Our speaker at the June meeting, Col.Tony Venn, gave us a most interesting and keen insight into his Citizen Force service career of 39 years firstly in the Cape Field Artillery which was engaged in operations inside South Africa and beyond its borders, and then in various staff positions. Cross border operations into Angola began in 1976 and lasted until 1988. Tony's call-up came at the end of 1975, as he said BC, before computers, and he recalled how the soldiers' high spirits prevailed despite primitive camp conditions near Bloemfontein and muddy and messy "Camp Swampy" at Grootfontein. They made the best of it, although in the beginning they had no maps, one old compass, used their knuckles for direction finding and were issued with and used old WW II - 25 pounders. Once engaged in operations in Angola they discovered that supplies were only delivered up to the border and no further, and had to arrange onward transport for themselves, not an easy matter because of the undeveloped road system. But the UNIMOGs, left behind by the Portuguese, helped them tremendously. In April 1976 they returned to Cape Town and spent three weeks being debriefed. As a result of information obtained, conditions at the front slowly improved.
In 1977 the CPA went off to Potchefstroom for gunnery training where they were asked what lessons they had learnt. This information resulted in a dramatic improvement in the standards of training, operational procedure and techniques. Tony was promoted to serve in a Brigade staff for two years during which time he saw tremendous development all round in the Army, changing it into a well- honed fighting machine with vastly improved inter-Corps and Service cooperation.. He was also able to understand and appreciate the bigger picture of military campaigns taking place. Exercises for operation Protea followed and in 1982 he went with operation Marathon to the Lowveld. He recalled the good and bad times and the great involvement of his soldiers.
A staff course followed, during which General Constand Viljoen was Chief of the Defence Force. He described it as a fantastic learning process under a hard task master, who, nevertheless, was a highly professional soldier. For the next operation, which was Thunderchariot, officers planned at a secret location near Pretoria and received visits from Navy and Air Force advisors, and since they were not CF but career officers, this led to interesting exchanges due to their different appreciation of military matters.
Tony took part in further operations, and here could be seen the evolution of the Army's equipment, leading to the Olifant, Ratel and Buffel. But in 1994, during peace-keeping jobs in the Transvaal, the picture changed, and the maintenance standard of the equipment deteriorated. These jobs were not really popular with the soldiers. They started with a high morale index, but the longer they lasted the more the morale suffered.
Nevertheless, Tony explained that he always made the most of any situation and consequently learnt a lot. "The more we planned, the better we got." Thank you very much, Tony, for your fascinating, often humourous and very personal talk which was enjoyed by all.
Tony Gordon showed us interesting photographs from his "dig" in Seapoint, (see previous Newsletter), and Ossie Baker demostrated an amazing collection of old photographs from the Boer War as well as glass slides which could be viewed on a Stereoscope.
All visitors welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.
Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797-5167