Episode 104 – The SAAF raids Lubango and a tired 61 Mech launches the Battle of Tumpo II
Last episode we heard about the failed first battle of the Tumpo Triangle, officially known as Tumpo one which took place on February 25th 1988.
You know that things aren’t going well when battles are numbered, and there would be three attempts at overrunning FAPLA in its defensive positions east of the Cuito River, outside Cuito Cuanavale.
Still, some good news had filtered in a few days after the audacious attack on SWAPO facilities in Lubango. This was a town that lies nearly 300 kilometers north of the cutline, in the Angolan highlands, a jump off point for FAPLA as it sent its soldiers into the fighting in the south east, along the South West African border.
A bomb had exploded at Oshikati First National Bank in Ovamboland on the 19th February, killing 20 people, wounding six. The South Africans wanted revenge, and decided to target SWAPOS training base at Lubango. Planning for the raid began immediately after the blast, and continued all the way through until the next morning, led by Colonel John Church of the SA Air Force.
The Mirages were refuelled while the men were briefed, and at 08h00 they took off from Ondangwa, heading north west towards Lubango. Major Norman Minne led this attack flying F1AZ 218. It had the most accurate navigation system, errors were less than a mile at way points.
As they flew low level from the southeast, the compact warning receiver or CRWS began picking up signals from the Soviet Barlock search radar - they had been spotted. Minne descended lower and lower, only a few feet off the deck by this stage, but his navigation system was spot on so he folded his map confident he’d find the target.
Back on the eastern front, outside Cuito Cuanavale, Colonel Pat McLoughlin had decided to launch the next assault on the Tumpo Triangle at night.
Unlike the first attempt to take Tumpo, this time 61 Mech’s Mike Muller planned to use the northern route through the Chambinga high Ground, then down the tricky Heartbreak hill steep drop into the Anhara Lipanda - and then to charge directly at FAPLA positions.
The night of February 29th was chosen, with the battle set to continue into Tuesday 1st March if necessary. While the final plans were being checked and double checked, on the other side of the River, the Cubans had sent combat engineers to re-mine the route in the north, and these men ran into a reconnaissance patrol - either it was the South Africans or UNITA. The SADF didn’t report this anywhere, so it was probably UNITA.
Their patrol apparently turned and fled into the darkness, and FAPLA engineers laid another 150 mines - there were now 15 000 in total across this part of eastern Cuito Cuanavale. But now the Angolans were almost certain the next attack was going to come from the north East. The SADF did not know that the Angolans knew with almost 100 certainty the direction of the next South African attack.