NATURE AND EXTENT OF THE SADF'S INVOLVEMENT IN THE ANGOLAN CONFLICT
1. The RSA's initial involvement in Angola came about because Southern
Angola was thrusted into a bloody struggle and misery directly by the Portuguese
Government's decision regarding the eventual transition of Government.
The chaos and confused conditions which reigned there made it possible
for SWAPO terrorists to freely cross the border, to commit deeds of murder
and robbery in Ovambo and to disappear again into the chaotic conditions
in Southern Angola. The robbery and murder expeditions further threatened
the construction and safety of workers at the important Hydro-electric
schemes at Ruacana and Calueque.
2. The SA Defence Force moved in to protect these two schemes after
the Portuguese Government failed to take the necessary precautions to ensure
the safety of the workers at the two schemes. In this action peaceful contact
was made with the representatives of Unita/FNLA and MPLA.
3. At times it was necessary for the SADF to cross the border to follow
SWAPO in hot pursuit operations to bring them to justice for their cowardly
deeds of aggression against Ovambo. From these expeditions it became obvious
that an armed struggle between the three Angolan factions was developing.
4. Thousands of refugees started crossing the border. Apart from confirming
the power struggle, they also mentioned the presence of Cubans supporting
5. In a hot pursuit operation the Defence Force came across Cuban ammunition
and weapon dumps which placed the security situation of Southern Angola
and the water schemes in a completely different light.
6. Meanwhile Unita and FNLA appealed to the SADF for support against
communist infiltration in Angola. The communists were at that stage occupying
their traditional area in Southern Angola. Dr. Savimbi had full confidence
that if he could maintain his authority in his traditional area the MPLA
would have agreed to a peaceful change of government in which all three
movements would have been represented. This was what he favoured all along
rather than to involve his country in a bloody struggle which could not
only have cost innocent lives of his people but also caused the destruction
of his country's infrastructure. For this reason it was decided to give
help and support on only a limited scale.
7. It was planned that the re-conquering of the whole area by the Unita/FNLA
forces would take place in fases:
a. By re-conquering and holding Southern Angola.
b. To re-conquer the harbour cities of Benguela and Lobito and thereby
ensuring and holding the whole Unita/FNLA sphere of influence. The SA Army
sent an officer to Silva Porto on 24 September 1975 to help plan an operation
to stop the MPLA march to Nova Lisboa. This officer was to advise Unita
on training and the re-organization to hold Nova Lisboa at all costs. A
team of eighteen instructors with three anti-tank weapons and a few machine
guns joined the liaison officer. On 6 october 1975 the operation was completed.
A company-strength Unita force accompanied by South African advisors and
instructors, who manned the anti-tank weapons and machine guns clashed
on that day with an MPLA/Cuban force at Norton de Matos half-way between
Lobito and Nova Lisboa. Dr. Savimbi was in the vicinity. Five armoured
cars and mortars supported the MPLA/Cuban force. The MPLA march was halted,
one armoured car destroyed and more than 100 of the enemy killed. The MPLA
march from Benguela also came to a halt and the South African advisors
organized the Unita forces into defensive positions West and North of Nova
Lisboa. It now became obvious that the struggle, with strong Cuban support
began to take on a conventional colour and as a result a squadron of armoured
cars with crews were sent during middle October 1975 to Silva Porto, where
it joined the South African-trained Unita forces to form the FOXBAT combat
group (more about this later).
THE RECAPTURE OF SOUTH ANGOLA
8. With the MPLA attack on Nova Lisboa averted for the time being, attention
was now turned to the re-capture of South Angola. On 11 October 1975, a
senior South African Army officer became advisor to a lightly armed FNLA/Unita
force of about 1000 men with vegetable vehicles and removal vehicles as
their form of transport. Six South African officers and seven non-commissioned
officers accompanied him and the ZULU battle group came into being, with
the task of re-capturing as many towns in South Angola as possible. The
force began to move on 14 October 1975 and subsequently achieved the following
a. 19 October 1975
After ZULU had moved from Serpa Pinto via Artur da Paiva to Pereira d'Eca,
the southern district capital was re-captured. With little resistance and
local administration restored.
b. 20 October 1975
Rocadas was re-captured and a couple of armoured cars as well as mortar
detachments joined ZULU.
c. 22 October 1975
Joao de Almeida, an important communications centre and the MPLA headquarters,
was re-captured after a fierce battle.
d. 24 October 1975
Sa' da Bandeira, capital of the district and an important population centre,
where the MPLA had at its disposal a strong force and heavy weapons, was
re-captured, and the Unita/FNLA administration set up again. Yet more armoured
cars and 81mm mortars strengthened ZULU here.
e. 28 October 1975
Mocamedes, a port and a capital of the district, was re-captured and a
large quantity of ordnance carried off after fierce resistance. FNLA/Unita
administration was again restored. ZULU then moved back to Sa' da Bandeira,
where it was joined by more trained FNLA troops. At Sa' da Bandeira, re-organisation
took place and preparations were made for an attack on Benguela, capital
of the district and population centre, and a town which, according to information,
was strongly defended by Cuban and MPLA forces.
THE RECAPTURE OF BENGUELA AND LOBITO
9. With South Angola recaptured and the towns and cities in the hands of
FNLA/Unita retaining forces, ZULU moved to Benguela and established its
headquarters at Catenque on 31 October 1975. From here, a cleaning-up operation
to the east was first undertaken, and a strong MPLA/Cuban force, which
had resumed its advance to Nova Lisboa where the FOXBAT battle group was
defending the city, was hard pressed and crushed. The road to Benguela
was now open and yet another threat to Nova Lisboa warded off. The recapture
of Benguela and Lobito took place as follows:
a. 4 November 1975
ZULU, with a strength of about 500 FNLA/Unita, resulting from the retaining
elements which were left behind in all big cities, recaptured the Benguela
aerodrome without meeting much resistance. On the road to Benguela, many
signs of Cuban presence on a large scale and also of Cuban cowardice, were
observed. Well-prepared, but deserted, defensive positions were found south
of Benguela, while hasty Cubans had even left secret documents behind.
A large MPLA training camp, where Cuban instructors had trained MPLA, was
summarily deserted, and in their haste the Cubans had even left large quantities
of weapons, ammunition, petrol and food. ZULU made good use of the above.
b. 5 November 1975
After ZULU had been cornered for the whole of the previous day by heavy
mortar and 122mm rocket launchers, fired from Benguela, ZULU succeeded
in determining the positions of these weapons, which had in the meantime
moved outside the city. ZULU then bombarded them with mortars. The Cubans,
together with their weapons, did not wait much longer, but immediately
retreated, after which ZULU occupied the city. The first wounded Cubans
were captured in Benguela, the administration and services were restored
and medical treatment administered by two South African doctors who had
accompanied ZULU. Many of the wounded were teenage children, whom the fleeing
MPLA and Cubans had hurriedly supplied with arms. After its experience
of the 122mm rocket launchers which had far exceeded ZULU's mortars in
effective range, ZULU requested artillery support from the RSA. Four 88mm
guns and personnel therefore also joined ZULU after 11 November 1975.
c. 7 November 1975
ZULU continued its advance to Lobito and took the city without any resistance.
ZULU then remained in Lobito until 11 November 1975, in anticipation of
possible orders to the South Africans to retreat. Battle Group FOXBAT joined
ZULU in Lobito, but departed when it became obvious that its support was
not needed. The third phase was thus successfully brought to a close. However,
no positive situation was in sight and ZULU was commanded to continue its
advance to Novo Redondo, the northern border of the FNLA/Unita area of
d. 12 November 1975
After ZULU had continued its advance, it clashed with MPLA/Cuban forces
just south of Novo Redondo. The MPLA/Cuban forces were in well-prepared
defensive positions. ZULU suffered losses and the first South African member
of the force was killed. ZULU's newly acquired artillery came into action
at once and the enemy fled. Novo Redondo was recaptured on 13 November
1975. ZULU halted, took up defensive positions and a large section of ZULU
left to join the FOXBAT battle group which was at that stage experiencing
fierce resistance in the Santa Comba area.
e Summary of ZULU's Results
ZULU's results speak for themselves. A total distance of 3,159 km was covered
in 30 days (including rest). 21 minor clashes or ambushes, 16 quick attacks
and 14 deliberate attacks against well-prepared defensive positions took
place during this time. 210 MPLA were killed, 96 wounded and 56 captured,
while 4 FNLA and 1 South African soldier died and 21 FNLA and 20 South
Africans were wounded.
OPERATIONS IN CENTRAL ANGOLA
10. Back to Battle Group FOXBAT. At Silva Porto, on 25 October 1975, an
MPLA/Cuban force, supported by armoured cars, attempted to advance from
Dondo to Nova Lisboa itself, after their failure, on the western approaches
to Nova Lisboa. The force took Quibola and then Santa Comba. Nova Lisboa
was threatened again. At the same time the MPLA/Cuban forces on the western
approaches began to stir. FOXBAT's moment had come. On 26 October 1975,
FOXBAT, comprising a South African-trained battalion, South African advisors
and an armoured car squadron, moved from Silva Porto to Teixeira da Sousa.
From here a FOXBAT element was sent to Santa Comba/Cela area to check the
MPLA advance, and killed a Cuban general while the main force moved westwards
and subsequently on:
a. 27 October 1975
Caraculo was recaptured after slight resistance.
b. 1 November 1975
Together with ZULU, FOXBAT crushed the MPLA/Cuban forces at Cubol.
c. 3 November 1975
After fierce resistance, Norton de Matos was recaptured. FOXBAT moved further
west from 6 November, deployed east of Lobito, to cut off the MPLA/Cuban
retreat before ZULU.
d. 9 November 1975
Moved to Cela, where the main force of FOXBAT joined a Unita element which
had been placed there, and which had already taken Cela and Santa Comba.
On 11 November 1975, FOXBAT made contact with the enemy north of Santa
Comba. The enemy withdrew and the first real destruction by the enemy was
carried out during the retreat.
RSA INVOLVEMENT WITH FNLA IN NORTH ANGOLA
11. The RSA also acted in an advisory capacity at Holden Roberto's headquarters
at Ambriz, north of Luanda. This advice was that Roberto must at all costs
retain his territory and not launch an offensive. It was hoped that the
FNLA would, in this way, be occupying the whole of its area of influence
in North Angola at the time of independence. This advice, however, was
thrown to the winds and on 6 November 1975 the SADF sent a senior officer
as an observer to Roberto's headquarters. This officer was, at the time
of the FNLA attack on the MPLA/Cuban defensive positions, just north of
Luanda. As a result of the fact that no South African instructors had accompanied
this FNLA force, the attack by an FNLA battalion, supported by a number
of armoured cars manned by Portuguese, and artillery, was a total disaster.
The attack was badly planned and co-ordination between supporting fire
and troops was extremely poor, with disastrous results. Against the advice
of South Africa, Roberto gambled away his forces on careless attacks instead
of using them for the retention of his traditional area of influence. The
results for FNLA were disastrous.
THE SITUATION ON 11 NOVEMBER 1975
12. On 11 November 1975 the allies held the general line north from Lobito
to Santa Comba and from there eastwards to Luso. As was the case with ZULU,
FOXBAT would have been able to move northwards with the greatest of ease
and clean up and retain the territory up to the Cuanza River. The geographical
borders of the RSA's involvement, as well as the possibility of RSA withdrawal
by 11 November 1975, however, prevented it. After mediation by go-betweens,
the RSA forces, which comprised at that stage about 300 advisors/instructors
and personnel as well as a limited number of armoured cars, mortars and
anti-tank weapons, remained in anticipation of a political solution which
was the prospect held out by the mediators.
INVOLVEMENT AFTER 11 NOVEMBER 1975
13. After independence, Cuban forces and an unlimited number of Russian
armamaents streamed into Angola and completely took over the military function
from MPLA. FOXBAT, strengthened by ZULU, had to contend with heavy 122mm
fire on 13 November 1975, after which this battle group also requested
artillery from the RSA. While the build-up of Cuban forces took place mainly
in the Quibala area, the South African supported Unita and FNLA concentrated
on the retention of their traditional areas of influence. Action in which
these forces were concerned took place mainly in no-man's land between
Quibala and Santa Comba. The need to hold the territory resulted in an
escalation of South African involvement and the creation of additional
battle groups to such an extent that the South African involvement just
before withdrawal stood at just under 2000 men (logistics element included).
As a counter- move to the Cuban build-up and especially to the 122mm rocket
launchers, 140mm guns were brought into the struggle. This caused chaos
among the Cuban ranks. The following events are exceptional:
a. Bridge 14
To deny the Cuban forces access to the anti-communist line of defence,
the Battle of Bridge 14 took place on 9 December 1975 in the Catofe area.
During this battle, the battle group FOXBAT dealt the Cubans a shattering
blow. FOXBAT comprised 3 FNLA/Unita companies, a company of South African
infantry and an armoured car squadron, supported by eight 140mm and four
38mm guns, a platoon of mortars and an engineer element, all South Africans.
The Cuban/MPLA force consisted of a battalion of Cubans, an MPLA battalion
and a mixed supporting battalion with 122mm rocket launchers, artillery
and mortar support. The battle raged from 9 December 1975 to 12 December
1975 and yielded the following results:
i. 200 Cubans dead
ii. 200 MPLA dead
iii.10 x 76mm guns seized
iv. 22 x 122mm mortars seized
v. 4 x 122mm rocket launchers destroyed
vi. 1 x 122mm rocket launcher seized
vii. 4 South Africans dead
b. Occupation of the Salazar Bridge
A newly appointed battle group, known as ORANGE, comprising a Unita battalion,
an armoured car squadron, a company of South African infantry and artillery
occupied the Salazar Bridge over the Cuanza River, north of Mussende, the
northern border of the Unita area, on 12 December 1975.
c. Harassing Attacks South-East of Quibala
In order to harass the Cuban forces at Quibala and to retain a Unita stronghold
at Cariango, the battle group ORANGE came to blows with Cuban forces at
Quibala on 15 December 1975. Enemy concern at this harassing action is
obvious from the fact that the Cubans used jet aircraft and tanks, of which
one was put out of action.
d. Capture of Luso
At the special request of Dr. Savimbi, who wanted to ensure the safety
of the whole Benguela railway line for a free Angola, a battle group, named
X-RAY, constituted the same way as ORANGE, launched the Battle of Luso,
from 8 December 1975 to 11 December 1975, and took the city. Approximately
250 MPLA were killed here and an appreciable amount of equipment, including
heavy weapons, was seized. After this, the battle groups divided up into
three battle teams which:
i. On 20 December 1975 cleaned up eastwards to Lamege and there came
across the great railway bridge, already destroyed.
ii. On 14 December 1975 cleaned up eastwards to Bucaco and seized the
bridge across the Luchia River.
iii. On 19 December 1975 cleaned up southwards to Lentembo.
14. The above were a few examples of the aggressive way in which the
anti-communist forces maintained an 800km defensive front, in anticipation
of an OAU-inspired political solution. But with the inability of the OAU
an accomplished fact, the RSA forces, except for a limited number of protective
forces in South Angola, had to withdraw by 22 January 1976.
15. The allied FNLA/Unita forces supported by South African forces could
have conquered the whole of Angola, but Dr. Savimbi insisted that he was
only interested in controlling his traditional area because he was determined
to reach a settlement with the MPLA to the advantage of Angola.
3 February 1977
Return to Main Page