Episode 97 – Castro starts to talk peace but along the Cuito River all hell rains down

We’re wrapping up Operation Moduler this episode and throwing forward to the next assault on Cuito Cuanavale which was to fixate the South African political leadership at a time when the Cold War was melting away.

This was to have a direct effect on the satellite wars such as those in Angola.

Assessing this stage of the conflict it all appeared to be in South Africa’s favour - on the surface.

Combat Groups Alpha, Bravo and Charlie had fought running battles against FAPLAs 21/25 Brigade, 66 Brigade and 59th Brigade for weeks pushing them back to close to where they’d started the own Operation October. Instead of overcoming UNITA at Mavinga and taking their HQ at Jumba, FAPLA had been defeated.

Between July and 18th November 1987 FAPLA had lost 1 059 dead, more than 2000 wounded, 61 tanks were blown up along with 84 armoured cars and 20 artillery pieces.
Some have suggested that if 4SAI and the tank squadron of 12 Olifants from the start of Moduler, they would have overrun the Angolans with ease. That is I’m afraid, an incorrect assessment for two main reasons.

The first was the SA Air Force did not control the air war. The Angolans did. And anyone who understands modern warfare knows that those who control the air, particularly these days of missiles and drones, controls the battle.

Russia has failed to take complete control of the airspace over Ukraine since their invasion in February 2022 - and has paid the price for that failure. Unlike the UN and American force that overran Iraq in Desert Storm after decimating and completely destroying the Iraqi air Force and bludeoning it’s anti-aircraft system into dust. The war was lost from then on for Saddam Hussein whatever his Revolutionary Guard thought.

Secondly, the SADF was attacking entrenched defensive positions without the advantage of the element of surprise and numerically weaker. Tactical college interns at military school will tell you that’s not a blueprint for success.

Even if 4SAI and the tanks had arrived earlier, they would still have had to face MiGs that were spending more time over the ground forces than the Mirages. Perhaps the SADF would have managed to overcome FAPLAs 21 and 25 Brigade, but then they would face four more Brigades. Two east of Cuito and two others in reserve. And if you check the facts, 59 Brigade fought well and in fact, deflected an Olifant attack on the days before 16th November 1987.
By now Cuba's Fidel Castro had lost over 10 000 and some say closer to 20 000 troops as casualties of this never ending war across the Atlantic from his small island nation.

Initially, he had supported the war, sending his men and women in to fight. It’s not well known, but Cuban women for example made up most of the anti-aircraft battery crews around some of the towns of Angola.

He began to think about negotiating a solution rather than fighting to the death against the SADF, and sent his diplomats to the United Nations along with Angolan MPLA officials to contact the South African mission in New York. Castro was wanting out of Angola.
19 Mar English South Africa History · Documentary

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