In this post we will discuss two of the dodgiest activities when working on Cordon Sanitaire, namely the Laying and Arming of mines. These are the phases that demand mature and flexible Command and Control, intense Sapper concentration, and a natural grip of situational awareness.

Sappers need to know exactly where they are in the minefield at all times.

A lack of any of these key requirements could and indeed did result in own forces casualties. As I have mentioned in previous posts, landmines cannot differentiate between friend and foe…….if you fucked-up you were going down, literally. Sadly, an accident may not even be the doing of the person killed or injured, and somewhere in the root-cause of these events there is without a doubt also a good dose of plain bad luck.

Group 5: The Laying Party

The Laying Party followed the Digging Party.  They were responsible for carrying the mines in some form of container, often a type of back-pack, and placing three mines more or less at the mid-point of the three holes (the Mine Cluster) dug by the Digging Party, but not in the holes.  They do not arm the mines.  Common sense and safety dictates that the Laying Party were never allowed to overtake the Digging Party.  Remember that these mines were already in an advanced state of preparedness (we started the process the previous afternoon if you recall from previous posts) and all that was required to arm them fully would be to remove the safety device which could be a pin removal or perhaps a spin-off plate action, and was dependent on the type of mines we were using at the time.

Once the Laying Party commences placing the mines, WORKING IN ECHELON becomes mandatory for all in the minefield (this is Laying Party and Arming Party specific).  No one in Bravo Line will ever overtake anyone in the Charlie Line, and no one in the Alpha Line will ever overtake anyone in the Bravo or Charlie Line.  That was the Golden Rule although it was broken on quite a few occasions.

The Rope and Digging Party were way ahead of everyone else and therefore would not be affected by the activities of the Laying and Arming Parties.  Indeed, in most cases once the Rope Party and Digging Party were finished for the day they came back and integrated into the Laying or Arming Party, whichever needed them.  So we all ended up arming mines every day.

Group 6: The Arming Party

The Arming Party arm the mines.  They have one of the most dangerous tasks during mine-laying operations.  Movement of the Arming Party is strictly controlled by an NCO or switched-on Sapper.  Lets assume the primary safety device on the mines is a removable safety clip, and that operations are moving from left to right.  This was the sequence of events when arming mines:

1.  Arming Party (+-8 Sappers) dress up to the line of clusters.  Remember the rope is gone so all you have are the holes to guide your positioning.

2.  Arming Party ensures that there are no large clumps of soil present.  If there are these are carefully broken up prior to arming commencing.

Note: At this time the Arming Party will also straighten any bent safety pins to ensure they are easy to remove when arming takes place.  Depending on the type of mine being used this may also be the time that booster charges are inserted.  Booster charges are used to increase the shock-wave that propagates the main charge detonation.

3.  Person in control instructs Arming Party to place mines in holes but not to arm them.

4.  Person in control authorises mine in 9 o’clock position hole to be armed and covered.  Arming Party move to correct mine position, crouch or kneel, remove safety device and carefully cover the mine.  Arming Party dress back to original position and await further instructions.  Crouching is to be discouraged as if one loses ones balance, Murphy’s Law says you will probably land on an armed mine.

5.  Person in control authorises mine in 12 o’clock position hole to be armed and covered.  Mine armed and covered as in paragraph 4.

6. Person in control authorises mine in 3 o’clock position hole to be armed and covered.  Mine armed and covered as in paragraph 4.

7.  Arming Party dresses back from the clusters and awaits further instructions.

8.  Person in control authorises movement to next mine clusters.  The person furthest to the left steps back and walks behind all the arming personnel on his right and dresses onto the next available mine cluster.  He waits there until the Arming Party has dressed onto new mine clusters.

9.  Person in control commences arming sequence.  This continues until all clusters are completed for the day.  Bravo and Alpha Lines, working in echelon carry out the same process.

Here is a diagram of the personnel movement.  This is very important and I know of at least one Sapper who lost his leg by moving in front of and not behind Arming Party Sappers to his right.

Laying and Arming Party_Corsan

I hope the above diagram makes sense.  Just to clarify:

Sapper 1 moves to the next number 1 position, Sapper 2 to the next number 2 position and so on for the rest of the Sappers.  Movement is always routed behind the person to your right.  No one moves until the Sapper on his left has moved to his new cluster.  All lines must work in Echelon.  This diagram makes it easy to understand why.  There must always be safe ground behind the Bravo and Charlie Line Arming Party so personnel can escape in the case of an attack.  As mentioned previously in the event of an attack from the friendly side we were in the crap as we would probably need to escape over armed clusters.

As all of these activities from pulling out the ropes to arming the mines were all taking place concurrently it then becomes clear that this was a very dangerous piece of real estate if you did not know what you were doing.  I do not need to convince anyone that this was a hazardous activity.

Sadly, the statistics have already proved this.

This post will be the final part of the Mukumbura: (Learning The Ropes) series.  It has been an interesting and nostalgic journey for me to relive those early days of my military career and I hope that it has not become too monotonous. From here on I will be posting my memories of different events as they come to mind and these will be in no particular order although I will continue to keep my Rhodesian and South African campaigns separate.  I hope you continue to enjoy my ramblings.

Again, I ask anyone who reads my posts to flag-up any incident they were also part of and if I have erred in my recollections in some way please do not hesitate to help me put the record straight. It is not easy to do something like this on your own and especially when you have no written record of events, nor access to official documents.


© 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.

Group 3: Rope Party

The Rope Party were the next group to start work in the morning and followed the Protection Party.  They carried spools of nylon cord which were more or less 50 meters long.  We had three of these spools, one for each of the three lines to be worked (A, B, C) or Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie Lines.  If you read previous posts you will understand this better.

Each rope had a different number of knots tied into them as follows:

Alpha Line Rope: 1 knot every 3 meters

Bravo Line Rope: 1 knot every 2 meters

Charlie Line Rope: 1 knot ever 1 meters

From this you can do the rough maths for 1,000 meters if you work on 3 mines per knot.  Works out to about 5,500 mines.  We normally laid about 3,000 mines per day.  Of course if you were a badly resourced crew you would find extra knots in the rope as a result of breaks and joins and this could make things dodgy and confusing on the ground.

Some minefields worked on double-density cluster layouts plus other nasty devices but they are completely other animals and I will discuss these at a later time.  These types of minefield hurt many of our boys and were treacherous, sinister places to work.

For the purpose of this blog I have made the line nearest the enemy Line C and work always started on this line first in the morning so if you were an idle wanker you made sure you got into the A Line.  This meant you had about 20 additional minutes to smoke and talk crap to your mates before you started work.  The fact that you would have to work that time in at the end of the day after the B and C Lines were finished did not make an iota of difference to the devious Sapper brain.  In all honesty the Echelon Method of working did not begin to really matter until the laying party started to work in the Charlie Line, and the Rope Parties could quite safely work on all three Lines at the same time without any danger to personnel.

After the dannert coil had been removed from the minefield, the Rope Party hooked up their rope to the metal picket left in the ground the day before as the start point, and began walking the line off the spool  for the next 50 metres.  They would then put a small metal pin in the ground, hook the line onto it and continue for another 50 metres.  This they continued doing until they had pulled the line out enough times to achieve the days laying objective.  All three lines carried out this action.

At this point it is extremely important to note that there will be live mines adjacent to the initial start point of the day (the last clusters from the previous days work), and there would always be an NCO or switched on Sapper controlling these start-up activities.  A foot out of place here or a moments inattention could be very tragic indeed and fuck everyones whole day up.  And yes, it did happen.

Group 4: Digging Party

From the number of knots shown above you can see the 3 Lines had 3 different densities of mines.  At each knot a mine “cluster” was dug.  A “cluster” consisted of 3 holes dug with a badza (a type of hoe), one at 12 o’clock, one at 3 o’clock, and one at 9 o’clock.  I do not want to go deeply into the science of number of “mines per meter front” at this stage but you can see that by adjusting the number of knots on each Line, the probabability of standing on a mine within any given meter of the minefield frontage can increase or decrease.  Simple Sapper Stuff.

It therefore goes without saying that the next group into the minefield was the Digging Party.

Here is a badza.  They caused bad blisters to hands not wearing gloves.  I know, I dug, I had blisters.  Many of them.  Our medics took much glee in injecting merthiolate into them.  Ours were a bit more modern but you get the idea (

Here is a bottle of Merthiolate……it burns like shit when injected into a blister caused by a badza.  This bottle looks like it just came out of a medics bag (flickr):


Here is a diagram showing mine clusters and the Rope and Digging Parties:

Rope and Digging Party_Corsan

If this looks confusing to you just remember we had to work in here and at this time there are not even any live mines on the diagram!

The Digging Party had to start immediately after the Rope Party and actually chased them.  The Rope Party could not move on to the next 50 meter run before the Digging Party had dug the last cluster of the current run or they would not know where to dig.  Again digging parties could work on all three Lines at once but very soon the importance of the Echelon Method will be seen very clearly.  The Digging Party were also responsible for breaking-up any clumps of soil excavated as well as remove any rocks.  Clumps of soils and rocks/stones were not very useful when covering armed mines.  A very good friend of mine, Charlie McQuillan, was badly injured when a large clump of soild soil contacted the ignitor of a mine he had just armed.  A sad day indeed but thankfully he lived to tell the tale.

Thats it for today.  In the next post we will talk about the Laying and Arming Parties.  Many people think they are one and the same but they are not.


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

In this post we will start to have a look at how the Cordon Sanitaire teams operated within (and outside) the minefield boundary.  With the amount of mines being laid each day (+-3,000), the loss of concentration due to fatigue, and poor discipline or procedures could be disastrous and indeed fatal.  Sadly we have ample evidence of this in our Roll Of Honour and also by the number of our colleagues that lost limbs and their eyesight, although there are other reasons for accidents such as dodgy mines/mchanisms and equipment.

Cordon Sanitaire Work Groups

Group 1: Protection Party

The Protection Party normally consisted of Rhodesian Defence Regiment (RDR) personnel.    This unit was, in the majority, manned by Coloured and Asian troops.  It was formed with the intention of using their personnel to protect bridges, camps and other infrastructure.  They deployed with us on many occasions as our perimeter force protection component.  These were interesting individuals, had their own slang (which many of us picked up), and often had a good supply of contraband items, especially exotic tobaccos, the aroma of which could often be smelt wafting through our camp lines.  Please see the previous post for more information on this unit.

After we had checked the area for booby-traps the Protection Party would deploy across the safe area of the Cordon, jump over the enemy side fence and melt away into the bush.  There they would lurk, looking for gooks who might try and attack us while we were laying mines.  Coming under enemy fire is bad enough under “normal” circumstances but inside a live minefield it is disastrous.  There is nowhere to take cover as the vegetation is sparse and there would be mass casualties without a doubt.  We had no defence as we never carried our weapons while laying mines in case they fell and detonated a mine.  Additionally it would not be comfortable working with a rifle slung over your shoulder and would have been a recipe for accidents.  Having said that the command and control personnel working inside the minefield with us were armed and would do their best to direct and cover us in the case of an attack.

The Protection Party were also deployed on the friendly side in case of an attack from behind.  If this happened we were in deep shit.

Group 2: Echelon Support Vehicles

Our Echelon Support Vehicles normally consisted of Bedford RL’s, Rodef 25, 45, and 75 Mercedes Benz clones.  The Rodef 25 was actually a Unimog with a dodgy sanctions-busting name.  No one was fooled though.  Here is a Rodef 25 (newrhodesianforum):


And a Bedford RL in rather smart condition:


Later vehicles were like these MAP’s but I never saw them at Mukumbura:



These vehicles would follow us down the access road as we progressed and carried our mines, water, food, tools and other bits and pieces we needed to do our job.  Our medic was also part of this echelon and excellent blokes they were too.  Some legends amongst them and they will get a mention in future posts.  Needless to say they were highly trained and knew the business.  Radio communications for casevac purposes were also checked before work commenced and maintained by the echelon during laying operations.

The Tsetse Fly Officer (see previous posts) and his crew normally formed part of our support echelon personnel too.

Here is a typical Cordon Sanitaire access road running next to the perimeter fence (Terry Griffin):

RhE_First_Mfield_acess road

I would like to talk about “working in echelon” at this point.  Working in echelon was a very important principle which we applied when working in the minefield.  This principle ensured that at no time was anyone working ahead of fully armed mines.  This is why we always started activities on the Charlie Line, second to start would be Bravo Line, and lastly the Alpha Line.  No activity ever overtook a similar activity on a line that was to your front.  The diagram below demonstrates the principle:

Cordon Layout

As you can see the Charlie Line is ahead of the Bravo Line and the Alpha Line behind the Bravo Line and Charlie Line.  Crucially an Arming Party shall NEVER overtake personnel to their front.  In the event of an attack from the Enemy side, our personnel could safely exfiltrate the minefield by moving directly and straight back toward the friendly fence.

We will discuss the remaining minefield parties in the next post.

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