The South African Bushwar Page – Did You Know?- Interesting facts about the Bushwar.
SWA: South West Africa, now Namibia.
SWAPO: South African People’s Organisation.
PLAN: People’s Liberation Army of Namibia, SWAPO’s military wing.
SADF: South African Defence Force.
SWATF: South West African Territorial Force, formed by and under SADF control.
MPLA: Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, marxist sponsored freedom movement.
FAPLA: Army of the MPLA.
UNITA: National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, freedom movement supported by the West and SADF.
CIA: Central Intelligence Agency – USA.
ANC: African National Congress, freedom movement, now the ruling party in SA.
MK: Mkontu we Siswe (spear of the nation), the ANC’s military wing.
FRELIMO: Mozambican Liberation Front, marxist supported liberation movement.
RENAMO: Mozambique National Resistance, freedom movement supported by the West and SADF.
FNLA: National Liberation Front of Angola, freedom movement initially supported by the West and SADF, then faded into background.
SAP: South African Police.
PF: Permanent Force member.
1. The SA Bushwar lasted for 23 years, from 1966 till 1989, making it one of Africa’s longest conflicts.
2. The Bushwar was fought primarily in Northern Namibia and Southern Angola. However if the total onslaught against the South African nationalist Government is considered, the conflict could be extrapolated to these theatres of conflict and opposing factions and forces:
THEATRE: NORTHERN NAMIBIA, SOUTERN ANGOLA AND SW ZAMBIA (WESTERN FRONT) This is regarded as the Bushwar theatre of war.
– SADF: Mostly National Service members under PF command, doing duty in the "operational area" of northern SWA (Namibia). Fighting against the Eastern Block and to sustain the then SA Nationalist Government.
– SWATF: Under direct SADF control, formed from the former SWA population, mostly non-white soldiers. Fighting for the same reasons as above.
– Koevoet (crowbar): SA Police special counter-insurgency unit. Fighting for the same reasons as above.
– UNITA: Angolan freedom fighter movement loyal to the West, and openly supported by the SADF, CIA and others. Fighting for a free and democratic Angola. About 50 000 men under arms at the end of the Bushwar, plus a large number of irregulars.
– PLAN, SWAPO’S military wing. Fighting for the freedom of Namibia and to expel SA out of SWA (Namibia). Supported by the Eastern Block and Western sympathisers.
– FAPLA, MPLA’s military wing. Fighting to stay in power in Angola after taking the capital, Luanda and parts of Angola just prior to independance day on 11 November 1975; supported by the Eastern Block.
– CUBANS, commencing with 3000 Cubans arriving in 1975-76, the number rose to 55000 in 1988. A total of approximately 350 000 Cubans did military service in Angola, including Fidel Castro’s elite unit. Fighting to spread communist People’s Revolutions around the world after Fidel Castro’s failure to ignite communist revolution in Latin America. Also surrogate force of the Soviet Union as part of the Cold War.
– Other Eastern Block military advisors and technical personnel from East Germany, China, Soviet Republics, North Korea, etc. Fighting against the West as part of the Cold War.
RELATED CONFLICTS IN THE REGION:
– Harboured ANC/MK loyalists resulting in several SADF Special Forces raids on safe-houses and transit/training facilities.
THEATRE: ZIMBABWE (Former RHODESIA)
– SADF actively supported the minority government of Ian Smith and several SADF soldiers did service in Rhodesia up to democratic elections in 1979. The SADF offered training such as at Artillery School as was observed by the writer. Helicopters, pilots and war material were supplied to Rhodesia.
– Harboured ANC/MK loyalists after 1979, resulting in several SADF Special Forces raids on safe-houses and transit/training facilities.
THEATRE: MOZAMBIQUE (EASTERN FRONT):
– Harboured ANC/MK loyalists resulting is several SADF Special Forces raids on safe-houses and transit/training facilities.
– SADF supported several Rhodesian army raids into Mozambique against the FRELIMO army.
– SADF and RHODESIA supported the pro-western RENAMO rebel group fighting the Eastern Block backed FRELIMO ruling party.
– Harboured ANC/MK loyalists resulting in several SADF Special Forces raids on safe-houses and transit/training facilities.
THEATRE: SOUTH AFRICA INTERNAL (HOME FRONT):
– More and more SADF personnel, together with growing numbers of Police were deployed within SA to protect strategic points, and control riots and civil disobedience in the townships.
– The former Home Lands were particular hotspots and large numbers of SADF members were deployed here together with Policemen, for internal stability control purposes. Anti-apartheid protests in the form of rent-boycotts, school boycotts, mass-action, riots, strikes, bombing, killings, grew in intensity and frequency during the Apartheid years.
(FROM THE ABOVE IT CAN BE SEEN THAT THE SO-CALLED BUSHWAR AND THE OPPOSITNG LIBERATION STRUGGLES COVERED A WHOLE SUBCONTINENT, AND WAS AN EAST-WEST COLDWAR CONFLICT AS WELL.)
3. Contrary to popular believe, most SADF soldiers fighting the Bushwar, were non-white volunteers, with as much as 60% by the closing years of the war.
4. The most feared and renowned SADF unit was 32Bn (The Buffalo Battalion) made up from former mostly Angolan FNLA soldiers and white SADF officers. The unit was reputed for its success in counter-insurgency and semi-conventional warfare and took part in most battles of the bushwar.
5. The South African Police had one of the best counter-insurgency units called "Koevoet" (Crowbar), achieving a kill rate of 25:1, much higher than the 11:1 SADF average of the Bushwar. Its members were mostly black Namibians with white SAP officers. Its success can largely be ascribed to the excellent tracking skills of the Ovambo trackers deployed to find and follow the spoor (tracks) of insurgents, and by using the Casspir mine-protected vehicles capable to bundu-bash through most obstacles and keep its occupants safe even during a double anti-tank mine blast. Coin-ops tactics included running on the spoor (track) while flanked by the Casspirs, and leapfrogging a few kilometres ahead to find the spoor, thereby accelerating the pursuit.
6. Other special coin-ops units included 31 Bn (Bushmen Battalion) consisting of Koi-San (Bushmen), a cavalry unit on horseback, and a motorcycle unit on off-road scrambler motorbikes.
7. During the Bushwar the SADF suffered 1791 casualties (combat and all other accidents), while SWAPO lost an estimated 11400 guerrillas in combat. Casualties of the total Bushwar for the other forces mentioned above, and civilians, runs into several hundred thousands.
8. During Operation Savannah in 1975, Task Force Zulu, swept through southern Angola a total distance of 3000km in 33 days!, while fighting the opposing MPLA forces. Ops Savannah was the first of many cross border attacks by the SADF into Angola.
9. Operation Reindeer in 1979, was one of the largest Airborne assaults since WW2, with SADF paratroopers attacking the SWAPO/PLAN training camp in Cassinga (Codename Moscow), killing about 600 insurgents, and wounding more than 200. It was estimated that about 3500 insurgents were in the camp on the day of the attack. A Cuban armoured column trying to interfere, was stopped by the anti-tank platoon stoppergroup armed with RPG7’s and mortars. Mirage III’s and Buccaneer aircraft from the SAAF strafed the armoured column as well. About 150 Cubans were killed, 4 tanks, several APC’s and trucks destroyed. Simultaneously the SAAF bombed SWAPO forward bases codenamed "Vietnam" nearer to the SWA border.
10. Other large semi-conventional Operations were Smokeshell (June 1980), Ops Protea 1981, Ops Modular (1987), and Ops Hooper in June 1988. Ops Hooper culminated in one of the largest conventional warfare clashes seen on the African continent, with the FAPLA/CUBAN Brigades no.’s 16, 21, 59, and 47 advancing on the UNITA stronghold at Mavinga, southern Angola. The relatively small SADF intervention force came to the rescue of UNITA by pinning the FAPLA/Cuban force down at Cuito Cuanevale, and virtually wiping out 47th Brigade on the Lomba river.
11. One of the longest "Escape and evade" actions by a SWAPO freedom fighter was recorded by a Koevoet unit, when during June 1986 Zulu-Four-Sierra and Zulu-Four-Echo Koevoet units picked up a spoor (track) of 2 guerillas north of the cutline near Handabo in Angola. They tracked them south over the cutline, where one turned north back into Angola. The other one headed south, putting considerable distance between himself and the Casspirs every day. They chased him for 5 days, calling helicopter gunship support in the afternoons as the trackers could detect from the spoor that he was near. He managed to remain undetected and the trackers found no signs of sleeping places, and it appears he kept going for 5 days without sleep. Abandoned hypodermic syringes frequently found on his tracks suggested he injected himself with benzedrine or something similar to keep awake. Placed were found where he collapsed from exhaustion, dragged himself to a tree, pulling himself up and continuing. Eventualy they lost his spoor on the Chandelier Road and it is suspected he was picked up by a car. The have tracked him for 368 km’s, which must make it one of the longest Escape and Evade actions in military history. In early 1987, Zulu-One-Juliet captured an insurgent in the Eenhana area. It emerged that he was the one they chased for 5 days mentioned above. He was the Recce Commander of PLAN’s Charlie detachment in the east. Three days later he volunteered to change sides and joined Zulu-One-Juliet. He turned out to be a brilliant tracker and anti-tracker. (Covert War, p 259-260, Peter Stiff).
12. The Bushwar accelerated military technology development in SA, and combined with international sanctions against SA, lead to the development of unique and advanced hardware:
– A vast range of Mine Resistant Vehicles such as the Hippo, Swerwer, Buffel, Kwevoel-series, Casspir, were developed and widely regarded as the best of its kind in the world. Some are now used many years later; by coalition forces and security companies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
– Development of the G5 and G6 artillery systems, being the first in the world for a 155mm system to breach the 40km range with consistant accuracy. The latest models are achieving ranges of 70kms!
– The SADF took a decision in the late 1970’s to opt for wheeled vehicles instead of tracked vehicles. African conditions of vast distances, thick bush, loose sand, are more suitable to wheeled vehicles. It lead to the development of the Ratel ICV, the world first wheeled ICV -not APC (as opposed to earlier APC’s such as the Saracen and others), highly mobile 6×6 wheeled G6 155mm artillery system – another world first. The Rooikat 8×8 light "wheeled tank" or armoured reconnaissance car followed towards the end of the Bushwar and was too late to see action.
– The 2nd Army in the world to introduce frequency hopping radios.
– The worlds first operational helmet slaved Anti-Aircraft missile (V3A, V3B and Kukri), which automatically follow the pilot’s line of vision.
– Development of "smartbombs" such as the Raptor1 and Mupsow, of which an early prototype destroyed the Cuito Cuanevale bridge in 1988.
– The development of the Rooivalk attack helicopter, now in use by the SANDF, but to late to see service in the Bushwar.
– Development of the camera/imagery pack (Helio) on RPV’s such as Seeker I, and now widely used internationally on reconnaissance and traffic helicopters, UAV’s, etc. (Round ball shaped gyro-stabilised unit).
– SA developed 7 nuclear bombs by the end of the 1980’s as a deterent should the military situation worsen. After the end of the Bushwar, it voluntarily dismantled the nuclear bombs, and terminated the nuclear arms program. SA still is the only country who ended its nuclear arms capability voluntarily.
13. The Bushwar was fought over vast distances, requiring light and mobile forces to operate with little logistical support. It became a subsequent case study used by the USA and others to model its "light and mobile" forces of the 1990’s and beyond. The terrain is mostly covered by featureless and flat bushland, making navigation on ground level very difficult. These were the days before GPS, and even compasses were not accurate due to magnetic interference in the soil substrata. The soil is mostly loose and sandy. Thick bush is encountered along rivers and the further North or East one goes into Angola. Some areas have open savannah, while rocky and hilly terrain is predominant along the western part of the Angolan/Namibian border. The environment ranges from the Namib desert in the west, semi desert in the centre of the common border area, to savannah and dense bush towards the Caprivi strip.
14. The Namibian/Angolan front strecthed over a distance of 1600kms. It is equal to the distance between London and the Lithuanian-Belarus-Ukraine Border; or London and the Algave in Portugal, or London and the North-African Coast. Long distances, sparse population, water scarcity, flat featureless terrain, loose sand and dust, thick bush, all made warfare very difficult.
15. Cuba was the largest supporter of the Marxist MPLA Government in Angola and supported its FAPLA army with as many as 55000 Cuban soldiers, military advisors, etc. by 1988. More than 350 000 Cubans did military service in Angola during the Bushwar. The Soviet Union, East Germany, North Korea, also provided military support. Most FAPLA and Cuban weapons were supplied directly from the Soviet Union, and included some advanced equipment such as T62 tanks, MIG 23 Fighters, and advanced AA missile and radar systems. Some international defence publications called the AA and Radar system deployed in Southern Angola in 1987-88, the most advanced and comprehensive outside the Easten Block.