Rhodesian Corps of Engineers Special Operations: S Troop, 1 Engineer Squadron

September 13, 2015

I have decided out of necessity to fast-forward my recollections a year or two before I forget everything I wish to share with you.  Time moves on resulting in a fading memory and I am becoming more and more concerned with my own ability to accurately recall even the most vivid of events.

I have always undertaken to be as accurate and truthful as possible with my readers and would like to honour this undertaking as far as possible.   And so we will be saying farewell to the boats and the  Zambezi River for now as my time there was in any case drawing to a close.  I would be returning to Deka Army Base in the future but there were other things waiting for me in the wings that I knew nothing of but were to shape my entire future as a professional soldier.

My intake (Intake 139) completed their National Service in early May 1975.  Before demobilising we were given the option to extend our service by six months which I reluctantly declined as I needed to be getting on with my apprenticeship.  I could already feel the pull of the military.  In any case I was pretty certain that it would not be too long before my first call-up.

It took about nine months to be exact and when it did it would change my life forever.

In 1976 what was to become known as Indefinite Call-Up was introduced by the Rhodesian Army.  It was exactly what it said on the can.  We could be called-up for Territorial Force duty with no end-date.  Things were clearly getting bad in the bush and deployments needed to cover more areas over longer periods.  The gooks were stepping-up their activities along the Mocambique border and we were too thin on the ground.  An indirect offensive would be launched against the 700+ gooks operating from Mocambique into Rhodesia and would be combined with a “contain and hold” operation along the 800 mile border.  Add to this the fact that the Eastern, South-Eastern and Western “battle fronts” were also opening up in 1976 it is clear to see we were quickly becoming more and more hard-pressed to keep our expanding operational areas covered at the same time.

At about the same time, National Service intakes were to be increased to 18 months.

Under certain circumstances one could request a deferment from Indefinite Call-Up but the prospect of a successful outcome was extremely doubtful.  As a third year apprentice I would probably not be considered for deferment and my employer, Rhodesia Railways did not attempt to challenge my mobilisation papers and I duly reported for duty at 1 Engineer Squadron, Brady Barracks.

At about the same time these events were taking place, my Commanding Officer, Terry Griffin, was having a conversation with our Corps Director, Mike Pelham.  They were discussing the formation of a Quick Reaction unit formed entirely of Territorial Force Combat Engineers.

They would be known as S Troop, a little known special operations unit within the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers.

In all likelihood what follows below is appearing in the public domain for the very first time.  My sincere appreciation to Terry Griffin who contributed his recollection of the formation of this very special group of Sappers.

“When I proposed the formation of S Troop to Mike he was VERY enthusiastic and asked me to motivate all in a standard military “paper” that he would review.

After much thought I realised the Troop would have to be pretty much on standby but in base 24/7 until needed.  This obviated too many regulars as they would not be able to be deployed (all over the Operational area) then try to get them together at a moment’s notice.  So, TA who lived in Bulawayo were the obvious answer.  Mike also agreed and I made very few changes to the original proposal after he had read my paper and we had chatted about all.

Then, who were they to be and what criteria for selection / admission?? I went through the TA nominal role and selected about 20 folks who I thought may be appropriate members.  There could be no “selection” – of a physical sort – only my knowledge of them and their experience and what courses they had completed plus current rank.  Eventually I called all in to a “chat” one evening in a lecture room at Brady.  One aspect I did take into account was what was their civvy employment / job and could it in some way enhance the overall ability of the Troop? Electricians, mechanics etc, etc – all had a bearing on selection.

Eventually after my “chat” to all and explaining my idea of the Troop I waited for feedback.  All were most enthusiastic about the formation of S Troop. Then after an hour or so, I asked if there was anyone not at the meeting who they felt should be considered.  As I recall there was no one mentioned.  I then gave all a pen and paper and asked them to write their name at the top of the paper – then add 9 other names of those present who they would not mind getting into a contact/punch up with?  This they were to show to no one but hand all back to me and I would then get back to each in due course.  I have always believed “soldiers” like to work with and are more competent with etc, etc those around them who they know and TRUST !!  Eventually I whittled numbers down excluding some I thought eminently suitable but because their names did not form a “common denominator” – as per the lists – even though I really assumed some would be great members.  If the “mob” did not name them / approve – then neither would I.  The reduced group were then asked to take a letter to their place of employment (written by myself) asking if they could accommodate a unique situation as in : They would not be liable for continuous call up BUT if they were called they would be released immediately for whatever duration ( a day, a week ??) they were required for.  This also included members attending certain courses to improve their combat engineering abilities etc.  All came back with an overwhelming approval from their place of work so, S Tp was basically born.

Call outs were no problem with their work and in fact it was very well accepted. When called we had the guys in a very short space of time at Brady where all their immediate action kit etc was housed.  I then asked for various volunteers to attend certain courses (including several I sent / attended a Para course at New Sarum) whilst I also ran refresher courses – as requested.  Through various “means” I managed to obtain much “kit” for their exclusive use including some basic diving kit, wet suits masks , fins etc.  I was a qualified diver at that time and had “connections” in this field so also ran a basic dive course.  Some attended NCO courses at School of Infantry.  Overall they “gelled” into a happy, efficient, committed and very keen unit.  Mike Pelham wanted other Squadrons to follow suit but then felt we could react anywhere in the country so, keep it to one Troop only. Promotions within the Troop were also discussed with all and “approved” by all with me having final say.  At some stage it was agreed some regulars would enhance their capabilities etc so, certain regulars were “attached” – as I recall for a certain period of time, or an Op etc, etc.”

For my sins I became one of the first S Troop members.  Many of those who joined with me were sadly Killed In Action and I am dedicating all my S Troop posts to those who fell serving Rhodesia

RIP Brothers…….you are always remembered for you camaraderie, wit, and courage.

In my posts that follow I will share some of my most memorable S Troop exploits and I know that many of you will read them and realise that you never even knew we existed, let alone what we were doing.

Be patient…….all will be revealed.

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.

33 Responses to “Rhodesian Corps of Engineers Special Operations: S Troop, 1 Engineer Squadron”

  1. Kallie Calitz said

    Thanks Mark. Always good to read your stories.

  2. fatfox9 said

    Thanks Kallie……always good to have you with me on the journey.

  3. tom waugh said

    Wonderful piece of prose Mark. I’m eagerly awaiting your next piece. I’ve added you to my favourites.

  4. Quinton Lennox said

    Well Mark nice to know someone is commenting on S Troop and some of our escapades. Was very proud to be in the unit as we saw a lot of action and we had some good boys working as a team.

    • fatfox9 said

      Thanks for the support Quinton. Very fond memories of working with you and Clive. Will be calling on your fertile memory to help me out when mine fails. Stay safe and remember I want a Mustang…..65 model preferably.

  5. jennieupton1 said

    Excellent, as always

  6. sjstevens5 said

    Thanks for posting these. It’s always great to hear from a Rhodesian veteran.

  7. as always very good Mark. What about using a tape recorder to do your stories then start printing them.? Thanks again DM

  8. Cameron said

    I am very interested to read more of S Troop. Thank you for doing this.

    and “Greetings” from Tennessee, USA.

    — Best Cameron

  9. Chris, California said

    Always look forward to your recollections. Thank you.

  10. Francis Betch said

    Hi Mark,

    having read your whole blog, it is extremely good, have you considered an autobiography? The bias is only partially due to having been in the Rhodesian Army, albeit a Lance Jack in Signals!. Looking forward to your future posts, all the best.

    • fatfox9 said

      Nothing wrong with being in the signals Francis. Lance-Jacks are part of the backbone of the military too!! Remember that. As for an autobiography? Im throwing a few ideas around at the moment but nothing decided. Will let all my faithful followers know though. Cheers, Mark

  11. Denny Jooste said

    Great Read Mark and Thank You for sharing your experiences with us Thank You as well for our “Home from Home” on the net (http://www.sasappers.net/forum/index.php) Regards Denny

    p.s. What a ingenious, forward thinking CO Terry Griffin is –

  12. Johann57 said

    Good read Mark, enjoyd it!

  13. jennieupton1 said

    These Blogs are addictive….

  14. Basil Preston said

    Hi Mark, well I thought I knew everything about being a Combat Engineer. You are right, I am hearing about this for the first time. Looking forward to reading more.

  15. Allan Bower said

    Just found your blog Mark and haven’t had time to read all of it yet, but will do so soonest. I was based at Sibankwazi at the time of the SAS drop off, and never knew the full story about those “mysterious” boats going up river. What I do remember are those long “mine clearing” walks up to the Deka Army Base. Looking forward to the read. Thanks.

    • fatfox9 said

      Thanks for the comments Allan and also that you have started to take the journey with me. If you have any photos of your Deka days they would be good to see.
      All the very best,
      Mark

      • Ascot Agencies said

        Hello Mark

        Attached are some pics. Note the fishing rods. I have also put in a few from BSAP Wankie and one of the Army base at Pandamatenga. I am afraid I cannot remember who the constable was outside the bunker, or who is on their way out of the mess area The cops in the pub are Pete Gough (Middle) Rich Stennard (right) and not sure who is on the left.

        Regards

        Allan Bower

        Disclaimer

        This e-mail may contain confidential information and may be legally privileged and is intended only for the person to whom it is addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you are notified that you may not use, distribute or copy this document in any manner whatsoever. Kindly also notify the sender immediately by telephone, and delete the e-mail. When addressed to clients of the company from where this e-mail originates (“the sending company”) any opinion or advice contained in this e-mail is subject to the terms and conditions expressed in any applicable terms of business or client engagement letter . The sending company does not accept liability for any damage, loss or expense arising from this e-mail and/or from the accessing of any files attached to this e-mail.

      • fatfox9 said

        Thanks Allan……unfortunately the attachments did not arrive. Can you send to fatfox9@gmail.com please? Many thanks for the quick reply.

  16. sjstevens5 said

    I know it’s late, but thank you for your service, hope you had a good UDI day yesterday.

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