Cordon Sanitaire: Personal Experiences (1: Terry Griffin)

September 16, 2014

I have received significant help from a number of individuals with regards to various aspects of Cordon Sanitaire.  It is only fair that their experiences are also shared with my readers and this seems a good time to do it.

This is my way of thanking them and acknowledging their contribution to the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers own private war within the Rhodesian Bush War.

Cordon Sanitaire was indeed our very own personal, deadly war.  I am not saying that our supporting units did not contribute to this war………what I am saying is that we were the guys pulling the pins.

I would like to start off with contributions from Terry Griffin, one of my former Commanding Officers at 1 Engineer Squadron.  I am posting this exactly as he sent his recollection to me…….if I done it any other way it would lose the impact of the era.  I have seperated his submissions by a dotted line.

Terry takes up the post from here:

I was quite bemused, when attending an “early” mine warfare committee meeting, held at Army HQ prior to deployment of the first team to Mukkers – as previously detailed. At the meeting, were all sorts of folk who had an “interest” in what was to become the Cordon – as in Tsetse and various Army people etc. These meetings were held on a regular basis to discuss improvements , change of tactics etc, etc. However, at this “first” meeting the aspect of the Geneva Convention was discussed at length where correct signage, fenced on both sides etc, etc was laid down as pretty much a non-negotiable aspect. This was just in case we offended anyone and were then leaving ourselves open to be charged with war crimes. Can you believe it !! I recall very clearly being opposed to this “requirement” (as were a few other folk present) – for many reasons. Not least our “Coin” war aspect where camouflage and concealment etc was a “local” criteria and why should we “advertise” the minefield thereby nullifying its concealment etc and above all – who was going to arrest us and take us to court – in Geneva? We were overruled and the “first” minefield complied with the Geneva Convention – to ensure no comeback !! After completing my ERE attachment to RLI and being posted all over the country I (several years later) became involved with the Cordon again and was delighted to find that the Geneva Convention had been dispensed with. A classic example was in the Deka area where (as I am sure you recall) no North side fence was ever erected. Gooks just had to find out when they entered the minefield – more by when the first explosion went off.  

Going back to the original / first field, am sure you recall, we had not developed the ploughshare (on a stake) yet so, all mines were AP’s laid as per original design. Due to the costly clearing (and stupid) of bush etc it was very difficult to camouflage all and even days later, unless rain (which did not fall often) or strong winds, concealed the placement – most laid mines positions were very/fairly visible. The open bare earth aspect (as per my pics you have) made the field look like a dirt landing strip – for light aircraft – in the middle of the bush. This is pretty much what it became as hordes of Ground Hornbills (Turkey Buzzards) descended into the field and inevitably sourced their daily food by pecking around the obvious digging areas. This resulted in many birds, either exposing the AP’s or occasionally blowing themselves up as they (obviously) pecked with sufficient force to detonate the mine. This resulted in the most hazardous aspect of the Cordon (to my mind) being re-entry to re- lay  mines. We did try shooting these birds, to prevent their damage, but they arrived in their 100’s from all over the NE when the cleared bare earth, easy meal, word got out.  Large animals as in Kudu, Elephant, Buffalo etc were not a problem here as there was no vegetation (between fences) for them to eat. Only the occasional one that took offence, to the fence, being in its way – as it were. This was to change in years to come as without bush clearing, the vegetation between fences had limited predation hence many of these herbivorous animals now saw the pristine vegetation growing between fences and broke through to eat from the protected larder – as it were.  Again, the hazardous task of re-laying took place and I eventually (when OC 1 Sqn) banned all re-laying due to the casualties already sustained. However, the later aspect resulted in another bird being a danger. When an animal had been killed in the field, we now had hordes of vultures descending on the carcase. Empty and light, a vulture just came straight down to feed. After engorging (and now heavy / overloaded) it needed a running take off which often resulted in it activating a tripwire from the now laid ploughshares !! Many occasions I/we came round a corner either on foot or in a vehicle, next to the fence and surprised vultures on a carcase. As they started their running take off we would duck behind any available cover to avoid the inevitable shrapnel emanating for the ploughshare – as I am sure you recall ? I am aware of a dozen or so Sprs (not me thank goodness) who suffered “minor” injuries from this shrapnel as obviously we were at some distance from the detonation.

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Some light humour – wrt the Cordon, as opposed to all the “damage” it caused to humans and wildlife.

One of the highly intelligent Dr’s working for Tsetse, who had several degrees in Entomology etc  was a rather dour individual. His name escapes me but am sure Vic will recall him if not remember his name. He was present at most Mine warfare committee meetings.

Anyway, one hot and boring day at Mukkers I had been bitten dozens of times by Tsetse flies and in desperation made my way to the cab of a 45 shutting doors and windows to complete (hopefully in some peace- from the flies) my report.

I noticed several flies were shut inside the cab so, in absolute glee commenced with my “payback” as in catching every one, and with my finger nails, removing their proboscis and then releasing in the cab – alive. I  carried on (in peace) with writing my report. Sometime later this Dr who was at Mukkers and seldom ventured into the field joined me in the cab of the 45 as he was also fed up with being bitten. We discussed many things not least where / how he obtained his PhD and that it was sacrilege to refer to a Tsetse employee (especially a Dr) as just a plain entomologist. They were in fact called Glossinologist’s – as in specialist (entomologists) Tsetse fly folk. There is much on the web about this. After some minutes he let out a yell that resulted in me grabbing my rifle and commencing a one man assault on an enemy as yet unseen. Before I could de bus he insisted on the cab remaining closed and in a high pitched voice asked for help in catching the flies (in the cab) as he had just noticed non had a proboscis. They must be some sort of Tsetse “morph “ or anomaly in nature, that he would now investigate and maybe be able to breed, release into the wild and potentially eradicate the Tsetse scourge as there were obviously some flies that could exist without sucking blood.

When we had caught most and carefully placed in a container he had, he enquired as to my persistent giggling as this was an entomologist “dream” but he would assure me of a mention in his research. I then in stiches of laughter told him about my “payback” which did not amuse him. On pain of death he asked me never to divulge this incident as it would make him out to be a bit of a fool – amongst his peers etc. I have never mentioned it until now but still have a quiet chuckle whenever I think about it.

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Basically I was tasked with doing the defoliation on Chete Island after the gooks wacked the civvy ferry. I called up S Tp from 1 Sqn albeit I was OC Boats at the time and then we sailed plus Tsetse in the Army ferry (Ubique) from Kariba to Chete. Had strike craft as back up and positioned one at each entry to the gorge as it had been declared a frozen area for all craft during the OP. Went ashore (after anchoring on the island – invading enemy territory !! – to clear it of gooks – if any. There were none. Tsetse also provided back up (Jack Kerr plus another) with ,458 rifles in case elephants had a go at us. They did not. After positioning the guys in a defensive role we cleared the area where the gooks had fired from – onto the ferry – which still had much kit lying around from the firing point. Tsetse folk then used a defoliant called Hivar (as I recall) and by hand distributed like it was fertiliser along the entire bank facing the gorge and inland a short way. This would (as it did) clear that sector of all foliage and thereby (hopefully) deny natural cover. After the first rains it was evident all was dying off and it did clear all fairly quickly creating a rather bare scar along that section of the island. Some 10 years later it was still very visible but on my last fishing trip there + – 4 years ago all had now regrown. The gooks never did use the original firing position again.

Chete Gorge

Kariba-Ferries-Chete-GorgeAfricamemories.com

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The very first minefield laying etc (again) I was OC of that – starting at Mukambura. Lt Col Horne actually came up with the team I had trained – for a look see.

Tsetse were (as per normal) responsible for erecting fences but we also had plant tp folk with bulldozers and graders clearing all so we had bare earth in and outside the minefield to work on. This was also to prevent gooks taking cover in the bush. At that stage the minefield was approx. 25m wide. In no time I realised this method was an absolute waste of time money etc, etc as we also provided armed protection for the dozer drivers etc way ahead of laying teams. To keep a definitive 25m width etc was patently stupid so I wrote a paper and suggested fences meander to create doubt as to depth of field – albeit still 3 rows – and do NOT clear vegetation as it then aided in camouflaging all. I sent you some pics of the first gook breach and just look at the nice clear earth with fences visible at exactly 25m. Boy did we have a lot to learn – and quickly. This is the only defoliation that I am aware of??

RhE_First_Mfield (2)

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The foregoing was not in any particular order and I am sure this is the very first time Terry has shared anything like this publicly.  I thank him sincerely for giving us all the privelidge of sharing some of his experiences.

Amazing stuff from a true RhE veteran Officer.

I will be posting the recollections of Vic Thackwray in my next post.  Look out for it as it is going to be a good one.

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:

http://www.sasappers.net/forum/index.php

Copyright

© 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.

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