Gallantry Award Veteran Kevin Bruce Piccione HCS (South African Armoured Corps)
Trooper Kevin Bruce Piccione HCS, 1 SSB, South African Armoured Corps
On 26 December, 1975,Second-Lieutenant Chris de Wet was ordered to ascertain the status of a bridge near Lumege, Angola, which, if found to be intact, to destroy it, as this could be used by the enemy to attack the Combat Group Boxer from behind. His force was comprised of five armoured cars, mortars, two infantry platoons and sappers, altogether about 80 men.
About three hundred meters short of a small mud-built village, a rear armoured car hit aTM46 anti-tank landmine. The whole road was then found to be mined, and de Wet led his sappers in lifting them, which was a further 250 meters from the village, around a bend and down a hill, unsighted by the armoured cars. He leopard-crawled from one mine to the next, clearly visible to the enemy, who were lying in ambush across the river, unbeknownst to the group attending to the mines.
Meanwhile Trooper Kevin Piccione, 19, from Natal and a descendant of Odmund Oftebro MC (WW2), had run to the disabled Eland and applied first aid to the crew. He then went back to his leading car, seized his rifle and magazines and followed de Wet and his sappers towards the river. Only when the mines had been lifted and the status of the bridge established, did the enemy spring its ambush from across the river. Piccione dived under a bush and began firing at the enemy.
He later told the author, At van Wyk, “As it happened I dived behind what turned out to be the wrong bush for the fight that was to last from about 12noon to 2.30pm. Afterwards I could not believe that I had scraped through, because the bush that I was lying under had more or less disintegrated under the rain of bullets and the effects of an RPG exploding nearby.
I remember that when I first got down I found myself quite close to Lt de Wet who, on my query as to what the position was, he replied, 'You are soon to discover that it would have been safer for you to have stayed where you were”. Bullets were flying as I got my wits about me and started to fire back, drawing an incredible amount of fire on myself.”
Piccione’s accurate fire killed five of the enemy and silenced the opposing machine-gun post, thereby ensuring the safe withdrawal of their troops. Piccione drew an enormous amount of fire on himself. An RPG exploded ten meters away. He then shot the man who had launched it. Five shots followed and five more of the enemy lay dead.
At one point the young trooper feigned death so that the enemy firing on him from a machine-gun nest up-river would be bluffed into ceasing their fire. They lifted their fire away from him to re-engage with the armoured cars on higher ground and he then returned fire, killed the operators of the post. By then his body was outlined on the ground by bullet holes. At one stage Piccione was challenged by five of the enemy who levelled their rifles at him. He stood up slowly, pretended to ignore them and they slunk away.
The fire fight continued from noon until 14h30. The supporting fire from the Elands and the troops helped de Wet to complete his reconnaissance. He found that the enemy had blown the bridge themselves; so, as there was no purpose in remaining, he ordered a withdrawal. Piccione helped him to extricate the sapper party along a donga, and then he returned to his armoured car under the protective fire of an infantry platoon.
De Wet was awarded a Honoris Crux Gold and Piccione a Honoris Crux Silver.