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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, July 17, 2009

FIREFORCE TACTICS IN A NUTSHELL


Tactics of Fire Force Operations
The following paragraphs are for the standard Fire Force assault of one K-car, three G-cars, a Dakota and the Lynx. Often there was no Dakota involved, or more G-cars. When in 1979 Cheetas (the Bell Hueys) were introduced, a Commando might go into action with two or three of these, each carrying two (sometimes three) stops. There were many times when no Lynx was used.

The K-car was always the first to arrive at the scene. The K-car Commander, using the radio callsign One-Nine, Two-Nine, Three-Nine, or Four-Nine, depending on the Commando, had to first attempt to confirm the precise area where the enemy had been spotted by the OP (Observation Post). Usually the terrain was extremely broken and covered in vegetation, which made this task particularly difficult. The K-car Commander then had to make a plan - where to position the first stops, where to make the main sweep, and in what direction. The first stops to arrive were always transported in by the G-cars, which followed the K-car in column (sometimes a long way behind, for they were a little slower than the K-car).

Sometimes the stops were dropped immediately, but on many occasions the G-cars would circle the scene several times (to the delight of the troops) before #-nine made his final decisions. Very often the K-car occupants would see the enemy (or any perceived enemy), and then the Helicopter Gunner/Technician would attack them with his 20 mm cannon, using bursts of two to four shells (but no more than five). The accuracy of this firing was extraordinary, due to the machine flying in tight anticlockwise circles just a few hundred feet above the ground. The 20 mm cannon poked out of the port side, thus there was no "lead in", and the exploding high velocity shells would impact right next to and often on their intended targets, very few persons caught by this fire were ever found alive by the troops.

Usually the G-car stops were positioned in areas where the enemy would most likely run through (often a riverbed or dry "donga"), where there was more vegetation, therefore attempting to surround or cut off enemy movement. If there was a hill or ridge that gave outstanding observation, then more than one stop might be placed there. Sometimes G-car stop groups would form the main sweep line immediately they were deployed instead of the Paras, depending on the circumstances at hand.

Whilst the K-car was looking for, or engaging the enemy, #-nine also had to decide on where to drop the Para-stops (and direct any strikes by the Lynx). The Drop Zone (DZ) position was of course dictated by the enemy's own position, and the terrain, but often there would be no clear DZ nearby, in which case the Para-stops would be dropped a mile or so away to be picked up and repositioned by the G-cars. Usually the Para-stops were dropped as close as possible, which resulted on numerous occasions with the Paras being fired at whilst floating down for a few seconds (drop heights normally varied from about 400 feet (120 m) to 600 feet). This firing was always ineffective, as no troops were ever hit. There was also a great variation on the dropping patterns of these stops, as sometimes they were all dropped at once, sometimes individually, or any combination thereof.

Whilst all this was taking place, one of #-nine's main concerns was where the main sweep would occur. In a perfect scenario, the Para-stops would form the main sweep, and the G-car stops would carry out blocking actions. In reality, there was vast variation, so that there was little difference in being Para, or in the First Wave Helicopter assault. First Wave strikes in the G-cars however were generally the best stops to be in for those wishing action.

The Sweep
Each stop made a sweep every time it moved to a new location. This meant (usually) all four soldiers moving in a sweepline formation, spaced apart according to the terrain. In flat open land this may mean as much as twenty five metres or so. In heavy vegetation this dropped to several metres. Even then it was common to lose sight of comrades, pushing alone through the denseness. It was more effective to be spaced as far apart as possible.

Whether in the main sweep (which might be composed of any number of stops available) or in a stop's sweep, the tactics were the same and very simple, to sweep ahead observing your line of sight ahead through the bush and undergrowth.

The speed of this movement varied. Where it was thought (usually deemed by #-nine) the enemy lurked, the sweep would slow very much. When the troops sensed enemy ahead the sweep became even more slow, edging forward inch by inch, rifles held at chest level, pointed ahead with the safety catch off. MAG gunners would bear the gun at the hip, held by a sling from their shoulders.

Usually encounters with the enemy were resolved with great speed (a typical Fire Force action could take hours, whilst a fire fight might take just a few seconds). In the great majority of cases, the enemy were killed outright by swift shooting (sometimes hand grenades were used).

Prisoners were taken on occasion. Although the Commandos were requested to take prisoners wherever possible, in a close-quarter fire fight and in thick bush, it was sometimes difficult to determine an enemy's intentions. Prisoners were usually extremely valuable as they might reveal important intelligence to Special Branch or Selous Scouts. Captured guerrillas were frequently turned to work for the Rhodesian Security Forces, sometimes as Auxiliary Forces (Pfumo Re Vanhu) from 1979.

The Stop Position
The other main experience was for an individual stop to sweep to a position thought most likely to intercept a fleeing enemy, and stay there for up to several hours (perhaps being moved around and maybe later on joining the main sweep). More often than not nothing happened but on many occasions one or more of the enemy came down the (usual) stream bed, or nearby. If there was a clear view then it was easy, once again just a few seconds shooting. Sometimes the process was repeated in the same spot, with fire being opened a bit earlier. Sometimes the enemy were seen behind in which case the stop immediately pursued. There were many occasions where the action was not so tidy due to terrain/vegetation, or even the sunlight blinding them.

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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.