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Nairobi, Kenya
I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on yebomimi@gmail.com The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A DAY IN FIREFORCE RHODESIA PART 1


Grand Reef FAF 8 came slowly to life with Technicians moving out to move their helicopters out of the revetments and on to the hard standing in readiness for another day’s action in the surrounding Tribal Trust lands. Four Squadron engineers removed the parachute flare from the Lynx and prepared it for daylight operations. The night’s dew was wiped from the Perspex windshields, oil levels checked and pre-flight inspections carried out on all aircraft. While this was going on the 3 squadron technician went about his task of turning both propellers on his DC 3 Paradak to prevent the engines from being damaged by a hydraulic stoppage on start up, eighteen times around to make sure all oil was purged from the cylinders.
Further down the Base 3 Commando troopers were jogging down the runway singing dirty songs in an attempt to get a reaction from the “Blue Jobs” (Air Force personnel) Other RLI troopers were checking their kit and weapons in readiness for the inevitable call-out. In the Operations rooms of both the Air Force and Army there was the constant clatter and squeal of the teleprinters clattering out ribbons of information and SITREP’s (Situation reports) The telegraphists shouting Stop sending Stop sending as the ribbons jammed. Aircrews sat in the ready rooms reading Southern Cross donated paperbacks or playing cards, waiting for the siren or hooter to signal a call-out.
A Selous Scout call-sign 33 Alpha were hidden on top of a kopje deep in the Tribal Trust Lands near the Pungwe River, they scanned the surrounding bush and kraals far below as the villagers stirred and started the daily chores. Everything seemed normal with the herd boys heading out into the countryside with the family cattle.
The corporal in charge of 33 Alpha noticed a group of women heading out of a village with pots and various bundles on their heads. They moved swiftly and silently which was not the normal village custom, heading towards the thick vegetation surrounding the Pungwe River. The Corporal straightened up and pulled a pair of field glasses out of his pack and brought the women into view, he was checking the whole area intently looking for clues of Terrorist activity. The women were too quiet, normally their chatter would echo throughout the kopjes as they went about their business.
A movement from the thick bush brought the Corporals eyes to see a flash as a terrorist’s rifle gleamed momentarily in the morning sunlight. The Corporal grunted and his stick was on the alert scanning the river line. This was a feeding party, now they needed to identify how many terrorists were in the camp and what weapons they were carrying; it was a game of cat and mouse. The Selous Scout stick hugged the granite rock scanning, and rescanning looking for clues, it took patience and nerves of steel. Movement was kept to a minimum, they were sure to keep well hidden and only communicated with hand signals, their AK assault rifles kept at the ready.
The Corporal indicated to his second to check the radio batteries as they would require good communications when they called in the Fireforce. The Corporal called his “Sunray” Two one Alpha to report the sighting speaking in a hushed voice and keeping his story to basic facts. “Sunray” replied and told 33 Alpha to maintain visual contact with the party.
The Terrorist group would not move by day normally so there was a good chance they would remain in the camp area unless they were spooked into bomb shelling and meeting up at a crash RV point.
During the next few hours the Scouts counted fifteen Terrorists armed with a variety of weapons and most of them wearing blue denims. Terrorists when on the move would also wear two sets of clothing and if they ran into Rhodesian security forces would stash their weapons and rapidly change clothing in an attempt to shake off their pursuers. This group were armed with a variety of weapons SKS, AK 47 rifles with fixed bayonets, two RPD machine guns and at least one RPG 7 rocket launcher was seen.
A constant dialogue was kept up with “Sunray” who was also on the net to the JOC in Umtali and to both the RLI and Air force.
The Airforce pilots and RLI stick leaders were summoned to the “Blues” briefing room maps were brought out and the briefing was initiated, in Rhodesian terms a “Scene was brewing”.
Grand Reef Airstrip came alive as RLI sticks armed to the teeth moved to their assigned helicopters in anticipation of the siren being sounded. Black is Beautiful camouflage cream was handed out; some troopers wrote their blood groups in biro pen on their shoulders. Technicians fussed about their helicopters and the Lynx technicians lifted FRANTAN canisters from their cradles and fixed them to the racks. Everyone’s ears were strained to get information on what was brewing, the adrenalin started to pump with beads of sweat and a glimpse of fear of the unknown beginning to show. People spoke in clipped sentences as the strain began to show. In the background the Paras began to check out their kit, Para dispatchers checking and rechecking, rifles being cocked as troopers checked their working parts for ease of movement. Any mistakes would certainly be deadly in this environment.
The K Car commander went on the net speaking to both 33 Alpha and “Sunray 21 Alpha” with the assistance of a relay station in the area called Oscar Alpha 3. How many gooks, what weapons, clothing, map references and as much information as the RLI Major could get. The Aircrew sat listening intently checking map references, weather, refuelling points, shackle codes and everything necessary to get to the sighting as quickly and quietly as possible.
Someone fired up the engines on the Paradak warming them up in anticipation of the deployment of the fireforce. The Lynx pilot ran to his aircraft carrying a wad of maps and his FN rifle, he climbed into his aircraft with his crew fussing over last minute adjustment of his weapon system. Then he started up and after carrying out cursory checks started taxiing towards the runway setting up his radio channels as he taxied out. The Lynx would head out to the general area and act as Telstar relaying information from the Scout call-sign directly to Grand Reef and the K Car. The scene was hot and the siren bellowed giving everyone around another jolt of adrenalin.
Stick Leaders ran out of the Ops briefing room and ran to their helicopters to brief their sticks on the ever changing events. Helicopter technicians stood by attempting to listen in and get as much information as possible. The Pilots having been briefed and also having set up a plan of action scrambled to their respective helicopters also spewing white maps as they ran. There were no such navigation aids like the GPS in those days, everything was done by map reading and Rhodesian Air Force pilots were magnificent at their map reading. It was impressive to watch them flying at low level changing from one map to another, they followed the K Car but everyone read their respective maps keeping on the ball at all times.
The pilots jumped into their respective helicopters with the troopers sitting waiting in anticipation for the forthcoming action. As soon as they were strapped in they hit the starting switch and monitored the engine start as the Artouste 3B engines screamed into life, throttle forward after 19000 rpm as the rotors wound up. The FAF was buzzing with the wail of engines and the beat of rotors.
Then K Car came onto the net calling up each G Car in turn “Yellow 1 Radio Check” “Yellow 1 fives” “Yellow 2” “Yellow 2 FIVES” and so on.
“K Cars taxiing” a pull on collective and the K Car taxied out of the revetments smoothly followed by Yellow section, three G Cars and their troops.
On to the runway and a smooth running formation take off as the Fireforce headed out to fight another day.
As Yellow section cleared Grand Reef the technicians on board their respective helicopters would say “Clear to cock” mechanically and automatically cock the 20 mm cannon in K Car or the twin .303 Browning machine guns in the G Car. They would then ensure that white smoke marking grenades were close at hand in case they spotted a potential target. The pilots would then attempt to brief the technician and stick leader (who would have a headset) on what was happening. On many occasions we would have to attempt to pick up what was happening by listening to the radio chatter, K Car and the K Car commander would be having a running commentary assisted by the Telstar Lynx with Sunray Two one Alpha putting in his five cents worth.
The idea was for the fireforce to head for the target area at very low level, just scraping over the vegetation so low that the trees would make a whistling noise as we overflew them. The K Car would pull up about five minutes away from the target area and if possible fly over the Scout or Army OP which normally would identify itself by displaying a white map or dayglo panel. The OP would try not to compromise its position if at all possible.
Once K Car had identified the OP (DONE SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH LOOKING FOR THE TARGET) it would head directly for the target area being spoken on by the call-sign on the ground with clear commands like TURN LEFT, LEFT, ROLL OUT, RIGHT A BIT, ROLL OUT, YOURE OVERHEAD NOW!!! At that moment all hell would break out with K Car throwing out a smoke generator to mark the target, and the gunner bringing the cannon to bear on target as this was the most critical part of the contact. Gunnery at this stage had to be quick and accurate, lives were at stake, and the Terrorists would do one of two things at this stage, start shooting at the aircraft orbiting or bombshell and get the hell out of the target area. It all depended on the terrain and vegetation. Most contacts were fought in river lines or kopjes with a few in village complexes where we had to contend with both Terrorists and villagers bomb shelling together making it extremely difficult not to kill or seriously injure a civilian in the contact area, remember we were being shot at while everyone was running and the first law is to look after number one so you down what is in your sights and take names afterwards. TO BE CONTINUED........

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I welcome comments from everyone on my book Choppertech.
I am interested especially on hearing from former ZANLA and ZIPRA combatants who also have thier story to tell.