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The attack on Ongiva, Part 3

Operation Protea Combat Team 30’s attack on the Ongiva airfield on 27 August 1981 was reinforced by the Task Force Reserve comprising of two anti-tank troops of Ratel-90’s and a mechanised infantry company of Combat Team 50. The two troops of Ratel-90s were grouped with the five armoured cars (2 Eland-90s and 3 Eland-60s) of Combat Team 30 and deployed on the right flank of the combat team’s motorised company, which started the attack on the airfield from the north on the eastern defences of the airfield. The mechanised company of Combat Team 50 was to attack the airfield from the north on the western part of the airfield, once the motorised company had swung towards the west moving along the southern side of the airfield to neutralise the anti-aircraft weapons thought to have been deployed between the Mongua road and the airfield.

The motorised company stepped out of their Buffels and advanced on the airfield with Platoon 1 to the left and Platoon 2 to their right, followed by the Combat Team headquarters and Platoon 3. Their right flank was covered by the thirteen armoured cars/Ratels that formed a fire support group to the north and centre of the airfield. Indirect fire was provided by a fire group of 81mm mortars deployed 200m behind their forming-up place.

Forming-up was made difficult by some desultory indirect fire drawn from the FAPLA positions, probably intended as counter-battery fire against the mortars.

Despite some radio communications problems with the attached Ratels (them being on a different radio net), the fire support group moved forward first and started firing at point-targets on the runway, while Platoon 1, with fire-support from Platoon 2, moved towards the wire surrounding the airfield. They were to take out a SA-7 position on the eastern side of the airfield, which turned out to actually be a double-barrelled anti-aircraft machine gun. They made contact with FAPLA infantry in trenches north of the wire, but soon cleared that out after killing two while the rest fled eastward.

Reaching the wire, the anti-aircraft position was destroyed with a RPG and the wire cut so that Platoon 1 could pass through and, with fire-movement, attack across the runway. Four dead were found at the anti-aircraft position while the rest of the FAPLA defenders had fled towards the south. Very little further opposition was encountered.

All three platoons consolidated at the south-western corner of the airfield for Phase 2 and the direction of the attack turned west Platoon 3 moved towards the west along the Mongua road while Platoons 1 and 2 thrust towards the airport buildings, expecting to draw fire from the three identified anti-aircraft positions any time. They only drew some inaccurate indirect mortar fire , during which one man was wounded, and reached the buildings without incident. As they reached the western end of the buildings, Platoon 3 drew fire from trenches to the southwest of the airfield, and all the platoons assaulted the trenches using fire-movement. The position was taken by Platoon 3, but got pinned down by heavy fire from trenches further to the west. As Platoon 2 moved through the three positions where the anti-aircraft weapons were expected, they reported that they found nothing. Platoon 3 reported that they had passed through three abandoned anti-aircraft positions to the south of the Mongua road, indicating that the intelligence on the positions of these weapons had been completely wrong.

Platoon 2 was ordered to join up with the fire support group to the north of the runway because they had not yet made contact with the enemy. However, as they crossed the landing strip they made contact with FAPLA infantry in trenches north of the western end of the runway. They were unable to link up with the armoured cars and Ratels of the fire support group due to the different radio net, and also got pinned down, losing two men killed.

The combat team commander was unable to communicate with both groups at the same time and thus were unable to get the fire support group to move to support Platoon 2 directly. However, the fire support group was delivering a heavy fire on anything they could see and Platoon 2 was able to withdraw to a safe distance to allow the attack of Combat Team 50 to proceed. Unfortunately they had to leave their dead behind. The two bodies were later recovered by Combat Team 50’s ambulance.

Platoon 1 was ordered to move south to start clearing up the trenches from the south. However the trenches stretched to some 2 kilometres south of the road and Platoon 1 also got pinned down before they could do so. They did get far enough so that they could give Platoon 3 fire support and Platoon 3 could withdraw and reorganise after the FAPLA infantry started evacuating their trenches in the south-west by fleeing southward.

Because the mechanised infantry of Combat Team 50 was already formed up for their attack from the north, Platoons 1 and 3 could not exploit the advantage to attack the fleeing enemy due to safety concerns about friendly fire from Combat Team 50. They had to content themselves with firing at long distance…

In the meantime the Buffels, ambulance, and recovery vehicle of Combat Team 30 were under constant indirect fire and took some casualties, when 5 men were wounded and a Eland-60 armoured car of the support troop destroyed (call sign T34D).

While Combat Team 50 cleared up all opposition in the trenches on the western side of the airfield, Combat Team 30 had to withdraw in bounds of 800-900 metres, every time drawing heavy indirect fire, so that they were unable to evacuate the wounded by helicopter until they were 5 km away and having waited for 5 hours…

From the Officer Commanding Battle Group 20’s Summary of Events for Operation Protea.


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