Episode 92 – An indebted Pretoria fixates on Cuito Cuanavale
It was at Rundu where a critically important meeting had taken place on the 15th October when Army Chief General Kat Liebenberg had arrived to attend a briefing by staff officers.
They had developed two alternatives. Either prevent FAPLA from withdrawing over the Chambinga River towards Cuito Cuanavale until the SADF reinforcements showed up in early November and destroy them.
Not much chance of that succeeding, the South Africans were too thin on the ground.
Option two was really an extension of option one - the first part of the plan was the same, to trap FAPLA, but then to send 4SAI and the tank squadron west of the Cuito River and take the town of Cuito Cuanavale from the north west.
Outflank FAPLAs Brigades in other words and hit their rear.
The SADF Battle Group would then advance north and destroy the FAPLA Brigades based east of Cuito Cuanavale - the 16th, 59th, 21st and 25th. Liebenberg preferred option two and that was why the Recces were flying in from Durban.
There is an excellent book called “Bush War, the road to Cuito Cuanavale” edited by Gennady Shubin and Andrei Tokarev, all about Soviet Soldiers accounts of the Angolan War. I’m using these accounts in the next few podcasts because they are unfettered diary entries which offset some of the more prosaic commentary by both sides. They were excellent observers of warfare, monitoring the SADF and FAPLA as well as SWAPO. This book is full of illuminating descriptions of what went on in FAPLAs trenches between 1987 and 1989.
So, on the 15th October, some of these Russians had taken up their new positions north east of Cuito alongside FAPLAs 21 Brigade which had been so badly mauled trying to cross the Lomba River bridge.