The Nigerian Army began a series of Blitzkrieg type of warfare against the Biafran Separatist, advancing in multiple fronts
According to a Nigerian-Biafran war Vet who spoke with African Military Blog in an exclusive interview….
The Nigerian Civil war was a bloody conflict fought between the Nigerian Army and the Biafran Secessionist starting on 6 July, 1967 at 5 a.m. to be precise and ended in 1970. For the duration of the war, the Biafrans were greatly outnumbered having only 10,000 defected soldiers which grew to about 30,000 at the end of the conflict meanwhile the Nigeria Army troops was around 85,000 which grew to a staggering 250,000 soldiers. The Nigerian side was been supported and bolstered by all major countries at that time, bringing both the United States and The Soviet Union together even though both were neck-deep in the Cold War a feat most historians considers remarkable. Being supported by the United States, The Soviet Union, Britain, France e.t.c the Nigerians was expected to win, Yes they won the war albeit with a high Human and material high cost.
Biafran Supreme Commander General Ojukwu inspecting his troops
Having secured the backing of powerful countries, the Nigerian Government began a series of Blitzkrieg type of warfare against the Biafran Separatist, advancing in multiple fronts (code-named Operation UNICORD). The amount of small arms bullet supplied by the British alone was vastly more than 30 million.Despite being at a severe disadvantage, the Biafrans separatists persevered and fought bravely for two more years till the bitter end. With limited ammunition at the Biafran sides, their front-line troops were usually issued only two bullets for offensive actions and one bullet for defensive action as they were expected to retrieve or capture fleeing and fallen enemy soldier’s equipment.
The Biafrans having understood that the their Northern flanks which consist of Gakem, Nsukka, Ogugu were their strongest defensive positions went ahead to reinforce it. The Nigerian began their advance on that axis with the 1st Division while the 2nd Division came from the south. After the first three days of fighting, more than 100 Nigerian soldiers has been killed for only 4 Biafran soldiers were dead with nine wounded. The Biafran Supreme Commander and Leader Col. Ojukwu went on air to announce the victory while proudly saying that one Biafran soldier is equal to 10 and twenty Hausa soldier.
Biafran Army soldiers leaving their trenches to assault the Nigerian Army troops
However, with sever ammunition shortage biting hard, the Biafrans were forces to produce their own equipment developing some potent Armored Cars, Armored Personnel Carriers, Land Mines and Surface-to-Surface rocketry. The defence of their homeland was so solid and impenetrable that the Nigerian Government requested for new arms from their foreign allies who responded swiftly- France subsequently sent Armored cars and APCS (Alvis Saladin, Saracen, Ferret and Panhard AMLs), The British sent light arms while the Soviets delivered some Ilyushin Il-28 Beagle medium jet bomber, L-29 Delfin jet, MiG-17 Fresco fighter-bomber jets which were some of the best at that time. The bombers and Fighters were crewed by Egyptian, Soviet and Cuban mercenaries, they proceeded to unleash a blistering attack on the Biafran population and Military infrastructure daily in-order to demoralize them. Combined with a total naval blockade of the new country.
However, with sever ammunition shortage biting hard, the Biafrans were forces to produce their own equipment developing some potent Armored Cars, Armored Personnel Carriers, Land Mines and Surface-to-Surface rocketry.
Years after the conflict, countless heroic deeds by the Biafrans in defence of their homeland has been swept under the carpet and as the day goes by more Civil war vets are being lost. A former Biafran war vet spoke to African Military Blog about how a Biafran Army Corporal using his bayonet single handedly halted the advance of a whole enemy infantry Brigade, capturing an Armored Car and destroying two more. His efforts made the campaign to defend Umuahia and re-capture the capital city possible.
The Nigerian Military having conducted the largest amphibious assault operation in Africa till date. Boats, ships and ferries conveying heavily armed Nigerian Army 3rd Marine Commando troops to Bonny a captured Biafran Port. When the beach-head has been secured a section of troops were ferried from Bonny to Calabar in October of 1967 led by the infamous Benjamin Adekunle (Black Scorpion) with the aim of capturing more coastline cities. After series of battles, the Biafran strategic port city Port Harcourt fell to the attackers. Trying to press on their gains, they attempted to link up with the 2nd Infantry Divison thundering towards Onitsha and Owerri on September 17th, 1968 the Nigerian 3rd Marine commando began advancing towards Umuahia from Ikot Ekpene (Operation OAU) after suffering series of defeats in the last few months, with 2nd battalion 3 inf. Bde. protecting it’s left flank.
Outline of the battle
In a highly strategic move in October, the Biafran forces reorganized and the Biafran high command sent battalions from the 63rd inf. Bde, 14th Division, 4th Commando Brigade and some elements from the special ‘S’ Division in an all-out attempt to checkmate the 2nd Divisions onslaught and re-capture Owerri held by the 3MCDO. Thus, on December 21, 1968 the Biafran army surrounded Owerri, firing mortars and shells into the city. Meanwhile, on 3 January by Colonel Ojukwu of two more Brigades of the “S” Division from Aba front under the command of Colonel Onwuatuegwu to the Owerri front to help the 14th Division in the siege of Owerri. Thus on January 8, 1969 the Biafrans gained control of Owerri.
So began a bloody battle which deteriorated to savage hand-to-hand combat, At the end of January 1969, in a conference with Colonel Ojukwu and Brigadier Kalu, Colonel Onwuatuegwu proposed that head-on tactics should be abandoned, and what fire-power the Biafrans had should be used to try to clear the flanks of Owerri and close the Nigerian supply line. On 26 April 1969 when the Biafran troops led by Brigadier Ogbugo Kalu succeeded in driving the Federal forces out Owerri for the second time, Biafrans went agog with the news. This battle of Owerri and of course the battle of OAU ended in favor of Biafran army,
Corporal Nwafor’s Account.
On one fateful day, a Biafran platoon from the 39th battalion, 14th Division was ordered to clear a densely wooded area of enemy troops, the platoon leader knowing fully well that his men are exhausted and war-weary having been fighting for days on end without respite cautioned them to move under cover to avoid being spotted by snipers. The whole area has seen heavy fighting recently with both sides suffering mass casualty. Battered by artillery and airstrikes the Biafran platoon were few meters ahead of the 14th Divisions main defensive lines. His platoon soon made contact with the enemy’s vanguard. Fierce fighting soon ensue and in a few hours his platoon leader was missing and the rest of his unit in disarray the death toll on both side were pilling up.
The Nigerians initially were having the upper hand because they were supported by Saladin, Panhard AML armored cars and Saracen APCs. As the chaos and general confusion in the battlefield intense coupled with the fear of certain death no one knew whether he was filled with rage, fear or the surge adrenaline because as the enemy crept closer and with his ammo spent, he lept at his attackers to the surprise of the other soldiers lying prone in the defensive line. With his bayonet he slashed his way across the battlefield killing and wounding so many enemy soldiers. As his rampage continued, he stumbled across an enemy armored car possibly a Panhard AML-90 firing rounds into the Biafran side- gripping the bayonet in his bloody hand, he killed the turret gunner quickly and then proceed to finish off the soldiers inside the vehicle while under enemy fire. Stabbing them from the armored cars open turret hatch. After killing the occupants of the armored car, Cpl Nwafor commandeered the vehicle and proceeded to engage the other enemy vehicles in the area single-handedly firing rounds after rounds of 90 mm shells at them. Destroying two armored cars and some Saracens while firing on the enemy troops with the vehicles machine gun.
(However, some account said he threw a grenade into the open hatch of the armored car while being shot and mortally wounded, he died few minutes later)
There have been many reports of other Biafran units coming in contact with mercenaries protected by armored cars. The mercenaries were tribal fighters from the neighboring Niger and Chad, been heavily built in stature able absorb gunfire from their mark 5 repeater rifle (Nicknamed Gwodo-Gwodo). It was said that a single mercenary fighter could carry a browning heavy machine gun on his soldier, mount and fire it- the browning is a .50 cal squad automatic heavy machine gun that takes takes about six Biafran soldier to transport and operate.
Seeing the destruction inflicted on them, the Nigerian soldiers assault began to falter and they started retreating slowly allowing Cpl. Nwafor to reverse the captured Panhard AML vehicle in pursuit. As the armored car rolled on, firing as he drove he interchanged between the main gun and the machine gun inflicting heavy casualty on the Nigerians. As the Biafrans saw the opening they pressed on their attack staying behind the speeding Armored car for cover while chasing the retreating enemy troops and firing from the hip and shoulder till they reached the Nigerian defensive rear lines. The retreating Nigerian soldiers then joined their comrades to organised a defence against the Biafrans bearing down on them.
In a twist of event, the Biafran Officer in charge of the defensive operation without knowing about the events currently occurring was ordering a general retreat to the rear while his troops were already assaulting the enemies defensive position far ahead of the front-line. Meanwhile the Nigerians who were expecting an easy victory but were actually on the run.
For 14 days after the event the two sides exchanged gunfire and artillery resulting in a large casualties, the commander of the 3rd Marine Commando in the south began a plea to the Military Headquarter for the remnant of the 2nd infantry Division down south to reinforce him saying his division face certain annihilation. The reinforcement never came because previously in March, the Biafrans had launched a locally made surface-to-surface rocket system called OGBUNIGWE against a large convoy of 106 trucks conveying 6000 Nigerian troops and ammunition completely wiping it out. Having lost more than 15,000 troops in his campaign (OPERATION TAIL WIND) he ordered a full retreat to Port Harcourt on October 1st.
A Nigerian Army Panhard AML (Photo Credits getty images)
The Panhard AML which was initially named ‘Corporal Nwafor’ was re-captured by federal troops of the 3rd Marine Commando during the unsuccessful Biafran attempt to retake Ohoba in July 1969.
However, in 7th of January, 1970, the Nigerians made yet another attempt (Code-named OPERATION TIGER CLAW) after capturing Umuahia the 3rd marine commando Division (now under Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo), 1st and 2nd infantry division launched their final offensive at the battered Biafran ‘S’ division defending the Capital city using Soviet 122 mm artillery and airstrikes, the resistance fell and the war efforts went downhill from there on. A few months later the war ended.
Biafran soldiers lining up in the frontiers
The account collaborates with other stories gathered by African Military Blog with timing and location matching precisely.
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