JANUARY 10 - TODAY IN MILITARY HISTORY
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◆1475 Battle of Vaslui: Stephen III of Moldavia defeats the Ottomans.
◆1738 Ethan Allen was born.★
◆1776 Thomas Paine publishes "Common Sense".★
◆1779 The French present John Paul Jones with a dilapidated vessel, the Duc de Duras.
◆1791 The Siege of Dunlap's Station.★
◆ 1811 Battle of Bernoudy's Plantation: Ends Deslondes' Great Louisiana Slave Rebellion.
◆1854 Pro-slavery filibuster William Walker proclaims the 'Republic of Sonora' in Baja California; ousted within weeks by Mexican forces.★
◆1861 Forts Jackson and St. Philip, Mississippi River, Louisiana, were seized by Louisiana State troops.
◆1863 Union gunboats begin a bombardment of Galveston, Texas.
◆1868 The Senate Committee on Military Affairs releases its report which exonerates Secretary of War Stanton in his struggle with President Johnson over dismissal from office.
◆1899 Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo renounces the Treaty of Paris, which annexed the Philippines to the United States.
◆1901 In the town of Beaumont, Texas, a 100-foot drilling derrick named Spindletop produced a roaring gusher of black crude oil.
◆1912 The World's first flying-boat airplane, designed by Glenn Curtiss, made its maiden flight at Hammondsport.
◆1916 In an attempt to embroil the US in turmoil with Mexico, "Pancho" Villa and his troupe of bandits murder 18 Texans.★
◆1917 The Navy places its first production order for aerial photographic equipment.
◆1923 Four years after the end of World War I, President Warren G. Harding orders U.S. occupation troops stationed in Germany to return home.
◆1927 2nd Bn 5th Marines landed in Nicaragua. A civil war had erupted between liberal rebels under General Jose Maria Moncada (1868-1945) and the government under Diaz, who requested and received military assistance from the United States.
◆1934 Six Consolidated P2Y-1s of Patrol Squadron 10F, Lieutenant Commander Knefler McGinnis commanding, made a nonstop formation flight from San Francisco, Calif., to Pearl Harbor, T.H. He made the trip in 24 hours 35 minutes, thereby bettering the best previous time for the crossing, exceeding the best distance of previous mass flights, and breaking a nine-day- old world record for distance in a straight line for Class C seaplanes with a new mark of 2,399 miles.
◆1940 The Mechelen Incident.★
◆1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Lend-Lease program is brought before the U.S. Congress for consideration.
◆1942 The Ford Motor Company signed on to make Jeeps, the new general-purpose military vehicles desperately needed by American forces in World War II.★
◆1943 On Guadalcanal, an new American offensive begins with heavy air and artillery bombardment. The Japanese-held Gifu strong point is attacked by the US 35th Infantry Regiment. The Americans have over 50,000 troops on the island; the Japanese have less than 15,000 ill-supplied troops defending. During the night eight Japanese destroyers attempt to deliver supplies. One of the destroyers is damaged by American PT boats.
◆1944 The GI Bill of Rights.★
◆1944 On New Britain, Americans send reinforcements to Arawe. There is a small advance by US regimental forces along the Aogiri Ridge, despite Japanese resistance.
◆1945 In the Ardennes, American forces are engaged near Laroche. The British 30th Corps is advancing on the town from the west, capturing Bure and Samree. German forces are withdrawing, in good order, from the western tip of the salient. St. Hubert, 15 miles west of Bastogne, has been evacuated by the Germans under pressure from Allied forces.
◆1945 The US forces continue to come ashore on Luzon. Their beachhead is now several miles wide and deep.
◆1946 Chiang Kai-shek and the Yenan Communist forces halt fighting in China.
◆1946 Establishment of first Navy nuclear power school at Submarine Base, New London, CT.
◆1951 Major General John T. Seldon succeeded Major General Gerald C. Thomas as commander of the 1st Marine Division.
◆1953 Seventeen B-29s kicked off an air campaign against the Sinanju communications complex by bombing rail bridges at Yongmi-dong, antiaircraft gun positions near Sinanju, and two marshaling yards at Yongmi-dong and Maejung-dong. Fighter-bombers followed up the B-29 night attacks with a daylight 158-aircraft raid against bridges, rail lines, and gun positions.
◆1964 Panama broke ties with the U.S. and demanded a revision of the canal treaty.
◆1989 Cuban troops begin their withdrawal from Angola.★
◆1995 The Pentagon announced that 2,600 U.S. Marines would be deployed to Somalia for Operation United Shield to assist in the final withdrawal of UN peacekeeping troops from Somalia.
HELMS, JOHN HENRY
Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps. Born: 16 March 1874, Chicago, Ill. Accredited to: Illinois. G.O. No.: 3 5, 23 March 1901. Citation: Serving on board the U.S.S. Chicago, for heroism in rescuing Ishi Tomizi, ship's cook, from drowning at Montevideo, Uruguay, 10 January 1901.
BERTOLDO, VITO R.
Rank and organization: Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company A, 242d Infantry, 42d Infantry Division. Place and date: Hatten, France, 9-10 January 1945. Entered service at: Decatur, 111. Born: 1 December 1916, Decatur, 111. G.O. No.: 5, 10 January 1946. Citation: He fought with extreme gallantry while guarding 2 command posts against the assault of powerful infantry and armored forces which had overrun the battalion's main line of resistance. On the close approach of enemy soldiers, he left the protection of the building he defended and set up his gun in the street, there to remain for almost 12 hours driving back attacks while in full view of his adversaries and completely exposed to 88-mm., machinegun and small-arms fire. He moved back inside the command post, strapped his machinegun to a table and covered the main approach to the building by firing through a window, remaining steadfast even in the face of 88-mm. fire from tanks only 75 yards away. One shell blasted him across the room, but he returned to his weapon. When 2 enemy personnel carriers led by a tank moved toward his position, he calmly waited for the troops to dismount and then, with the tank firing directly at him, leaned out of the window and mowed down the entire group of more than 20 Germans. Some time later, removal of the command post to another building was ordered. M/Sgt. Bertoldo voluntarily remained behind, covering the withdrawal of his comrades and maintaining his stand all night. In the morning he carried his machinegun to an adjacent building used as the command post of another battalion and began a day-long defense of that position. He broke up a heavy attack, launched by a self-propelled 88-mm. gun covered by a tank and about 15 infantrymen. Soon afterward another 88-mm. weapon moved up to within a few feet of his position, and, placing the muzzle of its gun almost inside the building, fired into the room, knocking him down and seriously wounding others. An American bazooka team set the German weapon afire, and M/Sgt. Bertoldo went back to his machinegun dazed as he was and killed several of the hostile troops as they attempted to withdraw. It was decided to evacuate the command post under the cover of darkness, but before the plan could be put into operation the enemy began an intensive assault supported by fire from their tanks and heavy guns. Disregarding the devastating barrage, he remained at his post and hurled white phosphorous grenades into the advancing enemy troops until they broke and retreated. A tank less than 50 yards away fired at his stronghold, destroyed the machinegun and blew him across the room again but he once more returned to the bitter fight and, with a rifle, single-handedly covered the withdrawal of his fellow soldiers when the post was finally abandoned. With inspiring bravery and intrepidity M/Sgt. Bertoldo withstood the attack of vastly superior forces for more than 48 hours without rest or relief, time after time escaping death only by the slightest margin while killing at least 40 hostile soldiers and wounding many more during his grim battle against the enemy hordes.
*FOURNIER, WILLIAM G.
Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company M, 35th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division. Place and date: Mount Austen, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, 10 January 1943. Entered service at: Winterport, Maine. Birth: Norwich, Conn. G.O. No.: 28, 5 June 1943. Citation: For gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. As leader of a machinegun section charged with the protection of other battalion units, his group was attacked by a superior number of Japanese, his gunner killed, his assistant gunner wounded, and an adjoining guncrew put out of action. Ordered to withdraw from this hazardous position, Sgt. Fournier refused to retire but rushed forward to the idle gun and, with the aid of another soldier who joined him, held up the machinegun by the tripod to increase its field action. They opened fire and inflicted heavy casualties upon the enemy. While so engaged both these gallant soldiers were killed, but their sturdy defensive was a decisive factor in the following success of the attacking battalion .
Rank and organization: Technician Fifth Grade, U.S. Army, Company M, 35th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division. Place and date: Mount Austen, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, 10 January 1943. Entered service at: Obetz, Rural Station 7, Columbus, Ohio. Born: 1895, Bloom, Ohio. G.O. No.: 28, 5 June 1943. Citation: For gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. As leader of a machinegun squad charged with the protection of other battalion units, his group was attacked by a superior number of Japanese, his gunner killed, his assistant gunner wounded, and an adjoining guncrew put out of action. Ordered to withdraw from his hazardous position, he refused to retire but rushed forward to the idle gun and with the aid of another soldier who joined him and held up the machinegun by the tripod to increase its field of action he opened fire and inflicted heavy casualties upon the enemy. While so engaged both these gallant soldiers were killed, but their sturdy defense was a decisive factor in the following success of the attacking battalion.
SASSER, CLARENCE EUGENE
Rank and organization: Specialist Fifth Class (then Pfc.), U.S. Army, Headquarters Company, 3d Battalion, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. Place and date: Ding Tuong Province, Republic of Vietnam, 10 January 1968. Entered service at: Houston, Tex. Born: 12 September 1947, Chenango, Tex. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sp5c. Sasser distinguished himself while assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3d Battalion. He was serving as a medical aidman with Company A, 3d Battalion, on a reconnaissance in force operation. His company was making an air assault when suddenly it was taken under heavy small arms, recoilless rifle, machinegun and rocket fire from well fortified enemy positions on 3 sides of the landing zone. During the first few minutes, over 30 casualties were sustained. Without hesitation, Sp5c. Sasser ran across an open rice paddy through a hail of fire to assist the wounded. After helping 1 man to safety, was painfully wounded in the left shoulder by fragments of an exploding rocket. Refusing medical attention, he ran through a barrage of rocket and automatic weapons fire to aid casualties of the initial attack and, after giving them urgently needed treatment, continued to search for other wounded. Despite 2 additional wounds immobilizing his legs, he dragged himself through the mud toward another soldier 100 meters away. Although in agonizing pain and faint from loss of blood, Sp5c. Sasser reached the man, treated him, and proceeded on to encourage another group of soldiers to crawl 200 meters to relative safety. There he attended their wounds for 5 hours until they were evacuated. Sp5c. Sasser's extraordinary heroism is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
10 JANUARY 1738
ETHAN ALLEN IS BORN. Allen spent a considerable portion of his life in the effort to achieve independence for what is now Vermont, commanding (1770-1775) an irregular force called the Green Mountain Boys, so named in defiance of the New York threat to drive Vermont settlers off the fields and "into the Green Mountains." The "Yorkers" at one point put a bounty of £60 on Allen's head, to which he responded by offering his own of £25 on any of the officials involved.
He nearly burned New York to the ground during the Revolutionary War. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) he led the expedition that captured Fort Ticonderoga in the first colonial victory of the war (notwithstanding the fact that he and the Boys basically knocked on the door, walked in and took over). He would soon thereafter attempt a badly planned, badly executed assault on Montreal which would result in his being imprisoned by the British and thus removed from further participation in the Revolution.
He negotiated with the British to sell Vermont to them, but failed. A traitorous act that has been overlooked by historians. After the War, he continued the campaign for Vermont statehood, a goal which was not to be achieved during his lifetime. Allen was no military genius, rather an overbearing, loud-mouthed braggart. He was also a staunch patriot who apparently did not know the meaning of fear. More importantly, he had the loyalty of the Green Mountain Boys, as unruly a bunch of roughnecks as any in history.
He could control them better than anyone else, and they would follow him anywhere. George Washington would write of Allen, "There is an original something about him that commands attention." The Reverend Nathan Perkins, on the other hand, wrote in his diary, "Arrived at Onion River falls (present-day Winooski) and passed by Ethan Allyn's grave. An awful infidel, one of Ye wickedest Men Ye ever walked this guilty globe.”
10 JANUARY 1776
COMMON SENSE PUBLISHED: Thomas Paine anonymously published "Common Sense," a scathing attack on King George III's reign over the colonies and a call for complete independence. It sold more than 500,000 copies in just a few months, greatly affecting public sentiment and the deliberations of the Continental Congress leading up to the Declaration of Independence.
He advocated an immediate declaration of independence from Britain. An instant bestseller in both the colonies and in Britain, Paine baldly stated that King George III was a tyrant and that Americans should shed any sentimental attachment to the monarchy. America, he argued, had a moral obligation to reject monarchy.
"O! ye that love mankind! Ye that dare opposed not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the Old World is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted around the globe....O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind," he urged. Within a few years, a land with a population of 2.5 million had bought 500,000 copies of Paine's stirring call for independence.
10 JANUARY 1791
THE SIEGE OF DUNLAP'S STATION begins near Cincinnati during the Northwest Indian War. In the winter of 1790-1791 a large confederation of native people surrounded John Dunlap’s small armed and fortified community in what became SW Ohio. A 25 hour long battle ensued. Dunlap’s Station, later referred to as Fort Colerain, was on the east bank of the Great Miami River, and established in early 1790.
Convinced that the untrained American militias were vulnerable to forays by united warriors, in November & December 1790 chiefs of the confederated tribes met with British Indian agents to plan simultaneous raids on Baker’s and Dunlap’s Stations. The “white Indian” Simon Girty was honored with the leadership of these attacks.
The Natives approached the station, bragging that they were led by the multi-lingual “villain” Simon Girty and demanded surrender using a captive surveyor, Abner Hunt, as an interpreter. This parlay lasted about an hour on the east side of the Fort. Gunfire broke out on the opposite side by the deep portion of the river while the demands were being made.
Then the shooting continued for another two hours, but these battle demands were ignored. The attackers then withdrew until the evening, but very likely used the time to butcher their cattle. The captive Hunt was killed under disputed circumstances. John S. Wallace, a civilian, had escaped to summon reinforcements, who rapidly made their way to assist. Fighting resumed at the break of dawn the next day, however, the Natives lacked siege weapons. They withdrew around 8:00 A.M. before a relief force from Fort Washington arrived around 10:00 A.M.
10 JANUARY 1854
REPUBLIC OF SONORA ESTABLISHED. Despite this globetrotting, Walker’s sensibilities were still old-fashioned; during his time in northern California, he fought three duels (he was wounded twice). He was also an ardent advocate of slavery and Manifest Destiny (a belief that emerged among many in the 1840s that the United States was destined to conquer the entire continent), and by 1853 was already crafting ways in which new slave states could be added to the United States in order to swing the balance of power away from the northern free states. The solution he arrived at was, as you have likely guessed, becoming a filibuster. Walker’s goal was to detach territories from northern Mexico and have them annexed to the US as slave states.
His plan began with a request to the Mexican government in 1853 for a grant to start a buffer colony near the Sonoran city of Guaymas in order to ensure US protection from Native Americans in the area. When this plan was denied, Walker went ahead anyway, opening a recruitment office for his would-be colony in San Francisco.
Hundreds of like-minded supporters of slavery and manifest destiny (especially from Walker’s neck of the woods in Kentucky and Tennessee) quickly joined in Walker’s scheme, purchasing scrip to be redeemed for land in Sonora. Soon, Walker’s vision for a buffer colony transformed into one for an independent republic – one that could then apply for union with the US – and the goal became to conquer all of Sonora and Baja California.
In October 1853, Walker and 48 men set sail for the Gulf of California, landing at La Paz, the capital of Baja California, three weeks later. Here, backed up by 200 reinforcements already in the town, Walker took possession of La Paz and declared the Republic of Lower California. Proclaiming independence from Mexico on 10 January 1854, declared the republic to the share the laws of Louisiana, making slavery legal.
While Walker and his men would move their capital further up the Pacific coast to Ensenada for security reasons after a skirmish with Mexican troops, the would-be government never actually made it to Guaymas and Sonora. Nevertheless, this did not prevent Walker from folding the Republic of Lower California into a larger Republic of Sonora less than three months after ‘independence’.
When news of the Mexican skirmish reached San Francisco, a wave of public support for the filibuster resulted in hundreds of men heading south to join up with Walker. Walker’s crew, meanwhile, was left stranded when the ship on which they sailed to Baja California took off with all of their supplies inside, leaving them to battle with local ranchers and farmers over provisions.
When the new recruits showed up, it only served to stretch the limited resources even further. Men began deserting (some were arrested by Walker for treason and shot), the Mexican government continued to hound them, and a planned march into Sonora failed when only 35 men were left by the time the company reached the Colorado River.
Defeated by their own poor planning, Walker and his men marched back into California and gave themselves up to US authorities for violating US neutrality laws; Walker was acquitted in just eight minutes thanks to his large public support in the wake of the manifest destiny movement.
10 JANUARY 1916
PANCHO VILLA MASSACRES 18 UNARMED TEXANS: In an attempt to embroil the US into war with Mexico, the cowardly Francisco "Pancho" Villa and his troupe of bandits stopped a train at Santa Ysabel. The bandits removed a group of 18 Texas business men (mining engineers) whom were invited by the Mexican government to reopen the Cusihuiriachic mines below Chihuahua City and executed them in cold blood.
However, one of those shot feined death and rolled down the side of the embankment and, crawling away into a patch of brown mesquite bushes, escaped. The train moved on, leaving the corpses at the mercy of the slayers, who stripped and mutilated them. After the escapee arrived back at Chihuahua City, a special train sped to Santa Ysabel to reclaim the bodies.
When the people of El Paso heard of the massacre, they went wild with anger. El Paso was immediately placed under martial law to prevent irate Texans from crossing into Mexico at Juarez to wreak vengeance on innocent Mexicans. Despite outrage in the United States and Washington over the Santa Ysabel massacre, President Wilson refused to intervene and send troops into Mexico. Two months later, the murderous Villa would decide to strike again; this time attacking the US.
10 JANUARY 1940
THE MECHELEN INCIDENT. The affair began with a mistake made by the German aviator Major Erich Hoenmanns, the fifty-two year old airbase commander at Loddenheide airport, near Münster.
On the morning of 10 January, he had been flying a Messerschmitt Bf 108 Taifun, a plane used for reconnaissance, liaison, and other miscellaneous roles, from Loddenheide to Cologne when he lost his way, extensive low fogbanks obscuring his view of the landscape.
While searching for the River Rhine, which, he hoped, would enable him to regain his bearings, changing course he flew too far west, having already crossed the frozen over and indistinguishable Rhine, and ended up circling Vucht near the River Meuse, at this point the border river between Belgium and The Netherlands.
It was then that he appears to have inadvertently cut off the fuel supply to the plane's engine by moving a lever inside the cockpit. The engine spluttered, then stopped, and Hoenmanns was forced to land in a nearby field around 11:30 AM. The aircraft was severely damaged. Both wings were broken off when they hit two trees as he sped between them; the heavy engine tore off the nose section. Despite the fact that the plane was a write-off, Hoenmanns survived unscathed.
Had Hoenmanns been alone on the plane nothing of great import would likely have happened, apart from his internment for landing without permission in a neutral country. However, he had a passenger, one Major Helmuth Reinberger, who was responsible for organising the supplying of 7. Flieger-Division, the unit that was to land paratroopers behind the Belgian lines at Namur on the day of the coming attack.
He was going to Cologne for a staff meeting and Hoenmanns had the previous evening in the mess of the base invited him over a drink to fly him there; usually Reinberger would have had to make the tedious trip by train, but Hoenmanns needed some extra flying hours anyway and wanted to bring his laundry to his wife in Cologne.
Hoenmanns was unaware that Reinberger would have with him Germany’s plan for the attack on The Netherlands and Belgium, which at the day of the flight was decreed by Hitler to take place a week later on 17 January.
Hoenmanns only discovered that Reinberger was carrying secret documents when after landing they asked a farmhand where they were, to be told that they had unknowingly crossed Dutch territory and had landed just inside Belgium. On hearing this Reinberger panicked and rushed back to the plane to secure his yellow pigskin briefcase, crying that he had secret documents that he must destroy immediately.
To let him do this Hoenmanns moved away from the plane as a diversion. Reinberger first tried to set fire to the documents with his cigarette lighter but this malfunctioned; he then ran to the farmhand who gave him a single match. With this Reinberger hid behind a thicket and piled the papers on the ground to burn them.
But soon two Belgian border guards arrived on bicycles, Sergeant Frans Habets and private Gerard Rubens, and seeing smoke coming from the bushes, Rubens rushed over to save the documents from being completely destroyed. Reinberger fled at first but allowed himself to be taken prisoner after two warning shots had been fired.
The men were taken to the Belgian border guardhouse near Mechelen-aan-de-Maas (Mechelen-sur-Meuse). There they were interrogated by Captain Arthur Rodrique, who placed the charred documents on a table. Reinberger tried, after Hoenmanns had distracted the Belgian soldiers by asking to make use of the toilet, to stuff the papers into a burning stove nearby.
He succeeded, however, as the lid of the stove was extremely hot, when lifting it he yelled with pain. Startled, Rodrique turned and snatched the papers from the fire, burning his hand badly. The documents were now locked away in a separate room. The failure to burn them made Reinberger realise that he was finished, as Hitler's henchmen would surely kill him if they got hold of him, for letting the attack plan fall into the hands of the enemy.
He decided to commit suicide and tried to grab Rodrique's revolver; when the infuriated captain knocked him down, Reinberger burst into tears, yelling 'I wanted your revolver to kill myself'. Hoenmanns came to Reinberger's support saying: 'You can't blame him. He's a regular officer. He's finished now.'
Two hours later the first officers of the Belgian intelligence service arrived, bringing the papers to the attention of their superiors in the late afternoon.
10 JANUARY 1942
JEEP PRODUCTION INCREASES: The Ford Motor Company signed on to make Jeeps, the new general-purpose military vehicles desperately needed by American forces in World War II. The original Jeep design was submitted by the American Bantam Car Company.
The Willys-Overland company won the Jeep contract, however, using a design similar to Bantam's, but with certain improvements. The Jeep was in high demand during wartime, and Ford soon stepped in to lend its huge production capacity to the effort.
By the end of the war, the Jeep had won a place in the hearts of Americans, and soon became a popular civilian vehicle. And that catchy name? Some say it comes from the initials G.P., for "General Purpose." Others say it was named for Jeep the moondog, the spunky and durable creature who accompanied Popeye through the comics pages.
10 JANUARY 1944
THE G.I. BILL OF RIGHTS, first proposed by the American Legion, was passed by Congress. The Bill, more formally known as the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, was intended to smooth demobilization for America's almost 16 million servicemen and women.
Postwar college and vocational school attendance soared as more than 50 percent of honorably discharged veterans took advantage of education benefits of up to $500 a year for tuition, plus a living allowance. When they returned home to marry and start families in record numbers, veterans faced a severe housing shortage.
The home loan provisions of the GI Bill provided more than 2 million home loans and created a new American landscape in the suburbs. In 1990, President George Bush summed up the impact of the GI Bill: "The GI Bill changed the lives of millions by replacing old roadblocks with paths of opportunity."
10 JANUARY 1989
CUBAN TROOPS WITHDRAW FROM ANGOLA. As part of an arrangement to decrease Cold War tensions and end a brutal war in Angola, Cuban troops begin their withdrawal from the African nation. The process was part of a multilateral diplomatic effort to end years of bloodshed in Angola-a conflict that, at one time or another, involved the Soviet Union, the United States, Portugal, and South Africa.
Angola officially became an independent nation in 1975, but even before the date of independence, various groups within the former Portuguese colony battled for control. One group, the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), received support from the United States; another, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), got much of its support from the Soviet Union and Cuba; and a third group, National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), pragmatically took aid from whatever source was available, including South Africa and China.
The United States, the Soviet Union, and China each believed Angola was a critical battlefield for political dominance in mineral-rich and strategically important southern Africa. By September 1975, South African troops were assisting UNITA forces in Angola.
In November, Cuba – which became involved in Angola as part of Fidel Castro’s aggressive foreign policy to assert Cuba’s role in anticolonial struggles – responded by flying in thousands of troops to aid the MPLA. Their powerful assistance caused South African forces to withdraw.
In 1981, the South Africans, who saw an MPLA regime in Angola as threatening to its political control of neighboring Namibia, again invaded Angola and increased their aid to UNITA. UNITA’s leader, Jonas Savimbi courted U.S. assistance and visited with President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
The United States responded with military aid for UNITA’s forces and demanded that the Cuban troops depart Angola. As fighting escalated, Castro dispatched 15,000 additional troops to Africa. Throughout 1987 and 1988, UNITA and MPLA forces and their respective allies fought increasingly bloody battles.
Sensing that the situation was spiraling out of control, the United States helped broker an agreement in December 1988 between Angola, Cuba, and South Africa, whereby the three nations vowed to remove all foreign forces from Angola. All three nations had expended vast amounts of manpower and money in the seemingly endless conflict and Cuba, in particular, was eager to negotiate a graceful exit.
The Cuban troops began their withdrawal a few weeks later, and by 1991 they were gone. The situation in Angola was another indication that, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, Africa was coming to play a more significant role in the Cold War geopolitics. Additionally, the Cuban intervention in the conflict was yet another event that served to chill relations between the United States and Cuba.
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