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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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Friday, September 5, 2008

FIREFORCE POINTS TO PONDER


An interesting article on Small Wars Council, note that in the interview the RLI troopie mentions that SAAF helicopters were not fitted with Strela shrouds, this is not true. The Rhodesian Air Force noted and used the SAAF strela shrouds on their helicopters and further modified them to an extent that they looked completely different from the original SAAF mK 1 Anti Strela shroud.
G and K Cars were constantly being shot at with a huge array of weapons and were shot down by small-arms fire, during the war only one K Car was hit by shrapnel from an RPG 7 Rocket which exploded close by. A G Car was hit by an RPG on landing and one soldier on board was killed (SAAF crew Ray Wernich engineer).On external operations we faced 12.7, 14.5 and 23 mm AAA guns,During a Raid into Zambia Mark Dawson was shot down by AAA fire while running into a target, the AAA round had struck his tail rotor gearbox causing the gauze filter to drop into the gearbox siezing it up in flight. The helicopter crashed on its side and two K Cars landed nearby and rescued the downed airmen in the heat of battle. This story is in Choppertech. The reason why more helicopters were not shot down was simple -Nap of the earth flying and good reconniasance by fixed wing aircraft on external operations. We did however lose a G Car with Francois Du Toidt and Kevin Nelson when they accidentally overflew a huge ZANLA Camp in Mozambique.They were downed by small arms fire. Always be careful of the man with the SKS a round in the right place will bring down the most sophisticated and armoured helicopter in existance as the Americans found out in Iraq with a humble farmer bringing down an Apache helicopter.Another killer for helicopter crews were telephone and electricity wires which brought down many helicopters and killed some of Rhodesias top military officers. Low level-HIGH RISK.
There is mention in this article about radio batteries-ALL military batteries were locally produced in Rhodesia due to sanctions and were unreliable to say the least-K Car ALWAYS carried a spare radio and batteries and it was not uncommon to see the K Car drop into a contact area to drop off a spare radio or batteries to a stick on the ground.
With regard to the wearing of shorts in battle, this was an accepted thing even with aircrews who would fly in the G and K Cars wearing a T shirt, boxer shorts and vellies without socks. This was practice was stopped after Rob Nelson jumped out of a burning Alouette and his pilot Roger Watt received severe burns to his arms and back after a .762 AK tracer round ignited their fuel tank-the Alouette was completely burned out when it touched ground in a mealie field.
The Army made it compulsory for FF troops to wear longs due to the amount of troopies being killed in FF actions it was thought that the terrorists could spot their white skin from a distance, even with liberal lashings of black is beautiful camo cream, which made the troopers hot and was difficult to wash off.

Interview With an RLI Vet" by Major Jon Custis, USMC (Posted at Small Wars Council)

J Custis:

As a "troopie", you definitely operated at the level I am interested in. I understand the flushing fire used in Drake shoots, and I've never been able to find any good references to how you guys did it. I mean, geometry of fires is an important thing to consider in any offensive action, and the current military tactic is to use a 90 degree offset as much as possible between the covering force and maneuvering force. You gentlemen had stop groups all over the place, blocking likely avenues of escape once the terrs went to ground. I can only imagine that deconflicting the location of the stops and sweep line must have been difficult.

Did most of the deconfliction come from amongst the NCOs leading the sticks, from the FF commander in the K-car, or a combination of both? I imagine each contact was different and you were sometimes undermanned, but with even three stops on the ground and a sweep line, I'm thinking crossfire!

How much did the NCO's appreciation of the terrain come into play, and did stop groups attempt to find cover behind a decent piece of terrain? Or did you often find yourselves simply going prone and waiting to see what appeared?

As for your stick radios, what sort of range did you get with them, and did you ever find it lacking on a FF op? I'm assuming that with the K-car aloft, or a ParaDak overhead as a radio relay, the various elements could communicate, even it took some time.

A final question for now...What did you think of the anti-aircraft threat against the Alouettes when you were inbound to the contact zone? Were RPGs, SAMs, and ground fire just a routine part of the fight, or not often encountered? I ask because I am a firm believer that we are not employing our helicopter assests in Iraq to the fullest extent, because we fear the threat is too high. In a way, I feel it is almost shameful, because we are fighting the insurgents on their terms. the Rhodesian air force certainly had fewer airframes and precious spares, but had the helos on top of the bad guys all the time.

RLI Veteran:

I joined the RLI at the beginning of 1980, and so I am no expert on Fire Force. However to answer your questions I can add the following, with an apology for making statements that you have already covered, and repeating the obvious:

Other than Fire Force ops, RLI also carried out the usual patrol, ambush, O.P. operations expected of infantry units. Our use of fire and movement, snap and drake shooting etc, was basically the same regardless of the operation type, the difference being the immediate helicopter assistance available in Fire Force. As far as 90 degree offsets for covering sweep lines are concerned, we generally didn`t use them, although they were certainly part of anti-vehicular ambush drills, and L-shaped ambushes etc.

Obviously, when sweeping, everyone moved forward (reasonably slowly), keeping the line as straight as feasible (a wry smile as I write this). When contact is made the action would depend largely on the distance of the terrs from the troops, immediate action drills dictating the response - together with the nature of the terrain and bush (I don`t actually think you can ever train enough to cover all the possibilities) A very close contact would result in an immediate run through (the thickness of the bush could prevent that), while longer distances would result in drake shooting - emptying 2 magazines each as quickly as accuracy makes possible into likely cover, together with K-car shells etc etc. We would not waste time trying to identify the exact position of the individual terrs (ie looking for muzzle flash etc), although obvious targets would be dispatched immediately. Observation of the target was generally carried out while drake shooting. At some appropriate point
the sweep became a skirmish line, ie splitting the sweep into two, the left section (called a flank) goes forward say 20 feet, while the right flank covers. When the left flank goes down, the right flank then moves forward while the left now covers, each troopie Drake shooting when he is part of the covering flank, or firing from the shoulder on the run if he is part of the flank moving forward. At some point both flanks combine to finally run through the terrs position firing from the shoulder. The other skirmish option was called a Pepper-pot, where individuals moved forward in random, each troopie on the
ground covering those going forward - NCO`s or junior officers decided the skirmish method, while coordinating with the FFC for the timing of the assault. Pepper-pot (or something that resembled it) was the usual for 4 man sticks.

The overall point of the exercise was for the sweep line to locate the position of hidden terrs, at which point the K-car or Lynx gave them their attention. If an air strike was called for, then our job was to keep their heads down until the strike craft ordered us to stop firing just at the end of his run in (so we didn`t hit him!) The stops, or Stop Groups, were set in place to ambush points of escape, usually dry river beds, obvious paths through thick bush, the saddles in small hills etc, but their overall position was dictated by the FFC, while how the stops ambush was laid out, by their NCO. Stops would not be placed in the immediate front of any sweep line (!) and could often be quite far from the center of attention - A man can run a kilometer in a few minutes when he is frightened. At some point, decided by the FF commander, the stop groups could then be picked up and set elsewhere, or be required to sweep down said saddle, dry river bed etc etc to locate stragglers. When terrs were sited by either sweep or stops groups, or the shooting simply started, a call to the K-car would bring him over, or one or more of the G-cars. When a definite sighting in close proximity was made by troops, we would snap-shoot the target (double tap, or single tap, or a controlled 2-3 round squeeze on fully auto), and then drake shoot as normal. To again state the obvious, the idea was for the sweeps never to walk into each other, or into the stop groups, and all overall movement on the ground is dictated to by the Fire Force Commander. To move around unbidden in the overall combat zone was a definite no no, and would invite unwelcome attention from above - I am aware of at least one occasion when a stick from 1 Commando was attacked by a K-car. Unfortunately I never listened in on the chit chat between FFC and NCO, so cant comment further.


The A76 radios were ok at line of site communication, but they really went [] in hilly terrain. For example while I had no problem speaking with a helicopter some kilometers away (5-7 km in this instance), the chopper couldn`t raise the other half of my callsign at the foot of the hill I was on - I was a few hundred feet up the side. The Allouette I was talking in onto their location was flying down a river valley at roughly the same altitude as my stick.

The A76 ate batteries, and they had no means of indicating the power level left in the battery, other than a terse "change your battery you are breaking up," or something ruder, you were never sure if it was fully ok other than a radio check with friends etc. They were also large by todays standards, for what they did - but we are talking about seventies technology.

They worked just fine with overhead callsigns, although sometimes they received "flutter" from the helicopters as they turned. I should add that A76`s came with an attachment to plug into the aerial socket called a Sputnik (it looked like one).

This basically consisted of a coax cable connected to a small hub with 3 or 4 inverted and flexible aerial blades screwed into it. The idea was to fix the sputnik up a tree, and this increased our comms range by quite a bit. I remember sending sitreps to a relay stick sat on top a large hill about 15 KM`s from my position, where the terrain between us was very hilly
and broken up. The relay was placed there to allow a number of sticks to communicate with our base camp some 30 km`s away.

For much longer distance comms we had another beast of a machine that would fill a back pack by our usual light weight standards. I think this was called a B52, if memory serves me correct, and I don`t think any pun on the bomber was intended.

I can only remember our stick carrying one of these on one occasion, and that after the war while our Commando was exercising in the Inyanga Mountains by doing the SAS selection course for a laugh (!) The B52 had an elaborate aerial arrangement that had to be laid out in a certain pattern, and were really meant for a base site, rather than a patrol. They were great at
picking up Radio 5 in South Africa though, a popular music channel (strictly forbidden of course, just mentioned in passing Rhodesian Allouettes were all modified to try combat Strelas (SAM7). Basically the airforce engineers designed a shroud that directed the hot air leaving the turbine up into the blades of the chopper, instead of straight out the back as was standard.

If you look at pics of Rhodesian Allouettes you will see the mod. For reasons unknown the South Africans didn`t take the design up and it was absent on their Allouettes. Thankfully troopies were generally unaware of the strela threat, but of course we were aware of the danger from RPG7 rockets (etc). Our training had us out of the choppers pretty smartly after the wheels contacted the earth - bump and go. G-cars hugged the tree tops especially on run in, and they used ground features to good effect. I was frequently surprised by Allouettes suddenly appearing as they rose from over behind a small hill very near to our position, and their overall "quietness" when watched on approach was frankly astonishing. The Bells on the other hand
could be heard many miles away when inbound, and of course they deafened [] out of us by the time we got out of them. While they carried 8 troops instead of 4, the noise would have made them awful in the "surprise" department. Dont underestimate the effect of the comparative quietness of the Allouettes on approach, this will have played a huge part in Fire Force`s success.

Why didn`t more K-Cars, Daks, or Lynxs get shot down by Strelas given their relatively higher flying altitude? I have absolutely no idea. It seems to me the terrs could have caused mayhem with our FF if they had applied a few clever traps with those things. They certainly knocked a few Trojans down, and a Canberra went down in Mozambique apparently shot down, and of course we lost two civilian airliners, but to my knowledge we never lost a chopper to a strela. Strange, perhaps they kept the fact quiet? We certainly had choppers shot down by ground fire, a few of which crash landed and were recovered, and we had a South African Puma helicopter and a Dak take RPG7 hits in Mozambique, the former causing the greatest single loss of RLI troops.

As an aside, I always found pictures of the troops on FF ops interesting. Certainly by the end of 1979/1980, the use of short trousers was no longer, and we all wore normal camo long trousers, or one piece camo jumpsuits. This was because a number of troops had taken hits in the legs, so a dress change was instituted, but I don`t know what year this occurred - sounds all
rather casual I know, but the use of shorts and light running shoes was originally designed to help increase speed and mobility. People are sometimes surprised by our dress in the bush, however while spit and polish and identical kit was expected in the barracks, out in the bush we were free to make our own choice in webbing, light weight boots or running shoes, etc etc. We wore face veils as bandanas to keep the sweat out of our eyes (who [] is Rambo anyway?), and no helmets (unless jumping from a Dak) because of their weight (I`m sure you know this anyway). I used to wear a pair of shoes called Veld Skoens, a popular, soft, tan coloured leather shoe sported by officers, but not allowed as normal dress when in barracks for the other ranks (boots only for us). I modified my "Vellies" (pronounced Fellies, or Felt Skoons, an Afrikaans word) by having our cobbler replace the sole with car tyre tread, as car tyres were used by the locals out in the villages to make
sandles. It made the shoe a bit heavier, but the tread spoor blended in well when in a TTL. And those vellies gave me 30 000 miles . . .

-Unquote

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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.