A faraway war. A clash of ideologies, and some of the biggest battles fought on African soil since World War Two.
For twenty-three years, five western countries, members of the Soviet bloc and two superpowers were locked in a war never formally declared.
In 1966 South Africa instituted the draft. Every bodied white South African male was called up for service. It should be noted also that the South African army then were segregated as well.
For example the 32 Battalion was composed of only black soldiers. Presented with a common threat, they were forced to put prejudice behind and defend South African homeland.
The Cold War battle between Communism and capitalism had truly gone global, and Africa was a new frontier, where the skies of Angola was at that time the most hostile airspace in the world
There was effectively no rules of engagement. It was South Africa pitted against Communist Angola, SWAPO militias, Cuba and Soviet Russia. The trigger point of the war started in Namibia (formerly South West Africa) and spread north into Angola.
It was a mess, more so as more countries became involved. South Africa’s list of enemies grew, as the MPLA entered the conflict, backed by the Soviets and Cubans. This was the first time in history wars between nations were being fought without a formal declaration of war. At this point the South African government formally mobilized for ful scale war.
Now it is important to note that from the 60s down to the late 80s, South Africa had managed to build the most powerful military machine Africa’s has ever seen. Besides its technical superiority, Pretoria had, with assistance from France and Israel built up an arsenal of about 10 nuclear warheads.
In the early stages of the conflict South African troops fought their way north in the direction of Rwanda with great success.
After twenty years of war, the war reached its climax at battle of the Lomba river. Angolan and Cuban soldiers along with Russian advisors advanced with a dozen tanks and supporting artillery, in a mission to destroy the South African stronghold.
But they were in for a surprise. As Cuban and Angolan forces got within range the South Africans unleashed the G5 artillery guns, multiple launch rockets in a sustained barrage. Several Mig-21 fighters were shot down by Crotale anti-aircraft missiles, without which South African artillery positions would have been obliterated by airstrikes.
Then the Ratels attacked from the east in a semi-pincer attack, taking out many T-55 tanks.
South African troops captured a Soviet SAM-8 anti-aircraft missile system, the most advanced surface to air weapons system at that time. The battle of the Lombe river was a devastating blow to the Soviet alliance, a turning point in the undeclared war.
Tri-lateral negotiations led to a unilateral withdrawal of all and the ceasation of combat .
All you need to know about to Cactus air defence system.
The Cactus, or Crotale is a high-velocity ground to air guarded missile system that has been specially developed to engage airborne targets at Mach 2.3 speed and unto 5,000 meters. It was used extensively in the Bush War by South Africa’s 250 Air Defence Artillery Group and is credited with shooting down several Mig-21’s.
Already having air superiority, the South Africans integrated the Crotale system into ground vehicles to provide point defence for vital militarily installations. South African fighter jets flew regular combat air patrol missions.
Enemy aircrafts that managed to elude South African interceptors had to contend with South Africa’s strategically placed Short Range Missile Units. Many Migs were shot down.
Once the missile is launched there is nothing the enemy pilot can do other than try to out-manoeuver the missile or eject.
The Crotale SAM System was retired from service in 1988.