Friday, 30 March 2012

News At Ten 28th October 1975

'And now we turn to events in the Portuguese African colony of Angola, which is due to become independent on the 11th of next month.

For weeks now, Europeans have been fleeing Angola's capital Luanda as the three anti-colonial liberation movements have turned on one another in the lead up to independence. Today the Foreign Office announced that the RAF had undertaken to assist the Portuguese authorities and provide transport for refugees wishing to leave Angola. The refugees will be flown to Lisbon where they will be resettled by the Portuguese Government.

Two RAF VC10s have been allocated to the operation which is expected to run for two weeks'

Havana 28 October 1975

'Comrade Colonel, flash message from Luanda - Benguela has fallen to South African troops.'


'Three hours ago. Helicopter borne troops seized the airfield at first light and motorised troops took the city by midday. There is an increasing use of air support - Mirages as well as Impalas.'

'Who was in command in Benguela?'

'Captain Delgado Comrade, he sent this report.'

'If Benguela's gone they'll bring in reinforcements by air and sea. What's Luanda saying about the FNLA?'

'It's confusing Comrade Colonel. FAPLA seems to be in control of Luanda and its outskirts but there is FNLA activity as close as Caxito and yesterday we had unconfirmed reports of Zairian troops and white mercenaries in Uige.'

'Hmm...when is the ship due to dock in Luanda?'

'The 30th Comrade'

'Thank you. Comrade Captain, please notify General Durreti that I'd like to convene a meeting with The Chief.'

'Is it that bad?'

'Yes, Captain I fear it is. It's time to shit or get off the pot.'

Monday, 26 March 2012

A Few Little Extras

A couple packages arrived this week that will help keep the momentum going in War For Slow Readers.

Firstly, a 1cm:20km map of Angola, courtesy of Cartographia and The Book Depository. Up to now I've been relying on an atlas and computer generated maps. It's good to have an old fashioned map I can spread out on the kitchen table and plot the movement of the factions that are fighting over Angola in late 1975. I think I'll get this map laminated then I can mark on the position of the various troop formations as the war unfolds.

Secondly, some odds and ends from Peter Pig. Colonel Blanc, shown above, who I think may make an appearance as Colonel Cat Shannon, the British mercenary commander of Task Force Blue, fresh from his successful coup d'etat in Zangaro. I've a few other bits and pieces to paint up before TF Blue makes it onto the table, namely some Cuban T34/85s and a MiG 21 as it seems increasingly likely that the Cubans will intervene decisively as independence approaches - with or without the assistance of their Soviet allies.

If that occurs then we're probably in for a long war. And that will provide opportunities for Mr Arms Dealer to make a buck.

Here he is with his henchmen. I can see some scenarios developing as he crosses into Angola from neighbouring Zaire or Zambia in his Mercedes saloon with a convoy of trucks loaded with AK-47s. To whom will he sell the mechandise to however?

Of course, if the war does escalate and the Cubans and Soviets get involved then the presence of foreign troops is bound to attract media attention, just at it did in early 1976 when the notorious 'Colonel Callan' made it onto the front page of our newspapers and onto the TV news.

The South Africans may allow in Western journalists in an attempt to win the propaganda war. Or Havana may do the same, seeking to discredit the US and South African intervention and bolster their own case for stepping in on the side of the MPLA. If either of these moves are tried I'll need at least a couple of camera crews to bring the action to our TV screens at home so I've bought the appropriate pack from Mr Pig.

Things are a bit hectic at work over the next couple of weeks so I'll be lucky if I get a game in before Easter and painting and modelling looks like being out of the question. There's plenty of WFSR goodness to getting on with though with the aid of my map and notebook so keep checking in.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Battle of Menongue 25 October 1975

Outskirts of Menongue looking East. The South Africans attacked down this road.

We played the latest episode our camapign this week, the attempt by South African troops of Task Force Orange to link up with the paratroopers who had been dropped in to seize the airport at Menongue.

Both sides were given confiential breifings and objectives, together with how to achieve victory.

The scenario was an' exit' game involving a motorised SADF force entering the short table edge and having to fight its way across the table to exit on the opposite edge. The SADF had a detachment of Eland 90s and some Landrover technicals together with a company of infantry mounted in Buffel APCs and another in Unimogs.

The FAPLA defenders were three companies of militia with no heavy weapons.

FAPLA's only advantages were their ability to ambush the South Africans in the bush and built up areas and one company that had managed to dig itself in on the outskirts of town, directly in the path of the SADF advance.

FAPLA 'won' in that they prevented the South Africans exiting the table but if the game had gone on for another one or two turns the liklihood is that the result would have been different. FAPLA succesfully ambushed the SADF armoured cars and Landrovers but suffered heavy casualties and were losing ground in house to house fighting in Menongue itself when time ran out.

By evening on 25 October Task Force Orange had relieved 1 PARA and secured the airfield at Menongue.

Thanks to Chris and Evan for being such good sports an entering into the spirit of 'War for Slow Readers'

South African Paratroopers 'Invade Angola'

The Guardian 27 October 1975

Reports from Southern Angola indicate a South African troops have attacked the town of Menongue, some 300 km from the South West African border.

The Cuban government alleges that South African airborne forces were parachuted into Menongue two days ago and captured the town's airfield. According to Havana, a South African armoured column linked up with the paratroopers 24 hours later.

'The colonial government is due to leave Angola on 11 November and the Cuban people have been rendering fraternal aid and assistance to their Angolan brothers and sisters in the People's Liberation Movement of Angola (MPLA) as they prepare to lead the Angolan people to freedom. This attack by the racist Pretoria regime is proof that South Africa is bent on imposing its will on the peace loving people of Africa,' said a Cuban government spokesman.

Pretoria has confirmed it has troops in Angola. According to sources close to the South African Government the South African Defence Force has been carrying out limited operations to forestall  communist terrorist activity inside Angolan territory.

An Anglican priest in Capetown, Father John Wilson, has confirmed that a family in his parish has been informed of the death of their 19 year old son, a soldier in the South African Army, 'on active service', earlier this week.

The Soviet Union has formally protested to the South African Government and a further protest has been lodged with the United Nations Assembly by the East German Ambassador to the UN.


Sunday, 18 March 2012

An Airfield Too Far?

'Sunbeam, this is Harrier, the wicket is good over'

'This is Sunbeam, copy you Harrier, over and out'

'Time to move boys, those paras are waiting!'

1 PARA covers the airfield perimeter road

0600 25 October 1975: Bravo Company, 1 PARA, has seized Menongue airfield. Task Force Orange's spearhead has just been signalled to cross its start line and drive on Menongue to link up with the paras.

Major Christian van Fleet commands Battlegroup Sunbeam, a SADF motorised column and the spearhead of TF Orange.

Leiutenant Alberto Contador, Cuban Special Forces, has assembled three 'alarm' companies from the half trained FAPLA garrison of Menongue. His men have no heavy weapons and little hope of stopping the South Africans. The attack on the airfield came as a complete surprise, there had been no indication from either the FAPLA  command or his own superiors that the South Africans were prepared to use airborne troops .

Contador doesn't know the paratroopers' stength but he knows an enemy motorised column is operating in the area. He expects an attack from the south as the main South African force tries to link up with the airborne troops. He resolves to communicate news of the enemy advance to headquarters and to fight a delaying action in the town for as long as he can.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Task Force Orange

The third South African Task Force in our campaign is Task Force Orange. Like Zulu and Foxbat, TF Orange crossed the Namibian border on 15 October and by 25 October was driving on the airstrip at Menongue.

To date the advance has proceeded relatively smoothly over 380 km or so, the biggest challenge has been mines and ensuring the column well supplied.

Portuguese FNLA Mercenaries serving with TF Orange

Like the other two southern task forces Orange comprised an FNLA motorised infantry battalion, albeit with a greater proportion of Portuguese mercenaries, and two SADF motorised infantry battalions together with  an armoured reconnaissance element and engineering and artillery support.

Early in the morning of 25 October a company from 1 Para was parachuted in and, after a short pause to get organised, had seized the airfield.

Orange's task now was to rendezvous with the paras and secure a base at Menongue. An airlift of fuel, rations and ammunition would then re-supply the column before the drive on Luanda would resume.

The lack of resistance to date has prompted the SADF command to make Orange the priority column. It was still over a 1000 km from Luanda but air reconnaissance indicated that significant opposition was unlikely and there were still two and a half weeks to independence day on 11 November.

TF Orange was operating in relatively remote territory but the MPLA and its Cuban advisers were aware of its presence by 25 October.

The question was what, if anything, could they do about it?

Friday, 2 March 2012

Reflections on the Campaign So Far

Operation Savannah is ten days old in game time and I've played three games over a couple of weeks in real time. These games have been mainly designed to allow me and a couple of friends to familiarise ourselves with the 'AK47 Reloaded' rules mechanisms, as well as have a bit of fun.

We've stuck to the broad prescription of the rules around army lists, points values and the scenarios we've fought although I've drafted Angola specific army lists for the main protagonists and have fought battles with 300 & 400ish point armies. We haven't bothered with the asset system or the 15 days to war scenario generator either. We omitted the former in the interests of simplification and speeding up the game and the latter because, having tried it several times for a Russian Civil War variant of the these rules that I wrote, I don't like it.

The strategic aspect of the campaign has been simply made up in the spirit of one of the inspirations for this project, the Winter of 79 campaign. That doesn't mean there is no structure to the campaign, rather it's a narrative that provides its own limitations as it unfolds. It's very 'free form', allowing us to build scenarios in the context of the historical and counter-factual background that we write as the project develops.

So, to summarise events to date:

  • South Africa has intervened in the Angolan Civil War on the eve of the Portuguese withdrawal
  • Four brigade sized task forces have invaded Angola, three across the Namibian Border and one from Zaire. All of these groups have a nucleus of Angolan FNLA troops to maintain the fiction that this is an attack by indigenous Angolan forces
  • To date we've fought three battles involving two of the southern task forces and setting Cuban and MPLA troops against the invaders. The battles have resulted in tactical defeats of varying magnitude for the invaders but the strategic military initiative remains with the SADF/FNLA - they haven't been stopped.
  • The level of casualties amongst South African troops, although militarily insignificant, is expected to result in political pressure on the Pretoria government. Of course, the progress of the third southern task force has yet to be gamed, as has that of the northern task force, but it looks increasingly likely Pretoria will find themselves faced with the choice of cutting their losses and withdrawing or a greater commitment in the hope of bringing the war to a swift and successful conclusion before domestic and international political pressure becomes too great to continue.
  • What does winning look like? For South Africa it's the installation of an FNLA government in Luanda by independence day or shortly thereafter. For the MPLA, who have a strong power base in Luanda and other urban centres it's simply hanging on and stopping the FNLA and UNITA
  • What of the Cubans? The Cuban military on the ground is lobbying Havana to commit more troops and assistance to the MPLA. Havana is seeking Soviet support. The MPLA's survival is largely conditional on support from Havana and Moscow.
In terms of wargaming hardware I have a couple of 1/100 resin aircraft models to build: a MiG 21 and a Mirage; and a couple of helicopters - both Soviet. I need to complete bases for all the trees I bought and the ones they came with are too small and the trees are too unstable for wargaming purposes. I'm also awaiting delivery of a couple of hills I've ordered from a local wargames shop.

To flesh out the forces I have already I want some T34/85s (for when the Cubans commit...) and some BRDM and Ratels for gaming the conflict as we move forward into the late 70s and the 80s. I also intend to get some civilians and media crew figures from Peter Pig as well as some more trucks so I can start to develop some scenarios involving them. Mr Arms Dealer and one or two of the character packs like Colonel Blanc may also make an appearance...

Work commitments will mean I won't be gaming at the pace I have over the last couple of weeks but there is still plenty of modelling and painting and writing to be getting along with.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Firefight at Folgares

Task Force Zulu was halted at Chibia. Although the casualties were relatively light in military terms, the political impact was such that Pretoria was unwilling to press on and risk further losses.

A debate ensued amongst the South Africans. The majority of military officers advocated allocating 'full blooded' support to TF Zulu by the SAAF and the deployment of airborne forces to quickly secure Lubango and its airfield. A minority view held that whilst FAPLA and its Cuban advisors had held the line at Chibia they couldn't do this everywhere and, instead of reinforcing failure, the SADF should make Task Force Foxbat's the priority axis of advance.

By 25 October Foxbat's leading FNLA battalion had reached Folgares where it had paused to regroup and resupply. The battalion's South African cadre of advisors, together with the bulk of the transport element, were some 5km south of the unit's main postion in the township itself. Two understrength infantry companies and the support company were deployed in the township. As evening approached these units were attacked in their rear by a full battalion of FAPLA regulars that had been completely missed by aerial reconnaissance.

FNLA Command Elements deployed in township
The ensuing firefight was confused and noisy. The FAPLA advance proceeded in fits and starts. One company entered the township but was fought to a standstill by FNLA troops that had dug in amongst the buildings in the town centre. Mortar and recoiless rifle fire, though largely inaccurate, seemed to intimidate the FAPLA troops and forestalled a close assault. To the west of Folgares FAPLA troops advanced cautiously and seemed reluctant to probe possible FNLA postions in dense bush. The arrival of an SADF armoured car platoon caused consternation amongst FAPLA's supporting mobile detachment of technicals until a lucky burst from a jeep mounted .50 cal machine gun disabled an Eland armoured car.

As dusk fell the fighting petered out. The FNLA held Folgares and had suffered no fatal casualties, although a dozen men were wounded. An Eland armoured car was written off and two more disabled, and there were several casualties amongst their South African crews, one of which was fatal. Three FNLA technicals had also been destroyed by very accurate fire from the FAPLA HQ platoon, composed mainly of Cuban advisors, For its part FAPLA had lost six dead and ten wounded with another three missing. Half a dozen Soviet built GAZ jeeps had either been destroyed or disabled by fire from the SADF armoured cars.

The FAPLA commander was dismayed, His men had not managed to press home their attack. The FNLA commander, Captain Mouriniho, was equally concerned. Although he had held the town, he never imagined that FAPLA were present in such strength in this area, nor that they had the wherewithall to mount an attack in such strength. 

In the small hours of 26th October Foxbat reported to Pretoria that their line of supply was insecure.

At the same time Cuban headquarters in Luanda received a report from their most senior officer in southern Angola that unless reinforcments were forthcoming he could got guarantee the security of Benguela and the coast road all the way to the capital.

Both sides believed their respective postions were hopeless...