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The Silent War: South African Recce Operations 1969-1994 Paperback – December 31, 2002
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A look at South African military operations during the apartheid years. It deals with all the top secret raids by Special Forces into surrounding African states, the political dynamics which led to them and the turbulent history of the times. This account tells not only the story of South Africa's Special Forces, it has also been described as the most important and frank history of South Africa itself during the apartheid years. Not only does it deal with military operations but it also explains the political dynamics that prompted them. It is wide ranging and covers the first counter-insurgency operations in Namibia in 1966, a commando raid on Dar-es-Salaam, the Fox Street Siege, South Africa's intervention into Angola in 1975 and subsequent pull-out, the rise of insurgency in Mozambique, South Africa's re-entry into Angola, strikes against SWAPO bases in Zambia, the training and assistance to UNITA, the fight against ZANLA and ZIPRA in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the fall of Rhodesia, how the SAS and Selous Scouts were reformed as Recce units in South Africa, the selection and training of special forces, the raid against the ANC at Matola in Mozambique, South African assistance to RENAMO and Recce operations in Mozambique, Lesotho, Cabinda, Botswana and Zambia. It also deals in detail with the final days of apartheid in South Africa and explains how close the country was to a right-wing coup d'etat.
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Seth J. Frantzman
The first two hundred pages have virtually nothing to do with Reconnaissance Commando (Recce) operations and only mention fleetingly that South African Special Forces were used in African conflicts in the 1960s and early 1970s. The book starts to fulfil its title from the years when the Rhodesians (mainly SAS & Selous Scouts) are recruited into the South African Special Forces. Perhaps more operators from this era were available to regale Stiff with stories then for the previous period. Similarly, the last 100 pages have almost nothing to do with Recce operations.
As one would expect, most operations are discussed without much real detail, with Stiff padding the pages with peripheral information on the politics and history of the time, interspersed liberally with his own, unresearched, ill-judged and often ignorant comments. As a consequence, of the nearly 600 pages, only about 200 are really about Recce operations - which saves the book from "absolute rubbish" status. He does spend a chapter on recruitment, selection & training - which was enlightening, albeit superficial.
There are several photos, but many are of training, and some are dubiously associated (Operation Colosseum - Recces wearing helmets - possible, but not likely).
Content-wise, Stiff misses many contextual points which are far more relevant than his poorly researched attempts at historical context. He fails to discuss how the Recces worked with other special force units and how the lines between special forces and the Civil Cooperation Bureau became blurred, with many operators "transferring", or straddling the two units. An interesting take-away is how elite operators can be let down by poor quality or unserviceable equipment, outdated or incorrect intelligence, lack of tactical and operational support, or political interference.
While the book is generally an easy read, Stiff's writing style wavers between vain attempts at pomposity, and indifferent, lazy colloquialism. The editor should be shot: the chapters have no apparent flow and are devoid of overall sequencing; spelling mistakes abound and the grammar is, in places, disgraceful. The 2009 edition that I read had made very little effort to update the content with Recce information publically available on the web, or through the TRC submissions.
If you really want to buy the book, it's at best a skim-read for superficial interest and not for any real understanding or analysis.