First Blood…..Sidindi Island (Part 5)

February 28, 2011

I can remember walking past palm trees and what looked like sea sand as we followed Don back down to wherever he had come from…..the Zambezi flowing smoothly on my right hand side….gurgling on its merry journey to the mighty Kariba Dam…..many miles away.  Where it crashed over the countless rocks it foamed and sprayed a fine mist……the wind blowing it into our hot and sweaty faces…..cooling and refreshing.

A radio crackled near to me and the 1 Indep stick leader answered with his call-sign.  He had a short and sharp conversation with someone on the other end consisting of “copied”, “affirmative”, “say again”…..and finally “roger out”.  He moved up closer to me and let me know that a recovery vehicle had arrived but was standing off some distance from the mine victim until I gave the all clear on the road.

Don had diverted us onto a path that left the dirt road and led along the river bank……and it was then we saw a couple of soldiers up ahead….on guard and highly alert.  They let Don through and we entered a place of carnage……and what was until a few hours ago an SAS temporary base.

All around us were bits and pieces of kit..neatly piled up as if waiting for collection…webbing, weapons, eating utensils..some damaged by gunfire…the stuff that soldiers carry….and shockingly, a heap of bloody sleeping bags and Rhodesian uniforms….now tattered and ripped apart…blood stains mingling with the camouflage pattern…riddled with bullet holes.  There was indeed a certain smell about the place…..a smell I would get to know well……the smell of blood.  Nothing else like it.  Clearly something bad had happened here….you could feel and see the despair in the faces of the few grim men that were there.  Cartridge cases that were not familiar lay scattered all around, the wrappings of first field dressings and used inter-venal drips, some with their tubes still attached littered the ground……the bits and pieces of medical kit that were the signature that some serious shit had gone down not too long ago.

Don took us into a shady part of the camp and sat us down.  It was the measure of the man that although he wore the coveted wings of perhaps the finest special forces unit in the world, he treated us as equals at this time.  He proceeded to brief us on the events of the past hours…..not in too much detail to endanger security, but enough for us to understand the background as to why we were there, and the seriousness of the situation.

Apparently the SAS were on an external operation in Zambia doing what they do and had been over there for some time.  On their return to Rhodesian soil they were well and truly knackered and formed a temporary base at Sidindi Island so that they could rest before being picked up and returned to their main base.  They ate and they slept.  They had arranged their sleeping positions in two  lines close to each other with a narrow path between the two.  A  guard was posted and the rest slept.  Sometime in the early hours of the next morning when one sleeps the deepest a group of terrorists entered the camp and walked down the path between the two rows of sleeping men and machine-gunned them mercilessly as they lay in their sleeping bags.  I do not recall if anyone was killed but there were some severe injuries received.  Those that could managed to fight the gooks off but the damage was done.  They were understandably devastated….but also professionals…..and immediately began the task of helping the injured and getting them out.  The blown up Bedford was also part of the reaction force coming to assist them.  These gooks who attacked were definitely not the normal run of the mill banditos……they were very clever…they knew there was only one road where help would come from and they had mined it with a successful hit…..a tactic that I would encounter on more than one occasion.  They had also clearly observed the SAS go into a temporary base and had waited patiently for their chance to strike……showing great restraint before attacking.

We drank tea and offered what help we could and made our way back up to the road…..all of us deep in thought……and a lot more switched on than when we first arrived.  If those who had so audaciously attacked the SAS camp with so much success were still around we had a problem.  However we completed our mission without incident or more mines on the raod and the recovery vehicle was able to come in and take the sad old girl away to fight another day.

It was time to return to Wankie……and the gunship was summoned by TR48 radio carried in the recovery vehicle.  It was late when we boarded and the pilot informed us he would not be taking us back that evening but rather to the South African Police base at Sidindi (or it could have been Mapeta?) where we were destined to be treated to some real South African hospitality….good food…steaks and boerewors and cold Castle beers…we even had coffee bought to us in bed by the Padre after he had read us all an evening prayer.

I hoped that he was also praying for all the SAS boys we had just left behind.

Sometime later stories about the Sidindi incident began to circulate..some of it obvious bullshit…but the most plausible one was that the sentry, being exhausted just like the rest of them, had fallen asleep at his post and the gooks had simply walked past him and into the camp.  I have no proof that this is the case but the importance of an effective guard system remained with me for the rest of my military career.  A few years on and in a different country I was to see first hand the result of a sentry falling asleep……except this time I was one of those on the receiving end.  The result might not be what you expected.

15 Responses to “First Blood…..Sidindi Island (Part 5)”

  1. michaelvan said

    Gripping stuff.

  2. Michael is right…”Gripping stuff”, well written and fast moving.

  3. fatfox9 said

    Might seem fast moving but it going too slow for my liking

  4. Eeben said

    Hi Mark,

    Remember the race between the hare and the turtle? “Slow” evenually gets there.

    Well written and enjoyable to read. Keep it up.



  5. Lee said

    Very interesting as I was in 1 Indep in 78 and 79, Vic Falls to Beitbridge. Glad to see you pick up the pen again.

  6. Lee said

    Would it be possible to give a date to when this happened, month, year?

    • fatfox9 said

      Heheheh…..Lee, my memory is not THAT good but I would imagine late ’74 or sometime in ’75…perhaps you can help me pin it down. Like I said at the beginning of the blog… kept no diary or records….this is all from my memory alone.

  7. Kallie said

    Enjoyed – well written

  8. Realy good and very interesting,thank you.I found out about the Rhod. railways bit and kept going.Pity you didnt have more time ha ha. Thanks again.

  9. lee catterson said

    I am eagerly awaiting a sequel.

  10. Stephen Rich said

    Great stuff, as a ex TF engineer RNZE. It is great to see that there was so many things that are the same with sappers all over the world.


  11. Jimmy H. said

    I also worked for Rhodesia Railways then 1 Ind. Co. and 4 Ind. Co Wankie, good reading

  12. Grimwood Peter Cooke said

    Thank you for your well written story of Sidindi Island. I was based at Jambezi 1978 (GC) and visited there on a number of occasions one of which proved rather exciting and not helped by the fact we should have been 40kms else where yet the lure of wetting a line in the Zambezi threw caution to the wind. Indeed a very special place with the hot spring, palms and danger that lurked back then. On one visit in the mold of the Deer Hunter I saw a Kudu Bull that had horns of iconic proportion yet did not pull the trigger in-case of compromise. With that I returned just before New Year (43 Years later) to have a gander yet sadly the Game Fence gate close to the camp was pad-locked ….. Return I will as the Bird-life along the Sidindi River-line further back was amazing. …. Keep well!

    • fatfox9 said

      Thank you for the kind comments Peter and that is indeed a wonderful part of the river. Just sad I had my first visit under pretty grim circumstances. Please do continue to visit my blog as I will be making a big effort to post something much more often (before I forget everything). All the best for 2023 and stay safe!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: