Into Angola - Operation Reindeer

Death in the Desert: The Namibian Tragedy

Chapter 13

By Morgan Norval

Copyright 1989 Published by: Selous Foundation Press, Washington DC

ISBN: 0-944273-03-3 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 89-62602

NOTE Page numbers appear between [square brackets] at the start of the page. Footnotes appear in red, and appear at the end of the chapter, although in the original book they appear at the foot of the page in question.

[125] Operation REINDEER, the first crossborder operation launched under the new South African policy of hitting SWAPO sanctuaries in neighboring Angola, was really three separate attacks linked only by timing and overall purpose.

They were: an airborne assault on Cassinga, some 250 kilometers inside Angola; an overland assault on a series of SWAPO bases near Chetequera, twenty-five kilometers north of the Angolan border; and a helicopter-borne sweep through a series of small SWAPO bases seventeen to twenty-one kilometers east of Chetequera.

Overall command of REINDEER was under Maj. Gen. Ian Gleeson (now Lt. General and Deputy, SADF). The operation was unique not only because it marked the first under the new South African policy, but because it also featured the first true airborne assault ever carried out by the SADF It also marked South Africa's entry into modern mobile warfare. The operation became the testing ground for new equipment and tactics from which valuable lessons were learned and put to use in the future.

The small Angolan mining town of Cassinga was a tempting target. It had become SWAPO's main operational headquarters in southern Angola. There was also a large training complex that could hold up to 1,000 terrorists. The guerrilla base had a large motor pool, headquarters buildings, shops, parade ground and an extensive defensive system of trenches.
Even though SWAPO claimed the complex was a refugee camp, the large amount of war materiel captured and destroyed, the documentary proof seized proving its military nature, and aerial photographs of the network of defensive trenches and fortifications, showed that SWAPO's claim was an outright lie.


The destruction of the complex at Cassinga would not only damage SWAPO's operational ability, but would give the organization's image a severe jolt as well.
Tempting a target as it was, there was a major tactical problem-it was located deep inside hostile territory. A conventional attack would have been infeasible. The attackers would have to fight their way some 250 kilometers through hostile territory which would give SWAPO time to evacuate the base and move out of harm's way. The only way to attain surprise and catch the enemy at the target was to strike with airborne troops.

The obstacles to overcome were daunting and required a high degree of calculated risk: if the attack were successful, it would be virtually impossible for the lightly-armed paratroopers to fight their way south to Namibia; they would have to be withdrawn by helicopters.

The South African Air Force helicopter fleet is small both in size and numbers of aircraft. The bulk of the job would have to be done by Pumas, which could carry only ten troops at a time. The helicopters would also be vulnerable to both ground fire and air attack and in Angola there were plenty of Cuban-piloted MIG-21's which would be around to prey on the choppers.

Another danger to be considered was the fact the Angolan Army (FAPLA) had a force, equipped with tanks and armored personnel carriers, based at Techamutete only sixteen kilometers south of Cassinga. The lightly-armed paratroopers would face a formidable problem if this FAPLA force were to come to the rescue of its Marxist comrades in Cassinga.

In spite of all this, the overall plan of REINDEER included an airborne attack. The plan included Cassinga because the SADF considered the gains to be worth the considerable risks involved. Destroying the main SWAPO operational base would hamper terrorist operations in Namibia for a long time; it would deal a blow to SWAPO's image and morale; and it would yield an invaluable harvest of intelligence material.

Since Cassinga was so far north of the border, the SADF planners reasoned that SWAPO would consider it to be almost immune from attack, especially an airborne assault. Thus, the attacking force would enjoy and be able to capitalize on the benefits of complete surprise.

The planners presented the pros and cons of the Cassinga attack to General Magnus Malan (then Chief, SADF), who thought long and hard on the matter before giving his okay.

The principal aims of the attack were to kill or capture the SWAPO commander at Cassinga, Dimo Himambe and as many of his staff as possible; to kill as many SWAPO terrorists as possible; to capture some terrorists for interrogation; destroy all ammunition dumps, equipment and weapons; and [128] to capture important documents, especially those showing Soviet links to SWAPO.

Speed was the criterion-a rapid attack followed by a swift withdrawal.

The man chosen to lead the attack was one of South Africa's most illustrious soldiers, Colonel Jan Breytenbach, who would retire from the Army in 1988 as South Africa's most decorated soldier.

In a twist of irony, Breytenbach's younger brother, Breyten, living in exile in Paris, is a Marxist supporter of the Marxist anti-South African terrorist group, the African National Congress (ANC).

The plan called for the attack to be carried out in several phases starting with an extensive aerial bombardment. After this, the paratroopers would launch their airborne assault. Part of the group would land west of the town and attack from the west. Other elements would land outside of and around the town to seal it off and block any reinforcement attempts or by SWAPO to escape the fate planned for them.

After completing their mission the troopers would be lifted-off by helicopters operating from a nearby temporary forward base set up twenty-two kilometers east of Cassinga.

To cope with any unexpected problems and to provide cover for his troops and the withdrawal helicopters, Breytenbach had at his call jet fighters and close air support bombers of the South African Air Force.

The whole operation from attack to withdrawal was optimistically estimated to take two hours. Estimates and plans were one thing, reality turned out to be something entirely different. The venture started out almost disastrously for the South Africans.

At exactly two minutes after eight in the morning of May 4, 1978, the South African Air Force commenced its pre-assault aerial bombardment on Cassinga. With accurate bombing and strafing of the terrorist camp with 30mm cannon, the opening salvo of the attack went off according to plan.

Explosions rocked both the town and the terrorist camp. Large parts of the terrorist camp were engulfed in flames, sending dense billowing clouds of' smoke and dust into the air. The aerial bombardment had come as a complete surprise and the way was open for the paratroopers to begin their assault.

The paratroopers were all hooked up and ready to jump from their C130 Hercules aircraft as they approached their drop zones. So far everything was on schedule for the 8:06 a.m. jump.
Finally the green lights flashed in the planes, signalling the troopers it was time to go. They shuffled to the doors of their aircraft and launched themselves out into the air. Strings of billowing khaki-colored parachutes formed behind each departing aircraft. The airborne attack was under way.


At this moment, fate reared its ugly head and things began to go wrong.

The dense smoke pouring from Cassinga had caused some of the pilots to miscalculate their release-point and the paratroopers were sent out the door three seconds late. Three seconds may not sound like much, but it can be a long time in an airborne assault. It was especially critical at Cassinga where the drop zone was only 450 meters wide and restricted in length by a bend in the winding tributary of the Cubango River that flowed by the town.

To add to the problem, the paratroopers had jumped into a strong, gusting wind of over thirteen knots. It was pushing them even farther away from their drop zone. Few of the paratroopers landed anywhere near their designated targets. Some landed across or even in the river and those who managed to land on the right side of the river were much further south than they should have been.

It looked as though a first class disaster were in the making for the airborne assault force deep inside enemy territory. A determined counterattack by SWAPO at this point could have rolled-up the South African force. Such an attack, however, required bold, decisive leadership and SWAPO's commander, Dimo Himambo, had fled the town after the initial aerial bombardment. Without this leadership, SWAPO missed a golden opportunity. Instead they ran to their defensive positions and waited there for the South Africans.

It was obvious to Breytenbach that the original plan was coming unhinged. He regrouped those men he had with him, modified his assault plan and waited for the men who had landed on the wrong side of the river to cross over and rejoin his force. One thing was certain, it was going to take longer than the two hours the original plan called for to take Cassinga.

Reorganizing his forces, Breytenbach and his men began the nasty job of clearing the town of its SWAPO terrorists.

Much bitter fighting followed, especially in the elaborate SWAPO defensive trench system, before the town was cleared and secured at a little past noon.

Now it was time to call in the helicopters and withdraw, some three hours behind schedule. SWAPO had other plans, however, and asked for the armored column to come from Techamutete to counterattack the South African forces.

An armored column led by five T34 Russian tanks and BTR152 armored personnel carriers, all manned by Cubans, the Angolan government's Praetorian Guard, rushed towards Cassinga.

Part of the South African paratroopers had been sent south of Cassinga [130] as a blocking force astride the Techamutete road to prevent enemy reinforcements from coming to the aid of Cassinga. This force was just a small anti-tank platoon. Fortunately for them, while their buddies were busy in Cassinga with SWAPO, they had time to prepare their hasty anti-tank defenses as best they could, laying mines and siting their anti-tank rockets. It was fortunate they took these measures, even though they were under equipped to stop the armored column.

As the column approached, the BTR152s spread out on either side of the road in attack formation. Moving north towards Cassinga, they ran into the mine field. This slowed the column down and the South Africans blasted away at them with anti-tank rockets. The combination of the rockets and anti-tank mines destroyed five BTR-152s and one T 34 tank. More importantly, it temporarily halted the advance of the armored column. But not for long, as the T -34s resumed their steady although slower advance north.

The anti-tank platoon was ordered to withdraw as help was on its way from the South African Air Force. The Mirages and Buccaneer aircraft of the air force pounced on the column wreaking havoc on it as it had no anti-aircraft defense. The air attack stopped the armored column dead in its tracks on the outskirts of Cassinga just in the nick of time.

At 5:45 a.m., two Puma helicopters had departed from Omauni base in Namibia and flew towards the location some twenty-two kilometers east of Cassinga where the forward helicopter base would be established. From there they would carry out the withdrawal of the paratroopers from Cassinga. Having made sure the area was clear, the leader of the group radioed the Ondangwa headquarters, giving the all clear signal. At 7:00 a.m., fifteen helicopters left Omauni for the forward base carrying a forty-two-man security element for the temporary base, a medical team and drums of extra fuel. After they arrived and set up a defensive perimeter, all they could do was wait until the call came to extract the troops from Cassinga.

The first call came, three hours late, about noon. It was for a med evac to bring the wounded back to the forward base. There they would be sent to Eenhana in five helicopters.

The helicopter's second mission was rougher. Under heavy fire, it snatched the anti-tank platoon from the face of the armored column and carried them safely back to the forward base.

With air cover provided by the air force's Mirage jets, the rest of the evacuation proceeded smoothly. Troops were already being ferried from the forward base back to the Eenhana base in eastern Owamboland and safety.

Finally, at 7:00 p.m., the last elements left the forward base to return to Namibia. 

[131] The battle at Cassinga was over and an almost disastrous start had been turned into a daring major victory for South African arms. Cassinga cost the South Africans three known dead, one missing and presumed dead, and eleven wounded. According to SADF sources at least 600 SWAPO terrorists were killed, and another 340 wounded, while the armored column's losses were sixteen dead and sixty-three wounded.

The first phase of REINDEER was over.

Chetequera was not in Cassinga's class as targets go for it consisted of little more than a collection of bush huts surrounded by trenches. Its garrison was a lot smaller than Cassinga, but it was, nevertheless, an important target. In spite of its unimpressive appearance, it was one of SWAPO's main supply depots and the headquarters for terrorist operations in Western Owamboland.

Just south of Chetequera were a series of SWAPO bases known as the "Dombondola Complex." They were located only six to ten kilometers north of the Angolan border. SADF intelligence estimated that these bases had about 570 well-armed SWAPO terrorists.

After a pre-assault aerial bombardment, a battle group made up of mechanized infantry and armored cars would assault Chetequera. The base would be attacked from the rear, captured and destroyed. After destroying the bases in the "Dombondala Complex," the battle group would then head back towards Namibia.

The battle group, code-named 'Juliet,’ was made up of officers and men from 2 South Africa Infantry Battalion group based at Walvis Bay. It was under the command of Commandant (now Brigadier) Frank Bestbier, another wily experienced South African infantry officer.

Chetequera was to be the debut for the Ratel, the South African developed infantry fighting vehicle. This new weapons system could carry a squad of men into battle protected by its armor from enemy small arms fire. It could do more than ferry troops into battle. It had a turret-mounted 20mm cannon that could give direct fire support to the troops on the ground. (Later models of the Ratel would carry a 90mm gun or an 81mm mortar, but the first model used in REINDEER carried only the 20mm cannon.)

Other vehicles were the mine-proof infantry carrying Buffel and the Eland-90 armored cars. The Elands were a version of the French Panhard AML-90, were built in South Africa and adapted to function in the bush wars of the region.

Juliet's task was to cross the Angolan border south of Chiambo, advance north while keeping to the east of the "Dombondala Complex," until it reached the road linking Chetequera to Cuamato. Here the battle group [132] would assemble in battle formation, wait for the softening-up aerial bombardment and then attack Chetequera.

The target was almost completely surrounded by a system of trenches. However, the trenches were more extensive to the south of the target, indicating SWAPO expected any attack to come from that direction. Juliet's attack would be from the north at the rear- the weakest point.

While Bestbier's group was taking care of the primary target, Chetequera, two completely separate units were to attack directly north over the border and take care of SWAPO bases south of the object of Juliet's attention. These two groups, originally called Combat Team 1 and 2, eventually became known by the names of their respective commanders-Serfontein and Joubert.

On paper the plan seemed simple. The Angolan terrain, with its thick bush, soft sand, flat, featureless and devoid of recognizable landmarks, plus the resistance by SWAPO, all would combine to make Juliet's task anything but a cake-walk.

Although neat lines drawn on maps indicated the presence of "roads;" all too often they were nothing more than rutted paths through the bush. Leaving these vehicle-bashing "roads" and traveling cross-country was of no help. It subjected both vehicles and occupants to punishing jolts and jars. It was over this type of terrain Juliet had to pass in order to successfully carry out its mission. The operation would be a test of both human and mechanical durability.

At 10:00 a.m. on the morning of May 4, 1978, Juliet crossed the Angolan border. Almost immediately Angolan terrain started taking its toll on the column as the paved road in Namibia ended and the rutted dirt tracks of Angola began.

The dirt track over which the group was traveling was taking a terrific pounding from the heavy vehicles. Every so often a vehicle would bog down in the sand. In some places the sand became so soft that only by towing could a stranded vehicle get free. Adding to the difficulty was the fact that most often it had to be done by sheer muscle power.

Because of the delays the group was falling well behind schedule. Nevertheless, Juliet pressed on through the thick bush, arriving at the assembly area only ninety minutes late.

This delay caused the opening air attack to be moved back from noon until 1:15 p.m.
However, the SAAF Canberras and Buccaneer bombers were a further fifteen minutes late and their attack didn't get started until 1:30 p.m.

The planes made their bombing runs and clouds of smoke rolled up and, as one participant said, ". . . it looked as if the whole base was on fire . . . ."1

[133] The air force spectacular pyrotechnics, notwithstanding, Bestbier had a problem which further delayed Juliet's assault. His forward air controller could not contact the aircraft because of problems with his radio. Juliet could not press home the attack until Bestbier was certain the air bombardment was over. The resulting five minute delay gave the SWAPO defenders time to recover their wits and man their defenses. This, no doubt, was a factor in stiffening their resistance when the attack finally began.

At last, the attack began, and the leading element ran into another problem. The "open" ground over which they were supposed to be attacking was actually a maize field of flourishing growth some two meters high. Faulty visual reconnaissance had failed to spot the field. It obstructed their view of the target at Chetequera. The attack was slowed up and couldn't be carried out as planned.

Other elements in the group ran into the same problem. The tall thick bush and high maize fields severely restricted the Ratel's and the armored car's observation and fields of fire. In addition, the attack was coming under heavy fire from the SWAPO defensive positions who were wildly shooting at any movement in the bush and maize fields caused by the passage of the South Africans.

The situation, although not developing according to plan, was not out of hand and Juliet stormed into Chetequera pressing home its infantry assault. The assault was not the rapid movement one would normally expect from a mechanized force. The dense bush had not only slowed the vehicles down but forced the assault troops to attack in an improvised on-the-spot manner that caused much confusion among the attackers. To add to the muddle, numerous vehicles got bogged down in the trench complex around the base.

Command and control became increasingly difficult and the fighting quickly evolved into a series of separate vehicles fighting their own individual battles at close quarters as part of a general melee in the thick bush.

In spite of the stiff enemy resistance, and the obstacles-both manmade, the trench and bunker complex, and natural, the thick bush, maize fields, soft sand and tall anthills-the assault took only eleven minutes.

Meanwhile, other elements of Juliet also moved through the objective area, clearing the trenches of SWAPO in short, sharp firefights using grenades and small arms fire.

While the trenches were being cleared, the assault unit regrouped and commenced mopping up operations. They soon realized there were still a lot of terrorists who had survived both the initial bombardment and the ground assault.
Some sharp fighting remained to pry out and destroy the SWAPO [136] fighters from their defensive positions.

At last the shooting died down as almost all the terrorists were either killed or surrendered. Some lucky few managed to slip away in the thick bush and hide. By 3:30 p.m. all resistance had ended. Juliet forces then quickly cleaned up the camp to collect enemy weapons, documents and equipment. A significant haul was taken back to Namibia with the column, while the rest were destroyed in place.

As soon as Bestbier got the reports from all the units in his command, it became clear that Juliet had won a big victory A total of 248 SWAPO terrorists had been killed and 200 were taken prisoner. Juliet's losses had been two killed and ten wounded.

By 4:00 p.m., Juliet had completed mopping up of SWAPO and reconsolidation of the battle group forces. The original operation plan called for Juliet to head back towards the border and attack a SWAPO base at Mahama before setting up defensive positions for the night, still in enemy territory.

The operation was now so far behind schedule that Maj. Gen. Gleeson ordered Juliet to forego the attack on Mahama and set up its night defensive positions. Juliet was to proceed towards the border the next day, linking up with Combat Team Joubert on the way

After leaving Chetequera, Juliet moved south down the road towards the border before pulling off and setting up defensive positions for the night. Perimeters were set up, sentries positioned, weapons cleaned, rations were opened to feed the hungry troops; then the battle-weary, grime-covered troops got some well-needed rest.

Combat Group Joubert's operational plan called for the Group to cross the border and advance due north and attack the SWAPO base at Chatua. If necessary, Joubert could call on support from Combat Group Serfontein, if Chatua proved to be too tough a nut for Joubert to take out on its own.

Combat Group Serfontein's operational plan required it to cross the border and advance due north for four kilometers. Depending upon the situation, it would either assault the SWAPO base Dombondala 2 or support Combat Group Joubert's assault on Chatua. If Joubert's group didn't require their services, Serfontein's group would attack Dombondala 2, destroy it then and attack SWAPO bases at Dombondala 1 and Haimona.

Due to the unexpected heavy resistance encountered by Juliet at Chetequera, Maj. Gen. Gleeson's headquarters at Ondangwa considerably modified both groups' plans.

On D-day, South African artillery shelled the SWAPO bases at Chatua and Dombondala 1 and 2. As soon as the bombardment stopped the two [137] combat groups crossed the border and headed for their objectives.

Serfontein reached its first objective, Dombondala 2 and found the base deserted, with a large amount of weapons and equipment left abandoned by the terrorists. It was obvious SWAPO had pulled out in a hurry Serfontein's men collected the arms and ammunition, then burned the base to the ground.

This done, Serfontein was ready to carry out the rest of its mission when headquarters canceled it. This ended the group's participation in the operation.

Combat Group Joubert's operation got off on the wrong foot. First of all, for unknown reasons, it crossed the border two and a half hours late and then proceeded to get lost. It found itself approaching the target from the wrong direction. To correct this error and still carry out the mission, would require swinging the group around as they passed close by the target. To reduce the risks involved in this maneuver, Joubert intended to call for an artillery barrage on the SWAPO base. Joubert hoped this would keep the terrorists pinned down while his group executed the swing around the base.

Unfortunately, the barrage never materialized, due to a communication's breakdown. The maneuver had to be executed without the artillery support. Lady Luck smiled on the group as SWAPO neglected to take any action against it.

Once in position the group attacked the SWAPO complex. An infantry assault, supported by armored cars, rolled over the base. A short, but fierce, fire-fight in which eight terrorists were killed, broke the SWAPO resistance. Within thirty minutes Joubert secured the base and seized large amounts of arms and ammunition.

As night was approaching, headquarters ordered Joubert's group to dig in for the night in positions northeast of Chatua. After an uneventful night, Joubert left for its rendezvous with Juliet, which was working its way south towards the Angolan-Namibian border.

At 10:00 a.m. both forces reached the border and the second phase of REINDEER had come to a successful conclusion.

The unique South African 32 Battalion would carry out the third phase of REINDEER, a series of heliborne attacks on the SWAPO base complex, the Omepepa-Namuidi-Henhombe group, located seventeen to twenty-one kilometers east of Chatequera.

An aura of mystery and intrigue surrounds this elite SADF unit which grew out of the chaos of the Angolan Civil War of 1974-76, when remnants of Holden Roberto's National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) lost out in a three-cornered struggle after the Portuguese pulled out.

[138] The arrival of Cuban troops and Russian advisors coupled with the curtailment of US aid to pro-Western factions in Angola allowed the Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) to seize power in Angola.

Fearing retribution from their enemies the MPLA, hundreds of FNLA members fled southward to escape the firing squads they rightly believed awaited them.

As the South Africans were withdrawing from Angola because of the political fallout resulting from Operation SAVANNAH, a problem arose: what to do with the FNLA refugees? There was no place of refuge left for them in Angola, and they had no hope of mingling with the southern Angolan tribes since they were all Bakongo from the extreme north near the border with Zaire.

The South Africans, recognizing the determination and fighting spirit of these refugees, retrained, re-equipped and formed them into a battalion led by SADF officers and a sprinkling of regular SADF NCO's. The battalion's first commanding officer was none other than Col. Jan Breytenbach, the leader of the airborne assault on Cassinga during REINDEER.2

The South Africans kept the unit's existence secret until 1981, and then the public was only told that it existed. This was certainly no news to anyone who had served in the operational area fighting SWAPO terrorists. Even today, 32 Battalion still shrouds most of its operations in secrecy. It is considered to be one of the best counterinsurgency units in the world.

Even at its inception in 1978, 32 Battalion was an outstanding unit. Under its second commanding officer, Commandant (now Brigadier) Gert Nel, months of continuous counterinsurgency operations in the vast, trackless bush in the operational area had bloodied and tempered the unit.

Now it was 32 Battalion's turn to do its part in REINDEER.

D-day for Nel's troops was May 6, 1978, by which time all the troops involved in the other two phases of REINDEER had returned to Namibia. Nel would have five rifle companies, an 81mm mortar platoon, and a troop of 140mm artillery guns to carry out his mission. Helicopter gunships would provide his air support.

His operational plan was simple: between D-day and May 10th, four of his rifle companies would cross the border and supported by the artillery and helicopters, attack and destroy one SWAPO base after another.

At 4:15 a.m. on D-day, 32 Battalion crossed the border and headed [140] towards the first target, Minguita. At 8:30 a.m., the force made contact with SWAPO at Minguita. The troops attacked and SWAPO abandoned the base and fell back to Namuidi, about four kilometers to the west.

The battalion pressed on but was forced to spend the night in the bush before taking on Namuidi. By noon the next day, the battalion had taken and destroyed Naumuidi. The force advanced towards its next target-Omepepa. Night again came before they could assault the SWAPO camp.

The next day (May 8), Nel's men launched a heliborne assault on the camp and in short order not only was it destroyed, but two others in the vicinity of Onelumona were sacked. They then advanced on Henhombe, but discovered no SWAPO presence there. However, at nearby Ohaipeto they discovered and quickly destroyed two SWAPO camps.

On May 10th, Nel's forces quickly rolled up a series of SWAPO camps among them Hangadima, Mamuandi, Bau, Namine and Tecole. By early afternoon, 32 Battalion had finished their mission and were enroute back to Namibia. By 4:00 p.m. all of its elements were back across the border. Operation REINDEER was over.

What had REINDEER accomplished? The South Africans had destroyed SWAPO's main operational planning base, and numerous other SWAPO facilities in southern Angola. The loss of these facilities seriously disrupted SWAPO's forward staging capabilities and made their job of supporting terrorist operations in Namibia much more difficult.

Some 1,000 trained SWAPO terrorists were killed and a further 200 captured compared with the loss of six South Africans killed and thirty wounded. Of equal importance to the loss of SWAPO's manpower and equipment was the intelligence gained on the organization. It would be of great help in carrying out future counterinsurgency efforts against the terrorist organization.

The loss of large numbers of trained personnel was a brutal blow to SWAPO. In fact SWAPO has never been able to fully recover from this even to this day. This has forced SWAPO, while deploying its terrorists, to mix their surviving trained personnel with larger numbers of raw recruits. This led to an overall rapid decrease in efficiency. At the end of 1979, SWAPO losses, averaging ninety a month, were higher than their recruiting rate. This was causing an overall net loss of manpower for SWAPO. Fewer terrorists meant fewer incidents which hindered SWAPO's revolutionary program and enabled the South African counterinsurgency program to pick up steam.

REINDEER showed that not only were the South Africans capable of conducting deep incursions into enemy territory, but more importantly, they were willing to do so. This forced SWAPO to move its main planning and [141] operational headquarters much deeper inside Angola. That had further adverse effects on their command and control capabilities.

SWAPO learned some bitter lessons from REINDEER. They discovered their bases, modeled on those of their East Bloc instructors, with barracks, parade grounds and elaborate trench systems were like dinosaurs in the bush, easily spotted and vulnerable to mobile assault. SWAPO soon tried to hide their bases by putting them underground and attempting elaborate methods of camouflaging their presence.

SWAPO also moved their bases closer to those of the Angolan Army, hoping that the FAPLA presence nearby would act as a deterrent to future South African attacks.

As far as the South Africans were concerned, REINDEER was a success and had given invaluable battle experience to the SADF It was the first of many cross-border operations which would take the war to SWAPO in its own backyard.


1 Steenkamp, op. cit., p.109.

2 For a more detailed history of 32 Battalion, see: Breytenbach, J., Forged in Battle, Saaymen & Weber, Cape Town, 1986.

@ A Forgotten War
@ No more heroes
@ What happened to the boys on the border?
@ In conflict

@ Death in the Desert: The Namibian Tragedy Chapter 6
@ Chapter 7
@ Chapter 12
@ Chapter 14
@ Chapter 15
@ Chapter 16
Chapter 18
@ Chapter 19
@ Chapter 20
@ Chapter 21

@ Civil supremacy of the military in Namibia



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