Battle of Quifangondo

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Battle of Quifangondo
Part of The Angolan Civil War
Date 10 November 1975
Location Quifangondo, Luanda Province, Angola
Result Decisive MPLA-Cuban Victory, destruction of most FNLA troops
Belligerents
Bandeira da FNLA.svg FNLA
Flag of Zaire.svg Zaire
South Africa SADF
Portuguese Army defectors
Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (bandeira).svg MPLA
Flag of Cuba.svg Cuba
 Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Holden Roberto
Colonel Mamina Lama
Brigadier General Ben de Wet Roos
Agostinho Neto
Antonio Dos Santos Franca 'Ndalu'
Jorge Risquet Valdés
Strength
2,000 FNLA troops
1,200 Zairian troops
120 Portuguese mercenaries
52 SADF troops
1,000 MPLA (FAPLA)
188 Cubans[1]
Casualties and losses
Hundreds killed and wounded Cuba: 2 wounded
1 dead, 3 wounded

The Battle of Quifangondo occurred on 10 November 1975, the day before the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) declared Angola's independence from Portugal. It can be considered the first battle in the Angolan Civil War (1975–2002).

Background[edit]

The MPLA under Agostinho Neto had gained control of the Angolan capital Luanda while the two rival liberation movements, the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), fought for a foothold in the capital themselves before independence could be declared.

The FNLA-force under Holden Roberto was made up of 1,000 fighters, 120 mostly white Portuguese Angolan soldiers under the command of Colonel Santos e Castro, two Zairian Army battalions led by the 7th Battalion's commander Colonel Mamina Lama[2] and about 50 South African troops under the command of Brigadier General Ben Roos. Attacking from north-eastern Angola, the FNLA defeated the MPLA at Porto Quipiri before marching to Quifangondo on their way to Luanda.[3] South African forces had entered Angola from South-West Africa, occupied all of southern Angola and handed it over to UNITA. By 10 November they had come within a few hundred km of the capital.

Less than 24 hours before independence, Roberto, ignoring advice that a frontal assault would not work, decided to launch an attack against Luanda.[1] The city's defences were put up around the strategically located village of Quifangondo, about 10 km to the east of Luanda.

Battle[edit]

Battle of quifangondo.JPG

At Roberto's request, the South African Defence Force provided three World War II-era BL 5.5 inch Medium Guns to support the attack, located on high ground at Morro do Cal, as well as an opening air strike by Canberra bombers.[1] Two 130 mm Zairian Army guns of North Korean origin would also be brought to bear.

On the eve of the battle, Cuba launched a large scale intervention (Operation Carlota) on behalf of the MPLA and airlifted first special forces to Luanda. They were urgently needed to man the six BM-21 multiple rocket launchers supplied by the Soviet Union, the first to arrive in Angola and brought into position at the last minute. (The launchers' delay had been caused by logistical problems in obtaining fuses for the weapons — in any event their late deployment prevented their detection and ensured complete surprise.)

The South African Air Force (SADF) air strike went ahead as planned, and the artillery shelled the FAPLA positions overnight. However, the ground attack was not pressed in immediately afterwards.[1] The attacking force marched in a single line along the Bengo River and faced a force of 1000 Cuban and FAPLA troops across the river. The Cubans and MPLA defenders waited until the entire attacking force was boxed in the killing zone between the coast and the lagoon, before bombarding them with mortars and 122mm rockets, destroying most of the FNLA's armoured cars and six Jeeps carrying recoilless rifles in the first hour of fighting. Witnesses estimated the Cuban-led force shot 2000 rockets at the FNLA. Cubans then drove forward, launching RPG-7 rocket grenades, shooting with anti-aircraft guns, killing hundreds. The SADF gunners were powerless to help, as their outdated guns were significantly outranged by the Cuban rockets.

Furthermore, when one of the Zairian Army's North Korean 130mm guns which could shoot the distance was fired for the first time, the breech exploded, killing the Zairian lieutenant commanding the two guns; his men refused to fire the other gun after that. The Zairian gun crew was so incompetent that they had forgotten to charge the artillery pieces' recoil mechanisms with lubricant, which caused the gun's breech to erupt on the first firing. Additionally, the guns' firing tables were in Korean and could not be read or used by the guns' French-speaking Zairian crew.

Roberto spent the night of Angola's independence, 10 November, at his base in Ambriz, about 70 miles (110 km) north of Quifangondo where he had maintained his command in the previous several months. When Roberto arrived near Quifangondo the next morning, he discovered some of his forces in disarray retreating north-east in fragmented groups. The capital's skyline had lit up with fireworks at midnight on 10 November in celebration of the country's independence from Portugal. FNLA troops on the ridge northeast of Quifangondo, who had never previously seen fireworks, saw the skyrockets on Luanda's skyline and panicked again, thinking they were more of the dreaded Cuban 122mm rockets that had hit their advancing column hard in the valley earlier in the day.

Colonel Santos e Castro's Portuguese Angolan commando force was also in disarray due to the loss of most of their Panhard armoured cars and the death of some of their crews in the previous day's battle. They had consolidated a short distance northeast of their earlier occupied position on a ridgeline, leaving the SADF guns and a small SADF force there to protect the SADF's guns as the most forward element and vulnerable to any MPLA-Cuban ground attack. SADF Brigadier General Ben Roos threatened to withdraw his artillery guns immediately from northern Angola if his guns were not protected by a line of troops forward of the guns. Roberto was furious at the Portuguese Angolan officers for leaving the SADF guns exposed.

No further FNLA effort was made to advance through the Quifangondo valley to Luanda. With Cuban support pouring into the country, in the following weeks the FNLA was all but annihilated in a number of further battles in north-eastern Angola. The Zairians had taken flight and the South African gunners eventually withdrew to Ambrizette where they were evacuated by SAS President Steyn, a South African Navy frigate, thereby ending Operation Savannah.[4] The Cuba-MPLA largely ended the FNLA's importance in the Angolan Civil war.[1]

The defeat at Quifangondo became known amongst the FNLA as "Nshila wa Lufu" ("Road of death").[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Edward, George (2005). The Cuban Intervention in Angola, 1965–1991: From Che Guevara to Cuito Cuanavale. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-35015-8. 
  2. ^ DE LA FORCE PUBLIQUE AUX FARDC : ANATOMIE D’UNE ARMEE VIRTUELLE INTRAVERTIE ET PERVERTIE Jean Jacques WONDO OMANYUNDU (French)
  3. ^ "Monument to the Battle of Kifangondo". Republic of Angola Embassy in the UK. 2004. Archived from the original on 14 October 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-19. 
  4. ^ Hamann, Hilton (2001). Days of the Generals. New Holland Publishers. 

Coordinates: 8°45′40″S 13°24′32″E / 8.76111°S 13.40889°E / -8.76111; 13.40889 (Quifangondo)