Thirty Nine years ago today, at 0804 on a chilly morning, 367 Parabats stepped out of the doors of their lumbering aircraft over the fortified base camp Cassinga. 250 Kilometers behind the lines, it was a matter of victory or death. If the Paratroopers did not prevail, walking back to the border was going to be a deadly business, harassed by Angolan, Cuban and PLAN enemy. Due to a photo scaling error, the drop was a shambles. The box drop which was meant to seal the base ended up scattering the Parabats into positions that put them into mortal danger. Some dropped right on top of the enemy, some landed kilometers away from their intended positions. Some in trees and others into the river, or on the wrong bank.
The essential element of surprise was lost, giving the enemy ample time to set themselves up in the extensive trench and bunker system that surrounded the camp.
Instead of the short, sharp skirmish planned, the attack was an extended affair. The enemy brought their anti-aircraft cannons to bear while the Parabats were exiting the aircraft, and these powerful guns were not silenced until mid afternoon.
The battle raged most of the day and ended with the surrender of the enemy after the big cannons were silenced.
The first wave of helicopters extracted half the Parabats, leaving the remainder to mop up while waiting to be evacuated themselves.
At half their strength, the Parabats were warned by a circling aircraft that a column of twenty armored vehicles was approaching the base.
A Cuban detachment from nearby Techamutete was charging to the rescue of their SWAPo comrades.
This was a grave threat to the few remaining Parabats. Their LZ’s came under tank fire and APCs full of Cubans threatened to swamp the remaining Parabats.
A combination of rocket fire from two Mirages that screamed in from Ondongwa destroyed a number of vehicles, but the Mirages couldn’t hang around as they were at their range limit and could spend only a minute or two over the target.
A landmine that the Parabats had laid that morning for just this kind of eventuality blew uo the leading tank, stopping the Cuban advance for a while.
The Parabats hit the armor with all they had. RPGs and LMGs opened up on the column, buying time for the helicopters to refuel and return to extract the small remaining force.
With the LZs under fire, the helicopters returned. A lone Buccanneer overhead, out of ammo, protected the Parabats scrambling for there lifts home. The Buccanneer pilot, repeatedly buzzed the tanks at treetop level keeping them buttoned up while the Bats were extracted.
Four Parabats lost their lives that day. JC De Waal, Martin Kaplan, Eddie Backhouse and tragically, Skillie Human was Missing in Action.
After all this time, we have only recently established what happened to Skillie Human. He landed in the river and drowned.
Through years of detective work, we have now located Skillies unmarked grave where he was buried by a local chief. The time has come to Bring Skillie Home.
If you do anything today in remembrance, please give a donation to enable us to bring our last one back.
The audited non profit fund account to help this happen is:
Parabat Veterans Organisation NPC, Nedbank Account Number
1131959035 Branch 11414500 with your Surname and “Skillie” as identification.