After ten years in the making, a new two-volume book on the Ratel infantry combat vehicle (ICV) has been completed by a group of people involved in the vehicle’s design and development. The book covers the history of the Ratel through development, production and deployment, including combat during the Border War.
The Ratel is a milestone vehicle as it was one of the first three infantry combat vehicles in the world, was the first wheeled ICV, the first with a proper commander’s cupola for all-round vision, and the first with a dual-feed cannon (armour piercing or high explosive). The Ratel has, and continues to, play an important role within the South African military as well as to the many countries it has been exported to.
The idea for the book emerged in 2009 when a group of Ratel aficionados decided that the history of the Ratel, how it came about and why it was so very successful, should be committed to record in a book so that it can be both preserved and shared. This included former Armscor, South African National Defence Force and South African Defence Force members.
The resulting history covers the origins of the Ratel, from when the requirement for an ICV for the South African Army was first mooted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, through to the development, production and deployment of Ratel and to its final major combat operation of the Border War in 1989.
The book is about the Ratel and those who developed and produced it as well as those who developed the tactics and battle-handling of mechanised infantry and mechanised operations generally, and those who saw combat in and with it.
Volume one (Origins, 547 pages) covers the emergence of the requirement for an ICV for the SA Army, the evaluation of contenders and the development of the Ratel and its many variants. It also addresses the origins of mechanisation (or mobility) in the South African Army.
Volume two (Life with Ratel, 467 pages), covers the employment of the Ratel from its inception through to the end of the Border War in 1989. It also covers the development and evolution of the mechanised infantry doctrine and of Ratel from a basic ICV to a fully-fledged combat system. It eventually addresses the question “Did the new Ratel ICV and the new mechanised infantry doctrine work?” Volume two includes anecdotes, personal views, war stories, little known facts about the Ratel and more.
Retired General Constand Viljoen, in his foreword to the book, wrote that “In the late 1960s the SADF, and in particular the SA Army, embraced the concept of mobile operations or mobile warfare and from studies that followed it became apparent that the army would require an Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) to ensure that the infantry could not merely keep up with the armour, but also be effective as a highly mobile, armoured combat capability in Its own right. From this the Ratel ICV and mechanised infantry were born – both capabilities that had hitherto not existed in the SA Army.
“Although Ratel did not originally feature in any plans for the so-called Border War, its potential was obvious and in early 1978, as the Chief of the SA Army, I had this potential tested by Battle Group Juliet, following which the battle group executed the first fully-constituted cross-border mechanised operation into Southern Angola as part of Operation Reindeer in May 1978. Their objective was the SWAPO base known as ‘Vietnam’ which they successfully captured, setting the scene, as it were, for many more operations of this nature. This success also confirmed a concept that I had in mind of a permanent mechanised combat unit in the Operational Area; leading to the establishment of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group in January 1979…Around two years later, I accompanied 61 Mech during Operation Sceptic, which, despite the tragic and regrettable loss of so many of our young soldiers, was a great success. The Ratel ICV and mechanised infantry had earned their spurs and would build on these initial successes over the next decade or so.
“The Ratel ICV provided us with one of two elements necessary to enable this concept, the other being the commanders and men who grew in confidence, knowledge, skill and stature as the Border War progressed and who ensured that the Ratel ICV became the complete and highly-effective combat system that it proved to be.
“I am pleased that the history of the Ratel ICV and of mechanised infantry, and to an extent other mechanised elements, in the SA Army is now being published and that this publication also gives credit to Armscor and the South African armaments industry who provided the SADF with this and so many other capabilities.”
Due to the coronavirus and other issues, only collectors’ editions will be available initially (hardcover with a personal inscription – R1 600). From mid-May, standard editions will be available (softcover, R700). As the book is a strictly a not-for-profit venture, proceeds will be donated to a worthy cause. It can be ordered from Bush War Publications: https://www.warbooks.co.za/products/ratel-the-making-of-a-legend-2-volume-bookset?variant=32167670841434 or https://tickets.tixsa.co.za/event/the-ratel-book