Episode 95 – 21/25 Brigade makes a dash for the Chambinga Bridge amidst heroics by 32's Van Zyl

We’re into the final phase of Operation Moduler in November 1987, and the SADF was lining up FAPLAs 16 Brigade after giving them a bloody nose on the 9th.

Combat Group Bravo was going to draw FAPLAs attention between the Mianei and Vimpula Rivers, south east of Cuito Cuanavale, but that was a diversion. 59 Brigade was based here, and moving slowly in a northerly direction to support 16 Brigade almost due east of the town.

The are a series of short rivers that rise to the north, east and south of Cuito Cuanavale, most flow west and join the Quito River - and it was along these rivers that most of the next phase of Operation Modular would be fought.

The Recces spotted T54/55 tanks heading towards the source of the Hube River and the South African commander Commandant Deon Ferreira was weighing up neutralising these heavy weapons before continuing with the attack on 16h Brigade.

The South Africans were still not fully aware of what 59 Brigade was doing, although they had a better idea about 16 Brigade.

During the night of the 10th, the SADF pulled of a switcheroo, moving Combat Group Alpha to the south of 16th Brigade, combat Group Charlie was now slightly north.

Early on the morning of the 11th, Combat Group Alpha was in position and began to fire their Ratel 90 guns along with the Ratel 81 mortars towards FAPLA trenches. The G-5s also began to pepper 16 Brigade along with the Multiple Rocket launchers, the Valkiris.

ON the same day, the Angolans were celebrating their independence but as the Russian advisors met with their African colleagues for muted festivities, Mirages flew overhead, and began to bomb the Angolan positions.

“Something quite unimaginable is happening now …” wrote Russian translator Igor Zhdarkin,

“The Angolan troops are almost completely demoralised the brigades are on average at 45 percent strength. For every 10 or 15 shells launched by the enemy the Angolans are able to send only one…”

The SADFs rate of fire was wearing FAPLA down while the Recces and artillery spotters were passing on information constantly and then picked up 59th Brigade’s shifting position.

The Russians reported that the Angolans had spotted what they called “their buffalo” - that was 32 Battalion and the advisors reported that “the Angolans fear the South Africans like fire…”.
As both sides picked up their pieces, an incredible casualty evacuation was about to take place. 32's Piet Van Zyl realised that one of the Battalion’s troops was missing - and was told that the infantryman was last seen lying dead in a FAPLA trench 800m away.
4 Mar 2023 English South Africa History · Documentary

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