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The Battle of Savate: 32 Battalion's Greatest Operation - Piet Nortje

On 21 May 1980, under the codename Operation Tiro-Tiro, 32 Battalion attacked and routed a FAPLA brigade at Savate, a small Angolan town 75 kilometres north of the border with South West Africa. Fifteen members of 32 Battalion were killed in the action and many more wounded. It was the highest South African casualty rate in a single skirmish since the start of the Border War. Overall, however, Savate was a significant victory for 32 Battalion. FAPLA suffered heavy casualties and the invaders captured a great many vehicles, weapons, ammunition and other equipment.

Operation Tiro-Tiro, or the Battle of Savate as it became known, was the first time the SADF had engaged FAPLA in battle since 1975. And, despite the record number of casualties, it was 32 Battalion’s biggest victory since its formation in March 1976. While the Border War came to an end in 1989 and 32 Battalion was disbanded in March 1993, to this day a remembrance service and parade is held annually on the Sunday closest to 21 May to commemorate the Battle of Savate and to remember 32 Battalion’s victory and the price they paid.

Drawing from official documents in the Department of Defence Documentation Centre that have only recently been declassified and from testimonies of soldiers on both sides, The Battle of Savate is the definitive account of one of the greatest battles of the Border War, describing in detail the operation, its motivation and planning, its achievements and failures, and vividly recreating the experience of what happened on the ground.

Paperback; 304 pages which includes 32 pages of colour photographs as well as detailed maps and copies of the official war diary.



Piet Nortje’s military career began in 1978, when he joined the former SADF Permanent Force. His involvement with 32 Battalion started in the same year, where he rose rapidly through the ranks. In 1984 he was appointed Regimental Sergeant Major of 32 Battalion, the youngest RSM ever in the SADF. Although his involvement with 32 Battalion came to an end in 1988, he continued to serve in the SANDF until his resignation in 2005. He is now a Major in the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and the author of 32 Battalion and The Terrible Ones.

Customer Reviews

Based on 4 reviews
Prof. Pieter G Van Wijk

Well informative reading.

Hilton Ratcliffe
Eyewitness account

Piet Nortje writes very well. The Battle of Savate is to this day shrouded in secrecy and we get conflicting reports from various stakeholders. Piet Nortje, a former RSM of 32 Battalion, was there throughout the action and gives a unique perspective on what was probably the Buffaloes finest hour. For me personally there is a little too much of the goings-on surrounding the operation and the way it was handled, but the vivid description of the actual battle more than makes up for that. Well done on writing an important piece of history, Major Nortje.

Paul Crawford
Fascinating piece of work

What can i say? An incredible piece of work that opens one's eyes to what can happen in the heat of war. Well researched and written - definitely one of the best works that i have read (so far) on the conflict. Piet doesn't pull any punches in this book and definitely exposes a couple of unscrupulous individuals. Was definitely an eye opener for me and worthy of all 5 stars
Would i recommend it ? Definitely !!!!

Warrant Officer Anton W van der Merwe; SAPS: BRIGHTON BEACH
“Kicked the enemy’s Butt”

During May 1980, I was a standard 4 (Grade 6) scholar at primary school, oblivious of what really are going on within the world – not to mention specifically within South Africa, due to the Media censoring / manipulation of the then Government . I become aware of the Battle of Savate, due to the various books that I was reading about the SA Military and some of its military operations. For me as an individual, and I am by no means a subject matter expert, this book is the most informative and objective piece of history available to the general public, especially for those that has an interest in Military history.

This was a classic example of a ‘David versus Goliath Battle” and in French the word SAVATE, means kick boxing, rightly the author also give acknowledgement and recognition, to the soldiers that had been involved within the Battle via the nominal roll and his tribute to the fallen soldiers that has sacrificed with their lives.

Even though that 32 Battalion, had been betrayed by the apartheid government and those in power, no person or power will be able to destroy 32 Battalions legacy, due to authors such as Piet Nortje and others, which refuse to remain silent!!

Rightly so, 32 Battalion “Kicked the enemy’s Butt” I can with all confidence, recommend this book!!


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