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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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Thursday, May 6, 2010


The Rhodesian Security Forces had been conducting raids and operations into Mozambique since 1972,
but as the war intensified these operations became almost routine. Although a state of war did not exist
between Rhodesia and Mozambique, the latter was the firmest supporter of the ZANLA guerrilla
faction. On 9 May 1976 the New York Times reported:
An estimated 1000 guerrillas are inside Rhodesia. Another 1400 are thought to be
encamped across the border (in Mozambique) and anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 more
training in Mozambique and Tanzania.
As a result of the size of the nationalist element staging and training inside Mozambique, the Salisbury
government authorized its forces to begin clandestine operations inside the border regions.
Operation LONG JOHN serves as an excellent example of the type of mission mounted against guerilla
forces in Mozambique. This operation was an attack on a guerrilla transit camp at Mapai and staging
post identified as Chicualacuala. The plan involved the first use of a tactic that would become known as
the “Flying-Column Attack”. The transit camp was located approximately 60 kilometers inside
Mozambique. It was necessary to introduce a reconnaissance force into the area in order to determine the
exact location and size of the camp. It was confirmed that approximately 90 ZANLA insurgents were
staged at Chicualacuala, and a large ZANLA arsenal was located at Mapai. The confirmation of an
arsenal” meant that the attacking force would come in contact with FRELIMO soldiers of Mozambique.
The new government of Mozambique was willing to provide sanctuary for the Patriotic Front
Insurgents, but they would not allow them to travel throughout the countryside in armed groups. Their
weapons were maintained and guarded by FRELIMO soldiers, and issued immediately prior to their
infiltration into Rhodesia.
The plan involved a mechanized assault across the border utilizing armored cars, trucks, and
several buses. The attack would bypass Chicualacuala, and strike directly at Mapai. The former
would be eliminated on the return trip. On the morning of 25 June, the assault force crossed the
border, and proceeded to the Chicualacuala railway staging area where it was observed by
FRELIMO sentries. The column had the markings of ZANLA insurgents, and was not
challenged. The force reached Jorge Do Limpopo by the evening of the 25th, and established a
perimeter. At 0600, 26 June, the formation reached Mapai. A battle commenced in which several
Rhodesians were killed, but a large quantity of arms were captured, to include a number of Soviet
RPG-7 rockets.
On the return trip, the column attacked the staging camp, and killed or wounded 37 ZANLA
Insurgents. This operation was an absolute success, and the “Flying Column” became the standard
tactic for cross-border operations.2
This war reveals an impressive point concerning the limited size and nature of this conflict. The
attacking force of Operation LONG JOHN consisted of 55 Rhodesian soldiers, and approximately 8
vehicles. The only air support provided for the attacking force was a helicopter medevac for the
wounded at Mapai. The Rhodesians favored the use of its fixed wing assets on an “on-call-strip alert”
basis. The close air support aircraft were only used in an emergency situation. Helicopter vertical assault
tactics were very seldom used because the insurgents had a SAM capability, and the Rhodesians’
heliborne assets were virtually irreplaceable because of the international sanctions.
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Throughout the summer of 1976, Rhodesia became aware of a major ZANLA staging and training camp
located in Mozambique and identified as the Nyadzonya Base. This camp appeared to be the main
insurgent and logistics base for operations conducted in the THRASHER operational area. Both
aerial reconnaissance and captured guerrillas had confirmed that the camp contained a large hospital,
and approximately 5,000 ZANLA personnel.
This constituted the largest center of insurgent activity discovered to this point in the war. As a result, a
combined force was organized to include members of the RLI, RAC, SAS, Selous Scouts, and
members of selected Territorial Units. The success of the “Flying-Column Attack” during the Mapai
raid served as the basis for the tactics devised for a strike against the ZANLA forces at Nyadzonya.
Once again, air support would be provided for serious medevacs on the objectives, and close air
support would be available in the event of a dire emergency. The planning included a table model of
the camp and its surroundings. Captured insurgents provided information concerning the defenses,
positions of the armories, hospital, living quarters, the daily routine, and a general outline of the
escape drills of the ZANLA insurgents. The “Flying-Column” consisted of 14 vehicles and 85 men.
The vehicles were of two types: 10 UNIMOGS and 4 FERRET Armored Cars. The transports were
armed with a wide assortment of weapons: 20mm aircraft cannons, medium and light machine guns, and
a captured Soviet 12.7 mm heavy machine gun. The men were dressed in captured Mozambique
FRELIMO uniforms with their distinctive caps (the European members of the force wore black
ski-masks). The vehicles were painted using the FRELIMO colors, and Rhodesian Intelligence had
provided genuine FRELIMO registration numbers for the vehicle license plates.
The detailed planning depended upon achieving total surprise in conjunction with both FRELIMO and
ZANLA demonstrated inability to mount a rapid response to a decisive strike. The route to the objective
utilized a secondary road which SAS Reconnaissance Units had found to be guarded and patrolled only
during the hours of daylight. Once the objective was reached, it would be necessary to destroy the
Pungwe River Bridge in order to isolate the area, and allow the column to move north from the objective
without fear of pursuit from a numerically superior force equipped with better mechanized assets.
The Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organization had established that an “all hands” formation took
place each morning at 0800. This muster was attended by everyone with the exception of cooks,
patients, and hospital staff. The assault force set 0810 as the time of attack. At 0005 on August 9, the
Rhodesian Force crossed the Mozambique border. The FRELIMO guard detachment was absent as
had been anticipated. At 0200, the convoy entered the town of Vila De Manica, and passed
without incident while returning the salutes of several FRELIMO sentries. At 0330, the
column established a bivouac several kilometers past the Pungwe Bridge. At 0700, the force
moved toward Nyadzonya without incident. By 0825, the column reached the entrance to the
camp. There were six ZANLA soldiers on duty. They should have been accompanied by two
additional FRELIMO soldiers, but they were absent. The ZANLA were never allowed to forget
that they were guests in Mozambique, and were reluctant to interfere with a FRELIMO
convoy. The Rhodesian Force was allowed to enter the camp.3
Upon entry, the vehicles moved to pre-established positions surrounding the camp. As the lead vehicle
moved forwardthe
parade ground suddenly opened up in front of them, and there were few men in the
column who did not gasp in amazement at the sight which greeted them... there could never
have been enough rehearsals... never enough briefings and mental preparations to have
readied them for the sight which met their eyes. A short distance away from them as their
UNIMOGS formed into line just off the parade ground, was the largest single
concentration of terrorists mustered which would ever be seen by any members of the
Rhodesian Security Forces, throughout the entire war. (one soldier simply commented), I
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just hope we don’t run out of ammunition.... (approximately 4000 insurgents) were milling
around the parade ground in a state of flux.4
When all the vehicles were in place, a Rhodesian soldier announced over the vehicle loudspeaker in
SHONA, the native language of the ZANLA, “Zimbabwe tatona”...we have taken Zimbabwe. The
crowd immediately began cheering and singing, and ran toward the vehicle on the edge of the parade
Soon 4000 yelling and singing terrorists were jam-packed around the vehicles and more
were streaming in from all corners of the camp.”5
Then the Rhodesians began firing with their machine guns and rifles. An 81 mm mortar section
dismounted, and fired into the crowd. The firing continued at a maximum sustained rate until all
movement in the kill zone had ceased. There was some return fire, and five Rhodesian soldiers received
minor gunshot wounds. Two Ferret armored cars had been positioned to block the escape route. These
vehicles killed an additional 150 ZANLA before the retreating crowd broke toward the river. In their
attempt to cross the Pungwe tributary, another 200 insurgents were drowned. At this point, the Security
Forces had been in the camp approximately 45 minutes. The task force had captured 14 prisoners, and a
good deal of documentation. As the main force withdrew from the camp, the Pungwe Bridge was
The Rhodesians turned north along their planned route of withdrawal. Along the road, the column
entered a village with approximately 100 FRELIMO soldiers. As the convoy passed through the hamlet,
the lead vehicle made a wrong turn, and the force drove onto a football field without another exit. A
FRELIMO officer approached the lead vehicle and offered directions. As the column began to
withdraw, two of the vehicles stalled. The FRELIMO officer became suspicious, and noticed several
European soldiers. A brief firefight ensued, and the attacking force required the assistance of a section
of Hawker Hunter jets in order to fight their way to the Rhodesian border.6
On 22 August, 1976, the New York Times reported the attack:
This was seen as the beginning of a campaign to strike out at the guerrillas before they
entered Rhodesia in small units, spreading thin the, limited reserves of the Rhodesian army.
The international condemnation of that raid, and the private protests made by South Africa,
which has feared the provoking of a wide-ranging racial war, prevented other strikes at
encampments across the Mozambique border ...(in addition), South Africa withdrew 50
helicopter pilots who had been flying with the Rhodesian Air Force.7
Both the ZANLA and ZIPRA factions claimed that Nyadzonya had been a refugee camp. In May,
1976, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) had visited the camp, and
verified its refugee status. After the attack, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the High Commissioner of
UNHCR, issued a statement in Geneva.
I have no doubt that a settlement of Zimbabwean refugees which has been receiving United
Nations’ assistance was attacked, and that hundreds of refugees were killed and wounded.
To be a refugee is in itself, a tragedy. That such large groups of refugees should have been
made victims of indiscriminate bloodshed makes this incident particularly shocking and
abominable. It escapes my understanding as to what those responsible thought they were
accomplishing through such are atrocity.8
This appears to be convincing evidence that the Rhodesian Forces had attacked a refugee
center. It is balanced by three facts. The Salisbury government claimed throughout the war that
the inspection of refugee camps by UN officials was never impromptu, and that prior to these tours
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the insurgents were removed, and their families with augmentation remained. In addition, it is
interesting to note that upon Robert Mugabe’s assumption of legitimate power in Zimbabwe, this
incident was never mentioned, and there were no “war trials”. The final fact remains the most
conclusive. The official ZANLA Report, dated August 19, 1976, clearly indicates that Nyadzonya
was an insurgent camp. It specifies that on August 9 there were 5250 personnel in the camp, of
which 604 were “povo” or refugees. The ZANLA Report gives the casualty figure as 1028 killed,
309 wounded, and approximately 1000 missing. The report is exceptionally candid. The
paragraph entitled ATTITUDE OF COMRADES offers the final synopsis:
It should be mentioned once again that the comrades have only one desire, to go for
training. This desire more than strengthened after the massacre on the 9th instant. The
attitude of the comrades towards the revolution is now much deeper than before. They are
highly committed to the cause of the liberation of ZIMBABWE more than they ever were.
Keeping them in bases often referred to as “Refugee Camps” keeps robbing them of their
morale and their desire to concentrate seriously on revolutionary matters.9
This operation is examined because it illustrates the impact of the international community’s economic
sanctions upon Salisbury’s ability to wage war, and the manner in which Rhodesia compensated for this
liability. In addition, the commander of the principle combat element was Captain John Murphy,
Rhodesian Army. Captain Murphy was an American citizen who had served as a 1st Lieutenant with the
U.S. Marine Corps’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in the Republic of Vietnam in 1969.
He was released from active duty in 1971, and attended graduate school at the University of South
Carolina. He was commissioned an officer in the Rhodesian Army in 1975, and served until 1979. He
was commissioned in the South African Defense Force (SADF) in 1980, and died in a parachuting
accident with the SADF in 1981.
In May of 1977, it became apparent that the Rhodesian Security Forces did not possess the depth
required to stop or reduce the infiltration of insurgent forces from Mozambique into the southeastern
REPULSE operational area. It was decided that a major attack against ZANLA guerrillas in
Mozambique was required.10 Before the operation was completed in June of 1977, a total of 700
Rhodesian soldiers would have crossed the border, and participated in action against ZANLA
insurgents and FRELIMO forces.
The operation commenced on the border at Gona-Re-Zhou. The 2nd Battalion, Rhodesia Regiment,
pushed approximately 10 kilometers into Mozambique to strike at a ZANLA staging camp in order to
create a diversion. At the same time, a commando company from the Rhodesian Light Infantry would
conduct a heliborne assault on a ZANLA installation at Rio while a second commando would conduct
an airborne assault on a ZANLA base camp at Madulo Pan. The commando companies would secure
strong points at these locations. Once this was accomplished, a “Flying-Column”, under the operational
control of Captain John MURPHY, would enter Mozambique and follow the rail line as far as Jorge Do
Limpopo, destroying all ZANLA camps and installations along the route. Elements of the
“Flying-Column” would also move west to Mapai to destroy ZANLA camps in the area. The Rhodesian
Air Force would be used only in the event of an emergency. During Lt.Col. Daly’s brief to Captain
Murphy, he stated:
I made it crystal clear he could likely be in for a stickier time than he had ever dreamed
possible while serving with his old outfit...the very fine U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam.
There would be nothing to parallel the instant and massive air support he would have had
there if he got into difficulties. He would be almost completely on his own...there would be
the sparing support, on call only, of two old Hawker Hunter fighter bombers...but he
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would only be permitted them if his difficulties were in the extreme.11
The principle reason for this reluctance to use air support , was not political. It was economic.
Rhodesia lacked the foreign exchange required to buy ammunition and spare parts for the aircraft.
They remained the government’s most valuable asset, and would not be used until absolutely
The “Flying-Column” for operation AZTEC consisted of 110 men, task organized into a combat
element, supported by an organic 81mm mortar group/platoon. The unit was out-fitted in FRELIMO
uniforms, and the trucks were painted in FRELIMO patterns. On May 28, the operation commenced.
After heavy fighting, the commando units secured the strong points, and the column advanced to Jorge
Do Limpopo. The town was rapidly overrun, and Murphy learned that the main ZANLA base had been
moved to Mapai. The commando company at Madulo Pan was brought forward to secure Jorge Do
Limpopo, and the column turned west to attack Mapai.
The assault element moved toward Mapai without incident until it reached the airfield on the “outskirts”
of the city. A large force of FRELIMO and ZANLA units were well “dug in”; they were also equipped
with 61mm mortars and several 14.5mm heavy machine guns. After several hours of intense combat,
the ZANLA and FRELIMO forces were driven from the airfield, and a subsequent attack pushed them
from the city.
On May 30, one of the unique elements of this war occurred. Until then, there had been several sharp
engagements in which 32 guerrillas had been killed.13 This had been a good operation, but not
necessarily remarkable. Upon entering Mapai, Captain Murphy had captured a vast quantity of ZANLA
arms and ammunition, and his force had discovered a number of ZANLA vehicles. Captain Murphy
requested and received Dakota aircraft at the Mapai air-field to return the arms and ammunition to
Rhodesia. The aircraft also brought several teams of mechanics and drivers trained and equipped for
the specific mission of repairing and returning the captured ZANLA/Soviet vehicles to Rhodesia.
At 2000, May 30, the last Dakota was leaving the Mapai air-field when it was struck with an RPG-7
rocket. The passengers and most of the crew survived the crash. At first light, on May 31, an air force
salvage team flew to the airfield by helicopter, and retrieved every piece of serviceable equipment prior
to the final destruction of the plane. The retrieval of this equipment was considered such a high priority
that the entire combat operation halted until this mission had been completed.
On May 31, the column returned to Jorge Do Limpopo. At this point, Murphy was told to prepare for
withdrawal because of the international pressure being placed on Rhodesia by the United States and the
Republic of South Africa. Although the military was told to anticipate this order, it had not yet been
given, hence the column commander was ordered to move an additional 20 kilometers south of Jorge
Do Limpopo and destroy as much of the railway as possible within the limitations of that distance.
Captain Murphy turned south, but disregarded the restrictions on his movement. He moved to Mabalane
which was 200 kilometers from Jorge Do Limpopo. During his movement, he destroyed a number of
railroad bridges and stations. Upon reaching Mabalane, he discovered the only railway steam crane in
Mozambique. His unit destroyed it. It is interesting that this crane was replaced in a matter of months by
the Republic of South Africa. The column turned north, and moved through light resistance toward
the Rhodesian border. The operation ended on June 2, 1977.
The final evaluation of this operation was summarized by Lt.Col. Daly:
The total kills achieved on the (operation) was never accurately ascertained, but even the
minimum figures were in excess of 60. The major achievements had not been kills... it had
been the final elimination of the Mozambique railway in the Gaza Province along which the
ZANLA terrorists, their equipment and stores had been moving to the Rhodesian border,
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the destruction or capture of a large number of military vehicles being used for the same
purposes, and the capture of a vast quantity of terrorists’ war material. 14
1978 has been called the “Beginning of the End” for the white minority government of Rhodesia. By
June, Military Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Organization had completed a study which
documented that the kill ratio inside Rhodesia was significantly less than the level of infiltration.
Rhodesia was being over-run by nationalist insurgents.15 The Rhodesian Army had spread itself too
thin and had become ineffective. As a result, several new policies were instituted. The country was
reduced to vital areas. These areas included the most productive agricultural lands, the industrial centers,
and the lines of communication with the Republic of South Africa. The remaining portion of the
country would be ceded to the insurgents, and swept by the armed forces on occasion. This was a
pragmatic decision, based upon the fact that the civil administration in the abandoned areas had already
“broken down.”
The territorial units and the Rhodesian African Rifles would be responsible for operations within these
areas. The Rhodesian Light Infantry, SAS, and Selous Scouts would continue operations in the newly
established “Insurgent Liberated Areas,” and continue their raids into the Front-Line border states.16
Within the parameters of this new policy, Operation VODKA commenced. This attack was
directed against Joshua Nkomo’s ZIPRA forces in Zambia. Until this point, Nkomo’s military
objectives had remained obscure. It was felt that he was purposefully allowing Mugabe’s forces to do
the majority of fighting while holding his own in reserve and building his strength. When the ZANLA
operations had sufficiently “worn down” the Rhodesian forces, and its own strength was diminished,
Nkomo would strike. He hoped to mount a conventional invasion of Rhodesia from Zambia with the
assistance of Cuban troops and East German advisors.
As the focus of the war turned to Zambia, it became known that a ZIPRA camp had been established
approximately 140 kilometers north of the traditional Rhodesian border at Mboroma, Zambia. This camp
held a special interest because it was identified as a ZIPRA prison compound. Rhodesian Intelligence
had confirmed that members of the Rhodesian Security Forces and ZIPRA dissidents were held in this
area. The Rhodesians were anxious to free their countrymen and have the additional advantage of
gaining a great deal of information from the liberated dissidents.
The Selous Scouts, whose strength now numbered approximately 1000 men, were assigned the
responsibility for this raid. The attack would be syncronized with an air strike on the town of
Mulungushi, and an SAS assault elsewhere in Zambia as a diversionary action. Throughout the early
days of December, reconnaissance elements had confirmed 120 prisoners within a fenced camp, and
approximately 50 ZIPRA guards. The insurgents were very conscious of air activity, and had fired upon
several Zambian aircraft which had flown over the compound. The guerrillas were well “dug in,” and
armed with several Soviet 14.5mm anti-aircraft guns.
On December 22, an air strike attacked the ZIPRA barracks and non-prisoner installations.
Immediately following the air-strike, a company size element of Selous Scouts made an airborne
assault on the camp. Upon consolidation, the Scouts seized the camp while killing 18 ZIPRA
insurgents. During the initial sweep of the compound, only 32 prisoners were located. While these
men were being processed, the search teams began to prepare to detonate several underground storage
chambers. As they set their explosives, the recently liberated prisoners told them to stop.
When these chambers were examined, the Rhodesians found underground detention cells. As the
soldiers assisted men from their cells, it was obvious that some of them had not seen sunlight in
months. They were covered with their own faeces, suffered from rat and insect bites, and were
malnourished to the point of starvation.
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Many of these men had been members of the Rhodesian Army who had been kidnapped from their
home villages while on leave. A number of the dissidents were young men who were offered
educational scholarships for higher studies in Botswana. Once they entered Botswana, they were
marched to Zambia and worked in the ZIPRA Publicity Department. At this point, they were evaluated.
The zealots entered the ZIPRA forces while those who remained reluctant were sent to Mboroma for
While this operation served as an emotional victory over insurgent forces, it also marked the
beginning of a concentrated effort of the Rhodesian forces against Nkomo’s ZIPRA insurgents, and
the involvement of Zambia in the final year of the war.17
As the pressure of the war continued to turn against Rhodesia, desperate plans were introduced. The
country had held free elections, and Bishop Abel Muzorewa was elected Prime Minister of the newly
formed State of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. The international community refused to recognize its legitimacy
because neither Robert Mugabe nor Joshua Nkomo were participants in the elections. Bishop
Muzorewa immediately declared an amnesty for all insurgents who surrendered to the government
forces. His offer failed. As the new government began to form a policy for the continuation of the war,
two dramatic incidents occurred which served as the final catalyst for the initiation of assassination
orders. On February 9, a commercial Air Rhodesia Viscount was climbing to altitude after taking off
from the resort town of Kariba in northern Rhodesia. It was struck by a Soviet SAM-7 missile. The
civilian aircraft was carrying 54 passengers. The plane crashed with 18 survivors. The ZIPRA
insurgents who had fired the missile proceeded to kill 10 of the 18 surviving passengers.18 Within a
short span of time, ZIPRA guerrillas downed a second Viscount. Joshua Nkomo claimed
responsibility during a radio broadcast “and horrified white Rhodesians heard him chuckle over the
The mission for the assassination of Nkomo was given to the SAS. A force of 25 men began
preparations in early April on an isolated peninsula on Lake Kariba. The raid was to be conducted with
the use of 7 Land Rovers painted in a Zambian camouflage pattern, and manned by the raid element
dressed in Zambian Army uniforms.
On April 14, a radio message from the capital of Zambia, Lusaka, confirmed that Nkomo had returned
to his residence. The operation commenced, the convoy was ferried across Lake Kariba, and landed on a
remote beach in Zambia. Reconnaissance flights had photographed a road through the “bush” which
would bypass most of the Zambian Army check points along the main highway leading to Lusaka from
the Rhodesian border. The road was almost impassable, and one of the vehicles had to be abandoned.
When the column reached the main highway, it was approximately two hours behind schedule. The
principle concern throughout the entire operation was the crossing of the bridge which traversed the
Kafue River along the Lusaka road. The bridge was reported to be protected by two Zambian Army
units stationed on either side. They were well equipped, and possessed Soviet anti-aircraft guns. As the
Rhodesian force approached the bridge, they found it was manned by a lone sentry who waved them
through his check point without incident.
At 0240, the column entered Lusaka and moved through the capital to Nkomo’s home, the Zimbabwe
House. This residence had been the former Zambian Prime Minister’s home. It was located across
the street from the residence of the British High Commission, and within several hundred meters of
the State House, the home of President Kenneth Kaunda. The lead vehicle crashed through the iron gate
of the fence surrounding Nkomo’s home. An intense fire fight began, and the insurgents proved to be
well trained and disciplined fighters. The SAS was armed with a number of Soviet RPG rockets, and
this weapon served as the decisive factor. The insurgents withdrew. As the SAS began to search the
wreckage, they realized that Nkomo was not amongst the dead or wounded.
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The Nkomo strike force withdrew, and moved to the Liberty House, which was the ZIPRA
headquarters building in Zambia. Upon entering Lusaka, a team had struck the ZIPRA Headquarters as
a secondary mission. The entire column consolidated at this point.
After the destruction of the building, at approximately 0500 the force withdrew from Lusaka with only
three casualties. The convoy crossed the Kafue Bridge, and moved to a rendezvous point on Lake
Kariba while avoiding Zambian spotter planes. Fortunately, the Zambian government believed that the
raid force had been parachuted into the country near Lusaka and obtained the vehicles on the ground.
The Zambian Army concentrated its efforts in the capital by establishing road blocks and questioning the
European population.
Joshua Nkomo claimed to be present in his residence when the attack commenced, and escaped via a
window in the rear of his home. The raiding party disputed his claim by asserting “that no one left the
building alive after the attack had begun.”20
RHODESIA): 1979-1980
Throughout the Rhodesian War, Nkomo had received considerable aid from the Soviet Union and East
Germany. This assistance included a number of advisors to his War Council which was located at his
Military Headquarters, the Liberty House, in Lusaka. These advisors were primarily Cuban and Soviet
military officers who were attached to their respective embassies.
During the early months of 1979, the insurgents were convinced that they would emerge as the victors
in their war against Muzorewa’s coalition government. The tenuous bonds of the Patriotic Front began
to dissolve as Nkomo and Mugabe focused their plans upon their attempts to consolidate their own
power within Rhodesia in order to seize control of the government once an insurgent victory was
The Soviet Union began to increase its assistance to Nkomo in order to ensure his control of Zimbabwe,
and to enhance their sphere of influence with southern Africa. Nkomo and his Soviet sponsors became
concerned over their lack of influence throughout the black population of Rhodesia in contrast to
Mugabe’s ever increasing popularity, and his recognition as Muzorewa’s most probable successor. In
order to counter ZANLA’s influence, the Soviet and Cuban advisors to the War Council provided a
complete revision to the ZIPRA Order of Battle within Rhodesia, and its long term military objectives.
This revision outlined the necessity of developing a conventional ZIPRA Army while using its guerrilla
forces to open the way for a full scale invasion of Rhodesia.
The plan was based upon the training and equipping of at least five battalions of ZIPRA soldiers which
were task-organized following the model of Soviet Motorized Infantry Battalions. It was estimated that
this would be the minumum force required to defeat both the Rhodesian Security Forces and Mugabe’s
ZANLA insurgents. The scheme of maneuver involved an assault along two axis of advance across the
Zambezi River. The first was along the northeast border to seize the airfield at Kariba while the second
would occur at Victoria Falls in order to capture the airfield at Wankie. Once this had been achieved
Libyan transport aircraft would airlift those remaining ZIPRA forces in Angola and Zambia into
Rhodesia. MIG 17, 19, and 21’s would be provided for air-support, and manned by ZIPRA pilots. It
was assumed that additional aircraft would be manned be Cuban and Libyan volunteers if they were
required. The capital city of Salisbury remained the principle objective. Once the bridgehead was
established at Wankie and Kariba, three armored columns would speed toward the capital. The first
would move directly from Kariba. The second would attack from Wankie via the city of Que Oue. The
third element would move from Wankie to Kariba in order to consolidate the northern frontier, and then
advance toward Salisbury. The second largest city in Rhodesia, Bulawayo, was by-passed because it
was in Matabeleland, which was Nkomo’ s homeland and base of power.
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In order to achieve these ambitious objectives, the Soviets took charge of training the ZIPRA
conventional forces. Two training areas were established. The first was at the former Zambian Army
Barracks at Mulungushi, and the second at the Boma camp in Luso, Angola. As the emphasis of the war
became focused upon Nkomo’s conventional forces, his ZIPRA insurgents in Rhodesia were
confronted by two serious problems which manifested themselves into a single element - ZANLA. The
ZIPRA guerrillas in southern Matabeleland were confronted by ZANLA soldiers who were pushing as
far into Rhodesia as possible in order to consolidate ZANU power.
Nkomo’s unconventional forces were required to wage war on a dual front against the Rhodesian
Security Forces, and the encroaching elements of the ZANLA insurgents. To add to this dilemma, both
of these components were much better equipped than the ZIPRA guerrilla.
Nkomo had made the decision to use the majority of his Soviet supplies to equip his conventional force.
As a result, the ZIPRA insurgents began to express their resentment against their role as an ill-equipped
force facing the enemy while their conventional counterparts enjoyed the security of Zambia. The result
was large scale desertions as the disenchanted Matabele tribesmen returned to their villages.
Once Nkomo realized the seriousness of the situation, he began to commit his conventional force. This
should have made a dramatic impact, but it did not. Nkomo had made the decision to allow his principle
guerrilla commanders in the various insurgent regions to exercise operational control over the regular
forces. This was a serious mistake. These leaders demonstrated their resentment of the newly arrived
forces by splitting their unit integrity and using them as replacements to existing guerrilla elements. Into
the midst of this situation moved the Rhodesian Security Forces, intent upon using every ZIPRA
problem to their advantage.
ZIPRA was being trained by the Soviets on their usual rigid pattern and probably, to
them anyway, any area of African bush seemed to a degree mysterious and easy to move
through without detection... even though this view certainly wasn’t held either by the
ZIPRA personnel or by the Rhodesians. The consequences were that ZIPRA regulars, on
Soviet orders, infiltrated at set crossing points, and the culling of their numbers by the
Security Forces became a daily almost boring routine. Generally, because of their lack of
subtlety and, provided one is willing to accept the evidence of one’s eyes at face value,
there is nothing particularly mysterious about Soviet tactics which are rigidly bolted to their
strategies...both are one and the same, in fact, as they try to control tactics from the top,
giving the man in the field little flexibi1ity.21
In addition to his ZIPRA regular forces, Nkomo had approximately 300 South African - African
National Congress Insurgents. They had trained and lived with the ZIPRA guerrillas since the early
1970’s in preparation for carrying the war of liberation to the Republic of South Africa. During this
period, they had entered Rhodesia and were committed to the ZIPRA operational area surrounding the
city of Gwanda. Their primary mission was to assist Nkomo’s forces in halting the ZANLA advance
into Matabeleland. At the end of the Rhodesian War, these forces were reconstituted, and were
preparing to continue their mission in the Republic of South Africa. At this point, the British
peace-keeping force that had been introduced into Zimbabwe to oversee the general elections, intervened
and caused the return of this element via RAF transport aircraft to Zambia. To the British government’s
credit, it did not allow an insurgent base to develop in Zimbabwe under its protection.
By the summer of 1979, Nkomo’s conventional forces began to mass at a complex identified as CGT-2
Camp. Rhodesian intelligence estimated that approximately 20,000 men were being assembled. It was
confirmed that MIG fighters had arrived in Zambia, and the armored vehicles which were to be
supplied to ZIPRA forces via the Zambian Army began to appear. Joshua Nkomo received an
additional impetus from the Lancaster House Peace Talks. If these talks produced a settlement, he would
need as many of his forces in Zimbabwe as possible in order to achieve majority status in Nkomo’s
traditional tribal area.
WAR SINCE 1945 SEMINAR AND SYMPOSIUM Chapter 4 http://home.wanadoo.nl/rhodesia/chapter4.htm
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The Rhodesian Security Forces were being assaulted from all sides. The elected officials under
Muzorewa’s government were beginning to prepare for the insurgent assumption of power. No one
wanted to be associated with the element of the white minority government which had caused the
guerrillas so much pain throughout their struggle. Yet the military remained the single cohesive element
of power within this fragile nation. Although the government was headed by a black Prime Minister, the
Rhodesian Security Force remained an instrument of the white minority. It realized that it was incapable
of halting a full scale invasion of its country by ZIPRA forces, but it could delay such an advance long
enough to persuade Nkomo to accept the conditions of the Lancaster House Settlement in lieu of an
invasion; if this occurred a peaceful transition of power under British supervision would result.
The Security Force developed a strategy which would delay ZIPRA’s use of its mechanized assets as
the basis for its invasion. The SAS, Selous Scouts, and the Rhodesian Light Infantry were tasked with
the destruction of the major bridges along the main Zambian lines of communication leading to the
Rhodesian border. This was accomplished with surgical precision under the guidance of the SAS. They
had already destroyed the road and rail bridges along the major thoroughfare which linked Zambia to
Tanzania. This had a major impact upon the Zambian economy because this route served as the primary
means of import/export exchange with the international community. In a period of approximately three
weeks, the SAS directed the destruction of 8 additional road and railway bridges in Zambia. This action
crippled Nkomo’s forces, while virtually halting all Zambian trade in the international market.22
The SAS is credited with accomplishing Rhodesia’s final military objective. Nkomo was forced to
reconsider his participation in the Lancaster Settlement; thus an “all party” agreement was signed on
December 17, 1979. On December 12, Lord Christopher Soames entered Salisbury as the British
Governor and officially returned the country to a colonial status. Great Britain’s dominon ensured the
peaceful transition of power through free elections held between February 14-18, 1980. As a result of
this vote, Robert Mugabe was elected Prime Minister, and the nation state of Zimbabwe was born.

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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.