With South Africa and UNITA advancing rapidly from the South the FNLA decided to make one last push for the capital on the 10th November.
The eve of independence day.
The route was treacherous, with the sea on one side and marshes on the other.
Against all advice, the FNLA leaders decided to push ahead with the plan and asked South Africa to provide artillery and bomber support.
This was a logistical nightmare but eventually SA was able to fly in two archaic artillery pieces and their ammunition, that would have the distance.
They had to be disassembled and reassembled in order for them to be transported from SA by transport plane.
On the MPLA side, Cuba flew in special forces, arriving at the last minute, to operate the BM- 21 multiple rocket launcher vehicles.
They had not been used up till now and would prove devastating in the coming hours.
SA bombed the MPLA positions overnight and began the artillery barrage to pin the MPLA and Cubans down as the more than 1000 FNLA fighters and two Zairian Army battalions were supposed to be making their way across the 10 km open valley.
The FNLA troops set off late (due to having breakfast) and before they were completely across, the now over extended artillery barrage, ran out of ammunition.
Whether due to that or if the opposing forces had just been waiting for the entire force to be boxed in the killing zone is not fully known; but when the advancing forces were nearly across the valley, they were attacked with mortars and the BM-21's .
Witnesses estimated the Cuban-led force shot 2000 rockets at the FNLA. Cubans then drove forward, launching RPG-7 rocket grenades, shooting with anti-aircraft guns, killing hundreds.
The effect was devastating on the advancing column and became known as the FNLA road of death.
The advancing force was effectively scattered or wiped out.
By the next day the remainder were retreating northwards since the independence day fireworks, at midnight, had made the troops that had never seen fireworks before, think it was the Cuban rocket launchers attacking them all over again.
After this major defeat and a few more that would follow, in the north of Angola, the FNLA, with its CIA backing, would cease to exist as a major player in the Angolan Civil War.
The battle of Quifangondo would also ironically signal the start of the Angolan Civil War and the end of the Angolan War of Independence.
Meanwhile, the 50 or so SA artillery troops would be left stranded, unable to get through to their own forces further south and would later be evacuated via the coast in a Super Secret mission by the SA navy.
It is just as well that the heads in the navy didn't even know about Operation Savannah, since Commodore Dieter Felix Gerhardt had been working as a Soviet spy at the time.
Only when their own ships were were called in to assist did they even have a hint of Operation Savannah, but further details other than the name were never given.
This defeat, led by Cuban special forces and BM 21's, was but a hint of things to come later that month.
Quote inserted above from Wikipedia page on battle of Quifangondo.
Other posts in this series
The piece of the cold war nobody told you about - Africa's forgotten war
The Air Battles
The SA Fighter Aircraft
The SA Bomber Aircraft
The conflicts deep roots and start
Africa's forgotten cold war - Angolan War of Independence.
Africa's forgotten cold war - Mozambican War of Independence.
Africa's forgotten cold war - Rhodesian Bush War
Africa's forgotten cold war - The Angolan War of Independence transitions to the Angolan Civil War
The South African Border War - The start of Operation Savannah and Large scale South African involvement.
The South African Border War - Operation Savannah - the wheels start coming off.