Battle of Cuito Cuanavale: Wikis


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Battle of Cuito Cuanavale
Part of Angolan Civil War and South African Border War
Date December 1987 – March 1988[1]
Location 15°09′50″S 19°10′23″E / 15.16389°S 19.17306°E / -15.16389; 19.17306Coordinates: 15°09′50″S 19°10′23″E / 15.16389°S 19.17306°E / -15.16389; 19.17306
Cuito Cuanavale, Angola
Result Results Disputed. Victory claimed by both sides.
Angola FAPLA
Flag of South-West Africa People's Organisation.svg SWAPO
ANC UmkhontoweSizwe.gif Umkhonto we Sizwe[2]
 South Africa
Flag of Unita.jpgUNITA
Cuba Gen. Leopoldo "Polo" Cintras Frías South Africa Col. Deon Ferreira
11,500 combined estimate (1,500 Cuba[3][Note 1]; 10,000 FAPLA) 11,000–12,000 combined estimate (3,000–4,000 SADF[4]; 8,000 UNITA[5])
Casualties and losses
- 39 Cuba[6] (Official)
- 4,785 Cuban/Faplan killed[Note 2]
- 31 SADF(Official)
- 3000 UNITA[7]

The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale was one of the most important episodes of both the civil war in Angola (1975 to 2002) and the South African Border War. The armies of Cuba, Angola and South Africa met at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, and the battle has been called "Africa's largest land battle since World War II".[1] With all sides claiming victory, it was a turning point in the Angolan civil war, leading to the departure of Cuban, South African and other foreign troops from Angola and Namibia, and the independence of Namibia which was also linked to their withdrawal.



Independence from Portugal

For 13 years until 1974, three armed groups fought for Angola's independence from Portugal: the Marxist MPLA (with its armed wing FAPLA), led by Agostinho Neto; the conservative FNLA, led by Holden Roberto and supported by Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaïre; and UNITA, led by the charismatic Jonas Savimbi (a Maoist before being sponsored by the CIA and South Africans). There was not any guerrilla group controlling a specific area of Angola because the Portuguese Armed Forces managed to overcome the insurgents. However, each guerrilla movement had its area of influence.

Soon after the Carnation Revolution of April 1974 in Portugal, the new revolutionary government of Portugal began letting go of Portugal's African overseas provinces. Angola also achieved its independence from Portugal on November 11, 1975. After departure of the Portuguese military and the exodous of hundreds of thousands of civilians from ethnic Portuguese background, the MPLA controlled the capital, Luanda; UNITA controlled the south of Angola; and the FNLA controlled the north of the newly-independent country.[8]

The Treaty of Alvor comprised a series of agreements between the three rebel factions and Portugal that paved the way to full sovereignty. Under the terms of the treaty, a transitional government was formed, elections were scheduled for the end of the year, and 11 November 1975 was slated as Angola's independence day. Fighting between the three rebel factions started soon after the transitional government took office. The MPLA gained control of the capital. On 9 August the South African Army (SADF) occupied the Ruacana hydro-electric complex on the border with Namibia; on 14 October South Africa launched Operation Savanah in support of UNITA and FNLA advancing on Luanda and coming within 200 km of the city. The FNLA, supported by Zairian units, South Africans and Portuguese mercenaries advanced on Luanda from the east and got as far as Kifangondo. On 7 November Cuba launched Operation Carlota, intervening in favour of the MPLA (see Cuba in Angola). The MPLA managed to hold Luanda and on 11 November Agostinho Neto proclaimed the independence of Angola.

Cold War

The civil war continued more or less unabated until 2002. The Angolan Civil War cost an estimated half a million lives[9][Note 3] and devastated the country's infrastructure. The tragedy played out against the backdrop of the Cold War struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States. Both superpowers realised the strategic importance of southern Africa, a region rich in natural resources (petroleum, natural gas, gold, diamonds) and ringed by shipping routes along its coast. Both sides tried to influence the outcome of the civil war through proxies. Cuba and the Soviet-led Eastern bloc gave overt military support to the MPLA and Namibian rebels, while the United States (and, to a much lesser extent, France) countered by bolstering UNITA and South Africa with sales of war material.


The MPLA, outgunned by its enemies FPLA, UNITA and South Africa, reached out to The Republic of Cuba for support. Between January and August 1975, the MPLA was furnished with a military school, weapons, means of transport, transmitters, uniforms and combat equipment.[2] By the end of the year, Cuban troops had arrived on Angolan soil to back up FAPLA after the Battle of Quifangondo. By March 1976, Cuba had sent around 36,000 troops to the region, mainly to provide logistical support to FAPLA officers. Apart from the Cuban troops and equipment, several members of the Eastern Bloc, under Soviet direction, provided support to the MPLA, mostly in the form of specialized technical staff (including pilots) and military hardware. Soviet generals fulfilled leadership roles, General Konstantin Shaganovitch commanded all communist forces in the battle, including those of FAPLA[10].

UNITA received heavy backing from the United States and the government in South Africa. While the U.S. helped UNITA with money and weaponry, South Africa sent around 5,000 troops in aid. South Africa's interests in Angola lay in preventing a MPLA takeover. Angola bordered on the South African protectorate Namibia (at the time called South West Africa), which was then under threat from SWAPO, a Communist-backed guerrilla force that was fighting for Namibian independence from bases in Angola. South Africa aimed to clear out MPLA and SWAPO forces from southern Angola and establish a buffer zone to prevent further incursions into South West Africa. The FNLA was propped up by the dictator of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko (Holden Roberto's brother-in-law), who dispatched around 2,000 troops to Angola. However, by the time of the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale the FNLA had ceased to matter.


FAPLA advance on Mavinga: Battle of Mavinga II

This battle, also called the Battle of the Lomba River II[11], is essential for understanding the context in which the ensuing Battle of Cuito Cuanavale took place. In 1987 as part of the MPLA's struggle for dominion over Angola, the group launched a campaign to rout UNITA forces from their stronghold cities of Mavinga, a former Portuguese military base and Jamba in the southeast of the country just above the Caprivi Strip.[12] Under the leadership of Soviet generals[13], it was decided to commence the attack from Cuito Cuanavale. In August the 21st, 25th (both light infantry), 47th (armoured) and the 59th (mechanized) brigades (some sources also include the 16th brigade) of FAPLA, under Soviet command, departed from the city Cuito Cuanavale in the Cuando Cubango province of south-east Angola. They received air support from the large airbase at Menongue, including MiG 23s deployed in a ground-attack role.[14] Facing them were the UNITA forces composed of the 3rd Regular, 5th Regular, 13th Semi-Regular and 275th Special Forces Battalions[15]

South African reaction

The South African government's strategic concern was to ensure continued UNITA control over regions bordering Namibia, so as to prevent the MPLA-aligned SWAPO guerrillas from gaining a springboard in southern Angola from which to launch attacks into Namibia. In October 1987 the South African government responded to the FAPLA/Soviet offensive by launching a series of military operations in conjunction with UNITA forces, beginning with Operation Modular.

Cuito Cuanavale

South African and UNITA forces, having gained the upper-hand with Operation Modular, then launched Operation Hooper. After a string of defeats, FAPLA forces retreated to the strategically important town of Cuito Cuanavale, with an air base located at 15°10′00″S 19°10′00″E / 15.1667°S 19.1667°E / -15.1667; 19.1667. If Cuito Cuanavale were lost by FAPLA, the next closest comparable outpost would be Menongue, 300 km from Mavinga and 500 km from UNITA's headquarters at Jamba.[16]

The remnants of three FAPLA brigades were cut off on the east of the Cuito River, across from the town itself and, with no functioning armour or artillery remaining, faced annihilation.[17] The MPLA, fearing defeat, requested more help from Cuba. Fidel Castro responded by sending — in what was called "Maniobra XXXI Aniversario de las FAR" — materiel and 15,000 elite troops to the MPLA's rescue.[18] (This brought the total number of Cuban troops in all of Angola up to 50,000.[19] The first Cuban reinforcements arrived by helicopter in Cuito Cuanavale on 5 December and repaired damaged equipment. The South African advance was halted 22 km east of Cuito Cuanavale at the Tumpo river (15°10′48″S 18°57′25″E / 15.18°S 18.957°E / -15.18; 18.957) by FAPLA forces, who set up positions fortified by thick minefields. Though stalled, the South Africans secured the tactically important Chambinga Heights.

The quite demoralised 59th FAPLA motorised infantry brigade, 21st and 25th FAPLA light infantry brigades, in positions near Tumpo and east of the Cuito River, were effectively cut off due to SADF artillery control of both the bridge and airstrip and to UNITA guerilla control of the road from Menongue, which they had mined and were prepared to ambush.[20][21]

Even though the South African Air Force did not have air superiority they used a few Mirage fighter-bombers and a larger number of Impala light ground attack jets effectively. Castro sent his most experienced pilots and most advanced fighter bombers across the Atlantic to the air base at Menongue. General Ochoa Sanchez, a veteran of the 1976 Angola campaign and of tank battles in Ethiopia, was made overall commander. General Cintras Frias was made commander at Cuito Cuanavale.

On 5 December, about 160[22]–200[23] Cuban technicians, advisers, officers, and special forces were helicoptered to the besieged FAPLA troops.

The Angolans were given rapid training in the use of advanced Soviet weapons while the Cuban miners began preparing for the assaults to come.[24] The Angolans dug in, constructing series of trenches and underground living quarters and underground storage facilities for helicopters.[25][26] The airstrip was kept in repair, but since it was under constant observation by the SADF artillery and air force could not be safely used by fixed wing aircraft.[27][28]

The bridge across the Cuito river was destroyed by the South Africans on 9 January using a smart bomb.[29][30] The Cubans constructed a wooden footbridge to replace it, for resupply. (They baptised it Patria o Muerte[31]) Disabled tanks were partly buried so that their turrets could be used as fixed artillery pieces.[32]

The SADF was in the process of bringing up reinforcements[33] and then carried out, beginning 13 January[34], the first of what would prove to be five major ground assaults on the entrenched FAPLA positions east of the river.[35] A large Cuban and FAPLA column was on the way from Menongue for the relief of Cuito Cuanavale, but progress in the rainy season was slow due to the need to clear the UNITA minefields and guard against possible ambushes. They did not reach Cuito Cuanavale in time to take part in this first engagement.[36]

Final phase

Major operations continued through 23 March 1988 including several massive ground assaults[37] with infantry (primarily UNITA), armoured cars and tanks on FAPLA positions. After this, the SADF withdrew the bulk of their forces.[38][39] They left the artillery, due to the difficulty in transporting it during the rainy season[40][41]. The South Africans continued shelling (using their long-range G-5 artillery[42]) both the air strip and the city, from the high grounds of the Chambinga Heights, for months. Cuban and FAPLA forces retained the city. South African and UNITA forces claimed to have inflicted enormous casualties on Cuban and FAPLA forces, and to have accomplished their objective of repulsing the offensive against UNITA havens in southeast Angola. Cuban and FAPLA forces, however, count the failure of the South Africans to capture the city and the resilience of their troops under bombardment as a triumph. Regardless of which side was the victor, the battle marked a major turning point in the course of events in southern Africa.

By February 1988, it had become clear to all sides that a stalemate had been reached, and that a victory would not be achievable without a considerable escalation in the conflict.[43] Consequently, following a series of peace discussions throughout 1988 mediated by Chester Crocker, a peace accord was finally signed by the parties on 22 December 1988 in New York whereby South Africa and Cuba agreed to the withdrawal of their troops from Angola, and a timetable was set for Namibian independence from South Africa.

Order of battle

Below is an order of battle taken from South African National Defence Force Records.[44]

10 September 1987

On 10 September 21 Brigade sent 2 battalions with 5 T-55 tanks across the river, using a mobile bridge-layer. South African observers, watching the crossing, were amazed at the over-confident behaviour of the enemy, with infantrymen standing around casually, hands in pockets, watching the crossing. The South African reconnaissance force consisted of 4 Ratel-90 anti-tank armoured cars and 240 infantrymen in 30 Casspir infantry combat vehicles.

The South Africans were ordered to wait and see what FAPLA would do. When an armoured car began to roll over the bridge, the South Africans went into action.

An Ingwe anti-tank missile destroyed the armoured car and killed the infantrymen around it. A second missile destroyed the giant Soviet GAZ bridge-layer. The South Africans then concentrated on the T-55 tanks which were beginning to move westwards, and knocked out 3 of them within minutes. The remaining 2 immediately retreated. Artillery fire was called in from the South African G-5 guns situated some distance behind the South African lines, and by the end of the day 1 FAPLA battalion had been completely destroyed, leaving the remainder of the enemy force to retreat back across the river in confusion.

13 September 1987

Three days later, on 13 September, FAPLA sent 2 battalions of 59 Brigade with T-55 tanks across the river in a second attempt to establish a bridgehead. The South Africans and UNITA again attacked immediately, the Ratel-90s firing anti-personnel shells which cut a swathe of destruction through the massed enemy infantry. From the Casspirs infantrymen poured machine-gun and rifle fire into the exposed enemy. The Angolans started to retreat, but were exposed on open ground, with a stretch of marshland hampering their path back to the river. Within a short space of time over 200 FAPLA soldiers lay dead.

The SADF/Unita force started mopping up the last groups of men left when the tanks suddenly joined in, causing chaos and sending the lightly-armoured Ratels and Casspirs fleeing in all directions. Once the South Africans had found cover in the bush, however, they began to fire anti-tank (HEAT) shells at the tanks, which were at a disadvantage with their long gun barrels in the bush. The Ratels, realising they had the advantages of speed and manoeuvrability, began to circle round the tanks, enticing them into chasing the armoured cars in ever-smaller cricles until the Ratels were able to come in behind the tanks and fire. By the end of the engagement 5 tanks had been destroyed and over 250 FAPLA soldiers killed, for the loss of 8 dead and 3 destroyed armoured cars on the SADF side.

The South Africans, after their initial shock at encountering the tanks, had adapted their tactics and proved that their armoured cars could cope with tanks by a combination of fast movement and accurate shooting, tactics reminiscent of those used by the Boers against the British over 80 years earlier.

14 to 23 September 1987

After the first series of clashes had taken place the South Africans were ordered not to cross the Lomba River, but to establish a line behind it to block the Angolan advance. The G5 heavy guns continued to pound the Angolans mercilessly, while the South African Air Force flew missions over the enemy to eliminate their anti-aircraft installations. At the same time FAPLA artillery was bombarding the South African positions with mortars and heavy artillery.

21 Brigade continued to pile up supplies on their side of the Lomba, but the South African bombardments hampered them severely in their efforts to resume their advance. South African Recces (Special Forces, the SADF equivalent of SAS or Green Berets) kept the enemy under constant observation from hidden vantage points in the bush, often no more than 50 yards from the enemy positions. Throughout the campaign these Recces sat for days and even weeks in their observation posts, guiding the G5 artillery fire onto FAPLA positions. The enemy knew they were close by, but were never able to locate them.

47 Brigade had also been slowed down in its advance by the South African artillery and air strikes. It was barely moving a kilometre per day, and the South Africans were slowly drawing it into a "killing ground" of their choice.

There was a brief interlude in the fighting when South Africa and Angola finally agreed to exchange prisoners - a South African Recce, Captain Wynand du Toit, captured by FAPLA in 1985, was exchanged for 170 FAPLA soldiers captured by the SADF and UNITA. A couple of Dutch arms smugglers, captured in South Africa, were included in the trade. According to Amnesty International sources, the 170 FAPLA soldiers were taken to the Angolan capital, Luanda, where they were all executed by the Angolans for having failed in their duty. In view of this it was not surprising to the South African troops to find that many captured FAPLA soldiers expressed an interest in joining UNITA, or asked about the possibility of enlisting in the SADF!

47 Brigade, by now unable to retreat and desperate to join up with the other brigades, made an attempt to link up with 59 Brigade. The South Africans sent their Ratels in again to attack the enemy from the West. They had 250 men available to attack a force of over 1000 men with heavy weapons. The SAAF dropped fragmentation bombs on the FAPLA positions and then 61 Mechanised Battalion maneuvred behind them. The going was rough in the bush and they ended up on the enemy's flank instead of directly behind them. After a sharp engagement in the bush, the Ratels withdrew again because they simply could not see the enemy and were drawing a lot of artillery fire.

59 Brigade began to dig in and received welcome supplies and reinforcements from 21 Brigade, which had now succeeded in laying a mobile bridge over the Cunzumbia River. The SADF, worried now that 47 Brigade would manage to escape back across the river while 59 Brigade pushed forward against the thin South African defence line, decided it was time to close the trap they had been preparing.

3 October 1987 - the Decisive Battle

On 2 October the South African Recces reported that 47 Brigade had managed to construct a wooden road across the marshes which were blocking their retreat to the Lomba River. Trucks, missile carriers, armoured cars and tanks were busy assembling at the treeline, preparing to make an orderly retreat across the road.

The Recces watched from their vantage points in nearby trees and called in artillery fire on FAPLA while the SADF combat groups worked furiously to get ready and into position.

The first FAPLA vehicles to try to cross were Soviet SAM-9s. One crossed to safety but the Recces guided artillery fire onto the second as it tried to cross, destroying it and effectively blocking the bridge. The FAPLA troops sent a T-55 tank to try and move it out of the way, but without success. Every time FAPLA tried to make a move the Recces would call in highly accurate artillery salvoes. For 48 hours without sleep or rest the Recces stood guard over FAPLA's escape route, calling in artillery fire at the slightest movement, until at last they heard the distant rumble that announced the arrival of the armoured cars of 61 Mechanised Battalion.

The Ratels of 61 Mech had a variety of armaments, from infantry carriers with 20mm guns to the tank-busting 90mm gun. UNITA troops had by now positioned themselves to the south-east of 47 Brigade in case they tried to break away in that direction.

FAPLA artillery began to bombard the approaching Ratels and MiGs flew overhead to lend support and cover 47 Brigade's escape. The Ratels went in to attack. FAPLA, accustomed to seeing UNITA beat a hasty retreat whenever their tanks appeared, tried the same tactic and sent their tanks towards the SADF positions. To their dismay the South Africans' reaction was the exact opposite - they attacked. The Ratels raced for the tanks, surrounding them and dodging back and forth until they could get behind them and shoot at the comparatively vulnerable rear ends of the tanks.

Major Laurence Maree, second-in-command of 61 Mechanised Battalion, later told the British journalist and author, Fred Bridgland:

"I can't tell you how much courage it takes in a Ratel driver and gunner when a tank is charging towards them to summon up the will to stop still for long enough to stabilise their firing platform and get their round off. [Unlike a T54/55 tank, which has built-in stabilisers and can fire on the move, a Ratel, like other armoured cars, can only fire from a static position]. Of course, as soon as they'd fired, off they sprinted like Turbo-charged hares. One of our guys died that afternoon facing down a T-55 in his Ratel. A 100mm shell from the tank skipped up from the sandy ground and went right through the turret. The Ratel commander, Lieutenant Hind, was terribly wounded and he died later. We had two others very seriously wounded that day, and another three with light wounds. The medics just pulled the shrapnel out of those who were slightly hurt, cleaned up the wounds, and they went straight back into combat."[45]

The FAPLA troops, although outgunning the South Africans and outnumbering them 4 to 1, began to lose their nerve and one of the battalions suddenly made a break towards the river. They streamed across the open grassland towards the river in an undisciplined mob and the South Africans brought down MRL fire and high-explosive mortar shells on them. A second battalion also broke and ran for the river, with the Ratels chasing them. Approximately 100 vehicles were now jostling to try and reach the bridge by way of the wooden road. Recces directed artillery fire from the G-5s onto them, causing havoc. The area was now a wasteland of shattered trees and burnt grass from the shells and shrapnel from both sides.

MiGs piloted by Cubans flew some 60 sorties that day, dropping bombs and trying to strafe the South African positions, but they were wildly inaccurate and had little effect.

FAPLA tanks made an effort to recover some of the abandoned vehicles, but were themselves destroyed by the pinpoint accuracy of the G-5 artillery fire. When the firing finally stopped at the end of the day over 600 FAPLA soldiers lay dead on that stretch of open ground and 127 FAPLA vehicles stood destroyed or abandoned near the river.

On the morning of 4 October the South Africans were able to survey the remnants on the battlefield. Recovery teams were sent in to salvage whatever was still usable and the SADF generals were delighted to hear that their troops were able to salvage intact one of the SAM-8 missile systems, complete with missiles, radar and logistics vehicles, the first example of this highly-effective Soviet weapon ever to be captured by a western country.

The remnants of 21 and 59 Brigades had joined forces and were trying to reorganize. A few firefights broke out as the SADF and UNITA troops moved across the battlefield to salvage equipment. A few inexperienced UNITA soldiers almost caused havoc as they attempted to drive off the undamaged tanks.

The South Africans intercepted messages from Russian commanders ordering the FAPLA MiG's and troops to make an all-out effort to destroy the abandoned equipment, but by then the South Africans had moved the SAM-8 system back behind their positions and had it well camouflaged. UNITA later tried to claim the SAM-8 for itself with a view to passing it on to the Americans, but South Africa, recalling the way America had abandoned its allies in Angola, refused and retained the missile system for its own arms research.

October to December 1987 - The Last Phase

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

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

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

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

Throughout the campaign the South Africans, mindful of the fact that they were involved in an undeclared war and without allies in the west, refrained from making any public statements on the progress of the war. This gave the Cubans and Angolans the advantage in the propaganda war. The SADF could not reveal that it only had a small combat force of less than 3000 lightly-armed troops in Angola, as this would have revealed their weaknesses to the enemy. The superior training and tactics of the SADF had convinced the Cubans and Angolans that they were facing a large, heavily-armed force.[46]

As Chester Crocker later wrote:

"In early October the Soviet-Fapla offensive was smashed at the Lomba River near Mavinga. It turned into a headlong retreat over the 120 miles back to the primary launching point at Cuito Cuanavale. In some of the bloodiest battles of the entire civil war, a combined force of some 8,000 Unita fighters and 4,000 SADF troops destroyed one Fapla brigade and mauled several others out of a total Fapla force of some 18,000 engaged in the three-pronged offensive. Estimates of Fapla losses ranged upward of 4,000 killed and wounded. This offensive had been a Soviet conception from start to finish. Senior Soviet officers played a central role in its execution. Over a thousand Soviet advisers were assigned to Angola in 1987 to help with Moscow's largest logistical effort to date in Angola: roughly $1.5 billion in military hardware was delivered that year. Huge quantities of Soviet equipment were destroyed or fell into Unita and SADF hands when Fapla broke into a disorganized retreat... The 1987 military campaign represented a stunning humiliation for the Soviet Union, its arms and its strategy. It would take Fapla a year, or maybe two, to recover and regroup. Moreover the Angolan military disaster threatened to go from bad to worse. As of mid-November, the Unita/SADF force had destroyed the Cuito Cuanavale airfield and pinned down thousands of Fapla's best remaining units clinging onto the town's defensive perimeters."[47]

The results of the campaign up to April 1988 were 4,785 killed on the Cuban/Faplan side, with 94 tanks and hundreds of combat vehicles destroyed, against 31 South Africans killed in action, 3 tanks destroyed (SADF tanks entered the war after the Lomba River campaign) and 11 SADF armoured cars and troop carriers lost. A total of 9 Migs were destroyed and only 1 SAAF Mirage shot down[48]


On 8 March, General Cintras Frías began opening a second front near Calueque, with 40,000 Cuban troops and a larger number of Angolan forces.[49][Note 4] The SADF side claimed they inflicted severe casualties on the Cubans forcing them to the negotiation table and the Cubans claiming they defeated the SADF to do the same.[50] In fact much of the aftermath has been mired in propaganda. In Black Africa — particularly in southern Africa — the battle has attained legendary status. To that part of the world it is considered the debacle of Apartheid: a rout of the South African armed forces that altered the balance of power in the region and heralded the demise of White minority rule in South Africa. Thus, the battle is often referred to, by Black Africa and Cuba, as the African Stalingrad of Apartheid: the decisive event that defeated Pretoria's objective of establishing regional hegemony — a strategy which was vital to defending and preserving Apartheid — and directly led to the independence of Namibia and accelerated the dismantling of Apartheid. In this point of view Cuba's contribution was crucial as it provided the essential reinforcements, material and planning.

The South African Defense Minister claimed that the taking of Cuito Cuanavale had never been intended.[51] A military analyst associated with the "authoritative"[52] International Institute of Strategic Studies in London pointed out that the use by UNITA of the FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft system reduced the MIG's to using high altitudes techniques ineffective for close air support.[53]

The SADF claims a large number of government casualties of 4,000, 100 armored vehicles, 9 aircraft as well as a heavy loss of armour (94 tanks) due to their use of obsolete T-55 tanks and poorly trained crews against more modern SADF anti-tank weaponry and targeting devices. Cuban and African sources however, claim to have bested South African armored units and point to the abandonment of a number of Olifant tanks, and other vehicles as proof of this.[54]

The South African and American view is expressed by John Turner who claims that following their losses, the Cubans were convinced that further military confrontation with the SADF would not succeed.[55]

Subsequent comments made by a Soviet adviser to the Cubans in Angola suggest a stalemate: "The people's armed forces for the liberation of Angola have not been able either, even with the help of the Cubans, to decisively defeat the enemy and drive him out of the territory or the country. The result, frankly speaking, was an impasse."[56]

Nelson Mandela supported the Cuban version of the battle in a 26 July 1991 speech delivered in Havana: "The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice unparalleled for its principled and selfless character... We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defence of one of us." [57] However, it should be noted that Mandela is a life long supporter of the ANC and supported the account given by Umkhonto we Sizwe (translated Spear of the Nation, and also abbreviated MK) the then military wing of the ANC, who fought along side the soviet backed Angolan FNLA-Cuban forces, as well as the South African Communist Party and SWAPO.

See also


  1. ^ On the other hand, Gen. Geldenhuys of the SADF estimated, as quoted in The New York Times, 20 April 1988, that in the period prior to 25 February, Cuban forces numbered about 1,000.
  2. ^ Estimates vary. Renée-Jacques Lique, editor of Afrique Express (Montreuil, France) says "D'un côté 7 000 soldats de l'armée d'Afrique du Sud et 10 000 combattants de l'UNITA, le mouvement rebelle angolais de Jonas Savimbi. De l'autre, 20 000 soldats gouvernementaux angolais des FAPLA (Forces armées populaires de libération de l'Angola) et 5 000 soldats d'élites cubains. …La bataille de Cuito Cuanavale dure huit jours : du 12 au 20 janvier. Les FAPLA et les Cubains en sortent vainqueurs au prix de 4 600 morts. Les troupes sud-africaines sont stoppées, mais plus important encore, dans le même temps, Cubains et Angolais ont avancé sur la Namibie. On the one side, 7,000 soldiers of the South African Army and 10,000 combatants of UNITA, the Angolan rebel movement of Jonas Savimbi. On the other, 20,000 Angolan Government soldiers of FAPLA and 5,000 elite Cuban soldiers… The battle of Cuito Cuanavale lasted eight days: from 12–20 January. The FAPLA and the Cubans were victorious at the cost of 4,600 dead. The South African troops were stopped but, even more importantly, at the same time Cubans and Angolans had advanced on Namibia." On the other hand, Karl Maier, journalist for The Washington Post and The Economist, on a visit to the front on 28 February 1988, repeated an estimate of 10,000 combined FAPLA/Cuban forces defending the town: Angola: Promises and Lies, London, 1996, p. 29.
  3. ^ See also Afrique Express (Montreuil, France), no. 247, 4 February 2002. "La guerre civile angolaise a fait plus de 500.000 morts, plus de 100.000 mutilés et a entraîné le déplacement forcé de plus de 4 millions de personnes sur une population de 12 millions d'Angolais." [The Angolan civil war left more than 500,000 dead, more than 100,000 wounded and forcibly displaced more than 4 million people (out of a population of 12 million)].
  4. ^ Some estimates say only 10,000-20,000 Cubans: Gleijeses, Piero (May 2007). "Cuba and the Independence of Namibia", Cold War History, Volume 7, Issue 2. pp. 285–303.  , and Jaster, op., cit., p. 22.


  1. ^ James, W. Martin and Susan Herlin Broadhead (2004). Historical dictionary of Angola, 2nd ed.. Scarecrow Press. p. 14.  
  2. ^ "Cuito Cuanavale: Fallen MK soldiers to be remembered". South Africa: Mail and Guardian.  
  3. ^ Gleijeses, Piero (11 July 2007). Mail and Guardian. South Africa.  
  4. ^ Jaster (Autumn 1990). "The 1988 Peace Accords and the Future of South-western Africa". Adelphi Papers (The International Institute for Strategic Studies, London) 253: 17. "the South Africans assembled [at Mavinga] a considerable force: …totalling some 3,000 men, plus another 1,500–2,000 Namibian troops from the South West African Territorial Force (SWATF).".  
  5. ^ Jaster (Autumn 1990). "The 1988 Peace Accords and the Future of South-western Africa". Adelphi Papers (The International Institute for Strategic Studies, London) 253: 19. "Fighting continued on a large scale, with an estimated 4,000 SADF and SWATF troops, 8,000 UNITA and 10,000 FAPLA forces…".  
  6. ^ "Cuban Tanks".  
  7. ^ Marcum, John (1990). "South Africa and the Angola-Namibia Agreement", in: Disengagement from Southwest Africa: The Prospects for Peace in Angola and Namibia, edited by Owen Ellison Kahn. New Brunswick: University of Miami Institute for Soviet and East European Studies. p. 135. ISBN 0887383610. "UNITA and the SADF pursued retreating MPLA forces to the advanced air base and provincial capital of Cuito Cuanavale. There they laid siege to what became known as the Stalingrad of Angola, from December 1987 to March 1988. Caught in a conventional action for which it was ill-prepared, UNITA suffered some 3000 battle dead from among the ranks of its best units."  
  8. ^ Jaster (Autumn 1990). "The 1988 Peace Accords and the Future of South-western Africa". Adelphi Papers (The International Institute for Strategic Studies, London) 253: 8–11.  
  9. ^ Maier, Karl (1996). Angola: Promises and Lies. London: Serif. p. 14. ISBN 1 874959 47 1. "some observers estimate that 500,000 people have died in the fighting and the famine and disease it has provoked."  
  10. ^
  11. ^ James, W. Martin and Susan Herlin Broadhead (2004). Historical dictionary of Angola, 2nd ed.. Scarecrow Press. p. 16.  
  12. ^ John Frederick Walker (2004). A Certain Curve of Horn: The Hundred-Year Quest for the Giant Sable Antelope. Grove Press. p. 177. ISBN 0802140688.  
  13. ^ Crocker, Chester A. (1992). High Noon in Southern Africa: Making Peace in a Rough Neighborhood. W.W. Norton. ISBN 0393034321. "In early October the Soviet-Fapla offensive was smashed at the Lomba River near Mavinga. It turned into a headlong retreat over the 120 miles back to the primary launching point at Cuito Cuanavale. In some of the bloodiest battles of the entire civil war, a combined force of some 8,000 UNITA fighters and 4,000 SADF troops destroyed one Fapla brigade and mauled several others out of a total Fapla force of some 18,000 engaged in the three-pronged offensive. Estimates of Fapla losses ranged upward of 4,000 killed and wounded. This offensive had been a Soviet conception from start to finish. Senior Soviet officers played a central role in its execution. ... Huge quantities of Soviet equipment were destroyed or fell into UNITA and SADF hands when Fapla broke into a disorganized retreat... The 1987 military campaign represented a stunning humiliation for the Soviet Union, its arms and its strategy. ... As of mid-November, the UNITA/SADF force had destroyed the Cuito Cuanavale airfield and pinned down thousands of FAPLA's best remaining units clinging onto the town's defensive perimeters."   Crocker was U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the Reagan Administration
  14. ^ Vanemann, Peter. "Soviet Foreign Policy for Angola/Namibia in the 1980's, in Owen Kahn, op. cit., p. 76..  
  15. ^
  16. ^ Michael Radu, Anthony Arnold (1990). The New Insurgencies: Anticommunist Guerrillas in the Third World. Transaction Publishers. p. 149. Retrieved 2008-05-11.  
  17. '^ Bole-Richard, Michel (1988-01-23). "Angola : une importante garnison gouvernementale serait sur le point de tomber aux mains de l'UNITA" (in fr). Le Monde (Paris): pp. 5.  , Le Mondes Johannesburg correspondant reported that these units had been without resupply for three weeks. See also Benemelis, Juan. Las Guerras Secretas de Fidel Castro. cap. 18.  
  18. ^ Vanemann, Peter, op. cit., p. 79.
  19. ^ Treaster, Joseph B. (28 July 1988). "Castro Faults Soviet Tactics in War in Angola. (Foreign Desk).". The New York Times. "Mr. Castro sent 15,000 reinforcements into Angola for the operation at Cuito Cuanavale, bringing the total of Cuban troops in the country to about 50,000. After the fighting there, he pressed deep into the south of Angola with a force of 400 tanks — more than all the tanks in the South African armed forces — with support from Soviet-made MIG-23 fighter bombers. With that maneuver, he increased the cost to South Africa of continuing to fight in Angola and placed Cuba in its most aggressive combat position of the war, thus fortifying his present argument that he is preparing to leave Angola with his opponents on the defensive."  
  20. ^ "Angola: The siege of Cuito Cuanavale". Africa Confidential vol. 29 No 3 (London): 2. 5 February 1988.  
  21. ^ Vanneman, Peter. op. cit.. p. 79.  
  22. ^ Bole Richard, Michel (23 January 1988). "Angola: Une importante garnison gouvernementale serait sur le point de tomber aux mains de l'UNITA". Paris): Le Monde.  
  23. ^ Ricardo Luis, Roger. Preparanse a vivir: cronicas de Cuito Cuanavale. p. 6.  
  24. ^ Ricardo Luis, Roger, op. cit., p. 117.
  25. ^ Vanneman, Peter. op. cit.. p. 80.  
  26. ^ "op. cit.". Africa Confidential: 2.  
  27. ^ Meier, Karl. op. cit.. p. 31.  
  28. ^ loc. cit..  
  29. ^ Meier, Karl. op. cit.. p. 31.  
  30. ^ "loc. cit.". Africa Confidential.  
  31. ^ Ricardo Luis, Roger (1989). Prepárense a vivir: Crónicas de Cuito Cuanavale. Havana: Editora Politica.  
  32. ^ Holt, C. (2005). At Thy Call we did not falter. Zebra Press. p. 84. ISBN 1770071172.  
  33. ^ Nortje, P. (2004). 32 Battalion. Struik. ISBN 1-86872-914-1.   says that the "lull" in fighting from 26 November 1987 to 10 December 1987 was "politically motivated". But French, Damian. "SADF 1SAI Ratels in Op Hooper (1987–1988)". Retrieved 2008-01-04.   says that his units of the 1st South Africa Infantry arrived, after training, at the front only in Dec. 1988.
  34. ^ Liquer, loc. cit.
  35. ^ George, Edward (2005). The Cuban Intervention in Angola, 1965–1991 From Che Guevara to Cuito Cuanavale. Routledge. ISBN 0415350158.  
  36. ^ "op. cit.". Africa Confidential: 2.  
  37. ^ For a graphic first hand account of two of these, see url=
  38. ^ Bernard E. Trainor (1988-07-12). "South Africa's Strategy on Angola Falls Short, Enhancing Cubans' Role". New York Times.  
  39. ^ Pazzanita, Anthony (1991). "The Conflict Resolution Process in Angola", The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1 (March 1991). p. 105. "The SADF and UNITA had relaxed the siege of the town by May, 1988, although at least several hundred South Africans remained on the outskirts."  
  40. ^ Bole-Richard, Michel (1988-06-10). "Les conflits en Afrique australe La progression des troupes cubaines dans le Sud-angolais inquiète Pretoria" (in fr). Le Monde (Paris): pp. 3.  .
  41. ^ McFaul, Michael (1990). Rethinking the "Reagan Doctrine" in Angola, International Security vol. 14 no. 3 (Winter 1989-1990). M.I.T. press. "some 400-500 South African soldiers...stationed outside Cuito Cuanavale had been waiting out the rainy season to withdraw their heavy G-5 and G-6 artillery guns.By August 1988...[they were] completely surrounded for several"  
  42. ^ G5 155mm 45-calibre, towed gun howitzer
  43. ^ Owen Ellison Kahn (1990). Disengagement from Southwest Africa: The Prospects for Peace in Angola and Namibia. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 0887383610.  
  44. ^ R. Allport (2003-02-25). [ ""THE BATTLE OF CUITO CUANAVALE - Cuba's Mythical Victory""]. Retrieved 2009-08-13.  ,Recorded Accounts of Retired Col. Jan Breytenbach,Commander of 1 Reconnaissance Commando, South African National Defence Force Archives, Pretoria, Gauteng, Republic of South Africa; 01 August 2009
  45. ^ Fred Bridgland (1990). Ashanti. pp. 145.  
  46. ^ R. Allport (2003-02-25). [ ""THE BATTLE OF CUITO CUANAVALE - Cuba's Mythical Victory""]. Retrieved 2009-08-13.  ,David Saks (2008-05-18). saks/2008/08/13/what-really-happened-at-cuito-cuinavale/ ""What really happened at Cuito Cuinavale?"". Mail and Guardian. saks/2008/08/13/what-really-happened-at-cuito-cuinavale/. Retrieved 2009-08-13.  
  47. ^ Chester A. Crocker (1992). Norton. pp. 360–361.  
  48. ^ Jannie Geldenhuys (1995). Jonathan Ball Publishers. pp. 213–256.  ,Col Jan Breytenbach (1990). Lemur. pp. 156–282.  ,,,
  49. ^ Benemelis, Juan, loc. cit.
  50. ^ Scott Thompson (1991). "South Africa and the 1988 Agreements. New Brunswick u.a.: Transaction Publ.. p. 125. ISBN 0887383610. Retrieved 2008-05-07.  , in Owen Ellison Kahn, op. cit.
  51. ^ James Brooke (1988-05-18). "Angolans Besting South Africa in a Remote Battle". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-15.  
  52. ^ Bernard E. Trainor (1987-11-22). "Angola Drive on the Rebels is Said to Fail"". New York Times. pp. 17.  
  53. ^ Jaster. op. cit.. p. 18. "MiG ground-attack fighters… did little damage to SADF and UNITA ground forces."  
  54. ^ Ferreira, Colonel Dean (March 1989). "Lead". Paratus (SADF): 14.  
  55. ^ Turner, John W. (1998). Continent Ablaze; The Insurgency Wars in Africa, 1960 to the Present. Cassell Plc. ISBN 1-85409-128-X.  
  56. ^ M. Ponomariov, Krasnaya Zvezda Magazine; 20 May 1988.
  57. ^ Castro Ruz, Fidel Alejandro and Mandela, Nelson (1991). How Far We Slaves Have Come. N.Y.: Pathfinder Press. pp. 18–20. ISBN 0873484975.  


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