Episode 96 – The Chambinga Gallop and the end of Operation Moduler

FAPLAs 21 and 25 Brigades were manoeuvring around the western edge of the 1370 meter high Viposto high ground which lay south of the Hube and Chambinga Rivers before dawn on the 16th November 1987- and those rivers flowed in an almost direct east to west direction.

That meant the Angolan Brigades were now squeezed between the high ground and the river, heading towards the Hube’s source. Their plan was to circle around the east side of the source, then head back westerly along the right bank of the river, eventually reaching the strategic Chambinga River bridge - and then escaping back towards Cuito Cuanavale.

At 06h00 the 21 and 25 Brigades were refuelling before the next quick push for the headwaters of the Hube, with the Russian advisors team leader Lieutenant colonel Anatoly Artiomenko standing on the top of his troop carrier.

The SADF’s Alpha, Bravo and Charlie Battle groups were thundering north, trying to cut them off on the east side - the right - of the Viposto high ground. During the night of the 15th, SADF Recces and spotters were on the move ahead of the advancing Battle Groups and despite the Angolans determination to co-ordinate their next moves, the next few hours were going to be grim.

And Battle Group Charlie wasn’t hard to spot - FAPLA recon teams heard them miles away because the commander Leon Marais had decided to breach a large minefield using the Ploffadder explosives - fired from a rocket they landed on the minefield in a long strand, detonating loudly and also detonating mines.

They did not always work and this time, they worked well enough to signal Charlie’s presence to advancing FAPLA Brigades. Because both sides had driven into the same area at night, the South Africans had further compounded their own lack of quick quiet action by firing mortar shell illuminating flares before dawn.

They gave their positions away in both cases long before FAPLA actually spotted their forward Ratels and Buffels. The South Africans were also traveling very slowly as the commanders fretted about the exact location of the minefields, even despite having maps they’d seized in the attacks on the 16 Brigade two weeks earlier.
Lieutenant Koos Breytenbach was the SADF forward artillery observer at strategic Bridge and he became known as the Murderer of the Chambinga after what happened next. He was extremely accurate in his distance measurements and timing, bringing down constant G-5 shells, rockets and 120mm mortars on the Angolans crossing the bridge.

**This episode has been re-edited to include comments from Paul Gladwin who kindly provided a more accurate rendition of a casevac that led to an Honoris Crux for Sergeant Labuschagne.
12 Mar 2023 English South Africa History · Documentary

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