Angolan Conflict 1975/76

A first hand account of the Battle of Quifangodo

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The following is an Interview with a veteran of the Battle of Quifangodo, Pedro Marangoni, fighting alongside with the FNLA. Originally translated into Russian by the Press Secretary of the Union of Russian Veterans of Angola, Serguei Kolomnin.

With permission obtained from the Union of Russian Veterans of Angola, I am gratefull to be able to publish this Article from their "Outlook from the other side":

I also gratefully acknowledge our 'WarInAngola' member, Filipe Martin's efforts in tranlating this piece from the original Portuguese into English:


Pedro Marangoni: Four MRLS BM-21 Grad stopped the enemy advancing on Luanda and changed the course of the war?

Yes, but as a weapon of morale, not destructive power.

Pedro Marangoni was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1949. Later (1968-1971) he joined the Brazilian Air Force and trained at the Military Pilot Training Centre. In (1972-1973) he served in the French Foreign Legion. Then in (1973-1974) he moved to Mozambique. In June 1975 he arrived in Angola and fought along side Colonel Santos e Castro for the FNLA. Participated in the Battle of Quifangondo (October 23 - November 10, 1975). In February 1976 he abandoned the fight with the FNLA. During (1976 - 1977) he lived in Rhodesia. Later he joined the Mozambican National Resistance in the border region of, Inyanga, Umtali. In 1979-1980 he served in the Spanish Legion and spent some time in Africa, before returning to Brazil. Later he worked in Amazonia (Brazil), Bolivia and Peru, as a helicopter pilot for about 20 years. He is a helicopter Pilot with 9,000 hours of flight to his credit. He now resides in Brazil.

Books published: 1) "Angola-Special commands against Cubans”. 2) "The option by the sword" (Brazil, 2 editions). 3) "Maria da Silva and the era of not" (Brazil). 4) "The big herd / infinity is not in a hurry" (Brazil).

Observing the behavior of Africans in combat, not in a scientific way but based on recent wars, we find that its toughness decreases from north to south of the continent. My experience in southern Africa showed that those who attacked won while the one being attacked always retreated and most of the victims were civilians, not soldiers. Elastic Fronts and combatants without any deeper motivation. It was the non-Africans - advisers, internationalists, mercenaries, volunteers, etc.., who decided the clashes. These were troops of conquest while the other were tasked with the basic occupation of conquered land. That also happened significantly in Angola.

The non-Africans combatants, with ideals or will to win, were affected by weapons that were really dangerous and produced casualties; the overwhelming majority of Africans, on the other hand, feared anything that exploded and made noise. Sorry for not being politically correct, but this is the truth.

In the seventies I was warned that I would be providing the enemy with important information by depreciating, in my written articles, the Soviet 122mm, which I considered a stun gun, not effective enough to cause casualties. But that's how I saw it, along with my other fellow fighters. We were much more afraid of the 81mm mortar. And a 120mm mortar would simply “glue us” to the ground ...

I saw countless times the marks left on the pavement or soil caused by explosions of 122 and the 120, 81 and 60mm mortars. Mortar shrapnel tore the ground at the point of impact, drawing a star, showing that they had swept the ground in grazing trajectory, reaching even those who were lying. The 122mm, on the other hand, left little marks, with shrapnel being thrown at a closed angle, being thus louder but less dangerous. Several of these shells fell a few feet from me in the battle of Quifangondo without causing any damage. I'm sure that any mortar falling into the same short distance would have put me out of combat.

But the ability of the BM-21 MLRS to deliver multiple projectiles at a fast rate of fire was devastating to  poorly trained, inexperienced or poorly motivated troops. Undoubtedly they were decisive for the panic and stampede of the FNLA and Zairian troops in Quifangondo.

And what held the small non-African troops? First of all, the 76 mm anti-tank guns, who took advantage of the absurd advance, without any cover, of the fragile Panhard, and secondly, in order to stop the few infants who followed behind the armored cars, the anti-aircraft machine guns (ZPU-4?) whose shot we could feel over our heads and didn’t allow us to lift our heads off the ground.

But even if the Panhards weren’t stopped and our small group could move forward, we would have no one following us because the bulk of the African troops had fled, terrified by the devastating psychological effect of MLRS BM-21 Grad ...

In short, yes, I agree that this weapon was not only decisive in the course of battle, but of the entire war. I believe that if the undisciplined Zairian army had entered Luanda, everything would be destroyed and looted and an avalanche of Mobutu Sesse Seko‘s troops would have cross the northern Angolan  border in a frenzy of crime. And we, the small group of special commandos fighting for an ideal, who served as the spearhead, we would be wiped out, imprisoned or expelled as we acted as an obstacle to Zairian barbarism in Angola.


Pedro Marangoni: "On behalf of the Military History, this will be an exquisite map, drawn by the two opposing sides in the conflict."


with the veteran of the Battle of Quifangodo, fighting alongside with the FNLA, Pedro Marangoni, translated into Russian by  the Press Secretary of the Union of Russian Veterans of Angola, Serguei Kolomnin.

Serguei Kolomnin:

Dear Pedro Marangoni!

I am very grateful for your messages on the Battle of Quifangondo, particularly the article "Four MLRS BM-21 Grad stopped the enemy advancing on Luanda and turned the tide of war?" Which has already been published on our website in Russian and Portuguese.

I have found in your messages some very interesting facts (for me, as and historian), in particular the ones regarding the effects caused by ZPU-4 14.5 mm anti-aircraft guns (both Angolans and Cubans called them "cuatro bocas"), the moral effects produced by the bursts of BM-21 and also the facts about the exact number of special commandos on  the side of FNLA and ELP (Portuguese Army of Liberation). And a few more questions, if you allow.

- The ELP- was it a simply a slogan, or was it a real force, with a real program and command structure?

Pedro Marangoni:

- Since I got your message in good Portuguese, I see that you didn’t used any of those electronic translations but you have great knowledge of the Portuguese language. Therefore I'll be more comfortable to answer you in my own language.

The ELP was to be mentioned in a political stance only, in an attempt to compromise the FNLA and also because it was said that Colonel Santos e Castro was connected to this "army" which I  consider to have been only theoretical since it never came into existence as a real force, cohesive, organized and ready for combat. It was only a political organization. It never helped our troops, who were recruited among the Portuguese refugees by Alves Cardoso, the DGS / PIDE commander of the Flechas [a Portuguese version of the Algerian “arkis”, fighting for the French]. But the members of the group of Colonel Santos e Castro were no mercenaries, they were fighters, who lived in Africa and wanted to spend their lives over there. It consisted of 153 Portuguese plus me. I was the only one in that group that could be called a "foreigner" because I was a Brazilian, but I had dual Brazilian-Portuguese nationality. Colonel Santos e Castro appeared in Ambriz as a military adviser to Holden Roberto and liaison officer to our group. Then took part in the fighting, wearing a uniform but without weapons. After Quifangondo he went back to Europe.

Serguei Kolomnin:

- What can be said of U.S. aid to the FNLA and ELP?

Pedro Marangoni:

As for U.S. aid, we had little support and if the U.S. ever gave an extra help, it’s surely likely that help was diverted by Mobutu. Many [newspaper] articles also exaggerate the American actions since they seldom intervened and gave us little help. Many historical books are just political work, full of lies and exaggerations. These books lend themselves to distort the history of decolonisation and make difficult for the post-war generations to know what really happened and to learn how to not repeat past mistakes.

Serguei Kolomnin:

- When editing "FAPLA bulwark of peace. (Berger-Levrault International, Paris, 1989. Р. 110) is read, the bridge over the river Bengo had been destroyed by FAPLA sappers to prevent the advance of the FNLA troops. Some Angolan participants in the Battle of Quifangondo (FAPLA) mention how Panguila was also destroyed. General Xavier, current head of the Military Academy of the Angolan Armed Forces ) also stresses the fact that the bridge over the river Bengo had been destroyed.

Another ex-combatant (FAPLA) Alvaro Antonio, a captain currently placed in the Presidential Guard Unit (UGP) (http://allafrica.com/stories/200811120632.html) in a interview to the Angolan TV, said: " In the exact moment we destroyed the bridge, three cars [vehicles] were crossing it, including a tank that had not yet passed, and two others who fell along with the bridge, killing its occupants." He added, "that this action resulted in the capture of four North-American mercenaries who remained imprisoned in the former living room of the Director of the Elementary School of the Experimental Farm of Funda."

If the Bengo bridge was destroyed, how did the FNLA troops intended to cross over the river? By swimming?

Or did the bridge over the river Bengo continued to function, having sustained only minor, insignificant damages? My own military experience tells me that exploding and destroying a solid concrete bridge is not an easy task ... 

Pedro Marangoni:

- I found the recollections of General Xavier honest, I think he really was in Quifangondo. But none of the two bridges were destroyed and I don’t understand why the Angolans insist on lying about a fact that would have given more valor to their fight... Of course a destroyed bridge renders a position more secure, but it practically admits that they could not stop the enemy. A destroyed bridge is an extra protection.

Perhaps the Bengo bridge was SABOTAGED, not DESTROYED, i.e., they simply placed the explosive charges but didn’t exploded that ordinance, that would be done only if they could not stop us! Did it happened also on the Panguila bridge, where we found the fuses? Or the explosion had just failed?

A group of commandos under captain Valdemar preceded the great attack, infiltrating in the morning and taking the first bridge, the Panguila bridge. Only detonators were found, without explosives. I walked past it [the bridge], intact. By the time of the first attack the second bridge was also seen still in one piece by the armored units and reconnaissance planes.

If the Bengo bridge was destroyed, how did the Fapla/Cuban advanced against the Morro da Cal and Caxito? [They could do it] only by using bridges ... FNLA's concern was that the two bridges were blown up when we were advancing and the Zairian engineering only had one available bridge to build.

Still on bridges: the only major bridge that was destroyed by the MPLA, when the great FNLA push toward Luanda was taking place, was the bridge of Portoquipiri, leaving Caxito. On that spot the Zairian engineers built a floating wooden bridge and then a large metal bridge, which remains until today.

As for the testimony of Captain Alvaro Antonio ... always remember: the first victim of war is the truth ... Nowadays there are more heroes than fighters from a battle ... was he there? Remember that the Cubans had to force the Angolans to return to their battle stations at gun point, as they had fled in panic. There weren’t any “four U.S. mercenaries captured in combat”, the only ones to be captured were the Panhard-90 crew  Remedios, the driver of the Panhard-60 Serra and his artillerist Oliveira, all Portuguese. There was an American observer from the CIA who was always unarmed and never left the Morro da Cal. The real mercenaries appeared in northern Angola one months after Quifangondo, they were in fact British and Americans, but didn’t got their way since the fight had already ended.

My good friend Remedios was captured because he was seriously injured (is alive and now lives in [place omitted]), but we suspect that Serra and Oliveira precipitated their Panhard-60 into the marches in order to surrender, thus deserting. Maybe you've met Oliveira, I was surprised to see him on television, years later as a FAPLA commander in southern Angola!

An interesting fact is that not even the MPLA really considered us as being mercenaries, they only used that as a propaganda tool, because my captured colleagues weren’t tried along with the British and Americans and had a more humane treatment. Besides Remedios, Serra and Oliveira, captured in Quifangondo, previously there had been captured, at the Battle of Caxito on September 7, 1975 the special commandos Quintino, Fernandes and Pereira (all Caucasian). They're in the image of your file below.

The portuguese special troops  Remedios, with a victim of the minefield near Panguila Lagoon Angola

In summary, on the battleground of Quifangondo we left a Panhard-90, a Panhard-60 and a Zairian Mercedes truck; captured Caucasians - 3, all Portuguese. That captain is a liar.

Serguei Kolomnin:

What was the fate of most of the Portuguese commandos after the disaster of Quifangondo? ? South Africa?

Pedro Marangoni:

- As I already said, Colonel Santos e Castro returned to Europe. Others went away after he abandoned the fight in February 1976, some continued to fight. For example my colleague whom we called "Passarão" [Big bird] (standing, far right in photo below).

The defensive group positioned on the River Onzo. On the left is captain Valdemar, a former Portuguese army officer, on the far right, "Passarão" (big bird), a former enemy,from Faplas,now on our side.

I am aware that he returned from Zaire and continued fighting alone (he was born in Africa so he was a white African who was deprived of his country), making ambushes against the Cubans, he  trained and commanded a small group, acting in the region of Ambriz, until in October 1977 he suffered severe burns because his mosquito screen caught fire. He agonized for two weeks until death came. He was buried by the Africans in the woods near the Fazenda Loge, in the region of Ambriz.

After Angola the Portuguese commandos left to Rhodesia, some to Brazil, seeking a new homeland and others to Portugal, a country where they had never been: they were white Africans, descendants of several generations of white Africans and were badly segregated by the Portuguese in Europe.

Serguei Kolomnin:

- It’s general knowledge that during the attack on Quifangondo, the FNLA and Zairian troops were supported by long-range South-African artillery. What could you say about this?

Pedro Marangoni:

- The South African 140mm G-2 came to Cal Hill on the afternoon of 9 and began the barrage on the 10th around 05:00 H, diminishing the intensity of the fire until it came to an end, I cannot precise the exact time. According to colonel Santos e Castro, who informed me personally, at 16:30 (04:30 PM) the South Africans withdrew without permission or telling anyone. The South Africans fled during the fight. After Caxito they abandoned their howitzers (of which they had taken off the breeches) and were rescued in Ambriz at night by an helicopter. They fled by helicopter unto a boat lying off the coast of Ambriz, taking the breeches of 140mm G-2 howitzers with them. In all this the FNLA wasn’t taken into consideration. The howitzers were later towed by the FNLA, but without being able to use them they were left in Ambrizete as scrap.

Serguei Kolomnin:

- Could you detail the deployment and the composition of the FNLA and Zairian forces? How many Panhard cars, soldiers (FNLA and Zairian) and artillery pieces were available on November 10th before the last attack on Quifangondo?

Pedro Marangoni:

Rough numbers:

Artillery: 1x 130mm cannon, 3x South African 140mm howitzers, some FNLA's 120mm mortars.

Cavalry: Special Commandos: 1x Panhard-90 (destroyed), 2x Panhards-60 (one destroyed and one damaged), 1x Panhard VTT with a battle group returned unharmed without putting the troops afield, a jeep with a with 106mm recoilless gun (didn’t participated).

Zaire: about 10 jeeps with 106mm recoilless guns (didn’t participated), some 15 Panhards of several types that took no part of the fight, as fast as they crossed the Panguila bridge they unloaded all the ammunition and retreated. Several 20mm AA guns mounted on jeeps (didn’t participated).

Infantry: Commandos - of the 154-men strong, some 80 participated in the fighting but only 10 crossed the Panguila bridge, the rest didn’t advanced, remaining on the other side of the bridge.

FNLA: approximately 800 men (not sure, approximate number), none crossed the Panguila bridge.

Zaire: an infantry battalion (some say two, I don’t know), an engineering team; two Mercedes trucks, loaded with Zairian soldiers, crossed the Panguila bridge but at the first turn after the bridge they fell under fire with no chance of defense. Few returned, almost all wounded. One of the trucks returned the night after the fight with some men.

When I withdrew to the Morro da Cal, under heavy shelling at about 18:00 (06:00 PM) on the 10th, the whole landscape was totally deserted and the only vehicles there were the HQ’s jeep and our Panhard VTT.

On the night of November 11th, 1975, after the defeat, along with Colonel Santos e Castro, only 26 men stood at the front in the Morro da Cal, all special commandos, Portuguese, among them all the officers. The rank and file of the FNLA were nowhere to be seen. The FNLA simply ran wild without command and the Zairians retreated towards Caxito.

Serguei Kolomnin:

- The majority of sources (books, memorabilia) mention the three South African Air Force Buccaneer planes that bombarded the FAPLA/Cuban positions on the morning of November 10th.

On the other hand, General Xavier (Jornal de Angola, 13 January 2010. General Xavier: History lived in Kifangondo) reads: "the FAPLA were waiting for one major assault on 10th November 1975. The clock indicated 0500 when two planes harassed the FAPLA positions at the Morro de Kifangondo. The first impression was that we were been bombarded by aviation, but no. These were reconnaissance flights that were checking the accesses, particularly the state of the bridges ... "And adds, "they were reconnaissance planes, probably coming from the runway at Ambriz or the small lanes in farms such as the farm Martins de Almeida.

How could you comment the words of this veteran? Were those South African bombers or FNLA’s reconnaissance planes? Was there really any South Africans planes involved in this battle?

Pedro Marangoni:

- Planes? This is very interesting. I confirm the words of General Xavier, those were our only two planes, conventional, civilian planes, for observation duties, who took off from Ambriz, but it was daylight. The first shots of the South African’s 140mm were [against?] Luanda but then they started to decrease their range in order to shell  Quifangondo. That coincided with the passage of the planes, which for laymen could be taken by an aerial bombardment.

Mystery: actually at about 05:00 I heard a noise sounding like fighter jets at high altitude and after that three explosions, no more that, between the hill of Quifangondo and Luanda. Were those planes or was it a shooting experience using the  guns of a South African frigate off the coast, with enough range to shell the place? This is only my conjecture as I have no information [regarding this case]. Neither Colonel Santos e Castro or Major Alves Cardoso were reported about help by planes or South African navy. If there was an attempt it didn’t went beyond that, perhaps due to difficulty of execution (proximity of opposing forces on the ground).

Serguei Kolomnin:

- In his book "А Option For the Sword" there is a very detailed and clear map of the positions occupied by FNLA/Zaire and FAPLA/Cubans in Quifangondo (above). Even with the exact number of pieces and mortars (1x 130mm Zairian gun, 3 South African 140mm howitzers, FNLA etc.), you indicated the four FAPLA/Cuban BM-21’s positions by accident or had you accurate information about those positions? Many sources say there were six [BM-21].

My opinion, based on memories, there were four BM-21 that arrived at Quifangondo on the eve of the 10th of November. How could you comment on this?

What can you say about the map of the battle made under point of view of the Angolans, which is displayed on our site ?

Pedro Marangoni:

- The map of Quifangondo displayed (above), is a valuable document. And apparently the positions of Fapla/Cubans are close to what I have imagined. There is, in the index, the symbol for a destroyed bridge in order to prevent the enemy advance! Again, the insistence of the bridges destroyed and it is noted that oddly one cannot find such a symbol on the map, only in the index. The endorsement of mercenaries refers to our group, because Callan’s mercenaries would only arrive at a later stage. Our positions, axis of attack and subsequent retreat are correct, just there are no dates. Note that they accurately put our group at the front and FNLA in our rear. With the exception of the bridge destroyed and symbol of the alleged bombing of aviation, I think this is an honest map.

My map (above) was drawn by memory without a scale  and without consulting an actual map of the terrain; it’s just what I saw during the fight. The positions of the FNLA/Zairian/Commandos is accurate; the enemy’s positions are just my guessing. The number and location of AT guns is based on information given by lieutenant Paes in the first assault.

The number of BM-21 was calculated by the rate of fire, when the shelling gained intensity, by the concentration of the explosions, it was only a hypothesis that now seems right.

NOTE: In my book, "Stalin's Organs", along with “monocaxito”, was the generic terminology that we gave to any 122mm missile, with either single or multiple tubes. It didn’t referred specifically to the BM-21.

If you have reliable data, I give you my consent to update with more precision the Fapla-Cuban half on the map.

Serguei Kolomnin:

Could make some comments about the photos displayed on our site, dedicated to this theme?

Photos No 9 and 11 with Panhards destroyed are originals. Maybe you know who is with Holden Roberto in photo No 3? Photo No 4 - are those soldiers of the FNLA or are they Zairian?

Pedro Marangoni:

Photo No 3.

Photo No 3. The one in the foreground I cannot identify; behind him, side by side with Holden, is the Brazilian journalist and Presidential attaché, Fernando Luis da Camara Cascudo.

Photo No4

Photo No 4. This picture seems to be from the days when FNLA was stronger, before the civil war  and even before the 25th of April. It was taken in Zaire, probably at the Quinkuzo base. Never again we saw an amount of troops such as this.

Photo No9
Photo No10

Photos No9 and No11. I cannot identify, but throughout the entire civil war the commandos only lost a Panhard-90, Lt Paes’, at Quifangondo.

Photo No12

Photo No12. As I said before, those are the first special commandos captured at Caxito on the 7th September 1975. They engaged the enemy using obsolete equipment, being overwhelmed due to enormous numerical inferiority; they fought well. From left to right, (Caucasians) Quintino, platoon G-3; Fernandes, paratrooper, platoon MAG; Pereira, driver, Mercedez truck.

I discovered more photos related to Quifangondo, photos never released before, in a sorrow condition, but nevertheless important so I give permission to be published on the site. They were given me by the author, Azevedo, crewman, who escaped from the Panhard-60 whose two crewmen were captured at Quifangondo.

The one above shows the South African artillery unlimbering at the Morro da Cal. On the background there is a wooden tower, a geodesic mark that also served the enemy to mark our position and that nobody thought to take it down.

There’s also our three Panhards, (above) parked near the shelter where we spent the night before the battle.

Another photo (above) shows Lt Pae’s Panhard-90, ready to cross the Panguila, the pennon sporting the motto «Ouso» [I Dare!]!

The coloured photos were taken after the conquest of Quicabo and show, (above) on the jeep, the commando Remedios, later captured in Quifangondo with his M-79 that General Xavier says to be on display in a museum in Luanda

The other one (above) is from the “Forca Aerea da FNLA” [FNLA Air Force], right after  my bombardment mission, along with Rabelo, a civilian pilot, against the Radio Station in Luanda. The men whose face are covered by black squares are explosives experts, a very good team that prepared the explosives I dropped during my flights.

As a epilogue, I wish to say this: publishing these photos and my statements in Veteranangola.ru will contribute not only to the remaking of the true Angolan military History, as well as to point out, to reveal the social injustices and discriminations, committed by European and Africans alike, that should be known to all, at least as a way of compensation and paying tribute to the victims.

On behalf of the Military History, this will be an exquisite map, drawn by the two opposing sides in the conflict. I believe this is an opportunity to show the entire World that soldiers fighting each other are professionals at work, not personal enemies.


Permission to use the above article has also been gained from Pedro Marangoni

And I thank him for giving us an insight into the conditions he and his friends where fighting under