in south east Angola. The enemy’s overwhelming air power by then became a major threat for operations conducted by the SADF in all of southern Angola.
The shooting down of the Mig occurred whilst the SAAF was providing combat air support to the ground forces during Operation Daisy. The attack on Chitequeta was preceded by an aerial bombardment by Buccaneer and Mirage fighter aircraft, as previously described. For the remainder of the operation the SAAF provided combat air support to prevent enemy aircraft from interfering with own ground operations.
During Operation Protea in August-September 1981 enemy aircraft had operated from air bases located at Mocamedes (Namibe), Lubango and Menongue. Their fighters never interfered with our external operations, either on the ground or in the air. For the first time now the enemy flew south far enough to pose a clear and present threat to own external operations. It became clear to the SADF, especially the SAAF, that clashes with enemy Migs would become inevitable in future operations.
On D-Day of Operation Daisy the electronic surveillance DC-4 Skymaster of the SAAF monitored the scrambling of enemy Migs from Menongue on two occasions. The first surveillance occurred at about 08h50 and the second at 11h26. The Migs became operational presumably because of the intrusion of SAAF fighters into Menongue air space.
The Migs, however, did not interfere with the target area at Chitequeta, 150km to their south-west. The enemy merely flew holding patterns a few kilometre to the south of Menongue.
During the morning of D-Day five Migs were also scrambled from Mocamedes and flew closer to Lubango.
On D plus 1 Mirage F1s of the SAAF attacked the radar installations at Cahama. Migs were immediately scrambled from Menongue and dispatched to Lubango. The DC-4 of the SAAF subsequently reported that an air control aircraft of the enemy, call sign 765, was controlling the airborne mission of the Migs from a position 80km south of Matala.
At about 12h30 on D pus 1 own ground forces observed an enemy twin engine aircraft flying very high to the east of Cassinga, presumably this was another air control aircraft of the enemy.
All of the aforementioned increased air activities by the enemy were disturbing for the SAAF as well as our ground forces — even though the enemy Migs had not intervened with own ground operations up to now. Eight Mirage F1 combat aircraft of Commandant J.L. Grundling at Ondangwa were subsequently placed on high alert for counter air defence operations if deemed necessary.
On 6 November 1981, D plus 2, a pair of Mirage F1s, piloted by Major J. Rankin and Lieutenant J. du Plessis, were placed on stand-by for a counter air operations. At about 06h55 an unidentified enemy aircraft was observed by radar flying approximately 140 nautical miles (260km) north-west of Ondangwa.
The two pilots were now set to strike and were placed on 2 minute cockpit stand-by. Rankin and Du Plessis were scrambled whilst strapping in and were airborne within 2 minutes of receiving the warning. The Mirage F1s flew out on a compass heading of 340 degrees. The Cunene River was soon crossed slightly to the north of Xangongo.
Within seconds Lieutenant du Plessis sighted two enemy MiG-21s. The Mirages jettisoned their drop-tanks and went for the two MiG-21s. As the Migs were flying into the sun, which was still low on the horizon, they had not observed the two fast approaching menacing Mirages.
The first missile fired by Lieutenant du Plessis malfunctioned. His guns malfunctioned as well and the one enemy Mig evaded towards Lubango during the ensuing dog-fight. Major Rankin engaged the second Mig with cannon and succeeded in scoring a number of hits. The enemy Mig erupted into flames, exploded and fell from the sky. The enemy pilot was seen floating downwards by parachute, having ejected seconds before his aircraft exploded.
The pair of victorious Mirages returned to Ondangwa.
After the dog-fight enemy air operations were limited to the protection of their airfields at Lubango and Menongue. They obviously feared an attack on their airfields.
For the remainder of Operation Daisy the enemy Migs were flying holding patterns within easy striking distance of our ground forces.
It was obvious to all of us that the enemy air threat to the ground forces of the SADF would increase rapidly in future. By 1987 it was so!
Account of a Gunner of 61 Mech
I wish to add the following account of a gunner to my recount of Operation Daisy. It was something juicy I had picked up from the internet. I always marvelled at the little in-between adventures our men enjoyed during operations such as Daisy.
I wish that we could capture the in-between stories of all our wonderful people who once served with 61 Mech. I dearly respected and enjoyed the people I had the extreme privilege to serve with at 61 Mech. They were my soldiers and I was extremely proud of them.
Here is the story of one of those magnificent men of 61 Mech – a young 19 year old “Battery Captain” with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, popularly referred to as a “bicycle’ — somebody that needs to be pedalled consistently:
“I had a few ‘Close Encounters of the Mig kind’ as early as November 1981, during Operation Daisy. I was appointed battery captain (“BK”) for the 120mm mortar battery accompanying 61 Mech into Angola and was responsible for the direct resupply of the battery from the Alpha (administrative) Echelon.
In the artillery we have an officer doing this job, unlike in other corps where the responsibility usually falls on the company sergeant-major. I was only a young 19 year old “bicycle” (2nd Lieutenant) and I was leading the A Echelon vehicles (mostly Samil-100 10 ton trucks – no mine-resistant KwêvoÃ«ls available for us then). Most were loaded to capacity with 120mm mortar ammunition, followed by some general supplies (like toilet paper – THE most required personal commodity in the echelon!).
So there I was, despite almost 2 years of gunnery training, stuck in the cab of a 10 ton truck, hauling supplies – usually the lot of the youngest PF (permanent force) officer in the battery, although it was supposed to be a captain’s job, hence the title “Battery Captain”. Because of the nature of the tasks, all the real captains got the nicer posts like troop commanders and observers. Nevertheless, I was leading the trucks of the echelon some 350km into Angola as part of the overall 61 Mech A Echelon supporting the attack on a SWAPO base in the Bambi area.
We had a LOT of practice before the operation doing the “Visgraat” (“Fish-bone”), which is a technique we used to make a convoy of vehicles disappear from the road into the bush in various directions in a VERY RAPID way (as you would probably know!), hidden by surrounding bush and often very well camouflaged, especially those reflective windshields, side windows and mirrors! We were very confident that we had this mastered to a fine degree. Because there were Recce-operators deployed close to the Fapla airfields, we were always warned in time a any “Victor-Victor” (stands for “Vyandelike Vliegtuie” – Enemy Planes), which is a code word given over the radio to all stations that enemy aircraft were in the vicinity. Then, immediately, all vehicles would follow the Visgraat drill and simply disappear from the routes they were on. We had no one on “over watch” as each vehicle only had two occupants, a driver and the co-driver, both in the cab. Besides, we always received “Victor-Victor” well in advance and never even once spotted any enemy planes.
At some stage during that November I was following another supply convoy which had Samil-100 trucks carrying “Olifant-Balle” (“Elephant-balls” – gigantic 10 ton rubber bladders filled with 100% helicopter fuel). The convoy ahead was stopping and the trucks were simply bunching up behind each other. Concerned but not alarmed, I halted my convoy and had my driver drive closer to the rearmost truck ahead to find out what was going on. Not every truck had radios, mostly only the commander of the group would have a portable A-53 or A-55 radio, so I obviously had no comms with the guys ahead. I climbed out of my truck, moving forward to speak to the drivers of the vehicles in front who were all gathering together. As I approached them, two fighter planes streaked high over us, and someone shouted “Look – Mirages!” Everyone started waving at the passing planes that were completely unaware of the convoy bunching up like that, not to mention our waving. At that moment, I heard the clear – (too little too late!!) – “VICTOR-VICTOR” come over my radio in the truck and went ice cold! These fighter planes we are all so happily waving at – were enemy Migs!!!! I shouted “VICTOR-VICTOR” as loud as I could to the convoy in front and ran to my truck, having a hard time to catch up with it as my driver was already performing a panicky Visgraat manoeuvre. That was the fastest Visgraat I have EVER seen up to that point, I must confess, as even the convoy in front, although bunched up, did a brilliantly executed manoeuvre. At the time the Migs passed over us, there must have been at least 4 SAMIL’s with Olifant-Balle and at least two of mine with mortar ammo within 100m of me!
Turned out those were the same two Migs (MiG-21s I believe) that were engaged by Mirages somewhere to the south of us and one was shot down and one got away, although damaged.
I didn’t encounter any more Migs during that operation, but they sure as hell made up for that lack in 1988 during Operations Moduler, Hooper and Packer. But that’s another long story…
Every soldier has a story!
On Logistics — Moving Mountains
Major Giel Reinecke was one of those exceptional, diligent officers who served in the SADF. I had the honour of having Reinecke serving both as my logistics officer and commander of the support company (commonly referred to as Headquarters Company) at 61 Mechanised Battalion Group. This was during my term of duty as the commander of 61 Mech from January 1981 until January 1983.
Without sustained logistics a mechanised battalion group is but a corpse and mobility flies out by the back door.
Planning and managing logistics for Operation Daisy was a mean challenge. As such, logistics could be viewed as one of the most essential enabling components in ensuring operational success during Daisy. Logistics, simply stated, was one of the essential foundations on which our combat capability depended.
Logistics for Operation Daisy entailed careful planning beforehand and effective management thereof whilst the operation was in full swing. This included the continued supply and maintenance of our fighting force in the field. This deepened the logistics challenge as 61 Mech was forever on the move.
The overarching logistic principle requires foresight and a combat service support system that is responsive to the needs of the combat force. This invariably ensured that the execution of the operational plan by 61 Mech was free from delays or limitations caused by the lack of essentials that could have been foreseen. This included holding enough inventories to sustain operations in a high risk environment, which required rapid response. Major Giel Reinecke was good at this. He will, however, enlighten his story on one minor mishap which occurred during Operation Daisy. Even mishaps such as these were admirably resolved by him, with an undoubting support system behind him. This included exemplarily leadership at the front from Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst and his supporting staffs and units.
Major Giel Reinecke retired from the army in 1997 as a colonel. According to my knowledge he was one of the best in the logistics business. Here is Reinecke’s account of logistics during Operation Daisy as he saw it — a man, according to my honest opinion, who could move mountains:
“After the success of Ops Protea, the commander of Sector 10, Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst, decided to strike deep into Angola. The target selected was the command and control centre of SWAPO at Chitequeta and Bambi. This main objective was approximately 270km from the SWA-Angolan border. 61 Mech was tasked to perform the main attack on the enemy complex.
The plan in outline for the operation was to move our battalion group to an advance assembly area at the Omauni counter insurgency base west of Rundu. The advance to the objective and target area was planned to occur over a three day period. The main attack would then take place. After the main operation 61 Mech was to conduct area operations as the unit returned to SWA via Mupa.
Sector 10 was to establish a Helicopter Administrative Area (HAA) at the old Ionde airfield. From here the paratroopers would operate as a mobile reserve. First they had to jump northwest of the main objective to act as a stopper line. 61 Mech had to take additional chopper fuel on to the objective and bring spare vehicles with to recover the parachutes. Our unit had to be self-sufficient for at least 10 days.
We followed the joint operational planning procedures we had used for previous operation such as for Operations Carrot and Protea. According to the terrain analysis and the information provided by the intelligence staff the first 60-80km from the border was thick sand and negotiability would therefore be extremely difficult. It was speculated that the movement after the first stretch would be much easier and quicker.
With the logistic staff check we calculated that the distance from the border to the objective was approximately 350km. We did our calculations for the diesel required very carefully, according to the proven yardsticks used during Operation Protea.
To be self sufficient for 10 days and to accommodate all our ammunition, diesel and odds and sorts would require a large number of 10-ton cargo trucks and Diesel Bunkers from Northern Logistic Command (NLC). In addition we had to make provision for extra chopper fuel (15 x bunkers) and water trucks — these particular logistic lessons all came from Operations Protea earlier the same year and Smokeshell the previous year. Needless to say the echelon and logistics tail would be astronomical.
The combat group consisted of two Ratel infantry companies, a paratrooper company in Buffels, an artillery battery with 120mm Mortars, the armoured car squadron with Ratel 90’s, an engineer troop, an anti aircraft troop, the mortar platoon, the anti tank platoon and the administrative echelon. The total number of vehicles was in the region of 250. It would take a vehicle travelling from front to the end of the column about 55-minutes to traverse at an average convoy speed.
16 Maintenance Unit at NLC, Grootfontein, provided the additional vehicles and some of the drivers. Many of the drivers had just arrived from their training at Kimberley. They had no tactical experience at all and neither knew about things such as bundu-bashing and driving through thick sand. Some of these drivers had not participated in any training at all. They only arrived in Grootfontein the day before we departed from Omuthiya to Omauni.
Our new drivers did not know that they were going on an operation and were only told to make their way rapidly to 61 Mech at Omuthiya. Our commander of 61 Mech, Commandant Roland de Vries, personally awaited the late comers and their vehicles at Omuthiya.
Our fighting unit, expeditiously so, was divided into two columns for movement purposes. We had already left for the forward assembly area (FAA) at Omauni on the border early that morning. The fighting part of the collumn moved across country under the command of our battalion second in command, Major Thys Rall. The remainder if the force followed the beaten track and tar road via Rundu. The latter part of the column was under my command, with Sergeant Major M.C. Barnard, our Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM. Barnard commanded the administrative echelon).
As Commandant de Vries purposefully waited for a light aircraft to take him to Omauni some of the drivers started arriving at Omuthiya with their vehicles. The commandant quickly briefed them and directed them to Omauni, where they would join-up with the rest of our unit. To compound the driver issue their vehicles were also not fitted for radios. No communication was therefore to be had between them and the other vehicles which had already left.
The commandant never the less carefully briefed each of the drivers one at a time as they arrived at Omuthiya. He then set them off with a route map and a cheer and a prayer to join the rest of 61 Mech at Omauni. Only then did he leave for Oshivelo airfield. From there he flew in a light aircraft to join up with 61 Mech at Omauni.
The movement to Omauni was executed along two routes. Maj Thys Rall took the main column of armoured combat vehicles directly north along the “North Road” (bush track) to Omauni. With the support of RSM M.C. Barnard I commanded the vehicle column which included the soft skin vehicles and administrative groupings. We travelled via the Bravo Cut-Line to Tsintsebis and eventually reached the tar road, which linked Grootfontein to Rundu. From there it was smooth sailing all the way to Omauni.
The lack of driver training was experienced when one of our drivers had his first accident between Rundu and Omauni. Two of the new drivers did not maintain their laid down spacing distance and drove into each other. Luckily no one was injured. It took a complete day for the echelon to move towards and assemble dutifully at Omauni. Late that night the last vehicles still arrived. Without adequate radio communications it was almost impossible for the RSM to control the echelon properly — however; the slogan of General Geldenhuys was — ‘do what you can, with what you have, where you are’ and that is exactly what we did and intended to keep on doing.
After crossing the border our movement was extremely slow and laborious. We travelled at an average advance speed of 10 — 15km/ h. The bush was extremely dense and the sand thick and heavy. Negotiability was not only difficult it took an extreme effort by all of us to move steadily forward and still maintain control. The first evening, the sub-units reported that the fuel consumption of the vehicles was much higher than what was originally anticipated and planned for. It was unbelievable. I felt myself go ice cold in the still extremely hot Angolan evening breeze. According to my estimate the terrain would improve further ahead and negotiability would become easier, therefore allowing for better fuel consumption. Silent praying forthwith to the Dear Lord and the gods of logistics was at the order of the day.
On day two we reached an area slightly east of Ionde, where Sector 10 had already established a helicopter administrative area (HAA) for us. It was nick named HAA 1. As General Jannie Geldenhuys (Chief of the Army) was travelling with us, the officer commanding Sector 10 (Brig Badenhorst) and his staff joined up with us for a brief meeting that late morning. They flew in by helicopter from Oshakati. 61 Mech had gone into a temporary leaguer formation and the RSM was busy with refuelling procedures of all our vehicles.
On completion of refuelling we calculated the consumption. With a shock I realised that we had used much more fuel than initially planned for. According to my swift calculation at the current consumption rate we would only be able to reach the objective and not be able to get back to the SWA border. In fact we would only reach Mupa when travelling south again. Incidentally this was still another approximately 200km to the SWA-Angolan border. I checked and re-checked my calculation. I then requested RSM Barnard to re-check the diesel left in the numerous bunkers. The answer remained the same. Coldness washed over me once again and I felt an uneasy fluttering deep down in my abdomen — we did not have sufficient diesel to get back to SWA I inevitably realised.
I promptly walked up to the command group, General Geldenhuys, Brigadier Badenhorst, Commandant de Vries and the senior logistics staff officer of Sector 10, namely Commandant George Snygans. They were sitting under a large tree on their camp chairs, busy discussing the events of the day and contemplating tomorrow’s moves northwards. I called Commandant Roland de Vries to one side and told him about my shocking discovery and predicament: ‘Hallo commandant, I would just like to inform you that you are short of a bit of diesel, mind you’.
He just asked me in an extremely calm voice and in his usual demeanour: ‘Is Jy bliksems seker Giel?’ (Are you damn sure, Giel?) He immediately informed the command group of our dilemma without making an issue of our situation. Brigadier Badenhorst forthwith instructed Commandant Snygans to check my calculations. The answer remained the same — the heavy sand and dense bush had unexpectedly exerted its toll on our fuel. In any case we definitely did not have anymore spare bunkers available as it were in other parts of Sector 10.
Here in the deepness, denseness and heavy sands of southern Angola I gained the greatest respect for Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst. He looked at me directly and said: ‘Giel, you had presented your logistic plan to me — I had approved your plan — the problem is now mine — just make sure you get the force as far as Mupa’. Instant relief and confidence washed over me. From that moment onwards Diesel became the factor considered and discussed at every evening briefing or planning session 61 Mech held in the bush. Diesel and mobility in 61 Mech terms were synonym.
I personally oversaw each refuelling procedure. We could not fill every vehicle to the top and had to work out constantly how many litres each vehicle needed for the next move. I stood by with my stop-watch and timed each pump of the ‘Lappies’ as our fuel gurgled happily away. I personally shut it off when the required litres were pumped.
As a logistician I had learned an extremely valuable lesson — not to trust any map or vehicle staff planning table about consumption rates ever again. I was relieved. With our logistics contingency planning the problem encountered with the diesel eventually did not affect the operation. I had also absorbed valuable lessons about leadership and compassion from my seniors.
I personally believed that vehicle discipline, driving skill as it developed, superb joint planning and shared responsibility eventually all contributed to better diesel consumption.
During the forward movement the vehicles were stretched out over more than 55km. Travelling at 10-15km/h took close on four to six hours to get all the vehicles into leaguer position during halts. This exerted a tremendous affect on the technical support and recovery of break-downs.
To save time our incredible Tiffies (technical service personnel) changed Ratel engines during moves. They would loosen all the pipes and attachments in an engine compartment and then briefly stop for 4-5 minutes to remove the unserviceable engine. Only to replace it with a new engine a short while later. Then they connected all the pipes and other attachments during the following move. With the large number of vehicles deployed it was required of the Tiffies to work every night, through the night.
One morning before dawn as I walked up to the area where the Tiffies worked throughout the night I saw Staff Sergeant Kokkie De Kock with a beer in his hand. He looked at me and said ‘Major, we have just completed our days work — all the cars are running — this is the only time I can have a reasonably cold beer’ – the Tiffy’s were an extraordinary human breed. I sometimes wondered whether they had received the recognition in Southern Africa’s military history they so sorely deserved. They were the ones who worked endlessly to keep our force mobile. We saluted them every day when the sun rose.
The Bambi SWAPO complex was spread out over a very large area. The earth was covered with anti-tank mines and we were invariably unfortunate to drive over some of them. Initially we could simply repair the Ratels struck by mines by merely removing the damaged axle to replace it with a spare one we carried with us. Eventually we started running out of spare axles. We could chain up the rear or middle axle of a Ratel. This was unfortunately not possible with the front axle. Struck down Ratels therefore needed recovery by some of our armoured recovery vehicles or our 10 ton Recovery truck. The Tiffies fondly referred to the 10-ton monster as ‘Yster’ (Iron) — the name of this icon had been painted on to their beloved recovery vehicle.
At one time we duly submitted our request to Sector 10 for two Ratel axles. Such an axle weighs more than two tons each. To our amazement, we immediately received an answering message by radio that our axles were on the way. We had to prepare a landing pad for two Super Frelon helicopters flying in from Ondangwa. This was an amazing logistics feat as far as I was concerned.
One of our Samil 50 Cargo trucks had also hit a mine. Luckily the driver was not injured. The shock however was evident from the dead white of his face which shone through the grime. The vehicle was totally damaged. We had a policy of not leaving any vehicle in Angola. The Tiffies duly repaired the vehicle in the field. The next day our landmine victim was mobile, the smiling driver careering around without any doors in his somewhat tattered Samil.
The link-up operation with the paratroopers was executed without a hitch. Unfortunately there was a veldt fire and some of their parachutes were destroyed.
Our unit eventually withdrew from Bambi to the region just east of Mupa. Here a diesel bunker convoy from 5 Maintenance Unit linked up with us to replenish and fill-up all our vehicles. From there we went to Mupa where the engineers had established a water point for us in the Cuvelai River. Here we could replenish all our water Bunkers. The withdrawal back to Omuthiya via Ongiva went without any incident.
Sector 10 had a policy to provide all the troops deployed in Angola with ‘one day fresh rations’ per week. In theory this worked well but not in reality on the ground — this was not that easy a logistics undertaking. I provided the logistic staff at Oshakati with the numbers and they would prepare the basic fresh rations called a ‘Braaipak’ (Barbecue Pack). These ‘wet’ rations were normally delivered by means of Puma helicopters from the closest HAA.
When our first ‘rat run’ arrived at the scene of 61 Mech it was more of a surprise pack than a braai pack. The said rations were issued in bulk and we received: 20-25 cases of frozen rump (12.5kg each; a large number of mutton chops; bags filled with potatoes; cases of tomatoes and; boxes of bread. Notwithstanding the breaking up and defrosting of the goodies in the bare sand and the hot Angolan sun, fresh rations were always welcomed after six days of feasting on monotonous dry rations and 24-hour ration packs.
When we eventually arrived at the airfield north of Ongiva in Angola we realised that the damage to the echelon vehicles were severe. Most of the Samil vehicles were normal ‘soft-skin’ vehicles and were not suitably equipped for bundu-bashing. The area from Omauni to Chitequeta was covered with large trees and extremely dense bush. The Ratels could easily manoeuvre between and through the bushes and the trees. Our 10 ton trucks and the diesel and water bunkers, however, were just too long to effectively negotiate the tracks bashed through the undergrowth. The soft-skinned vehicles were therefore severely bent and damaged. The cabs of all the vehicles were damaged and the front windscreens shattered. Air cleaner pipes, mirrors and bumpers were simply ripped off the frames. The damage to the vehicles was not due to driver negligence, but purely because these said vehicles were not suited for this type of arduous bush manoeuvring.
We knew that the damage of the vehicles would have serious repercussions on returning same to NLC. I started collecting statements from all our echelon drivers anticipating a board of enquiry. Myself, the RSM, Captain Jeackel and WO1 du Plessis sat together to compile a list of recommended modifications to protect the Samil vehicles and to prepare them for bundu-bashing in future.
Later still I pro-actively submitted a formal board of enquiry with the list of proposed modifications to NLC. There was never any serious query or comeback on the damage sustained to the vehicles. Many of our recommendations for modifications of the logistic vehicles were accepted and implemented later on. I realised that we had learned tremendously from Operation Daisy, also in terms of logistics.
To my mind, notwithstanding some ups and dons, 61 Mech returned to Omuthiya, having completed a successful operation. The work which we had heartily undertaken had been arduous to the extreme. However we had contributed to the disruption of the enemy and we had learned important lessons along the way.
Our support company was there to support 61 Mech’s fighting echelon. The force had advanced successfully over a bundu bash distances further than 1,600km. All our vehicles were still running, except a Buffel which had burned out at Chitequeta. However it was mobile, as it was cut up and loaded onto the back of a Samil 100 Cargo truck by our amazing Tiffies.”
The Church at Mupa and an Organ from the Dorsland Trekkers
The following chronicle unfolded from the brief respite 61 Mech enjoyed at Mupa from 15 November until the morning of 17 November 1981, when we left.
At Mupa there was this beautiful looked after Roman Catholic Church. It stood triumphant in all its African glory. The church was located close to the Cuvelai River and the gravel road which stretched from Evale, past Mupa to Cuvelai.
Here I met an elderly Portugeuse gentleman named Quental. The old man diligently looked after the church. He was living in the local village, in a Kraal, with the people of the area. He was married to one of the local women.
Quental showed me his church. His glowing pride was clearly evident. Inside the church was an old organ. Quental told me that the organ originated from the “Dorsland Trekkers” and that it was an ancient “traporrel” (pedal organ). Many a time after the completion of Operation Daisy I had wondered ……… what had happened to Quental during and after the war? I always wanted to re-visit Mupa at some stage in the future again. This remarkable opportunity was afforded me thirty two years later in October 2011.
However, before I could re-visit Mupa in 2011, I landed into some serious trouble with Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst of Sector 10. Our honoured, respected, well-regarded and admired Padre Koos Rossouw was the cause of all this. This was due to a covert excursion by him and a few of his Tiffy (mechanics) followers at Mupa.
In the light of the aforementioned I therefore need to plead ‘not guilty’. In jest I wish to add: for misdeeds illegally and unlawfully committed on or about 16 November 1981, at or near Mupa, in Southern Angola. What unfolded next I knew nothing about then and I need to put the story into perspective. The said deeds committed by Padre Koos Rossouw and the blessed Tiffies were only revealed after we had returned to Omuthiya by 20 November 1981.
I wish to stop for a moment, so as to approach the above-mentioned chronicle from another angle. One day at Omuthiya, shortly after returning from Operation Daisy, I passed by the tented Chaplaincy of Koos Rossouw on my innocent own-some. I duly heard a serious, but somewhat melodious commotion coming from a religious gathering. Much to my surprise Koos Rossouw and some of his followers were banging away with religious song and ardour and in total abandonment on an old “Dorsland Trekker traporrel” (organ). On interrogating the religious crowd I discerned that my holier than though Tiffy’s had liberated the organ from Mupa in Angola. The organ had diligently been transported, undetected, I may add, by me or my military police, to our little tented church at Omuthiya; camouflaged in a Samil military truck. The Tiffies had thought that this was the righteous thing to do.
I maintained my composure as all good commanders sometimes do and closed my gaping mouth. I was seriously furious without using the words I wished to in the presence of my revered preacher — of whom I was very fond of.
So one day later I received this telephone call from Brigadier Badenhorst from Oshakati — his near-real-time intelligence of what was going on at our units and in Angola was almost uncanny and it rarely failed him. So I said: “Tell me all about it”. A plan was made. The organ, with some golden challises I had found at Omuthiya, was promptly flown back to Mupa with a Puma helicopter.
In October 2011 I had the privilege of visiting Mupa during a battlefield tour with some veterans of 61 Mech and 32 Battalion.
Here I met Sister Eria and had a wonderful discussion with her about times of yore. She told our little group of visitors that Quental had since passed away. Yes, Sister Eria new about the organ. It later became unserviceable and was replaced.
De-briefing of Operation Daisy
Sharing Some Thoughts in Camaraderie
I thought intensely about Operation Daisy when I had the first opportunity to be left to my own thoughts. It came within the shady enclosure and humid surrounding afforded by sand-soiled Omuthiya. At Omuthiya opportunities were furthermore afforded during moments of respite to share some valuable thoughts amongst our men about our recent fracas. The best and the most intimate ideas were shared in camaraderie with a beer in hand.
We also held our own official de-briefing. Lessons learned would find their way back to our evolving battle doctrine, standing operating procedures and training methods.
Daisy had almost been the perfect operation, practically a perfect plan. The enemy just did not play along. Daisy had all the ingredients war faring required, considering it from a SADF perspective. That is the absolute ability to find, fix and strike at the enemy. The actual finding part of our wily foe was the missing ingredient we clearly understood.
We fully realised that the quest for accurate tactical intelligence would remain a major challenge in future; more so near real-time and real-time tactical intelligence.
These aforementioned observations were especially true regarding the difficult terrain we were fighting in. Not even to mention other more diverse and challenging conditions we faced — those which characterised the illusiveness of counter-revolutionary warfare. The unpredictability of people, inconsistent politics and wavering grand strategies could quite gracelessly be added to this military cauldron. Another soon to be realised surprise was the more than marginal neglect of strategic intelligence. The result thereof would bite South Africa and the SADF in the behind in 1987-88.
These aforementioned uncomfortable surprises happened during the high intensity conventional operations in which we fought in the end. The battles which raged in south-east and south-west Angola in 1987-88 is what I am referring to.
Remember the astonishment caused by the massive advance of FAPLA from Cuito Cuanavale towards Mavinga in August 1987; the uncomfortable revelation following on the sudden deployment of the 50th Cuban Division near Cahama in May 1988?
There was no question about the fact that the war in southern Angola was going to escalate soon. By 1981 this battle indication was a lucid reality for all to see. Operation Daisy formed part of the vicious cycle of fiery cause and effect. The signs were in the air, the hostile air especially.
- The enemy’s Russian Migs were roaming and probing the unreceptive skies southwards more and more. The enemy’s radar screens and anti-aircraft systems were gradually congealing, encircling and stifling the area in dispute. The SAAF Mirages were growing older by the minute. The net was swelling with enemy reinforcements. It would not remain at that.
- It should have been clear for all to see that there was a progressive military build-up to our north. It was a massive one of Soviet military machines and FAPLA and Cuban uniformed men. New enemy brigades sprouted forth overnight. In January 1984, during Operation Askari, 61 Mech would encounter new Russian T-55/54 tanks at Cuvelai. These were not the T-34s that we so easily smote with Ratel-90s at Xangongo and Ongiva during Operation Protea in August 1981. How could the Soviets, Cubans and Angolans so gladly accept their surrender of the area in dispute?
- Meanwhile the SADF hastened to produce the 155mm G-5 Gun-howitzer, the scourge to-be of FAPLA and the Cubans at the Lomba River on 3 October 1987. The long distance guns of the SADF would be in time for the final momentous conventional war faring clashes. Those epic battles which were to be fought on the shores of the rivers Lomba, Chambinga, Cuito Cuanavale and the Cunene, from August 1987 until August 1988.
What was to be our future counter revolutionary war faring plights and the answers to these? The tactics was the easy part. That was the thinking and doing game at we were good. We could adjust our tactics and do something about our deficiencies but not, for example: In satisfying our intelligence and some of our other operational requirements, such as deficiencies in air defence and armour capabilities. The latter two, sadly so, were never resolved in time.
Strategic and political questions however remained. What would the politicians and military high command do about these important issues? Not for us on the ground to worry about, first things first, keep 61 Mech combat ready. Operations Makro (December 1981), Yahoo (April 1982) and Meebos (July 1982) were looming on the horizon for us at 61 Mech.
Back to basics and the tactics — our world at 61 Mech as we knew and understood it, the real one on the ground, with precious people in it. Sadly so, a few of them have recently left it.
Important Lessons Learned
The debriefing of Operation Daisy was held on 25 November 1981, at Oshakati, the HQ of Sector 10. The proceedings were filed under the reference: Sector 10/309/1/ Operation Daisy, dated 1 December 1981. The de-briefing was chaired by Commandant Anton van Graan. The minutes were signed by Brigadier Witkop Badenhorst, the officer commanding Sector 10.
Evaluation of the tactics for cross border operations were furthermore recorded in an official document, which was fielded by the HQ of Chief of the Army: C Army/D Ops/309/1/Ops Daisy, dated 30 January 1982. The latter report was signed by Brigadier B.A. Ferreira, the Director of Army Operations. The final paragraph stated that it was with regret that the report was submitted so late.
There was one important lesson for 61 Mech and the army recorded in this report. It reflected on deliberate planning and the ability to move a large mechanised force stealthily into and out of Angola:
“From enemy radio messages intercepted it was clear that the initial approach by 61 Mech from the border to their forming up place was never observed by the enemy. This could be attributed to their choice of a far easterly approach.
The main attack by 61 Mech was realistic and went according to plan”.
It was unfortunate that SWAPO had detected the movement of the other approaching forces prior to D-Day. Those of 201 Battalion moving northwards along the Mulola River; the Hercules C130s flying in circles close by the target for the paratrooper drop north-west of the objective early on D-Day and; the final reconnaissance by Special Forces near Chitequeta early the morning prior to the attack by 61 Mech. All of the latter were reported to Lubango by enemy radio.
In the end the aforementioned aspects did not matter really. Chitequeta had been a dead duck anyway the result of deficient intelligence
Four important lessons noted in the aforementioned reports by Sector 10 and Chief of the Army is summarised below:
- First and foremost: Intelligence was held to be the root cause of the Daisy dilemma, euphemistically stated. It was suggested by the Chief of Staff Operations of the Army that we make better use of local inhabitants in future as sources of intelligence. It was also suggested that we increase the patrolling effort in southern Angola and to dominate no-man’s land laboriously through such means. Better use was to be made in future of UNITA as well, as a source for information, it was recorded. The glaring intelligence predicament was left at that in the said report.
- Clearly, in future, the employment of 61 Mech as a main strike force against an insurgent target should be re-considered. The problem lay rooted in the final noisy minute-by-minute approach. No sensible insurgent was going to wait for menacing 61 Mech and circling gunships to appear on the scene anymore in future. Those days were past.
- The future role of 61 Mech for its employment in area type operations also required reconsideration. The status quo represented true wastage of a mechanised unit’s combat potential and its vitality, joie de vivre. More suitable roles and employment opportunities needed to be found for 61 Mech in counter-insurgency. This was especially true when one considered the craftiness of the foe and their means to hide-away in the natural medium and space afforded by southern Angola.
- Logistic vehicles were currently not suited for this type of mobile operations and impeded the mobility of mechanised forces in the dense bush. Something good came from this observation during the de-briefing: Logistic vehicles were soon to be appropriately hardened and equipped for bush-breaking capabilities. Full marks to Major Giel Reinecke and Captain ‘Jakkals’ Jeackel who proposed some of these recommendations.
Closure – Some reflective thinking
A Match that Lit a Prairie Fire
Was Operation Daisy not another match that lit a prairie fire………?
Operation Daisy had broken the ice. As a result, not only the war faring paradigm of the SADF, but also the physical battle line had shifted much further northwards. This was another subtle sign that the war was sprouting into something more substantial than a blooming Daisy.
Daisy had demonstrated South Africa’s operational reach and ability to hit at enemy targets deeper still inside Angola — a fighting formula for the future. The operation furthermore succeeded to disrupt SWAPO’s command and logistics systems, which were located in the enemy’s own back-yard — a strengthening of the fighting formula for the future.
The main external operational zone to fight SWAPO now stretched north of Ovamboland and Okavango right up to the Namibe-Menongue railway-line.
Through extending the SADF’s operational reach, life in the fields of southern Angola was to remain arduous for the enemy — at least for another few years to come. Would SWAPO and FAPLA remain content about this ………. would you have?
Large-scale cross-border operations, such as Sceptic in 1980 and Protea in 1981, still aimed at targets relatively close to the border. Those had been “close-in” enemy strong holds. SWAPO had found sanctuary up to now for their clandestine southwards infiltrations into the populated surrounds of Ovamboland. It was even in a way politically acceptable from our alien outside world that we could strike at the foe in shallow waters. We were however with Daisy wading into the much deeper hot political-military waters, way past our ankles.
From Operation Protea onwards the enemy was forced to retreat further northwards. However, before they could do proper consolidation Operation Daisy was upon those — deeper than their enemy’s mechanised forces had ever struck, since Operation Savanah in 1975-76, that is.
Once again the enemy scattered all over into the sanctuary of the surrounding bush. They moved their command and logistic structures further north to Indungo. Hopefully this would be out of reach of the encroaching SADF — cause and effect. Not for long the SADF’s mission creep would be upon them. How far would this go, still further north?
SWAPO was now driven back into the arms of FAPLA again. This time it was into the ever thickening fringes of the Area in Dispute.
At some stage when you push frustrated and angered people and armies to far, they are apt too push you back. Wouldn’t you react in the same way? Own in-house political pressures and those from their friendly surrogate allies bore down on FAPLA and SWAPO from their north. Never leave the internal pressures caused by UNITA out of this intricate political-military fighting equation.
The Area in Dispute was about to become a pressure cooker.
“Never press a desperate foe to hard, always leave an outlet free”, Sun Tzu had uttered 500 BC.
What was going to give, how, where and when? Massive enemy forces in the meantime were accumulating on the fringes of the Area in Dispute, just across the horizon. The enemy’s fence was strengthening to the north, as if at own free will.
The SADF was to enjoy a short period of potent domination in the fields of southern Angola for a little while more. Gallivanting own forces in Southern Angola were shrouded in false security as the political hee-haw continued. What was needed was to “unbundle” the enemies, then put them back together again — to find out what the hell was truly going on?
Save Operation Askari and to a lesser extent Operation Meebos, large-scale external operations became a phenomenon of the past for the time being. The glory days were replaced by a myriad of smaller scale counter-insurgency and covert type operations. The latter remained to be mere exercises with bloodshed and the treading of water. No significant military or political gains were achieved as far as I could observe from the side, even from where I was being shot at during intervals on the ground.
The enemy was about to shift its focus. They were going to be hurt dearly in the process. However there would be a few nasty surprises waiting for the SADF and the South African government before long. The war was about to be driven to its cusp by December 1988. This would suddenly find a few politicians painted into a corner, from both sides of the fence.
What would be the final outcome? It became a slugging conventional war faring match, intertwined with those revolutionary ones. The choices see-sawed from win-lose to lose-win and eventually to win-win fortunately. The final extremely vicious fighting bout lasted from August 1987 until August 1988. This is another story to follow later, albeit an interesting one. 61 Mech, 32 Battalion, 4 South African Infantry Battalion and UNITA were to be in the thick of it.
All of the aforementioned, as far as I was concerned, formed part of a dangerous unwanted war faring sequel of cause and effect. As mere soldiers we had our intervals of fun on the ground in the bush and the darkness, it may be uttered as an afterthought.
The South Africans and UNITA were extremely good at the tactics.
What remained as the war gradually escalated — shades of political mediocrity and military patchiness?
However, let us wait and see.
Pacifying the Soul and the Psyche of Soldiers
Back to Operation Daisy, in reaching closure ………Making one heap of some of our winnings………
The mission came first. It was executed in the most professional manner by all the soldiers involved in Operation Daisy. Together with the mission came the safety, the high morale and the well-being of our soldiers. All of the latter were done to the best of abilities by those who had joined hands in Operation Daisy.
Regarding utterances right up to the highest command level, about the low yield outcome of Operation Daisy:
To sooth over zealous military psyche, cognition and conscience it was convincingly said that the command and control and logistics of SWAPO in southern Angola had been disrupted; to the contrary, I do not truly believe that SWAPO would have agreed to with this point of view.
The one whopping lesson learned was that any deliberate operation undertaken requires reliable real-time and near real-time tactical intelligence. These factors were especially true for the planning and conduct of a deliberate all-encompassing show of arms, such as for Operation Daisy.
The planning and the execution of the operation by 61 Mechanised Battalion Group was superb if I may say so myself. Of course there were some minor tactical mishaps, but this was absolutely normal with any large-scale military operation — no regrets. Once again our fighting unit had learned some valuable lessons. Learning was what life was all about; especially in the military where one’s life depended on it.
The lessons learned during Operation Daisy in November 1981 stood us in good stead for Operation Yahoo and Operation Meebos. The latter two operations followed on respectively in April 1981 and July 1982.
Interesting enough, I do not believe that 61 Mechanised Battalion Group was ever again used against a pure SWAPO target after Operation Daisy. What followed were operations which were more suited to the conventional war fighting taste of 61 Mech — rightly so.
The main enemy for 61 Mech after Operation Daisy became the government forces of Angola, namely the Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola (FAPLA) and the Cubans who supported them.
Inadvertently the fighting sequels started escalating progressively. The conflict eventually developed into full-blown conventional war fighting. It ended with the largest possible conventional operation ever imagined. These operations I refer to were fought in south-east and south-west Angola respectively from September 1987 until September 1988. It came to be known by South African household names such as operations Moduler, Hooper, Packer, Hilti and Prone.
Both 61 Mechanised Battalion Group and 32 Battalion played decisive roles in these operations.
Later on I was fortunate to could have participated in Operation Moduler in 1987 as well as Operations Hilti and Prone in 1988. Here 61 Mech, under outstanding commanders such as Kobus ‘Bok’ Smit and Mike MÃ¼ller, saw action once again. They were doing their job as 61 Mech knew best, namely high intensity conventional war fighting.
Yet again I would be proud of 61 Mech. Principally in the way this unique fighting unit performed under superb combat leadership with the best of men.
The worth of a Blooming Daisy — Our Sons were Warriors
Thus the story of a long and arduous military journey reaches its end and naturally, a few conclusions as well. Fuel and patience had been expended in the most productive way we knew. 61 Mech had its intervals of excitement. For 61 Mech, endings meant beginnings.
With Operation Daisy we had once more contributed tremendously to our rich body of knowledge regarding warfare in Africa. In addition it served the purpose of updating the battle doctrine of 61 Mech and the standing operating procedures (SOP) of our unit — the yellow book we knew so well.
Individually and collectively our young commanders and troops had learned a great measure. The learning especially accrued to the skills of planning and execution of a large scale operation deep inside Angola at combat group level. This evenly accounted to the art of manoeuvring in dense bush during day and night time. More so to the logistics support and maintenance such a large force required far away from home base.
I was extremely satisfied with the commitment of our sub-unit commanders and their men to the mission. Most of our soldiers were national servicemen. Their esprit de corps displayed and tactical ability proven was commendable beyond any doubt. All of their operational experience and exposure contributed to the overall tactical prowess of the South African combat forces and support services. In this regard Operation Daisy was a sound investment for future warfare in the demanding milieu of the African battle space.
At least Operation Daisy was a good exercise with troops — as Josephus of the Romans said:
“Warfare is an exercise with bloodshed; and an exercise is warfare without bloodshed.”
I was proud of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group. Together as a fighting team we had learned and we had shared responsibility and some danger. 61 Mech was developing into a fighting force second to none.
Until today I can see the young smiling faces of the soldiers of 61 Mech in my mind’s eye. They were my men.
I thought about our men at 61 Mech and the poem that was written by Rudyard Kipling, long before Operation Daisy unfolded in Southern Angola:
“With sixty seconds worth of distance run, yours is the earth and everything that’s in it. And — which is more — You’ll be a man my son!”
Our young sons were warriors — it was in their making.