TOP GUN - Angola: The real stars.

How our cannon bloodied the Russian bear's nose - By Jacques Pauw

(You Magazine - 26 November 1987, pages 132 - 135.)

It all began in 1975 when South African troops went into Angola for the first time with a vengeance - and came across the Russian "Stalin-organ". This deadly multiple rocket launcher could stay just out of range of South Africa's field guns and rain wave after wave of Rockets on our positions.

The conclusion was simple: you can't win a battle with a battle with inferior equipment. So Army generals approached Armscor with the brief: "Make a cannon with a greater range."

The G5 and G6 cannon were the result. They were recently used in Angola - and this time it was the Angolans and their Russian and Cuban advisors who came off second best. Relatively few South Africans soldier and armaments, other than the cannon helped Dr Jonas Savimbi's Unita repulse a full-scale Angolan Government assault that had lasted weeks in Southern Angola.

And it's not surprising the tables were turned this time. The G5 and it's self-propelled brother, the G6 are the best cannon of their class in the world - a great achievement for Armscor.

These guns, capable of raining shells on the enemy up to a distance of 40km, made mincemeat of the opposition.

The computer-controlled G5 has a rate of fire of 3 shells a minute and the G6 fires four a minute. The G6 has a top speed of 90km/h, carries up to 44 shells in its magazine and it is also equipped with machine guns.

"The G5 and G6 are deadly," says Helmoed Heitman, war correspondent for a variety of overseas publications. "Their exceptional range reduces the need for air attacks which means fewer aircraft are needed."

The Angolan Gornment's answer to the G5 and G6 is the Russian M46 Cannon, an inferior or gun capable of blasting its smaller shells a distance of only 28 km.

The attack on Unita was no small-scale affair. The Angolan Government fielded 18 200 troops as well as 10 000 Cubans and 2 500 Russians equipped with hundreds of tanks, heavy armoured vehicles, rockets, attack helicopters and fighter jets.

Opposing these forces in the Southern Angolan province of Cuando Cubango were 25 000 Unita Soldiers.

Experts say the campaign was one of the fiercest South African troops have ever been involved in for decades.

For the first time it was a case of the best against the best: the best equipment from Russia pitted against the best Armscor could provide.

(End page 132, You, 26 November 1987)

It may, according to experts, take the Angolan Government years to recover from the embarrassing defeat and again confront Unita with any hope of success.

But the G5 and G6 cannon were not only "stars of the show". The Olifant tank also played a vital role, says Professor Deon Fourie, a strategist at the University of South Africa and a Citizen Force officer. The Olifant is basically just an old World War 2 British Centurion tank - but over the past decade it has been refined - (End page 133, You, 26 November 1987) - and equipped with the latest cannon, computer systems and engines. Not one was destroyed in the battle, although one was slightly damaged.

The Angolan equivalent was the Russian T55 which went into service in the late Fifties, an ageing tank totally unsuited for African conditions.

Although they are still used in Eastern Block countries they are small and clumsy. According to reports 29 of them were destroyed.

In the air South Africa's Mirage F1 and F111 fighters tangled with Angolan's MIG21s and 23s - and once more the Angolans came off second best.

Only one Mirage was hit but it managed to make it to base. Seven Angolan MIGs were shot down.

The MIG 23, although not the most advanced Russian jet available today, compares favourably with the Mirage. Both fighters were equipped with rockets, missiles and machine guns.

But's that's where the similarity ended. The MiGs weren't equipped with Kukri missiles, the deadly products of Armscor's determined efforts to make South Africa military self-sufficient.

The missile's, fitted to South Africa's Mirages, are operated in conjunction with special helmets worn by our pilots, who merely have to look at their targets.

The helmets do the rest, guiding the deadly missiles with unerring accuracy.

"One thing has become abundantly clear," says Professor Mike Hough, director of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the University of South Africa in Pretoria. "And that's that South Africa has learnt a great deal in the Angolan and South West African bush wars."

"In 1975 South Africa had nothing to compete with the Stalin organ rocket launcher and since then we have developed our own similar system, the Valkiri, which compares favourably with the organ."

Other sophisticated weapons used by the Angolan Government included SAM 8, SAM 9 and SAM 13 missile systems which can be mounted on trucks and are mainly used against aircraft.

The missiles are so-called heat seekers, which mean they destroy planes by locking on to their hot exhausts and following them.

Another state-of-the-art bit of Russian military hardware South African troops came across was the BMP-1 infantry vehicle which compares well with our Ratel and carry up to eight infantrymen.

The BMP-1 is fitted with a 73mm cannon, a machine gun and anti-tank missiles.

Some of the Russian Equipment may sound threatening but Professor Fourie says the morale of the Angolan Government troops and their Cuban and Russian advisors is low. He's heard that the Angolan government recruits troops by telling villagers where they can obtain food.

The moment the villagers arrive to take advantage of the food offer the men are taken aside and told: "Welcome you are in the army now."

As a result the Angolan fighters are less than keen to be heroes.

The Cubans are fighting thousands of kilometres from home in a war they hardly understand so their morale is naturally low. It's also apparent the Cubans are not particularly eager to be directly involved with the fighting.

Reports say they ordered to retreat if fighting became too intensive. When South Africa became involved in the conflict they fled.

In contrast, says Professor Fourie, Unita's forces, which have been fighting to overthrow the Angolan Government since 1975, are highly motivate and well trained.

"The morale of Savimbi's troops is very high because he makes a point of being with them in the bush during offensives."

In addition the fighting spirit and leadership of South Africa's troops in Angola make them formidable indeed. Thanks to outstanding training our soldiers perform very well under fire.

Professor Fourie says the training given to South African officers compares well with the best in the world. A young serviceman who wants to be an officer has to undergo intensive training for a year to equip him for the task.

(End page 135, You, 26 November 1987)

Published: 18 April 2004.

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