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Ops Askari was a large-scale, cross-border, mechanised operation launched by the South African Defence Force in November 1983. As is the nature with an assault like this, the constituent parts of Ops Askari was a complex blend of fighting men and support personnel from different Defence Force corps and combat disciplines. This account does not strive to recount the exploits of all these different elements in all their various facets. The focus is a rather narrow one. It is the story of five disparate, yet very similar, groups of young men who took part in this great raid into enemy territory against a superior force holding most of the battlefield aces.

These five groups feature in this story for one reason: they all took part in the two attacks on a rickety little town in Angola called Cuvelai, on the 31st of December 1983 and again on the 3rd and 4th of January 1984. They only formed part of a much larger effort. The entire force is the subject of a number of books, but in this account the focus is on the five groups which I call the “Spine of Delta.

The first of these groups was a company of National Servicemen, known as Alpha Company (A Coy,) hailing from 1 South African Infantry Battalion (1 SAI Bn) in Bloemfontein, 1983. I was their captain, and it was my privilege to be their company commander from March 1983 right through the training phases and for the duration of Ops Askari.

Then there was Delta Company (D Coy,) also NSM from 1 SAI. They formed part of 61 Mechanized Battalion Group (61 Mech Bn Gp) during Ops Askari.

Also from the 1983 intake in 1 SAI was an 81 mm mortar platoon from the unit’s Support Company, a young squad who fought courageously as part of The Spine during the hectic final five-day struggle for the occupation of Cuvelai. 

The fourth element was also trained at 1 SAI Bn but during operations it did not deploy as a group. These men were Ratel drivers allocated where they were needed. They were fondly referred to as Digue's Platoon, named after their indefatigable platoon sergeant, Pierre Digue . This platoon participated as drivers for “The Spine”. These four bands of comrades shared their military roots, all being trained at 1 SAI in 1983.

There was, however, a fifth and quite different group. They weren’t national servicemen at all, but students from four University Military Units; from University of Pretoria, University of the Free State, University of Stellenbosch and Rand Afrikaans University. They had already completed their two years' commitment as NSM and were civilians once more. During the university recess they had the option to volunteer for deployment as individuals or as a group from various Citizen Force (CF) Regiments.

This book is mainly a compilation of their stories; of the reminiscences of those young national servicemen from Alpha and Delta Companies, 1 SAI; the 81-mm Mortar Platoon from 1 SAI by way of 4 SAI, Middelburg; Digue’s Platoon, officially the Chief of the Army’s Platoon of drivers, and the valiant students from Tuks, Kovsies, Maties and RAU.

With 63 black and white photos from the operation and the authentic war journal by Ian Scott from the University of Pretoria Military Unit.




Customer Reviews

Based on 11 reviews
Joseph Goosen
5 star gold

The book gives a good idea of the actual contact with the terrorists/opposition on company and bataljon level.As one of the section leaders of A company platoon 1 -1sai (4sai) actual contact with the enemy on platoon and section level more description and photos required.This book takes you back 35 years on memories of the actual war at cuvelai in Angola.Great book.

Hilton Ratcliffe
Errata in my review

In my review of Spine of Delta (below), I mistakenly referred to the author, Lt Col Dawid Lotter, as Major Lotter. I apologise for my error, and hope that readers of my review note this correction.

Hilton Ratcliffe
Major Lotter is a soldier's soldier

When I started reading the book, I wasn't comfortable with the style - passages of text interspersed with lots of quotes from troops and officers who took part in Ops Askari - but by the time the book got past the preparations and into the action, I was thoroughly enjoying it. Maj Lotter comes across as an honest soldier with great concern for his troops. He includes quotes that are critical of him, and leaves it to the reader to decide. The book hides nothing, and covers some aspects of Ops Askari that have raised controversy ever since, for example the poor condition of their equipment (a single cocking ratchet had to be shared between four or five Ratel 20s), the desperate advance on Cuvelai, ringed with minefields and defended by T55 tanks, and the so-called "mutiny" of the Campers because of the battle conditions and poor or absent leadership element. The descriptions of the battle by Maj Lotter and other men who were there on the day are at once deeply touching and very informative. Whether you are a military historian or a Bush War veteran, you will find this book of great value. Well done, Major Lotter, and well done the troops who fought at Cuvelai.

Chris Kruger

Service excellent.

Warren Biddle

Great service


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