Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Sofia, Bulgaria 12 November 1975; 'Yes Comrade President'

Sofia 1975

'You're going to have to slow down, my head is beginning to hurt, tell me that again...'

'I'm sorry Comrade President, we've had a communication from the Soviet Security Services. Apparently, they have information that implicates your son-in law's mistress in brokering a deal to supply weapons via South Africa and Zaire to enemies of socialism in Angola.'

'My son in law has a mistress?'


'I wouldn't have thought the spineless bastard had it in him...Angola you say? I have to admit I couldn't have found the place on a map until all that fuss when Castro sent his boys in...Gromyko nearly burst a blood vessel...heh...what kind of weapons?'

'AKs, RPGs, mortars...'

'All stuff we make here?'

'Yes Comrade President'

'Hmm...and traceable?'

'I'm afraid so'

'How did they pay for it?'

'US dollars, cash in advance'

'Oh well, at least something good came of it. So now we have the Russians and the Cubans to answer to?'

'It would appear so, Comrade President'

'Well, someone's head will have to roll and my daughter won't let me shoot her useless husband, although with any luck she'll do it herself once she hears about the mistress...bring me the file and arrange a meeting with our comrades from the Soviet embassy.'

'Yes Comrade President'

Granma 11 November 1975 Free At Last! Luanda Celebrates Independence Day

The End of Portuguese Rule in Angola
The Angolan people turned out in their thousands to celebrate their freedom and to thank the heroes of the struggle against imperialist oppression, the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA)
Cuba has sent several thousand doctors, nurses and other medical experts, together with engineers and agricultural specialists and soldiers to assist the Angolan people in their heroic struggle to throw off the yoke of imperialist rule.

Today that struggle reached its climax with the end of Portuguese rule and the defeat of the racist South African invasion by the MPLA, with the support of Cuban soldiers fulfilling their international duty.

The MPLA has successfully stopped the racist army as they sought to take advantage of conditions in the lead up to independence and install a puppet regime led by the Holden Roberto and his gang of CIA funded thugs, the so called  Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola or FNLA.

The Army of Apartheid has been decisively defeated in several battles outside the capital and the MPLA has also beaten special units of hired killers, or mercenaries, paid for by the CIA.

The Cuban Revolution salutes our Angolan comrades! Socialismo o Muerte!

Monday, 28 May 2012

AAR Casalalata

The first direct confrontation between Cuban and South African armoured forces takes place at Casalalalta on Angolan independence day, 11th November 1975.

On the eastern side of the river, Lieutenant Romero's platoon of T34s are being shot up by the 90mm guns of Task Force Zulu's Eland armoured cars. Meanwhile a column of South African APCs is driving hell for leather for the ruined river bridge which is being simultaneously assaulted from the western bank by South African troops in a textbook attack.

The Cubans think the South Africans are maintaining their offensive, when in fact the assault is a desperate attempt to secure a crossing for their forces that have had the order from Pretoria to pull back but who are on the wrong side of the river.

Demonstrating true socialist zeal, Captain Sanchez rallies his recon troops and flanks the South African APCs with half a dozen jeeps armed with heavy machine guns. The resulting firefight is brief and bloody. Three  APCs are riddled by heavy calibre, high velocity rounds, turning them into death traps for the troops within. One blows up spectacularly when a tracer round ignites the fuel tank, incinerating a full squad of troopies. The South Africans dismount what's left of their infantry and take cover in thick scrub, just as a large approaching dustcloud  heralds the arrival of a full company of truck borne Cuban motor rifle troops.
The South Africans recover their composure and open fire with both small arms and hand held anti-tank rockets. Half a minute later and the Cubans are in reverse gear, three of their trucks smoking wrecks.

The T34s are beginning to get the measure of the South African armoured cars and although Romero fails to raise the promised BM 21 MRL support on the battalion net his gunners manage to pick off several Elands.
As dusk falls the firing dies down. The South Africans have secured the crossing, although the bridge is impassable to vehicles. One company of armoured infantry has taken a mauling and they've lost half a dozen armoured cars holding off the Cuban armour. They begin to withdraw on foot across the wrecked bridge, booby trapping any vehicles they leave behind.
The Cubans are also counting their losses. Six tanks are out of action, a motor rifle company has lost one in three of its effectives and Sanchez's recon detachment has been decimated. They fear a renewed South African attack at first light, not knowing that their adversaries are in fact withdrawing.

A fun game played solo using AK47 Reloaded Rules resulting in a clear South African victory - although they don't appreciate it as such!
The crossing has been captured and the Cuban recon detachment that was holding it is in full retreat. Abandoning any semblance of order a Cuban infantry platoon scatters and South African armoured infantry mount a pursuit, shooting up Cuban technicals as they advance.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Action at Cassalalta 11 November 1975

Caught in the crosshair. That could be a visual metaphor, couldn't it? Gosh. Clever.

''Janni, over there, by the railway line!'

'Hostiles 1 o'clock, fire at will'

'Shit, that's an anti-tank gun on that jeep...get some rounds down now'

'Peter, take your squad and work your way round them...use the buildings'

'Frank, base of fire..there'

'Go, go, go!'

'Target 11 o'clock, 800, load sabot'


'Sierra Five, this is two, I'm in trouble, I've lost two tanks'

Target, 700, load sabot'


'Sierra Three, this is five, keep moving, you're all right, fight back'

'God, oh God, they're killing is all'

'Romero, you son of a whore, get a grip on yourself and fight or they will kill 600,! Got him! Good lad...'


'Sanchez says the Boers are in the scrub on the left, over there''

'Get out of the trucks! Everybody out, now!'

'Miguel, keep your head down and take your boys and work around their left'

'Shit...who's firing? where's that coming from? Everybody down!'


I've just finished playing out the first encounter between Cuban combat troops and their South African adversaries in our alternative timeline. It saw the first encounter between Cuban T 34s and South African Eland armoured cars; a text book company attack by South African infantry that ejected Cuban recon troops from a built up area, Cuban technicals shooting up a South African Armoured Infantry Company and the massacre of a Cuban motor rifle platoon before they could disembark form their URAL trucks.

Neither side was aware what the other was trying to achieve and both were left feeling they'd taken a pasting although objectively it was a clear tactical victory for the SADF. Full AAR to follow.

Situation Report 11 November 1975

This is a good time to pause and take stock at 'War for Slow Readers', for although this is an alternative timeline of the war in Angola 1975-89, 11th November 1975 is still Angolan Independence Day.

So, it's dawn on the 11th, what has happened and what is about to happen in our alternative history?

  • The Portuguese administration is poised to slip away quietly aboard one of their navy's frigates after a brief, low key ceremony during which power will formally be handed over to a provisional government dominated by Dr Augustino Neto's Marxist MPLA.
  • Over 3000 Cuban troops have disembarked in Luanda during the last week. Of these approximately 1000 are in action against South African and FNLA troops to the south east of Luanda.
  • The FNLA's bid to take Luanda has failed and their cadre in the capital have been decimated. A joint FNLA-Zaire task force that tried to take Luanda was destroyed over a week ago by MPLA units and their Cuban special forces advisers. The mercenary leading the task force, Anglo-Irishman Carlo Shannon, was killed. There are guerrillas sympathetic to the FNLA operating in the countryside around Luanda, led by the enigmatic 'Commander Zero', although they appear to have gone to ground for the time being.
  • Operation Savannah, the South African attempt to seize as much Angolan territory as possible for the FNLA and install a government friendly to Pretoria in Luanda, has stalled. The reality is, with Holden Roberto and the FNLA a busted flush, there is no political solution to Pretoria's problem. Angola is twice the size of Texas and almost five times the size of the United Kingdom. The population is estimated at 6.5 million. There are three SADF led Task Forces operating in Angola, and their total strength is that of a weak NATO division. It's simply not enough. The spearhead, Task Force Zulu, a brigade sized force operating fewer than 200 km from Luanda, has just been instructed to withdraw. They've started to pull back just as Cuban armoured forces are advancing in their direction.
  • The rainy season has finally started, over a month later than usual.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Angolan Independence Day 11 November 1975 0200 hours HQ Cuban 201 Composite Brigade

'Hey Raul, where's Colonel Mendoza?'

'He's asleep, he said to wake him if anything important happened, que bola?'

'This is important, Sanchez has just called in. The bridge at Cassolalata is down, he and his boys got there 30 minutes ago'

'Well that helps, if the bridge is down the Boers are stuck'

'Yeah, but we need that bridge for the counter-attack. Martinez and his tanks should be there tomorrow night.'

'Anything else?'

'Sanchez says the Boers are on the other side of the river. He doesn't know their strength yet but he can hear engines'

'Hmmm...I'll wake the Colonel. Sanchez will have sent out patrols, tell him to let us know the Boer's strength as soon as he has an idea.'

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Training Manual

The Red Army's Do-It-Yourself Nazi-Bashing Guerrilla Warfare Manual: The Partisan's Companion, 1942

I saw this in a book shop window last week and couldn't resist it. Of course, given that there was no copyright in the former USSR, then it is readily available on the internet for free, but I enjoyed David Glantz's foreword and it's nice to have a professionally bound copy.

It's relevance to War for Slow Readers is that this manual was a set text at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, and it was used to train cadre in the principles of centrally controlled guerrilla warfare. As such it was used in wars of liberation across Africa and the rest of the third world. We can be confident that FAPLA and SWAPO adopted the doctrine described herein in the War of Independence in Angola and the subsequent civil war and also during the bush war against South Africa.

There is plenty of practical advice for the aspiring partisan covering such topics as tactics, explosives and demolition, weapon handling, fieldcraft and first aid.

Strongly recommended for the 1970s soldier heading into the bush with an AK and a couple of magazines...published by Casemate , Havertown PA and Newbury UK.

Who knows, maybe a copy or two found it's way into the hands of the Free Taffs over at ?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Staff Conference Cuban 201 Composite Brigade HQ Luanda 10 November 1975

'Comrade Colonel, reporting as instructed.'

'Welcome Captain Martinez. How soon before your armour is ready to move?'

'Comrade Colonel, the last of the tanks are being unloaded this afternoon. The whole battalion will be ready to move by midnight.'

'Your boys will miss out on the independence party...'

'They're just glad to get off that ship Comrade.'

'We have reports that the South African advance guard have reached Dondo, here. They have light armour and jeeps. We're unsure about their supply situation but it can't be good. Air activity has dropped off considerably over the past 48 hours.'

'Colonel, we can attempt a night march but I doubt we'll make it in one bound I'd expect between three and six mechanical failures over that distance. We can fix them but it takes time. Better we move at night if at all possible.'

'I agree, there is no guarantee their aircraft won't reappear. There is a railway to Dondo but the system is in chaos. We'll send Sanchez's recon group ahead to the bridge at Cassoalala. They can get there tonight. They should be able to hold the crossing for 24 hours which will give you and Durreti's motor rifle troops time to relieve them.

'Comrade, the South Africans have to be stopped at here at the crossing. Time is not a luxury we have. The Chief is counting on you...'

'Yes Comrade, I understand.'

Battlefront T34-85s

It's taken me over two weeks to paint five of these, as I've been travelling a lot with work. I've also managed an evening of DBA games and an afternoon playing a 1641 battle between Irish rebels and the Dublin Government using DBR. Two weeks is still a long time though.

If the T54/55 is the VW Beetle of the Cold War given it's ubiquity then I think the T34 qualifies as the VW Beetle of World War II and the immediate post war era.

I painted these up as generic T34s in Russian Tank Green without distinguishing markings. The red earth basing is more typical of Africa but could be just about anywhere. Many of the Cuban troops that fought in Africa were black but I painted the three crew members in this little troop as whites so they could be Russians if I ever use the tanks in a European setting. They could, at a stretch, be North Korean or Chinese I suppose.

I'm happy with how they turned out and I like the way Battlefront supply them with different bits of stowage.

All that reamins is to get them off the dockside in Luanda and into action in the defence of the Angolan Revolution...

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Moscow 10 November 1975

'Let me understand what you're saying comrade. I'm responsible for the foreign policy of the Soviet Union, directly accountable to the Central Committee and you're telling, forgive me... advising me that we really have no choice but to support Castro on his crusade'

'Comrade Minister, I believe it is my duty to advise you that there is a very real risk that the Cuban adventure in Angola will collapse unless they are granted minimal assistance in the form of long range air transport and weapons. I do not see that we need to provide personnel. Er..beyond aircrew of course...'

'Thank you comrade. I have to think about this. The General Secretary won't like it...'

London 8 November 1975

'So The Service has had an agent in Angola?'

'Yes sir, completely deniable naturally. The operation is codenamed SILVERBACK. An agent was infiltrated into the group of mercenaries recruited by Carlo Shannon in London on behalf of the FNLA.'

'Shannon is dead though...'

'And the FNLA's offensive was a fiasco, Shannon should never have attacked when he did. SILVERBACK is telling us that he didn't want to but Holden Roberto insisted on it. Apparently Shannon was killed in street fighting in Caxito, leading from the front. A house was booby trapped and his command group was caught in it. They were fighting Angolans but the Cubans were running the show. SILVERBACK thinks that the group Shannon was with were leading an attack on a Cuban command post.'

'Hmmm...what now? It appears Castro is sending everything he has to Luanda and after the St John's incident he's doing it overtly. The whole of his merchant marine has been mobilised.'

'The Cuban's will get stronger. They'll have thousands of men on the ground within a month. SILVERBACK tells us that the FNLA are stepping up recruitment again in Paris and Callan has reports that Banks is active in London...'

'God help us. And the Soviets?'

'Very quiet. They must be giving Castro approval. It's only a matter of time before Soviet heavy lift aircraft start moving Cubans to Luanda. They'll use the Cubans as proxies. This is part of their plan to expand their influence in the region sir.'

'Hmmm...yes. Well keep me informed. And make sure Callan watches Banks.'

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Pretoria 8th November 1975


'This isn't going to work.'

'The army is convinced they can be in Luanda by the 11th...'

'No...the Task Force commander is convinced they can be in Luanda by the 11th...the air force are telling us that they can't maintain operations at this level of intensity, the army command are telling us the supply situation will go critical in the next 48 hours, the British and the CIA have reliable intelligence of the extent of Cuban build up...'

'But those boys are good, they can get there!'

'And then what? Let's for a few minutes imagine that they actually make it, that they don't run out of gasoline, that the ammunition lasts, that the Cubans don't fight...then what? The FNLA cadre have been massacred in Luanda, Roberto blew it by making Shannon attack before he was ready...Shannon is dead and the FNLA in the north are in pieces. There is nobody in Luanda to run the place apart form the MPLA. The Portuguese are leaving anyway, they've left's over...we'd have a few hundred white men in a black city without a prayer..'

'So what do we do?'

'We stop...resupply and retreat. We're unbeaten...the black man didn't beat the white man - we just listened to the international community and it was a political decision. And we'll be back, this thing isn't over'

'Tell that to the boys on the road...'

Friday, 4 May 2012

Moscow 8 November 1975 Red Square Parade to Celebrate the Anniversary of the Revolution

'What the fuck is Castro doing?'

'It appears he's doing he wants Comrade General Secretary...'

'The Americans are getting very twitchy. I have no intention of letting that tropical socialist jeapordise detente'

'Yes Comrade, I agree and you know that is a view shared by us all. What we've found with the Cubans is that they are usually very discreet about their little adventures...'

'Landing in fucking Canada with a battalion of spetsnatz? call that discreet!'

'Most unfortunate Comrade...'

'Unfortunate! Get Gromyko to tell Castro to stop at once!'

'I fear it's to late for that Comrade General Secretary...Castro has announced that the whole of his merchant marine has been mobilised in the service of the Revolutionary Armed Forces so they can...ahem... "fulfil their international duty in Angola'

'Bastard! Is he deliberately trying to provoke the Americans?'

The Circus London 5th November 1975 2000 hours

File:Bristol Britannia 318 CU-T670 Lima 04.72.jpg

'This gentlemen, is a civilian airliner operated by Cubana Aviation. Those of you who are interested in these matters will recognise the aircraft type, a Bristol Brittannia, built here.

This particular aircraft was photograhed yesterday when it touched down to refuel at St John's International Airport in Newfoundland. This was not a scheduled flight but  the Canadians suspected nothing untoward. The Cuban flight crew were insistent that the aircraft be refueled and that none of the 139 passengers on board be disembarked.

Unfortunately for them, one passenger developed appendicitis on the flight from Havana, hence the need for medical services to board her. The gentleman concerned was disembarked and admitted to hospital. He is a corporal in the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, specifically a para-commando unit of the special forces. The rest of the passengers were his comrades. Their destination was Luanda. They arrived early this morning.

Corporal Marquez is in a stable condition and is expected to make a full recovery'

'Jesus, how many...'

'This was the third of three flights that used St John's. They've only got three of these planes.'

'Were they armed?'

'Thankfully no, the whole affair is embarrassing enough as it is. Langley is going berserk. A Cuban freighter docked in Luanda a few days ago. Reports are there were enough arms on board to equip a division.'