SADF Ratel IFV taking out a Soviet T-54/55 Tank in close combat

The “cold war” at its height in Angola gets very “hot” – 14 February 1988. Extraordinary and very rare combat photograph of South Africans in combat during the South West African/Angolan Border War. Here a South African Ratel 90 takes out a FAPLA Soviet made T-54/55 tank during Operation Hooper. The Ratel had fired three heat rounds into the tank before it stopped.

To the crew of the much lighter armoured Ratel (it is after all an Infantry Fighting Vehicle IFV not a Tank) this would have been highly nerve racking, especially given the proximity of combat and the thick bush in Southern Angola – which as can be seen in this picture – was very thick, and very close. All kudos to the skill and training of this Ratel’s crew for the steady nerves.

This remarkable photograph was taken by the Ratel’s commander Lt Duncan, call sign 31C.

To compare the differences, this is the T-54/55 Tank, the armour is substantial, 80 mm on the sides, 30 mm on the roof and 20 mm on the bottom. The hull front hull 100 mm at 60° angle, turret front 205 mm (rounded).  The main gun is the D-10T 100 mm rifled tank gun. It has a four man crew.  The T54/55 was the main battle tank of the post World War 2 Soviet era for the USSR and its Allies.



This is a Ratel 90 Infantry Fighting Vehicle, much more lightly armoured – only 20mm, the primary weapon is a 90 mm (3.54 in) GT-2 semi-automatic gun.  It is used primarily in anti-armour, support, and reconnaissance elements within a battalion. The vehicle usually carries a crew of three men, with a seven-man infantry squad.


Ratel 90 IFV

Picture copyright, thanks and story content courtesy Sean Buckley.

26 thoughts on “SADF Ratel IFV taking out a Soviet T-54/55 Tank in close combat

  1. Hi all although I was there I was not part of that particular ratel crew on tuay day I moved from ratel to ratel during the course of operations just wanted to clear that up cheers.


  2. If this was taken at or near the Lomba river, there is a good chance that the crew are reservists. Many of the combatents in the mechanised infantry were Kovsies students who were called up and deployed to the Lomba river. They were lions indeed. Going up against a T55 in a Ratel takes really large brass ones!


  3. Thabo Mbeki said recently on hearing of the passing of Fidel Castor that South Africa owed him a debt of Gratitude because Cuba defeated the SADF in SWA/Angola, Mbeki never saw any action and true form continues to spew ANC propaganda! The SADF ruled!!!


  4. Hi guys,
    That’s my snapshot taken on the 14 feb 1989 I think . From what I recall we were on an offensive drive towards the lomba opposite cuito when we came across a whole heap of tanks in a bush line across a big “Shona”. Once we were committed and in the open we had little choice but to go for it and charged across and into The chaos.
    This tank had flattened an arc of fire for itself and backed into the bush and waited for us.
    Fortunately for us he missed us twice (both shots high past my head) before we saw him lurking in the shadows about 50m away.
    We then swung onto him and drilled him next to the main gun. I think he also got drilled from the sides by other ratels but it was tough to tell in that situation what the hell was happening.

    Was a bad day for us as I think 6 infantrymen were killed in a ratel near us when it was hit by a burst from a 4-barreled anti-aircraft gun deployed horizontally, I think 32mm.
    We also had our first olifant lost in combat when lt reynolds’ tank was disabled by friendly fire in the fading light after they had chased a T54 into the back of our formation……horrible situation in the dark in that forest with rounds flying all over the place from all angles.
    I actually kept a detailed diary of daily developments and a log of what photos I took as we went so if anyone wants more specific details let me know.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good evening Dave. I have recently read Ratels on the Lomba by Leopold Scholtz and I’m trying to track down as many Charlie Squadron chaps as possible to sign my book. Would you mind if I contacted you by cell? My cell number is 0844859173. Cheers


      • Danie its a weird thing, but its actually not easy to discuss those events, i’m even feeling uneasy and goose flesh sitting here on a 30 degree day in the total safety of my office…..i guess your brain wants to shut out and forget the really bad things you go through.

        our time there was mostly just filled with waiting and moving about as each campsite became stale in terms of either security or human waste issues (we were shitting in the bush around our vehicles)
        then on the few times we actually engaged with the fapla it was mostly pretty chaotic and scary, with almost zero visibility and great difficulty navigating the terrain with no GPS, no landmarks and all the forests looking the same.
        we were trained on the wide open flats of DeBrug outside Bloemfontein and Loatla near Sishen so were totally unprepared for the thick bush which we fought in.

        imagine driving about with your ratel with your head sticking out the turret (its impossible to see anything through the periscopes at the best of times let alone in dense bush) knowing that there are enemy ground troops in the area which can no doubt see you and could shoot you from 15 metres without being seen …the only thing preventing that was probably the resulting firestorm which would have erupted had they done this.
        apart from that there were obviously the migs flying most days looking for us, and the artillery which would target anything that they got a fix on……so death and danger were lurking all around a lot of the time, and as much as you get kinda used to it eventually its still in your subconscious.
        the one poor sod got blown up by a booby trapped water bottle right in our lager the one evening after he was given a bottle to fill from his vehicle by a soldier who he had thought was unita!!!!
        does anyone have the details about that incident?

        then Lt Meiring and a couple of others were blown up when a mig bombed them while sunbathing at the dam i think at caluec??
        i think 4 died there…..anyone have more on that?

        then the one poor commander got his head crushed by his hatch when they drove under a tree to evade Migs…shit there was always something.

        so incredibly stressful,

        i’d be very interested to hear from some of the other guys who are monitoring this chat….what do you feel about those days?
        i know its not something we want to think about too much, but perhaps its actually therapeutic to some extent to discuss it, my memory is just so full of gaps its like it never happened!


    • The 14th of Feb was the attack on the 59th.
      Nowhere near the Lomba. 1988.
      The battles around the lomba took place several months before.


    • The 14th of February was the attack on the 59th brigade and was nowhere near the lomba. I think that considering most of us where conscripts we did not have a clue to what or where or why we were there.
      The truth is that we were protecting the illegal diamond mines and interests of De Beers.


      • yeah i guess so, i kept a detailed diary which i updated daily so i thought i had it right…but then i was only writing down what we were told at the ops meetings and a lot of that may have been crap! who knows……. we weren’t actually in Angola at all were we????


  5. Hi guys. Cpl Buys (Hans) here. Guess you forgot about us. Nice to hear from you James, Sean & Lt Duncan. Btw.. it was a team effort regarding the T55. Don’t forget about the BRDM.
    diesel bunker and Fapla infantry soldiers.


    • hey Hans, how’re you doing?
      you were a great asset there, as i recall you took over and became 2IC…..those were hectic situations and my mind seems to have completely blocked out all the details????
      what have you been up to?
      Starkey has been in contact recently, he’s a huge mother, very different to the skinny kid who we knew in those days.


    • those were both scary and exiting times for us all, sad as well but we came out od it mostly intact, RIP l/cpl Lecona, we were a good team and as the Ops Medic i was proud of my team. Salute, i would ride with Hans when ever i could get away from the Rinkaals


  6. The SADF did a lot of dirty work for the U.S. in the Angolan war, pity they’re going absolutely nothing for S.A. while the cANCer loots it now.


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