South African Military History Society


Past meeting - Johannesburg 8th May, 1980

In a variation from the usual, Major Darrell Hall started the evening showing a few slides of a famous personality to the packed audience of approximately 70 members and guests. The catch was that Darrell did not give the name of his subject. He showed slides of a boy at age 8, 9, l5, a junior officer in the army during WW1, a family man and finally slides of Montgomery during World War 2.

Cmdt, Deon Fourie, a senior lecturer in Strategic Studies and Public Adminstration at UNISA, presented the main lecture of the evening entitled "Angolan Adventure, 1975/76" which dealt with the operations of the South African Forces in Angola.

Cmdt. Fourie pointed out that the campaign from the South African side was still regarded as sensitive and that details and information for his talk were gathered from reports by radio and press throughout the world during this period, and not from official SADF' sources. Among his sources were UNITA radio which at one time was broadcast from Lusaka in 3 different languages, each with a different account of what was happening in Angola, and from the newspapers in SWA which were apparently not aware of the censorship of local papers by the SADF.

Cmdt. Fourie outlined the geographical and political situation in Angola before the revolution in Portugal. Angola is approx. the same size as South Africa and has a population of approx. 5.5million (as against 26 million in SA). The 3 terrorist groups before the Portuguese Revolution were the FNLA (in the north), MPLA (in centre among population belt), and UNITA (in south). At the time of the revolution, the terrorist war was a very low scale affair wiLh the MPLA having only about 300 armed men in the east of Angola, but as a result of the revolution, the Portuguese lost complete control and eventually decided to hand over power to a coallition of the 3 groups. This coallition did not successfully materialise and a civil war broke out between the 3 groups with the Chinese and Rumanians supporting the FNLA, Russia supporting the MPLA, and UNITA favouring initially a political solution but later being forced into the war.

The South African Government did not appear to get involved intentionally with a planned campaign, but rather got drawn in as the situation developed. Initially the S. Africans were sent into guard the workers at the Calueque and Ruacana projects, but when UNITA asked for help and traces of Cuban involvement on the MPLA side were found, the SADF went in on a limited scale. (UNITA had up to this time aided SWAPO as a fellow Marxist organisation, but now turned away from Marxism and became a multiracial party).

S. Africa appears to have provided UNITA with advisers and limited small arms which managed to contain the MPLA advance south. When it became obvious that the MPLA were using armoured cars, a number of armoured cars were sent from S Africa and these formed the nucleus of a battle group.

It was now decided to form a second battle group and to recapture southern Angola for UNITA. The advance by the two battle groups up to the Benquella railway line was likened to a Sunday afternoon stroll, even though strong Cuban and MPLA forces were encountered. At the Benquella line, l22mm "Stalin Organ" rocket launchers were encountered for the first time, and 25 pounder guns were sent up to counter this weapon. The retreating MPLA and Cuban forces now started destroying bridges which slowed down the UNITA advance.

Independence day had been set for the 11th November,1975 and all 3 parties were trying to be in Luanda by this date. When the Independance Day arrived,the FNLA were 12km to the north of Luanda and the UNITA just to the south. The MPLA were now reinforced by 12 000 Cubans with tanks while South African involvement was estimated to be some 300 men with armoured cars and other equipment. This aid from SA became an embarassment as the OAU had initially agreed only to recognise a coallition government of the 3 parties, but now S. Africa was accused of invading Angola and the MPLA was accepted as the official rulers of Angola.

The war was starting to escalate in that Russia was supplying tanks and aircraft which would mean that S. Africa would have to supply similar equipment to counter these supplies. The U.S.Congress at this stage turned down requests for further aid to UNITA and the decision was made to withdraw with the last detachment of armoured cars crossing back to S.W.A. on the 20th Jan.,1976. The maximum S African involvement seems to have been 2000 men which managed to take and hold half of Angola with only about 30 casualties.

This campaign brought to an end Mr. Vosters detente campaign in Africa, and was S. Africa's first experience in a large scale war for almost 30 years and showed up the faults in current training. The manner in which the campaign was covered up in S. Africa while being broadcast overseas is still a matter for contention. For further details, reference can be made to the article:

Robin HALLET, "The S.A. Intervention in Angola", African Affairs Magazine, July 1978.

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Future meetings Johannesburg

Thurs 12th June 20h00 Mr. F. Pretorius "Life on Commando during the Anglo-Boer War, 1899/1902".

Thurs 10th July 20h00 To be announced.

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Know Your Museum Evenings Talks to be held on Wednesdays 2lst May, 4th June, 18th June, 2nd July at 20h00 at the Museum.

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That's all ... Mike Marsh

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