South African Military 
History Society


Newsletter No. 520
October 2019

Contact: Charles Whiteing
Telephone: 031 764 7270
Mobile: 082 555 4689


The meeting was opened by the Chairman, Charles Whiteing, who at the request of Committee Member, Roy Bowman asked members present who had not updated their information to see Roy and collect the relevant form to do so. Charles also circulated the list for the Annual Branch Year End Luncheon.

He then proceeded to announce the DDH speaker, Roger Burrows, and his subject:


The opening of the talk addressed the 1919 Paris Peace Conference which was attended by the Big Four Powers – USA, France, Great Britain & Italy. Thirty other countries were represented including that of South Africa by Jannie Smuts and General Louie Botha. Russia was not included as the newly instated Bolsheviks were not recognised by the Allies. The actual Armistice terms on Germany were addressed which were described as punitive by some.

The League of Nations was formed as a vehicle to uphold world peace. Post war mandates were implemented dividing up Germany`s colonial possessions. The talk detailed friction between the respective countries w.r.t. their respective mandates. The League`s main function was to administer and implement the general disarmament of Germany. Financial implications were addressed which included reparations on Germany which implemented of many years was suggested to total 132 billion gold marks. Other limitations included demilitarisation with severe limitations on their military capabilities.

However, the cause and effect thereof resulted in Germany`s relocation of key industries to other countries including Rheinmetall to Netherlands, Junkers aviation to Sweden and Moscow, with Zeiss, Siemeens, Mauser, Bofors, and Heinkel setting up production in neutral countries including Switzerland. There was extensive co-operation with the Soviet Union including training and modernisation of the Russian army.

In fact the Inter-Allied Commission of Control terminated its monitoring function in 1927 having noted that Germany had never disarmed, never had the intention of disarming and in fact had for seven years done everything in its power to deceive the commission.

The talk addressed the alliance fractures in the spring of 1919 with Italy leaving the Big Four, Japanese Racial issues, and Sino/Japanese relations. Upheavals in the Middle East were addressed including Greek claims over sections of the Ottoman Empire, the demise of the Ottoman Empire and post Arabia campaigns and Arab expectations. There was the rise of the new nation of Palestine with the desire for self autonomy by the Jewish peoples within this region. It was noted the inability in the inter-war years to address and control Germany`s rearmament.

On the 28th of June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, Paris In May 1919, the German Delegation was presented with the details, being given a week or two to sign what to all intents and purposes was a “fait accompli”. They had initially refused to accept the terms, but were threatened with Allied forces marching on Berlin. Following two extensions, the document was finally signed at a ceremony on 28 June 1919.

There followed other supplementary peace treaties which included:

Over and above the horrendous losses of man power by all countries during the war, between 100 and 150 million young people in the 20-30 age bracket died from a highly contagious influenza epidemic known as “Spanish Flu.” This prevailed over a three month period which affected every country in the world.

After a lively question and answer session the Chairman announced a short break before the Main Talk.

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On resumption, Charles introduced our guest speaker for the Main Talk, Col. (Ret) Clive Willsworth and his subject: Alone in the Ring – Cuito Caunavale, I was there.

The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale was fought intermittently between August 14, 1987 and March 23, 1988, South and East of the town of Cuito Cuanavale, Angola, by the People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA, the armed wing of the MPLA), Cuba, South Africa, and insurgents of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) during the Angolan Civil War and South African Border War. The battle was the largest engagement of the Angolan conflict and the biggest conventional battle on the African continent since World War II. UNITA and its South African allies defeated a major FAPLA offensive towards Mavinga, preserving the former's control of southern Angola. They proceeded to launch a bloody but inconclusive counter-offensive on FAPLA defensive positions around the Tumpo River east of Cuito Cuanavale.

Following a number of failed attempts to take the settlements in 1986, eight FAPLA brigades mustered for a final offensive in August 1987 with extensive auxiliary support from one of Angola's closest military allies, the Soviet Union. The FAPLA offensive took the form of a two-pronged, multi-divisional movement southwards towards Mavinga, a major UNITA stronghold and logistics centre. Once Mavinga was in its hands, FAPLA intended to expel the remaining insurgents from Moxico Province and pave the way for a final assault on the UNITA headquarters at Jamba. The Soviet Union supplied FAPLA with over a billion dollars' worth of new military hardware for the purpose of this offensive, and between 4 and 9 Soviet advisers were attached to each FAPLA unit on the brigade level.

South Africa, which shared a common border with Angola through the contested territory of South West Africa (Namibia), was then determined to prevent FAPLA from gaining control of Mavinga and allowing insurgents of the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) to operate in the region. This combined FAPLA and Cuban operation prompted the South African Defence Force (SADF) to underpin the defence of Mavinga and launch Operation Moduler with the objective of stopping FAPLA's advance. After weeks of preliminary skirmishes, the two armies met at the Lomba River on September 6. Throughout September and October, the SADF repulsed several FAPLA attempts to cross the Lomba and destroyed most of the latter's vital bridging equipment. Repeated counterattacks by the SADF's 61 Mechanised Battalion Group resulted in the annihilation of FAPLA's 47 Brigade and the loss of its remaining bridgeheads, sending the remainder of the FAPLA units reeling back towards Cuito Cuanavale.

During the second phase of the campaign, the SADF and UNITA made several unsuccessful attempts to encircle and destroy the surviving FAPLA forces before they could establish new defensive positions east of Cuito Cuanavale, an initiative known as Operation Hooper. However, FAPLA succeeded in concentrating its forces within a cramped perimeter between the Cuito, Tumpo, and Dala rivers known as the "Tumpo Triangle". They were reinforced by a number of Cuban armoured and motorised units, who had become more directly committed to the fighting for the first time since the beginning of Cuba's military intervention in Angola in 1975. The SADF and UNITA launched six heavy assaults on the Tumpo Triangle under the auspices of Operation Packer, inflicting serious casualties on FAPLA. Despite suffering significant losses, the defending FAPLA and Cuban troops held their lines. The SADF and UNITA disengaged in March 1988, after laying a series of minefields southeast of Cuito Cuanavale to dissuade a renewed FAPLA offensive.

Both sides claimed victory. The Cuban and FAPLA defenders had interpreted the SADF's Tumpo Triangle campaign as part of a larger effort to seize the town of Cuito Cuanavale itself and presented their stand there as a successful defensive action. The SADF maintained that it had achieved its basic objectives of halting the FAPLA offensive during the Lomba River campaign without needing to occupy Cuito Cuanavale, which would have entailed unacceptable losses to its expeditionary force.

Today, the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale is credited by some with ushering in the first round of trilateral negotiations, mediated by the United States, which secured the withdrawal of Cuban and South African troops from Angola and Namibia by 1991.

After 13 years in Angola the Cubans had still not achieved their aim of destroying UNITA and marching into Namibia as "liberators". They had badly underestimated the South Africans and discovered to their cost that they were facing highly-trained, battle-hardened troops.

Clive then asked the question: SO WHO WON? Which evinced a barrage of comment from the audience.

The Chairman announced the presenters and their subjects for November and then declared the meeting closed.

14th November 2019
DDH “Patton – U.S. Tank Development Dr. John Buchan
MAIN“Surviving the Ride – a History of South African Mine Protected Vehicles” Steve Camp

17th November
Annual Branch Lunch at Durban Country Club

12th December
DDH “The Chopper Pilot - A Sub Specie of the Homo - Sapien Group” Steve Bekker

Year End Cocktail Party

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