Re-fight of the First Clash, 21 Brigade on the Lomba, Saturday, 13 October 2007, by members of the Peninsula Wargames Group, at the Annual General Meeting of the Group in Blouberg, Cape Town.
As it was also the monthly meeting for the 20mm World War II section of the Peninsula Wargames Group, with a major Desert War scenario set up, only three members were available to play the Angola scenario, Anthony van Dijk, Harry Adlard, and Johan Schoeman, who organised and planned the scenario.
It was quickly decided that Harry and Anthony would take the SADF forces between them, and that Johan would be controlling the FAPLA forces.
2 D6 throws determined that FAPLA would have 5 companies of infantry (about 50 elements) and 5 tanks already deployed on the south side of the river. UNITA forces were not deployed and were assumed to have been driven off-table, with SADF forces arriving anywhere on the southern edge of the table.
This was the first time the Battlegroup rules were being used, so play initially proceeded very slowly, while the participants were wading through the numerous tables designed for movement, observation, firing, penetration, morale, all printed on A1-sized charts for quick reference. Luckily Anthony was an old hand at playing modern rules, and picked up the mechanism very quickly.
The South Africans divided their force into three sectors, each comprising of a motorised infantry company, the two companies of 101 Battalion on the left and centre, and the company of 32 Battalion on the right, with observers attached, and each supported by a troop of Ratels from the Anti-Tank squadron. The troop of Ratel ZT3s was on the South African right. Most of the FAPLA forces on the south bank, a full battalion of 4 companies, and the 5 tanks, were deployed in the bush-line opposite the South African left wing. The fifth infantry company were advancing through the open plain between the river and the bush-line, apparently having crossed the river over an undisclosed mobile (TMM) bridge behind them. The South Africans had no idea where the bridge was deployed.
As the Angolans spotted the approaching Casspirs of the left most infantry company from 101 Battalion, they open fire, destroying a Casspir with the opening rounds. The crew evacuated intact, while the rest of the company debussed from their vehicles under fire. The FAPLA fire proved very and unusually effective, soon having destroyed another 3 Casspirs and at least one section of infantry.
But then the South Africans returned fire and the supporting Ratel 90s moved up into fighting positions. Within 10 minutes, three of the 5 FAPLA tanks were destroyed, and most of the supporting BTR-60s were burning in their positions supporting their own infantry. The intense exchange of fire soon saw the demise of a number of FAPLA infantry sections caught in the sights of the South Africans. In the centre, the second company of 101 Battalion was slow in responding to the threat as they cautiously advanced through the bush without spotting anything.
It was 1pm and the game was suspended for an hour while attending the Annual General Meeting. By 2pm the game was resumed…
On the right flank, the company of 32 Battalion and Ratel ZT3’s quickly advanced to the tree line unopposed and got in a position to observe the northern bank of the river, just in time to spot the FAPLA reconnaissance company’s PT-76, BRDM-2’s, and BMP-1’s moving out of the tree line towards the river. The first missile from a Ratel ZT3, the first time this weapon has been used in a combat situation, missed its target, but the second destroyed at BRDM-2/AT3 in the tree line, which was posing an obvious threat to the South African armoured cars.
The remaining two FAPLA infantry battalions started moving out of cover towards the river with the intention of crossing en-masse, the reconnaissance vehicles in front, the tanks remaining in the bush in cover. The bridge was still unobserved by the South Africans but would soon be spotted as soon as vehicles started crossing over it. No FAPLA vehicle managed to even get close, however, as the combined firepower of Ratel ZT3’s and Ratel-90s knocked out the lightly armoured vehicles, one after the other, leaving just burning hulks in the open field….
Observers from both sides were in position to start calling in artillery support, but as it was already 2:30pm, and Harry had to be home by 3pm, the final bound was just finalised before starting to pack up hurriedly. So just before the devastating effect of the South African artillery could be brought down on the incredible target of infantry advancing over the open plain, the game was over.
The South Africans were in a good position to win the game in some subsequent bound, but it came at quite a cost to 101 Battalion, having already lost 4 Casspirs and a section of infantry! On the FAPLA side, at least 4 tanks and 14 other armoured vehicles were destroyed, not counting any infantry lost. Calculating Victory Points would put FAPLA clearly in the lead at this stage… especially when considering that every element remaining on the south bank contributes 2VP to the FAPLA total! This would give South Africa only (18 x 2VP) – (5 x 5VP) = 11VP and FAPLA (45 x 2VP) + 30VP = 120VP.
Clearly, the South Africans still had their work cut out for them, but it would be completely within their capability, had there been more gaming time, and had the South African Artillery been able to make their mark! As it is the battle only lasted about 30 minutes (even though it took some 3 hours to play), so there would have been ample time to make a difference and swing the result around.
Disappointingly, we were unable to witness the effect of artillery as applied by the rule set… maybe next time…?
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