Joint South African/Rhodesian Ops & the loss of SAAF Puma 164

It’s not widely known now, but In the late 1970’s the South African Defence Force (SADF) provided covert assistance to the Rhodesian Security Forces for raids conducted against ZANLA and ZANU bases in Angola and Mozambique (Operation Uric and Operation Vanity).

This is the story of the loss of a South African Air Force Puma – 164 during Operation Uric.

Operation Uric (or Operation Bootlace for the South Africans) was a cross-border raid carried out in Mozambique by operatives of the Rhodesian Security Forces during the Rhodesian Bush War, with combat assistance from the South African Air Force. During the operation, which took place from 1 to 7 September 1979, up to 400 Rhodesian military personnel and a small number of South African military personnel (flying Pumas, Canberras, Dakotas and Super Frelons) attacked bridges and a major staging point for Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) insurgents in Gaza Province. The battle eventually drew in elements of the Mozambican army (FRELIMO) and police, who sustained heavy casualties. Along with Operation Miracle, this was one of the largest Rhodesian external operations of the Rhodesian Bush war.


SAAF Pumas taking off during Ops Uric, Rhodesian troops and vehicles seen in the foreground

During the operation, on the 6th September 1979 one South African Air Force Puma helicopter – Puma 164 was hit by an RPG-7 rocket which entered through the open rear sliding door and exploded between the Pilot and Co-Pilot killing all 14 Rhodesian servicemen and the 3 South African Air Force personnel on board. The was the highest loss of life for the Rhodesian Security Forces in a single incident during the Rhodesian War. As the involvement of South Africans in this conflict was quite secretive and could politically backfire on South Africa, the crash site was later heavily bombed in an attempt to cover the South African markings on the Puma helicopter.

The battle resulted in over 300 dead ZANLA and FRELIMO soldiers and a number of damaged bridges, buildings and infrastructure. Politically the operation led to Samora Machel, the President of Mozambique at the time, putting pressure on Robert Mugabe to take part in the Lancaster House peace talks. He wanted to prevent Mozambique from being dragged further into the war with Rhodesia, which had already seriously damaged its economy.

The bodies from Puma 164 could not be recovered during the battle and were never repatriated. Their collective graves have been recently located in Mozambique and appropriate memorial stones have now been placed on all these graves.

The three 19 Squadron South African Air Force crewmen:

Captain Paul Velleman
Lieutenant Nigel Osborne
Sergeant Dick Retief

Five men from the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers:

Captain Charlie Small
2nd Lieutenant Bruce Burns
Sergeant Mick Jones
Corporal LeRoy Duberly
Lance Corporal Peter Fox

Nine men of the Rhodesian Light Infantry:

Captain Joe du Plooy
Corporal Gordon Fry
Trooper Kosie Briel
Trooper Aiden Colman
Trooper Jeremy Crow
Trooper Brian Enslin
Trooper Stephen King
Trooper Colin Neasham
Trooper Dave Prosser

Lest we forget.

Photo courtesy of Frans Botha who is seen here with colleagues from the Rhodesian Security Forces during the Operation, the SAAF Pumas are clearly seen in the background.

Researched by Peter Dickens.  Reference, wikipedia and Colonel Graham du Toit’s daily SADF roll call.

Teddy the Recce

Some units roared like Lions and others literally where Lions and a lot can be said for members of South Africa’s Reconnaissance special forces (or commonly known as “Recce” units).  To celebrate the Recce veterans and their role in South Africa’s protection, here is this stunning image of “Teddy”, the Recce mascot at Fort Doppies.

Terrie was a Cuando lion who held a Recce Operators status and he is seen playing at Kwando River with Obie Oberholster, cira 1980.

To get a full story on Teddy – please visit the South African Special Forces website – here is the link:

Teddy the Lion on the official Recce website

Published by Peter Dickens.  Copyright and big thank you to Obie for the image.

The silent terror of the Angolan Border War

Forgotten to many as to why the Bush War was so closely felt to the South Africans conscripted to fight it, this image illustrates what many conscripts and volunteers felt they where there to do – protect innocent civilians from the ravages of the Angolan war and armed insurgency into South West Africa/Namibia.

A trademark of both the Angolan War and the Bush War was the silent terror of mines, the worst of which is the Anti Personnel Mine (APM). This type of mine is cheap to make can be easily concealed and extensively mined – it has a small charge designed to maim its victim, not kill, simply by blowing off a foot or leg – its design in essense is to demoralise and strike fear into every step.

This picture was taken by a medic whilst they where based temporarily next to the range at 101 Battalion’s Head Quarters in Oshakati during tte ‘9 Day War’ in April 89. This local Namibian child was moving amongst the Ratel Infantry Fighting Vehicles looking for food and entertainment. He remained under the wing of the medics for a couple of days.

Realistically summarised by BJ Taylor who took the photo in light of the frequent sight of such carnage of war on the civilian population as an ‘AP Mine victim, one of many … ‘

Image copyright and courtesy of BJ Taylor.

The Border War & the Lockerbie bombing connection!

You may be wondering, what the heck does the South African Border War on the SWA/Namibia and Angola border in the late 80’s have in common with Pan Am Flight 103 and the Lockerbie bombing?  Well, there is an interesting and uniquely South African connection.

Heralding the end of The Border War in 1988, as part of the pathway to peace, the United Nations pre-empted the process and appointed a Swedish UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson. In the eventuality of South Africa’s relinquishing control of Namibia.

Commissioner Carlsson’s role would be to administer the country on behalf of the UN, formulate its framework constitution, and organise free and fair elections based upon a non-racial universal franchise.

On their way to sign the brokered peace accords to end the Bush War on the 22nd December 1988 in New York, the South African VIP contingent including Pik Botha (the then Foreign Minister) and the United Nations representative – Bert Carlsson all booked their passage to New York on Pan Am Flight 103.  Pan Am Flight 103 was a regularly scheduled Pan Am transatlantic flight from Frankfurt to Detroit via London and New York.

Sadly and very tragically, the UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, was not present at the signing ceremony. He was killed on Pan Am Flight 103 when it exploded and crashed on Lockerbie, Scotland on 21 December 1988 en route from London to New York City – killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew, in what became known as the Lockerbie bombing after large sections of the aircraft crashed onto residential areas of Lockerbie, United Kingdom, killing 11 more people on the ground.


South African foreign minister Pik Botha, and the official South African delegation of 22 members had a very lucky escape. Their booking on Pan Am 103 was cancelled at the last minute and Botha, together with a smaller delegation, caught the earlier Pan Am 101 flight to New York.

Handed over by the Libyans and found guilty,  a Libyan terrorist, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was jailed, the only person to be convicted for the attack. In 2003, Gaddafi, the Libyan despot, accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation to the families of the victims.  However many questions still exist on the motive and responsibility of the bombing – with Abdelbaset al-Megrahi protesting his innocence all the way to his death bed.

With Gaddafi out of the picture now, I guess we will never know the full picture, and a tantalising titbit of a possible International terrorist conspiracy to derail the Namibian Peace Accords and/or deliver a killer blow to South Africa’s National Party elite and their policy of Apartheid will forever remain unanswered.

Pictured left is Bernt Carlsson and right is Pik Botha.

Written and researched by Peter Dickens

End of Soviet Communism signals the end of the Angolan Bush War

Colonel Archie Moore of The South African Defence Force (SADF) leads the joint military monitoring commission on an inspection of the SADF built pontoon bridge crossing the Kavango river .

With him are once enemies from Cuba, the Soviet Union (Russia) and FAPLA . On this day the political and socio-economic landscape in Southern Africa would change forever. The SADF would withdraw, so too would the Cuban, FAPLA (Peoples Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola), and PLAN forces (SWAPO’s Armed wing). South West Africa/Namibia would then implement resolution 435 and the war would come to an end.

The ramifications of the end of the Bush War would have a resounding effect and change the course of history of the sub continent and South Africa specifically.  The war had always been fought on a “Cold War” status – the fight of western styled capitalist democracy (as South Africa viewed itself albeit an Apartheid one) and the spread of Communism.

A number of factors came together to herald the change in South Africa’s disposition to the war, the primary one been the collapse of Soviet communism in 1988, the loss of the USSR satellite states, all cumulating in the collapse of the Berlin wall on November 9, 1989 and the eventual collapse of Russian communist domination in its wake.

This seismic change to global politics encouraged the National Party of South Africa (who were fiercely anti-communist) to review its position continuing the “Cold War” in southern Africa.   The Nationalists where beginning to feel comfortable enough that the stage could be set for a democratic election in Namibia, which would occur not on the back of a Communist backed militant overthrow, but on terms which would not see South Africa fighting a protracted Communist led war on its own border against Cuban and Soviet forces building up in the region.  This fear, not entirely unjustified, fundamentally underpinned most of South Africa’s rational for maintaining the Border War and its interests in Namibia.

The writing on the wall began in late 1987 and early 1988 as eastern Soviet block countries started demanding independence from Russia and the Soviet Union began unbundling, the process for South West Africa’s transition to independence from South Africa also began against this backdrop, and by May 1988, a US mediation team – headed by Chester A. Crocker, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs – brought negotiators from the MPLA, Cuba, and South Africa, and observers from the Soviet Union, together in London.

Intense diplomatic manoeuvring  in the context of the military stalemate of the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale characterised the next 7 months. The parties worked out agreements to bring peace to the region and to enable the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 435.

At the Moscow Summit of leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union in Moscow (29 May-1 June 1988), the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola was linked to Namibian independence. In this way, the Cubans could claim to have played a part in Namibian independence and the dismantling of Apartheid, while the South Africans could claim success in getting the Cubans to withdraw from Angola and the end of the Communist threat to South Africa.

The New York Accords – agreements to give effect to these decisions – were drawn up for signature at UN headquarters in New York in December 1988. Cuba, South Africa, and the People’s Republic of Angola agreed to a total Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola. This agreement – known as the Brazzaville Protocol – established a Joint Monitoring Commission (JMC), with the United States and the Soviet Union as observers, to oversee implementation of the accords.

A bilateral agreement between Cuba and Angola was signed at UN headquarters in New York City on 22 December 1988. On the same day, a tripartite agreement between the MPLA, Cuba and South Africa was signed whereby South Africa agreed to hand control of Namibia to the United Nations.

Funnily, today we look back and view these simple facts which heralded the end of The Border War in a different light, Nambian and South African current governments and many young people preferring to take up the romantic idea that “Apartheid” South Africa was somehow beaten back by the combined liberation forces of Nambia (SWAPO) and South Africa (ANC).  When the truth of matter is that history records facts and to those of us who actually lived through this era and saw this war – these are the facts.

The argument that the battles along the Lomba and at Cuito Cuanavale had somehow taken the fight out of South Africa are simply untrue.  The fact of the matter is that South Africa maintained a military force that constituted a regional super-power with nuclear capability, staunch discipline, highly motivated and highly resourced.  The Nationalist government was a highly conservative, intensely God fearing, belligerent, introspective and aggressive one, and one founded on a history of taking up arms against all odds  – fully prepared to put itself and the country’s military at odds with any adversary, armed with a simple belief founded in 1838 – that God was on their side.

In an unassailable position of power in 1989 with a growing majority white support, the only people who could change the course of the South Africa’s history, dissolve themselves from power and redress the injustice of their policies where the National Party themselves – and as an inconvenient truth goes, that’s exactly what happened.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens. Featured image – Photo copyright – John Liebenberg

Vlamgat ….

Vlamgat – the term the South African Air Force personnel affectionally called their Mirage fighter jets. Vlamgat means ‘flaming arse’ in direct translation – and for good reason.

Here two Mirage III D2Zs, numbers 843 and 849 at the weapons camp in Langebaan in 1985 – one of which is having a ‘wet start’ – where excess fuel in the combustion chamber and tail pipe is burnt off in a phenomenon called ‘torching’ .. a flaming arse indeed.

Photo copyright, thanks and courtesy to Allan Southern

Glossary of South African Military Terms

This is for the benefit of those not always understanding the language of a South African military veteran.  This is a glossary of South African military terms compiled by Peter Dickens, David Kiley, Norman Sander and other veterans in The South African Legion, it is by no means definitive of all the terms used, quite a lot can be happily added and please feel free to notify me of any omissions.

Please note this list contains words that can be judged as offensive and objectionable – however as a historic document to capture the slang and terminology it needs to be as objective as possible.


Aapjas – A long, hooded coat usually with a fake fur lining ( post 1983 issue version ).
Aapkas (1) – metal platform / cage , sited on a radio mast in SWA / Angola ops bases; used as a lookout post / fire director station for base defence mortars.
Aap Kas (2) – also know as the jump simulation cable rig at 44 Para
Aangekla/kla-ed aan – Put on a charge.
AB – Navy.Able Seaman (Lance Corporal)
Adjudant – ( 1 ) commissioned officer appointed as executive officer to unit OC / 2IC .
Adjudant – ( 2 ) abridged Afrikaans form of address for rank of Warrant Officer ( SA Police).

Continue reading

Precision landing with Rudder and Elevators shot away = SAAF Hero!

Now there are pilots with skills and then there are a cut above, this pilot is a cut above. On 1 May 1986, a South African Air Force Dakota while on a flight to Ondangwa at about 8000 ft was hit with a soviet SAM-7 shoulder fired surface to air missile. The explosion ripped off most of the Dakota’s tail. To add additional pressure to the crew, the Dakota was full of military VIP passengers including the Chief of the Army.

Captain Colin Green slowed the Dakota down to 100 knots in order to keep it under control and put in a mayday call. There was a SAAF helicopter in the area which formatted on him and relayed the damage to him. The helicopter crew also took this amazing picture showing the landing.


To note from this picture is that the Dakota has lost all of it’s rudder and both sections of the elevator. This is an unrecoverable situation in most aircraft types and also a situation most pilots cannot recover the aircraft from in any event.

To compensate on the loss of stability Captain Green ordered the passengers around the aircraft to regulate the centre of gravity before going into land. Using flaps and throttle power to control the pitch (up and down) and thus control his decent rate and air speed, he landed it onto the tarmac, ‘greasing’ the centre line in a perfect landing.

Captain Colin Green was later awarded The Chief of the SADF Commendation for his exceptional flying skills.


From left to right:
National Serviceman Private Walsh (loadmaster)
Captain Colin Green (aircraft commander)
Lieutenant Mark Moses (co-pilot)

All Heroes.

Written and researched by Peter Dickens.  Images available on Internet, origin unknown .

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.

Recovering an irreplaceable aircraft – Capt. I.C. du Plessis HC

7 June 1980. The South African Air Force Mirage F1AZ 237 of Captain Isak C. du Plessis on the runway at Ruacana, after making an emergency landing when he sustained substantial battle damage.

His SAAF Mirage was part of a 16 ship F1AZ force attacking a SWAPO base near Lubango in Angola, it was damaged by two SA-3 ground to air missiles. Losing hydraulic pressure, the use of the nozzle flaps and the navigation computer he radioed for aid.

Whilst Capt. du Plessis struggled to keep the Mirage airborne, Captain “Budgie” Burgers flying a Impala as Telstar radio relay for the mission realised that the aircraft would not make it back to its base at AFB Ondangwa.  He used his considerable navigation experience in the operational area to redirect Capt. du Plessis, using bearings, to AFB Ruacana – a closer forward air base.

Capt. du Plessis managed to land the stricken aircraft at the Ruacana forward airstrip located in South West Africa (now Namibia) without the use of the nose-wheel whilst performing a flapless landing.

Capt. I.C. du Plessis awarded an Honoris Crux – 2nd type for bravery in the recovery of an irreplaceable stricken aircraft and airmanship.