The War of the Ogaden between Ethiopia and Somalia (1977-1978): Russians and Cubans enter the war and change their fate

(To Manuele Serventi Merlo)

(Continued) So a massive air bridge began to supply troops on the ground. From 25 November 1977 several hundred Soviet military transport planes carried out practically all kinds of weapons and military systems: from tanks to military aircraft, passing through artillery. At the same time, 18000 Cuban soldiers arrived in Ethiopia, 2000 South Yemen men and 1500 Russian military advisers.

The Cubans were organized in an armored division on two brigades, for a total of about 250 wagons between T-55 and T-66, accompanied by APC BTR-50. The Cubans also provided pilots and technicians for the MiGs and helicopters formally delivered to the Ethiopian Air Force.

For control of operations, Moscow launched the Kosmos 964 military reconnaissance satellite and, in the meantime, established a joint staff joint for the conduct of operations composed of generals of the various armies allied with, at the top, the gen. army Vasily Petrov (photo), first deputy commander of the Soviet terrestrial forces.

The gen. Petrov was an advocate of the employment of large, armored masses assisted by elated forces, and the Ogaden plains were well suited to this use. He elaborated a plan aimed, on the one hand, to try to always maintain the initiative and, on the other hand, move the Russian-Cuban troops as fast as possible according to need.

The Somalis, for their part, realizing that things were getting bad, in early December 1977 attacked the besieged city of Harar and another in the direction of Alem Maya, in an attempt to shake their shaky strategic situation. But the attack was easily rejected by the Cubans, arrived on site with the help of some batteries of BM-21 rocket launchers from 122 mm. This made it possible to reinforce the Ethiopian divisions already present in Harar with the aforementioned Cuban armored division. Thus the relationship of forces became by now decidedly favorable to the Ethiopians and the Somalis were forced to put themselves on the defensive.

08 January 1978 kicked off the Russian-Cuban-Ethiopian counter-offensive, preceded by a series of air raids by MiG-21 and MiG-17, piloted by Cubans, and F-5A striking Somali positions at Harar and the base Hargeysa Air Force.

Accompanied by a continuous bombardment of artillery and rocket launchers, an Ethiopian division called the assault on Somali positions outside the city of Harar. The Somalis tried to counterattack but they were soon caught by the massive wagon of the Cuban division. The losses of the Somali army were enormous and forced the army to retrieve the surviving wards beyond the Gara Marda step, in defense of the Jijiga road junction.

In the following month of February the situation of Somali troops worsened even more due to the fact that the Somali Air Corps it did not exist anymore and the dominion of the air was now in the hands of the Russian-Cuban-Ethiopian forces. It was the prelude to the definitive defeat of Somalia.

The 3 March 1978 crawled the definitive attack planned by gen. Petrov against three Somali National Army brigades attest to Jijiga's defense.

In addition to the decisive contribution of artillery and aeronautics, this action was ordered to an Ethiopian division and two Cuban mechanized brigades to attack Somali locations from the south, while a large aircraft operation was the use of selected infantry units and the use of Mi-6 and Mi-8 helicopters. Lastly, Petrov caused the second Cuban mechanic brigade to break through the Garda Marda step, which swept away any residual Somali resistance.

Somalis was left to retreat from Jijiga. Soon, however, the retreat became a route for troops. This allowed the Ethiopians to resume soon all the cities and villages previously lost in Ogaden.

Given the favorable situation, Mengistu wanted to spread to Somalia to settle the accounts definitively, but the Soviets and the Cubans were firmly opposed to such an eventuality.

This was the end of hostilities. The 8 March 1978 Siad Barre surrendered and announced the full withdrawal from the Ogaden.


Also read the first and second parts:

The Ogaden war between Ethiopia and Somalia (1977-1978): the historical and political premises of the conflict

The Awaden War between Ethiopia and Somalia (1977-1978): Somalia attacks