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Central, Eastern, & Southern Africa Database

Angola: SAAF Bushwacks Six Helicopters
By Tom Cooper
Sep 2, 2003, 10:46

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In the spring of 1985 the Forcas Armadas Populares de Libertacao de Angola (Angolan Army = FAPLA) were preparing a large offensive against the UNITA, code-named “Second Congress”. Planned by a group of Soviet officers, specially flown-in to Luanda for this purpose, this was to become the “final” offensive, one that was to break the back of the rebels in south-eastern Angola.

For Second Congress, the FAPLA mobilized a total of 50 brigades with something like 80.000 troops. Although most of these “brigades” were actually in the form of lightly armed militia and had a strength of a reinforced battalion, the 25 considered the best – the so-called “Manoeuvre Brigades” – were equipped with a company each of T-55 MBTs and up to three mechanised infantry battalions with BMP-60s or BMP-1s, supported by artillery battalion that included a mix of heavy mortars, howitzers (usually D-30s, calibre 122mm), as well as some multiple-rocket launchers (BM-14s and BM-21s, calibre 122mm), and capable of mounting mobile operations of significant size. In the course of the reorganization that proceeded the Second Congress, the commanders of FAPLA brigades were given not only advanced weapons, but also an increasing vehicle park (mainly consisting of trucks purchased in the USSR and Brazil), more freedom in operations and training of their troops: special courses in COIN-warfare were organized for most of the officers, and a liaison officer was assigned to each unit, who was to ensure good cooperation with the Air Force. However, also a decision was taken that each unit was to foremost operate on the terrain that was known to it, so to avoid running into UNITA traps.

One of the FAN units that was to participate in this offensive was the 20th Motorised Brigade FAN, also known as SWAPO 1st Mechanized Brigade: this unit actually belonged to the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia, and was trained by East German and Soviet advisers. The language of instruction was English, and troops were trained in a range of military topics – except COIN. This unit was considered superior to most of the regular FAN brigades by the equipment condition and quality of personnel.

In order to make the FAPLA free for the coming offensive, the number of Cuban troops in Angola was increased to 45.000: this force was to ensure that the FAPLA would be well-supplied, free for offensive operations, and not threatened by UNITA attacks in the rear. Cubans were deployed especially in western and south-western Angola and they attempted to promote some method into otherwise usually disparate and randomly brutal local operations, by encouraging FAN troops to refrain from actions that would alienate the population. Cuban forces had better maintained equipment and consequently were frequently held as a reliable tactical reserve or reaction force. From mid-1980s, however, reports of atrocities ordered or committed by Cuban troops accompanying FAN in their operations became frequent, especially in central and southwestern Angola.




Angolan Air Force in 1985

In preparation for this offensive the Angolan Air Force – FAPA-DAA – was reinforced by supplies of soome 20 MiG-21bis, ten Su-20s, as well as approximately 30 Mi-25s and Mi-8s. The Angolan Air Force was – especially for African circumstances – a modern, battle-proven and actually a self-sufficient force, with 7.000 personnel and some 180 aircraft and helicopters, organized in six regiments, of which three were to participate in the operation, including two equipped with fighter-bombers and one with combat helicopters. At the time these three units have nominally controlled five squadrons, but for their participation in the Second Congress each has got at least one additional unit. The helicopter regiment operated a Soviet-manned squadron of Mi-24s, a Cuban-manned squadron of Mi-35s, and a “mixed”, Soviet/Cuban/Angolan-manned squadron of Mi-8s and Mi-17s; one fighter regiment has had two Cuban-manned squadrons of MiG-21s, and an Angolan MiG-21 unit, while the other had a Soviet-manned “special” MiG-21 squadron, an Angolan MiG-17-unit, and a Soviet-Angolan Su-20-unit.

Namely, in 1985 the FAPA-DAA was supported by a sizeable Cuban contingent, including two “special” squadrons of MiG-21s – both of which were not officially assigned to the FAPA-DAA – and a number of Soviet, East German, and Romanian advisors, some of which manned another “special” MiG-21 unit, which was also not a part of the official force structure. While by the time the Angolans at least had no problems with maintaining their aircraft and helicopters independently, and were able to organize simple conventional air-to-ground operations by day – especially interdicting UNITA’s supply routes – and perform reconnaissance missions they were not trained for air combats and could therefore not challenge the South African air superiority over the battlefied. The Soviets, however, did not consider this to be a job of the FAPA-DAA: instead, they expected this to be taken over by forward-deployed FAPA-DAA SAM-units, in cooperation with FAPLA SAMs, and foremost by Cuban and Soviet-manned interceptor squadrons.

Main bases of the FAPA-DAA at the time were Luanda, Negage, Lubango, Kuito (Bie), Huambo, Menongue, Namibe-Mocamedes, Saurimo, and Luena, There was also a well-developed airfield at Cuito Cuanavale and at least 20 other, similar installations, as well as over 200 strips of different quality around the country that could have been used by suitable aircraft.

The fate of the 10th Fighter-Bomber Squadron of FAPA-DAA was typical for the history of most units of the Angolan air force in the 1980s: the unit received ten aircraft in 1983, but was slow in becoming operational and suffering heavy attrition during the work-up period. By 1985 only four aircraft remained operaitonal. Then a group of Soviet pilots and technicians was added in order to improve the situation. The 10th FBS eventually participated in the Operation "Second Congress", flying a number of strike sorties, but one of its mounts was shot down on 7 September 1985 east of Mavinga, and two other in November - while attempting to support retreating FAPLA units. (all artworks by Tom Cooper)


The FAPA-DAA was deployed very methodically in preparation for "Second Congress". By mid-June 1985, 20 Angolan brigades were deployed in the area south of the Benguela and Mocamedes railway, and this was then covered by a series of SA-3 and SA-6 SAM-sites, especially in the area of Mocamedes. In this way, the Angolan troops could set the final preparations for the coming attack in relative safety from South African air attacks. By the end of the month all the brigades were advanced to a new raly point, the City of Cuito Cuanavale, with intention to use this and the nearby airfield as the launching point for the coming attack. Already during these preparations, however, the FAPA-DAA suffered a loss of two Mi-25s, one of which was shot down on the 3rd and the other on 23rd of June.

The Second Congress was to have two prongs: the northern one was to include nine brigades and a single armoured battalion, and go towards Cazombo; the southern prong included a force of eleven brigades and another armoured battalion, and go towards Mavinga. The primary objective was the capture of Mavinga and disruption of the UNITA logistics network in south-western Angola. The Secondary objective was the capture of the Cazombo salient in the eastern Moxico Province. Eventually, the capture of Mavinga was to provide a logistical spring-board for an offensive towards the UNITA HQs in Jamba.

The operational area in which the "Second Congress" was undertaken and Angolan helicopters intercepted by SAAF Impalas.


Second Congress: Postponed

The attack developed slowly, as the units advanced through forward UNITA-positions through whole August. It was not before 7 September 1985 that the first defensive lines of the rebels were breached, by when also one Mi-35 and two MiG-21s were lost in fighting. The UNITA was not able to hold the onslaught and pulled back towards Mavinga, requesting help from South Africa.

By early October most of the Cazombo salient was captured and the forward FAPLA-units, reinforced by smaller Cuban contingents – advanced to only 28km from Cazombo. The UNITA base in the city was put under heavy air strikes, which damaged it considerably. However, in the meantime the South African Air Force deployed Impala Mk.IIs of the No.4 Squadron to Mpacha and Rundu airfields, and a detachment from the No.1 Squadron flying Mirage F.1AZs to Ondangwa and Caprivi. The two units started flying intensive combat sorties against the Angolans, decimating the Angolan units that had paused to regroup north of the Lomba River. The combination of SAAF air strikes and UNITA resistance eventually turned the operation Second Congress into a disaster. Further advance on Cazombo was impossible because the SAAF hit the supply convoys and forward FAPLA units heavily, and then also the advance of Mavinga was stopped only some 12 to 15km short of the objective.

While their fighter-bombers were decimating the enemy ground units, the South Africans were carefully monitoring the enemy radio communications. In the following days they repeatedly intercepted Angolan and Cuban radio-messages requesting commanders of forward manoeuvre brigades to continue their advance. Without sufficient fuel and ammunition, and under heavy SAAF strikes, these were unable to obey, however. Instead, they requested a permission to pause in order to resupply and reorganize their battered units. The high command granted permission for operational pause, and then the South African radars as well as reconnaissance teams on the ground started detecting vivid activity of the FAPA-DAA over the battlefield: due to several forward FAPLA units being critically low on ammunition and supplies, and their supply convoys being prevented from reaching them by UNITA attacks, the Angolans, Cubans and Soviets organized an air-bridge, using helicopters – escorted by MiG-21s and Mi-24s – to transport supplies.

The South Africans were monitoring this development very carefully and soon recognized several patterns. The transport helicopters always flew in pairs, always in line-astern, with escorting Mi-24s and Mi-35s following in loose-echelon and about 500m separation, approximately a minute behind. Because of the danger from small-arms fire the helicopters were usually underway at a level between 1.000 and 2.000m: the Angolan, Cuban, and Soviet pilots feared the ground fire more than anything else: they especially were concerned because of the appearance of the first FIM-92A Stinger MANPADs, supplied to UNITA by the USA. Not as much concerned by the possibility of interception by SAAF fighters, they therefore flew high, in turn exposing themselves to observation by SADF radars. Completing each such formation would usually be a pair of MiG-21s, circling at a level of between 5.000 and 6.000m, several kilometres behind the helicopters.

The flat, featureless terrain of southern Angola was causing considerable problems for figther- and helicopter-pilots of both sides. Without extensive experience in navigation over the area the pilots had to use rivers and the few "roads" (actually little more but dirt strips) for orientation. (A.J. Venter)


The Angolan, Cuban and Soviet pilots were facing other problems as well: their main base was in Menongue, but this was far too far away from the battlefield. Consequently detachments from four different units – a total of four Mi-24s and Mi-35s, two Mi-8s and four Mi-17s – were deployed to the airfield of Cuito Cuanavale, which at the time was not yet developed into a full air base, as this was to happen subsequently. Flying from Cuito towards south-east, however, the pilots could find hardly any orientation points: in fact, except for few rivers that part of Angola is almost featureless, with trees and huge expanses of sparse forrest – interspersed by savannah – reaching up to 30 meters high. Not only that communist pilots were completely unfamiliar with the area, but the navigation over such terrain – without any significant geographical features, no hills, no escarpments, or any settlements – was extremely problematic. Consequently, they concluded that the safest method of navigation was to follow the local rivers and few roads that criss-cross the region. This made them highly predictable – especially as they also flew their missions always around the same time of the day, along the same routes, and they used only two radio frequencies for communication: one for fighters and another for helicopters!

By 1985 the FAPA-DAA had a "special" squadron of Mi-24s flown by Soviet pilots, attached on temporary basis. The H-323 shown here was one of these helicopters and it is known that it was one of the two Mi-24s shot down by SAAF Impalas on 27 September 1985.


The Plan

With intensive activity of enemy helicopters and their use to resupply the forward FAPLA ground units, as well as their predictable behaviour, the chief of the UNITA, Jonas Savimbi, finally came to the idea: why not intercept the helicopters that resupply the units deployed against him by the means of SAAF fighter-bombers?

The first reaction of the South Africans was a stunned silence: such a move was very likely to escalate the war, at least bring MiG-21s – which so far were not attempting to interfere with SAAF fighters that operated over the battlefield – forward in search of targets of their own. But, in the end somebody in the SADF concluded that such an attack would be possible if the Angolans would not be aware that it was executed by South African jets. Consequently, a proposal for such an action was sent to Pretoria, and barely 24 hours later a permission for interception of the helicopters was granted, under condition the mission to be flown by jet fighters and these to execute the attack without giving enemy pilots an opportunity to fire back or to actually determine what is attacking them.

The SAAF commanders determined that the most suitable aircraft at hand was the Impala: it was a small and highly manoeuvrable aircraft, with good and reliable cannon armament and the endurance needed for an intercept of this kind. Impala was slow, and would be vulnerable to a counterattack from Angolan MiGs, however, so the ingress had to be flown at a very low level, barely 15m, in order to stay bellow the enemy radar coverage. The chosen group of pilots determined that the most suitable attack profile was either from the side or from the rear and slightly above from target helicopters. This presented quite some problem, then the Impalas were expected to fly with underwing stores – foremost external fuel tanks: the zone chosen for the attack was 35 minutes flying time from Rundu AB, which was on the verge of the effective range. Consequently fuel was essential. But, fuel also created weight and drag penalties, in turn making the aircraft slower. After their ingress at a very low level the Impala-pilots would have – once they detected their targets – to initiate a climb in order to reach a good attack position. But, such a climb at the probable load would decrease the speed of the aircraft to a degree where they could have been outflown by the helicopters! A conclusion was reached that the rate of climb was to be reduced so to maintain speed.

The Impalas were to operate in four pairs, separated at four-minute intervals, with three pairs for reconnaissance and attack, and one for search and rescue, should any be needed. A pair of Puma helicopters was also to be airborne for the purposes of search and rescue during the mission, and a DC-4 equipped as ELINT-gatherer was to act as airborne command post, while a single Atlas Cudu was to operate near the ingress and egress route of the Impalas and act as radio-relais: the last was regularly operating at low levels over the battlefield and could also warn Impala-pilots of MiGs nearby. Six routes were carefully selected to give the crews the best area coverage without exposing them to the enemy, and pilots were instructed to make only one pass over the route, without loitering if enemy helicopters were not detected. Radio silence was to be maintained at all times: the Angolans, Cubans and Soviets operated some very sophisticated listening equipment and there was danger they could pin-point the position of Impalas. The time-gate for attack was chosen when the enemy helicopters would fly over the most remote area between Cuito Cuanavale and the combat zone, so to decrease the chance of counter-detection to a minimum. Single pairs of Impalas were to attack in scissor pattern: the lead would attack the rearmost helicopter, and the wingman the next helicopter in the line.

In 1964 the Aeromacchi won a bid to provide jet trainers to the South African Air Force. The South Africans proved so enthusiastic about the aircraft, they acquired the licence for producing it and erected a fully-developed infra-structre, works and shops needed for producing it, in Kempton Park. With Italian help, they improved the original MB.326M into Impala Mk.1, of which 151 were built, entering service with the Flying Training School and No.85 Advanced Training School, No.4, 5, 7 and No.8 Squadrons SAAF. Further improvements and the requirement for a single-seat strike variant led to the MB.328KC Impala Mk.II strike fighter, which then saw extensive service during the war in Angola. It is sure that nobody of the people involved in this project ever expected the aircraft to be used as helicopter-interceptor!


SAAF Impalas were camouflaged in the standard Dark Earth and Dark Olive Green colours used also on SAAF SA.316 Alouette III and SA.330 Puma helicopters, as well as some other aircraft. Under the hot African sun and the sand of the Namibian deserts, however, the colours would usually weather out to a degree, as shown here. The insignia of the No.4 Squadron was regularly worn on the fin or bellow the cockpit: some aircraft had large "gun-blast" panels left unpainted, but most did not. The example above, serial 1055, was seen in the colours of the No.4 Squadron in the 1970s; the example here, 1073, in the late 1980s. It remains unknown which Impala Mk.IIs were used to intercept Angolan helicopters.


The First Ambush

On the afternoon of 27 September 1985, around 1600hrs, a signal from a SAAF or UNITA reconnaissance team posted near the Cuito Cuanavale airfield was received at Rundu, informing the South Africans about two Mi-24s getting airborne and turning towards the combat zone. Immediately, the Impalas were scrambled to intercept.

Almost half an hour later, the wingman of the second pair, Maj. Pine Pienaar, sighted the helicopters above him, underway at approximately 700m. Being in the more favourable position for an attack, Pienaar - imitated a climb towards the rear Mi-24, reached a position above it and attacked. A burst of fire from cannons hit the rear fuselage of the Mi-24, causing fire. The helicopter started to dive and the pilot initiated a controlled descent, firing all his unguided rockets off before jettisoning all containers for these in order to make his machine lighter.



Meanwhile, the leader of the Impala-pair, Capt. Leone Mare, attacked the second helicopter that initiated a steep descent. Mare began a quarter attack approaching from bellow and the side. The Soviet pilot turned through 180° and was in nose-down attitude, continuing to descent. Capt. Mare opened fire from a range of 500m, pulling 4-5 gs and firing 19 rounds that hit the starboard fuselage of the target, bellow the main rotor gear box. A panel separated from the Mi-24, the nose of the helicopter suddenly dropped directly towards the ground and rotor blades separated under the stress.. The Hind then turned, going into a tail slide, hit the ground and exploded.



Meanwhile, Maj. Pienaar repositioned for a second attack on his target and opened fire. Rotor blades separated and the helicopter crashed into the ground nose-high, exploding on impact. Both Impalas immediately dropped on a low altitude in order to evade any potential MiGs, and escaped back to Rundu without any further incidents.

The Second Strike

The Angolans, Cubans and Soviets obviously never found out what happened to the two Hinds. Quite on the contrary, after a pause of one day, on 29 October, around 0900hrs, two Soviet-flown Mi-17 and two Soviet-flown Mi-24s took off again from Cuito Cuanavale and took the usual route towards the battle zone. The Mi-17s were in a line astern formation, some 1.000m apart. As usually, Mi-24s followed, some 1.000m behind, in echelon formation of 500m separation. This time two MiGs were airborne as well, circling several kilometres behind at medium level.

The Impalas were scrambled observing the same procedures like two days before. More than half an hour after take-off, the wingman of the first pair, Capt. Wayne Westoby detected enemy helicopters. Being in a better position to attack, he initiated a climb, bringing his aircraft some 300m above the rearmost Hind: after a short while Westoby was in range and fired a long burst from the canon into the fuselage of Mi-24. The helicopter was hit and started burning, but, surprisingly, it continued flying – indeed even outdistancing the Impala! The long burst after a steep climb, namely, caused Westoby‘s engine to flame out.



In the meantime, the leader of this Impala-pair, Capt. DeHeever, attacked the other Mi-24, passing in front of the burning Hind. Swiftly considering a possibility of being attacked by the burning Hind behind him, DeHeever approached to 500m from the Mi-24 in front and opened fire, hitting the tail boom and the rotor. The entire rear section of the Soviet helicopter was blown away and the fuselage spiralled straight into the ground.



By now, the two Mi-17s flying ahead were aware that something happened behind them. The pilot of the burning Mi-24 warned them of attack before falling out of the skies, and as Capt. Westoby approached the rear Mi-17 initiated a full rudder turn in attempt to evade. Too late: Westoby opened fire, scoring hits that caused the helicopter to flip over and then fall straight to the ground, exploding on impact.



The remaining Mi-17 was meanwhile in a steep dive, attempting desperately to evade. As DeHeever approached to attack, the Soviet-pilot turned towards him, forcing him to overshoot and rounds from his cannon to hit the ground behind the helicopter that was meanwhile so low the South African could not track properly.

DeHeever and Westoby determined that the last Mi-17 could not be left to escape. While disengaging, they decided that the helicopter could not be permitted to escape: breaking the radio silence they called the other pair of Impalas to join them in a search for the remaining Mil, which was meanwhile underway low over the trees. Several minutes later the other pair of Impalas arrived on the scene almost instantly finding the surviving Mi-17 climbing back to a higher level: obviously, the crew saw the first two South Africans departing, and decided that it was safe for them to return to a higher level. It was not.

Approaching from the rear, the leader of the second Impala pair, Capt. Kevin Truter positioned for attack, when the helicopter suddenly turned to the side: the Mi-17 was zigzagging before, so the crew probably saw the South African in the last moment. Aware of the danger the pilot immediately dove towards the ground: he crash-landed the helicopter in an open space between the trees, causing the rotor blades to separate on impact.

The third pair of Impalas arrived on the scene few minutes later, and just in time to observe two MiGs passing over the burning wreckage of helicopters at barely 70m over the ground. This was the first – and actually the only – time the FAPA-DAA MiGs were observed to fly so low during the Angolan War in the 1980s: the MiGs did not orbit, they just did one pass and then accelerated away, climbing back to their usual operational level. Obviously, they were advised only to see if there was still any helicopter airborne or what happened to those that crashed, rather than to search for SAAF aircraft.

The sudden loss of six helicopters within only two days stunned the communists: they had no clear knowledge about the reason of the loss, while the South Africans agreed with the UNITA to claim that it shot down six Angolan helicopters using MANPADs. For the rest of the Second Congress, the FAPA-DAA and attached foreign units were not permitted to fly any Mi-8/17s or Mi-24/35s over the battlefield again: the FAPA did, nevertheless, fly several sorties with Alouettes, in order to evacuate all the Soviet advisors from the forward ground units. This was obviously considered more important than bringing supplies to the isolated manoeuvre brigades, or evacuating their casualties: the Angolan troops were dispensable, but their Soviet advisors apparently not....

The Mi-17 "H-61" was one of the two FAPA-DAA helicopters of that type shot down by Impalas on 29 September 1985. This helicopter was well-known to South African officers, then they have seen and photographed it during peace-negotiations, in 1984. (A.J. Venter)


Understandably, the loss of the ability to resupply the forward units resulted in the collapse of the Operation Second Congress. Even more so, cut off and without ammunition and food, as well as without their Soviet advisors, the morale of Angolan troops dropped significantly. Only two days later they started a general withdrawal back towards Cuito Cuanavale. Like already several times before the retreating units were repeatedly hit by UNITA on the flanks: the worst came when they reached the Lomba River: there the UNITA set up several ambushes and the FAPLA units were also hit by repeated SAAF strikes. Several brigades were in fact destroyed or overrun and even the government in Luanda later admitted a loss of 32 tanks, some 100 armoured personnel carriers, and 2.500 troops during the Second Congress. The offensive was one of the worst defeats the MPLA suffered ever in its history.

The UNITA, on the contrary, lost some 500 fighters, but also claimed the downing of eight MiG-17s and MiG-21s, six Mi-24s and Mi-35s and three Alouette IIIs. Additionally, in an UNITA raid against the Menongue AB a MiG-21MF and a MiG-17F were destroyed on the ground, and on 7 December 1985 a TAAG An-26 was shot down by a MANPAD while attempting to land in Mavinga (the Angolans claimed the transport was shot down by SAAF fighters, and accused the South Africans for “murder on civilians”). The Soviets were swift to replace the Angolan and own losses in aircraft and helicopters, then the Angolans were paying in raw diamonds and oil but even new aircraft could not hide the fact that at the end of 1985 the FAPA-DAA was in battered condition. Interestingly, the UN accused the South Africans for their intervention and a UN resolution was brought according to which the South Africans were requested to pay $32 million for damage caused to the Angolan military by its actions in that country in 1985!

This Cuban-flown Mi-25 was chopped out of the skies by Stingers as well: the crew of four was killed. The Cuban authorities never released official figures for their losses during this war. (A.J. Venter)


The FAPA-DAA and the DAFAAR contingent in Angola were suffering heavy losses in helicopters, especially since in 1985 the CIA started supplying FIM-92A Stinger MANPADs to the UNITA. (A.J. Venter)


Papers belonging to a Cuban-crew of a FAPA-DAA Mi-17, shot down by FIM-92A Stinger MANPAD over southern Angola, in autumn 1987.







Lead Cuban MiG-pilot about Involvement in Angola

After his defection to the USA, in May 1986, Gen. Rafael del Pino, formerly a national hero and commander of Cuban Air Force contingent in Angola, gave an interview to the Spanish daily “Cambio 16”. Here the most important excerpts relevant to the Cuban involvement in the war in Angola of the mid-1980s.

Rafael del Pino was the commander of the first DAAFAR-detachment deployed to Angola, flying MiG-21s in 1976.


Cambio: The Cuban government is now stating that since 27 January this year you were not permitted to fly because of mental disorder?

del Pino: Until 28 May I was the second in command of the DAAFAR. Regarding allusions about my health condition, they are a logical reaction from the Cuban government to which nobody believes. Because, if I am or was really ill, then how it comes on 20 April I was sent to the USSR to lead the annual exercises of our pilots with air-to-air missiles? Either we are all crazy or this is offensive towards the Soviet military. Besides, if my complaints to superiors in regards of barbaric actions in Angola are a sign of mental disorder then I say that I am crazy.

Cambio:What is the actual position of Cuban Forces in Angola?

del Pino: Cuban government says that our troops are to remain in Angola until there is aparthaid in South Africa. In my opinion, and that of several other high Cuban officers, there are three reasons for the presence of Cuban military in Angola.

The first is that Angola is a key Soviet position in Africa and in Southern Atlantic. The Angolan ports and airfields can be used for launching strategic operations. But, it would be a provocation if the Soviets would deploy their own troops in Angola, and Cuba has somehow to pay back $10 billion it owes to the USSR for all the supplied weapons.

As second, there is immense unemployment on Cuba. It is therefore not easy to order the pull out of Cuban troops from Angola. It would be an insummorable problem for Cuba to return 40.000 troops, because there would be no jobs for these. So, it is not easy to order a pull-back.

As third, Angola is since several years the place where officers were sent as a punishment: those that do not enjoy the trust of their superiors are sent to Angola. For example, the officers that were captured on Grenada were all degraded to the rank of recruit and sent to Angola.

Cambio: There are reports that the Cuban forces are paid by the Angolan government?

del Pino: The Angolan government pays for food, clothes, medicine and everything else Cuban troops in Angola need. Besides, it pays 600 Kuanzas to our NCOs, 900 to officers, and 1.200 to top officers.

Cambio: What do the officers say about this?

del Pino If the Royal Spanish Academy of Languages has not changed its definition, soldiers that serve for money in foreign military or on behalf of foreign governments, are mercenaries. Within the Cuban military it is a widely accepted fact that our troops in Angola are mercenaries, supporting a specific group of people that are in power there, and who have got immensely rich and spend holydays in the Europe, while our boys are getting killed in Angola.

Cambio: Is it known how many Cubans were killed in Angola so far?

del Pino: The official numbers are a great secret. I can only talk about figures that circle between the higher officers. It is said that over 10.000 Cubans were killed, injured, died of diseases, or disappeared during the war in Angola. In the last three years over 50.000 troops deserted on Cuba, which forced the government to form a unit called “Boinas Moradas”, with specific target of finding the deserters. But, it is logical that boys do not want to go to a war. Especially not a war in which it is not permitted the families even to burry the bodies of their killed sons.

Cambio: The families do not get the bodies of their killed sons?

del Pino: Never! Nobody has the right to get the body of his relatives killed in that war.

Cambio: What is the quality of relations between Cuban and Soviet soldiers on the island (Cuba)?

del Pino: Official relations between Cuban officers with their Soviet coleagues are often antagonistic. The Soviet officers frequently observe their deployment on Cuba as three-years long holyday, and not a business deployment. Every time there is something to be done that includes any kind of a risk they oppose to do it.

Cambio: Who has the final word in Angola?

del Pino: There is a three-member committee, in which there are Soviet, Angolan, and our representatives, and that brings decisions. Eventually however, all the final decisions are being brought by the Soviets.




Notes & Bibliography


Except for own research and materials kindly supplied by contributors on ACIG.org forum, especially Mr. Tom N., Mr. Pit Weinert, and Mr. William Marshall, as well as e-mail correspondence with Gen. Carlo Gagiano (SAAF), the following sources of reference were used:

- "THE CHOPPER BOYS; Helicopter Warfare in Africa", by Al J. Venter (in association with Neall Ellis and Richard Wood), Ashanti Publishing Ltd. and Greenhill Books 1994 (ISBN: 1-85367-177-0).

- "CONTINENT ABLAZE; The Insurgency Wars in Africa 1960 to the Present", by John W. Turner, Arms and Armour Press 1998 (ISBN: 1-85400-128-X)

- "MODERN AFRICAN WARS 3: SOUTH-WEST AFRICA" Osprey's "Men-At-Arms" Series No.242, by Helmoed-Römer Heitman and Paul Hannon, Osprey 1991.

- "THE WORLD IN CONFLICT; Contemporary Warfare Described and Analysed, War Annual 7", by John Laffin, Brassey's, 1996 (ISBN: 1-85753-196-5)

- "AIR WARS AND AIRCRAFT; A Detailed Record of Air Combat, 1945 to the Present", by Victor Flintham, Arms and Armour Press, 1989





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