The South African Border War - Operation Savannah - Battle of Bridge 14
After the first tangible South African defeat at Ebo, made worse by muddy roads and bogged down armor, Battle Group Foxbat was pulled back and the route along the tar road was reconsidered.
Foxbat had been sent out to try an alternative route via Ebo because the bridge along the Tar road (bridge 14) had been destroyed by retreating MPLA an Cuban forces. The MPLA had taken a beating in the area in November and retreated over the bridge. They blew up after crossing to the other side to slow the South African advance.
The bridge was over the Nhia river, one of the last major obstacles in the march to the Capital Luanda. It was also near to the MPLA headquarters north of Quibala.
Once over that river there were many roads and possible routes to Luanda. It was this that had Fidel Castro in such a state and poring troops into Angola.
The destroyed bridge crossing was well secured with a large force of over 1000 and plenty artillery of various shapes and sizes.
It was this obstacle, that had sent Foxbat off, looking for an alternative route, in the rainy season mud and to their detriment.
They would not make the same mistake twice.
Extra artillery was brought up from the SWA border.
The MPLA and Cuban positions would need to be weakened sufficiently, to allow the rebuilding of a bridge, before the now combined forces of Foxbat and Zulu could progress any further.
Key to this would be the establishment of an observation post, on the high ground nearby, to direct the newly reinforced artillery.
In the meantime, the MPLA and Cubans were also receiving reinforcements.
With the artillery observation post in place by December 9th, the defenders had been forced to withdraw from the immediate vicinity of the bridge, due to the now highly accurate artillery attacks.
The South African Battle groups now took up positions at the bridge and began working on repairing it.
They were in turn hit by artillery rockets and two engineers were killed.
By 11th December the South African artillery had forced the MPLA/Cuban forces sufficiently far back to allow for working on the bridge again.
This was not without incident, but now they were only fired upon using the BM- 21 multiple rocket launcher vehicles.
The observation post would see the rockets being launched and then radio down to the engineers. They would then have 25 seconds of rocket flight time to scramble to nearby trenches and take cover.
After the barrage was over, they then went straight back to work and in this way the bridge was repaired by December 12th, using poles from blue gum trees nearby.
By now, the artillery observation post had mapped out all the opposing artillery firing positions. They had made the mistake of always using the same established firing positions.
At dawn December 12th the SA artillery began their most vicious assault on all of these positions quickly eliminating most of the MPLA and Cuban Artillery.
Thereafter the ground assault could proceed without hindrance.
It was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel and though the MPLA/Cuban Force had been much larger, the SA forces were already consolidating their new positions by noon.
The victory at Bridge 14 was so complete that the CO of Foxbat, Brig. George Kruys, had to restrain his armoured car commanders from chasing even further after the retreating enemy, an order which they accepted with some reluctance. Kruys knew that his force was too small to be able to transform the retreat into a full-scale rout.
During the battle the South Africans lost four men killed. The Cubans and MPLA lost over 400 men, although the exact number was difficult to ascertain since, as the BBC later reported, truckloads of corpses were constantly driving out of the area towards the north. Among the Cuban dead was the commander of the Cuban expeditionary force, Commandant Raul Diaz Arguelles.
Commandant Raul Diaz Arguelles was none other than the one that had masterminded the ambush at Ebo.
As devastatingly effective as this battle had been, almost payback for the losses at Ebo, it would turn out to be a rather hollow victory for the young men involved...
Other posts in this series
The piece of the cold war nobody told you about - Africa's forgotten war
The Air Battles
The SA Fighter Aircraft
The SA Bomber Aircraft
The conflicts deep roots and start
Africa's forgotten cold war - Angolan War of Independence.
Africa's forgotten cold war - Mozambican War of Independence.
Africa's forgotten cold war - Rhodesian Bush War
Africa's forgotten cold war - The Angolan War of Independence transitions to the Angolan Civil War
The South African Border War - The start of Operation Savannah and Large scale South African involvement.
The South African Border War - Operation Savannah - the wheels start coming off.
The South African Border War - Operation Savannah - Battle of Quifangondo
The South African Border War - Operation Savannah - Battle of Ebo