White-Shop: Excellent Book: War in Angola: The final South African phase Hardcover – 1990 by Helmoed-Römer He itman

This is a very good book that describes the war wherein plucky South Africa dared to fight the Soviet Union and the Cubans, who were assisted by Eastern Europeans from the Warsaw Pact. 11,000 Soviet Officers and advisers were sent to help and control the blacks communists. A Russian general was in charge of this, the biggest war fought in southern Africa since the British Empire invaded the Boer Republics. Tank battles raged in the Angolan bush where the South African army tore them to shreds.

Reader Review:

War in Angola: The Final South African Phase. Author: Helmoed-Romer Heitman. 368 pages. 1990.

This book has been sitting on the shelf behind my desk at work for quite awhile. I finally got around o picking it up and giving it a read. I was told that this was the standard history of the conflict, at least from the South African side. Before my reading of this book what I knew about the conflict in Angola during 1987-1988 was limited. I knew the generalities such as who the players were, who the background players were, the general geography, and the outcome.

This book does a very good job of discussing the operational and tactical aspects of the conflict and some of the strategic thinking which shaped the lower actions. The bulk of the story is told from South African sources and therefore could be seen as biased. The detail can be a bit overwhelming especially if the reader lacks a basic understanding of military structure and methods. Given that FAPLA units were typically Brigade sized their story is usually told as complete units or as battalions. The South African side is detailed down to companies, platoons, and patrols. This is easier to do given that it was a brigade sized force in total. How ever it was a composite brigade with the various pieces cobbled together from different units. This can be confusing trying to keep everything straight especially when units are shuffled in and shuffled out. The text would have benefited by some organizational diagrams and TO&Es.

The text revealed some interesting aspects about South African operations and interests. The South Africans developed a style of warfare based on their experience fighting in Africa. This style of warfare was reflected in doctrine, operations and equipment. Their doctrine stressed maneuverability; their operations were influenced by their border operations and aversion to casualties. The influence of high ranking military and political leadership down to the brigade level was interesting. It could be seen as micro-management or a reflection of Clausewitz’s doctrine on war be the continuation of politics by violent means. In either case it reflected the reality of using military force to further political ends while being sensitive to constituents and politics at home. South African equipment tended towards mobility and artillery. Because of the anti-apartheid embargo much of the equipment was developed by them using their own designs or modifying those of others.

The South Africans emphasized training, artillery, and psychological operations. The South Africans routinely conducted training and coordination drills during combat lulls and immediately before the commencement of operations. South African artillery dominated the field of combat. They had much more artillery assigned to this force grouping than what is normal in most armies. Their artillery also proved to be capable and effective. By contrast FAPLA artillery was almost as numerous but seems to have been poorly coordinated and far less effective initially until they began to ape South African methodology. It was a constant theme in suggestion made by general officers and others who evaluated operational plans … you need to use psyops more. The psyops units were even allocated some artillery tubes for use with leaflets and strike timing for effect. Primarily they seem to have used loudspeaker teams.

In a bit of Cold War mystery and intrigue, the book takes the point of view that the military actions, especially stopping the FAPLA offensive accomplished the political goals of the South Africans. The author also contends that the seizure of Cuito Cunavale was never a goal of the South Africans. This is in direct contrast to the message put out by the Angolans, Cubans, and their supporters. The issue of who won this series of battles is fraught with political intrigue and posturing. In a sense you are choosing between an Apartheid regime or a Soviet-Cuban proxy communist regime. In the end it matters not as all sides seem to have gotten something out of the result.

The book itself is a very good description of the events and the players though mostly from the South African side. It is not a good introduction to themes and events being a bit too detailed for the introductory reader. It is however an excellent source for the student of either African history or military arts.

You can view the book on White-Shop: http://white-shop.biz/index.php/product/war-in-angola-the-final-south-african-phase-hardcover-1990-by-helmoed-romer-heitman/

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