This was my war

I haven’t said very much about my experiences in the South African Defense Force, or in supporting industries, through the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Part of that is because I signed the South African Official Secrets Act of 1956, the Protection of Information Act of 1982, and other security legislation.  They govern much of what I did during that period, and I haven’t (and won’t) renege on my undertaking of secrecy.  As my father used to say, “If your word is no good, then you are no good.”

Nevertheless, a lot of information has come out in the years since then.  Perhaps the best book (in my experience, anyway) about the climax to South Africa’s Border War is Fred Bridgland’s “The War For Africa“, which is very hard to come by and very expensive when you can find a copy, but is the best summation of the final battles of 1987/88 that I know.  (It’s due to be republished later this year, which is very welcome news.  I’ll have to buy a couple of extra copies to lend to friends.)

I was pleased to find an article by American scholar Robert Goldich on a South African military history blog, giving a strategic overview of the conflict.  Here’s how he begins.

There aren’t many truly unknown wars these days. Military history writing, scholarly and popular and in between, has mushroomed over the past several decades. But military events under the Southern Cross receive much less attention, because the vast majority of the developed countries are well north of the Equator.

Reading South African accounts of the 23-year long Border War between South Africa and the Angolan liberation movement UNITA on the one hand, and the Angolan government and army, supported by large Cuban forces on the other, is almost hypnotically compelling. This is not only because for most of us north of the Equator it is so distant. The names of both natural features and people involved, and the range of cultures they represent, sound exotic to our ears, and hold one’s attention.

The tactical and operational lessons from the Border War are mostly variations on usual military themes — solid and relevant training, doctrine, and attitudes — but that the most significant lessons of this conflict for the United States are far broader, and sobering, in nature.

There’s much more at the link.

If you’d like to learn something about one of the lesser-known parts of the Cold War (which seemed pretty damned hot to me on occasion, as my scars will testify!), I recommend the article to your attention.  To learn more, I highly recommend Fred Bridgland’s book.



  1. The "great" thing about the recent wars in the Middle East and South East Asia is that there is a large group of people in the US that that understand where you are coming from without you having to say a word. I understand, through the lens of my own experiences, and appreciate you taking the time to share what you do with the rest of us.

    If you ever decide to sell a biography someone might read it and might learn something from it. That is perhaps the best thing to leave a positive mark on civilization. What is the point of literacy if our experiences die with us?

  2. You may enjoy FN FAL Owners on faceplant.Alot of expatriates . The mod is an ex 2Para Falklands Vet .You'll be welcome.

  3. Obviously your book rec is going on my list.
    I enjoyed Koevoet (Beneath the Visiting Moon) by Hooper, another difficult to find book on that war. I would be interested in your opinion of Hooper's book.

  4. Many of those secrets you swore to keep are nowadays completely declassified and public knowledge, although finding out about those few left that are still secret can be a real challenge. My guideline for such stuff is that if I read about it in the newspaper, it's no longer a secret.

    But – as a general rule – I just keep my mouth shut. Life is much less stressful that way. I've had the black suits knock on my door more than once and I don't need anymore of that.

    Ruins your sleep.

  5. As far as SA history, I’m a little short on reading material for the 20th century, so your reading recommendation is well taken. I’ve mostly read on the Boer Wars(s) but also on some earlier conflicts as well such as later Zulu conflict & etc.

    For the edification of your readers, you might do an article on an early and generally overlooked battle in Africa, the Battle of Blood River in 1838. They had only muzzle loaders, so accuracy and rate of fire was a big deal. That battle shows that discipline, having a good tactical command, and a whole lot of grit can overcome some pretty heavy odds. A couple of cannon didn’t hurt either.

    Blood River has a marked parallel and contrast with the later US Indian Wars a couple of decades later, with circling up the wagons trope & etc, such as in the Wagon Box Fight. Of course the defendants in that action had those new-fangled Model 1866 Springfields, and the civilians had .56 Spencers, which helped the long odds considerably

  6. Rhodesia bore the brunt of the collapse of Mozambique as a safe haven for guerrilla activity against its government. South Africa provided equipment, training and some air support in order to keep the from fighting a two fronts. The Rhodesian Light Infantry made several cross border raids in strength into Mozambique to break up training camps and depots.


  7. I enjoyed "the Washing of The Spears" which is about the rise and fall of the Zulu.
    Dreadnought although mostly about pre-WW1 Europe has a fascinating section on the Boer War.
    Lots of interesting history in that part of the world.

  8. Remember stories from a close friend who served in the Selous Scouts. Different part of Africa to be sure but much the same war.

  9. Peter, if you could find the time, could you put together a list of recommended book regarding Africa. I'm always looking to learn. Thanks!!

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