Cuito Cuanavale - Wie het werklik Gewen? 'n Strategiese en Operasionele Ontleding

  • Leopold Scholtz Departement Geskiedenis, Universiteit van Stellenbosch
Keywords: Angolan campaign, Swapo's guerilla war, MPLA offensive, Angolan rebel movement Unita, territory of Ovambo, Liddell Hartian, MPLA forces, southwestern Namibian border


The Angolan campaign of 1987- '88 came as the culmination of a long and bitter war between South Africa and Swapo. Although South Africa's underlying intention was to limit Swapo's guerilla war to the territory of Ovambo, this could only succeed if the Angolan rebel movement Unita could continue covering the southeastern part of Angola. It was, therefore, in South Africa's interest to prevent Unita from being removed from the equation by the massive MPLA offensive of late winter and spring 1987. This was the basic reason for the county’s intervention with Operation Modulêr. The operation was, however, run with excessive operational control from Pretoria. Instead of allowing the officers on the ground a classic Liddell Hartian indirect approach by marching northwards west of the Cuito river to cut the advancing MPLA forces from their logistical hinterland and dislocating their offensive by attacking them from behind, Pretoria forced them into a direct head-on approach east of the river. The reason was to keep the South African involvement secret or, at the very least  'plausibly deniable' - a naïve expectation. This did indeed result in a spectacular South African tactical victory at the Lomba River, where the MPLA offensive was decisively beaten back. But thereafter the South African forces were forced into a series of frontal attacks on increasingly well prepared MPLA defensive positions, including three final attacks on well fortified positions at Tumpo, which were beaten back, resulting in a subsequent stalemate. The stalemate was then brilliantly broken by Cuban forces, who marched to the southwestern Namibian border, threatening to cut the South Africans off at Tumpo, or alternatively to invade Namibia. The campaign is analysed in the light of military theory, especially the ideas of Clausewitz and Liddell Hart. The conclusion is that the MPLA lost badly, that South Africa reached its strategic objectives but did badly operationally, and that Cuba came out of the affair with flying colours.


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How to Cite
Scholtz, L. (2012). Cuito Cuanavale - Wie het werklik Gewen? ’n Strategiese en Operasionele Ontleding. Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies, 28(1).