First of all, allow me to say how terribly sorry I am for your loss. I knew all the men who died in the Ratel that fateful day. I got to know your dad, Lt van der Westhuizen and brother-in-law, Sktr J.H. Potgieter through operations in 61 Mech. I can't begin to tell you what good men they were. I remember both your Dad and brother-in-law as true Sons of Africa, who loved their country, but also loved the people they served with. They could be serious on the job, but also enjoyed a good laugh in between tough situations. They were true heroes, who gave their lives so others may live in freedom.
It is now long ago, but I will pass on to you what I remember about the brave, fearless men of 61 Mech.
Operation Yahoo was in the making of what started on Friday, April 9th, 1982. About 190 terrorists had made their way past Tsumeb and past 61 Mech base at Omuthiya. A Koevoet group tracked them and made contact. There was also a farmer, who's name I don't remember, who helped in the attack by flying over the battle with his private plane and dropped grenades on the ters. Unfortunately the ters shot his plane down and also shot out a Caspir belonging to Koevoet, in the process killing 6 of our men. The Koevoet group continued to track this group as they dispursed into smaller groups, making it difficult to attack all together.
On Wednesday, April 14th, we (Alpha and Bravo company of 61 Mech) attended a concert in Tsumeb. I don't remember too well, but I think the performer was Geraldine, who came up to Tsumeb to raise the troops' morale a little. Halfway through the show, our RSM, Sergeant Major Smith (Killer Smith), got on stage, told the singers to stop and made an announcement for 61 Mech to dispurse immediately and go to our vehicles. We left immediately back to 61 Mech base, Omuthiya. Once there, we were pulled together and received our orders. Left over groups of April 9th were tracked and spotted and we were to track them down and eliminate them. We started arming ourselves and loading up the Ratels with ammunition for a full scale attack. Operation Yahoo officially began the morning of Aril 15th at 2:30 AM as we left Omuthiya.
We reached Tsintsibis at about 4:00AM the morning of April 15th. We monitored the radios as we heard various groups, including ourselves, observing ter movements, tracks on the "Kaplyne". Three Alpha company Ratels were following the track of a large band of SWAPO ters. The tracks were fresh. Your Dad, Lt D.R. van der Westhuizen and Skt J.H. Potgieter were with us that day in one of the Ratels. Lt vd Westhuizen was in the command position in the Ratel's turret. The normal vehicle commander, Cpl Van Jaarsveld had given your Dad his seat and moved to the back of the Ratel into the Anti-air Gunner's position, allowing your Dad better visibility of the terrain. One of you Dad's Bushman trackers also joined us in that Ratel and was sitting on the nose of the Ratel to let him track the spoor better.
At one point, around 10:00AM, the band of ters split up, I believe 20 went one way and another group (60 if I recall correctly), went the other way. A decision was made to let two Ratels continue on the spoor of the large group and let your Dad's Ratel follow the small group for a few miles to get an idea of what direction they were heading, since they sometimes walked in circles to confuse us temporarily and then head in their planned direction. Once we figured out what direction this group was going, the Ratel would turn around again and join the other two Ratels in the hunt.
Your Dad's Ratel set out, followed the spoor through thick bush and plains for about 1/2 hour. When they again crossed an open plain, the ters opened fire with RPG's from the tree lines where they were dug in. The first RPG hit the Ratel on the side through the engine compartment, instantly killing Cpl Van jaarsveld, wounding everyone inside. Your Dad managed to call "Contact" over the radio and the other two Ratels turned around to rush to their assistance. Meanwhile the men all opened fire, but were very vulnerable with the Ratel disabled and sideways against the attack. The blast blew the Gunner off the turret, as he was just sitting on top of the vehicle, and not positioned inside next to your Dad. About four more RPG's followed into the Ratel, while the ters also opened with AK 47's as the men tried to get out of the burning, disabled vehicle.
The Ratel exploded inside as the ammunition caught fire. The men fired back and fought with all they had, but being badly wounded and trying to get out of the Ratel into the line of small arms fire and incoming RPG's, they just did not have a chance. The Bushman tracker and the gunner, who were both blown off the vehicle were also wounded, but they opened fire on the ters. Four ters were killed and the rest escaped before the other Ratels could arrive.
More explosions followed through the Ratel and it was impossible for us to even get closer than a few hundred meters from the vehicle. After the explosions stopped, the Ratel burned at an extreme heat. It was impossible for us to reach any of the bodies and it continued to burn the next day. We were able to reach the bodies of our friends later and take it back to Tsintsibis on Saturday, April 17th. This was a terrible day for us. We lost a lot of good men that day.
Ops Yahoo continued with many more successes by us in 61 Mech and Koevoet and finally ended on May 18th, 1982 with us returning to 61 base at Omuthiya.
I kept notes of every day of Ops Yahoo and together with my memory, this is about as much as I can recall of this day. I hope this helps you in some way bring closure about your Dad. All I'd like to add is that he died a brave man, a hero and friend to all of us. What's more important is the way he lived. He led by example, fearlessly, unselfishly and protected all of us by giving up his own life. There is no greater honor in than what he did.
Please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you.