The Lessons of the Border War

Leopold Scholtz


A quarter of a century after the end of the Border War, the SANDF’s institutional memory of the conflict is slowly fading.  And yet there are several lessons emanating from the war, which are relevant to the Defence Force.  This article attempts to map out some of these lessons. These lessons are as follows. (1) The need for combined arms units such as 61 Mechanised Battalion Group and 4 SAI, being a mix of mechanised infantry, armoured cars, tanks, artillery and support troops on battalion level. (2) The importance of logistic support, something that was not always sufficient during Operations Moduler, Hooper and Packer in 1987–1988. (3) Reserve force units must be adequately retrained when utilised in operations. (4) During the war, there was a gap in the Army’s anti-aircraft capability.  This gap has not been rectified since. (5) In order to be able to command the air above a battlefield, an aerial refuelling capability for the SAAF is essential. (6) The Army needs a proper air assault and maritime amphibious capability. (7) When deciding to engage in a warlike operation, avoid the incremental commitment, which characterised both Operation Savannah in 1975 and Moduler in 1988. (8) While the field units fight on the battlefield, do not micromanage things from above.  As long as the units keep within the political and operational parameters set by the politicians and generals, let the field commanders exercise their own initiative. (9) Make a renewed study of the Army’s mobile warfare doctrine of the seventies and eighties, as developed by officers such as Major General Roland de Vries. (10) Lastly, see to it that officers are not just trained, but intellectually educated about war as well.


Border War; SADF; SANDF; Combined arms; Reserve force; Operation Savannah; Operation Moduler; Mobile warfare doctrine; Military education

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Copyright (c) 2018 Leopold Scholtz

ISSN 2224-0020 (online); ISSN 1022-8136 (print)

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