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Operation Modular (AKA Moduler) was a military operation by the South African Defence Force (SADF) during the South African Border War. It formed part of what has come to be called the Battle of Cuito Cuanavalemarker.

In August 1987, four brigades of the Soviet-backed FAPLA forces (the 47th, 59th, 16th and 21st brigades), departed from the Angolanmarker city of Cuito Cuanavalemarker with the aim of capturing the UNITA stronghold at Mavingamarker, which was the gateway to Jonas Savimbi's capital of Jamba.

The presence of an armoured formation in the form of FAPLA's 47th Brigade was a threat that the relatively lightly armed UNITA could not counter, so it requested assistance from the SADF. South Africa responded by sending a mechanized force, led by a veteran unit of Operation Askari - 61 Mechanized Battalion. This force left the South-West African town of Rundumarker, crossed the border and headed north-west to intercept the 47th Brigade.

The South African force, under the command of Colonel Deon Ferreira, was tasked with carrying out three operations:
  1. Operation Modular - The aim of which was to halt and reverse the FAPLA advance on the UNITA strongholds of Mavinga and Jamba.
  2. Operation Hooper - The aim of which was to inflict maximum casualties on the retreating FAPLA forces after they had been halted.
  3. Operation Packer - The aim of which was to force the FAPLA forces to retreat to the west of the Cuito River.

The FAPLA forces did not expect the South Africans to attack directly from the south, resulting in the virtual destruction of the 47th Brigade when the two forces encountered each other near the junction of the Lomba and Cuzizi rivers. This left the FAPLA forces without a screening element south of the Lomba River. At the same time, there was also heavy fighting north of the Lomba River when UNITA forces (composed of the 3rd Regular, 5th Regular, 13th Semi-Regular and 275th Special Forces Battalions) repulsed an attempt by FAPLA's 16th Brigade to capture Cunjamba.

In the wake of these victories, the South African/UNITA forces mopped up the FAPLA survivors in the Lomba-Cuzizi-Conzumbia area and then went over to the offensive in order to push the rest of the FAPLA forces back to Cuito Cuanavale.

It should be noted that the SADF had deployed its Olifant main battle tank in Angola for the first time during this operation. Indeed, the battle at Lomba River was the first full-scale tank-on-tank armored battle ever fought in southern Africa. During the battle, 62 of the 72 deployed T-55 tanks were either destroyed or captured, while the remaining 10 were found abandoned afterwards. The South Africans had two of their tanks put out of action, but were able to repair both. The recovery, under fire, of a crippled Olifant and the subsequent re-entry of a minefield where the tank was extracted from to extract a wounded soldier, earned Captain Petrus van Zyl and Lieutenant Tobias de Vos of 32 Battalion both Honoris Crux decorations.

The technological superiority of their G6 and G5 howitzers also contributed greatly to the South Africans' victory.

This operation was also the first combat service of the Ratel ZT-3 variant.

After the FAPLA offensive had been stopped, the South African/UNITA force went over to the offensive, thus ending Operation Modular and beginning Operation Hooper.

See also


  1. Helmut-Romer Heitmann; S.A.Armed Forces,1990

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