RSM Johan Landman Tribute

WO1 JOHAN LANDMAN by McGill Alexander

Johan Landman (“Lanties”, as most of us knew him) was an exceptional man. Most of us knew him as a soldier: a tough disciplinarian of the highest order. But he was also a family man: a devoted husband and a loving father. And he was a dedicated Christian who knew and loved his Lord.

For us, the paratroopers who served with him and under him, Lanties will always remain the epitome of an upright, dedicated, professional and totally reliable NCO and sergeant major. Not for nothing were men like him regarded as the backbone of the Defence Force.  He was not only a fine soldier, but he was a proud paratrooper who made a tremendous contribution to South Africa’s airborne forces. He was the RSM of our country’s premier parachute unit, 1 Parachute Battalion, but he was also the Brigade Sergeant Major of our only airborne formation, 44 Parachute Brigade.

And yet, if you examine the photographs in the Parachute Training Hangar of all the basic parachute courses held here in Bloemfontein, you will not see Lanties amongst them. That is because he was, as a young sergeant in an infantry battalion, chosen to attend the Portuguese Parachute Course near Luanda early in 1974. Together with a young 2nd Lieutenant Johan Blaauw, he successfully completed the course, jumping from the twin-boom French Noratlas aircraft. At the time, the Portuguese had been waging their insurgent war for about 14 years and were probably the foremost proponents of airborne operations on the African continent.

Johan Landman and Johan Blaauw returned to South Africa, were transferred to 1 Parachute Battalion and underwent conversion training from the American style of military parachuting practiced by the Portuguese to the British style practiced by the South Africans. They brought with them some ideas and techniques that were subsequently adopted by us. These included the notorious “Portugese Baan”.

Few people know that in July 1975, before operation SAVANNAH, Lanties participated in an operational parachute jump into Angola. At the time, he was the platoon sergeant of a standby platoon of paratroopers from 1 Parachute Battalion based at Rundu. A four-man team of Special Forces operators from 1 Recce Commando was busy finalising their arrangements to carry out a clandestine reconnaissance mission of a PLAN base inside Angola.  But one of them was seriously injured in a vehicle accident.

There was no time to bring a replacement up from South Africa, but because of his professionalism, they did not hesitate to co-opt Lanties to fill the vacancy. The four sergeants parachuted at night with all their equipment and successfully carried out their mission. This is but one of the many accomplishments of Johan Landman.  But he never spoke of them and never boasted about his prowess.

Lanties went on to participate in many more operations. He was a dedicated and hard-working Company Sergeant Major and a formidable RSM. Stern, strict and mostly unsmiling, he was regarded with awe (and even some fear) by the paratroopers who served under him. But he was scrupulously fair and the men had great respect for him. He always saw to the needs of his men. Those of us who knew him well learnt that he had an excellent sense of humour, and that he knew when to smile.

After his retirement from the Defence Force, he did work for Chute Systems, helping with the selection and training of Namibia’s first paratroopers.  They still speak of him with wonder and admiration. His hard, no-nonsense approach coupled to his professionalism and fairness made a deep impression on them.

During his long military career, many thousands of soldiers passed through the capable hands of Johan Landman. Today, they are better people, thanks to the discipline instilled in them by this paratrooper giant.  He truly understood the meaning of discipline. We mourn at your untimely passing, Sar’major; but we are grateful and proud to have served as paratroopers with you.

We salute you!

McGill Alexander