Thursday, 22 December 2011

London mid 1975

Bob Sherman as Jeff Ross, talking to Burnside

'These are the details of the Angolan Op, Neil. You didn't get them from me...'

'What going on Jeff?'

'After the debacle in Vietnam Washington can't been seen to be involved. Kissenger is paranoid about the Cubans so there's some half assed drive to funnel money and arms to this guy Savimbi. It's a mess, too much political interference, no clear objective, not enough money... you can see what'll happen...'

'It'll create the very thing you're trying to stop - more Soviet interest in the region.'

'Exactly, Langley isn't happy, I'm not happy. Do the right thing Neil.'

'...leak it? Bit bloody risky isn't it?'

'After Saigon? What's the worst that can happen?'

Monday, 19 December 2011

Progress Report

The South Africans arrived last week courtesy of Peter Pig. Great service - I only ordered thm what seems like a few days ago - and lovely figures and models.

So, I now have my Cuban/UNITA/FAPLA/SWAPO infantry to finish (and after a marathon session yesterday these are coming along nicely - pictures to follow) as well as tanks, APCs, technicals, a couple of helicopters (Mi 24 and Mi 17) and a MiG 21 as well as the South Africans. My forthcoming month off is going to be busy.

I've been thinking about terrain and have decided that whilst my miniature world maker river and roads will suffice I'm going to get new hills, trees and buildings as well as a new basecloth for this project. The thinking at present is 'teddy bear fur' in a light beige or sandy colour for the basecloth: three of Battlefront's desert hills, one extra large and two large; and about a dozen or so buildings from Peter Pig & Timecast. For the vegetation I'll use Irishserb's technique of model railway trees and lichen.

I hope to be able to play my first game by mid February.

Up to know events in War for Slow Readers hae mirrored what actually happened. That will change soon. Once the South African 2nd Infantry Division crosses the border to secure the  Ruacana-Calueque hydro-electric scheme and the US begins to send money and arms to back UNITA then the Cuban response may or may not follow history's script.

FNLA on the rampage...

A number of counterfactuals are possible:

  • A stronger or weaker Cuban intervention than what actually occured
  • UNITA and or the FNLA capture Luanda in late 1975 or early 1976
  • South Africa intervenes more decisively
  • The Soviets airlift Cuban troops en mass and provide naval and air support on a large scale
  • The US and British, through mercenary troops and covert assistance to UNITA and the FNLA, shore up the South African position far more than they really did.
And that only takes us to March 1976!

There are the fascists Helmut!

As the war unfolds we may get an SAS raid on Luanda airport to destroy Soviet spy planes shadowing the Royal Navy Task Force heading for the Falklands; East German Kommandoes and Soviet Spetsnatz being deployed along and across the Namibian border; and Cuban mechanized troops taking on the SADF in support of SWAPO.
Soviet Tupolov Luanda 1982

The 80s are going to be very interesting in Angola...

Friday, 16 December 2011

Angolan Blitzkrieg

I bought a copy of Strategy & Tactics Magazine # 235 a couple of months ago when I was embarking on this project.

This edition features two games under the title 'Cold War Battles': the first is Budapest 1956 and the second, Angolan Blitzkrieg 1987,is the one I'm interested in.

The latter features Cuban and South African forces battling it out in Southern Angola in 1987-88. These battles, centred around the town of Cuito Cunavale, are the subject of much controversy. There are almost completely contradictoy accounts of events, depending on the political sympathies of the writers, in much of the literature. Both sides claim victory in what was the biggest battle in Africa since World War II.

There is something of an industry that seeks to claim victory for South Africa in both the published literature and on the web. The theme seems to be that the South Africans were the military victors and these accounts often quote, in great detail, realtive casualty figures and equipment losses to demonstrate this. The debates in internet foums are often not very fertile: when the view that the South Africans 'won' is challenged it is often rubbished by veterans who quickly use the 'you weren't there so so you can't know' argument. Joseph Miranda, the designer of this game and the author of a very useful article in the magazine, appears to sympathise with the view the South Africans were the 'victors'.

I'm not so sure. After Cuito Cunavale the South Africans withdrew from Angola and shortly after that aparheid collapsed. In purely military terms, the South Africans may have inflicted more casualties on their communist opponents, but the fact remains that the political victory went to the Cubans and the MPLA. Whilst I accept Mandela's rhetoric, that Cuito Cunavale was the death knell of apartheid because black Cuban and Angolan troops fought the white South Africans to a standstill, may be exaggerated, I believe there is enough truth in it to merit giving it some weight. After all, war is a political phenomena.

Close up of a game in progress
The game is very useful for 'War for Slow Readers', if only for the orders of battle, map and the detailed article in the accompanying magazine. I've played a couple of turns and fiddled around with the counters and it's given me plenty of ideas for scenarios and back stories for my campaign. Particularly intriguing are some of the unit counters featured: a Soviet Communications Unit, East German Special Forces (the 'Angola Kommando'), South African Paras and Special Forces as well as UNITA and FAPLA guerillas.

I've yet to come across any evidence that East Germany sent anything other than advisors and aircrew to Angola but the prospect of painting up a company of the Angola Kommando and deploying them in Soviet built helicopters is tempting...

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Havana, June 1975

‘So Comrade Major, The Chief has read your report. The situation in Angola looks bleak. Our friends are concerned they may not have the muscle to stop Roberto and Savimba. What do you think we should do?’

‘Comrade General, with respect, I’ve given my recommendations in the report, as has Major Perez…’

‘Yes Comrade, we’ve read it and we appreciate what’s on paper and… as one Comrade to another…I’d like to hear what you really think…it won’t go on record, I assure you…’

‘Comrade General, if I can be frank…the report outlines the risks of us supplying the MPLA with the amount of support they are asking for, particularly in light of our previous experiences in Africa….’

‘Is there an alternative?’

‘I think we could adopt a minimalist strategy, limited support and using specialists to train MPLA cadre. I suggest enough to establish four camps…in three months they could be turning out enough trained men to alter the balance. Drip feed weapons and equipment…I’m sure our comrades in Moscow would help with the latter…we can provide the expertise, the Soviets have the money and hardware.’

‘Have you worked up any notes on this?’

‘Perez and I have a file Comrade General’

‘Good. I like it. I think The Chief will like it. I want a proposal on my desk first thing tomorrow’

‘Yes Comrade.’

‘And Major?’

‘Comrade General?’

‘Well done…’

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Alvor Agreement, Lisbon, January 1975, and Subsequent Events

Leftist military officers overthrew the Portugese Government in the Carnation Revolution on April 25, 1974, The MPLA, FNLA, and UNITA each negotiated peace agreements with the transitional Portuguese government and began to fight each other for control of Luanda and the country. Holden Roberto, Agostinho Neto, and Jonas Savimbi met in Bukavu, Zaire in July and agreed to negotiate with the Portuguese as one political entity. They met again in Mombasa, Kenya on January 5, 1975 and agreed to stop fighting each other, further outlining constitutional negotiations with the Portuguese. They met for a third time in Alvor, Portugal from January 10-15 and signed what became known as the Alvor Agreement.

The agreement did not establish a mechanism to verify the number of troops that could be maintained by each political group. All three parties soon had forces greater in number than the Portuguese, endangering the colonial power's ability to keep the peace. Factional fighting renewed, reaching new heights as foreign supplies of arms increased. In February the Cuban government warned the Eastern Bloc the Alvor Agreement would not succeed. By spring the African National Congress and SWAPO were echoing Cuba's warning.

Leaders of the Organization of African Unity organized a peace conference moderated by Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta with the three leaders in Nakuru, Kenya in June. The Angolan leaders issued the Nakuru Declaration on June 21, agreeing to abide by the provisions of the Alvor Agreement while acknowledging a mutual lack of trust led to violence. Many analysts have criticized the transitional government in Portugal for the violence that followed the Alvor Agreement in terms of a lack of concern about internal Angolan security and favoritism towards the MPLA. High Commissioner Coutinho, one of the seven leaders of the National Salvation Junta, openly distributed ex-Portuguese arms and military equipment to MPLA forces at the expense of the other competing parties.

Admiral Coutinho, centre, with Agostinho Neto of the MPLA, left, and Joans Savimbi of UNITA, right.

Edward Mulcahy, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the US State Department, told Tom Killoran, the U.S. Consul General in Angola, to congratulate the PMC rather than the FNLA and UNITA on their own and Coutinho for Portugal's "untiring and protracted efforts" at a peace agreement. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger considered any government involving the pro-Soviet, Communist MPLA, to be unacceptable and President Gerald Ford oversaw heightened aid to the FNLA

In July the MPLA violently forced the FNLA out of Luanda and UNITA  withdrew to its stronghold in the south and declared war. By August the MPLA had control of 11 of the 15 provincial capitals, including Cabina and Luanda. South Africa intervened on October 23, sending 1,500 to 2,000 troops from Namibia into southern Angola.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Progress Report

I've painted 15 'small arms' stands, each with three figures armed with AK47s, or pistols and LMGs. These are all generic FAPLA/UNITA (and at a pinch FNLA).
Another ten or so Cuban 'small arms' stands are in the pipeline. I'm painting roughly a third of the figures as white troops as I believe the majority of Cuban troops were black. Most of the figures are wearing helmets - I'm using the modern Command Decision middle eastern regulars.

Painting is going slowly as I've been away from home quite a bit over the past couple of weeks with work but the important thing is to maintain progress. Reinforcements arrived last week in the shape of a parcel from Peter Pig - some lovely GAZ jeeps, recoiless rifles, vehicles mounted machine guns, an AA gun, crew figures and seated figures. These are all for technicals. I got a couple of packets of casualties in helmets and caps. There were also three of the mighty URAL trucks to supplement the BTR 60s I bought from Command Decision.

I've ordered the South Africans from Peter Pig - Centurian tanks, Elland Armoured Cars, Land Rovers and Toyota Pick Ups, Buffel APCs, and a selection of Professional figures in hats, as well as some helmeted IDF and Vietnam War Australians. The latter will pass for South Africans and will add variety to the figures.

Peter Pig IDF Snipers

Peter Pig Vietnam War Australians

Peter Pig AK47 Range Professionals

I have a month's holiday coming up from 23 December and I think I have plenty of vehicles and figures to paint or on order to keep me occupied for that time.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Angola in 1975: Some Basic Facts

Angola's borders in 1975 were the same as today. It had, and has, an area of  481,321 square miles (1,246,620 km2). It was, and is, comparable in size to Mali and is nearly twice the size of the US state of Texas, or five times the area of the United Kingdom.

In 1970, when the last official census was completed the population was 5.8 million. By 1975 it was estimated at 6.5 million. 

Angola was bordered by Namibia to the south, Zambia to the east, Zaire to the north-east, and the South Atlantic to the west. The exclave of Cabinda also bordered the Congo to the north. Angola's capital, Luanda, lies on the Atlantic coast in the northwest of the country.

Crudely, the country can be divided into a coastal plain 60-100 km wide, a hilly and mountainous belt and a high plateau.

 The climate is Angola's average temperature on the coast is 60 °F (16 °C) in the winter and 70 °F (21 °C) in the summer. It has two seasons; dry season (May to October) and hot rainy season (November to April). The vegetation is largely savannah with belts of tropical rain forest near major waterways. 

The factions that fought the colonial war against the Portuguese, and each other, had their bases in different geographical regions. The National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) were strongest in the north and had troops in neighbouring Zaire, as it was in 1975. The Marxist MPLA, or People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola's, core support came from the the Mbundu ethnic group as well the educated intelligentsia in Luanda, and other urban centres, as well as Angolan activists in Portugal. The party had formal links with Soviet and East European Communist parties. UNITA, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, was founded in 1966. UNITA was led by Jonas Savimbi after he broke with the FNLA.  UNITA's leadership was drawn largely from the Ovimbundu in the Central Southern region.