This was only the begin of problems for the regime in Maputo. Namely, to counter Machel government’s support to insurgents of Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), and its armed wing, Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), which were waging a war against the white regime in Rhodesia, the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) conceived a strong insurgency movement becoming operational inside Mozambique. Thus the Rhodesians joined a number of loosely-organized bands of resistance fighters into what officially became known as Resistencia Nacional de Mocambique – RENAMO. This title was not very well-known in the public of the time, however, which was the reason that for most of the late 1970s, Mozambiquan insurgent-movements were more usually referred to as “Mozambican National Resistance” (MRM) or the “Mozambican National Resistance” (MNR). The first RENAMO leader was André Matsangaisse, an ex-FRELIMO platoon commander, punished for theft and expelled from FAM before being placed in a re-education camp at Gorongosa. Matsangaisse joined the rebellion out of nationalist motives upon escaping from detention to Umtali. Recognized by Rhodesians as a strong leader, one of his first actions was to lead a raid against the detention camp at Gorongosa from which he escaped, freeing over 500 prisoners, most of them ex-FRELIMO fighters. At least 300 decided to join and followed him back into Rhodesia.
Right from the beginning, the CIO agents understood that the anti-regime sentiment was still too weak. The agency therefore set up a powerful 400kW radio station – nick-named “Big Bertha” – the Voz da Africa Libre (“Voice of Free Africa”) and begun transmitting anti-government propaganda in Portuguese from a transmitter in Gwelo. The new radio station soon became so popular with Mozambicans, that the Government sought the assistance of East German technicians to jam it. The powerful transmitter, however, defied all such efforts: step by step, Voz da Africa Libre was successful in focusing anti-regime sentiment and bring ever more disaffected FRELIMO fighters back to bush.
When the war began, the FAM had no defined COIN doctrine. Of course, the military attempted to address security management problems, but it failed to accomplish even this task: the FAM did not manage to maintain overland communications in order to enable troop movement and re-supply; it failed to contain the spread of RENAMO operations; and its capability to counterattack RENAMO forces remained limited at best until well into the mid-1980s.
Aside from facing an internal insurgency, the regime in Maputo and the FAM found themselves also on the receiving end of a whole series of Rhodesian strikes against ZANLA and camps of the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) in the country. The first significant cross-country strike flown by the Rhodesian Air Force (RhAF), occurred on 28 February 1976, when Hawker Hunters attacked the ZANLA base in Pafuri, in the frame of Operation “Small Bang”, a raid by Rhodesian African Rifles and Selous Scouts. In late May 1976, the RhAF also struck at a ZIPRA arms depot. On 9 August, Rhodesian Selous Scouts attacked a ZANLA camp on the bend of the Pungwe River tributary, killing 600 personnel and causing the reminder to flee in Operation “Eland”.
A whole series of raids of different scale in size and ferocity followed between October 1976 and mid-May 1977. The RhAF English Electric Canberras and Hunters, helicopters as well as various units of Rhodesian Army – including Special Air Service (SAS), Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), and Selous Scots – were deployed to hit various targets. The situation culminated with the Operation “Aztec”, when Selous Scouts hit ZANLA targets around Mapai, intending to restrict organisation’s movement into south-eastern Rhodesia. While the Rhodesians have lost a number of RhAF and civilian aircraft while fighting guerrillas insider their own borders, during the mid-1970s, the first RhAF loss during operations inside Mozambique occurred on the evening of 30 May 1977, when C-47A “R3702” was shot down following an attack on ZANLA guerrillas in the frame of the Operation Aztec. The starboard engine of the aircraft was hit by an RPG-7 during depart from Mapai airfield, and the plane crashed, killing Flt.Lt. Collocott, one of crewmembers. On the following morning, Hunters of No.1 Squadron RhAF carried out attacks on FRELIMO and ZANLA bases around Jorge de Limpopo, but were unable to spot enemy mortar positions. Aztec ended on 2 June, with limited Rhodesian success.
In autumn 1978, Rhodesian SAS was deployed in a number of missions well inside Mozambique. Usually, the operators were parachuted in to find targets and designate them for Hunter- and Canberra-strikes. Some of these combined operations, foremost “Melon” and “Dingo”, resulted not only in considerable losses for ZANLA and ZIPRA, but also in heavy losses and destruction of several FAM units. In late November, Operation Dingo was launched against targets in Zambia before the Rhodesian Hunters and Canberras returned to hit the ZANLA camp at Tembue, NE of the Cabora Bassa lake, in Mozambique. Although equipped with a significant number of anti-aircraft artillery pieces and SA-7s, the Mozambiquan military, ZANLA and ZIPRA rebels proved practically defenceless against Rhodesian strikes. They have lost immense amounts of arms and suffered considerable casualties causing negligible Rhodesian losses in exchange. This was later to become the direct reason for establishment of the Mozambiquan Air Force as an armed branch.
The process of founding the Mozambiquan Air Force proved to be a lengthy and complex task, however, and was to take years to accomplish. Before it was so far, therefore, the most the Mozambiquans and the rebels they supported could to was to fire increasing numbers of SA-7s at RhAF aircraft attacking them. Due to excellent training of Rhodesian pilots, very few of MANPADs came anywhere near their targets, however, and most of the strikes flown during the next Rhodesian offensive into Mozambique were practically unopposed. The situation changed completely during the last large-scale Rhodesian incursion, Operation Uric. This brought savage attacks of RhAF Hunters and Canberras against targets in Mapai area, on 5 September 1979, including FAM radar stations, anti-aircraft gun emplacements and warehouses: immense damage was caused to several installations used for supporting infiltrations into Rhodesia. However, this operation signalized also the “beginning of the end” for Rhodesians, then it was not considered as success, especially as the later began to suffer unacceptably high losses. A RhAF Alouette III was shot down already on the first day of the offensive, by an RPG-7, and a South African Air Force Puma transport helicopter involved in supporting the Rhodesian operation was brought down on the following day, killing 12.
Between 28 September and 3 October 1979, Canberras and a Hunters flew a series of strikes against the huge base at Chimoio, holding some 6.000 ZANLA guerrillas, as well as a FAM column moving towards Rhodesian border. Although the main base was eventually occupied and destroyed, during bitter fighting on 30 September, resulting in most of it’s the rebels in situ being either dead or wounded, the Rhodesians were not successful in the end. The approaching FAM column proved a particularly tough nut to crack, then a Canberra and a Hunter each were shot down, with the loss of all crewmembers, including the Hunter-pilot, Flt.Lt. Brian Gordon. This was also the last Rhodesian operation of this kind in Mozambique: only two months later a cease-fire was agreed, and the war in Rhodesia ended.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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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