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'Operation Savannah

 

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"How sleep the brave who sink to rest"  William Collins

It is with great joy, that finally I can report the graves are being excavated on the 6 th July 2012 and the bodies are being reclaimed for the long journey home. Neil Lombard's body is being searched for and some promising leads are being followed.

The history of the recovery of the bodies is as follows: 20 July: Location of the graves of the two pilots and the Air Observer who disappeared when the Cessna of theirs was shot down.  Information is found of a further 15 South African Graves of which one is a white South African this  being the grave of Niel Lombard the armoured car driver killed at the bridge and whose body was simply left there.

These letters were written during the search for the bodies and we all appreciate the feedback. Some writers do not allow thier letters to be published, yet shed light on the matters,  the more viewpoints the better.

 First letter:

25 Nov 1975 the light aircraft "Snoopie," went "missing" on a recon flight over the Central town of Ebo. It was last seen heading "north of our troop's positions. Three days later a radio broadcast from Luanda made acclaim that the Angolan forces had shot down a South African plain north of Ebo and three months later a journalist writing in the Times of London claims he saw the wreckage of a plane that the Angolan's shot down. I do not dispute any of the above but I am trying to get a more definite position of where the plane went down and more especially, where the bodies are buried. I believe they were buried at the site of the crash by the local population. The MIAs were Capt DJ Taljaard, Lt WK Williamson (pilot) and Lt EB Thompson

    During the same "Battle" of Ebo one of the South African armoured cars received a direct hit and a Tpr Lombaard was killed. The armoured car went off the side of the bridge over the Tonga river and although two of the crew escaped, they had to leave Lombard's body there. I am also trying to find out more info about this body.

    Can you or any one in your circle/contact group help me?

     Rowley Medlin.    mailto: medlin@mweb.co.za

2nd letter

Just a question about Neville Beechey. If I remember correctly we were in Southern Angola (playing AVBOB) when we heard (on the news that we tuned into every day) about his death and were wondering how, as the last we knew he was in the states. Also I am sure the news segment stated that he was in the Caprivi on a routing flight that crashed, which we knew was bullshit. Only when we met Ed Stone and co at Cela did we find out that he was a gunner in a Snoopie. This was, I would guestimate, about a month before Ebo.

I am almost 100% sure that we were in Southern Angola at that time. Do you recall this?

 David

Third letter

It was late afternoon and we were on a neck some distance behind the front cars close to the mortars from Staf Stasie a little ahead of the house that acted as command post where the good doctor was.

 One has to remember that our radios were C13 SW and A39 radios.  I cannot recall on which radio we had contact with the snoopy but if it was on the A39 which was a short range radio, it would make sense that Maj Perrold would not have had any comms with them.  But I am absolutely sure that we did have comms at some stage with the snoopy prior to it turning back.

I am positive that the snoopy warned the advanced elements that he was turning back due to low fuel and if I recall it, actually warned them that he was unsure of the area ahead and that they should not proceed.  After the snoopy left they did proceed and crossed the rickety bridge and soon after that drew anti tank fire and some cars were shot out.  That panicked the chaps who stampeded the bridge causing some cars to block it and then the rest of the crews abandoned their cars and fled on foot to our positions.  The first we knew of it was when blooded and big eyed crew members scampered past our cars towards the rear.  We then started to piece the story together as events unvolded and saw staf Stasie return with a groente lorrie loaded with his dead mortar crews with the blood running down the back and his own throat cut by shrapnel.

 At that stage some of the wounded were brought to the command post where the doctor worked on them and called for blood donations.  After that we withdrew towards the tar road in some haste, passing Cmdt Breytenbach’s troops in position at the Y junction, we only stopped when we reached the tar road and slept on the road where the road joined the main tar road crossing the neck towards Quibala.  We gave that neck a name but I cannot recall it now.

 Later we again moved down that road to take up positions and a that stage our resolve and confidence were shaken.  Yet with time we settled down and became true veterans that didn’t dive down for every explosion.

 It was around that time that some of the lost crew appeared out of the bushes having EE’d during the night.  They told tales how the Cubans climbed over their cars after the contact thinking that all were dead.  They locked themselves in and played possum, and later when it was quite, sneaked out and back towards our positions.  One of those were Cpl van der Merwe who lived in Ceres.  I think I should try and make contact with him and get his side of the story.  I know they were pretty shattered and were flown back to the states.

 The bodies of Gidean Obbes and Neil Lombard were not recovered as I recall.  Both were drivers.

 My old crew commander Neville Beechey was acting machine gunner on that snoopy.

 The troops arranged against us were in fact elite Cuban special forces soldiers from the Cuban Minstry of Interior and the specific contingent were led by Díaz Argüelles who recently shifted from the coastal area where they blocked Breytenbach’s advance with his armoured car troop under 2Lt Alex Nicolau who earned a medal for his troops action at the bridge on the river Queve north of Novo Rodondo on their way towards Porto Amboim.  Refer to Piero Gleijeses book CONFLICTING MISSIONS.

 Hope it helped?

 Cheers,

Stephan 

Fourth letter:

The unarmed military Cessna aircraft that went missing on 25 November 1975 while on a reconnaissance mission over Ebo in the central province of Cuanza Sul, Angola. On board were the pilot, 2nd Lt Keith Williamson, co-pilot, 2nd Lt Eric Thompson and our old friend Capt Tallies Taljaard. Well things have developed so fast since Mr Michael Schmidt of the Independent News published an article last Saturday in all the English independent newspapers that I want to give a "sitrap"

    I have found and had discussions with all three families involved and all three have now given me permission or a mandate to write the article (hopefully a book) on the lived of the three soldiers and the things that happened to the families after the announcement "Your sons are missing, presumed dead and we will keep you informed"

    I managed to get an introduction to a Mr Japie Krynaauw from Ambassador Roger Ballard-Tremeer and with Japie's into to Mr Henk van Zyl who lives in Waku Kunga (Yes I also said Where the hell is that) which is the new name of Santa Combo. Henk and his wife are working there and had heard of the missing plane and the dead soldiers and were planning, when the rain season ends to go on a search but without knowing where.

    Through almost every single person on the "Old Boy's Net" Offs W&W as well as my WO's W&W and a long list of past/ retired and fired military personnel, I have over the past six months now been able to put together the most probable scenario as to where the plane flew that day and what happened to it and possible what happened to the three soldiers. With the offer of Henk van Zyl, I am hoping that very soon we will have photos of the wreck as well as co-ordinates of the wreck and the graves.

    I still need "meat" as to the lives of the three soldiers, Their military training, courses, appointments, units served in, sport, love life, social life, etc I know everyone is busy but please, a plea from my side to enable me to keep those three soldiers "alive" I need your help. There are personal friends of Tallies, Eric and Keith out there that might just have that little bit of extra info I need. Most of the people I have asked for info have obliged. only about five out of well over 400 have responded positively. If I may say it "this Old Boy's Net" works and I would like to say thank you to each member who has responded. Dankie Manne.

Anybody with any information ,suggestion or query may, with pleasure contact me

Rowley Medlin.    082 415 7117 or 012 658 5090

Fifth letter:

Forgive me for being a real "gatvlieg" but I have just received another mail from Paul. He says he got it some time ago. it is one of your accounts of Ebo where you describe your bogging procedure: In it there is something that I do not have: You say in this article that "It all started when Snoopie radioed that he was low on fuel and turning back"

    This puts a slightly different aspect onto the search as firstly, the Air Liaison Officer at Cela Maj Perrold says no contact was maintained with the plane and secondly, after the fuel-flying time expired, that a radio search was done amongst own forces on the found to hear if anyone had seen/heard of snoopy.

    Can you remember what time it was that the Snoopie radioed that he was turning back and where were you/where was Snoopie when he turned back. If he was low on fuel it must of been ± 1500 hrs as he left Cela at 1105 hrs with a 4½ hour fuel capacity. If you can give me answers to where he was and possibly what time it was, this might give me a flight path that he took to get back to Cela Did you have any other comms with him that day? What was your position in relation to the Bridge over the Mabassa River (where the a cars were shot out)

    Another aspect that I am interested in (but not onto it yet) is the report of the reporter Mr Ashford who saw about 15 graves in the vicinity of the bridge "of which one was a white soldier" Could this possibly be Neil Lombard's grave. Was he ever recovered by our Forces? Do you have any idea, if it is not Lombaard who it can be?

Gatvlieg

 Rowley 

Sixth letter:

First of all, no I was a trooper gunner in the charly car of the papa troop under 2Lt Gribb so you must please read my recollections from that perspective.

You are quite correct about the names as I type these mails without referring to sources.

 Nick Visser were there and it was Des Harmse that were also on the plane.

As far as Kruis goes I thought little of him then given my limited experience, but only compared him against Cmdt Web. Kruis probably was an excellent staf officer, but no combat commander and it showed in his “confidence” and elaborate time wasting planning.  Lt Heinze who served under him at Ebo thinks highly of him.  Kruis liked to stay well behind the lines in his Combi whilst Webb were right up there with his troops and instilled confidence all round.  Maybe Ebo and Bridge 14 would have been different if we had the likes of Webb still around!

 We in fact “taught” a mulatto officer of Unita that craved Kruis’ favour some Afrikaans as he wanted to greet the good Cmdt in his own language.  He practiced with us to no end and when he felt confident enough he marched off to Kruis’ clicque and stomped to an impressive halt and saluted whilst voicing loudly the Afrikaans greeting we “taught” him.  He couldn’t pronounce the words from each other and it went something like this…  joumanaivirbaksteneom’nhoerhuistebou.  Standing their with an expectant smile ringing his face he was shocked when a major on Kruis’ staff lept at him and felled him with a mighty fist.  We never got the opportunity to talk to our language student again as he was shot later that day.  But I often wondered if Kruis remembered that incident.  Real 19 year old trooper gutter humour.

 On that note I recall my comments to Paul about the contents of the CD included in his book on the recces that was all country and western whilst all the soldiers bar songs I ever heard never reached that exalted musical level, all being in the vein of the engineers song, the wild west show song, etc.  Now if one were to make a CD of the real songs sung by troopers it would never pass even our modern day censor board as it hardly came above the belt and were quite poignant about the topic.  Never ever any patriot motherland crap that I can assure you.  Nor can I ever recall any NS lad that bubbled with patriotism as everyone dreamt of 40 days and detested NS with a passion.  Real “min dae” mentality where the highest rank were a RSM that stood for Regte Sivie Meneer.  And yet strange, once I was back in the states at varsity the lure of all of that kept on calling to me and at the end of my first year I dropped everything and decamped to Rhodesia to join the fighting man’s army as our own army was seemingly at peace and taken up with basic training, etc.  I never intended making a career out of it, and was only after the adventure and adrenalin rush it bought me, and everything that went with it, the camaraderie, etc.  That found me amongst a total different mind set of men, no longer the boy mind set, more your rum and tit crowd, and there was a good reason for that too, as most were pretty intelligent and realized subliminally that there could never be any future in it but they had to live some form of rationalization and ended chasing fatalism.  Sooner or later most would leave to carry on with their lives, but if one stayed there too long you would fall victim of a catch 22 mind set that you hated what you did but couldn’t live without it either.  I knew that I had a limited window period and gave myself till 25 which would have given me 8 years in uniform.  I also noted that most special forces soldiers never got the opportunity to attend staff courses, and hence were doomed to maybe reaching Col rank at an old age as the staff types seriously discriminated against such soldiers.  Soldiers’ soldiers like Breytenbach and Hollies fought against stacked hands.  That Webb managed to reach higher rank only substantiated my original opinion of him.   But I have since learnt that this is the case all over in all armies. 

Seventh letter:

 I must say I have just read your comments to Paul Els and was surprised at looking at some of your comments. Your comment on patriotism lends to what I had to say about the South African and Cuban/Russian fighting for a country other than their "fatherland" Another comment, about religion, Yes I experienced the same amongst the PF or Regulars but I found it quite strong amongst the younger NSM OK I'm not talking about the recce but more about the "ordinary" (if you can call any soldier ordinary) soldier in the field. I had quite a few Recces under my for spec trg amongst them Christie. here I did find them "more rum based with tits" May I question you account of the spotter plane: the date I have is the 26th October and you mention Maj Uys ,the pilot, Cpl Beechley the"gunner," Col Harmse ( Here you refer to him as Fourie Harmse) His name as I have it was Des Hamse and then you omit Maj Niek Visser. I take it this was an oversight but if I am wrong, please help me right.

    As I mentioned in last night's e-mail, I am concentrating on the Troop/NCO/WO and intending to put their stories of each battle into the picture. My position was that just prior to Ops Savannah I was tasked to take over the SAMS's Ops Company (the Medical Operationally Trained medics) and assess their training and revise their training. This I did and my firs batch of fully trained Ops Medics left in time for Savannah. I was tasked to go with them but was held back to prepare another batch. I would go up with them. I was already "kitted out" with my greens and tackies. When the second batch were ready Col Dippenaar (of Cela fame), wanted WO1 Lionel Slade as his RSM and as even more Ops Medics were needed, "Jors Trulie" had to stay behind and train more medics.

    Unfortunately, I as Coy SM and Training instructor, did not keep record of names of the men I sent up and even if I did I would of had no idea of who was posted with what battle group etc. Those medics (not belonging to the Regt or Bn of the battle group have been forgotten through the years, most of them did wonderful lifesaving work. on questioning some of the battle group commanders as to why so and so was never put forward for a medal or a citation, I received an answer similar to "he was a medic, the medics must put in the recommendations" Ok, it is past now and the least I can do is to try and put to paper the work, fears experiences he and others went through.

For more on the search and finding of the graves please see Rowley Medlin's page