Saturday, 28 April 2012

9th Company Movie

No apologies for this off topic post. I've just watched '9th Company, a Finnish-Ukrainian production loosely based on a real-life battle that took place at Hill 3234 in early 1988, during the last large-scale Soviet  military operation in Afghanistan.

Whilst on one level it's just another derivative war film it has a number of attractions on other levels.
  • Numerous Soviet armored vehicles and aircraft appear in the film which are rarely seen or depicted in Western films - in particular some great shots of Hind gunships and BTR 60s and BMP APCs
  • A very 'warts and all depiction of Soviet military training with its peculiar combination of sophistication and casual brutality. Contrast a briefing from an intellectual intelligence officer with preparing recruits to fight tanks by 'ironing' their foxholes.
  • Theer is a focus on the ethos of the Soviet Airborne forces. Their elite volunteer status, the pride in their unit and one another is well shown. Of course, western elite units display similar characteristics, it's just refreshing to see an honest potrayal of the tyoung Soviet soldiers that were fundamentally no different to their counterparts in the west.
The film follows a band of young recruits from a farewell ceremony with friends and family their arrival at Baghram air base and subsequent fighting in the mountains The story climaxes with a bloody battle on a mountain top in Afghanistan against the mujahideen.

According to Wikipedia

'in the film, only one soldier from the company survives unscathed and the company is said to have been "forgotten" by the military command because of the Soviet withdrawal. In reality, the 9th Company, 345th Independent Guards Airborne Regiment was pinned down under heavy fire on Hill 3234 between the 7th and 8th of January 1988. They managed to stop 3 attacks by an estimated 200-250 mujahideen. The company lost a total of 6 men. Another 28 out of the total 39 were wounded seriously. Four of the killed soldiers were posthumously awarded the golden star of the Hero of the Soviet Union. The unit was in constant communication with headquarters and got everything the regimental commander, Colonel Valery Vostrotin, could provide in terms of rations, ammunition, reinforcements, and helicopter evacuation of the wounded.'

In short, well worth a watch.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Task Force Zulu Command Post Benguela 30 October 1975

'Zulu One this is Bluetop over'

'Bluetop, Zulu One receiving over'

'Zulu One, you are authorised to proceed with Savannah immediately. Objective Kingpin over'

'Bluetop, roger that...resume Savannah, objective Kingpin, over and out'

'Hey, Johnny get me the code book, where the bloody hell is 'Kingpin'?'


'Christ, it's on the bloody coast road...Porto Amboin...'

'How far?'

'Has to be 400 klicks.'

'Bloody hell...get the battalion COs on the brigade net, orders group 2000'

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Caxito AAR (2)

This proved to be a a lot of fun. The battle see-sawed for the whole game. The deployment rules ensured the shooting started straight away. The MPLA declared one of the building templates in Caxito and the large hill that dominated the diagonialy opposite quarter as objectives. The FNLA went for the road entrance at the table edge that was the most distant from Caxito in an attempt to get the MPLA to divide their forces.

This was not to be. The Cuban advisors ensured the MPLA deployed carefully, putting a full company of infantry on the hill and another, supported by the Command Group and HQ platoon, in Caxito.

The FNLA drove a company of technicals within HMG & AA range of the troops on the hill, but outside of effective range of their assault rifles and RPGs, and spent the rest of the game blasting away at them. The fact the MPLA successfully dug in on turn 1 mean they elected to soak up the pressure rather than charge across open ground at a line of Jeeps and Toyotas bristling with 30 and 50 cal machine guns and 20mm AA guns. Some losses were suffered but their morale held and the objective was never in danger.

The rest of the FNLA force focused on Caxito. Fighting in the town was bloody, largely as the MPLA elected to defend from within templates, rather than sitting at the edge and taking fire. In reality this would approximate to defenders occupying buildings within a built up area rather than on the outskirts, sacrificing the ability to fire at the attackers as they approached for the impact of ambushes with automatic weapons and grenades at short range. Most of the comabt was therefore close assaults.

The much vaunted Cuban supplied BM-21s MRLs proved largely ineffectual. Only one fire mission arrived and, as it was directed at infantry in a built up area, its impact was negligible. One can imagine the frantic calls for fire from the Cuban forward observer before his postion was overrun.

The battlefield with the MPLA postion on the hill in the foreground. In the built up area in the left background a desparate battle is raging...FNLA technicals can be seen by the road on the left.

As the mercenary led FNLA force fought their way into the township an understrength company of MPLA troops broke and fled. This proved the high water mark of the FNLA's fortunes however, for as they attempted to dislodge the Cuban Command group and HQ platoon, their advance stalled. The Cubans had fortified their postions and every building was either a strongpoint or booby trapped. Machine guns were deployed with mutually supporting arcs of fire and three or four man fireteams armed with AK47s and grenades were on hand to counter attack at any sign of the enemy penetrating their postions.

The FNLA mercenary leader, 'Colonel' Shannon had always suspected this would be a tough fight so was not unduly surprised when his usual tactics of charging the enemy in a blaze of automatic fire enjoyed limited success. The flight of the undertrained Angolan troops before his first assault was a bonus but he always expected a more determined, or better prepared, foe would put up more resistance.

Two things sealed the fate of the FNLA attack. The first was the booby trap that exploded as Shannon and his command group were clearing a cluster of buildings only metres from his Cuban counterpart's command post. The mercenary was mortally wounded and the attack lost its impetus. Shortly afterwards, a column of jeeps armed with recoiless rifles and HMGs arrived to reinforce the MPLA and took up postions on the outskirts of town, providing much needed support for the Cuban fighters. This column also ensured the third objective was denied to the FNLA.

So, the battle ended with a decisive victory to the communists. Luanda was secured and it now loks like an MPLA government will be installed in independence day on 11th November.

Caxito AAR (1)

This was the brief we used for the Battle of Caxito, played using Peter Pig's AK47 Reloaded rules with some adaptations



Caxito 3 November 1975


Task Force Blue, an FNLA unit originally of  brigade strength, has reached Caxito, about 30 kms from Luanda.

The Task Force is led by an Anglo-Irish mercenary and former Royal Marine Commando non commissioned officer, ‘Colonel’ Carlo Shannon. Since crossing the border with Zaire two weeks ago Shannon’s force has dwindled to around 1000 men, about 60 of whom are British, French and Portuguese mercenaries. They are well supplied and have plenty of transport in the shape of lorries, jeeps, landrovers and the ubiquitous Japanese built pick up trucks. There is no artillery support however, and morale is brittle.

FNLA cadre in Luanda have been decimated and guerrilla units in the surrounding countryside have been largely destroyed by the MPLA’s military wing, FAPLA. FAPLA is well armed with Soviet supplied light weapons such as AK 47s and RPG launchers. There are around 30 Cuban advisors fighting alongside the FAPLA front line units. At the end of October a Cuban registered ship, the ‘Vietnam Heroico’, docked in Luanda and unloaded a cargo of heavier weapons and ammunition. Half a dozen BM-21 multlple rocket launchers and the specialist  troops to operate them arrived with the cargo.

Against Shannon’s advice, the political leader of the FNLA, Holden Roberto, the brother in law of Zaire’s dictator, President Mobuto, has insisted that Task Force Blue launch an attack on the capital. Angola is due to be granted independence on 11th November, although Portuguese colonial rule has effectively already collapsed, and Roberto wants to install a government by then.

The fighting is bloody and confused. As Task Force Blue makes its bid to capture Luanda front lines cease to exist and a mobile free for all of attacks, ambushes and counter attacks ensues.


The FNLA are the attacking force. Divide the table into four quarters. The FAPLA player chooses two diagonally opposite quarters and choose two objectives in these quarters. The FNLA player identifies another objective in either of these quarters.

The FAPLA player deploys two units in his quarter(s).

The FNLA player deploys three units in his quarter(s).



Commander & HQ stands (prof)

1st Company (militia)

6 x small arms
3 x RPG

2nd Company (militia)

6 x small arms
3 x RPG

Mobile detachment A (regular)

3 x HMG technicals

Mobile detachment B (regular)

3 x RCL technicals

The FAPLA player has an artillery asset of 12. This represents the BM-21 unit. Should it come into play it has the same effect as an airstrike so as to represent the devastating effect of massed rockets on morale.


Command & HQ stands (prof)

Alpha Company (militia*)

1 x small arms stand (prof) mercenaries
5 x small arms (militia)
2 x Unimog Trucks

Bravo Company (militia*)

1 x small arms stand (prof) mercenaries
5 x small arms (militia)
2 x Unimog Trucks

Charlie Company (regular)

4 x HMG Technicals
1 x AA Technical

Delta Company (regular)

2 x HMG Technicals
1 x RCL Technical
3 x small arms
1 x Unimog Truck

* these units fight as regulars whilst the mercenary stand remains with them. As soon as it is destroyed or lost they revert to being militia

The FNLA player has an aggressive shot asset of 12, this represents the plentiful supplies of ammunition Shannon has been furnished with courtesy of the CIA.


Can be diced for from turn 2 as per the rules. The table edge of any enemy quarter is an enemy base edge and there are no ‘flank’ edges.


Countdown is from 21. At game end victory points are allocated as follows:


1D6 + 3 to offset numerical disadvantage and lack of mobility
D6 + 2 for each objective held
2D6 + 1 enemy command destroyed or fled
2D6 + 1 each enemy unit destroyed or fled
+ 2 for each template occupied by foot
+ 2 for each destroyed enemy vehicle
+ 1 for each destroyed enemy foot stand


2D6 + 4 for each objective held
2D6 + 1 enemy command destroyed or fled
2D6 + 1 each enemy unit destroyed or fled
+ 2 for each template occupied by foot
+ 2 for each destroyed enemy vehicle
+ 1 for each destroyed enemy foot stand

FNLA Offensive Stalls: Mercenary Leader Killed

The Guardian 6 November 1975

FNLA Attack on Luanda Halted, 'Mercenary Leader Killed'

Portuguese Mercenaries and FNLA troops after the abortive attack on Luanda (Rueters)

Sources in  the Angolan capital of Luanda allege that a CIA backed offensive by troops loyal to the Angolan National Liberation Front (FNLA) has been halted. A spokesman for the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), a Marxist organisation with Soviet support, stated that heavy fighting only 20 miles from Luanda had led to the total  defeat of the FNLA and its 'mercenary led' army. 'The FNLA attacked two days ago and MPLA cadre fought a series of defensive battles to secure the capital. The FNLA forces were made up of mercenaries and troops supplied by the President of Zaire in support of his brother in law, the CIA puppet Holden Roberto' he said.

Unconfimed reports from Kinshasa state that the commander of the FNLA forces in the attack, the Anglo-Mercenary Carlo Shannon, was killed by a booby trap in the town of Caxito, as he led his men in 'desperate' street fighting.

A Portuguese businessman, Jose Ronaldo, crossed the front lines late yesterday and provided an eye witness account of the fighting as he waited to be evacuated by air to Lisbon by his government. 'By midday yesterday the FNLA had stopped moving forward,' he said. 'The noise of the fighting had died down and they seemed to be re-grouping.'

Mr Ronaldo said that former Portuguese army officers fighting with the FNLA alleged that Cuban troops were involved in the battles of the last few days. 'They told me the Cubans fought hard and were using heavy weapons, including rocket launchers,' he said.

Havana has confirmed that it has a 'military mission' in Luanda that is providing 'fraternal support' to the MPLA, but denies that its troops have been in combat. (Rueters)

FNLA and former Portuguese army officers on the road to Luanda (Rueters)

Saturday, 21 April 2012

3rd November 1975: Task Force Blue Attacks

FNLA Troops begin the push on Luanda

FNLA troops, spearheaded by a battalion group led by Anglo-Irish mercenary Carlo Shannon, finally launched their attack on Luanda on 3rd November 1975.

Although Shannon's leading elements were only 35 km from the capital he was correct in anticipating a tough fight. The military wing of the MPLA, FAPLA, had been organising increasingly effective resistance and the fighting was bitter and confused.

By the second day of the attack, any semblance of front lines had disappeared as the protagonists fought in what could only be described as a free for all. Mobile units on both sides attacked and counter attacked, only to be cut off and ambushed. 

FNLA column reacts to MPLA ambush

Our next game in 'War for Slow Readers' will attempt to re-create this episode of the struggle...

Friday, 20 April 2012

When the Ship Comes In: Luanda 31 October 1975

'Vietnam Heroico' arrives in Luanda






'Flash from Peel in Luanda sir, seems a Cuban ship has arrived with some heavy weapons.'

'No sir, no reports of personnel but I'd be suprised if they wouldn't be sending people to operate this stuff...oh, there are BM-21s as well as some anti tank recoiless rifles and mortars.'

'Yes sir, I realise the South Africans have encountered recoiless rifles and mortars but that was Soviet supplied equipment. My concern is that Moscow will use Cuban supplied arms and troops as proxies in the fight to impose a communist regime in Luanda.'

'The cousins sir? No sir. I can call him straight away and arrange a meeting. This afternoon? Yes sir'

'Moscow say "no" Comrade'

'Do they? Well, the Cuban people say "yes!"'

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Caxito 31 October 1975

Holden Roberto arrives at Shannon's Forward Command Post

From Shannon's perspective the conference with Roberto was deeply disturbing.

Although his forces were at the gates of Luanda Shannon was acutely aware of two growing problems - the lack of supplies, chiefly fuel, and stiffening MPLA resistance. To commit to an attack on the capital now was, in the view of the Anglo-Irish mercenary, fraught with risk.

He had established links with the self styled 'Commadante Zero', a guerilla leader who professed loyalty to the FNLA and who was operating in the area around Luanda. Zero was unequivocal, the FNLA cadres in the city had been massacred, the population was more likely to support the MPLA than any attacking FNLA force, there were rumours of more Cuban troops arriving any day now.

Shannon counselled caution but Roberto was adamnant: the advance must be resumed as soon as a convoy carrying fuel and beer arrived. This was due within the next 48 hours. History would wait for no man, the hour had come and Luanda was ready to be taken and an FNLA government installed.

Pause for Thought

Although I've been off work this past week I haven't done as much on 'War for Slow Readers' as I intended. I've almost completed painting Colonel Shannon and his associates, together with a couple of HMG armed jeeps and some Unimogs. I couldn't resist starting to paint the first elements of the Cuban airforce, a MiG 21 and a MiL 8 but nothing is finished.

I've been distracted by reading about another favourite period of mine, the English Civil War (more accurately the British Civil Wars), specifically Lindsay Davis's epic novel 'Rebels & Traitors' which I've thoroughly enjoyed. I even fought a battle between the Scots Covenanters and the Royalists last night - set in North Lancashire in 1644.

I've had plenty of time to think and to look at my map of Angola though. Painting Colonel Shannon has got me to thinking there is a substantial sub plot here in northern Angola which could spawn a mini campaign all of its own.

We're on the brink of either a successful FNLA thrust on Luanda or an ignominious defeat for Shannon, possibly at the hands of Cuban forces, if they arrive in time. Even if Shannon enters the capital there is every prospect of prolonged street fighting a la Bierut.

Other aspects to consider are the influence of the international press corps, the actvities of a Soviet mole in the South African armed forces, and increased CIA and MI6 involvement in support of the FNLA.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Task Force Blue & The Dogs of War

Colonel Shannon (at the wheel) and his merry men: from left - Gary Watson (in beret); Kurt Semmler; Jan Dupree; Jean Langarotti

I'm spending the next week or so putting the finishing touches to Task Force Blue. This is the operation invading Angola from the north with a battalion of FNLA troops supported by two battalions of Zaire's army. The leadership and specialist troops are provided by mercenaries recruited by Anglo-Irishman C.A.T Shannon, appointed 'colonel' by Holden Roberto, the FNLA leader.

This Shannon is based on the anti-hero of Fredrick Forsyth's novel "The Dogs of War', although he is clearly not the same guy. He's alive, for one thing - Forsyth's Shannon shot himself after a diagnosis of lung cancer. Our Shannon gets involved in Angola almost five years after he successfully organised and led a coup in Zangaro. In the interim he's worked in the Sudan and the Middle East and took on the FNLA contract despite his misgivings of working for an organisation that was involved with the CIA.

The quality of the troops he's commanding is woeful. The FNLA have spent at least ten years in barracks in Zaire and really aren't up for a scrap. The two Zairian Commando Battalions he's been assigned are very poor- President Mobuto has loaned them to his brother in law Roberto largely because he wants them in Angola where he believes they are potentially less trouble than if they were back home.

Despite this, Task Force Blue has made good progress. There has been virtually no resistance from the MPLA's military wing, FAPLA, and during the few encounters with hostile forces TF Blue's electic mix of technicals - Toyotas, Landrovers and Jeeps - have proved decisive weapons.

It's 30 October 1975 and Shannon is 50km from Luanda. He has about 1000 men still with him (the rest have deserted) plus 60 or so white mercenaries, about half of whom are former Portuguese army. He has plenty of transport - trucks and technicals - but is struggling for fuel and medical supplies (one of the perennial problems of running mercenary based operations is providing adequate medical support). In the above picture one of his men is about to be MEDEVACed by a CIA supplied helicopter (he's the one whose feet Semmler is cradling).

Shannon plans to halt for a few days before deciding whether to drive on the capital. His decision will be influenced by how successful he is in solving the supply situation and to what extent the southern task forces can support any attack on Luanda. He has meeting with Roberto tomorrow and is expecting to be told that he has to attack at once.