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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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Monday, August 24, 2009

MONTE CASSINO ONE VIEW


Trooper Dave Hughes version of the Monte Cassino action as written to me, Dave is a train driver in Canada now:-.
It's 0330hrs - red eye, head 'bobbing' express time.

Rain beats against my windshield, the rivulets streaming down the bullet-proof glass like tears from a wounded behemoth's eye.

Westbound, swallowed up somewhere in the lush green fields between London and Windsor, Ontario 8,800 horsepower struggle mightily beneath my feet, heaving our 7,000ft - 8,000ton train into the yawning abyss of darkness ahead.

Lightning flashes, in no particular rhythm, drowning out the feeble glow from the locomotive headlight - illuminating the landscape and interior of the cab. Out of the corner of my eye I see the conductor staring glassy eyed out the window.

Another flash, the terrain bathed in an eerie glow - does he see what I see?

Row upon row of zigzag slit trenches cut through ochre earth. Soviet 12.7mm DSHK A/A and Portuguese 7.92mm MG-34's cradled in sinewy black arms stare back at me. Selous Scout Trooper Gert O'Neil, his ash-white body tended by a very brave (and still unknown) Selous Scout officer lies very still beside my Eland 90 AFV, call sign 42Alpha.

My tracer fire reaches out, pummelling the 12.7 and MG-34 top covers and receivers, rendering them useless - impotent. A gnarled black forearm, hand clutching a Soviet RPK with bi-pod and 40rd magazine rises out of the trench directly in front of me. It's followed disembody, by a lanky 'terr' sporting an 'afro' hairdo nearly two feet across. He is the first African I have seen with an 'afro'.

Rising to his full 6' plus height he reaches down, grabs the RPK and begins to stride quickly from left-to-right no more than 25 feet from my position. Pressing the firing button my co-ax Browning 7.62mm belt-fed machinegun staccatos into life. I swing the turret clockwise simultaneously raising the muzzle as 1-in-3 tracer punctuates the oven-hot air!

In seconds, that seem an eternity, my fire and 'terr' collide. Tracer streaks through his 'afro' setting the hair alight as he drops straight into the trench from where he had just arisen. A Selous Scout throws a grenade into the slit and an enormous orange sheet of flame billows out of the earth. (This one’s for you 'Gertie'!)

"Ash, (my vehicle commander) did you see that - I just nailed a 'gook"! Too busy loading the Browning and taking orders over the radio Ash hasn't seen what I just saw either.

Another flash, unseen by the now sleeping conductor.

What does it take to dissect 10, or 15 men? The pathologist, smiling while holding his scalpel will tell you it takes time son, - time.

But I know differently - I know it takes but seconds. One twenty second burst of fire from every machinegun in our column. Six 7.62mm Brownings (each firing 650 rounds per minute) from Elands 42, 42Alpha and 42Bravo plus two sets of twin .50 calibre aircraft Brownings (each firing 2,000 rounds per minute) from Selous Scouts armoured 'Pigs' 74 and 74Alpha swivel and fire upon a group of 10 or 15 ZANLA who have shown up on the edge of our battlefield like spectators at a cricket match.

Seeing our guns bearing down on them they turn to flee but we show no mercy, Trooper Gert O'Neil's body having just been removed from the trench lines.

At 75 yards a wall of fire renders them obscenely before my eyes into their constituent parts - flesh to bones to dust: molecules; atoms. Standing up out of the hatch I continue depressing the firing button until there is nothing but the sound of a waterfall of empty .50 caliber cases and links cascading onto the metal floors of 74 and 74Alpha as our guns run dry.

We are truly dangerous men.

Another flash, my conductor momentarily awakened after nearly falling out of his chair rearranges his position and promptly falls back asleep.

A vast green canopy unfolds before 42Alpha. In the distance Monte Cassino stands castle-like, honey-combed with caves sited with crew served anti-aircraft weapons. Massive explosions rock my ears as shells from 20mm Yugoslav multi-barrelled cannon explode around us. To my left and right in line-abreast Selous Scouts soldiers lay flat, their bodies moulded into the rock just inches below the crest of the hill.

20mm rounds impact into the rock face! Some are armour-piercing - they glance off the ancient surface and rocket over the prone bodies of the Scouts. Some are high-explosive - they detonate with a brilliant orange flash that sounds like a shotgun going off beside my ear and I am inside the crew compartment of an AFV! "What must it be like for the Scouts outside," I think?

"Shit, a 20mm cannon will penetrate this vehicle"!

Ash orders Roland (our 17 year old driver) to reverse the car. His foot slips off the clutch and we stall, fully exposed on the rock face directly in the line-of-fire of the 20mm. The only problem is - we have a faulty starter solenoid on this vehicle. When it's hot the starter won't turn over until the solenoid cools - usually about 15 minutes! Grimly, I search through the gunner’s scope for the source of the fire, now homing in on us for the kill.

"Follow the tracer back to the source - damn, it doesn't start to burn until it's far enough from the 20mm that I can't follow it back - make a wild ass guess then"!

"Ash, load an HE round", I shout! "HE - loaded", he replies! I set the range cursor at the second farthest setting and lay the gun on the most likely area the enemy fire appears to emanate from. Bang - the car reverberates wildly! "That's not our cannon firing", I think? Roland screams, "I'm hit - I'm hit!" "Where", asks Ash? "It's my arm, shit my arm", cries Roland!

A 20mm shell has gone through our front fender, sand channels, skimmed over the left front wheel, struck the driver’s door and ricocheted through the left rear fender (just missing the left rear wheel) exiting the vehicle. (Elvis is not in this building!) Roland's elbow was resting against the driver’s door when the round impacted - the vibration through the armour has given him a nasty bruise but his arm is still intact and working. By the end of the week Roland, exhausted by the continuous fighting, will come down with a serious case of battle fatigue - it will be months before the 17 year-old will be right again.

Back to the main gun: "firing - now", I cry through the helmet inter-com! Roland applies the brakes as the 90mm round explodes out the gun tube! Our 6 ton AFV rocks violently backward - the back blast from the muzzle jarring our tightly clenched teeth.

"Clank - clunk", a spent case ejects out the breech-block; the heady scent of gunpowder fills the interior. "Clank", Ash has reloaded another HE round before the first shot falls into the jungle canopy short of Cassino's ramparts. "Damn, that 20mm has to be in Cassino" I curse, as another fusillade of enemy fire pounds our position! Raising the elevation beyond its' farthest range of 2,200 meters I lay the gun on Monte Cassino's sheer rock walls in line with the angry tracer speeding towards us.

"Firing - now", our 20lb HE projectile arcs gracefully towards Cassino, this time exploding like a brilliant orange balloon half-way up the rock cliff!

More return fire, a crash of metal-upon-metal from the turret roof. "There goes the top-mount Browning - shit"! In a close range action it's our only means of engaging the opposition other than with our personal sidearms.

All fire stops - an uncanny silence fills the void. Ash orders Roland to try the starter. "Vroom", our tiny 4-cylinder Chevy Vega motor returns to life. "Driver - reverse", commands Ash! Backing over the crest of the hill we find shelter in the defilade.

Rain fades, clouds break. An opaque moon casts shadows in the bush surrounding the glistening rails. Moonlight softens the age lines etched on the sleeping conductor’s craggy face.

An unrecognizable form, hiding behind a small bush fills my gun-scope. "Ash, I have a target but I can't tell if it's a 'gook' or one of our guys"? As if to answer my question the "form" rolls from behind the shrub into the roadway 25 yards in front of us - revealing brand new East German camo-fatigues, full webbing and shiny new AK-47 with 30rd mag.

"Firing - now", - my burst of 15rds of 7.62mm from the co-ax tears into the prone figure. Every bullet finds its' mark, (the co-ax has a rock-solid mount and scope!) each impact recorded as an involuntary, violent convulsive jerk by the now very-dead ZANLA 'terr'.

Who was he - what the fuck did he roll out in front of us like that for", I wonder? He never answers, even now nearly a quarter of a century later. By the week’s end, stripped of rifle, magazines and full medical kit he carried in his pack his body will be reduced to the thickness of a comb by the combined passage of our AFV's over the corpse.

So hardened we have become, so immune to the suffering of others we refer to the incident with gallows-like humour as the time the 'terr' invented a new disco-dance. We call it doing the 'funky chicken'.

"Fuck, that’s a level crossing - why isn't the whistle blowing"? Now, even I am asleep - eyes wide open taking in the view ahead!
BURNING ZANLA TERR CAMP OP MIRACLE –PHOTO DAVE HUGHES

My late whistle wailing, our train thunders through the crossing headlight shining on the sole occupant of the only car stopped at the gates. Our eyes meet for an instant - an eternity, as we flash by.

Do you see - what I see, now?

1 comment:

  1. Mad memories- it's amazing what you find on this thing. I was in my first year high school at Untali BHS, boarder at Soffe Hs, with about 2kms between us and the border. Apart from the mortar attacks, bombs in the CBD and various views of firefights we saw from the hostel, the attack on Chimoio was a vivid recollection. We watched what looked like the whole of the RAF fly back and forth, from Grand Reef?, for a couple of days, and could hear the fight clearly sometimes, and see the smoke. It was on this raid, I think, that we lost 17 in a Heuy? One troopie was a gifted rugby player, and one was from UBH. A very sad memorial service in the chapel. I could go on. Glad I missed the fight, I had enough occasion to sample fear!!! Interesting read, well done, I'll get the book. Cheers
    Simon

    ReplyDelete

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.