© Copyright: Johan Opperman, 2012
    ISBN: 978-1-4658-9258-4
    Published by: Smashwords.Inc

Where you can get it?

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The book is currently only available in digital format.

What it's about?

In 1985 the MPLA launched operation Second Congress in the Cuando-Cubango province. The objective of the operation was an assault with a conventional, semi-mechanised force to smash the headquarters of the belligerent UNITA foe in the Mavinga area and take control of the region. The attacking field forces were opposed by a combination of UNITA guerrilla forces supported by components of the regular SADF allied forces. By early September the FAPLA field forces were temporarily halted short of the intended target. The stopped forces needed ammunition and critical vehicle spares and FAPA was tasked to establish a helicopter air bridge to refurbish the encamped field forces. The SAAF responded by attacking the helicopters, in the process destroying the air bridge and helping to turn the advance into a rout ending the advance on Mavinga that year.

The book tells the story of Operation Weldmesh, the SAAF counter-helicopter operation to find, catch and destroy the FAPA helicopters tasked to refurbished the halted FAPLA forces. The story is told from the perspective of the air intelligence community and touches on some of the strategic aftermath of the operation.

Why it's important?

Much has been made of South African military adventures in its neighbouring states. We were called to arms and responded, each according to his own conviction. For myself, I come from a family with a military history and can trace my ancestry in the South African armed forces through the great conflicts all the way back to the Second Boer War.

In Angola, we soldiers became experts in our specialised fields, running military operations smoothly and effectively, taking on superior forces on our terms. We chose where and when to stand and fight. We were skilful in multiplying the effectiveness of our equipment, weapons and attacks many times over by using guile, smart tactics and dumb bravery to achieve the goals that were asked of us.

I am strongly of the opinion that historians will one day write the true history of our exploits, separating the facts from the ideological fiction of those who were closely involved on either side of the fence. For this reason, while we are capable, I believe it is important for us to create documented leads for them to trace the truth of the events in which we were so passionately and closely involved.

It is for this reason that I attempted to recount the events of Operation Weldmesh, in my own jaundiced fashion, because it is an interesting study in the unconventional use of air power. That and the fact that many false claims and half-truths have been spun around our misadventures in the Angolan bush, especially in the area of Cuito-Cuanavale.

The wedge of time is a great separator and one needs the clarity of hindsight and some hastily scribbled notes to attempt the documenting of particular actions. I surely have forgotten vital detail or glossed over seemingly unimportant detail in my recounting of the events in the run up to and execution of Operation Weldmesh and so I take full ownership for the noticeable inconsistencies in my record.

While reviewing my writings I was struck by how much we took for granted, the demands we placed on our comrades to deliver results. I clearly remember the aircrews muttering about things that seem so irrelevant now, things like pay concerns, the quick promotion of non-GD (general duty) officers, and the silliness of Army discipline, the harshness of military life while campaigning in the bush wars. I don't recall any memory of aircrews grumbling about flying through the snapping jaws of death in the fullness of the sun or the blackness of the night. They did whatever was asked of them and they did it professionally and dispassionately, always seeking new ways to deliver beyond expectation. Their bravery created a legacy for the peace we momentarily enjoy.

Some books have been written about the concept of SADF operations. Some are very specific about big operations, detailing the preparations in the race to execute the plan on the battlefield, noting the reasons for successes and failure. But very little has been written about the other functions and structures that worked in the background to make the operational exploits possible. Hopefully these accounts will start finding their way into publications to colour and fill in the bits missing between the blood and guts, cordite and thunder pieces of the puzzle.

Therefore with this intention in mind I have tried to describe some of the inner workings of the air intelligence machine of the time to illustrate how it helped create the multiplier effect for the understrength, under-resourced grouping of mostly guerrilla fighters to take on and beat up a sizable, conventionally organised force intent on forcing a change to the status quo of the day.

Finally the belief we had in ourselves was such that the odds were stacked against the enemy from the start of their misguided plans to bring about a change in our backyard. We were invincible. Well that is my boast anyway!

Johan Opperman