Operation Savannah – the Troops’ Diaries Vol 1 & 2 Bookset
Much has been written about Operation Savannah by politicians, historians, academics, generals, and senior officers. Those perspectives were not always shared by the very young men who were involved at the front. Many of Operation Savannah’s veterans have struggled to share their experience, even with family and friends. Most of the men who went into Angola had signed documents as voluntary mercenaries, sometimes under duress, and were bound by a so-called “Official Secrets Act” which forbade them from discussing the Operation. Many could also not discuss their war, as the reality appeared too farfetched and would be perceived as exaggerated.
Operation Savannah and the Border War have been incorrectly labelled as an “Apartheid War” by those with a specific agenda. The fact is that Angola was the “African Front “of the Cold War being waged between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies, the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc. For the entire duration of Operation Savannah and the Border War, white SADF troops fought alongside the pro-western black African troops from Angola and Zaire, against the pro-communist Angolan MPLA, their Cuban Allies and Soviet advisors.
A group of over 600 veterans who were involved in the Savannah War in Angola 1975 – 1976 came together on a FaceBook group “Operation Savannah- The Secret War” started sharing their stories. Over time, a desire developed to share the truth of what happened in Operation Savannah from 9 August 1975 – 27th March 1976. Young boys, straight out of high school, were conscripted and drafted into the South African Defence Force to undergo compulsory military training. What they did not know at the time, was, within a few short months, they would be in a war deep inside Angola fighting the MPLA and Cuban forces at the request of the USA, via their CIA operatives. Our troops were offered payment by the CIA but never received a single cent.
These young boys, who became men overnight, were issued foreign uniforms and weapons and fought their way deep into Angola. This was the start of the Angolan Civil War that would last from 1975 to 2002. Although the average age of our conscripted National Servicemen was 18 years, some were only 17, too young to vote or to go into a bar, but old enough to fight a war. Many heroic acts by these men have never been acknowledged or rewarded, simply because Operation Savannah was not a publicly sanctioned operation, as those that followed. Savannah should not have been called an Operation, it was more a campaign, which lasted almost six months.
Having been issued with foreign uniforms and told to deny that they were part of the SADF, our men were no longer under the protection of the Geneva Convention, as war had not been declared. If captured, they could have been classified as mercenaries and have faced execution. Some were captured and held captive with other foreign mercenaries, some of whom were eventually executed by firing squad. The South African government of the day initially denied their involvement in Angola to the world. These young men’s military dog ID tags were removed as well and were replaced with a sequential book number. They had nothing on their persons which could identify them. For all intents and purposes, they did not exist.
Later on, during the operation, others were issued dog tags with a number and blood group only, still no identification. As the battles raged deep in Angola, our troops could listen on their SADF radios to our politicians denying the SADF presence in Angola. On their return from the Angolan war, many of our National Servicemen soldiers were badly treated by the SADF. They never received any counselling or recognition, while most of the career officers had themselves decorated. Many efforts to afford our brave young men recognition and be awarded the Pro Patria medal (with Cunene Clasp), to which they are entitled, have constantly failed, due to apathy in both the SADF and the new SANDF.
Deeds of bravery performed while under enemy fire were documented and have been found in declassified documents. Some of these and other event were not documented but witnessed and narrated by brothers in arms, have seen worthy Honoris Crux recipients being sadly overlooked. Operation Savannah veterans are extremely angered by this lack of recognition, made even worse by the fact that the military veterans’ organisations, specifically the Savannah Bond, have not made a concerted effort to remedy the injustice. It can still be done, and we call on them to facilitate the process.
These National Servicemen were part of the “Advance” that penetrated deep into Angola. They were replaced in January 1976 by their older Citizen Force colleagues, who facilitated the “Tactical Withdrawal” when the promised support from the CIA did not materialise.
Without continued support from the USA or the Western World, it would have been near impossible to match the sophisticated Soviet arsenal and the over 36 000 Cuban troops that arrived in Angola, during Savannah. Operation Savannah highlighted our outdated equipment, and this set the SADF on a renewal program, which resulted in South Africa developing as a highly sophisticated armaments manufacturer. Some of the new locally developed military hardware became world leaders in their class. The Ratels, G5 and G6 howitzer, Valkiri multiple rocket launchers, Buffel and Kwevoel armoured vehicles, are but a few of the many developments that facilitated a very proud SADF history, and were decisive in the final showdown, which started a decade later. Still “work in progress”, this is our First Edition of Operation Savannah – The Troops’ Diaries. The individual stories of our brave young soldiers follow.
The Troops’ Diaries are first-hand accounts from the actual veterans themselves, written in their own words. Keep in mind these youngsters were thrown into a war in a foreign land not knowing where the road would take them. Unlike the officers, the troops did not need to record dates and place names. You, the reader, may notice discrepancies in place names and dates. We decided not to alter their recollections as we wanted this work to remain authentic and untainted by historians and tag-along authors who were never there.
Compiled by Gert Hugo, Kevin Bowden, Eugenio Marsicano & Hilton Ratcliffe
THE BOOKS CONTAIN STORIES IN AFRIKAANS.