Ambush (2)

February 20, 2019

After the ambush described in my previous post, we continued to patrol the general area with a new vigor and attentiveness as we now knew that we were being targeted by the resident gang of gooks.  However, nothing more was seen or heard of them, nor were any tracks or evidence of temporary camps found and we were eventually given the order to return to base.  After a quick map appreciation, we set a course and continued our patrol which would now eventually terminate at the Engineer base camp adjacent to the District Commissioners camp.

Our departure from the patrol area was uneventful and the closer we got to base the more relaxed one became which in itself is a dangerous attitude to take and the patrol commander continuously reminded us to stay alert and not to become complacent.  Fair enough and we all understood that any slip in security now could at the minimum cause casualties, and in a worst-case scenario, fatalities.  Sweaty palms tightened on our FN pistol-grips, eyes scanned more intensely to see through possible cover where gooks could be lurking……shadows playing tricks with our eyes, the cicadas continuously transmitting their high-pitched whining that punished our ears………and when they suddenly went silent the question was always…..why?

It had taken us a day and a bit to arrive at a position where it would be a good idea to let the base know we were getting close to our destination and from which direction we would be approaching from.  The trusty but rather heavy TR48 was set up and due to the short distance between us and the camp, only the whip antenna was required……no unwinding miles of coaxial cable this time.  There was no reason to assume that the guards were expecting us and might shoot first and ask questions later…..that’s fair enough but no reason to needlessly get a lump of lead in your belly.  We quite rightly chose to mitigate this possibility by making it absolutely clear where we were going to approach from, how many of us there were and our estimated time of arrival.

About thirty minutes out we stopped to make a final brew and have a smoke……this would also give the patrol commander a chance to make any final adjustments to course and accurately pinpoint our position to ensure our angle of approach was correct and as reported earlier.  I lay back and enjoyed the cigarette, looking up at the clear blue sky that had the occasional small cloud slowly drifting in whatever wind there was up there, its edges slowly evaporating by the heat.  It was good to be almost there, and it had been a fair old slog from start to end.  I looked forward to a hot shower, cold beer and a decent cooked meal, hopefully one of those famously huge army T-Bone steaks with chips and fresh salads.

The camp was situated beneath a long stretch of very high terrain and on the other side of a very well used dirt road.  I have done my best to illustrate the position from memory in a Visio drawing……..I believe it to be as accurate as possible given this all took place over 40 years ago.  I will release this amazing work of art in the follow-up post to this one as this is where it is needed.

We were almost there now, taking the final few steps to take us to the summit of the high ground mentioned in the previous paragraph….once there we would be in a good position to observe the camp from above and ensure we were seen by the sentries during our approach.  Once we had confirmed our presence we began the slip and slide descent to the road, which was made even more difficult by loose rocks and soft sand.  Much cursing and far too much noise accompanied us all the way down and it was a welcome relief to finally reach the flat surface of the road, despite being covered in dust from a passing bus travelling at the usual needle-off-the-clock speed.  Once safe to do so we crossed the road in single file, the patrol commander waiting patiently on the other side until we all arrived in one piece.

The camp was approached by a long track that stretched from the road to the base main entry point which was manned by one of our Sapper muckers.  As we filed through the gate, the usual derogatory remarks were made in his direction, accusing him of being a REMF and a waste of fresh rations….him firing back that we were shit shots and couldn’t hit a gook even with them running away from us….a fair one indeed.  All good banter and the type one can only find in the military.  There would be much of the same in the bar tonight for sure.

We were back in the main base…….finally.  All the stress of the patrol was quickly forgotten.  It was good to be here with all our mates, and that we could finally relax in the knowledge that we were safe, secure and being protected by the reinforced camp perimeter, sentries and a substantially large military force in presence.

There was, on the face of it, nothing more to worry about………however this was an extremely poor assumption as what was to follow was even more brazen and chilling than the ambush we were caught in a few days ago…..and an event that still haunts me even to this day.


© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to both the Rhodesian and South African Engineer Corps.  You can join us by using the following link:


July 18, 2017


It all started with manpower, or rather the lack of it.

In the mid-seventies Rhodesia found herself not out-gunned, but rather out-manned in the bush, specifically Infantry-wise.  The quick solution to this was to deploy specialist units (like the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers (RhE)), in the Infantry role.  Those of you who have been following my Blog will remember that all Rhodesian troops were primarily Infantiers and secondly specialists.

The RhE seemed particularly well-adapted to the pseudo-Infantry role and we often deployed into the hottest areas, at times taking over from “pure” infantry units including the Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR), Rhodesia Regiment (RR) and Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI).

In some instances we had more success in these areas than our Infantry Brothers.

We were carrying out advance-to-contact foot patrols from of a place called Tshiturapadsi, an unused District Commissioners camp that served us well as it had buildings, water and shelter.  There was also an airstrip nearby (See Figure 1 below).  It also happened to be located in one of the most gook-infested Tribal Trust Lands, the Matibi TTL, notorious for terrorist gangs.  We had been sent there to relieve a RLI call-sign that had been in the area for weeks and who had not even seen a track let alone a gook.

Figure 1

It had been a long day and an even longer patrol.  The sun was beginning to dip over the horizon, heralding the start of one of those wonderful picture-postcard African sunsets.  A cool breeze brushed my face, refreshing, and surprisingly, despite the heat, sending small shivers down my spine.  There was invigoration with coolness also.  We paced briskly now, still a little tired but no longer exhausted, rejuvenated with the thought that we would go into a temporary base as soon as it got semi-dark.  I was on the far left flank of our ten-man extended line and felt vulnerable with no one out on the left of me…….tall grass blowing in the wind played games with my imagination….I was seeing gooks where none existed.  I glanced across to my right, comforted by the presence of one of my mates in the dim light, a safe distance from me, ready to give mutual support if I needed it.  As the day turned slowly into night the patrol commander, a young RhE officer passed the signal down the line to move into our temporary base for the night.  We changed into single file formation (with me at the back), and took a wide dog-leg route into where the patrol commander had decided we would stay for the night.  I was never a great supporter of eating and sleeping in the same place at night and in fact this practice was against our training doctrine.  The gooks had Mujibas[i] everywhere and they would report our presence…..and then the gooks could come and fuck-up a pleasant evening.  A patrol should eat, carry out personal admin, and then move to a new location, moving into their night location after dark and then there should be absolute silence… tins being opened, food warmed, farting or talking.  We broke rules that night and within 12 hours we would break another one that would seem to bring hell itself upon us.

First light……always a magic time in the bush.  Wet grass, dripping trees, cattle bells and screaming children.  The smell of wood fires and fresh cow dung.  And all of these things also meant there were people close by.  The last guard had roused us all and we grudgingly extracted ourselves from our fart-sacks (sleeping bags).  Dog-biscuits soaked in tea or coffee would come later in the morning, but for now we needed to move from this place quickly as this was also a dangerous time when gooks liked to attack.  As it was the resident gook gang in the area had bigger plans for us on this specific day.

Still wiping the sleep out of our eyes we prepared to vacate the temporary base, taking care to cover our presence as best we could.  We were surrounded by thick bush, the site being chosen for this exact characteristic as it was ideal for a temporary base.  It was not however suitable for an extended line formation and so we exited in single file with me more or less in the middle of the patrol.  As if by magic we were walking on a well-used path and I soon realised the patrol commander was using the path purposely, leading us to a nearby kraal.  We had just broken another rule…..never walk on a well-used path……straddle it yes, but never have your entire patrol on it.

We entered the kraal and went into a well-rehearsed all-round-defence.  The entire kraal had one of us on its perimeter looking out for signs of the enemy.  The patrol commander and one of our Black Sappers found the Head Man and questioned him on gook presence in the area.  In the Matibi TTL there was little chance of the Local Population helping the Security Forces and we decided not to waste time on this place.  After searching all the huts for signs of gooks we got the signal to prepare to move on.  To my utter amazement the patrol commander put us back on a well-used track leading out of the kraal and once again we were in single file.  What was this guy thinking and no one challenged his judgement?

We had walked for about 500 meters when I noticed a single upturned munyatella[ii] next to the path.  This in itself was not really out-of-place but it struck a chord somewhere in my survival instincts and I became uneasy.  From my position in the patrol I could see we were about to take a right turn on the path.  To the right of us the ground rose sharply and soon we were walking parallel to a fairly high, boulder strewn, steep kopje.

There was no warning…..these gooks were good and had chosen their killing ground well…and we had walked right into it.

The gooks initiated with what I now know was a PKM[iii] light machine gun (see Figure 2), capable of firing 650 rounds per minute.  This was followed by a fair mix of AK47, SKS and RPD fire……initially.  We all instinctively hit the deck not quite sure where the fire was coming from.  These kind of events are pretty confusing at first and don’t believe what you see in the movies…..that’s all bullshit.  My most vivid memory of this attack was and still is the crack of high velocity rounds going over my head and dirt spraying up all around me and into my eyes.  We had all somehow remained in that rather silly single-file formation on the ground even though it was now pretty ragged and we were all horizontal, amazingly unscathed and all facing the kopje, the direction of the attack.  We were badly exposed but because we were flat on the ground the gooks could not bring really effective fire onto us although we were all getting near misses.  I began to think I was the sole target of a hundred gooks, and perhaps I was as I am quite a big bloke.

Figure 2

And then two things happened simultaneously…….firstly a new sound came from the kopje, a sound so specific that one ever forgets it….the sound of a mortar leaving a tube………and secondly the shouted order from our line to advance on the enemy using fire and movement.  The mortar bombs rained down one after the other, precisely straddling the path we were lying on……encouraging us to advance more rapidly.  It was clear to me the gooks had sufficient time to plan this ambush and had accurately estimated the distance from their base-plate position to the path.  There was now so much noise, smoke and dust in the air that it was difficult to see.  I remember clearly advancing a few yards up the kopje and taking cover, the second section following us while we pumped rounds into the gook positions.  Sweat running down my face, the saltiness burning my eyes…adrenaline pumping through my veins…..all fear gone now…….just the job of surviving at the forefront of my mind.  My hands were cut from the jagged rocks, the pistol grip on my FN sticky with blood.  We were moving higher up the hill, almost half way and we still couldn’t see any gooks……all we could hear was the firing of their weapons.  The whiplash of rounds hurting our ears.  The mortar was no longer a danger as we were too close to them for them to use it safely as we systematically moved up the kopje………and then there was a relative silence as if nothing had disturbed that cool African morning.  All we could hear was the tell-tale clinking of gooks running at high speed with loose kit jumping about in packs and pockets, shouting to one another.  We moved up the kopje faster, ignoring the threat of an in-depth ambush……over-running now empty enemy firing positions…the only occupants expended cartridge cases, discarded AK and RPD magazines, and empty cardboard ammunition boxes.  We worked through the position, wary now for booby-traps or mines but keeping our wits together.  Things were slowing down but the adrenaline was still hot in our veins as we reached the top of the kopje.  The gooks were gone and we had them running scared by using tried and tested infantry tactics.  I silently thanked those bastard Llewellin Barracks instructors for all the blood, sweat and tears they took from me.

While some of us collected any booty we could find the patrol commander finally found space to get a message off and give the direction of flight of the gooks…….there was hopefully a Fire-Force element with gun-ships somewhere around but I had my doubts.  Perhaps they could get an armed fixed-wing up to deal with the gooks but that was also doubtful.  These assets were just too thin on the ground and because there had been no recent sightings of gooks in the area, there was nothing positioned close-by.  Fair enough.

We gathered at the bottom of the kopje where it all began, carefully avoiding the track but recording the mortar strikes, easily found by the craters they made.  They were close to where a number of us were lying and I consider myself lucky not to have been seriously injured or worse.  As it was none of us sustained injuries serious enough to call a casevac.  We were lucky…..this time.

Still alert and in a form of all-round-defence we found shady spots to sit and reflect on what just happened……..the entire contact not lasting more than 5 or so minutes perhaps but seeming to take an eternity to end.  And now that sense of euphoria that only men just out of combat will know…….a great weight seeming to leave your shoulders as you sit back, shaking hands lighting-up a Madison, and let the calmness flow through you as the adrenaline wears off…….the calmness of knowing you survived a situation of grave danger where someone wanted to kill you and failed.  There is no feeling in the world like it…….and little did I know that within a very short space of time I would go through the whole process once again…….only this time we would not be so lucky.

[i] Teenage spies, normally unarmed who observed Rhodesian Security Force patrols and informed the gooks on our whereabouts

[ii] Munyatellas were African sandals made out of car tyres and widely used out in the bush as they lasted for ever.


Please also vist my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:


© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.



July 18, 2017

I would like to apologise to all my loyal followers for the shoddy way in which I have neglected to write for you over the past year.  I know that time is always used as an excuse and although this was a contributing factor for my absence, travel to dodgy countries, changing work circumstances and business commitments have also played a role.  I won’t mention writers block but it does exist, believe me.  I am more settled and focused now and will make every effort to continue the journey with you.  I hope you continue to walk beside me.

rhodesian-engineers-poppy-rev2Brothers, Sisters and Friends of Fatfox9 and the RhE. I am having 100 of these poppy pins made up with the RhE Cap Badge superimposed. Anyone interested in having one before 11th November please order ONLY via Prices are as follows: UK via Royal Mail £3.20. RSA via Royal Mail ZAR70.00. When ordering please include your full shipping address. Ideally if someone in SA would take a bulk order we will all save on international shipping costs. Time is moving on so please place your orders as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

Any chance of a silent approach to the kraal in the small hours of the morning had well and truly evaporated.  The sound of the shot behind us had made sure of that.  Clearly someone had discharged a firearm negligently or as we termed it in the Rhodesian Army, had an Accidental Discharge (AD), not to be confused with nocturnal emissions.

Chris and I had gotten into the best cover we could find, but were by now very close to what we believed to be the targets hut.  Among all the negatives, a number of positives flashed through my mind as wet grass tickled my nose and ears:

  1. There had been no screaming after the shot went off.  This probably meant no one had been hit by the stray round.  It could also mean whoever was hit died instantly and never had a chance to cry out.  A grim possibility.
  2. There was no return fire, meaning it was not an ambush.
  3. No gooks came screaming out of the huts with AK’s blazing, possibly meaning there were none of them about.  They could of course be lying low and waiting to get us into a killing-ground.
  4. No one was shooting at me which was always a good sign.

The best tactic in this situation is to lay low for a while and not attract attention to oneself and that is exactly what we did.  As no one from the back-up force had contacted us we assumed the mission was still on.

As we were lying in wait for any developments, a door to one of the huts was opened and a tall African man emerged into the gloom.  A could hear a child crying from somewhere within the gloom of his home.

Someone approached from behind us, a dangerous thing to do under the circumstances and I reached into my pocket and felt reassured by the warm metal of the Browning.  The man coming towards us called out softly to us in English.  We could see he was African and dressed in civilian clothes.  I vaguely recognised him as being from the group of policemen who were to give us support in the case of trouble.

He motioned us to follow him and we approached the man standing outside the hut, who had up to now made no attempt to flee.  Speaking in the native tongue our new companion asked the man from the hut a number of questions that he answered calmly and without the quiver of someone who was anxious or afraid.  The conversation continued for some time until the policeman began to raise his voice.  Things seemed to be getting a little stressed.  I figured that if the man being interrogated was a gook sympathiser then he was a cool operator in the face of the enemy.  Looking at him he just did not strike me as being off-side, but one can never tell.  It was clear the policeman was not satisfied with the answers he was getting.  He pointed to the hut and apparently told the suspect to get his family outside which he hesitantly did.  His wife and a young boy of about 5 stood in thin clothing in the cool evening.  They were clearly scared.  The questions continued and the wrong answers were still coming leading to even louder rebukes.

By now a number of other huts had opened and instantly the situation changed.  The three of us found ourselves outnumbered quite nicely by kraal dwellers and it made me a little uneasy.  I could see that the policeman was becoming more and more pissed off and loud and said to us that he believed the man was lying and we should become tougher on him.  That’s when Chris ordered me to hold my Browning against the little boys head.  Clearly he thought this would encourage the suspect to talk and at the time he probably believed this was the right thing to do.  With instinctive discipline I removed the pistol from my pocket, and it was then the man from the hut looked at me directly and I saw something in his eyes.  He was pleading with me silently, tears in his eyes, and somehow I knew we should never have come here.  Sometimes we have to trust our instincts, and mine were now screaming out at me that this was all wrong.  The pistol was in my hand, my arm down my side, the barrel pointing at the dusty earth.  Chris stared at me urging me to carry out the order.  I looked at him for a few moments, and slowly shaking my head I returned the pistol to my pocket, out of harms way.  I was not going to do anyones dirty work that night and walked away towards the rest of the policemen who had now joined us.  For me the mission was over.

Soldiers are trained to observe a number of golden rules.  One of these is never to point a weapon at anyone or any creature unless you intend to kill them.  I had no intention of killing that young boy and I felt disappointed that we might stoop to such low tactics.  Now I know there may be some sage-like commentators who read this account who find justification for bullying a five year-old by shoving a weapon in his face quite acceptable.  To them I say we are all entitled to have our own set of principles and traumatising a child just out of nappies is not one of mine.  And indeed there may be a situation where I might agree this type of interrogation method would be acceptable, but this was not one of them.  I have been present during a number of interrogations including electric-shock via wind-up telephone and waterboarding.  It is not pleasant to witness or take part in unless you are a psychopath.

My thoughts are that this whole mission was badly planned and poorly executed.  Piss-poor briefings and even worse inter-service co-ordination.  I still do not know to this day who arranged for Sappers to be involved but one thing is very clear and that is that it was not very well thought-out.  Chris may well have known the background to the mission but I was the mushroom.  I don’t like being a mushroom especially when asked to take a life.

In times of conflict there are indeed many shades of grey and I will leave you with the following three scenarios to think about while you ponder lawful and unlawful orders and my actions:

“Shoot that boy”
“Shoot that boy who’s handcuffed and unarmed”
“Shoot that boy who’s about to fire an RPG”

Ultimately, it’s not whether or not I thought the order given to me was illegal or unlawful, it’s whether my military superiors(and courts) thought the order was illegal or unlawful.

So do you obey, or do you not obey? Military personnel disobey orders at their own risk, as I did.

They also obey orders at their own risk.

Strangely enough I never heard another whisper about this mission.  No reprimands and no questions.  In fact I was promoted soon afterwards.  This makes me think it was unauthorised and arranged without the authority of my Commanding Officer at the time.  A “jolly” thought up by a couple of cowboys that could have ended very badly indeed.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Join us on the forums by using the following link:


© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Few soldiers have the occasion to be given an order that goes so much against the grain that there is no option but to refuse to execute it.  Most military men I have known had strong principles and abided by the Geneva Convention and the laid down Rules of Engagement of the day.  Unfortunately things can get confused on operations and in the heat of the moment, or post-contact when the adrenalin is still flowing through the veins like a burning fire, the rules can be intentionally or unintentionally broken.  To a certain degree, and speaking from my own experience it is easy to understand why these breaches take place.  What I cannot understand is when men use war to kill, bully and intimidate just because they can.

Sadly I had occasion to refuse an order that under the circumstances I believed then, and still believe to this day was unlawful.  I would like to share this story with you……a story of a humble African farmer and his family living in the harsh bush, struggling for survival in a war-torn country where they were mere pawns manipulated to serve whichever of the protagonists threatened them the most.  This is one of those missions where it would not be prudent of me to mention the names of any of the other personnel who took part, or the location where the event took place.  It is one of those experiences a man never forgets, and nor should he.

I was still on indefinite call-up and had been spending a few days at home when the call came in.  I was instructed to report to a specific point in the Bulawayo city centre the following evening.  No uniform or FN’s and the mission would be carried out in civilian dress.  To me that meant jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and a faded German Army jacket from the surplus store.  Veldskoens were the obvious footwear of choice.

On arrival at the RV point the next evening I was picked up by a civilian Land-Rover driven by someone I did not know.  I recognised the front-seat passenger who we will call Chris and we exchanged greetings.  He was a Senior NCO who I had not worked with before but had seen around the Squadron HQ on occasions.  As we got underway to wherever we were going, he reached back and handed me a Browning 9mm High Power auto, assuring me the weapon was safe.  Instinctively I removed the magazine, made sure the chamber was empty and replaced the magazine anyway.  Placing the weapon on safe I slipped it into one of the large pockets on my jacket.

We travelled in silence except for one remark from the driver informing me I would be briefed later.  He made no attempt to introduce himself but I guessed he was BSAP Special Branch.  I could smell them by now.

We drove West, leaving the lights of Bulawayo behind us.  It was suddenly very dark, the only light coming from the candle-like head-lamps of the Land-Rover.  One of the beams was way out of alignment and aimed at the top of the trees to our left.

We had been driving for about an hour when the lights of a small town came into view.  I figured this to be Figtree.  The driver slowed as we approached the town limits and continued on to what seemed the main business centre.  The familiar blue light that glowed outside police stations in Rhodesia was just ahead of us and we stopped in one of the reserved parking spaces outside.  Time to find out what this was all about.

We were sitting in a smoke-filled office.  Coffee and cheese sandwiches wrapped in tin-foil were offered and accepted.  A large man smoking a pipe sat behind a scarred desk, a map of what was probably the area of responsibility hung on the wall behind him, covered by clear plastic.  Different coloured map-pins were dotted here and there and a legend at the bottom indicated what they represented.  He too was dressed in civilian clothes and was definitely not from the uniform branch.  Again no names were offered.

A quick briefing took place.  Apparently there was a good indication that one of the locals living in the area was a gook sympathiser.  We would be taken as close as possible to the suspects kraal and dropped off, from where we would approach the kraal, get the suspect out of his hut and interrogate him for information.  What I did not understand was that only the Senior NCO and I would make the final approach to the kraal while Special Branch would provide covering fire if required.  We would move just after midnight and as it was still a few hours away, I found myself somewhere to catch some sleep and dozed off.

In the early hours of the morning it was bitterly cold and I was thankful for the jacket I had.  We had been dropped off about 2 kilometers from the kraal.  This time there were more people in the team.  Uniformed police armed with FN’s had joined up with us as fire-support if needed.

The Senior NCO and I made sure we knew where we were going and we set off towards the kraal.  The back-up group would follow us at a safe distance and move into a position 200 meters from the kraal and wait for us to return.  As we walked towards the target I was beginning to think more and more about what the fuck this had to do with Combat Engineers.  A bunch of policemen were going to sit around while two Sappers went into a possible killing-ground, dragged someone out of bed they never knew, and make use any method necessary to get him to tell them something he may know nothing about.  To be entirely honest, I was beginning to get a bad feeling about this whole mission.  Possibly AK’s against 9mm pistols.  Talk about taking a knife to a gunfight!

We were getting close now, the smell of burnt wood stronger.

And then the dogs started to bark and a shot went off behind us.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:


© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.












  • Red Track: Insertion Route (1 RhE HQ to Khami Prison (approx 35 kilometers))
  • Green Track: Sweep Route (Khami Prison to AIQ (approx 10 kilometers))
  • Blue Polygon: AIQ

We had been ordered to report to 1 Squadron RhE the following afternoon in civilian dress and told that our final mission briefing would take place at 16:00 hours.  We were also to bring our personal weapons and ammunition, together with our combat kit.  There was still no indication as to what the mission was as we were told very little at the briefing the previous evening except that we would be doing a reconnaissance for a possible CT presence.

The smelly little red and white Rixi Taxi dropped me off at the main gate to Brady Barracks.  I hoisted my kit bag onto my shoulder after putting on my webbing and picked up my rifle.  A grim-looking, red-sashed Colour Sergeant Duty NCO glared down at me as I passed the steps of the Brigade guard-room on the right.  Bracing-up to pay him respect the best I could under my load, I made my way to our Squadron HQ. He smiled and gave an exaggerated brace-up in return.

I was surprised to see a Rhodesian Prison Service 65-seater bus parked next to the traffic circle adjacent to our modest Squadron parade ground.  Some of the other S-Troop members had already arrived and were leaning against it smoking, talking crap amid loud bursts of laughter and a bunch of howzits greeted me as I arrived and some derogatory remark was thrown in for good measure.  We were always taking the piss out of one another and the camaraderie within the Troop was infectious.

There were about a dozen of us on this mission and once we had all arrived we were told to go to one of the lecture rooms behind our HQ and wait for the ops brief.  Terry Griffin came into the room and we all stood up and he saluted us, motioning for us to sit with a cursory wave of his hand.  He wasted no time in getting to the point.  In short there had been a report from one of our local African sources who also looked after our training camp at Khami Dam, that CT’s were visiting the camp at night asking for information with regards to Rhodesian Security Forces.  Apparently they had indicated that they would return this specific evening.  We could not be certain the source was on the level of course but we needed to either disprove or prove his information.  It had been decided at Brigade level that as this was a RhE facility and other resources were unavailable that we should do the reconnaissance ourselves. And rightly so too.

We were to be infiltrated by bus to the general area posing as prisoners being transported to Khami Prison, a large penal facility outside Bulawayo.  The map above shows the entire area of the operation as well as the route taken from 1 RhE HQ for infiltration to the Area In Question (AIQ).  Prison issued clothing would be worn on the bus to avoid any suspicion that security forces were moving into the area.  CT’s had eyes everywhere and the Mujiba system was well-developed throughout Rhodesia.  Mujibas were unarmed African children/youths who idolised the CT’s and often acted as useful intelligence sources for the gooks, indicating movement and the location of Rhodesian Forces.

Our mission was purely reconnaissance and we were not to make contact with the enemy unless compromised and our lives put at risk.  We wanted the big fish and not the plebeians feeding at the at the bottom of the pond.

With the briefing over all that remained was for us to change into prison garb, load up our kit and weapons into the bus and get ourselves seated comfortably.  It would be about a two-hour drive to Khami Prison and rush hour was upon us.  The gooks apparently always arrived after midnight and we needed to be in position long before then.

The journey took a little less than planned, the driver taking us through the western suburbs of Bulawayo including Luveve, one of the African townships.  On arrival at the prison the large wooden gates were opened and the driver stopped just inside the courtyard of the complex.  This can clearly be seen in the photo above when zoomed.  We did not enter the prison itself and we were hidden from any eyes looking out from inside.  We debussed with our kit and moved to a position along the prison wall where we could square things away.  The bus moved into the main prison area belching blue diesel fumes as it did so, leaving us in a smoky silence.

The plan was to wait until last light and then change into our camo-kit, blacken-up and move out to the planned target approach start-point.  Our civilian kit was taken to a secure area by a prison official for collection on our way out.  Up to now I had a feeling things were going to plan and we had a chance to sit back against the wall once we were prepared and just relax.  Most of us lit-up and I could smell gun-oil mixed with the cigarette smoke.

The Territorial Force Sergeant who would lead the mission was a good friend of mine and still is to this day.  He knew that for some of us, including me that this would be the first time we would be carrying out a task of this nature.  He talked to us and encouraged us, went over the plan again and made sure we all knew what we had to do and the Immediate Action Drills in the event of being ambushed on the way in.  All the last-minute confirmations……radio frequencies, where the medic would be, and general march discipline. Orders were given to check the Night Vision kit and I heard the high-pitched whine they made when warming –up.

We rechecked our weapons and cocked them; ensuring change levers were on safe, and prepared to move out.  Last light had come and gone…… was now pitch black and there was a sharp, cool wind about.  There would be no moon until after midnight and this would help us on the way in.

As the high wooden gates swung open the prison perimeter floodlights were switched off.  Our departure was being coordinated from somewhere inside the prison.  We filed through one by one, out into the darkness.  As if on cue, the incarcerated prisoners began to sing one of their mournful songs. It was if they were bidding us a final farewell and a slight shiver ran down my back.

We walked parallel and close to the prison north wall until we reached the main road to the west.  We crossed this individually and quickly, headed off into the bush for 15 minutes and then stopped to regroup.  Once we were all accounted for we moved off to the start position which was adjacent to a wide stretch of water and began the march to the AIQ.  It had been decided that we would move into our Observation Post (OP) position in single file and this should only take a few hours with breaks in between.  As it was the approach was uneventful save for the odd curse when someone tripped on a root or got a thorn in the face from a low-hanging acacia.  The cool wind made it easy to keep up a good pace and we made it to the AIQ before we had planned, went into an all-round defence, and settled into silence.

The training camp itself was flat but surrounded on two sides by steep rocky kopjes. We had chosen one of these as our OP and it gave us a good view of the target area as well as good cover in case of attack. All was quiet. The moon had come up and we could see quite clearly without night vision equipment. There was no movement at all. It was so still that anyone approaching would be heard and we relied on this to give us an early heads-up of visitors. It struck me then that we would also have been heard moving into position on the kopje.

We had arranged that we would do 2-man watches for 30 minutes at a time. No one slept but it was nice to just lie down on the uncomfortable ground and stare up at the stars in the crystal clear sky above. The night wore on and when it came to my second watch the first golden slivers of a typical Rhodesian sunrise were visible low in the sky. Dogs barked in competition with children’s shouts in the distance and the sad sound of a cow-bell rang in the air. The smell of wood fires filtered through the air…….the smell and sounds of Africa, and a new day had dawned.

We had planned a first-light sweep through the camp to see if we could pick-up any sign that the gooks had been in the area previously. They definitely had not visited while we were there. The Sergeant gave us the signal to move back down the kopje, the same way we had gone up. We would wind our way around the kopje and then form a north/south extended line and sweep through the camp from west to east. We would be exposed now as the camp was on cleared ground with 5 or six rondavel arrangements as accommodation. Although we were fairly sure no gooks were around, first light attacks were common and we needed to remain switched on. This was not the time for complacency. As we swept through, each and every one of us knew that there was no cover except for the rondavels and most of us were a fair distance from them. If the gooks had somehow managed to get into a good position on the high ground last night without us knowing we would be in harm’s way. This was improbable but a man thinks strange thoughts in such situations. It also keeps a man alert. We were in a perfect killing ground for them, literally challenging them to have a crack at us. As it happened, there were no gooks to be found here today. We ended the sweep and moved back around to the back of the kopje, set up a secure temporary base and got the hot water on. It was time for coffee and doggos (dog biscuits) and soon the air was filled with the familiar fragrance of Esbit heating tablets and at that stage it was the sweetest smell of all.

We were to be collected by Squadron troop carriers close to the start position from the previous evening. Hopefully they would have remembered to load our left-over kit at the prison. On the walk back to the pick-up point we moved in extended line and had not relaxed our vigilance. Suddenly one of my mates on the flank called a halt and we stopped and got into a kneeling position. Ever observant he had located a chevron pattern boot print on the ground and the Sergeant confirmed this was gook spoor for sure. Sadly it was old and probably not worth following but we decided we would do so anyway, at least for a little way just to see if they led anywhere interesting. They didn’t and we lost them soon after. At least we now knew there was clear evidence that gooks, or at the minimum, someone wearing a gook boot had been in the area recently. Even though we never got any kills this was useful information for Special Branch and they deployed Ground Coverage assets into the area to sniff things out. I never heard any more of the gooks that came to visit us.

I learnt a lesson on this operation. Rhodesia has an approximate area of 391,000 square kilometres. It was not saturated with gooks. The odds of bumping into gooks every day was fairly remote unless you were on Fire-Force or just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

The wheel of chance was turning though…….and soon I would also learn that those 391,000 square kilometres were not so big after all.

Please also visit my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Join us on the forums by using the following link:


© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.








The blue arc was mesmerising…….the smoke from the melting flux on the electrode filling my senses.  I was once again in my own world, listening to the gleeful crackling of electricity as I carefully married the two pieces of steel together, gritting my teeth when an errant spark found its way inside my overalls.

Those of you that have welded for long periods in claustrophobic spaces will know the feeling…….isolation and some level of apprehension of not knowing what was happening outside of your private bit of space.  You could hear the noises of a heavy workshop all around you but never really knew if they were about to impact your domain.  In many ways you had to trust the men around you.


What I found really annoying was when some clever asshole gave me a shove to get my attention while I was doing my very best to put down the perfect bead of molten metal.  That’s exactly what happened next and I swore into my welding helmet.  I broke the arc, executed a well-practiced 180 pirouette while lifting my visor, and ensured the red-hot tip of the electrode made contact with clever assholes skin.  The resulting smell of burning flesh and a curse indicated I had been successful.

I made a half-hearted apology to the man with a burnt arm as he informed me sullenly that Titch Tyzack, the Welding Foreman, wanted to see me.  As I made my way across the dozens of railway lines, inspection pits and other ambush spots that inhabit a major railway repair workshop floor, I wondered what my sins was this time.  I couldn’t think of anything.

As I remember him, Titch Tyzack was a true gentleman.  He was not a very big man, had a good heart and always treated me fairly no matter what I had done.  As I climbed the stairs to his office in the Welding Shop I decided that while I was here I may as well ask him for some of the new oxy-acetyline guages I had seen floating around.  Mine were knackered and this was an opportunity to get some shiny new kit.

As it was I would not be needing any welding kit for quite a while.

Titch had called me over to let me know I was to report to Brady Barracks that evening for a briefing and that he was giving me the rest of the day off to sort my things out.  He knew more but wasn’t saying anything else.  Without any further ado I went back to my workplace, and told my assistant to switch off all the kit and lock everything away.

The last thing to do before leaving was to let my journeyman know I was on my way.  The two of us sat down outside of the Wagon Shop, next to the locomotive graveyard and had a smoke and cup of tea.   It was a sad, lonely place and somehow I wanted to be on my way as quickly as I could.

Rhodesia Railways locomotive graveyard, Bulawayo

Rhodesia Railways locomotive graveyard, Bulawayo

There was not much more to say…..I stood up indicating I was ready to go.  We shook hands, said our goodbyes and I was on my way.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:


© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

I have decided out of necessity to fast-forward my recollections a year or two before I forget everything I wish to share with you.  Time moves on resulting in a fading memory and I am becoming more and more concerned with my own ability to accurately recall even the most vivid of events.

I have always undertaken to be as accurate and truthful as possible with my readers and would like to honour this undertaking as far as possible.   And so we will be saying farewell to the boats and the  Zambezi River for now as my time there was in any case drawing to a close.  I would be returning to Deka Army Base in the future but there were other things waiting for me in the wings that I knew nothing of but were to shape my entire future as a professional soldier.

My intake (Intake 139) completed their National Service in early May 1975.  Before demobilising we were given the option to extend our service by six months which I reluctantly declined as I needed to be getting on with my apprenticeship.  I could already feel the pull of the military.  In any case I was pretty certain that it would not be too long before my first call-up.

It took about nine months to be exact and when it did it would change my life forever.

In 1976 what was to become known as Indefinite Call-Up was introduced by the Rhodesian Army.  It was exactly what it said on the can.  We could be called-up for Territorial Force duty with no end-date.  Things were clearly getting bad in the bush and deployments needed to cover more areas over longer periods.  The gooks were stepping-up their activities along the Mocambique border and we were too thin on the ground.  An indirect offensive would be launched against the 700+ gooks operating from Mocambique into Rhodesia and would be combined with a “contain and hold” operation along the 800 mile border.  Add to this the fact that the Eastern, South-Eastern and Western “battle fronts” were also opening up in 1976 it is clear to see we were quickly becoming more and more hard-pressed to keep our expanding operational areas covered at the same time.

At about the same time, National Service intakes were to be increased to 18 months.

Under certain circumstances one could request a deferment from Indefinite Call-Up but the prospect of a successful outcome was extremely doubtful.  As a third year apprentice I would probably not be considered for deferment and my employer, Rhodesia Railways did not attempt to challenge my mobilisation papers and I duly reported for duty at 1 Engineer Squadron, Brady Barracks.

At about the same time these events were taking place, my Commanding Officer, Terry Griffin, was having a conversation with our Corps Director, Mike Pelham.  They were discussing the formation of a Quick Reaction unit formed entirely of Territorial Force Combat Engineers.

They would be known as S Troop, a little known special operations unit within the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers.

In all likelihood what follows below is appearing in the public domain for the very first time.  My sincere appreciation to Terry Griffin who contributed his recollection of the formation of this very special group of Sappers.

“When I proposed the formation of S Troop to Mike he was VERY enthusiastic and asked me to motivate all in a standard military “paper” that he would review.

After much thought I realised the Troop would have to be pretty much on standby but in base 24/7 until needed.  This obviated too many regulars as they would not be able to be deployed (all over the Operational area) then try to get them together at a moment’s notice.  So, TA who lived in Bulawayo were the obvious answer.  Mike also agreed and I made very few changes to the original proposal after he had read my paper and we had chatted about all.

Then, who were they to be and what criteria for selection / admission?? I went through the TA nominal role and selected about 20 folks who I thought may be appropriate members.  There could be no “selection” – of a physical sort – only my knowledge of them and their experience and what courses they had completed plus current rank.  Eventually I called all in to a “chat” one evening in a lecture room at Brady.  One aspect I did take into account was what was their civvy employment / job and could it in some way enhance the overall ability of the Troop? Electricians, mechanics etc, etc – all had a bearing on selection.

Eventually after my “chat” to all and explaining my idea of the Troop I waited for feedback.  All were most enthusiastic about the formation of S Troop. Then after an hour or so, I asked if there was anyone not at the meeting who they felt should be considered.  As I recall there was no one mentioned.  I then gave all a pen and paper and asked them to write their name at the top of the paper – then add 9 other names of those present who they would not mind getting into a contact/punch up with?  This they were to show to no one but hand all back to me and I would then get back to each in due course.  I have always believed “soldiers” like to work with and are more competent with etc, etc those around them who they know and TRUST !!  Eventually I whittled numbers down excluding some I thought eminently suitable but because their names did not form a “common denominator” – as per the lists – even though I really assumed some would be great members.  If the “mob” did not name them / approve – then neither would I.  The reduced group were then asked to take a letter to their place of employment (written by myself) asking if they could accommodate a unique situation as in : They would not be liable for continuous call up BUT if they were called they would be released immediately for whatever duration ( a day, a week ??) they were required for.  This also included members attending certain courses to improve their combat engineering abilities etc.  All came back with an overwhelming approval from their place of work so, S Tp was basically born.

Call outs were no problem with their work and in fact it was very well accepted. When called we had the guys in a very short space of time at Brady where all their immediate action kit etc was housed.  I then asked for various volunteers to attend certain courses (including several I sent / attended a Para course at New Sarum) whilst I also ran refresher courses – as requested.  Through various “means” I managed to obtain much “kit” for their exclusive use including some basic diving kit, wet suits masks , fins etc.  I was a qualified diver at that time and had “connections” in this field so also ran a basic dive course.  Some attended NCO courses at School of Infantry.  Overall they “gelled” into a happy, efficient, committed and very keen unit.  Mike Pelham wanted other Squadrons to follow suit but then felt we could react anywhere in the country so, keep it to one Troop only. Promotions within the Troop were also discussed with all and “approved” by all with me having final say.  At some stage it was agreed some regulars would enhance their capabilities etc so, certain regulars were “attached” – as I recall for a certain period of time, or an Op etc, etc.”

For my sins I became one of the first S Troop members.  Many of those who joined with me were sadly Killed In Action and I am dedicating all my S Troop posts to those who fell serving Rhodesia

RIP Brothers…….you are always remembered for you camaraderie, wit, and courage.

In my posts that follow I will share some of my most memorable S Troop exploits and I know that many of you will read them and realise that you never even knew we existed, let alone what we were doing.

Be patient…….all will be revealed.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:


© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Basil Preston continues with his brilliant recollections…….a fantastic addition to a blog that is slowly becoming a definitive part of the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers history.

Rhodesian Navy: Boats on Kariba Binga stint (Oct 1973)

Intake 132 did their boat-training at Binga.  We made camp at the back harbour. Corporal Hydes was our instructor at the time.  We trained in the 1945 Hercules and a South African Sail Fish boat. See pics below: 1974 NS - Trackers 5 of 8 1975 10 Binga 4 of 7 1975 10 Binga 5 of 7 1975 10 Binga 6 of 7 1975 10 Binga 7 of 7 Kariba stint (Oct 1973-Feb 1974)

Doug ******* and I were attached to the Selous Scouts based at Kariba Heights. Sergeant Ant White was in charge of us.  I was a banker by profession and Doug was; I don’t really know, as he was a jack of all trades, but master of none, except womanizing.  He was engaged to two women at the same time, one was a Wankie mine disaster widow and the other was a sweet young lady he met in Salisbury.  At Kariba, he picked up another potential fiancé, I suppose this was his strategy of getting laid… Our first job was to retrieve our Hercules boat from below the Kariba Dam wall, where it was used by the previous operators, don’t know who they were. Apparently, at full throttle, both Johnsons kept the boat at a standstill.  And this was against the water current from the dam turbines’ out-let only.  Also, apparently, when the Sappers who operated this boat originally, went down to the boat, the Zambians would come down and try to intimidate them, by pointing their weapons at them and shouting abuse. The Sappers responded by giving them a full bare-butt salute. See pics below: 1974  XX Guard 1 of 5 1974  XX Guard 2 of 5 1974  XX Guard 3 of 5 1974  XX Guard 4 of 5 1974  XX Guard 5 of 5 1974 01 - 03 Boats 1 of 6 1974 01 - 03 Boats 2 of 6 Our second job on the boat was basically to service our 2 x 40hp Johnsons, which Doug did exceptionally well.  During our training, no one told us that whilst in a harbour, we were not allowed to do speed-tests, which was just messing around really.  But when we were called in front of Col Ron Reid-Daly, we realized that we had caused major upsets with the other civilian boat people, as their tools etc could have been donated to Andora harbour’s murky waters.  We both were made to feel like “you know what” and we both were taught a valuable life-lesson that day.

Early January 1974, during our service with Ant White, we (Ant, myself and Doug) were choppered out to a land-mine blast at “D” Camp, at Chirundu.  These camps were hunting lodges alongside the Zambezi.  A South African Police team were returning to their base camp when they bummed a lift from the National Parks guys; they were using two Rhino vehicles and both were over flowing with SAP and National Parks rangers, Kevin Woods, who was with the National Parks and travelling in the second vehicle, was sitting over the step-up of the Rhino vehicle. As they were leaving “D” camp, the second Rhino hit a land-mine. Kevin’s feet were badly injured, he lost one foot.  And the SAP in the vehicle were all injured, one having a broken back. As our chopper dropped us, so it took the first bunch of casualties to Wankie hospital and had to return for more.  We started our mine clearance immediately and the three of us were off.  I noticed elephant footprints and they were fresh, so I prodded them too, and was rewarded with my first land-mine discovery.  The terrs had laid one and disguised it in a footprint.  Shit, I started to shake and then we realised that the laying had been done very recently, as when the Rhino vehicles had gone into “D” camp, they would have popped one as the vehicle tracks went right over the mine.  So the terrs were close by. We disarmed the mine and then were told that we had to sleep over as the chopper could not return to collect us as it was too dark.  I don’t think the three of us got any sleep that night.  As when we were choppered in, we just had our webbing and prodders with us, no food etc.  Again I had visions of the Kariba spider doing its worst to me.  Another lesson was learnt here; be prepared for the unknown, as your lift back may be delayed.

On another mission we attempted to take one stick of (1 x 4) Selous Scouts to Fothergill Island in our Hercules boat, but right from the start into the trip we started to take on water as the waves got progressively bigger as the day grew older, and we set off late in the morning; rushed idea by someone at the top. Luckily we were assisted by the “Janet” launch, (sister ship to the Armenal; Janet, was Ian Smith’s wife’s name, and the Armanel was President Du Pont’s wife’s name, the wives were sisters too if I recall correctly).  We were thankful for this as we were following instruction only and still had a lot to learn about actual mission work. For example the thumb tip of an open hand to the tip of the “bird” finger equaled 2 x full tanks of juice.  And our boats could only take 4 x passengers and two Sappers only, and 2 x fuel tanks only, so our mission was aborted.  We could have been the first boat crew to go down (not only been sunk) in history but with the Selous Scouts not being too happy either.

Ops from here on were better planned and were not so ambitious.  Another op was very secretive, in that no one, not even Doug was allowed to know of.  I had to take two Selous Scouts to a destination beyond Chirara, and help set up a terr base camp.  This included everything one would expect to find in a base camp, even dirty woman’s clothing, cooking pots, food, fire places, uniforms etc.  We even had to build make-shift lean-to’s.  Plus dig shell-scrapes and some trenches.  This was for training purposes.  Ant White’s trainees were to find this base and then, who knows what?  Interesting out-door work to say the least.

At about the same time, Ant was training up the first Territorial tracker unit, which also had to undergo a form of Selous Scout training.  One such op related to survival training.  After an intensive 6 weeks of training, these chaps were then told that they are off to go see the snake park, and they were to come as they were dressed; PT shorts, camo shirt and takkies only.  They were taken to the harbour, and before boarding “The Janet”, they were searched.  The search was to find anything that these guys could use to help survive.  As they had to survive by using what skills they had been taught during their training.  Sometime during their training, someone lets a few tricks of the trade out of the bag, and these trainees were told to expect the unknown and to hide things like match-heads, short pieces of wire, in the seam of the shirt-pockets and PT shorts. But Ant White was wise to this.  Each guy was thoroughly searched and I doubt anything got passed him.  We dropped a group off on each Island.  One island was called “189”, it’s the biggest island you can see from Kariba Heights, and then there are two smaller islands to its right. (The very small island on the extreme right, I was told, is where Andre Rabe, the first Selous Scout killed is buried.) See pics of the two teams, one guy is holding the shell of a tortoise he found and ate: 1974 NS - Trackers 6 of 8 1974 NS - Trackers 7 of 8 1974 NS - Trackers 8 of 8 Our function as the boat crew was to be on stand-by during the week these trainee trackers spent on the islands.  We speared fished daily and generally had a good time.  We smoked the fish over a fire etc.  The only problem we had was with mother-natures hippo, as we set up our camp right on a hippo path, because it was clear of vegetation and the dreaded Kariba Spider, these spiders caught birds in their webs etc, and innocent Sappers too.  However we made sure our fire was kept burning, especially at night.  Not my idea of an ideal camp site…..see pics: 1974 NS  - Trackers 4 of 8 1974 NS - Trackers  1 of 8 1974 NS - Trackers 2 of 8 1974 NS - Trackers 3 of 8 If anything was wrong with the trainees, they were to build a fire and we would come boating.  Yes, we had a couple of night fires that we had to attend to.  One was a snake bite, and another was a scorpion bite.  Also one guy’s venereal disease played a role of him being boated off the island and off the course.  Good thing that the trainees knew how to make fire.  Our biggest problem on Kariba, especially at night is navigating the boat through the dead forest of Mopani trees.  We destroyed a few share-pins, and changing these at night was a nightmare (also see  When it was my turn to change one, I could always see a dam crock in my mind, so I did this job very quickly while Doug watched with his FN at the ready.  Perhaps if a crock did show, would Doug know what to do?  I am still here, so no crock fancied me. I also had the pleasure of spear-fishing with Sergeant Stretch Franklin, of the Pioneer experimental pseudo group.  We and some others took the boat out for a fun day, i.e. spear-fishing.

2nd Binga stint (1975)

(The Binga stint was during the period we were building Causeways through out the roads off the main Binga road, towards the dam area between Mlibizi and Binga.  Keith Bing was with us and what a character he was; he was the grader operator.  It was our luck that the RAR needed boat operators, and they were camped at Binga), Dave Stewart, he was from Fort Victoria, was my partner on the boat when we were attached to Major Drake of 1RAR at Binga.  We also undertook combat engineer duties too.  We operated from the front harbour of Binga, left to Mlibizi, and right to Sinamawenda, (sp) the research station past Chete gorge and all the little islands between these two points. RAR soldiers on a boat is a nightmare, as they have a fear of the water.  By this time, we had learnt that being on the lake, ones mission had to start at 04h00, this was when the lake was at its calmest.  Kariba’s progressive waves can get as big as 3 metres or more, this is the radius height, so in actual fact, the progressive wave’s diametre is 3 metres in size. I.e. imagine an “S”, from the top of the S to its middle, is what is above the water, this will be 1.5 metres and the bottom is under the water, another 1.5 metres, and is moving in whichever direction the wind was blowing.  And popping these waves head-on, sends shudders through the whole body.  It was a wonder that our little boat survived the thrashing.  The RAR guys turn white/grey and just hang onto their dog chains and pray to their ancestors, all their weapons and kit is also secured to the chain.  We also had a Machine gun mounted on the front deck, which also took a beating.  We were a Mercedes crew travelling in a Mini. I have often had a stand-up shouting match with Sergeant Majors who want to move around on the boat.  As before we start our mission, we balance out the weight, and any movement upsets the plane etc.  We explain all this shit to them, but having a fear of water is very strong.  Major Drake would tell these guys that we are in charge, no matter what, but we still had plenty of verbal punch-ups. We took sticks of RAR soldiers to the islands, dropped them off on one side, and then tiger-fished all the way round to the meet-up point.  Great fun, but nothing went to waste.  The RAR cooks got most of the tiger we caught.  And we also threw some tigers to the beloved fish-eagle, the one with the white head and brown body.  A true african beauty, especially its cry. I have a 5kg Tiger from my RAR stint on my wall to-day (1975). Plus one from Mtetsi Mouth caught whilst doing the Deka mine-field in 1978.

Dave and I had to go to Sinamawenda (sp) Research station as the terrs had crossed over and took some of the staff hostage.  This trip with a stick of RAR soldiers was worth a medal in itself as it was a fairly far trip with non swimmers.  The terrs also ransacked the place.  However, months later it came out that a certain RR company were there and had also ransacked the place as well as Sijarera Fishing camp (sp), which is on the same route.  This came about when an Engineer Lieutenant  ******* acquired a pistol and tried to license it.  During the license process it was discovered that this weapon was reported stolen from Sinamawenda (sp) Research station. This discovery was bad news for Senior Military personnel as a few officers were “cashiered” from the army.  A sad day indeed.

Van der Riet’s hunting camp 1975

During Dave’s and my camp with the RAR, the District Commissioner of Kariba was flying to Wankie, and was overhead Van der Riet’s hunting camp when he spotted a Land Cruiser which had detonated a land-mine. A chopper was dispatched to collect the injured, and Dave and I spent nearly 12 hours in a 4.5 getting there to look for more mines.  Peter Parnell had started the up-grade of this escarpment road, but was ambushed a couple of months earlier and killed at Crocroft Bridge (sp).  We arrived late at night and started to clear the area.  But being so dark etc we were not doing justice.  So we slept a crap night and resumed our search in the morning.  The road had a “Y” intersection, and the mine was placed on the hunting camps road.  We did a 2 kilometre length search on the other section of the “Y” to no avail.  It was the norm for the terrs to lay 2 mines in tandem, so after doing 2 kilometres we decided that it was clear and also no antii-personal mines were planted on the verges.  We were thorough Combat Engineers back then.  We then were treated to a breakfast at the hunting lodge, where a group of Americans were visiting.  They wanted to take pictures of all of us.  But Dave and I refused.  We had one RAR machine gunner with us, and when the yanks wanted to take pictures, the other RAR guys nearly killed themselves, all diving for the machine-gun.  This is a prestigious weapon to be photographed with. Dave and I lost respect with the Yanks, they showed us their bragging photo albums.  There were pictures of taxidermied squirrels holding ashtrays, etc , and when David saw the Yanks posing with a Sable bull which they had shot, he lost it. He was very vociferous about this.  Van der Riet took us aside and tried to calm us down.  He said that Rhodesia needed the foreign currency etc, and each guy was paying $1,000.00 USA a day, (1975) plus each animal shot had its own price tag above the daily rate, and they had already over-stayed by a week and were threatening to leave soon if they had not got their quota elephant. Van der Riet went on to explain, that his trackers would strategically place elephant dung in the opposite direction of where the elephant was, just to get more days out of the yanks.  But at the end of it, the elephant had to be sacrificed for the good of the Rhodesian economy. The people injured by the mine blast had shit for luck.  As on their way to Wankie, their chopper developed mechanical problems, and Kariba having the forest of dead Mopani trees and Kariba weed etc the pilot wanted to crash-land his chopper without damaging the rotors, as we were told that SA was selling them to us at a hugely inflated price.  Being dusk, he took the Kariba weed as being solid ground and seemed to be clear of dead wood, he was able to put his chopper down, but it sank, and the rotors were also damaged. So, instead of us heading back to Binga from the hunting camp, we were directed to go and assist with the recovery of the sunken chopper, just short of Mlibizi Also, on a follow-up call-up to Binga, Peter Parnell’s team were still busy with the road to the hunting camp, when his grader operator unearthed the tandem mine. This time we were choppered there, and were thankful that the mine was not found in the section of road we had cleared, we were about 500 metres short of finding it the first time.  So we learnt that a tandem mine has no set distance.

What a camp?

Basil Preston.

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