Episode 72 – Cuvelai III: A Ratel destroyed by a T54 and an Impala narrow escape

The Battle of Cuvelai two was a blood letting of note, with FAPLAs 11th Brigade now bottled up in the town, with the SADF Task Force Victor and X-Ray on their doorstep.
32 Battalion had pulled off a bloodless takeover of Techumutete during the last days of 1983, which at the time was regarded as a momentous achievement. However, they’d also doomed some of the Angolans and South Africans because one of the key aims outlined by General Greyling before the start of Operation Askari was to try and force FAPLA units to retreat to take control of the towns like Cuvelai and Cahama.
By shutting off their escape route out of Cuvelai, the South Africans had actually created a situation where the Angolans now were going to fight to the death. The premise back at Oshakati was that the Angolans would shatter and run when the mechanized battalions rolled up to their front door but as you know by now, that plan had backfired.
The more experienced soldiers fighting in Cuvelai on the SADF side were also extremely upset about the rather haphazard approach to intelligence gathering and tactics. This was now a conventional battle, no longer the flashy fast moving mobile surprise attacks that the SADF had honed – this was bludgeoning frontal assaults.
It was on the 3rd January 1984 that one of the hidden SA-9 Strela missiles hit the tail of an Impala jet flown by Captain Joe van den Berg, the senior pilot from Ondangwa.
His target had been the Firecan radar-guided 57mm AAA site east of Cuvelai, but during the pull-out after bomb release, he spotted the missile approaching. I explained that the SA-9 was unusual in that it could fire on approaching aircraft, and this missile blew up behind and under the tail section, completely removing the starboard tailplane and elevator.