Saturday, 18 February 2012

Cahama 19 October 1975

The South African objectives were to secure the road entering the battlefield on the right, the crossroads over the bridge to the left and the road exiting the battlefield at the top of the picture.

A motorised company of FNLA militia was assigned to sieze the wooded area to the right of the river at the top of the picture and cross the river by the nearby ford; three FNLA technicals were ordered to drive over the bridge and take the crossroads in a coup de main; and an understrength company (two platoons) of SADF regulars were to secure the kraal in the right foreground. A full strength SADF infantry company, supported by six Elland armoured cars was in reserve. The accent was on speed and aggression: since crossing the border four days ago Task Force Zulu had not encountered any significant opposition from the MPLA or their Cuban allies.

The Bridge at Cahama

FNLA Technicals poised to charge over the bridge: the graffiti on the building on the right should have been a warning...

 The plan went wrong almost from the very beginning. The technicals drove across the bridge at high speed and ran into a well laid ambush at the crossroads. Cuban trained FAPLA troops, armed with recoiless rifles and dug in amongst the buildings, opened up on the softskinned FNLA column. Two thirds of the FNLA vehicles were knocked out immediately and as the remainder tried to retreat across the bridge they fell prey to pre-registered mortar fire.

The FNLA motorised infantry successfully approached the ford but were caught in withering fire from an understrength FAPLA militia company led by Cuban officers and instructors from their southern training camp. The FNLA retreated and went to ground.

The South African infantry approached the kraal with caution. Given the unexpected amount of firing and the confusion that was apparent from the radio traffic, their commander had decided a careful advance was called for. Once amongst the cover of the primitive dwellings, he was astonished to see half a dozen soviet built jeeps bristling with heavy machine guns drive at full speed over the bridge and take up position in the buildings where only half an hour ago the FNLA technical crews had eaten breakfast. He and his men spent the rest of the morning pinned down by machine gun fire. What he didn't know was that a Cuban special forces captain had commandeered the jeeps and, seizing the initiative, had driven straight through the FNLA position.

Securing the Kraal
The South African Commander acted decisively and committed his reserve. Fortunately for him Bravo Company had found the river to the south of Cahama to be easily forded and had outflanked the FAPLA position on its left. Even this good luck was limited however, as his troops entered dense bush and found themselves involved in close quarter combat with Angolan troops led by Cubans.

As night fell the South Africans counted the cost. All nine FNLA Technicals were destroyed, The FNLA infantry were refusing to move and his most successful unit had lost nine dead and over a dozen wounded. total casualties were 27 wounded and 14 dead. It was a disaster.

The Cuban commander made a quick appraisal of the situation. Astonishingly his men had suffered no fatal casualties although he had six wounded, one seriously. It was clear this was a large enemy force and the fighting in the bush by the river had left him in no doubt he was up against South African regulars with armoured support. Now wasn't the time for heroics.

As night fell the Cuban and FAPLA troops melted away and, under the cloak of darkness, headed north.


  1. The South African government denies any and all involvement in recent skirmishes over the border. Further, the South African government notes that recent reports of engagements are part of an on-going disinformation campaign precipitated by small group of communist rebels.