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...

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