Month: August 2016

61 Mech: The Book

When the 61 Mech Veterans Association was founded a few years ago, it was decided that the story of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group needed to be told. Not only to preserve the history for the future, but also to correct many of the myths, lies and propaganda associated with the battalion group.

I was a member of Bravo Company of 61 Mech and served with the unit from December 1980 till December 1981 and consider it to be my “home unit”; and while my memory is not as good as it was, I do remember that way back then we knew we were special and that when butts needed kicking we were the ones to do it.

The book took a long time to write, even longer than the average service period of a national serviceman way back in the bad old days. Mobility Conquers, the story of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group is co-authored by the much respected Willem Steenkamp and Helmoed-Römer Heitman.

I received my copy in early August of 2016, before the book was officially launched in South Africa.

My first impressions were that it was roughly the same size as the box that a 200 round belt of 7.62 ammunition came in, and almost the same weight! In truth it weighs in at 2.6 kg (1062 pages) which is one heck of a lot to balance on your chest at night when you lay in bed reading.

The book covers the period 1978-2005 which is the period when it was founded till when it was disbanded, although in my experience it appears as if the post border war era is really short of detail and does seem rushed.

My biggest gripe is the images, some are almost illegible, and others are way too small too. The maps, while really helpful and beautifully created, are way too small. I struggled to see the detail and frankly just gave up on them. I do however like the occasional sidebar that is used to enhance a page or story or person, they are very helpful and contain some fascinating information.

The book does read easily, interspersed with anecdotes from those who were there and those who planned and oversaw the operations. If anything the book does provide a really good insight into the border war as it was fought in Angola, although it is really restricted to the roles of 61 Mech and affiliated units that served under it’s very large umbrella.

My own interest was in the 1981 years and it was really strange to read about the happenings in that year without shaking your head in agreement. Our OC back then was Cmdt Roland De Vries, and we were really privileged to have him as our OC. This man wrote the book on mechanised warfare for the SADF, and his influence permeated throughout the book. It was also interesting to see how many of the officers from our era moved up in the ranks to lead formations in later operations. As a former nsm we went home after our two years, and for them the war really continued because many were career soldiers.  

Some of the action reports make for interesting reading, and the sheer scale of the operations is amazing. However, the enemy that they fought was even bigger and the losses that they took is staggering. It was really in the nature of these conflicts that lives were thrown away all in the name of a “Liberation Struggle”.  

61 Mech had a reason to exist while the border war raged, and once peace came the writing was really on the wall. There was no real need for a unit that had waged war so effectively, and which had the respect of it’s  friends and foes, and up till now the story of 61 Mech had never been told, and now it is all there in print. 

In my humble opinion the book should have been split into two, although where that spilt would be inserted is difficult to pinpoint. Two volumes would have enabled the authors to expand on the later years and add in a lot more about the operations, equipment and other associated minutiae that made up the unit and it’s men.  It would have also made for a much lighter read, and allowed for choosing which era your interest was in. 

The book is pricey, and hopefully when a second edition does come out some of the errors and omissions will be corrected and the quality of the images will be addressed.  I think I spotted maybe 5 typos in the whole book which was great. 

On my 2nd last day as an nsm  I remember thinking that I was finished with all the crap and once I walked out the main gate I would never hear about the unit again. I was wrong, because 61 Mech fought on and even today, long after it was disbanded it  is still leading the field, it is just that the field is now full of old men who look back with fondness on those days where we were fit and ready to conquer the enemy. 

Mobility Conquers reminds us of those days and those who never came back, our friends and comrades, our much loved Ratels, and the starlit sky above the sandy roads of our base in Omuthiya, and if we cast our minds back we may hear the generator in the distance or the feint whine of a Ratel or the bark of a Hyena.  Those are memories most of us share, and they are well defined inside the book. 

If I wanted to I could nitpick, but I will leave that to those who are more erudite than I am. I will do a reread of the book at a later stage, but this time I will dip in and out, savouring the past and smelling the diesel and cordite, and hearing those familiar sounds once again.

A great read. Congrats to those involved. This is one of the best Border War Books out there and we can be rightly proud of it.

© DRW 2016-2018. Created 29/08/2016 


Photo Essay: Bubble Cars and Micro Cars

The definition of a “Bubble Car” is quite a difficult one because it is really about what makes a car a bubble car (did you understand that? I certainly didn’t). Realistically it is about a small car that was cheap to run, cheap to buy and small in size, often with three wheels. The most prevalent bubble cars were made in Germany, and strangely enough by companies more associated with building aircraft. They certainly turn heads when the pass, although they are becoming increasingly rare.

This essay will feature a few groupings of bubble cars and small cars (micro cars). The first being the James Hall Museum of Transport in Johannesburg. The images I took at the museum are not great because it is not an easy place to photograph and at times my camera’s were not exactly state of the art.

BMW Isetta

BMW Isetta

BMW Isetta

Messerschmitt

Messerschmitt (exploded view)

I often wonder whether BMW ever regret producing the BMW Isetta? Available as a 3 wheel and a 4 wheeled version it is probably the best known of the bubble cars and its shape really defines what a bubble car is. 

They also have two other micro cars on display:

Fuldamobile

Still trying to identify this one., It is not however a BMW with personalised plates. Odds are it is a variation of the Vespa 400 but I cannot be sure.

When I visited the museum in March 2017 I was hoping to get new images of the two vehicles above, but both were no longer there. 

One afternoon, on my way home with friends we drew level with two cars with trailers on which there was a Messerschmitt and an Isetta. I was a passenger in our car which is why I was able to take pics.

Messerschmitt

BMW Isetta

BMW Isetta

From these images you can gauge how big (or small) these vehicles are in relation to the tow cars. It was a really odd thing to see on our roads and I never did work out where they are going to or coming from.

At the Tewkesbury Classic Vehicle Festival I encountered two example of the Heinkel Trojan which gave me a opportunity to photograph this oddity.

Heinkel Trojan 1963

Heinkel Trojan

BMW Isetta (1959)

BMW Isetta (1959)

Of course there is another “honorable mention” that I need to make which is also at James Hall, and it is more of an “orangemobile”. I believe these were built from a Mini chassis and were used to promote the Outspan citrus board. Six of these were originally  commissioned by Outspan from a company Brian Waite Enterprise Ltd. based at Bodium in East Sussex, and they were built between 1972 and 1974, and were used on advertising campaigns both in the UK and Europe. (http://www.thisbrighton.co.uk/culture-hcvs-outspan.htm)

There is one really unique vehicle to the UK that I want to include here because they are really very quirky. South Africans probably saw their first one in the “Mr Bean” TV series, and I saw my first one in Southampton in 2013. To be frank: I was amused. I am only familiar with the Reliant Regal, Reliant Robin and the Reliant Rialto, and I have not quite figured out how to identify them apart unless I can read a name off the back. I could not do that with the red one I am afraid although I believe it too is a Rialto.

Reliant Regal

Reliant Rialto SE

The Italians were responsible for a number of interesting small cars, Fiat in particular had a very iconic vehicle in the Fiat 500. My red example is in a casino in Fourways in South Africa and has a lot of parking tickets!

Fiat 500 at Montecasino

Fiat 500 at Montecasino

 and the white vehicle I spotted in Lymington.

And I spotted this blue one at the Tewkesbury Classic Vehicle Festival in 2017

Another odd micro car caught my attention at the Tewkesbury Classic Vehicle Festival in 2017, and frankly the first thing I thought of when I saw it was “Postman Pat”

1976 William Fourgonette

You see what I mean? The info sheet on the widdscreen stated that the car was a 1976 William Fourgonette, and they were powered by a  125cc or 175cc Lambretta scooter motor. It had a 4 speed manual gearbox and a top speed of 45 mph. More information on the vehicle may be found at https://www.lanemotormuseum.org/

 

I somehow do not think I am finished with bubble cars and micro cars yet, the attraction of a small car for town and short distance driving is strong, and an effective small electric car would really change the face of our overcrowded cities.

I saw this little one in London and  given how hard it is to find parking in London I am surprised I never saw more.  

And of course James Hall Transport Museum has this small Enfield electric vehicle on display that never seemed to enter production.  

Unfortunately there will always be the big ego types who really like their oversized 4×4’s and they just never get the fact that fossil fuels are bad news in the long run, and scaling down really does make sense. But then I have never understood the whole big car thing myself; after all you are talking about somebody who fell in love with the Mini when he was a boy and that was what he wanted when he grew up, although I kind of like the bubble cars, they have a charm all of their own.

Probably one of my dream cars is the Morgan 3 Wheelers. I have seen quite a few of them in the UK and I find them fascinating. The first one I saw was in the movie “The Party” starring Peter Sellers. They are very quirky vehicles, and some of the earlier ones were very minimalistic.

1927 Morgan Aero

The Morgan Aero above had 1000 cc side valve engine, a two speed chain drive, reverse, no front wheel brakes, the starting handle was inserted into the gearbox at the rear and it cost £100 when new. These cars are still in production, albeit upgraded for modern motoring, and they are very collectable. 

Other 3 Wheelers that I saw at the Tewkesbury Classic Vehicle Festival in 2017 and 2016 are below

Morgan 3 Wheeler (2017)

DRK 3 Wheeler (2016)

Lomax 3 Wheeler (2016)

Polaris Slingshot 3 wheel motorcycle

Polaris Slingshot 3 wheel motorcycle

3 x 3 wheelers

3 x 3 Wheelers (2016)

Berkeley 3 Wheeler

Berkeley 3 Wheeler (2016)

 

Lomax 3 wheeler (2017)

Custom Morgan 3 Wheeler

That concludes my brief photo essay. Hopefully one day I will be able to expand it just a bit more, after all, you never know what may come driving down the road.

DRW © 2016-2020 Created 27/08/2016. Some images taken at the James Hall Museum of Transport. Two new images added 29/03/2017


A Day at the Park

Autumn was here and the leaves were flying all over the place while the sun was making the occasional surprise visit and the wind was blowing like crazy. Poor Miss Emily dearly wanted to go to the park but unfortunately the powers that be had decreed that our park was in need of “Improvement” which was really another name for “politically correct”. 

Fortunately there was a brief break in the weather so I could take Miss Emily to try out the all new squeaky clean park with it’s fake grass. It is not an inspiring place, but then I grew up in a different era altogether. Miss Emily was wearing her new polka dot dress with Mary Janes, not really an intelligent choice for somebody with strange knees.

Neither Miss Emily or myself were quite sure what these were in aid of, but then I am not a toddler so would not really know. I guess that children would know, but I certainly don’t. Poor Miss Emily was struggling not to blow away, and of course the skirt of her new dress was not making things easier. However, she did have a woolly hat to keep her ears warm, but I was pretty certain that I would end up holding it at some point. 

The all new shiney jungle gym thing looked kind of exciting for a brief minute, but being of limited mobility meant that clambering would not happen, besides, Miss Emily was not too keen on her skirt blowing over her head.

The slide showed promise though

Is that it? not very exciting is it? I am afraid that the slide was a disappointment, gone was the much higher one that would have seen Miss Emily reach breakneck speed! 

“Miss Emily, where is your woolly hat?”

“It’s um… er… I don’t know?”

Her hat retrieved and now replaced with a scarf; Miss Emily decided to try the merry go round (or roundabout depending on where you came from). It was exciting because it actually moved, but I really had to be careful she didn’t decide to fly off into the distance while I was taking the pic. 

“Let’s go swing!” Miss Emily insisted.

“No, you can swing, I will watch.”

It was quite a battle to get Miss Emily into the seat. “Miss Emily, where is your scarf?”

“Um, er… I don’t know?”

Miss Emily swung until she was tired of swinging. “I need to rest. My tummy is upside down.”

There was this strange blue and yellow boingey thingey that she decided was perfect to sit on while she regained her pouty composure.

“This strange boingey thingey is fun, but it is making me feel boingey inside. I need to find somewhere to sit that doesn’t move please.”

I moved Miss Emily to the bench so that she could re-arrange her boingey tummy while I retrieved her scarf.

She waved at me and I could see she was about ready to go home. “Time to head off home Miss Emily?”

“Great idea, the wind is really messing with my hair and I think there is a spot on my dress.”

“Well spotted Miss Emily. come, let us go, I have your scarf and you have your hat so we are more or less all here.”

We made our way home, Miss Emily had had an interesting morning so far and I really wanted to see how her pics came out, and whether the special effects images were any good. The good ones I will post at her artistic images gallery.

Random Images

DRW © 2016-2018. Created 05/11/2016