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Winding up

Operation Protea By 12h08 on 28 August 1981, Ongiva was secure, though surrounded by enemy minefields and booby-trapped trenched, bunkers and buildings which still had to be cleared. The FAPLA tanks had been of little use as they were dug in with restricted trajectories facing south, and the attack was launched from the north.

All the combat teams of Battle Group 20 started clearing the areas they had attacked. Magazine upon magazine of ammunition stores were emptied, and tons destroyed. Vehicles were recovered and those that were too badly damaged, were destroyed. Trenches and bunkers were either filled in or booby-trapped.

After the attack on Ongiva, Battle Group 20 could move on to Omupanda, Namacunde and Santa Clara. In the process the battle group captured some 30 tons of food and 20 tons of medical supplies at Namacunde. A huge depot containing 400 000 litres of fuel was found on the outskirts of Ongiva. All the vehicles of the battle group could fill their tanks and the rest was destroyed. Securing the route to the border post was a mere formality and the border post was reached by 15h00 on 28 August 1981, which opened up the road to Ondangwa.

During this time the Ongiva town management had to be re-established. The water and electricity supply, transport, hygiene and hospital services had to be restored, aspects that few of the battle group’s staff were trained or prepared for. However, they made the best of the circumstances and gained a lot of experience. The water supply, hospital services and food supply was established in a very reasonable time.

While the bulk of Battle Group 20’s tasks have been completed, the rest of Task Force Alpha and Task Force Bravo had to continue with their parts in Operation Protea.

At 09h40 on 28 August the Mirages had attacked Mupa while Battle Group 30 was clearing the town of Ongiva. This was in preparation for Battle Group 60’s advance on Mupa later the day. A company of Battle Group 60 encountered a rearguard of 50 SWAPO, and after a brief fire fight, killed 20 and captured 20 122mm rockets. Battle Group 40 took up stopper positions around a base some 70 kilometres north-east of Mupa, while Battle Group 60 attacked it. 20 SWAPO were killed and 2 captured.

On 29 August, a report from FAPLA was intercepted that indicated that the refugees from Xangongo had reached Cavungo, which was 18 kilometres south of Cahama, and that a SWAPO company had been sent to assist FAPLA with the refugees.

Battle Group 30 moved 35 kilometres north-west of Mongua to collect captured equipment. They donated food and clothing from the caches to the local population.

Battle Group 40 swept through the target area 70 kilometres north-east of Mupa, but encountered no resistance.

Battle Groups 50 and 60 were more fortunate, killing 22 SWAPO and capturing three while they were sweeping the area north-west of Embundu, some 30 kilometres north of Mupa. Battle Group 10, which was still holding positions around Xangongo, began making preparations to withdraw.

Battle Groups 10 and 20 began loading captured equipment, weapons and vehicles for transport back to Ondangwa and Oshakati.

On 30 August Battle Group 20 received the first instruction to withdraw, but it was postponed to 1 September and then again to 2 September. The delays resulted in the troops displaying a lack of enthusiasm as everyone was keen to go home.

On 31 August, elements of 44 Parachute Brigade deployed 23 kilometres west of Xangongo to provide cover for Battle Group 10’s withdrawal, while UNITA forces took control of Xangongo. At 16h00 the parabats could withdraw too. Battle Group 30 joined Task Force Bravo at Anhanca. At 16h50 Battle Group 60 made contact with SWAPO 45 kilometres north-west of Embundu, killing 15.

Battle Group 40 began area operations from north of Mupa towards the south; while Battle Group 50 started 20 kilometres north-east of Nehone, and Battle Group 60 north-west of Embundu.

At 07h30 on 1 September, five Canberra attacked a vehicle concentration about six kilometres south of Cahama.

By 17h37, the last element of Battle Group 10 crossed the border at Santa Clara, followed by the element of Combat Team Mamba.

On 2 September Battle Group 60 made contact with SWAPO 30 kilometres north-west of Embundu, killing two and capturing one. Battle Group 20 was withdrawn to Ondangwa, whereupon they proceeded to their base at Oshivelo. By 19h00 on 2 September 1981 all the elements of Battle Group 20 were home and a prayer meeting was held to give thanks.

On 3 September, at 09h36, three MiGs approached the area of operations of Task Force Bravo. Two Mirage F1CZs of 3 Squadron were detached from an escort mission, but the MiGs disappeared before the Mirages could get within range. At 16h25, three formations of four Mirage aircraft attacked a large vehicle park just north of Cahama with a mixture of 68mm rockets and 250kg bombs.

Battle groups 40 and 50 slowly began making their way south, and by 8 September, all forces had crossed the border back into South-West Africa.

The units involved were released on 10 September 1981, ending Operation Protea.

Heavy damage was inflicted on both SWAPO and FAPLA, with two FAPLA brigades having been badly mauled. 468 FAPLA/SWAPO were confirmed killed, including the four Russians, while some sources estimate at least 1000 killed. The South Africans lost 14 killed and 61 wounded.

Among the SWAPO casualties were the Deputy Commander in Chief and the Deputy for political Affairs, both of whom were killed, and the Artillery Commander, who was captured.

Between 3000 and 4000 tonnes of equipment were captured, of which some 2000 tonnes were taken back to South-West Africa for study and evaluation. This included nine T-34/85 tanks, four PT-76 amphibious light tanks, three BRDM-2 armoured cars, a BM-21 122mm multiple rocket launcher, twenty-four ZIS-3 76mm field guns, sixteen ZU-23-3 23mm, fourteen Yugoslav M-55 20mm triple-barrel, and more than a dozen of ZPU 14.5mm anti-aircraft guns as well as almost 200 assorted trucks. These included UAZ-468s, GAZ-66s, URAL-375s, ZIL-131s and KrAZ-219s. Between 250 and 300 tonnes of ammunition were destroyed, and some 18,000 small arms captured and destroyed. Ninety-four SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles were also captured.

SWAPO operations were severely disrupted for the rest of the year, because their command, control and support structures in the North-Eastern Front had been effectively disrupted or destroyed. It marked the beginning of a long downward slide in SWAPO’s effectiveness. A longer term outcome was that FAPLA decided to withdraw its forces from the border region, leaving SWAPO stripped of its protection and its access to the FAPLA logistics syste. SWAPO had to also withdraw its own camps and bases deeper into Angola, from where it was very difficult to infiltrate all the way down into Owambo.

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


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