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Jan 11

Written by: Johan Schoeman
2011/01/11 05:36 AM  RssIcon

I had a few 'Close Encounters of the MiG kind', as early as November 1981, during Operation Daisy. I was appointed Battery Captain ("BK") for the 120mm Mortar Battery accompanying 61 Mech into Angola and was responsible for the direct resupply of the battery from the "A Echelon". In the artillery we have an officer doing this job, unlike in other corps where the responsibility usually falls on the Company Sergeant-Major. I was only a young 19 year old "bicycle" (2nd Lieutenant) and I was leading the A Echelon vehicles (mosly Samil-100 10ton trucks - no mine-resistant Kwêvoëls available for us then). Most were loaded to capacity with 120mm mortar ammunition followed by some general supplies (like toilet paper - THE most required personal commodity in the echelon!).

So there I was, despite almost 2 years of gunnery training, stuck in the cab of a 10ton truck, hauling supplies - usually the lot of the youngest PF officer in the battery, although it was supposed to be a Captain's job, hence the title "Battery Captain". Because of the nature of the tasks, all the real Captains got the nicer posts like troop commanders and observers. Nevertheless, I was leading the trucks of the echelon some 350kms into Angola as part of the overall 61 Mech A Echelon supporting the attack on a SWAPO base in the Bambi area.

We had a LOT of practice before the operation doing the "Visgraat" ("Fish-bone"), which is a technique we used to make a convoy of vehicles disappear from the road into the bush in various directions in a VERY RAPID way (as you would probably know!), hidden by surrounding bush and often very well camouflaged, especially those reflective windshields, side windows and mirrors! We were very confident that we had this mastered to a fine degree. Because there were Recce-operators deployed close to the Fapla airfields, we were always warned in time with an "Victor-Victor" (stands for "Vyandelike Vliegtuie" - Enemy Planes), which is a code word given over the radio to all stations that enemy aircraft were in the vicinity. Then, immediately, all vehicles would follow the Visgraat drill and simply disappear from the routes they were on. We had no one on "overwatch" as each vehicle only had two occupants, a driver and the co-driver, both in the cab. Besides, we always received "Victor-Victor" well in advance and never even once spotted any enemy planes.

At some stage during that November I was following another supply convoy which had Samil-100 trucks carrying "Olifant-Balle" ("Elephant-balls" - gigantic 10ton rubber bladders filled with 100% helicopter fuel). The convoy ahead was stopping and the trucks were simply bunching up behind each other. Concerned but not alarmed, I halted my convoy and had my driver drive closer to the rearmost truck ahead to find out what was going on. Not every truck had radios, mostly only the commander of the group would have a portable A-53 or A-55 radio, so I obvioulsy had no comms with the guys ahead. I climbed out of my truck, moving forward to speak to the drivers of the vehicles in front who were all gathering together. As I approached them, two fighter planes streaked high over us, and someone shouted "Look - Mirages!" Everyone started waving at the passing planes who were completely unaware of the convoy bunching up like that, not to mention our waving. At that moment, I heard the clear - (too little too late!!) - "VICTOR-VICTOR" come over my radio in the truck and went ice cold! These fighter planes we are all so happily waving at - were enemy MiGs!!!! I shouted "VICTOR-VICTOR" as loud as I could to the convoy in front and ran to my truck, having a hard time to catch up with it as my driver were already performing a panicky visgraat maneuvre. That was the fastest visgraat I have EVER seen up to that point, I must confess, as even the convoy in front, although bunched up, did a brilliantly executed maneuvre. At the time the Migs passed over us, there must have been at least 4 Samils with Olifant-balle and at least two of mine with mortar ammo within 100m of me!

Turned out those were the same two MiGs (MiG-21s I believe) that were engaged by Mirages somewhere to the south of us and one was shot down and one got away, although damaged.

I didn't encounter any more MiGs during that operation, but they sure as hell made up for that lack in 1988 during Operations Hooper and Packer. But thats another long story...

Taken from my posting on the War In Angola Forums at : http://www.warinangola.com/default.aspx?tabid=590&forumid=32&postid=164&view=topic

2 comment(s) so far...


Re: "Close Encounters of the MiG kind"

That, Johan, is the sort of classic situation where you don't know whether to laugh or cry. Laugh, rather – much later, when you're safe! But it must have been really scary at the time when you heard the Victor-Victor. No MiGs in my case, but I remember once when my sammajoor had removed his brass badges of rank from his overall to brasso them. While he was thus rankless, a kop-toe 2-striper from A Group came in, mistook him for a Section 10 and started ordering us [I was a lance-jack] to carry rifle cases. Herbie did so without a word. Then he slipped into the office and replaced his rank. "Corporal, could you just come and look at this," he called. The corporal entered, saw that it was a sammajoor he had been ordering about, and fled. It's nowhere near as exciting as your story, only that I suspect the kop-toe corporal moved faster even than your visgraat manoeuvre. How the two of us laughed! But thanks; I really love your MiG story.

By Phillip Vietri on   2011/01/18 11:48 PM

Re: "Close Encounters of the MiG kind"

Ha,ha,ha, Phillip, I enjoyed that....This is the whole idea: that we can share our stories and comment on each other's experiences. Thanks, man!

By Johan Schoeman on   2011/01/20 06:45 AM

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Recent Blog Comments
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Duncan, I remember you well!

Unfortunately I do not know about Maj Kruger. I've made enquiries in the past but wasn't successful.

Take care!
By Johan du Preez on: 17 May 2018
Re: Operation Savannah - The battle of the casualties of the war
Hi Johan
You mentioned 1 Mil in your story. I was there 15th Nov 1975 spent 9 mths-also very secretive. Lost both my arms. You mention a Major Kruger -Social Welfare. She was a wonderful person. Would you by any chance know if she is still alive and if so, how to contact her. I last met her in 1980 at 1 Mil.
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I must say i'm so happy to see my great grandfathers name being mentioned in the books of history. i grew up hearing of his names in stories (folk tails), know i have discovered myself his name and his contribution to the world history and the shaping of the Namibian and Angolan borders of today
By Thomas Mweneni Thomas on: 29 April 2018
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Hi Johan
I drove 72C in smokeshell, Kobus Nortje who has put up a number of Photos was in 72A
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Hilton, I could not find the exact reference in my notes, but I suspect it was Lt Paul Louw as I do remember reading about that report. As soon as I pint it down i will get back to you again...As to the photographs, none of them belong to me. Many come from the 61 Mech site and you may be able to obtain high res ones directly from them.There has been too many holdups and issues re the publication (mostly from my side) so I would have to re-approach the publisher to do it "my way" as previously they wanted me to reduce a 200-page manuscript to 64 pages to fit to the standard format of the publisher's series. It was not exactly what I had in mind, so I put it on ice...
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Hi Johan,
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2. An old friend of mine, Brian Davey, is writing his memoir of National Service, including Smokeshell. He was driver of Ratel Seven-one Charlie. I am doing the editing, and would greatly appreciate permission to use some of the photographs you have here.

3. When do you think your book will be published?

Thanks again
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Thank you for the interesting information, Sandy.
By Johan du Preez on: 03 January 2018
Re: Operation Savannah - The battle of the casualties of the war
It seems we never accomplished anything in Angola you with your foot taken in a slippery place....I was part of 16 maintenance unit ...a soldier escorting convoys all the way to Silver Porto from Grootfontein on many occasions between Dec 1975 and Jan/Feb 1976 . Everytime a truck a truck broke down we were expected to run and take cover in a bush we did not know waiting to be blown away whilst the tiffy's tried to fix the trucks on route ,,,lastly we then had to ride shotgun on a diesel/petrol train up from Lobito on the Benguela train line ,,,up the steep escarpment at a snails pace waiting to be blown away which never happened .We then after two weeks having to guard it whilst daily pumping to trucks was done to fill the underground tanks kept at the monastery abandon the train as is whilst we had to hitch a ride back to the states. A high light was being a barman at one of Jamie Ys's movies beautiful people at Grootfontein. People do not know what a civil war can do and the comfort they have or had living in in SA..For some reason I never was called to do any camps or had made contact with the 9 others who were part of that "escort defence unit" a real mix breed of English/Afrikaners .Unfortunately I but did almost lose my leg from the knee playing soccer up in Jhb lying all tied up for over 2.5 months as they battled to save it in the Mill Park hospital in around 1983.This eventually effecting my whole body.I guess it keeps one humble and the glory be to the One and only God ...regards
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Dankie Johan vir insiggewende artikel

Ek was daar saam RPS, moes die volgende oggend n' "tenk gaan recover", diesel refill...met my Samil 20 Lappiespomp. Daar aangekom was die track af aan die regterkant, n' paar jong UNITA "soldate" het daar rondgestaan, Nodeloos om te sê, moes maar omdraai en teruggaan na TB. Die sand was so dik die vooras van die Samil 20 het oppad terug gebuig en dit het my omternd die hele dag geneem om 13km terug te ry.
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