Episode 90 – FAPLAs 47th Brigade shattered as Operation Moduler continues
It was imperative for FAPLA to take Mavinga, this would have pushed the South Africans much further south - and factored into Luanda’s plan along with the Cubans to begin building longer runways for bombers and fighter aircraft to take control of southern Angola.
I’ll get to some of the Russians views as we go - they were aware of this ultimate plan to set up a possible jump off point to invade Ovamboland should this war continue interminably. While Moscows original strategy was to avoid this kind of incursion, by 1987 the Soviet Union was under huge pressure economically and really wanted the War of independence in Namibia to end asap.
FAPLAs 21st Brigade had been stopped twice from crossing the Lomba River, this was very important and had a bearing on the rest of the Battle which lasted almost three months in total.
An entry in 20 SA Brigade’s war diary for the 29th September contains three phases for the upcoming offensive - One that the enemy must be prevented from taking Mavinga, two that the SADF would conduct operations north of the Lomba river - in other words they should chase FAPLAs 4 main brigades, the 21st, 16th, 47 and 59th and third the advance on Cuito Cuanavale.
That order was rescinded on 1st October and 47 Brigade was told to finish building a temporary TMM bridge over the Lomba, then to withdraw to the north and join up with other FAPLA forces. Back at SADF Mavinga HQ, Commandant Deon Ferreira was receiving radio intercept updates - they were listening in to FAPLAs calls.
It so happened that FAPLA using their Russian, Cuban and East German comms experts, had also broken UNITAs code by now and were doing the same.
Early on Saturday 3rd October, Combat Group Alpha began advancing from the east to the west, following the wide Lomba Flood plain.
There were three lines of 61 Mech’s armoured car squadron leading this assault - all from Charlie Squadron with 12 Ratel 90s. Behind them was UNITA in a light infantry screen, and their task was to winkle out enemy units that would be hit by the South African infantry.
After this group passed, then the armoured cars of Alpha company mechanised infantry, supported by 81mm and 60mm mortars. 32 Battalion’s Golf company would mop up after the battle.
To the south, or the left, Combat Group Charlie would shadow Alpha as they headed west, with a force of 61 MEchs Bravo Company, 8 Ratel 90s which were going to focus on the tanks.
They were a reserve force in the main, to cover Alpha Group from a counter attack by 47 Brigade from their main defensive position a few kilometers further south east. Another company of UNITA troops was assigned to track Bravo on their left - shadowing the shadow group so to speak.
The only problem with this plan was 47 Brigade was not where the South Africans thought they were.
Everyone thought the bulk of 47 had remained behind to the south, that they hadn’t moved up to the TMM bridges.
Everyone was wrong.