South African Military History 


Newsletter No 1 October 2009/Nuusbrief Nr 61 Oktober

The meeting on 14 September 2009 marked the 5th anniversary of SAMHSEC's first meeting on 9 September 2004.

Richard Tomlinson's fifth talk in his series on British fortifications of the Anglo-Boer War was on blockhouses near Pretoria. When British troops entered Pretoria in June 1900, their first task was to look to the defences of the Transvaal capital. After modifying the four Kruger forts, they started building stone blockhouses on ridges and in gaps between the Kruger forts, several of which were given the grand title of 'redoubt' and were "well advanced" by year end. One of these, Johnston's Redoubt, just east of the Union Buildings, is the sole remaining stone blockhouse in Greater Pretoria; single storey and 6 metres square, it has a gabled corrugated roof and two galleries of a different design from those on the Standard Pattern, being 5-faceted. A foundation of similar size was found on a ridge to the north-east. Richard discovered the foundations of 5 blockhouses on Daspoortrant going towards West Fort, and two more on Langeberge to the south; these are a stretch version of Johnston's, being 11 x 6m with the long dimension across the ridge, and he named them Daspoortrant pattern. Only the foundations of these have survived, but each had a timber floor and one had the foundations of an outer sentry wall. Archive photos show single-storeyed flat- and gabled-roof examples, in both cases with galleries.

The curtain raiser by Peter Duffell-Canham was the personal story of his service in the Cape Town Highlanders (CTH) from 1972 to 1979. He set the scene by describing the sequence of documentation at school and the arrival of call up papers telling him where he would be based for the next nine months. Towards the end of the nine months call up, Peter was pleased to be allocated to CTH. At their first parade at The Bastion in Newlands, new recruits were made to feel that they had joined a unit with a proud history. Peter took part in ceremonial parades such as Trooping The Colour, Retreat Ceremonies, Exercising the Freedom of the City and Opening of Parliament. His first call up was for Exercise Brolly Tree 3 in the Potchefstroom area, followed in 1975 by a mobile warfare exercise outside Bloemfontein. In 1976, CTH was the first Citizen Force unit to enter Angola during Operation Savannah. During the festive season, papers came telling those called up to expect to be away for at least three months. Hasty domestic and work arrangements were made and Peter reported to Wingfield on 4 January. The Regiment went by train to Bloemfontein and by SAA Boeing 707s, (complete with air hostesses) and Flossies (C130s) to Grootfontein. Having survived Camp Swampy and the Oshivelo training area, CTH crossed the border at Oshikango and saw first hand the ravages of war on the town of Santa Clara. Political developments led to CTH being withdrawn to defend the Calueque Dam and Ruacana hydro-electric scheme. The following year saw the Regiment based at Etale in a counter-insurgency role. In 1979 Peter and others of his age were informed that they had been placed on the reserve, thus ending a very interesting period associated with a unique Regiment.

The main lecture by Jock Harris was on Operation Modular, which neutralised the Angolan offensive against the UNITA capital of Jamba between August and November 1987. As background, the post 1976 developments in Angola were explained, including South Africa's support of UNITA's control of Southern Angola, thereby denying SWAPO access to the Angolan/South West African border and culminating in the Angolan offensives on Jamba in 1985 and 1986.

The Angolan forces involved in the 1987 offensive included of 4 brigades based on the Warsaw Pact Motorised Rifle Regiment. Each had 3 Motorised Infantry Battalions, a Tank Company, a mixed Artillery Battalion, a Recce Company and an Engineer Company. Equipment included T54/55 tanks, PT-76, BRDM 2, BTR60 and 152 armoured vehicles, various mortars, Sagger anti-tank missiles and 122 mm multiple rocket launchers (MRLs), D-30 and BM21 artillery pieces. There were approximately 1900 officers and men per brigade. The Angolan Air Force deployed MIG 21 and 23 and SU22 jet aircraft as well as various helicopters, including MI24 and 25 attack helicopters in support of the offensive. Cuban and Russian personnel and equipment were deployed in support of both ground and air forces.

The initial South African expectation was that UNITA, with support from 32 Battalion and its 127 mm MRLs, would stop the Angolan offensive, as had been the case in 1985 and 1986. The unexpected initial success and rapid progress of the Angolan offensive was countered by the piecemeal increase of the South African forces involved. From start to finish, only the necessary forces were deployed. Political and senior defence intervention was the order of the day, even to tactical level. This was not SADF doctrine, but, in retrospect, was the suitable strategy for the circumstances. In addition to Military Intelligence Liaison Teams with UNITA, the South African forces involved eventually included 32 Battalion and its Support Group, 61 Mechanised Battalion Group, 4 SA Infantry Battalion, a squadron of tanks, G5 guns, 127 mm MRLs, the SAAF, Special Forces and various support elements.

Operation Modular had three phases, namely: Phase 1: Stopping the Angolan offensive between 4 August and 7 October, Phase 2: Follow up of the Angolan withdrawal between 8 October and 17 November and Phase 3: Offensive Operations against Angolan brigades on the Vimpule and Chabinga Rivers between 18 and 26 November. Highlights included the destruction of the Angolan 47 Brigade on the Lomba River in early October and the destruction of the bridge over the Cuito River near Cuito Cuanavale by Special Forces. The book War in Angola by Helmoed Romer-Heitman, ISBN number: 0-620-14370-3, is recommended reading. (Scribe's note: presentations on the operations which followed Operation Modular and the subsequent negotiations have been included in the SAMHSEC 2010 programme)

Andre Crozier is welcomed as a SAMHSEC member.

SAMHSEC's next meeting will be at 1930 on Monday 12 October 2009 at the Eastern Province Veteran Car Club in Port Elizabeth. Richard Tomlinson will present the sixth in the series on British Fortifications of the Anglo-Boer War. The curtain raiser will be by Stephen Bowker on A parachute descent over El Alamein. The main lecture will be by Peter Gordon on The Xhosa Cattle Killing.

Malcolm Kinghorn.
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