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Nov 7

Written by: Johan Schoeman
2011/11/07 12:00 AM  RssIcon

It was Friday evening, 30 Oct 1981, at Omuthyia, the base of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group in Northern South-West Africa, the day before the start of Operation Daisy (D-6).

It started off as a quiet evening, with all the “Big Brass” gone for dinner in nearby Tsumeb for their last civilized meal for the next three weeks. Major Schoeman, an infantry officer (I was not sure what his appointment was at this time), the RSM, AO1 Barnard, and the junior officers were left in charge at the base – no one else was allowed to leave so close to the start of an operation …and the NCO’s and troops of Alpha Company and Bravo Company (all from 1 SA Infantry Battalion), Charlie Squadron (from 2 Special Service Battalion), Delta Company (H Coy from 1 Parachute Battalion), and Sierra Battery (from 43 Battery in Walvis Bay). All the training and final “staal parade” (inspections) had been completed and the troops settled in for a final day of rest before the movement out to the Assembly Areas on D-5.

Three of us were sharing a tent and were relaxing in t-shirts and shorts, while a relatively good mood prevailed over the base. As the only junior Permanent Force officer of the gunners, even though only a nineteen-year old 2nd lieutenant, I was nominally left in charge of the battery, and did not expect any trouble… after all, everybody was tired after all the excitement of the training and preparations, and it was the last night of sleeping in our comfortable camp beds and in tents!

A small group of gunners and a couple of NCO’s were braaiing (having a barbecue) just on the outskirts of the battery lines, singing some gunner songs, and apparently having a really good time. Two of the men were having their 21’s birthdays and I thought well to leave them to celebrate the occasion peacefully. Or so I thought…

Just as a background, I need to expand on some history of some the units involved. Sierra Battery’s troops were drawn from the remote 43 Battery which was located at Rooikop Base, Walvis Bay. While it was officially part of 4 Field Regiment, which is in Potchefstroom, it fell administratively under the command of 2 SA Infantry Battalion in Walvis Bay. During training, mostly which occurred in Potchefstroom with 4 and 14 Field Regiments alternating on the annual National Servicemen intakes, it was common to have troublemakers and difficult troops transferred to 43 Battery for their second year of service because it was so remote. This resulted in the collection of some really fearsome characters in a single sub-unit, many of which were older than their peers and their newly allocated junior leaders. These guys included ex-members of motor-cycle gangs, street-fighters, dope-smokers… you name them! Quite a motley crew!  

Of course, there were also the more moderate guys, but generally, these guys were not exactly the best-disciplined pick of the bunch. But thanks to our immaculate backbone of NCOs they turned out well as a fighting unit, which had already seen their first action during Operation Protea, a few months earlier. They were true veterans, “Ou manne”, and made sure we all knew it. And all were on their final three months of service of their two year National Service.

I had missed out on Operation Protea because I was on the Formative Course at Army College in Voortrekkerhoogte during June and July, so acutely still felt very much the “rookie” amongst these seasoned “grensvegters”. So, trapped between the demands made by the more senior officers and trying to earn the respect of the men, my task was not as clearly defined as one could have hoped for!

As to the company of parabats of 1 Parachute Battalion, their history of violence, arrogance, and attitude is legendary, after learning of their many, many incursions into the lines of the armoured boys in Bloemfontein, of soldiers hitting each other with “balsaks” filled with irons and bricks, if only just to prove their superiority in aggression and fighting skills. The fact is… the parabat was trained to be aggressive and fiercely proud of it!

Now, things really started a couple of weeks before, when the parabat company arrived at the base at Omuthyia. The gunners had been tasked to erect tents for the new arrivals, and while the Samils filled with Paratroopers drove past them, they were jeered at by the passengers, something the gunners intensely disliked but took in stride. A few more incidents at the mess hall between members of the two groups did not help either. An underlying resentment was gradually growing between the two groups… a resentment that came to a high... on that fateful evening of D-6!

How EXACTLY it started in not all that clear, but I will tell the story as I got it from the horses’ mouths…

As it turned out, some of the gunner NCOs had organised some hard liquor for the little party where the two gunners turned 21. This, in essence, was illegal as every troop was only allowed two beers per day. We, the young officers of the battery, had been completely unaware of this, and retired early, pleased with the good spirit displayed by the NCOs and men in their singing.

However, as I was getting ready to grab a book, climb into bed and read a bit, I heard a commotion outside, which sounded like it was coming from the area of the “party”. The singing erupted into a screaming match and I soon heard the sounds of a scuffle. I knew there was trouble and rushed outside, towards the group. It was apparent that the party was no longer all that peaceful. As I arrived there, I saw the RSM yelling at the troops, red in the face, accompanied by the parabat CSM. Both seemed extremely agitated and stormed off before I got there. On my enquiring as to what happened, the gunner sergeant who was at the group, and seemed a little bit drunk to me, tried to explain that the RSM and the CSM had interrupted their little party, claiming that they were making too much noise and should go to bed! This, of course, was unacceptable to the party-goers, who were just starting to enjoy themselves, and they told the two sergeant-majors where to get off! The one birthday boy, in particular, was an exceptionally large guy (one of the rumoured ex-members of a chain-wielding motorcycle gang!), and he took exception to the RSM pulling rank and challenged him to remove his rank! The RSM, not to be outdone, and I suspect, also having had a bit too much to drink, responded by unfortunately obliging the troop! One blow with a fist settled the matter, and the two sergeant majors stormed off, with vengeance in their hearts!

I managed to get the party broken up, and sent them all to bed, not even suspecting that there may be repercussions.

And repercussions there were…

As I got back to my tent, the other two NSM lieuts enquired as to what was going on. While recounting the events to them, I felt more than heard a roar like a train rushing through a station, and I stormed outside again! As I left the tent I saw a commotion on the other side of the gunner lines - dust clouds were swirling; there was a lot of shouting; I saw tents collapsing, and heard the hollow thumps of solid objects hitting flesh!

Yelling to the other lieuts to come and help, I rushed off in the direction of the commotion. In the bad light of the evening and the swirling dust, a surreal sight greeted me… it seemed like dozens of crazy human beings were in a maddened frenzy to tear each other apart! I saw pick handles, tent poles, shovels…anything at hand with which one could hit, swinging through the air and smacking down on bodies with sickening force. Completely flabbergasted, I was unable to initially grasp what was going on, but as I arrived, someone yelled, “Here is the Captain!” I looked around but saw no one, and realised that the reference was to me, dressed in my brown army t-shirt and shorts, wearing non-army-issue tekkies (running shoes).  I saw someone in front of me hitting someone else on the ground with a pick handle, and I grabbed it out of his hands to prevent any further damage. I became aware of the gunners forming up on either side of me… and only then saw them…

A row of maroon…. t-shirts worn by all of them, formed up opposite us, and I realised that these were parabats that were in my lines! Knowing their fearsome reputation, I was immediately on high alert and taken by a righteous fury - what the hell were they doing in MY lines???? It could only mean trouble and there would be NO means of peaceful settlement! I also took encouragement by the gunners forming up beside me - we will show them!!!

The next moment I glimpsed a maroon t-shirt lunging low at me from the left. I side-stepped and swung the pick handle, in what I thought to be an amazingly professional swing, once, twice, three times…. on the attacker’s head, putting him down!

The arrival of the “Captain” seems to have defused the situation a bit and the parabats melted away in the dark…. leaving us standing, dazed, breathing heavy and slightly shocked. By now the other lieuts also arrived, and everyone was talking, shouting together. Shouts of disgust, challenge, and curses were thrown after the parabats.

Consolidating the situation, we found two semi-conscious troops on the ground, both dressed in maroon t-shirts. One was the guy that was originally beaten by the pick handle which I took away, and was still in a daze. He did not get away as I grabbed him by the neck of the t-shirt.

To my embarrassment, the other maroon t-shirt belonged not to a parabat, but to one of my own troops, who, having had recognized his rather skinny lieutenant forming up with them, decided that I should not get hurt and had wanted to push me away from the danger… His heroics were rewarded by three sharp blows to the head, fortunately none too serious! I was promptly named the “PIKSTEEL LIEUT” after this incident, a nickname that was, fortunately, never again earned by or used of me afterwards, although it appeared to have gathered a rather more ominous meaning from the parabat side. Many years later, upon speaking to some parabat friends at the wargaming clubs, it appeared that the “PIKSTEEL LIEUT” had won a place of infamy in parabat lore… Not being a parabat myself, I have being unable to gather the story behind it myself. Maybe someone out there will enlighten me!

With indignant fury I started to drag the wounded parabat by the t-shirt (these guys were supposed to be tough) towards the tents of the HQ to the only senior officer that remained in the camp, Major Schoeman (he later commanded 4 SAI during Operation Hooper). 2Lt Johannsen accompanied me on my mission to report this intrusion to the Major.

However, about halfway to the HQ, we were blocked by two parabat officers, a certain Lt. Viljoen (yes, the son of the then Chief of the SADF!), and a Lt. Stemmett (if I recall correctly). They intercepted us with the obvious intention to set their captive subordinate free and pulled rank on us, both of us being 2nd lieutenants. They demanded we stand on attention and surrender our prisoner! By that time, I was completely overtaken by rage, and displayed no respect whatsoever to their more superior rank, refusing bluntly to stand to attention and accusing them of preventing us from obtaining justice. I was hopping mad by that time and threats and insults were flung freely between Lt Viljoen and myself. The other two seemed to have taken a more reasonable attitude towards things and tried to calm us down, as we were making some noise! Be it as it may, we were relieved of our prisoner after Lt. Stemmett agreed to control their troops if we don’t take the matter further. Thus, I relinquished my only proof!

Not happy at all, we returned to our lines, hoping things would remain calm for the duration of the night. However, it was not to be…

Barely reaching our tent, the violence erupted again as a group of parabats, apparently led by Lt Viljoen himself, stormed another sector of the gunners’ lines. A massive fight erupted once again, this time even rifle butts were used. Our senior sergeant, trying to stop the fight, got hit in the head by an R-4 rifle butt, and only awoke the next morning. Several tents collapsed and even sleeping gunners were attacked with pick handles, one I remember distinctly was Gouwsie (the smallest guy in the unit) who was knocked unconscious while in his sleeping bag on the bed. He had to be casevaced to Grootfontein for treatment the next day.

Once again the fight petered out, when the Bats withdrew, but only to erupt again after a few minutes, when the entire company of parabats invaded the gunner’s lines. By this time, every gunner was alert and fighting back as well. Any weapon was good, the most damaging being tent poles broken in half, with that round bit you use to step on to push the pole into the ground, at the sharp end, which caused a number of open wounds which had to be stitched by the medics that night!

This third fight that erupted went completely out of control, and there was no way we, the three junior officers and the gunner NCOs, could contain the unrelenting flow of parabats streaming into the gunner’s position. Soon, even the parabat officers and NCOs were at it, trying to stop the parabat onslaught!  I remember seeing Captain “Pale” van der Walt, a rather tall man, and CO of the parabat company, picking up one of his own men bodily lifting him up, and putting him down with a mighty fist… then stooping to grab another!

But there was no stopping the fight. Their blood was up, and both groups were fighting tooth and nail, with no heed to anyone in authority. We needed some reinforcements, and someone went to get the officers of the infantry companies to come and help stop the fight. As soon as some of these officers got involved, the rumour spread through the two infantry companies that the parabats were “blikseming” their officers! Soon an unknown number of infantry troops were adding their weight to the fight, everybody just “blikseming” parabats! By now there were hundreds of men involved in that single fight!

When finally the fight was brought under control, and the troops all dissipated, going back to their respective lines, very few of the gunner’s tents were still standing. Some small fires had started and had to be extinguished, mostly in garbage drums, but the scene resembled a battlefield directly out of “Apocalypse Now!” Only the regimental police and the armour boys did not get involved! Thirteen parabats had to get stitches.

I finally got to see the Major, and while I was hoping to get some sympathy (as a kinsman with the same surname), all I got was the blame for the entire unfortunate event, “not being able to control my troops!” The infantry company sergeant majors at least proved understanding when they all came to me afterwards, shaking their heads, mumbling, “It’s just NOT right!”

No matter what, I could not bring him to understand that it was MY lines that had been invaded!

Be it as it may, I never again heard ANYTHING about it. The senior officers returned from their binge at Tsumeb, and the next day the operation kicked off as planned, with the parabats even providing protection elements for the gunners, without incident!

Life in the Army sure was weird sometimes!!!

 

14 comment(s) so far...


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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

In my last year at Pe Technikon a bunch of Bats gatecrashed one of our parties. Very aggressive & spoiling for a fight. Before I could say "piss off its our party" our hostel wild man through a beautiful punch. The Bat went down and all hell broke loose. Fortunately we outnumbered them and came out on top in that fight. Bunch of whacks. Go Gunners

By Paul Pierskalla on   2011/11/07 12:52 AM
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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

I was 43Bty and we beat up on the Bats that night. The fight started when one of our guys (John Shrimpton) actually punched their CSMs lights out when he told us to keep quiet. We dragged him under a bush across the road and left him there.

He came around a while later and rushed off to go and get his “boys”. We were still drinking and signing around the camp fire when their advance party arrived but they had to pass right through our tents (that was when they hit Gous who was fast asleep – I should just add that Gouws, from a family of 11 children from the “plotte” of Potch stood 4’ 6” on his tippy toes and socks and was by far the smallest person I knew. He did try out to be a jockey at some stage before the army got him) to get to our “braai area” on the other side. By this stage their goose was cooked because they confronted some of us at the fire but many more were coming out of the tents around them.

They all took a hiding, the CSM got some again. They went back and mustered the rest of their mob but by that time we were all up and about.

The battle line moved to the gap between our lines and the rest of the fight took place in the gap. Lt Viljoen (Constant’s son) was sort of hiding between the “mik” of a tree, trying to direct the fight and Andre Snydert upped and punched his lights out. His guys had to drag him to safety before the boots got to him.

Des Viljoen (RIP) in the meantime had got his knife out (and when I say knife, I mean Crocodile Dundee knife) and was running around behind us jumping over us every now and again and stabbing anyone in front of him wearing purple. (I mean really, what Special Forces unit wears “purple”).

I think Johan’s count of our 1 (Gouws) to their 13 is about correct (in hospital I mean) but a good number of their 13 had stab wounds.

They needed the medics and stretchers to sort themselves out, we went back to the fire to drink and sing and only retired after the camp RSM came back with a bunch of senior NCOs and RPs and threatened us with death if we did not disperse.

A rider to the story is that the Bats (understandably) felt that they were too afraid to walk in front of our fire in the attack and there was some talk about changing them out with another Company. The OC (Roland deFris, I think) actually had to come and talk to us and make us swear that we would not consider a few “drop shorts”

We did a live fire exercise the next day or so to so the Bats that we could shoot where we wanted to.

30 years ago this week. The D-Day was 4 November, my birthday.

By Frank Louw on   2011/11/09 08:30 PM
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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

I am a Parabat, i am still every bit a Parabat today with lots of agression, arrogance and everything you guys have mentioned in your stories. I am enjoying this fantasy i read from your bloggs. I was there the eve of this minor issue in my eyes,

I read that you guys had a lot to drink? Dicipline in the highest before an operation is taken seriously amongst PARABATS, professional Soldiers. We dont drink and take an operation seriously, We dont take info from the horses mouth either as i see this is where you say you get your info straight from the horses mouth?

I wont go on about this story as i was told to check it out by a few friends from the Reg. For you guys that dont know it means REGIMENT..For you guys...THE REGIMENT.. Am laughing at how false the story is? Guys come on please? What were you smoking that night? Or were you guys having space cookies as well as drink and the rest?

Enjoy your fantasy my friends as i was there and certainly sober and did not see this fight you are talking about. Yes there was a break out but very one sided.

But i can only imagine as most UNITS had to make a story to have taken out a Parabat. It makes you guys sleep better at night i guess. Whats the next story?

You guys made your way to tempe and climbed our barraks and took us all out?

Doogy

By Doogy on   2012/05/14 09:51 AM
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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

Hi, Doogy... nice to see the level of ESPRIT D'CORPS that still exist even after all these years! I am a gunner and proud to be one, but I must also say that I have nothing but the biggest respect for you guys. I just HAD to tell the story as I experienced it, and I really want to encourage comments from ALL the sides, but without stirring up the old feelings and having everyone go at each other again. We WERE on the same side, after all! ;-)

By Johan Schoeman on   2012/05/14 08:55 PM
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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

I was in H coy and was there. Piksteel a place of infamy in Parabat lore ? I and my old H Coy mates have never heard of Piksteel until coming across this blog. Spoke to our CSM F. Joubert and he tells us that he was never hit by anyone . Knocked out and dragged across a road and hid in a bush ? No one was ever stabbed and no one had any stitches. 13 With stitches ? There was only one serious injury and that was the fellow that was taken to Oshivello. Not one of ours. From the horses mouth ?
Ex Alto Vincimus.
Cheers.

By Moose on   2013/07/30 10:10 PM
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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

Ah, yes, Parabats and Armour at loggerheads - I remember 1979, just coming from the school of armour, posted to 1SSB. Somewhere around May, or June there was this rumble, exactly as described above, with irons in duffle bags, and all kinds of dangerous objects. I kept myself out of this fracas, thought it rather primitive.

Today, here all alone in Europe, I would invite any of the parabats with an open door for a chat on the old days at my home. After all, we were still a bit like immature back then. We are getting fewer and fewer and older and older, thats a fact. Somehow it is sad to think about it this way. And the world we live in today is a radical different one in which we grew up.

By German volunteer on   2013/09/15 07:09 PM
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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

I too am an ex H Coy member and remember this night well - and my memories are like chalk and cheese compared to the fantasies of the Piksteel Lt.

As has been pointed out in a few earlier comments, everybody wants to tell a story about how they pulled one over on the 'Bats - this story just goes a bit further than most.

Do you honestly believe that 13 'bats ended up with stitches ? There would be many records of that and I can tell you that there are none and that is because there was nobody who required medical treatment. H Coy was on full strength for the loooong drive North which was the start of Ops daisy - while the Arty boys were no doubt still in base licking their wounds and making up grensvegter stories.

The whole episode started when a bunch of poorly disciplined gunners were taught some manners by a much smaller group of proper soldiers - get over it guys, you too had the opportunity to volunteer for the Parabats but chose not to - don't hide your disappointment and jealousy by making up stories of how great you were.

Ex Alto Vincimus

By Varkpan Skutter on   2014/04/08 02:17 PM
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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

Hahaha, Varkpan Skutter...! I like your fighting spirit! Just like the Parabats have always been... indefatigable! Your Esprit de Corps is admirable, but as you may have noticed... I was there... and I am NOT afraid to put my name to it! I agree with you 100% that the gunners had a discipline problem... they were MY troops and as a 19 year old 2Lt I was left in charge... and had to take the blame for the entire fiasco! DESPITE the fact that everything occurred within the GUNNER's LINES and not outside! I think we could just ask the then Captain Pale van der Walt, who stood there, a head taller than the rest of you, having to hit some his own troops because they did not heed his admonitions to stop attacking the gunners - and he was a Parabat! This I saw with my own eyes... Anyway there is no need to fight anymore.. as we all managed to stand together and work well together during Operation Daisy! I told the story as I experienced it, and did not intend to tread on sensitive toes...;-)

By SuperUser Account on   2014/04/08 10:36 PM
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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

Why is it that every non bat I encounter always tell me how they used to beat the bats up. I have never met a bat that told me how they beat anybody up. I would also like to use this opprtunity to but the balsak and iron story away for good, it is rubbish to say but the least. If a person have to strike anybody's head with a balsak at full swing the person will most probably die, or end up in hospital with seriuos injury. Go and make your calculation, or ask me to do it for you, take the weight of an iron, put it at the end of 1.5 meter rope and swing it, the centrifical force required to keep the iron in a full arc will be enough to crack a skull on half or snap a collar bone when it come into contact." please do not try it on your dog"

My personal experience is that the night before an ops (or during the built up to an ops) you need to rest and be quiet and rethink your roll in the job, clean your rifle, chek your amunition, re-clean your rifle and re-chek your amunition and kit, when you return you are fustrated, angry and then fights can break out easy especially if alcohol is involved.

What is going in whith you guys?
Why is it that other units always want to steal bat berrets,always proof that you had beaten a few bats up, us bats cannot care about stealing your berrets? Please explain.

You remind me of the guy (more than one by the way) one day that told me how many terrs he killed, and his unit. When I told him that at that rate if everybody who went to the border killed one terr, the full Namibina population would have been wiped out. The kill ratio was actually very lower that we would all admit. The kill ratio was actually so bad at one stage that if they did not introduce, 32 and 101 the South Africans would have lost the war before 1984. Did you know that you rat!!

I am a bat and proud of it, I am still very aggressive but have learned to control and calm myslef down, and you can dream on, you can never be a bat, sorry boet!

By Stephan Swart on   2014/05/14 10:20 AM
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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

"I would also like to use this opprtunity to but the balsak and iron story away for good, it is rubbish to say but the least. If a person have to strike anybody's head with a balsak at full swing the person will most probably die, or end up in hospital with seriuos injury".

Your reasoning is correct, for I never saw an duffle bag with an iron. But I saw the guys speeding away for the rumble. It just had turned dark. Some guys bragged about it afterward. But I saw some rough guys there, and I know that there were some "skollie" (shady) types there that would shy away from nothing. But I know some guys put some heavy objects in their duffle bag, but it is too long ago to remember the exact details. Not every duffle bag was filled with heavy objects, not everyone went in with a duffle bag, so the percentage chance that someone would be hit was low. But I remember some people had to be treated at I think it was 2 Mil (inside the Tempe base) afterward. Remember it was national service, the army had to take in everybody, and that included the less civilized part of our population.

Let me tell you an example, where I personally was involved. In my bungalow (I was pantser, 1 SSB) we had the armoured car guys, and then also one infantry squad, in Germany they call them panzer grenadiers (infantry backing up the armour). One of them was a tall guy coming from Cape Town, about the size and looks of the once boxer Gerrie Coetzee, and bragged how he drove in civvy street with chains, moering (hitting) blacks along the road.He was about 6 feet tall, and I as a panzer, more on the short side. I did not like him one bit. He was stupid, but he was strong, so he could control his people, and got stripes for that. He one night got drunk back to base with his friend, and looked for a victim. And that was me, alone in the bungalow that one night. So they started throwing out all my stuff out of my locker, neatly packed for inspection. I lost my temper and started getting cocky, but did not have the body mass in order to defend myself properly. The next moment I found myself being kicked under my bed, and I had to curl up, in order to protect my head. They attacked me for about ten minutes, and then left me alone. That section leader gippoed (shy away from duty) once when we had to run around during punishment PT, and hid in the toilet. I then decided if he does not want to play along, I am also going to hide in the amnenities, just to prove a point. He obviously was very agitated, for he then had to leave the locker rooms, but not before giving me a nasty wipe with his fits against my head, where I saw stars, but thought up yours.

I met quite few chilish idiots like these guys, even some I thought that were not quite "lekker" (straight) in their heads, and some guys suffered quite more than me under their regime.

Even on the border there was this stupid wackhead (he could a stripe afterward, for he got some supervisory responsibilities at the stores) with a standard eight, who listened to rockability songs all day long. He started to grab my whatsisname (private part) down there one day out of boredom, and I threatened him. Then he started attacking me, and I threatened hm with the little scissor in our stitch-and-needle pack. The others stood around, waiting for some amusement. He then punched me in the face, so I walked around with a swollen parrot beak for about two weeks long, much to the amusement of the others. The leftenant (we called him 'old blue eyes') just stood around, did nothing. He was a good guy, but not a tough guy, for later when we had to dig trenches (Katima was shot up one year before I was there) some of our troops threw him with earth clods, and he just took it. I would have ripped those troops apart, if I was in his shoes. Most of our officers were very good, but you here and there had your duds, but that one would expect statistically.

These people would have no inhibition tackling Bats with irresponsible object in their duffle bags.

"You remind me of the guy (more than one by the way) one day that told me how many terrs he killed, and his unit".

I don't know whom in particular you are adressing, but you are speaking the truth. South Africa today is in many cases much more dangerous than the opertaional area back then. I was involved in an armed burglary at my home in 2008 in Alberton, my Rhodesian neighbor, to whom the robbers went afterward, was shot in his knees, and his mother with a shotgun through the glassdoor and both survived, as they say for the grace of God. In my period of 5 months duty at Katima there was no incident. It was not like Vietnam. Most probably because the area was cleaned up after the revenge attack after Cassinga, but those things I found out only many years afterward after the border war literature saw the light. After I left, one of the armoured car commander from the squadron thar replaced us, was shot dead while on patrol. I read it in the SCOPE magazine, while on pass. He apparently tanned on top of his noddy car while on patrol, thinking nothing happened on the border anymore, which was a stupid and undisciplined thing to do. A lot of casualties were because of stupidity, not because of war actions. I know, I saw it, and I heard it. One of our guys killed himself while throwing a handgrenade uphill during exercise (so it was told to us), and it rolled back. In our bungalow this one idiot shot his R1 (FN_FAL) rifle magazine, filled with blanks, empty on automatic. Another one killed himself on guard duty, playing around with his riflemagazine (we had five bullets, the magazine being sealed with a lead seal, which you may only break up in an emergency). The idiot broke the seal, and dropped his rifle, and the shot went off. So it was told to us afterward.

After an exercise on the firing range at De Brug, the unexploded ammunition had to be collected by experts. This one idiot (who landed in DB - detention baracks - at a stage) decided he was cleverer than everybody else. He fetched an unexploded 60 mill exercise mortar (those blue ones) and screwed off the primer cap, and hit it on a rock, like a baboon, just to see what a big bang sounded like. We were explicitly warned against this beforehand. Some people are unteacheable, but the army had to take in everybody, also the mentally challenged. Afterward we had to line up before the ambulance, in order to look at his hand, full of shrapnell. He could have been lucky that he did not loose his eyesight.

When I patrolled on the border, it back then was a very real war situation for us. People were shot. It could have been me. I did not know of all the things which appeared many years later in the border war literature. For me it was a situation where I as a gunner was confronted by the same questions of writing your last testament in blood in the sand (military testament), that we could run in an ambush, and how was I to fire my 60 mil grenade (I mostly was in a Eland 60 on border patrols) without hitting my own people. Nobody told you that. We for all practical purposes were in a mindset of readiness for an incident to happen, during patrols, and that was not a state of relaxation and on holiday.

One day, just before sundown, the generators were on already, there was a huge bang at Katima base. I was at our tents at the one end of the parade grounds, back at the fence of the camp, walking toward the guard room (we had to stand guard that night) at the Katima base entrance. It felt like a huge kettle drum like I never heard again in my life, you could feel the pounding inside your chest, and the ground shortly reverberating. The generator went out, it went dark. I thought now I will get my "vuurdoop" (baptism of fire), and will mortars now fall on the parade ground? Shortly afterward we were told to move to our armoured cars at the car park (which was just a few canopies near the generators, at a radio tower near the guard rooms). The infantry ran to their Buffels, frantically loading ammunition. I hoped that I had listened well enough during our lectures, and that my browning won't get a failure. One could feel the tension in the air, even now, as I write it. We were not scared, perhaps too dumb and inexperienced to be so, it only was a strange situation. We waited for orders. Then we were told over the radio that the RSM (regimental seargeant major) had tested a landmine, but forgot to inform us. We were quite relieved. I told my commander and driver we must sit still and keep quite and enjoy the show, looking how the infantery loeaded their guns and ammunition, obviously having not yet been informed. So we sat back and grinned at each other, we mischievous louts, until they also got the message.

Later on during camps, Regiment Mooirivier was called up for active duty on operations inside Angola. I missed out, due to the exemption boeard, because of my studies. My national service commander, now a business owner, and a Bcomm Unisa degree, did not get off so lightly. I still now and then write him a mail. He was send several times to Angola, it did not even help that he told the court he cannot understand Afrikaans (so he wrote me in a mail recently).

I went there for national service in a period when there was a high casualty rate on the border, according to the justdoneit website. The real dangerous time for all citizens of South Africa was only for a ten to fifteen years period, even when the border war was 23 years long in total, starting off, I reckon, just before the two years national service period was introduced. I met lots of people even of my own age group who never went to the border, or even to the army (e.g. Telkom guys, exempted because it was a national key point. Never knew before this that these guys did not have to go. My brother in law was such a case). Only one of my bosses in the early stage of my career, did national service, the rest were part of the older generation. Camps were a huge disruption to our personal life. If I look here overseas, the people could build their careers in a critical age group and time at work, while we had to battle with an animal of a completely different kind. For all that inconvenience (in my case, perhaps volunteerded inconvienience, for my parents lost all to communism after WWII, so I knew what the danger was) we lost a country, and I sat ten years without work, due to BEE, and nearly landed in a squatter camp, this while having a MINT qualification, and management experience, and will end up in pension without a pension, on the welfare, if I remain unlucky.

You see where I come from when I wrote about this incident.

Regards.

By German volunteer on   2014/06/19 10:27 AM
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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

"But I remember some people had to be treated at I think it was 2 Mil (inside the Tempe base) afterward".

My mind is slipping with little details after all these years - googled it - must have been 3 military hospital at Bloemfontein.

@Stephan Swart: Ons probeer maar net ons herinneringe neer te skryf, ek het regtig niks teen die Bats nie. Wie gaan ons binneste gedagtes van daardie tye neerskryf, as nie onself nie? Daar word vandag so baie leuens vertel oor die ou SAW deur allerhand geleerdes, dat ek partykeer dink ek was in 'n ander weermag. Die tyd het in elk geval vir ons aangestap, ons raak oud, die diensplig gedeelte was maar 'n klein gedeelte van ons lewe, en vandag stoei van ons met baie groter probleme in die lewe. As ek van "ons" praat, dan is dit in die naam van ons generasie, beide dienspligtiges en die PF's wat ek nog in aanraking mee was of is. Daar was wenners, maar ook verloorders, waarvan sommiges vroeer hoee offisiere was, en vandag van genadebrood lewe. Ons is in elk geval al verby ons middeljare, en dis nog net 20 - 30 of wat jaar, dan is ons nie meer op aarde nie, en hopelik sal iemand ons nog onthou, maar ek weet mos hoe die mensdom is, die meeste mense is bra oppervlakkig en lewe net vir die oomblik. Ek is in elk geval altyd bly om nog van ons manne se stemme te hoor.

By German volunteer on   2014/06/20 10:53 PM
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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

Thank you, German, volunteer... your story deserves to be on its own blog! ;-) But it remains VERY relevant to the subject here, and your input is much appreciated. It was a fact of our time in the army that infighting between units existed and sometimes got out of control. Call it stupid, call it idiocy... call it "ESPRIT D'CORPS"... the fact remained that it was ludicrous to be fighting with your own, especially so near to the start of an actual operation! Discipline was sometimes an issue which demanded action... as I subsequently discovered on this same Operation Daisy, when my driver rammed a cocked R1 rifle into my face, threatening to shoot me! But that story is probably worthy of a Blog Entry on its own...!

By Johan Schoeman on   2014/06/26 01:53 AM
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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

"when my driver rammed a cocked R1 rifle into my face, threatening to shoot me!"

Goeie genugtig, dis erg (good Lord, this goes over the top)!

By German volunteer on   2014/06/29 09:10 AM
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Re: The “PIKSTEEL LIEUT”

Aaaah. Great blog. Great reading. Brings back a lot of memories and laughs. The best two yearz of your life you never want over.....maybe its soon here again.

By Oliver Holmes on   2015/08/04 12:23 AM

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By on: 05 July 2018
Re: Operation Savannah - The battle of the casualties of the war
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.
Great site
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By Duncan Mattushek on: 16 May 2018
Re: The Battle of Mongua: From Ondjiva to Preira d’eça
Sorry to reply very late Lukas, but the story of the statue is a sad one. In short the money to make the statue was either stolen... There is lots of infighting in the provincial government.
By Dino Estevao on: 30 April 2018
Re: The Battle of Mongua: From Ondjiva to Preira d’eça
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
Re: Photo Gallery of Operation Sceptic (Smokeshell) added
Hi Johan
I drove 72C in smokeshell, Kobus Nortje who has put up a number of Photos was in 72A
As you know from Hilton's email above I have written a book that Hilton is editing and I'm looking for good photos. How do I contact Kobus to ask him for permission to use the pictures?
Thanks Brian
By Brian Davey on: 02 April 2018
Re: Photo Gallery of Operation Sceptic (Smokeshell) added
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...
By Johan Schoeman on: 16 March 2018
Operation Sceptic (Smokeshell)
Hi Johan,
Thank you for the wonderful service you provide for Bush War vets.

1. Can you tell me which officer said during the attack on Smokeshell, "My troops are bleeding!" It might have been Maj Fouche.

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
By Hilton Ratcliffe on: 06 March 2018
Re: 23rd of August 1978 01h15 I remember it distinctly.
I was 10 years old and went to skool in Katima Mulilo, I will never forget that knight, siting in the bom shelter. Our house was against the Zambezi river next to the gest house.
By Jan Cronje on: 23 January 2018
Re: Operation Savannah - The battle of the casualties of the war
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
By Sandy Carter on: 02 January 2018