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Eland - Бронеавтомобиль (ЮАР)

Eland (armoured car)
(Eland Mk7)

Eland Mk7
Type - Armoured car
Place of origin - South Africa
Service history
In service - 1962-1994 (South Africa) / 1967-present (other)
Wars - Angolan Civil War / Rhodesian Bush War / 1981 Entumbane Uprising / South African Border War / Western Sahara War / Second Congo War / Chadian Civil War / Northern Mali Conflict / Boko Haram Insurgency
Production history
Designer - Sandock-Austral
Designed - 1962
Manufacturer - Sandock-Austral / Reumech OMC
Produced - 1964-1986
No. built - 1,600
Specifications
Mass - 6 tonnes (6.6 short tons; 5.9 long tons)
Length - 5.12 m (16 ft 10 in)
 length - 4.04 m (13 ft 3 in) (hull)
Width - 2.01 m (6 ft 7 in)
Height - 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in)
Crew - 3 (commander, driver, gunner)
Main armament - 90 mm Denel GT-2 (29 rounds) OR 60 mm K1 mortar (56 rounds)
Secondary armament 2x 7.62 mm M1919 Browning machine guns (2400 - 3800 rounds)
Engine - Chevrolet 153 2.5 L (150 in3) inline 4-cylinder water-cooled petrol
Transmission - 6-speed manual constant mesh
Suspension - Independent 4X4; active trailing arms
Ground clearance - 380 mm (1 ft 3 in)
Fuel capacity - 142 L (38 US gal)
Operational range - 450 km (280 mi)
Maximum speed - 100 km/h (62 mph)

The Eland is an air portable light armoured car based on the Panhard AML. Designed and built for long-range reconnaissance, it mounts either a 60 mm (2.4 in) breech-loading mortar or a Denel 90 mm (3.5 in) gun on a very compact chassis. Although lightly armoured, the vehicle's permanent 4X4 drive makes it faster over flat terrain than many tanks.
Eland was developed for the South African Defence Force (SADF) in South Africa's first major arms programme since World War II, with prototypes completed in 1963. By 1991, 1,600 examples had been built for home and export; prominent foreign operators included Morocco and Zimbabwe. Local overhauls incorporating lessons from internal operations have resulted in a vehicle capable of withstanding the unforgiving Southern African environment and highly mobile operational style of the SADF.

Development history

Background
For many years the standard armoured car of the South African Defence Force was the Daimler Ferret, which was developed in the late 1940s and armed with a single general-purpose machine gun. By the mid-1960s, Ferret spares were becoming difficult to obtain, and its armament was considered less than adequate. In 1961, South Africa accordingly secured a similar platform with a much wider range of armament installations: the French Panhard AML. That July a South African military delegation headed by Minister of Defence Jim Fouché and Commandant-General Pieter Grobbelaar, chief of the SADF, went to France to negotiate a licensing agreement with Panhard. The AML was favoured because the SADF's priorities at the time were fighting a possible counter-insurgency campaign or an unconventional bush war, the basic requirements of which were light armoured vehicles with the greatest mobility and most simplified maintenance.
One hundred AMLs were purchased, presumably for preliminary evaluation purposes, as well as enough turrets, engines, and other associated parts for the later assembly of another 800 in South Africa. Panhard also approved a licence for domestic production of the AML chassis in South African plants. A separate licence was obtained from the French government's Direction technique des armements terrestres (DTAT) between 1964 and 1965 for the manufacture of the AML turrets and armament. The result was the VA (Vehicle A) Mk2, first offered to the SADF's armoured car regiments and reconnaissance commands in 1964. Bids were accepted from four local companies for the manufacture of 300 AMLs with working armament, along with another 150 turretless demonstrators; this contract was claimed by Sandock-Austral, now Land Systems OMC. The production lines were set up with technical assistance from Henschel, an engineering firm based in the Federal Republic of Germany. Panhard subcontracted the project to Henschel rather than carrying out the work itself as it was anxious to avoid criticism from its potential clients in other African states.
Sandock VAs initially fared rather poorly; all 56 models furbished in 1966 were rejected by the South African Army. An extensive rebuild programme followed - the Panhards were returned to the manufacturer, completely disassembled, restructured, and trialled again. These new vehicles claimed a local content of forty per cent but remained heavily bolstered by components imported from France in 1961. Upon undergoing several upgrades to the steering (Mk2) and brakes (Mk3), each vehicle was also equipped with a custom fuel system; the electric clutches were concurrently replaced by more conventional pressure plate clutches (Mk4). While South Africa's AMLs remained externally similar to their French counterparts, up to two-thirds of their parts were of local origin by 1967, the main part of that balance being a new water cooled inline-4 cylinder petrol engine installed in the Mk5. Subsequent models were officially designated Eland.
Panhard's initial licensing contract with the South African government extended to the local assembly or manufacture of up to 1,000 AMLs. Furthermore, all vehicles produced under the terms of this licence could only be re-exported with written permission from the French Minister of Defence. It is unclear whether these restrictions extended to the second generation of Elands, which were produced with wholly South African parts and components beginning in 1973. South Africa may have renewed the original Panhard licence as part of a larger agreement with France concerning the transfer of arms and defence technology around January 1974; another 700 Elands were manufactured between 1974 and 1986. By 1985 production had reached two hundred vehicles a year. A surplus of parts were manufactured for the Eland as well as the original AML series; according to General Jannie Geldenhuys, after 1979 Panhard actually fulfilled orders for older AML parts it no longer produced by sourcing them from South Africa.
Operated by a crew of three, each Eland was built on a small and remarkably lightweight 4X4 chassis with a height of 2.5 metres, a length of 5.12 metres, and a weight of 6 metric tons. The Eland had a maximum range of 450 kilometres and a mileage of 2 kilometres per litre. As South Africa was primarily interested in a light patrol vehicle armed for counter-insurgency purposes, most Elands were armed with the 60 mm Brandt Mle CM60A1 gun-mortar, better known by its South African manufacturing code K1 and also designated in SADF service as the M2, as well as two 7.62 mm Browning machine guns. This was known as the Eland-60.
The second most common variant was designed specifically to fulfill a South African requirement for a gun-armed armoured car capable of furnishing mobile fire support for the mounted units and undertaking aggressive reconnaissance as needed. As the SADF had been organised along the lines of Commonwealth doctrine in general and British doctrine in particular, it wanted a vehicle capable of filling the same role as the Alvis Saladin. Although the Saladin was evaluated favourably since it shared most of its interchangeable parts with the army's Alvis Saracen armoured personnel carriers, the AML licence had already been purchased and there was an advantage to fulfilling the same requirement with another preexisting vehicle type. Negotiations to purchase Saladins from the United Kingdom also stalled after the election of Harold Wilson and his incoming Labour Party government, which took a harder line on arms sales to South Africa.
In response to SADF inquiries concerning an AML more similar to the Saladin in terms of armament, Panhard produced the AML-90. There was substantially more firepower in the new variant: its 90 mm low-pressure rifled cannon, with a range of 1,200 metres, enabled it to knock out all but the heaviest contemporary tanks. This evolved into the Eland-90 in South African service.
Service life
Elands formed the mainstay of the South African Armoured Corps for nearly three decades, although as early as 1968 SADF officials were discussing their replacement or supplementation with something more suited to countering tank warfare as the prospect of conventional military conflict in southern Africa became increasingly likely. That year the armoured corps undertook a feasibility study for replacing the Eland with a larger, more mobile, and more heavily armed wheeled vehicle. While acknowledging the Eland was sufficient for border patrol and counter-insurgency, South African strategists were also concerned that it was unsuited for conventional battlefields. During a wargaming exercise designed to simulate a foreign invasion of South West Africa, the SADF found that the Eland-90 suffered from three major disadvantages: it had no trench-crossing ability, its off-road mobility was limited due to its four wheels and high ground pressure, and the 90 mm cannon was ineffective against enemy armour at long range. In 1969, South African officials proposed fitting the existing fleet with ENTAC wire-guided anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). This was never implemented but the advantages of an ATGM capability in armoured car regiments were recognised as a means to compensate for the mediocre range of the Eland-90's main armament. Another proposal for an Eland variant armed with an autocannon appeared in 1971. The armoured corps evaluated several Elands armed with 20 mm and 40 mm autocannons between 1971 and 1972 and finally settled on the Hispano-Suiza HS.820 as its armament of choice. This was known as the Eland-20 but was not adopted by the SADF.
In 1970 the South African Army was operating 500 Elands of various marks, with another 356 on order. The fleet then consisted of 369 Eland-60s and 131 Eland-90s. This was followed by the Eland Mk6 programme, which entailed older models upgraded to Mk5 standards. By 1975 the army had 1,016 Eland Mk5s and Mk6s in service. The Eland was first tested in combat that year against Cuban and People's Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola (FAPLA) forces during Operation Savannah. Reports of PT-76 and T-34-85 tanks being fielded by FAPLA during the Angolan Civil War perturbed South African military advisers then involved in training FAPLA's rivals, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and its armed wing. The advisers reported that UNITA's anti-tank capabilities were next to nonexistent and requested a squadron of SADF armoured cars, along with their crews, to help turn the tide against FAPLA. Twenty-two Eland-90s were flown out to UNITA's headquarters at Silva Porto in mid-October 1975, and soon clashed with FAPLA armour. Elands were to acquire a fearsome combat reputation in Angola, where they earned the moniker "Red Ants" due to unorthodox but effective crew tactics and the lack of any equivalent Cuban or FAPLA vehicles. Less than two months later, Cuban general Abelardo Colomé Ibarra cited his inability to counter the Elands' superior manoeuvrability as one of the greatest tactical challenges facing the Cuban-FAPLA coalition in Angola. Nevertheless, with the onset of the Angolan rainy season the wheeled vehicles were increasingly hampered by mud, and their crews found fighting capability constrained when operating on terrain better suited for tracked vehicles. They criticised the lowness of the hull as well, which made sighting difficult over thick bush. The Elands' reliability was also somewhat called into question: nearly half the armoured cars in the squadron were rendered unserviceable at one time or another due to engine failures. These limitations emphasised the need for the development of a new mark of Eland further modified for southern African conditions.
The Eland continued to enjoy distinction in SADF service, especially with the 1 Special Service Battalion and 61 Mechanised Infantry Battalion Group. During Operation Protea and Operation Askari in 1981 and 1983, respectively, Eland-90s proved capable of eliminating Cuban and FAPLA T-34-85 and T-54/55 tanks at close range. The SADF began to gradually retire its Elands beginning in the mid-1980s, replacing them with the larger and notably more dependable Ratel-90 and Ratel-60 infantry fighting vehicles, which could carry the same armament but also a squad of infantry.

I turned to see one of our small, odd-looking Eland armoured ‘Noddy' cars with its long 90-millimetre gun barrelling towards us at almost top speed from across the chana...it turned nimbly, kicking up a cloud of dust as he came directly through our scattered line and then turned again, this time towards the tank. The little armoured car came to a quick stop right in the middle of the open ground about 80 metres from the tank, waited a couple of seconds and then fired one shot from [its] 90-millimetre with a loud bang. The shot was right on target. When the smoke drifted away the T-34's turret was lying off to one side and the open body was burning, belching dense black smoke.
South African paratrooper describes a standoff between an Eland and a T-34-85 during Operation Protea. It was common for armour contacts to be fought at extremely close range in the Angolan bush.

Once envisaged only as a scout car, the Eland auspiciously doubled in the role of an assault gun and an ersatz tank destroyer - but its obsolescence was highlighted by several factors, namely a flammable petrol engine which was especially vulnerable to rocket-propelled grenades or mine explosions, and its limited off-road mobility. The effectiveness of the low-pressure 90 mm gun against modern tanks was also questionable; during Operation Askari Eland-90s' high-explosive anti-tank shells rarely penetrated enemy T-54s without multiple hits.
Although they remained relatively popular with the armoured corps, Elands were not well-regarded by the mechanised infantry due to several unsuccessful attempts to integrate them with Ratel-mounted combat teams. The Eland simply lacked the range and mobility to keep pace with the Ratels during a firefight, and was more prone to technical malfunctions in the bush. The squat, compact vehicles were often ridiculed as "noddy cars" by infantrymen due to their quaint profile and small size as compared to the much heavier Ratel. This derisive nickname may have also been a reference to an Eland-90's tendency to rock on its axles while firing its main gun. Another train of thought was that it resembled the vehicle of childhood book character named Noddy with its oversized tires. Nevertheless, it was later adopted with affectionate pride by Eland crews.
The final variant to enter production, the Eland Mk7, was introduced in 1979. It possessed new power brakes, a modified transmission, and a lengthier hull for accommodating taller South African crewmen. A domed cupola with vision blocks was also added over the commander's hatch. Hard lessons driven home by Operation Savannah ensured the new Elands were also designed for operating long distances from supply and logistical centres, with maximum ease of maintenance in the field. For example, the engine was now mounted on a rail frame so it could be removed and replaced in under forty minutes. The Eland Mk7 was kept in production for another eight years, until its basic technology had become quite dated despite continuous upgrades. The South African Armoured Corps retired most of its Elands from combat service in the late 1980s, utilising them primarily for training Ratel-90 crews. In October 1988, South Africa unveiled a new indigenous armoured car known as the Rooikat. The Rooikat, which had emerged from the original requirement for a larger and more effectively armed vehicle to supplant the Eland series on conventional battlefields, was much more mobile and carried a sophisticated 76 mm high-velocity cannon capable of engaging armour at longer standoff ranges. In 1994, the Eland-60 and Eland-90 were formally retired from the newly integrated South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in favour of the Rooikat.

Combat history

South African Border War

Initial service
South Africa's determination to retain the disputed territory of South West Africa, which it had governed essentially as a fifth province since World War I, resulted in an armed insurgency by the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), the militant wing of the nationalist South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO). Insurgent activity took the form of ambushes and selective target attacks, particularly in the Caprivi Strip near the Zambian border. Reflecting a trend characteristic of many Anglophone Commonwealth states, local police were initially granted responsibility for managing counter-insurgency operations rather than the South African armed forces. However, by 1969 the security situation in Caprivi had deteriorated to the point that the SADF was forced to deploy a troop of Elands and several companies of infantry there.
A year later, PLAN began adopting mine warfare as an integral part of its attempts to hinder the mobility of South African convoys on the limited road network. Mine-laying was often used as a means to throw the convoys into disarray prior to an ambush. This tactic resulted in some of the heaviest SADF and police casualties thus far and evolved into one of the most defining features of PLAN's war effort for the next two decades. The SADF's immediate solution was to utilise its Elands for convoy escort purposes, as they were the only vehicles it possessed capable of surviving a mine explosion and also suppressing an ambush. An Eland-60 or Eland-90 was delegated to lead each convoy, with the other drivers continuing in its tracks. However, it soon became clear this practice was not an effective countermeasure. The armoured cars' petrol engines were vulnerable to the risk of fire whenever they detonated a mine. PLAN also responded by acquiring anti-tank mines, namely Soviet TM-46s, in large quantities.
On one occasion an Eland-90 detonated two TM-46s, which sent the vehicle airborne and hurled it about thirty metres away, after which it landed on its turret. Although the three crew members escaped serious injury, incidents like these demonstrated that the Eland simply lacked the mass to absorb the explosive force of an anti-tank mine. For the SADF and the police, the only other viable option was the adoption of armoured personnel carriers with mine-proof hulls that could move quickly on roads with little risk to their passengers even if a mine like the TM-46 was encountered. This would trigger a series of experiments aimed at producing a new class of military vehicle, the mine resistant and ambush protected vehicle (MRAP). From 1974 onward, Elands began to be replaced in their traditional role of convoy escort by specialised mineproofed vehicles.
Operation Savannah
The collapse of Portuguese colonial rule in South West Africa's northern neighbour, Angola, led to dramatic changes in South African foreign and defence policy. Factional infighting between the three rival Angolan nationalist movements pursuing their own separate strategies directed towards consolidating political power and influence in the colonial state was almost inevitable; by mid 1975 the country had degenerated into outright civil war. South Africa discreetly sponsored two of three Angolan factions, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), in the hopes of eliciting their cooperation with the SADF to deny PLAN sanctuary in Angola; this project was known as Operation Savannah. However, both UNITA and the FNLA were defeated and driven from the Angolan capital, Luanda, by the third faction - People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) that July.
Unlike the FNLA and UNITA, the MPLA possessed a militant wing, the People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA), which was well-equipped for conventional warfare and aided by an infusion of arms from the Soviet Union and Cuban military advisers. Instrumental in its capture of Luanda were a number of second-hand Soviet T-34-85 tanks, likely manned by well-drilled and experienced Cuban crews. Neither the FNLA nor UNITA possessed anti-tank weaponry, and their lightly armed troops were no match for the FAPLA armour. As part of its own covert intervention programme in Angola, the Central Intelligence Agency was able to persuade Zaire to donate some Panhard AML-90s and M40 recoilless rifles to the FNLA and UNITA in exchange for receiving more modern American weaponry. South Africa assembled an advisory and liaison team which included six armour instructors to train the UNITA AML crews. The SADF advisers planned to have three crews trained in several weeks, but they were not afforded this luxury as a FAPLA offensive was already underway to seize UNITA's headquarters at Nova Lisboa. Permission was granted by the South African political leadership to have the AMLs manned by the instructors until such a time as the UNITA crews could be trained to a minimal standard. UNITA and the SADF advisory team first clashed with a FAPLA armoured unit at the village of Norton de Matos, where they came under heavy fire from T-34-85 and PT-76 tanks. The South Africans attempted to fight off their opponents with their AML-90s and some ENTAC anti-tank missiles, but were forced to withdraw after a fierce skirmish.
The action at Norton de Metos had deeply shaken South Africa's confidence in UNITA's ability to win the war against FAPLA on its own, especially with its limited arsenal. During a meeting with UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi and the heads of the advisory mission on October 7, the SADF instructors argued that they would need better armour assets than the handful of dilapidated AMLs possessed by Savimbi. Their request was approved on the condition that any extension of the SADF's operational capacities in Angola remain strictly covert. All equipment, weapons, vehicles, and ammunition bound for the Angolan front were to be supplied through nonconventional channels and unmarked. SADF uniforms and insignia were explicitly prohibited. On October 9, a squadron of Eland-90s and their crews were hurriedly deployed to the border, ready to be airlifted deep into Angola five days later. The personnel involved were stripped of all their identifiable equipment, even their dog tags, and re-issued with nondescript uniforms and personal weapons impossible to trace. They were told to pose as mercenaries if questioned. Officials exempted Elands from the ban on South African weapons because it was well known that UNITA and the FNLA operated the externally identical AML, and they were regarded as suitably anonymous. To reinforce this impression, SADF crew members painted the armoured cars with UNITA markings. The Elands were attached to two separate composite battlegroups of motorised infantry, code named Task Force Zulu and Task Force Foxbat, respectively. Their objectives were to destroy the FAPLA forces south of Luanda and advance northwards, seizing as much territory as they could for the FNLA and UNITA before Angola's formal independence date on November 11, six weeks away. It was intended for Eland troops to merely support motorised infantry on roads, but since no other armour was available the South Africans deployed them as column spearheads. Eland-90s performed reconnaissance by fire, depending on their speed and mobility to carry them through potential ambushes. The SADF's use of light, fast-moving Elands backed by truck-mounted infantry advancing at full speed allowed it to retain the initiative and keep FAPLA continually off balance. Task Force Zulu was able to cover about ninety kilometres per day, even when the rainy season slowed momentum. By the time FAPLA redeployed sufficient forces along its southern front to halt the SADF advance, Zulu and Foxbat had advanced over 500 kilometres and captured eighteen major towns and cities.
FAPLA hastily established a rough line of defence from Norton de Matos to the strategic railway junction at Catengue, which lay on the highway between Nova Lisboa and Luanda. Unbeknownst to the SADF, Catengue was situated near a FAPLA training camp which housed a significant contingent of Cuban advisers. The Cubans planned an elaborate defence of Catengue, intending to pin the South African armoured cars on the road and strip away the supporting FNLA foot soldiers with a composite battery of 82 mm mortars and Grad-P 122 mm rocket artillery. As the Eland crews attempted to redeploy to suppress the defenders, a FAPLA anti-tank section with B-10 recoilless rifles and RPG-7s would finish them off. Although they had to come to a halt to return fire, the Elands escaped destruction during the actual engagement by rapidly manoeuvring between firing positions. While the armoured cars laid down suppressing fire on the mortar pits and kept the FAPLA troops preoccupied, the supporting SADF and FNLA infantrymen regrouped and carried out a successful flanking attack. The defenders were routed. Four Cubans had died during the battle for Catengue, seven were wounded, and another thirteen listed as missing in action.
Unaware that Catengue had fallen, several companies of Cuban and FAPLA infantry and an armoured reconnaissance platoon advanced south to reinforce the junction. The Eland-90s took up positions alongside the narrow highway and ambushed the approaching FAPLA vehicles one at a time, destroying them. Meanwhile, the revelation that Cuban advisers had been engaged by South African regulars with armour of their own prompted President Fidel Castro to approve a request from FAPLA for direct military assistance. In the following weeks, Cuban combat troops began arriving in Luanda by sea and air. Upon their arrival, they were supplied with T-34-85 tanks, hundreds of which had been shipped directly to Luanda by the Soviet Union to avoid transshipment delays in Havana.
The next major engagement between the Cubans and South African armour did not occur until November 23. One of the last settlements the SADF needed to capture before it could reach within striking distance of Luanda itself was Porto Amboim. To slow the SADF's advance, Cuban sappers had destroyed all the bridges over the Cuvo River south of Porto Amboim. Undeterred, both South African battlegroups began searching for alternative routes towards the east. More Cuban units redeployed to block their advance again at Quibala, a town which sat astride the only other highway to Luanda. While reconnoitering potential routes by which to attack Quibala from the east, Foxbat encountered an intact bridge over the Mabassa River near the village of Ebo. The defenders had anticipated that the SADF might attempt to cross the river there and had laid an ambush with recoilless rifles, BM-21 Grads, and a ZiS-3 anti-tank gun. When the South African armoured cars began crossing the bridge, the Cubans opened fire. The first Eland on the bridge was immediately knocked out by an RPG or recoilless rifle round, followed in rapid succession by three more. The surviving Elands on the opposite bank found it difficult to take evasive action due to their inability to manoeuvre in thick mud, and another three were destroyed. Futile attempts were made to recover the armoured cars for several hours, after which Foxbat withdrew. FAPLA later extricated the damaged and wrecked Elands on site and towed them away for propaganda purposes.
With its advance stymied for the time being, the SADF continued its search for alternative routes to Quibala and discovered another surviving bridge on the Nhia River, which had been damaged but not thoroughly demolished by Cuban sappers. This was known informally as "Bridge 14". South African army engineers began to repair the bridge under the cover of darkness on December 11, allowing the accompanying Elands to launch a surprise attack across it at dawn. Cuban mortar crews and anti-tank platoons armed with 9M14 Malyutka missiles had begun to deploy into ambush positions just beyond the bridge; however, several were wiped out when the SADF took the precaution of shelling the opposite riverbank with artillery. As they advanced the Eland crews also avoided the centre of the bridge, where the Cubans had trained their missiles. Taken by surprise, the defending Cuban and FAPLA units began a disorderly withdrawal. They regrouped at the village of Catofe, about sixteen kilometres south of Quibala, where they were reinforced by a company of T-34-85 tanks and prepared to make a final stand. Foxbat's Elands approached within five kilometres of Catofe but did not advance any further, owing to concerns about having overextended their lines.
While the campaign south of Quibala was in progress, two new battle groups modelled after Foxbat and Zulu, codenamed X-Ray and Orange respectively, had been formed in Silva Porto to fight the Cuban-FAPLA alliance in eastern Angola. Orange was dispatched northwards to capture Malanje while X-Ray moved further east to secure the railway line from Benguela. On 18 December, the first armour-to-armour engagement between South Africa and Cuba occurred when a troop of Eland-90s attached to Battle Group Orange reconnoitring potential river crossings east of Bridge 14 encountered three T-34-85s on the opposite bank. The Elands opened fire, destroying the lead tank and forcing the others to withdraw.
South Africa's decision to terminate Operation Savannah in the face of heavy international opposition and an increasingly formidable Cuban troop presence was made around January 1976, and the last SADF forces departed Angola in March. A detailed study of the Eland's advantages and shortcomings during that campaign was subsequently undertaken by the South African Armoured Corps. Much of the lessons learned from Angolan operations could also be readily applied to northern South West Africa, where the characteristics of the annual rainy season, compounded by dense vegetation and muddy terrain, were quite similar. Eland crews found that the density of the bush impeded their mobility, line of vision, and the traversing angle of their turrets. The region was also prone to dry flood plains, which filled into marshlike oshanas during the rainy season and posed a notoriously difficult obstacle for the four-wheeled armoured cars. While the Eland-90s brought to bear enormous firepower, they possessed limited ammunition stowage capacity. During Operation Savannah, it was not uncommon for an Eland to expend all its stored ammunition during a firefight and have to withdraw to the rear to resupply. Fourthly, the Eland was not designed as a troop-carrying vehicle. It possessed no interior space to accommodate an infantry section, forcing the attached SADF infantrymen to proceed on foot or ride in unarmoured trucks which offered minimal protection during ambushes. These issues highlighted the need for a dedicated infantry fighting vehicle in SADF service, which soon emerged in the form of the Ratel.
Operations Reindeer and Sceptic
Elands were again mobilised by the SADF for Operation Reindeer in May 1978, a coordinated strike on three suspected PLAN training complexes in Angola. For the purposes of this operation, the SADF experimented with an integrated combat team consisting of mechanised infantry mounted in the new Ratels, backed by attached Eland-90s providing fire support as needed. Three combat teams of Ratels and Eland-90s were created for the assault on a heavily fortified PLAN camp known as the "Dombondola Complex", also code named Objective Vietnam. One troop of Eland-90s would follow the Ratels during the attack, while the other two were to redeploy on the nearby highway linking Cuamato to Chetequera, where they could intercept stragglers or potential guerrilla reinforcements. The combat teams were backed by rear echelon which included a battery of towed BL 5.5-inch Medium Guns and logistics vehicles carrying enough fuel and ammunition for the journey; these were escorted by Eland-60s in a supporting role.
During the course of Operation Reindeer, numerous Elands repeatedly stalled in mud and even loose sand, leaving no alternative but to tow them out with the much heavier Ratels. The speed at which the combat team was able to cover ground was negatively affected by the Elands' poor momentum on broken terrain. Their petrol engines were also an issue, since this factor necessitated a separate logistics apparatus from those of the Ratels. When the attack on Vietnam began, the Eland-90s deployed into a static formation and began firing on the PLAN defenders. This would prove to be a fatal error, as the close proximity of the Elands to each other and their crews' failure to exploit their mobility allowed the guerrillas to concentrate their mortars and anti-tank weapons on the lightly armoured vehicles. It also limited their arcs of fire. Due to poor visibility on the battlefield, turret crews were inclined to leave all their hatches open for maximum situational awareness. The open hatches resulted in injuries and deaths due to mortar fragments. Additionally, the crews raised complaints about the 90 mm ammunition, which was difficult to load and resulted in stoppages due to some inefficient plastic components.
As a result of the lessons incorporated during Operation Reindeer, the SADF and Sandock-Austral made several changes to the Eland and its main armament. The latest mark of Eland to be introduced incorporated a raised commander's cupola with vision blocks, similar to that of the Ratel. This improved the crew commander's observation capacity without compromising the protection afforded by the turret armour. Furthermore, the use of 90 mm ammunition sourced from France was discontinued and production of local 90 mm ammunition optimised for the Eland was accelerated. Finally, the armoured corps acknowledged that in a composite mechanised infantry group, the Eland-90 was not suited to fight in tandem with the Ratel. The former's fire support potential was useful, but its mobility was inferior to that of the Ratel and the need to maintain a separate logistics apparatus for a separate vehicle type, especially one with a petrol engine, was not deemed economical. These concerns were addressed in the short run by mating a Ratel chassis to an Eland-90's turret and 90 mm gun, creating the Ratel-90. The Ratel-90 was seen as the ideal solution, since it simplified logistics and did not compromise the overall mobility of a mechanised combat team. Its six wheels, longer operating range, and 72 stowed rounds of 90 mm ammunition were also considered much more suitable for mobile bush operations.
In June 1980 the SADF launched Operation Sceptic, the largest combined arms operation undertaken by any South African military force since World War II. Sceptic was essentially identical to Reindeer in terms of objectives and organisation: there were three mechanised combat teams equipped with Ratels, including the new Ratel-90s; the SADF also attached a fourth combat team consisting of Eland-90s and support infantry in Buffel armoured personnel carriers. There were also fifth and sixth combat teams composed entirely of paratroops, who functioned as light infantry, and a rear echelon. Their objective was to eliminate three PLAN training camps in southern Angola. The Eland-90s were given the task of leading the combat teams because the narrow width of their wheels made it difficult for them to follow in the wide tracks left by the Ratels. South African strategists also recognised that the Elands retained the poorest momentum and placed them at the front of the column to prevent them from being separated from the Ratels in the thick bush. As a consequence of this decision the combat teams advanced at a maximum speed of about 20 km/h. When the terrain became more challenging, the advance slowed to about 10 km/h. Due to their limited operating range several of the Elands ran out of fuel and had to be towed to the objective. When the combat teams reached the first PLAN facility, the stalled Elands were inadvertently towed by the Ratels into an insurgent ambush. Their crews found themselves unable to support the mechanised assault group while fighting for their own survival, and the 90 mm guns were used as extremely close range to suppress counterattacking PLAN forces.
Operation Protea
SWAPO cadres and their Angolan hosts were undeterred by preceding SADF campaigns. Partisan recruitment continued in earnest, and the difficulties experienced in storming "Smokeshell" forced South African tacticians to recognise that conventional cross-border operations were intricate affairs. Nevertheless, Operation Sceptic had demonstrated that pressure on the home front could be relieved with aggressive preemptive or counterstrike strategy. In August 1981, four mechanised battlegroups staged Operation Protea - converging on SWAPO camps at Ongiva and Xangongo. At least three were equipped with Eland-90s, the remainder of the force being bolstered by Ratels and Eland-60s (again seconded to an artillery troop). Protea had three objectives: to disrupt SWAPO's logistical apparatus in southern Angola, to preempt further infiltration of South West Africa, and to capture or destroy as much military equipment as possible. This offensive was destined to encounter an unexpectedly large presence of Angolan regular forces, who brought their heavy armour into offensive action for the first time. In preparation for potential encounters with FAPLA T-34-85 tanks, elements of 61 Mechanised practised "firebelt" actions, integrating mutual support and specialised manoeuvres. It was, however, stripped of its Ratel-90 antitank platoon for Protea, necessitating a greater dependence on the Eland: a vehicle unable to keep pace with Ratels during rapid firebelts.
South African forces advanced on 23 August, cutting Xangongo off from Ongiva and establishing a blocking force near Chicusse. They stormed into Xangongo at 1:25 PM the following day, though it was late afternoon before the battle intensified. This settlement was garrisoned by FAPLA's 19th Brigade, which included a T-34 company and mechanised squadron. Although Elands were vulnerable to the T-34's 85 mm gun, their vastly superior mobility and the experience of SADF crews made a considerable difference. Three tanks had been demolished by late afternoon. Elands were also deployed with the blocking force on the main axis of the Xangongo-Cahama highway, where it was hoped that their speed on tarred surfaces could be better exploited. They did not have to wait long. In the evening a sizeable FAPLA convoy, consisting of armoured personnel carriers, infantry, and artillery, was glimpsed fleeing towards Cahama. Upon identifying the point vehicle as a BRDM-2, a South African spotter ordered "skiet hom met ‘n 90," ("shoot it with a 90 [mm]"). Hit by three rounds, the vehicle ignited. A number of trailing BTR-152s, GAZ-66s, and BM-21s were also captured or destroyed.
The assault on Ongiva began with an air strike on 27 August, while artillery engaged in knocking out predetermined FAPLA or SWAPO targets. Angolan troops counterattacked on at least two occasions with T-34s, three of which were annihilated by concentrated fire from the Ratel or Eland-90 squadrons. In hindsight, tanks played a relatively limited role in the defence. Most had been dug in for use as static artillery - firing from entrenched positions near FAPLA camps and installations. This restricted their trajectory. Moreover, the T-34s faced south; their crews were thus unable to counter South African armoured cars arriving from the north.
Operation Askari
At the end of Operation Protea, South Africa had captured over 3,000 tonnes of ammunition, overrun some 38,850 square kilometres of Angolan territory, and inflicted serious casualties on SWAPO and FAPLA. Most significantly, the SADF installed its own garrisons at Xangongo and Ongiva - leaving behind two companies detached from the South West African Territorial Force (SWATF), an Eland squadron, and the special forces of 32 Battalion. Throughout 1982 Eland-90s were a common sight on the roads around Xangongo, deterring SWAPO from reentering the town.
By 1983, FAPLA had completed an exhaustive two-year retraining and reequipment programme, greatly increasing in size, sophistication, and competence under the eye of Soviet military advisors. Luanda was spending 35% of its budget on external defence, and Mikoyan MiG-21s were beginning to disrupt the traditional South African Air Force superiority. Within five months of Protea, Cuba had committed another 7,000 troops to Angola. They also brought T-54/55 tanks, which were more formidable than the antiquated T-34.
In April South Africa began compiling intelligence on SWAPO plans to move an additional 1,000 guerrillas into the operational area, using the Cunene rainy season for cover. Modelled after Protea, Operation Askari began on 20 December 1983: headed for insurgent staging areas identified by aerial reconnaissance, four battalion-sized combat groups crossed into Angola. Askari called for a single unit of Eland-90s, which were scraped together from Regiment Mooirivier and Regiment Molopo. Unlike past operations, their crews were predominantly reservists. The Elands were assigned to Task Force Victor, which was to acquire the unfortunate reputation of being Askari's poorest element. Marshalled against them were four FAPLA brigades stationed at Caiundo, Cuvelai, Mulondo, and Cahama, or one-seventh of the Angolan Army. Soviet commander Valentin Varennikov, who was instrumental in directing the Angolan defence, was confident that "given their numerical strength and armament, the brigades... [would] be able to repel any South African attack".
The SADF, however, had no intention of making frontal attacks that could be costly in lives or resources. Askari depended on being able to keep FAPLA at bay through air strikes, long-distance bombardment, and light probing. In keeping with this principle, Task Force Victor marched east through Mongua before harassing FAPLA's 11th Brigade at Cuvelai, their intended target. Angolan defenders responded with heavy artillery. A disappointed General Constand Viljoen warned that if no major successes were achieved before 31 December, the operation might not continue. But Cuvelai had been identified as a key location in SWAPO's upcoming monsoon offensive, and had to be neutralised before Victor could be withdrawn. A flurry of new orders were issued accordingly: probing actions were to cease, and the enemy attacked "forcefully" prior to the 31st. The SWAPO camps near the town were the objective: South African officers were confident that neither Angola nor two adjacent Cuban battalions nearby would intervene.
In line with his new directives, Victor commandant Faan Greyling was instructed to advance from the northeast. But this route was barred by the Cuvelai River, which was in flood and complicated by the heaviest rains in living memory. Predictably, the Elands got stuck as they struggled up the muddy banks of every stream. SWAPO was waiting for Victor in force behind artillery, sixteen minefields, and ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns. Faulty intelligence also complicated the attack: FAPLA did come to SWAPO's assistance with 13 T-55 tanks. As his men were poorly equipped with antitank weapons, Greyling's Eland-90s had to bear the brunt of the armoured thrust. Their inadequate low velocity cannon had great difficulty against the T-55s, often dispensing multiple shells before penetrating the tanks' armour. Crew tactics were to encircle single tanks with an Eland troop (four cars) and keep on shooting until their target burned. This required intense coordination between the Eland commanders, who directed each other by radio until they were able to concentrate their fire on a T-55's exposed side or rear, preferably while its turret was pointed in another direction.
Sensing an opportunity to disengage, Greyling called off the attack, but it was too late. Exhausted by the intensity of the firefight and already demoralised by their repeated failures, the South Africans retreated. Headquarters demanded he resume the advance - Greyling retorted he would not do so without coherent planning or reconnaissance. It eventually fell to an overworked 61 Mechanised to complete the objective. Due to the higher profile of their Ratel-90s they could locate T-55s over dense vegetation before the Angolan gunners in turn spotted them, an advantage Elands did not possess. The armoured cars succeeded in knocking out at least five tanks on the river, which were captured and retained for inspection. South Africa finally took what was left of Cuvelai on January 7.

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