The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale
Cold War Angolan Finale 1987-1988
Series : Africa@War #26
Author : Leopold Scholtz
Out of print
General - Pages : 64 | Images : colour photos t/out
Paperback - Date of Publication : August 2016 | Size : 297mm x 210mm | ISBN : 9781909384620 | Helion Book Code : HEL0419
In the broad history of the Cold War, the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale was the climax of a far-off, but nonetheless important African war. It was waged between the apartheid South African Defence Force (SADF) and the armed forces of the communist MPLA government in Angola and the People’s Republic of Cuba. Led by Soviet generals, the MPLA embarked on a grand offensive in order to knock out the pro-Western rebel movement UNITA in southeastern Angola. As UNITA’s survival was crucial to South Africa’s military strategy in fighting its own counter-insurgency war against the South West African rebel movement SWAPO, the SADF stepped in with a single mechanised brigade and broke the back of the overwhelming MPLA offensive. The MPLA forces were subsequently driven back over a hundred kilometres, before the SADF advance was finally stopped just short of the town of Cuito Cuanavale. Since then, a hot war of words have been waged about who actually won. In this book, a South African military historian and retired journalist examines the campaign, the adversaries, and their achievements on the basis of his research in SADF archives. His scrupulous attempt at objectivity results in interesting conclusions. While the MPLA lost hands down, he posits a draw between the Cubans and the SADF. Although having been a South African reservist officer himself, he has critical words for the SADF leadership. Many misunderstandings, some of which were purposefully created by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, are put to rest. While not sharing Castro’s political beliefs, he acknowledges Castro’s military acumen and political savvy in extricating his country from an unwinnable war while smelling of roses. The analysis contains many lessons about mechanised warfare in the African context from which both laymen and military professionals alike may learn.
At any given time, there are at least half a dozen conflicts taking place in Africa, from civil strife and brutal insurgencies to full-blown conventional wars. Yet, apart from the grand campaigns and battles of colonial yesteryear—Omdurman, Isandlwana, Spioenkop et al—little is known outside the Dark Continent of the plethora of brushfire wars that occur with monotonous regularity. Following the Second World War, with the colonial powers—Britain in particular—looking to divest themselves of their burdensome empires, the ‘winds of change’, fuelled by the Cold War, swept through every nook and cranny of the continent. From Algeria to South Africa, from the Congo to Kenya, the continent literally erupted in conflict. Butchery and barbarism, under the guise of Black Nationalism, became bywords of African insurgencies; the tactics of terror, so espoused by Chairman Mao, one of the principal backers—in competition with Soviet imperialism—of African liberation movements, became standard operating procedure.
Africa—the continent that gave the world ‘pseudo’ counterterrorist operations as developed in Kenya to combat the Mau Mau, the Rhodesian Fireforce concept, radical innovations in vehicle mine-proofing, South African armour which fought the Cubans to a standstill at Cuito Cuanavale in the largest continental tank battle since Alamein, MiG and Mirage dogfights over the skies of Angola—is not all doom and gloom: it is as rich in its cultural diversity as it is in its martial traditions. Apart from a colourful array of liberation movements, mercenaries, brigands, pirates and terrorists, the cast includes such legendary units as the King’s African Rifles, the Portuguese Flechettes, the French Foreign Legion, the Rhodesian Selous Scouts and SAS, and the South African Recces, 32 Battalion and Koevoet.
Africa@War, a ground-breaking series, studies Africa’s post-1945 conflicts and military players in an informative and entertaining manner, examining some of the lesser known campaigns and shedding new light on some of the better known operations.
“Africa@War is a ground-breaking series concept, studying Africa’s conflicts and military players in an informative and entertaining manner, examining some of the lesser-known campaigns and shedding new light on some of the better-known operations … great models of what the combination of authors and publishers can produce by way of useable case studies for the market place in a concise illustrated format. They are recommended as professional military education references.”
Charles D. Melson, Chief Historian, U.S. Marine Corps
"Each of the books in this series is a well-documented and researched synopsis of the events that they are focused upon. They layouts and presentation are logical and of a very high quality ... As an introduction to this field of operation, this series is outstanding. A definite asset for those wishing to improve their knowledge and understanding of the development of successful, multi-faceted doctrine in the fight against insurgent/assymetric war."
Major Chris Buckham, Royal Canadian Air Force Journal
“ … The author approaches his subject matter both objectively and passionately. This is a must-read for military historians, political scientists and African scholars.”
Insight on Africa