May 14, 2021
By David M. Fortier, Senior Field Editor
I believe I first read about South African 2nd Lieutenant van Vuuren’s exploits at the Battle of Bridge 14 in the pages of Soldier of Fortune magazine in the late 1970s or early 1980s. In those pre-historic days before the “interweb” SoF was a great place for news you would never see printed by the MSM. Such was the case with the tale of Battle Group Foxbat’s incursion into Angola as part of Operation Savannah in support of UNITA. At this time van Vuuren had three Eland armored cars under his command. Introduced in 1962, the Eland was a 4-wheel drive armored car mounting a long-barreled Denel 90mm gun in a rotating turret. It was lightly armored as it was intended for reconnaissance work. In reality, it was often used as more of an assault gun and tank destroyer. It was fast and nimble while packing a heavy punch, and it often had to tackle T-34/85 and T-54 tanks.
At what came to be known as the Battle of Bridge 14, van Vuuren was facing Communist Cuban “advisors” and MPLA fighters. There was a battalion of over 1,000 infantry, anti-tank weapons including Sagger missiles, 120mm mortars, a battery of 14.5mm AA guns and 122mm rocket launchers involved. After rolling across the bridge his unit was tasked with relieving another unit of Elands. He pushed beyond them firing constantly at the enemy with his 90mm gun and two Browning machine guns. A melee followed and at one point in the battle, as he was leading his unit forward, a truck filled with troops pulled in behind them. It then put on its turn signal to pass, powered alongside, and then put on its turn signal to pull back in, just in front of his armored car. To his amusement, it was filled with 20 confused Cuban soldiers trying to pull back. He immediately slammed a 90mm HE round into the truck turning it into a fireball.
Eventually his three Elands ran out of ammunition, which was a common problem due to their limited ammunition stowage of only 29 rounds. Pulling up to a farmhouse, he was surprised to see 20 Cuban soldiers outside discussing something while getting stoned. The arrival of three South African armored cars put a damper on the Cubans’ mellow. They proceeded to attack the Elands as soon as they overcame their shock. Out of ammunition, the Eland’s buttoned up as the Cuban’s raked them with AK fire, and began to swarm over them like angry ants. With all his tires flattened, and Cubans boarding his vehicle, van Vuuren had enough.
Drawing his 9mm Star BM pistol from its holster, the plucky South African began killing Communists from his turret hatch. When his slide locked back he reloaded and went back to work. 7.62x39mm bullets kicked up sparks around him but he continued on. He shot down five Cubans. Then seven, and finally ran out of 9mm ammunition after killing a total of 11 Communists with his Star BM pistol. 7.62x39mm bullets were still rattling off the Eland’s armored hide, so he put the last two Communists beneath his flattened tires. 2nd Lieutenant van Vuuren was awarded the Honoris Crux, one South Africa’s highest awards for bravery, for his actions. For many of us who know of his exploits, he will always be linked with the Star BM pistol he wielded so effectively that day in 1975.
For more information on the Star BM pistol, read our full review HERE.
About the author: David M. Fortier has been covering firearms, ammunition and optics for 23 years. He is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Outdoor Writer of the Year award and his writing has been recognized by the Civil Rights organization JPFO. In 2007 he covered the war in Iraq as an embedded journalist.