THE RHODESIAN WAR
OPERATIONAL AREAS FORMED FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE COUNTER INSURGENCY WAR
12 August 1967
94 Terrorists crossed from Zambia into Rhodesia in rubber boats between Kazungula and Victoria Falls, in an area where the Chobe River meets the Zambezi River.
This group was composed of both South African National Congress (SAANC) and Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) Terrorists.
The aim of the SAANC terrorists was to pass through Rhodesia and infiltrate into South Africa through Botswana.
The ZAPU terrorists were to infiltrate into Rhodesia.
This group had a successful crossing and moved in a southwest direction to the Dett area where they set up some camps; which included observation posts, trenches and weapons pits.
On 1st August 1967, one of the group was captured by Rhodesian security forces in the Wankie National park near Shapie Pan, triggering a full scale follow up operation.
National parks wardens picked up further tracks while on patrol as the terrorists moved towards the Victoria Falls on the Bulawayo road.
The 1st Battalion Rhodesian African Rifles and (BSAP) British South Africa Police were deployed to FAF 1 (Wankie Forward Airfield) which was established for the operation.
On the 14th August the leader of the SAANC group had stolen a car in Dett after wounding a security guard in the process and headed for Bulawayo.
He reached Figtree on the 18th August and took a farmer’s wife and her son hostage.
The Farmers wife and her son managed to escape and warn the Security forces who surrounded the house and killed the terrorist leader.
By early September the terrorist kill tally in Rhodesia was 30 killed and 47 captured.
One terrorist made it into South Africa and was quickly captured by the South Africans.
The captured terrorists were tried in Rhodesia; for carrying arms of war found guilty, sentenced to death and subsequently executed.
Two Provost Aircraft from 4 Squadron, based in Thornhill in Gwelo and an Alouette 3 from 7 Squadron New Sarum were deployed to FAF 1 to support the operation.
Section Officer Tiffin had a contact with the terrorists at first light on the 13th August near Inyantue siding and called for air support. Provost and the Alouette arrived to assist.
During this contact five terrorists were killed and PO Tiffin seriously wounded.
Private Chikafu from 1RAR; crawled to the wounded policeman and dragged him to cover before carrying him to the helicopter for casevac.
Two members of the RAR were killed in this contact with three members of the Security forces wounded.
Squadron Leader Mick Grier and Sergeant Bob White from 7 Squadron were awarded the Military forces commendation for their actions during this engagement.
On the 18th August 1967, the security forces made contact with this group in the Angwa vlei with three terrorists being killed in contact; and a further five burnt to death by an explosion in their hideout.
The operational aircraft were prepositioned from Wankie town to Wankie main camp, to be nearer the operational area.
On the 20th August, Security forces captured another terrorist; and a contact was made with the original group in the Nata River on the 22nd August 1967.
Prop Geldenhuys, in his Provost was flying top cover when the RAR callsign came under fire from a terrorist ambush.
Warrant Officer Timitiya from RAR advised the Provost that Lt N. Smith (RAR) had been shot; and their radio went dead.
During this time the Provost was hit by ground fire from the terrorist position and had to return to base.
Chris Weinmann arrived in his Provost to relieve Prop Geldenhuys.
After sweeping the area the next day, security forces recovered the bodies of Lt N. Smith and WO Timitiya together with five terrorists.
(Two terrorists were wounded in the fire fight).
As events moved on the Air Force were prepositioned to Tjolotjo airfield which is 100 km north of Plumtree.
On 23rd August, Hunters and Canberras unsuccessfully attacked a fortified and camouflaged terrorist base camp containing 53 terrorists. Each Canberra dropped 96 Fragmentation bombs to no avail.
Later that day, RAR troops made contact with the terrorists, who were waiting in an ambush position for the Security forces; pinning them down.
This contact went on for an hour before the terrorists withdrew.
During this contact, radio communications with the JOC was lost from the RAR.
On the 24th August, at 01h30 the JOC received an urgent request for a casevac from the contact area.
Flight Lt Chris Dixon carried out the casevac after making a night flight in bad visibility and picking up two wounded soldiers in a badly lit LZ.
This battle was criticized by ZANU and the PAC later saying that the error was in the fact that the terrorists had attempted to take on the Rhodesians using conventional tactics in which the Rhodesians held the tactical initiative.
NOTE TO THE UNITED KINGDOM GOVERNMENT FROM THE RHODESIAN GOVERNMENT
28th August, 1967.
The Rhodesia Government wishes to draw urgently to the attention of the British Government the following situation in Rhodesia.
1. Leaders of the banned Rhodesian African Nationalist Organizations, the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) are now firmly established in Zambia; and it is from Lusaka that these people plan subversive operations directed against the Government of Rhodesia, including the infiltration of armed terrorists and offensive materials into this country.
2. At one time the President of Zambia, through his security forces, tried to control the movement of terrorists and offensive materials through his country. From about the middle of 1966, however, when Rhodesian terrorist activities commenced to increase, all vestige of control appears to have vanished and the Zambian Government has since progressed from a policy of ignoring or condoning such activities to one of offering direct encouragement.
3. Rhodesian terrorists receive training in a number of communist countries, including Russia, Red China, Cuba and Algeria, and also at three or more camps in Tanzania. Irrespective of their place of training, terrorists invariably move from Tanzania to Zambia where they are billeted in specially constructed holding camps, established in the vicinity of Lusaka and within easy striking distance of Rhodesia.
4. In Zambia there are also a number of centres used by subversive organizations for the storage of arms, ammunition and other offensive materials used in the equipping of terrorist groups. At their respective holding camps ZAPU and ZANU Party officials indoctrinate the terrorists in Communist and Party Ideology, particularly in the context of the part they are to play in creating a sense of fear and uncertainty in Rhodesia.
5. Groups for terrorist incursions into Rhodesia are issued with arms and equipment and conveyed, quite openly, in ZAPU or ZANU vehicles along one or other of the Zambian road complexes to the Rhodesian border, where they are finally instructed on methods of infiltration and briefed on their targets in Rhodesia. During the hours of darkness they are expected to infiltrate across the Zambezi River into this country.
6. Not only does the Zambian Government condone the activities of Rhodesian terrorists in that country, but it is known that on occasions Zambian Government officials actually assist these people in passing through the border between Zambia and Tanzania.
7. The main supplier of arms and other offensive materials used by Rhodesian terrorists is the African Liberation Committee (A.L.C.) of the Organization of African Unity (O.A.U.) in Dar es Salaam. Here the material is received from a number of Communist countries and is stored by the Tanzanian Government, which is responsible for the control and subsequent issue of this material to various Nationalist movements.
8. Although there is no proof of direct co-operation between the Governments of Tanzania and Zambia in respect of the movement of offensive material, it is known that the former Government has already suggested to the latter that it adopts some method of control. It is extremely unlikely that the Zambian Government is ignorant of the movement and storage of terrorist arms in Zambia.
9. Since terrorist activity against Rhodesia was intensified about the middle of last year, an ever-increasing number of armed men, of both the ZAPU and ZANU factions, have been infiltrated into this country from Zambia. Initially, only small groups of terrorists entered across the Zambezi River from Zambia. In recent months larger bands, comprising up to thirty or more terrorists; have crossed into Rhodesia. Little credence can therefore be given to any denial by the Zambian Government that it is unaware of the movement of such large numbers of men and quantities of material.
10. The current security operation being waged against the large band of mixed South African, African National Congress (SAANC) and ZAPU terrorists in Western Matabeleland shows without any doubt that the Zambian authorities are not only prepared to condone terrorist activities directed against Rhodesia, but are also willing to allow their country to be used as a rallying point for terrorists bent on a campaign of violence against South Africa.
11. The recent threat issued by the Organization of African Unity to Rhodesian nationalists that they can expect no further financial support unless they can produce proof of militant action against Rhodesia has had a two-fold effect. It has influenced both ZAPU and ZANU to intensify the infiltration of terrorists from Zambia across the Zambezi River, and has stimulated ZAPU to abduct over two hundred Rhodesian Africans, in legitimate employment in Zambia, for terrorist training in Tanzania. Thus the Zambian Government has become further implicated by permitting these activities with little or no intervention.
12. On the 19th August in Lusaka, James Robert Chikerema, Vice President of ZAPU, and Oliver Tambo, Deputy President of the SAANC, issued a joint Press release extolling the activities of their combined terrorist groups presently operating in Western Matabeleland.
13. The aim of these terrorist bands is to carry out indiscriminate killing, burning and looting in rural and urban areas. The Rhodesian Government will adopt the most vigorous measures to protect the people and their property and to seek out and destroy these terrorist bands and individual gunmen.
14. The British Government cannot escape its share of responsibility for these developments. There has been a complete absence of any protest by the British Government to the Zambian Government about the passage of arms and offensive material, the reception and harbouring of communist trained terrorists and the use of Zambia as a base for offensive operations against Rhodesia.
15. Here is a case where a Government of one Commonwealth country is lending itself to a policy of violence against another Commonwealth country which has committed no aggression and desires to be friendly and co-operative. The Rhodesian Government considers that Britain continues to have obligations in Zambia to influence that Government towards a policy of moderation and the discouragement of violence against Rhodesia.
16. The Rhodesia Government accordingly lodges a strong protest against the British Government's lack of action in this respect and against its connivance of the hostile attitude of the Zambian Government towards peace and good government in Rhodesia.
Originally published by the Ministry of Information, Salisbury, 1967
Despite this letter to the British Government, the incursions carried on…
TERRORIST INCURSIONS FROM ZAMBIA
A Statement by the Prime Minister, THE HON. I.D. SMITH, and other proceedings of the Rhodesian Parliament
30th August, 1967
With the leave of the House, I wish to make a statement.
I lay on the Table of the House a copy of the Note [see above] of 28th August, 1967, which the Rhodesia Government handed to the British Government yesterday in London drawing to the attention of the British Government the recent spate of terrorist incursions into Rhodesia, pointing out to them the encouragement and assistance given to these terrorists by the Zambian Government and, more important, emphasizing the fact that the British Government cannot escape its share of responsibility for these developments.
The British Government has rejected this Note.
The head of the Rhodesian Residual Mission in London was informed that the Commonwealth Office had examined the document and had declared that it could not be accepted because Her Majesty's Government do not recognize the Rhodesian Government and cannot therefore accept any diplomatic note emanating from them in that capacity.
I think this action by the British Government clearly expresses their disregard for the well-being of Rhodesia, in spite of their protests that they are opposed to violence and disorder. This attitude is in strange contrast to the military and police support which Rhodesia and Rhodesian forces have willingly given to the Commonwealth in the past.
I will not deal with the period of the last Great War-the part played by Rhodesia throughout this epic struggle is too well known to warrant repetition.
Confining myself to the post-war era, let me remind Britain that in 1951 Rhodesia provided two fighter squadrons as a contribution to Commonwealth defence. For a further post-war period Rhodesia became the home of a Royal Air Force training group; and the Rhodesian Government contributed towards its upkeep.
From 1958 to 1963, on nine different occasions, Rhodesian Vampire and Canberra squadrons were detached to Aden and Cyprus respectively and while there were under British command.
In 1961 Rhodesian transport aircraft provided notable assistance to the Royal Air Force during the Kuwait crisis, when Royal Rhodesian Air Force Canadairs transported British troops in the Middle East.
Later in the same year Rhodesian Dakotas transported and dropped food to flood-stricken tribesmen in Somalia at the request of the British Government.
As for the Rhodesian Army; in late 1950 a squadron of 100 European volunteers with regular officers and non-commissioned officers was raised as part of the Rhodesian contribution to Commonwealth defence; and went to Malaya to fight communist terrorists - the very type of trained men who are attempting to infiltrate Rhodesia today.
The squadron served in Malaya from April, 1951, to March, 1953, where it operated as a separate entity - "C" Squadron of the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment.
In July, 1962, the present "C" Squadron of the Special Air Service went to Aden for training; and operated against terrorists; and again, as part of the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment.
Today this same unit is in our front lines operating against the infiltrating communist terrorists.
In 1952 the First Battalion of the Rhodesian African Rifles served in the Suez Canal zone in the Middle East.
This was followed by a tour of duty in Malaya from April 1956, to February 1958, fighting communist terrorists.
The British South Africa Police have given extensive post-war assistance to the British Government in Bechuanaland, Nyasaland, Kenya and Northern Rhodesia as they were then known, four different contingents varying from one officer and 75 members to two officers and 118 men were made available to Bechuanaland in 1950, 1951 and 1952.
A large contingent of officers and members was sent to Nyasaland in 1953.
Two officers and 52 men were lent to Northern Rhodesia in September/October, 1956. Northern Rhodesia, as it was then, Zambia as it is known today, I remind hon. members, is the country which is aiding and abetting the present terrorist incursion into Rhodesia. Finally, three officers and 250 members were sent to the assistance of British authorities in Nyasaland from February to March, 1959.
In January, 1965, I personally made representations to the British Prime Minister about the training of saboteurs and the harbouring of terrorists in Zambia and Tanzania.
The British Prime Minister was unable to give me an entirely satisfactory reply.
He took the opportunity of talking about the matter with the Zambian President and accepted the latter's denial that they were allowing Zambia to become a springboard for activities against Rhodesia.
President Kaunda said that although his Government could not refuse entry to other Africans, they were exercising careful control over those claiming to be refugees and that they had put restrictions on the activities of political groups.
In the light of present day events, the value of such assurances can be seen for what they are; a hollow and deceitful mockery of the truth.
In June 1965, I followed this up by sending Mr. Wilson a full account of the activities and training of Rhodesian subversive elements in Tanzania and Ghana and again the reply we received was unsatisfactory; Mr. Wilson saying that he would study carefully the information which the Rhodesian authorities had made available to him through his intelligence channels.
However, this latest case, which I have drawn to your attention today, is the most blatant example of Britain assisting and indeed encouraging the actions of terrorists against friendly countries.
I do not wish to exaggerate the present encounter, for there is no doubt that our security forces are managing to deal with the terrorist invaders in a most adequate manner, but it is a fact that there has been a resurgence of terrorist activity recently, and most of these people have been effectively indoctrinated with Chinese communism and are dedicated to committing the most atrocious acts of terrorism.
Moreover, I think it should be placed on record that the great majority of this gang are members of the South African, African National Congress, hoping to pass through Rhodesia in order to practise their deadly trade south of the Limpopo.
All Governments, including the British Government, must be aware of a Joint press release issued in Lusaka on the 19th of this month signed by the Deputy Presidents of the Zimbabwe African People's Union, a Rhodesian organization, and the South African, African National Congress, a South African organization, in which they declared that:
the fighting presently going on in the Wankie area is indeed being carried out by a combined force of the Zimbabwe African People's Union and the South African, African National Congress which is marching on a common route, each bound to its destination, fighting the common settlers enemy to the finish.
On previous occasions when I have taken up the case of the British Government condoning and even supporting the infiltration of terrorists from Zambia, Mr. Wilson did at least reply, although evading the issue.
But in this particular case his answer is that he cannot even consider my representations because they come from an illegal Government.
Putting it in a nutshell, Mr. Wilson is prepared to deal with me and indeed meet me and talk to me, when it suits him personally and when he hopes to extricate himself from the hook of sanctions; on which he is so firmly entangled, but when the lives of poor, decent, innocent people are involved, both black and white, Mr. Wilson has the nerve to say that he cannot accept my communication, because it comes from an illegal Government.
This must take the "Oscar" for the greatest piece of hypocrisy of all time.
I repeat, that when he thought I might be able to assist him to extricate his head from the sanctions noose, he was prepared, not only to receive a communication from me, but to dine and wine me on board one of his battleships.
This story will surely fill a memorable, but nevertheless shameful page in the history of the present British Labour Party Government and if by chance some unfortunate mishap should befall any innocent Rhodesian, or, for that matter, any inhabitant of Africa south of the Zambezi, then we all know upon whose shoulders a large portion of this blame will fall.
18 March to 8 April 1968
Due to the outcome of events from Operation Nickel, the ZANLA terrorists decided to try and infiltrate into Rhodesia using routes further to the east of their initial incursion. The idea was to train terrorists in Russia, Algeria and Cuba; assemble them in Camps in Zambia, and when they were ready cross into Rhodesia, by following the Chewore river to the Zambezi escarpment and then into the farming areas of Centenary, Sipililo and Mount Darwin.
They would then set up bases and infiltrate the local African population.
ZANLA sent a reconnaissance team of terrorists into Rhodesia in December 1967, which crossed the Zambezi and set up a base camp nine miles away from the river; and by the middle of that month, were moving large numbers of terrorists across the river, but had logistical problems with bringing in supplies; due to the heavy rains at that time.
They set up a second well fortified camp further south which could accommodate a hundred terrorists.
More camps were set up to the north and their presence went unnoticed until they began to shoot game for food in the National Park due to their logistical problems.
The local Game warden had noticed a change in the habits of his game and became suspicious and found (terrorist) tracks while investigating the reason for the unusual game movement.
The ranger and six scouts followed the tracks for six hours and they noticed an increase of tracks indication an unusual amount of human activity in the Park estimating that about 40 people had passed through his area during the past few days.
The Ranger radioed base and the BSAP and Army arrived within a day to follow up.
In January 1968 another two groups of terrorists crossed into Rhodesia, one group entering the country from near Kamativi which is 60 km East of Wankie and the other group crossing near Makuti which is 40 km East of Kariba town.
Both these groups were wiped out by Rhodesian security forces.
On the 15th March 1969, the Rhodesian Air Force was put on immediate standby; and on the 16th March Flt Lt C. White and F/O B. Penton, from 4 Squadron flew an SAS tracking team to Karoi where a Forward Air Field was established to support the operation.
Later that day, two Provosts from 4 Squadron; flown by Flt. Lt. Tony Smit and Flt Lt C. Weinmann arrived at the base and carried out reconnaissance flights the next day.
On the 18th March, members of the RLI and RAR were following terrorist tracks and ran into a group of 14 armed ZAPU terrorists and a fierce fire fight ensued resulting in the death of one Rhodesian (Tpr.Eric Ridge RLI) and eleven terrorists.
A follow up operation ensued, and it was not long before the Rhodesian SF members came under fire from a group of 60 terrorists; when they walked into the terrorist camp (Camp 5); and were pinned down by the fierce resistance from the terrorists. Second Lt D. Pierce requested air support so that he could pull his men into a safer position.
At this time there was an unarmed Trojan overhead; which could not assist but called the main base for help, which soon came with Flt. Lt. Mark McLean, flying in an Alouette 3.
Mark and his technician/gunner Butch Graydon, then mounted attacks at the terrorist positions; and came under heavy fire from the ground.
Mark’s attacks gave Lt. Pearce a chance to move his troops into cover and the Provosts made some attacks using 3 inch rockets and .303 Browning machine guns, onto the terrorist positions.
A Canberra bomber from 5 Squadron New Sarum; also took part in the strike and injured two members of the RLI with shrapnel from its bombs.
While the contact was going on, the Alouette managed to casevac five members of the Rhodesian security forces that had been injured, earning Mark the Bronze Cross of Rhodesia.
During the ensuing sweep, no bodies were found and it was assumed that the terrorists had carried off their casualties.
During subsequent follow ups; the final tally for the Rhodesians during Operation Cauldron was 58 terrorists killed, of which 43 was ZANU and 15 were SAANC.
18/19 July 1968
In July 1968 the Zambian President, Kenneth Kaunda made a visit to the United Kingdom to request missiles to defend Zambian Air space from the Rhodesian Air Force.
At this time the terrorists based in Zambia made a concerted effort to infiltrate into Rhodesia, culminating in Rhodesia mounting the following anti terrorist operations;-
Operation Griffin, Operation Mansion, Operation Excess and Operation Gravel.
Three groups of ZAPU terrorists; and one group of ZANU terrorists crossed the Zambezi into Rhodesia using different routes into the country.
The ZANU group, consisting of 16 armed terrorists crossed into Rhodesia from the point where the Zambezi enters Lake Kariba, using two Batonka fishermen to act as porters and guides for this crossing.
An RLI patrol captured one of the Batonka fishermen who gave the Rhodesians vital intelligence on the terrorist group which resulted in four members of the group being killed and the remainder captured.
The larger ZAPU terrorist group consisted of 91 fully armed terrorists; and were divided into three groups. The first party crossed into Rhodesia at the confluence of the Gwaai and Zambezi rivers, with the second party crossing the Zambezi River in the Chirundu area; with the third party of terrorists crossing at the Chewore junction.
The first group ran into South African Police patrols and was dealt with swiftly, with all but one being killed or captured in the ensuing fire fight.
The second group was ambushed by Rhodesian security forces and all but one was accounted for in that action.
The third group consisting of 30 armed terrorists made contact with Rhodesian Security forces while making their way to Mount Darwin.
This contact occurred on the 18th July 1968.
Troops of 12 Troop, 1st Battalion RLI, commanded by 2nd Lt. Jeremy Strong became pinned down by heavy fire; and called in the Air Force for support which was followed up by Sqn Ldr Norman Walsh arriving overhead and his gunner, Sgt. Tinker Smithdorff directing fire at the terrorist positions; despite receiving heavy fire being directed at the Alouette.
This action gave the RLI soldiers a chance to withdraw to a safer position.
The Alouette was later supported by a second Alouette; flown by Flt. Lt. Peter Nichols and his gunner Sgt. TJ Van den Berg.
Both helicopters were hit during the ensuing action and Peter Nichols was forced to return to base.
Norman Walsh and his crewman had to casevac a wounded trooper from the contact area; which proved to be extremely dangerous as the contact was still on, with heavy firing in the area, and the only LZ available being close to the terrorist position.
The helicopter was struck with automatic arms fire when it took off with the casevac.
Once the casevac had been dropped off Norman Walsh returned to the contact area and directed two Provosts flown by Flt. Lt.’s Tony Smit and Ken Law into the attack.
These Provosts inflicted heavy casualties amongst the terrorists under very difficult flying conditions; which forced the pilots to release their weapons while overhead the Rhodesian positions.
Later that night two Alouettes flown by Sqn. Ldr. Grier and Flt.Lt. Nicholls carried out a casevac to collect a seriously wounded trooper lying in a ravine.
The helicopter had to fly into the ravine in the dark of night and carry out a slope landing to uplift the casevac.
Two Squadron Vampires were called out to a target on that same day but failed to release weapons, due to the SF being close to the terrorists; and the fading light conditions.
20th July 1968
Hunters were called out to the confluence of the Zambezi and Gwaai rivers, where they delivered their ordinance which included cannon fire and rockets.
20th July 1968
This follow up operation began; when terrorist tracks were found on the north bank of the Gwaai River, before it reached the Zambezi at Devils gorge; where the river flows parallel to the Zambezi forming a peninsular of high ground with a flat top.
Rhodesian troops started tracking the spoor up the southern side of the peninsular with a Trojan flying overhead acting as a Telstar (Radio relay). These troops followed the spoor over the peninsular and as they started down the northern side came under heavy terrorist fire; from an area which was strewn with boulders and had steep sides giving the enemy excellent cover.
Peter Cooke called for heavy Air Force support which was followed up by Vampires, Hunters and a Canberra arriving on the scene. An Alouette flown by Flt Lt Mark Mc Clean also arrived on the scene; and with the Alouette carrying out flushing fire and the Trojan speaking them onto the target, the Vampires attacked, exhausting their ammunition; and were followed up by the Hunters striking at the enemy position.
The Canberra went in dropping a full load of bombs.
Once again, the terrorists had made good their escape due to the large boulders giving them protection.
By the end of August 1968, the tally of terrorists killed by the Rhodesian Security forces amounted to 38 terrorists being killed or captured; and of the party of 91, only 11 survived; making their way back to Zambia.
It appeared that no incursions were made into Rhodesia from Zambia for nearly 18 months following this operation.
25t - 30th July 1968
This operation involved No 7 Squadron in a trooping role in Mozambique, upstream from Tete. Helicopter crews would fly to Tete and then position and operate from Bene.
This was a top secret operation and involved many hours of trooping in Mozambique.
28thJuly to August 1968
This operation is considered to be the last consequential Rhodesian security force action in Mashonaland in 1968.
A single survivor from OP Isotope during the previous year returned to the Op Excess area; to be killed by Rhodesian Security forces.
During this time incursions into Rhodesia lasted a short time; before the insurgents were taken out and killed by Rhodesian Security forces.
There was a lull in terrorist activity until the attack on Altena farm at the end of 1972.
The last phase was a decisive phase which resulted in a huge escalation of hostilities and international attempts to achieve a negotiated settlement in Rhodesia.
This phase ended with a cease –fire which was signed in December 1979.
OPERATIONS TEAK AND BIRCH
8-29 January 1970
Operation Birch began when a group of 22 terrorists crossed into Rhodesia on the 8th January, west of Chewore mouth; and the Rhodesian security forces discovered their tracks on the escarpment, west of the Hunyani river on the 16th January, a follow up ensued resulting in a contact on the 18th January (One RLI Trooper KIA) where the group divided into four groups.Aouette helicopters were deployed to move troops into the area and position Stop groups in rough and heavily vegetated terrain.
The result of this operation was six terrorists killed with two of these terrorists being killed in Mozambique by Portuguese security forces.
Six weeks later the tally was 10 captured, two RLI wounded and one Trooper KIA and a police dog shot.
Operation Teak began after an attack on the Victoria Falls Airport and the South African Police camp at Sprayview.
Security forces found tracks near the Gwaai River and a BSAP patrol boat was fired at from the Zambian side of the Zambezi River.
Security forces lost tracks in the Kamativi area.
On the night of 16th January, a South African Police camp at Chisuma was attacked and the same night shots were fired at the Victoria falls Airport building.
Three Provosts were deployed to carry out reconnaissance and top cover for the RAR doing the follow up; which culminated in Air Lt. Paintin carrying out a rocket strike without success; but during the strike his aircraft was hit by ground fire.
Operation Teak ended in February with the following result:-
5 terrorists killed, 8 captured and on the Rhodesian side Pvt Anasi, RAR KIA with 4 SAP members wounded. (8 terrorists escaped into Botswana)
It must be noted that the terrorists that took part in Operations Teak and Birch were better trained in anti tracking and worked in smaller groups and attacked the Rhodesian security forces at various points in the operational area spreading the Rhodesian strength.
OPERATION CHESTNUT - 20 February 1970
Operation Chestnut began on 20th February 1970, when a group of 7 ZIPRA terrorists were followed up in the Dett area, with one being captured at Dett siding. The terrorists had crossed into Rhodesia in the Msuna area near Lupane.
Army patrols were sent out to track the remaining 6 terrorists and 4 Squadron carried out leaflet drops and reconnaissance flights.
Three terrorists were captured near Dett and the other three escaped into Botswana after their contact with Rhodesian security forces. The leader of this group who was captured by the Rhodesians later died in Wankie hospital.
OPERATION PLUTO - 4-13 March 1970
Operation Pluto began after a group of 6 terrorists attacked the Kariba Airport transmitter in the Nyamuomba area by firing RPG 7 rockets into the roof of the building with little or no result as the rockets were not fused at the time.
A follow up ensued but came to nothing as tracks were lost and the operation closed after the terrorists crossed back into Zambia on 13 March 1970.
OPERATION GRANITE - 10 April 1970
Operation Granite began after two terrorists were arrested at a store in the Matopos on 10 April 1970 being part of a group of seven. Security forces found a cache of arms and ammunition in a cave in the Matopos and carried out a follow up operation of tracks leading to the south of this cave.
A terrorist was captured by locals but managed to escape before Security forces arrived on the scene. The initial tracks were lost and shortly afterwards Botswana police reported capturing two terrorists.
Once again the terrorists anti tracking skills had been successful. This group had initially crossed into Rhodesia from the Chete Island area.
OPERATION APOLLO - 29 November 1970
Operation Apollo began as a result of ZANLA terrorists establishing them in the Tete Province of Mozambique and started on 29 November 1970 when the Rhodesian Air Force established a base at Chicoa which is to the south of the Zambezi River.
This operation started in the rainy season which made it difficult for our security force members.
The operation was to work with Portuguese security forces in the area. (The Portuguese troops were mainly conscripts on a two year call up and these conscripts had little or no heart for the war)
Portuguese forces were equipped with an Alouette 3 gunship which was armed with a 20 mm cannon and was the envy of the Rhodesia Air Force crews who had to make do with their Alouettes being armed with a single .762 MAG. The Portuguese crew was inept with the weapon and killed their cook with an accidental discharge from the cannon.
The first action in this operation was to carry out an attack on a FRELIMO Camp in the area which proved to be a lemon as the camp was found to be empty.
On their return to base the Portuguese troops struck a landmine with their vehicle and the follow up was fruitless as rain had washed away the tracks in the area.
During this operation a Rhodesian air force Alouette was badly damaged by a cowling striking the main rotors.
This operation ended up on 15 December 1970 with the Rhodesians having lost all confidence in the abilities of the Portuguese troops.
In June 1970 a group of terrorists which included Urimbo, Chimurenga, Kadungure, Chauke, George Magobeya, Mapunzarima and Kuzvipa were sent on a mission to the Zambezi Valley to carry out a reconnaissance mission on foot along the Zambezi River from Feira which is located on the border with Mozambique to Kariba. During this time the terrorist group spent hours watching Rhodesian and South African Police military movements across the Zambezi River looking out for potential crossing points into Rhodesia where they would not be harassed by Security forces or river rapids.
The terrorists disguised themselves as simple fishermen and made money from their comrades in Lusaka by selling fish caught during missions.
ZANU had purchased a boat in 1965 and had left it with the fishermen with an understanding that it would be available when required. The ZANLA terrorists also had built a house in the area and found that one of their comrades was a Rhodesian spy who had passed their names on to the Rhodesians, this spy was caught laying landmines in the area.
The initial reconnaissance took the ZANLA team a month to carry out and returned to Lusaka where they reported to Tongogara, Chigowe and Ndangana.
Tete was chosen as an infiltration point after meetings between ZANU and FRELIMO.
When the ZANU cadres arrived in Tete, Chauke describes this period as follows: “We had to learn by observation how the masses lived. We had to learn from FRELIMO how to keep prisoners. We had to learn how they taught the masses co-operative work like agriculture and also how to establish cordial relations with the masses. We wanted to see how they taught them about war and how they prepared their minds for war. It was important for us to learn how to cache arms properly, what to do if a comrade falls sick on a march. We had learned the theory from Itumbi. What we lacked was the practice.
One of the things we had learned in training was how to decide whether water was safe to drink or not, but this became much clearer in practice when we were with the FRELIMO comrades and we got to a pool. First you watched to see if there was life in the pool, fish or any living thing. If there was it was a good sign that the water was okay. As far as burying arms is concerned, the most important thing is to thoroughly examine the terrain before you decide to bury the arms. If you observe certain features like hills and so on, you’ll want to look at your compass so if you send someone who was not present when you cached your arms it won’t be too difficult to locate them. Another thing we learned was that when you came to a river, even if you are thirsty, you don’t go straight to the water and drink before crossing the river. Your first task is to cross the river and then drink, because if you get down to a river and you all go down to drink, the enemy have already spotted you and you will all be gunned down with your heads down in the water. So you must cross the river first. Then having ascertained that there is no enemy around, before you cross the water or river, or before you just go to a pool, to make sure you are not found on all fours.
The four ZANLA cadres who went to Tete were reinforced by another four men who included Rauya a Political Commissar, Chipembere and James Bond. Bond’s real name was Paul Murwira was a very aggressive fighter who had a reputation of standing and fighting. These three met their deaths in action in Rhodesia.
A split between members of ZAPU began in 1967 when Jason Moyo and Chikarema clashed over the failure of ZIPRA to have any military gains within Rhodesia with many comrades killed in the fighting. There were also issues from Chikarema’s autocratic style of leadership.
In 1969 Cikarema allowed a British television crew to film in a ZIPRA training camp which was taboo at the time because the ZIPRA leadership did not want to compromise the cadres by having Rhodesian Security officials recognise them in film or photographic material.
Chikarema was also forced to apologise to the Zambian Government because the Zambians had denied that there were any camps in the country.
After many tribal and political differences the ZIPRA cadres were divided into two camps on mainly tribal lines with Jason Moyo dissolving the executive and military command and vesting all power to himself.
Some faction fighting occurred between the two camps and things came to a head when Chikarema’s supporters attacked Zimbabwe house in Lusaka where Moyo and his supporters were stationed.
In this attack quite a few people were seriously injures as there were a wide range of weapons including hoes, pangas, stones, knives and automatic weapons.
The Zambian’s attempted to unite the two factions to no avail as the rift was beyond repair. ZIPRA forces which numbered in the region of 400 cadres split up between Moyo and Chikarema or just deserted. A few crossed over to ZANU leaving the war against Rhodesia to come to a halt for the time being.
All hell let loose when a group of neutral cadres led by Walter Mtimkulu an Ndebele commander kidnapped all the main leaders with the exception of Chikarema and took them to a camp outside Lusaka at gunpoint. The Zambian Army intervened and Chikarema was taken to join his colleagues. The Zambians then attempted to assist the cadres to reconcile to no avail.
Mtimkulu and his cadres were detained by the Zambians and deported back to Rhodesia across the Victoria Falls Bridge and handed over to Rhodesian authorities.
The Zambians deported Mtimkulu and his comrades as spies.
In July 1971 Rhodesian security forces discovered a large arms cache at the Stuttafords transport warehouse in the light industrial site in Salisbury, the arms were to be distributed to ZANU cadres in the city. This cache included twenty-five hand grenades, sixty stick grenades, 163 pieces of explosive material, 208 igniters, 10 striker mechanisms,132 detonators, seven electric detonators, two time pencils, nine anti personnel mines, two RPK machine guns, eight Simonov SKS rifles, six AK 47 rifles, two Schmeisser sub-machine guns, 5961 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition, 3889 rounds of 9mm ammunition, six Schmeisser magazines, nine 9 mm submachine guns of Czechoslovakian manufacture with eighteen magazines. Three men were arrested and charged under the Law and Order Maintenance Act. One of them a Joe Taderera jumped bail and made his way to Zambia. Dennis Mangwana received a sentence of twenty six years imprisonment and another accomplice six years.
OPERATION SABLE - 8 May to November 1972
This operation took place in September to October 1972 in North Eastern Rhodesia and Mozambique with air cover being carried out by 4 Squadron being based at Nyamasoto to support the RLI.
Gerald Hawksworth a 29 year old land surveyor was the first ZANLA prisoner of war when a two vehicle convoy he was travelling in was ambushed by a group of ZANLA terrorists. The two land surveyors in the lead vehicle Denis Sanderson and Robert Bland were killed instantly in the ambush. The terrorists buried the vehicles and camouflaged them before moving Hawksworth to Chifombo on the Zambian border.
While was in captivity Hawksworth met with Tongogara who referred to him a Comrade Hawksworth.
According to Hawksworth he was treated very well by Tongogara who told him that it was not a racial war. Hawksworth was later taken to Zambia and into Tanzania where he was later released.
OPERATION LOBSTER - 31 August to 3 September 1973
The derailment of a train near Victoria Falls triggered off the start of this operation on 3 August 1971. A two kilogram pack of Russian explosive which had failed to detonate was discovered in a culvert just outside of Victoria Falls.
ZAPU claimed responsibility for this action on Radio Zambia and said that it was the beginning of a new offensive into Rhodesia.
Two Provost Aircraft were involved in an air strike on terrorist positions on 5 September in support of the Army.
Operation Lobster ceased at the end of September with a tally of 14 terrorists killed and the remainder having crossed the Zambezi back into Zambia.
1 RLI did a follow up into Mozambique and found indications of a ZANU and FRELIMO link.
On 30 August 1973 an SAS ‘Psuedo group’ who were armed and dressed as terrorists led by Sergeant Andre Rabie picked up a terrorist known as Kefas Mashangara. As a result of the incident a nine man group of terrorists who were based at Shamva made a decision to move it’s base to Chibara and had a contact near Makaradzi mine where three terrorists were killed including the group’s commander Kennedey Zvamutsana who died while being stretchered through the Chesa African Purchase area. This group thought that they had been attacked by a ZANLA group that was operating in the same area because they recognised one of the men in the attacking group.
In fact the man that they recognised was a ‘turned terrorist’ led by Sergeant Stretch Franklin of the Selous Scouts.
In September 1972 Sergeant Rabie was killed on operations and later in September Sergeant Franklin was awarded the Silver Cross of Rhodesia being one of the first recipients of the award.
This was the beginning of the Selous Scout’s pseudo operations which was a key factor in the elimination of terrorist groups in the Rhodesian war.
OPERATION CRATER -1972
This operation began in October 1972, after 2 territorial force members were blown up in a landmine explosion at Binga.
During subsequent follow ups a number of terrorists were killed and weapons captured.
This was the last small operation to be carried out prior to the start of Operation Hurricane.
OPERATIONAL AREAS IN RHODESIA CIRCA 1975 ONWARDS
(This Operation began after the Altena farm attack on the Zambezi escarpment near Centenary on 22 December 1972)
The operational area was situated in the North Eastern part of Rhodesia (where the war started initially) and included the white farming areas of Mount Darwin, Centenary and included the African rural tribal areas known as Tribal trust lands (TTL) surrounding the white farming areas mentioned.
This operational area was normally infiltrated by ZANLA terrorists.
The Rhodesian Air Force had FAF 2 at Kariba Airport, FAF 3 at Centenary, and FAF 4 at Mount Darwin FAF 5 at Mtoko.
New Sarum at Salisbury was the main Air Force Base and Fylde outside Gatooma were also in the Operation Hurricane area.
Early in the morning of 18 March 1975 Herbet Chitepo was killed when a bomb ripped through his car as he reversed down his drive at 150 Muramba Road in Lusaka’s Chilenje South suburb. His bodyguard Silas Shamiso and a child in the next garden were killed by the blast and another bodyguard Sadat Kufambuza seriously injured.
Zambian Bomb disposal experts later established that a 1.6 kilogram bomb containing TNT was attached to the right front fender of his vehicle with magnets. This explosive device was triggered by using a pull fuse connected to moving parts. A pathologist stated that Chitepo had died of multiple injuries sustained in the explosion. A few weeks later the Chief Representative of Botswana Dick Moyo previously known as Joseph Chikara was killed by a parcel bomb.
The operational area ran along the Mozambique border from North of Inyanga and included Umtali, to the white farming areas of Melsetter, Chipinga and Cashel valley.
TTL’s surrounding these towns, and up to Birchenough Bridge, north to Fort Victoria.
Operation Thrasher was also normally infiltrated by ZANLA terrorists.
The Air Force had FAF 6 in Chipinga and FAF 8 at Grand Reef to support Operation Thrasher
Operation Repulse started at Fort Victoria and moved south to Beitbridge and areas to the south east which included Bikita, Chisambunje, Gona re Zhou game reserve, Triangle, Chiredzi and Buffalo range and all of the TTLs surrounding.
This operational area was infiltrated by ZANLA and ZIPRA cadres.
Operation Repulse had FAF 7 at Buffalo range and FAF 9 at Rutenga supporting operations.
After 1978 Fireforce operations took place from the Fort Victoria Airport.
Operation Tangent area began west of Beit Bridge and moved north to Kazungula along the Botswana border which included West Nicholson, Colleen Bawn, Gwanda, Matopos, Bulawayo.
Plumtree, Figtree, Tlotjo, Pandamatenga and Gokwe and included surrounding TTLs.
This operational area was mainly infiltrated by ZIPRA terrorists.
Operation Tangent had FAF 1 in Wankie and FAF 10 at Gwanda supporting operations.
Operation Splinter area began at the confluence of the Zambezi river and Lake Kariba and ran in a north easterly direction along Lake Kariba to its border with Operation Hurricane. It included Binga, Chizarira Game reserve, Chete Game reserve, Bumi Hills and the Matutsadona Game reserve to the border of Operation Grapple.
Operation Splinter was normally infiltrated by ZIPRA cadres.
Operation Splinter was supported by FAF 1 or FAF 2 depending on where the infiltrations were happening from on the Lake Kariba.
Operation Grapple area was in the central part of Rhodesia which did not include the other operational areas.
This operational area was infiltrated by both ZANLA and ZIPRA cadres.
Operation Grapple was supported from Thornhill.
FIREFORCE CONCEPT AND SET UP
The information that follows is to give those that have no knowledge of Rhodesia or its Security forces; a lead up to what Fireforce and its people and components were all about, and why the Rhodesian security forces set this concept up.
I have also added information of a general nature for those interested in Rhodesian military history, the Alouette helicopter, African superstition, Fireforce and a number of related subjects.
The ground on which I do battle with him cannot be known.
Then the enemy’s preparations are many.
When his preparations are many. I battle the few
The Art of War……
Fireforce was formed due to the escalating security situation in Rhodesia at the time.
The beginning of the conflict in Rhodesia is traced back to the decision of Britain to grant responsible government to the white settlers in Southern Rhodesia in 1923.
Legally Rhodesians could govern their own affairs, in practice Rhodesians were frequently left, as people on the spot, to interpret and put into practice; laws applicable to farm and land invasions; “The Third Chimurenga War”, and there is talk of the fourth Chimurenga war..
At this time there were about 30,000 whites and 850.000 blacks, residing in Rhodesia.
Educated blacks grew bitter when they saw the land apportionment bill of 1931 which in fact allocated 48 million acres to 50.000 whites and 28 million acres to one million blacks.
This smoking gun led to the war and the present land invasions by Robert Mugabe and his thugs.
The colonies of Northern & Southern Rhodesia; and Nyasaland were linked together in 1953 into what became the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in what was to be known as the Central African Federation.
Rhodesia dominated this federation, both politically and economically; with the military power base in Salisbury.
The ANC was formed by the blacks in Rhodesia in 1957 as their political organization.
The ANC was led by Joshua Nkomo, and at that time attempted to pursue moderate policies; so as not to cause consternation amongst the white population in Rhodesia at that time.
The ANC campaigned for the abolition of racial discrimination and more economic progress for the black population.
At this time, Nkomo was viewed by the whites as a moderate and participated in Federal politics; but in spite of his moderation, the government banned the ANC in 1959 when Nkomo was out of the country.
ANC leaders were detained and the Southern Rhodesian government adopted a policy of controlling black politics.
The Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo formed the National Democratic Party NDP in 1960; in the hope that the Federation would collapse and Southern Rhodesia revert to black majority rule; forced upon white Rhodesians by the British Government, who were only too keen to shed itself of all its colonies and colonial ties.
A constitutional conference was convened in 1961 (NDP invited to attend) by the white government in Southern Rhodesia; and the government given complete control over the colonies affairs, however the NDP attempted to disrupt elections under the new constitution; leading to the banning of the NDP and resulting in the formation of ZAPU (Zimbabwe African Peoples Union) in December of 1961.
Joshua Nkomo went overseas to seek support from Britain and the UN.
Nkomo was criticized by his peers for his stance at that time of no violence; however this caused him to hurry back to Rhodesia and consider using violence and insurrection as a means to make change in Rhodesia.
Due to this change of events, ZAPU was banned in 1962; and the white Rhodesians had a strong reaction to these events; resulting in the formation of a new political party called the Rhodesian Front RF which came into rule in 1962.
Once in power, the RF crushed all black opposition and established a strong system of law and order in Rhodesia.
The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland collapsed; resulting in Rhodesia being the only stable regime in the region.
The Black Nationalist leaders could not come to terms with each other at this time and their politics was a shambles, with Nkomo wanting to form a government in exile while the remainders wanting to get internal support and fearful of moving out of Rhodesia, chose to remain in the country.
Sithole formed the Zimbabwe African National Union in 1963 (ZANU) which was a rival party to ZAPU, with the same aims of black majority rule.
Gang warfare broke out amongst the rivals; and continued throughout the Rhodesian war, with a clear split between the Matabele and Mashona tribes in the country.
Ian Smith became Prime Minister in 1964, and pushed the idea of Independence from Britain on the basis of Rhodesia’s existing constitution.
The British government resolved to sell the white population down the drain to black majority rule; no matter what the circumstances… and were resolved to withhold independence, without the safeguards set out by the British government for the black population.
The negotiations between Ian Smith and Harold Wilson on HMS Tiger broke down, resulting in Rhodesia declaring Unilateral Independence on the 11th November 1965.
The UN declared sanctions against Rhodesia shortly afterwards.
These sanctions were only partially effective due to Rhodesia receiving support from the Portuguese (controlling Mozambique at that time) and South Africa.
Britain did not estimate the resilience of her white colonial population; which she had sold down the river.
ZANU and ZAPU moved their operation to Zambia in 1964, and began to build up their terrorist forces.
At this time, the two groups quarrelled incessantly and even more signs of tribal rivalry showed between the Shona and Matabele tribes.
ZAPU and ZANU changed their tactics to intimidation and arson, using petrol bombs.
(I remember driving to my Grandfathers farm in lower Gwelo and passing through Makoba Township, where my father would drill us in riot countermeasures by saying “They’re throwing stones” where we would dive to the floor Dads Ford Taunus and wait for the all clear from him.
Riots were a regular occurrence in the black townships in Rhodesia at this time)
By 1962, the black nationalists turned to foreign sources of support; for training and arms for their terrorist gangs namely; Communist China, Russia and North Korea.
In February 1964, the Crocodile Gang attacked a police post and killed a white man
This gang was quickly crushed by Rhodesian security forces using good intelligence. October 1964 members of the military wing of ZANU and ZAPU were receiving training in Tanzania, Ghana, USSR, North Korea and The Peoples Republic of China.
During 1966 and 1967, armed and uniformed groups of ZANU and ZAPU terrorists crossed into Rhodesia from Zambia; to mount attacks against the white population of Rhodesia.
In a television interview with Granada television in 1970 James Chikarema stated “We do not intend to finish (the armed struggle) in a matter of two, three, four or five years….this is a protracted struggle. The type of war we fight depends on changes of tactics and I can tell you that we’ve changed our tactics. We will combine both –where they meet us and intercept us, we will stand and fight; where they don’t see us, we will go to our own areas and infiltrate ourselves into the population and organise our masses.”
The Rhodesians were quick to respond to this threat and foil their attempts at destabilization.
On the 28th August 1966, the Battle of Sinoia started the real opening shots of the war (Celebrated as Chimurenga day in the current Zimbabwe)
This was followed by the Viljoen murders in Hartley, when a group of terrorists called the Zwimba gang, armed with Sten guns, PPSH Machine guns and a Schmeisser, arrived at Nevada farm in Hartley; and after being fed and watered by the farm workers in their compound, made their way to the main homestead in the dead of night, and shot Johannes Viljoen and his wife when they answered the door.
This group was followed up by Rhodesian security forces; as they headed northwest to Karoi; and then northeast to Kanyemba, where one of their group was killed by B Company 1RAR.
Two members of this gang were killed when their base was attacked; and their leader escaped to Zambia, wounded. The remainder of this gang was apprehended close to Mount Hamden in Salisbury some time later.
One of the captured terrorists known as Edmund Nyandoro, who was sentenced to death for the murder of Mr and Mrs J.H. Viljoen told the court at his trial that he had trained in Egypt, Tanzania and China.
A notebook found on a dead terrorist after the Sinoia battle showed that he had trained in Nanking Military College in 1965.
It is also of interest that in 1969 arrived at the ZANLA camp at Itumbi in Tanzania in January of that year.
Itumbi camp was opened in 1965 and was located on an abandoned farm which included a derelict gold mine which dated back to the German colonial era. This camp was commanded by “Ndangana” a senior member of the ZANLA high command who was a member of the notorious Crocodile gang who had stabbed Petrus Oberholzer (the first white Rhodesian to die in the conflict) to death on the 4 July 1964.
Comrade Lee one of the Chinese Instructors, an infantry specialist, was to play an important role in evolving a new strategy where ZANLA changed from conventional warfare to classical Maoist tactics of mobilizing the population prior to launching a protracted struggle.
These Chinese instructors gave the recruits training in reconnaissance, mortars, recoilless rifles and anti-aircraft weapons.
The recruits were based at Itumbi for sixteen months of which the first six months were devoted to basic training and the remainder of the time to advanced sabotage procedures and specialist training.
The first ten recruits from Itumbi were deployed in December 1969.
The second commander of Itumbi was Josaiah Tongogara.
ZANLA instructors at Itumbi included Nhamo,Madiba and Saranowako who were responsible for basic training and political education of the recruits. The Tanzanian army provided instructors for drill and physical fitness.
On the 19th July 1966, a group of 11 Zapu terrorists attempted to cross into Rhodesia on the Zambezi river; but were swept downstream and landed up in Mozambique.
These attacks resulted in the Rhodesian Air Force flying border patrols, and the Army patrolling the Zambezi Valley on foot.
The scene was set for the war that followed and the Rhodesian Government were well aware of the situation with Ian Smith saying in a radio interview with a panel of journalists “The (security) position is far more serious than it appears on the surface, and if the man in the street could have access to the security information which I and my colleagues in Government have, I think he would be a lot more worried than he is today.
When asked if there was any subsistence to reports that Rhodesian Security forces were operating in Mozambique Smith said “No, we are not operating in Mozambique, but I hope that if it was ever needed we would be able to participate. At this stage there is no need for this”
During this interview he added “If we have problems with infiltration through Mozambique, well then we may have to approach the Portuguese to ask for some change in the arrangements as they exist at the moment. But as I see it at the moment, they’re holding the position”.
On the 21 December 1972 a group of terrorists attacked Altena farm, the property of Marc de Borchgrave, in the North East, Zambezi Valley area of Rhodesia. The attack was reported to have lasted about thirty seconds and resulted in one of the de Borchgrave children receiving minor injuries.
After the attack Marc had to run two miles to sound the alarm because the terrorists had severed the telephone wires to his farm. Rhodesian security forces on follow up discovered a landmine planted on the road leading to the farmhouse and also came across a farm store which had been set on fire on a neighbouring farm.
After the Attack on Altena farm de Borchgrave who was a tobacco farmer, moved with his family to stay on Whistlefield farm with his neighbour.
On the 23 December Whistlefield farm was attacked by the same group of terrorists and de Borchgrave and another of his children were injured in this attack. It was thought that de Borchgrave was attacked due to his poor labour relationship with his farm workers.
A security force vehicle reacting to this attack struck a landmine killing one soldier and in another incident a security force vehicle hit a mine wounding three troopers.
Rex Nhongo it turned out, commanded a unit of twenty two cadres in Nehanda Sector of the Mozambique –Zimbabwe north east war zone which were the group that attacked Altena farm. A group of nine men commanded by Nhongo’s deputy Jairos (who was killed in a contact in 1973) attacked Altena farm from their base camp in the Chiweshe TTL (Chief Chiweshe supported this group) Altena farm had been targeted because of de Borchgrave’s bad reputation in the TTL. The group was fresh and had no idea of what to expect and their task was to carry out the attack and study the Rhodesian Security forces reaction and decide what actions they could take in the future.
The group took one hour to carry out their reconnaissance of the farm, cut the telephone wires, mined the road and carried out a fleeting attack on the farm and then absconded back into the Chiweshe TTL.
The Rhodesian Security forces carried out a follow up action according to Nhongo’s version of fifteen trucks loaded with troops, armoured cars, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.
Nhongo split his group into three with himself commanding one section, Jairos the second and Hopedzichirira the third as they did not want to lose all members of the group if they ran into the Rhodesian forces.
Ian Smith made a speech to the Rhodesian public on the 18 January where he explained the new change of the security situation in Rhodesia.
“There have been some unusual developments over the past few weeks and as facts and the trends are now emerging I would like to put you in the picture as far as I can without breaching our security requirements. The terrorist incursion in the north-east of our country has developed in a manner that we have not previously experienced and as a result we have to face up to a number of serious problems.
In the first place, for some months now these terrorists have been operating in this area, quietly and methodically undermining the local population. They have done this in a number of ways. Firstly, through indoctrination at the point of a gun; secondly they found a few witchdoctors of doubtful character and of little subsistence, and succeeded in bribing them to their side. These were then used to good effect in misleading local tribesmen into accepting that the terrorists were worthy of their support.
I am sure that I do not have to inform you how easy it is to mislead these simple, gullible people who still believe in witchcraft and the throwing of bones. You may ask how it was possible for terrorists to operate in this area for so long without detection. This was the reason that they were able to move backwards and forwards across the border from their so-called base camps and were thereby able to avoid detection for long enough to enable them to subvert pockets of local tribesmen. Thereafter their task was made easy through the shelter, food and assistance they received from locals”.
Ian Smith closed the border with Zambia on the 9 January 1973 with the exception of copper exports to Beira.
The Rhodesian Government Gazette at the time stated that there were three incidents involving landmines, one of which resulted in the deaths of two South African policemen and wounding two others. The Government Gazette stated that terrorists operating in Rhodesia’s North Eastern Border had been responsible for terrorist activities and mining incidents in that area had come from Zambia. The Gazette went on to say that until satisfactory assurances were received from the Zambian Government the border would remain closed. Smith changed the Governments view on the 8 February when he said in an interview “Well, the terrorists operating in the North Eastern border are not operating from Zambian soil. They haven’t come across from Zambian soil, and we have to face up to this”.
Smith stated on the 10 February 1973 after realising that terrorist infiltrations into Rhodesia was coming from Mozambique with assistance from FRELIMO was the fact that “the security groundwork, the communications, to a certain extent the tribal system. We darn well know that the tribesmen were subverted. We know, for example that Chiefs have also been playing with terrorists, and they are going to be dealt with, but this isn’t anything one can anticipate. It was the information that didn’t come through. We have also known for some time that we haven’t got good enough ground coverage in some of these remote areas”.
Until 1973, the Air Force was used on Operations on an ad hoc basis with 7 Squadron helicopters being used, carrying out mainly trooping work. The war had moved on to the Centenary area by 1973 (FAF 3), with a JOC having been established.
The Air Force had a Group Captain as representative and the Army senior member was a Brigadier.
Centenary and Mount Darwin (FAF4), became sub-JOC’s (Joint Operation Command) with a Lieutenant Colonel and a Squadron Leader in charge.
The Bindura Main JOC was not a tactical base like the forward airfields; therefore it was not allocated a FAF (Forward Air Field) number.
The Alouette Helicopters were based at Centenary and Mount Darwin, with two Regular Force Battalions of RAR and RLI respectively.
In the early days the Air Force ferried troops on an as required basis before it became obvious that there was a requirement for military assets to be on hand immediately; on a standby basis for quick reaction to sightings and incidents.
This reaction group became known as Fireforce.
The helicopters carrying the troops were named G-Cars; and of the 50-60 men available at the JOC, a third would be on immediate stand by with a 30 minute call time, with the remainder being on reserve as required.
(The call out would be initiated by klaxons; or car horns near the operations room)
The Fireforce call out was initiated by incidents in the surrounding operational area namely, a sighting from an O.P, a farm attack, trackers following spoor or cross graining known spoor, an ambush, or from intelligence reports.
Call outs could also be initiated by aerial reconnaissance by Rhodesian Air Force pilots, who were very good at spotting terrorist base camps from the air.
These pilots could even track groups of CT insurgents, as they made their way through grassy areas.
Each Alouette G-Car would carry 5 men; called a Brick, which was later reduced to a 4 man Stick; due to power to weight restrictions on the helicopters, especially now that the Rhodesians had armed them.
Early heavier loads caused cracking on the trailing edges of the main rotor blades, and problems with the transmissions, which were also upgraded later in the war.
The G-Cars were equipped with MAG or a single .303 Browning machine guns.
(Later in the war, the G-Cars were fitted with twin .303 Browning machine guns).
When the SAAF (South African Air Force) operating under the umbrella of the South African Police arrived; their Alouettes were called Z Cars.
G and Z Cars were used for basic trooping and general purpose duties.
After trials, the Rhodesian Air Force adopted the Matra 20mm cannon, on a reinforced floor to the Alouette, and named it the K Car.
The K Car was to be the mainstay of the Fireforce, carrying a crew consisting of the pilot, army commander and technician/gunner.
The Matra MG151 Cannon, used short cartridges with less than normal propellant to reduce recoil and muzzle velocity.
The cannon had a fairly low rate of fire; and normally would be fired with two to three round bursts.
The cannon was mounted on a cradle; and was fitted with a Collamateur reflector sight, calibrated for the cannon to fire at 90 degrees to the fore and aft axis; from an altitude of 800 feet at 70 knots.
Most of the experienced gunners preferred to fire at lower altitudes and adjusted their sights accordingly (illegally)
The Cannon fired HEI (High Explosive Incendiary rounds) and we preferred to have the belt fitted with three HEI to one ball (normal) round, for use in thick bush.
We were given a really hard time from our superiors and the armourers, if we used more than three rounds to stop an enemy.
Rounds were very expensive and in those days cost in the region of $35 each.
The ammo trays were configured for 200-400 rounds; and were nearly always in short supply.
We had to be conservative.
These HEI rounds were very effective in the Rhodesian bush, with the exception of thick bush or mealie fields where they would airburst; or be diminished by soft sand.
I have even known the rounds to go off in heavy rain.
Towards the end of the war, the South Africans assisted us under the direction of Squadron Leader Petter-Bouwer; with an Alouette gunship that fitted with four .303
Browning’s mounted on a spindle and operated hydraulically. This was known as the Dalmation, and flew at tree top height and was used really effectively with the K Car 20mm.
The Dalmatian would fly over the CT position, and give it a (snotsquirt) burst of fire with a cyclic rate of fire of 1150 rounds per minute per gun. (When working efficiently it sounded like paper tearing).
The Dalmation gunship carried all of it’s ammunition in the cabin area which made it impossible to carry an army commander due to space restrictions.
Alouettes had a range of 210\nautical miles and flew at 65-85 knots.The K Car had an endurance of about 90 minutes depending on conditions and normally carried a load of 600 pounds of fuel.
The G-Cars carried 400 pounds of fuel; and with a load of four troops with the twin .303 guns, had an endurance of about 50 minutes depending on conditions.
If regular fuel was not available, the Alouettes could run on illuminating paraffin, diesel or petrol.
The Alouettes high fuel consumption limited its range and loads, as the carrying capacity of a helicopter decreases with increases with temperature, humidity and altitude.
Most of the Army, Police and Internal affairs camps had fuel dumps; for use by passing Fireforces, or helicopters carrying out routine missions such as relay changes or casevacs.
Fuel was also sent to forward points by land tails ( a land tail consisted of Army vehicles, that carried extra fuel, ammunition and Fireforce troops, allowing a quick turn around time when deploying Fireforce troops in a contact area, this vehicle borne land tail would drive to as close as possible to the contact area and await the choppers to either pick up troops to refuel) following a Fireforce callout or operation.
The Dakota’s could either parachute fuel, or drop fuel off at a nearby airfield if available.
G Cars could be configured for two stretchers and two wounded, however we normally carried one stretcher each on Fireforce duties.
The Alouette was only equipped for VFR operations and was only used at night when there was a clear moon and one could see the horizon. There were some hairy moments when this rule was ignored.
Rhodesian Alouettes were also equipped with Becker Homer radio direction finders which were a great help; and were also used in an aggressive role, such as Roadrunners which will be referred to later in this book.
The front seats were also reversed for Fireforce operations, and both sliding doors and co-pilot side doors removed.
All helicopters carried either a putt- putt two stroke petrol driven pump, and later a lightweight electrically driven pump for refuelling away from base.
An electrically/manually operated sling could be fitted for carrying external loads of up to 750kgs.
These slings were later modified to carry a” Hot extraction” trapeze bar where the troops would connect their hot extraction harness to.
The harness was known as a Pegasus harness and was connected for external operations but was rarely used, as it was safer to land the G Car and pick up the troops; rather than hover in the face of the enemy and be shot at while uplifting troops.
We hated hot extraction missions because we knew that we would be flying deep into enemy territory, sometimes having fuel dropped by Dakota’s or DC6 aircraft; in so called safe areas.
As for part in operations, I flew some really deep missions into Mozambique past the Troposcater refuelling in the thick Msimbiti bush (ironwood).
On some occasions we flew really high level, but this was discouraged due to our noise signature and the threat of Strela anti aircraft missiles.
(The Rhodesians shrouded their Artouste engines that were fitted to the Alouettes; and ducted the exhaust fumes into the rotor wash to reduce the heat signature from the engines, as a defence against shoulder fired heat seeking missiles. This worked exceptionally well.)
The Fireforce was supported by Provost Fixed wing and Trojan Fixed wing aircraft initially.
These aircraft were armed with .303 guns in the wings for the Provost, and could also carry rockets and bombs.The noisy old Trojan known as a Trog carried SNEB Rockets.
These aircraft were used in a support /Telstar (Relay) role and were flown by crews from 4 Squadron based in Thornhill Airbase in Gwelo.
The Trojan aircraft were removed from combat flying after a Trojan piloted by Flt Lt Chris Weinmann and SAC Pat Durrett was struck by 12.7 and 14.7AA fire while flying over a Frelimo camp in Mozambique in April 1974.
The aircraft crashed; and in the ensuing search for the wreckage, two hunters escaped being shot down by a single Strela missile; which became confused by the two heat signatures of the Hunters.
It was the first Strela missile to be fired in anger during the war.
The search for the missing Trojan went on; resulting in a Trojan and Provost flying in formation being fired on by a SAM 7. The Trojan was struck by the missile and crashed.
The pilot of the Provost noted the crash position and the army located this crash position finding two nose oleos for Trojans, with the bodies of Air Sub Lt Wilson and Flt Sgt Andrews.
While following the wreckage trail, the rescuers found the second Trojan 400 meters away from the second crash site. The Trojans were later fitted with an anti Strela modification by cladding its exhaust; and moving the exhaust into the prop wash but its true operational days were over.
The Provosts were removed from service due to their age.
These aircraft were replaced by the Rheims Cessna F 337G (codenamed Lynx attached to 4 Squadron based at Thornhill in Gwelo).
The Lynx was armed with two .303 Browning’s mounted above the cockpit, 63mm Sneb rockets and could carry napalm bombs or mini-Golf bombs.
The Fireforce was also bolstered by Douglas C47; Paradaks (Dakotas were from 3 Squadron and were based at New Sarum in Salisbury) which were configured for paratroop operations and could deploy 20 paratroops in a single drop.
We had a problem of having to recover the parachutes after each Fireforce deployment where parachutes were used, due to the costs of replacing the parachutes).
Normally a ‘Wanker’ stick( a wanker stick was so called as they were a Fireforce stick that was not needed on the current Fireforce call out, basically they were a spare Fireforce stick) would drop to ensure that the parachutes were packed and ready for pick up.
There were nine forward airfields in Rhodesia known as FAF’s, used to provide swift support to military operations in Rhodesia. (At the end of the conflict these bases would vary in manning levels due to prevailing military situations in the country).
FAF 1 Wankie
FAF 2 Kariba
FAF 3 Centenary
FAF 4 Mount Darwin
FAF 5 Mtoko
FAF 6 Chipinga
FAF 7 Buffalo Range
FAF 8 Grand Reef
FAF 9 Rutenga
Fireforce would also base themselves at places where there was a 1000 ft runway, as required.
I was based at Fort Victoria Airport and Sprayview Airport on occasions.
Boli, Mabalahuta, Mushumbi pools, Grootvlei, Beitbridge, Karoi and Mana pools being a few spots used.
Grand Reef (FAF 8) came slowly to life with Technicians moving out to move their helicopters out of the revetments and on to the hard standing in readiness for another day’s action in the surrounding Tribal Trust lands. Four Squadron engineers removed the parachute flare from the Lynx and prepared it for daylight operations. The night’s dew was wiped from the Perspex windshields, oil levels checked and pre-flight inspections carried out on all aircraft. While this was going on the 3 squadron technician went about his task of turning both propellers on his DC 3 Paradak to prevent the engines from being damaged by a hydraulic stoppage on start up, eighteen times around to make sure all oil was purged from the cylinders.
Further down the Base, 3 Commando troopers were jogging down the runway singing dirty songs in an attempt to get a reaction from the “Blue Jobs” (Air Force personnel) Other RLI troopers were checking their kit and weapons in readiness for the inevitable call-out. In the Operations rooms of both the Air Force and Army there was the constant clatter and squeal of the teleprinters clattering out ribbons of information and SITREP’s (Situation reports) The telegraphists shouting Stop sending, Stop sending, … as the ribbons jammed. Aircrews sat in the ready rooms reading Southern Cross (welfare) donated paperbacks or playing cards, waiting for the siren or hooter to signal a call-out.
A Selous Scout call-sign, 33 Alpha… were hidden on top of a kopje (hill), deep in the Tribal Trust Lands near the Pungwe River, they scanned the surrounding bush and kraals far below as the villagers stirred and started the daily chores. Everything seemed normal with the herd boys heading out into the countryside with the family cattle.
The corporal in charge of 33 Alpha noticed a group of women heading out of a village with pots and various bundles on their heads. They moved swiftly and silently which was not the normal village custom, heading towards the thick vegetation surrounding the Pungwe River.
The Corporal straightened up and pulled a pair of field glasses out of his pack and brought the women into view… checking the whole area intently looking for clues of terrorist activity. The women were too quiet, normally their chatter would echo throughout the kopjes as they went about their business.
A movement from the thick bush brought the Corporals eyes to see a flash as a terrorist’s rifle gleamed momentarily in the morning sunlight. The Corporal grunted and his stick was on the alert scanning the river line. This was a feeding party, now they needed to identify how many terrorists were in the camp and what weapons they were carrying; it was a game of cat and mouse. The Selous Scout stick hugged the granite rock scanning, and rescanning looking for clues, it took patience and nerves of steel. Movement was kept to a minimum, they were sure to keep well hidden and only communicated with hand signals, their AK assault rifles kept at the ready.
The Corporal indicated to his 2 i/c to check the radio batteries as they would require good communications when they called in the Fireforce. The Corporal called his “Sunray” (commander) two one Alpha to report the sighting speaking in a hushed voice and keeping his story to basic facts. “Sunray” replied and told 33 Alpha to maintain visual contact with the party.
The terrorist group would not move by day normally so there was a good chance they would remain in the camp area unless they were spooked into bomb shelling and meeting up at a crash RV(rendezvous) point.
During the next few hours the Scouts counted fifteen terrorists armed with a variety of weapons and most of them wearing blue denims. Terrorists on the move would also wear two sets of clothing and if they ran into Rhodesian security forces would stash their weapons and rapidly change clothing in an attempt to shake off their pursuers. This group were armed with a variety of weapons SKS, AK 47 rifles with fixed bayonets, two RPD machine guns and at least one RPG 7 rocket launcher was seen.
A constant dialogue was kept up with “Sunray” who was also on the net to the JOC (Joint Operations Centre) in Umtali and to both the RLI and Air force.
The Air Force pilots and RLI stick leaders were summoned to the “Blues” briefing room maps were brought out and the briefing was initiated, in Rhodesian Army terms…. a “Scene was brewing”.
Grand Reef Airstrip came alive; as RLI sticks armed to the teeth moved to their assigned helicopters in anticipation of the siren being sounded. “Black is Beautiful” camouflage cream was handed out; some troopers wrote their blood groups in biro pen on their shoulders. Technicians fussed about their helicopters and the Lynx technicians lifted FRANTAN (napalm) canisters from their cradles and fixed them to the racks.
Everyone’s ears were strained to get information on what was brewing, the adrenalin started to pump with beads of sweat and a glimpse of fear of the unknown beginning to show. People spoke in clipped sentences as the strain began to show. In the background the Paras began to check out their kit, Para dispatchers checking and rechecking, rifles being cocked as troopers checked their working parts for ease of movement. Any mistakes would certainly be fatal in this environment.
The K Car commander went on the net speaking to both 33 Alpha and “Sunray 21 Alpha” with the assistance of a relay station in the area called Oscar Alpha 3. How many gooks, what weapons, clothing, map references and as much information as the RLI Major could get. The Aircrew sat listening intently checking map references, weather, refuelling points, shackle codes and everything necessary to get to the sighting as quickly and quietly as possible.
The DC3 pilot fired up the engines on the Paradak warming them up in anticipation of the deployment of the Fireforce. The Lynx pilot ran to his aircraft carrying a wad of maps and his FN rifle, he climbed into his aircraft with his crew fussing over last minute adjustment of his weapon system. Then he started up his engines, and after carrying out cursory checks started taxiing towards the runway setting up his radio channels as he taxied out.
The Lynx would head out to the general area and act as Telstar relaying information from the Scout call-sign directly to Grand Reef and the K Car. The scene was hot and the siren bellowed giving everyone around another jolt of adrenalin.
Stick Leaders ran out of the Ops briefing room and ran to their helicopters to brief their sticks on the ever changing events. Helicopter technicians stood by attempting to listen in and get as much information as possible. The pilots having been briefed and also having set up a plan of action scrambled to their respective helicopters also spewing white maps as they ran. There were no such navigation aids like the GPS in those days, everything was done by map reading and Rhodesian Air Force pilots were magnificent at their map reading. It was impressive to watch the choppers flying at low level changing from one map to another, they followed the K Car but everyone read their respective maps keeping them on the ball at all times.
The pilots jumped into their respective helicopters with the troopers sitting waiting in anticipation for the forthcoming contact. As soon as they were strapped in they hit the starting switch and monitored the engine start as the Artouste 3B engines screamed into life, and after 19000 rpm, the rotors started to wind up. The FAF was buzzing with the wail of engines and the beat of rotors.
Then K Car came onto the net calling up each G Car in turn “Yellow 1 Radio Check” “Yellow 1 fives” “Yellow 2” “Yellow 3 fives” and so on.
“K Cars taxiing”… a pull on the collective and the K Car taxied out of the revetments smoothly followed by Yellow section, three G Cars and their troops.
On to the runway and a smooth running formation take off as the Fireforce headed out to fight another day.
As Yellow section cleared Grand Reef the technicians on board their respective helicopters would say “Clear to cock” mechanically and automatically cock the 20 mm cannon in K Car or the twin .303 Browning machine guns in the G Car.
They would then ensure that white smoke marking grenades were close at hand in case they spotted a potential target. The pilots would then attempt to brief the technician and stick leader (who would have a headset) on what was happening. On many occasions we would have to try and pick up what was happening by listening to the radio chatter, K Car and the K Car commander would be having a running commentary assisted by the Telstar Lynx with Sunray Two one Alpha putting in his five cents worth.
The idea was for the Fireforce to head for the target area at very low level, just scraping over the vegetation so low that the trees would make a whistling noise as we over flew them. The K Car would pull up about five minutes away from the target area and if possible fly over the Scout or Army OP which normally would identify itself by displaying a white map or Day-Glo panel. The OP would try not to compromise its position if at all possible.
Once K Car had identified the OP (done simultaneously while looking for the target) it would head directly for the target area being spoken on by the call-sign on the ground with clear commands like TURN LEFT, LEFT, ROLL OUT, RIGHT A BIT, ROLL OUT, YOURE OVERHEAD NOW!!!
At that moment all hell would break out with K Car throwing out a smoke generator to mark the target, and the gunner bringing the cannon to bear on target as this was the most critical part of the contact. Gunnery at this stage had to be quick and accurate, lives were at stake, and the terrorists would do one of two things at this stage, start shooting at the aircraft orbiting or bombshell and get the hell out of the target area. It all depended on the terrain and vegetation. Most contacts were fought in river lines or kopjes with a few in village complexes where we had to contend with both terrorists and villagers bomb shelling (scattering), together making it extremely difficult not to kill or seriously injure a civilian in the contact area, remember we were being shot at while everyone was running, and the first law is to look after number one, so you mow down what is in your sights and take names afterwards.
My story about Fireforce as a Chopper technician, and life in Rhodesia during the Chimurenga war continues from here….
- 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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