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Thursday, 26 May 2016


I guess an apology is in order to all my followers and those that sent me some fantastic messages on my board, I have intentionally stayed off my blog under docs orders as she felt I was delving into some unfinished memories that I was having difficulty processing. PTSD is real and life changing, I am slowly learning to file my bad memories away but until I'm whole I wont be very active. I have a number of new posts sitting in drafts nearly ready to publish. As for the messages I will try and respond to all of you I promise - Salute makkers.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

PTSD or Bossies

I don't know whether I should publish this post, any-ways here goes. After near 30 years I have found myself bleeding yet again from my experiences on the border.

I wonder if I am alone, recent work related stress has brought back my fears, nightmares and the hyper defence-ivness ( just made up this word) I came back to SA with. I did not think this part of my life would reappear as I had thought all this was dealt with or at best shelved but never forgotten.

Perhaps writing this Blog is partly to blame, I guess one could call this shooting my own foot, but who of us does not reminisce those days and wish for a moment we were back in them, I for one do.....

I am now asking is this being re-traumatised for a reason of some sort?

Ok guys time to dig deep here, I am asking you to state here if you have or still do suffer from your time on the border or even in SA doing camps in the townships. What is your experiences with PTSD and perhaps if you found a way to overcome, you may even share the methods that worked for you.

Looking forward to your posts

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Engineers and Bridges

Bridge building 

22 Field

22 Field

32 Battalion crossing

Training and more training

Near Piet se Gat


An army needs Sappers

Again near Piet se Gat

FAIR USE NOTICE: This website may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been pre-authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available to advance understanding of political, economic, scientific, social, art, media, and cultural issues. Material on this site is distributed without profit to persons interested in such information for research and educational purposes. If you want to use any copyrighted material that may exist on this site for purposes that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


Landmines and Mine Hunts

Tent Art

PB vehicle struck a double Cheese mine

Death from below

Buffel trapped a TM57

Cheese mine

Looks like a TM57

The Road to Heaven

Mine Identification Training Aids

Grappling hook and 50 foot of rope, no fancy robots - Man v Monster


Sign in Angola

Ratel V Mine SADF world leaders in mine proof vehicles

Lifted safely

Black Widow

Sapper style - on the job

FAIR USE NOTICE: This website may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been pre-authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available to advance understanding of political, economic, scientific, social, art, media, and cultural issues. Material on this site is distributed without profit to persons interested in such information for research and educational purposes. If you want to use any copyrighted material that may exist on this site for purposes that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Your experiences on the border

I was on Facebook the other day and read these accounts of Ratel crews that were ambushed, one by two Mig 21's and the carnage and tragedy that followed and the other in an battle with Angolan forces, I found theses accounts written Jaco Swanevelder and by David Mannall totally spine chilling - Salute guys, David's is on the link below.


With reference to the photo of Ratel 9G, I post the piece below as written by Kelvin Luke, 61 Mech, Bravo Comp, 1980...... a soldier, a gentleman, a true hero, a survivor and most importantly...a Brother in Arms.

"Op Sceptic - This is my story

Submitted by Rifleman Kelvin Luke, LMG No 2, section 1, platoon 3, Bravo company on March 17, 2012 06:20


I have written this story as I remember it. As I sit to write, I realize this was 31 years ago and my recollection may not be 100% correct.

I often find , that around a braai, someone will bring up the army. They talk about how crap the border was and when I ask about their experience, it turns out they spent 9 months in Grootfontien and saw and did nothing. It’s not their fault and I take nothing away from them but the conversation generally ends with a comment, something like this: “What was it all for? “ My message is that, if it was not for units like 61 Mech, 32 Battalion, 101 Battalion, Recces, Parabats, etc, our second language would be RUSSIAN!

A quick introduction: 77343317BT Kelvin Luke. I was born at the South Rand hospital in Rossetenville, Johannesburg on the 29th of August 1961. I did the school thing and then got called up to 1SAI in January 0f 1979. I knew absolutely nothing about the army when I went. (Artillery tanks ? Infantry? Mortars ???) I did basics with wide eyed fear. I was terrified of sergeant major Terblanche. Whenever he saw me, I was immediately singled out, called over and humiliated or ordered to do PT. I saw him at the June 2010 reunion in Bloem and believe it or not, was quite pleased to see him again.

A motor car accident wiped out my section

I was dealt out to 81 mm mortars. Then one weekend pass my whole section was killed in a motorcar accident on Van Reenens Pass. I was shocked and deeply saddened. On the Monday morning everyone went out to training at De Brug and I was told to stay behind to clean out their cupboards and pack their kit up. It felt as if I was alone in 1SAI. I read their letters and cried. I went and handed their stuff in at Q.M.

Suddenly I was a spaarpiel that no one seemed to know what to do with. I was shunted from pillar to post. I had no friends and kept pretty much to myself. During the first year in 1 SAI Alfa company, we travelled. We went for training at Lohatlha, Kimberley, Potchefstroom, Maselspoort and of course De Brug. (Lovely place) Anyone remember Hamilton shooting range?

Alfa company became Bravo company at 61 Mech

Alfa company’s commander was captain Cassie Schoeman. I never met a nicer officer. On the 12th of December 1979, Alfa company was sent to the border where we became Bravo company much to our disgust. I remember everyone being very vocal about that. Then we were split up. Mortars went a Casmania and the rest went to Omuthiya. We did lots of Buffel patrols and also helped dig a swimming pool. This was interspersed with flipping a Ratel tyre down the shooting range, getting caught jippoing by sergeant major Terblanche, sand bag PT, lots of it! Kry vir julle sommer twee!

Duty at the Rhodesian border

Then we were called to go to the Rhodesian border. What I remember most about this was the lack of food and water. Both were very scarce, sometimes sharing 1 rat pack between 2 of us. Boredom set in and our entertainment took the form of pitting scorpions against red romans in shallow holes. Money was won and lost.

Captain Schoeman flipped a brand new SP 370 Suzuki which had been sprayed army brown. (Even the tyres) I laughed. He kakked me out for this and made me help him pick it up. The reason for us being on the Rhodesian border was that Robert Mugabe was elected into power.

The word “Foxbat”was our code word

Finally we got the orders to go back to 1 SAI and our 1st 7 day pass. Before we left on our pass, we were told to watch the 7 o,clock news every night and listen out for the word ‘Foxbat’ at the end of the bulletin. If we heard this we were to return immediately.

On arriving home, I allocated the task of watching the news to my dad so that my 1 SAI friends and I could go on the jol. Third night into pass, ‘Foxbat’ was said at the end of the bulletin. I could not believe it. Twenty minutes later a phone call from Lt. Hopkins confirms, it’s time to go back.

Serious training at Omuthiya

A few days later we were all back at Omuthiya where we went into some serious training. Eventually we were told that we were going on an ops in Angola. No one was allowed to leave or enter Omuthiya. The State President PW Botha came to see us and gave a speech.

We were told about Operation Sceptic and I joined Ratel 23A
On June 6th, after supper, everyone was seated in the mess for orders. We were told about Operation Sceptic of which our company was combat team 2 under the control of captain Louis Harmse and lieutenant Hannes du Toit. Troops were asked if they wanted to stay behind and Findley and Bornman put their hands up. I took Bornman’s place in Ratel 23A as LMG No 2.

Two liner corporal Hein Stumke was section leader with Vermaak as 20mm gunner and Bothma the driver. De Buys was the LMG Lance Corporal, Bloem the LMG No 1. Riflemen were Fourie, van Tonder and Bosch. There was lots of animosity towards me being a newcomer in their Ratel and me being the only ‘Engelsman’ did not help.

On our way to the target

We left Omuthiya in one mother of a long convoy and headed for Eenhana where we arrived in the late afternoon. I recall Marco Caforio chirped me while I was standing on top of our Ratel and unpleasant words were exchanged. The next day we crossed the border into Angola. It was tense but uneventful. A bit of an anti-climax! That night we slept on foreign soil for the first time. It was the 9th of June 1980.

An early rise the next morning saw us bundu bashing all the way to our objective. The going was slow and the dust was thick. Leaves and twigs in the bottom of the engine bays of the Ratels caught fire, aerials snapped off, the steel steps below the Ratel doors were damaged and some came off, as did the head lights. It was soon after this, that the steps on Ratels were changed to solid steel and the headlights became inboard. The going was really tough.

The yellow motivational card

I believe it was about 13h45 on the 10th of June when we were directed onto our objective nicknamed “Smokeshell”. We were handed a small yellow motivational card with a bible verse on it. It read as follows:
Message from your OC.
2 Timothy 2: As for you, my son, be strong through the grace that is ours in union with Christ Jesus.
Now is the time
For yourself
Your comrades
Your battle group
Your country and people
Your God
Fight to win
Fight for 61
Signed Commandant Dippenaar.
I read this card several hundred times in the weeks that followed and still have it in my possession to this day.

All hell broke loose

Fifteen minutes later our forward elements, platoon 1, engaged the enemy and for the next 8 ½ hours all hell broke loose. Suddenly we were driving over trenches. Bloem and de Buys threw a few grenades while I fired from the rifle ports. Everyone in the Ratel was shooting. I felt ice cold but was sweating like a pig. From the front of us, came the unbelievably loud sound of unbelievably fast automatic weapons. Not ours! We were creeping along.

Artillery bombs were going off. Theirs or ours? Then we came to a stand between thick bush and lots of your trees. Visibility was about 5 to 10 meters. We soon learnt in our individual experiences, not to stick a rifle through the rifle ports as it would be ripped out of your hands taking your chin with it. It seemed like forever that we were in the trees. Die son was besig om water te trek. Then we broke through the trees.

Black smoke pouring out of a Ratel

The first thing I saw was a tank burning , thick black smoke pouring out of it. We drove closer. What a wake up call. Not a tank but a Ratel. Comprehending this took a while. The brain was unwilling to accept what we were seeing. We drove slowly past. There was a body hanging out of the left roof hatch. His arms were moving, his staaldak was red. There was shooting all around us. Bombs were landing and those terrible weapons were still shooting.

We picked up Carforio and Van der Vyver

For some reason or another, I took my water bottle out of its pouch and jammed it between the inside of the rear wheel arch and the bottom of the magazine racks, directly in front of me. Next thing (and I am starting to shake as I write this – 31 years and I am only getting it off my chest now), about 150 meters away, I see two South African soldiers running towards us. I screamed at our driver to stop but he did not react.

Eventually Bloem, De Buys and myself were all screaming for him to stop. When he did, Bothma opened the side door. Why I did this, I do not know ,i jumped out the Ratel and stood by the door screaming at them to RUN. It was Marco Carforio and van der Vyfer. Time stood still. Next thing Carforio goes down. He has been hit at the back of his ankle with shrapnel about 30 meters away. I ran towards him, screaming for him to get up. (I have never screamed so loudly before or since). As I got to him, he stood up and we stumbled back to the Ratel. While we ran, Carforio told me twice that Pip’s legs were off. When we got the the Ratel, Van der Vyver was already in the tail gunners passage and I struggled to get Carforio to climb in. (Did he have a mental block or a premonition?) I screamed for someone inside to help me, which they did.

I got in. The door closed. What a feeling of safety the Ratel provided!

Carforio was screaming for us to help him. He had a few holes in his body already. He was crouched at the door. Next thing a 14.5mm anti aircraft gun opened up on us. We were hit three times. You definitely see the rounds coming!

We were hit by a 14.5 mm anti-aircraft gun

The first round hit just below the rifle port in the door, six inches away from Carforio’s face. The second round hit directly in front of me, on the welding where the vertical plate and the angle plate on the outside of the Ratel join… the round went through my water bottle that I had jammed earlier. Instinctively I dived the upper half of my body to the right behind De Buys in the seat. I was sopping wet.

I thought it was my blood but it was water from the water bottle. I shook uncontrollably for about 30 seconds – violent spasms. I sat up slowly and dazed. Everything was very bright. The Ratel was full of dust and cordite. I looked around, everyone was screaming. It eventually dawned on me that we had been hit by and anti-aircraft gun. THAT was the unbelievably loud automatic weapons we had been hearing. We were told about them and to watch for them. The sounds and bangs of war went on non-stop outside.

Vermaak, the gunner of Ratel 23A

Marco Carforio looked like he had a hole through his face and he was screaming. While I was lying and shaking behind De Buys, Vermaak was in action. Stunke was screaming at him. Vermaak was screaming “Ek het hulle, ek het hulle”. He swung the turret towards the AA gun and let rip with both Browning and 20mm. He shot in short bursts and kept correcting his aim. In retrospect, the sound of him shooting was warm and comforting. He took the AA gunners off their seat. Later we counted seven bodies around that AA gun. Vermaak’s perhaps? If he wasn’t our gunner, I don’t believe anyone of us would be here today. He was cool, calm and collected and did what he was trained to do. Good training or what? And what good character.

I take my hat off to you Vermaak!

May God be with you today.

In my opinion everyone in Ratel 23A on the 10th of June, owes you their lives.

There was chaos inside our Ratel

I looked down. There was a thin piece of shrapnel sticking out of my chest. My shirt pocket was smouldering and my left arm was full of holes and bleeding. My shirt collar on the left hand side was half ripped off. The left side of my neck was burning, as was my left inner thigh. My one finger on my right hand had swelled up. Bloem had blood streaming down his face and de Buys was fine. There was chaos inside the Ratel. Fourie, who was sitting behind me got one of the 14.5 rounds through his upper left arm and into his chest. There was blood everywhere. Carforio was now calm as Bloem had given him a stiff clap to calm him down. Van Tonder clapped him with an injection and 2 tablets, which he swallowed with his own blood. Hein Stumke, our section leader’s, one eye was cut open by a branch. The third round had gone through the towbar, through the side of the Ratel and through the bottom of the diesel tank so the diesel was sloshing around at our feet, covering the grating. The smell was overpowering.

Our own 81 mm mortars

Next thing, Capt. Louis Harmse ordered our 81mm mortars, ‘Vuur ons op posisie’.

Now, I have been in quite a few ‘bestokings’ after Smokeshell, cluster bombed by Migs, strafed, numerous BM21 (Stalin organs) bestokings, mortared (with RGK 82 Mech Battalion in Ops Askari and Ops Packer but nothing like the bestoking we got that day from our own mortars. I thought I was going to go insane. My head wanted to explode from the worst headache I have ever experienced. I believe the first line ammunition was 175 bombs per mortar. 8 Mortars in a company. Correct me if I am wrong but that means approximately 1400 mortars in about ½ an hour = about 46 in a minute.

“Oddball” Troutman told me later that they had shot all their ammo. I am sure that sitting inside a Ratel magnifies the sound and the concussion to the explosions?

The choppers collected the wounded

Then there was a lull in the fighting. Over to the right there were still explosions, small arms fire and still a couple of those AA guns. We were ordered out of the Ratels in a rondomverdediging while the choppers were landing and carrying out our wounded. When the last chopper took of (with Carforio inside it), another AA gun took aim and fired at it. It looked to me like the fire was going through the rotors. Someone yelled, “Gaan haal daai fokkers” and it flew away unscathed.

Back to that 14,5 mm gun before joining up again

Our section was ordered back to the AA gun which Vermaak took out. When we got to the site, I counted four bodies around the gun and three inside the bunker. The bodies were sprawled over their ammunition boxes. It was a 14.5mm single long barrel AA gun. We were then ordered to put the AA gun on top of our Ratel. Soon afterwards, we took it off and put it on another Ratel because we couldn’t open the hatches with the AA gun on top of it. The smell of diesel which was still sloshing around inside was unbearable. We came to a stop. There was no more diesel in the tank.

Stumke ordered me and Van Tonder out to fit the towbar to a Ratel which was reversing towards us.Van Tonder got his end attached to the reversing Ratel and then ran back and got into the Ratel. The driver reversed too far and banged my end of the towbar into the front of our Ratel. It got ripped out of my hands.

Next thing I see 3 white flashes on the front plate of our Ratel and hear a whole lot of rounds going through the grass just to my left at knee height. I was getting shot at! I signaled and screamed and panicked. I signaled to the driver and pointed to my 4 o’clock position that someone was shooting at me. The turret turned in that direction but did not fire. There was no more shooting at me. I eventually got the tow bar hooked up. It seemed like ages and I screamed for them to open the door which eventually swung open and I told them, “Iemand het op my geskiet”. Bloem and de Buys just stared at me and said nothing. I was trembling and fighting my own inner turmoil. I felt totally drained and exhausted. Then it was night on 10 June 1980. We fought on, getting towed everywhere. The gunfire slowly petered out at about 21h30 that night.

The 23 mm gun with the twin barrels

We started to move out to the laager. There were a couple of disabled Ratels left behind on the objective. My good friend (to this day), Ian Holloway’s Ratel was ordered to stay behind with one of the disabled Ratels as extra protection. He told me that about 30 meters away from their position was an operational twin barrel 23mm AA gun. They didn’t know that it was there until it opened fire on a Mirage fighter. Next thing the Mirage dives down on it and opens up. He says he saw the tracers going in both directions. The Mirage flew away.

The AA gun was knocked out. The bush was burning at the site. They had to put the fire out. He said it was a horrible experience as it looked like the plane was shooting at them.

The night in the laager

It was quite dark. Not the dark, dark when you can’t see your hand in front of your face but the going was slow. Something I haven’t mentioned yet, is that it was freezing cold. I believe that the temperatures at night were below freezing point? Eventually we came to the white toilet paper markers on the ground to show us where the laager was situated. We were still being towed. We turned right, into the bush and came to a stop. “Hier gaan ons slaap.” Must have been almost midnight. I realized in the dark that we were in two rows of Ratels about 50 to 100 meters apart with our artillery in between, their barrels pointing away from us, facing directly over the other row of Ratels.

We filled sandbags and formed a small fortress under our Ratel. It was cold. We crept under the Ratel and sorted ourselves out. Rifles ready and ammo at hand. I lay shivering uncontrollably in my sleeping bag. I was finished. Totally exhausted. My eyes closed and what I am sure was 10 minutes later, wide awake.

In the distance the unmistakable sound of mortars being fired. Terrs have terrible 120mm mortars. Here they come. They landed to our right. Next there were hundreds of green tracers going over the Ratels above us. The troops in the front row of the Ratels started firing back. It was time to put our skeletons back into our skin. Our artillery started to shoot back. They were just in front of us. They were those 5,5’s. Never been behind one when they shoot. Those artillery guys must go deaf young .

Anyway they all fired a few times when suddenly there is the most horrendous noise. I was in a state of total panic and terror. It sounded like a 36 wheeler truck doing 160kms per hour and then slamming on brakes and locking all 36 tyres. I nearly shat myself! It went on and on. One of the 5,5’s put the ladings in and not the projectile. Loudest thing I ever heard. When it finished someone was getting a serious uitkak in the dark. They were still shooting at us with lots of tracers. It was freezing. My body had had enough. My eyes closed while the green fireworks display carried on. Three and a half hours later, we were woken up again. It was still dark and freakin cold. We got moving again. We were on our way back to the battlefield, still being towed.

Sad stocktaking with Bravo company

Our Bravo company all pulled up next to each other. Orders from captain Harmse! We stood loosely in a semi-circle around him. Fourteen of us were killed in action and 21 wounded. Some of us cried as he read the names out. A third of our company was gone.

We were stunned. Five Ratels were hit by anti-aircraft fire, our Ratel being the fifth and last one. Captain Louise Harmse was lucky when a 23 mm round went through the guard of the 20 mm about 10 mm away from the turret. It could have been worse. Our second in command lieutenant Hannes du Toit was dead. He was awarded the Honorus Crux posthumous. Marco Carforio’s Ratel was the worst hit. Seven young men died in it. It ended up being the Ratel painted silver at Omuthiya. It was full of holes.

I looked inside the Ratel that day. It was literally covered on the inside with blood and flesh. I then looked into the Ratel I thought was a tank burning. All the ammo inside had exploded. It was black inside with human bone that had melted into the grid on the floor. The windows had melted into huge teardrops.

Apparently the tiffies had to wait for 13 hours for the Ratel to cool down. They loaded it on the one of the new Samil 100. How they did that, I do not know. A Ratel weighs 18 tons. David Huxtable was in that Ratel. He is lucky to be alive as he got 2 AK 47 rounds through his back. I met him at the 10 June 2010 1 SAI reunion. He is now an electrical engineer and doing very well for himself. He drove us down to Bloem and back.

Orders to mop up

Orders where to mop up. There were terrorist bodies everywhere. Hundreds ?? The stench of cordite and death was overpowering. Realization of the scale of the battle was sinking in. There were bunkers and trenches everywhere. Troops were throwing grenades into bunkers all over the show. The pile of Russian small arms, AK 47’s, LMG’s, tommy guns, SPD’s, rifles with round magazines on top, a huge pile about head height was collected. 14? Anti-aircraft guns and 150 tons of ammo was airlifted by Puma helicopters. A whole convoy of GAZ trucks towing Russian 75mm artillery guns, a BTR, a BRDM infantry troop carrier(s), a BM21 (Stalin organ), Russian signals equipment, RPG7 rocket launchers and various other military hardware was all taken back to SWA.
By 10am the flies were humming all over the show. The smell of death was very strong. Cache after cache was found. Foods like dried fish, maize from Denmark and big oval cans of ham from Norway were found. No water. We were running out of water.

SWAPO were masters at booby traps, so every step you took and everything you picked up was a tense affair, never knowing when a landmine or the like would go off. I walked around on jellied legs. In the 18 months that I had owned my browns, I never split my pants. The day before, I had managed to split my browns pants from knee to knee. I noticed quite a few troops with the same split pants syndrome. The day grew hotter, with triple the amount of flies and the stench was starting to cling to us.

The canteen truck

Someone said we had a canteen truck. In Angola??? I needed smokes! We got to the canteen truck. One very long queue had me standing there for 45 minutes when to our left, a mother of an explosion about 50 meters away boomed. None of us moved for fear of losing our place in the queue. In the trees a Samil 50 tramped on the cheese mine. I bought a carton of Chesterfields and two ice cold Cokes.

Walking back to the Ratels, Pedro picked up a Russian grenade, unscrewed the detonator and 10 seconds later, blows his hand off. Thumb, pointing finger and middle finger all gone. Ian Holloway and Frikkie Zeelie were hit with small pieces of shrapnel.

Good news about HP Ferreira

At the Ratels, captain Harmse treed us on. Good news. H. P. Ferreira was alive but critical. Death toll was now 13.
We all cheered about H.P. and I got tears in my eyes. We were all pretty exhausted. The casevac chopper arrived and took Pedro and corpral Hein Stumke away. We had to force Stumke to go and get his torn eyeball seen to. Corporal ’Pa Joe’ Lourens was put in command of our Ratel. We heard stories of what some guys in company did the day before. There was bravery aplenty.

Lance corporal Gareth Rutherford tended to wounded mates under some serious fire. Rutherford was awarded the Honorus Crux. Jones also tended to wounded under heavy fire. Mclean ran around taking Swapo out with a flame thrower. Crazy stuff. During the course of mopping up, we took a few Swapo pow’s. Van Minnen had to be calmed down as he was wanting to take their heads off.

During the mopping up, Bothma our driver had tried to get the diesel out of the Ratel. He opened the tail gunners door at the back and most of it ran out. The grating on the floor was extremely slippery and the smell of diesel was still very strong. It was getting dark. We started moving off the battlefield, burning crops and setting the veld on fire. We were also told to kill any livestock which we did. It was dark, around 8pm and we were still being towed.

We drove into an ambush

We must have been doing about 5km/hour when we drove straight into an ambush. In the opening salvo, they let rip with quite a few RPG 7’s. Quite a fewRratels were hit. Not one RPG 7 round exploded. To this day, I am still not sure why. Someone told me that they were too close to us. Thank the Lord.
One massive firefight ensued. Everything that could shoot was shooting back at them. 90mm Elands were pounding away. We had one next to us and every time it fired, I nearly shat myself. We fired and fired. 20mm cannons were blasting away. 7.62 Brownings let rip. R1’s out of rifle slits banged away, all of us shooting at the flashes of the enemy weapons. Tracers were bouncing off the ratels. About 45 minutes later the last shots were fired. We then sat in stunned silence. What the fucking hell just happened? We moved off to our lager, very lucky to get out of that one. I believe 80 Swapo cadres lost their lives in that furious firefight.

We laagered and guards were posted. It was freezing cold and we spend an uninterrupted night under the Ratel with some firing in the distance. Woke up shivering uncontrollably again and made esbit coffee. The water was now finished.

We were not a pretty sight

I looked at Bloem. He was filthy. Covered in dust and his own blood, smattered on his face. I looked at myself. My left arm was full of congealed blood. My neck was quite badly grazed. My ring finger on my right hand was very swollen and sore and my pants, as I said before were torn from knee to knee. There was no water to wash with. The diesel in the Ratels was getting low and we were still being towed. The inside of the Ratels were filthy with dust and blood. In our Ratel, Carforio’s blood was all over the browning and 20 mm ammo boxes, the gearbox casing, inside the door, all over the turret and tubing. On the other side of the Ratel, there was lots of blood on the chairs where Fourie had bled. The blood on the floor had been washed away with the sloshing diesel. Quite a few troops from our company came and inspected our Ratel. We listened to their comments and felt “proud”?

General Constand Viljoen and the landmine

We had all been instructed to pee in a drum and the pee was distributed to the radiators of the ratels that were overheating. We moved out, bouncing over terrible twee spoor roads. We stopped again with the now familiar sound of the towbar clanging into its holder. We were standing out of the hatches. A Ratel came driving up the side of the column on the right. It reported. Call sign O. Who was in there?

Two Ratels ahead of us, this passing Ratel tramps a cheese mine. The unbelievably loud solid metallic clang, tells you what it is. We were getting to know the sound of different explosions, which rifle was firing etc. Anyway the two that were standing out of the turret, shot out like champagne corks. The gunner, I believe hurt his knee and the driver was ok. The commander climbed back onto the turret. He got his rifle, jumped off again, walked to the Ratel at his left and climbed on.

Realisation! General Constant Viljoen. It was the Ratel that he was traveling in that tramped the mine. None of us could believe it. He walked over and climbed into a Ratel in front of us. I hadn’t seen a rifle like the one he was carrying before. It had a folding butt. It was the first time I saw a R4! I don’t know how true it was or if it was just a legend but the story goes that the sappers found a couple of anti-personnel mines planted around the Ratel where the tank mine went off. The general obviously never stood on one. I found out later that at the time we were on our way back to the ambush site.

The Tiffies sorted our Ratel out

An order came over the radio that the Ratel towing us must take us to the Tiffies. We turned around and left the column. I prayed that they knew where they were going. We were all on high alert. Only the two lonely Ratels bouncing along the dusty road. It was a tense journey of a couple of hours. Eventually we found the Tiffies laagered in pretty thick bush. What a relief. Good news. They had sourced a new diesel tank for us so they told us to get out.

So with “ staaldak, webbing en geweer” we went in search of water. We found it in the form of one of those brown fiberglass water trailers. Luke warm water can be absolutely delicious. We washed. As I washed my hands and face, I realized that I had quite a roasty on my neck. I washed my arm and counted nine small holes near and around my left elbow. My ears were so full of dust, I could almost tilt my head and let it pour out.

Eventually we got our chance. We went back to the Ratel, took all the floor gratings out and cleaned up the remaining diesel. I sewed my pants back together. Did not do too good a job as they soon split again. “ Julle kan maar gaan” were the instructions from the tiffies so the other Ratel towed us for the last time to the diesel bunker. They only gave us quarter of a tank. It was getting dark so we decided to stay there for the night.

Our spirits went up a few notches

There was a noticeable change in everyone including myself now that the towbar was secured on the side of our Ratel and we were moving under our own steam. The two Ratels moved off to one side and laagered. We built our fortress, went to sleep and slept like dead men. Our faces were clean, we had water to drink and our Ratel was fixed. Spirits definitely had gone up a few notches. The next morning we were up early, the orange of the early morning sun barely visible. It was brilliant to feel the powerful Bushing 6 cylinder in line twin turbo thundering away in the engine bay behind us again. We joined our company a couple of hours later.

Once again into action

Another freezing night went by. Up early and moving. We could hear a small arms firefight in the distance. We drove closer. We had the dreaded order. “Stap uit.” Someone was having quite a big contact to our right and another was going on behind us. Stray bullets zinging over our heads. We walked along for about 15 minutes with the Ratels creeping next to us. The grass was dry half way up to ones shin with small clumps of thicket here and there. No trees in our vicinity.

Suddenly a terrorist, with an AK 47 pulls off one round, hitting Nel through his buttocks just to my right. Another two steps and I would have stood on him. I did not see him! I believe them when they say SWAPO were the masters of camouflage. Bosch, just to my left, who also did not see him pumped him with two 7.62 . A second later, I also put two into him. We agreed, he shot first.

We walked on. About an hour later we were told to get back into the Ratels. Bullets were still flying haphazardly around us, from all different directions. We were moving again. It was late afternoon when suddenly two SWAPO POW’s get dumped into our Ratel. I jumped over the seats and sat in Fouries empty chair to get a better look at our enemy. They were scared and looked really hungry. I decided to give them a packet of dog biscuits. Bosch told me “Jy mag nie” and they all ganged up against me. I told them all to fuck off and gave them the doggies. They shoved them down their throats at high speed. I did not win any “Mr Popularity” contests that day.

Refuelling the Ratels

Another freezing cold night was spent in the Angolan bush, from where one could see the most stunning view of the heavens. Stars like you’ve never seen before. Well me in any case. The next day not much happened. We remained where we were as everyone was short on diesel and we were told that choppers were coming with fuel. We waited the whole day and when they eventually arrived, it was getting dark. Each Ratel was given a 210 liter drum of diesel. We had to move, so each Ratel had to get those heavy drums onto the top of the Ratel. We did this by leaning two tow bars against the side of the Ratel and rolling the drums up. One unfortunate troopie, I believe it was Eloff had the full drum slip and fall onto his foot, crushing it. We moved our position and laagered for the night. The casavac chopper arrived and took poor Eloff away.

Another freezing cold night but the wind was blowing and one could smell the cordite and the stench of death.

Off to another attack

The next day we siphoned the diesel into the Ratels tanks and off we went to attack another SWAPO base. Very nerve wrecking times indeed. We got the order ‘stap uit”. We walked through the SWAPO base. It was empty. It looked as though they left in a big hurry. A radio was still playing and there were half eaten plates of food around. Must have got wind we were coming.

The swimming that went wrong

That afternoon we were on our way again when we stopped next to three little square dams (each about 10m x 10m) full of water. We were tired and extremely dirty. It wasn’t long before there were about twenty troops that took the plunge and jumped in browns and all. I was standing on top of our Ratel contemplating whether or not to join them when captain Louis Harmse stormed down, screaming at them, purple with rage.”Wie die fok get gese dat julle kan swem?” The man was extremely angry. He made them all fetch staaldak webbing and geweer. They all stood there dripping as we drove off. I believe they had nice little 15km “uitstappie.” I felt sorry for them and was relieved I had not joined them. When they reached us that night they were all pretty pissed off. Opfok in Angola ?

The following day we got our diesel tanks filled up and the water tanks and water bottles filled up with drinking water. Day after day we went in search SWAPO. We attacked a few bases, but the occupants had scattered. Eventually, everyone wanted to put a bullet between the POW’s eyes who was pointing us to these deserted bases, filled with nothing but the ghosts of SWAPO.

We got orders to go and help the Parabats

I believe it was 30th June or 1st July when we were told that we were going back to Ondangwa. We were halted in our tracks, however when we got the orders to turn around and go and help the Parabats to get out of a town called Humbe, where they were supposedly surrounded. So off we went, back north again, deeper into Angola. It was getting dark. We were told to “Stap uit”. We walked in two columns, one on each side of a faintly recognizable road. We heard vehicles coming our way. Where we stopped walking, I realized that I was standing in some sort of track. Fucking hell, tank tracks! Shock yourself time. The vehicles got closer. Relief. The unmistakable sound of Buffels. It was the Parabats. We sarcastically chirped them as they drove slowly past. “Ja, it takes the infantry to get the Bats out of trouble”.One of them told us to fokof. An hour later we were back in our Ratels and after a brisk run, eating the Buffels’ dust.

We arrived at Ondangwa

The next day at about 17h30, we drove through Ondangwa’s gates. A huge, steaming hot pot of boerewors and baby potato’s was waiting for us. Ian Holloway and I filled a staaldak with this unbelievably tasty and unexpected food. Next it was time for the toilet. I had not had a dump in about 21 days. We were all extremely filthy. Our browns were black. Where the webbing straps went over our shoulders, the shirts were almost waterproof. I took my boots off for the 1st time in 21 days. I had slept with them on just in case?? It took two showers just to get reasonably clean again. Ian and I bought a case of Kronenbrau 1308. We fell asleep next to a Ratel.

The sun was high in the sky when I was woken up by someone kicking me gently. It was captain Harmse telling me and Ian to get up. He walked away smiling and shaking his head. There were empty beer tins all around us. I didn’t feel too good. “Babelas”. About 10am that morning we got orders. We were going back into Angola.

The strange mission to Grootfontein

Everyone was seriously pissed off. They have got to be kidding. We were getting ready to move out when corporal ‘Pa Joe’ Lourens told me to get out of the Ratel with my kit. Now what? Billy Tyl was also called out. The major standing there told us that the two of us where going to Grootfontein for observation. We stood and watched as the rest of the company drove off and then an MP drove us to Grootfontein. We tried to talk to him but he told us to shut up because he was not allowed to talk to us. We arrived at 101 Maintenance Workshop. The guard was obviously expecting us and took us to an empty tent with 2 beds and left us with the instruction not to leave the tent or try and talk to anyone?

We slept on mattresses. What a good feeling! The next morning arrives along with a two pip lieutenant who had a couple of troops carrying rat packs. We were to pack them by our beds. The troops disappeared. We ate in silence and then we had to follow him. He went into a building while we waited outside. When he came out, he had 4 army overalls – 2 each. We then followed him to an open workshop where we were shown the air guns and 60 Ratel tyres that were either flat or worn out that needed changing. Our job was to take the old tyres off the rims and put new ones on. After the first day of hard work, we both agreed, that it was ridiculous that this is what we got for fighting for our country. We had now been sentenced to hard labour. F@%k these C#&%s!

Thirteen days later, 40 tyres done, still with no one talking to us. Actually running away if we spoke to them, I decided I had had enough of this. Puss was coming out of my arm from the shrapnel that was still inside it and my finger was twice the normal size. I was going to the hospital! I walked out of there. The guard told me I couldn’t. I went anyway. I got pointed in the right direction by someone I had asked.

Grootfontein,s army base was huge. I met a doctor there that obviously wanted to know what happened. I told him briefly. He cut nine pieces of shrapnel out of my arm and a piece out of my finger. The nurse gave me a bath and the doctor who was a captain took me to lunch. After lunch he told me to fetch Tyl and go back to our tent. Nothing happened. Next morning, we went back to our tyres. Soon after, a sergeant, arrives and tells us to clean up. We are going on orders. He marches us into a building and into an office at high speed, like we were criminals? We salute the officer, whom I believe was a colonel. He orders the sergeant out and to close the door. He tells us to relax and sit down. He told us that he knew our stories. The doctor must have told him.

He also could not believe that we were busy changing tyres after what we had been through. He organized some money for us and gave us a weekend pass? On the border? “Be back on Monday,” he says. We have tea with the colonel. An MP arrives and the colonel tells him to take us to the road that goes to Windhoek and drop us there, where we can hike. I could not believe my ears.
We spent the first night in Otjiwarongo in a hotel called Hamburger Hof. We paid half price for the room and they gave us a 3 course meal for free, with a few beers. Next morning, we hiked to Windhoek, stayed the night and the next night in the Sportsman’s Hotel? By the next morning we had no money, so Tyl and I phoned home. My mother was ecstatic to hear from me. She had seen on the news that 17 soldiers had been killed. I asked my father to postal order me R100, which he did. We spent another night in Windhoek and went and had a few beers at the Kalahari Sands Hotel. The following day, we hiked back to Grootfontein and the morning after we arrived an MP took us back to Omuthiya.

The rest of our company was back from Angola. Captain Harmse wanted to know where we had been? We explained. How or why he didn’t know still beats me. He thought we went AWOL. None of our mates believed the Windhoek story. All Bravo company wanted to do was go back to the ‘States’ ie. Home.

Back to 1 SAI

Two months later, we got our wish. We landed at Bloemspruit Air Force Base and there was one officer there to meet us. Capain Cassie Schoeman. We were all very excited to see him again, almost like he was our father. We were all talking at once. Who of you in Bravo company will remember this? A serious mood breaker! The kind captain calmed us down and told us to clear our weapons. Stru as nuts, one troopie pulls a shot off, going in between us and over captain Schoemans head. He flew in the Flossie with a loaded R1! Anyway we went back to 1SAI and got dropped off op die klein paradagrond between the HK and menasie buildings. We were formed up.’There was a small audience. One stupid fuck up of a corporal (Bester, he was my corporal in basics) says so that we could all hear, “Sien, ek het julle gese dat you maaikies gaan vrek daar” We went ballistic within seconds. He was lying bleeding on the ground.

Then we discovered that there was no food prepared. Soon after the sergeant major of chefs also got fucked up. So did a one pip lieutenant, who wouldn’t get off the tickie box, courtesy of Darlow. We just wanted to go home on pass. About 30 of us, myself included, decided to raid ‘die rowers” new bungalows. We ran through the bungalows tipping beds and cupboards, fucking up anyone who stood in our way. No surprise, the next day we got an opfok of note on the parade ground. Pole PT, babadra, skaapdra. . . . we just laughed them off. ‘

Then we were off to DeBrug where they made us build a tent camp, under the command of staff sergeant Van Der Linde (haasklip, kom hier voelvel). He fucked us around for 2 weeks and they still wouldn’t let us go home. Finally we got told to hand in our weapons. Maybe a weekend pass? No chance! They loaded us into Samil 20’s(first time I saw one of those,, ugly!! ) and took us to Wepener where we got the order to ballasbak. We were next to a river. There were a few rubber dinghies and materials to build a raft. We jolled on the river. There was a cliff nearby and they let us abseil down it. I went a few times. We built big fires and braaied every night. It was nice but we wanted to go home. We were there for 2 weeks. When we got back to 1 SAI, we were told they owed us 4 days from the 7 day pass that got cut short months earlier.

Eventually! It was a Thursday. Be back at 1 SAI on Monday morning. We left on pass but you won’t believe what happened next. On the Friday night everyone got a phone call to tell them to come back to 1 SAI immediately. Fuck them. We were all in touch with each other and I made the decision to go back the Monday morning.

Myself and Ian Holloway (we both lived in Virginia), were some of the first to arrive back that Monday morning and we felt proud of being a Bravo company troopie. Everyone only returned that day, lieutenants and corporals included. CaptainHarmse did his nut, telling us that he was klaaing on the whole company for AWOL. We stood there and laughed at him.

This time we were off to Ruacana

We drew our weapons out the QM and we were off to Ruacana. When we got there we settled in and the next day, the whole company was treed on by captain Harmse. We were all given a DD1 form to fill in. We filled them in and gave them back. No one said a word. Mind games?

Our job at Ruacana was to give the sappers protection on Oom Willie se Pad, between Ruacana and a police station called “Combat”. Our 2 years was coming to an end and we got our klaaring out date. 17 Dec 1980. In retrospect I think captain Harmse got his own back on us. From about the 6th of December, we were told that we would be leaving in 2 days time, then it was cancelled. A new date was set which then got cancelled and so it went on. From about the 10th, it was the flights that had been cancelled. Then it was the 14th.

That night we got mortared. I believe they lobbed 60 mortars at us. One hit our camp, square in the middle of the officers pub. No one was in it at the time. The big anti-aircraft gun, on the tower opened up on them. The next day, on the 15th of December we flew back to South Africa. Anyone else out there get mortared on the last night of your border time during your 2 years? We handed our tote back. 17th December.

Our last day in camp

Last day. We all treed on, on the parade ground. We were on the left, Alpha company on the right. Our company looked half the size of theirs. I wanted to cry when I noticed this. Commandant Savides gave his farewell speech and told us that the country was proud of us. Yeah, right. We all got given our new regiments. Luke RGK Regiment Groot Karoo. He told us that he had a surprise for us. H.P. Ferreira came walking slowly out to us. It was an unexplainable, emotional reunion. We cheered him.

Ten minutes later, Savide’s says, “ Remember civvy street owes you nothing. You are free to go!” We all cheered and threw our berets into the air. All of us laughed and cried at the same time. A few minutes later, I walked out of 1 SAI to my parents who had come to fetch me. . .

In conclusion

Capain Louis Harmse our company commander on the border was a PF. He was a hard man and didn’t take crap from anyone. I believe everyone in Bravo company feared him. I certainly did. He was a professional soldier. He was killed in action in operation Protea in 1981. Rest in Peace captain Harmse.

I believe that Bravo company 1980 was the first “61 Mech Infantry” comp to see action. It was a beginning to a new chapter in the Border war for the enemy. Watch out, here comes 61. I believe, in the many, many actions and battles it took part in, it remained undefeated until disbanded in 2005 on the 18th of November.

In June 2010, at the Military Museum in Saxonwold, General Dippenaar said that between 450 and 550 Swapo cadres had died in operation Sceptic. R.I.P. fellow soldiers.

Rifleman Graham Clarke klaared out with us. He went home and on the 25th of December 1980 while eating Christmas lunch with his family, he had a massive heart attack and died at the table. He was 19. Apparently a scorpion stung him when we were on the Rhodesian border???. R.I.P. Graham Clarke.

And finally to those from Bravo Company 1980, who fell at the time:
Lieutenant H. Du Toit
Corporal Paul Kruger
Rifleman FJ Loubser
RFifleman PJ Joubert
Rifleman CJ Venter
Rifleman GJ Kemp
Rifleman JH Fourie
Rifleman SM Cronje
Rifleman PN Warrener
Rifleman F.J. Lello
Rifleman MC Luyt
Rifleman RN DeVito
Rifleman AJ Madden

To those of us that are left, the border has really affected my life, as I am sure it did yours. I did 10 camps, the last one being Lohatlha for heropleiding? Operasie Sweepslag in 1989. I did my share!

My first wife left me after Operation Packer . She said that I was screwing black women up there and would not let me sit in the front seat of the car with her when returning from camp because apparently I smelt too bad. We were married for 8 years and fortunately had no children. I remarried in 1996 to Linda and we have two beautiful daughters, Jennifer and Robyn. I am currently working at my 20th job doing CNC Programming. I qualified as a Fitter and Turner. Scream at me and cheers, I am gone. I am also a M.O.T.H and currently the Wee Bill of the Dickie Fritz shellhole in Edenvale.

Writing this story of Smokeshell, has made me feel a whole lot lighter. A weight has been lifted off my shoulders. So come on other 61’ers, give it a try. Write your story and you will see what I mean.


If any one would like to have their accounts placed on this page please get in touch

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Friday, 30 November 2012

Contacting me

Hi all

Should you wish to contact me regarding the site, please use this email address as this is preferable as it is my main one and I am unable to change my primary in Google settings.


Thanks for all the visits and interest folks keep it coming as I do this for all of you.

Ian Buchanan

Monday, 26 November 2012


Koevoet - Oshakati

Mortar attack instructions

Plan Propaganda

Swapo march

Same march

Road of death from above

ID chart

Road block

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Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Border

Typical border views

My time on the border was spent with 25 Field in Oshakati and a short spell at Ombalantu which was about 30km from the Angolan Border.

Oshakati base is situated in one of the most developed towns in the Ovamboland area in Northern Namibia, It is the capital of the Oshana Region and is the second most densly populated area in Namibia. Oshakati base was officially founded as base of operations by the SADF in 1966.

Sapper wall Oshakati

On June 24 1988 a joint SADF / SAP operation took place tracking four heavily armed insurgents who crossed the border and attacked a local farm, in the attack the farmer and his grandmother both survived due to escaping in their bakkie. The insurgents were cornered about 20km north of the farm and in the ensueing firefight all were killed with one SADF KIA.

View from tower at Oshakati

Uutapi, also known as Outapi or Ombalantu is a town in Northern Namibia lying near the border of Angola. The town is now well known for the Omukwa Baobabtree which was well used in the army base. The base was home to not only SADF troops but 911 SWATF.

View from chopper Ombalantu

Ombalantu base had it's fair share of being revved during the years of operational activity. Swapo would on occasion initiate attacks by firing a RPG rocket from the T-Junction in the area slightly to the right of the base entrance, a distance of about 900m. The RPG would airburst over the base and this would signal the attack by mortars and GRAD-P 122mm rockets. On one such attack in 1988 we returned fire with our 81mm mortars and other weapons, although the insurgent was already long gone. One of our mortars landed behind the CUCA owners new blue Mercedes and peppered the vehicle with shrapnel. He duly pitched up at camp the following day seeking reparation for the damage. Needless to repeat our CO's comments to him.

Multiple stack AT landmine

What can one say about one's time on the border. At times it was manic exitement and for most of the times it was routine and boring doing base maintenance and on down time, one played cards sun tanned, went fishing or swimming. A lot of time was spent thinking about home, girlfriends, family and friends.

Sweeping road for mines

I am sure that all troops who served on the border experienced in some way the horrors of war and for most these are stories should never be told, however in not divulging specific details one can share some of the operational experiences we had during this conflict. I guess this in a way helps some veterans deal with what was experienced there and some may even come to terms with what they either did or saw.

On patrol view from 30cal on buffel

Any one remember,  all personnel entering the operational area were given these really bitter tasting anti malaria pills as malaria was a reality. Also who remebers the stories of the Blou Pille that was supposed to suppress any sexual urges one may have had on the border, I wonder if this was true, I never really enjoyed coffee after being told that.

Huambo Angola

Then there was guard duty, ugh. For the most part this was gratefully not a solo time, 24 hours a day 365 days a year there was always someone watching and standing guard. At times this was not taken seriously and troops were caught messing about, even sleeping.

The ever busy Go-Carts

Hygiene was very important on the border to maintain a healthy lifestyle as best as one could in these situations, however the facilities were dire and the most part lacking in what we all now take for granted. There were cold water shower bags, piss lillies as urinals and go carts or thunder boxes as toilets, as above and below.

Field toilet with piss lillies

Hunting mines

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Friday, 20 July 2012

We Honour All - Visitors Page

 Please leave your name, rank, regiment, force number and service dates and if living or remembrance

Ian Stuart Buchanan - Spr - 21 Field / 25 Field - 84622455BG 87/88 Living
Jan Duvenage Spr - 21 Field/1Construction Regiment/5 Field - 77242899BT - 82/83 - Living
Mark D Haupt - S/Sgt - 17 Field Bethlehem/6 Field JHB - 70218755BT - 73-81 - Living
Victor G Bantjes - Spr - 21 Field 1984/1 Construction 1985/ 11 Field/25 Field 1987 - 81242018BG - Living
Germishuizen Louis (Gerrie), WO2, 21 Field Gerrandsdam, 1983/ 4 Field Regiment 1985 - 1991/ 19 Field Engineer Regiment 1992 - present, 80418155 BV, 1983 and still going
Spr. WF Schmidt 88340294BG 23 Field, Bethlehem; 47 Survey Squadron, Pothcefstroom. Living
J. Breedt 67425355BtT 17 Field Bethlehem 1970 - B-Group, Lincell Bungalow
SA Muir SPR 2 Field Engineer Regiment. 87201802BG 
Cpl (Sapper) Martin Godfrey 74271065BT 
Guy Middleton  77571271PE. 
Anonymous  - 75532085 BG JAN 77 TO DEC 78

The Tree of the Engineers

FAIR USE NOTICE: This website may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been pre-authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available to advance understanding of political, economic, scientific, social, art, media, and cultural issues. Material on this site is distributed without profit to persons interested in such information for research and educational purposes. If you want to use any copyrighted material that may exist on this site for purposes that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.