D-Day (4 November 1981):
Battle Group 61 had departed from HAA 2 at 03h00 on the morning of D-day (4 November 1981) to its Form-Up Place directly east of objective Daisy. By 09h00, about 45 minutes after the first air strikes, the battle group reached its target area, only to find it empty and deserted. The heavy air strikes, although accurate, had achieved nothing, as the enemy had moved and extended their base of operations a kilometre to the east. This was discovered by a four-man recce team on the night of D-1, but they were unable to communicate it directly to the aircraft as they had no direct VHF communications with them, For some reason a message that they had transmitted at approximately 03h00 that morning to the mobile tactical headquarters had not been transmitted to the staff of Ops Command at Oshakati or in Grootfontein. As it was, the aircraft bombed their original targets as planned, all of which were essentially empty!
The recce team saw that the aircraft were drawing quite heavy fire from AAA positions in the new deployment area, but were unable to relay that fact to the aircraft.
In the 45 minute delay between the initial air strikes and the mechanised attack, the enemy had evaporated, probably to the north, which was the only sector not covered by stopper groups or Alouette gunships. Immediately after the air strikes, the recce team had heard the sounds of vehicles moving around in the new target area to the east, as well as a lot more activity, shouting of commands, and general movement. At this stage the mechanised force was still about three to five kilometres away and it was very clear where they were headed...
Afterwards the recce team reported that they were able to hear the approach of the mechanised force from 04h00 while it was still over 15 kilometres away! There would have been ample time for the enemy to be alerted, pack up and slip away…
At 09h30 ASO ALPHA again called in two Mirage F1s to attack suspected AAA positions. This was followed up by two further strikes by Impalas between 10h00 and 12h00. No AAA was drawn this time, however. The enemy had gone!
The recce team met up with Battle Group 61 and led them through the base area. They were now able, for the first time, to see what the base looked like in daytime. The force moved straight through the new base without encountering any resistance whatsoever. They then moved on to the original target area another 500 or 600 metres further, again without any resistance. After consolidating on the western side of the base, the force moved back and did a thorough sweep and search of the active base area. Various items of equipment were found and a Sapper (Engineer) was injured by a personnel mine used to booby-trap a bunker.
Several interdiction/road recce missions were flown between 12h00 and 14h00 by both Impala’s and Mirage F1’s. This was to monitor the roads between Cassinga, the target area, Tetchamutete and Bambi, but no vehicle movements were reported.
At 14h09 two Alouette’s were tasked by MAOT ZULU to help with the search for two missing Parabats which had become separated from the rest during the drop. At 15h38 two Puma’s went to lift a Casevac with a broken leg after a land-mine incident.
During the late afternoon, a platoon and an anti-tank troop of Battle Group 61 were tasked to sweep towards the west of the target area. The bush was very thick and visibility limited to under 100 metres. The team reached an open mahango field, dotted with tree stumps which could cause a lot of damage to the Ratel axles. Lots of cut-down tree branches were scattered around, which could provide excellent cover to hiding SWAPO terrorists. The team was directing speculative fire at potential hiding places amongst the stacked branches, when a single SWAPO terrorist jumped up and fled towards the south. Hoping to catch him, the platoon leader pursued him with the vehicle while his passengers intercepted and captured him on foot. In the meantime, the rest of the platoon stepped out of their vehicles (i.e. dismounted) to follow up. At this stage there had been no firefight and the captured terrorist was brought back to the rest of the platoon. Suddenly and unexpectedly, heavy fire was drawn from a heap of branches barely 20 metres away on the flank. A UNITA major and a 32 Battalion lieutenant were killed instantly where they were sitting on the Ratel. The rest of the passengers dove for cover, but not before a corporal was also killed while trying to save a wounded member of his section, who subsequently survived because of this action. The anti-tank troop commander’s gunner was wounded in the neck, and also miraculously survived. In the chaos of the contact, one of the riflemen of the platoon heroically stormed the flanking position and shot and killed the single SWAPO terrorist in his enfilading position.
At 16h30 the sad news was received at the MAOT that three own forces had been killed in a contact in the target area. Two Puma’s were tasked to uplift the three bodies and bring them to Ionde, which arrived with the bodies at 17h58.
The objective and base itself was found to be relatively unsophisticated. It was obvious the SWAPO had not been in the position for more than two or three weeks: it was not heavily entrenched or fortified although it had a few bunkers; it was not nearly as well organised as some of the larger bases encountered in previous operations; and there were comparatively little equipment, ammunition and other materials found on the base. A lot of it may have been stored on vehicles and driven straight out to the north immediately after the initial air strike.
Once consolidation of the objective was achieved, Battle Group 61 took up defensive positions to the north of the shona between the base areas for the night.
At the end of D-day, things were not looking good, with only one SWAPO captured and one killed, at the cost of three SADF/UNITA members killed and two wounded. Another six SWAPO bodies were found on the target area two days later, which was a result of the intense bombardments done by the SA Air Force.
A great deal of firepower and effort had been expended with no visible result. The intelligence regarding the SWAPO bases was found badly wanting.
The company from 32 Battalion had a few more successes over the few days preceding D-day when, on 2 November (D-2), one of its recce teams made brief contact with a small group of SWAPO four kilometres north-west of Embundu, killing one. Two hours later another recce team also ran into a group of SWAPO, killing eight and capturing four. These captives did confirm that a large concentration of guerrillas were in the bases at Bambi. They also disclosed the exact location of a base between Cassinga and Tetchamutete.
A 32 recce team captured the SWAPO detachment commander’s clerk after the attack on Bambi by Battle Group 61. He revealed under interrogation that SWAPO scouts had been monitoring the movements of the South African forces around the clock, which explained why every base found had been evacuated shortly before.
Throughout the day reports were received of MiGs being scrambled from Moçamedes, Lubango and Menongue as a result of SAAF aircraft appearing on the enemy radar screens. It seemed that at this stage the MiGs were being scrambled purely as a defensive measure.