Episode 36 – Paratroopers in Cassinga face off against T34s as the Cubans infiltrate the battle zone

This is episode 36 and we’re at the tail end of Operation Reindeer – and we kick off this episode by viewing the SADF attack on Cassinga alongside Captain Joseph Kobo of the ANCs armed wing, Mkhonto we sizwe – the spear of the nation.

On May 4th 1978 - the day of the airborne assault on Cassinga 250 kilometers into Angola, Captain Kobo was travelling back to the town having picked up provisions and was part of a convoy of vehicles.

It was Ascension day.

Kobo’s convoy was speeding towards Cassinga and he was in a confident mood. The convoy had radio’d ahead hours before and everyone was looking forward to an upcoming celebration. This wasn’t Ascencion day, it was the fall of France’s military stronghold at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam to Viet Minh General Giap in May 1954. MK along with SWAPO and Fapla were going to celebrate the French defeat – it was a symbolic victory that also had led to the American’s involvement in Vietnam.

And here in Africa, the guerrilla movements were fighting to overthrow their colonial masters so naturally they viewed the fall of Dien Bien Phu as a shining example of how to go about crushing western armies.
In Cassinga, the paratroopers were being airlifted out of the town to the HAA protected by the rearguard. The Cubans had arrived from Techemutete with their armoured personnel carriers and half a dozen T34s and as you heard last episode, were about to drive straight into a strafing and an ambush.

There were about 100 Cubans and FAPLA troops in this column from the south which was trying to break up the organised air lift out.

Unfortunately for them, they drove into Pierre Peter’s anti-tank platoon. Earlier the South African’s in this platoon had watched the first wave of paratroopers take off and were apprehensive.