South African Military 
History Society

KWAZULU-NATAL BRANCH

NEWSLETTER NO. 359
August 2005

At the beginning of the meeting we were informed of various exciting, proposed and current activities; (1) the Egypt to London tour of 6 - 16 November (Terry Whitfield); (2) liaising with the Ladysmith Historical Society, the S.A.M.H. plans to have a disabled-friendly pathway constructed to Clouston Koppie near Colenso (Ken Gillings); (3) the Family Fair organised by the Genealogical Society in Silverton Road on 24 September; (4) the suggestion that the 1906 Battlefield Tour should centre around the Bhambhatha uprising (Ken Gillings); (5) the possibility of a weekend in December covering a visit to Modderfontein and nearby battlefields (Bill Brady); (6) suggestion that local trips around Durban be organised, perhaps on Saturday afternoons (Mike Laing); (7) instead of an annual dinner, luncheon to be organised on a Sunday in December (Bill Brady to investigate).

Maj.-Gen. Chris le Roux gave the D.D.H. talk on The History of the South African Parachute Formation, and he analysed the essential qualities of the paratroopers. He spoke with specialist knowledge, having been O.C. of 1 Para Battalion from 1984 - 1988.

In 1960 fifteen volunteers from the S.A.D.F. were sent to England, the majority to train as parachute instructors; some as parachute-packers; and one S.A.A.F. pilot in the dropping of paratroopers. These formed the nucleus of 1 Parachute Batt. at Tempe in Bloemfontein. The first paratroopers were Permanent Force men, but soon the training of Citizen Force paratroopers commenced. Members of 1 Para Batt. were the first S.A. Army men to see action after WWII when, in 1966, they participated, with the South African Police, against terrorist insurgents in S.W.A. (now Namibia).

1 Para Batt. was organised as follows: Permanent Force - Batt. H.Q., H.Q. Coy and A and B Coy's; Citizen Force: C Coy Cape Town, D Coy Durban, E Coy Pretoria and F Coy Johannesburg. Further battalions were added: 1 Para Batt. in 1971 and 3 Para Batt. in 1977.

In 1974 and 1975 1 Para Batt. operated along the Angolan border with S.W.A; along the Caprivi Strip; a platoon jumped near Luiana to relieve a group of Bushmen trapped by a SWAPO force; and in Operation Savannah during the Angolan Civil War of 1974-5 when 2 companies of 1 Para Batt. were dropped on the northern border of SWA at Ruancana and Santa Clara to relieve two Portuguese communities trapped by the MPLA.

From April 1978 the 44 Para Brigade came into being under Brig. M J du Plessis as O.C. This Brigade became a powerful force. The first large airborne exercise of the Para Battalion Group took place in 1987 in the N.W. Transvaal (now N.W. Province). Eventually the Para Bde disbanded in Pretoria and moved to Bloemfontein, where the paratroopers were incorporated in 1 Parachute Battalion Group.

Over the years, the S.A. paratroopers have participated in eighty-four operations. Forty-five paratroopers have been killed in action. Maj.-Gen. le Roux highlighted the numerous operations, especially in Angola, Zimbabwe and Lesotho.

The paratroopers are, like their counterparts the world over, fit, tough, aggressive and totally committed; a confident and proud breed of men.

Lt. Col. Clive Wilsworth gave the main talk of the evening: Ubique - The South African Artillery in Angola 1975 - 1988. Very well illustrated, with maps and photographs showing the difficult terrain, the guns and the men involved, the campaign became clear to us.

By 1975 when the Portuguese pulled out of their former colony of Angola, three liberation movements were deployed as follows: The MPLA in the central area, including Luanda the capital: the FNLA in the north; and UNITA in the central area, south and east. Subsequently, Cubans and South Africans entered the fray, the South African Artillery with a thinned-out troop deploying two 5.5" guns and ending with a full Artillery Brigade in 1988 when they withdrew.

Battle was joined in November 1975 during Operation Savannah when Task Force Zulu advanced towards Benguela on the coast. There the Task Force rolled up the MPLA until it came under MPLA artillery fire. Meanwhile 14 Field Regiment in Potchefstroom prepared 5.5" guns for operational deployment under the command of Maj. John Bosch. The much-needed guns arrived at Rundu with no means of towing them. Civilian trucks and military Unimogs were scrounged to tow them. On 10 November the SAA fired its first round in anger since WWII.

The next troop of 25 paras under Capt. Chris Bollwer arrived at Rundu to support Task Force Zulu at Benguela. The MPLA force with its Cuban advisors was routed. The gunners then redeployed to the central front, confronting difficulties such as having no cleaning materials for their guns and encountering poor roads. Gradually, the S.A. forces were reinforced and improved and by early December 1975 an Artillery Regt comprising 257 men supported Task Force Zulu.

In late December 1975 the S.A. government prepared to withdraw S.A. troops from Angola. Meanwhile Citizen Force Gunner Units were mobilised to form the rearguard to protect the forces withdrawing from Angola. All units were withdrawn by 27 March 1976. By 1978, after the withdrawal of the S.A.D.F., SWAPO, supported by FAPLA forces, established a presence in southern Angola, especially at Xangongo, Ongwa and Cassinga, thus threatening S.W.A.

In February 1978, 14 Field Regt mobilised a battery for operational duty. 2 Medium Battery, under Maj. Piet Uys, was the selected fire unit. Better equipped than the force in Operation Savannah, the battery comprised eight 5.5" guns in two troops with supporting vehicles and equipment. Clive Wilsworth was troop commander of the junior troop (H troop). The force moved northwards to Oshivello, the training area, to become part of Operation Bruilof to be conducted by Battle Group Juliet under the command of Cmdt. Joop Joubert. This was the first mechanised force to be deployed by the S. Africans. The infantry battalion was equipped with the new Ratel ICV; the battle group with a squadron of Eland armoured cars (both the 90mm and 60mm models) while the artillery battery also had Eland 60s. The force moved out to attack the destroy SWAPO bases about 15kms north of the border.

Meanwhile, under the name of Seiljag, 32 Batt. was conducting sweeps in the central part of the operational area and required artillery support to flush out SWAPO bases in southern Angola. The 14 Field Regt mobilised a fire unit of one troop (4 guns) under the command of Capt. J. Jacobs.

The next operation, Operation Reindeer planned two attacks on SWAPO bases: the main attack being an airborne assault on the base at Cassinga by 1 Para Batt. supported by the SAAF; the secondary attack, farther south, on Dobondola by Battle Groups A and B, was supported by a medium battery and air support where needed. Their objectives were achieved.

Operation Protea was planned in August 1981 to neutralise SWAPO air defences and disrupt SWAPO operations. An artillery regiment under Cmdt Koos Laubscher supported a force almost reaching brigade strength and formed into two task forces. This was successful in disrupting SWAPO activities for almost a year.

In 1983 the sixth large-scale cross-border operation, Askari was intended to disrupt logistical support and command and control capabilities. A very successful artillery strike took place on Cahama, which silenced the FAPLA guns and achieved the original objectives. These actions were supported by the SAAF. Operation Wallpaper was a short-term foray by an MRL troop deployed at the request of UNITA. With Maj. Deon Holtshausen in command, this stopped the southward movement of FAPLA in and around Mavinga. Alpha Centauri was another attempt at stopping the FPLA move on Jamba. This was achieved around Mavinga. Operations Moduler, Hooper and Packer intensified the struggle, with Operation Displace involved in the withdrawal of all SA units out of SE Angola. The withdrawal of SA Gunners from the Namibian Operational Area began in early 1989.

Professor Mike Laing thanked the two speakers for their excellent talks.

FUTURE SOCIETY DATES : August 2005 - September 2005

11 Aug 05
DDH Prof. Mike Laing - The Chemistry that made the Atom Bomb Work
MAIN Bill Brady - The End of World War 2 in the Pacific: Aug '45
8 Sep 05
Pietermaritzburg
Gilbert Tolage - Missionaries in Zululand in Times of Conflict
Robin Smith - Gravestones and Memorials of the ILH
Dr. Mark Coglan - The History of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles
SEE YOU ALL ON 11 AUGUST 2005!!!

South African Military History Society / scribe@samilitaryhistory.org