The intensity of the actions by the small group of MiG-21 pilots was related by the author as follows:
“Despite the confidentiality demanded from members of the General Staff and the personnel at the command posts, it is impossible to prevent any leak concerning a war action lasting more than eight days and which has kept hundred of men and women on both sides of the ocean in maximum tension.
“How to conceal, for example, the deafening noise of 239 takeoffs and landings by fighter jets –over 50 a day—even though that very high number of sorties was accomplished by just nine pilots who remained in the air for an average of two and a half hours each day during battle, including one who has completed almost four sorties every day, which means having flown for 3 hours and 45 minutes in one after another of these tense missions?
“What method can guarantee the secret movement of the thousands of men making up the armored column reinforcements? How to make invisible the movement of the approximately 200 vehicles that make up each of these – including tanks, artillery and armored transportation vehicles – along hundreds of miles to Munhango, Tempue, Luena and other places from Huambo, Menongue and other points of the extensive Angolan territory?”
The armored column from Huambo, on its way to Cangamba, and which later, after the lifting of the siege, received instructions to turn left in the direction of Luena, reports to the command post by radio “that they have run out of fuel.” As related in the book, “this and the Menongue column are ordered to stay put and to take the necessary safety measures until they have been refueled. The decision is made that the helicopters will take that important supply to them. As always, it is extremely difficult to locate the column. The aircraft spend a long time flying without finding the slightest trace of them. Finally, they are located by some sheets spread over the trees.”
Colonel Calvo reports: “Six helicopters are taking off from Luena to Munhango, 25 kilometers south of Luena, taking 42 drums of gasoline – about 10,000 liters – to Sotomayor’s column. The blades of the H-08 break during the landing. The later, they also take off for Tempue region to locate Suarez’ column, take him documents and get out three injured men.”
Suarez’ armored column, which had left Menongue for Cangamba, was a long way away from Luena, from where the helicopters carrying the fuel took off. It is a long haul given the extension of Angola, which covers an area approximately 11 times that of Cuba. It was the territory where the Soviet advisor proposed to launch an offensive with the Cuban assault brigade, giving rise to the conflict that came up.
“A few minutes past midnight, when it was already Saturday 13 in Luanda, it is communicated to Cuba that the order to evacuate every Cuban internationalist from Cangamba has been fully carried out. The high command of the FAR ratifies the decision that the Huambo column should continue its march to Luena, and that the Menongue column should return to that city” (an important bulwark on the South Front).
“It’s also my birthday and I receive an early kiss sent by my family – telepathically. In the afternoon, I am presented with a bottle of wine and one of rum, and we celebrate the Comandante’s birthday (on the same day) and mine too.”
The author continues explaining:
“But for the pilots and the members of the armored columns, the actions were far from over. Two helicopters take off loaded with 14 drums of gasoline, about 2,800 liters, for the Menongue column, which has already begun the return march to that city. Once that first flight was completed, they head for Menongue airport in order to continue supplying fuel from there. Four others Mi-8’s also take off from Luena for Munhango, loaded with an additional 5,600 liters of gasoline. Their mission is to refuel the Huambo column which is now heading for Luena to reinforce the troops defending that city.
“There are more than enough reasons to justify all these measures, since the Cuban command is still anxious. Apparently, the Angolan authorities have decided, at least for now, not to evacuate their troops from Cangamba and the risk of a renewed enemy attack, both the village and the columns still marching through hazardous roads, is still present.”
In a detailed description of the events in Cangamba based on testimonies and documents and offered under the epigraph, “The assessment is confirmed”, the author takes us to the tensest hours of those days:
“It is still some time before daybreak in Angola. It is Sunday, August 14. It is 04:45 hours in Luanda and the combatants on guard duty at the Communications Center at the Cuban Military Mission headquarters are sunk in the torpor that accompanies the dawn for those who have not slept all night. The entry of a message from Havana, where it is still 23:45 pm the night before, rapidly dissipates sleepiness of the occupants of the mission, well-equipped with technical backup.
“Slowly, the coded text is becoming intelligible. Its content is addressed to Division General Leopoldo Cintra Frias and contains precise instructions from the Commander in Chief: ‘Be prepared to give air support to the FAPLA in Cangamba.’ If the Angolans ultimately decide to pull out, help them with the helicopters. Fidel warns that the enemy has sustained heavy losses, but our combatants shouldn’t be overconfident: ‘We have fulfilled our duty, and acted and advised correctly.’”
At dawn that Sunday, eight South African bombers dropped their deadly loads on the positions occupied by the Angolan and Cuban forces in Cangamba. Once again the apartheid regime was making a direct intervention in Angola. The Yankees and their South African allies were not resigned to their devastating defeat. The closet MiGs-21’s and radars were 400 kilometers away “Colonel N’Gongo (Deputy Chief of the FAPLA General Staff):
“Once the puppets had been defeated, the South Africans saw themselves obliged directly intervene in the combat. That is why the South African racist forces, with four Canberra aircraft and four Impala MK-2 planes, completely destroyed the population of Cangamba.”
Lieutenant Colonel Henry:
“…we won the battle in Cangamba; we pilots even thought of doing an air parade will all our planes, flying over there with the planes, but Fidel says: ‘…I don’t want anybody there, neither Cubans nor FAPLA.’ I must acknowledge that we acted on this order out of discipline and confidence in the Commander in Chief, but really, at that moment we didn’t understand…”
“…it is true that the Commander in Chief is either a magician or has a crystal ball. He orders the urgent evacuation from Cangamba and, shortly afterward, a squadron of Impalas and another of Canberra – they bombed that place with works! He anticipated that the South Africans, precisely because of the defeat that UNITA suffered, would bomb the area. At the Mission we said: ‘Damn it, the truth is that the Commander in Chief made a tremendous decision!
Division General Leopoldo Cintra Frias:
“Sometimes you’d think that the Chief is a fortune teller. If the Cubans had been there, we would once again have been immersed in an even more prolonged combat and in worse conditions for us, because refueling would have been even more difficult.”
These opinions were expressed at a point when tensions had decreased, after the uncertain and dramatic days of the battle, but not one of those chiefs failed to fulfill the instructions received with absolute discipline, efficiency and seriousness. It is absolutely true that when times are hard, nothing works if there is no confidence in those who are leading.
Twenty years later, Amels Escalante, who is also an astute and zealous researcher, was totally rigorous in his description of the Jigue battle, where, 45 years earlier, in July 1958, around 120 men – almost all of them recruited from the Minas del Frio school – under the command of 10 or 12 chiefs, veterans of our war in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, fighting for 10 days, and inflicting on the enemy and its reinforcements three casualties per each combatant who took part in the action, and they seized hundreds of weapons. Amels, using the same method as Jorge Martin Blandino, obtained more details than I had of that battle.
In his book Cangamba, Martin Blandino illustrates with details:
“Between August 18 and 23, 1983, just a few days after the evacuation of the Cuban advisors from Cangamba, the ships Donato Marmol, Ignacio Agramonte and Pepito Tey left for Angola from the ports of Santiago de Cuba, Matanzas and Mariel. Thus, in different circumstances, the feat of 1975 was repeated under different circumstances. Hidden from enemy intelligence means in the hold of these merchant ships, three tank battalions and one mechanized infantry battalion are traveling to the African country. That first step is soon followed by many others on the military, political and diplomatic plane to afford the FAPLA and the Cuban internationalist contingent the conditions to defeat the new escalation by the foreign aggressor and its local allies…
“All of this is taking place at a point when Cuba is facing the possibility of a direct large-scale military aggression by the U.S. armed forces, when the country is involved in the immense effort to implement the concept of the war of all the people, in the face of the constant threats from the Ronald Reagan administration…”
How did the events expounded by the researcher come about so quickly?
From Cuba, elemental logic enabled us to perceive the enemy intentions very quickly, as the fighting developed, and we set about adopting the corresponding measures in response. The very first one, when we received the news that the 32nd brigade and its advisors were under siege, was to implement the immediate return to Angola of Division General Leopoldo Cintra Frias, chief of the Military Mission, a veteran of the Sierra Maestra and a devoted supporter of FAPLA, who happened to be in Cuba at the time. The order he received was: “Those forces have to be rescued at all costs.”
“The Landing and Assault Brigade (as it was then called) was sent by air to the country being systematically attacked by South Africa.
I have already said that we had been suffering for years the consequences of the impunity enjoyed by the fascist apartheid regime, which had been defeated in its aggression of the People’s Republic of Angola. I have likewise explained to the Soviet leadership the reasons and points of view maintained by Cuba.
I shall continue tomorrow, Tuesday.
Fidel Castro Ruz
October 12, 2008