Helion's Angola Vol.3 - Angolan and Cuban Air Forces 1975-1985

Author/Artists: Adrien Fontanellaz, Tom Cooper, Jose Augusto Matos


Helion  Publishing


$29.95 MSRP from Casemate


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 72 pages, softcover, over 100 images
ISBN 978-1-91-3118-61-7

After fighting insurgents in Angola for many years, Portugal decided to simply throw in the towel and granted Angola its independence in 1975, helped along by a coup it Portugal itself. The nation was then under the control of the MPLA, the largest of the insurgent groups and one that was backed by Cuba. With the vacuum left by the departure of the Portuguese military, the other groups that had been ousted by the Portuguese felt that they should have another go at it.

Thus began a long and protracted 'bush war' against the various groups. Some backed by Congo and Zambia with others backed by South Africa. This book is the third in a series on the Angola war, but concentrates on the Angolan Air Force. The build up of the air force cannot be really be described without also including the various campaigns of the Angolan/Cuban Army.

During this time, Angola was far from poor, having both petroleum and mineral wealth to bring in money for arms and that included aircraft. Though the Angolan Air Force started with impressed private aircraft, it eventually needed jet fighters and in this case it was the Soviet Union that stepped in with this equipment. The Soviets also provided quite a bit of heavy transport and pilots for these transport aircraft. For tactical fighters, it was the Cubans who were the ones who provided pilots.

The Angolans sent men to various communist and socialist bloc countries for pilot training, but this encompassed stays of 3-4 years and only provided sufficient training on how to fly the planes in question. This did not include how to fight with these planes, the results being that when Angolan pilots finally got into combat, the losses were fairly high. Some of this was eventually rectified, but not until many years later.

First jets sent to Angola were MiG-17s, followed by MiG-21s of different variants. When Angolan pilots became available, they flew transports, helicopters and the MiG-17s, with only the Cubans flying the MiG-21s. However, even the Cubans were not trained on how to fight the aircraft and this did not bode well when they came up against SAAF Mirage F.1s.

One recurring theme throughout the book was the lack of infrastructure to operate these aircraft. First it was a lack of decent airfields, then lack of servicing facilities, and a lack of deep maintenance. Add to it aircraft that needed widespread radar control (which wasn't set up) and you can see some of the issues facing the Angolans. No matter how much money one tosses at a problem, without the proper equipment and trained personnel you simply cannot expect the job to be done.

It all makes for a fascinating look at the situation regarding the Angolan Air Force during its first ten years of existence. The authors have really done their homework on this one, contacting as many people involved during this time as possible. Their insights are very interesting reading. Add in some great period photos and the usual number of nice color profiles and you have a book that is truly a great read. Highly recommended.

April 2021

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Review book courtesy of  Casemate Publishing, where you can order your copy at this link.

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