Episode 82 – More Russian choppers down and 32 learns how to use SATNAV

It’s September 1985, and the SA Air Force and ground forces have already shot down two Russian helicopters and an Antonov transport plane. That was an attempt at slowing down an MPLA ground assault using it’s PLAN troops against UNITA at Mavinga. If you remember, this was the Angolans Operation Second Congress.

On the 29th September, 32 Battalion ground team near Cuito Cuanavale radio’d the SA Air Force operations of a helicopter formation that had just taken off, bound for the battle zone around Mavinga.

This was a mixed formation, two Mi-8/17 transport choppers escorted by Mi-25 gunships. The Impalas were scrambled and headed at low altitude to the targets which were picked up along the Lomba River. The Russian helicopters were flying at 3000 feet AGL, and the Mi-8/17 formation was in a trailing echelon about 1000 meters apart. About a kilometer back, the two Mi-25s were flying in support and were also at 3000 feet.

The first pair of Impalas launched their attack, and then the second with devastating consequences for the chopper pilots and crew. All four were shot down. A third pair of Impalas who were monitoring watched as two MiG-23 fighter jets approached at 200 feel AGL, then swept their wings back, accelerated and climbed out of sight. They preferred to avoid dogfighting the South Africans.
ON first December 1985 operational order number 1/12/85 required 32 Battalion to inflict maximum damage on FAPLA personnel and equipment in the 3rd and 6th military regions by sustained bombardment. Easier said than done.

The main targets were Cuito Caunavale and the airstrip at Menongue. There were also specific instructions to target the FAPLA force as soon as it began moving towards Jamba using the all-important Multiple Rocket Launchers or MRLs. 32 was warned not to let these fall into enemy hands.

Colonel Eddie Viljoen commanded this part of the operation targeting Menongue, both the MRL troop along with Charlie Company, while Captain Daan van der Merwe led an MRL troop and Golf Company as they attacked Cuito Cuanavale. Ten years earlier 32 had deployed around Menongue during operation Savannah, now they were going back.

On the 15 December four MRLs were flown to Rundu from Waterkloof Air Force Base and everything was set to roll on Christmas eve.