Episode 105 – Citizen Force ou-manne train for the third Battle of Tumpo while Russians drink rice-vodka to forget
The weary 61 Mechanised battalion had withdrawn, the men exhausted after 4 months of shifting about and fighting FAPLA, while their equipment was in worse shape.
By 13th March the tattered 20 Brigade of which 61 Mech was part had arrived back at Rundu across the Kunene River and for the third and final attack on the Triangle, Pat McLoughlin had returned command to Colonel Paul Fouche.
IF you remember last episode, he’d been sent back to the Republic to try and drum up another Brigade which he’d found difficult. So he’d turned to the ou-manne - the campers or the Citizen Force as it was known.
Fresh troops were brought in from South Africa, mostly from 82 Mechanised Brigade and this would be the first time since 1984 that the Citizen Force would furnish most of the troops of the upcoming Operation Packer.
When you hear the makeshift formation you’ll understand that this operation was not going to be easy for any commander, however motivated the men were. The reality was these were soldiers who were part-timers, they may have been excellent as National Servicemen, but now they were back in civvie street, mentally they had to now contend with wives and children far away, they were accountants and teachers.
Helping Fouche put together a viable force was commandant Gerhard Louw, the tank and armoured car instructor at the South African Battle School based at Lohatla in the northern Cape.
The haphazard nature of Pretoria’s tactical planning and strategic understanding of how the fight a mobile war with tanks and infantry in thick bush was going to upend another group of tough South African soldiers. The Generals who were now interfering in all decisions, along with Cabinet members, were a hindrance to the officers on the ground, at least according to their accounts.
The West Bank of the Cuito River was bristling with artillery of all kinds, massed in places to provide truly phenomenal fire-power. There were batteries of the D-30 122mm guns, M-46 or 130mm heavy artillery, BM-21 122mm rockets, and BM-14 140mm multiple rocket launchers.
Protecting these from the Recces and SADF forward Artillery observers, A battalion of 36 Brigade was stationed between the Cuito and Cuanavale Rivers to protect the Angolan artillery from the Recces and SADF forward Artillery observers, while another battalion from 36 Brigade had moved west of the Cuito River.
Russian advisors were making a big difference by now, along with the Cubans. They were adding a great deal of skill to FAPLAs basic fighting capacity.
They’d shown the Angolans how to survive being hit by an anti-tank mine by leaving the hatches of their armoured personnel carriers open. Battening down the hatches meant that the blast wave inside the vehicle had no-where to go and flattened those inside.
“If you leave it open, you might get away with concussion and perhaps some shrapnel wounds…” wrote translator Igor Zhdarkin. They had taken to brewing rice vodka and the Russians said afterwards they’d listen to the Voice of Moscow, Voice of America, BBC and the South African Broadcasting Corporation - the SABC.
They spent a lot of time drinking, as Russian advisor Vyacheslav Barabulya explains in the book Bush War published in 2007. They were experiencing daily bombardments by the SADF artillery and said that they’d managed to tap into the almost 100 percent proof alcohol used in the Pechora anti-aircraft system.