Operation Moduler

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Operation Moduler
Part of the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in the Angolan Civil War and the South African Border War
Date August - December 1987
Location Mavinga, Cuando Cubango Province, Angola
Result South African tactical victory
  • FAPLA advance stalled
Belligerents
Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (bandeira).svg Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola Ensign of the South African Defence Force (1981-1994).svg South African Defence Force
Commanders and leaders
Colonel Deon Ferreira
Units involved
47th, 59th, 16th and 21st brigades 61 Mechanised Infantry Battalion Group

Operation Moduler[1] (sometimes incorrectly called "Modular") was a military operation by the South African Defence Force (SADF) during the South African Border War. It formed part of what has come to be called the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale. The Angolan objective was to advance south-east to attack the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) at Mavinga. The SADF objective was to protect UNITA by stopping that advance. The advance was halted with heavy Angolan casualties.

Background[edit]

In August 1987, four brigades of the Soviet-backed[2] People's Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA) (the 47th, 59th, 16th and 21st brigades), departed from the Angolan town of Cuito Cuanavale with the aim of capturing the UNITA stronghold at Mavinga, which was the gateway to UNITA's capital of Jamba.

Operation Moduler is located in Angola
Cunjamba
Cunjamba
Rundu
Rundu
Cuito Cuanavale
Cuito Cuanavale
Jamba
Jamba
Benguela
Benguela
Calueque
Calueque
Luanda
Luanda
Mavinga
Mavinga
Menongue
Menongue
Angola

The presence of an armoured formation in the form of FAPLA's 47th Brigade was a threat that the relatively lightly armed UNITA could not counter, so it requested assistance from the SADF. South Africa responded by sending a mechanized force, led by a veteran unit of Operation Askari - 61 Mechanized Battalion. This force left the South-West African town of Rundu, crossed the border and headed north-west to intercept the 47th Brigade.[3]

The directive given to the SADF by the South African high command was to “support UNITA to stop an offensive against Mavinga”.[4]

Battle[edit]

The FAPLA forces did not expect the South Africans to attack directly from the south, resulting in the virtual destruction of the 47th Brigade when the two forces encountered each other near the junction of the Lomba and Cuzizi rivers. This left the FAPLA forces without a screening element south of the Lomba River. At the same time, there was also heavy fighting north of the Lomba River when UNITA forces (composed of the 3rd Regular, 5th Regular, 13th Semi-Regular and 275th Special Forces Battalions[5]) repulsed an attempt by FAPLA's 16th Brigade to capture Cunjamba.

In a series of bitter fights [6] between 9 September and 7 October, SADF and UNITA achieved their primary objective of preventing the FAPLA from crossing the river. The Soviets withdrew their advisors and left the FAPLA without senior leadership, and FAPLA crumbled and ran. FAPLA suffered heavy losses, with all four brigades losing about 60-70% of their strength. Throughout the battle, FAPLA had lost 1059 dead and 2118 wounded, along with 61 tanks, 83 armoured vehicles and 20 rocket launchers. The SADF lost 17 killed and 41 wounded, plus 5 armoured vehicles and a spotter plane. The SADF also captured a highly sophisticated SA-8 anti-aircraft missile system – the first time the weapon had fallen into western hands.[7]

On 29 September, South African and UNITA forces, having gained the upper-hand, launched a counter-attack. The objective was to inflict a crushing blow to the FAPLA, so that they would not consider another offensive in the following year.[8] The restrictions previously placed on the SADF by their political masters were lightened, and the SADF committed tanks for the first time. The 4th SA Infantry Battalion was added to the mix, bringing the SADF strength up to about 3000 men – the biggest of the entire campaign.[9]

During this phase the SADF units were supported by heavy artillery and air-strikes. The airstrip at Cuito Cuanavale was extensively bombarded, causing the Cubans to withdraw their aircraft to Menongue and to abandon the Cuanavale airstrip.[10]

The SADF tactics were based closely on the tactics used by the German commander Erwin Rommel in World War 2, when he crushed the British at Gazala.[11]

On 9 November the SADF attacked the FAPLA 16th brigade. Air strikes and artillery were used, and tanks went into battle alongside the armoured vehicles. UNITA infantry also participated. The 16th brigade was mauled, and withdrew in disarray back across the river. The battle ended after half a day, when the SADF vehicles ran low on ammunition and broke off the attack. FAPLA had 10 tanks destroyed and 3 captured, various artillery pieces destroyed or captured, and 75 men killed. The SADF had 7 killed and 9 wounded, plus one armoured vehicle destroyed, one damaged and a tank damaged.[12]

The second attack, on 11 November, again targeted the 16th brigade. Again 16th brigade escaped annihilation by crossing the river, but this time they lost 14 tanks and 394 men. The SADF had 5 men killed and 19 more wounded, with 2 armoured vehicles destroyed and one tank damaged.[13] The recovery, under fire, of a crippled tank and the subsequent re-entry of a minefield where the tank was extracted from to rescue a wounded soldier, earned Captain Petrus van Zyl and Lieutenant De Villers de Vos of 32 Battalion both Honoris Crux decorations.[14]

The FAPLA 21st brigade withdrew rapidly across the river, and was pursued. On 17 November they were engaged again, and suffered 131 men killed, along with 9 tanks destroyed and about 300 other vehicles. The SADF lost 6 dead and 19 wounded, plus 4 armoured vehicles. A final attack on 25 November bogged down in heavy bush, and was eventually abandoned.[15]

Operation Moduler achieved the objective of halting the FAPLA advance against UNITA, and inflicted heavy losses on FAPLA. After the FAPLA offensive had been stopped, the South African/UNITA force went over to the offensive, thus ending Operation Moduler and beginning Operation Hooper.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Historia - Operasies Chuva en Moduler (fase 1): 'n Waardering van die SAW-UNITA-bondgenootskap, Mei tot Oktober 1987". Scielo.org.za. Retrieved 2013-05-03. 
  2. ^ Helmut-Romer Heitmann; S.A.Armed Forces,1990
  3. ^ The SADF in the Border War, 1966-1989, by Leopold Scholtz, pg 260-263
  4. ^ The SADF in the Border War, 1966-1989, by Leopold Scholtz, pg 256-257
  5. ^ R Mark Davies. "UNITA Forces In The ‘Border War’ (Angola & South West Africa) 1980 to 1989". fireandfury.com. Retrieved 2013-05-03. 
  6. ^ Martin & Broadhead (2004), p. 16.
  7. ^ The SADF in the Border War, 1966-1989, by Leopold Scholtz, pg 268-277
  8. ^ The SADF in the Border War, 1966-1989, by Leopold Scholtz, pg 279
  9. ^ The SADF in the Border War, 1966-1989, by Leopold Scholtz, pg 288
  10. ^ The SADF in the Border War, 1966-1989, by Leopold Scholtz, pg 288
  11. ^ The SADF in the Border War, 1966-1989, by Leopold Scholtz, pg 290-291
  12. ^ The SADF in the Border War, 1966-1989, by Leopold Scholtz, pg 292-297
  13. ^ The SADF in the Border War, 1966-1989, by Leopold Scholtz, pg 301
  14. ^ Nortje, Piet (2003). 32 Battalion. Zebra Press. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-86872-914-2. 
  15. ^ The SADF in the Border War, 1966-1989, by Leopold Scholtz, pg 304-309