responded to UNITA requests for assistance during the FAPLA offfences
of 1985, 1986 and 1987. Each year the assistance grew, and with the
1987 campaign culminated in a 3000-men strong SADF task force stopping
the FAPLA/CUBAN advance on Mavinga and Jamba. Was it not for the SADF,
UNITA would most likely have been crushed by the 1987 campaign. The
SADF assistance remained limited and UNITA bore the brunt of the
infantary requirements of the battles, and suffered the vast majority
of losses in men and material on the SADF/UNITA side. Recognised by
military experts of the time, the SADF was a formadable fighting force,
well experienced in bush warfare, and it most cases defeated larger and
better equipped forces on the battlefield. The FAPLA/CUBAN forces fought
bravely under very difficult circumstances (poorly trained and led, low
morale; but being equipped with the best eastern Bloc weapons. The last
battles of the Bushwar are politically tainted and the web is
of claims of victory from both sides. This page endevours to remove the
political spin and reveal the truth from an a-political military
from a SADF 81mm mortar team in action. This and the next photos were
most likely taken during the campaign, as the vegetation is typical of
the area of the Ops Modular/Hooper/Packer battles. The 81mm mortars
formed part of the fire support teams of the SADF forces and was
regarded as an infantry weapon, as opposed to the larger 120mm M5
mortars used by the Artillery and airborne forces. The soldier on the
left is the loader, dropping the bombs into the tube, and the one on
the right is aiming the weapon.
the top of a Ratel 20mm ICV, "bundubashing" its way through the African
Bush. The SADF vehicles were built with the capability for off-road
movement. The Ratel 20 till today, forms the mainstay of the SADF/SANDF
mechanised forces. It has room for 10 fully equiped soldiers, and is
made in versions such as 90mm AT, 20mm ICV, 60mm Mortar, 81mm Mortar,
and Command 12,7mm.
Special Forces inspect a FAPLA PT-76 amphibiuos tank, stuck in a river
during one of the many failed attempts to cross a river in the battle
area. Not sure if this picture was taken during the campaign, suspect it was taken earlier, but this sort of scene surely played itself out during the campaign due to the many river obstacles in the battle area.
Casspir from Liaison team 2 with Capt John Mortimer on top. He was
standing in for Les Rudman during his brief break in July 1987. The
liaison teams were the first SADF troops to join UNITA after it called
for assistance. These teams assessed the situation and fed the SADF
with info at the onset of the campaign. The liaison teams also provided
C+C assistance to UNITA.
1987, Major Andre Retief briefs SADF tankers for the first SADF tank
action since WWII - the attack on 16 Bde on 9 November 1987. In keeping
witha SADF tradition, the troops are growing beards when deployed in
the field for long periods, and to be recognised as "ou manne"
(veterans), as opposed to "rowers' (fresh intakes) with short hair and
no facial hair. Vehicles are camauflaged under netting in the
G5 howitzers fire during the campaign. During the campaign, it was
regarded as the best artillery piece in the world in its class, firing
to a range of 40kms with great accuracy, while contemporaries could
only manage a range of about 29kms.. The sixteen G5 and three prototype
G6's won the campaign for the SADF, and largely neutralised the FAPLA
aerial superiority. The dense vegetation meant that the guns could hide
from the enemy, and despite continious efforts, FAPLA never located
damaged the guns. Each gun could cover an area of 5000km2,
during the initial phases of the campaign. Contrary to some false
propogande claims, the SADF contingent never numbered more than 3000.
From the above diagram one can calculate the full strength (which it
never was) as follows:
Combat Group Alpha: 260
Combat Group Bravo: 318
Combat Group Charlie: 122
20 Artillery Regt: 264
964 combat soldiers, excluding HQ and Admin and Log. The mainstay of
the Infantry forces was supplied by UNITA, and very little is known
about the numbers, capabilities and casualty rates of UNITA during the
campaign. At any given time several UNITA Battalions were engaged in
the fighting, and attacking the rear and long supply routes of the
armoured formation on training at the Army Battle School at Lohatla in
1988. On this vast training ground, conventional exercised were held,
in prEperation for the real campaigns. Should the war have continued
beyond 1988, this unit would most likely have deployed to the
Tank 51Bravo again! during the campaign, followed by 51 Alpha. Note the
tank-unfriendly terrain. tank battles were sometimes fought over
distances as small as 20 meters!
WOII Jacques de Wet and S/Sgnt Spikkels Terblanche on a Olifant tank neat Cuito Cuanavale, 1988.
Close-up of the mine roller in the previous picture.
the kill markings on the ZT3 Ratel in the previous picture. The ZT3
were used in the open areas and over longer distances that the Ratel
90mm which often engaged enemy tanks and vehicles over very short
distances in the bushy terrain.
painting of an air-toair engagement during the campaign. Depicted are
an Angolan MIG 21's often flown by Cuban pilots and SAAF Mirage F1
Same as the
previous picture; the SAAF Cactus SAM missile vehicle next to its
rival, the Soviet SA-9 Gashkin SAM system. With Soviet and Cuban
support, the SAAF/SADF faced one of the most sofisticated AA defence
systems outside the then Soviet Bloc. Operated by the SAAF, xxx Cactus
systems were deployed during the campaign. The French operated and sold
the system as the Crotale.
airfield during the campaign. It was the SADF's main airstrip nearest
to the battlefield. Mavinga was also the UNITA stronghold, the main
target of the FAPLA offensive. A dirt airstrip just long enough for
C160 and C130 transports, all vital equipment were flown to Mavinga.
This include spares, rations, 155mm ammunition, etc. The writer;s
brother was a technician on some of these flights and recalled the
night-flights with C130's flying in 155mm ammunition by the plane loads
just to keep the guns firing. The SADF was heavily dependant on the
superior range of the G5 and G6 guns to maintain the initiative on the
battlefield. It is not the most economic option to fly heavy artillery
ammunition in by plane, but the SADF had no other option as the
overland logistical route of 400km through bush, could not keep up with
the demand. When a plane was appoaching Mavinga airfield at night,
UNITA soldiers would lit tins with parrafin along the runway as landing
lights. There were also no landing instrumentation at the airport, and
planes relyed on own navigation to find Mavinga. The SADF only flew
logistical missions at night, due to the FAPLA air superiority during
the day. Upon landing, the load would rapidly be ofloaded, sometimes
while the plane is slowly taxiing, and the parrafin landing lights
would be extinguished as soon as a plane has taken off. The landings
were always tactical, with a very sharp decent and accent to avoid SAM
missiles and gun fire.
(This photo in another book says it was taken at Rundu AFB)
video still of a 81mm mortar commander on the radio, near a stack of
bombs ready to be fired. In the background, one can see the typical
Angolan terrain in early summer, with trees budding new leaves, while
the grass is still the previous seasons' growth.
shell from a Ratel hitting an enemy bunker. True to Soviet doctrine,
the FAPLA forces were always well dug in, with substantial trenches and
underground bunkers. On the otherhand, the SADF doctrine focussed on
mobility and flexibility. SADF field positions therefor had less
excavations and trenches.Picture
taken during the campaign, giving a good indication of the difficulties
expereinced by large conventional forces: Lack of visibility, dense
vegetation, deep loose sand. The overgrowth on many occations, saved
the SADF from the superiorly equiped FAPLA airforce attacks. Camouflage
and concealment was an important part of SADF tactics. The picture was
taken from the top of a Ratel and a 2nd Ratel 20mm ICV is barley
visible further back.
on the move during the campaign. On the left is an Olifant Tank, and a
Ratel ICV on the right. Note the infantry riding on the vehicles,
including black soldiers belonging either to SWATF, 32Bn or Unita.a SADF
Ratel column from 32Bn anti-tank Sqn moves over the Kavango pontoon
bridge, back to join the rest of the unit west of Mavinga, after being
released from operations on 21 August 1987. 32Bn had camauflage
uniforms while the SADF wore its "browns".
Intelligence Officers comb through an abandoned FAPLA brigade base soon
after its hastely departure. Valueble intelligence was gathered from
documents and maps sometimes left behind, ammunition types and
quantities, base size and layout, footprints and vehicle tracks, etc.
FAPLA troops often abandoned bases and equipment, which helped the
intelligence gathering effort. The typical underground bunkers and
rudimentary furniture is visible in the photo.
A Ratel ICV
in the typical terrain of the combat zone. The dense bush is evident
again, simultaniously benefiting and hampering the fighting forces.
preparing to blow up an abandoned FAPLA PT76 amphibious tank. The many
rivers in the battle area were severe obstacles and to a large extent,
dictated the course of the battles. The SADF troops are wearing a
variety of captured webbing, this was often done as part of collecting
souvineers from the enemy. (Not sure if it was taken during the actual
campaign, will confirm.)
phase 2 of the campaign, towards the end of OPs Modular, the SADF
forces were restructured into purpose fit Combat Groups as indicated,
but the strength remained the same as for phase 1; approximately 964
combat soldiers excluding HQ, Admin and Log, and the UNITA infantry.An SADF
tank column of Foxtrot Sqn moving to the front in late December 1987,
passing through Mavinga. Tank 51 Bravo is nearest to the camera. SADF
tanks first saw service during the campaign on 9 Novemver 1987.Members
from Echo Sqn near Mavinga, 6 November 1987, Ops Modular. The beards
indicate the troops have been in the operational area for a while. Two
of then are wearing FAPLA hats captured from the enemy.The menace
that eventually contributed in stopping the SADF advance - anti tank
minefields. In keeping with Soviet defensive strategy, FAPLA created
two and sometimes three layers of deep antitank minefields
interdespersed with anti personnel mines; once the FAPLA forces have
retreated to the bridgehead on the eastern Bank of the Cuito river.
Here, the front bogie wheel has been blown of by a mine, and the crew
is contemplating how to fix it. The blown-off wheel and stub-axle can
be seen in the picture.
Same as previous picture.
Mirage F1 interceptor at the ready in its proteced shelter in a N.
Namidian base. It has the late war grey camauflage scheme, as opposed
to the earlier 2-tone scheme. The revetment has a camauflage roof
against Soviet spy satellites, and it served as shade and protection
against indirect fire, such as from mortars, that were often used for
stand-off bombardments of SADF bases in the operational area. At the
back of the plane, the curved blast protection plate can be seen. The
Mirage is armed with 2 SA made Helmet-Mounted-Sight Kukri V3B AA
missiles - (modified Sidewinders). SAAF planes had to fly 400kms to the
battle area, giving them only 10 minutes on target, while not enjoying
system consisted of 2 vehicles; a missile and guidance radar vehicle,
and a seperate search radar vehicle - depicted above. Heavily
camouflaged on the Chambinga Highgrounds, the AA system operated by the
SAAF, once came under inaccurate BM-21 fire. These pictures were taken
at the SAAF museum at Zwartkops AFB in 2007.
Bucaneer takes off with a prototype stand-off weapon to destoy the
Cuito Cuanavale bridge. A previous attempt with the prototype weapon
failed on 12 December 1987, but the 2nd was successful on 3 January
1988, destroying the mid-section of the bridge. No heavy traffic could
make use of the bridge after this attack, rudementary repairs were made
for pedestrian traffic, while vehicles crossed on pontoon bridges.
These were bombed frequently with SADF G5's.
mechanised version of the 81mm mortar mounted in the troop compartment
of a modified Ratel ICV - called a Ratel 81. The weapons crew is seen
here operating the mortar. The vegetation in the background indicates
that the caption was taken in winter, and therefor was most likely not
taken during this campaign. The Ratel 81 was used extensively by 61
Mech. Bde during the campaign. The crew are wearing helmets with radio
communication equipment fitted.
column moving to the front, passing burning veld. On the left are two
Ratel IVC's and on the right is a open top Buffel mine resistant APC.
Troops can be seen riding on the roofs of the Ratels. The dense
vegetation is evident and contacts often occurred over very short
distances. FAPLA tanks and Ratels often fired at each other over less
than 150m. Heart break
Hill?? The deep loose sand reduced mobility drastically, and heavily
laden trucks and armour had difficulty negotiating the hills on the
Chambinga Highground, where this picture was most likely taken.Visible
in the picture is an Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV) based on an
Olifant chassis, and an Olifant Tank. The churned sand in the
foreground, illustrates the diffculty experienced by wheeled vehicles
getting over the dune. Not ideal country for mechanised forces.
tanks of Ecco Sqn on the move in a southerly direction to the Vimpulo
river area as part of 4 SAI's effort to cut off 21st FAPLA Brigade from
its escape around the Vimpulo source. 21st Bde managed to escape but
suffered some losses on the way by constant SADF long range artillery
pose in a 250kg bomb crater left by a FAPLA plane. The loose sand made
for spectacular bomb craters, but to a large extent, neutralised the
effectiveness of the blast and schrapnel. The FAPLA airforce attacks
seldom came near the SADF troops. The SADF went for cover most of the
time when a "Victor-Victor" (vyandelike vliegtuig) warning came over
the radio. The SADF intercepted FAPLA communications, and knew when
planes took of from Menongue. This bomb was intended for the SAAF air
Kwevoel 10ton truck under cover during the campaign. The Kwevoel range
of vehicles were mine and bullet proof; and the SADF only used softskin
vehicles in the rear for logistical purposes - an expensive lesson
being learned by US and UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan now 30 years
later!A Ratel ICV
passes an Olifant Tank on a dirt track during the campaign. The area
was virtually without roads or development, and most of the fighting
took place in the bush. The vehicles are camoflaged with fresh
Modular: SADF troops showering in the veld under a field shower mounted
on the back of a Kwevoel 100 truck. The location is Eco Sqn's laager at
phase 3 of the campaign, for Operations Hooper and Packer, the SADF
forces were increased to an estimated 1600 combat troops made up as
Combat Group Alpha: 182
Combat Group Bravo: 466
Combat Group Charlie: 760
20 Artilllery Regt: 192
This figure excluded HQ, Admin and Log, and in total, the SADF never deployed more than 3000 men during the campaign.
tank column moving to the front It can be seen from the tanks that they
have been doing some bundu bashing, as all the rubber mudflaps over the
front of the tracks are gone. The tanks are not yet kitted out for
combat as in the next photo, where they are carrying spares such as
bogie wheels and track sections. (Not confirmed that this was taken
during the actual campaign)
tank in the background, and rifles on the stretchers, the picture shows
the accommodation of a tank crew in the field near Cuito Cuanavale,
1988. The shelter is dug in to protect them from shrapnel in the event
of an attack. Each soldier in the SADF carried a shelter sheet, and in
this care 2 sheets have been clipped together to form the shelter.
Bedding in the field normally consisted of only a sleeping bag, but it
appears in this photo as is two foldable stretchers were used.
Stretchers were normally reserved for senior officers.An Olifant
tank with anti-mine rollers, same as was used during the campaign. Only
a small number of rollers were deployed as not many were available. The
leading tank in an attacking column would be equiped with rollers to
clear a path through the minefield for other tanks and vehicles to
follow. This tank is on display at the Armour museum in Bloemforntein.
Picture taken in 2006.Tank
killer! A Ratel ZT3 design as an anti-tank version of the very
successful South African designed platform. This machine actualy took
part in the campaign and was restored and are now on display at the
Armour museum in Bloemfontein. During this campaign the SADF for the
first time started using the 3-tone camauflage scheme for 32Bn vehicles
as opposed the standard brown colour of SADF vehicles in other units.
This Ratel has 3 kill markings on the side for shooting out 3 FAPLA T55
answer to the FAPLA/CUBAN air threat during the campaign - the Cactus
low level SAM system. Being the first mobile radar guided SAM system in
the world, specially manufactured by the French for the SAAF, the
system was outdated during the Cuito Cuanavale battles and although
fired in anger on a few occasions, did not affect any losses on the
enemy. The vehicles were not suited for the African bush, and the
system was withdrawn after a limited operational deployment. It
had the advantage of keeping the Angolan MIGS at a higher altitude,
adding to their already inefficient ground attacks.
14/12/89, about one year after the end of the campaign, this Angolan
MIG21 got lost on a ferry flight and ran out of fuel in N. Namibia. It
is included here to illustrate the type, together with the more
advanced MIG23's which were the main foes to the SAAF. It is currently
on display at the SAAF museum at Zwartkops AFB, Pretoria.A Raptor 1
TV-guided stand-off weapon on display at AAD 1998; the prototype
predecessor of this weapon was used to bring down the Cuito Bridge as
explained in the previous picture. It was the SAAF's first "smart