The dedicated boys and girls making up the drill squad of the Western Province School Marching Drill and Exhibition Association (WP SMDEA) (see previous post) gave up their mid-term holidays, in order to participate in an intensive week of training by members of the SA Army Band Cape Town. The drill squad is part of the pre-show entertainment on each night of the Cape Town Military Tattoo to be held at the Castle of Good Hope from 03 to 06 November 201o.
After spending all of Monday on the parade ground at Youngsfield Military Base and practising their routines, Tuesday was designated a day of relaxation and it included a visit to the SA Naval Base in Simon’s Town (see this post). Wednesday was another day of hard work, as they spent long hours rehearsing and drilling under the watchful eyes of Staff Sergeant Jerome Mecloen and WO2 André van Schalkwyk of the SA Army Band Cape Town, as well as the various instructors.
They were duly rewarded on Thursday, with a visit to Fort iKapa in Goodwood, which is currently the only base in the country where all the Reserve units in the province are located.
3 Parachute Battalion C Company
The first stop was the hangar of 3 Parachute Battalion C Company, marked by a forbidding sign announcing “BEWARE: You are now entering Paratrooper Country – Zero Tolerance”. A huge cargo parachute was draped from the one wall, while camouflage netting hung down from the railing above; just inside the entrance, four parachute harnesses were suspended from the ceiling – these are used for practising the various landing drills.
After they had been warmly welcomed by Captain Tawse, Company Commander, WO2 Boshoff, assisted by Gunner Mark Bouillon and Staff Sergeant Simboya, taught the learners a little about the rigorous and demanding training that is necessary in order to become a paratrooper, as these are required to be very fit and strong both physically and mentally. A couple of the youngsters discovered this when, no doubt eager to impress the girls, they accepted the challenge to run across the parking area, weighed down with a heavy cement ‘marble’ and an unwieldy metal cylinder!
WO2 Boshoff spoke to the curious learners about the drills, which the paratroopers practice so frequently that they become second nature. They included, for instance, how to strap on the parachute, how to jump safely out of an aeroplane, how to connect the static line, which ensures that the parachute will open, how to release the reserve chute in an emergency, how to check for other paratroopers in the air, and how to land safely, even in trees and in water. Staff Sergeant Simboya, strapped into one of the harnesses, demonstrated some of these drills, much to the delight of the learners. Two of the youngsters eagerly volunteered to be strapped into the harnesses to experience first-hand what this was like.
Staff Sergeant Simboya then demonstrated the correct and safe way of landing and rolling. Two boys who were really keen to try this out themselves, were given a chance to practice landing and rolling on the mat, while using the ramp; their courage and enthusiasm was rewarded by much good-humoured laughter and applause from their classmates.
The paratroopers climbed up the stairs to the platform above, from which they rapidly fast-roped, one after the other, to excited cheers from their spellbound audience. At each of the stops, one of the learners was chosen from the group to thank the relevant officers in charge for showing them around their facilities and telling them about the training given to their particular unit. I thought this was a wonderful gesture.
The second port of call was the Regiment Oranjerivier, “Home of the Armour Reserves”, where the group was greeted by Lt Col Jaco Olivier.
He told us a little about the unit and the vehicles they used in battle. We were taught the difference between an armoured vehicle and a tank – the former has wheels, whereas the latter has tracks! Their hangar houses an Eland Mk7 (affectionately called the Noddy), a highly mobile 4×4 light armoured car, which was used extensively during the Angolan/South West African border war in the 1980s. (Have a look here for some more photos).
It stands proudly next to its more recent replacement, the imposing Rooikat, an armoured vehicle that was custom-built in South Africa. The Rooikat is designed for combat reconnaissance and for search-and-destroy missions, as well as to give combat support. It accommodates a driver in the hull, and a commander, gunner and loader in the turret.
Capable of travelling at up to 120 kph on the open road, and 30 to 60 kph across rough terrain, it can climb gradients of 70 degrees, traverse gradients of 30 degrees, cross 2 metre wide trenches at a crawl and ford water up to 1.5 m deep (Info from here). Even if some of its eight tyres become flat, it can continue driving – these are known as flat-run tyres.
Naturally, everyone was very keen to climb aboard for a spin around the base! Judging from the expressions of exhilaration on the youngsters’ faces as they returned to the hangar, and their evident excitement, as they hopped off to give the next group a turn, all the time chattering animatedly with each other, this experience was the thrill of a lifetime!
Lunch at the Mess
After this adventure, it was time for lunch at the Mess, a large building near the entrance to the base. The tasty meal of meat, chips, bread, fruit and juice, followed by a pudding of strawberry ice cream as a treat, had been prepared by the chefs of the Cape Town Rifles, otherwise known as the Dukes.
The Dukes are a Reserve Force Infantry regiment of the South African Army. Founded on 28 November 1855, they are the oldest regiment of the five traditional volunteer regiments of Cape Town. The others are the Cape Field Artillery (founded on 26 August 1857), the Cape Garrison Artillery (founded on 06 August 1859), the Cape Town Highlanders (founded on 24 April 1885), and Regiment Westelike Provincie (founded on 01 April 1934).
Cape Town Rifles (Dukes)
After lunch, the youngsters were ready for some more excitement, and so we headed across to our third destination, the indoor shooting range, which is run by the Cape Town Rifles.
Two Mamba armoured personnel carriers stood guard in front of the hangar, which is divided internally into two sections. The one on the left is used for simulated musketry training (learning how to shoot handguns and rifles), whereas the one on the right is used for live firing exercises.
The Regimental Sergeant Major MWO Pedro Dias Lobo and his assistants had their hands full, keeping the energetic students in check; although all of them were very eager to try their hand at firing a shot, only those who were 18 and older were allowed to handle the specially modified R4 rifle.
Rather than firing live rounds, this high-tech R4 rifle fires an electronic beam at a target. A cable connects the rifle to a computer, which monitors the trainee’s shooting technique, assessing whether the target has been hit, analysing errors in the shooting technique and recommending improvements. Posters on the wall illustrated a handful of the more than 150 possible errors that can be made when shooting! MWO Dias Lobo pointed out that all shooting is monitored by the trainer from a central computer.
Both boys and girls had a chance to test their skills on the simulated training range. They discovered that the rifles were unexpectedly heavy and that it was surprisingly difficult to hit the target; given that it required considerable courage to attempt this in front of their peers, they acquitted themselves bravely!
Thereafter, we went next-door into the live firing range. The live firing range is also used to simulate the firing of mortars and other weapons. Obviously, there was no live firing while we were inside! MWO Dias Lobo explained that various images of different types of targets were projected onto a screen at the far end; when shots were fired at this screen, they entered a rubber block behind it, which, over time, would became quite heavy with the lead.
Finally, under the supervision of Staff Sergeant Jerome Mecloen and WO2 André van Schalkwyk, the youngsters divided into two groups for an impromptu competition on the nearby obstacle course. Amidst much shouting of encouragement and whoops of victory, the boys and girls hot-footed it through a series of tyres laid end-to-end, scaled a tall fence with some impressive aerobatic manoeuvres, leopard-crawled through the heavy sand underneath a low-strung net, and tested their balance by running across a balance beam, before racing back to the start.
They completed their stimulating and educational visit to Fort iKapa with some marching and drilling practice on the surrounding roads.