The book is a detailed historic document, merged with many personal comments from combatants as extracted from their own diaries. It gives the reader dual insight into the reality on the ground, and the bigger forces shaping the battlespaces. I have distilled eight conceptual lenses that give insight.
(1) PLAN Aggression. SWAPO’s armed wing – PLAN – had become increasingly aggressive. During 1982 they launched a major offensive, striking deep into what was known as the Death Triangle in northern SWA, triggering Operation Yahoo. The scale of this infiltration was unprecedented. PLAN took on 61 Mech, evident when a Ratel was ambushed, killing 8 of the occupants. This constituted a threat.
(2) SADF Response. A decision was made to launch an offensive strike, to disrupt the PLAN capability. PLAN infiltrations coincided with the rainy season to retain tactical advantage.
(3) Timing. As a direct result of the above, the SADF doctrine had to be adapted. The timing of Askari had to occur during the rainy season.
(4) SADF Battle Readiness. While the SADF was a sophisticated army, it had limitations. Given that the extent of PLAN incursion into SWA, the vehicles had been driven hard. The turnaround time at the technical workshops was insufficient to make good on all repairs and equipment shortages. When vehicles were issued for Askari, many were not fully combat ready. Some of the Ratel 20’s did not have cocking levers, which affected the training.
(5) Clash of Cultures. The SADF was a conscript army, with a small contingent of PF members, mostly in leadership and technical specialist positions. The bulk of the force consisted of young NSM, who rotated through the SADF in cycles timed with the university academic year and needs of the national economy. The timing meant that the most combat ready NSM intake could not be used. The next intake had not yet completed their training cycle. In order to bridge this gap, CF soldiers were used. There is a cultural difference between NSM under the command of a small PF team, and CF soldiers under command of competent but part-time leadership teams.
(6) PLAN Tactical Adaptation. PLAN bases had become decentralized and often protected by FAPLA forces. This lesson was learned during Operation Skeptic. Askari can be thought of as Skeptic on steroids because the PLAN bases were well defended, but also widely dispersed. This negated a single strike along a clearly defined axis of advance. Askari had no frontline, and no single point of focus, because the targets were scattered, camouflaged and well defended. This challenged command and control in a featureless landscape with dense bush limiting visibility. This also accentuated the cultural differences between the NSM and CF components of the total combat force.
(7) Mechanized Tactics. The lessons learned during Skeptic were not applied in Askari. The response to the deployment of ZU23’s in a ground defense role, honed to perfection within 61 Mech, was to avoid a full-frontal assault by exploiting the mobility of the Ratel to avoid carefully prepared arcs of fire. In addition to the ZU23 batteries, defenses were augmented with T55 tanks, dug into hull down positions, but capable of reversing out to launch a flanking movement.
(8) Command and Control. Given the rotational cycles, noted above, the JL component of the NSM force was clumsily dealt with. They were literally marched out of their command positions without warning and replaced with different leadership. This influenced morale. Command and control was exacerbated by the decision to give overall command to a CF officer, who was busy with civilian duties during the critical planning phase. Subsequently there was a different tolerance for risk between these force elements.
Through the lens of these eight themes, it is evident that Askari was a pivotal operation of great importance. It can be regarded as the transition from unconventional to conventional warfare, and an escalation from battalion level to brigade level deployments. The lessons from Askari became crucial in informing the changes that had to be made during the big operations that culminated with the defeat of the 47th Brigade at the Battle of the Lomba a few years later.
The book reads well and shows deep insight for those interested in understanding the ebb and flow of campaign level actions. As such it earns itself a worthy place on the bookshelf of any Bush War enthusiast and military collector.
Dawid het regtig sy beste gegee - ek het 'n redelike goeie idee wat sy stryd was om alles te koördineer. Die "joernaal" konsep het so baie van ons geleentheid gegee om persoonlike bydraes te maak. Daar is baie herinneringe en emosie in hierdie skrywe sigbaar...
Baie dankie Dawid!
The book gives a person back the old memories of the actual war that happened as part of the war section leader A company platoon 1
Book was delivered very fast - happy with service
Excellent insight of what happened. Some of the leadership was just out of touch. I think there are many more that could have contributed.