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Dec 16

Written by: Johan Schoeman
2013/12/16 03:41 PM  RssIcon

My most nerve-wracking ride ever was when I just arrived at the Brigade Admin Area near Mavinga in the beginning of Operation Packer (Feb/Mar 1988), having just lead all the vehicles of our battery there all the way from Rundu, at least in my Ratel, but without a single map, compass, or any real sense of where I should be going with all this equipment except my sense of direction... Luckily the bush was full of dozens and dozens of tracks of vehicles that had gone there before us, but we were under strict instructions to break our own path through the bush and NOT follow any of the existing tracks. All that map training for NOTHING! The FIRST map I got to finally see was pinned up on the map board at the Brigade HQ when the Commandant took me to it and pointed to a position on the map that seemed surrounded by the little red flags of the enemy positions... a lonely blue flag seemed to indicate where we were at that moment... Before then I had NEVER even heard of a place called Cuito Cuanavale! Anyway... I was to relieve the OPO at that position until further notice and carry on with his duties... and I was to be shown the way by some UNITA lieutenant who would be riding with us on the Ratel - at NIGHT! And for some reason an elderly Dominee had to go with (I had no idea what for as there were no troops other than us OPOs that far beyond the FLOT (front line own troops). So we set off to the  northwest, a lonely Ratel with just my crew, myself, my Technical-Assistant (TA - a one-liner), the Dominee and the UNITA officer on board... knowing full well that we are heading directly toward enemy lines and it would take just one mistake to land us smack in the middle of some enemy position. To make matters worse... still no map (I was to take over the maps at the OP post) and the UNITA officer seemed to lose his way all the time, forcing us to back up and go in different directions! At one stage he asked us to put on the lights on full beam so that he could see where the hell we were! I was expecting enemy fire at any moment but had to try and keep my composure for the sake of the crew and Dominee (who all seemed oblivious to the real danger of the situation). At one stage there was a sudden movement ahead of us (the lights were of at that time, thankfully), and I suddenly saw the outline of some low-silhouetted gun ahead of us... AT-GUN - pointing directly at US!! I went cold! But as the UNITA shouted out in Portuguese (which i did not, of course, understand), I realized that they were UNITAs... A WAVE of relief washed over me! I do not know how we managed to but somehow, miraculously, we stopped at the south eastern slopes  of the Chambinga High Ground (I had no idea where or what that was!) and the UNITA indicated that we had arrived! It was almost pitch black, I could not see anything.. we had to be VERY quiet and could make no lights. Suddenly, barely visible in the moonlight, this blackened creature burst through the underbrush and spoke to me in Afrkaans! It was Kobus Breytenbach, who I was to relieve that night. In the dim light of the moon I must confess I was quite taken aback with his appearance... he had obviously been deployed on the front for many months and the whites of his staring eyes I will never forget... the state of his clothes and skin, but despite seeming very thin (since I saw him last) he seemed fit and unhurt. But it was the look in his eyes... the shock and relief that for him it was almost over...that had me worried all the way up the high ground towards my next home (for the next 43 days!)... There was no time for a briefing, as he just told me all the maps and equipment are at the op post.. and then he was gone... with the Ratel... back to the Brigade HQ. Accompanied by a squad of UNITA soldiers I made my way up and somehow found my quarters and berth... and some hole that they said was my bunker (???). As you might imagine... there was NO Sleep for me that night as I had NO idea how close or where the enemy may be! My actual OP post was 12m up a tall tree and it was waaay before first light that I was ready, perched like a watchful bird-of-prey, waiting for the sunrise, while my TA was busy brewing up our first cup of coffee down in our dug-out "kitchen/lounge" ... I was breathless as the most incredible sight greeted my eyes when the sun rose directly behind me, and I caught my first glimpse of the target area... with Cuito Cuanavale clearly visible about 13km away directly to the east... I found it marked on my map and spotted with registered targets all over the map... looked like Breytenbach had a grande ole time there before me, judging from the number of targets indicated. I spent my first couple of hours doing what we OPOs call "silent registration" by identifying the marked targets on the ground as best as I could and drawing up a panoramic view of the target are indicating the targets and the magnetic direction to them for quick reference. (I brought that map back with me but somehow LOST it during all the re-locations and moves of my subsequent civilian life! what a loss!) And there I was... finally a map in my possession,with an incredible view, but NO CAMERA!! ;-)

12 comment(s) so far...


Re: A nerve-wracking ride to Cuito Cuanavale

Wonderful group of people

By Welma Schonfeldt on   2014/01/04 06:03 PM

Re: A nerve-wracking ride to Cuito Cuanavale

Hi Johan, maps or alternately following directions seems to have always been a problem. From January to early April 1976 during "Ops Savannah " 10 Maintenance Unit provided the logistic support to the frontline units. SADF maps were not available , a "Michelin road map" was our primary source of direction. Your first convoy to specific destination was always a very trying and nerve racking adventure! Often we had to ask PBs "plaaslike bevolking" for directions. I often wondered if they might have been SWAPO sending us into an ambush,or mined road or the wrong direction. How ever we always eventually got to our RV point.

By Rocky Marsicano on   2014/01/24 09:57 PM

Re: A nerve-wracking ride to Cuito Cuanavale

I have seen one of those Michelin road maps... and wanted to keep it! It belonged to Brg (then Cmdt) Kotze... his daughter invited me over for coffee and shared a lot of stuff and photos... it was amazing! She was at school when I was at the Military Academy and Brig Kotze was the CO... 1983

By SuperUser Account on   2014/01/27 01:55 AM

Re: A nerve-wracking ride to Cuito Cuanavale

This is unbelievable, it was probably the same map. Cmdt Kotze was the staff log officer for Ops Savanha. If memory serves me correctly, his father was also a PF member and was a Brig at the time. It was a life time ago, 40 year anniversary next year.

By Rocky Marsicano on   2014/01/27 09:25 PM

Re: A nerve-wracking ride to Cuito Cuanavale

Was with Regiment Pretoria on Op Hooper and by the end of our camp duty all equipment was handed over to the unit taking over from us. All of us had to get on the back of a Kwevoel 100 and guess what. On our way to Rundu the driver stopped at or near Mavinga to pick up a Unita guide. This was round about 17h00. During the night it felt like we were keeping left after each Shona we passed. The next morning at first light we realised we were at the exact same spot where we were 12 hours before. It took another long 12 hours before we reached Rundu.

By Phillip Cox on   2014/02/10 03:32 PM

Re: A nerve-wracking ride to Cuito Cuanavale

Such a long time ago, Rocky! THAT'S why we need to record EVERYTHING we can remember as there will be NOTHING after we are gone!

Phillip... I know that feeling when a UNITA guide seems to be leading you in circles - except in your case it actually WAS the case! Amazingly, we seemed to have actually reached our destination eventually... The road back home was easy.... point the Ratel southward and GO GO GO!! The only time I actually felt our Ratel leaving the ground after it bounced off a fallen tree trunk in the sandy bush road at some 90 km/h!

By Johan Schoeman on   2014/02/13 01:03 PM

Re: A nerve-wracking ride to Cuito Cuanavale

Regiment Pretoria? My first property was in Valhalla at the time. After national service, I got assigned to the today little known Regiment Munitoria, then Regiment Mooirivier, and lastly Regiment Pretoria, where I did my last and only camp at Wallmansthal roundabout 1993 (last call-up was 1994, with wandered straight into the dust-bin. Refused to become part of the treason).

Will someday write something about that last camp, it was a historic moment what we troops experienced at that particular camp, something that still lingers with me up to this very day.

Missed most of my camps because of the army exemption board (I was busy with studies). I remember sitting in my house during ops Hooper etc., watching the 20:00 evening news with trepidation, my parents and family with me, for I was fully battle trained, awaiting a call-up anytime back then.

Very impressed with some of the Russian veterans on this and other boards. May we never look in anger at each other in future anymore, all of us of the same kind have a much bigger fight to fight nowadays, the battle for the cradle.

Come to think about it. Strange how the world has changed over the years.

During the Cold War the Eastern Block was our adversary and the West, with America as the leading western Nation our so-called friends.

Today the roles have sort of switched around, with Pres. Putin doing something for his people, and the USA (to be more exact, not the Americans, but the forces behind the American Government) having replaced Soviet expansionism, but let us not go into politics on this blog, for that is a topic for quite a different day.

By German volunteer on   2014/04/03 09:18 PM

Re: A nerve-wracking ride to Cuito Cuanavale

Have you got any information on Regiment Munitoria? I have NOTHING on it at all! ;-)

By SuperUser Account on   2014/04/06 12:50 AM

Re: A nerve-wracking ride to Cuito Cuanavale

Good grief, I really had to search for the place on google earth with my fast and cheap and flatrate Internet (unlimited, €35 / month, just to make you jealous).

The street names sort of have changed. What happened to Esselen Street? Stayed for many years after the army in Sunnyside, before it turned into Darkside. Stalingrad has been changed back to Volgograd, but in South Africa I guess its the other way around, they would like to change Volgograd back into Stalingrad, or what says I?

Regiment Munitoria, as I remember it, was not much of a deal, and is a dicarded regiment. Its HQ was not much of a HQ, more of a store on a munitoria site, on the corner of Kotze and Skinner,street now Nana Sita street according to the spirit of the times. Just accross the street is Pre-Rand motors (where I bought my second car in life, a 1982 VW Passat - 'pas gekoop, sat gery...').

After national service I got a letter informing me I am now part of Regiment Munitoria. I then highly inquisitive drove to the adress mentioned in the letter. Was quite disappointed with the site, had quite something different in mind when reading the word 'Regiment'. I doubt that even a squad would fit into that site. Perhaps that was just a storeroom of the regiment, I cannot tell. The next letter I received I was informed that I am now part of Regiment Mooiriver.

And there ended my brief encounter with the famous Regiment Munitoria.


By German volunteer on   2014/04/14 07:54 PM

Re: A nerve-wracking ride to Cuito Cuanavale

Maar stil hierso. Ek vermis die stemme van ons manne van lank gelede hierso in die vreemde. Wens ek was in die posisie om een van ons mense van ons generasie wat aktief op die grens was weer te kon ontmoet, maar dit sal seker maar net 'n pypdroom bly. So stap die jare aan, ons word ouer en ouer, en minder en minder, en met wat ons daarso ondervind het en met die minste kan deel, laat mens so eensam voel. Die Russe van daardie tyd ondervind seker dieselfde gevoel. So stap ons, nes die ou Rhodesie, stadigaan in die boeke van die geskiedenis in...

By German volunteer on   2014/05/23 09:03 PM

Re: A nerve-wracking ride to Cuito Cuanavale

Jy is heeltemal reg, German volunteer. Ek neem aan jy is nie in Suid Afrika nie, want hier is nog baie van ons wat wel daar was. Probeer maar inskakel by die plaaslike veterane orgnaisasies(s), as daar is. Dis lekker wanneer die OUMANNE so beymekaar kom en oorlogstories praat!

By Johan Schoeman on   2014/05/27 03:11 PM

Re: A nerve-wracking ride to Cuito Cuanavale

Its nice to read some stories of the bush.THe time I spent with Bravo Co 4 Sai in Ops Askari 1983/84 looking after Artillery was such an eye opener. We BRAVO COMPANY 1 SAI were trained in Mech Infantry , and boasted some of the best firing in movement you have ever seen only to find ourselves sent off to Angola very early during Ops Askari to look after Artillery and when all from 61 Mech Bat had moved back to the States from Angola we were still in Angola in Quiteve walking patrols and lying in ambush for tanks and even marching in Company formation in Angola ..Quiteve.:.Bravo Co 1 SAI spent a lot of time in Angola and returned from Angola to take over Alpha Company 61 Mechs Ratels in January 1984. We did not return to the States after Ops Askari, but took over the A Company Ratels at 61 Mech. It was so nice to be in the Ratels again, but they had been left in a state from Ops Askari. 13 Bravo was not there as it had been shot out by a T 52 tank. The Ratels were full of shrapnel marks and we built up many spare tyres which had been pinctured in Ops Askari. We did some patrols in the Etosha Pan area with our new Ratels at 61 and had a nice time intil we finally returned to the States for pass in February. It was a long stint up there but most enjoyable. It was nice to be the Alpha Company of 61 Mech for that Year 4 months all together and Bravo in 4 SAI. My time in 61 Mech was the best time I had in the military and I have a few stories to tell from the time at 61 in 1984. Regards Ralph Wortmann .

By Ralph Wortmann on   2015/01/12 09:42 AM

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