View Full Version : South Africas last operations into Angola

01-16-2007, 08:32 AM
There as been requests that I post more info on South Africa's last campaign in Angola in 87/88. I will try and post a piece on each of the battles which made up this campaign which lasted almost a year as frequently as possible. The plan is not to discuss the why but the who, how and where.

The first part of this bloody campaign starts in September of 1987 on the Lomba river in Angola and has passed into history as the:

The First Rumble on the Lomba

Arrival of the actors.

Early in March 1987 Recces deep in Angola detected the movement of Cuban and Angolan troops from the centre of the Country to the south-east in a repeat the Fapla offensive of 1985. The movement was aimed at building up a force which would cross the Cuito river (scene of heavy fighting later in the campaign) and strike out first for Unita’s vital logistical hub at Mavinga with it’s important all weather runway and thence on to Jamba, Unita’s capital. By early August elements of 5 brigades had crossed the bridge over the Cuito.

In late June, in the light of the growing enemy force, South Africa decided to commit troops to stop the impending offensive much as they had done in Operation Alpha Centauri back in 1985. The first unit to be committed, as in 1985, was the South African Army’s version of a fire brigade namely 32 Battalion. A small force of 32 along with their organic Valkiri 127mm MRLS moved into Angola in mid July and set up base at Mavinga. Their primary task was to stop the offensive as far as possible while keeping their presence unknown as far as possible. This movement heralded the start of what was to become known as Operation Modular.

By late August the long awaited Fapla advance kicked off and pretty soon it was obvious that the small elements of 32 deployed at that stage would be unable to counter them. Permission was given to deploy a battery of the much vaunted G5 155mm Howitzers which had wrought such havoc in 1985. 61 Mechanized Battalion was also alerted for possible deployment, which they shortly there after did. In another escalation Mirage F1AZ fighter bombers and English Electric Canberra’s were committed to pound the advancing Angolans along with the MRLs and the G5s.

By early September Fapla’s 21st Bde was poised to cross the Lomba river 35 km away from the Lomba and it was this brigade that the South African commander, Col Deon Ferreira (he passed away sadly a few years ago from cancer), to tackle being the most dangerous and as the 4 other brigade, the closed being 47 Bde moving around the source of the Lomba, could be halted using air strikes and artillery

The Rumble Starts

Due to the distance that 21Bde was from its main logistical base at Tumpo, about 125km away, the advance had slowed noticeably. The South Africans figured that the brigade wouldn’t attempt a crossing in the near future as it was probably waiting for elements of 47Bde to reach them from the west in their advance around the Lomba source. Once the units had linked up a crossing would be made and a combined advance made. Under heavy bombardment from South African guns, 21Bde had broken up into its constituent battalions and dispersed, further reinforcing this view.

The South African’s estimated that the brigade would cross to the west of the confluence of the Gombe (running north to south) and the Lomba (running from west to east). There wasn’t a bridge, but Fapla had been well supplied with TMM mobile bridges and a crossing here would put them 35km away from Mavinga in almost defendable terrain.

To guard against this, Ferreira deployed Commandant Robbie Hartslief’s (he tragically took his own life in 2006) Combat Group Bravo to a position a few few kilometers into the treeline south-west of the Gombe-Lomba confluence on the 8th of September. Hartslief’s force consisted of two companies of Owambo infantry mounted in Casspir APCs drawn from 101 Battalion (a SWATF COIN unit so it was strange that this unit was committed) and 32 Battalions Anti Tank Sqaudron under the command of Maj. Hannes Nortmann (he was to win himself everlasting fame in the SADF for the actions that transpired on this day and in subsequent battles being rewarded with a Honoris Crux in one).

Hartslief sent Nortmann ahead and followed with the rest of his force. Nortmann arrived at the suspected site in the early morning hours of the 9th and on inspection found that the flood plain was to marshy for vehicle crossings.

However Fapla was to surprise the South African when word came from Unita’s 3 Battalion early on the morning of the 9th of September that a 450 strong battalion of 21Bde had crossed the Lomba on foot at a small abandoned village, Cariata, about 16km west of the South African position, and that vehicles were visible on the north bank.

Hartslief immediately dispatched a force consisting of one of the 101 Bat companies and a troop of Ratel 90s from the Anti Tank squadron. As this force reached the high ground to the south of the crossing they saw a BTR 60 crossing with more infantry. The BTR 60 was quickly shot out by a Ratel 90 with heavy fire from the G5s being brought down on the infantry. The company commander tried to organize a joint attack with the Unita forces in the area to drive the bridgehead back but this failed due to liaison difficulties.

Fapla had in the mean time reacted with heavy counter fire from artillery on the north bank and Hartslief now ordered this company to withdraw about 6 kilometers and await the rest of the force for an attack on the bridgehead the next morning.

He ordered Nortmann to move up with the remaining 101 battalion company and the rest of his squadron (one of his troops was with the other 101 Bat company) and drive the bridgehead back. Nortmann arrived in the area after a hairy night march at around 01h30 and had completed his final approach by 06h00. He ordered the force that had been in battle the previous day to deploy to his right facing west while the rest of his force was deployed in the treeline facing north across the flood plain.

The west facing force immediately came into contact with the battalion of infantry from 21Bde and was subjected to a barrage of rockets and small arms fire. Two vehicles were hit immediately but due to the short range the RPGs failed to arm. The battalion was supported by 122mm D-30 guns, 82mm mortars and 122mm BM 21 MRLs from the north bank but the company from 101 bat held its own and drove the battalion back across the flood plain to the crossing site to the north west.

Nortmann now ordered his Casspirs to deploy in the treeline from were they inflicted massive casualties on the retreating infantry. The 120mm mortars of Sierra Battery also joint in the fray to add to the carnage. On the coverless anhara it was like a duck shoot with hundreds falling to the mortars and guns of 101 bat. Some bodies fell into the Lomba and were to pollute the water supply of 16Bde downstream as they started rotting.

By now 21Bde had cottoned on that something was happening on the south bank and start a well oiled immediate action drill. This drill was to attack with tanks as soon as possible. It worked well against Unita who tucked tail and ran at the sight of tanks but they weren’t facing Unita.

By this time this time the G5s of Quebec Battery and the 127mm MRLs of Papa Battery was also engaged, firing at targets on the north bank. They were under the direct control of Theo Wilken (a stalwart artillery officer who was to play a leading part in much of the campaign). The G5s hit targets on the north bank, while the MRLs rocketed the high ground to the north and the 120mm mortars added to the carnage on the anhara. One of his forward observers, Koos Breytenbach, was engaging mortar positions on the north bank when he spotted a number of T54 tanks breaking cover and racing for the TMM bridge which had by now been spotted. He warned Nortmann and placed fire from the G5s on the bush from which they had emerged. This resulted in two vehicles being set on fire, but due to the distance and bush he was unable to identify them. Infantry also now emerged as the first tank reached the bridge and moved up in support of the tanks.

The commander of the nearest Anti Tank troop had been hit in the eye with a shell fragment and Northmann raced over and took command. At this stage only one of the 4 pre-production Ratel ZT3s he had under his command was operational and this was the vehicle he mounted. His Ratel 90 tank destroyers had meanwhile taken up the fight, but at the extreme range they were firing they weren’t having much effect although they were registering hits.

(The ZT3 is a locally developed laser guided ATGM. It has a range of 5km and can penetrate upwards of 1000mm of RHA (rolled homogenous armor). By the time it was deployed the missile had not even completed its acceptance trails and it was rushed to Angola to test it in actual combat conditions. A grand total of 4, the only 4 in existence at that stage, specially converted Ratels, designated Ratel ZT3, were deployed and manned by employees of the company manufacturing the missile and members of the South African Armored Corps. Most of the Armored Corps members had never fired the missile before and this was to become apparent later in the battle.)

Hannes by now was ready and fired the first of his 3 ZT3 missiles, it went out of control after 200m and pulled up vertically. The second missile did the same and the third didn’t even fire. He ordered his Ratel 90s to maneuver to the flank of the advancing tanks while he withdrew to reload .

His Ratel 90s again took up the fight, one of them registering 3 hits on one of the tanks stopping it momentarily. All though they were having no effect the Ratel 90s were buying Hannes precious time to reload and return to the battle.

He now fired his forth missile which hit the lead tank in the track idler which stopped it. The fifth missile finally destroyed the tank. The over excited gunner now shifted his aim to the second tank, which had tucked tail and was retreating to the river, but missed as the missile hit the ground just in front of the tank. Hannes quickly brought him back to earth in a time honored way of many a commander: a sharp crack to the back of the head. This calmed him down and the sixth missile hit the tank on the rear plate blowing the turret about 25 meters away.

Hannes again withdrew to reload and then maneuvered into a new firing position to fire at the last tank which was still advancing. He hit it with two missiles. He fired his last missile at what appeared to be a tank on the north bank (it turned out to be the GAZ bridge layer) but it was stopped short by a Fapla soldier who stood up at the wrong time. The rest of the tanks and infantry now withdrew.

In the meanwhile the guns of Quebec battery had been shelling the crossing site and suspected gun positions on the north bank and apart from damaging the TMM bridge silenced the guns with several direct hits on the positions and ammo dumps.

During the day 21Bde tried two further attacks but were stopped short by fire form Quebec and Sierra Batteries. By evening the situation had stabilized and 21Bde was hunkering down to lick it’s wounds.


(Hartsliefs Ratel ZT3 as used during the first Rumble on the Lomba with its kill markings on the side of the turret. This vehicle is in the School of Armor Museum in Bloemfontein)

For the next few days 21Bde probed from the north bank trying to find a crossing point but was stopped in each case by Ratel 90s, Ratel ZT3 and artillery fire.

During the period running up to the 22nd of September a new worrying development was an increase in Russian chatter on Fapla’s Artillery net. One specific voice was directing the whole net and it became apparent that Fapla, under the tutelage of the Russians, were preparing to strike back with vengeance.

On the 22nd a radio message was picked up that Fapla had decided to use gas against the South Africans. Ferreira immediately evacuated his positions 15km east after checking the wind. His junior subordinates, Hartslief and Nortmann, were upset at what they saw to be an unnecessary retreat.

The retreat was however a wise move, because as soon as the South African vacated their position and completed the move a bombardment started which would last four hours and was to include airstrikes.

Soon after the bombardment stopped another radio message was intercepted in which a Fapla commander reported that the South African had left. Ferreira wanted to move his forces back to the crossing point as quickly as possible but the danger of gas still existed.

He had special chemical detection teams, but at this stage they were to far away to be of use. He passed the buck to 32s reconnaissance group to scout the area and report the presence of gas. Two men were taken in a Ratel and then dropped to walk to the evacuated trenches which stretched for almost 3 kilometers in the tree line. They were astonished to find Unita soldiers calmly sitting in the trenches smoking. They had survived unscathed and reported not feeling sick at all.

On receiving word that the area was cleared, Ferreira ordered the position reoccupied. As Hartslief’s combat group was moving into the trenches, he saw three columns of vehicles flanked by infantry form up and start to cross the river by yet another unsighted bridge.

Hartslief waited until the infantry was stretched out across an anhara, about three to four kilometer wide, (a flood plain) to the south of the river. Darkness was rapidly approaching and he held his fire as long as possible. Then on his word a 192 127mm rockets burst above the heads of the advancing infantry scything them down. The rockets were soon joined in the fray by the G5s and 120mm mortars plowing into the open plain. The Ratel ZT3s and 90s started taking on the tanks and other vehicles knocking them out one after the other. The heavy shelling even succeeded in knocking out a few tanks by shredding the external fuel tanks setting the vehicles alight.

The infantry started retreating in panic across the marshy plain and Hartslief’s let loose the 30 Casspirs of 101 Bat and the Ratels of 32 Bat to complete the slaughter. The troops sprayed the area with 7.62mm machine gun fire from the Casspirs and 20mm cannon fire from the Ratels while the troops added to the slaughter by firing through the portholes with their personal weapons. The vehicles also further added to the carnage by running over those trying to hide in the long grass. During this time the G5s destroyed the TMM, cutting of the Fapla troops on the south bank thus completing the slaughter.

At the end of the short but violent battle the South African counted more than 300 dead on the flood plain with wrecks of destroyed equipment scattered every where. Apart from the slaughter on this day the South Africans estimated that 21Bde had lost between 400 to 600 dead in all of the encounters off September. On the South African side one man slightly wounded by shrapnel. Thus ended the first Rumble on the Lomba.

01-16-2007, 11:59 AM
Interesting story, thank you for posting it!

Pidyon Shevuyim
01-16-2007, 12:14 PM
thank you for this post....

i once met Robbie Hartslief several years ago...im sorry to hear he past. :-(

01-17-2007, 01:34 AM
It seems my primary source had a few things wrong will update and re-post. The next installment will be about the so called Second Rumble on the Lomba in which a battle group from 32 and 101 got mixed into an old Unita log base with 21Bde. It was in this action that Northman and Sargeant Ruping (spelling) got their HCs.

Cheers for now.

01-17-2007, 02:32 AM
Are these operations part of Modular Op.??

Best regards


PS. Congratulations!!! Please continue!!!

01-17-2007, 03:26 AM
Ok I updated the article (if you can call it that) a bit. Yes it was the first battle of Op Modular.

Victis Honor
01-17-2007, 06:37 AM
He fired his last missile at what appeared to be a tank on the north bank (it turned out to be the GAZ bridge layer) but it was stopped short by a Fapla soldier who stood up at the wrong time. The rest of the tanks and infantry now withdrew.


01-17-2007, 08:07 AM
they did not tuck tail ran because their mate was splattered over them. The veracity of that part of the story is a bit in doubt but if it had happened it would have been the saddest waste of a missile and a real bad day for that poor bastard

Stan Fox
01-18-2007, 05:18 AM
The first unit to be committed, as in 1985, was the South African Army’s version of a fire brigade namely 32 Battalion. A small force of 32 along with their organic Valkiri 127mm MRLS moved into Angola in mid July and set up base at Mavinga

very interesting thanks :)

but the famous 32.Battalion "Buffalo" has its own mentionable story http://www.32battalion.net/ ! After the end of the white regime in South Africa the members of Battalion Buffalo , were the core of the PMC Executive Outcomes.

01-18-2007, 05:28 AM
Can't comment on that, but the adandonment of this great unit is a serious blot on the copy book of our goverment. Nough said.

01-18-2007, 05:32 AM
I think it's safe to say that the ANC government harbours more than just a little anamosity towards 32 - especially after the way they handled the SDU's in the townships!

01-18-2007, 05:46 AM
Don't think that is quite that. I believe they felt that the unit was a cerdible threat to their plan to make the coutry ungovernable if the Codesa negotiations went south. Another problem was that they never could quite convert them to their cause, the 32 boys being angolans.

The whole sdu issue was a bit staged in the opinion of many after the fact.

01-18-2007, 06:07 AM
Thank you for bringing this (for me unknown) part of history up.
Its very worth reading and I never heard about SA Military Operations
One of the best Topics (with olifant topic) i ve rad for a while.
Do you have some links with websites which are dealing with this topic or even photo collections of Kit etc?

01-18-2007, 06:18 AM
Only personal references and photos. Most of the stuff on the web is doctored propaganda from both sides. Stay tuned I will try and post something tommorow again.

01-18-2007, 06:24 AM
Can we consider the SA war in angola as an episode of the Namibian (SWA) conflict??

In my opinion, SA government never tried to change the Angolan government or conquer the country. Their support to The UNITA was more.. how to say, Try to stop SWAPO from entering in Namibia.. Am I correct??? Excuse me if my english is not correct, but being spanish is quite difficult to explain my ideas.

Best regards


01-18-2007, 06:54 AM
Jeez this was what I was affraid of. If ones starts a thread on the bushwar politics will creep in but let me answer your questions as a politically and as military minded as possible.

South Africa entered Angola the first time in 1978 at the behest of the United States in support of Unita and the FNLA. Our goal was to organise , train and equip them in such a way that they could take the country over before the final Portuguese withdrawl. Now part of that plan was to capture as much territory before the 11th of November or independance day. We wanted to place the two orginasations in a control of much of the country as possible. To this end battle groups were composed of the trained Unita, FNLA and ex-DGSE members or more specifically the bushman Flechas. What followed was a lighting campaign in which one battlegroup advanced 3000km in 33 days in the face of some fierce battles. But resistance was stiffening as more cubans and russian equipment came into the country. This escalation again escalated our commitment which soon became to big to hide and with US support dying we left as fast as we could.

Now the border war had been raging since 1965 when the then Capt Jan Breytenbach and a few parabats wiped out a SWAPO camp at Ongulumbashe. This was the first anf last camp Swapo was ever to occupy in what was to become know as the operational area. The war escalated with more attacks and landmines until at one stage the SAP could not cope anymore and the army was called in.

The army mostly patrolled the border trying to keep the insurgents or "terrs" out. Apart from them ex-members of bravo group's FNLA soldiers had reformed under the now Commandant Jan Breytenbach and were actively patroling in angola to stop the insurgents on the other side of the border. This unit is what later became know as 32 Battalion or the Buffalo battalion.

By 1979 it became apparent that simple patrols weren't going to stop the flow of insurgents and the army decided to strike into angola for the first time (well not realy this was the first publised strike 32 had been at it for years) in what became a two ****ged attack. One a mech attack on vietnam camp and the other a paradrop on the town of Cassinga by 44 Para bat under the now Col Jan Breytenbach. Alot of crap has been written about this raid but the ous killed in the camp were terrs plain and simple.

After that cross border ops followed thick and fast. These usealy happened in the dry season or winter when the terrs rtb'd. The winter was a bad time to try in infilitrate namibia as their was little water and most of the trees had shed their leaves leaving no cover so the ous decided to return to the nest when winter came near. One problem with this strategy was that large amounts of them were then situated in a single base making it a juicy target for us.

Well Rheindeer was followed by Protea, Daisy and Askari. Apart from these there were a score of smaller ones these were the big ones. The main theme of the ops were that we were targeting SWAPO camps and installations in Angola.

There was another part of our strategy - the destabilisation of Angola. We believed that if the angolans were too busy sorting out their internal problems they wouldn't be able to help SWAPO to much. Too this end we supported Savimbi to the hilt. Another wind fall was that he controled much of south eastern angola, denying swapo easy routes to the caprivi which by 1985 had been quiet for many years.

But 1985 was th year it all changed. This was the year that the MPLA finaly decided to crush savimbi and attacked in great number. This was the first year since 1978 that we sent troops into Angola to assist savimbi and keep him fighting fit. The pattern was to repeat it self for the next 4 years culminating in the battles around cuito in 88.

In the grand strategic plan, yes the operations formed part of the bush war, allthough it had at that stage limited tactical value in keep the terrs out of SWA/Nam.

01-18-2007, 08:34 AM
Thank You!! very interesting approach!!! Unfortunately war can not be out from politics. Von Clausewitz sentenced this very clearly.

Best regards


PS. I am waiting the seconda part anxiously.... Very interesting part of Africa's history.

01-18-2007, 04:26 PM
they did not tuck tail ran because their mate was splattered over them. The veracity of that part of the story is a bit in doubt but if it had happened it would have been the saddest waste of a missile and a real bad day for that poor bastard

It's actually true. I've seen that photo sequence (sans ZT3/terr head interface) many years ago in another life...p-)

01-23-2007, 04:05 AM
Next installment almost done, just been away for a few days sorry gents

01-23-2007, 08:08 AM
It was 1975 when we first went into Angola mate (Op Savannah), not 1978. Though the Recces had apparently been in before, cooperating with the Portuguese. Lt. Freddie Zeelie, the first Recce KIA was actually killed in Angola.

01-23-2007, 08:49 AM
Sorry my bad, memory seems to lapse alot these day. The recce to my knowledge mainly operated in Zambia back then.

01-23-2007, 09:14 AM
Sorry my bad, memory seems to lapse alot these day. The recce to my knowledge mainly operated in Zambia back then.

Yeah mainly in Zambia but also a bit in southern Angola. As for Cassinga I've got a mammoth study (several .pdf files) on it done by Brig.Gen. McGill Alexander, a former Parabat officer, recently retired. It was his MA thesis for UNISA, found it on their site.

01-23-2007, 09:25 AM
Could you post a link please. My uncle led that raid into Angola. Was a bloody brilliant raid.

01-23-2007, 11:07 AM
Yeah mainly in Zambia but also a bit in southern Angola. As for Cassinga I've got a mammoth study (several .pdf files) on it done by Brig.Gen. McGill Alexander, a former Parabat officer, recently retired. It was his MA thesis for UNISA, found it on their site.

I'm also interested in that link.

Very nice post Vorster! Waiting for the second part!


01-24-2007, 01:46 AM
The link:


01-24-2007, 09:27 AM
Ok gents here is the second installment. Enjoy

The Second Rumble on the Lomba

Even before the last notes of the first rumble had played the two sides were ready to play the opening notes of the second rumble on the Lomba. On the evening of the 11th of September Unita informed 20 SA Bde HQ that a second force of about two battalions of infantry and PT76 light tanks had occupied an old Unita logistic base located in dense bush about a kilometer west of a tributary of the Lomba called the Ingwe.

Initially the South Africans thought that 59 Bde had aggressively and cohesively advanced from the north and that the force ensconced in the base was part of this brigade which might have crossed the Lomba. This belief was replaced with a theory that the force in the base was more probably 47th Bde’s tactical armor group. (Each Angolan brigade had a highly mobile autonomous armored group under its command).

Whoever was in the base had to be attacked without pause as it was becoming clear that 59 Bde and 47 Bde was trying to link up across the Lomba. It was one of the South African’s highest priorities to keep the Angolan brigades spread out over the widest possible front allowing the South Africans to take on each one in turn and defeat them in detail. The paucity of the forces at the disposal of 20 SA Bde did not allow them to tackle more than one at a time.

Thus Combat Group Bravo was ordered to dig out the force, which had by now been identified through radio intercepts as being composed of two battalions drawn from 47 Bde’s main force, although the tactical group was less than three kilometers to the west, in the base and thwart a possible link up between the two brigades.

The base was built in the treeline of dense bush and stretched about three kilometers from east to west and two kilometers from north to south. From the eastern edge of the base the vegetation gradually thickened to the west into a dense mass of undergrowth and trees. A rough sand track ran along the east west axis, with a second track branching of to the northern edge of the base. Between the northern edge of the base and the Lomba ran a two kilometer wide stretch of another anhara. Apart from the dense bush the base was honeycombed with deep Ratel swallowing trenches, dugout and bunkers. Hardly the place one would expect to fight a mechanized battle.

To attack the base Hartslief decided to use his whole Combat Group which was further strengthened by the addition of a third troop of Ratel 90s from David Lotter’s Combat Group Charlie. Lotter’s Combat Group was placed on standby as a reserve and was left the troop of Ratel ZT3s as they would be of little use in the dense bush.

Fire support for the attack was to be provided by the 120mm mortars of Sierra battery, which had been redeployed to a site west of the Ingue to be in range, the G5s of Quebec battery, which would fire a pre planned barrage and then become available as direct support. Close air support would be in the form of a pair of Impala Mk IIs 30 minutes flying time away at Rhundu.

Hartslief wanted to start his attack on the 12th but due to equipment failures and problems with logistics he had to delay the attack by 24 hours. He ordered that the vehicles carry as much ammunition as possible as he believed that if the tactical group intervened he might have to fight a lot longer than was originally intended. As it was to turn out a wise precaution.

The Attack

On the morning of the 13th of September the men of Combat Group Bravo left the laager with the aim of staring the attack at 16h00. This plan was foiled by lack of a sense of direction on the part Hartslief’s Unita liaison officer, Major Mickey. Hartslief was forced to use the Landnav system to get the force back on track and reached the entrance of the base at 11h00.

As they reached their forming up point about a kilometer from the entrance to the base they found no enemy but immediately encountered problems. Maj. Mickey and Hartslief disagreed on their present location with about 3000m east to west. Maj. Mickey contended that the enemy was 1000 meters to the west. Hartslief reasoned that either the enemy was deployed 3000 meters further to the east than originally reported or he was 4000 meters away from the enemy. Hartslief did not trust Mickey’s ability to navigate but believed he probably knew when they were close to the enemy, so he shifted the preplanned fire 3000 meters to the east and had the 120mm mortars shot in.

As the preplanned fire crashed down Hartslief started his advanced to the entrance of the base which turned out to be 800 meters away His plan was to deploy inside the base with one of the 101 Bat companies under Capt Koos Maritz straddling the road with a Ratel 90 troop on each flank. Lieutenant Johnny Lombard’s other 101 Bat company would follow on the road as a depth company.

As soon as the companies were deployed Hartslief started advancing to the west into the base. He placed fire from the G5s and 120mm Mortars on suspected targets to the front of his force, often only 100 to 170 meters to the front of Koos Maritz’s company.

The advanced into the base had moved forward less than 500 meters when Koos Maritz reported seeing infantry on his right fleeing to the north. Hartslief shifted fire from the mortars and G5s into area. He ordered Maritz and the right Ratel 90 troop to wheel north and engage the fleeing enemy. He ordered the rest of his Combat Group to hold in place.

Maritz advanced, moving through two residual lines of Fapla infantry all the while driving the main body to the north and the open anhara. The stage was set for a repeat of the slaughter of the first rumble. The Fapla infantry fleeing across the anhara became easy prey for the machine guns mounted on the Casspirs and canister shot from the Ratel 90s as well as a troop from Sierra battery which had redeployed. Maritz leapfrogged his platoons to the north west to keep up with the fleeing enemy. When the last Fapla infantryman disappeared more than 200 had died on the muddy grassland of the anhara.

It was during this fight that the first sign of impending problems became apparent when a Ratel 90 toppled into one of the deep trenches. It was pulled out by a recovery vehicle, but this was to be the first of many and a potential disaster in the making.

Hartslief had meanwhile redeployed one of Lombard’s platoons and one of the Ratel 90 troops to the north west to take up a blocking position.

Having passed through two lines of Fapla infantry before reaching the edge of the anhara, Maritz and Hartsliefs command group was now engaged in mopping up the remaining Fapla infantry. Theo Wilken, traveling in Hartslief’s Ratel as fire coordinator, first had an inkling of what was happening when Hartslief shouted “Shoot him! Shoot him!” and bullets started pinging of the side of the Ratel. Popping out of his hatch he saw Maj. Mickey comfortably laying on his back on the camouflage net piled on the spare tire shoot at a knot of four Fapla infantry a few meters away. Wilken joined in with his R5 killing all four

Hartslief reappeared in his hatch and drew and fire from his right which he quelled with a burst from the machine gun mounted on the cupola. Bert Sachse, a paratroop officer detached for duty as a liason officer to Unita, was fighting his own battle from his Casspir with his mounted .50 Cal Browning and a M79 grenade launcher.

A bit further on they came on Pierre Franken, the forward observer, who had his Buffel APC firmly stuck in a trench. Wilken spotted a Fapla soldier armed with an RPG stalking the Buffel. Wilken let fly and shot the man before he could take out the helpless Pierre.

Every where Hartslief looked he could see Casspirs mopping up little groups of Fapla infantry with cannon and machine gun fire. The battle seemed to go well but the first confused reports of tanks had now started reaching the command group. Things were about to get a lot more sporty.

Tank vs. Ratel

Hartslief was unable to initially figure out where the tanks were as the infantry callsigns were using incorrect reporting procedures. Due to the size of the base and the confused nature of the attack with different units moving on different axis of attack in relation to the main east west axis reports of “to the left, right, front or rear’ confused the command group.

The Ratels were having difficulty maneuvering through the base and two Ratels from original right hand troop had already fallen into the trenches. A third was trying to free one of the stuck Ratels when a number of tanks appeared to the front.

The troop leader, Lieutenant Alves, had just reported the tanks when he was shot through the neck by a sniper and killed. His inexperienced driver panicked and drove out onto the anhara into a patch of soft mud and got the vehicle solidly stuck. The Troop Sergeant now came on the air reporting the loss of Lieutenant Alves, but his Ratel shortly thereafter also fell into a trench and was abandoned. A third Ratel now took over all though it too was stuck in a trench.

The redoubtable Hannes Nortmann, bringing up the rear with three Wit Hings recovery vehicles and a pair of Rinkals armored ambulances, was about 500 meters away. He heard the calls for help from the stuck Ratels but due to the dense bush could not see them. He broke into the radio traffic and asked the trapped men to pop coloured smoke so he could find them.

As he was sending his request a T55 appeared among the trapped tanks. It ignored the two vehicles stuck in the trenches and headed straight for the vehicle trapped in the mud. It stopped barely 25 meters away and fired a single shell into the vehicle destroying it. It then disappeared into the bush as quickly as it appeared.

Chaos reigned every where with Casspirs fleeing willy nilly through the bush with tanks in hot pursuit. The Casspirs were only saved by the dense bush which restricted the traverse of the tank’s guns.

As Nortmann was waiting for the smoke to be deployed Koos Maritz’s Casspir exploded from the bush going full tilt with someone throwing out every available smoke grenade in a variety of colours. Koos’ Casspir narrowly missed Bert Sachse’s Casspir coming from the side at the same break neck speed with some one shooting to the rear with the pintle mounted .50 Cal Browning.

The reason for the mad dash became apparent moments latter when a T54 burst into view chasing Maritz’s Casspir. The tank had its turret traversed to the rear, not being unable to properly traverse it in the tick bush it was trying to catch up with Koos and ram the Casspir.

This tank spotted Hannes’ little group of vehicles, a 150 meters away, and at last being able to traverse its turret fired. Its first round passed under one of the Rinkhals ambulances. The second just missed the same ambulance as it accelerated out of a patch of soft sand in which it had nearly become stuck. The third shell was directed at Bert Sachse’s Casspir which had returned to the clearing. The shell exploded in a tree above the Casspir, severely wounding Bert.

The first reliable report Hartslief had on the enemy tanks came from Hannes Nortmann and was closely followed by a shell from the tank which had fired at Hannes' vehicles. Fortunately for Robbie he chose a Ratel 90 as his command vehicle on that day instead of his normal Ratel Command which only mounts a .50 Cal Browning.

The tank advanced but it appeared to have lost sight of the Robbie's Ratel. Robbie pointed the gun at the tank, but the gunner sitting lower in the vehicle could not see through the dense bush. He had him fire anyway so as to raise dust between them to blind the tank. The tank slightly turned and the gunner finally saw the tank and started to engage it. The first round went over and the second one fell ahead of it. The third round hit but it took another six rounds before the tank started brewing. (Inspecting the vehicle afterwards it was found that only two of the seven rounds penetrated the turret).

Stopping this tank wasn’t the end of the problems as most of the Ratels were still stuck and out of communications. Robbie’s mood wasn’t helped by a badly burned hand, the result of not wearing the special asbestos gloves needed when loading the 90mm gun.

Nortmann, in an effort to find out were the stuck Ratels were, left his Ratel and dashed over to Hartslief. Finding no joy he ran back to the recovery vehicles, going down the line until he found Sergeant Riaan Rupping’s Wit Hings. He ordered Rupping to follow him and set of to find the stranded Ratels. Rupping followed him like a little dog, only stopping to drag Pierre Franken’s Buffel from the trench he was stuck in.

Nortmann had in the meantime almost shot one of his own men when he jumped up in front of him. Only shouts of “Major! Major!” saved the hapless souls life. Continuing on a bit further he met the crew members of one of the stranded Ratels who told him that Alves might still be in the Ratel stranded in the anhara. Nortmann ran over to the burning wreck. He quickly saw that the driver was beyond help and went round the side to check on the rest. Just as he neared one of the side doors it was blown of its hinges, almost taking Hannes with it, as the ammunition started to cook off. It was painfully clear to Hannes that no one was left alive inside and he started moving back to the treeline. His dash was helped on by the fire of surviving Fapla Infantry who were rudely aiming at him as well as from shells and mortars and other pieces of assorted lead that was flying around.

He jumped in the cab of the Wit Hings with Rupping, ordering two Ratels in the vicinity to join up with him. After a short drive he spotted a stranded Ratel and again jumped down from the cab. As he ran around the vehicle he came face to face with a Fapla soldier with a leveled AK 47. Without hesitation and in true gun slinger style Hannes brought up his rifle and shot the man. Just then a second Angolan burst from the Ratel carrying some loot and tried to get away. Again Hannes did his best Clint Eastwood impression and started shooting at the man almost emptying a whole magazine before he finally went down. Not understanding why it took so long for the man to go down he quickly inspected the man and found that tins of looted bully beef had initially saved the mans life.

Upon entering the Ratels troop compartment he found that most of the weapons and food had been looted by Fapla. All that remained was the sack containing the Ratel’s camouflage net. As he was about to leave he saw the sack slightly move. A kick produced a small cry. Ripping open the bag Hannes found the vehicles young driver stiff from fear. The young man had hidden in the bag as the enemy approached and by the hand of God was missed by the rummaging Fapla soldiers. The young man could hardly speak and was later hospitalized with a mental breakdown.

Nortmann waved the Ratels and the ever present Rupping in his Wit Hings over. As they struggled to free the trapped vehicle they saw more tanks approaching in the distance. The vehicle refused to budge, but after much tugging and pulling, and with the enemy tanks almost on them they managed to pull it free. With it finally free, Hannes drove it to safety behind the recovery vehicle. Nortmann and Rupping again returned to the battle and freed two more trapped Ratels. Both men were later awarded the Honoris Crux for their action.

While Hannes and Riaan Rupping were out on their death defying rescue mission the rest of Hartsliefs force were engaging the enemy tanks in very novel ways. Most of the methods used would not be found in any manual and is definitely not for the faint hearted. By the late 80s the 90mm gun found on the Ratel 90 was outdated and could only in the most favorable circumstances take on a tank. It was in most cases inadvisable to pick a fight with a tank but in the dense bush the Ratels had a chance.

By flaunting themselves in front of the tanks they would lure them into denser bush were the Ratel would start turning in ever tightening circles in the bush. Being more maneuverable and being equipped with a power traversing turret the Ratels would at some stage during the turning end up behind the tank offering it a good opportunity to take out the tank. It wasn’t pretty but it worked. Good old Boer ingenuity at work. By this method a further two tanks were destroyed.

Hartslief had in the mean time tried in vain to get a clearer understanding of what was going on. He had no idea what was happening to his south as he had lost communications with the Ratel 90 troop in that area. He further more had no communications with one of his company commanders who had left his vehicle to deal with some form of problem while the other commander had lost all form of communications with his platoons. With an almost total loss of communications in dense bush, Hartslief was less than pleased. The icing on the cake was a radio intercept that a further six tanks from the tactical group were moving up in support. Not wanting to be caught in the trench riddled base after light he decided to pull his forces out and regroup at the original forming up point.

As they fell back the men of Combat Group Bravo was subjected to intense fire from 82mm Mortars which the men from Sierra and Quebec batteries tried to silence in vain. One troop from Sierra battery was moved closer to support Hannes Nortmann and his tiffies in their recovery efforts. Due to the dense bush and poor communication fire control was haphazard at best and the support proved to be ineffectual.

With its fighting over Bravo settled down to lick its wounds. It had lost a Ratel, two Casspirs, eight men killed and four wounded.

For two men of Combat Group Bravo the fight was far from over. Lieutenant Liebenberg and one of the Corporals got lost during the retreat. As they were moving back on their own Fapla returned to sweep the objective area. Liebenberg took the Corporals rifle and an RPG 7 and told the Corporal to push off as soon as he had fired the RPG. He fired the RPG at the Fapla infantry. While the Fapla infantry were sorting them out after their initial surprise Liebenberg perfected his imitation of a dead man. The enemy infantry passed over him once but quickly came running back as the high pitch whine of Ratel engines started coming through the trees. Not wanting to be shot by his own side he waited for all to quiet down and then crawled out of the base through one of the trenches.

Charlie’s Baptism of Fire

At 16h00 Dawid Lotter’s Combat Group Charlie was ordered to return to the objective to recover (two Casspirs) or destroy (also two Casspirs) the vehicles left behind. Unita assured Dawid that Fapla had vacated the base. Taking them on their word, and despite having a shortage of illumination bombs for the 81mm Mortars, Lotter set out under the guidance of Hannes Nortmann.

As they neared the base Lotter’s Unita guide became increasingly nervous. Another Unita soldier appeared from the night and ask with an uncommon professional interest how they were intending to deal with the tank ambush up ahead. This all was news to Lotter but he pushed on.

He interspersed a platoon of Ratel 20s with a troop of Ratel 90s on each flank, with his command group in the centre followed by the last platoon. He now started sweeping the area moving less than 1800 meters in three hours. The slow pace was due to the lack of illumination rounds, the dense bush as well as the many huts and trenches that had to be checked as they advanced.

By 22h00 out of exasperation Lotter ordered that the huts along his line of advance be burned to mark it clearly. By this time they had recovered only two of the four Casspirs and were still looking for the other two.

Just as they started to move again Fapla sprung the ambush on the right hand side column with eight tanks engaging Combat Group Charlie ad distances as close as a 100 meters. Faced by such massive firepower at close range chaos reigned amount the right hand column. Cohesion wasn’t improved when the lieutenant in charge of the column first lost all forms of communication ad then his sense of direction. All the vehicles in this column turned their radios back to Lotter’s command jamming up an already over stretched system.

Lotter now ordered Lieutenant Kooij, commanding the left hand column, to move up and take control while he struggled to bring order out of the overall chaos. Kooij drove forward and immediately started engaging the enemy tanks using tactics similar to that used by Combat Group Bravo that morning. His actions restored order to the front column and bought time for Lotter to gain control of his force. His situation was however a perilous one with Fapla fighting on known terrain, while his men had to blunder around in the dark in an area criss-crossed by deep trenches which had proven so fatal during the morning. Fapla now started using artillery on Combat Group Charlie with BM 21 rockets being fired from across the river.

Lotter sought and gained approval to withdraw. While he was in the process of organizing the withdrawal a number of tanks started maneuvering around his southern flank. The fearless Lieutenant Kooij once again rode to the rescue and promptly shot out two of them.

With Kooij and his troop covering the retreat, Lotter started pulling his force back in 100 meter bounds. At the end of each bound control points were established to determine if everyone was present. Despite this it proved impossible for Lotter to completely disentangle from the fight as many of the accompanying Unita soldiers had become detached and was now trapped between the tanks and Combat Group Charlie. His opportunity to completely break contact came at 02h00 when Fapla stopped firing for no apparent reason.

Despite the weight and close proximity of fire Combat Group Charlie came of surprising lightly. They had only two slightly wounded men, one, a troop leader, hurt his hand on the recoil of his Ratel’s gun, the other had a bullet pierce his helmet and lodge in his skull. The bullet was simply pulled out and the man returned to his unit.

Bravo returned to the base the next day and found five shot out T54s, a single Ural truck and an abandoned TMM bridging vehicle. Apart from the losses in equipment it was estimated that Fapla lost between 250 and 300 men during the two clashes. With these two clashes 47 Bde had started down a path that would lead to it’s eventual destruction with it’s back against the Lomba.

02-15-2007, 06:30 AM
The next installment.

Combat Group Alpha Takes a Swipe at 47 Bde

After the clash on the 13th of September 47 Bde put on hold it’s attempts to link up with 59 Bde and withdrew the remnants of it’s Tactical Group to the west. It was now cut off in it’s position on the south bank of the Lomba and in danger of running out of ammunition and other supplies. Once the most aggressive of FAPLAs brigade the daily pounding by South African artillery had reduced it to shell of it’s former self.

Ferreria now drew up new plans to tackle 47 Bde with assurances from Pretoria that no last minute spanners would be thrown into the works. As on the 11th he planned to open the attack with another air strike along the planned east-west assault axis. The air strike was to be followed by an assault by Combat Group Alpha under the command of Commandant Bok Smit.

Combat Group Alpha was composed of a mechanized infantry company, a armored car squadron equipped with Ratel 90s (both drawn from 61 Mech) and Golf company from 32 Bat in Buffel APCs. In support Bok Smit had a single mortar fire group with four Ratel 81s and an anti-aircraft troop with six Ystervark SPAAGs, both also drawn from 61 Mech. As with the battle on the 13th Combat Group Charlie was once again in reserve.

Once again the brave band of Recces was send out to mark the targets and the attack run for the SAAF. Pierre Franken did not accompany them this time as he was in an OP on a hill to the north of the Lomba river directing artillery fire on 21 Bde to keep them from interfering with the coming attack.

Alpha’s Attack

At 4am on the 16th Combat Group Alpha started it’s approach march to the planned jump off point. Smit planned to move past 47 Bde’s positions and once clear to swing to the north and attack the brigade from the west. His force of 250 men would face more than 1000 FAPLA soldiers from 47 Bde.

At 06h23 the air strike started when Mirage F1AZs from 1 Squadron, closely followed by the Buccaneers of 24 Squadron, dropped 250lb pre-fragmented bombs (these where adaptations of the standard Mk82 250lb snake eye bomb used by many western air forces packed with more than 2000 steel balls with a lethal radius of more than 20m). A third wave composed of a flight of three Canberras from 12 Squadron was cancelled when it became apparent that the Angolan air defense network had picked them up (the Angolan air defense network, manned by advisors from the Warsaw Pact, was one of the most complex in the world, and some observers believe it to be even more complex than that faced by the Hey’l Avir in the Bekaa valley).

With the thunder of the air strike barely over Pierre Franken called in fire from the G5s of Quebec battery at 07h05. By 07h23 47 Bde was reporting to the Tactical HQ in Cuito Caunavale that things were looking bad.

On the South African side things were not looking to bright either. By 08h22 they had reached the jump off point and started the attack, but the dense bush made movement very difficult. Bok Smit had three elements up and with visibility down to 10m the advance had to be stopped ever so often to ensure that everybody was were they were supposed to be (dense bush was to bedevil the South Africans in many of the battles that followed. Looking at later day satellite pictures of the terrain around the Lomba river one is struck by the density of bush).

At 11h23 Combat Group made contact with elements of 47 Bde, but a navigational error resulted in the attack going north-north-west of 47 Bde’s actual position. Thus the actual attack went in on a flanking unit instead of the main body of 47 Bde.

Due to the slow going and navigational error 47 Bde had time to recover from the air strike and bombardment. 47 Bde opened up with a deluge of accurate indirect fire from almost every weapon in FAPLA’s arsenal. The most accurate of these were the 82mm Mortars placing particularly effective fire on the HQ and depth elements.

The 120mm mortars of Sierra battery now joined the fray firing at suspected targets 250 to 300 meters to the front of Combat Group Alpha. Due to the dense bush and poor visibility most of this fire was directed by the sound of shrapnel.

At 14h30 Combat Group Alpha made contact with the flanking unit, comprised of a group of infantry and tanks, on their northern flank which subjected it to intense small arms and RPG fire often at ranges less than 50 meters. Despite the close proximity of friendly forces FAPLA’s artillery continued to fire.

A 32 Bat soldier was wounded by a 82mm mortar exploding less than four meters from Theo Wilken’s Ratel. He drove the man back to the aid post before continuing the attack. One of his fellow observers had a tree blown over his vehicle by an RPG enticing his driver into a premature withdrawal. It took a few moments of patient coaching to stop the driver and clear the tree before he could advance again.

Captain Bormann spotted a 82mm mortar pit. Wilken moved up and called in mortar fire taking it out with the second round. He fired a few more rounds to make sure and spotted a BRDM parked in the bushline, but as the rounds started falling it beat a hasty retreat. The destruction of the mortar pit put an end to the mortars falling on Combat Group Alpha.

By this time the debussed infantry were dog tired as they had expended most of their energy sheltering from flying splinters and debris. The dense bush proved to be troublesome in more ways than one with the shells detonating in the trees causing tree bursts and blowing whole trees across the vehicles necessitating them to stop to clear the trees off.

By 16h47 it became apparent to Bok Smit that the attack was going nowhere. He asked for and received permission to withdraw and resume the attack the next day. He ordered Maj. David Lotter to mark the route for the next days attack and started the retreat under the cover of white phosphorous smoke from the 120mm mortars. Col. Ferreria however latter decided to call of the attack due to the difficult terrain encountered.

The abortive attack cost Combat Group Alpha one man killed and three wounded for the destruction of one 82mm mortar pit.

Ferreria realized that it would take a concerted mechanized attack to destroy 47 Bde. To this end the South African started to soften 47 Bde up a bit more with air strikes and artillery fire. The South African could also now inflict more damage through air strikes and artillery as the unit which had moved forward in a five by five kilometer square now dug in in a ellipse about 2 kilometers long and about 1.5 kilometers wide at the apex.

The FAPLA brigades were still widely separated with 47 Bde in it’s position four kilometers south of the Lomba-Cuzizi confluence, 59 Bde six kilometers north of the Lomba-Conzumbia confluence on the west bank of the Conzumbia river, 21 Bde was still dug in at the site of it’s abortive crossing attempt on the 11th twelve kilometers east of the Lomba-Conzumbia confluence with the forth brigade, 16 Bde, far to the north at the source of the Cunzumbia.

With 47 Bde in it’s lonely isolated position the stage was set for it’s destruction by 20 SA Bde. For Col. Ferreria in his Tac HQ at Mavinga the plan was coming together.

02-15-2007, 06:51 AM
its great so see some of SA's military history being appreciated by an international audience.

Thanks for your efforts Vorster.

02-15-2007, 07:01 AM
did Fapla really have trained snipers, or do you think some guy just got lucky with the shot?

02-15-2007, 07:01 AM
No prob just wish I could get more pics in but then I would spoil the book a buddy and I are working on. Will post some google earth maps soon to give the blokes an idea of the area in which the battles were fought.

02-15-2007, 07:05 AM
Fapla had guys equipped with Dragunov rifles but how well they were trained is open to debate. What I do know is that the Spetnaz operated in this sector and had a bit of a run in with the Recces in which our blokes came out tops. A former recce, Stuart Sterzel, gave a lecture about this a while back at the War Museum in JHB.

It could be possible that these 'snipers' were trained by the spetnaz guys.

02-15-2007, 09:31 AM

Here is a google earth image of the battlefield.

The north south rivers from left to right is:

1. Cuzizi
2. Cunzumbia
3. Gombe

The small tributury running south to north is the Ingue.

The river running west to east is the Lomba.

The key is a follows:

1. Battle on the 11 th
2. Battle on the 13 th
3. Battle on the 16 th
4. Battle on the 3 rd of Oct and the next installment

02-16-2007, 04:58 AM
No prob just wish I could get more pics in but then I would spoil the book a buddy and I are working on. Will post some google earth maps soon to give the blokes an idea of the area in which the battles were fought.

Let us know when that book comes out! :)


02-16-2007, 05:24 AM
Wilco. There will be two in fact. But more on that latter.

02-16-2007, 05:31 AM
Wilco. There will be two in fact. But more on that latter.

You guys should do what Barnes and Noble do with the Harry Potter books and let people pre-order them. You'd probably sell the whole of the first publication before the books are even ready. :)

02-16-2007, 06:10 AM
You think. We'll consider it I am sure. Be assured though iy wouldn't be a limited run.

Phil Smethurst
11-08-2007, 05:57 PM
Dude, I was in Bravo Company 61 mec 81mm mortar. Was an the main attacking force in Modular and Hooper, i have been back working in the areas for my missions organization. Had some classic meetings. I met a commander of FAPLA BM21 group that we were observing at Cuito Cuanival. We had a beer on the Zambian Angolan border a year, he paid! If you need any help in the research of the war maybe I can help.

11-09-2007, 03:28 AM
Hi Iam very interested in your experiences

Jim Warford
11-19-2007, 11:21 PM
Great discussion guys...I'm particularly interested in the fighting that involved armor (on both sides). One of the armor community's remaining "holy grails" concerns the series of UN reports that claimed Angolan forces were provided with a small number of T-64 tanks by Ukraine. Some of the information claims that these tanks were paid-for with diamonds/diamond revenue. There seems to be something to this story...something more than rumor.

11-20-2007, 02:11 AM
Great discussion guys...I'm particularly interested in the fighting that involved armor (on both sides). One of the armor community's remaining "holy grails" concerns the series of UN reports that claimed Angolan forces were provided with a small number of T-64 tanks by Ukraine. Some of the information claims that these tanks were paid-for with diamonds/diamond revenue. There seems to be something to this story...something more than rumor.

As far as I know there were no T-64, T-72 or T-80 in Angola during the last south african operations in Angola during 1987 and 1988.

The angolans fielded T-34 and T-55 and the cubans T-55 and T-62. The last was the most powerful tank of the war.

Best regards


11-20-2007, 11:09 AM
Whew at last I am back. New job has had me running around for months. Ok as you see my monicer has changed.

New installments to be added soon though so keep watching this space.

To answer your question Jim, No. The Angolans were kitted with T34, T54 and T55s. There were rumours of T62s but only the Cuban 50th Division deployed these tanks during the last battle north of the Kunene river in 88.

The biggest T that I know of in Sub Saharan Africa is the T72 at the School of Armor here in South Africa. One of two bought in 1988 from Poland. One was wrecked in tests the other stil runs and I had an oppurtunity to see it in action last year.

Next installment will be the big lomba battle in which 61 Mechanized Battalion Group destroyed the Angolan 47th Brigade.

11-20-2007, 11:14 AM
Whew at last I am back. New job has had me running around for months. Ok as you see my monicer has changed.

LOL! Did someone forget their password? p-)

Welcome back.

11-20-2007, 12:41 PM
Nah Mr. Mittal had me by the balls for 9 months and still does. Finally got my internet sorted at home after moving down to KZN.

Met some intresting blokes down here. Will report back.

11-21-2007, 02:31 AM
Welcome back Vorster!!!

I improved a lot my acknowledge about that war!!! but now also I you could explain things about the last battles of the war would be very helpful, I mean Denongue, Tchipa, Ruacana, etc....

Again Welcome!!!

Best regards


11-21-2007, 11:48 AM
Thanks man. Ruacana wasn't really a battle the Cubans just tried to blow the dam. Menongue wasn't one either but Techipa was one in an earlier campaign.

11-27-2007, 05:35 AM
Hi Vorster,

Do you know who was the commanding officer of the Rgt. MOlopo tank squadron during Hooper operation??.

Best regards


11-27-2007, 10:55 PM
Checked my references and did not find it. Will ask my sources. Why do you want to know?

11-28-2007, 07:10 AM
Just to know it. I have the names of all other tank squadron leaders but not the Molopo's one.

Best regards


12-14-2007, 01:36 AM
Africa's largest land battle since World War II............ a glimpse of the battle.........

The Last Phase October to December 1987

After the battle was over mopping up operations continued on both sides. South African observers watched in disgust as Fapla soldiers shot many of their own wounded where they lay because they were unable to evacuate them or give them medical care. At the end of the day the South African commander, Deon Ferreira, sent a message to HQ that their mission had been accomplished and that the Angolan/Cuban advance on Mavinga had been stopped. His new orders were to clear all remnants of the enemy forces from the eastern side of the River Cuito and establish positions from which they would be able to prevent any further crossings into Unita territory. No mention was made of capturing Cuito Cuanavale itself. The SADF did, however, want to be in a position from which they could shell the airfield and neutralise the base as a starting point for a new offensive. Cuito allowed the Cuban Migs easy access to Unita territory and if it was destroyed the Migs would have to move 175 kilometres to the west.

The G5 artillery groups were moved up and commenced bombarding Cuito. The SAAF sent in 4 Mirages as a decoy and while the Migs were being rolled out of their reinforced concrete hangars the G-5s pounded the runway with shells. Within a short space of time the airfield was destroyed and the remaining Migs were forced to move back to Menongue.

Stinger missiles were also used to good effect by Unita and two Cuban pilots were taken prisoner after their Mig had been shot down.

The Cuban/Faplan offensive had failed. Later the Cubans tried to save face and boost their demoralized troops by claiming loudly that they had won the "Battle for Cuito Cuanavale", which they claimed to have successfully defended against all South African attacks!

Throughout the campaign the South Africans, mindful of the fact that they were involved in an undeclared war and without allies in the west, refrained from making any public statements on the progress of the war. This gave the Cubans and Angolans the advantage in the propaganda war. The SADF could not reveal that it only had a small combat force of less than 3000 lightly-armed troops in Angola, as this would have revealed their weaknesses to the enemy. The superior training and tactics of the SADF had convinced the Cubans and Angolans that they were facing a large, heavily-armed force.

As Chester Crocker later wrote:

"In early October the Soviet-Fapla offensive was smashed at the Lomba River near Mavinga. It turned into a headlong retreat over the 120 miles back to the primary launching point at Cuito Cuanavale. In some of the bloodiest battles of the entire civil war, a combined force of some 8,000 Unita fighters and 4,000 SADF troops destroyed one Fapla brigade and mauled several others out of a total Fapla force of some 18,000 engaged in the three-****ged offensive. Estimates of Fapla losses ranged upward of 4,000 killed and wounded. This offensive had been a Soviet conception from start to finish. Senior Soviet officers played a central role in its execution. Over a thousand Soviet advisers were assigned to Angola in 1987 to help with Moscow's largest logistical effort to date in Angola: roughly $1.5 billion in military hardware was delivered that year. Huge quantities of Soviet equipment were destroyed or fell into Unita and SADF hands when Fapla broke into a disorganized retreat... The 1987 military campaign represented a stunning humiliation for the Soviet Union, its arms and its strategy. It would take Fapla a year, or maybe two, to recover and regroup. Moreover the Angolan military disaster threatened to go from bad to worse. As of mid-November, the Unita/SADF force had destroyed the Cuito Cuanavale airfield and pinned down thousands of Fapla's best remaining units clinging onto the town's defensive perimeters." (2)

The results of the campaign up to April 1988 were 4,785 killed on the Cuban/Faplan side, with 94 tanks and hundreds of combat vehicles destroyed, against 31 South Africans killed in action, 3 tanks destroyed (SADF tanks entered the war after the Lomba River campaign) and 11 SADF armoured cars and troop carriers lost. A total of 9 Migs were destroyed and only 1 SAAF Mirage shot down.

If the Cubans had taken the trouble to examine South Africa's military history, they might perhaps have paused for thought at the fact that the forefathers of these troops, the Boers, had held the full might of the British Empire at bay during the Boer War, when 450,000 British troops took three years to subdue a force of little more than 20,000 Boers.

12-18-2007, 01:33 PM
I say no more.

12-18-2007, 01:37 PM
If the Cubans had taken the trouble to examine South Africa's military history, they might perhaps have paused for thought at the fact that the forefathers of these troops, the Boers, had held the full might of the British Empire at bay during the Boer War, when 450,000 British troops took three years to subdue a force of little more than 20,000 Boers.

That is'nt really being honest considering that there was not a whole 20000 men together and the reason it took so many troops to catch them was because they were hiding, and SA is so large. The major fighting was over by 1900.

12-19-2007, 10:41 AM
Uhm yes but we had them by the balls for two more years. How we did it is what makes the boers unique. Mobile warfare is something which is bred into us. Another is immaginative military thinking.

Rommel is said to have said that of all the Allied forces he faced in WW2 he had the most respect for the South Africans because they are hardy, though but intelligent soldiers.

12-19-2007, 11:52 AM
held the full might of the British Empire at bay

I think this may be an exaggeration

12-20-2007, 10:38 AM
How does full avialable might sound? Of course the British did not withdraw each and every regiment it had for service in South Africa.

02-10-2008, 04:48 AM
Ok the next installment. Stil just a rough draft so excuse spelling and language mistakes. Enjoy.

Death of a Brigade

After 61 Mech’s abortive attack on the 16th the Fapla Bde’s was devoting most of it’s time trying to reinforce and resupply its three forward brigades. All three the brigades were low on ammunition and fuel due to the heavy fighting of the previous days. To remedy the situation 25 Bde escorted a convoy of 148 vehicles to 21 Bde, reaching it’s destination on the 15th of September.

21 Bde now took the convoy down to the Lomba and across the Conzumbia towards 59 Bde which was deployed in the area of the confluence of the Lomba and the Conzumbia. The problem facing Fapla however was how to supply 47 Bde in its position south of the Lomba Cuzizi confluence.

The final plan to solve the problem was for 21 Bde to cross the Lomba and set up a bridgehead. 47 Bde would then advance to this bridgehead and take over the supplies. 21 Bde moved off to its jump off point preparing to cross the Lomba on the 22nd of September.

Cutting off 47 Bde’s supplies

On the 22nd a radio message was picked up referring to “smoking the South Africans out” indicating that Fapla might be planning to use gas against the South Africans. Ferreira immediately evacuated his positions 15km east after checking the wind. His junior subordinates, Hartslief and Nortmann, were upset at what they saw to be an unnecessary retreat.

The retreat was however a wise move, because as soon as the South African vacated their position and completed the move a bombardment started which would last four hours and was to include air strikes.

A further worrying development for the South Africans in period running up to the 22nd of September was an increase in Russian chatter on Fapla’s artillery net. One specific voice was directing the whole net and it became apparent that Fapla, under the tutelage of the Russians, were preparing to strike back with vengeance and get across the Lomba this time.

Soon after the bombardment stopped another radio message was intercepted in which a Fapla commander reported that the South African had left. Ferreira wanted to move his forces back to the crossing point as quickly as possible but the danger of gas still existed.

He had special chemical detection teams, but at this stage they were to far away to be of use. He passed the buck to 32s reconnaissance group to scout the area and report the presence of gas. Two men were taken in a Ratel and then dropped to walk to the evacuated trenches which stretched for almost three kilometers in the tree line. They were astonished to find Unita soldiers calmly sitting in the trenches smoking. They had survived unscathed and reported not feeling sick at all.

On receiving word that the area was cleared, Ferreira ordered the position reoccupied. As Hartslief’s combat group was moving into the trenches, he saw three columns of vehicles flanked by infantry form up and start to cross the river by yet another unsighted bridge.

Hartslief waited until the infantry was stretched out across an anhara, about three to four kilometers wide, (a flood plain) to the south of the river. Darkness was rapidly approaching and he held his fire as long as possible. Then on his word a 192 127mm rockets burst above the heads of the advancing infantry scything them down. The rockets were soon joined in the fray by the G5s and 120mm mortars plowing into the open plain. The Ratel ZT3s and 90s started taking on the tanks and other vehicles knocking them out one after the other. The heavy shelling even succeeded in knocking out a few tanks by shredding the external fuel tanks setting the vehicles alight.

The infantry started retreating in panic across the marshy plain and Hartslief’s let loose the 30 Casspirs of 101 Bat and the Ratels of 32 Bat to complete the slaughter. The troops sprayed the area with 7.62mm machine gun fire from the Casspirs and 20mm cannon fire from the Ratels while the troops added to the slaughter by firing through the portholes with their personal weapons. The vehicles also further added to the carnage by running over those trying to hide in the long grass. During this time the G5s destroyed the TMM, cutting of the Fapla troops on the south bank thus completing the slaughter.

At the end of the short but violent battle the South African counted more than 300 dead on the flood plain with wrecks of destroyed equipment scattered every where. Apart from the slaughter on this day the South Africans estimated that 21 Bde had lost between 400 to 600 dead in all of the
encounters off September. On the South African side one man slightly wounded by shrapnel.

South African Preparations

Before 21 Bde’s attempts to cross the Lomba 20 SA Bde had started a war of attrition against the three Fapla Bdes within range. Priority was given to 59 Bde which had thus far escaped the attention of the guns or the SAAF.

The SAAF flew the first strikes of this stage on the 20th of September. An early morning strike by Canberras on 47 Bde were called of due to low cloud. However three other strikes by Mirages and Buccaneers were flown at intervals through out the day. To add to the misery of 47 Bde some of the bombs dropped were fitted with delayed action fuses and the detonation of these bombs over the next few days made serious dents in the brigade’s morale.

On the next day the SAAF deployed one of it’s brand new RPVs on a reconnaissance mission over the four forward brigades. (The first sortie was launched on the 20th; however it was aborted on the due to bad weather.) The RPV crossed the areas of 16 and 21 Bdes but was finely shot down by the 17th SAM, a SA 8, which was fired at it over 47 Bde.

For the SAAF it was a rude shock as they thought the small size of the RPV would make it a very difficult target. The SADF got its own back when artillery directed by Theo Wilken produced a spectacular secondary explosion in which missiles streaked off into the air.

Unita later found the wreckage but reported that the pilot was missing. Col. Oelschig, then chief SADF liaison to Unita, with typical South African humor asked them to continue looking for him as his presence in the battlefield was very sensitive due to the fact that he was a very small Japanese man.

The South Africans however did not have much remorse, for Unita despite having no less three regular en five semi regular battalions in the area still failed to prevent the resupply of 16, 21 and 59 Bdes by a 25 Bde convoy.

It was however imperative that no supplies reach 47 Bde. As the most likely route was through 59 Bde, Pierre Franken started to engage targets in the 59 Bde area on the morning of the 22nd. In the first barrage an ammunition dump and two BRDM 2s were destroyed. A convoy consisting of two battalions moving towards a TMM bridge placed by 21 Bde over the Conzumbia three kilometers north of the river’s confluence with the Lomba was engaged later that day as well.

During that evening at a joint planning conference the South Africans and Unita decided that the South African should continue to harass 21, 47 and 59 Bdes with air strikes and artillery fire while moving to isolate 47 Bde. Unita would in the mean time concentrate on the supply convoys from 16 and 25 Bdes.

During the next few days the artillery continued its harassing fire although a number of air strikes were flown and artillery strikes were put in on targets of opportunity. On the 24th the Director of Artillery, Col Laubser, at the front to investigate the incident at Quebec battery tried his hand at his chosen trade. He infiltrated between Combat Group Bravo and 21 Bde and brought fire down on two trucks and some infantry. It seems desk work did not dull his skills as he destroyed his two trucks. That evening there was some Fapla activity in the form of BM21 which was quickly silenced by the G5s.

During the morning of the 25th one of the Fapla forward elements worked out the position of the G5s. This information was passed on to their headquarters and a strike of Mig 23s and Su 22s was ordered. This strike landed about 2000m wide. That night however the 32 Bat security element however whispered over the radio that a Fapla patrol was only 50m from there position. Being an Angolan native himself, the sergeant in charge of the element, listened to the patrol talking and soon learned that they had been sent to asses the damage to the guns. Not find the guns they reported that the South Africans had left and disgustedly left.

At the same time Col. Ferreria and his MOAT commander, Col. Coen van der Berg, were planning a series of airstrikes on 21 Bde for the next day. The brigade had not received attention from the SAAF previously due high risk posed by it’s air defense umbrella which over lapped with that of 16 Bde. However the constant shelling of 21 Bde made the South Africans confident that the thread had been reduced to an acceptable level.

At dawn the first of five airstrikes went in. Using a hair raising maneuver developed by the SAAF known as toss bombing the flight of four Mirages hurled a mixture of 470 kg HE and 250 kg pre fragmented bombs into 21 Bde.’s laager area. Completing the maneuver the Mirages streaked at top speed over the South African positions in an attempt to raise the morale of the troops.

As the concussion of the bombs drifted away 21 Bde’s bloodletting was not over as the guns of Quebec battery added to the carnage with a 15 minute barrage. This pattern continued for the rest of the day until the last strike at 16h40.

An indication of the success of the raids was received when a signal from 21 Bde was sent in the in the clear in unmistakable language: “The aviation came through—we didn’t even see them… everything is ****ed.”

In the raid 21 Bde lost two SA 8 units, vehicles ammunition dumps and seven Soviet advisors wounded. Nightfall didn’t bring relieve either as Sierra Battery spend the night firing rocket assisted bombs onto their position.

The only ray of light for 21 Bde was to add to the woes of 10 Squadron by shooting down another RPV with a SA-8.

Pierre Franken meanwhile spent his day harassing 59 Bde with rocket fire from Pappa Battery destroying a number of vehicles and ammunition dumps in the process.

Apart from the artillery and the SAAF the day for the rest of the South Africans was quiet as most of them tuned in the radios on their vehicles to the Currie Cup final being played at Ellis Park between the Lions and Blue Bulls.

47 Bde was in the mean time struggling to build a corduroy road of logs over the flood plain around the Lomba river. To aid 47 Bde in this endeavor 59 Bde brought up a TMM bridge. This process was however laborious as the brigade was subjected to constant bombardment from Unita’s 82mm mortars and later the 120mm mortars of Sierra battery.

The 27th dawned as another bleak day for Fapla when the Soviet advisor attached to the Brigades were ordered out. To extract them three Mi 25 helicopters were sent. Unfortunately for Fapla the South Africans were forewarned of the move.

Theo Wilken sat down and plotted four likely landing zones in the 21 Bde area and assigned two mortars to each. As soon as the radio intercept team told him that the helicopters had touched down he let his mortars loose. He was rewarded with a massive secondary explosion as one of the helicopters were hit.

To the east Pierre Franken was trying his luck as well. Unfortunately for him he was not rewarded with a secondary explosion to mark his success. The remaining helicopters thus escaped leaving the Brigades bereft of their command element.

The South Africans how ever were not to have it all their way. A flight of two Mirage F1 CZ were scrambled from Grootfontein to intercept a flight of Cuban piloted Mig 23s. In the ensuing dogfight Capt. Arthur Piercy’s Mirage was damaged by a air-to-air missile and severely damaged. Capt. Piercy nursed the stricken aircraft back to Grootfontein. However the loss of the hydraulic system meant that he had to land the aircraft without brakes. The aircraft sped down the runway, over the overshoot area and an embankment hitting a rock with the nose wheel. The impact set off the ejection seat flinging Capt. Piercy out of the aircraft.

Capt. Piercy suffered serious spinal injuries, which paralyzed him. A subsequent enquiry showed that the men responsible for raising the crash net, which might have save him his serious injury, had been drinking prior to the accident. Despite the damage sustained to the aircraft it was repaired and brought back into service. It is a testament to a brave man. Despite the danger Capt. Piercy brought the damaged aircraft back to be repaired during a time when South Africa was being hamstrung by the Arms Embargo. (The author had the privilege to meet Arthur Piercy a few years ago at an airshow. He is an exceptional man who despite his handicap has still not given up on his dream to fly.)

For the rest of the South African forces it was another lazy day. Combat Group Bravo spent their day in the positions they has occupied since the first rumble on the Lomba across from 21 Bde. Theo Wilken spent the rest of his day, after his success with the Mi 25, harassing 21 Bde. In this he was ably assisted by the Fapla themselves. Using their shellreps he was able to home his mortars in on the target.

Later that night a groundshout team joined Combat Group Bravo. The team played various propaganda messages including the sounds of hyenas. This was however stopped when it was noticed that the men of the 101 Company was also getting fidgety.

21 Bde has in the mean time been ordered to withdraw by bounds. The first inkling that the Brigade had gone was when 10 Squadron launched two modified RPVs, in the hope of drawing the attention of the SAMs deployed with the brigade, the next day and no gaggle of SAMs was launched to intercept them.

On the 28th 47 Bde was ordered to abandon it’s attempts to cross the Lomba and move eastward. The Brigade had suffered horribly in it’s attempts to cross losing many men and vehicles at the proposed crossing which turned out to be an artillery observer’s dream area.

Within two days of staring to move east it became apparent to Fapla that this was a futile exercise as the unit was still bogged down south of the Lomba-Cuzizi confluence.. 47 Bde was now ordered to cross the Lomba and link up with 59 Bde . Fapla then intended to move both units east across the Cunzumbia, using the TMM bridge there, and have them link up with 21 Bde. Together the three brigades could then attempt to force a crossing further east over the Lomba for an advance on Mavinga.

Despite these plans it was plain to the Fapla Forward Command Post that the three Brigades had to be withdrawn to be reorganized and reinforced. Since the beginning of Op. Modular the brigades had suffered horribly from both Unita and SADF attacks, being down to between 30 and 33% effective strength (see the table on the next page).

The SADF also knew the time was ripe to attack and destroy 47 Bde in it’s isolated position on the Lomba. To this end a conference was held at the Tac HQ at Maving on the night of the 28th and 29th attended by a collection of senior visitors including the President P.W. Botha.

In the ensuing discussions it became clear that the initial objectives of Modular, the halting of the Fapla offensive, had been achieved. However considerable combat power was still available to Fapla to the east of the Cuito River.

President Botha appreciated this view and approved a plan for the total destruction of all Fapla units east of the Cuito, provided the defeat would be so crushing as to precluded another Fapla offensive in 1988. For his part he undertook to provide the reinforcements and funds required for such an offensive.

Last Moves

Col. Ferreira had however started planning the destruction of 47 Bde on the 27th. He tasked Capt. Herman Mulder, an intelligence officer attached to 32 Bat, to draw up a full intelligence picture on 47 Bde. Using all the resources available to him Capt. Mulder set about his task. His final report showed that 47 Bde’s main position was four kilometers due south of the Lomba-Cuzizi confluence in deep bush. Some units had however moved northward towards the Lomba to a hook shaped patch of forest protruding into the anhara placing them less than 2 km south of the Lomba.

With this report in hand Ferreira decided to launch his attack on the 5th of October. The attacking force he desided would be made up of Cmdt. Bok Smit’s Co,bat Group Alpha reinforced by a company of 32 Bat and four Unita battalions. One of the Unita battalions would assist in the attack while the other three would launch a diversionary attack on 59 Bde. Combat Group Charlie was to from the reserve for the attack.

On the 30th Pierre Franken, sitting on Mucobolo Hill, received reports that 47 Bde had made contact with 59 Bde passing over some of the more severely wounded and receiving a small amount of supplies. He also noticed that work was restarted on the crossing point just east of the Lomba-Cuzizi confluence, about 1500m from his position.

Working parties were busy felling trees to finish the corduroy road which extended about 200m away from both banks. The TMM bridge has also appeared, however it remained away from the river while the road was being laid.

This moved caused some doubt in Col. Ferreira’s mind. He was not sure if 47 Bde was preparing to withdraw or 59 Bde to cross the Lomba. He however decided to continue planning the assault as 47 Bde had to be dealt with. He however ordered Bok Smit busy with preparations in the Combat Group’s assembly area at a small lagoon 22 km south-east to speed up preparations as they might attack sooner than planned.

The SAAF and artillery meanwhile kept up the pressure with constant airstrikes, one of which was flown at 16h40 that afternoon, and artillery.

Pierre Franken from his observation post was able to engage single vehicles in the vicinity of the crossing. Using a single round each time he was able to destroy at least 11 vehicles in this fashion.

By the 1st of October Capt. Mulder provided Ferreira with the clarification he needed. Mulder reported that EW intercepts had picked up that the commander of 47 Bde had been ordered north to link up with 59 Bde.

The Commander, known as Silva, had protested vehemently stating he was in good position and only needed reinforcements to continue his push to Mavinga. Despite his protests, he was finally told to withdraw or face court marshal.

Properly cowed into submission the 47 Bde started it’s move towards the log road on the 2nd of October, watch all the way by Pierre Franken. The road had by now been extended for two kilometers across the anhara and most of the vehicles clustered in the bush just south of the road. The infantry of 47 Bde meanwhile dug in in a semi circle south of the bridge, siting their 23 mm guns to protect the crossing. Piere also noticed three T55s from 59 Bde on the north bank so sited to protect the crossing.

Despite being dug in the infantry position was less dense bush than before making an attack feasible. Ferreira decided to move up the attack to the next day the 3rd of October.

The pieces were now set for the biggest defeat that Fapla was ever to suffer at the hands of the SADF.

02-10-2008, 04:49 AM
Part two of the chapter

The end of 47 Bde

As dusk fell Pierre Franken noticed some vehicles moving from the trees across the log road to a TMM bridge which 59 Bde had placed unnoticed by the South Africans.

Pierre immediately started directing fire on the approaching vehicles which was being led by two SA 9 vehicles. His first shell missed the little knot of vehicles completely, but the second was a direct hit on a BTR 60 which destroyed it completely.

In a freight the Fapla vehicles divided into two groups to get away from the pool of light thrown out by the burning BTR. Pierre now divided the fire of the guns between the two groups but this proved to be mistake. One group managed to regroup and retreat back to the bush line. One of the SA 9’s managed to cross the bridge but the second wasn’t as lucky as a direct hit destroyed it on the bridge, blocking the bridge effectively. A T55 was sent by 59 Bde to recover the vehicle but was hampered by shelling and had to retreat as well.

Through the night Pierre continued sowing carnage whenever he spotted movement near the bridge. He shot out a number of vehicles until 47 Bde abandoned it’s attempts to cross in the early morning hours and retreated to the bush line.

Being a tired man after not having slept for over 48 hours Pierre Franken bedded down to sleep with instructions to be awoken at the first sign of movement. Less than an hour later he was rudely shaken awake and given an report of hundreds of armored vehicles that were approaching. 61 Mech was on the move.

At their lagoon 61 Mech finally finished their preparations by 3 am that morning. The plan was to move directly from south to north and then swing westward so that the 47 Bde positions could be attacked directly from the east. The plan was to position the Combat Group in such a manner that the attack went in along the line of the anahara to the north and the trees to the south.

At 5.20am in darkness the high pitched whine of Ratel engines rose to full pitch as the Combat Group moved out. The force composed more than 50 Ratels of almost every type ever build. There was the impressive new Ratel ZT 3s , the Ratel 90s with it’s 90mm gun for bunker busting, Ratel Commands stuffed with radios, Ratel 81s ready to bring a deluge of fire from their 81mm mortars and Ratel 20s carrying the infantry.

800m in front of Combat Group Alpha’s vehicles were the 200 soldiers of Col. Setti’s 3rd Regular Battalion. Their task was to lead the Combat Group to the enemy positions, draw the first fire and then break away to the flanks to allow Combat Group Alpha to go over to the attack.

The movement of all this vehicles kick up a lot of dust so the vehicles all traveled with their headlights on. The crews had however tapped the headlight up so as not to alert Fapla.

By dawn the formation made it’s first RP and continued to push forward. However the noise of the approaching Ratels alerted Fapla and they started to bombard the formation with Zis 3 and D30 guns. Cmdt. Smit ordered the formation to halt and cut engines while maintaining radio silence. This brought a reprieve as the Fapla gunners could no longer estimate the position of the formation. This reprieve was however temporary as the guns went into action, joined by gaggles of Mig 21s (The FAAPA flew between forty and sixty raids that day. Most of them ineffectual although they were going in at altitudes of 60m), when battle was joined and would continue firing until the end of the battle.

By 08h00 the Combat Group reached the forming up point at the old Unita logistic base and moved out. Reports were starting to stream in of many enemy vehicles strung out along the bush line fringing the anhara. By 10h17 the Combat Group made contact with Fapla and the Unita infantry broke away to the flanks. At the same time Pierre Franken brought in the fire of every piece of artillery at his disposal wreaking havoc on the vehicles clustered along the bushline.

61 Mech was deployed in the standard South African Mechanized Infantry formation. The Ratel 90s of C squadron was deployed in line in the front of the formation with the Ratel 20 of A Company closely following ready to come forward into a line if required. One platoon of B company moved along the shona to cover the right flank of the formation. The rest of B company along with the two troops of Ratel 90s of the anti tank platoon and one group of Ratel 81s followed in reserve behind A company. The rear was brought up by G Company of 32 Bat with the task of mopping up the remnants left behind by the Ratels.

The approaching Ratels and heavy shelling caused panic in Fapla’s ranks. Many of them simply abandoned their equipment and ran towards the crossing point. With the crossing still blocked 47 Bde was trapped.

Then Fapla had a bright idea. They created a temporary bridge by driving two PTS 4 recovery vehicles into the river. The flat top of the vehicles made a perfect bridge. Once across a PTS 4 from 59 Bde assisted the vehicles in crossing the soft ground on the north bank. A group of vehicles composed of tanks, trucks and SA 13s now made a dash for the bridge. Three SA 13s managed to cross. But then a tank and a truck arrived at the same time at the bridge, collided and fell of the bridge blocking it also. Upon seeing this happen most crews abandoned their equipment and ran for safety.

C Squadron had meanwhile swept forward engaging the disorganized Fapla elements. Fapla however had started to recover and fight back. C squadron destroyed five tanks in the process. No mean feat considering that by the late 80s the 90mm gun was outdated and had a tough time penetrating the armor of a tank. The most successful tactic employed by the Squadron was to move four Ratels into a semi circle around the tank and then rapidly fire at the vehicle, all the time maneuvering to stay out of the tank’s sights, until the tank was knocked out. It took up to four rounds per Ratel before one found a vulnerable spot and knocked the tank out. The density (during the initial stages of the battle visibility was about 15m but at the end this had increased to about 800m which gives an indication of the intensity of the shelling and fighting) of the bush ,speed and maneuverability of the Ratel and training of the crews were the factors which allowed the South Africans to attempted this mad tactic.

However by 12h00 C Squadron was starting to face stiff resistance and asked for support. Bok pulled the unit back about 300m and brought in fire from the G5s and MRLs. A few MRLs suffered premature detonations in the air over the South African troops and a short very colorful message was relayed by Bok to Pierre Franken. The lull allowed C squadron to rearm and for the men to get out and have a quick stretch and have a bite .

Before committing C Squadron again Bok reinforced it with a troop from the Anti Tank Squadron and a Mechanized Infantry Platoon. This was not much but he was concerned about reports of a force of tanks gathering on his left flank and the fact that thirteen Fapla call signs were still active, among them Commander Silva who was reported to be with the Tactical Group. Fearing an attack from that flank he didn’t want to commit to much of his reserve.

The dug in infantry elements of 47 Bde also now began firing on the Combat Group with 23mm guns causing some problems. This problem was however solved when Unita’s 3rd Regular Battalion attacked the infantry. Although the attack was delayed it had the required effect and drove the Fapla infantry from their positions, right in front of the South African’s guns.

By 14h00, after the SAAF struck at 59 Bde in an attempt to lessen the artillery fire coming from the brigade, Combat Group Alpha rolled forward again. The Platoon of B Company covering the right flank almost immediately reported an estimated battalion of Fapla infantry trying to escape across the shona. The Platoon engaged the force and over ran it, shooting up the remnants fleeing across the shona.

C Squadron too was in the thick of it immediately after moving out at about 13h15 and covering less than 150m, engaging Fapla tanks and APCs. At this stage Bok asked his EW teams to jam the enemy’s tank radio net. This sowed confusion among the Fapla tanks and C Squadron pressed home their attack taking on enemy vehicles in the same fashion they had earlier in the morning. The constant shelling had by now reduced the vegetation to such an extent that the Ratels were engaging the enemy tanks at ranges of between 40m and 75m.

The fighting was so heavy that within half an hour C Squadron’s ammunition was getting low again. One of the Ratels had by this time fired no less than 83 rounds, which is 11 more than it’s normal load. It was at this time too that a Ratel was hit. A 100mm round had ricocheted up from the ground and penetrated the turret fatally injuring the commander, Lt. Hind. The last straw for Bok Smit was when several of the Ratels started showing technical problems. Over strained recoil systems were beginning to cause hassles while other vehicles had damage to their radiators from shell splinters.

Bok now decided to withdraw the squadron and hit the enemy with artillery fire. He placed A Company on his right flank were it promptly became embroiled with a Fapla infantry unit trying to escape. The 20mm and co-axial machines guns sowing carnage as the unit struggled across the shona. At this time the three T55s on the north shore also joined the fight shelling the South Africans in an effort to aid the withdrawal. The rest of the Combat group was withdrawn to replenish ammunition and do repairs.

For most of C Squadron the fight was over. Bok however still had one Ratel missing. He moved up Dawid Lotter with his small reserve and ordered him to recover the damaged vehicle. Dawid promptly moved forward and made contact on the second bound, finding the damaged Ratel soon after that. To make things interesting a Fapla tank had taken up position next to the stricken vehicle. The quick thinking Lt. Kooij quickly dispatched the tank and then covered the recovery. Two more tanks appeared and were engaged one taking eight hits before it was knocked out.

The artillery was busy in the mean time taking on vehicles that were strung out over the anhara. Using information gathered from the EW team the gunners could determine the type and priority of targets and in most cases would destroy vehicles with single rounds.

With the missing Ratel recovered Bok once more went over to the attack. Lotter’s B company lead followed by the anti tank troop and detached infantry platoon which had reverted to Bok’s command. The reserve was now made up by A company and three serviceable Ratel 90s from C Squadron. The detached platoon on the right flank was joined by a Ratel 81 group and continued to engage fleeing Fapla infantry.

By 16h00 all organized resistance from 47 Bde ceased when Commander Silva went of the air. Bok now swung A Company and the remnants of C squadron forward driving the remains of 47 Bde against the 2000m wide shona. The Ratel 90s shot out or damaged any vehicles that still moved, while the Ratel 20s took on soft skins and infantry. A ripple from Pappa battery added to the carnage on the shona.

By 17h00 all the fight was out of 47 Bde. Apart from on recalcitrant vehicle (A ZSU 23-4 which was abandoned with the driver trapped inside. The poor driver was only trying to find a safe place to get out of the vehicle.) which was only dispatched at 18h00 by Lt. Kooij, 47 Bde had seized to exist. 59 Bde had by now also stopped shelling the area although a second platoon of T55s joined the first and continued firing at the south bank. By last light G company was moved up to mop up the battlefield and the rest of Combat Group Alpha withdrawn to rest and rearm. At 16h20 all guns finally fell silent .

The Booty

During the night Pierre Franken kept a constant watch on the battlefield. Any time he saw movement he would bring in a short MRL ripple to drive off any Fapla demolition teams as the SADF wanted as much of the abandoned equipment intact.

First light brought a surprise when he noticed the unmistakable outlines of a SA 8 vehicle sitting on the battlefield. Hurried calls were made to the Tac HQ to inform them of the prize. Hurried plans were made and a team under Col. Jan Hougard was sent to recover the vehicle.

For various reasons Savimbi saw all booty from the battlefield as his. Further more the SADF had vacated the battlefield to rest and reequip. This left the battlefield in the total control of Unita. This however did not deter the South Africans.

Hougard spend most of the night briefing his team. However a Hougard was side tracke when Genl. Ben-Ben Arlindo Pena, who he was liason officer to, informed him that Unita had located the tattered remains of 21 Bde crossing the Cunzumbia 30km north where it flowed into the Lomba.

All indications were that the brigade was trying to link up with 59 Bde which was in the process of withdrawing. Ben-Ben requested an artillery strike however on consulting his maps Hougard saw that the brigades were out of range. With his hopes of an artillery strike dashed Ben-Ben opted for his next choice: an airstrike by the SAAF.

As Hougard was now engaged in arranging the strike he dispatched a small force of six 32 Bat men under the command of Capt. Piet “Boer” van Zyl and accompanied by Maj. Johann Lehman of CSI to rescue the vehicle.

The task was getting more difficult by the minute as Fapla was sending small parties across the river to destroy the abandoned equipment with grenades and RPGs. Apart from the demolition teams there were still small pockets of Fapla infantry hiding out in the area as well as three companies of Unita preparing to start their salvage operation. The area was thus thoroughly hostile to all wearing the uniform of the SADF.

What followed next was reads like the script from Kelly’s Heroes. Halfway to the area the Casspir they were traveling broke down forcing them to thumb a lift from a truck filled with Unita soldiers.

The truck deposited them at the HQ of Genl. Chilingutila where Van Zyl and Lehman were promptly informed that they could continue but that seeing as the area was under the control of Unita they would be under the command of Unita officers. Before the intrepid band continued they requested a Withings recovery vehicle to join them.

Within a short while of entering the battlefield the team found the fire control vehicle. Examination showed that the fleeing Fapla soldiers did not even destroy the sensitive equipment inside. Van Zyl immediately dispatched the Withings with the fire control vehicle back to 32 Bn’s forward headquarters.

By this stage Van Zyl and Lehman was still with Unita and playing by their rules. As they were about to set out to the launcher fire started to come in from a pocket of Fapla infantry. The Unita Colonel with them refused to let them go
any further. However the obstinate Van Zyl struck out on his own.

They located the launcher stuck in the anhara. Fapla had tried to recover the vehicle but had abandoned the attempt. Further searches located the ammunition vehicle just inside the treeline.

Inspecting the launcher Van Zyl found the complete manual inside. This find caused some groans back at CSI as a lot of money was spent the previous year appropriating a similar manual from the middle east.

The manual was however of no use to Van Zyl as it was in Russian. As Piet was pondering the situation fresh fire erupted forcing the team to retreat to the safety of the treeline.

Scanning the battlefield Van Zyl saw dozens of abandoned vehicles. Among them a few T55s. Although he had driven bulldozers before he had never been in a tank before. He chose a T55 and managed to start it. His driving ability was minimal, however he managed to hook the launcher up to tank and tow it to the treeline.

The team had to move fast as Migs were appearing overhead as well as couple of 59 Bde tanks on the northern bank.

Hougard having arranged Ben-Ben’s airstrike and having hiked with a platoon of 32 Bn to the battle area arrived just in time to see Van Zyl and his tank buck like a young bull through the Unita lines with the launcher hoping along behind.

Having saved the launcher Van Zyl set out to teach a group of Unita soldiers to drive the tanks. This was a haphazard exercise as the Unita drivers were even more inexperienced than he was. Some of them disappeared into the bush at crazy angles only to appear minutes later. After much coaching the Unita towing operation started and continued all day until about 4 pm.

Hougard meanwhile started to walk about the battlefield, amid Fapla groups destroying the abandoned equipment and fire raining down from 59 Bde’s guns from the other side of the river, inspecting the abandoned equipment. He found dozens of pieces of equipment still in pristine condition. There were tanks (on one tank the milometer showed only distance from Lobito to the front), artillery and dozens of trucks including brand new Brazilian Engesa trucks which still had their seats covered in plastic. He also found other SA 8 system’s which were completely burned out.

All vehicle were first inspected by the Sappers to see if they were ****y trapped. One vehicle however puzzled them. The BTR 60 had all it’s hatches dogged from the inside. As they stood there scratching their heads a gun port opened and a empty corned beef tin was ejected. The hatch immediately closed again. The Sappers started to hammer on the hatches calling for those inside to come out. The only response was another tin. After a while a hatch opened and out stepped a Fapla officer who it seemed wanted to be well fed before he was taken prisoner.

Cmdt. Jan van der Westhuizen, who took over the command of the artillery regiment on the death of Johan du Randt, also joined the salvage effort. Using a torch he inspected another BTR 60 to see if it could be recovered. Poking his head into the driver’s hatch he noticed a pile of clothes on the seat. Thinking nothing of it he climbed in and sat down only to climb out faster than he got in. As he sat down the “pile” moved, turning out to be the wounded driver which was left behind by his comrades.

Once Hougard was satisfied that Unita was able to recover the vehicles on their own he told them that he was going to leave them to their own devices. However this was not before he had to throw a terrible tantrum. The tantrum resulted from Unita sitting in the treeline watching and laughing as Fapla destroyed the abandoned vehicles. He eventually got hold of Col. Tarzan and convinced him to recover the vehicles.

As soon as Unita was beavering away Hougard turned to the problem of removing the precious SAM system from the battlefield. He chose the fire control vehicle as his command vehicle and instructed Lehman to recover the ammunition vehicle. Harassed by artillery and small arms fire Lehman spend almost an hour trying to get the vehicle going.

Hougard meanwhile helped Van Zyl to get the launcher vehicle going as Van Zyl’s bull developed engine problems due to a clogged air filter. The launcher had it’s tires and oil circulation system shot out by fragments from a MRL. The whole vehicle was peppered in small holes where the ball bearings of the MRL hit it. Although the vehicle looked like a sieve nothing apart from the tires and oil circulation system was damaged.

With the end of the towing tank, Hougard radioed Mavinga and asked instructions on getting the vehicle moving. He was told to how to pour oil by hand through the system ever so often to get the launcher moving. The going was slow as the team had to be careful of overhanging branches which could damage the sensitive equipment on top of the high vehicle and having to stop every few kilometers to flush the oil system. However they managed to move the vehicle 8 kilometers away from the battlefield by dawn.

As the first rays of light showed on the 5th of October the team stopped and camouflaged the vehicles. Most of the men collapsed into a tired sleep. Hougard meanwhile inspected the machines and sent off a message to Tac HQ. He was told to intensify his efforts to salvage the vehicles as the EW teams had intercepted a message from the Russians telling Fapla to destroy all equipment to prevent it from falling into SADF hands.

As he finished his conversation Migs arrived to bomb the position with parachute retarded bombs. The attack shook Van Zyl from his sleep and forced him to run to a bunker were he had the unenviable honor of seeing the planes’ bomb bays open and the bombs falling from them.

Despite the close proximity of the airstrike and a subsequent one twenty minutes later the men and machines were unscathed. It was however imperative to get moving again. Spare tires were found but as there was no jack on the vehicles proved to be useless. Hougard radioed Mavinga and requested a couple of recovery vehicles as he believed their stop gap oil filling solution wasn’t going to allow them to leave the area fast enough. Three were send forward along with a team of engineers.

By darkness the convoy had reached Genl. Ben-Ben’s attack headquarters. The vehicles were hidden in the bush about three from the base as it was being pounded by artillery and Migs after Fapla worked out it’s position from the high amount of signal traffic emanating from it.

Being near a Unita base Hougard was worried about the safety of the vehicle. However the team spend the time inspecting the three vehicles comprising the system. Closer inspection of the previously ignored ammunition vehicle revealed no less than 25 missiles stored inside.

It was at this time that Unita started getting antsy about the system. Chilingutila arrived and told Hougard that Savimbi demanded that all the vehicles be handed over to him. He wanted the equipment for his “friends” or more specifically the CIA. Hougard told him that he couldn’t hand over the vehicles without the permission of SADF high command and that the vehicles would remain under his command.

Hougard then send a urgent message to Col. Ferreira requesting help. Chilingutila returned with a fresh message from Savimbi requesting the fire control vehicle and five missiles. Hougard countered and said that the fire control vehicle was his command vehicle but that Savimbi could have the five missiles as his “friends” could learn a lot from them.

Chilingutila agreed but wanted a company of Unita under Col. Tarzan to accompany the vehicles. A little while later a team of engineers, technicians and scientists requested from Pretoria at top priority by Col. Ferreira arrived to study the vehicles. The team was send to learn as much as possible from the system as the possibility existed that it could be handed over to Unita and their “friends”.

The group of engineers were initially refused access to the launcher by Col. Tarzan but Hougard simply informed them that the vehicles were under his command and that they were simply there to act as guards. The company thoroughly cowed stepped back but followed the convoy to Mavinga.

Then one night the SAAF simply drove away, leaving Col. Tarzan and his men behind, heading for the Rhundu. The men from the Air Force put up a tremendous effort traveling only at night with men on top of the vehicles armed with pangas to chop down low hanging branches.

Thus the saga ended and South Africa became the only country in the west to acquire a complete SA 8 system. Although there was some negotiations between the SADF and Savimbi, Savimbi still felt slighted for the remainder of the war.

The system along with some other captured equipment was pulled apart by Armscor and some of the technology could have found their way into the new generation of air defense systems developed by Denel. After being thoroughly studied the system was given back to the SAAF were it is still used today to train pilots in the counter measures to use against eastern air defense systems.

02-10-2008, 01:29 PM
Excellent write-up. I really enjoyed the read!

02-10-2008, 11:04 PM
I spotted a ****ter full of language mistakes which I will rectify soon. The book is coming along nicely and might be done in another three or so months. I all ready have been promised over 500 never before published photos by various veterans. Some of the photos are very exceptional. There are two taken from a Ratel's gunport during one of the battles. They show shells falling among the vehicles as they advance to contact.

The working title of the book is The Hot Side of the Cold War. It refers to the fact that as in Afganistan the Cold War became very hot for the step children of the east and the west during those eight months in 87/88 in Angola.

The gathering of information for the second book is also shaping up with a group of 61 Mech guys writing up their diaries for me.

02-11-2008, 01:41 PM
Great post, keep it up.

02-19-2008, 07:06 AM
Thanks, Voster, for posting this information here! I find the SA border war really interesting. Looking forward to your book!

02-19-2008, 10:49 AM
Pleasure gents I will keep it comming. Be warned though don't think the book will look like that. Still alot to add.

02-24-2008, 08:18 AM
Next installment almost done. Focusses on an ambush near the Mianei river on the 17th of October (my birtday incidentaly). It will be titled ambush in the bush.

02-24-2008, 12:05 PM
Ok next part. Still just a draft. Enjoy.

Ambush in the Bush

P</SPAN>ierre Franken on Mucobolo Hill finally received some welcome rest on the 4th of October. He had spent most of the morning helping Piet van Zyl and Jan Hougard identify serviceable vehicles which could be recovered. With this task done he was ordered to return to Tac HQ. As he climbed down from the tree for the last time he collapsed into a tired sleep until he was woken with a mug of hot tea in the hands of one of the 32 Bn Recce group members. By this time he had covered over 300km in 30 days over atrocious terrain with a heavy pack.

By late afternoon the small party crossed the improvised bridge of vehicles contemplating the carnage of the previous day. On reaching the tree line they entered the massive Fapla trench system still occupied in certain places by Fapla personnel in small groups and came under fire. They inspected some of the trenches and saw how deep the trenches were dug and noticed the layers of logs and earth covering large sections. Picking up a few weapons left behind and stuffing their pockets with tins of tuna they settled down to wait for a Unita Unimog to pick them up. After several hours of waiting they were picked up and deposited at Jan Hougard were they were received as heroes.

For Col. Deon Ferreira the 3rd of October was a big day as well. He achieved his objectives within the restrictions of his instructions of no casualties and not loosing equipment. Fred Bridgeland claims that Ferreira was beset by conflicting emotions through out the day. Firstly he was the first and probably the last SADF commander to order an attack which would destroy an enemy brigade. However doubt gnawed at his mind up until Pierre Franken reported 47 Bde’s infantry breaking and running over the anhara. He goes on to relate a story in which Ferreira, although thrilled by the victory, on hearing of the slaughter of the Fapla infantry on the anhara ordered them to be allowed to flee despites vehement protests from the headquarters' chaplain.

The attack on 47 Bde was a big risk for the small South African and even a bigger one for Ferreira who knew his illustrious career would have come to an abrupt end if it failed. However fortune favors the brave and the attack turned out to be the most successful of the war, turning Fapla’s offensive into a retreat. The SADF’s excellent training and tactics coupled with effective artillery fire were the factors which carried the day.

Fapla Retreats

The hard fighting of the previous month and the difficult terrain had started to take a toll on men and machines enforcing a brief lull on the South Africans. As 20 SA Bde rested for a few days the staff planned the brigade’s next move. Ferreira however did not drop his guard as the remaining Fapla brigades were still very active and little or no intelligence was available on the brigades’ intentions.

To counter any possible hostile moves by Fapla Ferreira kept Combat Group Brave deployed to the west near the source of the Ingue and moved Sierra Battery closer to act as direct support for the Combat Group. G Company of 32 Bn was employed to assist Unita clear up the Lomba battlefield. Pappa and Quebec batteries remained in position from were the batteries were in range of the confluences of the Cuzizi and Cunzumbia with the Lomba. Ferreira’s last two units, Combat Groups Alpha and Charlie, were moved to an area near the source of the Ingue River about 20 km from Mavinga to rest and repair equipment.

Despite not being able to make a serious attempt to follow up after the battle the South African hatched a plan to ambush a logistics convoy heading from Cuito Cuanavale to replenish the retreating Fapla brigades. The plan was for a small force, drawn from B company and the Support company of 32 Bn, in conjunction with Unita to attack the convoy. Unita however vacillated fearing the possible capture of South African soldiers. The first discussions were held on the 3rd of October with Genls. Demosthenes, Ben-Ben and Bok but it took up to the 5th of October for Unita to agree on the operation.

The lull enforced on the South African allowed the three remaining Fapla brigades and the rump of 47 Bde to withdraw in good order to regroup.

What remained of 47 Bde and Tactical Group 1 along with the two battalions of 59 Bde east of the Lomba-Cuzizi confluence moved to the main 59 Bde position north-west of the Lomba-Cunzumbia confluence on the 4th of October.

After withdrawing from the site of it’s abortive crossing attempt 21 Bde west of the confluence of the Lomba and Gombe, the brigade started moving westwards on the 4th towards the Cunzumbia where it deployed in line with 59 Bde on the opposite bank.

The rest of the forward deployed Fapla units; 16 Bde, Tactical Group 2, the operational command post and the headquarters of the 6th Military Region’s air-defense brigade; was deployed to the north-east of 21 Bde just south of the Cunjamba.

For the South Africans this group of units was a serious concern. The units had not been involved in any serious fighting in the past month and could still possibly muster another attempt on Mavinga or be deployed to counter any pursuit of the retreating brigades.

To monitor this cluster of units Ferreira deployed Recce units who duly arrived in the area on the 4th, only to find the units preparing to move off. Tactical Group 2 was instructed to occupy the old 21 Bde positions near the Gombe so as to prevent any South African attack aimed at penetrating in between 16 and 21 Bdes. The Tactical Group reached the area just as 21 Bde move of on the 4th.

Fapla had also reinforced the units to the east of the Cuito. 66 Bde was deployed around the Chambinga bridge while 25 Bde, which had taken over a supply convoy from 8 Bde at the Cuito on the 2nd, also moved into the general area having been delayed by the damaged bridge over the Cuito. With these additional units Fapla’s strength now rose to over 25000.

For the Forward Command Post and their attached Russian advisors it became clear by the 5th that their big offensive was over. It was time to rest and refit their badly mauled units, so orders were sent to all the forward units to withdraw to the source of the Cunzumbia and to reach the area by no later than the 10th.

Despite this realisation</SPAN> there were still concerns about the possibility of sensitive hardware falling into the South Africans’ hands. To prevent this 59 Bde was reinforced with a battalion from 21 Bde and ordered to cross the Lomba and destroy any equipment that were still left behind.

SAAF and the artillery did not share the lull enjoyed by the rest of the South African forces as these hardworking men had to keep the pressure on the retreating Fapla brigades. They were however hamstrung in this effort by having no forward observers close to the retreating Fapla brigades. They were therefore reliant on Unita for all information. This did not deter them and eight F1AZs streaked in on the morning of the 5th to attack 59 Bde while the gunners kept busy by shelling vehicle movements during the day.

The 6th dawned as a frustrating day for Fapla. 59 Bde had to give up its efforts to cross the Lomba when it became apparent that South African forces were deployed nearby. Frustrated the brigade was ordered to move back to the Cuzizi source.

Fapla still did not give up on destroying the abandoned equipment and three Mig 23s and two Mig 21s took off the bomb the battlefield. The day however got worse for Fapla for as soon as the aircraft crossed over the forward brigades they were engaged by their own anti aircraft units. Thoroughly rattled the pilots failed to achieve much with their attack. The day ended on it’s bad note when both 59 Bde and 21 Bde were shelled by the South Africans.

Fapla’s general withdrawal continued on the 7th with 59 Bde moving along the east bank of the Cuzizi. 21 Bde meanwhile crossed the Cunzumbia and took over the positions vacated by 59 Bde taking the remnants of 47 Bde under command at the same time. With 21 Bde on the other side of the Cunzumbia Tactical Group 2 moved into the positions vacated on the east bank of the river.

Apart from the Brigades FAAPA also kept busy with three SU 22s strafing Combat Group Alpha’s position returning a couple of minutes later to drop cluster bombs. Unita retaliate with heavy machine guns and a Stinger which exploded near one of the aircraft prompting the aircraft to head back to Cuito Cuanavale.

On the South African side the movements of the Fapla brigades were still a big unknown as the Recces deployed to follow 16 Bde couldn’t keep up with the force. 16 Bde was the most mobile of the brigades, not taking part in any of the serious fighting of the previous months, and moved in packets centered on a group of tanks. To remedy the situation a sortie by two Mirage III R2Z over flew the general area to pinpoint the location of 16 Bde.

The 8th was a continuation of the previous day. The units which had remained stationary south of the Cunjamba up till now moved west and joined up with Tactical Group 2 as it moved in unison with 21 Bde to the north along the river.

For the Recces the day proved to a better one than the previous. Being armed with the information from the previous day’s reconnaissance sortie they were once again able to make contact with the Brigades they had been tasked to monitor.

By the 10th as the sun rose on the day appointed by the Forward Command Post the group of units moving north along the Cunzumbia finally reached it destination about 8 kilometers south of the Cunzumbia source to await the convoy being brought forward by 25 Bde. 21 Bde took up positions near the east bank of the Cunzumbia with 16 Bde occupying positions on the east bank of the river near the crossing point. One battalion of 66 Bde, deployed at the Chambinga Bridge, was deployed at the Cuito-Mainei confluence to guard against any South African moves across the river.

The remnants of 47 Bde were having a hard time. The brigade had along with the Tactical Group One taken up their pre offensive encampments west of the Cunzumbia. The brigade reported to the Forward Headquarters that the men were tired and demoralized after having had to move north with 21 Bde on foot as most of the brigade’s vehicles had been lost on the Lomba. The brigade was ordered to return to Cuito Cuanavale with the returning 25 Bde as soon as it had completed the replenishment of the other brigades.

The only unit which still had not reach the area was 59 Bde which had stopped at the Cuzizi source on the 9th. The brigade was tasked to remain in this position to guard against any South African move around the source of the Lomba. The brigade commander was an unhappy concerned man. He was concerned about the possibility of South African forward observers finding his provide. He was further unhappy with the terrain at his present position and the general state of his brigade. The brigade was in poor shape with many vehicles damaged and unserviceable which forced the brigade to tow them over long distances. The troops too were tired and their morale was at low ebb due to low level of close air and fire support and the poor casualty evacuation system which only evacuated wounded after a long delay if at all. The poor morale and general unserviceability of the equipment led to many vehicles just being abandoned. This brigade left the area for the Catato woods on the 10th, from where it was to move to a position six kilometers south of 21 Bde still with the mission to cover the retreat.

For men of 10 Squadron the day proved to be the death knell of their efforts in the theater for the time being when a RPV send to find 16 Bde which had once again pulled away from the Recces was shot down. The RPV did not find the brigade but did find two convoys and was shot down over the second.

The logistics convoy being protected by 25 Bde crossed the Chambinga bridge on the evening of the 10th and 11th. Unita, despite being asked to, chose to let the convoy pass due to the presence of a large number of tanks with the convoy. The convoy had about 10 tanks and half that amount of BM 21s among it’s ranks to serve as replacements for those lost during the earlier battles. It also had a number of Soviet advisors traveling with it ostensibly to suss out the situation before making recommendations to the Forward Command Post.

The convoy spent the evening of the 11th and 12th of October just south of the bridge awaiting units from 59 Bde and 21 Bde. The Forward Command Post was concerned about interference with the convoy on the last leg of the move and as a counter ordered 59 Bde and 21 Bde to each send a battalion towards to convoy to assist in protecting the convoy. These units reached the convoy on the morning of the 12th, and covered by intermittent Mig sorties, covered the remaining distance to the Cunzumbia source in one bound over a heavily mined road.

As planned the convoy split into two groups. One group, the larger of the two, with the additional 21 Bde battalion as protection moved toward the position of 21 Bde from where 16 Bde could also be replenished across the river. The smaller second group with the additional 59 Bde battalion was moving towards that brigade’s position.

A New Mission

W</SPAN>ith Fapla’s offensive stopped 20 SA Bde received new orders. These ordered 20 SA Bde to clear all Fapla forces east of the Cuito and in the process inflict the maximum amount of casualties on the Brigades before the 15th of December so that no further assaults could be launched in 1987 or 1988 by Fapla. The 15th of December was an important date for the South Africans. This was the date on which the National Service Men’s two year call-up period would end and they head home for Christmas.

These new operational instructions placed a lot of emphasis on the increased possibility of chemical weapons being used due to Fapla’s desperate situation and the measures to be employed to counter this threat. Another point of emphasis in the operational instructions was on passive air defense with 20 SA Bde being instructed to restrict movement to night, focus on camouflage and concealment and disperse forces over as wide an area as possible.

Pretoria’s whishes however posed big problems for the small South African force. Between the 1500 men of the South African force and Cuito Cuanavale there were no less than 25000 enemy soldiers. Further more the South African troops were tired after days of fighting and a massive effort was made to supply them with fresh food, drinks and even some beer. Their equipment was in just a worse state and required a lot work.

A second problem was the lack of tanks. Although the Ratel 90’s performed well in the defensive role the age of the gun, lack of penetration and light armor precluded these vehicles from being used in an offensive role. For this tanks were a prerequisite.

Another problem was logistics. Most of the defensive battles were fought with in close proximity of Mavinga which was the main logistic base for the SADF. Mavinga was however a long way for most of the logistics to travel apart from the nightly airlifts bringing in critical spares and ammunition. Ferreira and his staff knew that the long logistic line would get longer the further north they traveled and any junior officer would have told them that this was a big mistake. There was a lot of concern among the staff especially about artillery ammunition. The trump card of the small South African force consumed large amounts of ammunition and the fact that the gunners might have to cut back was a serious concern.

The last concern for the staff was Unita itself. Despite Unita being one of the best guerilla armies in the world at that stage that was what they were exactly: a guerilla army. There was doubts among the staff about Unita’s ability to assist in the upcoming offensive which would be largely offensive in nature.

One concern held in Pretoria but not shared by the men in the field was the offensive capabilities of the remaining Fapla Brigades. Pretoria believed that the brigades were still capable of offensive action in 1987, however the men on the ground new that the brigades were finished.

For the new offensive role Ferreira had been promised substantial reinforcements. These included 4 SAI, a squadron of Olifant tanks, another battery of G5s and a troop of G6s. However the units were in the process of organizing and absorbing National Service Men into their ranks and was only planned to arrive in Rundu on the 22nd.

The SAAF also promised to provide additional support with interdiction missions on the supply convoys to the east of Cuito being authorized by the Chief of the SAAF.

By the 7th the staff at 20 SA Bde headquarters had completed their planning. The plan called for Combat Groups Alpha and Charlie to move round the Lomba source, over the watershed between the Cuzizi and Mainei to an area east of the Mainei source. Combat Group Bravo would meanwhile move to a position south of the Lomba between the confluences of the Cuzizi and Cunzumbia with this river.

The rational behind this deployment was threefold. Firstly it was thought that the deployment of Combat Groups Alpha and Charlie to the proposed position would place them in an ideal position to interdict and cut of the main lines of communications of the forward deployed Fapla brigades. Secondly the two Combat Groups would provide a good protective screen for the big guns of Quebec Battery that the brigade was planning to deploy in the same area. The last reason was founded in the lack of intelligence about Fapla’s intentions. Thus the staff calculated that the position chosen for Combat Group Bravo would be ideal to deal with any sudden southerly movement by Fapla towards the Lomba.

Not wanting to wait for approval of the plan and the Combat Groups having had time to rest, Ferreira in typical form, decided to go ahead with the proposed plan.

Throwing caution to the wind on the morning of the 8th Combat Groups Alpha and Charlie along with Sierra Battery moved out at first light with Papa Battery providing indirect support as they followed the Combat Groups a little later. This move in daylight flew in the face of the established tactics and cost the South Africans dearly when at 10h10 a flight of Mig 21s, covered by another flight of Mig 23s, attacked. Being unusually accurate the attacking pilots managed to drop a bomb with in 1.5m of Ratel 90 destroying the vehicle wounding five men, one of whom died while being casevaced. The South Africans and their Unita allies however equaled the score by bringing one of the attacking Mig 21s down with a stinger.

Combat Group Alpha however continued its northward move reaching the source of the Lomba during the just during the night at the same time as the small group that was to become Task Force Delta. One observer described the scene to be akin to Johannesburg during rush hour with machines moving slowly forward in single file in close proximity so as to maintain contact and with MPs all the while directing the whole process. Not being in the best of moods Cmdt. Bok Smit to wait until his force of more than a 100 vehicles had passed. Knowing that this was likely to take a while the group slept at </SPAN>

02-24-2008, 12:10 PM
Part two.

Later during the day as the intelligence picture improved it became clear to Ferreira that Fapla was indeed withdrawing and not just performing an elaborate ruse as previously thought. This made the positioning of Combat Group Bravo redundant and the unit was also now ordered north to follow one tactical bound behind the forward Combat Groups and act as reserve.

The staff also had a busy day. Apart from monitoring the movement of the Combat Groups the plan they had drawn up was submitted to the GOC SWATF and approved with further approval being given by the Chief of the Army on the 9th. Once again Ferreira’s trust in his staff paid off as his pre emptive implementation of the plan despite a lack of approval saved him two days of waiting.

With full approval attained it became possible to reorganize the small South African force. Combat Group Charlie was folded into Combat Group Alpha placing all the units of 61 Mech together at last under one command. The new Combat Group comprised two mechanized infantry companies from 61 Mech and a company from 32 Bn supported by Sierra Battery, an anti aircraft troop, 61 Mech’s support company composed of an anti tank troop, a mortar troop and assault pioneer platoon, two 32 Bn reconnaissance teams, two Unita Stinger teams, a MAOT and a medical team.

The smaller Combat Group Bravo now consisted of two companies from 101 Bn being supported by 32 Bn’s anti tank squadron, the MRLs of Papa Battery, an engineer section, two 32 Bn reconnaissance teams, two Unita Stinger teams and MAOT Z23.

The last unit to be created out of the reshuffling of the available forces was Task Force Delta. Task Force Delta was made up of a small group of units which had moved to the Ingue river a few days earlier and included B company and the Support company from 32 Bn as well as two 32 Bn reconnaissance teams in support. Further support was provided by two jeep mounted 106mm Recoilless guns, four 81mm mortars and several Milan teams. The task of this small force was to act as a hunter killer group and to scout possible approach routes for the larger Combat Groups.

The rest of the South African organization and deployment remained fairly static. 20 Artillery Regiment kept command of Quebec Battery while Recces of 5 Recce still shadowed 16 Bde and MAOTs Z25 and Z36 deployed at Mavinga.

With the reorganization the proposed plan was also updated. The plan now called for Task Force Delta to lead an advance of the main force, dealing with any minor resistance during the advance, to area of the Mianei source to be reached by 06h30 on the 11th. Once the main force was in position Task Force Delta was tasked to reconnoiter from the Mianei source towards the Cuzizi in an effort to locate 59 Bde. Combat Group Charlie would at the same time also try and locate 59 Bde and threaten the brigade once the brigade was located. Combat Group Bravo would in the mean time deploy to the south of Combat Group Alpha’s position to act as a reserve with Unita’s semi-regular battalions taking over their role on the Lomba.

For the big guns of Quebec Battery the plan called for a move 20 kilometers to the west from where it could cover the advance to the source of the Mianei. With the advance completed the Battery would move north to a position north west of the Lomba source where it would be in range of Cuito Cuanavale and the cluster of Fapla forces deployed at the Cunzumbia source. To aid Quebec Battery with target acquisition three teams of Recces and artillery observers were flow by Puma helicopter to within walking distance of their positions on the high ground north-east of Cuito Cuanavale between the Dala and Cuatir rivers.

For Ferreira to ability to bombard Cuito was critical. Permanently stationed at the airfield were no less than sixteen Mig 21 and Mig 23 fighter bombers along with a further six Mi 24 helicopters. The flying time of the Migs was less than three minutes from the airbase to either the Lomba or the Mianei. Therefore the closure of the base would force Fapla to use the airbase at Menongue which was 175 km to the west. The longer flying time of seventeen minutes would provide time for the South Africans to act on a warning from the Recces infiltrated near the base and also reduce the loitering time of the aircraft over their targets (Both the Mig 21 and Mig 23 had very short ranges the former being build for interception and the latter for CAS from forward air*****s close to the front.).

The plan also called for Unita to harass the convoys being run down from Tumpo by 25 Bde. At the same time Col. Setti’s 3rd Regular Bn, which had taken part in 47 Bde’s destruction, would move to the Cuzizi to monitor Fapla movements in this area.

Implementing the Plan</SPAN>

T</SPAN>he morning of the 11th of October saw the South African’s finally reaching the positions determined by the staff about five kilometers south-south-west of the Mainei source. The men of Sierra Battery reached their appointed position about a kilometer south of the Mianei source on some high ground during the night, only to find with daylight a Fapla LP some 200 meters away. This find forced the Battery to move further south to a safer position close to that of Papa Battery.

Task Force Delta’s raiders joined the 3rd Regular Bn where the battalion was encamped at the source of the Cuzizi to start with its appointed task of finding the Fapla brigades in the area. Without any preamble a platoon of G Company, the two reconnaissance teams, a forward observer and forward air controller set out to the north as soon as the Task Force reached the source. The small unit was tasked to determine the precise position of 66 Bde and to monitor the movement of the convoy.

Combat Group Bravo took up positions to the south of the Colui source only to move off a little later to a position to the east of the Lucio River source.

Quebec Battery’s gunners were assigned to a position south of the Cuito-Mainei confluence on the Cassinde high ground which they were to reach by the 11th. It was planned that if the battery arrived in time at the proposed position and had enough target information that it would move forward and shell Cuito Cuanavale and then promptly retreat back to the high ground. The aim of the attack was to catch aircraft on the ground and crater the runway so as to deny it to the enemy. The Battery however had problems during the move to the new position and subsequently did not reach the assigned position in time which delayed the planned attack.

Despite the 11th being a day of relative inactivity for the ground forces the SAAF was given no rest. The first strike of the day was flown by three Buccaneers and three Mirages early in the morning on 16 Bde and turned out not to be too great a success. The first two Buccaneers were on target but the third suffered a malfunction which caused the bombs to drop 800 meters from the target. Smoke and dust from the preceding attack along with ineffective anti aircraft fire and one SAM forced the Mirages following the Buccaneers to take avoiding action further ruining the attack. As the bombs were falling on 16 Bde a forth Buccaneer streaked over the Chambinga Bridge, Tumpo and the Cuito Bridge on a photo reconnaissance sortie.

Another, more successful, strike was directed at 16 Bde later in the day again by three Buccaneers and three Mirages at 16h36 and 16h43 respectively. This strike was a lot more successful than the first and resulted in a number of secondary explosions from the concentration of vehicles in the brigade area.

The 11th also saw Unita at last attack the 25 Bde convoy. The attack was ineffectual with only four Fapla soldiers being killed and 7 wounded for the loss of five Unita soldiers. The attack did not delay the convoy by much.

The 12th started with Quebec battery reaching its assigned position on the Cassinde high ground. Once in position the guns prepared to move off to shell Cuito Cuanavale. By this time the constant movement of the guns was staring to create problems for the South Africans. The constant movement did not allow for decent stocks of shells and charges to be build up. The problem was further exasperated by logistics truck, after breaking bush for hundreds of kilometers to reach the guns, being used a mobile stockpiles and not being able to offload directly and head back to Mavinga. These factors contributed to an almost total breakdown of the logistic system which forced the South Africans at times to limit fire from the guns to one gun in an effort to conserve ammunition.

Unita also completed their assigned moves on the 12th concentrating the 12th, 118th and 275th Semi-Regular battalions and the 5th Regular Battalion between the sources of the Hube and Chambinga sources concentrating on the road south from the Chambinga Bridge. Another six Semi-Regular and Regular battalions were also deployed in the general area with the 2nd Regular Bn north of the Cunzumbia source, the 18th and 66th Semi-Regular battalions in the general area of 47 Bde’s position west of the Cunzumbia and the 4th Regular and 48th Semi-Regular battalions being deployed south east of 16 Bde’s position. The sixth and last battalion, the 3rg Regular battalion remained deployed with Task Force Delta between the Vimpulo and Cuzizi sources.

Due to Unita’s lack of a proper radio network and the wide deployment of the various battalions in such close proximity to strong enemy mechanized forces it became imperative to maintain close liaison between the different battalions. This task fell on the shoulders of the liaison teams under the command of Cmdt. Les Rudman and Col. Oelschig.

20 SA Bde’s higher headquarters was still unsure about the intentions of the forward Fapla brigades and a strong suspicion that the brigades would again move south as soon they had rested and replenished. To monitor any moves by Fapla two Recce teams were deployed east of the Cunzumbia with a further two under the command of Maj. Bourne being deployed during the night of the 12th and 13th of October.

GOC SWATF, Genl. Meyer, and his staff were spent most of the next day, the 13th, trying to divine Fapla’s plans. They thought that Fapla had three options open to them. The first was to dig in at their current positions, the second to move north to their pre offensive jump off points north of the Chambinga and dig in and the third to continue the offensive. The staff considered the second option to be the worst case scenario. To counter this possibility the staff issued order to the Tactical Headquarters in Rundu and the Forward Headquarters at Mavinga to gain a better appreciation of Fapla’s intentions and to prepare a plan to destroy the Fapla brigades in the Cuito Cuanavale-Chambinga high ground area by the 15th. The Forward Headquarters spent the day moving to a position south of the Ingue to be closer to the forward deployed Combat Groups.

In light of the concerns of the SWATF staff and the subsequent orders to the two headquarters it became clear the both Combat Group Alpha and Task Force Delta was deployed to far north to react to a renewed Fapla offensive. To guard against this possibility Combat Group Bravo was kept in it’s position at the source of Lueia from where the Combat Group could move south to counter any renewed attack by Fapla. Task Force Delta was also in the mean time restored to full strength with the return of the small raiding force. The force had to turn back frustrated when it became apparent that the convoy had reached its intended destinations.

Quebec Battery also had a frustrating day when the planned attack on Cuito Cuanavale was postponed again. The attack was postponed this time to allow a forward observer to infiltrate into a position on the north of the Chambinga which would provide him with a direct view of the runway.

A new development on the 13th was a proposed anti aircraft ambush. Due to the SAAF’s inability to come to grips with the Migs and the lack of proper air defense systems the SADF had to rely on a bit of guile to bloody FAAPA. The ambush consisted two 81mm Mortar Groups placed south of the confluence of the Cassinde tributary with Mianei and a group of Stinger teams deployed near a shona east of the Vimpulo-Mianei confluence. The South Africans planned to fire the mortars into the shona to simulate big guns firing from the shona in an effort to entice the Migs to attack the position. The Stinger Teams would then engage the attacking Migs and try to shoot down as many as possible.

Despite the lack of success with the first planned attack on 25 Bde’s convoy another plan was hatched to attack the convoy on its return to Cuito Cuanavale. The plan called for a force to lay an ambush just south of the Chambinga Bridge. The force chosen for the task was to consist of Task Force Delta, Unita’s 3rd Regular Battalion and a Unita 120mm Mortar Battery. In support the force had Papa Battery which was deployed to the north of the Cuzizi source. This battery would apart from supporting the ambush also engage any movement between Cuito Cuanavale and the front. Quebec Battery was also put on alert to provide support if required by the ambush force. With it’s new mission in hand Task Force Delta left it’s echelon vehicles in place and moved off north to join up with the rest of the ambush force during the night of the 13th and 14th of October.

At the same time as Task Force Delta’s raiders moved off to the Chambinga two 32 Bn reconnaissance teams, which were attached to Combat Group Alpha, also moved further north. The teams were instructed to find a suitable position from where the movements of 66 Bde and the Chambinga Bridge could be observed.

By the morning of the 14th all South African forces, apart from the Task Force Delta’s raiders and the reconnaissance teams, where in their planned positions. The lack of information of the preceding weeks had been remedied and the position of the Fapla brigades had been determined. Having found the enemy brigades and deployed as planned the South Africans could now carry out the last two parts of the armor edict by fixing and then destroying the enemy while still guarding the vulnerable Lomba flank.

02-24-2008, 12:12 PM
Part three.

The Eight Ants

I</SPAN>n Africa it is believed that even an ant can kill an elephant if it bites at the right place. The eight guns of Quebec Battery fitted this analogy perfectly. In the preceding weeks the guns had caused damage far out of proportion to their numbers to the advancing Fapla brigades. The guns had become a real thorn in Fapla’s side. A post war interview with a Soviet advisor reinforces this fact.

Thus went it became apart to the Forward Command Post in Cuito Cuanavale that the possibility exited that the South Africans might deploy the guns in a position from where they could shell the town and air base they immediately acted to prevent this possibility. Orders were sent to 59 Bde to move to the Mianei source and engage in operations designed to either destroy the South African guns or drive them from this position. The plan was for two battalions to secure the are and with this achieved find and destroy the guns through effective patrolling.

As with preceding days the ground forces of both sides were mostly inactive on the 14th. For the best part of the day Task Force Delta was engaged with deploying near the Fapla logistic route east of the Hube and Chambinga sources. Papa Battery also moved to a new position from which it could support the ambush force.

The only active participant again was the SAAF. At 13h00 two strikes were flown by first two Buccaneers on 59 Bde and the second by four Mirage F1AZs on 21 Bde. Due to the dust and smoke over the target area a damage assessment could not be made. Fapla countered the attacks as always with ineffectual anti aircraft fire, but once again the SAAF’s luck held and no aircraft were damaged.

The night saw the ground forces finally stirring. With the forward observer finally in position the gunners of Quebec Battery attacked Cuito Cuanavale. Two of these shells fell on the Forward Command Post and killed twenty five soldiers.

Thoroughly stung a message was sent by the Forward Command Post to 59 Bde to move out immediately “at best speed” to the position on the Mianei source to destroy the guns while 66 Bde was ordered to speed up the movement if it’s battalion which was headed for the Cuito-Mianei confluence. With 59 Bde ordered to move south 21 Bde was now ordered to take over 59 Bde’s positions to cover the replenishment of the remaining units.

Another move on Fapla’s part was to close down one of its Operational Command Posts as the need for a second front had ceased to exist. The front could be closed down as 25 Bde and what remained of 47 Bde and Tactical Group One were preparing to move back to Cuito Cuanavale with the replenishment of the forward brigades nearing completion. The forward brigades now fell under the control of the remaining Operational Command Post, under Maj. Ngueto, with overall command being kept by the Forward Command Post. By simplifying the chain of command Fapla could control its forces in the field more effectively, which would stand them in good stead in the days to come.

By robbing Peter to give to Paul Fapla was able to strengthen 59 Bde to the extent that it now had a full strength tank company under command. However despite being fully replenished 59 Bde only moved out in the early morning hours of the 16th. Moving “at best speed” the brigade, moving via the Catato Woods and not pausing as usual at dusk the brigade reached the source of the Mianei by early morning on the 17th. In the dense bush of the Catato Woods the brigade deployed it’s tanks in combat formation to cut a path through the dense foliage for the rest of the brigade. Unita tried to hamper the movement of this brigade with two attacks during the day but these had little effect.

Having completed the replenishment of the forward brigades 25 Bde and the remains of 47 Bde and Tactical Group One moved off on the 16th for Cuito Cuanavale. 16 Bde was also ordered to return to it’s old position at the Chambinga source while the attached Tactical Group Two moved to a position north of the old Portuguese Road so as to secure the route to be taken by the brigade.

61 Mech’s Lucky Day

On the South African side the 16th was spent discussing future options for the forces on the ground. In a briefing to Genl. “Kat” Liebenberg the staff of the Tactical Headquarters presented two options for future operations. The first option called on the deployed forces to prevent the Fapla brigades from withdrawing to Cuito Cuanavale until the promised forces compose of 4 SAI and a tank squadron could be deployed and then to destroy the brigades. The second option was a similar to the first but differed in that a second force would cross the Cuito River; take the town of Cuito Cuanavale from the west cutting off the forward brigades which would allow the South Africans to destroy them at their own pace.

Liebenberg did not approve either of the options and rather chose to hedge his bets although he liked the second option more. To cover the second option he ordered that possible crossing points across the Cuito and that the staff should establish what bridging equipment was available. For the first option he ordered the staff to do detailed planning, to be completed on the 23rd, for a scenario where the Fapla brigades moved west and deployed on the Chambinga high ground. D-Day for this plan was set for the 6th although the staff was instructed to be prepared to move it forward if the situation on the ground called for it. 20 SA Bde was also placed under the command of Genl. Meyer; however he could not employ the brigade without the permission of Genl. Liebenberg. This micro management command structure which changed throughout the campaign was to hamper the proper employment of South African forces in the battles that followed.</SPAN>

Once again the staffs of both the Tactical Headquarters and Brigade had to start planning. The task set before them was difficult one as the terrain of the Chambinga High Ground was hardly conducive to an offensive. The area is covered in thick bush interspersed with dune fields mad up of soft deep sand. Two features, which give the area its name, rise above the terrain and provide excellent positions to observe any movement in the area. The terrain is ideal for defense but on par to the nightmare of the Bocage of Normandy for any attacking force. Another concern for the staffs was the possibility that Fapla had already prepared defensive positions in the area.

For 20 SA Bde however there were more pressing problems. The movement of 59 Bde into the area of the Mianei source which threatened the guns of Quebec Battery as well as the replenishment of the other brigades posed a grave risk to small South African force. To remove the threat to the guns Col. Ferreira decided to attack 59 Bde without pause as it was still deploying.

The attack was planned for the 17th with Combat Group taking the lead along with Unita with Combat Group acting as a reserve while at the same time covering against any moves by 21 Bde. The plan called for the attacking force to move to a position halfway between the Lucaia and Mianei sources from where it could move down 59 Bde’s tracks and attack the brigade as it settled down.

Further support for the attack was to be provided by the SAAF which was tasked to attack 21 Bde in an effort to tie the brigade down. The attacks were made possible when restriction on the SAAF were further lifted on the 16th and were planned to be the start of a series of attacks on the brigades east of the Cuito. Despite the restrictions being lifted a bit more the SAAF was still not allowed to attack any infrastructure targets. Furthermore due to concerns about the air defense systems deployed around Cuito Cuanavale the units operating within 20 kilometer proximity of the town were told not to ask for any close air support.

On the South African side the only activity was from Combat Group Alpha which moved to the assigned position from which it could launch the attack as well as Capt. Dawid Lotter who was busy with a reconnaissance of the Vimpulo source. Lotter’s small force found 47 Bde’s original tracks leading down to the Lomba. Finding no enemy the small force, composed of only a Buffel and a Ratel with a damaged gun, withdrew at 15h00. This withdrawal came at a fortunate time as they moved out of the area just as 21 Bde and 59 Bde started moving and clashed with Unita forces.

By 03h40 Combat Groups Alpha and Bravo had reached their assigned assembly areas and went over to the attack. Within a short while of moving out Combat Group Alpha came across fresh tank track leading off to the west. Both Combat Groups turned onto the tracks and started following them towards 59 Bde. Although this was not the most tactically sound decision Cmdt. “Bok’ Smit had no choice due to the dense bush in which the force was operating. The attack force moved up in two columns screened by Unita infantry with Lotter’s B Company leading Combat Group Alpha and the advance and Combat Group Bravo bringing up the rear. The choice of columns stemmed from experience gained during prior battles which showed that if an attacking force deployed to soon the thick bush would disrupt movement and command and control.

Later during the morning Combat Group deployed to the north along with Unita light infantry to take up it’s covering position and to act as reserve. Shortly afterwards, at 08h00, the Unita infantry screening Combat Group Alpha’s advance reported Fapla to the front. The advance continued looking for a suitable area to shake out into an attack formation. This formation was to be a repeat of that used on the attack against 47 Bde. Unita was again to draw the first fire of the Fapla defenders and then break to both flanks allowing the Mechanized attack to continue.

However as in all wars few things go as planned. As the Combat Group was still looking for the opportune area to deploy Fapla cut loose with all the weapons in their arsenal, the first round hitting a tree behind the command group. For Fapla it the Combat Group posed an easy target as it advanced down the brigades tracks. All the ambush, which was composed of tanks and various anti tank weapons, had to do was fire down their own tracks.

For Lotter, sitting exposed in the third vehicle from the lead where he was acting as navigator, this was a precarious position to be caught in and he tried to pull his company back. However the rest of the Combat Group was still advancing and Lotter’s retreating force became entangled with the follow on companies causing chaos. </SPAN>

The dense bush and narrow track further added to Combat Group Alpha’s problems as the vehicles could not use their higher mobility to maneuver into a better position. Furthermore the units, being showered by trees and branches could not identify the Fapla position or even where the fire was coming from.

Smit knew this was a bad spot for his Combat Group to be trapped in and ordered a withdrawal. The artillery once again came to the rescue of the South African forces by bringing down heavy and accurate fire which allowed the Combat Group to disengage and withdraw.

The SAAF was having a better day. The first of a series of strikes was flown on 21 Bde at 07h50 by three Mirages and followed at 09h21 by a second strike by more Mirages. During the second strike a diversionary strike was flown by a pair of Mirages towards Cuito Cuanavale in an attempt to keep the air defenses around the town occupied.

Another strike was flown on 21 Bde at 10h30 by three Buccaneers with one targeting an area to the east of 21 Bde’s main body where two SA 8s had been spotted. Despite three SA 8s being fired at the Buccaneers the aircraft returned unscathed. The last strike of the day was directed against 59 Bde late in the afternoon which resulted in several SA 13s being damaged and many casualties in the brigade. This in a sense made up for Combat Group Alpha’s failed attack.

The only other reaction from Fapla for the day was a sortie of Migs which attacked Combat Group Alpha. The Migs were engaged by the Combat Group’s attached Stinger Teams and one of the Migs were hit but managed to return to Cuito.

Vici VII
05-12-2008, 08:16 PM
This is all fantastic.
I have just discovered this site and the forums and the memories... what can I say...
Looking forward to more communications...


Vici VII
05-13-2008, 12:26 AM
Sorry to cross post, but I am not sure how active this discussion is...
Afterwards, we were given a certificate to say we were part of Ops Modular and for Ops Hooper we received a t-shirt. Yes the irony of been there, done that and got the t-shirt was noted...
However the wording for the t-shirt, can anyone remember?

Ek was daar / I did my bit


05-13-2008, 01:28 AM
Hi Vorster
I note on a previous and or different post that you refer to the ZT3 in the museum as the one that was used at the Lomba. I dont think that is the case. I am not familliar with the different codes e.g. Mark 1 / 2 etc. for improved models anymore as some 20 odd years have passed since, but the one pictured is a newer model as the ones we had at the Lomba. At the time of use at the Lomba they were still the standard army brown, but as we moved around to Ruacana area in mid 1988 st stop a huge Cuban advance in that area we camoed them ourselves at Grootfontein using some of our Ratel 90's as example.

Having had no other colour of paint that will show clearly on the camo we used red for the callsigns. The Ratel in the museum's callsign is 23 while it was the 12A car that scored the hits at the Lomba. I have photographs of the genuine vehicle, also with the 3 T55 hits painted onto the side of the turret. This we did ourselves with a template made Rob England from a Xray.

Somewhere else someone commented on a Camo Ratel that was loaded onto a train and referred to as being a 32 Ratel. Well that is definately not the case as our Ratels were camoed in brown, green and beige/yellow, while the one on the picture was only brown and green.

Not trying to be clever, just thought I'd let you know.

05-13-2008, 02:30 AM
Thanks Vorster!! Do you know how can I get the book??

Best regards


05-13-2008, 05:36 AM
Hi Vorster
I note on a previous and or different post that you refer to the ZT3 in the museum as the one that was used at the Lomba. I dont think that is the case. I am not familliar with the different codes e.g. Mark 1 / 2 etc. for improved models anymore as some 20 odd years have passed since, but the one pictured is a newer model as the ones we had at the Lomba. At the time of use at the Lomba they were still the standard army brown, but as we moved around to Ruacana area in mid 1988 st stop a huge Cuban advance in that area we camoed them ourselves at Grootfontein using some of our Ratel 90's as example.

Having had no other colour of paint that will show clearly on the camo we used red for the callsigns. The Ratel in the museum's callsign is 23 while it was the 12A car that scored the hits at the Lomba. I have photographs of the genuine vehicle, also with the 3 T55 hits painted onto the side of the turret. This we did ourselves with a template made Rob England from a Xray.

Somewhere else someone commented on a Camo Ratel that was loaded onto a train and referred to as being a 32 Ratel. Well that is definately not the case as our Ratels were camoed in brown, green and beige/yellow, while the one on the picture was only brown and green.

Not trying to be clever, just thought I'd let you know.

Interesting info Mongol, thanks. Good to have you on-board!:)

I note that your username is the same as the name given initially to the Mongol/ZT-3. I have read that of those early "pre-production" models used in that first combat, a couple lost control and went ballistic.

It would be really interesting if you could talk us through those first engagements with the ZT-3. I have seen pictures of the aftermath, and what they did to those tanks.....

05-13-2008, 12:57 PM
Well spotted recent information gives the vehicle in the museum to be a copy of the original. It seems to be a poor copy. The ZT3s were painted after the battles, as you said, and I have a photo of Hannes standing next to one of the camouflaged Ratels.

The mark of Ratel is right. I have some photos of the early Mk 1s with the wire brush gaurds but most are of the later Mk 2 with the domed cover over the convoy lights and the extended armour plate over the lights. The newer Mk 3 has the pocket behind the lights covered by a hinged door.

Thanks to Hannes I have access to all the photos of the engagement. Before you ask, no I can not post copies as I want to use it in the book.Further more certain key facts about the battle has now surfaced from chats with him and from the official documents which have now been declassified. When I wrote these pieces I only had access to published pieces so I can say that all the pieces are riddled with mistakes and inaccuracies.

I have also been fortunate to have been played the recording of the engagement taped by Armscor techs. I have been promised a copy and as soon as I have it I will post it on YouTube. Looking at the pictures and listening to that recording gives you goosebumps. With a bit of imagination you can almost see yourself in that Ratel's turret.

Ok lets have a look at some facts. The three tanks were shot out by two different Ratels. Hannes' Ratel took out two. I have always wondered why rounds were carried to the second Ratel in the photos and this answers the question.

Second mistake is that the missile engagement and the contact between the 101 Bn companies and the Fapla Bn took about two hours apart.

Third mistake is that unlike I stated the troops were actualy trained and had fired a number of missiles before hand at Buffalo.

Mongol in what capacity did you serve in 32? Would you be interested in having a chat with me for the book? Vici VII in what unit did you serve?

05-13-2008, 01:16 PM
Oh yes before I forget I have decided to stop posting parts of the book here as I still want to publish the material. The book will however be done by end next year and will be a coffee table book comprising between 350 - 500 pages with as much photos as I can find.

However do not fret I will post extracts from the diaries for those interested.

05-13-2008, 03:14 PM
The ZT3s were camoed long after the Lomba incident, but at that time all the 90's and command Ratels were already camoed, so that explains Hannes standing next to a camoed Ratel at the time. Hannes and myself with the Mongols, moved towards Ruacana from Cuito Cuanavale just before the Calueque incident (about 20 June '88) and enroute the Mongols were camoed at Grootfontein while repairs were undertaken. That was almost a year after Lomba.

The earlier Ratels had wheel covers that bolted onto the hub with the wheel. The one in the photograph does not have that while the ones we used did have it. That is basically the only difference I can spot, other than the different camo pattern, wrong colour of T55 markings and wrong callsign. We had a lot of trouble with headlight glare due to the fact that the pockets behind the headlights were not covered. This caused us to work without any lights at all in some cases, because of Mig night activity. That was a much needed mod.

I have seen those photographs, although it was many many years ago. All the books that I have read has some mistakes and I surpose that is understandable. The most accurate book that I have read to date (on the events that I have personal knowledge of) was a book by Helmoed Römer Heitman, titled WAR IN ANGOLA. (ISBN 0-620-14370-3 ) I am looking forward to your book.
I was ZT3 troop commander for 13 months, but only got there towards the end of Modular. Hannes was my commander. None of my gunners had the privilage of firing a missile before deployment. They were simply too expensive and scarce. Much later they (the gunners) fired practice missiles, one each. (did not have a warhead). I do not know whether it was due to the sensitivity of the electronics or the arduous conditions, but the first missiles were not very reliable. They sometimes tracked for some distance and then simply lost it and in some cases they did not track at all. I presume it was this defective missile referred to, that was repaired and returned to us months later, only to still prove defective. It tracked for about 3000m, then made a steep dive to the left and detonated. I personally had the privilage of firing two HEAT missiles myself. A few years after national service I did a camp and had to do the display firing at Lohathla. At that time they were in excess of R100 000 a piece.

I do not have a problem communicating with you, but there is nothing that I will be able to add to what Hannes knows. The only thing he probably will not tell you out of modisty is how he saved our (and 61 meg's) arses at Calueque on 26 June 88. I see some literature refers to 27 June for that clash, but I remembered it as 26 June. I will not get involved in an argument about that date though as, like I said, it was 20 years ago and I might be mistaken.

Keep up the good work.

05-13-2008, 03:41 PM

I know about him saving 61. He lost a finger that day. The official sitrep gives the date as 27 June. I will not post it though as there is information in it which I consider too sensitive for public consumption. A case of letting sleeping dogs lie.

The missiles it seems were having trouble with the dusty conditions and the bumpy roads. It is true that at that stage the systems were still in development stage.

The Ratel in the photo I was told was one of the Ratels used up there but as I said more recent information shows it to be just a "replica".

05-13-2008, 03:55 PM
If only I knew how to post it I could post a pic of the real 12A after it was camoed. I also see in a previous post a reference to to poor bastard that stood up just before the missile struck him. That did happen.

05-13-2008, 04:22 PM
Easiest is to open a Photobucket acount and then load up your photos there. Once it is uploaded paste the code string for forums that you will find on photobucket for each photo here.

05-13-2008, 05:05 PM
Hi Vorster

Follow link below. Hope it will work.



Vici VII
05-13-2008, 06:35 PM
Just to know it. I have the names of all other tank squadron leaders but not the Molopo's one.

Best regards


Hi Mirlo, can you PM me with the names that you have from Pretoria Regiment. We handed over the Molopo...

05-14-2008, 12:14 AM
E Sqaudron - Col. Andre Retief (Current Rank)
F Sqaudron - Maj. Tim Rudman
Pretoria Regt. - Maj. Vim Grobler
Regt. Molopo - ?
Regt. President Steyn - Col. Gerhard Louw HC (Current Rank)

I have asked my sources for Molopo's OC's name but no luck. Once I recieve the rest of the documents I have reqeusted I might find this info.

05-14-2008, 11:41 AM
Here's a page with personal accounts for those how are interested:


05-15-2008, 12:14 AM
Barry's site is good and well worth a visit. Read Damian French and Wayne Brider's stories for a good idea of what is was like up in Angola in 87/88.

05-15-2008, 05:15 AM
Hi Mirlo, can you PM me with the names that you have from Pretoria Regiment. We handed over the Molopo...

TGVorster already answered you :)!!!

Best regards


PS. TGVorster please inform me when the book is available I would like to purchase one copy.

05-15-2008, 09:56 AM
TGVorster already answered you :)!!!

Best regards


PS. TGVorster please inform me when the book is available I would like to purchase one copy.

Put me on the list also!

05-15-2008, 05:00 PM
Wilco gents will probibly be done by end of next year. Will keep you posted.

05-18-2008, 12:12 PM
Quick question. How many of you can read Afrikaans? I would like to post some extracts from the war diaries but these are all in Afrikaans.

05-18-2008, 02:23 PM
Quick question. How many of you can read Afrikaans? I would like to post some extracts from the war diaries but these are all in Afrikaans.
I'm cool with "Die Taal".
Post away. Please.
Otherwise P-mail. Would like to have a read.

05-18-2008, 07:41 PM
Ja, dankie.

05-18-2008, 11:56 PM
Ok will upload the first tonight. It will be an extract for the battle on the 9th of November.

05-19-2008, 02:40 AM
Unfortunately, I am not able to read afrikaans...

Best regards


05-19-2008, 03:07 AM
Quick question. How many of you can read Afrikaans? I would like to post some extracts from the war diaries but these are all in Afrikaans.

All of the Saffies should be good, and probably a lot of the Dutch/German etc members could follow it, but IIRC the forum rules require English so you may want to run this by the mods first.

05-19-2008, 02:46 PM
Wilco I will do so.

11-24-2008, 02:02 PM
Coming late - what happened to the upload? Is it still available?