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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.




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