Our speaker on 13 October 2011 was Rear Admiral (JG) Arne Soderlund PS, SM, MMM and Bar, whose topic was Naval Special Operations during the Border War. The 1970's and 1980's saw a long period of confrontation between South Africa and its neighbours, during which the SA Defence Force became heavily involved in external combat operations, especially along the Angolan Border. In recent times much has been written, discussed and debated about these hard-fought campaigns.
At the same time, active support was give to Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe/Rhodesia) in their battle to prevent the infiltration of terrorist/liberation forces from Mozambique. With the independence of Zimbabwe, support of RENAMO in Mozambique became our responsibility, although not on the scale of our support for UNITA in Angola.
Although most landward operations during this period were conducted under a heavy security blanket, the public were generally aware that something was going on even if the full details were not available. The introduction of television in SA and the ease of communications and growth of the international media made it difficult to conceal such activities. This applied especially to the more conventional operations and activities carried out by the Army, Air Force and Medical Services in Angola.
The SA Navy seemingly played little part in all of this, other than some initial contribution to Operation Savanna, such as the evacuation of Brig Ben Roos and his team from Ambrizette after the battle of Quifangondo and the presence of the frigates President Steyn and President Kruger, covering in efficient manner the coast of Southern Angola while the Army advanced north. During this period, no Soviet warship ventured south of Luanda. Even this was not made public and, in the eyes of the public and the other services, the navy sat out the war on the sidelines.
With the passage of time, the important part paid by our Navy in the Border War needs to be made more visible as this aspect of our military history has for far too long been kept under wraps. This is not surprising as the operations were normally under the command of Special Forces, with all of them classified as top secret and on a "need to know" basis.
In the early 1970's our navy was largely a "legacy" navy designed to defend the Cape Sea Route, with an anti-submarine and minesweeping capability. The arrival of our submarines awakened an awareness of a clandestine capability. In 1972, an operation off Tanzania involving SAS Emily Hobhouse landed and recovered a raiding team led by Col Jan Breytenbach. This was before the formal formation of Special Forces. Although the results of this operation were not spectacular, the concept was established and the use of submarines in this role was established.
The first strike craft had scarcely arrived in Durban when Major Malcolm Kinghorn of the Seaward Group of 1 Reconnaissance Regiment identified them as potential delivery vessels for his teams and a special relationship was born. A basic boat launching system was developed and by late 1978 the new capability was tested for the first time in a clandestine operation in an "enemy" harbour and the rest became history - highly classified!
There has been much talk over the years about writing a full and accurate history of the seaward operations undertaken by 4 Recce Regiment and the SAN from 1978 to 1988 but the lack of access to classified documentation and the difficulty experienced in finding and interviewing participants made this task very hard. In 1999 Peter Stiff's book "The Silent War" appeared followed by Jack Greef's "A Greater Share of Honour", published in 2001. These are the only books on the subject to have been published to date.
In 2009 Col Douw Steyn, ex-4 Recce Regiment, decided to research and write a history of 4 Recce Regiment's seaward operations and invited our speaker to assist in this task. Their relentless efforts are now bearing fruit and, with the tacit approval of Special Forces, certain files have been made available. These, together with accounts from Russian sources, much research and contributions from veterans, have enabled the writers to establish the full story which hopefully will be published in 2012.
Some 48 maritime operations were initiated, planned and prepared for. Of these, 14 were submarine operations and 27 for execution by strike craft. Seven were of special interest, requiring the use of both submarines and strike craft, providing a very versatile mix of capabilities. Depending on the threat, the submarine could be used for a daylight reconnaissance and then, if required, conduct the actual landing operation. The strike craft stayed offshore to assist with medical backup or escape and evasion, if needed, or act as a battle taxi, or any variation of these.
Our covert seaward capability was never really compromised and operations were carried out successfully throughout the Border War. Why? There are a number of reasons.
No operation was ever carried out unless all aspects had been properly rehearsed and Cabinet authority obtained. Nothing was left to chance -- in ten cases operations were cancelled or postponed before departure or landing for a variety of reasons, e.g. the target could not be safely accessed or confirmed, possible loss of civilian lives or there was a possibility or risk of compromise. Each operation had a clearly defined objective and, if this could not be achieved, the operation was aborted. Random sabotage was never approved.
All participating units had to be declared operational and sufficient target detail provided by prior reconnaissance before an operation was undertaken. So 15 of the operations were clandestine reconnaissance for a later strike mission. These were usually, but not always, carried out by submarine. Most were on the west coast as it was easier for agents to gain access to ports on the east coast. There was usually a final recce on the day before D-Day.
Nineteen of the operations were support operations for the landing of supplies or personnel or the extraction of own or RENAMO forces after operations inland. In three cases the quantity of supplies to be landed was so large that SAS President Pretorius or SAS Tafelberg was used to carry the stuff to be landed!
The remaining 23 operations were the real "McCoy" with "destroy" as part of the purpose of the operation. With one exception, all of these were largely successful and the means of insertion became known only long after. One of these involved the sinking of two dredgers in Beira Harbour. This was in 1979 and the dry dock entrance was also destroyed.
There was one major setback - the attempted raid on the oil tanks at Cabinda. Capt Wynand du Toit was captured but the other six members of the attacking force were evacuated by submarine at 0300 the next morning. Du Toit did not compromise the method of infiltration and supplied his interrogators with false information, convincing them that the raiders had landed from a fishing vessel sailing under the Japanese flag, which, by chance, had been in the area of the attack at the time.
If any of the raiders were wounded or injured after landing, they were evacuated and stabilised in the rubber boats and on board the submarine before being transferred to the strike craft for transport back to South Africa. The ability to treat casualties within eight hours of an incident was one of the requirements in planning. Submarines and strike craft sometimes needed to be refueled or re-victualed at sea so SAS Protea or SAS Tafelberg would at times accompany the raiding force. Full surgical teams would also be carried.
During the 1981 attack on the oil refinery in Luanda, SAS Protea carried the raiding team to within 320 km/200 miles of Luanda, while the strike craft landed a small party to do a final shore recce. The strike craft then refueled from Protea and transferred the raiding party from Protea. The raiders were then landed by rubber boat. One operator was killed and two injured during this particular attack. The strike craft closed in on the coast in the full glare of the flames on shore and the casualties were taken aboard, treated by the medics on the strike craft, transferred to the Protea which carried a full surgical team. Both casualties recovered fully. This was the second attack on a strategic target in Angola.
The first attack a year earlier had been a complete success in every aspect with a simple plan followed to the minute. Every element of the attack was executed fully and with considerable additional damage done to secondary targets. Two strike craft launched the raiders 8 km/five miles off Lobito harbour in full view of a shore battery. The mines were laid and the raiders withdrawn. A cement factory and two gas depots were destroyed as were the port's new fire engines. The damage was devastating.
An over-riding requirement of every operation was to keep the seaborne capability under cover but there were times when compromise seemed possible, if not inevitable. A submarine was subjected to a sonar search whilst surface vessels came into close proximity to fishing boats and Russian or Angolan warships. A number of Soviet and Angolan maritime patrol aircraft were stationed in Luanda - Tupolev Tu-20 "Bear D" and Fokker F-27 aircraft. There was also a danger of air attacks by MiG fighter or fighter-bomber jet aircraft, but these did not venture far from the coast, being single-engined. There was also the danger of detection by electronic snooper vessels, these being largely stationed off the mouth of the Cunene River. There was always a danger of air attack if our ships were late leaving the rendezvous points. The ships crews apparently would have relished an air attack!
These threats highlight the difference between operations on the two coasts. There was little physical threat on the east coast, only that of discovery. Discretion was important on both coasts, as there was no open hostility on the east coast to "excuse" such operations. Even so, considerable damage was done to the infrastructure in the port of Beira. Two attacks were made on the oil depots at Beira. Both were successful and RENAMO was given full credit. The first attack in 1979 was to assist Zimbabwe-Rhodesia which provided the raiding force. The second - three years later - was to deny Zimbabwe oil supplies, thus causing an economic crisis which was solved by the government which had authorised the attack, by sending fuel by rail! This was an irony not lost on the operators who risked their lives to destroy the only purely economic target ever attacked, but an example of high politics being played for an international audience!
The raiding operations in the west all had a tactical aim, e.g. destruction of a railway, bridge, locomotives or fuel facility. The actual aim of each operation was strategic. The influence of these operations on the Border War was immense as they were aimed primarily at progressively disrupting the military logistic lines in Southern Angola.
The destruction of fuel facilities in Lobito and Namibe resulted in the enemy postponing planned operations and, in some cases, rendering them unable to sustain their attacks. When fuel was brought in by sea, the destruction of the rail network forced them to rely on the fragile road network which was very susceptible to attack by UNITA or South African forces. All Angolan/Cuban logistics were soon dependent on road and air supply. The latter was expensive and limited. The former was unreliable, due to the poor state of the roads as well as slow and dangerous because of the threat of ambush.
The maritime part of these operations was largely limited to the transit, landing and extraction of the troops involved. In fact, the Navy contributed much more than was realised at the time. In three operations, the targets were ships and in one warships which could have threatened South Africa's use of the waters off Angola. In the event the secondary targets were attacked - five large Eastern Bloc merchant ships from Russia, East Germany and Cuba were successfully mined.
This resulted in the implementation of major defensive measures, including the formation of special naval Spetsnaz1 diving teams to protect shipping and the dispatch of a salvage vessel from the Black Sea to assist in the recovery of sunken ships. Russian veterans consulted by our speaker have given new insights into how seriously the Russians took the SAN's capabilities after the intervention of our frigates in 1975. A standing Soviet naval task force known as 30 Squadron was formed for service in the Central Atlantic to protect Eastern Bloc ships carrying military cargoes en route to Luanda. This included major vessels and even submarines from the Northern Fleet, in rotation. There were also HQ, Landing and Repair craft. The soviets took the possibility of torpedo attacks on their ships very seriously and they used anti-submarine vessels to patrol ahead of their ships, at times dropping depth charges. Despite these precautions, they never detected any SAN presence in Angolan waters.
Many question the war in Angola and its monetary and human cost, but South Africa's involvement contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc, so enabling a peaceful transition in Namibia and the eventual changes in our own country. The SA Navy played a more significant role in that long war than most people realise.
The one common denominator in all these operations and the greatest factor in their success was 4 Recce Regiment whose absolute professionalism and capabilities were unique. The Russians, who had good reason to dislike them, have acknowledged this.
Col Sergei Kolomnin, a spokesman for the Union of Veterans of Angola and who served for some time in Angola, stated: "Special Units of the Armed Forces of South Africa were the least known and most private special units in the world. Their preparation, application, methods of operation and operations, for many years, remained a mystery, an enigma. From a professional point of view their experience is priceless and unique. Many of the operations carried out by its soldiers would make the famous French 'Commando Hubert'2 or the Israeli Naval Commando 'Shayetet 13'3 proud". Praise indeed!
This was recognised by the new SA Government which resuscitated the capability. Col Kolomnin goes on to state: "In 1995, as part of the new SANDF, a Reconnaissance Brigade was again formed, with particular attention paid to the Naval Commandos - one of the most unique and effective amongst the units and which accounted for dozens of successful and still not declassified operations off the coast of Angola, Mozambique and even Tanzania. When forming teams, it is recognised that the naval Special Forces commando, in terms of selection, professionalism and training are as the Seals of the US or the SBS of the UK, but very little is known of them".
It is with these men of 4 Recce Regiment, as well as 1 Recce Regiment and 7 Medical Battalion, that the SA Navy played its part in the war years from 1975 to 1988 - apart that is only now coming to light. Not one operation was cancelled due to the Navy not being ready and able - a proud record for the service. There was no real glory for them and they could not even share their experiences outside their ship or submarine, but they were always proud of their contribution.
Adm Soderlund then answered numerous questions from members. Cdr Mac Bisset thanked the speaker and presented him with the customary gift. He congratulated Adm Soderlund on writing a new chapter of our naval history and honouring the brave seamen whose gallantry has hitherto been unrecognised.
It is with great sadness that we have to inform members that fellow member, Brigadier-General Dick Lord SAAF (Ret), had passed away peacefully at home on Wednesday evening, the 26th of October, 2011. We will remember him as friend, comrade and esteemed fellow-member of the Cape Town Branch of the SA Military History Society, where he will be remembered as one of our all-time favourite speakers. He was a gentleman, a courteous and patient person who always had time for his friends, society members or the multitude of well-wishers and fans who held him in high esteem for his achievements as pilot, as leader and above all, as Dick Lord, the man.
Brig-Gen Dick Lord was born in Johannesburg on the 20th of June, 1936. He completed his schooling at Parktown Boys' High, before travelling to Britain to join the Royal Navy as an Air Cadet in 1958. He qualified as a fighter pilot flying Sea Venoms and Sea Vixens from the decks of the aircraft carriers Centaur, Victorious, Hermes and the famous Ark Royal on deployment around the world. In the mid 60s, he was selected for a two-year exchange tour with the US Navy, flying A-4 Skyhawks and F-4 Phantoms out of NAS Miramar, San Diego, California. He completed tours of air warfare instruction flying Hunters from the naval air stations at Lossiemouth, Scotland and Brawdy, Wales. He returned to South Africa in the early 1970s and joined the SAAF, flying Impalas, Sabres and Mirage Ills. During the Border War, he commanded No 1 Squadron, flying Mirage F1AZs. His last tour of duty was as commander of the Air Force Command Post. He was mentioned in dispatches for his role in the very successful rescue of all 581 people from the ill-fated liner Oceanos.
On behalf of the Military History Society, Branch Members and "Friends" of the Cape Town Branch, we wish to express our heartfelt condolences to his widow, Mrs Lord, the children and grand-children, as well as the immediate family and intimate family friends, on their great loss. Brig-Gen Lord is survived by his wife, June Rosalind, and the two sons, Richard and Michael. Richard, the eldest, is married and along with his wife and their three children (two sons and a daughter), lives in Somerset West. Michael, the youngest, is still single and currently lives in Johannesburg.
Please note that there are still some members who have not yet paid their subscriptions for 2011. The Treasurer will follow up on this in the course of November and contact each member who has not yet paid.
Our outing to Simon's Town on Saturday, 22 October, managed to include the submarine museum and a visit the Naval Museum, before, alas, time caught up with us and we had to call it a day. Our group consisted of twenty people, members, spouses, family friends or friends of the Society. A blustery Northwester and some light rain around lunchtime, however, did not dampen our spirits. The visit to the submarine was the highlight of the day as Rear Admiral (JG) Arne Soderlund - along with WO1 Mel Wainwright (shown, LEFT, with cap) - personally conducted the tour and gave us VIP treatment, which lasted a full 21/2 hours! Everybody was amazed by the cramped conditions on board an operational submarine and the fact that everybody's watches seemed to be running fast, as it felt if we were hardly an hour on board before the tour ended. We then broke for lunch and afterwards visited the Naval Museum, one of our most neglected historical gems on the Peninsula tourist route. Cdr Mac Bisset unfortunately could not accompany us as he was not well - and yes, we did miss him as he was the founder of the Naval Museum and it would have been so much enjoyable if he could have accompanied us! Our heartfelt thanks to Adm Soderlund and WO1 Mel Wainwright for the most interesting and enjoyable submarine tour!
Members will recall that our speaker on 10 February 2011 was Dr the Reverend David Christie whose topic was the Scottish Jacobite Uprising in 1689, the Cameronians, the battle of Dunkeld and religious freedom in Scotland.
He has recently published a book that tells the human story behind his Stellenbosch D Th, Bible and Sword - The Cameronian contribution to freedom of religion, which formed the basis of his talk. The book is titled "Not much of a Souldier" [sic] (From Drumclog 1679, To Dunkeld 1689). The book's characters are fictional but the events and places are real. It tells the story of William Cleland, the first Cameronian commanding officer, and Alexander Shields, the first chaplain, who played a critical role in Scotland during the Revolution of 1689, and were instrumental in raising the Cameronian Regiment. Viscount Dundee had raised the Highlands for the ousted King James, and the story reaches its climax with the battles of Killiecrankie and Dunkeld. Much of it is set in Holland, and the protagonists, the Scottish are a parallel to the French Huguenots. In fact there were some Huguenots in the Scottish army of 1689. (For those members interested, Dr Christie's D Th thesis is available online, at https://scholar.sun.ac.za/bitstream/handle/ 10019.1/1077/Christie%2c%20D%20O%20% 28ill%20on%20CD%29.pdf?sequence=1)
The book is in paperback format, b&w illustrations, map, 269 pages and can be ordered online from either Amazon or other websites at a RRP of ħR180,00 (ISBN 9781-908026-1-8)
Dr the Reverend David Christie was serving in The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) at the disbandment of the Regiment in 1968. His experiences include active service in Malaya, Borneo and Aden. He was the first British officer to qualify as a US Airborne Ranger, and was one of the founders of The Malaysia Rangers.
A new DVD has recently been released that deals with the fortifications of Pretoria, titled Pres. Paul Kruger's Fortification of Pretoria. Cover Description: ".......Four beautiful first class forts were built around Pretoria to protect President Paul Kruger's capital. Two were restored later and are popular tourist attractions, but two are total ruins. This DVD relates the story of the forts, present and past".
The DVD has been produced by Col Andy Malan (ret)(researcher & narrator) and Letitia Kriel (producer) and is bilingual (Afrikaans / English), and the running time is 30mins each. The DVD sells for R100,00 ea and can be ordered from Col Malan. He is unfortunately away on leave and contact/order details will be made available in the next newsletter.
10 NOVEMBER 2011: FOR KAISER AND HITLER: FROM MILITARY AVIATOR TO HIGH COMMAND - The Memoirs of Luftwaffe General Alfred Mahncke 1910-1945 by Jochen (John) Mancke
Life-member John (Jochen) Mahncke is no stranger to society members; having been Chairman of the Gauteng Branch before moving to Cape Town where he subsequently acted as Vice-Chairman and Scribe of the Cape Town Branch for many years, he has been a highly popular and respected member with members of both branches throughout the years of his tireless involvement. Well-known for his articles in the SAMHS Journal and his numerous talks relating to early German aviation as well as aspects of his father's life, it is as translator/compiler of his late father's memoirs of the same title as in the subject heading, that Mr Mahncke has risen to new prominence as author of a book that was published to international acclaim and recognition. As is the case with many non-fiction books, especially on historical topics, a lot of information invariably is left unsaid, for brevity's sake. Such is the case with his father's memoirs. His lecture will be structured so as to elucidate his father's military career from pre-WWI up and to WWII, as told in his book. For members that have had the foresight to purchase a copy in the recent past few months - and have read it - the lecture will surely prove to be as informative and enjoyable as the book has been.
DECEMBER: In Recess.
19 JANUARY 2012: Talk to be announced.
PLEASE NOTE: The first meeting for 2012 will be held on the 19th of January 2012 - the THIRD THURSDAY of January.
BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Asst. Scribe
Phone: 021-689-1639 (Home) ;
RAY HATTINGH: Secretary
Phone: 021-592-1279 (Office)
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE TREASURER, MR BOB BUSER, IS NOW CONTACTABLE ONLY AT HOME: PHONE NUMBER 021-6891639 AND EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Spetsnaz: Voyska specialnogo naznacheniya; is an umbrella term for any special forces, literally "force of special purpose". The Soviet/Russian Special Forces refer to any elite or special purpose units under subordination of the Army, Soviet Ministry of the Interior/Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, or the military intelligence service GRU.
2 'Commando Hubert' is a combat swimmer unit tasked with conducting maritime special operations in support of the French Navy and intelligence services, primarily the DGSE (the French foreign intelligence directorate). The French Naval Commandos consist of 6 specialist groups of which "Commando Hubert" is one.
3 'Shayetet 13' (lit. Flotilla 13) is the elite naval commando unit of the Israeli Navy. The unit is considered one of the primary Special Forces units of the Israel Defence Forces (along with Sayeret Matkal and the Shaldag Unit). S'13 specialises in sea-to-land incursions, counter-terrorism, sabotage, maritime intelligence gathering, maritime hostage rescue, and boarding.