Battle for Cassinga - South Africa’s Controversial Cross-Border Raid, Angola 1978

Published: April 19th, 2020     
Product Image
Front Cover
Author: Mike McWilliams
Reviewed by: Frank Landrus - IPMS# 35035
ISBN #: 978- 1-911286-68-47
E-Book ISBN #: 1912866846
Other Publication Information: Illustrators: David Bocquelet, Tom Cooper; Soft Bound ; 8.3” x 11.8”, 72 pages
Price: $29.95
Product / Stock #: HEL1170
Product provided by: Casemate Publishers

Mike McWilliams works in the Renewable Energy and Climate Change field. He has been a television cameraman and the owner of a design consultancy. He did military service in 1970, starting as an infantryman at 6 South African Infantry but immediately volunteered to train as a Paratrooper at 1 Parachute Battalion in Bloemfontein. He served in 1 Para Bn, 2 Para Bn and 3 Para Bn completing many 3 month stints as Fire Force in Owamboland South West Africa until 1978. The Battle for Cassinga was his last operation. Mike was a skydiver and won the South African National Championships five years in succession from 1980 to 1984 and also competed at World Parachuting Championships and World Cups in both Free Fall Relative Work as well as Canopy Relative Work. In 1983 he captained the South African 8 Way Team to a Bronze Medal at the World Championships. Mike is married to Frances and has three sons. His interests are classical music, chess, hunting, motorcycles and reading.

Helion produces books on many aspects of Military History from the Late Medieval period through to the present day. Helion was established in 1996, and since then they have published almost 1,200 books, with 100 or more new titles coming out every year. The 'Africa@War' series covers African military history since 1945.

Helion's latest book in the Africa @ War series is a square back soft cover including 72 gloss paper pages. This revised edition is an update of Africa @ War Volume 3. The upper cover features a black and white photograph of a SAAF of No. 28 Squadron C.160Z Transall dropping paratroopers over Cassinga (Page 18). The lower cover black and white photograph depicts a cropped and enlarged version of A Company approaching the fortifications (see page 23).

The color side view by Tom Cooper is of a SAAF Buccaneer S.50 (s/n 416) of No. 24 Squadron (This profile can also be found on page 32 vii with a nice description). I counted 13 color pictures and 82 black and white photographs. There are also three aviation color side profiles by Tom Cooper and three armor color side profiles by David Bocquelet, and 4 black and white maps. The Appendices contain 26 specification tables.

Mike McWilliams presents an engaging first person account of the Battle for Cassinga. McWilliams was a South African paratrooper who was involved in the 1978 assault on PLAN's (People's Liberation Army of Nambia), SWAPO's military force headquarters. Despite being portrayed as an assault on innocent refugees by the world press, this book, along with photographs, shows that this action was anything but that. McWilliams ably relates this battle, that despite potentially critical setbacks, that was ultimately a success. Creative decisions in the midst of battle carried the day for the South Africans, as their leaders adjusted to unplanned surprises. This included Soviet anti-aircraft guns and a final appearance of Cuban armor that nearly turned the battle. Mike McWilliams provides the political background to this battle along with his insight into all the battle preparations. The main focus of the book is the battle flow where McWilliams successfully puts the reader in the action. The sections include:

  • Glossary
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Background to the Battle
  • Chapter Two: Planning and Operation Bruilhof
  • Chapter Three: Training at Brug
  • Chapter Four: Skillie Human's Disturbing Premonition and the Jump [Page 15]
  • Chapter Five: The Assault Begins
  • Chapter Six: The Battle [Page 26]
  • Color Profiles [Page 32 iv]
  • Chapter Seven: Cassinga Base Is Taken
  • Chapter Eight: Cubans to the Rescue [Page 41]
  • Chapter Nine: Going Home
  • Chapter Ten: A Potemkin Refugee Camp: Debunking SWAPO Claims
  • Afterword
  • Appendix I: The T-10 Parachute System
  • Appendix II: Weapons Used at the Battle of Cassinga
  • Appendix III: Vehicles Used at the Battle of Cassinga
  • Appendix IV: SAAF Aircraft Used at the Battle of Cassinga
  • Dedication

I found many of the elements of this story very interesting, but one stood out. In this case, Buccaneer pilot Captain Dries Marais was returning to Chetequera after rearming and refueling when called in by paratroopers for some anti-tank work. Abandoning his primary mission, Captain Marais joined up with two Mirages to support the paratrooper's withdrawal. The Mirages attacked the BTRs with their cannons, leaving the Buccaneer to deal with the tanks with its armor piercing rockets. Lining up on the armored column, Captain Dries Marais thought he had 12 rockets left, only to discover he had already used them. He spied one tank charging the paratroopers, and despite an anti-aircraft barrage, lined upon the tank at tree level. Kicking in full power, the Buccaneer charged the tank at 'lorry' height. The tank was strongly buffeted by the shockwave and paint blistering heat, stopping in its tracks. This provided enough time to safely evacuate the paratroopers.

Mike McWilliams is a good writer and his impassioned perspective led me to read this tome in one night, although it was a late night. The contemporary photographs support the text, and they certainly give you a good perspective of the events described. If you own one of the previous releases in the Africa @ War series, you know what you are getting. If this is your initial entry into this series, you will be quite pleased.

My thanks to Helion & Company, Casemate Publishing, and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.

Highly recommended!

  • Rear cover
    Rear cover
  • Page 15
    Page 15
  • Page 26
    Page 26
  • Page 32ii
    Page 32ii
  • Page 41
    Page 41

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