Operation NICKEL was the name given for the overall security force operation dealing with the Wankie campaign and covered the entire Rhodesia. The border control operations were called LETTUCE for the northeast half and ISOTOPE for the south west half. 1 For the names of other smaller operations please see Appendix 9.
The Rhodesian security Situation reports
What exactly happened during the conflict between the Rhodesian security forces and the ANC-ZAPU guerrillas? An archival file documenting the Situation Report (Sitrep) in Rhodesia sheds lights on the chronological order of events in Rhodesia. As the daily events of what unfolded is so important, and as researchers have not had access to this information before, I have documented it below so as to establish a bigger and more complete picture. 2 The serial number of each Situation Report has been abbreviated to Sitrep s.n. in the footnotes.
In the Sitreps codes are given for the names of places. As no key is available to the researcher, it is handicap. Nevertheless, one is able to obtain a sense of the events as they unfolded. The Western Sector is the area that the South African - bound group was moving through. The Eastern Sector is the area that the Lupane-bound group was moving through.
Monday, 7 August 3
One guerrilla was captured south of Wankie. Interrogation revealed that he was one of a gang of 6 consisting of 3 ANC and 3 ZAPU men. The ANC was heading for Johannesburg. 4
Friday, 11 August
One guerrilla was captured near Kariba. 5
One guerrilla was captured on a train. 6
Sunday, 13 August
Whilst following tracks of guerrillas the Rhodesian security forces were ambushed and sustained casualties – Three were killed and three wounded. The ambush took place at Tsantada and tracking had started at Pongora. 7
On a follow up at Intunehla four guerrillas were killed, one was injured who died later. Railway security guards captured one guerrilla. Interrogation revealed that the ambush on security forces on 13 August left three guerrillas dead and one wounded. Also that 30 guerrillas had crossed on border on 31 July, the majority were South African - ANC members and were headed for South Africa. 8
One guerrilla was captured trying to cross back into Zambia. Three weapons were recovered from him. 9
Wednesday, 16 August
Police shot one guerrilla near Figtree. 10
One guerrilla was captured. Interrogation revealed that at least nine guerrillas were returning to Zambia. 11
Thursday, 17 August
Locals reported the tracks of two guerrillas at MK850402. Further tracks of four guerrillas found at MK740180. The resting place was traced and a quantity of ammunition found at MK770103. Nine tracks were seen at MK840023. 12
Friday, 18 August
Western Sector 13
An engagement took place with 15 guerrillas at MJ950880. Eight guerrillas were killed, six were captured and one escaped. Large quantities of ammunition and arms were captured. 14
Tuesday, 22 August
At MJ740170 after engagement three guerrillas were killed and three wounded. Security forces: one lieutenant killed, one warrant officer killed. The lieutenant was killed accidentally by own troops. Tracks of 30 guerrillas were seen in area.
One guerrilla was shot at MK410110. 15
Wednesday, 23 August
An air strike by hunter fighters was unsuccessful. Guerrillas then attacked the security forces. Three guerrillas were killed in this engagement. One guerrilla was captured with his weapons and equipment. Security force casualties: one police officer killed, one policeman wounded, one soldier killed, one officer and six other ranks wounded.
It seemed that two Chinese men and one Chinese woman led this group of guerrillas, although it was not confirmed. 16
Thursday, 24 August
Three unarmed guerrillas were captured at NJ0190 - two of them were local. They belonged to the group mentioned in serial 12. Interrogation revealed the following:
A group of 70 terrorists moved in one group east of Grand Rapids on 11 August. They split into smaller groups before crossing the Zambezi River.
The guerrilla shot at Figtree had been sent ahead to contact a ZAPU member prior to the main group arriving. 17
Friday, 25 August
Four guerrillas were captured at QM700862. 18
Saturday, 26 August
One guerrilla was captured in the area mentioned above after an ambush was set.
One guerrilla was found dead at MJ742175. Guerrillas are still believed to be in the area.
Two unarmed guerrillas were captured at TR120150. 19
Guerrillas may have split up. Botswana police at area NH0379 arrested four guerrillas. These guerrillas confirmed as being members of the group involved in the incident on 22 Aug. 20
Gang of +- 70 crossed east of Katambora on 11 Aug 67 and split in the Wankie area. Basil February was sent ahead to rendezvous with contacts at NH850350. The ANC guerrillas would then move to the Republic of South Africa (RSA) for training.
ZAPU would train locals in the area. 21
The summary of guerrilla casualties for period beginning June to 29 August 1967 is in Rhodesia: (both sectors) killed 23, captured 43. In Botswana – captured 13.
One person died of wounds.
Two armed guerrillas spotted by civilians at NK330020. They asked directions to MJ840070. This river junction is assumed to be rendezvous for guerrillas. 22
One ZAPU guerrilla arrested at Bindura UR230860. Possibly five guerrillas remain in the area.
No date given
Four guerrillas arrested by Botswana police said that they had left 28 guerrillas in Rhodesia. These four were hungry and short of water. The crossing point was definitely established as 20 miles east of the termination of the Victoria Falls gorge. The guerrillas used rope on Zambian side and crossed by dugout. 23
There is no truth to the report of Radio SA of 29 August that new insurgents have been involved in bloody fighting in Rhodesia. Thus far 17 guerrillas have been caught in Botswana, most of them are ANC members.
Guerrillas are following a new pattern from Rhodesia to Botswana. Weapons are buried inside or outside Botswana. Civilian clothes are bought and attempts are made to travel to South Africa via Francistown. The Botswana Police are aware of this and active patrolling is done to track the infiltrators.
Patrol stopped while two Canberra's pattern-bombed suspected area from+- MJ280020-NJ030010. Guerrillas' tracks encircle the bombed area. A follow up is continuing.
Late 29 August Botswana Police arrested four ANC guerrillas. They are possibly from group who split at MJ915030. One ‘Coloured' named George Driver was with them.
All arms and equipment was dumped and civilian clothing was purchased on entering Botswana en route to South Africa. 24
Tracks were followed from NK330020. Tracks were lost when guerrillas removed boots. Police checked area NK330020 to PJ095350. On 29 August in area MJ915030 tracks of large group of guerrillas found. One set of tracks was leading towards the Botswana border while the others were going north east (approximately 20 guerrillas)
One jungle hat, packet of boxer tobacco, SOS Mag, bloodstained bandages and dressings found en route. Drag marks indicate at least one stretcher case. Found meat tins licked dry and condensed milk tubes chewed.
ZAPU members that were captured on 30 & 31 August claim they are part of a fanatical group determined to reach South Africa. They were approximately 20 in the group. The Tegwani River is used for direction.
Five guerrillas that were spotted in Rhodesia on 31 August have now been spotted in Botswana. 25
Patrols and ambushes are continuing. Locals residing at NH070855 said four guerrillas including a Chinaman on 30/31 August approached them. They asked for food and water. The local was given R10 to buy food. A rendezvous was arranged at the same place for 19h00. The guerrillas gave their destination as NH840340. An ambush was laid. There was no contact and patrols continued south. 26
A captured guerrilla was taken to ML297173 where he thinks he crossed although he is not sure. An ambush and sweep was made at NH070885. The sweep found an empty hideout for seven guerrillas and two sets of tracks crossing into Botswana, where the police reported on a follow up.
Four guerrillas in the area of NH1080 fired on the BSAP. Guerrillas are heading on bearing 165 mag. They are moving openly and showing signs of defiance and bravado. Jonathan Moyo was arrested at unstated place. He was positively identified as ZAPU leader and sole survivor of 24 in first action against security forces on 13 August. It is suspected that the majority of guerrillas are now in Botswana. 27
3 and 4 September
On 3 September 12 guerrillas crossed into Botswana where police arrested six of them while the other six are being tracked. They are possibly the rest of the gang from the Nata-Tegwani Rivers area. An armed guerrilla was captured at NK850060. The presence of Chinaman was now discounted.
On early 3 September shots was heard in area of NY130820. Locals reported tracks of five in the area. This could be five guerrillas who lost contact with first gang prior to engagement on 13 August. Tracks were heading east. Patrols continue in all areas. 28
One unarmed guerrilla captured at NH090980. He had no pack. Information received that the rest of the gang was 3 miles south east of 2 CDO RLI position. Patrol from 2 CDO and D Coy RAR sent to area. Found tracks and contacted seven guerrillas at NH080977 at 12h35. Four guerrillas were killed and one ‘White' soldier slightly wounded. Guerrillas were not yet identified. Suspect arrested at NH790560 and is being interrogated. The grassland between E Coy position and Tegwani River were burnt on 1 September.
Patrols continued, also ambushes on kraals and stores of suspected contacts and known sympathisers. Guerrillas are known to be listening to RBC/SABC news on transistors. Guerrilla tactics for ambushes include leaving trail then making hairpin turn to bush. Once security force troop in trail, guerrillas would follow up. 29
Three guerrillas were killed by 10 Platoon RAR at NJ200800. Rhodesian casualties: one RAR dead, one RAR wounded. Guerrillas were identified as deserters from main group three days after crossing. All were carrying AK47 rifles. Botswana Police arrested 10 more guerrillas on 4 September and are tracking another group of 10. Location of arrest is not known. There are security force patrols in game area and BSAP are patrolling Plumtree and Sipepa. They are also checking the area south of Plumtree. 30
5 and 6 September
On 3 and 4 September in Botswana at NH1575, nine guerrillas were found. Six were arrested and three escaped. Later a further three were arrested, of which one is believed to be local. The guerrilla casualties to date are Rhodesia: 29 killed and 15 captured and Botswana one died and 33 captured. 31
6 and 7 September
BSAP patrols continue in all rural areas including Plumtree. There is no trace of guerrillas. D Coy RAR is carrying out thorough search of area including old contact positions. Further weapons and packs recovered. Nothing to suspect there are guerrillas remaining in the area. Three suspected terrorists were seen on Zambian bank ML137208. Patrols and ambushes continue in all areas.
7 & 8 September
The crossing place the night of 31 July is definitely established at LL967118. 32
The guerrilla hat found at LL973070 on 2 September was from Nickel gang.
JOC closed 0806000 Sep 67. 33
Between 80 and 85 guerrillas entered Rhodesia. Casualties:
Killed 29, Captured 15, 22 of those killed and captured were ANC. Six are not identified. 34
Found dead 1
Identified as following
The South African reinforcements
Ian Smith, the Rhodesian Prime Minister invited the South African security forces into Rhodesia. His South African counter-part, Prime Minister John Vorster responded by sending members of the South African Police Force (SAPF) to assist Smith with the insurgency grouping, and so a land and air search was mounted for the guerrillas.
Maxey argues that whether it was the South African army or police that were sent to Rhodesia is academic as once the South African troops were in Rhodesia they functioned in the same capacity as the Rhodesian army would. In this regard selected personnel would be asked whether they would be prepared to be ‘attached to SA police for anti-guerrilla operations in any area from the Angola to Swaziland borders. On no account is mention to be made of Rhodesia'. 35
Be that as it may, the South African authorities went to great lengths to ensure that the forces in Rhodesia were South African Police and not members of the SADF. Due to diplomatic factors only police assistance was permissible. However the SAP were not trained to counter the tactics engaged by the guerrillas, and the SADF were better suited. 36
Speaking at Brakpan on 8 th September 1967, Prime Minister confirmed that the South African Police had been sent to assist the Rh.odesian security forces with the guerrillas, ‘who originally came from South Africa and were on their way back to commit terrorism'. Prime Minister Vorster placed emphasis on the fact that police had been sent and not the army and said South Africa's ‘action in Rhodesia has nothing to do with the situation (UDI) which arose about two years ago'. 37
The aircraft identified for the operation and first sent to Rhodesia were 3 Alouette IIIs, 6 Cessnas to be provided by army and 2 Dakotas. The aircraft had to be operated by SADF personnel attached to the SAP. 38
At a meeting held on 4 September 1967 Brig Dillon told Colonel van Rensburg and Commander Swart of the basis on which Rhodesia would be assisted.
These guidelines came from a meeting between General Van den Berg (SAP) and Prime Minister Vorster. 39 The resources [to be sent to Rhodesia] should be distributed over a six-month period. The Prime Minister does not want to create the impression that the Rhodesia army is being armed. Before any resources are sent the Prime Minister should be informed first. Brig Dillon is responsible for arranging the sending and receipt of security reinforcements.
Movement of supplies where possible should be done by train
The two Dakotas ready for departure should have SAP markings like SAP 200 and SAP 201 or only the numbers.
6 Cessnas will depart on 6 September.
All personnel will be clothed in SAP uniforms.
12 Panhard tanks could be needed and will only be sent on request.
Gen Van den Berg will seek approval from the Prime Minister on the needs/requests of the Rhodesians.
The Dakota that was supposed to depart on the 5 September should no longer do so.
All South African personnel should be police except where the police cannot fulfill this role. Other personnel need to operate in police uniforms.
6 doctors should be redeployed. Arrangements should be made with the Surgeon General.
The content of the letter was conveyed to different arms of the SADF.
In this section I capture the salient points of the Operations War Diary (OWD) of the Head Quarters (HQ) of the Joint Commanding Force (JCF) of the South African Defence Force.
Code name Chinaman was given to operations in support of the SAP in Rhodesia. 40
The GOC JCF advised the HQ of the Rhodesian Royal Air Force (RRAF) that 6 Cessna aircraft, which were being supplied to the RRAF, would not be available for delivery on 4 September 1967. 41
Brig. Dillon (SAP) had discussions with Col. van Rensburg of this HQ on the subject of SADF support for the SAP in Rhodesia. The GOC JCF is the coordinating authority for such support. 42
GOC JCF advised the HQ RRAF that 6 Cessnas would arrive at Thornhill at 11h30 on 6 September 67. 43 The HQ JCF received minutes of a conference held at SAAF HQ at 14h00 on 29 August. Subject assistance to Rhodesia. 44 A copy of the SAP movement table is attached for historical records. The Operation was called SUPERCHARGE. 45
A letter was received from the Commandant-General of the SADF in terms of assistance to the SAP. 46
GOC JCF advised CDFA of names of SADF personnel who were seconded to the SAP for operations in Rhodesia. These were the first SADF personnel involved and their names are included for record purposes. 47 GOC JCF instructed C Army, CAF, CLS and SG re voucher procedure to be followed when SADF equipment is supplied to SA police. 48
What, if any, lessons did the Rhodesians learn from the Wankie campaign?
On 26 September the Rhodesian security forces held a debriefing session on Operation NICKEL. 49 The purpose of the session was to understand how the security forces could improve their COIN (Counter-Insurgency) Operations. 50 The different arms of the security forces were fully represented. 51 The Chief of Staff chaired the meeting and welcomed everyone present . He said Operation NICKEL was different and introduced many new aspects therefore the debriefing would be correspondingly bigger.
Commander of 1 Brigade, Brigadier Prentice, agreed that Operation NICKEL had been an exacting operation, which was well summed up as a ‘mixture of tragedy and success'. It is impractical to cover all the events in detail, as in the 1 Brigade log alone there are 1 800 entries.
The first clash between the Rhodesian security forces and the guerrillas
The Command 1 Brigade took part in the incident, which took place at the Inyatue River on 13 August 1967. Group Captain Deall said that the Inyatue incident would have been ideal for an air strike. Captain Hoskins, agreed, but at the time the Rhodesians thought there were only five guerrillas in the area. Had he realised that there were probably at least 21 guerrillas he would have withdrawn his troops, set out stops approximately 1 000 yards away and called for an air strike.
Lieutenant Colonel Godwin, the Army representative at the JOC at that time, said orders were given to arm the Provosts that afternoon, but there had been problems in refueling. An armed helicopter was used instead. After discussions, it was agreed that though the helicopter may have caused casualties among the guerrillas, its close proximity to its own forces could have inadvertently injured them instead. The helicopter was mainly used as a communications relay station.
The skirmishes between the two opposing forces lasted between 13 August and 4 September 1967 Lieutenant Colonel Godwin gave an outline of the entire operation from the Inyatue Battle to the final contact on 4 September. After this it was assessed that all guerrillas who had crossed into Rhodesia on the night of 31 July/1 August 1967 had been accounted for either by the Rhodesian security forces or the Botswana Police. It was noted that aircraft were used extensively and that one of the Provosts completed more than 100 hours of flying.
Running short of ammunition
Brigadier Coster said it was not generally understood why Lieutenant Colonel Smith's platoon ran short of ammunition in their encounter on 22 August. Lieutenant Colonel Godwin said that at the time each rifleman carried 50 rounds of ammunition most of which were carried in two magazines. The FN rifle had been newly issued and the soldiers had been to a large extent firing on automatic. This led to a high use of ammunition and the reason for the troop's withdrawal. Since then troops have been instructed to fire the FN only on single rounds. Henceforth, only certain men such as leading scouts would be permitted to fire on automatic.
The Chief of Staff added that the MAG had formerly been considered too heavy and cumbersome to be carried on COIN operations, and for this reason the FN rifle on automatic was seen as more suitable. This had been proved wrong and the MAG had now regained popularity. Both Lieutenant Colonel Godwin and Captain Atkinson affirmed that this was the case with 1 RAR and 1 RLI and that riflemen now carried 150 rounds each.
It was recommended that the RRAF should require some form of permanent facilities at Brady Barracks both in accommodation and for communications.
Change in movement of fuel by Shell
The QMG suggested that in future all movement of fuel for RRAF be handled by Shell Company to as far forward as possible and that the Army assist in moving fuel to the more inaccessible places. There had been certain confusion during Operation NICKEL with both the Army and Shell being involved in the movement of fuel. 52
Initial interrogation of guerrillas was valuable although it did not prove valuable in all cases. The ZAPU guerrillas seemed more easily broken down. 53 The following information was gleaned from captured guerrillas.
The Nkai group (or Lupane-bound group) consisted of 23 guerrillas and were instructed to avoid contact with security forces, if at all possible. “Their aim was to establish base camps and cells for attacks on farms and European establishments in the Gwelo area. ANC members with the group were then to travel to South Africa via Matopos with ZAPU assistance”. 54 The Luthuli group consisted of 56 guerrillas whose final destination was South Africa. The intelligence report noted amongst other things the following about the group.
The group's aim was to establish a base camp in the area of the Nata/Tegwani Rivers. Local sympathisers were to be trained and armed. Government installations in the Tjolotjo area should be attacked. The details of the groups plans could not be ascertained as the leader kept them to himself and evaded capture. The group was disciplined and members were allowed to separate from the group only on the leader's instructions. Each ANC guerrilla carried 20-30 pounds, whilst the ZAPU leader carried the groups cash and each ZAPU member carried only about 2 pounds each.
The guerrillas had been instructed not to disclose the crossing point under any circumstances. All weapons carried were automatic or self-loading. The group also had machine guns, grenades and explosives. Each guerrilla carried about 300 rounds of ammunition. The Luthuli group carried a transistor radio with which they monitored new reports. They learnt about the Inyatue incident, which involved the Nkai, group. The guerrillas also carried Land Apportionment maps scale: 1: 1 000, 000 and compasses. Notwithstanding this, the smaller groups that had broken away from the Luthuli group had no idea of their whereabouts.
Game had been shot, killed and cooked during the day whilst in the Wankie national park.
The Coloured who was shot in the Figtree area on 16 August apparently had a separate mission from that of the Luthuli and Nkai groups. 55
The big group split into two on 9 August, just east of Wankie. No specific routes had been given for the destinations this was the responsibility of the leaders concerned.
As far as was known the group had contacted only two civilian sympathisers since the crossing into Rhodesia. 56 Superintendent Bester provided the following information that was obtained from the interrogation of guerrillas. The group's pattern of moving mainly at night was interrupted once Operation NICKEL commenced. Sometimes the guerrillas were forced to move during the day until they found a suitable base camp. Their formation on the move was to have the group led by two scouts, followed by a recce group of about four men, followed in turn by the remainder of the group who moved in three single files. There was a rear guard of four to five men and two scouts on the flanks.
When setting up base camp, the group split into sections and spread out in a circle. Sections were spaced about 10-15 feet apart. Members of the sections then dug shallow hollows for themselves. The whole position was an all round defence with sentries posted outside the circle. The guerrillas would lie under fallen tree trunks and thick foliage for protection from the air.
All contacts except on 23 August were spontaneous and unplanned. The incident at [the] Inyatue [River] occurred whilst the group was resting. The attack made on Platoon 13 on 23 August was most probably an attempt to gain food and water. It was prompted by the guerrillas success the previous day and the apparent lack of sentries.
There had been about 45 guerrillas at the Leasha Pan at the time the Mortar Platoon made contact with the two guerrillas who had been to the pan to ambush game. 57 Almost without exception the Rhodesian security forces had underestimated the number of guerrillas being followed. Commander 1 Brigade pointed out that it was better [in future] to overestimate the number of guerrillas being followed. 58 Before basing up the group split and the guerrillas would move at 90 degree angles. This would confuse troops following up, as there were several sets of tracks to follow.
The ANC and ZAPU guerrillas had not trained together at any point. Instead they had joined two days before the crossing of the Zambezi River.
Lieutenant Colonel Godwin said that since the Inyatue incident the policy was to have the minimum of platoon follow up on insurgent tracks. A new follow up procedure was being evolved. Most injuries incurred by the Rhodesians were as a result of standing or running.
In terms of the air strike of 23 August it was agreed that light aircraft might be more useful and the Trojan would be more capable of firing 37-mm rockets. It was agreed that it was not a good idea for a pilot to attack possible targets ahead of the ground forces unless the ground commander so favours.
Trackers were invaluable
Trackers had proved invaluable and it was recommended that each battalion should have a pool of trackers. Police dogs had not been successful in tracking guerrillas, as they had not been trained for this kind of operation. 59
Problems around encoding Situation Reports
Some officers complained that the encoding of messages sometimes proved too time consuming. The Chief of Staff said it was agreed that only certain portions of the JOC SITREP should be encoded. Lieutenant Colonel Godwin further suggested that the nicknames for places should be standardised between the three services.
During Operation NICKEL there had been a lack of security at all levels of the three services. This had led to information getting out to the public causing ‘bad rumours'. It should be impressed on all ranks that that they should not under any circumstances discuss what took place during operations. Brigadier Prentice said that shortly after Operation NICKEL commenced there had been serious rumours in Wankie of guerrilla successes against security forces.
The Voice of America had made a false broadcast that the guerrillas had taken over the Wankie airfield and this was believed by many of the residents. It was therefore agreed that certain prominent civilians should be kept informed of operational developments, as suggested by the Provincial Commissioner, Mr Hagelthorn. 60
It was suggested that each platoon have flame-throwers that would burn out the bush in which guerrillas were hidden. The fire itself would be demoralising to them. 61
The use of Napalm had not proved effective in burning out the Mopani bush in the area of the Nata River. The future use of a defoliant would be investigated further. 62
All casualties occurring on 23 August, with the exception of two, took about 20 hours to reach the CCP due to difficulty with communications. 63
BGG/210/3/11 Inligtings Rapporte Rhodesie, Volume 1
From Sitrep van Rhodesie, 25 August to 15 December, Taakmag 1, 78 . T his Situation Report was sent to the South African Defence Force from Mr Rawlins at the Rhodesian Embassy.
I have added the day of the week to the date given in the Sitreps.
Sitrep s.n. 7
This should read Eastern Sector
From LHM/TS/615/9/2 Appendix B, p.2
M. Morris, South African terrorism ( Cape Town, Howard Timmins, 1971) p.42
From LHM/TS/615/9/2 Appendix B, p.3
From BGG/302/6/1 Operations War Diary, Sep 67 HQ JCF, Annexure A, See Appendix 10
Ibid. s.n.6, See Appendix B
Ibid. s.n.7, See Appendix C
Ibid. s.n.8 See Appendix D
Ibid. s.n.9 See Appendix E. ref. BGG/127/Sep/67
Operation NICKEL commenced for the whole of Rhodesia August 1967, See BGG/210/3/11, Inligtings Rapporte Rhodesie, Vol 1.
See Appendix 2 for a list of those present at the meeting.
See BGG/210/3/11, Inligtings Rapporte Rhodesie, Vol. 1 , p. 2
Ibid. p. 10
Ibid. p. 11
Ibid. pp. 12-14
Ibid. p. 12
- Beaver Shaw
- 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 email@example.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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