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Angola: Claims & Reality about SAAF Losses
By Tom Cooper & Jonathan Kyzer, with additional details from Luis D.
Sep 2, 2003, 10:46

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Ever since South Africa was directly involved in the war in Angola for the first time, in 1975, there were numerous claims about South African Air Force (SAAF) fighters, light aircraft, transports or helicopters being shot down over that country. Exaggerated claims have been, and are likely going to be, a feature of all air wars. However, some of the Cuban, Angolan, Russian and Ukrainian claims run for successes agains the South Africans certainly deserve a place with the “best” in this doubtful field.

The exact details about overclaims will be discussed further bellow. It must be said right away, however, that very often the Cubans and Angolans have been misled by the SADF. There are reports, for example, that the South Africans would send two aircraft into the Angolan airspace, one of which would “suddenly disappear”: i.e. drop to a low level, leaving the area undetected, thus appearing to be shot down, while the Cubans and Angolans would later find a dummy crash-site – set up by SADF special operations teams.

There were other reasons as well. In 1979 a SAAF Mirage IIIRZ was indeed shot down near Ongiva, in Angola. The wreckage of the aircraft was recovered by the Angolans and used repeatedly until 1987 for presenting the “wreckage of a downed Mirage” to international media – each time, of course, as “confirmation” for a new claim. Reporters unaware of the SAAF loss from 1979 had certainly no doubts about the wreckage they have seen being “authentic”.

The SAAF also became master in building decoys: extremely realistic decoys of Mirage F.1AZs are known to have been built and deployed on airfields in northern South West Africa for unknown purposes: the Angolans and Cubans never attacked any of these places, while the SWAPO only did few attempts, most of which failed. Nevertheless, time and again the SAAF would leave the "burned wreck" of such a decoy to be seen by SWAPO - resulting in a report about "success".

Finally, it must be said that many authors mix UNITA with South African Defence Forces and the SWAPOL – the Police Force of the South West Africa (today Namibia) – especially when it comes to losses. The SADF and SWAPOL losses were made public - those of the UNITA never: according the regular procedure the families of South African soldiers had to be notified as first, and in most cases this was done within 24 hours. Since 1989 numerous publications appeared in South Africa, detailing all the losses from the long war. In the case of UNITA, which is an Angolan organization, however, nothing similar was possible, nor were South Africans responsible for publishing UNITA’s losses: if at all, this would have been the task of UNITA’s authorities. Besides, South Africa was not the only party supporting UNITA: the SADF was involved on UNITA’s side only several times during the 1980s. Yet, countries like USA, China, Zambia, Morocco, Ivory Coast were frequently much more active in supporting the UNITA, even if they never deployed their armed forces into Angola – as South Africa did. Still, even in the cases when the SADF was deployed into Angola this was not necessarily done in support of the UNITA: namely, all the time during the 1970s and 1980s the SADF was also fighting the war against the SWAPO – the insurgency organization from South West Africa, supported by the Marxist Angolan regime, the Cubans and the Soviets.

In fact, especially the air war in Angola did not only see the Cuban and South African interventions. Thousands of Soviet, East German, Romanian and even Portuguese and other pilots and technicians were involved on the Angolan side, while the USA – via the CIA – became involved on the side of the UNITA. The last is known to have supported the UNITA extensively during the late 1980s, and to have flown supplies on board Lockheed L-100 aircraft (civilian version of the C-130 Hercules transport) owned by its front companies. When, consequently, the Angolans claimed to have shot down a “South African Hercules”, they might not have been wrong – except when it comes to the service that was flying the aircraft: the SAAF is not known to have lost any of its C-130Bs over Angola despite, for example, these aircraft flying no less but 412 sorties over that country in the period between September 1987 and April 1988 alone – when the Cubans and Angolans had some kind of battlefield air superiority (in addition, SAAF C.160 Transalls flew 169 additional sorties into Angola during the same period of time – also without any incidents). The details about the losses of some CIA front companies, however, remain unknown – and it must be remarked in this place that these were not only flying L-100s for UNITA, but sometimes also for the Angolan government!

Equally unclear are several other cases. At some point in the war an Angolan Yak-40FG was shot down near Cuamato, reportedly "by a missile from a foreign aircraft". Some sources claim the "foreign aircraft" was a Zambian J-6, but it could equally have been a Cuban-flown MiG-21: after all, there are persistent rumors that sometimes during the war the Cubans have shot down a transport full of their officers that attempted to defect from Angola.

Because there is a number of cases like this remaining unresolved, there is clearly enough reason for different claims to be published on the internet and - especially - in the Russian and the Ukrainian specialized media.

Over the time several thousands of Soviet, East German, Romanian, and even Portuguese advisors worked with the FAPA-DAA. These two Soviet An-26 pilotsm, Capt. Mollaeb Kola (in the centre) and Lt. Ivan Chernitsky (in the truck), were captured by the UNITA in 1980. Their eventual fate remains unknown. (Tom Cooper collection)

Consequently, in order to get a throughout insight into this air war one has to research very carefully, and without any bias. It is meanwhile clear that in the overall chaos of a war, and due to all the above-mentioned reasons, the Cubans and Angolans eventually claimed downing or destroying far more Mirages than were ever delivered to the SAAF. When such claims are then taken for “granted” by biased or authors lacking any better evidence useful for cross-examination, then mistakes must happen. Indeed, in the recent years many “additional” claims were reported, most of which lack any kind of basis or evidence, some even being constructed, in turn making a serious assessment of what exactly happened during this war extremely problematic.

Here are the best-known examples.

Stills from the gun-camera film taken by Maj. Johann Rankin's Mirage F.1CZ on 6 November 1981, whe he scored his first "MiG-kill". (Jonathan Kyzer collection)

The second kill cored by Maj. Johann Rankin, on 5 October 1982. Amazingly, despite the MiG obviously going up in a huge ball of flame, specific Cuban sources deny the loss, stating the pilot "landed safely" back in the base... (Jonathan Kyzer collection)

Legend of Cuban MiG-23s in Angola

Probably the best-known examples for exaggerated Cuban and Angolan claims against the SAAF are those connected with the deployment of Cuban MiG-23-pilots and –technicians in Angola. Some of (unofficial) Cuban, Ukrainian, and Russian sources describe this deployment as an unequalled success, mentioning one South African aircraft and helicopter being shot down after the other by the MiG-23s, and the type eventually bringing even democracy to South Africa!

Under a closer observation most of such statements do not stand any kind of a proof. The background of Cuban MiG-23-operations is definitely interesting, nevertheless.

The Defensa Anti-Aérea y Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria (DAAFAR) - the Cuban Air Force - did not operate any MiG-23s before its experiences from different wars in Africa proved that an aircraft with better capabilities than MiG-17 and MiG-21 was badly needed. Especially the Cuban involvement in the Ogaden War - fought between Ethiopia and Somalia in 1977 and 1978 - proved instrumental for a basic agreement between Moscow and Havana for delivery of MiG-23s. At least 24 MiG-23BNs and at least six MiG-23UBs were supplied to Cuba in mid-1978 (i.e. only few months after the end of the fighting in Ogaden). The new aircraft entered service with two units: the 2661 Esadron de Caza-Bombardeo, and another - unknown - Escuadron. Both were based at Santa Clara, and subordinated to Comando Aereo Tactico (Tactical Air Command) of the Zona Aerea Central. They became operational in time for the US intervention on Grenada, in October 1983, and - in part also due to the Soviet concerns that the USA were preparing for a WWIII (especially in the aftermath of intensive US exercises world-wide, in 1982, and then the interventions in Lebanon in Grenada) - were prepared for eventual counter-strikes against different targets on Trinidad, in Venezuela and Florida. Eventually, the DAAFAR was not active in response to developments on Grenada. Instead, the Cubans reacted by requesting more advanced interceptors from the USSR. In 1984 also 12 MiG-23MFs were supplied to Cuba, forming the main equipment of an unknown Escuadron de Caza of the 1779 Regimiento de Caza, based at San Antonio de los Banos, subordinated to Comando de Defensa Aerea (Air Defence Command).

Interestingly, Cuban units deployed in Angola were by the time already equipped with MiG-23MLs: namely, contrary to what is usually reported, the first of some 55 MiG-23MLs reached Luanda already in 1984 as well - not three years later - and both the 12th and 13th Fighter Squadrons FAPA-DAA (both units were almost entirely manned by Cubans, but also East German, few Soviet and some Romanian pilots, until 1987) were equipped with them. Originally, the 12th Squadron FAPA-DAA was a transport unit, organized in mid-1976, and flying two ex-Portuguese C-47s, two Noratlas and two Fokker F.27s. Once equipped with MiG-23MLs, both squadrons were integrated into the 25th Air Combat Fighter Regiment FAPA-DAA. From time to time they would also be put under control of the 24th and 26th Regiments - as necessary.

While the Angolan air force was thus excellently equipped with MiG-23MLs, the DAAFAR was never to have more than 12 operational MiG-23MFs at any given time. The usual reports that there were two squadrons of them, of which one should have been based at San Julian AB, are also wrong. In fact the DAAFAR barely had enough MiG-23MFs to equip a single squadron at home. Later on this unit was disbanded: surviving examples of this version were then merged into a newly-established squadron of 1779 Regimento de Caza, equipped with some 12 MiG-23MLs, and based at San Antonio de los Banos AB.

Meanwhile, in Angola, the 9th Fighter-Training Squadron FAPA-DAA was equipped with at least ten MiG-23UBs, which were used for conversion training. Until 1987, however, converted were almost entirely Cuban, and hardly any Angolan pilots. This was not without a reason: the aircraft proved much more complex to maintain and fly than expected. Many MiG-23s were lost in different mishaps especially early after its introduction in service. For example, on a single occassion in August 1984 a pair from the 9th Fighter-Training Squadron and four MiG-23MLs from the 12th Fighter Squadron - led by Maj. Antonio Rojas - became lost during a training flightn in bad weather, with result that a MiG-21bis, a MiG-23UB (flown by Maj. Marrero), and two MiG-23MLs crashed, while two other MiG-23MLs made emergency landings in Luena.

Interestingly, contrary to Cuba the Angolans never purchased any MiG-23BNs, even if it appears that they might have needed the ground-attack version much more than an interceptor. The purpose of MiG-23ML's deployment in Angola was to tackle the South African air superiority over the southern battlefields. For this task the FAPA-DAA and its Cuban allies needed an aircraft that could outfight the Mirage F.1CZs and F.1AZs in South African service. Consequently, the main role of the Cuban-manned 12th and 13th Fighter Squadrons was interception, even if - with the time - they were to become increasingly involved in ground fighting as well, despite some obvious limitations (like problems with simultaneous carriage of a single drop tank under the centreline and bombs on hardpoints beneath intakes, or the lack of chaff&flare dispensers for defence against Stinger MANPADs in use by UNITA). In fact, in the face of considerable losses to UNITA man-portable air defences - meanwhile equipped by FIM-92A Stinger and SA-14 MANPADS through the CIA and South Africans - by the late 1987 the Angolans were forced to purchase additional MiG-23MLs bringing their eventual total to around 80 aircraft (barely 50% of which were ever operational at once).

The main base of the 12th and 13th Squadron in Angola was Serpa Pinto AB, near Menongue, which was a large, well-developed airfield with a number of blast-pents, a long runway, several early warning radars and the local ground-control center, defended by two SA-3 SAM-sites and numerous 23mm anti-aircraft guns.

The "Angolan" MiG-23MLs became operational in early 1984, but were not to be involved in support of any offensive operations of the Angolan Army before 1987, when – under command of Soviet General Shagnovich – the Angolan Army launched a large, two-prong offensive from Luena towards Cazombo, and from Cuito Cuanavale towards Mavinga in an attempt to destroy the main body of UNITA guerrilla movement. These operations were eventually to form the background for the culmination of this long war.

Alarmed by the onslaught, the UNITA requested help from South Africa, and SADF started deploying mechanized forces into Southern Angola, as well as a squadron of Mirages to Rundu airfield, in northern South West Africa. The appearance of MiG-23s in the Angolan skies did not cause any kind of panic within the SAAF. Quite on the contrary, due to their intensive training in air-to-air combat (especially in high-speed manoeuvring), the South Africans were looking forward to engage them in air combat. They continued flying operational sorties over the battlefield like before, despite the obvious fact that the MiG-23ML had a distinct advantage over the Mirage F.1CZ and F.1AZ: the MiG was armed with R-24 (ASCC-code AA-7 Apex) medium-range, all-aspect air-to-air missiles, with an engagement envelope of out to 24km at levels above 15.000ft. The South Africans lacked a weapon to counter R-24: their best air-to-air missile was Kukri, a licence version of the early Matra R.550 Magic Mk.1. The Kukri was much too short-ranged engagements against aircraft operating at such high speeds like MiG-23s. It also lacked structure capable of surviving manoeuvres at anything over 4gs; this was confirmed by several cases in which Kukris fell apart after aircraft carrying them pulled tight manoeuvres.

Nevertheless, it must be mentioned that the R-24 had nothing like an effective range of up to 40kms, as usually claimed: in fact, the average maximal range from which they could be launched against low-flying SAAF fighters even from the forward hemisphere was only between seven and ten kilometres. The MiG-23ML as delivered to Angola also had only a minimal look-down/shoot down capability, and their pilots were not flying low - because of the MANPAD threat. The R-24 was still a threat for South African Mirages, then the SAAF had no air-to-air missile in their arsenal that could be fired from similar ranges, and even less one that was capable of attacks from the forward hemisphere.

Further comparison between the Mirage F.1 and MiG-23 showed that the Mirage was originally designed as a medium- and high-altitude interceptor, and that its small wings and good thrust-to-weight ratio made it a very good low-level interdictor. The MiG-23 was developed for flying fast at low levels, and delivering "slash"-attacks from the rear hemisphere. Essentially, neither was a true "dogfighter": both were at their best at high subsonic speeds and medium level.

The SAAF pilots expertly matched the capabilities of their aircraft: operating at levels around ten meters over the completely flat terrain of southern Angola, in the face of the MiG-23ML-threat they continued flying intensive combat operations against targets up to 300km inside Angola. Most of such strikes were never detected by any of over 70 Angolan and Cuban radar stations deployed in southern Angola, and ever less so by either Angolan and Cuban radars, or FAPA-DAA's interceptors. On the other side, while experts in technical details of their aircraft, both the Cubans and Angolans lacked realistic interception training and proved poor in tactics. At least in theory, they did not need to be excellent pilots by any means, despite demanding aircraft they flew: the Soviets expected the pilot's role in MiG-23 to be minimal, as the plane had a highly automated weapons system, heavily dependable on proper ground support to function. With intensive Soviet and East German support, the Angolans have indeed developed an excellent control system in their country during the 1980s, with over 50 radar stations. The fact was, however, that even this was insufficient to properly cover the whole huge battlefield of southern Angola. Besides, the South Africans were such experts in low-level operations - and the local terrain in southern Angola was suitable for ultra-low-level flying - that this system proved only marginally useful. Consequently, the Cubans and Angolans were not really in position to use the advantage of their radar coverage over the battlefield.

Neither the Mirage F.1 nor the MiG-23 were good “dogfighters”, and both lacked good and reliable multi-function airborne-intercept radars with long detection range. Their initial and sustained turning capabilities were poor compared to new fighters appearing in the 1980. Nevertheless, in the hands of good pilots they were still very potent fighters, and both could under specific conditions outturn even the MiG-21. In a direct comparison the Mirage had some advantage in orner velocity, however, and was therefore more likely to win a turning fight. The MiG-23, on the contrary, had superb acceleration and speed in combat configuration, and could dictate the engagement.

Over Angola pilots of both aircraft were suffering from poor situational awarenes: although having 50 radar stations in central and southern Angola, the FAPA-DAA could not really detect or track low-flying South Africans, while the South Africans lacked any serious radar coverage over the battlefield because this was moving away from South-West African borders as the time went by. Both sides were frequently operating on verge of their combat range and pilots always had to have one eye glued on their fuel gauges. Also, the FAPA-DAA never had a sufficient number of MiG-23MLs in operational condition to fly in larger formations - as originally envisaged for this type. Not only that attrition in combat and service was high, but due to the high MANPAD-threat Cuban pilots flew regularly at medium and high levels, expecting to perform a slash-attack and then use the performance to either disengage or outdistance the opponent.

The end of the "1st" MiG-23ML: the FAPA-DAA - including the DAAFAR-contingent in Angola - suffered extensive losses in the battles between September 1987 and June 1988. In fact, the losses were so heavy that quite a few aircraft rushed as replacements from the USSR at the time have got the serials of downed planes in order to hide the battering the FAPA-DAA was receiving at the time. This and the photograph bellow show the wreckage of the first FAPA-DAA MiG-23ML serialled "C477" after it was shot down in September 1987. (W. Marshall via Tom Cooper)

Left side of the MiG-23ML "C477" shot down in September 1987. While the photographer was taking these photographs two CIA-operatives were inspecting the surviving parts of the cockpit and the radome. (W. Marshall via Tom Cooper)

By mid-1989, however, a "new" C477 - the aircraft in center of this photograph - was already seen in Angola! (WAPJ)

27 September 1987

Due to their extensive training, both – the pilots of Cuban MiG-23MLs and those of SAAF Mirages – were looking forward for an engagement. It might appear surprising, but the SAAF at the time was deploying even its Mirage F.1AZ – the ground-attack version – for air-to-air tasks, as (then) Lt.Col. Dolf Prinsloo explained in an interview for AirForces Monthly magazine, published in December 1994:
During this time we did a lot of ACM camps and I would say that our air-to-air was better than our air-to-ground.”
The situation was such, namely, that the SAAF was preparing Mirage F.1CZs for retirement, while the third main fighter-jet unit of the air force, the No. 2 Squadron, was converting to the Cheetah. Consequently, the Mirage F.1AZs had to act as interceptors.

Once the Angolans launched their main ground operations against UNITA, in late summer 1987, the two sides did not have to wait for too long. The first clash between MiG-23MLs and Mirages occurred on 10 September, two days after a small SADF task force – supported by long-range artillery – decimated the FAPLA’s 21 Brigade on the River Lomba. Approaching at a very low level, the SAAF fighters first surprised and then outmanoeuvred both Cubans that came out of Menongue, but the R.550 fired by Capt. Anton van Rensburg exploded in the heat plume behind the MiG-23ML from the 13th FS FAPA-DAA. Van Rensburg then fired the second R.550, but the missile failed.

On the following morning the SADF units hit the 59 Brigade FAPLA as this was crossing the River Lomba, and mauled it as well. The next FAPLA unit, the 47 Brigade, was effectively neutralized as a fighting unit only few days later. By 16 September, the SADF ground units launched an offensive against the Angolans on the Lomba River, supported by artillery. The SAAF Mirages then added to the carnage by hitting the Angolans with a series of precise strikes. The FAPA-DAA hit back in force, limiting the manoeuvrability of the SADF units, but not preventing them from mauling three Angolan brigades in the following days.

Noticing the vivid activity of the FAPA-DAA, on the morning of 27 September, the SAAF attempted to set-up a trap for the MiGs, dispatching three pairs of Mirage F.1CZs at low level over the battlefield. The first pair of Mirages airborne over Angola was vectored towards a pair of MiG-23MLs, flown by FAR Maj. Alberto Ley Rivas and Prim. Ten. Juan Carlos Chavez Godoy, which were on a mission of escorting several helicopters, and consequently well-prepared for fighting an air-to-air battle. The two Mirages, flown by Capts. Carlo Gagiano and Arthur Piercey, achieved a surprise nevertheless: Rivas detected one of them only as they climbed and approached. But, the Mirages ended slightly aside and on an opposite course from the MiGs: as both pairs turned back to engage, Maj. Rivas fired a pair of R-23R missiles at Piercey’s Mirage, while Prim.Ten. Godoy fired one R-23 or R-60 against Gagiano. Capt. Gagiano could only watch as the weapon flashed over his canopy – without detonating. One of the other two missiles, however, detonated while passing to the left of Piercey’s Mirage, spraying its tailpipe with shrapnel.

In fact, after the missile exploded near his aircraft, Piercey – followed by Gagiano – dove for the deck: the explosion damaged the tail and the wing, causing the breaking parachute to pop-out, but the worst damage was caused to the hydraulic system, which powered the flight controls. Piercey managed to nurse his aircraft back to Rundu, but while attempting to land the aircraft veered off runway and crashed, collapsing the front gear in the process: the force of impact caused the ejection seat to activate, throwing the pilot out of the aircraft. As there was not enough time nor space for the parachute to deploy, Piercey hit the ground very hard, becoming paralysed in return. The fuselage of his aircraft, F.1CZ 206 was subsequently used to repair the F.1CZ 205, which was out of service after an engine fire for some time.

Interestingly, specific Cuban, Ukrainian, and Russian sources credit Rivas with 1.5 and Goden with 0.5 kills – i.e. with two Mirages shot down on 27 September 1987. In an interview to the Cuban military reporter Cesar Gómez Chacón, published in the book “Cuito Cuanavale: Viaje al Centro de Los Heroes”, in 1989, however, Major Alberto Ley Rivas described this engagement in detail, stressing that he was not really sure about scoring any kind of a hit on SAAF Mirages, until – several seconds after the merge with Mirages – he heard his wingman’s shouts of joy about a “Mirage falling in flames”. Still, Rivas would not believe the Mirage was shot down until several days later he heard in the South African radio about the loss of an aircraft and its injured pilot. Furthermore, Rivas explained, any other pilot in his unit – including his wingman – could have done the same he did, clearly indicating that only one Mirage was indeed claimed. Consequently, Rivas is not claiming any kind of a second kill being scored during this engagement (Godoy is not doing anything similar either) but his statements in that interview to a reporter who won an award by the Cuban Defence Ministry clearly indicate that the DAAFAR and the Cuban authorities have a completely different sight into the engagement from 27 September 1987 than all the reports in specialized Cuban, Ukrainian, and Russian media would indicate. Obviously, there is also no reason to believe that the FAPA-DAA or DAAFAR “forgot” to say about “shooting down” the second Mirage to the highest Angolan and Cuban authorities, then the book “Cuito Cuanavale: Viaje al Centro de Los Heroes” has not only a sound title, but was definitely also written in a “politically-correct” manner, turning every little success of Cuban forces in Angola into a major victory.

The Mirage F.1CZ flown by Capt. Carlo Gagiano was certainly not “blown up” during this combat as claimed by unofficial Cuban sources, otherwise it would be impossible for it to bring back a gun-camera video showing one of the missiles passing low over the cockpit. Even more so, given the place where this engagement occurred, it would be impossible for Capt. Gagiano to evade capture in Angola, and even less so to continue a highly successful carrier with the SAAF, becoming a Brigade General: that is, “at least”, his current rank and position.

Damage on the Mirage F.1CZ flown by Capt. Piercey on 27 September 1987. Note that the braking parachute was blown out of its housing and the afterburner was also taken apart. (W. Marshall via Tom Cooper)

Damage to Capt. Piercey Mirage F.1CZ's wing caused by the R-23 fired by Maj. Rivas, on 27 September 1987. Note that the fuselage is otherwise intact: the aircraft was subsequently completely rebuilt by addition of the nose-section from Mirage F.1CZ "206", lost in an earlier fire accident. (W. Marshall via Tom Cooper)

Still, the same Cuban, Ukrainian, and Russian sources also claim the FAPA-DAA MiG-23MLs to have shot down a SAAF Puma helicopter on 27 September 1987, supposedly using a single R-60. It is extremely strange, but no such claim was published in Chacóns book, despite supposedly happening on the same day Piercey’s Mirage was hit by Rivas: obviously, the reporter sent by the Cuban officials to Angola to “find out the truth”, and the DAAFAR and the FAPA-DAA – all have “forgotten” to report it to anybody. Even more so, it can only be considered as “brazen” that neither the SAAF nor any of “unofficial” narratives published by its former members – for example Dick Lord in his excellent book “Vlamgats” – mentions any kind of such a loss for this day.

On the contrary, all the losses of SAAF SA.330 Pumas during the war in Angola - and during the "externals" into Mozambique - are well known:

- 22 December 1975
Puma flown by Capt. John Millbank was hit by Cuban AAA 18km W of Cela. The crew executed safe emergency landing and then evaded capture by returning to own lines.

- 6 September 1979
Puma flown by Capt. Paul Vellerman was hit by AAA over Mozambique while attacking an ANC camp there. All onboard were killed.

- 5 January 1982
Puma flown by Capt. John Robinson was hit by SMAF, the helicopter turned turttle and hit the ground, killing all occupants.

In addition, quite a number of Pumas (and other SAAF helicopter) were damaged by SMAF time and again, while others suffered operational mishaps, but were recovered and repaired subsequently; this includes one Puma (155) which crashed near Cassinga, in Angola, at an unknown date before 1987 - and certainly not due to MiG-23s.

How many SAAF Mirages were actually lost?

A lot had also been said about other “possible” air combats involving Angolan MiG-21s and MiG-23s and South African fighters. A persistent rumour is that in 1985 SAAF Mirages have shot down a FAPA-DAA MiG-21 during one of quite a few strikes deep into Angola, held secret until today. Cuban, Russian, and Ukrainian sources are also persistent in their claims for additional SAAF Mirages – and even Impala strike-fighters as well as helicopters – being shot down by Cuban-flown MiG-23MLs. On several internet websites it is claimed that the Ten.Cor. Eduardo Gonzales Sarria, a Cuban MiG-23ML pilot that participated in the fighting in Angola, for example, had shot down a SAAF Mirage. It is not entirely clear when should this have happened: several articles in the magazine Aviyatsiya&Vremya, as well as internet publications, however, state that the Cuban-flown Angolan MiG-23s have shot down a SAAF Mirage F.1AZ “during the first part of 1987 in the north of Namibia”, as well as that, “South Africa admitted losing a Mirage F.1AZ but claimed it was hit by an IR SAM, probably an SA-7 or SA-9.”

A number of engagements between SAAF Mirages and FAPA-DAA & DAAFAR MiGs remain unkwnon in the wider public. This gun-camera shot of a V-3B Kukri AAM approaching a MiG-21 is one of such cases: it is believed that it was taken in 1985, and that the MiG was shot down. However, this remains unconfirmed (Jonathan Kyzer collection)

Most likely these claims are based on a reader’s letter published in AirForces Monthly magazine, volume January 2000, in which it was said that the SAAF Mirage F.1CZ “206” was shot down by a R-60 missile fired from an Angolan MiG-23.

The SAAF, however, lost no Mirage F.1s over Angola in whole 1987, and even less so over Namibia (i.e. South West Africa at the time), and – as explained above – in the early 1987 the 12th and 13th Fighter Squadrons FAPA-DAA were still in the process of conversion to MiG-23MLs, and consequently not flying any kind of combat operations. In fact, all the details about SAAF Mirage losses were published meanwhile: while it could be said that one or two minor facts are still missing, it is at lest clear what was lost when, where, and to which reason. What is actually missing are specific details about some SAAF operations deep into Angola, about which all the SAAF personnel contacted so far is categorically quiet: the details in question, however, do not include any SAAF losses, but several unconfirmed claims for downings of Angolan, Cuban, and Soviet aircraft. Given the fact that neither the Cubans, nor the Angolans – and even less so the Russians or the Ukrainians – have proved to be able to offer any kind of serious evidence of the contrary so far, the following list of SAAF Mirage F.1 losses in the 1980s – compiled by Jonathan Kyzer on the basis of private research and the book “Vlamgats”, by former SAAF Mirage F.1-pilot Dick Lord – should be considered the most complete published so far:

(Note: SAAF Mirage F.1AZs were serialled 216 thru 247, Mirage F.1CZs were serialled 200-215)

15 February 1979
- F.1AZ 246 flown by Capt. Wassie Wasserman
engine flame out near Cullinan in South Africa, pilot ejected safely; crash confirmed by local residents and "Vlamgats";

- F.1CZ 200 flown by Maj. Chris Brits
crashed after a slow flypast on the crash scene of 246, pilot ejected but seat failed to deploy in time; this plane was 100% not lost over Angola as indicated elsewhere on this forum: the crash - which happened only two minutes after that of the 246 - was confirmed by local residents and two non-involved pilots, as well as "Vlamgats".

(Note: despite numerous eyewitnesses and publications mentioning these two accidents, unofficial Cuban sources claim that the Mirage F.1CZ “200” was shot down over Angola – completely ignoring the fact that it is impossible for any SAAF Mirage F.1s to have been lost in Angola at the time as the SAAF started deploying te type in that theatre only from June 1980)

7 June 1980
- F.1AZ 234 flown by Maj. Frans Pretorious
damaged by SA-3 near Lubango, Angola. Recovered successfully to Ondangwa despite engine flame out some 28 miles away from the base;

- F.1AZ 237 flown by Capt. IC du Plessis
damaged by SA-3, recovered safely to Ruacana and landed without nose-wheel; Capt. du Pressis was highly decorated for saving that plane; picture of the plane taken upon landing available;

The FAPA-DAA acquired a significant number of SA-3s, and these were encountered during the first strike flown by SAAF Mirage F.1s against targets in Angola ever - in June 1980. While two aircraft were damaged by SAMs during this action, the Angolans claimed to have shot down four. (Tom Cooper collection)

4 November 1980
- F.1CZ 208 flown by Capt. Les Bennett
crashed after full upwards runway trim near Groblersdal (South Africa), pilot ejected safely;

13 March 1984
- F.1AZ 228 flown by Capt. Digby Holdsworth
crashed in bad weather near Lydenburg (South Africa), pilot ejected safely;

8 February 1985
- F.1CZ 205 flown by Capt. Pierre du Plessis
engine fire during DACM sortie over Langebaan (South Africa), recovered safely, fire extinguished; confirmed by two former SAAF pilots and the members of the local fire-brigade;

4 April 1985
- F.1AZ 222 flown by Maj. Jan Henning
crashed at Hoespruit AB, pilot ejected safely;

23 July 1985
- F.1AZ 221 flown by Capt. Rickus de Beer
fuel pipe problems during training flight, crashed onto a threshold while attempting to land at Hoedspruit AB (South Africa); crash confirmed by former members of the local fire-brigade;

28 December 1986
- F.1CZ 215 flown by Capt. John Sinclair
struck mountain ridge while on low-level navigation training sortie over eastern Transvaal (South Africa), pilot ejected (see "Vlamgats", page 165).

(Note: this another Mirage claimed by unofficial Cuban sources to have shot down – supposedly by FAPA-DAA MiG-23MLs. This aircraft, however, was certainly not lost over Angola: the pilot was at a low-level training sortie deep over South Africa, busy monitoring his maps when he suddenly realized the hill in front of him; a last moment evasion manoeuvre was initiated, but this helped only in so far that the plane hit the top of the hill with the tail; pilot ejected safely. Due to the date it is likely that the loss was reported as occurring in 1987.)

27 September 1987
- F.1CZ 206 flown by Capt. Arthur Piercey
hit by R-23 or R-60 during engagement with MiG-23MLs, on recovery in Rundu overshot the runway, pilot inadvertently ejected and was badly injured; F.1CZ 205 has got the tail section of the F.1CZ and returned to service as 205; results of engagement confirmed by a dozen of photos taken by Al J. Venter;

20 February 1988
- F.1AZ 245 flown by Maj. Ed Every
hit by SA-9 and crashed in Angola, pilot KIA; kill confirmed both by Angolan and Cuban sources, as well as reports from SADF recce team, which noticed the SA-9-team near the wreckage;

Above and bellow: Wreckage of Maj. Ed Every's Mirage F.1AZ as displayed in Luanda, in 1988. The small community of SAAF Mirage-pilots felt the loss heavily: the pilots knew each other well, and the death of any of them was leaving a distinct mark - which in turn was another reason why are all the SAAF losses well-documented. In fact, even Cuban books - like Cesar Gómez Chacón's "Cuito Cuanavale: Viaje al Centro de Los Heroes" - published in order to praise the "Cuban Victory" in Angola deny the claims of different Cuban internet sources about downings of SAAF Mirage F.1s. (Photos: Vamgats & Cuito Cuanavale: Viaje al Centro de Los Heroes)

19 March 1988
- F.1AZ 223 flown by Capt. Willie van Coppenhagen
crashed during night sortie over Angola, pilot KIA; crash site found one week later with the help of local residents after intensive SAR operation.

Find the Mirage! Being experts in low-level flying and having well-camouflaged aircraft, the SAAF pilots had little problems to evade the MiG-23s through most of the campaigns in 1987 and 1988: they were engaging in air-to-air combats only where there was a distinct reason to do so. On the other side, the Cuban pilots had immense problems to find them: they were flying high most of the time (mainly because of the threat from FIM-92A Stinger MANPADs), the sight out of the cockpit was poor, and the Sapheer-23 radar of their MiG-23MLs had no look-down capability. (Vlamgats)

The Impala Claim

Finally, the same sources also credit a loss of a SAAF Impala strike jet to Cuban/Angolan MiG-23s. The basis of this claim is unknown, then neither a date nor place or even a weapon with which this “success” should have been achieved are mentioned. All the SAAF Impala losses for the whole war in Angola and the reasons for these are known in detail, however:

- 18 Oct 1979
Impala Mk.II "1033", flown by Maj. Aubreys Bell, shot down by AAA during armed recce mission near Omapande; pilot recovered by Alouette III flown by Maj. Polla Kruger (the helo itself was hit by 22 bullets);

- 24 Jan 1980
Impala Mk.II "1056", flown by Capt. Leon Burger, hit by SA-7 while on armed recce mission near Aanhanca; pilot flew successfully back to Ondangwa, but was forced to eject due to damage on the loss of entire verctical fin (which, of course, reduced directional control) darkness and the airfield being packed with other aircraft;

- 23 Mar 1980
Impala Mk.II "1050", flown by Capt. Sarel Smal, lost due to fuel system being contaminated by sand. Pilot ejected and was recovered. Angolans claimed to have shot this plane down and killed the Capt. J.H. Henning, because his name was painted on the canopy rail of Impala "1050". Capt. Henning, however, is still very much alive.

- 25 Apr 1980
Impala Mk.II "1029", flown by Lt. Pete Hollis, shot down while on armed recce over Angola. Pilot ejected but his neck was broken when his head struck the canopy.

- 20 June 1980
Impala Mk.II "1037", flown by Lt. Neil Thomas, shot down by 23mm AAA while on CAS mission for op Smokeshell. Pilot ejected safely and was recovered by an Alouette helicopter. The aircraft was also recovered by a Super Frelon helicopter, and subsequently repaired by Atlas.

- 10 Oct 1980
Impala Mk.II "1042", flown by Lt. Steve Volkerz, shot down by SA-7 some 20 km SW of Mupa. Volkerz ejected safely and waved to his wingman (Lt. Skinner) from the ground; intercepted radio messages inicated that he was killed by SWAPO, however.

- 1 Jun 1981
Impala Mk.II "1052", flown by Maj. Gene Kotze, shot down by AAA over Angola and pilot KIA.

Despite the type being deployed extensively during the fighting in Angola, and flying hundreds of close-air-support sorties between 1979 and 1988, no other Impalas were lost during the rest of the war. Several were damaged by Angolan SAMs, however. For example, on 23 December 1983, during a strike against targets in Mulondo area, in the frame of Operation Askari, one Impala was hit by SA-7. The plane was considerably damgaged, but the pilot flew it safely back to Ondangwa AB. Another Impala was damaged by SA-9 during the same operation, but it was returned safely to Ongiva AB, bringing also the seeker-head of the SAM embedded in the fuselage of the aircraft. No Impalas were ever engaged by Angolan or Cuban MiGs, however. Quite on the contrary: in 1985 the SAAF used them even to intercept and shot down several Cuban and Soviet Mi-8 and Mi-35 helicopters deep over Angola, in turn stopping one of the offensives against UNITA (see the article above).

While it is often claimed that the FAPA-DAA was completely unable to operate without any foreign support, the force eventualy managed to develop into an independent service, capable of mounting operations on its own. Even if some of FAPA-DAA units were always manned by foreigners in the 1980s, simultaneously other squadrons were entirelly Angolan. This Angolan pilot of the 4th Helicopter Squadron is seen with his Mi-35 in the late 1980s. (Tom Cooper collection)

Meanwhile, exact details about every single operational and combat loss of SAAF aircraft and helicopters in the last 30 years were published, and none of these came anywhere near confirming any of the Cuban and Russian claims. For example, in addition to the Mirage and Impala losses mentioned above, on 3 September 1987 the SAAF lost Bosbok "934" to Angolan SA-8 during a night artillery spotting mission south of the Lomba River, in Angola. The crew, consisting of Lt. Richard Glynn, and Col. Pax (an artillery officer), was killed.

Nevertheless, such facts are ignored. On the contrary, quite a number of Russian and Ukrainian – and then also Cuban sources – are basing their claims on cases where less is known about South African operational accidents, all of which occurred at least 1.500km – and two borders – away from Angola.

Even if a revelation of full details about the involvement of Cuban MiG-21- and MiG-23 units is not to be expected before the end of the communist regime in Havana, it can already now be concluded that the Mirage F.1CZ 206, flown by Capt. Arthur Piercey, was the only South African aircraft ever to have been hit by the Cuban or Angolan MiG-21s and MiG-23s. Besides, it is long since not so any more that absolutely nothing is known about the DAAFAR continged in Angola: aside from unit designations (and unit histories) and their equipment, as well as few names, meanwhile also a lot is known about losses of Cuban-flown Angolan aircraft in the 1980s.

For example, it is known that:

- two MiG-23MLs lost during training flight near Luena on 9 August 1984 were flown by Capt. Pedro Zequeiras and 1Tte. Alberto Olivares Horta;

- MiG-23ML shot down near Menongue on 12 March 1985 was flown by Capt. Lino Cabrera Viera;

- MiG-23ML shot down near Memngue on 25 July 1986 was flown by Capt. Jorge Gonzalez Perez;

- MiG-23ML shot down near Menongue on 13 September 1986 was flown by Capt. Jose A. Garcia Flores;

- MiG-23ML shot down near Menongue on 14 January 1988 by UNITA MANPAD was flown by Capt. Francisco A. Doval;

- MiG-23ML shot down near Menongue on 21 January 1988 was flown by Capt. Carlos Ridriguez Perez;

- MiG-23ML lost on 15 February 1988 near Cuito was flown by Capt. Juan P. Rodriguez;

- MiG-23ML shot down near Menongue on 17 March 1988(probably the same claimed as shot down on 23 April by SADF Ystervark 20mm AAA) was flown by pilot named Ernesto Chavez.

Exact details about some 60 additional losses of Cuban and Angolan aircraft during this war are meanwhile known as well. More in-depth research is currently going on and additional data - especially about the Cuban involvement in this war - is certain to become available over the time.

Row of SAAF Mirage F.1AZs seen at the Oshakati AB, in 1985. (Tom Cooper collection)

MiGs Broke Nobody’s Hearts

One of the most obscure legends about the air war over Angola is the one surrounding the strike by 12 DAAFAR MiG-23MLs against the hydroelectric dam at Ruacana-Caleque, the story of which deserves to be described in detail.

During January 1988, the Cuban-Angolan garrison in the City of Cuito Cuanavale was surrounded by UNITA troops and the local airfield put out of action by SADF artillery. FAPA-DAA MiG-21 and MiG-23 strikes, however, did succeed in containing the siege – partially with the help of heavy rains – and despite suffering losses to MANPADs.

By February the frontlines stabilised as the South Africans stopped their advance in the face of the garrison in Cuito being considerably reinforced, and put under command of a Cuban General. The fighting intensified again, and the aircraft of both sides were now flying up to three sorties a day: due to the MANPAD-threat, however, most of the FAPA-DAA strikes were delivered from medium levels, and thus lacked precision. By the time, the MiG-21MF and MiG-21bis were almost exclusively used in the fighter-bomber role, together with Mi-24/25/35 helicopters. MiG-23MLs played their actual role – that of battlefield interceptors. Operating at medium levels, however, and due to the lack of an effective look-down/shoot-down capability they were never effective against numerous SAAF aircraft operating at levels of only 15 meters. Nevertheless, in the face of the threats from MiG-23s and SAMs, the SAAF meanwhile started operating by night as well – something neither the Cubans nor the Angolans were doing. Attacking by night, the Mirages delivered several heavy blows initially, but on 20 February the F.1AZ flown by Maj. Ed Every was shot down by SA-13s shortly after releasing his bombs.

The SAAF unit to which this Mirage belonged, the 1st Squadron, was then ordered to show presence over the SADF troops, despite the fact that the battlefield was on the verge of effective range of its aircraft, and this lead to a new series of engagements with Cuban-flown MiG-23s – but also culminate in a direct confrontation between the Cubans and South Africans.

On 25 February, the Cuban ground control advised Prim.Ten. Eladio Avila from the 12th FS, underway for an air-to-ground sortie, about the appearance of the two SAAF Mirages. Avila initiated a pursuit and his opponents apparently never even noticed him, but – just before reaching the maximal engagement range – a warning lamp warned him about his fuel status. Immediately turning away, Avila was finally forced to land at Cuito Cuanavale airfield, even if this was under almost constant bombardment of South African G-5 and G-6 long-range guns, calibre 155mm. As in a miracle, the technicians managed to refuel the aircraft and Avila took off again without any further incident.

Several hours later, Capt. Orlando Carbo and wingman were vectored to intercept three Mirage F.1AZs, flown by Cdt. Johan Rankin, Maj. Frans Coetzee, and Capt. Trompie Nel. The MiGs were detected only by the SAAF control station monitoring the FAPA-DAA radio traffic, and only after MiG-pilots already established the visual contact with the Mirages. Warned about the MiGs, Capt. Rankin turned around to counterattack, and positioned behind Carbo‘s MiG-23. In turn warned by his ground controller about the impeding attack the Cuban pilot accelerated while doing several reverses in order to shake the Mirage off. Rankin fired two missiles and also 30mm guns at his target, but – with the MiG rapidly accelerating-away – missed.

Gun-camera photograph from one of the engagements from 25 February 1988. Fortunately for the Cuban pilot, the missile fired by the SAAF Mirage missed and the clean MiG-23ML outaccelerated the SAAF fighter. (Vlamgats)

This is the last known air-to-air engagement involving Angolan MiGs ever. They were to take part in a number of additional combat sorties flown against UNITA and the SADF troops for the rest of the year, but most of these are not as well documented (for example, the subsequent Commander of the No. 1 Squadron SAAF, then Lt.Col. Dolf Prinsloo, also participated in an engagement with a FAPA-DAA/DAAFAR MiG-23ML, and later met up with one of the senior Angolan MiG-23 pilots, telling him that this confrontation was the best thing that had ever happened to him as he, “learned more in a couple of minutes than a million words could have ever taught him”). The exception is the attack of a SADF mechanised force against Tumpo, in March, which was checked by a combination of minefields, Angolan artillery barrages and numerous air strikes by MiG-21s and MiG-23s. The South Africans have lost two Oliphant MBTs and two damaged Ratel APCs, as well as three troops killed in the fighting at Tumpo, but the Cubans knew to use the wrecks of the two Oliphants they captured for their propaganda purposes very well.

By the time, the Soviets, Cubans and the MPLA knew they could not win any more. With the disappointed Soviets signalising their decision to pull out of Angola, already in early May even the Cuban dictator indicated to his commanders in Luanda that the time has come to prepare a pull-out. Therefore a face-saving measure was urgently needed, in order to raise the morale of the soldiers, and return them to Cuba as “victorious”. As the SADF was now disengaging towards south their movements were explained with a "defeat of South Africans in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale", which actually never happened, and the vacuum that came into being as the SADF troops pulled out of Angola was swiftly filled by Cuban and FAPLA troops accompanied by SWAPO insurgents. By 23 May the Cubans had no less but 50.000 troops in Angola, of which some 10.000 were advancing towards the border of South West Africa. Bringing the airfield at Xangongo in condition to accept MiG-23MLs, the FAPA-DAA was also able to start sending patrols even south of the border: ill-equipped to counter this threat, the SAAF had to be held back.

The inevitable final confrontation had to take place. By 26 June three columns of the Cuban 50th Mechanised Division, covered by mobile SA-6 SAMs, advanced towards the hydroelectric dam at Ruacana-Caleque, where a battalion-sized SADF armoured and mechanised force was waiting for its turn to cross the Cunene River back into South West Africa. The South Africans confronted the enemy, hitting the over-confident Cubans with heavy artillery. Suffering some losses, the Cubans continued their assault, treatening to outflank the enemy. The SADF armour then manoeuvred to hit the central column, causing additional heavy losses, while the artillery pounded the western column before forcing it to pull back. In the end, the Cubans left at least 30 damaged and destroyed tanks and APCs, as well as 300 killed and injured troops on the battlefied, but both sides disengaged in good order.

While the result of this clash definitely discouraged their commanders from a further desire to engage the SADF on the ground, the FAPA-DAA was ordered into one last counterattack. On 27 June 1988, 12 MiG-23MLs – eight armed with FAB-250 bombs – were sent to attack the hydroelectric dam at Ruacana-Caleque, inside Namibia. Most of their bombs missed, but one bounced of the dam, causing some damage, while another – by pure accident – fell directly near an APC from the SADF task force that successfully checked the Cubans the day before, killing 12 SADF soldiers. In turn SADF anti-aircraft guns shot one of the MiGs down.

The results of this attack and some – rather threatening than really dangerous – subsequent manoeuvres of the Cuban troops along the border to South West Africa, were magnified out of any proportion by the Cuban propaganda machinery, interested foremost in enabling Castro to pull out his forces out of Angola without losing face. The Cubans declared Tchipa for an immense victory, and then overextended the success of the MiG-23-strike against the Ruacana-Caleque dam. The fact that the involved MiG-23-pilots never even saw any SADF troops nearby, and that they actually believed to have executed a strike against an undefended object which was of no other but propagandistic purpose - and did this from a level too high and flying too fast to hit anything - was completely ignored. Until today the Cuban claims are reasons for a number of sources to explain that the MiG-23 was a “decisive” factor for a “Cuban victory” in the war in Angola, and a “begin of democracy process in South Africa”.

One of the “arguments” used to “confirm” the Cuban victory during this final series of clashes is an unclear picture supposedly showing an inscription left behind by the SADF troops at some wall of the Ruacan-Caleque dam, reading: “MIK23 sak van die kart”

For completely unclear – and definitely baseless – reasons, specific unofficial Cuban sources claim this to mean, “MiG-23 broke our hearts”, in turn using this as a “powerful” argument for the significance of the MiG-23’s deployment during this war. It is, however, not only so that there is no way to confirm the authenticity of this indeed being left by SADF troops. Worst yet: in Afrikaans, this would actually mean “MiG-23, bag from the wagon”.

If any SADF trooper would want to write anything in the sense of “MiG-23 broke our hearts”, it would have been, “MiG-23 dit he tons hart gebreek”.

In fact, during the campaigns in 1987 and 1988 the FAPA-DAA and the DAAFAR contingent in Angola suffered a confirmed loss of eight MiG-23MLs, four MiG-21s, and two Su-20Ms shot down (but also seven SA-8, five SA-13, and three SA-9 vehicles captured). The best documented of these occurred on 28 October 1987, when two high-ranking Cuban officers, Lt.Cor. Rocas Garcias and Capt. Ramos Cacadas, were captured after their MiG-21UM was shot down by the UNITA. In addition, the Angolan ground units have lost most of the equipment of four of their brigades, as well as 33 SA-14 MANPADs, which – together with remaining stocks of CIA-supplied FIM-92A Stingers – were to be used extensively by the UNITA in the next two years, when they caused extensive losses. The total Cuban and Angolan losses during the campaigns between September 1987 and June 1988 included 4.785 soldiers killed: the number of deserters and injured remain unknown. The SADF simultaneously lost 31 men killed. The losses of the UNITA remain unknown.

During the campaigns of 1987 and 1988 the SADF captured immense amounts of Soviet-supplied equipment used by the Angolans and Cubans. This is one of seven SA-8 vehicles captured together with associated missiles (Tom Cooper collection)

Consequently, it can only be concluded that most of the recently published claims about SAAF losses during the war in Angola should actually be seen as the continuation of the Cuban efforts to present their actions in 1988 as the “final victory” against South Africans, which in turn should have provided the backgrounds for the Cuban withdrawal from Angola. The reality was completely different, however. In his book "Continent Ablaze; The Insurgency Wars in Africa, 1960 to the Present", (Arms and Armour Press, 1998, ISBN 1-85409-128-X), John W. Turner methodically concluded:

The fighting from August of 1987 to July of 1988 in many ways was the climax of the superpower involvement in the war. It was marked by extensive South African ground an air intervention to assist the UNITA in repelling the most ambitious FAPLA offensive yet to be launched against insurgent-held areas of Cuando Cubango and Moxico provinces. During the course of the fighting FAPLA suffered one of the worst defeats to befall an army since the WWII. The SADF (Operation Moduler) intervention began modestly, as UNITA attempted to stiffen its resistance to the invaders in Cuando Cubango, in August, and picked up through September as South African artillery repelled two attempts by FAPLA to cross the Lomba River. Finally, South African mechanized forces intervened to annihiliate one of the FAPLA task forces in battles on 3-4 October. This defeat was followed by the FAPLA withdrawal toward Cuito Cuanavale, which was put under siege by UNITA and bombarded by South Africans (Operations "Hooper" and "Packer"). At the same time UNITA made considerable gains in the central plateau area and on the CFB, most of which were later regained by FAPLA at great cost. Frustrated in attempts to remedy the situation in the centre and east, FAPLA and the Cubans redeployed forces in south-western Angola to the Namibian border, where they sparred with the SADF until being decisively checked on 26-27 June at Techipa in Cunene province. Following this battle, the Cubans were convinced that further military confrontation with the SADF would not succeed, but launched a propaganda and diplomatic campaign to cover their setbacks and cover their losses. They also apparently decided to leave the MPLA to its fate, accepting shortly thereafter the linkage proposed by the US that led to Namibian independence in return for Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola.

The situation in mid-1988:

The results of a year of South African involvement in Angola were profound. The armed intervention had decisively changed the course of the war. Despite massive Soviet, Cuban and MPLA propaganda to the contrary, FAPLA and its supporters were badly beaten.

- FAPLA casualties included at least a fifth of its ground force KIA/WIA and at least a quarter of its available equipment had been destroyed or captured. Much equipment in the latter category wound up in UNITA hands to be fielded against FAPLA.

- The battle at Tchipa (late June 1988) with its high Cuban casualties had discouraged the Cubans from a further desire to engage South African forces.

- Cuban forces agreed to withdraw from Angola, in a linkage with the implementation of UN Reslution 435, which began the independence process for Namibia. This represented a major policy defeat for the MPLA, the Cubans, and the Soviet Union."


Special tanks to Mr. Tom N. for sharing his extensive data-base on Angolan Air Force with us, as well as to Mr. Luis D, for revealing exlusive details about correct unit designations of the Cuban Air Force, based on his close contacts with local sources. Finally, special thanks to Mr. Grant Barclay for reminding us about the loss of Bosbok from No.42 Squadron, shot down by Angolan SA-8, in September 1987.

Notes & Bibliography

Expanded version of this article - including detailed order of battle and history of all known units of the Angolan air forces - was published in the book "African MiGs", SHI Publications, Vienna (Austria), 2004, (ISBN: 3-200-00088-0).

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:

- "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

- "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).

© Copyright 2002-3 by ACIG.org

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