SADF Ratel becomes a sea monster!

How this SADF Ratel IFV landed up in the ocean is told by Lt Mike Muller (Translated by WO1 Dennis Green from the original Afrikaans)

“Following the participation by D Squadron, 2 SA Infantry Battalion Group in Ops REINDEER, Maj P.W. de Jager, the squadron commander, thought it a good idea to give the members of the squadron a “day off” along the coast at Wortel about 15 km south of Walvis Bay. The aim was to provide the members with an enjoyable break following the intensive tension of the abovementioned operation.

This leisure day activity of 25 May 1978 was very successful and with the return on Friday 26 May at 07:00, the drama of the “Ratel in the Sea” began. As fate would have it, or rather as normal, four of the six Bedford’s would not start. After a lot of struggle, five of the Bedford’s were started and the NSM were taken back to Rooikop and the Squadron lines. Cpl Grassy Green returned to Wortel with Ratel R27029 to recover the remaining Bedford.

As a result of the loose sand and a sand dune over which the Ratel would have to tow the Bedford, Cpl Green decided to drive along the beach to a point where it would be more suitable to get onto the road to Walvis Bay. Because of certain problems, Grassy decided to stop and the Ratel immediately sunk into the sea sand, lying on its axles and gearbox. A further disastrous problem was that the waves were coming to a stop about 20 cm from the Ratel, and this was at the low point of the low tide. The Ratel was stuck and did not want to move; and the tide was turning. Little did Cpl Green realise this would be the hardest and longest recovery effort that D Squadron ever participated in.

Cpl Kanes returned to the base to get help and at 15:00, he informed Maj de Jager and Lt Muller of the events. Immediately the organising began and at 17:30, Lt Muller moved to Wortel with the other Ratels and enough recovery equipment.

A big shock awaited Lt Muller. The Ratel and the Bedford were standing about 20 metres in the sea, isolated and lonely, while the night, mist and cold approached.

The situation was further complicated in that the waves were almost breaking over the vehicles, the Bedford was almost rolled over a few times. Plans were made and preparations begun to recover the vehicles at the next low tide at 00:30 on Saturday 27 May 1978. Because of the loose desert sand, a hard surface had to be built for the Ratels to stand to recover the vehicles. In the cold, the big sweat began and fifteen members had to work against time to get this ‘road’ ready before the next low tide. During this low tide, these members had only 30 minutes to try to dig open the vehicles, but these efforts were not successful.

At this stage the Bedford was the biggest worry and it was first to be re-covered. This successful recovery encouraged the men. With enthusiasm and courage, the recovery effort of the Ratel began, but the tow cable (folded double) broke like cotton threads each time. At 03:00, the recov-ery effort was stopped and the exhausted members enjoyed bread and wine sent out by Sgt Snyman. Sgt Snyman acted as SSM.

Lt Muller decided that everybody must return to base to go and rest and the recovery effort would be started again at the next low tide. Fate de-cided that it would be misty and during the movement back to base, two more Ratels got stuck in the swampy lagoon south of Walvis Bay. They missed the road by 20 metres. It was decided to rest just there while at 06:00 Lt Muller went to report the situation to Maj de Jager. Calm and collected, Maj de Jager summarised the situation and arranged two re-covery vehicles from 55 Field Workshop.

On Saturday 27 May 78 at 11:00, Lt Muller, accompanied by the recovery vehicles drove out to the Ratel in the Sea. In the mean time, Sers Snyman with two corporals who had not slept yet, Cpls Kanes and Louw, recovered the two Ratels in the Lagoon swamp.

Just before low tide, the recovery personnel arrived at the Ratel in the sea. It was a lovely day, blue skies and the sea was calm and tranquil. It seemed that the water was pulling back further than the normal low tide level. The recovery vehicles and one Ratel were used for the recovery and there were many hands to dig away the sand in front of the stricken Ratel.

The engine of Ratel R27029 switched on as if no drop of water had fallen on it. After a few unsuccessful attempts, during which the towropes broke, the 18 tonner was lifted out of it’s almost water grave. A shout of triumph and victory went up from all the people involved. Satisfied but tired the 20 members of D Squadron returned to base as the leisure day could now be closed.

With this document, I would like to mention the names of those members who participated with good leadership and endurance:
• Sgt W.F. Snyman
• Cpl R. G. Kanes
• Cpl J .F. Louw
• Cpl D.A. Green
• Cpl J .H. de Bruin
• Cpl R. Mosich

NOTE: The consequences of the “Monster in the Sea” for the commander of D Squadron at the officer commanding 2 S A Infantry Battalion Group
are not discussed here, also not the big publicity which it caused in the colourless life of the civilian of Walvis Bay – Maj P.W. de Jager.

What happened on Monday 29 May 1978? Cpl Grassy Green was taken on orders in front of Maj PW de Jager and told to clean the Ratel of all sea sand and seawater.

Cpl Green, with help from the Squadron LWT, stripped the Ratel, serviced the engine, cleaned out all the sea sand and seawater and thoroughly washed the vehicle with fresh water. The only component that had to be replaced was the firing button on the turret hand wheel.

When Cpl Green left Walvis Bay in December 1979, Ratel R27029 was still in use by the Squadron.”

What happened to them?
Maj P.W. de Jager, later Commandant – businessman in Pretoria
Lt MJ Muller = later Col Mike Muller, OC 61 Mech Bn Gp, lovingly known as “Mad Max” – Cape Town
Sgt W.F. Snyman (Kat) = later WO 1 and RSM of 1 SSB and the School of Armour = working in Saudi Arabia
Cpl R.G. Kanes (Robbie) = later WO 2 at 1 SSB and SA Army Combat Training Centre, also awarded the Honoris Crux
Cpl JF Louw (Klagga) = working in Saudi Arabia
Cpl J.H. de Bruin (Johan) crew commander of R27029 = Wing Sergeant Major, Support Wing, School of Armour
Cpl D.A. Green (Dennis) driver of Ratel R27029 = Wing Sergeant Major, Simulator Centre, School of Armour
Cpl R. Mosich (Reinhard) = running a successful game farm in the Erongo Mountains near Omoruru, Namibia

Others involved:
S Sgt F.J.S. Scheepers = later WO 1 and SM of the SANDF
Cpl A.J. Crous (Abé) = later WO 1, RSM of WP Comd Workshop, 1 SSB and the School of Armour = Ceremonial WO, Army Support Base Bloemfontein
Cpl M. Winterbach (Marius) = Owner of a Dry Cleaning firm in Windhoek, Namibia
Cpl A. de Beer (Abrie) = Working in Afganistan

Story, photo and reference thanks to Richard Lambert, article thanks to Mike Muller.

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