Elite Border War unit remembers key South African victory, and losses


Veterans of 61 Battalion Group remembered their fallen comrades and discussed the most intense periods of the “Border War” in southern Angola from August 1987 to August 1988.

This weekend saw a book launch on one of the most intense battles of the Border War, the Battle of the Lomba in which South African and UNITA forces completely destroyed 47th Brigade of the Angolan Communist government forces, FAPLA. This was part of a four-brigade strong attack aimed at the town of Mavinga in southeastern Angola, which acted as the pro-Western UNITA rebel group’s logistics hub and was key because it had an airstrip.

The unit’s veterans also held a memorial parade at the Ditsong National Museum of Military History on Saturday. The unit placed a man from each year in its history to act as an honour guard and was addressed by its former Officer Commanding, Major General (ret) Kobus “Bok” Smit.

Afterwards, the SA Legion gave soldiers medals they had earned decades ago and not received. This was followed by presentations in the Delville Wood Room. This included a visit from a former foe, Angolan Major General Fernando Mateus, who was presented with a wooden carving depicting South Africa, Angola and a Ratel.

During the launch of Leopold Scholtz’s Ratels on the Lomba: The story of Charlie Squadron, the author, as well as the unit’s former OC, then Captain Peter John “PJ” Cloete, expressed his sadness that “children” of 18 or 19, had been sent into a conventional armoured battle, pitting armoured cars against tanks. Despite the odds, 61’s former OC, Major General (ret) Roland de Vries said they fought magnificently and that they were “warriors”.

One of the veterans explained that they had not been allowed to tell their story immediately after the battle, and then after 1994, no-one wanted to hear their story. Scholtz said the aim of the book was to tell the story of the men of Charlie Squadron and their conventional fight, with all its triumphs and tragedies, as he put it, “warts and all”.