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The Silent War
South African Recce Operations 1969-1994

Author: Peter Stiff

608pp; 242 X 168-mm; 24 pp b/w and colour illustrations
Softcover; ISBN 1-919-854-045; non fiction.

First in a trilogy on South Africa’s secret warfare.

 

 

This amazing book 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. It is also the most illuminating book on special forces published anywhere. Not only does Stiff deal with military operations but he 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 Dare-es-Salaam, the Fox Street Siege, South Africa’s intervention into Angola in 1975 and subsequent pull-out, the rise of insurgency in Moçambique, South Africa’s reentry into Angola, strikes against SWAPO bases in Zambia, the training and assistance to UNITA, the fight against ZANLA and ZIPRA in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and how the Recces staffed Rhodesia’s ‘D’ Squadron SAS, 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 Moçambique, South African assistance to RENAMO and Recce operations in Moçambique, Lesotho, Cabinda, Botswana and Zambia. It also deals in detail with the final days of apartheid South Africa and explains how close the country was to a right-wing coup d’etat.

It was a book that should not have been published. In 1986 Stiff was invited by the Chief SADF to write a history of the Recces, but two years later when it was discovered he had discovered far more about secret operations than intended, permission was withdrawn and he was threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. He had to wait until after the 1994 election before he could again pick up his pen.

The Silent War is the result, but it is well worth the long wait.

 

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Media reviews:


Article "South African Recce" as it will appear in the October issue of Soldier of Fortune magazine (www.sofmag.com)
In PDF file format - 2.15MB
Click here to view the article

A tour de force.
Marcés Tropicaux ét Méiterranéens - Paris

Peter Stiff is acknowledged as the foremost writer on the counter-insurgency war in southern Africa . . . It is clear The Silent War could only be published after the emergence of democratic rule in1994 . . . In essence the book reveals the impact of what was really a rather small group of soldiers. They left a swathe of devastation across southern Africa, the cost of which the region is still paying...  
Sunday Tribune
and Saturday Argus - Durban and Cape Town

The book provides illuminating details of all cross-border operations into Tanzania, Moçambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Lesotho carried out by the Recces. Proves that truth can be stranger than fiction . . 
Sunday Times -
Johannesburg

Stiff’s information is solid and his detailed accounts of each operation, such as the 5-Recce raid on SWAPO bases in 1986, are convincing . . . Elite fighting men indeed, who ‘still rank with the best in the world.’
The Citizen -
Johannesburg

There is new information here, a wealth of new information, and it is written well, as is the part on the evolution on the Recce selection process . . .
The Star -
Johannesburg

They went in at night, sometimes from submarines and other times with nondescript civilian cars or even captured Soviet-built military vehicles . . .
Lowvelder -
Nelspruit

Peter Stiff is undoubtedly the best historian on the wars of independence in southern Africa . . .
City Press -
Johannesburg

This immense task was not made easier by the fact that individuals he [Stiff] had to work with are known to put clams to shame . . . Stiff needs to be ‘decorated’ for accepting the invitation in 1987 by the then Chief SADF to write this book . . . a rivetting but disturbing read . . .
Daily Despatch -
East London

Well trained and exceptionally fit, their [the Recces] calling cards would be left in virtually every country in southern Africa. Well illustrated and cross-referenced, the book is a fascinating insight into a ‘secret war’ that politicians would do their best to hush up . .
 Mercury - Durban

Stiff’s research is impressive. He challenges the trite and misleading fallacy that South Africa’s elite soldiers were unintelligent, deranged thugs, hell-bent on killing, raping and pillaging . . . an astonishing wealth of detail about Special Forces operations . .
 Eastern Province Herald - Port Elizabeth

The Silent War opens a valuable door to understanding South Africa’s hidden past . . .
Financial Mail -
Johannesburg

Readers’ comments:

It is such a commendable work that it is difficult to know where to start. Ultimately the true value of the book lies in the author's exceptional detailed descriptions of events that shaped the lives of so many people.
A 'must read' for every South African who has a desire to know.
Eben Ferreira, South Africa

I am reading the third part of your great trilogy, and I congratulate you to such an outstanding book of a war, which is greatly misunderstood worldwide because of the shameless but professional communist propaganda and the severe underestimation by your people in charge of political warfare and the intellectuals in the West.
I believe Peter Stiff's trilogy is one of the best accounts of the border war.
Prof Hans - Heinz Seyfarth, Germany

I believe Peter Stiff's trilogy is one of the best accounts of the border war.
Professor Ockie Geyser, (Retired) Professor of History - University of the Free State. (Volksblad 14 Sept.'09)

Review on Amazon.co.uk by Seth J. Franzthman - Jerusalem, Israel
Link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Silent-War-South-African-Operations/dp/1919854045/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

This book is for people who know what it is like to go that bit further to achieve an objective. It is easy reading and I couldn't put the book down. You have to take a step back to appreciate what these men went through. There is only one thing that comes to mind, they are harder than a bag of hard things, without a doubt.
Brad Wemyss - USA

This book covers South African covert operations from the 1960s to the 1980s. It gives details of many undercover operations as far afield as Nigeria and includes many counter-insurgency operations and meddling in the affairs of South Africa's neighbours including raids on Maputo, Lesotho and Gaborone in Botswana. A very interesting rip-roaring book and a five star read.

Seth J Frantzman - Jerusalem, Israel

Many congratulations on your Trilogy of amazing books. The research that you have done into some amazing, tough subject matter and put together in such a readable format is amazing. They really are all magnificent works.
John Dobson University of Cape Town


I finished reading the last book of your trilogy yesterday. I have read 'Silent War' three times (and I look forward to the fourth time), 'Covert War' twice (with a third read of many sections) and got through the dark content of 'Warfare by Other Means' as one might take a castor-oil supplement -knowing that somehow it'll be good for you to do so in the end. My lasting impression comes from 'Silent War'.
How did the SA government manage to screw up so comprehensively on keeping all this fascinating stuff from us?
Why couldn't we know about the great battles of the Lomba River?
How could they have so skillfully contrived to lose the propaganda war?
Without your books all this history would have been blown away by a couple of Channel 4 and BBC documentaries that are well passed their sell by date and had no grasp of the Cold War in Africa, or Africa for that matter. Thanks for all your hard work!
Richard Washington - Oxford University, UK

I received The Silent War and Warfare by Other Means today. Thanks very much, good quality and a good read. I have read a fair bit of Peter Stiff’s material and I have already made major inroads into The Silent War.
Ross Martin - USA


As a point of interest I am an ex-South African soldier serving on operations with the British Army in Kosovo. I bought The Silent War while I was last home on leave in South Africa, and my copy has made its way around just about the whole of my battalion mess. I enjoyed it very much, a gripping read, but also full of lessons for today's would be COIN operator.
Adrian de Villiers
- British Army in Kosovo

I am a book reviewer for the Australian Defence Force Journal which is published six times a year. I was very recently sent your excellent book The Silent War for review. I find it fascinating, gripping and very well written. I might add that it is almost all new territory to me as I believe it will be to most readers in Australia and New Zealand. While very interested in Special Forces and in what went on in southern Africa, I had little idea of the range and scope of your Recce operations. Quite amazing, I think. I was astonished to read of the Recce/South African Navy operations. Really what a great story. It seems to me that it would be wise for any nation to keep its Recce-type forces in a high state of readiness. Congratulations on a really great book which I highly recommend.
Bruce Turner
Melbourne, Australia.

Every time I pick up your Recce book I think how it is the most phenomenal achievement I have ever seen on any Special Forces subject.
Jonathan Pittaway
– Durban
, Joint author of SAS Rhodesia.

One of the early problems I faced was how to tell the whole truth. Some operations, until recently, were still classified as TOP SECRET and have never been acknowledged by the SADF. This problem was solved when Peter Stiff's book, The Silent War came on the shelf where most of the operations were described, some in detail while others were mentioned briefly.
Jack Greeff  - author of  A Greater Share of Honour

Your talent as a writer is too good to even consider ‘retiring’. I look forward to the remaining two volumes in your trilogy . . .
Morgan Norval -
Author: Alexandria, VA, USA

The President has requested me to thank you for your letter and for the book that you sent him. You are assured of the President’s sincere appreciation of this gesture of goodwill. President Mbeki wishes you the best of everything.
D Mohlongo -
Administrative Secretary, Office of the Presidency

Glad to see your The Silent War over here . . .
Chuck Melson -
Chief Historian US Marine Corps

Thank you for the books that you have written, I see that I am still a few short but I am going to order them. All your books are spell binding and it keeps me bound to the last page. I am looking forward to the last two of your trilogy.
Stephan Opperman

May I take this opportunity to congratulate you on all your outstanding books.
Manuel Ferreira

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