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The attack on Ongiva, Part 4

Operation Protea A ‘Groundshout’ system was used in the time during Battle Group 20’s attack. The message broadcast to the enemy through the huge loudspeakers was to stand and fight as the opportunity to flee had passed. This was designed as a follow up to the thousands of pamphlets dropped over Ongiva on the night of 25-26 August 1981, after the successful attack on Xangongo.

Combat Team 20 attacked the positions south-east of Ongiva on the afternoon of 27 August 1981, but encountered nothing except abandoned equipment.

Large numbers of local population were encountered on the objectives by all the combat teams during the attack, because the Ongiva objectives and the headquarters complex were in a black township which was crammed with houses and cultivated areas of the local population. After the attack commenced, it became apparent that the local population, especially women and children, were taking refuge in the bunkers. This created an especially dangerous situation for them as the standard way of dealing with a bunker was to throw in a grenade! Immediate adjustments to the procedure had to be made to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties. All South African troops were warned to be cautious and the ‘Ground-shout’ system was used to warn the local population about the dangers and to urge them to come out and gather at the tarred road. The local population responded positively to this appeal and many unnecessary casualties were avoided.

By 14h00 on 27 August 1981 the assault of Battle Group 20 was completed and a protective base could be established.

Battle Group 30 could now proceed with their attack on the town of Ongiva itself…

As the attack proceeded, the Electronic Warfare Team reported the presence of panicky Russians that were extremely concerned about the situation developing in Ongiva.

Commandant Serfontein’s Battle Group 30 encountered many mines and heavy resistance, particularly from enemy tanks. A combat team from Battle Group 10 had to be brought in as reinforcements to counter the tanks. The counter-attack by T-34 tanks were brought under artillery fire from the 120mm mortars of 43 Battery, firing White Phosphorus bombs, hitting one tank directly, but with little effect. The arrival of the Ratel-90s from Battle Group 10 saved the day.

The medium battery of 140mm guns under Battle Group 20 was placed in support of Battle Group 30 for this phase. This change in affiliation led to an unfortunate incident in which a correction given to the 140mm battery resulted in a round landing on own troops, killing four.

Battle Group 30 was unable to take the town before last light, with the result that they withdrew to a distance from where they could dominate the target area by observation and by fire.

On the night of 27 August 1981, Battle Group 20’s Combat Team 30 spent an uneasy night on the Ongiva airfield, with Combat Team 10 to the north-east of the airfield and Combat Team 20 to the south-east of Ongiva on the road leading to Omupanda. Combat Team 50, which helped Combat Team 30 take the airfield, reverted back to its role as Task Force Reserve.

The men of Battle Group 20 were exhausted and very worried about what the new day of 28 August would bring…

At first light on 28 August, Battle Group 30 resumed their attack on the town of Ongiva. At 08h05, six Impalas each armed with four 250kg bombs attacked the last remaining strong points in Ongiva. No AAA fire was drawn as enemy resistance had finally been broken.

Battle Group 30 found the target area was abandoned during the night and could immediately start clearing up the town. Large quantities of food were found, most of which were already plundered by the local population. The situation was so bad that Battle Group 30 had to safeguard the bank and confiscate the money, handing it to civil affairs personnel which, in turn, with intelligence personnel, used the money to reward locals for information supplied. The food stocks were rationed fairly among the local population and medical assistance provided both inside and outside the hospital. There were a number of wounded civilians, approximately 30, that had to be evacuated to the medical post for further medical attention.

A convoy of over 20 vehicles had escaped to the north and ran into an ambush on the road to Anhanca about 15 kilometres from Ongiva. The ambush was prepared by the 110 men of C Company, 32 Battalion, under the command of Lt. Thinus van Staden. They were part of Battle Group 60, which was tasked with blocking the escape routes to the north. The convoy stopped about 100 metres in front of the stopper group and two Mirages were called in to attack the convoy. However, the two groups were too close to each other for safety, so the strike was called of. This allowed a number of vehicles to escape past the stopper group through the bush. These vehicles were found by a Bosbok reconnaissance aircraft which called in two Impalas. When the Impalas ran out of ammunition, they were replaced by four Alouette gunships from Ionde, and another three from Task Force Alpha. Between them the Impalas accounted for one vehicle, the Alouettes twelve and the ground forces three. This included two T-34 tanks and several BTR armoured personnel carriers.

It turned out to be a historic confrontation as four Russians were killed (two men, both Soviet lieutenant colonels, and two women) and a Soviet sergeant-major captured. One of the women was the wife of the 36-year old captured sergeant-major, Nikolai Pestretsov.

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


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