On The Boats……Up The Creek With The SAS (Part 4: Also known as Eight Men In A Leaky Boat)

March 28, 2015

ZAMBEZI RIVER DOWNRIVER FROM MAPETA ISLAND: EN-ROUTE TO THE SAS DROP-OFF POINT

The boat was heavy and she laboured through the water and it felt as if invisible claws were trying to hold her back…..not wanting to let us go.  An omen perhaps?

Tony was doing the best he could but try as he might he could not get us up on the plane even though we had moved as much kit to the back of the boat as possible to lift the bows.  This in turn caused the stern to dip dangerously low towards the waterline and it was a little unsettling to say the least.  Port and starboard trim was good though and we remained straight and level, not tilted to one side.  We settled on a half-throttle pace, and taking our direction from the SAS Operator on the front bench the twin Evinrudes burbled us slowly back down the river.

We travelled within Rhodesian territory for quite some time, and for youngsters that had no previous experience of this type of operation this took away some of the tension of what may be ahead of us.  It was somehow reassuring to know Rhodesia, our safe haven, was not too far away if the shit hit the fan.  The SAS Operators were as always the ultimate professionals and I was proud to be working with them.  They instilled a sense of security.  You knew instinctively that if things turned nasty they would know exactly what to do.  They were good men.

We had passed the Maungwa River mouth to the north, and then our second home the British South Africa Police (BSAP) camp at Sibankwazi.  Msuna Mouth glided by in the darkness to our right and I craved for the ice-cold beers and battered barbel snacks I had consumed there on many a visit to the friendly owners of the fishing resort.  It was easy to let ones mind roam and that was dangerous.  We meandered on down the river, passing two large islands……both pitch-black and foreboding.

I was jerked back to the present, my mind having begun to wander off.  Tony had swung us hard a-port and I lost my balance slightly while at the same time keeping a beady eye on the bow wave.  The SAS man at the front had given a silent direction change to Tony.  In a few minutes we would be crossing the invisible line that marked the international border between Rhodesia and Zambia.  It was an eerie feeling, crossing into another country without permission, no passports, no questions.  I began to warm to the idea of doing something I had never done before, and indeed I had crossed that point where fear no longer exists.  You were committed to the mission, personal weakness or doubts could no longer be a consideration and there was no turning back.  On every high-risk mission I have taken part in there was always a short period when I was afraid, sometimes very afraid.  With me this is usually at the start and moving into the advance-to contact-phase, but once time crosses that indefinable moment that I cannot explain, a wonderful warm feeling washes over me….a feeling of being in control of my own emotions and destiny.  The dye had been cast and there was no return.

It was that time for me now……approaching enemy shores on a dark and lonely river.

40

(Reservoir by StrongSteve)

The atmosphere on the boat had changed in a very subtle way.  No one said anything but you could feel it.  The SAS men began to check small details on their kit.  Weapons were moved into more convenient positions, the smell of gun-oil permeating the air, masculine and comforting.  Webbing was tightened over shoulders, shifting the weight of equipment onto the hips.  Legs were stretched in the cramped confines of the boat.

A small red light came on as one of the Operators checked a plastic covered map with a small torch…….looking up at me he nodded his head, managing a white-toothed smile that shone through the darkness of the night and his camouflage cream.  We were now well into Zambian waters and heading towards the Mulola River, one of the biggest rivers that emptied from that country into the Zambezi.  We could see its gaping mouth ahead of us……a huge dark maw of emptiness seemingly waiting to swallow its victim.  As we exited the Zambezi and entered the Mulola it became claustrophobic…….or so it seemed to me.  After having vast expanses of water between the boat and land previously, we were now being enclosed by the high, almost invisible banks of the Mulola.  The feeling of vulnerability returned to me, this would be the perfect place for an ambush and a mans imagination can run amok.  This is good in some ways as it keeps you switched on.  We were trained to always look for cover to move to if attacked.  On land this is great idea but in the middle of a river it means absolutely bugger all.  if the gooks were waiting for us we were well and truly fucked.  Even if we made it to one of the banks, climbing to safe ground would be a challenge in the thick, rich vegetation.  I unconsciously thought of gunfire and green tracers arching through the night sky……..willing them to stay away.

I cannot be sure how far we went up the river but probably about 2 kilometers as far as I can remember.  Tony had the engines throttled right back now and we were just making enough way for the con to respond.  At this speed the engines were almost silent but in the still dark night sounded to me like a pair of screaming banshees.  it seemed to me that any gook within 100 clicks would hear us.

Ops Mulola 2

The map above shows our general route from the pick-up point to the drop-off point.  Places of note along the way are also shown.  The Mulola was, to the best of my recollection dry in some areas at that time and we navigated up river via quite narrow channels.

The boat rocked as the SAS Operator at the front stood up.  He was studying the bank on the western side of the river.  Understandably there had been no pre-recce of a drop-off point for security reasons and getting these lads off safely was now our top priority.  It was past midnight and we also needed to get back before first light.  We kept moving further into Zambia.  The SAS navigator indicated to Tony that we should get closer to the bank and stop.  He took out his map, again a little red torch was used, the only sound the two idling engines.  The navigator moved us forward again…….one, two, three minutes passed and then just before the river took a sharp turn to the left he had Tony pull us into a wide hippo-track that led up the river bank.  We had arrived at the drop-off point.

These men were well-trained.  There was no need for chatter or briefings.  That was all done before we left Rhodesia.  And they were so silent….no clanking or scraping of metal.  Preparation was perfect in all respects.   Everyone knew what he had to do and what kit he needed to carry.  They disembarked fast and before we knew it all except one had disappeared up the hippo-track to the top of the river bank.  The boat seemed to breathe a huge sigh as the weight was lifted from her trusty old frame and she rose proudly up and out of the water, rocking gently to and fro.  The Operator that remained with us spoke in low tones.  He thanked us on behalf of the others and added that the plan had changed.  We no longer needed to go back to the old farm at Mapeta, nor would we need to pick them up.  We were to go straight back to Sibankwazi.

And then he was gone…….a grey ghost vanishing into the night.  I was a little sad really and I would miss those guys.

There was a lot of water in the boat, all pooled at the stern under my booted feet.  This was not as bad as it seemed and it would drain through a manually operated ball-cock on the way back when we got up on the plane.  It was time for Tony and I to change over.  The first thing to be done was to connect the reserve fuel tanks without killing the motors.  We wanted to keep them running to avoid any type of technical failure on a restart.  This was not too much of a challenge and we managed to bring the new fuel on-line without incident.

Tony took his place at the stern and I got behind the wheel…………it was time for the lonely journey back.  Thats when my imagination started working overtime again.  What if the evil gooks had planned it this way?  Let us in and then shoot the shit out of us on the way out?  it seemed plausible to me and something I might try if I were in their position.  Just one of those things though and we needed to get moving.

Both engines were gurgling sweetly on idle and Tony gave me a thumbs-up to start moving astern.  I took a sip of Coke from a can I had opened and shifted both engines into reverse……..and heard the sickening crack of a propeller shear-pin snapping.  I had somehow manged to break the golden rule…….too many revs when changing gear normally equals shear-pin failure.  I had just screwed-up fifty percent of our motive power and possibly placed us in harm’s way.

We were now two clicks up a Zambian Creek in a leaky boat with a dead engine………and the possibility we were being watched by bad guys was very real.

This mission was far from over………….

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, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

17 Responses to “On The Boats……Up The Creek With The SAS (Part 4: Also known as Eight Men In A Leaky Boat)”

  1. Kevin.cooper said

    Hi mark you left us opened mouths again bloody good so far ,it can only get better

    • fatfox9 said

      Thanks Kevin……I will do my best to compress the time it takes to post new recollections. Im getting flak from too many loyal followers:-)

  2. Chris MACKENZIE said

    I looked for this post everyday since I read the previous posting. This is really very good stuff but what takes you so long between posts?Thank you for this history. My own experience with SAS was a very short flight into Mozambique in a Lynx and 2 DC3s. As a young corporal no information was provided to me, naturally. Normally I was located in the Radio department at N.S. or replacing Radio and Avionics equipment on choppers or on a Canberra pre-flight check. In this case I was informed at about 3pm to report to the hangar where the Hawkers where located. Thinking that there was need of a radio guy I grabbed my tool kit and hiked over there in a hurry. I was sent to a Lynx where a pilot instructed me that we had to make a practice flight over the airfield. My job was to operate a tape recorder that was attached to a very powerful speaker. When that was complete my orders were verbally given to me in this order: go to the mess, have a meal, collect a FN from the armoury and report back. I forgot the times but as soon as I returned we took off. I didn’t know where we were going but I had enough sense to stuff several sticks of billtong in my tool bag. The bag, along with the FN was stored under the seat. Not very easy to get to in a hurry. I should keep the rest of the story back just in case you want to read it.

    But seriously, I do enjoy your stories. Thanks. Chris

    Date: Sat, 28 Mar 2015 18:52:55 +0000 To: ccathree@msn.com

    • fatfox9 said

      Thanks for the encouragement Chris as well as some of your own recollections. Very interesting indeed. Time is my biggest issue as far as postings are concerned. I run my own business and do not always have an opportunity to put finger to keyboard. Promise I will try harder in future though!

  3. Well written again and really interesting in suspense for the next one.

  4. Neil Potter said

    Great recall Mark, looking forward to reading as to when you decided to replace that pin and how you did it in those circumstances – I remember making up new pins from round bar back in the day.

  5. tania marais said

    Mark, well written. This now fits well into my research into the Art of War, together with the History of the European wars, ending with the Namibian War. Maybe you can e mail me some timelines? I only had time now to read Part 4.

  6. Great read – many thanks and please keep posting!

  7. Del Bolton said

    Well written Mark, tks for bringing back memories. I served with 2Cdo 1RLI, so know a bit about the areas you write about. Look forward to more of your experiances. Cheers

  8. Owen Shaw said

    Who was Tony? I was a boat operator at Deka for the two final months of my NS back in 75. I was from intake 137. Tony Carinus was my fellow Sapper. The SO at Sib was Pete Arkley.

    • fatfox9 said

      Hi Owen. I normally do not use full names of individuals without their consent as I have had issues with this before. I was Intake 139 and more than likely replaced you when you left. Dates were never a good thing with me so you are helping to fit the puzzle together. John Arkley was still there when I was on the boat so all makes sense.

  9. Norman Reader said

    Mark,
    I was based at Sibankwzi 1969 and have some pictures which might interest you. One is of the Mulola river. I patrolled and worked with the first engineers to work on the river.
    Cheers,
    Norm

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