Mukumbura: Learning The Ropes (Part 4)

February 4, 2014

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.

5 Responses to “Mukumbura: Learning The Ropes (Part 4)”

  1. Chris said

    Fascinating stuff, wish you would continue to write more. Since I was Air Force I never saw or heard about how you guys laid this cordon. So, I found your writing to be quite compelling and search for it everyday. I was also very interested in your descriptions of your apprenticeship. My own apprenticeship was on civilian airliners and there were some very interesting journeymen there. Thank you for your efforts laying out a protection zone and for writing this blog. please keep it up.

    • fatfox9 said

      Thanks for the warm and encouraging comments Chris. It is always welcome and gives one the will to continue the endeavour. I will most definitely keep this up, especially for positive individuals like yourself. I have fond memories of the Air Force lads and they got me out of trouble (and into trouble) on a number occasions. I was at FAF 1 many times and there will be an interesting post coming up about that in the future…… will enjoy it!
      All the best,

  2. Owen Shaw said

    I was involved with the cordon at Mukumburra in the early days back in 74 while completing NS. After NS I was in 3 Engineers based in OP Thrasher. The minefields on the Eastern border were very different. They were laid along the border line which in many instances was the crest of hills and mountains. Also almost jungle like bush. We were attacked on a regular basis both by Frelimo and by ZANLA Terrorists. Usually they used mortars and RPGS 7. The RPGs air burst overhead which was quite frightening. We were normally protected by one of the NS Independent Company soldiers. Testse Dept built the fence. I can supply more info if you are seeking this for your blog. Inbox me at my Facebook page or via Jennie Upton.

    • fatfox9 said

      Thanks for this Owen. I would be delighted to hear of your experiences on the Cordon and the boats. Pass it directly to me at my email shown on th site, but I will inbox you. All the best. Mark.

      • Doc said

        I was there and i know Coloured and Asian Blokes who died heroically for the Rhodesian way of life

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