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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, September 2, 2008

SNAFU


By Anthony Seaward BSAP
The tragedy at Hoya

The St Albert’s mission abductions are recorded in the chronicle of events of the war.

One of my postings was to Gwelo central in July 1972 at the time of the Wankie mine disaster, which has been covered, in an earlier chapter.

I had been appointed as the stick leader of Gwelo (1) P.A.T.U. We had a crest and cloth arm badge designed by Terry Fitzsimmons, one of the Magistrates at the Gwelo court at the time. The crest consisted of a mushroom standing on a pile of dung surrounded by flies.

The motto beneath read "this no def krad eth ni". To the casual observer the significance of the motto was lost. To the more observant viewer however the motto when read backwards was very apt. We were never questioned about it or ordered to remove the offensive message during the entire time we were together as a P.A.T.U. stick and I still had my crest until I left Zimbabwe in 2004.

During July 1972 my stick was sent up to Hoya in the Mount Darwin area of Operation Hurricane in the North East of Rhodesia where Terrorist activity was rife.

I recall being scrambled in the middle of the night. 290 odd school children had been abducted from St Albert’s mission situated on top of the Escarpment and were being rushed down the escarpment into the Zambezi valley to be taken to Zambia for Terrorist training.

The security forces reacted very quickly and by the next day we had pursued the terrorists and rescued about 285 very frightened and shaken kids.

They were taken back to Hoya where they were housed and fed and questioned by SB. Whilst details were being taken from the children, my Constable attached to the stick, was sitting near by and decided to clean his rifle surrounded by a group of about thirty of the youngsters.

I was in the Ops room with the Army Medic playing cards when a shot rang out.

We both ran out fearing the worst. Sure enough the constable had had an accidental discharge and there on the ground lay a young thirteen-year-old girl. She appeared unharmed but on closer examination by the Medic it was found that a bullet had passed through her body under her armpits (she had been standing with her hands clasped behind her head).

Death had been instantaneous.

The Constable was still sitting with his rifle in his hands.

I soon established that he had adopted the incorrect procedure when clearing his rifle.

Instead of removing the magazine and then cocking the rifle to discharge the live round from the breach, he had cocked the rifle then removed the magazine (does that sound familiar?). A fatal error which was to mar an otherwise successful rescue operation and lead to the Constable being convicted of Culpable Homicide (Manslaughter) in the Sinoia Magistrates Court many months later.

Oops!

The accidental killing resulted in wide spread publicity in the Rhodesia Herald. The dead girl had been the daughter of a Herald reporter. (SNAFU).

Leg before wicket

Needless to say, Hoya was an important forward base for the Security forces and helicopters would come in unannounced (to us) throughout the day during the same rescue operation.

One morning we were all playing cricket on the dusty football field near the Ops room. I think it was P.A.T.U. V’s Territorial 's or some such unit. In any event we had a pile of bricks stacked about three feet high being used as” wickets”.

It was whilst playing that a helicopter, an Allouette II, I think, came in to land on the football field. Instead of landing vertically the pilot had decided to land like a light aircraft running the craft across the field blowing up a cloud of choking dust ahead of him. We all scampered off the foot ball field to shelter from the dust.

His vision was completely obscured by the clouds of dust as he sped across our "cricket pitch".

Suddenly the front wheel of the chopper struck the "wickets". The front of the craft dipped down and the rotor blades, still spinning at high revs struck the dirt. The craft disintegrated with bits of rotor blade and fuselage flying in all directions.

None of the passengers and crew were seriously hurt in the accident and the helicopter was dismantled and taken away by other choppers over a two-day period. (SNAFU).

Andre Rabie

Sgt. Andre Rabie MLM will be remembered by his colleagues as a fearless and efficient member of the Selous Scouts.

The security forces had devised a frozen area system in the North East whereby a sector became frozen when special operations were being carried out in a particular area. The whole North East was divided into sectors and given code numbers. When an operation was in progress, the sector would be declared frozen until the special operation (mainly by Selous Scouts) was completed. No other forces were permitted into the frozen area.

On the 16th September 1973 I was operating with my P.A.T.U. stick again in the Hoya area.

An area had been frozen some distance away from us and we stayed put in the camp waiting for the all clear in order to continue with our patrol.

Frozen areas were sometimes ill defined and something bad was bound to happen sometime. It did. We heard later that day with great sadness that Andre had strayed out of a frozen area into a non-frozen area and had been mistaken for a Terrorist. He had been shot by one of our own security force units operating near to but not within that frozen area.

It was a terrible accident and Andre was a great loss to us all. (SNAFU).

Bad communications

By 1978 the Terrorists had spread out in their hundreds through the Maranda T.T.L. in Victoria Province and were threatening the very heartland of the country towards Shabani, Selukwe and Gwelo.

I had been sent down to Nyala base camp in Belingwe to do a spell as Member In Charge. A Considerable number of incidents occurred during my stint and on one occasion bad communications resulted in a P.A.T.U. stick walking into an ambush.

Late one evening I received a very indistinct radio message from a stick operating to the North East of the base. They had spotted a group of about fifteen gooks about a mile and a half from their O.P. and wanted back up and instructions as to what action to take. Reception at the time was rated by my Police Reserve radio operator as strength (1) and distorted. Under these conditions it was impossible to properly communicate with the stick.

Despite my efforts to warn him that as it was now heading towards sunset and that they should be wary of a trap, he was satisfied that a follow up was possible.

It was a trap. The stick had obviously been spotted; probably by a mujiba (Terrorist spy) and they were walking into an ambush. This sort of tactic used by the Terrorists was common practice and a lot of security force units were to learn the dangers of late evening follow-ups. The stick leader was adamant that he could make a successful follow-up and I told him that he was in a better position to make that assessment from where he was but that I still thought it an unwise move.

It turned out to be a set up and as the stick followed up in the fading light they came under sustained fire from a well-organised ambush. The Constable attached to the stick was killed in the contact and the Terrorists soon escaped into the night. It took us several hours to extract the stick and the dead Constable from the contact area.

Paddy Allen the O.C. Gwelo District flew down the next day and an enquiry was held in my office.

The stick leader claimed that I had given the order for the follow up to take place. Fortunately I had recorded the entire conversation on a tape recorder and the O.C. listened to it with growing anger at the allegations of the stick leader. With supporting evidence from the radio operator the claim was dismissed and the stick sent home. (SNAFU).

Hanging loose

Nyala boasted a substantial airstrip and fuel supply and was frequently used by Fire force and other light aircraft engaged in operations in Belingwe at the time. One morning there was a big contact near Kayela base camp to the north of Nyala and an air strike was ordered.

During the contact a Trojan aircraft landed at the Nyala airstrip having run short of fuel on its long flight from Fort Victoria or Chiredzi.

Every Support Unit detail, P.A.T.U. stick and other available police personnel from Nyala were deployed into the contact and I was left at Nyala with a couple of Police Reserve radio operators and a few African Specials.

The one Reservist together with the African Special Constables and I re-fuelled the aircraft and sent it on its way back into the fray, as we thought.

The aircraft was armed with machine guns. It also had what appeared to be rockets fixed under its wings.

I was surprised to see the aircraft return about half an hour later. Surely he had not run out of fuel so soon I thought. My surprise soon turned to grave concern as the aircraft came in to land. I saw that one of the rockets on the starboard side had failed to release and was hanging loose under the wing.

The pilot landed the aircraft carefully, very carefully and taxied to a halt.

The young pilot leapt out and with our help repaired the release mechanism of the rocket and fixed it back into place.

He was a cheerful youngster and joked about the incident as he climbed back onto the aircraft.

I was pleased to hear later that he had made a successful strike on the Terrs who suffered several casualties from rockets fired by the Trojan.

It was a close thing. Had the missile fallen off on landing the story might have been different. Another plus for the Rhodesian Airforce.

A near miss

Another base camp I was to open was in the Runde T.T.L. We had established a base camp in the area and were able to control the movement of our P.A.T.U. sticks from this base.

I was sitting in my tent doing the daily sitrep one evening when a shot went off next to the tent. The round passed through the side of the tent a foot above my head and exited through the roof of the tent. I was deafened by the detonation and staggered outside to find a Police Reservist sitting (cleaning his rifle). It was another accidental discharge which had nearly shortened my service in the Police. (SNAFU).

Toasted

The last of these tales of which I have many, occurred when I had opened Zirubi base camp on the railway line between Ngezi siding and Vugwe siding on the main Rutenge-Somabula rail line South of Shabani.

For some reason or other the local bakery in Shabani despite having been warned of the dangers of land mines, were still delivering bread to the townships in the T.T.L.'s close to the town.

I recall a bread van (Peugeot 404) arriving at the camp on its way to a nearby township one morning. There were three passengers sitting in the front seat of the van and we questioned the driver as to why they were delivering bread in an area known to be frequented by Terrorists. It was simple he replied, "They don't bother us, everyone has to eat".

He was warned that should he get into trouble he could expect little sympathy from us. He was also warned of the penalties for "feeding" Terrorists.

Within a few minutes of leaving the camp the van hit a land mine and was demolished together with its passengers. I went to the scene and found that all three passengers had died instantly. The locals and the camp had free bread for days, most of it toasted. (SNAFU).

An act of extreme courage

Part of our duty at Zirubi was to patrol the length of the rail line within our sector. There had been many attacks on fuel wagons and sabotage attacks on the line were increasing.

I always had a stand by P.A.T.U. stick in camp for security and as a reaction force in the event of any incidents.

Early one morning we received an urgent report from Vugwe siding that a wagon train carrying diesel was under attack a short distance from the siding.

A P.A.T.U. stick was dispatched and leaving the vehicle some distance from the scene, advanced on foot. It was soon established that the gooks had ambushed the train from the East side of the road. An RPG 7 round had been fired but had missed the train. However, several hundred AK and RPD rounds had also been fired at the train and had perforated the tanks in many places along its whole length.

Exposing themselves to possible attack in the dark, the stick leader instructed his men to gather twigs and they managed to stem the flow of diesel now gushing onto the side of the track by plugging the holes. This action avoided a huge loss of fuel. Had tracer or other small arms fire ignited the diesel the entire stick was in danger of being killed or injured in the ensuing inferno.

I was quick to recognise their bravery and ensured that a full report was submitted to Gwelo H.Q. I don't recall if they ever did receive their due recognition as I was soon to be transferred to Chipinga J.O.C. on promotion to Inspector.

Barragem de Massingire

Even during these busy times I still kept in regular touch with Harold Mockford at Pafuri and through him the South African Military Intelligence corps at Skukuza.

One morning I received a mildly coded verbal message, which reported, "There is a large herd of Elephant and some Buffalo at the big water hole. They could be an attraction for tourists. Please report to main camp soonest." Loosely decoded the message read: "There is a large group of FPLM and ZANLA Terrorists currently based at Barragem de Massingire which may be of interest to your security forces. Suggest you come down to Skukuza and speak to us."

I immediately contacted J.O.C. Repulse and my faithful pilot arrived early the next morning in Shabani. We took off for Beit Bridge arriving there at about mid-morning. Having learned the lessons of a previous mission we ensured that we carried additional fuel. The weather report was not good. Low cloud was moving in from the South East and the trip might well have to be aborted before we had even crossed the border.

We took off from Beit Bridge heading towards Skukuza. It was not long before we ran into a fast moving cloudbank heading in from the South East. We rose high above the Zoutspanberg Mountains and noted with alarm that the cloud was eight by eight, complete coverage for as far as the eye could see. My pilot made the decision that if we were unable to find a hole in the cloud within an hour we would have to return to Rhodesia. I must have dislocated my nose on that trip. I had my face hard up against the port side window, my eyes straining for the slightest hint of a break in the cloud. This went on for at least three quarters of an hour.

Just when it all seemed a hopeless task I spotted a football field size hole in the cloud beneath and shouted excitedly to the pilot to dive left. He instinctively threw the plane into a frighteningly steep left hand dive and we spiralled downwards. The decent seemed to go on for ages and I feared for our safety as we were still flying in and out of the "hole". Suddenly we were clear of the smothering cloud cover and levelled out over Phalaborwa a mining town in The North Eastern Transvaal. The pilot did some quick map reading and we were soon on track for Skukuza, finding the Sabie River and just following its South Eastward course until we reached the camp.

We landed at the Skukuza airfield and were met by Mike and some uniformed members of the S.A.D.F.

From what they told me it was apparent that something big was brewing at Massingire, which was, stones throw from the Kruger park boundary fence half way up the park. Other matters were discussed and, myself noted all.

It was now too late for the return flight to Rhodesia and as the cloud was still moving in from the South East we decided to night stop with Mike at his new station South of Skukuza. Stolznek was an isolated rangers camp near Berg en Dal tourist camp. We spent a very pleasant night with Mike and Andre and caught up with all the news of his family. Don and Ross his two sons were nearing the end of their school days and had decided to dedicate their lives to the Kruger Park and conservation. Don wanted to be a ranger and I think Ross wanted to do research. I have already mentioned the death of Ross in a road accident some years later.

The following morning my pilot and I were driven back to Skukuza and after topping up with fuel, took off in clear blue skies. The cloud had passed and visibility was good.

We headed northwards hugging the park boundary. It was not long before we saw the Barragem de Massingire on our right hand side. There certainly appeared to be a lot of activity around an airstrip with dozens of uniformed troops active in the camp. It was impossible to tell from our altitude who was who but I was satisfied that something was going on. We continued Northwards to Pafuri and after a courtesy call on Harold Mockford we returned to Beit Bridge, refuelled and flew direct to Fort Victoria J.O.C. I reported my observations and the information I had received at Skukuza and was then flown back to Shabani.

A few days later, Harold was back on the radio at his normal sitrep time and excitedly reported that a large force of Rhodesian troops had attacked Massingire. The Kruger Parks people had been very concerned, as the armada had flown directly over the Park. I assured them that this was quite logical, as any such force entering Moçambique at any point along the border would have come under sustained ground fire before they had even reached their target. Nothing more was said.

The tourists at Olifants camp must have had a grandstand view of the attack. I received no report back on the attack but assumed that together with other intelligence information the Rhodesians had decided that Massingire was a worthwhile target. That’s the way it was and I was to make a few more clandestine flights to Pafuri before it was all over.

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