South African Military History Society


Fellow member Col Lionel Crook gave us a most engaging and very personal talk on the Cape Field Artillery from its inception to operation Savannah in Angola.
Formed in 1857 as the Cape Town Volunteer Artillery, the unit served in a number of regional campaigns including the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902. In 1926 it received the Battle Honours South West Africa 1915 for services rendered in SWA in 1915. Though it did not serve on the continent during WW I, it took part in every campaign of WW II in which South African troops were involved from East Africa to North Africa and to Italy.
The Angolan conflict of the middle 70s, particularly operation Savannah, presented the CPA and its then Cmdt Lionel Crook, with a host of varying challenges and scenarios. The regiment's mobilisation began in December 1975 and was completed in a flurry of activity, excitement, shortages of everything, but nevertheless on time, and it left South Africa on 7th January 1976.

From then on the regiment, either in one body, but more often in individual batteries, was shifted across southern Angola in all directions. They followed seemingly incoherent orders which had their origin in politically motivated decisions from the very top, and were not always based on proper military criteria. Nonetheless, the gunners were not found wanting and were not challenged by the enemy, in fact they never even saw him. Instead their daily existence was an unending struggle against a combination of natural calamities like rainstorms, described as "schnorkel and frog feet weather", and the ensuing mud which hindered progress and forced them to use the most unusual methods to clean guns. It did not prevent them from reaching their objectives. Only Camp Swampy was an exception. As some wag remarked, they moved: "na 'n tent kamp in 'n vlei en slaap in die modder". At that time much of Angola was under MPLA domination and the Soviets were flying in tons of equipment and ammunition with 15 Antonov AN-22 transporters each day, while in comparison the American CIA gave minimal assistance. It was therefore left to the South African forces to occupy the greater portion of Angola on their own, pushing aside MPLA and Cubans with ease, while hoping that UNITA would be strong enough to continue to hold it.

The war had its lighter moments, though. A staff officer received a message from a forward base asking for 250 sandbags, but since he felt this was above scale, he sent a signal asking: "What do you want to do with the sandbags?" Back came the answer: "We want to fill them with sand." Somewhere else a unit was supplied with 5 500 jerry cans when they only needed a fraction of them, but upon complaining were briskly told: "This is what it says on the form, and this is what you get."

Lionel dealt at length with his beloved guns, Ordnance QF 25 PR Howitzer and BL 5.5 Inch Gun, the five-five, and their firing power as well as many technical details.
If they were not active during operation Savannah, they came into their own during operation Budgie, and it is hoped that Lionel will give us another in depth and humourous talk at a later stage of what happened to the CPA Regiment in Angola.
It was a most enjoyable evening, leaving many ex-soldiers reminiscing about their times at the front or at home, and a good time was had by all.
Lionel's book on "Armaments of the Boer War" is in the process of being published and should be available before X-Mas. We will keep you informed.
At present the author is busy with "History of the C.F. Artillery from 1857 to the present", a multi-volume work, hopefully to be available next year.

Members who prefer to receive our Newsletter by e-mail are asked to contact the Scribe.

The following Videos, donated by fellow-member Ken Sheppard, can be borrowed from the Scribe: Adolf Hitler and the Obersalzberg (in German), and "The Star of Africa", Joachim Marseilles, (in German with English subtitles). Another Video: Fighter Aces, is also available.


8 August 2002
Illustrated Talk by John Mahncke
12 September 2002
Illustrated Lecture by J.M. Sweeney
10 October 2002
Slide Show and Lecture on the GERMAN FLIEGERTRUPPE and ZEPPELINS: 1910 - 1918
by John Mahncke
14 November 2002
To be advised
December 2002
In recess

Your Committee is engaged in compiling a list of lectures for the coming year. Any Member who has suggestions for speakers and/or subjects is asked to contact any committee member.

Meetings are normally held on the 2nd Thursday of each month, at 20h00 in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road, Rosebank (off Alma Road), opposite Rosebank Railway Station, below the line.
All visitors welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.

Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797 5167

South African Military History Society /