Land of the Rising Sun

[This is my first thread, so please be gentle! :)]

Land of the Rising Sun


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During 1960, Nigeria became independent of the United Kingdom. Similar to other new African states, the borders of the country were not drawn according to earlier territories. Hence, the northern desert region of the country contained semi-autonomous feudal Muslim states, while the southern population was predominantly Christian and Animist. Furthermore, Nigeria's oil, its primary source of income, was located in the south of the country.

Following independence, Nigeria was divided primarily along ethnic lines with Hausa and Fulani in the north, Yoruba in the south-west, and Igbo in the south-east. In January 1966, a group of primarily eastern Igbo led a military coup during which 30 political leaders including Nigeria's Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and the Northern premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello were killed.

In July 1966 northern officers and army units staged a counter-coup. Muslim officers named a Christian from a small ethnic group (the Anga) in central Nigeria, General Yakubu "Jack" Gowon, as the head of the Federal Military Government (FMG). The two coups deepened Nigeria's ethnic tensions. In September, 1966, approximately 30,000 Igbo were killed in the north, and some Northerners were killed in backlashes in eastern cities.

In January 1967, the military leaders and senior police officials of each region met in Aburi, Ghana and agreed on a loose confederation of regions. The Northerners were at odds with the Aburi Accord; Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the Western Region warned that if the Eastern Region seceded, the Western Region would also, which persuaded the northerners.

After the federal and eastern governments failed to reconcile, on 26 May the Eastern region voted to secede from Nigeria. On 30 May, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Eastern Region's military governor, announced the Republic of Biafra, citing the Easterners killed in the post-coup violence. The large amount of oil in the region created conflict, as oil was a major component of the Nigerian economy. The Eastern region was very ill equipped for war, out manned, and out gunned by the military of the remainder of Nigeria. Their advantages included fighting in their homeland, support of most Easterners, determination, and use of limited resources.

Now, in our trouser leg of time, the Easterners were defeated and the Republic of Biafra obliterated. For the first time, Westerners encountered the reality of war in Africa where famine, disease and "ethnic cleansing" were nightly images on their TV screens. They were shown footage of starving men, women and particularly children as the Niagerian Civil War ground to a fairly predictable close.

However, in the new trouser leg of time, whereas the central, Government forces failed to receive the joint government backing of the UK, US and USSR as they had in real life, instead the Biafrans gained both the sympathies of the West's public and the material aid to resist and succeed. The former tied the hands of the governments of the UK and USA, which sought a peace settlement which neither side was willing or prepared to accept. The UN attempted to impose an arms embargo against both sides. However, this hurt the Biafrans more, rather than the central Government which already possessed considerable stocks of war materiale.

While observing the arms embargo, the USSR involuntarily provided military aid indirectly for the Biafrans to resist. "Involuntarily" needs some explanation, I suspect.

Cuba

In 1968, Fidel Castro was at his height as a Revolutionary Leader. The "Bearded One" had survived numerous assassination attempts, a half-hearted effort at "regime change" (Bay of Pigs invasion) and been the centre of a Superpower stand off (Missile Crisis). In the process he had consolidated his hold on power in Cuba and courted the various Communist super (USSR) and great powers (PRC) by showing his Revolutionary Zeal and using his credentials as the only thus far successful Communist revolutionary in the New World.

One aspect of the Cuban Revolution that isn't well known was that as well as liberating the downtrodden masses from the economic exploitation of the "Yanquis", it had also liberated the most downtrodden of the downtrodden in Cuban society - the descendants of former slaves who had come from Africa to work the sugar plantations under Spanish rule. Before the Revolution there had been quite a colour bar in Cuban society, with black Cubans being treated on the basis of racism as second-class citizens in their own land. Under the guise of equality and fraternity, that had been ended. These black Cubans however had never forgotten their roots lay in Africa, particularly West Africa and the countries which surrounded the Gulf of Guinea.

Castro had already in place a policy of aid to revolutionary movements and governments in Africa. Another lesser known fact was that in Real Life that throughout the 1960s, the Cubans had established military missions in several African nations (Ghana 1961, Algeria 1963, Congo 1965). Their commitment in Algeria by the time of its withdrawal in 1968 had risen to over 300 advisers and included the supply of a battalion of tanks (T-34s) to the Algerian Army and instruction in their operation, as well as many other weapons which were given to that country.

In our trouser leg of time, this interest in pan-Africanism resulted in the Cubans becoming involved in the Angolan Civil War (independently, not as claimed by Washington at the behest of the USSR but actually initially against it's wishes) in 1975 and ultimately to other Arab and African countries (Syria in 1973, Ethiopia in 1978).

In this alternative trouser leg, this occurs earlier. Receiving a request from the Revolutionary Council of Biafra, Castro responded. A battalion of Cuban advisers was organised and dispatched to help the Biafrans, as well as a squadron of MiG15 fighter-bombers. This small but highly motivated and well trained and equipped force immediately stabilised the situation. In particular, it was important in preventing the offensive undertaken by the Nigerian Marine Commando "division" (actually a Brigade sized force) from being able to split Biafra in half by driving to the Camaroonian border.

Other Outside Help

At the same time, the Biafran Government endeavoured to gain support from the West. In particular, the Vatican responded (the south of Nigeria is primarily Christian and Animist) with recognition and this in turn allowed funds to flow into Biafra from various Catholic aide agencies. Several other African countries recognise Biafra as well (Gabon, Haiti, Cote d'Ivoire, Tanzania and Zambia) while Israel, France, Portugal sent primarily non-military aid. The most military equipment however came from two unusual sources - Rhodesia and South Africa. Both provided a small number of advisors but also quite a few C-47 loads of small arms and ammunition (mainly obsolescent .303in rifles and machine guns). As to their motives, that will be explained later.

The Biafrans, in turn redirected much of this aide, away from humanitarian endeavours to directly supporting the war effort. The aide agencies only discovered this at a much later date. The Biafrans justified it by declaring that unless there was a Biafran state, trying to feed people would be pointless when they were being massacred by the Government forces.

In real life, Biafra was one of the last conflicts which involved mercenaries and adventurers in large numbers. With money now becoming available, more of these freebooters arrived. Some, brought their own equipment, many were hired for their experience and the services that they could provide (such as pilots). The most unusual was a Swedish Count Carl Gustaf Ericsson von Rosen. He arrived with his own flight of light aircraft.

In our time lineline, using this aide money, the Biafrans combed the junk-yards of the world, looking for other aircraft which they could use in their struggle. They assembled a disparate force, mainly of ex-trainers (about a dozen T-6 Texans) assembling them together by the end of 1968. Its flagships though, were three B-25 Mitchells and a Fokker F-27. All the trainers had home-made bomb racks attached, if they lacked them. The F-27 was also outfitted as a bomber with a series of tracks running the length of the interior for bombs to be pushed or rolled along. Home-made bombs were also the order of the day, usually consisting of oil drums of various sizes packed with dynamite and other mining explosives. Rather than commit them in dribs-and-drabs, the Biafrans, advised by their Cuban friends, decided to use them in one large offensive.

While the Biafrans had been building their Air Force, more help had arrived from Cuba. A battalion of T-34 tanks were shipped in, secretly along with their crews with another 1,000 advisors and along with a large quantity of small arms and ammunition. Landed secretly in the Niger delta near Port Harcourt, the unit moved only at night and assembled near its jumping off point at the city of Onicha. It assembled there with the mass of the Cuban advisors who were formed into an infantry battalion, along with three battalions of the best units in the otherwise ragtag Biafran Army. They were supplied with the small arms which had arrived with the armour - SKSs, AK-47s, RPGs and other weapons and hurriedly trained in their use. However, the most valuable and most secret contribution was carried onboard three dozen large trucks, shrouded in canvas tarpaulins to hide them from inquisitive eyes. The result was a powerful armoured brigade.

The Government

While the Cubans had managed to stabilise the front by the start of 1969, fighting had continued. Seeking to break the stalemate which had developed, the Government had been supplied secretly with aircraft by sanction busting arms dealers. The Nigerian Air Force had been established officially in 1964 and its initial equipment had only consisted of a dozen light trainers (Piaggio 149D Primary Trainers) and the same number of Dornier 27 light liaison transport aircraft and half a dozen C-47 Dakota aircraft. However, with the advent of the Civil War, the Government had decided that it must expand its forces to take into account the increased requirements of not only fighting a war but winning it. The UN imposed Arms Embargo prevented them acquiring new equipment though.

Answering the call came the "merchants of death", the international arms dealers who were willing to engage in "sanction busting". While they were unable to offer the latest or the best, their main advantage was that they asked no questions and accepted cash. The result was the sudden appearance of a dozen Meteor F.Mk.4 fighter-bombers, ten Hawker Sea Fury fighter-bombers and a half a dozen B-26 Invader light bombers. The pilots of the Nigerian Air Force rapidly endeavoured to become qualified on these aircraft and undertook bombing practice but even so, it was more a case of learning, on-the-job, as it were when they commenced their first operations in late December 1968.

The Sanction Busters had also supplied three dozen Saladin heavy armoured cars, six Sherman tanks and 5,000 FN-FAL rifles, 100 FN-MAG machine guns and their ammunition. These had allowed the Government to form its first armoured unit - an armoured car regiment with a troop of tanks in support. Ammunition for and reliability of the tanks were somewhat lacking though. This unit received its equipment in January 1969 and was still training in May.

While the Cubans had refrained from interfering in the Nigerian air strikes, their piecemeal nature had robbed them of their shock value and the Biafrans had been able to largely ignore them. "Paciencia! Paciencia!" (Patience! patience!) the Cubans had advised. "Espere a que, cuando la huelga, ellos no sabr�n lo que les golpe�!" (Wait for it, when we strike, they won't know what hit them!) So the Biafrans hunkered down and endured the small number of bombing missions that were mounted against them. The Cubans intercepted a few but largely left them to their own devices as they husbanded their MiGs.

Rumours of the Cuban tanks and equipment had reached them but they had been disbelieved. The Government forces simply not believed that it would be possible for a large force of tanks to be landed without them knowing about it. The significance that the few attempts at reconnaissance that the Nigerian Air Force had attempted over the delta region had been shot down by the Cubans wasn't understood. Without any means of verification, the Government forces continued to believe that they were superior in equipment and numbers over the Biafrans who were seen as a rag-tag group of rebels about to be defeated.

22 May 1969 - the Day of Reckoning

The Biafran counter-offensive opened on 22 May 1969. It began with a strike of Count Rosen's "Babies of Biafra" as he had nicknamed his five small civilian single engine Malm� MFI-9 planes. Produced by SAAB, they had been originally designed for a ground attack role in case of a war by the Swedish Air Force. He had the planes fitted with rockets from Matra and proceeded with a band of friends to form a squadron. They set out at dawn to attack the air fields from which the federal Nigerian Air Force launched their attacks against the civilian population in Biafra. On May 22, 1969, and over the next few days, Von Rosen and his five aircraft launched surprise attacks against Nigerian air fields near the front lines. The Nigerians were taken by surprise and a number of expensive jets, including four Meteor fighters and three out of Nigeria's six B-26 light bombers, were destroyed on the ground all neatly lined up along the edge of the runways.

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One of Count Rosen's "Babies of Biafra"

At the same time, the Biafran-Cuban Armoured Brigade spearheaded the drive from Onicha on the central front towards Benin City. The Nigerians shocked to be facing tanks, when they lacked anti-tank weapons, were routed. Whenever they attempted to make a stand, the Biafran Air Force mounted heavy attacks with their T-6s and B-25s. The result was a rout. Whereas the Cubans had believed they would take up to five days to reach Benin City, they reached it in two. The Nigerian Army had collapsed. While the Nigerian Air Force attempted to fly missions against the Biafran Army advancing deep into Nigeria, they found themselves outclassed by the Cuban MiG fighters. Rapidly all their newly acquired aircraft were shot down. However, the Cubans didn't quite have it all their own way, losing three of their numbers to the Nigerians.

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Nigerian Government Troops, awaiting an attack on the Onicha Front

At Benin City, the Biafrans on the advice of the Cubans paused while their ramshackle logistics caught up with them. Little real fighting had occurred, so the main need was fuel and water. While they waited, a command conference was held. "Where to next?" Was the question on everybody's lips. Nigeria lay open to them. They knew the Government would be hurriedly trying to rebuild its army and to create defences. The longer they tarried, the more difficult movement would become. But where to? The obvious answer was Lagos. Only a 150 miles away. Take the capital and the war would end. The Cubans advised that they should go there. "huelga mientras el hierro est� caliente!" (strike while the iron is hot!) declared Colonel Hilante, the commander of the Cubans and chief advisor to the Biafrans. The Biafrans realising that their dream of succession was in their grasp, concurred. Orders were given.

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Cuban Troops, waiting for their next move

Rather than wait until morning, the joint Cuban-Biafran brigade set out at midnight. With the advantage of Infra-Red headlamps and searchlights, the Cubans were able to move rapidly along the road invisibly. The commander of the lead tank, Lieutenant Gonzales, had received his orders from Colonel Hilante personally, "los pies en el suelo!" (Foot to the floor!). He intended to follow them. He knew that speed was now of the essence and that the outcome of the war may well depend on beating the Nigerian commander's decisions. He opted not to use the IR lights on his tank because of their short range and told his driver to turn on the white lights instead. With lights blazing, off they roared, down the dirt road laughingly referred as a "highway" by the locals. His compatriots in their dark, roaring steeds behind him followed as fast they could. Near but not quite at the rear of the column came the three dozen trucks with their shrouded contents.

They encountered no resistance for the first 40 miles. Indeed, they actually forced some Nigerian Army soldiers still fleeing off the road, reinforcing their fears. They passed many more, camped for the night, not expecting a column of roaring, clanking tanks, festooned with tank-riding soldiers who fired their weapons happily at them as they roared past. The following up, marching Biafran troops took care of any that cared to try and make a stand or surrender.

At the 40 mile mark, they encountered their first attempt at resistance. A roadblock consisting of a wooden beam was across the road with a small hut beside it. A more conscientious soldier had decided that he would stay by his post, despite the routing troops who had trickled past him during the day. They told him that the Biafrans had tanks! "What rubbish!" He'd thought. "These were obviously cry-baby cowards who'd been frightened by the sounds of guns. He, he was a veteran of Burma! He had fought the Japanese. He wasn't going to run away because of a rumour." He heard the approaching tanks and wondered what they were. He emerged from his hut beside the road block and held up his lantern, suspecting it might be an Army convoy. He died there, as the tanks drove past, shot by one of the tank riders. The wooden beam was broken and driven over until it was splinters. The road to Lagos was open!

Dawn came. The tank battalion commander ordered his men to continue the advance. They had drive one hundred miles. Only another fifty to go! He intended to pause 15 miles before the city outskirts, if he could in order to refuel. His ETA was in three hours time. It all depended on the going and if there was any resistance. His men were tired but the exhilaration of their drive was keeping them going and alert. Coated thickly with dust, the tank riders hung on for dear life. To tall off, would certainly result in injury, if not death and falling off would have meant being left behind. On they drove, as fast as they could. Where they encountered bridges which were invariably too rickety to support the weight of a T-34 they usually just drove off the road, down into the stream bed and up back onto the road. Any traffic they encountered either got out of their way or was crushed under their churning tank treads.

Lagos

The Nigerian Side

Shocked by the news from Onicha front, the Nigerian High Command was thrown into a panic. Nonsensical orders flowed forth from Lagos to units which no longer existed as coherent, organised forces. The Nigerian Air Force commander had been killed in a clash with a Cuban MiG. When it became obvious from reports that the Biafran force was driving hard for first Benin City and then even perhaps Lagos, it was obvious that a last ditch resistance was the only hope. The Generals were in a funk, sunk in despair. Several Colonels started organising it. Grabbing units which were either in training near or in the city, road blocks were established on the Ikorudu road, leading into the city. Colonel Edetobo, commander of the newly formed Armoured Car Regiment was ordered to establish defensive positions on the outskirts of the city. He refused and withdrew his regiment to the north. He knew that he was ill-equipped to face real tanks. However, he left his six Sherman tanks in the city as they were too unreliable to keep up with a fast withdrawal. He hoped to preserve his unit for operations against the Biafran line of communications.

Colonel Njobuenwu, the Quarter-Master for the Army, started to organise the defence of the city. The last major obstacle which could be defended before the city outskirts on the road from Benin City was the village at the intersection of the Eyita Ojokoro and the Ikorudu road. A shanty town, inhabited by the refugees from the civil war had been established there and the ground was quite swampy where the road went close to the Bay.

He'd managed to scrape up about a battalion in strength. A third were cooks and storemen, the second third various soldiers he'd found around the place who'd been either undergoing training or instructing them. The final third was made up of Officer Cadets from the Officers' School. They above all of them, might have some guts about them, he thought.

He knew the main route of advance for the Biafrans would be the Ikorudu road. He established positions around the intersection with the Eyita Ojokoro road, about 10 miles from the city centre, amongst the village huts which formed the core of the shanty town there. It was close to the bay and situated in swampy ground.

He also knew that this was the last ditch. The end of the line. Fail here and he would be more than likely shot, either by his own side or the Biafrans. He tried to instil some spine in the men he commanded but saw many frightened faces and many trembling hands. He had managed to find, hidden in the armoury of the main army depot about twenty 3.5in rocket launchers and some ammunition to go with them when he'd first heard that the Biafrans had broken through with armour.. He had them issued out, one per platoon. He'd given some quick, sketchy instruction in how to load and use them, based on some half-remembered lessons he'd received while training in Britain and a quick read of the instruction manual. He hoped, no, he prayed, the men who'd been given them would use them and not just drop them in their fright. "Tanks! God, tanks! Where the hell had they gotten tanks? Too late now. All he could do was his best and hope his men would do theirs'," he thought to himself.

His men started digging in. He'd made sure each had been given either a real shovel or a pick. The ground was hard away from the swampy outskirts of the village but he'd impressed on them that it was either dig or die. Without prepared positions, they'd have no hope against the tanks. They had to also camouflage their positions and hide the spoil from their digging but it was obvious that it might not be necessary, considering the rubbish strewn and bare ground which surrounded the huts. He led by example and stripped his shirt and grabbed a pick and started breaking ground. His men followed suit, with their NCOs scurrying around, providing encouragement with voice or boot where necessary.

They started at first light and dug all day. All through the hot day, more and more men arrived from Lagos, where they had assembled from outlying commands and units. As they marched in, he set them to digging, expanding his defences on each flank and in depth, creating connecting trenches until he had built quite a large position, well spread out, made up of a series of redoubts. By the end, their positions were down to what he'd been taught, so long ago by his British instructors to call "Stage 3" - at least four feet six inches deep. Many were deeper and many had already the beginnings of overhead cover, with a double layer of sand bags on top of timber and tin supports. He knew that if the Cubans were involved then it was likely they would have mortars, so he knew some form of overhead cover would be needed. As exhausted as he and his men were, he forced them to work into the night. When he finally ordered work to stop at midnight, all were worn out. "Well, they'll sleep well," he thought. And they and he did too, when his head finally managed to find his pack which was acting as his pillow.

Next morning, he had the men again roused at dawn. Work continued. He positioned the six tanks on his left flank with (hopefully) clear fields of fire which would prevent the enemy armour outflanking him. He had them hide themselves in huts which they simply drove into, allowing them to collapse on top of the tanks. He then had their crews filling sandbags and building walls in front and to the sides of the vehicles to provide at least some added protection.

As work continued, he received reports that the Biafrans had halted about 5 miles down the road. He ordered his men to work even harder, telling them they had 15 minutes before a halt would be called. As they worked, he put on his shirt and shouldered his equipment, strapping his pistol to his waist. Its weight was reassuring. He'd had telephone wire laid between his HQ pit and the outlying redoubts. On his right flank, the ground was boggy, so he didn't really fear being outflanked by armour on that side. On his left, the ground was harder but there was more open ground. He'd positioned the tanks there deliberately, making as much use of the cover available expecting the enemy tanks to take advantage of the open, harder ground. He climbed out of his pit and pulled a whistle from his pocket. He blew it. All the men who had been working like scurrying ants stopped and looked up. He waved his hand and the voices of his NCOs rang out, ordering the men into their gear and into their pits, to wait the advancing Biafran strike force.

Quiet descended on the defences. Faces looked out, over parapets or through firing slits. Time seemed to drag. He could hear the insects and the birds round about, now that the work had finished. A half an hour passed, it dragged on, until nearly an hour had passed. Suddenly, a voice rang out. "Planes! Planes!" came the call from one of the air lookouts he'd stationed to warn of enemy aircraft. One of the field telephones rang, "Planes approaching from the South East, sir!" Came the shaky voice of one of the NCOs, a young Corporal. "Thank you, Corporal," he replied. Again he rose out of his pit and blew his whistle three times. All the heads that were watching disappeared. Suddenly the planes were overhead. He looked up to see objects tumbling from under the wings of half a dozen single-engined aircraft, "Shit!" He yelled, ducking back under cover as explosions rocked the ground around him. He stumbled and fell down the step into the bunker. Pulling himself up he saw two of his signallers, cowering in the corner, crying, hugging each other as explosions continued. Another wave of aircraft flew over, much bigger, louder ones and the explosions were bigger. One fell near by and again he stumbled.

He dusted himself off and ordered the signallers to "pull yourselves together!" As the sound of the planes receded into the distance the field telephones began to ring. The signallers began answering them. "Redoubt 1 reports no casualties!" "Redoubt 2 reports one casualty, lightly wounded!" and so on. Casualties had been light, the bombing inaccurate. Relief flooded around. He glanced out of the dugout. Some of the men were up and walking around above their positions. He stood up and at the top his lungs, "Who gave you permission to get out of your dugouts? Get back, immediately!" Startled, the men complied. Just as they did so, he heard a weird moaning sound, suddenly explosions started in and around the defensive positions. He felt something sting his face and put his hand up to it, only to see blood on it as he fell back into the dugout again. The explosions were massive and frequent. Before each, a weird moaning noise was heard. The ground shook as the explosions continued, there were literally hundreds and he staggered and fell against the wall. He saw that one of signallers had wet himself while another he suspected had soiled himself. One of them screamed and ran from the dugout, out into the storm that swept their defences.

Shaking, he grabbed a rag out of his pocket and wiped his face. It came away covered in blood. He was wounded! He was also terrified but at least he managed to control his bladder and bowels. He felt like his own head was being pounded flat by the continuous and gigantic explosions which sounded all over and around his dugout. They trailed off just as suddenly as they had begun. In the silence he was sure he was deaf, as there seemed to be no sound.

Suddenly one of the phones rang with a harsh whirring sound, "Enemy! Enemy to the front! Tanks!" Came so loudly down the line that even he could hear it from a yard away and through the explosions. The signaller crouched in front of the phone called out, "Redoubt 1 reports enemy approaching, sir!" "Thank you," He replied as his trembling hands held the rag to the nick on his cheek. He heard the crack of rifle fire and the chatter of machine guns towards the front of the defences. He grabbed the phone from the signaller, "What's going on? Report, tell me!" He ordered.

The NCO at the other end excitedly said, "Sir! We're engaging the infantry but the tanks are still too far away. We've shot a few of the tank riders and the rest have jumped off and and are ducking and dodging as they try and advance towards us. The tank is shooting randomly, trying to find our positions." He could hear the sounds of a few far off smaller explosions. "One of the tanks is now in range for the rocket launcher, we're going to try and knock it out. We've loaded the rocket and now Private kuwueziuka is going to shoot." He heard over the phone the sound of a loud whoosh. Followed by an explosion. "We hit it! We hit it! Its stopped. Its not moving! The hatches are opening, men are jumping out! We killed a tank! We killed a tank!" "Well done, Sergeant, well done." Suddenly another phone went, "Enemy, Enemy to the front, Tanks!" Came down the line, "Enemy reported at Redoubt 4, Sir!" Called the Signaller.

This was going better than he'd hoped. More reports came in from other redoubts. His small wound appeared to have stopped bleeding. He'd have an interesting scar to talk about in the Mess it seemed. He wanted to see what was going on! He decided that he'd risk it and climbed the steps again, until his head was at ground level and he popped up quickly to glance around. Suddenly he heard explosions to his left. His tanks were firing! Then he heard a much louder explosion, further away. Did that mean they'd got one of the Biafran tanks? Then he heard a loud explosion to his left and saw the turret of one of his tanks, rising into the air and turning over, in a seemingly lazy way. "Looks like one all," He thought to himself drawing on the sporting analogies which his British instructors had instilled in him during his officer training.

Suddenly he saw men starting to trickle past, staggering and shocked. "Where are you going?" He called, "I'm out of here, we can't fight tanks! We can't fight them!" One of the soldiers called as he scurried past. He reached for his pistol, thinking to shoot the deserter. However, just as he did so, he saw a massive shape, loom out of the dust and smoke and he found himself staring at a tank as its turret swivelled towards him and its gun fired. He knew no more after that.

The Biafran Side

As Colonel Hilantes had predicted, his units arrived at their rendezvous 15 miles short of the city centre but only about 5 miles from the sprawling city's outskirts. They refuelled and grabbed an hour's rest with a meal. Morale was high. They knew they had broken the Government forces and now were in a position where they could end the war by capturing the capital. From where they were, there was a low range of hills between them and the city itself. Colonel Hilante knew that there would be likely to be defences which would try and stop him from entering the city. However, he hoped to strike hard and force his way through to the city centre and the presidential palace. By doing so, he would rout the Government forces, once and for all. He also hoped to capture as much of the government as he possibly could, as well as the national bank and its foreign capital.

Colonel Hilante had called an "O-Group" (Orders Group or meeting) while his men rested and refuelled their vehicles and themselves. It was obvious that morale was high, men were laughing and joking. He called his subordinates together and spread his map on the front plate of his tank. "Right, this is where we are," he said while using a stick he'd picked up to point at the map, "and this is where their defences are." "Now, it looks like they've been busy little buggers. They've dug in around this road intersection, here," he pointed to the Ikorudu road - Eyita Ojokoro road intersection. They are in amongst the huts which form the core of the shanty town which had been established there by the refugees from the fighting." "Can we expect much resistance?" One of his company commanders asked. "Unlikely," he responded. "Intelligence reports that they will more than likely be the rag-tag remainants pulled from anywhere possible to try and slow us down, while the Government flees. Now, we have to break through them as fast as we can, in order to get into Lagos as fast as possible. We have to stop them getting away. If we can, we'll finish this war, once and for all!" He finished with a grin. "Here are you orders. Company A, you are to advance to the left of the village. Be careful, Intelligence indicates its boggy over there. Don't get stuck!" Company C, you are to advance in the centre. You are to engage the enemy positions but our main thrust will be on the right. Company B and D, you are to swing wide on that flank and outflank these positions. You are to take as many infantry as you can and drive for Lagos. Company B, you are assigned to capture the Presidential Palace. Company D, the National Bank. Is that understood?" A chorus of "Yes, Sir!" came back. "Support company commander, you are to use your Katyushas to bombard the enemy position. Two salvos and then you cease fire. Our men should be close enough to engage them by then. Is that understood?" "Yes, sir!" Came the terse reply. "The air farce have said they'll be putting in an air strike at 1130 hours, if they can find the place." He joked. Everybody chuckled, with the normal army view of those that flew to battle. The various commanders had been taking notes. "Right, Comrades! Lets go to it and finish this off with style! One last battle and we can all go home to Havana and be in a great big victory parade! Zero Hour will be at 1230 hours. Perhaps we will catch them at lunch?" He suggested jokingly. More seriously he ended with, "We move out in 30 minutes at 1030 hours! Good hunting Comrades!" He finished the conference and all of the commanders returned to their sub-units. There, they would in turn would issue their orders.

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Cuban Tank Crew being briefed before battle

Yes, that was what had been on the canvas shrouded trucks. Two dozen Katyushas rocket launchers and a dozen trucks reloads for each rocket launcher. They were his "ace up his sleeve" which he hoped would help break any resistance his units might encounter. He'd kept them hidden until now, finding them unnecessary. Now, though, with the glittering prize in front of him and the last organised resistance, he'd decided it was time to use them to shock and awe the enemy before assaulting his positions. He watched his units forming up, while the rocket launchers had their tarpaulins removed and were loaded. They would have to advance a few thousand metres but once in position, would unleash a screaming barrage of 122mm rockets against the Government positions.

The lead elements moved off at 1030 hours as ordered. Within 30 minutes they were within sight of the village and the road junction, just in time to see the Biafran air strike. He glanced at his watch, surprised to see that they were roughly on time. Three waves of aircraft approached. The first two of light single-engined trainers and the last of twin-engined bombers. While that was going on, the Katyushas had halted behind a slight rise and spread out in a long line. Their crews hurried to ready their launchers. Suddenly at precisely 1200 hours, at a signal from their commander, the rockets ignited with a whoosh and flew towards their target. They flew with a peculiar moaning sound, trailing a stream of smoke and he then could see from where he was, the blossoming of fresh explosions blanketing the village. The crews hurriedly reloaded them and fired their second salvo. Multiple fires and a huge cloud of dust was raised by the impacts of over 900 122mm rockets.

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Cuban BM-21 "Katyushas" rocket launchers firing during the battle of the intersection

While that was going on, Company A advanced on the left cautiously. He approvingly saw that each tank was preceded slowly by some infantry who were obviously probing the ground, and making sure that it was firm enough for the tanks. At the same time, Company C's tanks started their advance directly towards the village. A few tank riders were seen to be hit by rifle or machine gun fire and the rest immediately jumped off, taking evasive action as they dodged forwards, trying to keep pace with the T-34 tanks. Out to the right, his two other companies were festooned with tank riders. There appeared to be about 20-30 men, mainly Biafrans but with a few Cuban advisors, mixed here and there, clinging to every surface. He waved their commander on, as they passed, raising clouds of dust as they sped out and wide around their enemy's flank.

He was receiving reports back that the centre company was encountering resistance from the Government soldiers dug in, in deep weapons pits. Suddenly he heard one of the tanks report that it had been hit by an anti-tank rocket. "Damn," he muttered. He didn't interfere but was glad to hear the platoon and company commanders warn each other of the presence of anti-tank weapons. Suddenly he heard a report from the right flank of Company C in the centre, "Tanks! Tanks on the right. In the huts, watch out!" "Blast! Where did they get tanks from?" He muttered to himself. Suddenly he could see a building explode and a tank turret flying into the air, tumbling as it rose and then fell, from the Government positions. With that, he received reports that Company C had broken into the defences and that resistance was crumbling. At the same time, his flank movement reported that they were past and moving on the main road into Lagos. He immediately ordered Company A, on the left flank to cease their demonstration there and to start feeding their forces into the Government positions, passing through Company C. They were to exploit the gains made by Company C. Just as that started, he received reports from Company C that white flags were appearing and Government troops were surrendering.

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Cuban "Advisors" dismounting from their Cuban T-34 during the battle of the intersection

The Government forces were beaten within two hours of the battle commencing. Their resistance had been crushed. In particular, once their commander had been killed, they just melted away. Total losses for the Cubans and Biafrans had been five tanks knocked out. 21 men killed and 30 wounded. Three by anti-tank rockets and the other two due to mechanical breakdown. Four of them were recoverable. One would be back in action in a few hours once a thrown track was replaced. They had destroyed two Government tanks and captured another four. In total they'd killed about 200 Government soldiers and captured another 400.

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Colonel Hilantes, dismounting from his Tank to inspect the enemy positions after the battle

The Cuban-Biafran force which had outflanked the position had drive straight into the centre of Lagos. A few soldiers had attempted to put up resistance but the speed of the advance, coupled with its unexpectedness and strength had allowed them to be brushed aside. One company had surrounded the Presidential Palace and demanded its surrender. The other company had driven straight to the Central Bank and captured it. A few gun shots had been traded at the Palace until one of the tanks had fired its main gun into the front door of the building. At that point, white flags had appeared and a General who offered to surrender the building. It had been accepted.

Colonel Hilantes stood high in his turret as his HQ Company had driven, hell for leather from the roadblock into the city, once he was sure the battle was over. He arrived at the Presidential Palace to find most of the Government leadership, lying face down on the hot tarmac in the driveway at the front of the building, guarded by Cubans with their AK-47s. Occasional shots could still be heard ringing out around the city but it was essentially calm and quiet. He had told the Biafran commander that if anybody had stepped out of line from his forces they would be immediately, on the spot, executed. The Biafrans were well behaved. He commanded that a signal be sent to the Biafran Government HQ - "Lagos captured. City secured. Government captured. Awaiting your arrival."

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Cuban patrol in Lagos after the defeat of Government forces

Biafran independence was now secured. A peace treaty was dictated to the Nigerian Government, forcing them to recognise it. They had little choice but to sign. Within a few days, the Western half of the country announced its independence which basically left the Muslim North as all that remained of Nigeria. The UN was presented with a fait accompli. While the USSR had not approved of Castro's meddling in the conflict, it had also not tried very hard to stop it, either. The US and UK were unhappy with the outcome. They feared that this heralded a new expansionist policy by the Communist Bloc', not knowing of the USSR's disapproval of the Cubans' actions.

Colonel Hilantes and his men did go home to Havana. They did get their victory parade. Cuban forces stayed in Biafra, at the invitation of the Biafran government for another 2 years and helped train the Biafran Army and Air Force. Biafra became a major oil exporter and used its new found wealth to improve the lot of its peoples. It did not, however become a Communist country. Instead, it chose a middle-path, supporting neither side in the Cold War. It remained however, grateful to the Cubans for their help in their independence struggle and ignored Washington's efforts to make it take part in the anti-Cuban economic blockaded.

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Cuban troops returning home from Biafra in triumph

Longer-term, the repercussions were considerable. Secessionist movements across the continent took heart from Biafra's struggle for independence and a wave of civil wars and unrest broke out. The Rhodesians and South Africans in part helped to stoke this as it splintered the states alone their borders and made the lot of their own enemies, the liberation movements which were attacking them and their racist regimes much more difficult. Communist influence in Africa increased. The USSR found itself being drawn increasingly into these conflicts which sapped its economy. Washington, seeing this as a means by which it could make life more difficult for the Soviets in turn funded and supplied many of the forces which were fighting the succession movements. In 1984, the Soviet Union collapsed. Unable to sustain the numerous conflicts and many of the micro-states that had been created around the world but particularly in Africa. They had required Soviet subsidies to survive and their mismanagement by untrained revolutionaries who believe zeal was more than ability ensured that they would always remain a problem for the Soviet Union which was unwilling to let them collapse for prestige purposes.
 
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I read a novel about Biafra once. This is quite interesting to read about; since the country had a large population and oil.
 
Excellent work. I particularly like the twist at the end, how an outcome that might initially be seen to be beneficial to the Eastern bloc (Biafran victory in the civil war) actually led to an earlier collapse of the USSR.
 
Excellent work. I particularly like the twist at the end, how an outcome that might initially be seen to be beneficial to the Eastern bloc (Biafran victory in the civil war) actually led to an earlier collapse of the USSR.

The involvement of the fUSSR in the third world was a disaster for the fUSSR. Its economy had started a downhill spiral during the 1950s and it never recovered. Cuba (post 1962) in particular, along with Vietnam (post 1975) were huge economic drains on the Soviet economy. The fUSSR heavily subsidised their economies. Extending that to numerous, even if smaller, third world economies, particularly even more mismanaged ones could only lead to disaster earlier for the fUSSR.
 
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