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Headline of the day [Buildup to Operation Savannah]
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12 December: On to Almeida!

Major W. Blaauw’s first target eliminated on the morning of 12 December 1975 was the 75mm guns at Kraaltjie. Then it became the turn of the enemy 120mm mortars. Despite being within range of the feared 122 mm multiple rocket launcher, the 140 mm guns scored when all the shells landed within meters of the launcher. By 08h15 the enemy long-range weapons had been silenced. The armoured car troop crossed the bridge without incident, and as part of Phase 2 the infantry attacked and took the enemy positions at Kraaltjie. The armoured cars neutralised an enemy position with six mortars next to the Nhia River, and an infantry battalion deployed in front of the mortars started to flee from their positions in vehicles, one of which was destroyed will all 20 its Cuban occupants. At Bridge 15, the armoured cars drew intense anti-tank fire but fought their way through and destroyed the 75 mm guns. Upon hearing that the enemy was launching a counter-attack with armoured vehicles, the armoured cars were ordered to occupy more favourable high ground, where they were charged by Cuban infantry hiding among the pineapple plants. Because the armoured cars had depleted their ammunition, the crews were forced to close hatches and fight off the enemy clambering all over the cars with pistols. As another troop took up position while they pulled back to replenish their ammunition, the attacking enemy armoured cars were driven off by the allied artillery. By 11h45 the UNITA infantry took Koppies.

By 14h00 the battle for Almeida was over. Approximately 60 enemy soldiers had been killed for the loss of only two wounded UNITA soldiers.


 
All the Headlines

 

29 April: 1974: Year of the Kill

SWAPO believed that 1974 would be the year of their taking power. It has been announced as the “year of the kill”. Owambos, especially, were encouraged to join the external wing of SWAPO with promises of training in various directions. This all resulted in an exodus of Owambos. Many of the intelligentsia amongst them, like officials, teachers and students, defected. Within a few weeks 500 crossed the border to Angola. The exodus was facilitated by the fact that the South African forces stopped patrolling the border, as requested by the Angolan government. The refugees were also not sent back by the Angolan officials as was the case in the past.

Training bases were established at:

  • Mocusso
  • Dirico
  • Luiana

 

30 April: Military Coup in Portugal

25 April 1974. The military coup, executed by a group of junior officers which had formed the Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA, which meant the Movement of the Armed Forces) was so well planned and executed that it was practically bloodless. President Thomàz and Prime Minister Caetano were relieved of their posts and a military junta under the leadership of General Spinola took their place, which would have only been an interim government. That was the end of the dictatorship which started with the appointment of Salazar in 1928.

The coup was followed by a period of revolution and uncertainty which had a paralysing effect on all interim governments, which largely affected the situation in Angola...


 

1 May: Angolan Political Parties

A large number of political parties were formed in Angola, already more than 30 by the end of May 1974. Various parties that existed before and had been forbidden were revived when their leaders returned from captivity. Most were but short lived. There were some larger parties that started through white initiative and which, even though they were not exclusively directed at whites, strived for the continued existence of the white community.

All these parties failed miserably. Why did the whites of Angola not push for a one-sided declaration of independence like the whites of Rhodesia’s UDI…?


 

2 May: Whites Abandoned

The Portuguese whites of Angola in 1974 were inexperienced in political issues, and did not exhibit a high degree of boldness or organisational capabilities. Because they generally lived in the cities, they did not experience the war as close and were thus completely unprepared for what happened. one may ask why Portugal abandoned all its white subjects in Angola, because the reality of the situation comes down to that fact. Must it be attributed to the leftist attitudes that got the upper hand in Portugal during 1974? Was everything simply sacrificed for the sake of “de-colonisation” and foreign pressure?

Nobody expected the lot of the whites of Angola to degenerate as catastrophically as what happened in reality. It is clear that their interests were moved to the background...


 

3 May: Whites have no say

As the realisation grew that they had no part in the negotiations over Angola’s future, the whites of Angola placed their hopes on those black organisations which, according to them, would ensure the best survival of the whites. Initially Neto, Roberto, Savimbi and even Chipenda, spoke out in favour of the continued existence of the white community in Angola. Gradually this changed. In October 1974, Neto commented on the statement made by the Portuguese Prime Minister that the interests of the whites would be looked after, by saying that it was the blacks alone that fought for independence and willingly sacrificed their lives, and that only they will partake in the future of Angola.

After this, most whites saw no advantage in their support of the MPLA, and the general tendency was to side with the UNITA-movement of Savimbi...


 

4 May: Reaction of the FNLA

Of the three liberation movements, the FNLA was militarily the most active. After the coup of 25 April 1974, the Portuguese security forces only acted defensively, and gradually relinquished their positions as leftist influences on the government were brought to bear. Thus the FNLA was allowed to occupy the coffee region of Uige with barely any resistance. Roberto had foreseen a “great offensive”. In Zaire he once again received significant support from President Mobutu in his efforts to establish an army of 15 000 men in Zaire, and also a detachment of Zairian volunteers by recruiting amongst the Bakongo refugees. That resulted in the considerable expansion of the FNLA’s operational areas.

Roberto seized the opportunity presented by these military activities and the occupation of the coffee region in the north...


 

5 May: Reaction of the MPLA

In 1974, the MPLA enjoyed more prominence in foreign countries, especially the socialistic states and also in Portugal. Agostinho Neto was in the advantageous position of being favoured more and more by the leftist government of Portugal. A continuing leadership crisis in the ranks of the MPLA caused great damage, however. Daniel Julio Chipenda was the son of a tribal chief of the Umbundu tribe, who, with his personality, gained prominence amongst his followers. Gradually a divide developed between him and Neto. Chipenda accused Neto of tribal favouritism as well as the misappropriation of funds, bad administration, and “presidentialism”. This led to inner-fighting between the supporters of Neto and those of Chipenda where they were established in Zambia.

Neto recalled his trusted followers from Zambia and Eastern Angola and focused on the conquering of Cabinda...


 

6 May: Cautious Policy of UNITA

The coup in Portugal provided Savimbi with the welcome opportunity to increase his influence among the plentiful Ovimbundu people living on the southern highlands, without military action. He had also seen opportunity in a ceasefire. For Savimbi things revolved around increasing the numbers of his supporters through political propaganda. Thanks to an exceptional oratory gift he managed to instill great enthusiasm amongst his supporters through numerous speeches. He offered, as he did to all Angolans, a refuge also for whites in the ranks of UNITA. His political propaganda did not exclude military readiness, though. UNITA did not disband its military organisations. They increased. When the Portuguese forces evacuated their bases in South-East Angola, UNITA occupied them and were supported herein by Zambia.

“It will appear as if Dr. Savimbi is developing into a great political leader”, a report from Luanda stated...


 

7 May: The Terms of Alvor

After ceasefires were agreed to with all three movements, the negotiations had a better chance of succeeding. It resulted in the Agreement of Alvor, which was signed on 15 January 1975 between the FNLA, MPLA, UNITA and the Portuguese government. The fact that Portugal only acknowledged the FNLA, MPLA, and UNITA as the only representatives of Angola at Alvor, resulted in that no other Angolan party or political organisation, white or black, had any further rights to existence. Supporters of these organisations therefore had no other choice than to join one of the acknowledged three. Article 54 states: “The FNLA, the MPLA and UNITA undertake to respect the property and legal interests of the Portuguese citizens who were resident in Angola”.

The Alvor Agreement did not address the internal strife. All three liberation movements still stood strong and were still receiving foreign aid in the form of weapons...


 

8 May: Internal strive!

It started with Chipenda, who broke away from Neto’s MPLA with about 2 000 well trained soldiers. MPLA soldiers attacked the offices of Chipenda in Luanda on 13 February 1975 and drove his supporters out of the city. Before the end of the month Chipenda announced formally his joining with the FNLA, where he soon became assistant secretary general. The differences and enmity between the three movements were just too strong to be overcome by an agreement that was forced on them. Other than tribal, there were also ideological differences. Agostinho Neto had stated on occasion that it would be wrong to call the MPLA communist, because his movement was open to all political affiliations. Jonas Savimbi claimed that his movement was socialist and anti-capitalist. Holden Roberto was prepared to accept aid from wherever he could get it, even from Red China, while pretending to be a friend of the West.

To what extend did the three organisations really believe in an electoral solution? Each worked hard at propaganda and the actual military conquest of as many as possible areas...


 

9 May: First clashes!

The first internal fighting of February 1975, which resulted in the driving off of Chipenda out of Luanda by MPLA forces, formed the beginning of fighting between mainly the FNLA and the MPLA. By February and March 1975 the FNLA stood the strongest. Against its army of 15 000 men the MPLA could only muster 6 000 at that stage and UNITA only 1 000. Also in Luanda the FNLA was the strongest, although the MPLA possibly had the most support among the population. Serious fighting broke out in the second half of March in different sections of Luanda. On 28 March a ceasefire was agreed to, but on 3 April the fighting erupted again and had spread to other cities and towns, amongst others, Santo Antonio do Zaire, Ambrizette, Malanje, Salazzar, Carmona (Uige), Nova Lisboa (Huambo), Teixeira de Sousa (Luau) and also to Cabinda.

The Portuguese forces, due to their declared policy of “active neutrality”, tried to suppress the fighting at a few occasions, but with little success...


 

10 May: FNLA gains

With the crossing over of the Chipenda faction to him, Holden Roberto gained more than just the approximately 2 000 men that Chipenda had. It resulted in extended terrain gains to the FNLA in the south and southeast of the country. The FNLA was almost completely in control of Luanda during the first half of 1975, as well as various other cities in the north. Here some well-armed contingents of ELNA, the military wing of the FNLA, were established. Even more soldiers from Zaire were brought in. Thanks to sufficient funds the FNLA still enjoyed large successes in their recruiting campaign. By April the FNLA had about 6 000 soldiers in Luanda. Through the Chipenda faction, the FNLA had complete control over the border with Zaire.

The opulence was short-lived. By the end of April there was a shortage of funds due to the lavish spending on vehicles, equipment, radios and newspapers. The tide had started turning...


 

11 May: UNITA’s peaceful policy

UNITA’s position was reasonably favourable in the beginning of 1975. According to popular opinion, Dr. Savimbi was busy developing into “a great political leader”. His peaceful policy attracted many people. Even among the whites in Luanda his support increased because he promised that there would also be space for them in the Angola of the future. Of all three movements, UNITA was the worst off in terms of military equipment. After UNITA was acknowledged by the OAU as one of the freedom forces of Angola in November 1974, financial support was provided by the organisation, although still much less than the FNLA and the MPLA received. As UNITA influence on eastern Angola increased, Zambia also provided material aid, especially in the form of aircraft that transported equipment to their widely distributed bases.

By April 1975 UNITA launched a large scale attempt to obtain more foreign aid. A UNITA delegation departed for China, while Savimbi himself headed a delegation to Botswana and Zambia...


 

12 May: MPLA support growing

In contrast with the lot of the FNLA, the MPLA’s support showed a continued increase during the first half of 1975. Neto’s standing was deteriorated after the Chipenda faction finally broke away from him. By March 1975 it was still reported: “The Neto faction of the MPLA is losing support.” This led to the decision by the MPLA ruling body to focus on military enforcement, which was physically possible because weaponry started streaming in from communist countries. There were rumours that the MPLA started distributing weapons amongst the population in order to prepare them for a military revolution.

From April the position of the MPLA definitely improved as the supply of Russian weaponry increased...


 

13 May: Securing the border

The protection of the 1 450 kilometer long northern border of South-West Africa until mid 1974 was the joint responsibility of the Republic of South Africa and the Portuguese Security Forces. At border posts information were regularly exchanged during operations. After this the Portuguese were withdrawn from the border posts, their places were taken by representatives of the liberation forces, which were often fighting each other. This meant that the protection of the border now became the responsibility of the South African Defence Force.

What made the situation difficult was the fact that the Kuanyama tribe lived on both sides of the border…


 

14 May: ID Document required

Because the Kuanyama tribe’s free movement across the border could not be prohibited, there was also little effective control over the infiltration of SWAPO-terrorists into Owambo and Kavango. In April 1975 it was decided that anyone who wanted to cross the border had to produce an identity document. Due to the détente policy which was strived for during this time by the Vorster government, this decision had to be implemented with care. Other than for pursuit operations, the South African Defence Force was not allowed to cross the border without the permission of the Chief of the Army.

Infiltrations into Owambo had increased so much that the situation was considered to be out of control...


 

15 May: Border clashes

UNITA’s supporters amongst the tribes of southern Angola had been known for their irresponsible actions in the past. After they achieved some dominance, their activities inevitably led to clashes. They attacked Portuguese administrative posts and took control of places like Naulila by armed force. Especially refugees, mostly white Portuguese that were streaming out of Angola by 1975, were harassed.

A Portuguese elephant-hunter was shot at by UNITA soldiers close to the border, near Beacon 26, early in April 1975. Fortunately they missed...


 

16 May: UNITA clash with SADF

On 5 April 1975 a Portuguese sawmill owner, the main supplier of wood to the South African Bantu Investment Corporation, was threatened by UNITA-terrorists. He obtained permission to move some of his property south of the cut line and found refuge with a SADF platoon stationed at Oshikango, which comprised of two armoured cars and six infantry. UNITA attacked and burned down his sawmill and molested his employees, one of which managed to bring two trucks and a tractor to safety. When the two armoured cars of the SADF arrived, they encountered a Land Rover and a Toyota vehicle with men in camouflage uniforms who started shooting at them from the other side of the border fence. They returned fire, bringing both vehicles to a halt. The occupants fled, except for the four that got caught and killed in the return fire.

Minister P.W. Botha regretted the incident, but stated that if shot at, the South African Defence Force will reply in kind...


 

17 May: UNITA Apologises

In Luanda UNITA officially apologised for the incident between UNITA and the SADF and on 11 April 1975 at Lobito, their Secretary-General, N’Zau Puna, stated in a declaration that they did not look for trouble with neighbouring states, especially not “with neighbours like South Africa”. These and similar incidents did not please the Angolan interim government and representatives of the FNLA and MPLA tried to initiate discussions with South Africa. With Governor Viegas of the Cunene district acting as go-between, discussions with South African delegates, including Commandant G.J.C van Niekerk of the South African Defence Force, amongst others, were started at Ruacana on 22 April 1975. Everyone agreed that a peaceful policy for the border areas should be strived for and the actions of UNITA was regretted. This was followed up by more discussions.

It was generally accepted that it would be impossible to avoid every border incident on the lengthy Owambo-Kunene border.


 

18 May: The Angolan Task Force

The enmity between the Angolan liberation forces, which would ultimately result in a civil war, took on more serious proportions and contributed to the unrest on the southern border of Angola. In an attempt to act in unison towards the Republic of South Africa and to discourage troublemakers from crossing the border in order to prevent incidents, the Angolan interim government sent a task force of 400 men, comprising of 100 men each of UNITA, the MPLA, FNLA and the Portuguese Army, in May 1975 to Pereira de Eça (Ongiva) to maintain order. Companies of the force were then sent under the command of captains to the towns of Santa Clara, Naulila, Roçades (Xangongo) and Calueque. Only FNLA soldiers were placed at Calueque.

UNITA persisted with their incursions across the border in groups of four or five persons, dressed in civilian clothes and with hidden weapons, infiltrating Owambo and the Kavango.


 

19 May: The MPLA and Cuba

The MPLA had already approached Cuba in March of 1975 for assistance to counter the Red Chinese aid provided to the FNLA. In May 1975, Neto had met with the Cuban representative in Brazzaville for discussions regarding possible Cuban assistance. This was followed by further negotiations in Luanda and Havana. As the war expanded, the warring parties used every available opportunity to increase the respective sizes of their combat forces. The MPLA urgently needed instructors to train its FAPLA forces. Neto requested Cuba to create and control four training camps inside Angola. Initially it was difficult to obtain permission from the Portuguese authorities, but by mid-1975, the four camps were established with 230 Cuban instructors in Salazar (Dalantando), Benguela, Henrique de Carvalho (Saurimo), and Cabinda.

“During the summer of 1975 there were approximately 250 Cubans advising the MPLA in Angola,” according to John Stockwell, of the CIA...


 

20 May: Ruacana-Calueque

Ruacana lists tenth on the list of the world’s largest waterfalls - a waterfall that annually sees some 6,000 million cubic metres water pour over a drop of 120 metres. The possibility of building a hydro-electric power station at the Ruacana waterfall already enjoyed attention from an early stage. The building of a gigantic blocking dam at Calueque (previously known as Eriksons Drift) could be started which would ensure a constant supply of water to the power station, and through the use of a pump station and water channels, also provide water to Owambo. Another blocking wall was planned between Calueque and Ruacana for the final channelling of water to the tunnel of the power station. All of these construction works were located on the Angolan side. The hydro-electrical power station, with the exception of the feeding tunnel, was located 1500 metres inside South West Africa.

By 1975 the pump station at Calueque was already operational: six cubic metres water per second flowed into a network of channels some 300 kilometres long all over Owambo.


 

21 May: PM Vorster speaks

Abbreviated points extracted from Prime Minister B.J. Vorster's speech on SWA of 21 May 1975, regarding the demands of the UN. (a) South Africa does not claim one single inch of South West Africa's soil. (b) The human dignity and rights of all peoples, irrespective of colour or race, will be maintained and promoted. (c) The inhabitants of SWA will be given the opportunity to express their views freely on their constitutional future. (d) South Africa does not occupy the territory. We are there because the peoples of the territory want us there. We do not force ourselves upon the peoples of the territory and in this regard we take cognizance only of the wishes of the peoples of South West Africa. (e) There is no impediment in the way of anybody to propagate any constitutional form of government in a peaceable manner and to win majority support for his point of view. (f) The different peoples in South West Africa were there long before the present South African government came to power and nothing will occur in the territory which is not in accordance with the free choice of its population groups. It is for them and nobody else to choose.

“We have no quarrel with the OAU’s points of view concerning self-determination. independence and the maintenance of the territorial integrity of the territory. Where we do differ and very clearly differ, is in regard to the role claimed for the United Nations and SWAPO.”


 

22 May: Terrorism threat

By 1974 the works at the Ruacana-Calueque complex were in full swing, carried out by Italian, Swedish and British construction companies, with tradesmen coming from South Africa, Britain, Turkey and Greece, and over two thousand labourers from Angola and South West Africa. SWAPO did not waste any time in identifying this project as a target. Attacks were already planned in April of 1974. Labourers of the project were told to strike and some were even threatened with death. The fact that Portuguese soldiers were withdrawn from the area during the time of the agreement increased the concern of the workers, even though the South African Defence Force promised security. Unrest increased because of more threats and an increase of terrorists in southern Angola, not only of SWAPO, but also UNITA. During the next year and winter of 1975 numerous attacks were expected on the white and black suburbs of Calueque and Ruacana.

To prevent panic, a section of infantry and two armoured cars were deployed in expectation of a possible attack by UNITA forces from Calueque. The local police station was also fortified by the security forces.


 

23 May: SA's major contributions

In his statement to the security council on 24 October 1974 the South African Permanent Representative to the United Nations had briefly outlined some of South Africa's major contributions: "An investment corporation for blacks has drawn up an economic programme with the object of creating 5000 employment opportunities for the blacks of South West Africa during the period 1972-1977, entailing a capital investment of over R22 million. A total of R139 million has so far been spent on 177 domestic water supply schemes constructed and operated by the state throughout the territory. The number of schools for blacks and coloureds has increased from 313 in 1960 to 592 in 1973; the number of teachers from 1310 in 1960 to 3453 in 1973; the number of pupils from 43000 in 1960 to 140000 in 1973. There are 1550 coloured and black nurses in the territory. Total investment in respect of fixed and movable assets of the South African railways amounted in 1973 to R170 million. Total expenditure on roads from 1953 to 1973 amounted to R243 million. The value of telephone, telegraph and radio installations in the territory amounted to R35 million in 1973. The total cost of running the territory now amounts to R341 million per annum. In evaluating these figures, it should be remembered that the total present population is only 850000."

The SA government now added that it was at present giving active consideration to assisting the inhabitants with the further development of the water resources of the territory at an estimated cost of some R333 000 000.


 

24 May: Chipenda in Rundu

On 24 May 1975, Mr. Chipenda, with a small following which included his brother-in-law, Pilisso, arrived in Rundu, where they were met by Capt. W.J. van der Merwe and Lt. J. Truter of the South African Police (Security Branch). Chipenda had already indicated as early as on 28 March 1975, shortly after he joined the FNLA that he wanted to visit Rundu for discussions. He proposed that he would act against SWAPO, for which he would, of course, require military aid in exchange. His strategy was to stop the southward advance of the MPLA north of Novo Redondo (Ngunza) and Luso and thereby obtain the cooperation of UNITA. He also proposed the deployment of white Portuguese soldiers on the border between Angola and South West Africa to fight SWAPO, with the consent of the SADF. He had enough soldiers, but was short on weaponry.

Chipenda requested “weapons and vehicles which also included air transport, as well as financial aid”. He also pointed out the dangers posed by an MPLA victory.


 

25 May: Soviet intervention

It is possible to trace Russian interest in the MPLA from its origin in the nineteen-fifties. The mutual association that existed between the MPLA and the PCP (Portuguese Communist Party) right from the start had made their collaboration so much easier. Russia had already materially assisted the MPLA in the form of weapons from as early as 1965, and also to related movements in Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. According to the Soviet Union, its motives would be altruistic, namely to help liberate Angola from the claws of colonial imperialism and to bring them into the happy family of socialistic, free nations. From the Western point of view, it was to neutralise Chinese interference in Africa, and particularly in Angola, which attempted to obtain a jump-off point from where Marxist-Leninist communism could be spread to other countries in Southern Africa, as well as the strategic location of Angola from where the sea route around the Cape could be controlled. The natural resources of Angola, from oil to iron ore, could also not be ignored.

Russia avoided direct involvement in the war. It was more advantageous to use a satellite state, which was in this case, Cuba. Russia sent advisors and instructors to Angola as well as lots of weapons…


 

26 May: Soviet weapons

Soviet weaponry had been supplied to the MPLA since the early 1960s. This included carbines, machine guns, mortars, mines, hand grenades and 122mm rockets. From October 1974 this supply increased sharply and included a larger selection as well as much more refined weaponry, most of which the opposing parties could not source at this stage. This material was supplied either by plane to the Maya-Maya airport at Brazzaville, or by ship to the port of Pointe Noire from where it was delivered to the MPLA by ship or by plane. Weaponry was also supplied via Dar Es Salaam. The weapons were initially offloaded and distributed by plane to various points in Angola. During April 1975, 100 tones of weaponry arrived at Serpa Pinto (Menongue) and another consignment by air at Luso (Luena). Later that same month a Yugoslav ship offloaded trucks in the port of Pointe Noire. During May 1975 another two ships followed suit at Pointe Noire and Luanda with respectively 1 500 and 2 000 tons of weaponry. This was followed by another five Soviet ships as well as an East-German ship, all with military equipment.

American sources estimated that Russia had supplied war materiel to Angola amounting to 300 million dollars in the eleven months prior to February 1976...


 

27 May: Aid from Africa

The FNLA had Zaire to thank for their assistance. The movement had been created there and had reached a level of maturity. From there the UPA launched their attacks into Angola from 1971 and returned afterwards to lick their wounds. There their soldiers were trained, their weapon supply built up, their axes grinded, their offices established, and their army mobilised. President Mobuto provided private funding and weapons to the FNLA for many years. Zambia provided similar services. So did Tanzania, various other African countries as well as the OAU. As was the case with the last mentioned, various African countries provided aid to all three liberation movements under the argument that all three were fighting the Portuguese. Even after the three movements had started fighting each other, some of this three-part aid had been continued despite the illegality of the situation.

UNITA eventually also obtained some foreign aid. The OAU acknowledged UNITA and therefore had allotted part of its aid to UNITA as well...


 

28 May: Aid from America

The FNLA received most assistance from the United States of America. In 1975 Gerald Ford was the President and Henry Kissinger the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Both were concerned about the increase of communist influence in Africa. They were aware of the strategic position of Angola and the necessity to keep the country inside the western sphere of influence. They therefore considered it essential to support the FNLA and UNITA in their fight against the Marxist MPLA. Both also realised that any enterprise that could result in a second Vietnam would find very little approval amongst the American people. America’s first donation to Holden Roberta after the coup was approved on 22 January 1975. In total, this project utilised 31.7 million dollars of CIA funds. It seems a lot, but it is small in comparison to the possibly 300 million dollars of weaponry Russia had provided to the MPLA up to the end of November.

Task Force Angola was assembled under John Stockwell to control the CIA’s para-military operations in Angola between August 1975 and June 1976. This task force fell under the African-division of the CIA...


 

29 May: Chinese aid

Red China had been involved in Africa since the nineteen-fifties, mainly in Tanzania. From there aid to Angolan liberation movements was just another step. Normally any Chinese aid could be related to the enmity between China and Russia. China provided aid to the FNLA until they realised that they could not really compete with the extensive weapon supply that the Soviet Union was providing to the MPLA. It was also rumoured that China was disappointed with the quality of the FNLA military effort. Imitating the example set by the OAU, China announced that they were going to be neutral and that all three liberation movements could rely on their generosity. After this, a big quantity of Chinese weapons found its way to the FNLA via Zaire, and another consignment of weapons of 93 tonnes was sent to Dr. Savimbi. This last consignment, however, was seized by President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania in the harbour of Dar es Salaam. All three liberation movements had visited Peking on separate occasions during 1975. UNITA arrived on 19 March, the MPLA on 29 May, and the FNLA on 10 September.

The Chinese gave the following advice to all three liberation movements: “[Do] away with superpower meddling and intervention and join in a common effort to build a truly independent and united Angola of national harmony”


 

30 May: France and Angola

France’s actions and contributions were not very apparent, but certainly not to the same extend as that of the Soviet Union and the USA. As background to the French approach to the Angolan War, the fact that France also supplied weapons to Zaire and the Republic of South Africa in the past must be taken into consideration. After South Africa left the British Empire in 1961, France’s trade relations with the Republic increased until 1972. From then France increasingly limited its weapons supply to South Africa. Both America and South Africa repeatedly tried to encourage France to increase their weapon aid to the FNLA and UNITA. It appears to have had been very sporadic and was subject to the changing situation.

The full involve-ment of France in Angola cannot easily be deter-mined from the very limited information available...


 

31 May: SA’s African policy

The British Commonwealth countries in Africa contributed to South Africa’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth and becoming a Republic on 31 May 1961. The wave of Black Nationalism threatened to isolate the white south into becoming an island. To avoid the increasing isolation, South Africa had already made attempts to improve its relationships early in the nineteen-sixties. Swaziland and Lesotho as well as Botswana did not break away upon their independence. The Portuguese colonies remained in favour. After its Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)’s relationship with South Africa became even closer. Friendship and trade connections were established with President Hastings Banda of Malawi. Even the relationship with Zambia was rather favourable despite intermittent difficult periods.

Despite all the boycott efforts, South Africa’s influence in Africa only increased in the sixties.


 

1 June: SA and Zambia

At the eve of his country’s independence on 24 October 1964, President Kaunda of Zambia said: “I want my country to be friends with South Africa. I am absolutely sincere in this suggestion. There must be a fresh approach by the Black States to the South African problem.” After Zambia became independent, President Kaunda’s attitude towards South Africa changed. Apparently it was South Africa’s support of the Smith government in Rhodesia that raised his displeasure. Even so, Premier Vorster continued to extend a hand of friendship and invited President Kaunda on 23 September 1968 to form a front against communism with some other countries of Southern Africa. Importantly, in this regard, the Lusaka Accord was reached in April 1969 between 14 East and Central African states which all attended a conference in Lusaka. With this, the states declared their willingness to communicate with South Africa, but with the provision that the current government policy within South Africa be changed.

It provisionally brought no relief. Despite that, representatives from Lusaka and Pretoria continued to meet on various occasions.


 

2 June: SA’s influence in Africa

During the nineteen-sixties a strong industrial economy developed in South Africa and the search for markets to export its produce to, played a large role in its relationship with African countries. It went hand-in-hand with favourable loans to many African countries and enterprises to attempt to bring the other countries to development. However, the political attitudes still managed to bring an unsure and unsteady element to these enterprises. In January 1973, Mr Vorster once again extended a hand of friendship to other African countries and again announced his policy to not interfere in the internal politics of other countries and emphasised the rejection of boycotting under any circumstances. By mid 1974 South Africa had established contact with various francophone states of Africa visited by Dr. H. Muller. In September 1974 Premier Vorster followed up with a secret visit to the Ivory Coast, where he met with President Houphouët-Boigny, President Senghor of Senegal, and possibly also President Bongo of Gabon. Afterwards there were also links established with President Tolbert of Liberia, when Mr. Vorster visited him in February 1975, and with Sir Seretse Khama of Botswana as well as Dr. Banda of Malawi.

Many heads of state supported the negotiations between Zambia and South Africa and pronounced their hopes for a positive outcome.


 

3 June: SA’s Policy of Détente

Efforts were made to favourably influence the OAU ministers’ conference of 7 April 1975 at Dar es Salaam. At this conference, Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Botswana were criticised about their sympathetic attitude towards détente. Thereupon President Nyerere submitted a concept for African strategy in Southern Africa which was accepted as the Dar es Salaam Declaration. The declaration demanded majority-based governments for Rhodesia and South-West Africa as well as the abolition of Apartheid in South Africa. While Premier Vorster acknowledged that détente and dialogue in the wider scope were dealt a blow, continued efforts were made to settle the Rhodesian issue at the conference table. Further negotiations eventually led to the so-called Bridge Conference on 25 August 1975. Under the joint chairmanship of Kaunda and Vorster, the conference between Premier Smith, Mr. Abel Muzorewa, Mr. Joshua Nkomo and Mr. Ndabaningi Sithole started. After the opening, Vorster and Kaunda excused themselves and conferred separately on their own. It was the first time that they met.

The conference itself was a failure, as well as what Vorster and Kaunda discussed with each other, resulting in an ever widening rift between them.


 

4 June: Détente and Angola

There were many voices that proclaimed South Africa’s traditional relationship with the white Portuguese and Rhodesians as something of the past and that fresh approaches to the black African states should be made. The course of events in Angola after 1974 caused strain and insecurity. Zambia had initially supported all three liberation movements in Angola, but as the enmity between the three increased, Dr. Kaunda leaned more towards supporting UNITA, possibly because Savimbi presented himself as the peaceful candidate, but also because Dr. Savimbi controlled the Benguela railway line at that stage, which was the main artery for the export of Zambia’s copper. On occasion, Dr. Savimbi indicated to a group of South Africans that Dr. Kaunda approved of South African military actions in Angola, providing that it remained secret. It was also Dr. Savimbi who, during a visit to Pretoria, said that the conservative African states wanted South African forces to provisionally remain in Angola.

The “timebomb of Angola ticking away towards the civil war and international involvement that was to explode after the Portuguese withdrawal on 11 November 1975”.


 

5 June: Portugal and Angola

According to Article 55 of the Alvor Agreement, Portugal on the one hand, and the three liberation movements on the other hand, had undertaken to establish and maintain continued good relations of constructive cooperation in all areas. All three liberation movements worked hard at propaganda and the actual military conquest of as many as possible areas inside Angola, with the eye on a possible election. That is why the occupation of Luanda was so important. It went hand-in-hand with an intense distrust between the three, but especially between the MPLA and the FNLA. The Portuguese forces, due to their declared policy of “active neutrality”, tried to suppress the fighting at a few occasions, but with little success. During May 1975 the Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Melo Antunes, made a visit to Angola and managed to establish a ceasefire on 12 May. This, also, only lasted a few days. On 16 May clashes broke out between the two in the districts of Cuanza Norte, Malanje and Cabinda. On 5 June renewed fighting erupted in Luanda, which was halted again by another ceasefire agreement on 7 June.

The Alvor Agreement was Portugal’s last attempt to steer the destiny of Angola in a specific direction.


 

6 June: Détente and Zaire

Even though Zaire was not so directly involved in the détente discussions, and despite the initial rift, a more stable relationship between this country and South Africa developed. The reason was probably the fact that Zaire got more directly involved in the conflict in Angola after the nineteen-sixties, having consistently been the base of the FNLA forces. In 1975 President Mobutu Sésé-Séko implicated in public that he would be interested in dialogue with South Africa. Mobuto was pro-West and probably saw the advantage of establishing ties with the stable anti-communist South. During 1975 South Africa supplied tons of stock to Zaire. October alone saw the supply of approximately 1.8 million litres of fuel, and later South African planes carried weaponry from Zaire to the FNLA and UNITA on the way back. Before and during the war, Kinshasa also became an important centre for discussions between South African representatives and Savimbi, Holden Roberto and their allies.

In the atmosphere of détente the approach between South Africa on the one side, and the FNLA/UNITA on the other, did not appear as strange as would have otherwise been the case.


 

7 June: Reorientation

The kindly and reliable neighbour announces his departure. The new neighbour is provisionally not known. This was the position in which South Africa found itself after the Portuguese coup of 25 April 1974. The interim period, with the unstable and volatile situation that followed it, called for a reorientation. Four departments of the South African government contributed to this process, namely the Bureau of State Security (afterwards the Department of National Security), the Department of Foreign Affairs (later the Department of Foreign Affairs and Information), the Security Branch of the South African Police, and the South African Defence Force. The most significant contributions were made by the first two mentioned institutions.

In this regard the South African Consulate in Luanda became a very valuable observation centre.


 

8 June: Observation

The South African Consulate in Luanda became a very valuable observation centre. The periodic reports of the consul-general and his personnel stood witness to the changed and still changing circumstances, of the conflict and bloody clashes between the MPLA and FNLA and later UNITA, and of the interim government’s futile efforts to maintain peace. They also reported on the doubtful efforts of the newly formed white Angolan parties and groups trying to stage a coup or whatever is necessary to ensure their future in Angola. Later reports covered the ever increasing stream of refugees, many of which wanted to go to South Africa. The reports created an accurate impression of the atmosphere in Luanda, which was loaded with rumours and intrigues, fear and astonishment.

“We really live in interesting times”. With these sardonic words Consul-General E.M. Malone ended one of this reports.


 

9 June: Warning signs

The consul-general consistently pointed out to all Portuguese that approached him for aid to organise an uprising that it was the declared policy of South Africa to not interfere in the affairs of another country. He repeatedly warned, as he did again on the eve of the planned Portuguese coup of October 1974 in Angola, “that we should take proper note of the determination and improved organisation of the right-wing Portuguese, also in South Africa.” He referred to the potential implications should the RSA be used as a launch pad for any action in Angola and/or Mozambique. Early in October 1974 there again was the warning: “We must consider acting strongly against the Portuguese and their supporters before it is too late and they cause serious embarrassment and problems for our government and country”. This planned coup was pinched in the bud by Admiral Coutinho and subsequently the consulate also received less visits from “white rebels”. Even though all these efforts led to nothing, it can still be seen as the first efforts to involve South Africa in the Angolan situation.

Already by the end of July 1974 Consul-General Malone warned: “I believe that events are slowly but inexorably moving in the direction of a civil conflict.”


 

10 June: More SWAPO infiltrations

SWAPO infiltrations into Owambo increased. The members of the Executive Council of the Owambo government felt that the situation was out of control. They were referring to “foreign organisations” causing confusion and chaos among the Owambos and luring their children across the border with false promises. Especially Chief Elifas took this to heart. Discussions between the Owambos and Brigadier D.F.N. (Dawie) Schoeman, the commanding officer of 1 Military Area, were held on 10 June 1975 at Oshakati, and again the next week. As a result of this, the Chief of the Army, Lt-Gen. M.A. de M. Malan, allowed Brig. Schoeman to do certain cross-border operations as he deemed fit.

The situation became no better and Chief Elifas warned that the Owambos were losing faith in their government, and that they believed that the weapons of SWAPO were more effective than those of the SADF.


 

11 June: US plans for covert action

From a Memorandum dated 11 June 1975, it was clear that Washington considered covert action in support of an effort to prevent Neto from taking over Angola. This would fall under three categories: a. Covert financial aid to Neto’s principal opponents at a level matching that enjoyed by Neto. b. Covert political action to prevent civil war in Angola and advance a Roberto-Savimbi coalition. Neto’s best chance of dominating Angola appeared to be to push the FNLA back into the Bakongo tribal area and then crush UNITA militarily leaving the MPLA on top in Luanda and other key cities. By stopping the fighting the chances for an FNLA–UNITA coalition would be improved, and the FNLA seemed to rest on too narrow a tribal base (the Bakongo people) to win supremacy in Angola without a more broadly based ally such as UNITA. c. Covert military aid to Mobutu to permit him, in the failure of efforts to end the fighting, to arm and resupply the FNLA and possibly the UNITA forces from his army’s own stocks with the assurance that the United States Government would inconspicuously make good his losses.

Covert financial aid could be carried out in secrecy. Payments to the principal leaders opposing Neto could be made directly and with the recipients sharing an interest in secrecy. 


 

12 June: American arms aid

By mid June 1975 the US had considered an effort to provide “covertly” weapons, ammunition and improved training to match further escalation in the level of fighting. Such weapons of both U.S. and foreign origin had been at hand in then current stocks in sufficient quantity to match any likely needs in the immediate future. Similarly communications gear and transport could be readily found. Deliveries to the FNLA or UNITA would require an African intermediary through whom to stage such help. Mobutu would no doubt do this for the FNLA and possibly the UNITA as well. In the event of air delivery from the United States, however, security would be weak. Such an arms flow to Angola would be quickly detected and publicized with damage to the international standing and political prospects of the FNLA and UNITA. Similar side effects argued against the hiring of mercenaries or the provision of aircraft. Unlike the earlier Congo efforts, the US did not have the umbrella of a legitimate central government asking for help. Therefore, it seemed more feasible to encourage Mobutu to use his existing stocks which could be replaced less conspicuously by sea shipment. Exposure of American arms aid to the FNLA through Mobutu would tend to spoil political efforts to get African leaders such as Kaunda, Nyerere and Gowon behind efforts to stop the fighting. And to stop the fighting remained very much to the advantage of Neto’s opponents.

Military aid could best be extended via Mobutu and without American or American-hired technical advisors to avoid damage to efforts to keep some minimum state of peace until independence in November.


 

13 June: An uneven balance

A survey which appeared on 13 June 1975 gave the support to the respective parties as: UNITA 40 percent, FNLA 50 percent and MPLA 10 percent. It was therefore expected that the MPLA and the Portuguese regime would not allow an election to occur. In southern Angola the MPLA increased its forces from 500 to 1 000, most of which were stationed at Serpa Pinto (Menongue) and Pereirra de Eça (Ongiva). They also imported quantities of weapons. The FNLA in the south was mostly represented by Chipenda’s forces. He had about 3 000 men, mostly at Serpa Pinto, Ninda, Cuito Cuanavale, and Luiana, but had an acute shortage of weapons and money. At that stage UNITA was seen to be the smallest military force which had the biggest support in South Africa. Even so, UNITA was losing the support of the Kuanyama tribe. Portugal, at that stage, still had 25 000 soldiers in Angola of which only 7 000 were active combat elements. There were indications that the Portuguese soldiers were helping the MPLA and acted against the FNLA.

With regards to South Africa the fact that the FNLA was prepared to act against SWAPO must have weighed up a lot…


 

14 June: US policy towards Angola

A study released on 13 June 1975 by the National Security Council Interdepartmental Group for Africa on the US Policy towards Angola, found the situation in Angola unstable with continuing factional strife between the contending nationalist parties probable. Neither of the major liberation movements, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) or the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) commanded military superiority over the other. The FNLA had been the stronger throughout most of the period of insurgency, but during the then most recent fighting the MPLA had more often come out on top. The third movement, The National Movement for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), was militarily much weaker than either of the other two groups.

Portugal’s primary objective seemed to be to cut her losses and to get out of Angola completely and as rapidly as possible.


 

15 June: The Angolan leaders

Of the three party leaders, the MPLA’s Neto, a Marxist poet, had the greatest intellectual stature. Jonas Savimbi, of UNITA, had appeared of late to be the most pragmatic and practical of the three and was also reputed to be the most articulate and well-informed on current events. The FNLA’s Roberto was an anti-communist and close associate of Zairian President Mobutu. Roberto refused to go back into Angola from Zaire, where he had long lived in exile. His prolonged residence in Zaire appeared to have hurt the FNLA’s chances. Neighbouring African states have already provided financial and military assistance to the liberation movements. For ideological reasons, Congo supported the Marxist-oriented MPLA, while Mobutu had backed the FNLA. Both the Congo and Zaire had their eyes on the Cabinda enclave, primarily because of its petroleum riches and strategic location.

The Soviet Union had long backed the MPLA, and there was evidence it had lately provided the movement with considerable new military equipment. 


 

16 June: The OAU and the UN’s roles

Because of its important petroleum deposits and large coffee production, Angola was one of black Africa’s richest countries. The country’s agricultural potential was great — two-thirds of its arable land was not then being cultivated — and significant deposits of other minerals added to the promise of a bright economic future for the country. Angola would, of course, need development assistance for many years to come, primarily because it had such a small pool of trained manpower. There may have been a role for the OAU or the UN in promoting internal stability in Angola or in helping resettle refugees, particularly with respect to Roberto’s efforts to move three-quarters of a million Angolan Bakongo back into the country from Zaire where they then lived in exile. It should be noted, however, that it was unlikely that the OAU — which strictly avoided interference in the internal affairs of its members — would have wanted to take on the Angolan problem, and so far only UNITA had shown any interest in appealing to the UN for help with their troubles.

China has had some associations with all of the movements in the past, but was most closely associated with the FNLA, to which it had supplied military equipment as well as some training.


 

17 June: Nakuru Conference

As violence engulfed Angola and the transitional government lay in tatters, Portugal began to contemplate a conference under United Nations auspices that would renegotiate the Alvor Accords and reappraise the role of the transitional government. Foreign Minister Antunes floated this proposal during his visit to Luanda in mid-May, noting that since the Angolan parties were violating the Alvor Accords, the agreement could as well be considered a dead letter (Africa Research Bulletin 1975a: 3704). But Angola’s neighbours and the three movements rejected a role for either the UN or the Portuguese. In renewed shuttle diplomacy across Africa, Savimbi sought a compromise that would bring the movements together to reinvigorate the Alvor Accords. He again convinced Jomo Kenyatta to host a reconciliation conference in Nakuru in June 1975 that aimed to resolve the differences that threatened to torpedo the peace process. [International Negotiation 10: 293–309, 2005.© 2005 Koninklijke Brill NV. Printed in the Netherlands]

By June 1975, the Alvor Accords were in disarray, with a dysfunctional transitional government. Deep mistrust and the absence of a single authority with sufficient military and political ability to maintain peace had severely weakened its implementation.


 

18 June: Nakuru Admissions

The Nakuru Conference resulted in a candid admission by the three parties of their inability to work together toward the goal of independence. Cataloguing their failures, the parties acknowledged that “in exercising governmental activity, they have met difficulties presented by the liberation movements which act without taking into consideration the government’s decisions or do not give it the necessary support for executing their decisions.” The key to the paralysis, the accords noted, lay in the “lack of political and military forces solidly organized to guarantee not only the security of the state, but also the imposition of coercive measures to assure the fulfilment of laws.” In addition, the parties blamed the arms race for exacerbating the conflict: “This race for arms is due to the fact the liberation movements have maintained their mutual lack of confidence resulting from their political and ideological differences and their divergences in the past”. [International Negotiation 10: 293–309, 2005.© 2005 Koninklijke Brill NV. Printed in the Netherlands]

While the MPLA accused the Zairian government of allowing its troops to intervene on behalf of the FNLA, the latter accused the MPLA of receiving shipments from the Soviet Union and Cuba.


 

19 June: Nakuru Agreement

The Nakuru Agreement pledged to address a number of core issues: to create a climate of political tolerance and national unity, to end all forms of violence and intimidation of militants, to guarantee to all the liberation movements the right to free political activity anywhere in the country, to accelerate the formation of a national army, and to disarm civilians after necessary conditions had been established. More importantly, the parties committed themselves to a new timetable for the transfer of power. The agreement noted that “the most adequate way of ensuring the transfer of power, leading to independence, is by elections,” but that “should difficulties arise, a fresh summit meeting will be held in Angola, to devise an alternative formula for the transfer of power.” To catch up with the delay in organizing elections, the parties tried to accelerate the process by agreeing to promulgate the electoral law by July 15, to complete voter registration within 60 days, to allow a minimum of twenty days for the electoral campaign, to hold elections in October, and to hold the first meeting of the constituent assembly before independence on 11 November.

While the MPLA accused the Zairian government of allowing its troops to intervene on behalf of the FNLA, the latter accused the MPLA of receiving shipments from the Soviet Union and Cuba.


 

20 June: JAWS released

20 June 1975 saw the US release of the PG-Rated 124 minute, blockbuster movie, “JAWS”, directed by Steven Spielberg, featuring stars like Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss. It won three Oscars at the 1976 USA Academy Awards, “Best Sound”, “Best Film Editing”, and “Best Music, Original Dramatic Score”. It was also nominated for “Best Picture”. At the USA Golden Globes Awards, it won the award for “Best Original Score - Motion Picture”, and was nominated for another three awards. It would be some time before any of it would be seen in South Africa, though as it was only released in the UK in December 1975. For its fortieth anniversary, the film will be released in selected theatres (across approximately 500 theatres) in the United States on Sunday, 21 June and Wednesday, 24 June 2015 - and no, once again NOT in South Africa!

When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.


 

21 June: The OAU and Angola

The OAU and most African states were concerned about the situation in Angola and therefore put pressure on the combatants to come to a peaceful settlement. This led to the conference at Nakuru in Kenya which was held from 16 till 21 June 1975. The three leaders, under the chairmanship of President Kenyatta, negotiated using the Alvor-terms as basis, and again signed an agreement. According to the Nakuru-agreement all three freedom movements had undertaken once again to meet the Alvor-terms. They had undertaken to stop all violence, assemble an integrated force of maximum 30 000 men, release prisoners-of-war, disarm the population and prepare for a peaceful election set for October 1975.

A “Week of National Unity” from 29 June till 5 July was announced, which was actually honoured by some.


 

22 June: FRELIMO takes Mozambique

In the meantime, while things were slowly coming to a head in Angola, FRELIMO came to power in Mozambique on 21 June 1975 and the transformation of Mozambique into an insurgent state was completed. The development of an insurgent state is not spontaneous but usually starts in a region characterised by its opposition towards the 'de Jure' government or its lack of political stability. Once the insurgent movement is established - in the case of Mozambique the movement originated in the northern province of Cabo Delgade - it is carried to the other regions of the target territory. Not all the regions infiltrated are usually in favour of insurgency and there is resistance in many cases. This resistance may be co-ordinated with the practical aid of the ruling government and can hinder the growth of such a movement. In the case of Mozambique the revolution in Portugal led to the withdrawal of the Portuguese troops, leaving those tribes opposed to Frelimo's insurgency without any military aid at all. [MOSAMBIEK: DIE ONTWIKKELING, deur P.O. Verbeek, Scientia Militaria, Vol 7 No 2 (1977)]

FRELIMO realized the predicament and seized this golden opportunity to consolidate its forces, and take over the state.


 

23 June: Penetrating to the south

Gradually UNITA, the FNLA and MPLA penetrated through to the south, each to contribute its own part to the unrest in the border area. UNITA, which still enjoyed support among the Kuanyamas and other tribes in southern Angola, was the first to occupy the vacated positions of the Portuguese forces that were systematically withdrawn. The agreement for a ceasefire which UNITA signed with Portugal on 19 June 1974, made the process easier. UNITA wasted no time in occupying the vacated military and police posts. It went hand-in-hand with an intense propaganda campaign amongst the local population, probably with the sights on the elections which was still expected. By January 1975 UNITA was definitely the strongest force in southern Angola. In contrast, the FNLA was in no position to expand its forces to the south immediately after the Portuguese coup. They established offices in the larger centres such as Benguela and Nova Lisboa (Bié). The MPLA also sent representatives to southern Angola after the Portuguese coup. Here they found ideological partners in SWAPO and depended on their military preparedness.

By March 1975 the FNLA had already taken over fourteen bases, some of which were safari camps, from the Portuguese in southeast Angola.


 

24 June: MPLA and SWAPO

The MPLA also sent representatives to southern Angola after the Portuguese coup. Here they found ideological partners in SWAPO and depended on their military preparedness. In September 1974 it was reported that the MPLA was also spreading their propaganda among the Kuanyamas, one of the Owambo tribes in South-West Africa. In December of the same year, even Lúcio Lára, who was the chief of the MPLA delegation in Luanda, appeared in southern Angola and in a meeting promised SWAPO freedom of movement and weapons. The MPLA’s actions in southern Angola show good planning. Especially after Savimbi officially rescinded his connections with the openly communist SWAPO, the bond between SWAPO and the MPLA became tighter. The MPLA chose their bases shrewdly, in line with their military strategy, and identified their targets accordingly. The initial lag behind UNITA was thus quickly overcome.

By June 1975 the MPLA already occupied more than 25 well-chosen positions in southern Angola.


 

25 June: Weapons for UNITA

On 8 October 1974 representatives of Savimbi took possession of the first South African-supplied weapons at Rundu. There were ten 9 mm sub-machine guns, fifty 9 mm pistols and 6 000 cartridges. Dr. Savimbi had given a lengthy explanation about the political circumstances in Angola, which came down to the fact that the MPLA was supported by communist countries. Holden Roberta was no communist, but he was steering towards a military dictatorship. Dr. Savimbi himself stood for democracy and thought he could depend on obtaining the most votes in a free and fair election. He had no illusions that his opponents would peacefully accept the result of such an election, and he was striving towards a well-trained and -equipped army of 30 000 men. He claimed that he already had over 20 000 men, but he had to supply 8 000 of them to the joint military force and 3 000 to the joint police force of Angola. He admitted that UNITA and SWAPO had collaborated for years, but that since the Owambo elections, he and Kaunda had resisted SWAPO activities.

The total aid to UNITA amounted to 402 x 9mm sub-machineguns, 100 x 9mm pistols, 95 000 x 9mm ammunition, and 200 000 US Dollars (at that stage about R140 000).


 

26 June: The Knoetze report

From the SADF, Commandant Knoetze had already compiled a memorandum which was presented to Minister P.W. Botha on 26 June 1975 and on the same day, by Mr. Botha to the Prime Minister. The memorandum gave an accurate description of the situation in Angola as it was at that time. The MPLA was constantly receiving aid from the USSR via the Portuguese Communist Party and the MFA in Portugal. The FNLA was still receiving much less aid and there were rumours that Zaire was going to withdraw its soldiers. Chipenda had severed all links with the MPLA and acted under the authority of the FNLA in the south. UNITA received aid from white groups in Angola, but this aid programme was relatively small. The MPLA had the best organisation and, with all the aid from communist countries as well as the Angolan Junta at its disposal, the possibility that the party would take over control on 11 November 1975, was very likely. Through his propaganda Neto tried to prepare his nation for a revolution, for if there were unrest in Angola, the possibility existed that a task force from the UN or the OAU would be deployed in Angola which would probably advantage the MPLA.

For all practical purposes the MPLA could “be seen as the eventual regime of Angola” and “only drastic and currently unforeseen developments could change the outcome”


 

27 June: The RSA’s four options

The Knoetze memorandum put it that the RSA had a choice of four possibilities: 1. Assistance to Chipenda which was a minimal cost, but with no guarantee that his force would be able to stabilise southern Angola. 2. Assistance to a united front of the FNLA, UNITA, and the Chipenda faction, which would have the strongest impact. At that stage there was no cooperation between Savimbi and Roberto, while Chipenda was still anxiously appraised by Roberto due to his independent actions. 3. The provision of developmental assistance of a socio-economic nature to southern Angola, which would simultaneously benefit South Africa’s détente policy, but it was doubtful if any of the Angolan parties would be interested in any non-military aid. 4. No interference in Angola matters whatsoever, which would alienate moderate African leaders from South Africa and allow a communist regime taking over in Angola which would advantage SWAPO without any doubt.

For South Africa, the possibilities which option number two presented, that is, assistance to Roberto, Chipenda and Savimbi, had to be investigated further...


 

28 June: South Africa’s decision

It appears to have been decided that the possibilities which option number two presented, that is, assistance to Roberto, Chipenda and Savimbi, had to be investigated further. Around this decision, if decided at all, a series of new questions arise to which provisionally no real answers can be found. It is not known how and when the decision was made (probably on a day in June 1975, in the office of the Prime Minister), who were present, or whether there was an in-depth debate on the advantages and disadvantages or even whether there were differences of opinion. It was decided, though, that the South African Defence Force would analyse the requests for equipment received from the FNLA and UNITA, and submit their findings to Lt.-Gen. H. van den Bergh, the chief of the Bureau of State Security (BOSS), because the last mention organisation was responsible for the implementation of government policy.

Whether a final decision of one of the four possibilities had been a made at this occasion is not clear.


 

29 June: Unrealistic Goals for Angola

Some semblance of peace prevailed in Angola in the first week of July after the Nakuru Agreement, permitting the transitional government to publish the long awaited provisional constitution. At the same time, the first company of the new Angolan army was inaugurated. In addition, throughout the country, leaders of the movements participated in “Unity Week” events. Despite these positive signs, there was considerable scepticism about the ability of the parties to live up to the tight transitional schedule. As Soremekun observed: “These unrealistic goals were predicted on the belief that that democratic process could be evolved on the basis of a timetable... Considering the proposals that needed to be implemented, the personnel necessary to implement them, the time factor before November 11 and the past record of bickering among the three main parties, it was clear that not much could be expected to bear fruit.” [International Negotiation 10: 293–309, 2005.© 2005 Koninklijke Brill NV. Printed in the Netherlands]

“This was why the Nakuru summit was just an exercise in futility.” - Soremekun


 

4 July: SA to supply weapons

Maj.-Gen. Constand Viljoen and a member of the Bureau of State Security (BOSS) left for Kinshasa to present a “suggested” combined list (of weapons) with “estimated costs” to the FNLA and UNITA on 4 July 1975. Maj.-Gen. Viljoen (who was Director-General of Operations) and Maj.-Gen. W.A. Lombard (Logistics) had discussed it with Lt.-Gen. van den Bergh. The list for the FNLA was especially comprehensive and detailed. It included heavy weapons, missiles and armoured cars, different types of landmines, and ammunition. In the list which was finally compiled by the Defence Force, the emphasis fell on weapons that were, in Maj.-Gen. Viljoen’s opinion, of “immediate operational” importance in order to “seize the initiative in the battle against the MPLA”, but which would not require large scale training of personnel. Ultimately recommended in the list were rifles, machine-guns, pistols, 60mm- and 81mm mortars, missile launchers, ammunition, landmines, hand-grenades, plastic explosives, vehicles, radios, light and medium helicopters, armoured cars, and a radio transmitter for UNITA.

The list for UNITA, however, was noticeably shorter, containing only rifles, pistols, uniforms, two-way radios and a radio transmitter of 100kW.


 

5 July: SA’s logistical support

Roberto’s request for guns was excluded from the list due to financial reasons. The total cost was not to exceed R20 million. It was recommended that all the weapons and supplies be acquired overseas in order to not put strain on own supplies, also, of course, due to the clandestine nature of the endeavour. At this stage, the Defence Force already held the opinion that the supply of weapons would not be sustainable, and that it had to be supplemented with “logistical support, for example, fuel, medical supplies, food” as well as the “allocation of a few officers and officials”… in order to evaluate the exact situation and to ensure that the available funds were utilised appropriately. They also had to assist “with the planning of a proper military and political offensive”.

At the meeting of 4 July 1975, the list had been approved by Lt.-Gen. van den Bergh, with the exception of the helicopters which he ruled as too vulnerable “to the SAM-7 missiles of the MPLA”...


 

6 July: Unrealistic Goals for Angola

According to the Nakuru-agreement all three freedom movements had undertaken once again to meet the Alvor-terms. They had undertaken to stop all violence, assemble an integrated force of maximum 30 000 men, release prisoners-of-war, disarm the population and prepare for a peaceful election set for October 1975. In Luanda efforts were made to implement the Nakuru decisions. On 6 July the Interim Coalition Government published the long awaited concept constitution. The first detachment of the new national Angolan Army was sworn in on 5 July in Cabinda. A “Week of National Unity” from 29 June till 5 July was announced, which was actually honoured by some. Symptomatic of the low chances of success of the Nakuru Agreement was a statement released by the minister of economic affairs in early July in which he predicted that Angola was on the brink of economic and political collapse.

“The survival of Angola as an independent and unitary state is at stake.” (Africa Research Bulletin)


 

7 July: South African Intervention?

In 1956 the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), in 1962 the Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola (FNLA), in 1960 the South-West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), and in 1966 the União Nacional para Indepêndencia Total de Angola (UNITA) were created. All four of these movements played a role in South Africa’s participation in the Angolan Civil War. The MPLA was well supported by the Soviet Union, Cuba and other Marxist countries while the FNLA and UNITA were supported clandestinely, at a much lesser degree, by America and France. When, by July 1975, the MPLA chased its opponents out of Luanda as well as the other coastal towns right down to Moçamedes, both the FNLA and UNITA, independently of each other, approached South Africa for assistance. For South Africa the MPLA with its Marxism influences represented a real threat. That and a possibility to combat SWAPO effectively were important reasons why South Africa interfered in Angola.

Despite efforts from Portugal and the OAU to promote cooperation between the three Angolan organisations, the promised joint government just did not materialise.


 

8 July: Support for the FNLA

Like Chipenda arrived more than a month before, so also did his commander of the Cuando-Cubango district, Ondinga-Ondinga, who arrived at Calai on 8 July 1975 and contacted the South African Defence Force in Rundu. He was accompanied by five white supporters and about 20 flechas, or Bushman soldiers. There were more of his followers at Mpupa, about 60 kilometres from Calai. According to an intercepted radio message there were about 300. These people were really refugees and Ondinga was looking for assistance. He asked for supplies and weapons and promised to fight SWAPO. Brigadier D. Schoeman, the commanding officer of 1 Military Area, stood sympathetic towards this request, especially due to the promises relating to SWAPO.

The way South Africa got involved in the Angolan War, was distinctly similar to the way the USA got immersed in the Vietnam War.


 

9 July: MPLA and FNLA clash!

On 9 July 1975, fighting at a scale bigger than before erupted between the MPLA and FNLA in Luanda. They accused each other of breaking the agreement. It seems likely that the MPLA already had the intention of finally driving the FNLA from the city by attacking their offices with artillery. The MPLA ruling body had decided to focus on military enforcement. This was physically possible because weaponry started streaming in from communist countries. Intense fighting throughout the city continued over the next few days, even in the suburbs where both parties had supporters. Day after day the situation became worse. The government soldiers, which were mostly Portuguese, drove through the city with armoured vehicles in an effort to separate the combatants. But because widespread fighting occurred everywhere in the city limits, they were not too successful. There were rumours that the MPLA started distributing weapons amongst the population in order to prepare them for a military revolution.

Whichever rumours were true, the position of the MPLA definitely improved as the supply of Russian weaponry gradually increased...


 

10 July: Escalating war aid

While arrangements were made for the supply of weapons to the FNLA and UNITA, there existed some doubt about the effective application of the weapons by the forces to which is was transferred. It was seen to be a fact that the troops of the FNLA and UNITA have been trained for guerrilla- but not conventional-warfare. A second step was therefore required. If you give a man a weapon, you should also show him how to use it, otherwise it was worth nothing. And not only this either, a war is not conducted by people, but by combat units. It was therefore logical that combat units had to be trained in the use of the weapons which they had to employ together. It is possible that the American experience in Vietnam had been ignored by the South African decision-makers when they landed in a similar boat in July of 1975. The parallel should, however, not be taken too far, as the situation in Angola was very much different to the situation as it had been in Vietnam.

For the American nation Vietnam had been a traumatic experience and it heavily affected American activities in Angola.


 

11 July: Weapons for the FNLA

On 11 July 1975, Pilisso, Chipenda’s brother-in-law, also arrived at Mpupa with a request for help for the FNLA supporters. According to him there were 150 men comprising of blacks, whites and Bushmen, but with only 15 rifles and insufficient ammunition. He envisaged that they could occupy posts at Calai, Mucusso and Dirico if they could obtain supplies. Pilisso also brought the upsetting news that the MPLA was busy driving the FNLA out of strategic centres in southern Angola. In order to meet their need temporarily, the following were provided to them: two tonnes of food, medical supplies, and five G3 rifles with ammunition, two rockets and two hand grenades.

The weapons had been confiscated from Portuguese refugees at Oshakati.


 

12 July: MPLA getting upper hand

By 12 July 1975 it was reported that it appeared as if the MPLA was getting the upper hand. It turned out that it was the case. By this time all FNLA offices were completely destroyed. Desperate fighting continued for a number of days as the FNLA tried to hold out in single pockets, in, amongst others, the old fort São Pedro de Barra, where they were holding about 200 MPLA hostages. Here and in the north-eastern suburbs fighting sporadically broke out until 18 July. The successes of the MPLA were not limited to Luanda. At about the same time the FNLA was also attacked in cities such as Salazar (Dalantando), Malanje, Henrique de Carvalho (Saurimo) and Sá da Bandeira (Lubango). The clashes took on an unusually merciless character and the MPLA announced that the fighting would continue until the FNLA was finally destroyed.

The reaction of the FNLA was equally merciless…


 

13 July: FNLA counter-offensive plans

The war between the MPLA and FNLA/UNITA gradually and sporadically expanded, and had intensified quickly during the first half of 1975. At many places across the entire Angola, small and larger clashes erupted, only to quieten down and erupt again. After the FNLA was driven from Luanda in the beginning of July, Holden Roberto announced his counter-offensive on 13 July 1975. He concentrated his forces at Ambriz and Carmona. Ambriz eventually became his headquarters. He built up a considerable force in terms of numbers. Despite Nakuru’s and all other meetings, the situation north of Luanda offered very little chance of cooperative government. The ballot was not acceptable to Neto and probably also not to Roberto.

If Holden Roberto was to lose his hold on Northern-Angola, and driven from his own tribal area, his organisation would be doomed to an exiled existence in Zambia.


 

14 July: Meeting at Klippan

Before proceeding with the purchases of weapons, it was necessary to obtain the final approval from the Prime Minister. Mr. Vorster was out on a hunting expedition in the Western-Transvaal at that stage. The Minister of Defence, Mr. P.W. Botha, and the Chief of the South African Defence Force, Adm. H.H. Biermann, were not available either. Both were in South-West Africa for negotiations with the Owambo cabinet. The minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. H. Mulder, was on holiday in the Eastern-Transvaal. In the end only Lt.-Gen. van den Bergh, Mr. Brand Fourie, and Lt.-Gen. R.F. Armstrong, Chief of Staff of the South African Defence Force, left for the farm Klippan in a helicopter on 14 July 1975, in order to meet with the Prime Minister. Lt.-Gen. van den Bergh informed the Prime Minister about their findings and that the amount of R20 million would be required to support the FNLA and UNITA in their efforts to prevent an MPLA regime in Angola. At this stage only the supply of weapons, and possibly also limited training and planning aid, were considered.

Upon reviewing this, the Prime Minister immediately gave his approval to utilise R20 million for this purpose.


 

15 July: Angolan refugees

The white population of Angola had initially been optimistic about the situation after the change in regime had been announced. As forthcoming events gradually took on a more dangerous form, they started departing from the country in a steadily increasing stream of people. Some had already departed early, especially those that had been well off with few commitments and were willing to move to Portugal or Brazil. Others were forced by circumstances such as closeness to family, the properties they owned, patriotism or just general poverty, to look toward the future, hoping for a favourable turn of events, until such time that they simply could not wait any longer. People fleeing a country is a phenomenon that regularly and almost continuously occurred in history. The policy of decolonization of the Portuguese government until after the coup in April 1974 had been the writing on the wall for many white Angolans. White interests were widely ignored. Increased friction between factions caused more and more unrest so that more and more people saw their salvation in residency elsewhere.

Few phenomenon of history go hand in hand with so much tragedy and misery, but also with so much compassion and goodwill. This was also the case with the Angola refugees.


 

16 July: Angolan whites flee

The increased flight out of Angola is related to the sequence of events, from one political crisis after the other to the Civil War. That this was a process of immense magnitude is apparent from the numbers. While there were between 300 000 and 400 000 Portuguese in Angola at the start of 1975, this number dwindled down to barely 50 000 by the end of the Civil War. On the question as to what happened to all these people, there is only one answer: they had fled the country. Initially there had been hope that white political organisations would find solutions for their problems, but, after the efforts failed, amalgamation with black movements had to be considered. Eventually all hope was lost. Commissioner-General J. de Wet stated, at an occasion in Oshakati, that lawlessness, the fear of crime and violence, economic collapse and a shortage of food made people flee from Angola. He pointed out that the entire process had an accumulating effect. The more that left the country, the less those that remained would be able to survive.

Have the whites abandoned Angola in its hour of need? Should they therefore have been held accountable for the economic problems experienced after independence? Did they really have any chance of subsistence under the new regime at all?


 

17 July: Arms purchases

Minister P.W. Botha and Adm. Biermann were updated on the matter of supplying the FNLA and UNITA by Lt.-Gen. Armstrong on 17 July 1975, as soon as they returned to Pretoria. Lt.-Gen. van den Bergh did not hesitate. Within two days after the meeting at Klippan, he was overseas, possibly Paris. On 17 July 1975 a telegram was received in which he confirmed that he obtained weapons “subject to packing, immediately available – a boat was standing by to ship the consignment”. In the telegram he mentioned that “I am not planning to finalise the order of the goods before I have been able to talk to Holden.” He did, indeed, shortly afterwards, conduct an interview with Holden Roberto, but a meeting with Savimbi was cancelled. Apparently, the weapons mentioned in the above mentioned telegram (or a part thereof), were purchased, because the list somewhat matched the first consignment of weapons shipped to Matadi in August, and transported to Kinshasa for further distribution.

It is difficult to establish exactly how the weapons purchased by South Africa were distributed from Kinshasa.


 

18 July: Casualties increase

Day after day between 12 and 18 July 1975, the number of casualties in Luanda increased until it reached 300. About 1 000 people were wounded. The inhabitants of the outside suburbs, of which 15 000 were homeless within a few days, fled in their thousands to the city centre where they could find a measure of safety under the protection of the government forces. Many tried to flee the city, but were stopped by the roadblocks of the MPLA. A food shortage threatened. There ere urgent shortages of medical supplies while the hospitals could not accommodate all the wounded. Circumstances became chaotic when the water and electricity supply were interrupted and work teams could not risk removing corpses from the streets.

Day after day the situation became worse….


 

19 July: 1 Military Area...

The increase of terrorism in the Eastern-Caprivi during the last months of 1968 caused some worry. As per operational order 1/68 of 24 October 1968, parachute units were deployed in the area, which received the operational name of 1 Military Area, with the centrally located Rundu as headquarters. An officer who already had considerable experience of the area and its problems was then appointed as commanding officer.

Cmdt. B. de W. Roos reported for duty at Rundu on 19 July 1969.


 

20 July: Refugee vanguard

Already in 1974 there had been long queues in front of travel agencies and air travel offices. Over time these queues just became longer. Most departed from Angola via the Luanda airport but also by ship. Those who could not reach these two points of departure, fled to neighbouring countries. A large number of them went south and arrived at the border with South-West Africa. The first group of 19, under the leadership of Gonzalo Mesquita, had arrived by the middle of 1974, and another group of 14 a month later. They arrived at Grootfontein as they had come via Owambo. By this time South Africa had already been confronted by a stream of refugees from Mozambique. The Department of Internal Affairs had decided that, from, 1 October 1974, Portuguese refugees would be treated as normal immigrants. Those that did not have the required travel documents would not be allowed in. This rule could not always be enforced and finally all refugees were allowed in and treated as if they were passing through on their way to Portugal or somewhere else. In the beginning of 1975 the Chief of the Army, Lt-Gen. M.A. de M. Malan, in principle approved the setting up of refugee camps and had made provisional arrangements for accommodation at the headquarters in Rundu. Later, more camps were created at Grootfontein and elsewhere. The refugees was a matter for the departments of internal Affairs and the Department of Nation Welfare and Pensions.

It was the task of the South African Defence Force to provide lodging and transport.


 

21 July: Refugee influx

It would be impossible to now try and determine how many Angolan refugees had fled to South-West Africa and the RSA. From the general reports about smaller and larger groups upon which the researcher had access to, it was difficult to determine whether the same people had not been mentioned two or even three times in different statistics and reports. For the RSA, the issue apparently only became an actuality in June of 1975. During this month the SAUK (SABC) in Windhoek had reported that at least five Portuguese families were fleeing across the border of Owambo per day. That same month 42 refugees arrived at Swartboois Drift, 26 at Ondangwa, 27 at Grootfontein, eight at Sodoliet, and later ten followed by 65 more at Tsumeb. At Beacon 6 eight of them had cut the border fence and crossed the border with a bus, four trucks, heavy construction machines, and a Land Rover. At Windhoek a group of 58 were temporarily accommodated in a tent exhibition terrain by the police after they had been driven from Chitado and Ruacana by UNITA-soldiers. A refugee camp was established at Cullinan near Pretoria to which groups of refugees from South-West Africa were taken. The Department of Internal Affairs had tried to verify their documents, but very few had immigration documents in their possession.

Negotiation with the Portuguese government obtained financial aid to transport Portuguese citizens to Portugal.


 

24 July: FNLA counter-offensive

The FNLA immediately organised a counter offensive with an army of about 5 000 men from the north. This force conquered Caxito some 65 kilometres north east of Luanda on 24 July 1975 and later was rumoured to have penetrated to about 15 kilometres from Luanda. On 26 July the FNLA reported that Roberto “ordered a general mobilisation of the entire Angolan nation so that war could be waged against the murderous violence of socialist imperialism which was trying to implant neo-colonialism in Angola”.

According to Chipenda, no negotiations were possible.


 

26 July: MPLA gains

It was obvious that, by 26 July 1975, the MPLA was getting the upper hand over the FNLA, thanks to better weaponry, better training and better organisation. After some heavy fighting, the MPLA managed to occupy one city after the other from Luanda on the route over Malanje towards Henrique de Carvalho (Saurima). This was also the case towards the south with cities like Lobito, Benguela, Moçamedes, Sá de Bandeira (Lubango), Pereira de Eça (Ongiva) and Luso (Luena), although here it occurred at the expense of UNITA.

UNITA remained neutral as long as possible. They stood by the sideline and made commentary...


 

27 July: US funds FNLA-UNITA

On 27 July 1975 another $8million was authorised by President Ford for disbursement to Roberto and Savimbi. This followed the $6million that had been authorised on 18 July and another $1O.7million was added later on 20 August. Exactly a year earlier, on 27 July 1974, Spinola had reluctantly announced that Portugal's colonies would be granted independence. Within this single year, the African Party for the Independence of Guineau Bissau and Cape Verde (PAlGC) and the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) had been officially recognised by Portugal as rulers of fully independent states. In Angola, however, there was no heir apparent to political power...

The CIA covert operation in Angola, dubbed IAFeature, had begun...


 

28 July: UNITA gets involved

UNITA remained neutral as long as possible, stood by the sideline, made commentary, counted the casualties, warned against the possibility of civil war, and also warned that they would strike back if attacked. This eventually happened. Towards the end of July 1975 the offices of UNITA were also attacked by the MPLA and UNITA supporters got involved in the fighting.

By this time some very chaotic conditions were already prevalent in Angola and it was to get worse.


 

29 July: US arms for Angola

On 29 July 1975 the first planeload of arms left South Carolina for Kinshasa. Two more C-141 flights were being put together on a high-priority basis, the arms coming from CIA agency warehouses in Texas and the loads assembled in South Carolina. One plane would leave Sunday, 3 August. The agency's Office of Logistics would handle most of the stateside coordination. Africa Division with the help of SOG, air force liaison, and the Office of Logistics - had to plan the operation, hammer out the composition of the load, and send a formal memorandum to the Pentagon requesting the airplane. Cables had to be exchanged with Monrovia station in Liberia, where the aircraft would refuel at Robertsfield, and with Kinshasa where the cargo would be offloaded at night. The Kinshasa CIA station had its own problems: getting clearances for the flight, while keeping it secret, procuring 30,000 pounds of fuel for the plane's return, and arranging for Zairian army trucks to meet the plane precisely on time. [In Search of Enemies—a CIA Story, by John Stockwell]

U.S. Air Force C-141 jet transports hauled twenty-five-ton loads across the Atlantic to Kinshasa. Inevitably, the air force billed the CIA for the service, s8o,ooo for each flight...


 

30 July: The US’ Angola program

The CIA maintained prepackaged stocks of foreign weapons for instant shipment anywhere in the world. The transportation was normally provided by the U.S. Air Force, or by private charter if the American presence had to be masked. Even tighter security could be obtained by contracting with international dealers who would purchase arms in Europe and subcontract independently to have them flown into the target area. Often, the CIA would deliver obsolete American weapons, arguing that World War II had left so many scattered around the world they were no longer attributable to the U.S. In the Angola program, they obtained such obsolete weapons from the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve stores. Initially, U.S. Air Force C-130 transports picked up weapons from the CIA warehouse in San Antonio, Texas, and delivered them to Charleston, South Carolina.” [In Search of Enemies—a CIA Story, by John Stockwell]

“Our C-141 flights were masked by regular U.S. Air Force military air charter planes which routinely delivered supplies to the U.S.Army mission in Kinshasa, and arms to the Zairian army.” - John Stockwell


 

31 July: US arms for UNITA

Repeatedly during the program the CIA would place a token amount of certain weapons, such as the M-72 light antitank rocket (LAWS) or the M-79 grenade-launcher, on an overt military air charter flight in the name of the Defense Department for delivery to the Zairian army, to lay a paper trail which would explain to auditors and prying eyes the existence of these weapons in Zaire and Angola. A shipload of arms was being assembled at Charleston, South Carolina, to be hauled to Zaire in a U.S. Navy transport vessel, the American Champion. The chief of station, Lusaka, was requesting permission to meet the UNITA leader, Jonas Savimbi, in Lusaka. Heretofore the CIA had monitored UNITA through meetings with its other officers. This meeting was to be encouraged. Kinshasa station was pleading for airplanes to fly military supplies to the FNLA and UNITA bases inside Angola. There was no easy answer to this one. They would search the world for months for a C-130 or even several DC-3's which could support the Angola program, and never find any. [In Search of Enemies—a CIA Story, by John Stockwell]

“A U.S. Air Force plane offloading weapons in Kinshasa attracts little attention.” - John Stockwell


 

1 August: Portuguese reaction

On 1 August 1975, Portugal sent a commission of enquiry to Angola, comprising of ex-High Commissioner Admiral Rosa Coutinho, who was known for his leftist sympathies, and General Carlos Fabião. High Commissioner Silva Carduso was recalled to Portugal and dismissed, despite the protestations of the FNLA and UNITA. UNITA saw in this step the possibility that Portugal wanted to place the MPLA in control. Cardosa was replaced by Gen. Ferreira do Macedo which took on the functions of the Presidential Board, removed the FNLA ministers from government, declared the Alvor-Agreement null and void and disbanded the coalition government.

According to the Red Cross, already over half a million black Angolans had been driven from their homes and living areas.


 

2 August: Fighting in Serpa Pinto

On 2 August 1975, the FNLA- and UNITA-forces warned some of the inhabitants to leave Serpa Pinto (Menongue) because they were going to launch an attack on the MPLA-offices in the town during the following night. A witness, Mr. Edgar de Carmona, told how his house became the centre point of the fighting that night because of its location right next to the MPLA offices. The house was largely destroyed while he and his wife spent a fearful night hiding inside. The approximately 1 000 civilian inhabitants of the town found refuge at the FNLA/UNITA sector, while the fight for control of the town continued for several days, according to Carmona. Thereafter the MPLA withdrew and Serpa Pinto became a southern headquarters of the FNLA.

At many places across the entire Angola, small and larger clashes erupted, only to quieten down and erupt again.


 

3 August: UNITA takes Silva Porto

On 3 August 1975, Dr. Savimbi claimed that the MPLA fired on his plane near Silva Porto (Bié), and heavy fighting broke out in this city during the next few days. The MPLA was driven from the city and Silva Porto became Savimbi’s headquarters. During the first week of August there were clashes between the MPLA and UNITA in the Cunene-district which contributed to the unrest on the border of South-West Africa. SWAPO activities, amongst other things, also led to South Africa launching search and destroy operations across the border in August.

South Africa was being dragged into the conflict, one step at a time...


 

4 August: US Weapons for FNLA

Senator Dick Clark, the chairman of the Subcommittee on African Affairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was touring southern Africa from Tanzania south and back up to Zaire, meeting African chiefs of state and our ambassadors, seeking to understand the issues in Angola. Before his departure, on August 4, 1975, Senator Clark had been briefed by Director Colby about the Angola program. Colby had explained CIA objectives in terms of the original 40 Committee charter, i.e., that they were sending arms to replenish Mobutu's arsenal as he sent weapons into Angola. No American arms would be sent into Angola. No Americans would be involved in the conflict. The objective was to encourage Mobutu to prop up the FNLA and UNITA so they could resist the MPLA until elections could be held in October. Clark was visiting Luanda, Kinshasa, and even Ambriz and Silva Porto, and talking to Neto, Roberto, Savimbi, and Mobutu. [In Search of Enemies—a CIA Story, by John Stockwell]

By August 1975, the FNLA started to receive substantial weaponry aid from America via the CIA...


 

5 August: Border situation critical

On 5 August 1975 Commandant P. du Preez, under the command of Brigadier Schoeman, made an appeal to Pretoria requesting weapons for the FNLA group at Mpupa. It was the crisis month of August 1975. SWAPO attacks had become more intense. Chief Elifas had been murdered. UNITA had disrupted labour at the Ruacana-Calueque project which led to South African occupation of the terrain. The MPLA had attacked Oshikango. Thousands of refugees had started to stream across the border with stories of bloody clashes and chaotic conditions in the interior. The MPLA have been progressing rapidly in the south with their July, August offensive. Large quantities of Russian weapons were pouring into the country and the possibility that the MPLA would take control on 11 November 1975 could not to be excluded. This all contributed to a taxing atmosphere which caused anxiety and brought the realisation that something had to be done quickly to support the FNLA and UNITA, as they requested.

Minister P.W. Botha, who was visiting the border at that time, ordered that the FNLA should receive more help in order to withstand the pressure applied from the MPLA. The Cabinet was informed of this later.


 

6 August: IAFEATURE kicks off

During the week of 3-9 August 1975, the US’ IAFEATURE grew into a full-fledged covert action program. The principal allies, Mobutu of Zaire, Kaunda of Zambia, Roberto of the FNLA, and Savimbi of UNITA were briefed, and their cooperation assured. Paramilitary and organizational specialists flew to Kinshasa, and the task force took form. The third C-141 flight was launched. And in long working sessions of CIA paramilitary and logistics officers, the composition of the shipload of arms was carefully formulated: twelve M-113 tracked amphibious vehicles; sixty trucks, twenty trailers; five thousand M-16 rifles; forty thousand rifles of different calibre; millions of rounds of ammunition; rockets, mortars, recoilless rifles, etc. Strategic and tactical radio networks were devised for use by the FNLA inside Angola. Mobutu's army and air force hauled enough arms for two infantry battalions and nine Panhard armoured cars to the FNLA base at Ambriz, seventy miles north of Luanda. [In Search of Enemies—a CIA Story, by John Stockwell]

Some of these arms were diverted to Mobutu's army in Zaire.


 

7 August: Threatening crisis

On 7 August 1975 ten South African workers were robbed of their money and cigarettes at the cut line while on their way from Calueque by UNITA-soldiers. The next day they would only return to their workplaces at Calueque after the South African Defence Force promised to protect them. The last three pump operators which were still at their posts, also indicated that they would not remain. A crisis was threatening and the South African Defence Force started to consider interfering. Brigadier W. Black, Director of Operations at the Chief of Staff in Pretoria, received instructions to investigate the situation. On Thursday, 7 August 1975, he was at Rundu where he, amongst others, met with Brigadier Dawie Schoeman and Colonel J.P. (Jules) Moolman (the last mentioned was from 1 Air Component) for discussions. The next day he met with Commandant Gert van Niekerk and Mr. Jannie de Wet. After visiting Ruacana, he flew back to Rundu and, while in flight, dictated a message to the pilot which was sent from Rundu to Defence Headquarters in Pretoria. In the message he mentioned that the situation was unsatisfactory and recommended the eventual occupation of Calueque.

The eventual occupation of Calueque was proven to be necessary


 

8 August: SA to send troops

On 8 August 1975, a relatively large-scale battle erupted between MPLA- and FNLA-soldiers in the Luanda district, during which the Portuguese regime yielded to the MPLA demand that FNLA ministers should be recalled from the interim government. Upon that, UNITA also recalled its ministers and soldiers from Luanda. On Friday 8 August 1975, Commandant van Niekerk, in a message sent to UNITA’s political commissioner, Vakulukuta Kashaka, insisted upon further negotiations around the worsening relationship with UNITA. Upon receipt of this message, at an emergency meeting on 8 August 1975, it was decided that the South African Air Force had to prepare to take soldiers to the operational area.

2 South African Infantry Battalion at Walvis Bay was told to get ready to depart for the border...


 

9 August: SADF clash with UNITA

UNITA had closed the control post at Beacon 5½ on Saturday 9 August 1975 and Commandant van Niekerk decided to go there with a platoon and two armoured cars to negotiate. Upon their arrival, the UNITA forces fired on them. They chased UNITA off, which left behind one killed and one wounded. After the clash, Commandant van Niekerk, accompanied by five Portuguese soldiers who joined him, went through to Calueque where he arrived at 15h20. All three liberation movements hastily closed their offices and fled when they saw the armoured cars. The main force (which in the meantime had been called from Odangwa), comprising of a company, an armoured car troop, medical elements and a light workshop troop, joined Commandant van Niekerk at Calueque at 17h30.

A Parachute platoon was also flown in to Ruacana from Rundu to protect the SWAWEK works.


 

10 August: SA secures Calueque

On Sunday 10 August 1975 the South African combat team proceeded to secure the Calueque area. Portuguese soldiers still in the area were deployed north of Calueque as part of the combined security setup. With the occupation of the Calueque-Ruacana triangle a fifth sub-area was added to the four sub-areas that 1 Military Area was divided into. It was the area that was occupied and formed a triangle between the points of Calueque, Ruacana, and Beacon 5½. A combat team from 2 South African Infantry Battalion from Walvis Bay was instructed to occupy the area. One company was brought to Ruacana by plane, followed by the battalion headquarters, under the command of Commandant D.S. (Boy) du Toit, another company and an armoured car squadron the next day. Commandant Boy du Toit established his headquarters as well as the squadron headquarters at the Ruacana airport, with three infantry companies, comprising one under Major Luther de Bruyn at the airport, one under Major Chris Prinsloo at Calueque, and another under Major Louis Kotzé in the old residential area of Ruacana. The last two mentioned companies had Vickers machineguns, 81mm mortars and an armoured car troop deployed with them.

After this Commandant van Niekerk departed with his combat team.


 

11 August: Cuban intervention

A memo of 11 August 1975 described meetings between the Cuban representatives and Angolan President Agostinho Neto. In his report to the head of the Cuban Army, Raúl Castro, Raúl Diaz Arguelles talked about handing over 100,000 dollars to the MPLA as well as fielding their requests to train Angolans both in Cuba and Angola. The Cubans had come to properly assess what their aid should consist of, taking into account the aggression on the part of the FNLA and of Mobutu to the MPLA and the possible development of future actions until independence in the month of November. They knew that the reactionaries and the imperialists would try all possible methods to avoid having the forces of the MPLA take power, since this would have meant having a progressive government in Angola, and based on this situation they brought militant solidarity from the Cuban Commander in Chief, the Party and Government. Neto went on to complain about lackluster Soviet aid and expressed his wish to turn Angola into wants to make the situation in Angola a vital issue between the systems of Imperialism and Socialism in order to obtain aid from the whole Socialist Camp. At this point in Angola the sides were clearly defined, the FNLA and UNITA represented the international Imperialist forces and the Portuguese reaction, and the MPLA represented the progressive and nationalist forces. The Cubans agreed, and Diaz Arguelles recommended helping the Angolans.

“We believe that we must help them directly or indirectly to solve this situation which definitely entails having the people resist against the reactionaries and the international imperialists. “-Arguelles


 

12 August: Reaction to occupation

With the aim of negotiating with the Angolan government in Luanda, the occupation of Calueque was not divulged to the South African media. Reports of the incident, however, soon appeared in the Portuguese news. Amongst other things, it was implied that the occupation should be seen as an attempt at seizing the Kuanyama area in Angola. The Portuguese ambassador in Pretoria was informed about the circumstances surrounding the Calueque incident by the Department of Foreign Affairs on 12 August 1975. It was explained to the ambassador that the South African Defence Force would evacuate the area as soon as the safety of labourers and material could be ensured sufficiently by the Portuguese.

Later that same day work at the scheme had again resumed normally.


 

13 August: “Puff the Magic Dragon”?

One plan, outlined in a memo to the US Deputy Directorate for Operations (DDO), suggested that the CIA introduce one of the flying gun platforms which had been so effective in breaking up massed communist attacks in Vietnam. These were C-47's, originally called "Puff the Magic Dragon" in Vietnam, rigged with half a dozen Gatling guns programmed to aim and fire simultaneously, raining eight thousand rounds a minute into an area the size of a football field, driving a bullet into every six inches of ground. As this lumbering weapons system circles a battlefield, the stream of lead is played back and forth like a murderous garden hose; all exposed living creatures die. A more sophisticated version operates from the C-130, but at $15 million its cost was prohibitive for the IAFEATURE program. The C-47 gunship cost about $200,000, well within the CIA budget at that time. But in August 1975 this suggestion was rejected under the original 40 Committee charter which did not encourage the CIA to seek ways of winning in Angola. [In Search of Enemies—a CIA Story, by John Stockwell]

There was no doubt whatever that in August, September, and October 1975 a pair of these gunships would have completely broken the MPLA.


 

14 August: UNITA driven from Lobito

On 14 August serious clashes occurred between the MPLA and UNITA at Lobito and Benguela. Already in May 1975, Lobito had experienced its first battles when the MPLA attacked the UNITA offices. UNITA had apparently stood firm on this occasion, but in August the situation was rather different. Under continuous attack, the UNITA-forces were driven from Lobito, Benguela, Moçamedes (Namibe) and Sá de Bandeira (Lubango). The same occurred to the east at Luso (Luena) on 16 August 1975.

It is difficult to establish how heavy and to what extend the battles had been...


 

15 August: Weapons for Africa!

The CIA delivered into Angola 622 crew-served mortars, rockets, and machine guns; 4,210 antitank rockets, and 20,986 rifles, even though UNITA and the FNLA combined never fielded more than 10,000 soldiers. Most of the rifles were obsolete World War II semiautomatics, no match for the AK's the MPLA was getting. In addition, the Chinese, South Africans, and Mobutu supplied several thousand rifles. Other countries contributed armoured cars, anti-tank missiles, 120 mm. mortar ammunition, cannon and light tanks. [In Search of Enemies—a CIA Story, by John Stockwell]

No one in the area knew how to handle the weapons the CIA was sending.


 

16 August: Chief-Minister murdered!

SWAPO planned to obtain members of the Owambo Board as hostages for exchange for SWAPO captives. Thus, from the beginning of 1975, they planned to kidnap Captain (Chief-Minister) Elifas, Minister Ndjoba and the Reverend Kalangula, all people of considerable standing in Owambo, in order to disrupt the constitutional discussions, the Turnhalle Conference, which was to start on 1 September 1975. This resulted in the murder of Chief-Minister Elifas on 16 August 1975. This terror deed sent shockwaves through Owamboland, while the South African Defence Force went ahead with plans for an offensive north of the border, which was already in an advanced stage.

But even this did not prevent Owambo leaders from attending the Turhalle Conference.


 

17 August: No diplomatic solution

The US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Nathaniel Davis, opposed any covert program in Angola, because he doubted that such an operation could be kept secret. Davis resigned in August 1975 after Secretary Kissinger rejected his recommendation that the United States seek a diplomatic solution in Angola and play no active role in the country's civil war. Davis had argued that the US must mount a diplomatic effort — a multinational effort — to get a settlement. He said it must be trumpeted to the world that this is not the right kind of activity for any great power.

And he told them it wouldn't work.

[In Search of Enemies—a CIA Story, by John Stockwell]

"Neither Savimbi nor Roberto are good fighters. It's the wrong game and the players we've got are losers!” - Davis


 

20 August: US budget increase

An additional $10.7 million, authorized by the US president on August 20, 1975, for the purchase of more arms, ammunition, and advisors for Angola, had brought the total US budget to $24.7 million. CIA officers, eventually eighty-three altogether, were dispatched to the field, where they beefed up the Kinshasa, Luanda, Lusaka, and Pretoria stations, and managed the air, ground, maritime, and propaganda branches of the little war. The deadline was November 11, 1975, when the Portuguese would relinquish proprietorship of the colony to whichever movement controlled the capital at that time.

The war was a seesaw of escalation.

[In Search of Enemies—a CIA Story, by John Stockwell]

Momentum moved from side to side, as the United States and Soviet Union delivered obsolete weapons, then foreign troops, and eventually more sophisticated systems...


 

21 August: UNITA attack Oshikango

UNITA launched an attack on Oshikango on 21 August 1975. When firing from machine guns started on the South African Police from out of the bush west of Santa Clara and directly north of the police station, assistance was called for by the latter and armoured cars and paratroops were sent to Oshikango from Etale. As soon as the reinforcements arrived, a counter-attack was launched. The enemy, both UNITA and the MPLA, fled and the South Africans occupied Santa Clara. The operation was completed by 21h00. After this, UNITA withdrew its soldiers from this area, of which there had been about 500 in the area around Pereira de Eça (Ongiva) by July 1975. There were needed elsewhere. The MPLA forces remained and were still there when the Republic of South Africa started its actions in Angola in September.

It appeared that UNITA was deliberately looking for confrontation with the South African Security Forces in Owambo.


 

21 August: UNITA declares war

UNITA had withdrawn its ministers and soldiers from Luanda and in the vicinity of Silva Porto declared formally on 21 August 1975 that they sided with the FNLA in declaring war against the MPLA. There already existed a declared state of war between the MPLA and the FNLA since 27 July 1975. Portugal had promised to deploy soldiers for the protection of the Ruacana-Calueque project but on this day the South African government was informed that the Portuguese were experiencing difficulties with the execution of the plan.

South Africa would have to look after her interests herself!


 

24 August: Liaison at Silva Porto

As soon as a South African liaison team arrived at Silva Porto on 24 August 1975, they did a thorough assessment of the situation. As it was the case with most towns by that time, Silva Porto was also already halfway depopulated. Most of the civilian inhabitants had fled. Food was scarce. Because it was located in a fertile grain district there was enough grain stockpiled for two years, according to Savimbi, but there was no yeast. A monetary system was still functioning thanks to money from the Banco de Angola that UNITA seized upon outbreak of the war. There was also a limited police service. Telephone connections with Nova Lisboa (Huambo) were still functioning and the town had radio network links with Luso, Nova Lisboa, Norton de Matos, Serpa Pinto and Cangumbe. The supply of water and electricity, however, were sporadic due to a defective hydro-electrical scheme.

What caused the most concern, however, was the lack of military organisation in UNITA.


 

25 August: The Bridge Conference

While Premier Vorster had acknowledged that détente and dialogue in the wider scope had been dealt a blow, continued efforts were made to settle the Rhodesian issue at the conference table. Further negotiations eventually led to the so-called Bridge Conference on 25 August 1975. Under the joint chairmanship of Kaunda and Vorster, the conference between Premier Smith, Mr. Abel Muzorewa, Mr. Joshua Nkomo and Mr. Ndabaningi Sithole started. After the opening, Vorster and Kaunda excused themselves and conferred separately on their own. It was the first time that they met. The conference itself was a failure, as well as what Vorster and Kaunda discussed with each other, resulting in an ever widening rift between them.

How this all influenced South Africa’s actions in terms of Angola is difficult to establish.


 

26 August: UNITA’s situation

What caused the most concern, however, was the lack of military organisation in UNITA. Virtually no order and planning existed. There were no operational staff- and command-systems in place and units varied in size from as little as 20 men to almost battalion-strength. Dr. Savimbi was the only commander and a leader par excellence. He had his hands full with both political and military affairs. Under Savimbi as Commander-in-chief and President, there were, in hierarchal order: Secretary-General Miguel N’Zau Puma, Commandante Samuel Chivate, and the military coordinating secretary, Chindondo. Of all the cities which UNITA still controlled, Nova Lisboa was the most important. N’Zau Puma acted as head of the district. Other than Silva Porto, other UNITA headquarters also existed at Quibala in the north, Cangumbe in the east with Chivale as commander, and Serpa Pinto in the south. In the far-south Dr. Vakulukuta Kashaka was in command of various UNITA units which were spread out in the Cunene district.

The report submitted by the liaison officer of the South African Defence Force was not over-optimistic to any degree.


 

31 August: The MPLA’s position

The MPLA had made considerable gains in the districts of Cuanza Norte, Malanje, and Lunda. By the end of August the MPLA occupied 11 of the 16 districts. It was the districts of Cabinda, Luanda, Cuanza Norte, Cuanza Sul, Melanje, Lunda, Benguela, Moxico, Moçamedes, Huila and Cunene. The entire coastline, with the exception of a part north of the capital, was also in MPLA hands. This included the important ports of Cabinda, Luanda, Lobito and Moçamedes (Namibe). After the capture of Caxito, the FNLA’s advance to Luanda was provisionally stopped at Quifangondo, 20 kilometres northeast of the capital, on 30 August 1975.

it was indeed apparent that the MPLA was getting the upper hand. Occupation of the capital meant control of the entire governmental and communication apparatus.


 

3 September: Training of FNLA

In order to ensure that the weapons would be utilised properly, it was decided to also provide training. Commandant D.J. Breytenbach, the founder of 1 Reconnaissance Commando, was placed under the command of Brigadier Schoeman specifically for this purpose. He was appointed at the head of a training programme which he had to select himself. He started this part of his task even before he left Pretoria. He arrived at 1 Military Area on 28 August 1975 and already had a training programme ready which he discussed on 29 August with Brigadier Schoeman, Commandant Knoetze and high ranking FNLA representatives. Commandant Breytenbach had presented a complete training programme during the meeting at Rundu on 29 August 1975. This occurred after Maj.-Gen. Viljoen and Commandant Knoetze had left the meeting because they had to return to Pretoria. He and Brigadier Schoeman worked out the details and also discussed it with Commandant P. du Preez. This detailed planning was itemised in a letter dated 3 September 1975, from Commandant Breytenbach to Brigadier J.J. Geldenhuys, who was then Director of Operations with the Chief of the Army. It is clear from this letter that Commandant Breytenbach was convinced that only arming and training the FNLA would not be sufficient, and that operations would have to be conducted under the leadership of South African officers.

“Personally, I think, that the success of the operation depends on good control right down to the lowest level, i.e., under white South African control, as well as logistical support.” - Cmdt Breytenbach


 

4 September: Secret FNLA training

For the sake of secrecy the South African training of FNLA units in September 1975 could not be treated as a normal operation. As few people as possible were informed about it. It was emphasised that the operation had to be controlled separately from the normal headquarters facilities and that liaison with Army Headquarters could not occur through the normal channels. After initially considering Bwabwata in South-West Africa, it was decided to establish the training base at Mpupa. Mpupa was located on the Quito River, and was linked to Calai, Dirico, and Vila Nova de Armada by road. There was also a runway for planes and was therefore ideal for training purposes. Mpupa had previously been a Portuguese military base for about a battalion and even though the camp was dirty and neglected, it turned out very useful after improvement. It was planned that within about two weeks, the first group of 200 FNLA-soldiers would have been trained as a mortar platoon, a Vickers-machinegun platoon, as well as three platoons proficient in basic infantry tactics.

As a cover story, the FNLA soldiers were told that the training personnel were mercenaries.


 

5 September: Communication flights

Although the South African Air Force did not have a combat role, pilots nevertheless experienced some nerve-wracking moments. Colonel Jules Moolman will never forget that day of 5 September 1975 when Commandant Jan Breytenbach and Major Coen Upton, while visiting the FNLA-soldiers at Mupa for the first time, took up positions on the wing of his plane with a machinegun in hand to ensure that their countrymen does not walk into an ambush and get wiped out. However, they were received as friends. It was often the SAAF pilot’s lot to sometimes carry a myriad of group of better-known and unknown passengers on board. There were liaison- and governmental officers of allies and friendly states, some of whose names have being withheld for delicate political reasons. Among them were ministers, generals, members of the opposition, and government-officials who visited the front as interpreters, experts, or economic advisers, and there were secret flights, like Dr. Savimbi’s visit to Pretoria. Special flights were not always organised for such occasions. Negotiators and representatives often had to make use of scheduled flights. Among others, they often flew along in cargo planes used for logistical provisioning and re-supply.

Pilots could fill books with their tales about searching for and locating landing places in a unfamiliar area, without aviation maps, and often at night.


 

6 September: FNLA requests more

In September 1975, “They [the FNLA representatives] requested, even before we could suggest it, that we should support them not only with training, but also with the actual planning and control of operations.” Commandant Breytenbach held the opinion that the first trained battalion could be used to capture cities like Moçamedes, Sá de Bandeira (Lubango), and even Lobito. Thereafter, securing Nova Lisboa (Huambo) and Silva Porto (Biè) could also be considered. Captured areas would need to be secured, and activities normalised through proper administration. Here the Portuguese could be of great value. Finally, the creation of the militia from the local population, were envisaged. As the war progressed, he foresaw the creation of more battalion groups. Because the Angolans would gain in experience and because there may be more Portuguese joining to fill key positions, he considered it unlikely that South African participation would need to necessarily increase. There had been a report of strong military build-up by the MPLA, supported by Russians, Cubans, Chinese, etc...

“… we seriously feel that if we can provide leadership down to a reasonably low level, we could ensure that the FNLA would win and act in a disciplined way” - Cmdt Breytenbach


 

10 September: Occupation of Calueque

With the occupation of the Calueque-Ruacana triangle by South African forces in August 1975, a fifth sub-area was added to the four sub-areas that 1 Military Area was divided into. It was the area that was occupied and formed a triangle between the points of Calueque, Ruacana, and Beacon 5½. The South African Defence Force would withdraw if Portugal was to take over the protection and provide assurances that the area would be kept secure after 11 November 1975. But such a guarantee the Portuguese government could indeed not provide, since Angola would be independent from 11 November 1975. The Portuguese government had informed the Republic of South Africa that, with the intended Portuguese withdrawal from Angola after 11 November 1975, no contribution could be made towards the protection of Calueque-Ruacana. With regards to the Angolan liberation movements, the FNLA approved of the occupation, although they did not want to risk announcing it worldwide. It was even suggested that the South African Defence Force in the area wear FNLA uniforms. The MPLA also approached South Africa and on 10 September 1975 sent a representative (a commandante) to meet with Commandant du Toit. After the occupation SWAPO again threatened with sabotage, especially of the hydro-electric project at Ruacana. However, in this matter the South African Defence Force was assisted by a local protection committee, comprising of representatives of the Owambo government, the Department of Water Affairs and the advising engineering firm.

“This curbed the actions of SWAPO, but the presence of armed blacks in the vicinity caused continued concern.


 

15 September: Training Base Mpupa

On 15 September 1975, Commandant Breytenbach started training at Mpupa with four instructors. There were 250 men, and as planned, divided into a mortar platoon, a machine gun platoon and three rifle platoons. This group included trained and half-trained FNLA-supporters, ex-flechas and Portuguese. They were underfed and poorly equipped with 15 rifles of which only two were serviceable. They were therefore completely dependent on the RSA for weapons, ammunition and general equipment. Commandant Knoetze had learned that a flood of people were expected to arrive at the camp during his visit to Mpupa on 15 September 1975. This indeed started to happen. Within two weeks there were 400 men at Mpupa, and it was foreseen, as planned, that a militia and holding forces could be trained as well. A total of 2 000 could be trained for this purpose, armed with Sten sub-machineguns. About half of the FNLA soldiers at Mpupa were sent on to Serpa Pinto during the beginning of October 1975 where another training base had been established. A group of 270 remained at Mpupa. Their machinegun and mortar training had reached a satisfactory level and the plan was to deploy them operationally early in October 1975.

They still urgently needed uniforms and boots though, but this was supplied shortly afterwards.


 

16 September: CIA promises?

A couple of days after the training at Mpupa had started on 15 September 1975, Chipenda, Kambuta, and an American, a so-called João Pedro, arrived. The last mentioned were probably a member of the CIA operating under a nom-de-guerre. He claimed, that he, on the initiative of President Ford himself, had been ordered by Dr. Henry Kissinger to investigate the requirements of the FNLA. He was impressed (so he said) with the standard of training of the FNLA after only one week. He would report back favourably. He explained that the USA were indeed willing to provide weapons, ammunition, and logistical support, but not any soldiers because the USA did not wish to get involved in another Vietnam-situation. Pedro promised a lot, amongst other things: a thousand man-pack weapons comprising of machineguns, mortars, rocket launchers as well as logistical supplies for 180 days. He was well pleased with the fact that the RSA was providing training and operational planning to the FNLA, and he suggested that an Air Zaire cargo plane be stationed at Rundu, which could be used for logistical replenishment during operations. Although Chipenda did not seem to doubt the legitimacy of João Pedro, he could not confirm that he truly was CIA when he was asked about the American afterwards at Serpa Pinto.

Nothing came of his promised aid…


 

17 September: Liaison with UNITA

On 17 September 1975, Lt.-Gen. van den Bergh and Maj.-Gen. Viljoen conducted an interview with Savimbi in Kinshasa. It had been planned that Holden Roberto should also have been present, but due to a misunderstanding he did not arrive. Savimbi impressed the others with his judgment and insight of military matters. He explained that the rapid advances of the MPLA forces created a new and very critical situation. Whereas he had previously believed that he had enough willing, although unarmed soldiers, he now realised that his men would not be able to keep the situation under control. He also did not have any tactical communications systems. He told of the advanced weaponry of the MPLA which, according to him, comprised of 81mm mortars, 76mm guns, RPG 2-, RPG 7- and 122 mm rockets, armoured cars and even tanks. Against this, Savimbi simply did not have sufficient firepower. He was convinced that the situation could only be saved by obtaining aid for UNITA and the FNLA from outside. He felt that countries such as Zambia, Zaire, and the RSA should stand together against the communists.

During their flight back from Kinshasa the two generals agreed with each other that the gift of weapons alone would not be able to save the situation.


 

18 September: Situation critical

By 18 September 1975, it was clear to everyone that the situation was “rather critical”, as a report put it. Only slightly more than 50 days were left before the independence of 11 November 1975. The MPLA had occupied all the most important ports south of Luanda as well as a strip of land from Luanda eastward in the direction of the Zambian border. In the north the MPLA had advanced towards Ambriz and in the south towards Nova Lisboa, which was the second largest city in Angola. The FNLA and UNITA had to be put in a position to hold the south, recapture the ports of Benguela and Lobito, and to clear their enemy from the entire area south of the Benguela railway-line. The gift of weapons alone would not be able to save the situation. It would only mean a waste of very expensive materiel, because neither the FNLA, who were at that stage better trained, nor UNITA, would be able to use it properly. Training, such as which was already provided at Mpupa, would be essential. The fact that the MPLA had armour was worrying and Lt.-Gen. van den Bergh was of the opinion that a small number of armoured cars would be required to execute the operation rapidly. In order to ascertain themselves of the situation in UNITA’s operational area, the Kinshasa visit was followed up a few days later with a visit to the UNITA headquarters at Silva Porto.

Officers of the SA Defence Headquarters, the South African Army and Air Force, the Chief of Staff Intelligence as well as representatives of the Bureau of State Security participated in this conference.


 

19 September: Action planned

There were three phases of action envisaged. Phase one would comprise the holding and keeping the UNITA- and FNLA areas currently in their possession. Phase two would comprise of the clearing of the south-western corner of Angola including the cities of Moçamedes and Sá de Bandeira, and the recapture of Benguela and Lobito, and Phase three would be to obtain control over the entire Benguela railway-line. This all had to be achieved before 11 November 1975. What was proposed was a huge aid programme in which South Africa would actively participate. It was approved by the State Security Council and the Minister of Defence also added his approval, emphasising that everything had to be handled very carefully and secretively, because “it is a risky venture”. (SADF Archives) One of the results of this decision was that the training of UNITA-forces had to be stepped up in haste, as was already the case with the FNLA-forces.

For better coordination it was decided to appoint a liaison officer at Silva Porto (Biè).


 

20 September: Zairian aid to FNLA

On September 11, Mobutu committed his elite Seventh and Fourth Commando Battalions, flying them to Ambriz in his C-13os, and the tide swung back in favour of the FNLA north of Luanda. On September 17, a consolidated task force of Zairian, FNLA, and Portuguese troops retook Caxito, about 70 kilometres from Luanda. It was a considerable force in terms of numbers. At Caxito, the Stalin Organ (the 122 mm Katyusha rocket or “Redeye”) made it first deafening appearance, and obtained the nickname “mwana-Caxito”, meaning son of Caxito, from the local population. Roberto’s appeals for help elicited favourable reactions, especially from the USA From Kinshasa, American weaponry was taken by South African and other planes to Negage, Carmona, Ambriz, Silva Porto (Bié), and Serpa Pinto. ELNA was reinforced by whites and mulato-members of the former Portuguese-Angolan Army who were assimilated in the organisation ELP (Exército de Libertação Portuguesa), under the leadership of the famed Colonel Santos e Castro. He was Roberto’s Chief of Staff for a while and assisted when Roberto again captured Caxito on 17 September. Then they began a cautious advance on Luanda itself. Another Zairian force joined a Cabindan liberation force, called. FLEC (Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda), and plunged across the Zairian/Cabinda border. Cabinda, separated from the rest of Angola by a narrow strip of Zairian territory, had been coveted by the expansionist Mobutu since his ascension to power in the mid-sixties.

Mobutu's greed had been further stimulated in the late sixties, when oil was discovered off the Cabindan coastline.


 

21 September: Devastating new weapon

In early September the MPLA committed a devastating, ageless weapon, the Russian 122 mm. rocket, and set the FNLA troops running, until the MPLA swept back through Caxito and very nearly to Ambriz. Supplied by the Soviet Union, the 122 mm. rocket, as much as any one thing, eventually decided the outcome of the civil war in Angola. Originally designed as a siege weapon of only general accuracy, it had been used by the Viet Cong to harass GVN-held cities in South Vietnam. Two men could carry it through the jungle, fire it from a tripod of crossed sticks, and flee empty-handed. In Angola its accuracy and volume of fire were increased by the use of truck-mounted launchers, called Stalin organs. "Think of the loudest clap of thunder you have ever heard and you won't be close to the one-twenty-two. If one lands within a hundred yards, light fixtures drop from the ceiling and doors jump open. The percussion charge will shatter a small house or penetrate an eighteen-inch reinforced concrete bunker. The antipersonnel charge fragments into fourteen thousand red-hot, razor-sharp slivers of steel.” Such rockets, landing anywhere near the FNLA troops, would destroy their morale. The 122 had a simple advantage over the weapons we had given the FNLA namely, range. It would fire twelve kilometres; the CIA-supplied mortars no more than eight. From a safe distance the MPLA could lob 122 mm. rockets onto FNLA troops who were unable to return fire. [In Search of Enemies, by John Stockwell]

On paper it appeared to be an inaccurate, pre-World War II rocket, only slightly larger than the 120 mm. and 4.2-inch mortars the CIA had given the FNLA.


 

24 September: Liaison officer at Silva Porto

For better coordination it had been decided to appoint a liaison officer at Silva Porto (Biè). The choice for this post fell on Cmdt. W.S. van der Waals. He previously had spent four years with the South African Consulate in Luanda. He could speak Portuguese fluently and knew the country’s inhabitants well. His duties as liaison officer were varied, and as the war developed, it became more important. He had to personally manage the normal liaison between Brig. Schoeman and UNITA’s military headquarters and Dr. Savimbi. He also had to assist UNITA with planning. One of his first tasks was the establishment of a training base for UNITA soldiers. Two non-commissioned officers left Rundu with Cmdt. van der Waals for Silva Porto on 24 September 1975: Warrant Officer H.A. (Spider) Hattingh as radio operator, and Sergeant C.J. Maree as technician. The next day saw the arrival of Brig. Schoeman, who was the commanding officer of 1 Military Area, Brig. W. Black, Director of Operations at Chief of Staff, Col. J. Moolman, the commanding officer of 1 Air Component, and Maj. C.P. Upton, a staff officer of 1 Military Area, at Silva Porto.

Issues with the UNITA headquarters were finalised during this occasion.

Read More...


 

25 September: Escalation of SA involvement

On 24 September 1975 the first of many cargos of ammunition and weapons had been taken by air from Rundu to Silva Porto, while requests for all sorts of other articles increased daily. With every flight, every cargo, and every article that were added, South Africa became more and more involved. In the current terminology it would be called “escalation”. Maj. D.P. van Nierop, of 16 Maintenance Unit, was appointed by Cmdt. van der Waals to assist UNITA with logistics at Silva Porto. He was stunned by what he saw at the logistical base a few kilometres outside the city. Various types of ammunition lay mixed and without any sort or order, in huts constructed from poles and grass. At that stage, Savimbi had four armoured cars at Silva Porta (Biè). It was part of the armour which Mobuto had given Roberto and Savimbi from his own supplies. The four, however, were not serviceable. Members of the Technical Service Corps of the South African Defence Force at Rundu, under the command of Maj. H.J. (Barky) Williams, went and serviced the armoured cars at Silva Porto. This was indeed the first active support provided to UNITA by the South African Defence Force. The armoured cars were “cannibalised”, that is, the parts of one were used to repair the others. That way, two were eventually ready.

Saboteurs, unfortunately, promptly made sure that the armoured cars were un-serviceable again. Whoever did this could not be identified.

Read More...


 

26 September: SA Missile Vehicles

During his first meeting with Lt.-Gen. van den Bergh, as well as later, Savimbi repeatedly expressed his concern about the MPLA force’s use of armour. In Pretoria it was felt that everything should be thrown into the conflict to save Nova Lisboa, destroy enemy armour elements and support Savimbi so that he could act against the MPLA as soon as possible. Savimbi was very anxious to start the campaign by 28 September in order to stop the MPLA forces on the Benguela-route before they could penetrate the Huambo plateau from the coastal plain. Because UNITA armoured capabilities left much to be desired, it was decided to transfer four missile-vehicles from the stocks of the South African Defence Force, with crews, to Silva Porto, in order to destroy the enemy armour as soon as possible. Maj. L.J. (Louis) Holtzhausen, a member of the training team at Capolo, was placed in command of this “once-off” operation. On 26 September three missile-vehicles arrived, and on 30 September the fourth arrived, with spares as well the first of many consignments of clothing and fuel. Other than the liaison office and his two assistants, the personnel of the missile-launchers were the first South Africans at Silva Porto to start implementation of the operational aspects of Operation Savannah.

Another delay was caused by the fact that the three missile-launchers were faulty.

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27 September: “Savannah” delayed

A combined exercise on 27 September 1975 went bad from the start. By 12h30 it was clear to the South African armour instructors that the UNITA personnel were not knowledgeable enough to be trained in time for the first operation. In order to not postpone D-day any further, Pretoria gave permission for South African armoured car personnel to man the UNITA armoured cars, resulting in another step in the escalation. Another delay was caused by the fact that the three missile-launchers were faulty. Only after the spares arrived with the fourth launcher from Pretoria on 30 September could these weapons be prepared. In the end there were only three serviceable missile units. These mishaps resulted in D-day being delayed by four days. In the meantime, the MPLA advanced on the Benguela-route up to Quinjenje, only 100 kilometres west of Nova Lisboa, and on the Lobito-route up to Norton de Matos. Another MPLA force had advanced into the interior from Novo Redondo (Ngunza), and reached Vila Nova do Seles, but this advance did not initially play any significant part. After some uncertainty it was decided that UNITA had to first attempt to stop the MPLA on the Lobito-route.

This “once-off” operation was launched in order to destroy the enemy armour as soon as possible...

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28 September: Training base Capolo

It had been decided on 26 September 1975 that the UNITA training base should be established at Capolo, 60 kilometres south of Silva Porto. The very next day Cmdt. van der Waals left with Dr. Savimbi to inspect the place. It was originally a prison or a penal colony (colonia penal) from the Portuguese era. It had an airfield with an earthen runway. At that stage there were 700 UNITA soldiers at the base. The next day the training team, most of which were already at Rundu, left for Silva Porto. On 29 September 1975 two of them, Maj. J. Coetzer and Capt. J. Holm, accompanied by Cmdt. van der Waals, visited the training base to discuss the training. It is clear that the training programme here was at a much larger scale than in the case of the FNLA, that things were planned and executed at speed, and that the training was geared towards immediate operational deployment. That same evening, 29 September 1975, the rest of the training team moved from Silva Porto to Capolo. The strictest level of security was applied. They were all provided with bogus names and were instructed to only converse in English. In South Africa they were not allowed to take money with them and all identifiable markings were removed from their equipment. The training team comprised of 25 officers, warrant-officers and non-commissioned officers drawn from various departments of the South African Defence Force.

There were only two weeks left before the first group had to be ready.

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29 September: Nova Lisboa threatened

Holding Nova Lisboa (Huambe), the second largest city in Angola, was of uttermost importance to UNITA. Public life in that city had also been greatly disrupted. Because of the establishment of an airbridge for the evacuation of refugees across Luanda to Portugal, the city was flooded with refugees during August and September. Control of the city was important to the MPLA as well. With the coastline under their control, the MPLA started their advance from Benguela to Nova Lisboa in September 1975. At Benguela, Cuban instructors had already been providing training to MPLA-soldiers since August, and as it became apparent, also joined in the FAPLA advance. Because of the good condition of the dirt road leading from Mariano Machado northward to Norton de Matos, it was possible for the two MPLA forces to concentrate at the last mentioned place, and from there launch a combined attack on Nova Lisboa. Along the northern route, an MPLA company with an armoured car, supported by a reserve force comprising of three armoured cars and a company of infantry, captured Sousa Lara on 29 September 1975.

At Monte Belo, only 150 UNITA-soldiers were waiting to block their advance.

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30 September: Defending Nova Lisboa

From the coast, two roads led to Nova Lisboa. The southern or Benguela-route more or less followed the Benguela railway line and was the shortest. This road, however, had the disadvantage that it was only tarred up to Cubal. Then there was the northern or Lobito-route. The tarred road led from Lobito to Norton de Matos and Alto Hama and was considerably longer. Initially the MPLA took the southern route, where the UNITA soldiers were driven back without much effort by the better trained and equipped FAPLA. By 30 September 1975, according to UNITA intelligence, 350 men of the MPLA had occupied Babaera, about 100 km west Nova Lisboa. A reserve force of 350 men with three armoured cars was concentrated at nearby Mariano Machado (Gande). To block this advance, UNITA had deployed 400 men with three armoured cars opposite the MPLA at Cuima, about halfway between Cubal and Nova Lisboa, with reserves that, at most, brought the total strength to no more than two battalions. This, and possibly the bad condition of the dirt road between Cubal and Nova Lisboa as a result of the war, led to the MPLA’s decision to also send a force via the northern route.

It was really an alarming situation. UNITA was cut off from the sea and could expect no re-supply from that direction.

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1 October: The South African crew

By the end of September 1975, there were 19 South Africans directly involved in this initial advance, which included Permanent Force as well as Citizen Force members. These men were called up for special service. The nature of their task was explained to them and they were informed that by order of the Minister of Defence, Mr P.W. Botha, only volunteers would be able to go to Angola. It was expected of each one of them to sign an undertaking of voluntary participation. This undertaking was probably signed by all with mixed feelings, and the reactions depended on each individual’s temperament. It came down to the fact that each one would undertake to fight outside the borders of South Africa as a mercenary, as a cover, thus without identity, or even a false identity. Men that had been disciplined for years to be proud of the SADF uniform were suddenly confronted with wearing Portuguese camouflage or, even worse, green uniforms of unknown origin. The SADF’s practical bush hat had to make place for the minute Portuguese cap and his effective boots for canvas shoes, also of unknown origin. The signing of the voluntary service certificate created the feeling with some that that they would not be able to rely on the assistance of the government in the event of trouble. There were others that refused to sign the undertaking. They were soldiers convinced that, as career soldiers, they automatically had to and would carry out the will of the South African government. The group of South African soldiers that were involved in this campaign were taken directly from Pretoria or Rundu to Silva Porto. The closest reserve force or air base that could provide any sort of protection was more than 700 km away at Rundu.

They were expected to fight with UNITA-soldiers as mercenaries

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2 October: UNITA and the FNLA

At a lower level the relationship between the FNLA and UNITA was not going well. There were mutual distrust, and clashes occurred at times. UNITA especially did not trust Chipenda. It was even feared that he would attempt some sort of coup at Serpa Pinto by attacking the UNITA forces in that town, entering the conflict “as a fourth party”. He could even join the MPLA again. Because of this threat, UNITA was unwilling to withdraw all its soldiers from the Cuando-Cubango in order to concentrate them on the central front. The populace of that district supported UNITA, and UNITA did not want to lose that, especially in view of a possible guerrilla war occurring later. This situation disadvantaged the martial efforts of UNITA and was of concern to South Africa. “Pretoria (meaning the Chief of Staff concerned with operations) specifically emphasized the collaboration between UNITA/FNLA-Chipenda as a politic-military prerequisite to our involvement,“ according to Cmdt. Van der Waals in his much quoted report of early October 1975. This suspected Chipenda-threat eventually dissipated as events pushed the Chipenda issue more and more to the background.

Chipenda suffered from diabetes and was very ill at times.

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3 October: Advance to Norton de Matos

The Serpa Pinto-members of the battle group had been ready to leave since 1 October 1975, but Savimbi was not there yet. Maj. Holtzhausen deemed it necessary to move out under Dr. Savimbi’s banner, because the unconventional presence of foreign soldiers, even under the cover of mercenaries, could lead to serious clashes, even with Portuguese forces. They therefore had to wait for the return of Savimbi. He arrived on the afternoon of 2 October 1975 and decided to accompany Maj. Holtzhausen to personally introduce him to his officers in the field. The battle group left at ten o’clock on the morning of 3 October 1975. It was raining. It was already dark by the time they reached Nova Lisboa, about 140 km from Silva Porto, and moved around it to a milk farm north of the city. A UNITA base was located there. They spent the next day at the base and, among other things, repaired UNITA’s third armoured car which they found there, broken. On Friday evening 3 October 1975 they advanced further, via the Lobito route northwards up to Alto Hama, from where the road to Lobito branches off to the west.

Due to the many roadblocks, progress was slow.

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4 October: Planning before the battle

The night of 3-4 October 1975 the allied battle group advanced up to Alto Hama and then westward in the direction of Norton de Matos to almost Luimbale where they pulled off the road just before daybreak on Saturday 4 October 1975 to find cover in the bush. On the way, the third armoured car broke down again and was abandoned next to the road. Major Lumumba joined them at Luimbale with an infantry battalion. According to Savimbi, he was the most able commander in Central-Angola. The morning of 4 October 1975 saw the battle group advancing up to about 50 kilometres from Norton de Matos (Balombo). The time had come for Major Holtzhauzen to do some proper planning and reconnaissance of the terrain. He only had a roadmap at his disposal which did not show many topographic features. Between him and the enemy there was rumoured to be a UNITA force comprising of three infantry companies, one of which had received commando-training with mortar sections and a 106 mm recoilless gun, in total between 400 and 500 men. No white man had ever seen this force on the parade ground before, and it is also not known to what extend this force participated in the coming battle. The important river crossing across the Caala River, a branch of the Bolombo River, was estimated to be about 5 kilometres from Norton de Matos, but as it turned out, the crossing was actually only 2.8 kilometres from the town.

Major Holtzhausen had received instructions to capture the bridge across the Caala before first light in order to surprise the enemy.

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5 October: Battle of Norton de Matos

Major Holtzhausen decided to let his battle group proceed to move normally before daybreak the next day, Sunday 5 October 1975. It was either still raining or it had started to rain again. At Massano de Amorim, 38 kilometres east of Norton de Matos, the local UNITA infantry under Major Lumumba, joined the battle group. Close to Norton de Matos the road runs uphill against the outcrop of a hill for about 3 kilometres before it turns off to the bridge across the Caala River. As the battle group entered the area, the enemy reconnaissance plane again flew over on its daily flight. It was 07h00. The UNITA-crew of the Land Cruiser leading the advance opened fire with their anti-aircraft gun. Immediately thereafter the enemy fired two flares signals upon which heavy fire were directed at the allied advance route. Rockets, mortar bombs as well as large and small projectiles were literally raining on them. Even the reconnaissance plane was dropping hand grenades on them. This all served to completely demoralise the UNITA infantry. Because of their limited training these soldiers could not be deployed in depth and were advancing in a single line. They jumped off their vehicles and took flight. Within a few minutes the South Africans were alone with only their mortarists and artillerists which remained at their posts and were answering the enemy fire in kind.

The enemy’s first shot against the South African Defence Force was a direct hit. Major Holtzhausen’s command vehicle was hit...

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6 October: After Norton de Matos

The first battle of Norton de Matos had far-reaching consequences on the participation of the South African Defence Force in the war in Angola. It had brought to light that the UNITA-forces (and probably those of the FNLA) were not able to resist FAPLA without assistance. Dr. Savimbi and Maj. Lumumba were both very disappointed in the performance of their soldiers. It was apparent that the MPLA was much stronger than anticipated and that its commanders were able to take advantage of the terrain and apply their weapons effectively. It was also clear that the presence of Cubans, or just the mere suspicion, was enough to cause panic amongst the soldiers of UNITA. After the battle Major Holtzhausen left Major Lumumba and his men in positions east of Norton de Matos and returned to Silva Porto with his 19 South Africans. It was essential for the South Africans to know what was happening on their widely spread out front on a daily basis. The front, if it really could be called a front, stretched around Nova Lisboa in a wide, untidy, and broken half-circle in the northeast, north, west, and southwest. It was rumoured that Nova Lisboa was threatened from the south, west and north by advancing FAPLA-forces. The biggest threat, however, was from the west via the Benguela- and Lobito-routes.

On 6 October 1975, a day after the battle, Rundu was requested to arrange discussions at command level.

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7 October: Discussions at Silva Porto

Because Brigadier Schoeman was ill and in Pretoria at that stage, his second-in-command, Colonel Des Harmse, left for Silva Porto the next day. Here Major Holtzhausen informed him that the MPLA’s armour had not been destroyed in one blow as originally planned. With the view on future operations he demanded armoured protection for the South Africans whose safety was, on the insistence of higher authorities, to be ensured at any cost. He requested the addition of six armoured cars to his force. Because UNITA’s men had performed badly, he suggested that the units guarding the access ways to Nova Lisboa be trained locally. Major Holtzhausen had undertaken to assist with the training of these units, the selection of positions, as well as the preparation of defensive works. There were three fronts that had to be defended. Colonel Harmse also addressed a disappointed Dr. Savimbi, who pointed out the increase in the MPLA’s combat potential during the preceding couple of months. He said that he did not possess the ability to resist the MPLA. It was also necessary to raise the morale of his troops through quick action and obtaining clear victories. He also mentioned that an OAU-delegation was expected in Angola during October to investigate matters locally. It was essential that he should be able to convince the delegation that he held a strong position in Angola in order to prevent the OAU from appointing the MPLA as the sole beneficiary of the Portuguese regime. It was clear to Colonel Harmse that Dr. Savimbi had received too little help to really influence matters.

The SADF personnel that participated in discussions at Silva Porto on 7 October 1975 were convinced that the allied forces on the central front had to be reinforced.

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8 October: Armoured cars needed

Major-General Viljoen and others that visited Silva Porto on 8 October 1975 were also convinced of the necessity of providing more assistance. It was also of prime importance that the few South Africans be better protected during a battle. To supply the demand for armour on the central front would mean an escalation, which required special authorisation. During the first week of October Savimbi seriously considered buying armoured cars. Because such an order could not be delivered before December, he had already asked Brigadier Schoeman on 3 October 1975 to make 6 Eland armoured cars available for his use. However, at that stage it was the policy of South Africa to only act defensively on the central front. Offensive operations were only planned for Southwest-Angola. It is also indicative of South Africa’s limited objectives in Angola, namely that UNITA and FNLA be placed in a position to at the very least compete equally with the MPLA by 11 November 1975. Up to that stage there had been no consideration at all in the RSA for the deployment of armoured cars with South African crews in Angola. That would signify a remarkable increase in South Africa’s involvement.

The matter was therefore discussed with the Minister of Defence, who in turn would present it to the State Security Council. The council, however, could not sit before 14 October 1975...

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9 October: SA armoured cars

From the first week of October 1975, the threat to Nova Lisboa had increased. The last of the Portuguese forces were withdrawn. Maj.-Gen. Viljoen had convinced Holden Roberto on 8 and 9 October to transfer the weapons he had received from the CIA to Central-Angola. While still waiting for permission from higher authority, on 9 October 1975, the Chief of the Army ordered the commanding officer of the Special Service Battalion in Bloemfontein to have a squadron of armoured cars with a complete administrative troop, but without a support troop, ready on 24-hour stand-by. At the same time 81 Technical Stores Depot was instructed to prepare 22 Eland 90 armoured cars for operational duty. Cargo vehicles would be provided at Rundu. On 9 October 1975 the personnel of the squadron was complete and ready to depart. It consisted of the squadron commander Captain G.F. Schoeman, second-in-command Lieutenant C.J. du Raan, two team commanders, five troop commanders, a squadron sergeant-major, quartermaster, transport NCO, clerk, 60 armour crew, seven drivers for cargo trucks, and two chefs. In total there were 82 men.

This squadron took to the road with their vehicles from Bloemfontein on 9 October 1975.

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10 October: Task Force Zulu

Phase 2 of the four-phased South African plan for the provision of assistance to the FNLA and UNITA comprised of the recapture of the south-west corner of Angola, including the cities of Sá da Bandeira (Lubango) and Moçamedes (Namibe). As the training progressed, the forming of a task force with the code name Zulu was initiated as part of this phase. Colonel J.S. (Koos) van Heerden, the commanding officer of 73 Motorised Brigade, and Commandant S.W.J. (Willie) Kotzé were officially informed on the four-phased program on 3 October. Upon his arrival, Colonel van Heerden was told that he had to advance into Angola in command of two battle groups with Commandant Kotzé as his second-in-command. Two commandants would serve under Colonel van Heerden, each in command of a battle group. Battle Group Alpha was placed under the command of Commandant Delville Linford and Battle Group Bravo under Commandant J.D. (Jan) Breytenbach. Only Battle Group Alpha already existed and comprised of the soldiers from Alpha Base which was a Bushman unit in the Caprivi. Commandant Breytenbach’s FNLA soldiers, all trained at Mpupa, were taken up in Task Force Zulu as Battle Group Bravo. Both the battle groups’ black soldiers were under white leadership. On 10 October 1975 Brigadier Schoeman consolidated his forces for the Angola offensive.

The battle groups would be completely equipped with supplies and vehicles NOT of South African origin, or which was at least not recognisable as such.

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11 October: UNITA and the FNLA

On his own initiative, Major Lumumba of UNITA had returned to the enemy positions east of Norton de Matos on 8 October 1975. He found it abandoned and then attacked and occupied the town. The occupation was very brief, however, as on 11 October 1975, FAPLA again captured Norton de Matos with the support of two tanks. This time they prepared ambushes on every approach to the town to prevent a recurrence of the unexpected UNITA attack and then withdrew their armour. After this it went quiet on this front.

On the northern front, the FNLA started to advance from Caxito, southward, during the second week of October 1975. The two rivers, the Dande and the Bengo, had correctly been seen as the most formidable natural obstacles. Therefore the capture of Porto Quipiri, located just south of a bridge across the Dande, was seen as an important first step. Roberto used planes to drop pamphlets over the captured area to persuade the population and especially soldiers to sever their allegiance to the MPLA. On 10 and 11 October 1975, a collaboration committee under the leadership of Johnny Eduardo Pinock (FNLA) and George Sangumba (UNITA) was established at Kinshasa. A four-man delegation of this committee met afterwards in Lova Lisboa (Huambe) in order to coordinate the actions of the two movements.

The inhabitants of Luanda were informed by radio-broadcasts that the fall of the city was imminent...

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12 October: Stopping FAPLA

After the capture of Sá da Bandeira on 30 September, the FAPLA advance along the railway line on the Benguela-route came to a complete halt. Apparently it was decided to rather concentrate on the Lobito-route with its tarred road, rather than attempt using the dirt roads to Robert Williams and further on to Nova Lisboa. By 12 October 1975 the MPLA infantry continued their advance along the Benguela-route with tank support. As to the South Africans, while Battle Group Alpha was being equipped on the Rundu firing range, Battle Group Bravo was moved from Mpupa to Calai for consolidation. After Commandant Kotzé arrived at Rundu on Sunday 12 October 1975, he received a detailed briefing from Colonel van Heerden and instructed to prepare an operational instruction. It was Commandant Kotzé that allocated the name Zulu to the task force. According to journalist Robert Moss the use of names such as Zulu, Alpha and Bravo caused much confusion amongst the Cubans. In order to disguise the fact that South West Africa was the starting point for the operation, it was decided to not aim directly at Pereira de Eça as a first objective from Owambo, but rather to advance along the Cubango (Kavango) River up to Caiundo and from there westward via Nehone to Pereira de Eça (Ongiva).

At Luimbale Major Holtzhausen and his team selected defensive positions which were manned by UNITA soldiers.

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13 October: Training Base Serpa Pinto

About half of the FNLA soldiers at Mpupa were sent on to Serpa Pinto during the beginning of October 1975 where another training base had been established. A group of 270 remained at Mpupa. Their machinegun and mortar training had reached a satisfactory level and the plan was to deploy them operationally early in October 1975. They still urgently needed uniforms and boots though, but this was supplied shortly afterwards. In the meantime, plans to also establish a training base at Serpa Pinto (Menongue) have progressed. For this purpose Kambuta again visited Rundu. A member of the training team and the operations officer were then sent to Serpa Pinto to investigate the possibilities, upon which they selected an old flecha-training camp about seven kilometres south of Serpa Pinto. The camp was speedily occupied by a South African forward team under Maj. J.R. (James) Hills on 13 October 1975. Maj. Frank Bestbier took over the command two days later. By 15 October training of 244 FNLA soldiers, mostly from places like Calai, Serpa Pinto, Mucusso, Cuito Cuanavale and Caiundo in the Cuando-Cubango district, had started. Their training was also focused on infantry tactics with support weapons comprising of machine guns and 3-inch mortars.

Although there had initially been an acute shortage, sufficient weapons, ammunition and combat equipment were soon supplied by plane from Rundu and Ambriz.

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14 October: TF Zulu in Angola

Although armoured cars had already been used in previous operations, such as Operation Sausage, Task Force Zulu, under the command of Colonel J.S. van Heerden, started their advance from Rundu into Angola on 14 October 1975 without any armoured cars. When the task force was assembled, the permission to use armoured cars had not yet been obtained from the Security Council. From Rundu/Calai two roads lead on both sides of the Cubango River up to Katuitui. At 14h00 on 14 October 1975 the task force departed from Rundu while the component of Battle Group Bravo already at Calai departed from there; the first-mentioned along the left bank and the last-mentioned along the right bank of the river northward. At Katuitui was a refugee camp. Despite the secrecy, the Portuguese refugees flocked to both sides of the road at 22h00 to cheer the task farce as liberators of Angola. Five kilometres after Katuitui the roads merged and after Battle Group Bravo also reached that point, the entire task force spent the night right there on the road.

There were no technical service personnel available to do any repairs.

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15 October: Revision of strategy

Northeast of Nova Lisboa there was an MPLA headquarters at Malanje, which was a strategic point on the easternmost stretches of the railway line from Luanda. From here, the MPLA controlled all the terrain southeast to Sautar, 150 kilometres north of the Benguela railway. By 15 October 1975, they also held Chindumba and Salola, about 50 kilometres east of General Machado (Camacupa) and close to the Benguela-railway line. To the east was the capital of the Lunda-district, Henrique de Carvalho (Saurimo), also an MPLA base which controlled towns north of the railway line in Eastern-Angola. On this front the UNITA soldiers were under Commandante Chivale who was in command of three infantry battalions. The fist battle of Norton de Matos (Balombo) had shown that the enemy was stronger and that the RSA personnel were in much greater danger than previously suspected. The situation was explained to the State Security Council on 14 October 1975 by Maj.-Gen. Viljoen. He held the opinion that Phase 1 of the allied plan was under threat of failure if the combat units were not reinforced. The State Security Council agreed that armoured cars and mortars could also be taken into Angola, but with the condition that the South African origin of the equipment not be able to be determined.

Approval was also given for the continuation of flights of the South African Air Force to collect weapons in Kinshasa for distribution among UNITA and FNLA forces.

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16 October: Problems at Caiundo

From Katuitui to Caiundo the road follows the right bank of the river. This road had still not been completed by 1975. There was a particularly bad stretch of road about six kilometres long on the other side of Savate about which Major Kandanda, the UNITA commander at Serpo Pinto, had warned the Rundu personnel. It took the Task Force Zulu convoy three hours to move past that stretch of the road. Colonel van Heerden found a road grader at an abandoned road works with which the vegetable trucks were pulled out of the sand. They reached Caiundu at midnight on 15 October 1975. To travel from Qaiundo to Pereirra de Eça westwards via Nehone using a road that was indicated on the maps as still being under construction, seemed out of the question. Colonel van Heerden first sent out Commandant Linford with his Land Rover to reconnoitre the road. After Linford had ploughed 60 to 70 kilometres through thick sand, he returned with the news that it would be impossible to pass through that way. Upon hearing this, Colonel van Heerden unsuccessfully tried to communicate with Rundu via radio and by the afternoon, on the recommendation of Major Kandanda, the convoy moved further northward to go to Pereirra de Eça (Ongiva) via Serpa Pinto (Menongue) and Artur de Paiva. At Rundu, every radio message from Task Force Zulu was eagerly anticipated, to be then immediately forwarded to Pretoria where a small group of knowledgeable people studied every piece of news.

Brigadier Schoeman, however, had to go to bed that night without having any idea of what happened to Task Force Zulu.

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17 October: The UNITA Training

During the short period between 1 and 15 October 1975, training were provided in basic attack- and defence-techniques which included shooting, support weapon training, infantry training, artillery training and limited explosives handling. Furthermore, exercises involving the merging of infantry and armour were also done. The Capolo base had a wide variety of weapons. Some were so foreign that the training team had to first disassemble them in order to establish how they work before they could train the recruits on their use. There was a shortage of small arms because those which were available had been issued to the fighting soldiers. Some recruits thus had to practice with sticks, and the first group was only issued with rifles three days before their departure to the front. Many of the weapons were poorly maintained and rusted. There were problems with food for the training team until ration packs were received from South Africa about a week later. The local staple diet of meat and maize porridge, with an acute shortage of fruit, bread, butter, jam and milk, did not appeal to them. Language issues also caused problems. Very few recruits could speak English, a group Portuguese, while the rest could only speak Umbundu. Many recruits only then had their first experience with rifle fire. Some fled after the first shot. There was a big age difference among them, from old men to young boys. They were physically not strong due to under nourishment. 40 percent of them suffered from tuberculosis. Still, the training progressed well, and UNITA leaders were satisfied with the quality of the training. After 14 days, the first company’s training was complete on 15 October 1975, and two days later, another three.

There were now two offensive and two defensive companies with one 81mm mortar platoon, one 60 mm mortar platoon, and the crew for one 106 mm gun, ready for the war.


 

17 October: Artur de Paiva to Evale

On 17 October 1975 the advance to Pereira de Eça was resumed via a road that led directly southward. Battle Group Bravo, under Commandant Breytenbach, was in front. About 67 kilometres from Cassinga the task force could not be sure whether they were in enemy or friendly territory. Even the UNITA forces here were not friendly. According to Major Kandanda, the UNITA-leader, Dr. Vakulukuta Kashana, would have joined Task Force Zulu in the vicinity of Nehone with 400 men, but this did not happen. By dusk that evening, 73 kilometres further, near Cuvelai, a UNITA-representative approached them and informed them that his chefe would like to talk to them in the quartel (soldiers’ barracks) of the town. The street lights were on. The town comprised of only a few houses on either side of the road. Commandant Breytenbach waited on the appearance of the chefe that had wanted to talk to him in front of the quartel with a platoon of infantry and a 3-inch mortar section. Suddenly they were fired upon from the quartel. The FNLA-section, under fire for the first time, responded with mortar fire. Within minutes the quartel was on fire and about 60 UNITA traitors were fleeing from the scene. The task force remained at the quartel for the night after barbecuing some meat.

Colonel van Heerden signalled Rundu: “First elements were attacked by UNITA upon arrival. Compliments returned. No losses”.

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18 October: Ambushes at Evale

Task Force Zulu advanced further on the morning of 18 October 1975, despite the little intelligence received from Rundu according to which, the enemy were present in unknown strength west of Evale. In reality the enemy was already encountered at the little town of Mupa, 42 kilometres before Evale. There were about 12 men all of which fled quickly. Ten kilometres further an antitank rocket launcher fired on them from a kraal next to the road. The first shot missed, but the second struck the Land Rover of Lieutenant J.C. van Wyk, which was in front. Fortunately the projectile did not explode. A small firefight erupted between the advance party and the enemy. A few MPLA soldiers were killed and the rest fled the scene. Not even five kilometres further, at 16h00, they ran into another ambush launched from better positions and with more men. Again the task force was fired upon by antitank rocket launchers, which, with it’s seemingly airburst-effect, had a demoralising effect on the infantry. The resistance at this second ambush was stronger and the firefight continued for three-and-an-half hours. Battle Group Bravo’s mortar group went into action, but could not prevent Lieutenant van Wyk’s Land Rover from being cut off by the enemy. A desperate fight ensued before the enemy, leaving behind three dead, again fled the scene.

For his actions on this day and later, 2Lt van Wyk received the Honoris Crux-decoration in 1976.

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19 October: Pereira de Eça captured

On Sunday, 19 October 1975, Task Force Zulu advanced via Anhanca where resistance had been expected, but nothing happened, up to five kilometres from Pereira de Eça where they occupied a temporary laager area in the bush. Battle Group Bravo was ordered to capture the northern half of Pereira de Eça, including the neighbouring slums (kimbo), but without its machinegun section. The capture of the southern half was entrusted to Battle Group Alpha. A platoon of Battle Group Alpha went southward to move around the town with Battle Group Bravo’s machinegun section to act as blocking force on the main road to Roçades. The attack commenced at 13h15. The enemy fled, but the blocking force was delayed so much that they could not deploy on the road to Roçades (Xangongo) in time. By 16h00 the quartel west of the town had also been captured and the battle was over. While Task Force Zulu had been expecting a defending force of between 300 and 400 men in Pereira de Eça, they had encountered only between 100 and 150.

Thus Pereira de Eça, or “Papa Des”, as the South Africans called it, was captured for a second time by South African forces.

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20 October: The capture of Roçades

It had been envisioned that the South African forces stationed at Calueque-Ruacana could be used as a blocking force to stop refugees from Fort Roçades. A force comprising of a white company of 2 South African Infantry Battalion Group under Major Chris Prinsloo, three armoured car troops with a squadron headquarters under Major Antoon Slabbert, and a mortar group of four 81 mm mortars under Staff-Sergeant Gush, all from 2 South African Infantry Battalion Group, could be utilised. The Commanding Officer, Commandant du Toit, was under the impression that it was expected of him to capture Roçades with this force, and afterwards advance towards Sá de Bandeira. He was given no information about Task Force Zulu’s advance at all. Brigadier Schoeman’s initial planning was that Roçades would be attacked on 18 October. Commandant du Toit was not informed of the delay that had occurred in the advance of Task Force Zulu and, following his original orders, he assembled his forces at 21h00 on 17 October at the assembly area at Calueque. He moved the force to Naulila during the night and decided to attack Fort Roçades with his own force and capture the airfield after he received the long-awaited code-word, “Gryp hom! (Grab him!)” from Brigadier Schoeman at 13h00 on 20 October 1975. The attack was so unexpected that no attempt at defence was made. The enemy fled to the town in alarm. Within an hour everything was over and the airfield captured.

When Task Force Zulu arrived at Roçades they were surprised to find that the town had already been captured by elements of 2 South African Infantry Battalion.

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21 October: Operation Liberdade

Northeast of Nova Lisboa there was an MPLA headquarters at Malanje, which was a strategic point on the easternmost stretches of the railway line from Luanda. From here, the MPLA controlled all the terrain southeast to Sautar, 150 kilometres north of the Benguela railway. By 15 October 1975, they also held Chindumba and Salola, about 50 kilometres east of General Machado (Camacupa) and close to the Benguela-railway line. To the east was the capital of the Lunda-district, Henrique de Carvalho (Saurimo), also an MPLA base which controlled towns north of the railway line in Eastern-Angola. On this front the UNITA soldiers were under Commandante Chivale who was in command of three infantry battalions. On 21 October 195, UNITA intercepted a radio message in which the Malanje headquarters complained to the high command in Luanda that their position was critical in several places. Sautar and Mussende, south of Malanje, and Montalegre, Marimba and Cateco-Cangola, north of Malanje, were mentioned. Whether it was a perceived military threat or a logistical shortage causing the critical situation could not be established. UNITA took the opportunity presented by this FAPLA embarrassment to launch an offensive in that direction which was known as Operation Liberdade. MPLA forward posts at Cariango and Pombuige was successfully attacked and Mussende captured.

With limited means at their disposal, the FNLA and UNITA also occupied various towns northwest of Nova Lisboa in the vicinity of Gabela, Vila Nova do Seles and Quibala.

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22 October: João de Almeida captured

In the meantime the State Security Council had approved the use of armoured cars. Brigadier Schoeman ordered Commandant du Toit to transfer his armoured car squadron and his mortar group to Task Force Zulu. Reinforced by the armoured car squadron, a mortar group comprising of four 81 mm mortars and the group of Portuguese freedom fighters, the task force resumed its advance to Sá Bandeira on 21 October 1975. The population density around Sá de Bandeira was higher with many small towns. One of these, João de Almeida, was the first town on the road in front of Task Force Zulu’s advance. The SADF had learned that there were Cuban instructors as well as FRELIMO soldiers from Mozambique with the FAPLA-forces, although it could not be determined exactly where. Despite receiving reports about the task force from Roçades (Xangongo), the enemy at João de Almeida was still caught off guard because the armoured cars, in its traditional reconnaissance role, increased the mobility of the task force. The next morning 22 October 1975,Task Force Zulu resumed the advance at 09h30, again with Battle Group Bravo in front. Some kilometres in front of João de Almeida, a few MPLA soldiers were surprised at 13h00 and were chased away. In the town another few were caught off guard at the railway station. They fled, leaving plates of food already dished up and pots of soup steaming on the fire.

By 15h00 João de Almeida had been captured by Task Force Zulu.

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23 October: Jau, Humpata and Km16

Colonel van Heerden heard from refugees that there were also MPLA forces present in Jau and Humpata, to the left of the main route. He therefore ordered Battle Group Alpha to, immediately after the capture of João de Almeida, advance further with two troops of armoured cars and to clear the enemy from the mentioned towns before joining the main force again for the attack on Sá de Bandeira on 23 October 1975. Battle Group Alpha, under the command of Command Linford, immediately moved out in accordance to their orders. At Jau the enemy was once again surprised. Very light resistance was encountered with FAPLA losing one killed and three wounded without any losses to the battle group. At Humpata, where they arrived at 17h05, resistance was stronger. The fight for possession of the town lasted through the night. Three of the enemy were killed, four wounded and one captured, while two Bushmen of the battle group were wounded. While Battle Group Bravo, with the task force headquarters in the rear, advanced up the main road to Sá de Bandeira on the morning of 23 October, they encountered a number of ambushes. The hilly terrain and excavations through which the road led at several places provided ample opportunity for well-laid ambushes manned by infantry and light anti-tank guns. After the initial strong resistance though, the enemy fled, leaving behind two 82 mm recoilless guns with ammunition as well as a 122 mm single-barrel rocket launcher with five projectiles.

This was the South Africans’ first encounter with this Russian-made weapon, the so-called “Red-Eye”, which played such a prominent role in later clashes.

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24 October: Sá de Bandeira captured

After the news of the advance of Task Force Zulu became known in Luanda, the MPLA’s upper command ordered Sá de Bandeira to defend the town on every possible front. Luanda ordered that Moçamedes should despatch armoured vehicles to Sá de Bandeira. Moçamedes, also, had contacted Luanda on the morning of 23 October 1975 and requested that heavy weapons, bazookas, 60 mm-, 82 mm-, and 120 mm mortars immediately be sent to FAPLA’s Front 2 in the south of Angola. The commanders of Sá de Bandeira had decided to defend the airport for as long as possible in order to be able to receive the reinforcements expected, then fall back to an assembly area, from where a coordinated counter-attack could be launched. Colonel van Heerden had learned that there were 122 mm multiple rocket launchers and artillery deployed on Monte Christo, from where all access roads to the city could be covered. There were also rumoured to be FAPLA bases and minefields around the city. As the armoured cars were attacking the airport at 15h00, the large four-engine aircraft laden with weapons from Luanda was just making its approach, but as soon as it noticed that things were not exactly right, it rerouted to Moçamedes in great haste. This was the cargo of weapons which was already expected by 13h00. With the airport taken, there were still three more targets that had to be captured. It was Monte Christo, the city itself, and the military bases. On the morning of Friday 24 October 1975, Battle Group Bravo attacked and captured the last objective, the old Portuguese infantry quartel.

After they had cleared the city, the excited ELP allies made the following broadcast over Radio Sá de Bandeira on 24 October: “We have been liberated by the South Africans!” This came as a severe blow to South African secrecy.

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25 October: To Hoque and Cacula

On 25 October a message was received at Sá de Bandeira that fighting had erupted between the FNLA- and FAPLA-forces in Moçamedes. The many bodies that the task force found next to the road to Porto Alexandre bore witness to this. Apparently the FNLA-forces had obtained the initiative, because after this they started preparing to defend the port and deployed three guns at the entrance to the town. On the morning of 25 October 1975, Major Slabbert was sent out on the road to the north in command of a company of Bravo infantry under Captain Dippenaar and two troops of armoured cars. They surprised the enemy near Hoque, about halfway to Cacula. There they destroyed two trucks, killing four FAPLA soldiers and capturing another four. Only a brown light truck managed to escape towards Cacula. Further on the road to Cacula, the enemy displayed a bit more initiative by allowing the armoured cars to first pass through their position before attacking the infantry. However, before a counter-attack could be launched, the enemy fled. In Cacula itself, the combat team only encountered a single lost MPLA supporter, as the inhabitants had probably been alerted by the occupants of the brown light truck.

The presence of Cubans with the FAPLA forces in Moçamedes was reported.

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25 October: Battle Group Foxbat

Early on the morning of 25 October 1975, Major Chindondo, Savimbi’s Chief of Staff, woke up Commandant van der Waals with the news of a large MPLA-offensive. Reports were streaming in and caused some panic. The enemy had apparently already captured Norton de Matos on the Lobito-route with three armoured cars and two tanks while another FAPLA-force with nine armoured cars from the north had already advanced to 14 kilometres north of Santa Comba. Whether there really were armoured cars or tanks (lagarta means tracked) with the attacking forces, the mere rumour was enough to cause panic among the UNITA- and FNLA-units. Commandant van der Waals despatched Major Holtzhausen and Captain Holm to personally investigate the situation on the morning of 25 October and placed Battle Group Foxbat on a ready footing. The force that assembled and stood ready for departure at Silva Porto on the evening of 25 October 1975 comprised of three companies of UNITA infantry which had been trained by white personnel, 22 Eland 90 armoured cars with white crews under command of Captain G.F. (George) Schoeman, two 106 mm recoilless guns, one of which was crewed by two South Africans, four 81 mm mortars, three vehicles with missile launchers and four 12.7 mm Browning machineguns crewed by black soldiers.

Major D.P. (Pieter) van Nierop managed Commandant Webb’s logistical headquarters at Nova Lisboa while Commandant van der Waals manned the back-link at Silva Porto.

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25 October: Foxbat captures Luimbale

On Saturday 25 October 1975 Battle Group Foxbat moved to an assembly area at Silva Porto. The plan was to advance along the road via Bela Vista and Teixeira da Silva (Bailundu) to Alto Hama where Commandant Webb would first make an appreciation of the enemy threat. At 14h00 Commandant Webb was at Silva Porto and at 17h00 an order group was held after which Battle Group Foxbat departed from Silva Porto at 19h00. Only a roadmap, of which Rundu had made photocopies, was available to the battle group. That night laager positions were occupied at the bridge across the Queve River just east of Alto Hama, and early the next morning Commandant Webb moved away from the road and approached the town from the south. There he was informed that Luimbale had been captured by 250 FAPLA-infantry, two tanks and three armoured cars just the previous day. He then sent out three troops of armoured cars, supported by UNITA infantry, to engage and destroy the enemy armour. In front of the bridge at the town the armoured cars occupied positions in a half-circle on the high ground just north of the road. They then fired two shot at the town. The enemy did not hesitate and charged straight into their positions with their armoured cars. From distances as close as 75 paces the so-called tanks were neutralised by the 90mm main weapon of the Eland armoured cars while the missile launchers and the 106mm gun also opened fire. After this the UNITA-infantry took the town. Ten FAPLA soldiers had fallen, among which six were of the Cuban armoured car crews.

The destroyed vehicles were two armoured personnel carriers and one amphibious armoured reconnaissance vehicle.

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25 October: The Northern Front

Roberto had announced his intention to attack Luanda via radio-broadcasts. It was perhaps his intention that the attack should coincide with Operation Felisidade, which was launched on the central front against Quibala. However, by 24 October 1975, it was clear that neither operation had been viable. By that time Luanda was well defended. The enemy made use of long-range weapons of large calibre which provided good overhead cover for their own forces. Their fire was also brought down very accurately on ELNA’s attacking force of about 3 500 men, who managed to advance to within 14 kilometres of the city, but then had to retreat back to Quifangondo. On 25 October, FAPLA followed up on their successes and drove ELNA back across the Bengo River. Roberto viewed this as only a temporary setback, but continued to believe in the FNLA capturing Luanda. This, to him, remained his key to success. When Maj.-Gen. Viljoen visited him at Ambriz on Saturday, 25 October 1975, he was very despondent. He claimed that his soldiers were poorly trained and his weapons inadequate. He had, on occasion, requested ground-to-ground missiles and 88 mm guns from South Africa.

Roberto even considered a plan to infiltrate 500 men, specially trained for it by Chinese instructors, into Luanda in order to undermine the defence of the city.

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26 October: South Africa in Angola!

In October 1975 thousands of South African troops, along with mercenaries and UNITA and FNLA forces, launched a massive assault aimed at Luanda. The South African invasion from the south, coordinated in advance with the US, complemented the FNLA and Zaire offensive from the north. It was this combined threat that led the MPLA to call for large scale assistance from Cuba. Cuba airlifted thousands of troops to Angola to help repel the attack. As the covert South African role was revealed, African opinion rallied to the side of the MPLA and US public opinion pushed Congress to curb CIA involvement in Angola with passage of the Clark amendment. In March 1976, South Africa, feeling betrayed by Washington, would withdraw the main body of its troops from Angola. [Operation Timber p.24]

In subsequent months almost every country in the world recognized the MPLA-led People's Republic of Angola. But the US joined South Africa in refusing to accept its legitimacy…


 

27 October: The Central Front

Various factors had prevented Commandant Webb from also making a rapid advance in a specific direction with one victory following another. Radio silence that had been maintained from his rear link in order to keep the exact position and strength of his force secret unfortunately also left Silva Porto, Rundu and Pretoria unaware of the latest developments. Thus the Defence Headquarters in Pretoria only received the message about the battle of Luimbale on 28 October 1975, two whole days after the battle! Battle Group Foxbat was still threatened from at least three different directions. From the east it was the Benguela- and Lobito routes and from the north the main road from Luanda via Quibala and Santa Comba, which joined the Lobito road at Alto Hama. Commandant Webb felt it necessary to repeatedly fall back to Alto Hama, and even later, to Texeira da Silva, about 23 kilometres further east. Unlike Task Force Zulu, Battle Group Foxbat had no white commanders among the black infantry, limited its striking power. Orders to prevent any casualties among the South Africans due to the level of secrecy made it necessary to be very cautious, which led to ammunition being wasted needlessly. Targets were often fired upon just to make sure that the enemy was not hiding there, as was the case during the attack on Massano de Amorim on 27 October 1975. After eliciting no response to the firing, it was established that there were in fact no enemy elements.

The back and forth movement of a convoy of so many vehicles also led to excessive consumption of fuel stocks.

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28 October: Moçamedes captured

Despite being located in a barren region, Moçamedes (Namibe) had developed into the most important port in Southern Angola because of its railway link to Sá de Bandeira and further east up to Serpa Pinto (Menongue). Up to that stage, the port itself had not been too adversely affected by the civil war. Colonel van Heerden had thought it essential to capture Moçamedes before resuming his offensive further to the north. That way he could prevent reinforcements from arriving by sea behind his back. He therefore planned a quick assault against the FAPLA-forces in Moçamedes. On the morning of 27 October 1975, Task Force Zulu started its advance on Moçamedes. A battle group was sent along each of the two routes with Bravo following the route via Vila Arriaga and Alpha following the route via Humpata. The arrangement was that the two battle groups would meet each other at Caracula, about 60 kilometres before Moçamedes, but when Colonel van Heerden arrived with Battle Group Alpha there was still no sign of Battle Group Bravo. Battle Group Alpha occupied laager positions about two kilometres away from their objective. Finally Battle Group Bravo arrived and joined the rest of the task force in the laager area. The only resistance that the task force encountered on 28 October 1975 worth mentioning was from a small group of FAPLA-soldiers defending the airport.

During the occupation of the town ten MPLA supporters were captured and many weapons and lots of ammunition seized. By 09h00 on 28 October Moçamedes was in allied hands.

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29 October: On to Santa Comba!

Early the morning of Wednesday 29 October, Commandant Webb sent out his second-in-command, Major Holtzhausen, with a combat team to the north in order to reinforce a company of infantry deployed at that position on the front. He was accompanied by Warrant Officer J.J. Lotheringen with a 106mm recoilless gun, a mortar, two Eland-90 armoured cars, as well as two companies of UNITA infantry. Just before the bridge over the Queve River, later called Bridge 25 because it was located 25 kilometres away from Santa Comba, Major Holtzhausen found terrain suitable for defensive positions. While they were still busy occupying the positions, a Jeep with two UNITA reconnaissance troops arrived from the north with the news that FAPLA units had fired upon them. The firing had been heard by the combat team. They initially ignored it until a reconnaissance force, comprising of (as far as it could be established), three soft skin vehicles, appeared north of the river at 13h30. As soon as they entered the killing zone of the recoilless gun, they were fired upon and one vehicle was immediately knocked out. The enemy deployed, but by 15h30 the battle was over. After the enemy disappeared with their wounded and everything, Major Holtzhausen ordered his infantry to clear up the battlefield.

Major Holtzhausen discovered the body of a Cuban with the rank of Colonel on his camouflage jacket — he had been the victim of a mortar bomb.

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30 October: FAPLA driven back

On 30 October 1975 the MPLA announced that Moçamedes had been captured by South Africans and ELP-supporters. Captain George Schoeman had been placed in command of a combat team of Battle Group Foxbat in order to reinforce UNITA along the Benguela route. At 15h00 on Wednesday 29 October 1975, he had departed with three troops of armoured cars from Alto Hama to reach Longonjo, located on the Bengueala railway line, at 18h30. Up to Robert Williams (named after the man that built the railway line) it went well, but from there on the road deteriorated so much that four armoured cars were involved in accidents and one’s left suspension was damaged so much that it had to be left behind. By 02h00 in the early morning hours of 30 October the support weapons under Staff-Sergeant Steenkamp joined the armoured cars at Longonjo and the advance was resumed at first light. Near the railway station Chengo, eight kilometres east of Cuma, the combat team encountered an enemy ammunition vehicle at 09h30 from which the crew tried to escape. The vehicle was destroyed with a mortar bomb. After this incident, Cuma was captured without encountering much resistance only hours after UNITA had been driven out by FAPLA. At 18h00 the advance was resumed and the night spent on the way. At 11h37 on 30 October 1975, Benguela reported the loss of Norton de Matos to Luanda. The Norton de Matos battlefield was thoroughly searched, and Commandant Web left a holding force in the town, returning with his combat team to Teixeira da Silva.

Their defeat was due to the fact that “the primos (literally meaning cousins) had run away”. Again, they urgently requested bichos (armoured cars).

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31 October: Withdrawal plans

Up to a very late stage it was still generally accepted that the South African Defence Force would withdraw from Angola before 11 November 1975. For this reason, for example, Brigadier Schoeman had received orders on 31 October to finalise the planning for the eventual withdrawal from Angola. While Maj.-Gen. Viljoen was at Silva Porto (Bié) for discussions with Savimbi on 31 October 1975, he ordered Commandant van der Waals to prepare a withdrawal plan for the training team and Battle Group Foxbat. The plane was further discussed with Brigadier J.J Geldenhuys and Colonel I. Gleeson and afterwards even the approval for the project obtained from Dr Savimbi. With regards to Task Force Zulu, it was initially assumed that the force would be strong enough to fight its way through to South West Africa, if necessary. When the Task Force was in the vicinity of Benguela, 800 kilometres from the border during November, it was feared that the enemy would insert a strong cut-off force behind the task force from somewhere along the coastline. At this stage the assistance of the South Africa Navy was called for. A frigate was ordered to sail in the direction of Angola to support ground forces and, if required, also provide fire-support.

The SAS President Kruger sailed for the Cunene-estuary where further orders would be awaited. After this, a representative of the Navy also attended the conferences at Defence Headquarters.

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1 November: FNLA to attack FAPLA

Holden Roberto started preparations for a renewed onslaught on Luanda. He received another 500 soldiers from Zaire, under the command Col. Mamima. They arrived at Ambriz by plane. He again approached South Africa for uniforms and socks for these ZAIWA-soldiers. He also needed 300 metres of illumination flares as well as mortar ammunition. On 1 November 1975, a plane delivered 5 400 kilograms of rations and equipment at Ambriz. Included were pairs of pants, shirts, bush hats, leather waist belts, and socks for 500 men. Roberto also requested heavier guns, which were not available at that stage. Roberto suggested to Maj.-Gen. Viljoen that he would attack Luanda on three fronts. He wanted to threaten Luanda from the sea, from the north over Quifangondo, and from the east. For the first one, Roberto’s “navy” would not be sufficient. His second plan of attack was also rejected by Maj.-Gen. Viljoen, because the general reasonably suspected that the MPLA had already prepared good defensive works around Quifangondo. Roberto did not possess weaponry that could take on the Russian weapons of the MPLA. For the planned attack from the east, Roberto would rely on his forces deployed at Carmona (Uige) and Negage, opposite Malanje, but unfortunately his artillery which were deployed on this front had been withdrawn for his first attack on Luanda of 24 and 25 October. His force of 2 000 men at Carmona were also threatened by FAPLA. On the Negage-front, ELNA had experienced some successes over the past few weeks of October by driving FAPLA southward. A signal was even received that Lucala was captured by ELNA. But Malanje had resisted the combined onslaught of the FNLA and UNITA.

Lastly, only the possibility of an attack from the north remained.

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1 November: An HQ at Catengue

BG Alpha resumed their advance towards Chongoroi, which was about 60 km further, on the morning of 1 Nov 1975. This town was also not defended. The inhabitants divulged that the enemy were occupying well-prepared positions at the Coporolo River 21 km to the north of the town and that they had prepared the bridge across the river for demolition. With this knowledge a reconnaissance team of BG Alpha and armoured cars departed towards the bridge early on the morning of 1 Nov 1975. At a bend in the road, just as it descended towards the bridge, Cmdt Linford in the front armoured car spotted the bridge and told the driver to move back. The bridge area was then observed from the Serra do Uco hill which was on the right side of the road. Informed about the enemy positions by the recce team, Col van Heerden started planning the attack. It was designed to attempt to capture the bridge before it could be damaged. BG Alpha, accompanied by Cmdt Kotzé, was sent out to outflank the position from the west. But for them it turned into a tiring and frustrating day, during which they got lost and were unable to locate a drift that had been identified. The complex manoeuvre was unnecessary. The enemy did not respond to the advancing BG Bravo’s fire and by 14h00 Col van Heerden and Maj Dries van Coller approached the bridge on foot and found it undefended. Stacks of explosives had been placed against the pillars, but the wiring that was to set it off were not connected. While a protection element under Maj Bestbier remained, BG Bravo advanced further and occupied a laager area about eight km south of Catengue. Here a very weary BG Alpha joined them later.

The enemy had fled earlier and have taken all their heavy weapons with them...

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2 November: On to Alto Hama

At 11h45 on the morning of 2 November 1975, Commandant Webb received instructions to advance on the Lobito-route as fast as he possibly can and with as much of Battle Group Foxbat as he could spare. He was also not to allow the armoured cars to spend more than one night at the same laager position. By order of Brigadier Schoeman, Commandant Webb therefore sent out a combat team on the Lobito-route under the command of Major Holtzhausen. The combat team comprised of two companies of UNITA-infantry, two recoilless 106mm guns, four 81mm and two 107mm mortars, four Browning machineguns, three troops of armoured cars under the command of Captain George Schoeman, and two luxury busses to transport the infantry. One troop of armoured cars, three rocket-launchers, two infantry platoons, and local companies of UNITA-soldiers were left behind under Captain Holm. The combat team had already progressed to a hide 12 kilometres west of Alto Hama by 22h00 on Sunday night, 2 November 1975, where they stayed the night.

Here Cmdt Webb remained behind with the supplies and one platoon of UNITA-soldiers to protect the headquarters.

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2 November: Fighting at Catengue

B Company, under Captain Jack Dippenaar, and with some armoured cars, was ordered to secure the high ground northwest of the town in the direction of Benguela. The road here ran over three lengthy hills of which the last was the highest. The hills were separated by tributaries of the Catengue River. At 09h10 on the morning of 2 November 1975, the combat team moved unmolested across the first tributary, then over the next hill and tributary, and down to the third tributary at the foot of the last low hill. Suddenly, they drew fire from enemy artillery. The infantry immediately fled into the bush towards Catengue, and the armoured cars had to pull back to get reinforcements. Only by 18h00 and after four attacks on the enemy positions, did the FAPLA infantry finally break, abandoning their positions.

The stronger resistance of the enemy was a clear indication of what still lay ahead. It would not be easy...

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3 November: The Battle at Caluita

This time, no enemy forces were encountered at Norton de Matos by the Foxbat combat team on 3 November 1975. About 16 kilometres further, near Caluita, the front troop armoured cars halted a few hundred metres short of a dry riverbed just astern of a road excavation. On own initiative, a Portuguese driver moved ahead into the excavation with one of the UNITA armoured cars, right into the killing zone of an enemy ambush. The enemy opened fire with 82mm recoilless guns deployed west of the dry riverbed. The crew quickly abandoned their vehicle, seeking cover in a ditch next to the road, and using the ditch, reached safety. This revealed the enemy position and saved the entire combat team from being caught the ambush. The enemy was well dug in on high ground opposite the combat team. An initial attempt by the UNITA infantry to attack across the open ground to the right of the road failed. the combat team’s mortars deployed to the rear and protected by four Eland 90 armoured cars, eight Eland 60 armoured cars took firing positions with four on either side of the road. The fight was resumed at the short range of only 500 metres. Captain Schoeman later redeployed his armoured cars to higher ground from where they were able to fire directly into the enemy trenches. The armoured cars used their machine guns and airburst shells on the enemy infantry and gun-positions, and at a range of 250 metres, finally won the day. The enemy took flight and the UNITA infantry moved in to clear the battlefield.

The Cubans themselves seldom surrendered and simply fought on until killed.

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4 November: Monte Belo occupied

After the battle at Caluita, Battle Group Foxbat slowly advanced further while searching the area, in the process capturing another 50 or so MPLA-members. At Monte Belo, barely 20 kilometres further, a platoon of FAPLA infantry resisted vehemently for a short period, before fleeing. Here the battle group spent the night as well as the next day, 4 November 1975, while recovering the captured weapons of the previous day. After a meeting between Savimbi and Roberto on 2 November 1975 a joint declaration was made by both Roberto and Savimbi on 4 November 1975. Herewith they had undertaken to accept 11 November as the date of Angolan liberation and that both the FNLA and UNITA would send delegations to the OAU-conference at Kampala to try and find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Before that occurred, there would be no cease-fire.

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5 November: Britain and Angola

Although it cannot conclusively be proven that Britain had indeed been supporting one or other movement in Angola, there were loads of interest in the media, government and opposition, and sympathies were, as could be expected, diverse. The Labour government of Premier Harold Wilson disapproved of interference in Angola and preferred to remain neutral. Even the British media took a rather neutral point of view when the presence of so-called South African “mercenaries” in Angola became known in October 1975. On 5 November 1975, David Ennais of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs again emphasised in parliament that his government was against interference in Angola.

The Opposition insisted that Britain should play a more active pro-South African role and condemned Russian colonialism in Africa...

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5 November: Sousa Lara occupied

Battle Group Foxbat cautiously started to advance further on 5 November. Major Holtzhausen was acutely aware that they were penetrating deeper into enemy territory, and further away from the relative safety of Nova Lisboa and Silva Porto. He continually took measures to counter possible attacks on either flank or rear. At a road-junction about 20 kilometres before Sousa Lara they encountered a number of MPLA refugees from Cubal, which had been captured by Task Force Zulu the day before after a brief clash. On the day before, Luanda had announced that FAPLA had evacuated Sousa-Lara after heavy fighting with UNITA-forces north-east of the town. There was no resistance when the battle group entered the town. The MPLA flag was still dangling from the flagpole but the enemy had faded away, even from a series of well-prepared positions in the mountains around the town.

A large number of weapons and food were captured here, which were very welcome.

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6 November: Cut-off force Foxbat

On 6 November 1975, forewarned by the residents of Sousa Lara of the many mines laid by the enemy on the road, Battle Group Foxbat cautiously resumed its advance to Lobito in order to cut off FAPLA-members fleeing along the coast from Task Force Zulu. An ambush was laid on both sides of the road and on both sides of a junction. Directly east of the ambush site there was a road works excavation in a hillside where the enemy had laid mines. The battle group had barely occupied their positions for the ambush on the morning of 6 November when the first vehicles from Lobito approached. Commandant Webb gave the order that the approaching traffic be fired at with the assumption that all oncoming traffic would belong to the MPLA. Weapons were indeed found in all the approaching vehicles and it was clear that this was part of the enemy force fleeing north from Lobito. A massive Russian-manufactured truck with a lot of equipment was also captured. Amongst those killed were two people without identity documents. They appeared to be Cuban, and a bag filled with rolls of escudos (one-thousand per roll) was found as well.

On this first day of the ambush eighteen enemy vehicles were destroyed or captured.

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7 November: Luanda attacked!

Roberto’s attack only started on the night of the 6th and early the morning of the 7th of November 1975, with the Portuguese unit of Colonel Santos e Castro, the Comandos Espciaes, in front on three Zairian armoured cars. They advanced up to the bridge at the Panquila-lake. On the narrow road running between the swamps, the Corredor da Morta, or corridor-of-death, as Santos e Costra called it, they were driven back with huge losses by the MPLA’s long-distance weapons. ELNA’s long-distance weapons were insufficient. They only had 120 mm mortars, which were without ammunition. A Call for assistance was again directed at South Africa. On 6 November 1975, Maj.-Gen. Viljoen was again at Ambriz. He was accompanied by Brig. de W. Roos who had to conduct a proper assessment of the military situation. By this time the CIA planners also realized that more assistance had to be provided. A weird situation developed, however, due to the big successes the allies had during the previous two weeks, the CIA could not comprehend that the tide was turning. Apparently, only John Stockwell realised this. He insisted on a large-scale increase in CIA-assistance in the form of money, rifles, anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles, advisors, and even planes for tactical use.

But it was left to the SADF to recover the situation Roberto had created...

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8 November: SA guns north of Luanda

Brigadier Roos pointed out correctly to Roberto that the 88 mm guns he requested would not have the range for the terrain. (The 25-pounder (88 mm) gun was manufactured in Britain, with a maximum range of 12 250 metres) A gun with a range of at least 15 000 metres was required. “Does South Africa not have any bigger guns?” Roberto asked. Brigadier Roos inquired from his headquarters in Pretoria whether it would be possible to supply 140 mm guns (also known as the 5.5 inch) with crews to ELNA. (The 5.5 inch or 140 mm gun was manufactured in Britain and had a maximum range of 16 400 metres) The reply was positive. Commandant C.P. van der Westhuizen, Commanding Officer of 14 Field Regiment at Potchefstroom, issued the necessary orders on 7 November 1875 at 21h00. Four hours later, at midnight on Saturday, 8 November, a total of 20 key personnel and a medical officer, Lt. A. Steyn, were on the way. At Waterkloof Air Force Base near Pretoria cargo planes stood ready and by 07h00 weapons and personnel were on their way to Rundu.Major J.C.D.F. Bosch was placed in command and by 22h00 on 8 November 1975, only 30 hours after Roberto’s request was received in Pretoria, three guns were at Ambriz, complete with ammunition and personnel.

Roberto was very pleased and, with Brigadier Roos, met the South Africans at the airfield at Ambriz.

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9 November: SA bombers for air support

North of Luanda, at Ambriz, after initially arguing about vehicles that could be used as gun tractors, three trucks were eventually acquired and used to move the guns, ammunition and crews to the front at 04h00 on Sunday, 9 November 1975. It was a trek of 180 kilometres, across the Dande River up to the top of the Morro da Cal hill where the guns were deployed in a quarry. It was then discovered that the one gun was unserviceable due to an incomplete breech-block. There were therefore never more than two operational South African guns involved in the operations north of Luanda. Close to the two 140 mm guns which were deployed in the quarry left of the road just behind the crest of the Morro da Cal hill, the FNLA’s artillery was also deployed. It comprised of two 130 mm guns of Chinese origin. They were deployed just south of the crest in plain view of the enemy. Then, there were also Roberto’s six 120 mm mortars that were deployed at the foot of the hill west of the road. It was also decided to support Roberto’s attack on Luanda with an air pre-bombardment. Commandant A. P. Steenkamp was in command of three Canberra bombers, each with three 1 000 lb bombs, tasked to bombard the MPLA-positions north of Luanda. Initially the bombs were to be dropped at 05h00 on 10 November 1975. That would imply a night flight from Rundu.

Everything had to occur at minimum risk and the identity of the planes had to be kept secret.

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10 November: The battle of Quifangondo

At the arranged time, at 05h40, and exactly 20 minutes before H-Hour, the artillery started with their pre-bombardment. This was the first time since World War 2 that guns of the South African Defence Force were again used in battle. All the targets at Quifangondo and the area around the bridge had been indicated to the gunners the previous day and after only a few shots they were on target. Airburst shells were used which were very effective against infantry in trenches. The planes arrived over Quifangondo exactly on time, flying very high and invisible in the morning light. The first bomb fell in the ocean, the second on the beach. The next plane dropped its first bomb south of, and the second bomb on, Quifangondo. For some reason the third plane could not release its bombs and the other two planes could only drop two of the three bombs they were carrying. Thus a total of only four of the nine bombs planned were actually dropped. The enemy, as expected, started running from their positions, but Roberto’s infantry only started their advance at 07h40, an hour and forty minutes late. By this time, the FAPLA soldiers that had run away during the bombardment were back in their positions, and started firing at them from across the Bengo and immobilised three of the vehicles. This blocked the route to the remaining armoured vehicles and trucks. Heavy machine guns, rocket launchers and mortars deployed in a half-moon formation were firing at them from across the bridge, supported by guns and multiple rocket launchers deployed in depth.

By 11h00 the infantry not caught in the crossfire withdrew in total disorder.

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11 November: Angolan independence

Fireworks were set off at Luanda as the MPLA started to celebrate the arrival of the day of independence, 11 November 1975. This noise was heard and seen as far as 40 kilometres north of the Dande. According to plan, all South African soldiers had to be withdrawn from Angola on its Day of Independence (11 November 1975). By that time, however, the intended political goals had not been reached. The decision therefore had to be made to either continue fighting or withdraw. It was a political decision which had to be made in consultation with the military leaders. On 10 November 1975, in utmost secrecy Dr. Savimbi had been flown to Mpacha, in the eastern Caprivi, from where he was taken to Waterkloof Airport in Pretoria by a plane of the South African Air Force to a meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr. Vorster, which was held at the government’s guest house in Waterkloof, Pretoria. Dr. Savimbi requested Mr. Vorster to keep the South African Defence Force in Angola due to the MPLA threat. The Prime Ministers point of view was that, in the light of recent changes, the military strategy of all fronts had to be re-planned.

On the morning of 11 November 1975, no sign of the long-expected South African withdrawal from Angola could be seen.

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12 November: New objectives

On 12 November 1975, Minister P.W. Botha, Admiral H.H. Biermann and Lieutenant.-Generals M.A. de M. Malan and R.H.D. Rogers considered the situation. The longer the South African Defence Force remained in Angola, the more opportunities would exist to positively influence the local population, prevent an assault on South West Africa and to complete the Ruacana-Calueque scheme. Time needed to be gained for the political development within South West Africa and the Turnhalle conference which was already under way. After consideration of all the options, the Prime Minister decided on the capturing of key positions like Henrique de Carvalho (Saurimo), Malanje and Salazar (Dalantando), the opening of the Benguela railway line and the clearing of any remaining MPLA forces from the traditional areas of UNITA and the FNLA. This way the two allies would be empowered to build up their capabilities. The RSA had hoped with Dr Savimbi that the opening of the Benguela railway line would convince President Kaunda to take a stronger point of view because the railway line was Zambia’s link to the Atlantic Ocean and therefore important to the Zambian economy. Tons of imported goods had already accumulated at Lobito, waiting to be transported to Zambia It was decided to negotiate with the French and American ambassadors at high level to inspire the two countries to dramatically increase their war aid. At that stage, some aid could be expected from France, but much less from America.

Savimbi also had to be convinced to call for assistance from the West, upon which South Africa would be able to respond to by “sending soldiers to Angola”.

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13 November: ELNA ready to collapse

For Brigadier Roos everything still revolved around the date of 11 November 1975. He was not aware of his government’s decision to keep the SADF in Angola for an extended period, or that they intended to increase the scope of its involvement. He was still under the impression that South Africa had to withdraw from Angola after 11 November 1975. He was informed that his men would be picked up by plane on the night of 11/12 November, but with regards to the guns, he had to first ascertain that they could be stored safely somewhere for possible later use. the FNLA-forces in North-Angola were on the verge of collapsing. While the celebratory fires were burning in the MPLA-cities on Independence Day, the Portuguese were quietly evacuating Luanda, and Operation Carlotta was in full swing. Cuban and Russian ships and planes were offloading large numbers of men and weapons, while the assistance Roberto enjoyed from the CIA were diminishing day by day. There were still many ELNA soldiers spread out across North-Angola. But as was continually the problem, Roberto had to battle with insufficient logistical supply at every place. There were too few outstanding leaders amongst his commanders, training was not up to standard, and the morale of his troops was low.

The plane, however, did not arrive that night, and the guns would remain there for some time. Brigadier Roos was completely unaware about any planning for the future.

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14 November: Task Force 101

Maj.-Gen. van Deventer was given the following tasks when he took over command on 14 November 1975: securing and development of the traditional UNITA area with, if possible, the provision of aid to the FNLA in Northern Angola; occupation of the area up to the Cuanza River; securing and restoration of the Benguela railway line; capture of enemy positions like Henrique de Carvalho (Saurimo) where required and where possible; ensuring of the safety of the soldiers and equipment of the South African Defence Force in Angola and during the withdrawal when evacuating; clearing of SWAPO within a demilitarised zone along the border between Angola and South West Africa; destroying the electrical supply to Luanda. It was set that no more than 2 500 South African soldiers and 600 SA Defence Force vehicles could be sent into Angola and that the involvement of the South African Defence Force had to be kept secret as far as it was possible to do so. It was initially calculated that the above instruction would be completed by the end of February 1976, when a political resolution would make further military action redundant.

It was stressed upon Maj.-Gen. van Deventer and repeated again and again that South Africa had to disengage from the war with honour.

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15 November: Mystery of SA Accents

On 15 November 1975 the journalist, Fred Bridgland, wrote in The Times of London that he had spoken to the crews of “Panhard armoured cars” in Benguela, Lobito and Silva Porto and could deduct from their English accents and the answers to his questions, that they were South Africans. Bridgland noticed two “Panhard” armoured cars at the airfield and went to greet the crews. On his greeting in Portuguese the young white man in one of the armoured cars did not respond at all. Upon further enquiry he replied with a strong South African accent that he was English-speaking and came from England. The man in the second armoured car had blonde hair and also replied with an equally heavy South African accent that he was from England. Bridgland then asked: “But from which county?” The soldier that had just said he was from England, replied “I cannot say”. According to Commandant van der Waals, one replied that he was from England and the other said he came from Holland.

Dr Savimbi had denied that the crews of his UNITA armoured cars were South Africans. They could be of any nationality, he had said, and because FAPLA had Russians in its lines, he could freely make use of mercenaries.

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16 November: The nature of secrecy

Secrecy is a feature of all wars. The necessity to keep strategic or tactical matters secret from the enemy always exists. What made the Angolan venture something particular was the fact that the war as such, or at least South Africa’s participation, had to be kept secret. The RSA Defence Law determined that reports about troop movements of the South African Defence Force could not be made public without obtaining permission from the Department of Defence (Laws of the Union of South Africa Part 1 numbers 1-44, pp. 607-608). It was therefore not a problem to enforce secrecy on the South African printing and broadcasting media. Even when the presence of South African soldiers in Angola leaked to the foreign press, the South African journalists were not allowed to publish similar reports or even comment on them. Secrecy caused agitation and uncertainty among the normal public, a feeling of insecurity among soldiers, insufficient equipment in combat units, uncontrolled and uncontrollable rumours and problems with the announcement of casualties to relatives, the spreading of false and half-true stories, negative impact on morale, and more. On 16 November 1975, Minister P.W. Botha announced that South Africa only controlled the borders for which it was responsible. Referring to the communist onslaught on South West Africa, he pleaded for cooperation to help head it off.

When the SA combat units were not withdrawn from Angola by 11 November, and were rather significantly reinforced, maintaining secrecy became very difficult.

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17 November: Codename Texas

With the South African combat units, some administrative unite were also expanded. As a base for the headquarters of 2 Military Area (codename Texas), Cela was chosen, which was formerly a prosperous Portuguese agricultural settlement (colonato) and picturesquely located between high granite hills on the Amboim Plateau. Brigadier Dawie Schoeman was appointed commanding officer of 2 Military Area. Most of the other personnel of the headquarters came directly from the Republic. Among them was Colonel P.J. Schalkwyk, the then commanding officer of 81 Armoured Brigade in Pretoria. He was instructed to act as Chief of Staff at Cela on 16 November. By Monday, 17 November 1975, he and other chosen personnel were briefed on the operational situation as it was at that stage and the basic composition of the headquarters. Texas initially comprised of 25 officers and 150 other ranks.

There was a continual shortage of NCOs, especially on the level of sergeant-staff-sergeant.

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18 November: Administration 101

With the establishment of Task Force 101, a Forward Maintenance Area (FMA) was created at Grootfontein, with Colonel S.E. Schutz in command. 101 Field Registration Office (FRO) was also created at the same time as 101 FMA, and housed in a cleared refugee camp at Grootfontein on 18 November 1975. This office was responsible for the reception, documentation and accommodation of all members of Task Force 101. They were also tasked with tasks like the handling of post and information regarding military operations, while Commandant P. Wassenfall’s pay section also linked to the office administratively. At its creation, the personnel from 101 FRO comprised of only Major H.A. du Plesssis and Warrant Officer H. Steffens. Initially they could not obtain any information already involved in the operation. Within a couple of days the few personnel had to cope with the large influx of reinforcements as well as relieving teams for those that had initially started with the operation. During those first few weeks it was impossible to keep pace with all the personnel movements.

Post was therefore not delivered and emergency notices only reached the addressees some weeks later.

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19 November: Medical Services

During the first phase of Operation Savannah there had been only two medical officers, a pharmacist and four medical orderlies with the battle groups in Angola. On 10 November 1975 the Surgeon-General appointed a senior surgeon, Colonel D.A. Dippenaar, so that casualties could already be operated on at Rundu after which they could be evacuated to 1 Military Hospital at Voortrekkerhoogte for rehabilitation and recuperation. The expansion of the war soon made the need for more medical personnel and facilities near the front imperative. At Cela, which was located centrally, there was a suitable hospital as well as a tarred landing strip which would make evacuation by air easier. The forward team under Lt.-Cdr. (Dr.) C.A. Harwood, with medical equipment, arrived at Rundu on 19 November 1975.

During commencement of Operation Savannah there had only been a poorly equipped sickbay at Grootfontein.

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20 November: The Tattered Veil

The tension between the muffled local press and the government increased. In order to placate the situation, Minister P.W. Botha conducted an open discussion with the South African Press Union on 20 November 1975. After that all parties undertook to collaborate and maintain secrecy for the sake of the country. The same day, the Johannesburg daily newspaper, The Star, reported that South Africa had reinforced its forces on the northern border considerably. Minister Botha denied that there had been any unusually large troop movements. On the same day Admiral Biermann made a declaration that larger troop movements were normal for that time of the year due to the replacement of forces.

In the end the veil of secrecy became so tattered that it was completely transparent.

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21 November: FAPLA attacks

On 21 November 1975, the following personnel arrived at Ambriz: Captains M. Kinghorn and D.M. Nel as infantry instructors, Lieutenant L. van Niekerk of the SA Corps of Engineers to pay attention to the bridge across the Dande and signaller Lieutenant W. Verster. Major-General A. van Deventer, then commander at Rundu, also arrived with the group for a quick assessment of the situation in the north. The temporary bridge across the Dande had been washed away when the sluices of the large dam at Albufeira das Mabubas, six kilometers northeast of Caxito, were opened. The following week ELNA soldiers had erected a Bailey bridge on the existing struts of the old bridge. The MPLA, supported by Cuban soldiers and Russian advisors, launched attacks on all fronts during the week of 21 November 1975. Fighting erupted on the front north of Luanda only four hours after the mentioned SADF personnel arrived at Ambriz. The ELNA-forces were driven from their positions south of the Dande by a severe rocket assault from mobile multiple rocket launchers. They fled across the bridge in disarray without destroying the bridge behind them.

‘This is a war of men against weapons, we have the men and they have the weapons’ -Roberto

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22 November: 2 Military Area

Upon his arrival at Cela on 18 November 1975, Colonel Schalkwyk met Major H. Hagen, who had been handling logistics and the radio-link for communications with Rundu. The headquarters was then set up in the local monastery at Cela, which had been deserted. Here the headquarters of 2 Military Area officially started functioning on 22 November 1975 and all battle groups in the area, that is, Alpha, Bravo and Foxbat, were placed under its command. Due to the clandestine nature of South African participation in the war In Angola, only three members of the Air Force had initially been involved. There were Lieutenant General R.H.D. Rodgers, the Chief of the Air Force, Major General E.A.C. Pienaar, Chief of Air Staff Operations, and Brigadier P. Letley, Director of Operations of the Air Force. Later, Colonel D.J. Earp, Senior Staff Officer Operations, and Commandant C. de Swardt, Staff Officer Operations, were included. Even later, a number of key personnel were assigned to 1 Air Component, which was under the command of Colonel J.P. (Jules) Moolman. Initially, all air operations were controlled by the commanding officer of 1 Air Component. 1 Air Component was renamed to 301 Air Component on 22 November 1975, and effectively controlled all Air Force units in the area

2 Military Area comprised of the southern part of Angola up to Lower-Cuanza and a line on the 9º Southern latitude, up to Teixeira de Sousa (Luau).

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23 November: Disaster at Ebo!

At first light on 23 November 1975, Captain Holm led his combat team from Quissobi towards Ebo. Encountering no resistance, the combat team moved through Ebo and started on the road towards Condé. As the leading car reported that they reached the bridge over the Mabassa, the vehicle was struck by a hollow charge projectile fired from a Russian 76mm gun. The driver was killed instantly and the vehicle landed on its side in the river, the rest of its crew trapped. In quick succession, the three other cars of the troop were also hit and disabled, although one was able to pull back but with a damaged barrel. Two cars of the other troop got stuck in the mud as soon as they moved of the road. Within minutes seven of the eight armoured cars were out of action, and five had to be left behind when the force withdrew. Trying desperately to keep the enemy’s heads down, the mortars had unknowingly been deployed on one of the enemy’s registered targets, and the “Red-Eye” rockets soon exacted a high toll of the mortar crews. By the time they could extract themselves, six or seven of the UNITA mortar crew members had been killed and 19 wounded.
Five South African soldiers had been killed in the battle, including Captain Holm, and 11 had been wounded, three seriously. The allied infantry which ran away as soon as the rockets started exploding, lost at least 34 killed. Another 60 were missing...

The disastrous outcome of the battle was indeed a hard and expensive lesson for the South Africans, one they would not easily forget!

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24 November: ELNA front disrupted

The ELNA-front was severely disrupted. Colonel Mamima, who hastily returned, planned to attack the enemy at Caxito on 23 November, which in the meantime had fallen to the enemy. Again a request was made for the guns to provide fire support. The timely arrival of planes from Mobutu with fuel from Zaire made further operational planning possible. The South African guns were taken to Forte de Lifune, about 30 kilometres northwest of Caxito, close to the coast. Again there was no intelligence on the enemy deployments. The ZAIWA soldiers refused to fight, and the attack was called off. The three ZAIWA battalions which had taken part in the abortive attack on Luanda, had, during the first three weeks of November, been reduced in strength from the 1 209 men present upon their arrival, to only 609 on 24 November 1975. In the fighting about 50 men were killed or wounded. The rest had deserted. Of the ELNA soldiers, of which 1 200 were deployed north of Luanda with between 600 and 700 in the front line, there were only two companies of 50 men each left on the front and about 800 in the vicinity of Ambriz. On the given date there were only 90 white and 40 black soldiers left of Colonel Santos e Castro’s total force at Asfaltos de Angola. On Sunday, 23 November 1975, the same day that Battle Group Foxbat was defeated at the Ebo, Brigadier Roos reconnoitred the front in a ZAIWA helicopter. He determined that the enemy had captured Porto Quipiri, had possession of the bridge across the Dande, and had already reached Forte do Tentativa.

Roberto was understandably depressed. On 24 November 1975 he went to Kinshasa to negotiate with President Mobutu and President Idi Amin Dada.

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25 November: Reaction to Ebo

Colonel Swart’s first task after the battle of Ebo was to try and determine the enemy’s next step and take counter-measures against a possible attack. A reconnaissance patrol of Battle Group Foxbat that had been sent out on the morning of 24 November, had drawn enemy fire about three kilometres south of the Nhia River ( on the main road) and had pulled back. When they returned by 10h00 then enemy had left but they found a Russian antitank grenade and four Russian-manufactured automatic rifles on the terrain. A troop of armoured cars was then deployed in ambush at the Y-junction with more forward positions northwest of Santa Comba at the ferry across the Cussai River. By means of air reconnaissance it was determined that the enemy had been very busy at the positions north of Ebo and on 25 November they were busy towing away the armoured cars that had been lost during the battle. A dark-coloured light plane that was stationed at Conde, as determined later, had been regularly reconnoitring the allied positions as far as Cela. Allied air reconnaissance by a light reconnaissance plane indicated that 20 enemy armoured vehicles were on the way to Condé, but later that day the plane did not return from a reconnaissance flight and 2Lt K.A. Williamson, 2Lt E.B. Thompson and Captain D.J. Taljaard were reported missing.

In an enemy radio broadcast on 27 November, it was announced that a plane with its crew of three had been shot down north of Ebo,

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26 November: The failure of ELNA

During Roberto’s absence everything came to a halt. Colonel Castro felt aggrieved that he was not involved in the decision-making and was therefore inactive. Colonel Mamima expected that he and his force would be recalled to Zaire. No one at Ambriz had any doubt that the ELNA soldiers would again flee should the enemy advance further. Colonel Mamima told Brigadier Roos that the enemy had made preparations to establish a bridgehead at Barra do Dande (at the Dande estuary) with the intention to advance toward Ambriz along the coast. He requested him to bombard the place. This indeed occurred at 13h00 on 25 November 1975. To the gunners’ surprise, the FAPLA rocket launchers also opened fire on Barra de Dande at the same time. The guns were again withdrawn to Ambriz. In the meantime it also did not go too well with ELNA on the other fronts. The fuel shortage remained desperate. The planned attack on Salazar (Dalantondo) was frustrated by an enemy build up at General Freire (Camembe). The Carmona-force of ELNA secured the threatened Negage and penetrated through to Samba Caju, but it was but a transient success. By 26 November 1975, ELNA was also driven back here.

It was clear that ELNA’s eastern flanking move had no chance on success and that the allied forces north and south of the Cuanza would not be able to link up.

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27 November: “Super Successful Duck”

Brigadier Roos was concerned that the enemy would be able to squash the allied forces at Ambriz against the ocean and the impassable marshes to the north, and he brought that fact under Holden Roberto’s attention. He recommended that Roberto destroy the bridges to the south and retreat with his remaining forces to the Carmona/Negage area. It was indeed Brigadier Roos’s last recommendation to Roberto before he and his men left Ambriz for Ambrizette, about 70 kilometres to the north, on two Unimogs at 22h00 on 27 November 1975. By means of a radio, Brigadier Roos established communications with the frigate SAS President Steyn on 27 November 1975 and arranged the pickup to occur at 23h00 that same night. The group of 26 comprised of nine officers and 15 men of other ranks as well as two members of the Bureau of State Security. that the pickup be delayed until 05h00 the next morning because the road between Ambriz and Ambrizette was in a very poor condition. At 04h40 three rubber Gemini boats were launched from the ship and was followed shortly afterwards by a cutter with an outboard-motor. By 06h43 the cutter and the rubber boats were back at the ship with all the men

Only the word “super” was to be signalled if the pickup was successful. If not, the word “duck” had to be sent. “Super successful duck” was the eventual reply, and only sent by 09h00...

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28 November: SA appeals to West

South Africa’s efforts to persuade the USA and other western nations into more active participation made the maintaining of secrecy even more difficult. On 27 November 1975, Minister P.W. Botha, after a visit to the border, informed journalists that South Africa was not prepared to continue the fight alone on behalf of the entire free world, but that while South Africa was only protecting its own borders, it would be prepared to do its part should the West decide to do their part in fighting to keep communism out of Africa. (SABC News Bulletins, 23h00 27 November 1975 and 13h15 28 November 1975; A. Ashford, “South Africa appeals to Western powers to join actively in driving Soviet Union from Angola”, The Times, 28 November 1975)

Even though the full story could not be told, the Department of Defence took trouble to keep the press happy.

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29 November: 1 Forward Field Hospital

On 23 November 1975 the first casualties were brought in to 1 Forward Field Hospital. There were 14 wounded South Africans and 22 UNITA, victims of the battle of Ebo. The hospital and its personnel were barely ready for such a large number of casualties. The medical team worked through the night. A shortage of plasma resulted in the officers themselves having to donate blood. The Ebo casualties brought the realisation that a helicopter was essential for the evacuation of losses. The first casualties only arrived at the hospital five-and-a-half hours after the contact after a trip on the back of an open truck over very bad roads. The Air Force responded rapidly and stationed a helicopter at Cela for the evacuation of casualties the very next day. After this first trial the medical team were not nearly again caught so unprepared. Cases of malaria were also treated at the hospital – by 29 November there had already been 23. It was mostly due to negligence because malaria-tablets had not been taken regularly. In the section for outpatients, between 20 and 60 members of the local population were treated daily, a valuable service provided to the community.

14 cases of battle fatigue and 11 cases of shellshock were also treated even though there were no psychiatrists in the team.

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30 November: The Cela reinforcements

It was the first time that South African reinforcements were sent into Angola by road as far as Cela, a distance of some 700 kilometres. When Commandant van der Westhuizen departed from Grootfontein on the night of 25 November 1975, he had 254 people and 49 vehicles in his convoy. At Sá de Bandeira Commandant Boy du Toit convinced a platoon of ELP-members (the so-called freedom fighters) to accompany them as guides. With them in front a number of skirmishes at FNLA and UNITA roadblocks occurred with the result that a number of them got shot and they reached Cela on 29 November 1975 with four killed and four wounded – a tragicomedy in its own right [Three bodies of the Portuguese freedom fighters were sent back to Rundu, while the fourth was buried at Cela for some unknown reason. The three were buried near the refugee camp at Calais on 7 December 1975]. Upon their arrival, a troop of medium guns and a troop of armoured cars were sent to Novo Redondo by Major-General van Deventer to support Commandant Linford during an expected enemy attack. At Commandant van der Westhuizen’s request, another artillery troop arrived at Cela on the same day, 30 November 1975, to replace those that had been sent to Novo Redondo.

Cmdt van der Westhuizen handed over his regimental headquarters to Colonel Swart’s unmanned headquarters, while he managed with one assistant (acting as both driver and signaller).

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1 December: Political collaboration?

It could be expected that Savimbi, Roberto and Chipenda would collaborate in any planned action against their mutual enemy, the MPLA. A meeting on 2 November resulted in a joint declaration made by both Roberto and Savimbi on 4 November 1975. Herewith they had undertaken to accept 11 November as the date of Angolan liberation and that both the FNLA and UNITA would send delegations to the OAU-conference at Kampala to try and find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Before that occurred, there would be no cease-fire. By 11 November cooperation had progressed so much so that Roberto announced the forming of a joint government, the DPRA (Democratic People’s Republic of Angola), at Ambriz on the eve of independence. At the same time, Savimbi announced in Lisbon that Huambo (Nova-Lisboa) would be the seat of the new government. This new government would made provision for:

  • A Revolutionary Council of 24 members equally represented by the FNLA and UNITA.
  • Two presidents (FNLA and UNITA) which would alternate monthly to preside as such.
  • 14 Ministers, also equally represented, with two prime ministers who would also alternate on a monthly basis. A UNITA president would preside with an FNLA prime minister and vice-versa.
On 1 December 1975 the DPRA government was sworn in at Nova Lisboa.

The DPRA government was never acknowledged by the OAU or any foreign government.

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2 December: Deception tactics

Colonel Swart had realised that the road between Condé and Quibala was an important link for the enemy combat teams deployed at both towns. Damaging one of the bridges along this road, specifically the bridge across the Nhia at Quissoguila, 10 kilometres northeast of Condé, would be a crippling blow to the enemy. The task was given to Lieutenant C.A.J. (Corrie) Meerholtz with a team of eight men, his first as a member of 1 Reconnaissance Commando. According to the plan the operation would last four days during which the team had to infiltrate past the hills north of the road to Hengo up to the valley of the Nhia River where the river broke through the Sasso mountain range at a gap. By 11h00 on Tuesday 2 December the team had been dropped of at Hengo to proceed from there on foot. Having reached the Nhia River, and after numerous close calls, Lieutenant Meerholtz decided to return to base. On the way back the next morning they walked right into the crew members of an enemy observation post on a rocky hill. In the ensuing skirmish one of the enemy soldiers was killed while Meerholtz suffered a wound to his left upper-arm. In the meantime, a search team from the base had also been sent out on foot. Somehow, these two groups managed to find each other, and the team returned safely to base.

Unfortunately the area was densely populated and the possibility to slip through undetected very small.

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3 December: Artillery duel

On the evening of Tuesday 2 December 1975, a lot of vehicle activity could be heard from the direction of the Nhia On the morning of 3 December 1975 there were also activities at the bridges on the road to Quibala. Vehicles and around 80 men were spotted at the destroyed bridge across the Nhia (Bridge 14). Commandant Joffel van der Westhuizen had deployed his guns so that they could provide support over a distance of 10 kilometres on either side of the tarred road. The soft, wet ground made deployment difficult. On 1 December 1975 Colonel Swart had ordered the commandant to deploy his medium guns (140 mm guns with a range of 16.5 kilometres) in such a way that he would be able to reach the heights at Dunga, about 12 kilometres from Happy Rest. This was therefore the situation at around 12h00 on Wednesday 3 December when an armoured car troop patrolling the area of the Neck drew heavy fire from 122 mm guns, 122 mm rocket launchers and 120mm mortars deployed in positions northeast of the Nhia River. Within five minutes, Major W. Blaauw’s troop of medium guns started to counter the fire. After the battle north of Luanda, this was the first time that guns of this calibre were again used. At least one enemy position was observed as being destroyed, while all their weapons eventually fell silent. A group of enemy infantry that suddenly appeared at the foot of Hippo Hill were quickly driven away by the guns. According to a British journalist that had spent the day at Catofe, truck-loads of casualties, both wounded and killed, were taken away. On the allied side there had been no casualties, other than a single UNITA-soldier killed in a shooting accident at an ambush site.

On the central front the signs were clear: a big battle was at hand!

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4 December: Intentions & denials

Even though the full story could not be told, the Department of Defence took trouble to keep the press happy. On 1 December 1975, military journalists in Pretoria were informed, and Admiral Biermann explained that the MPLA had the initiative at that stage and that the FNLA and UNITA would not be able to stand against it without significant support from the West. On 3 and 4 December foreign journalists were taken on a tour of the Ruacana-Calueque area while being briefed by Major-General Jack Dutton. Reports about South Africa’s efforts to protect the scheme were generally positive. South Africa continued its efforts to convince the press of its good intentions and the pending danger in Angola. Roberto and Savimbi kept on denying that South African soldiers were fighting in Angola as their allies. Their denial was essential in order to remain in good standing with the other African nations.

In the meantime, driving north-east from Caxito, the FNLA captured Quicabo on 4 December 1975...

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5 December: Clash points

After the capture of Novo Redondo (Ngunza) by the middle of November 1975, the entire coastal area from the estuary of the Cunene up to the estuary of the Queve was in allied hands, a distance of over 800 kilometres. Since the pickup operation at Ambrizette, South Africa have had no further involvement in the battles north of this area. Even so, the events occurring in Cabinda and in western Angola were still very much part of the Angolan Civil War. South of the Queve River, the South African forces still played an important role, especially at Novo Redondo, Lobito and Sá de Bandeira (Lubango). These three centres were located far from each other and each of them had its own set of misfortunes and unique problems. Of the three, Novo Redondo was the closest to the hub of the war. With Lobito it was also the case, but to a lesser extend, even though possession of the harbour was very important for supply purposes. Sá de Bandeira, located as it was on the supply route to the north (the “Golden Highway”, was also an important base. The last two mentioned were not being threatened by the MPLA and the problems encountered here was of a rather localised nature. More important was the fact that the South African Defence Force’s efforts to restore normal civilian living conditions to the two places were largely successful. On 28 November 1975 the MPLA was in possession of Caxito and Barra do Dande, and had advanced up to 50 kilometres south of Ambriz before halting for a short while. The advance was resumed on 5 December 1975.

122mm rockets were fired at Ambriz with the result that Roberto moved his headquarters to Ambrizette.

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6 December: Run-up to Bridge 14

Reports that the enemy had been busy rebuilding bridges and had inspected the bridge across the Nhia River, had led to Colonel Swart’s decision on 4 December 1975 to gain control of this bridge, known as Bridge 14. The engineers would have to construct the bridge from materials they could find in the immediate vicinity and would have to rely on their own resourcefulness. Because the building of the bridge would have to occur under the cover of allied fire, it was necessary to locate good observation posts for directing the fire. Two hills on the other side of the river were ideally suited for this purpose. The one was Ubamba, which was given the code name Top Hat, and the other was Quipuco, which was given the name Big Bang, which lay respectively west and east of the main road. It was planned to drop Recces in the area north of the river by helicopter. While preparations for this mission were being done on Saturday 6 December 1975, Commandant van der Westhuizen and Captain Bouwer bombarded an enemy artillery position with ‘n captured 122 mm single-barrel rocket launcher. That evening after dark the medium guns were deployed to new positions in order to support the Recces the next day. This was after they had fired on two enemy vehicles with white personnel just south of the river and west of the road earlier that day. It appeared that only one vehicle was hit and three people were killed. With this, the first round for the control of the bridge had started…

Possession of the bridge across the Nhia River was the key to a successful offensive.

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7 December: Operation Quipuco

At sundown on Sunday, 7 December 1975 Capt Venter and his team of ten were dropped by helicopter near Camufma (code name Jones), directly east of Happy Rest. From there they had to follow a road on foot, from Cassamba northwest towards Quipuco. It was rainy and heavily overcast and the helicopter were barely able to find its objective. Immediately after landing the ten men, heavily laden with weapons, ammunition, landmines, etc., started walking across wet and slippery terrain in the direction of the road. In the dark the continued to march in a single column, SSgt J.M.J. Botes followed by Sgt F.G. Wannenburg in front on point. They were followed by the rest of the team. When Capt Venter thought they were close to the dirt road, he stopped Sgt Wannenburg, who in turn stopped SSgt Botes. The next moment they drew fire from small-calibre weapons at very short range. Sgt Wannenburg was hit and seriously wounded in his stomach. Capt Venter was hit in his hand. They had stumbled upon an observation post or enemy ambush supported by a light machine gun. WO J.L. Conradie immediately withdrew the rest of the team from the killing zone and took positions from where they could launch a counter-attack. After a short fire fight the enemy withdrew. Capt Venter decided to pull back. SSgt Botes did what he could and gave Capt Venter an injection for the pain. They desperately tried to get into radio contact with Cela. By 24h00 they reached a small river from where they were only able to establish communications at 07h10 the next day. Sgt Wannenbug had in the meantime died from his wounds. For his bravery, a Honoris Crux decoration (Silver) was awarded to him posthumously. WO Conradie was also awarded a decoration.

Operation Quipuco had failed, but that did not prevent the attack on Bridge 14.

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8 December: Protecting the flanks

Col Swart had been aware that both his left and right flanks could be threatened during his attack on Quibala via Bridge 14. He therefore took measures to protect both flanks. Combat Team Kilo was sent out in an easterly direction on D-Day, Monday 8 December 1975. The combat team comprised of just less than a company of UNITA infantry, an armoured car troop, and anti-aircraft guns. By 16h15 they had progressed to about 12 km northeast of Sanga along the road to Quibala, when they encountered 14 Cubans and 16 other soldiers as they were sitting down to eat. The enemy fled and the combat team captured documents indicating a well-prepared ambush position 23 km north of Sanga, only 11 km further from where they were. The combat team then occupied positions just north of Sanga in order to prevent an enemy breakthrough. Not only the right flank but the left flank also had to be secured. This covered the so-called Age-area to the west of the mountain range that lay between Happy Rest and Black Jack. A troop of armoured cars accompanied by UNITA-infantry of Battle Group Bravo were sent out in this direction on Sunday 7 December 1975, but impassable roads forced them to return the same day. The next day their progress were checked by a damaged bridge at Galanque, four kilometres north of the Hengo road, which had been intact the previous day. Col Swart’s left flank had not yet been secured. The Balaia-Hengo and the Ebo-Tunga roads were on this flank, but both were in enemy hands. A battalion of infantry comprising of about 85 Cubans and an unknown number of FAPLA-soldiers, under the command of a Cuban commandant, were deployed there, supported by 120 mm mortars and 122 mm guns.

The few UNITA-companies available to guard these roads were inadequate. So ambush positions were prepared every night along theses routes.

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9 December: The South African Press

When serious consideration was again given to the military and political strategy during the beginning of December, Minister P.W. Botha argued that South Africa had to guard against political isolation. In order to get the press on his side, he decided to fully inform the editors about the situation. After obtaining permission from Prime Minister Vorster, this was done in Cape Town on 9 December 1975. On opening of the meeting anyone that was not prepared to maintain secrecy was asked to leave the hall. Everyone remained in their seats. Minister Botha cautioned the journalists against newscasts that could cause panic and disadvantage relations. He said the journalists were free to travel to Angola, but that all reports of the SA Defence Force’s presence had to first be submitted to the Department of Defence. He then provided a concise overview of the events starting with the Owambo request for protection, followed by the operations against SWAPO, the securing of the Ruacana-Calueque scheme and the Russian pincer-move threat against South Africa with Angola and Mozambique as pincers. He mentioned the refugee issue and South Africa’s desire to keep Angola free from foreign intervention. After this, Major-General Viljoen presented an overview of the military situation. He discussed the three-phase plan, the situation at the front, as well as South Africa’s efforts to push-start the Angolan economy again. He emphasised the necessity of secrecy, also with regards to the FNLA and UNITA.

Even though the full story could not be told, the Department of Defence took trouble to keep the press happy.

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10 December: The battle of Luso

Possession of Luso, a largish district capital, represented a considerable amount of prestige to both sides. It also had tremendous strategic value in where it was located. After a failed attack by UNITA infantry on 9 December 1975, it was decided to capture the town with a frontal attack the next day. Early the morning of 10 December 1975 the town was shelled by the South African artillery and mines lifted by the sappers, which were soon followed by an exceptionally intense firefight, One combat team of Battle Group X-Ray penetrated the town to the north of the road, pushing through to positions between the town and the airfield. This allowed the airfield to be attacked from the south while all its defences were facing north, from where the enemy had expected an attack. The enemy was engaged with machine guns while the primary weapons of the armoured cars were used against the hangars on the airfield. Despite having almost all tyres blown out by anti-personnel mines, the armoured cars persisted with the attack. An enemy armoured vehicle, the “Luso Monster”, was finally brought to a halt after multiple armoured cars fired at it, killing all nine occupants. It turned out to be an armour-plated bulldozer fitted with a machine gun and an anti-tank gun. By 12h00 the airfield had been captured. In the meantime the main attack along the main road also made good headway, despite being bombarded by mortars and rocket launchers.

With close fire-support provided by the South African artillery, enemy resistance soon crumbled as the MPLA defenders started to flee from the town.


 

11 December: Battle of Bridge 14

By nightfall on 11 December 1975 Commandant Kruys was ready. His plans had been made. At four o’clock the next morning he held an order group and issued instructions. The attack comprised of three phases: phase 1 was the advance of an armoured car troop across Bridge 14 and straight along the tarred road up to Bridge 15, accompanied by Captain Arthur’s company of UNITA-infantry; phase 2 was the advance of Captain Kangahuchi’s company of UNITA-infantry along the right side of the road to occupy the positions at Kraaltjie; phase 3 was the advance of Captain Ferreira with the Freedom Fighters and a third company of UNITA-infantry to an assembly area at Cassamba, directly south of the westernmost hill of Koppies. After that, they had to occupy Koppies while the combat team captured the small village of Almeida along the main route. Foxbat was ready to start the advance early on the morning of 12 December. On the line of advance were the armoured car troop of Lieutenant L.H.J. van Vuuren and a company of UNITA-infantry. A second troop armoured cars, with another company of UNITA-infantry was at the shoot of Hippo Hill, where the Tactical Headquarters were. Two groups of 81mm mortars were on either side of the road. Commandant van der Westhuizen had brought his guns closer the previous night. One troop of medium guns was west of the tarred road and a second troop, comprising of field guns, was south of Hippo Hil, also west of the tarred road. Task Force Zulu’s second troop of medium guns as well as a radar section was deployed just south of Happy Rest where a troop of armoured cars and a platoon of white infantry also were. Various infantry- and artillery- observation posts was established on Rothmans, at Happy Rest, and also on Hippo Hill.

It was planned to establish another observation post on Top Hat, which was north of the Nhia, as soon as possible.


 

12 December: The Enemy at Bridge 14

With regards to the enemy positions, the following layout could be determined from events during and after the battle. In the first line were the infantry, armed with RPG launchers, among others. In the second line were two batteries of 120mm mortars. Behind them, close to the road, were Chinese-manufactured 75mm recoilless guns, with 122mm guns, 122mm rocket launchers (including one multiple rocket launcher) as well as a battery of 14.5mm anti-aircraft guns, all deployed in depth. In addition, a large number of Sagger AT-3 guided missiles were also deployed for long-range attacks on the armoured cars. However, due to the thick bush the last-mentioned was largely ineffective. Captain Anaya, the commander of the infantry, commanded more than a battalion of infantry, including a large number of Cubans. He also had a number of observation posts spread out over a large area. As was the case with the allies, Captain Samoé, in charge of the enemy artillery, was forced by the circumstances to divide his batteries to as few as two weapons per position.

At Kraaltjie, for example, he deployed only two 75mm guns.


 

12 December: On to Almeida!

Major W. Blaauw’s first target eliminated on the morning of 12 December 1975 was the 75mm guns at Kraaltjie. Then it became the turn of the enemy 120mm mortars. Despite being within range of the feared 122 mm multiple rocket launcher, the 140 mm guns scored when all the shells landed within meters of the launcher. By 08h15 the enemy long-range weapons had been silenced. The armoured car troop crossed the bridge without incident, and as part of Phase 2 the infantry attacked and took the enemy positions at Kraaltjie. The armoured cars neutralised an enemy position with six mortars next to the Nhia River, and an infantry battalion deployed in front of the mortars started to flee from their positions in vehicles, one of which was destroyed will all 20 its Cuban occupants. At Bridge 15, the armoured cars drew intense anti-tank fire but fought their way through and destroyed the 75 mm guns. Upon hearing that the enemy was launching a counter-attack with armoured vehicles, the armoured cars were ordered to occupy more favourable high ground, where they were charged by Cuban infantry hiding among the pineapple plants. Because the armoured cars had depleted their ammunition, the crews were forced to close hatches and fight off the enemy clambering all over the cars with pistols. As another troop took up position while they pulled back to replenish their ammunition, the attacking enemy armoured cars were driven off by the allied artillery. By 11h45 the UNITA infantry took Koppies.

By 14h00 the battle for Almeida was over. Approximately 60 enemy soldiers had been killed for the loss of only two wounded UNITA soldiers.


Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET
Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET
Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET
Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET
Images from 'Grensoorlog' series, produced by Linda de Jager, reproduced with kind permission from MNET

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