As you can see I have attached the newspaper articles for you. The story does vary a bit ... typical journalism, so I shall write it out for you.
This is from my experience of what happened and also thanks to Lt. Andre Brand who was present at the whole incident. So I have taken from both of our encounters and have written what actually happened. It could not be more accurate and truthful than this.
I also have included an article on my wedding day to my lovely wife. We have just celebrated 29 yrs. of marriage.
I did notice in the Unit deaths, you only had one person killed from 4th Field Regt. I would like to add Gunner Christo Retief as well as Lt. Chris Robin. I do know there were more gunners killed from 4th Field Regiment, but do not know their names.
- Lt C. Robin no is 1216
- Gnr C. Retief no is 1202
- Rfn Schonfeldt is 1271
The photos are:
- Robin 1 & 2 is the newspaper article on Lt. C. Robin,
- Rinty 1 & 2 is the newspaper article on Rfn Schonfeldt
- Rinty 3 is the photo of Scheunfeldt and his dog Rinty
- Brand is the unveiling of the Gunners Memorial at 4th Field Regiment November 1976 by Lt. Brand (in uniform) and myself
- NS12_01 & NS12_02 is an article and photo of my wedding day.
This is the first time I have ever written a detailed account to someone about the incident other than for my own records. So I would appreciate it and I am sure you will, to use your discretion as to where and how it will be made public.
(I almost want to head it "The forgotten soldiers" as we seem to have been forgotten so early on in the Bush War and it needs to be recorded)
I commenced my National Service in January 1974. I was told to report to 4th Field Regiment, Potchefstroom. I was 18 years old. At this stage all National Servicemen were called up for a period of one year. After about six weeks of basic training, were called up to parade and informed that National Service had now been extended to either 18 months or 2 years. I chose the two year period as I wanted to get my National Service over and done with.
I then attended Artillery School and became an instructor.
Lt. Chris Robin was my Lt. for our platoon and I, his platoon bombardier. We were both in 42 Battery, 4th Field Regiment. Our Regiment Commander was Commandant Nel. Our Battery Commander was Captain Theron.
The following year our Regiment was due for border duty. After a while in the Caprivi, our Regiment being based at Kwando and Mpacha, was informed that we were going into Angola.
We left our base in Kwando and set off in convoy and arrived south of Luiana and set up our base camp. We set out on patrols and gathered whatever information we could on any form of movement by insurgents in the area.
I had become great friends with Rfn. Scheunfeldt as he was our dog handler for our platoon.
On the 12th November 1975, a message was recieved by our base that Lt Brand and his platoon had to go and set up an ambush about 5-6 hours drive north of Luiana. This area was known to be a SWAPO infiltration area. I asked to go with so as to give a bit more firepower for the platoon.
Two vehicles, a Hippo and an Unimog, were loaded with all our gear and were going to drop us off at a point, then we would walk the rest of the way and set up the ambush. Lt. Brand drove in front with the Hippo to locagte the area where we were to disembark. Lt.Robin came with, so that he could drive with one of the vehicles back. The driver of the Unimog was Gunner Huisaman. Gunner Retief was one of the drivers as well.
I was sitting on the Unimog with my friend Scheunfeldt and his dog (Rinty). We had supplies for 7 days. The Hippo drove in front of us. Lt. Robin was sitting in the passenger seat of the Unimog.
The next thing I remember was a massive flash and then darkness. This was at about 17H00 on the 13th November.
I remember waking up and looking at my right hand with the full moon in the background and seeing all this skin just hanging from it. I could not feel my left arm at all. I could neither feel that the rest of my body had been burnt as well.
All of the soldiers were blown off the Unimog. As I was gripping the side of the vehicle with my left arm, when the blast went off, my natural instinct was to grab. This caused me to stay on the vehicle and take the blast up my left side. I was also sitting on top of the diesel tank of the vehicle. This caused the diesel to splash and burn on me.
Gunner Hennie Bekker who had been blown off by the blast, ran back into the inferno and pulled me off. His hands were badly burnt and I owe this man my life for the courageous thought he had for me.
When Lt. Brand came to the burning vehicle, he saw Lt. Robin lyng about two meters away from the burning vehicle. He gave orders to the remaining soldiers to take care of the injured and then went to attend to Lt. Robin. His left leg was completely missing, his whole face was burnt, his hair was scorched and his arms were badly mutilated. Lt. Brand carried Lt. Robin away to a safe area.
Lt. Brand then got the remaining soldiers and set up a perimeter defence. Lt. Robin was still alive at this time. Lt. Brand applied mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He recalls how the smell of burnt flesh stayed with him for many months after.
Lt. Brand informed the medic to go and help where he could, but the medic replied that he didn't have any form of medical kit, as it had been burnt in the explosion. The radio gear had also been destroyed.
Lt Brand kept Lt. Robin alive for about 15 minutes, then he succumbed to his injuries. Lt. Brand and Lt. Robin were great friends. Lt. Brand then went to attend to the other injured. He then came back and sat with Lt Robin and the other injured, and read from his bible, Psalm 138.
Immediately after the explosion Lt. Brand sent Gunner Nel with the Spook back to the main base for help.
Lt. Brand went to assess the firepower they had left and found of the 27 soldiers with rifles, they could only managed to salvage seven rifles and some ammuntion. He then set about, presuming the helicopters would arrive shortly, to casevac the dead and injured out, and set up a landing area by marking it with weighed down bundles of toilet paper. He also made piles of grass, to light if the helicopters came in after sunset. Lt Brand also had to chase away a herd of elephants that had wandered into the area later on.
They waited all night for some reinforcements to arrive.
The next morning at about 07H00, two helicopters arrived to casevac the dead and wounded out. Lt. Brand asked the pilots for their rifles as well as asking them to please return with reinforcements. The injured and dead were loaded and flown out to Katimo Mulilo.
The next morning at about 09H00 the group were attacked by about 70 SWAPO terrorists. They fired AK 47's, mortars and RPG's.
The soldiers on Lt. Brand's command, started moving away from the area, using the "buddy-buddy" system. He told them to move south towards the Luiana River. Gnr Retief and Rfn. Scheunfeldt were two of the last to leave the area with Lt. Brand. The three of them kept up the covering fire while the others retreated. Two other soldiers got wounded in the arm.
Lt.Brand soon realized that it had become quiet from the area that Retief and Scheunfeldt were retreating from. There was no more covering fire from their position.
The SWAPO terrorists shouted in jubilation when they saw the burnt-out vehicle and numerous shots were fired. After a while, when it became quiet, Lt. Brand went back to see what had happened to Retief and Scheunfeldt. Lt. Brand found both Retief and Scheunfeldt and Scheunfeldt's dog, Rinty, lying dead next to them. Lt. Brand removed their watches and dog tags so they would not be mislaid somewhere, and could be returned to family. The SWAPO terrorists had killed them and then shot them again at close quarter range.
Lt. Brand and Gunner van Tonder stayed with the dead bodies that night, as they didn't want any wild animals to get to them. The rest of the group had moved out of the area and attempts to make contact with them was unsuccessful. Two helicopters came and picked them all up the next morning.
In between, when the Spook was sent back to base for help, Captain Theron who was the base commander, loaded the ambulance with as many rifles he could find and set out to help Lt. Brand. On the way he suffered a tyre blow-out and kept on driving. When he realized that it was getting dark and his vehicle was not driveable if he came into contact with SWAPO, he turned around and headed back to base.
The other soldiers who had dispersed when SWAPO attacked them, were tracked down by Bosbok plane later and helicopters were sent in to lift them out.
A Hercules had been flown up from South Africa to fetch us. I remember being loaded onto the helicopter in Angola and as we took off spilt my guts out over the savannah below. I next awoke lying in the back of the Hercules, quite doped up having recieved medical attention at Katimo Mulilo. Our second in command for the regiment, Major Bosch, was there to wish us well.
I arrived in 1 Military Hospital 23 hours after the incident. I remember the medic cutting what was left of my pants off on the way to hospital, in the ambulance. I was to spend 8 hours in theatre where they amputated my left arm and right hand and treated my burns. When I spoke to the surgeon later, he said he only gave me a 2% chance of survival when I was taken into theatre seeing I had suffered 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th degree burns over my body. He said one of my saving graces was that I was still young and exceptionally fit and healthy, otherwise my body would have shut down long ago...
I spent 9 months and 8 further operations in hospital recieving skin grafts, physiotherapy, (fortunately I only had to confront the physcologist once and told him to leave me alone, which he did) and attended rehabilitation therapy.
The smell of burnt flesh is with me always, the phantom pains, the knowledge that I shall never forget what happened as I get up every day to wear 2.5 kg of plastic and steel to get on with life. To remember the weeks of having my new skin pulled off my back.
I was an exceptional case to the nursing staff and they did not know how to cope with someone like me who had suffered such injuries. It was only weeks later that a nursing sister changed the procedure. I was the first one to have lost both arms in the country. (This I know from the orthopeadic prosthetic makers, both in Johannesburg and Durban)
One of my gunners, who had bad burns to the face and hands, also was in hospital, by the name of Mark Niewenhuisen. We were placed in private rooms with absolutely no access to the public or to unnessary medical staff. Military Police were placed outside our rooms to enforce this.
To Lt. Robin. Gunner C. Retief and Rifleman Scheunfeldt, you will always be remembered.
To Lt.Brand and the other Gunners who took care of us, you shall not be forgotten.
I shall end the story here, as the next 34 years are my personal experiences in dealing with everyday challenges, my achievements in life and living life.
I shall forever be grateful to my parents and brothers and to my lovely wife,Irene, her parents and our two lovely children for their support and love over the years.
Well John, I hope this is worth placing somewhere. Please keep me up to date with what is happening.
PS: If you ever come across a Bdr Roeloff van Wyk, who served in 1975 in 4th Field Regiment, please let me know. He has photo's of the Unimog just after it exploded and subsequent photos. I have tried in vain to contact him. He came from the South Coast.