"Angola was just too beautiful a country to be ravaged." David Hill
A collection of memoirs from the infantry. Contributions are welcome. We try
to publish the stories as told with no alterations except for spelling or
interpretation if in another language. All stories are copywrite protected.
tale of Brigadier
A tale of a 'Blougat',
who was posted to 5SAI (Ladysmith) from where they joined Ops Savannah,
in Nov '75 as the first 'BROWNS'
South African troops allowed in Angola, all those before, were in
'GREENS', or camouflaged.
Russian Choppers had been attacking South African soldiers, shooting rockets at
them, and we were ordered to dig trenches
every time we stopped to make a temporary base(TB). We would dig to stage
one (18") and thank God the ground was so soft. We used to say that we could dig
down to Australia it was so easy, even so, the bully boy Sgt, who was a
two year intake signing, made some of us blougatte dig his.
The day Brig Potgieter (and I was told some Colonels) was shot down, was just
like any other day in the Angolan bush, we were tired, as we would lie Night
ambushes, and then be patrolling during the next day (it was hell, but we were
young and I suppose could take it) We had stopped to make a TB, had dug our
trenches to stage one (18") when we heard a Chopper over head.
We camped were under some very tall trees, and about 1-2km away from the Youngsfield
Ack-Ack guys with their anti aircraft guns (I think 20mm guns??) We were afraid,
as we only had R1's and the odd Bren gun, so we ducked for cover. We could not
see the chopper properly, but we knew that if it was camouflaged (as all were
instructed to be) it would be one of ours.
It flew over and we saw it was not camouflaged, it headed towards the Youngfield
guys and seemed to hover, like it was looking to land, The ack-acks began
blasting and we heard a big explosion, with billowing black smoke and we knew
that it had been downed. We all set off running toward where the down site was,
shouting for joy, as we thought an enemy Chopper had been blasted.
About 500-800metre from the downed chopper, there were a few Youngsfield guys
running in the opposite direction, and one ran bang straight into me, he was
totally confused shaking, crying and saying he was sorry (he was in Greens, had
longish blond hair, and his name, was 'Dawie'-I can never forget that) When I
got close to the Chopper, I saw the tail piece with 'DANGER/GEWAAR' on it and we
realised an own plane had been downed.
Suddenly all the ammo on the Chopper started to go off, bullets whizzing in all
directions and we had to duck for cover. When the brass arrived a few of us were
'volunteered' to rake up the mess, I remember being horrified at seeing the
small shrivelled skulls of the people caught inside the chopper during the
explosion and fire. Brigadier Potgieter and some Colonels had, chanced their luck and took a SADF
un camouflaged craft as there was not a camouflaged Chopper available at the
an infantry man's Tale.
Nov '75 - Feb '76 was very wet, so much rain. I had a pair of boots rot and had
to throw them away, we stopped wearing socks and skants, because you would get
such bad rashes. The ground was so soft and I am certain that that saves our
lives at the Mortar attack south of Novo Redondo.
I was 19 years old, scared, I did not want to be in some foreign country, we
were not told where we were going. The manner of getting us to go was being
forced by our Sgt to sign a statement at Grootfontein. We were klapped around
the head if we took what he considered to long, to sign that we agreed to go in.
Needless to say reading the document did not happen!
The day of the Cuban Mortar ambush, we were travelling along a road that
suddenly became like an 'ox bow' lake (it wound around and doubled back on its
self, as there was marsh land to both left and right) the Infantry guys were
strapped into Unimogs (10 seaters, thus hosting a platoon) in formation with the
Panzers (either from SSB in Bloemfontein or Zeerust) armed with 90mm Elands.
We were ambushed as the convoy was winding along this road. Plenty Unita
Soldiers were running in the opposite direction, with their typical UNITA sign
(the Churchill "V" sign) shown to us. No body bothered to stop and ask why they
Very soon we were caught in mortar fire and had to scamper off the Unimogs,
fast. At first their was serious confusion, we were running around like lost
farts, then we managed to get our 'rigting' and formed up, and were ordered to
advance towards the mortar, while the Elands 90mm formed up on the road and
started to pound the mortar position. We had rifle grenades, and some of the
guys forgot to turn the 'gas' and so the grenades were plonking into the ground
around 20 metres or so from us (thank God, again, the soil was so soft)
thinking, this is my last day, as pounding over our heads, were the 90mm Elands,
our own rifle grenades exploding in front of us. The rest of us were running and
shooting, and being shot at by 'snipers' from the Cuban side.
As we advanced on the Mortar position, we found it abandoned, and saw that they
had been lying in wait, they had been eating and the tinned food had 'made in South
Africa' on them. This shocked us.
Then the Cubans starting pounding their old positions and the bombs were
landing behind us, so we had no option but to run forward, and I remember
sinking up to my hips in the swamp, and having to be helped out by two of the
The 90mm Elands were fantastic, and we won that fire fight. When we regrouped,
in total silence, we all to a man opened our rat packs and began devouring food.
I think we were conveying a silent message to each other that we had 'shat'
ourselves, but as young 'tough guys', we could not express this in words.
I was in 'A' Company at Ladysmith (5SAI) the Company leader was an English
speaking bloke and a real gentleman, while the CSM, was a scrawny waste of
oxygen, very Afrikaans, and the Platoon Sgt was a big blond hair guy who had
signed on for 2 years, and treated us 'blougatte'-especially the English
speakers- as dirt. He always picked on me, as I was the same size as him, and
one day after boxing me a few times over the 'staaldak', I hit him back, and he
was dumb struck. Naturally he charged me (putting me on orders) and I was
marched in by the CSM, to see Major, who after hearing the whole story, let me
off with a severe warning ('Thou shall not assault the NCOs.......)
Our Platoon Leader had a typically Newtonian 'leadership style'-he was best at
the 1.5Mile run, he was best kitted out soldier. I was a Silver badge holder (the
top) a marksman, and I can not remember if he was better than me! He was a good
'little guy' who wanted to lead by example, always be the best! He was the only lootie in "A" company not to get wounded in Angola. The other two Platoon
looties in "A" Company were 'hit' (one stood on an anti personnel mine, and the
other was shot, of all places, in the testes. So we were 2 Platoon Leaders down
out of 3 in "A" Company after the Cubans arrived.
We suffered due to food shortages, we had to share tins between three of us, and
it was just not enough, the guys that smoked, got a free pack of cigs a day, and
they were able to trade food for smokes, we were also entitled to one free beer
a day, but hardly saw this, as we were seldom at a base for too long, and on the
move , we got none, just food, rat packs with dog biscuits, bully beef, the famous ESbits
to light fires with, etc.
When we got back to the 'states' we were prevented from doing any PT for a while
as the lack of food had its toll on our bodies (we were grateful for that fact).
We used to tune our army radios into the BBC and hear that we were deep into
Angola, whilst SABC and the top Brass denied we were ever there.
Promises, Promises and let downs.
Fighting Group 'Orange', were awarded the 'Pro Patria' and promised the Cunnene Clasp, which never materialized! We were only awarded the
Pro patria, at the next three month camp-or the one after that. I remember I was
lucky to receive the one that was registered with my army number, so I got the
correct one, some guys didn't, and took medals that were registered to other
guys (typical army balls up!!)
Many years later, in 2001, the Company that I was working for at the time,
had dealings with a Company in Angola, and a young black Angolan General
(who headed up the Company) came to our offices, and it was nostalgic to find
out that we had both taken part in 'Operation Savannah' (he at the time had been
part of Savimbi's Unita soldiers) but had switched sides.
Funnily enough, one of the ‘technologies’ he was looking for at the time, was a
'GPS' system, to track down and kill the then 'very alive' Savimbi (naturally we
laughed that idea off) He saw Savimbi as impeding the progress in Angola, as he
would not go to the negotiation table and wanted to keep the longest civil war
in history going, so to business, he had to be neutralised!!!
At his presentation to the Big Wigs in our company, he said, "Both David and I
were in some way responsible for the destruction in Angola, now, we are here
together, lets see if we can contribute to its rebuilding”. Unfortunately we
never did end up doing business with him as the Company I worked for saw it as
too dangerous and the business risk too high, so I never got to see or keep in
touch with the General again.
A while later, when I heard that Savimbi had been caught off guard (a rare
opportunity) and shot dead, I wondered whether 'my friend' had any thing to do