It was only after the MPLA debacle at Catengue that the Cubans became fully aware of the South African invasion, that Luanda would be taken and that their training missions were in grave danger unless they took immediate action. Neto had requested immediate and massive reinforcements from Havana at the urging of Argüelles. On 4 November Castro decided to launch an intervention on an unprecedented scale codenaming the mission Operation Carlota after 'Black Carlota', the leader of a slave rebellion in 1843. The same day, a first plane with 100 heavy weapon specialists, which the MPLA had requested in September, left for Brazzaville, arriving in Luanda on 7 November. On November 9 the first two Cuban planes arrived in Luanda with the first 100 men of a contingent of a 652-strong battalion of elite Special Forces. The first priority of the Cubans was helping the MPLA to keep hold of Luanda. Fidel Castroexplained the Cuban intervention: "When the invasion of Angola by regular South African troops started 23 October, we could not sit idle. And when the MPLA asked us for help, we offered the necessary aid to prevent Apartheid from making itself comfortable in Angola". see also:
Bristol Britannia 1964
With Operation Carlota Cuba became a major player in the conflict. Unlike its foreign engagements in the sixties this was no secret operation. Castro decided to support Angola in all openness, sending special forces and 35,000 infantry by the end of 1976, deploying them at Cuba's own expense and with its own means from November 1975 to January 1976. As on its previous missions all personnel were volunteers and the call-up was extremely popular. Air transportation for quick deployments proved to be a major problem. Cuba only had three ageing medium-range Bristol Britannia turboprop planes not fit to make 9,000 km non-stop transatlantic crossings. Nevertheless, between 7 November and 9 December the Cubans managed to run 70 reinforcement flights to Luanda. Initially they were able to make stops in Barbados, the Azores or Newfoundland prompting pressure from Washington to deny Cuba landing rights. But moving take-offs to Cuba's easternmost airport, Holguin, taking as little weight as necessary and adding additional tanks, the planes were used for numerous runs across the ocean until the Soviets pitched in with long-distance jet planes.
For the bulk of the troops and the equipment the Cubans commandeered all available ships in its merchant marine, the first three sailing from Havana on 8 November. They docked in Luanda on 27 and 29 November and 1 December bringing 1,253 troops and equipment.
The deployment of troops was not pre-arranged with the USSR, as often reported and depicted by the US-administration. On the contrary, it also took the USSR by surprise. The Soviets were forced to accept the Cuban troop deployment so as not to endanger relations with their most important ally in close proximity to the United States. But they had in mind to keep a lid on the extent of the Cuban engagement and merely sent arms and a few specialists to Brazzaville and Dar-es-Salaam. It was only two months later after the fighting swung in favour of the Cubans and the US passed the Clark Amendment that Moscow agreed to a degree of support by arranging for a maximum of 10 transport flights from Cuba to Angola.
With the FNLA attacking from the east the situation for the MPLA only a few days before independence looked dim. In addition to this, Cabinda was under threat of invasion by a FLEC-Zairian force. The Cuban troops able to intervene before the declaration of independence on 11 November were basically the ones posted in the three CIRs, the 100 specialists that arrived in Luanda on 7 November and the first 164 special forces of Operation Carlota arriving on two planes on the evening of 8 November. The 100 specialists and 88 men of the special forces were immediately dispatched to the nearby front at Quifangondo where the FNLA-Zairian force had launched an assault that very morning. They supported 850 FAPLA, 200 Katangans and one Soviet advisor. First heavy weapons had already arrived from Cuba by ship on 7 November, among them canons, mortars and 6 of the infamous BM-21 (Katyusha) multiple rocket launchers. The Cubans received reports that the expected invasion of Cabinda had started on the morning of 8 November.