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This is the second volume of the 61 Mechanised Battalion Group’s project to increase the accessibility of former members to specific episodes in the regiment’s history. It deals mainly with 1981’s Operation Protea, but also covers the other related operations which took place in that time-frame – Daisy, Yahoo, Meebos 2, Phoenix and Dolfyn. 

As with the first book in this project, The Battle for Smokeshell, this volume is based mainly on the appropriate chapters in the regimental history but incorporates some interesting new items of information which were not available when Mobility Conquers was published in 2016. 

Operation Protea was a landmark in the inexorable escalation of the South West African/Namibian counter-insurgency campaign. Firstly, the SADF and SWATF were involved in direct clashes with FAPLA, the Angolan regime’s conventional forces, with which SWAPO was now so deeply intertwined that it was no longer possible to distinguish between the two; and secondly because at its conclusion the South Africans decided to break with the practice of previous operations and remain ensconced in Angola’s Fifth Military Region for an indeterminate length of time. 

Radical though this about-turn was, it was not motivated by a wish to become enmeshed in that country’s ongoing civil war but was reluctantly deemed necessary to inhibit SWAPO operations south of the international border. Whatever the motivation, Protea marked the start of South Africa’s periodical interventions in the Angolan fighting which did not end till the final ceasefire in 1989. 

Protea was a larger operation, in several ways, than is often realised today. Numerically it was certainly unprecedentedly large, the equivalent of a brigade-sized force. It was also larger in the sense of its sheer diversity of race and culture. It is quite possible that no other fighting force in Africa had ever consisted of such a mixed bag of humanity. 

Some of the participants were South Africans; some were Angolans who had thrown in their lot with the South Africans after the end of Operation Savannah five years earlier and were formed into 32 Battalion; the soldiers of 101 Battalion were Ovambos from South West Africa; the men of 31 Battalion were Angolan Bushmen who had sought refugee after many decades of marginalisation at the hands of their black fellow-countrymen. 

They spoke a veritable kaleidoscope of languages: English, Afrikaans, Portuguese, several Bushman and Ovambo dialects, and sometimes a weird mixture of all of these which was often virtually unintelligible to anyone except themselves. All they had in common was their rigorous training, their combined experience and the will to win, the single most important ingredient in the make-up of the fighting soldier. 

Almost all of these men fought in the context of their own units, but not all. Due to circumstances, for example, Combat Group 20 was composed of attachments from a variety of sources, some arriving at virtually the last moment. It is commonly agreed that it takes time for a new unit to settle down into fighting condition, but 20 achieved this desirable state in a question of weeks or less. It is a telling example of how elements of several corps could be forged into one entity, with links so powerful that for years after Protea the veterans of Combat Group 20 - formed in haste, thrown into battle and disbanded equally rapidly – were still meeting for annual reunions.

Softcover, 382 pages

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