Episode 93 – Russians claim chemical weapon attack as the SADF pounds FAPLA

Colonel Deon Ferreira was putting the final touches together for the next phase of Operation Moduler, in late October 1987. The South Africans had reorganised themselves into three combat groups for the upcoming push against FAPLA north of the Lomba River.

Combat Group Alpha was initially led by Kobus Smit of 61 Mech, but he was about to be rotated out to be replaced by Commandant Mike Muller, it was basically 61 Mech minus a mechanised infantry group,

Combat Group Bravo led by Robbie Hartslief, two motorised infantry companies from 32 Battalion and 101 Battalion each, as well as 32s anti-tank squadron and support company, with a mechanised infantry company seconded from 61 Mech.

Combat Group Charlie was headed up by Leon Marais and comprised of 4SAI infantry, a tank squadron of Olifants, plus a motorised company from 32 Battalion.

Along side these was 20 Artillery regiment under Colonel Jean Lausberg. Sierra Battery retained their G-5 Guns and turned their 120mm mortars over to Romeo battery. So this regiment had two G-5 batteries, one Valkiri MRL Battery, along with a 120mm mortar battery and a troop of G-6s.

That meant there were 3000 South African soldiers in this brigade - and no reinforcements. The artillery was going to be based south east of the Mianei river, which itself is south east of Cuito Cuanavale.

From now on Cuito Cuanavale would be in range, along with its crucial airstrip. But the Angolans had withdrawn their MiGs and attack helicopters from the town, aware that the SADF long-range G-5s and G-6 could strike their expensive machines.

Colonel Ferreira based himself at the tactical HQ near Mavinga leaving Roland de Vries back in Rundu to draw up the main plan for the assault on Cuito Cuanavale. After a day or so, De Vries and Colonel Fred Oelschig and Jean Lausberg flew to Mavinga to discuss the plan with UNITAs Jonas Savimbi.

FAPLAs forces were arraigned in an arc mainly to the south east of Cuito Cuanavale. 16 Brigade was at the source of the Chambinga River - the furthest north of the Angolan brigades, while 66 Brigade was close to the main road bridge over the river. This was one of the key points that the SAAF had been hitting, it was the only route FAPLA Brigades further south could use to escape.

59 Brigade was below the 16th Brigade, while to their west, at the confluence of the Cuito and Mianei Rivers, an infantry battalion of the 66 Brigade was waiting. Nearby was an infantry battalion of the 25th Brigade, at the source of the Mianei River.

Further towards the Cuito River, 21 Brigade based behind the 25th Brigade, and 21 was also arraigned along the Mianei River.

Then the Russians claimed the SADF fired chemical weapons...
19 Feb English South Africa History · Documentary

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