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The Last Hot Battle of the Cold War

The Last Hot Battle of the Cold War Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review April 2014 Title The Last Hot Battle of the Cold War
Author Peter Polack Publisher Casemate Publishing
Published 2014 ISBN 9781612001951
Format 232 pages, hardbound MSRP (USD) $32.95


Author Peter Polack chronicles a critical clash in The Last Hot Battle of the Cold War – an exciting, illuminating study from Casemate.

For three months between late 1987 and early 1988, Angolan, Cuban, South African and UNITA forces locked horns at Cuito Cuanavale in southeast Angola.

The Soviet-led FAPLA – Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola – initially suffered serious setbacks at the hands of invading South African Defense Forces (SADF).  Cuban intervention – both ground and air assets – followed.  And with latest Soviet weapons, the Communist allies successfully counterattacked.

After brief introductory notes, contents cover major combatants, course chronologically through ground operations, and conclude with air actions.  Chapters on casualties, POWs and the ceasefire follow.  And a glossary, appendices, endnotes, selected bibliography and index wrap things up.

Dozens of stimulating stories season the study.  And Polack notes that in "every available instance eye-witness accounts or narratives by soldiers in the field have been preferred over the distance recollections of senior officers, several of whom have written about this conflict."

But therein lies the book's foremost flaw.  Eye-witness testimony makes good journalism – but moot history.  And while first-hand "narratives" excite and entertain, they can prove unreliable and inaccurate.  Combat after-action reports often confirm that.

Maybe that's why Polack credulously claims, for instance, that SADF personnel viewed MiGs "close enough to see the red star on their sides".  What Cuban and Angolan insignia sport that device?

Still, Polack strives mightily to achieve balance and fairness in covering Cuito Cuanavale combat.  And until researchers gain unfettered access to official Cuban and Angolan sources, his methodology remains our only option.  Interested in Cold War conflict?  Grab this book.


With thanks to Casemate Publishing for the review copy!