The ‘Fog of War’

The term ‘Fog of War’ is defined as ‘uncertainty in situational awareness experienced by participants in a military operation’.  It can manifest itself at the time or even many years after the action has taken place.  This deeply tragic account of the loss of a SADF Ratel Infantry Fighting Vehicle, containing two members of the same family’ illustrates this ‘fog’.

The incident

14 Feb 1988: Four Members from B Company, 1 SAI including two Cousins who acted as the MAG Machine Gunner team, were Killed in Action in South Eastern Angola during a contact with elements of the 59th FAPLA Brigade during Operation Hooper. The B Company, 1 SAI troops had not klaared out (demobilised) prior to deployment for Ops Hooper so they became 61 Mech Battalion Bravo Company Element. These troops swopped over with B Company 4 SAI and were operating as part of 4 SAI during this attack as part of 61 Mechanised Battalion.

Their Ratel (Honeybadger) Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), Callsign 22C was hit on the left hand side and knocked out by a ZU-23-2 Soviet 23mm Anti-aircraft gun deployed in the ground role. On the right hand side where the Groenewald Cousins had been sitting, a large hole was ripped out of the vehicle. It appeared that the Ratel had also been struck at some point by a South African 105mm discarding sabot anti-tank round, thought to be fired from an SADF Olifant tank.

The 105mm discarding sabot round’s entry can be seen on the top below the second rifle port with the distinctive “star” penetration.

The ‘blue on blue’ debate

There is much debate which surrounds this image and the ballistics in the veteran community, some thoughts are that the 105mm discarding Sabot round made the big hole on top left (the fins made the star pattern) and the three discarding pieces from the Sabot could have made the other three holes to the below right. Others maintain the additional holes came from the enemy 23mm AA gun. Whilst others have proposed that it was all enemy fire and possibly the distinctive ‘fin’ penetration came from a Soviet 100mm T55 6 wing sabot based on the ballistics.

SADF 105mm Discarding  Sabot (left) and ZU-23-2 Soviet 23mm Anti-aircraft Gun in a ground role (right)

At the time the SADF published this as enemy fire and did not make reference to a  “blue on blue” incident – a blue on blue is a term used for ‘friendly fire’ when forces mistakenly shoot, target or bomb their own forces (this may possibly have been in the interests of moral of both Olifant tank and Ratel IFV crews) and reported it as enemy 23mm fire only. Accounts from the 22C Ratel driver and members on site after the incident point to a SADF “blue on blue” from a SADF Olifant (Elephant) Tank involved in the formation attack on enemy armour and positions, a ‘V” formation in which Ratel 22C took part.

Such is the “Fog of War” and incidents like this leave a very big lump in veterans throats. In any event, whether enemy fire, friendly fire – or both, the brave men who fell in this  Ratel are honoured on the roll:

In Remembrance 

84269315BG Corporal Jan Hendrik Kleynhans. He was 19
85263262BG Rifleman Andre Schalk Groenewald. He was 18.
84358266BG Rifleman Pieter Henrich Groenewald. He was 19.
84477751BG Rifleman Vincent Vernon Nieuwenhuizen. He was 19.

May they rest in peace and never be forgotten.

Researched by Peter Dickens with references from a number of Border war forums and Graham Du Toit.

6 thoughts on “The ‘Fog of War’

  1. Although the memories tend to become more vague over time the guys we lost do not and still tends to bring a tear to my eyes. I was involved in ops modular and my friends drove in and handed over that very vehicle 3 months earlier. ( I was
    4 SAI 23)
    From experience friendly fire is a lot scarier because you know you can’t shoot back and during the heat of battle commands of cease fire seem to take an eternity.


  2. i can very well believe the friendly fire theory may be true, i was in 31A on the other side of that formation on valentines day ’88 and the visibility was minimal in that bush line, with the light fading and plenty of enemy tanks racing about trying to get away from our sudden advance over the “shona” anything could have happened……after being trained on the “DeBrug” rolling grasslands it was a crazy crazy battlefield.
    we were lucky to avoid becoming another casualty on our side when a T55 missed us twice from around 50m as we drove past in front of it and we didn’t have a clue till the unita guy on the back of my Ratel tapped my helmet with a stick and pointed it out.

    as i recall there was a Leutenant Reynolds who got quite badly injured in an Oliphant also by friendly fire that evening , also on the left flank of the box formation we were deployed in.
    does anyone know what became of him?
    the word was that his tank became the first SA tank to be lost in battle in Angola.

    i wonder how much of what wee were told was true or just what command wanted us to believe.


  3. Tragic, I was with 4 sai callsign 12. I think it was during the same attack that one of the tanks in front of us was shot out. I was a gunner so saw it from my periscope. The crew bailed out and our c section drove up to get them inside. The incoming artillery and direct fire was intense. For some reason the co of the tank ran out back to the tank to turn off its motor. As he climbed aboard the tank cooked off and he was blown off. Rumour has it that it was also a blue on blue. That bush was so thick that even when one was drawing fire one could not determine where it was coming from. Our ratels were riddled with holes, especially the soft points like our stores on the back. I can still remember the popping sounds of projectiles going on all around us and the burping sounds of those 23mm. I used up all my ammunition and then had the patmoor crew handing my their ammo from the back.


  4. I was there the day they died. A piece of our hearts lost but our spirts lives on forever. Victory, Victory because without Victory there’s is no survival.

    Bravo compony, 1 SAI / 61 MEC 1987/1988

    Your brother in arms, gunner callsign 21 rifleman Michael Dippenaar 19


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