Ones memory is a strange thing. Working on my next post I realised that I had forgotten to mention an important unit that contributed greatly to our safety during Cordon Sanitaire operations.  It would therefore be unfair not to mention them as they may well have saved my life on more than one occasion. These were the men of the Reserve Holding Units and Protection Units of the Rhodesian Army.

Here is their badge and stable belt (rhodesianforces.org):

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RhodesiaDefenceRegimentNew

Their work was varied and important and it would be foolish of me in the extreme to try and write a better and more comprehensive account of these individuals than the one that follows.

I thank the author of ‘FIGHTING FORCES OF RHODESIA’ – VOL. 5, as posted in The New Rhodesian Forum.

THE RHODESIA DEFENCE REGIMENT

THE dark green stable belts of the Protection Units have taken on a new significance in the continuing war against terrorism. Over the years the Re-enforcement Holding Units and the Protection Units have quietly grown, and their deployment has become increasingly important in the defence of Rhodesia’s borders.

On January 1st, 1978, these units were combined to form an official regiment and took their place proudly alongside longer serving regiments of the Rhodesian Army. The Regimental Depot at which servicemen will be trained for the Rhodesian Defence Regiment is at Inkomo, just outside of Salisbury.

The embryo from which the new regiment has grown existed for many years, in the form of the Re-enforcement Holding Units. These were originally purely paper units which were formed at the beginning of 1973 to take on theoretical strength those Coloured and Asian personnel who had completed their Territorial service with the Supply and Transport platoons. Also included were the members of “Dad’s Army”, comprising the older age-group White personnel who had completed Territorial service with the Rhodesia Regiment battalions.

For several years members of the Re-enforcement Holding Units were called up for a short period, once or twice a year, and deployed in non-combatant roles. However, as the war escalated, the need for protection and guard troops increased the task of these personnel, and extended it to a more active role. As a result, in 1974 the Protection Companies were formed on a small basis, embracing the Coloured and Asian members. These two Protection Companies had a more mobile role than the previous Holding Units, and acted as escorts for army convoys transporting supplies and equipment to operational areas. They also guarded encampments and machinery where necessary. The situation remained at this level for three years. During this time, however, the strength of the Protection Companies had been increasing, along with that of the Re-enforcement Holding Units as a growing number of men completed their service with the Territorial Forces.

When the combined strength of the units reached approximately 6 000 it became obvious that such a reservoir of manpower could be more profitably deployed than hitherto, and the suggestion of forming a new regiment was put forward.

Thus the Rhodesian Defence Regiment was born, placing the Protection Companies and Holding Units on a properly co-ordinated and recognised footing.

Two battalions have been formed: the Number 1 Mashonaland Battalion, based at Cranborne Barracks in Salisbury, and the Number 2 Matabeleland Battalion, based at Brady Barracks in Bulawayo. The new regiment has its own Depot at Inkomo, near Salisbury, where the Coloured and Asian National Servicemen are trained, and where older serving members receive pre-deployment training.

These battalions are made up from four different categories of servicemen.

Firstly, there are the National Servicemen from the Coloured and Asian ethnic groups, who are required to serve eighteen months, as are their White counterparts in other regiments.

Secondly, there is the “K” Intake, comprising the 25 to 38 year age group of Coloureds and Asians who had not previously been subject to call-up. This category are now required to serve for eighty-four days. Half this period is spent in training at Inkomo and the second half on deployment.

The third category are the continously embodied volunteers. These are Coloured and Asian members who volunteer for a year of continuous service. At the end of that year they are free to leave or to sign on again for a further year. This arrangement virtually makes them regular members of the regiment. At present there is some discrepancy between conditions of service these continuous volunteers and those of regular members of the Army, but it is hoped that these will be equalised before much longer. As a first step towards achieving this, the first Coloured officer has already been appointed. He is a medical officer, with the rank of Captain, and it is hoped that this will lead the way for future suitably qualified members of the Rhodesia Defence Regiment to be accepted into the permanent force. The Rhodesian Women’s Service, from it’s inception, accepted Coloured recruits as permanent members of the force, and at present there are six Coloured ladies serving their country, several of whom are deployed at Rhodesian Defence Regiment Headquarters at Cranborne.

The fourth category is “Dads Army”, who are the older Whites of over 38 years.

Both battalions are structured to take into account the different tasks required of the companies. The National Servicemen, the “K” intake, and the continuously embodied volunteers are generally deployed on the higher priority tasks, whereas the over 38 year old category, who are liable for a shorter period of commitment than the younger men, are used for more sedentary tasks.

This does tend to result in the formation of companies of seperate ethnic groups, but plans are afoot to include an intake of over 38 years old Coloureds and Asians in the future, in order to create additional companies who would contribute effectively to the force. These intakes would be liable for the same commitment as their White counterparts and would be deployed on similar duties.

A recent innovation has been a pilot group of Coloured National Servicemen who have been given full combat training and then deployed in the field.

The Commander of the Rhodesia Defence Regiment, Lt. Col. Peter Grobbelaar, is extremely satisfied with the way in which the servicemen have adapted to training and given a good account of themselves.

Discipline is strict, as it should be with all effective forces, and Col. Grobbelaar pointed out that the Coloured soldier appears to have the natural aggression which is vital in all combat-troops. Other servicemen will undoubtedly follow along the same paths, taking on an increasing responsibility in the fight against encroaching communism. The step from defensive to combat role has not been particularly difficult since in recent years the members of the Protection Units were required to display a more aggressive role in the face of attacks by the enemy.

After a long period of semi-obscurity, the Protection Units and Dad’s Army have finally found their own identity in the Rhodesia Defence Regiment, with their own insignia and embellishments, and they are obviously bent on proving their worth.

Co-operation and consideration between the various ethnic groups have been excellent. On occassions where units of mixed ethnic groups have been deployed the members of this new and vital regiment have displayed a most responsible attitude in making allowances for the differences in diet and religious practice that must obviously exist. Problems have arisen on occasion, in supplying the required contents of ration packs (for example, a Moslem would require a different ratpack to a non-Moslem), but with the general spirit of co-operation that pervades the regiment, these difficulties have been ironed out.

There is no discrepancy in pay and general conditions between the different ethnic groups of the territorial strength of the new regiment.

Despite their newness, the Rhodesia Defence Regiment posses certain distinctive foibles, one being their own language. The RLI are famed for being incomprehensible to their ordinary listener, but the RDR certainly offer a challenge to the RLI superiority in this matter.

The story is told of the RDR private who, on seeing heavy artillery in the field for the first time, went and called his friend, saying, “Hey, Joe, just come outside and sight the size of this catie” (catapult).

The tale is also told of the radio operator who persisted in asking Control to “Bowl me the ages”. After a considerable pause and a great deal of head-scratching, Control finally realised that the operator was merely asking for a time check.

And, of course, all armies have their own clowns who never seem to quite know why they are there at all, and rather wish they were not. (No doubt the officers also wish they were not.) An RDR private appeared before an officer on a disciplinary offence. When he was given an opportunity to speak he proceeded to ramble on in such a vague and inconsequential manner that in the end the officer stopped him.

“Are you prepared to accept the punishment of the disciplinary officer, or do you elect to stand trial by court martial?” the troopie was asked.

To which the bewildered troopie replied, ‘I’d just like to stand down, sir.”

History does not relate his fate.

From ‘FIGHTING FORCES OF RHODESIA’ – VOL. 5.

Figure 1 in the previous post clearly shows we had three distinct working Rows, namely Row A, Row B and Row C.  Row C was always on the enemy side and Row A on the friendly (or home) side.  Row B by default was the neutral (middle) line and located more or less equidistant from Row A and Row C

Working Row Methodology (I need to start at the end of the working day to make this easier):

At the end of each working day Dannert Coils (also known as concertina wire) were pulled across the entire width of the minefield, just outside the mined area.  In addition to this a small steel pin was driven into the ground at the point where the pulling parties would attach their ropes the next day as their start points.  There would be three of these, one for each Row.  This more than anything else was to let us know where the boundary between safe (no mines laid) and dangerous ground (mines laid and armed) was.  A very simple procedure that made things very clear on the ground.  Remember that we had no GPS units in those days so a physical feature on the ground was very useful when using traditional navigation methods.

Here is a picture of Dannert Coils being emplaced (not on the Cordon and for clarification purposes only).  A really unpleasant job when they get old and lose their shape.  We used a single layer of Dannert Coils.  Shown below is a triple concertina fence that will be used as a Field Obstacle.

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In Figure 2 below you can see where the Dannert Coil was placed at the end of the working day.  I know this does not look very neat but you get the idea and in fact some of our Dannert Coils were in such poor shape they actually looked very similar:

Cordon Layout_2

FIGURE 2

Morning Routine:

On arrival at the minefield the first thing to be done was to identify the safe working area and ensure nothing had been tampered with overnight.  I always wondered why the gooks never booby-trapped our Dannert Coils or planted mines where they must have known we would be starting work.  Perhaps they did in some other areas but I never heard of it.  I know if I was a gook I would have had a go at that.  In any case we had to be vigilant each morning.

Other things we needed to be switched on for each morning were the following:

  • Our access roads were a prime target for the gooks and I do know that some of our convoys were hit by vehicle mines on a number of occasions whilst en-route to the Cordon.
  • Wash-Outs:  These were mines laid by us in the cordon that wash-out of the minefield boundary fence during heavy rain or flash-flooding.  They would then often end up on the road we would be driving down and by default debussing on.  This was a particularly dangerous issue for us and a number of our men were seriously injured as a result of wash-outs.
  • Booby-traps on the perimeter fences or mines laid in areas where we would access the minefield.  Unfortunately we once again had people seriously injured by these cunning gook contrivances.

Activities Inside The Minefield

In the next post we will look at how the mines were positioned and armed, and some of the different mine types we used.

Cordon Sanitaire Mine-laying Operations

Working with explosives is a dangerous business.  Make no mistake.  Having said that laying mines is not rocket-science but if you don’t keep your wits about you and exercise strict discipline and command and control, people are going to get hurt.

Sadly, there were a number of Rhodesian Sappers killed in our own minefields during laying and minefield maintenance operations.  Please spare a moment to pay your respects to these brave men by visiting the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers Role Of Honour at http://www.sasappers.net.

Additionally there are quite a few accident survivors living with missing limbs, blindness and other injuries caused by our own mines.  Mines do not differentiate between friend and foe.  They kill and maim the layers and the enemy without distinction or warning.  I have been in the unenviable position on more than one occasion where I have witnessed our Sappers killed or horribly injured during Cordon Sanitaire operations.  I will not discuss the details in this post but I can assure you this type of incident remains very clear in ones mind.

To give you an idea of our mine-laying methodology please look at the following diagram:

Cordon Layout

FIGURE 1

As you can see we had an Enemy and Friendly Side.  In the case of Mukumbura the Enemy Side would be Mozambique, and the Friendly Side, Rhodesia.  The two fences were constructed using strands of barbed wire evenly spaced and attached to steel pickets at regular intervals.  The lower one meter or so of the fence was also fitted with mesh to stop smaller animals from getting through and detonating mines.

Here are some photos of Cordon Sanitaire, Mukumbura. (Terry Griffin):

Mukkus MF1

Here is a photo of the mine-sign you can see on the fence in the top-left image:

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According to Vashona.com, Chenjera Chimbambaira literally translates to “Beware Grenade” in the local (Rhodesian) indigenous vernacular (Shona).  Mine-signs were attached to the perimeter fence to warn the locals of the danger of crossing the fence.  Unfortunately the warnings were not always heeded resulting in civilian casualties.

In the next post I will discuss the duties of the Rope Party, Digging Party, Laying Party, and Arming Party.

© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Cordon Sanitaire Operations: Rhodesia-Wide

Before I go any further I want to mention some very special people, namely the Tsetse Fly Control crews who normally based up with us.

I had initially thought of including them in the previous post but I feel so strongly about the work these individuals carried out concurrent to our mine-laying operations that I have decided it would be an unforgivable injustice to water-down their sterling contribution to our work and decided to dedicate an entire post to them.

They deserve it.

The Tsetse Fly Teams (North Eastern Border Game Fence or NEBGF crews for Mukumbura operations) accompanied us to the Cordon on most days. These civilian elements were responsible for the construction/maintenance of the fences on the home and enemy sides of the minefield and normally consisted of a manager (Tsetse-Fly Officer) supported by a number of labourers working for him.  These teams needed to stay ahead of us at all times.  If there were no fences we could not lay mines.  It was as simple as that (unless we were carrying out a dodgy operation that was non-Cordon related.  Will discuss further down the line).  They were very good at their job, normally way ahead of us which was good in some ways, but a disadvantage for them at others.  The trick was to keep them within our protective boundary at all times as if they got too far ahead of us they could become too isolated and attacked by the gooks as indeed they were were on some occasions.  Although they were armed with the trusty 7,62 x 51 FN Rifle, it was only the single weapon that the Tsetse-Fly Officer carried that was available for the entire team.  Not very good odds when attacked by 5, 6 or maybe more gooks with evil intentions.  The fight would be very one-sided.

So what exactly is this Tstetse-Fly thing all about?  Have you ever heard of Sleeping-Sickness or Trypanosomiasis?  It is a tropical disease caused by parasitic protozoans (trypanosomes) which are transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly.  It causes fever, chills, pain in the limbs, and anaemia, and eventually affects the nervous system causing extreme lethargy and death.

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_trypanosomiasis.

The Tsetse-Fly is one of the root-causes of Africa’s poverty.  No other region of the world suffers the same animal health problems as the tsetse fly imposes on Africa.  The Tsetse-Fly thrives in an environment where there are large populations of wildlife providing an unlimited and year-round supply of essential mammalian blood on which they must feed to survive and reproduce.  There was an abundance of both game and cattle in the areas we worked in and the main idea of the fences being constructed by the Tsetse-Fly crews was to stop the migration of host animals from one area to the next.  It was quite a clever idea to use these fences as minefield perimeters as well.  It is pertinent to mention here that in some areas of Cordon Sanitaire operations the fences were  not necessarily there for Tsetse-Fly Control, but primarily as minefield fences.

Photos of the fences will be shown in later posts.

This is a Tsetse-Fly.  A nasty piece of work:

Tsetse-fly

This map shows the extent of the Tstetse-Fly problem in 1999 (Joe McDaniel-Africa Travel Diary):

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Our NEBGF comrades (affectionately known as “The Fly-Men”) were well-loved and tremendously respected.  I have many fond memories of working with them (some of them joined the Sappers and vice-versa).  They also had permission to shoot game for the pot which was very useful and I recall eating Ron Levy’s kudu biltong and massive steaks many times at Deka Engineer Base which I commanded for some time.

Another memorable incident where I was present was when Keith “Prodder” Byng opened fire with his FN in his tent.  Apparently he had been surprised by a cobra that had taken up residence next to his bed and then slithered behind a deep-freeze.  Needless to say all hell broke loose as no-one knew where the firing was coming from at first.  Interesting days indeed!  Sadly Keith passed away some time back.  Rest In Peace Brother.

Here is a photo of Keith (right) and another Fly-Man, Stingray Reynolds.  Note the improvised hut made out of anti-personnel mine boxes and tarpaulin (John Arkley):

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Mostly forgotten it is sad that not much has been written about these brave souls and this small acknowledgment from me is my way of granting them their place in the history of the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers.  Without them we could not have done our work on Cordon Sanitaire. They were our family and our Brothers, sharing everyday hardships and dangers with us.

I salute them all and they will never be forgotten. Not by me in any case.

Here is a typical Tsetse-Fly Camp circa 1967 at Urungwe (non-Cordon Sanitaire and added to illustrate the environment).  Note the soft-skinned Land Rover.  These would later be changed to mine-resistant versions (Joe McDaniel-Africa Travel Diary):

005 Urungwe Tsetse Camp July67

And here is another (Joe McDaniel-Africa Travel Diary):

007 Camp shower

Here is a mine-resistant Land-Rover-note the roll-bars and weapon mount.  They had armour-plate inserts in key positions as well. (Tom King at the wheel, taken c. 1977-8 near Chipinga: New Rhodesian)

Mine resistant landrover_New Rhodesian

Here are some other vehicles used by amoung others, the Fly-Men.  Left to right a Puma, Isuzu soft-skin, and another mine-resistant Land-Rover.  These shown below in fact are Intaf (Internal Affairs) vehicles. (Nick Baalbergen):

Isuzu soft-skinned_Nick Baalbergen

Life at Mukumbura could be a repetitive affair.  Our daily routine went something like this:

First Light: Reveille and Stand-to (see previous post for details).

A picture of typical first light in the bush……do not be taken in by the serenity.  This was a dangerous time of day. (Wild Eye)

zambezi_sunrise_1_2012_Wild Eye Photography

Shower/Shave: Hot water supplied by a heating “donkey”.  This was an oil-drum affair that got its heat from a wood fire underneath.  Water fed by gravity and worked very well.  Luxury really considering where we were.

Here is a typical “donkey” (ourterritory.com):

donkey

Breakfast: This would be a hearty ensemble of the good old pucker English type breakfast.  Porridge, cereals, eggs, bacon, fried tomato, baked beans, toast, butter/jam, sauces, tea and coffee.  There was always enough to eat except when we were getting near to rat-run day (ration run day).  This was indeed the most important meal for us and we enjoyed it immensely.  Most of us packed an egg and bacon sandwich for tea.

Depart for the minefield: The drive to the minefield (Cordon Sanitaire) was in a convoy consisting of personnel and mine/equipment carrying cargo vehicles (often the same vehicle which was much against the explosive regulations).  The journey could take anything from 30 minutes to some hours depending on how far we were working from the camp.  Obviously every day we traveled further as the minefield progressed, and thus our deployment time from the camp to work area was ever-increasing.

Lay mines: I will discuss in detail shortly.

Return to camp: Self explanatory.

Unload vehicles: Self explanatory.

Late lunch: This was great.  T-Bone steaks, eggs, chips, and pudding were a common feed for lunch or supper.  One thing the army could do was provide good meat to the men in the field and I am sure many of you who served will agree with me.  Some of these T-Bones were huge and we all looked forward to them with great delight.

Prepare mines for next day.  Load vehicles.

To save time we partly prepared our mines for the next days laying after lunch.  This would take the form of inserting booster charges but not removing any safety devices or inserting detonators.  The problem we had with some mines was that the boosters and detonators were combined and thus only the safety devices were keeping the mines in a neutral state (meaning that all elements are in place for the device to fire but the safety pin/plate is still to be removed).  In other mines the detonators were integral to the mine and this was also a dodgy situation.  Tragically, we were to lose 7 of our Sappers at Victoria Falls in a multi-mine uncontrolled detonation with this type of device.  Thinking back this pre-preparation was not always ideal or safe but time was the enemy and it was not possible to prepare 3,000 mines each morning before deploying and it needed to be done the day before.  Yes, the figure is correct, 3,000 mines per day was our normal laying target for Mukumbura, at least when I was there.

It is not the intent of this blog to teach the reader the mechanics of how mines work but I will be describing some of the items we used in some detail as part of follow-on posts as without this the dangers to us as the mine-layers cannot be fully understood.

Last Light: Stand-to (see previous post).

Again, don’t be fooled by the serenity.  These were dangerous times and the shadows played games with a mans eyes (petergostelow.com):

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Supper: Evening meals could be a nice curry or thick beef stew with rice or mashed potatoes.  Whatever it was it kept ones tummy full.  Again the quality would diminish as we got closer to rat-run day.  It was easy to know when rations were due by the amount of bluish-green mould on the bread…….didn’t taste too bad if it was toasted and smothered in similarly decaying cheese though.

Leisure Time Utilisation:  This was just a fancy army term for socialising with your mates and enjoying the 2-beer limit we had at Mukumbura.  If you have never drunk out of a beer bottle that has been stored with meat that is going off in the fridge you have never lived.  Just thinking about it makes me all nostalgic.  There were dart boards, chess boards, checker boards, cards and dominoes available for us to while away the hours.  A lot of us used this time to simply write letters home and relax in preparation for the next days work.  A man also needed his solitude and quiet time.

Shower and sleep: As for Shower/Shave above.

In the upcoming posts we will look at the types of mines we used throughout Cordon Sanitaire operations country-wide as well as the main mine-laying methodology.