The Great Angolan Gecko-Hunt (Operation FOX, December 1983)

This week I actually managed to get down to club (the Carmarthen Old Guard) and get a game! 🙂

As previously mentioned, I’m going to be running a demo game of the Cassinga Raid (Angola 1978) at Warfare 2019, in Reading on 16/17 November and will be doing a full dress-rehearsal of that game in club tomorrow (Saturday 2 Nov).  I therefore wanted to play a small Angola scenario in club to get myself re-familiarised with Battlefront: WWII rules, as it’s been a year since my last game.

I’m in the (long and drawn-out) process of adapting Battlefront: WWII to the Cold War era (re-titled ‘Battlefront: First Echelon’), but relatively low-tech wars such as the Angolan Border War require very little adaptation.

This scenario is loosely based on an action undertaken by the South African Defence Force (SADF) Combat Group 1, part of Task Force X-Ray (i.e. 61 Mech Battalion Group) at the tail-end of Operation ASKARI in late December 1983.  The primary objective of Operation ASKARI, like most ‘external’ operations into Angola, was to destroy and disrupt the infiltration units and base areas of SWAPO-PLAN before they could start their annual infiltration of South West Africa (modern-day Namibia) during the Wet Season.  South African orders were to avoid direct confrontation with the Armed Forces of Angola (‘FAPLA’) and their Cuban advisors (which included complete Cuban combat units).  However, as always happened, SWAPO-PLAN were intermingled with and defended by FAPLA and Cuban units and the campaign quickly changed into a direct battle between the SADF and FAPLA/Cuban Army.

During these battles against FAPLA/Cuban forces, SADF electronic warfare units noticed the presence of an entirely new threat operating in the garrison town of Cahama; the Soviet SA-8 ‘Gecko’ (9K33 Osa).  Task Force X-Ray was given a new mission; to draw out and capture an intact SA-8 system.  Artillery and air attacks on the Cahama area would act as ‘beaters’, hopefully driving the SA-8s south toward the village of Ediva and the waiting Task Force X-Ray.  This new mission was given the code-name Operation FOX.

Above:  The village of Ediva sits a few kilometres south of Cahama, alongside the main Cahama to Xangongo road and is presently occupied by a Motor Rifle Company of FAPLA’s 3rd Brigade.  They have an attached forward observer with a battery of ZIS-3 76mm guns in Direct Support; these guns have been instrumental in halting previous attempts by South African units to cross the river and attack Ediva from the west.

Above:  On the north side of Ediva, a mixed AA Battery consisting of an SA-8 ‘Gecko’ and ZU-23-2 twin 23mm guns scans the skies for South African aircraft.

Above:  But here comes trouble… The SADF assault on Ediva is being conducted by Task Force X-Ray’s ‘Combat Group 1’.  This group consists of a company of mechanised infantry in Ratel 20 infantry fighting vehicles, an armoured car squadron equipped with Ratel 90 fire support vehicles, an AA group equipped with Ystervark SP 20mm guns, an 81mm mortar group equipped with Ratel 81, a battery of G2 140mm guns (WW2-vintage British 5.5″ guns) and a Buffel armoured recovery vehicle.  The mech infantry and armoured cars have been mixed as three ‘Fighting Elements’, each consisting of a mech infantry platoon and an armoured car troop.

Above:  As FAPLA troops lurk unseen among the hedgerows and houses of Ediva, Fighting Element ‘Alpha’, led by the troop of Ratel 90s, advances cautiously up the main road.  SADF infantry dismount from their Ratel 20s just as the first 76mm shells start to land around them.

Above: 1km to the east, Fighting Element ‘Charlie’ advances along a dirt road running roughly parallel to the main riverside road.  However, the leading Ratel 90 is ambushed by FAPLA infantry armed with RPG-7s and immediately bursts into flames.

Above: The rest of Fighting Element ‘Charlie’ returns fire and a BTR-152 is destroyed while attempting to flee.  However, the RPG-toting FAPLA infantry slip away into the bush.

Above:  In the centre, Fighting Element ‘Bravo’ has been ‘bundu-bashing’ across country to reach Ediva and emerges from the bush right in front of a very startled BTR!  Both sides exchange fire at point-blank range around the corner of a hedge and by some miracle the Ratels are all suppressed, while the BTR escapes unscathed!  The driver slams the BTR into reverse and withdraws as fast as he can toward the village.  However, he doesn’t make it… The Ratel 90 crews recover their wits and 90mm HEAT rounds slam into the BTR.

Above:  Although  the FAPLA troops are hard-pressed by the SADF, help is on the way from 3rd Brigade at Cahama.  The 3rd Brigade’s T-54 Tank Company, accompanied by an SA-9 ‘Gaskin’ SAM system, appears on the main road.

Above:  A second BTR-152 Motor Rifle Company, plus battalion headquarters and 76mm artillery observer, arrives on the eastern back-road.

Above:  As the leading T-54 appears on the road ahead of them, Alpha’s Ratel 90s open up with a furious barrage of 90mm fire, all to no effect as the T-54’s thick armour shrugs it off!  The T-54 halts and takes aim, easily destroying one of the Ratels.  The Ratels open fire for a second time, though this time score an effective hit and the T-54 starts to burn.

Above:  As their Ratels duel with the T-54s on the main road, Alpha’s infantry weathers FAPLA artillery and uses the cover of the hedgerows to approach Ediva.

Above:  On the eastern road, Charlie’s surviving Ratel 90 spots the approaching column of BTR-152s, but is forced to defend itself against a bold (though doomed) attack by an isolated FAPLA infantry section.

Above:  This gives the FAPLA column time to dismount from their BTRs before the Ratel turns its attention back to them and picks off the (now empty) lead vehicle.  The FAPLA infantry move up through the bush, determined to make the Ratel taste RPG…

Above:  However, in the centre things are turning against FAPLA as Bravo, with the assistance of a section from Charlie, assaults and overruns FAPLA infantry dug-in among the hedgerows.

Above:  Supporting fire from a BTR in Ediva does little to slow the South African advance and the appearance of a Ratel 90 forces the BTR to withdraw back into the village.

Above:  The SADF headquarters group prepares to move forward with the Buffel (on the right) to recover the SA-8 once it has been captured.

Above:  With casualties rapidly escalating, FAPLA start to pull back.

Above: Although inflicting significant losses on FAPLA, the SADF’s cautious attack has allowed the SA-8 to slip away through the bush, back to the relative safety of Cahama.


The infantry are all by Peter Pig, the T-54s, BTR-152s and SA-9 are by Skytrex and all other models are by QRF, except for the Ystervark, which is a conversion by Martin Small of Peter Pig’s Bulldog APC.

The terrain-cloth is by Tiny Wargames, the trees are made from armatures and foliage of various types by Woodland Scenics, the buildings are by Peter Pig and the roads and rivers are by QRF.

This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: First Echelon, Battlefront: WW2, Battlefront: WWII Scenarios, Cold War, Cold War - Angolan Border War, Games. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Great Angolan Gecko-Hunt (Operation FOX, December 1983)

  1. Doug says:

    Cracking looking game. Interesting that you managed to get this many vehicles on the table and the scale of conflict. How big is the table?

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers Doug. The table was four card-tables arranged 2×2, so about 5 feet square. The Cassinga game we’re doing tomorrow will be 6 feet square. The ground scale is roughly 2 feet = 1 km. There were some rather large mechanised engagements during the war, especially from 1987 onwards. The war featured the largest battles fought in Africa since 1943.

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