Gert Strydom

Gold Star - 28,191 Points (03 April 1964 / Johannesburg, South Africa)

The Battle Of Cuito Cuanavale - Poem by Gert Strydom

I. Outnumbered by armour (A reply to William Shakespeare)

Outnumbered by armour
and by men we met the enemy,
FAPLA and Cubans under Russian leadership
and the men accompanying me
was very worried
and wished for the whole
of the seventh armoured division
to have been deployed.

I said to the men
in the armoured car with me
that if we must die here in vain,
the fewer men it be
but if we grasp the victory
the world will know
that we are brave and honourable men
capable of destroying whatever faces us.

Weary I told them that our ancestors
faced a outnumbering enemy
against Dingaan and won effectively
as they were in the hand of God
and so were we.

Colonel Deon Ferreira send us straight in,
from Rundu
(heading north-west after crossing the border)
to intercept the 47th enemy FAPLA / Cuban (armoured) brigade.

At the same time UNITA were repulsing
the16th FAPLA (infantry) brigade
north of the Lomba River
that was trying to take Cunjamba.

We were hitting hard directly from the south,
surprising the 47th enemy (armoured) Brigade,
virtually destroying it
at the junction
of the Lomba and Cuzizi Rivers

fighting with armoured cars
against tanks
hitting fast and then driving away at speed,
like on commando our ancestors did
during the Anglo Boer war
fighting day and night
till the field, the air was filled with gore

and when more pressure came,
more enemy armour rolled in
our own main battle tanks joined in,
howitzer guns started firing in support
from many miles away,
assisted by reconnaissance commandos
for accurate targeting

It was the greatest slaughtering,
as battles go a terrible, terrible thing
for our enemy
while we wiped them out
and found ten abandoned enemy tanks
left in the bush, in pristine condition
with the men operating them running away

Shortly after these victories
our forces along with those of UNITA
destroyed the remaining FAPLA / Cuban forces
in the Lomba-Cuzizi-Conzumbia aria
and on the offensive
drove back the other enemy brigades
for a distance of one hundred and twenty miles
in bloody battles up to Cuito Cuanavale

and now on a hill outside Pretoria
the new government
has constructed a monument
called Freedom Park

to celebrate a victory,
thinking that with lies
they can change history,
are even trying to find some Cubans
to place the names of them on a honour wall
as heroes and victors

while they had lost
at a terrible cost of men and machines
and incredibly
some people believe them.

[References: Before Agincourt by William Shakespeare.]

II. Legends and victories in Angola of which the truth is vague (in answer to Johan Myburg)

No person that wasn’t there
can grasp the extent, of the impact
of the Cuban brigades

the air bridge that the Russians had build
with new armour and weapons from Moscow,
the deadly danger that attacks
of the 47th (armoured) ,59th (mechanized) ,16th (infantry) ,
and 21st (infantry) ,25th (infantry) , enemy brigades held

when almost a hundred T-55 tanks
and hundreds of BTR-armoured cars
came driving shooting out of the bush
(supported by MIG-23 fighter bombers) ,

knows how it is when Ratel-90 armoured cars
have to come to a standstill,
to fire upon moving and shooting targets
and in that hour of hell

the truth about a giant victory against
Cuba wasn’t vague,
the whole of the 47th FAPLA / Cuban (armoured) brigade
was totally obliterated,
ninety-four enemy tanks was shot out,
almost three hundred armoured cars were reduced to scrap
four thousand five hundred and eighty enemies were killed
nine MIG fighter jets were shot down

against the lost of only three South African tanks,
eleven armoured cars and troop carriers,
one Mirage fighter jet
and thirty-one South African soldiers.

Whoever views the truth of this victory as vague
hasn’t got a clue
of what had happened there
(probably had hidden as a religious pastor
somewhere in the rearguard,
or were away at home)

Whoever believes the false propaganda
distributed by the new government
and the Cubans,
are without proper knowledge
and disputes the bravery
of the undefeated soldiers
of the 61 mechanised
and 32 South African battalion groups.

Still it’s strange
that the Cuban general Ochoa Sanchez
(who was the supreme commander of this conflict)
was executed in Cuba.

[References: Stigtingsdag (Founder’s day) by Johan Myburg:

“maar duisend-en-een angolese verhale
van brigades kubane
sages van seges waarvan
waarheid maar vaag is”

My translation into English:

“but a thousand and one Angolan stories
of brigades of Cubans
legends of victories of which
the truth is but vague”

The battle at Cuito Cuanavale: “The results of the campaign up to April 1988 were 4,785 killed on the Cuban/Faplan side, with 94 tanks and hundreds of combat vehicles destroyed, against 31 South Africans killed in action,3 tanks destroyed (SADF tanks entered the war after the Lomba River campaign) and 11 SADF armoured cars and troop carriers lost. A total of 9 Migs were destroyed and only 1 SAAF Mirage shot down.” (General) Jannie Geldenhuys. (1994) : At the front. Jonathan Ball Publishers. P240.

“The South African force, under the command of Colonel Deon Ferreira, was tasked with carrying out three operations (1) Operation Modular - The aim of which was to halt and reverse the FAPLA / Cuban advance on the UNITA strongholds of Mavinga and Jamba, (2) Operation Hooper - The aim of which was to inflict maximum casualties on the retreating FAPLA / Cuban forces after they had been halted and (3) Operation Packer - The aim of which was to force the FAPLA / Cuban forces to retreat to the west of the Cuito River.” Nortje, Piet (2003) .32 Battalion. Zebra Press.

'In early October the Soviet-Fapla offensive was smashed at the Lomba River near Mavinga. It turned into a headlong retreat over the 120 miles back to the primary launching point at Cuito Cuanavale. In some of the bloodiest battles of the entire civil war, a combined force of some 8,000 UNITA fighters and 4,000 SADF troops destroyed one Fapla brigade and mauled several others out of a total Fapla force of some 18,000 engaged in the three-pronged offensive. Estimates of Fapla losses ranged upward of 4,000 killed and wounded. This offensive had been a Soviet conception from start to finish. Senior Soviet officers played a central role in its execution.... Huge quantities of Soviet equipment were destroyed or fell into UNITA and SADF hands when Fapla broke into a disorganized retreat... The 1987 military campaign represented a stunning humiliation for the Soviet Union, its arms and its strategy.... As of mid-November, the UNITA/SADF force had destroyed the Cuito Cuanavale airfield and pinned down thousands of FAPLA's best remaining units clinging onto the town's defensive perimeters.' Crocker, Chester A. (1992) High Noon in Southern Africa: Making Peace in a Rough Neighbourhood. (Crocker was U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the Reagan Administration.)

John Turner claims that: “following their losses, the Cubans were convinced that further military confrontation with the SADF would not succeed.” Turner, John W. (1998) . Continent Ablaze; The Insurgency Wars in Africa,1960 to the Present. Cassell Plc.

Comments made by a Soviet adviser to the Cubans in Angola: 'The people's armed forces for the liberation of Angola have not been able either, even with the help of the Cubans, to decisively defeat the enemy and drive him out of the territory or the country.” M. Ponomariov, Krasnaya Zvezda Magazine; 20 May 1988.]

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Poem Edited: Wednesday, May 4, 2011

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