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'Operation Savannah

 

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"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.


The
tale of Brigadier Potgieter

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.

Cuban or 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 time.

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 were running?

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)

 I remember 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 other soldiers.

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.
 

The Brass:

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 t
here.

 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!!)

Afterward
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 with it.......