We were often required to carry out some pretty strange missions during the war and the one I am going to describe to you now is just one of them.

At the time I was posted to 4 Independent Company, an Infantry unit, located in a town called Wankie. I was responsible for running the 1 Engineer Squadron operations room. Those of you who are familiar with this base will remember that it was on top of a hill and one should not confuse the location with the old 1 Independent Company base on the left hand side of the main road as you left Wankie, travelling towards Victoria Falls.

We had a good set-up in Wankie that comprised of four offices, one of which was my sleeping quarters, another the operations room itself, one for my Sappers to live in, and one for Engineer stores. I had three Sappers under command who manned the radios and carried out other duties to support our little HQ and we were a rather happy bunch.

Our primary task was to maintain and support our Engineer callsigns in the Operation Tangent area and these consisted of Troop strength sub-units based at Deka and Victoria Falls. In addition to this we also had a responsibility to provide Engineer support to the operational efforts of the Officer Commanding 4 Independent Company whenever required.

The map below shows the area of our responsibility, including Wankie (now renamed Hwange), Deka and Victoria Falls:

This map below shows what is left of the 4 Independent Company base today – indicating where the Engineers were located (if my memory serves me correctly):

On this specific day I was called to the radio by our duty operator, who informed me that it was I Engineer Squadron Headquarters (Callsign 1) looking for me (Callsign 11). I picked-up the hand-set and called them up and was surprised that the Commanding Officer (Sunray) was on the other end. I had therefore either committed some high-level violation, or he had some dodgy mission for me. Luckily it was the latter, but if I had known what the mission was I would not have been so relieved as it turned into a badly resourced and dangerous task that to this day I cannot fathom the logic of. Anyway you can judge for yourself – read on.

Intelligence collected over the years by our spooks had led to the assumption that the gooks did not always navigate with traditional methods, meaning map and compass with time and distance (no GPS in those days). The reasons for this ranged from lack of navigation training to possibly a lack of equipment. To improvise they would instead use a number of known prominent landmarks that they used for navigating from point A to point B. Ingenious, simple, and it worked. These landmarks could be buildings, large trees, fence-lines, river junctions, cross-roads and so forth – anything that could be easily identified and confirmed. They also used T-junctions in roads – and it was one of these features that I was tasked to make uncomfortable for them. Working on “hot” intelligence my mission was to take a number of R2M1/2 anti-personnel mines and a single TM46 anti-vehicle mine to booby trap a certain T-junction in our area of operations (I cannot remember the exact location but there was also a trading store right at the junction). We would also take 2 rolls of detonating cord, plastic explosives and a pressure release switch (number 6) – and lots of black insulation tape.

“Hot” intelligence normally meant that there was credible evidence from sources that imminently, there would either be an attack, gooks crossing into Rhodesia, or movement of gooks within a known area. It therefore also meant that the mission would need to be carried out covertly and at pace. This was going to be challenging as we had been given little pre-warning and all I had was 24 hours to complete the mission or the opportunity would be gone. The only information that I was given regarding this mission was that a group of terrorists was going to be using a certain T-junction as a navigation point on their route to other parts of the operational area. Our job was to stop them at the T-junction by either eliminating them or disrupting their plans.

With the benefit of hindsight, laying a booby-trap was not a very clever idea from the start – for one it would take time to mobilise to the area and to set the trap, and secondly, a well placed ambush would have been a far better (and quicker) option to my way of thinking. At the time though, I got behind the plan and proceeded as instructed.

Due to the fact that we were supporting minefield maintenance teams at Deka and Victoria Falls, we had personnel mines in the 4 Independent Company magazine as well as plastic explosives and detonating cord. The pressure release switch and insulating tape we had in our Engineer store – so we were at least prepared equipment-wise. I was to be driven to an area close to the T-junction and accompanied by an infantry call-sign and one of my Sappers during the actual laying phase. This meant it was just me and a single Sapper (lets call him Moyo) laying the traps while the infantry stick would keep their eyes open for bad-guys. We had packed everything into back-packs to make carrying all of the kit easier – all except the vehicle mine which I carried by hand after collecting it from Wankie Special Branch.

On the way to our drop-off point I wondered how were we to lay this booby-trap without being seen or heard. Considering that there was a trading store right in the middle of the target area that was sure to be quite busy in the daytime, with surely some of the customers being gook sympathisers, or Mujibas (informers, usually youths who supported the gooks). We were being forced to do this at night – not a very clever idea as laying mines in the daytime is dangerous enough as it is – at night its just plain silly and not recommended.

We had stopped some way from the target and done our best to camouflage our vehicles and settled down in an all-round defence until darkness fell. Some of us slept……I’m sure that I did anyway.

I awoke in pitch darkness and there was movement all around me. I checked my watch and it was probably around 2100 or 2200 – something like that anyway. We had already planned to walk into the target area and we hoisted our packs and fell into a single file formation with the infantry who would be navigating us in. We were going to approach the target from the north and this would bring us in at the top of the long leg of the T-junction and on high ground – the road sloped downwards quite steeply to the actual junction itself, and the trading store. Please see my drawing below for a better idea of what the ground was like and what we were going to be doing booby-trap wise.

The mines that we used looked like these:


TM46 anti-vehicle mine – (unknown copyright holders and apologies in advance)

Once we had arrived at the top of the hill and neared the road we took up positions from where we could observe the store and road for any movement or other activity. It was actually very quiet and strangely peaceful, and after giving it another 15 minutes or so I let the infantry stick leader know that we would commence laying the trap – he nodded and put his troops in as good a position as possible to offer covering fire for us to withdraw from the road if necessary.

Moyo, as a trained Combat Engineer would lay the mines on one side of the road and I would do the other. I would also lay the TM46 at the T-junction and fit the pressure-release switch as an anti-handling device. The plan was to ensure that if anyone tried to lift the mine it would detonate.

Laying the TM46 was hard work as besides the actual excavating of the hole and setting the pressure-release switch, I also needed to run a detonating cord line to the where the first anti-personnel mines would be laid on the verges. It was a complicated and tricky set-up but the best we could do under the circumstances and time given to us. Laying the anti-personnel mines was just as difficult as the verges of the road were hard packed and covered in small pebbles that made digging and covering the mines extremely dangerous. One pebble or clump of soil landing on a mine would set the whole lot off. Please bear in mind that every mine was connected to the next mine with detonating cord. The idea being that if any of the anti-personnel were activated there would be a mighty big bang and hopefully the gooks would take some pain.

I’m not sure how long the entire laying operation took but it was still dark by the time we finished. I will say it again that this was a very dangerous task that we had been given. Laying mines in the darkness is scary stuff, and the terrain made things more uncomfortable than ever – the soil was unforgiving and hard as hell – I know we were making enough noise to wake the dead and I am pretty sure that we had compromised ourselves over and over. The whole thing was pointless the more I looked at it and by the time we were finished it would have been a foolish move to double check everything, as I should have.

Imagine this:

  • each anti-personnel mine had to have a two turns of detonating cord wrapped around it, armed and then covered
  • a small channel needed to be dug between each mine to connect them to a common ringmain – each time we done this we were tampering with a number of fully armed mines
  • working amongst the rocks and pebbles made covering mines difficult, especially in the dark
  • ensuring everything was covered and concealed to avoid discovery was practically impossible in the dark
  • working around fully armed mines, slipping and taking mis-steps is an accident waiting to happen

At the end of the day we done the best that we could and left the area by a different route with the infantry leading once again. Arriving at our vehicles it was time for a quick cup of coffee and then we were out of there by first light. I was looking forward to putting this one behind me and today I really consider this to have been one of the most pointless, unproductive and dangerous tasks I have ever had to carry out, not only from a personal perspective but also for the troops I was responsible for.

I never ever found out if the trap was sprung, and if it was by what or who? Terrorists, or an innocent civilian – or livestock? This is the danger with these devices – they know not friend or foe, killing or maiming anyone or anything that sets them off. The idea was for an aircraft to fly over the target now and again and check for a crater from the TM46 at the T-junction that would confirm detonation……..I’m not sure if these flights took place at all to be honest. Aircraft were needed elsewhere and certainly not to go and check a T-junction, so the result remains a mystery to me till this day.

To finish this one off let me just say this; booby-traps have their place in warfare, however they should be planned correctly, deployed with sufficient time to ensure the safety of the layer, and never used as a stand-alone substitute for a well-laid ambush. The way we were told to do this one could easily have cost own forces casualties and the planners should be ashamed of themselves – knee-jerking desk-jockeys with little insight into how things actually work on the ground are very, very dangerous indeed.

Thank goodness that the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers were some of the best trained Sappers in the world. Its the reason I am still here and able to write this blog.

The definition of a Booby-Trap according to the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers (RhE) training pamphlet was as follows:

A booby trap is a cunning contrivance, usually of an explosive and lethal nature, designed to catch the unwary enemy; a savage practical joke. It is aimed directly at the reduction of morale and mobility, both of which are vitally important to success in war.“.

In this post I would like to recall two occasions where I was tasked by my higher HQ to lay Booby-Traps. These operations were to take place in the Operation Tangent area and were to be sighted in such a way that terrorists would be well into the kill-zone before the traps were initiated, meaning that we were going for maximum gook casualties. Concealment of the entire set-up was therefore of critical importance, and this includes clandestine insertion of the Booby-Trap team, as we knew that there were eyes and ears everywhere in the bush. We therefore had to apply counter surveillance techniques from insertion to extraction as it is pointless to lay a Booby-Trap that can be seen, or the laying team are observed moving into the target area.

Without going into too much detail, Booby-Traps can be initiated (set-off) by a number of actions, the most popular at the time being the application of pressure, the release of pressure, pull, pull (or tension) release, or the application of some form of Delay. There are many other ways that Booby-Traps can be initiated but I am not going to cover these here. We had specially manufactured devices known as switches, available to us, however for the specific tasks that I was to lead on we would be using Pressure switches only. In other words the required action for success was for someone or something to stand on the pressure switch for the Booby-Trap to detonate. Please note that I used the term “someone or something” as these devices cannot tell friend from foe and would therefore activate the trap regardless of who or what applied the pressure. Sadly animals and friendly forces have been collateral damage to these devices on a number of occasions causing death or injury. The following illustrations show the abovementioned methods in simple to understand detail:

Looking at the previous paragraphs, my readers will appreciate that there are a number of fundamental pre-requisites for a successful Booby-Trap result. One does not simply pick a spot on a map and Booby-Trap it and there are a number of basic principles that we observed when sighting and laying Booby-Traps, and these are as follows:

  1. Concealment: The charges and mechanisms must be concealed or made to resemble some harmless object. The surroundings should be disturbed as little as possible and all signs of preparation should be concealed or removed.
  2. Constricted Localities: The more constricted the site in which a trap is laid the more chance there is of its being sprung and the greater the difficulty of detection and clearance. Any form of defile is therefore a suitable site for boobytraps.
  3. Concentration of Traps: Traps should be laid, whenever possible, in considerable concentrations to reduce the chances of finding them all without springing some. Dummies should be used freely.
  4. Double bluff: An obvious trap may be used to mask a well concealed trap near by.
  5. Inconvenience: Traps may be operated by the removal of obstacles such as road blocks and demolitions, or of furniture or litter in dug-outs or buildings, particularly if these are suitable for headquarters.
  6. Curiosity: The handling of souvenirs, pictures, food and drink containers, musical instruments, weapons, etc, may operate a trap.
  7. Everyday operations: Traps may be operated by opening or closing doors or windows, using telephones or electric light switches etc.
  8. Attraction: Delay-action or incendiary bombs may attract personnel to a booby trapped site.
  9. Alternative methods of firing: A trap may be provided with two or more methods of firing.
  10. Variety: As many different types as possible should be employed in any one locality.

Before continuing I would like to be clear on what I was expected to achieve on both missions and you will note that this ties in closely with the foregoing paragraphs:

  1. Inflict maximum casualties on the enemy.
  2. Use Pressure as the initiating action.
  3. Use of the following Principles – Concealment, Constricted Localities, Concentration of Traps, Alternative methods of firing and Variety.
  4. Covert infiltration to laying site
  5. Operational Security (Opsec)

A brief description of the two missions are as follows:

Mission 1

  1. Operational Area: Tangent
  2. Environment: Forest
  3. Type of Booby-Trap: Multi-device, pressure operated
  4. Concealment method: Existing vegetation
  5. Explosives to be used: Date expired Air Force and Army ordnance
  6. Insertion: Vehicle and night-march

Mission 2

  1. Operational Area: Tangent
  2. Environment: Existing dirt road
  3. Type of Booby-Trap: Multi-device, pressure operated
  4. Concealment method: Existing soil on dirt road
  5. Explosives to be used: Anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines
  6. Insertion: Boat and night-march

In the next post I will describe in detail Mission 1 and Mission 2.

Ambush (3)

August 14, 2019

Being a sergeant and a member of the Regular Rhodesian Army came with certain privileges, even while out in the bush.  The District Commissioners camp where we had established our field HQ had a number of well-maintained buildings within the compound some of which had single rooms for visitors.  Others had larger rooms which were used as dining areas, social areas and communal accommodation.

I was allocated one of the single rooms and was blessed to have a little table with a chair and a decent bed and mattress including a pillow.  A candle and box of Lion matches were neatly placed on the table.  A curtained window allowed views of the high ground we had approached the base from on our return and I could see the road high up above the base where the buses churned up huge dust clouds as they sped on their way.   At the end of the building was a huge veranda where we would sit at night, smoke, drink Castle Lager and generally shoot the shit.  One of the most interesting characteristics of this base was that the floors were highly polished in red by the camp labourers, so shiny and smooth that it was pretty much a challenge to avoid slipping on them when walking.  Many of you will recall the homely smell of Cobra floor polish.  This was then as good as it would get out in the sticks, unless of course you were a member of the Rhodesian Air Force who always seemed to be highly jacked-up when it came to the comforts of life in the bush and had cold beer and running fridges within a few minutes of wheels touching down.  Those guys could organise and there was no doubt about that.

It was late afternoon and I had finished showering and dressed in clean shorts and T-shirt.  Feeling well-relaxed after the long patrol I decided to treat my weapon to a full strip-down and clean.  She was a good weapon and deserved all the care and attention I could give her and on this last patrol she had served me well and never let me down, consistently firing round after round at the gooks that had ambushed us.  I also decided that I would empty all of my six magazines, stripping them right down so that the springs were completely eased and lying on the table for a good dusting-off.  This entire exercise took me about an hour, most of this time taken up cleaning the carbon off of the gas piston…..vinegar nicked from the kitchen done the trick very nicely.  Happy with my efforts I then took a stroll down the slippery passage to the veranda, met up with my mates and settled in for a relaxing evening with many ice-cold beers.  The sun was setting over the African bush and it felt as if I was a tourist in a luxury safari camp on one of those fancy trips, but of course this was not so.  There were some very bad people around, intent on spoiling our fun, and they were closer that night than I thought…..much closer.

At about midnight, with bellies full of good food and beer it was time to retire for the evening.  We had a Territorial Force Class 2 Warrant Officer with us, and he was the main spanner in the camp.  Although a tough disciplinarian he was always a fair man and I would be fortunate enough to work with him on a number of missions in the future, including the planned partial demolition of the Victoria Falls Bridge (I will be covering this in the fullness of time).  When he said enough was enough there were no arguments and to be fair, we were all knackered and running on fumes.  A good sleep without having to get up for a guard duty would be very welcome.

I returned to my room after making a detour to the kitchen to steal a left-over T-Bone steak and sat on my bed in the soft candlelight, in silence, slowly picking at the wonderfully soft meat and thoroughly enjoying every morsel of it.  Having stripped the bone bare, including an elusive little bit of marrow I disposed of it, wiped my hands, blew out the candle and climbed into my sleeping bag, the smell of cooked meat clinging to my fingers.  Contented and with a soft bed and pillow beneath me for the first time in weeks it was not long before I drifted off into a deep sleep.

The gooks initiated the attack on our base at about 3 in the morning using the high ground with an 84mm Carl Gustav shoulder launched missile……. Some of you may also know it as a bazooka.  The first round detonated on our water tower, a brick construction with a corrugated iron tank at the top, causing the structure to collapse.  At the same time, they opened up with AK’s, PKM’s and RPD’s.  Green tracer was streaking through the camp and sky at a terrific rate and my room seemed to me to be a particular target for them as rounds were hitting the walls all around me, sparks flying.  Once I understood what was happening, I rolled out of the bed onto the floor and leopard crawled to my rifle and grabbed my chest webbing.  All of this time there was all hell breaking loose from along the veranda as my mates returned fire from where we had been partying just hours ago.  I heard the thump of a mortar detonating inside the camp and knew things were now getting more uncomfortable……more and more mortars were dropping however it appears these were not being launched by anyone with any experience as most of them overshot the camp.  It was then that I realised I had no magazine and my FN, nor had I replaced any in my chest webbing pouches after cleaning them.  The room was semi dark, and I could see that I had neatly stacked the 5 magazines on the table, and I inched my way towards them keeping as low as possible.  I reached up and managed to get a hand on the magazine at the bottom of the pile and pulled it out, instantly feeling a hard whack and sharp pain on the top of my head and thought shit I’ve been hit by a lucky shot or ricochet……why in the head and not somewhere else FFS?…….. until I understood that it was all the other magazines tumbling off the table with my head being their first point of impact as they surrendered to gravity.  I had taken the sharp end of one of them on the skull and blood trickled freely down the side my face, blinding me in one eye.  I rammed a magazine on my rifle (thanks to my bleeding head I had all five of them nearby now), chambered a round and moved towards the window, kneeling and keeping low I began to return fire in the direction from where I assumed the gooks were.  I could hear our MAG gunner giving controlled bursts from the veranda and this always warmed a man’s heart in these situations……the great peacemaker was speaking the language of the dead.  I continued to pump rounds up toward the road, my red tracer flashing through the sky as expended cartridge cases tinkled onto the polished floor burning my bare knees………I was pretty sure that my efforts at gook-killing were ineffectual though.  Shooting at night is never easy and upwards even more challenging…..ask anyone who knows their stuff.

Changing magazines and now chock-full of adrenaline I decided to join my mates down the slippery veranda as my room continued to be a hot zone and managed to make my way there without incident as the building covered my movements.  They shit themselves when they saw my face and also thought that I had a serious head-wound when in fact it was merely a deep cut that continued to bleed, as gashes in the head do.  One of the lads grabbed a first-field dressing from a webbing pouch and ripping it out of its plastic wrapper pressed it to my head while I tied it in place.  By now the floor of the veranda was a sea of hot cartridge cases making it even more deadly to walk on barefoot, the MAG endlessly devouring the 7,62 x 51mm rounds being belt-fed into its hungry maw at the side and spewing them out from below at a terrific rate.  We had all positioned ourselves at the low wall facing the road and continued to pump rounds in the direction of the enemy hoping for a lucky strike, doing our best to aim in the direction of where the green tracers were coming from.  In all honesty I think the hillside was the only casualty of our firepower that evening.

And then it was over just as suddenly as it had started.  No tracers, no mortars, no gunfire.  Except for one or two opportunistic singletons from would be Sapper Snipers.  Just the acrid smell of propellant and the beating of one’s heart in the ears.  Shouts of cease fire and calls for the medic rang in the air as signs of camp-life emerged……shadowy figures moving furtively from cover to cover in the gloomy darkness.  Not very clever considering there were some pretty desperate men with fingers on triggers……just looking for a gook that may have infiltrated our lines.

The bad guys were obviously satisfied that they had won the day and had disappeared back into the bush to do what gooks do……hope to fight another day.  Clearly, they decided that to hang around until first light was not an option as the chance of a Fire-Force deployment and follow-up was highly likely.  They sensibly chose to use the cover of darkness to slink off into the night.  I fitted a fresh magazine and made my way out of the building, along the red veranda and into an open area right next to where the downed water-tower lay.  A sea of mud and pools of water lay everywhere among the shattered red bricks.  I wondered if the labourers who shined the red floors would be pissed off with me for traipsing around their pristine surfaces with my muddy feet.

The first person I met was the Sergeant Major, doing his checks on personnel and damage control.  He also called a general stand-to and we all took up our allocated positions around the camp perimeter walls.  We would stay there for the next hour.  All in all, we had done pretty well though, repulsing a fairly well-planned attack from high ground and only suffering one fairly serious injury and the rest minor cuts and scratches.  No CASEVAC required until the morning though and getting away with no fatalities was always a winner.

The entire attack probably lasted 15 minutes although it felt like we had been under fire for hours and as I manned my stand-to position I reflected on lessons I would learn from the previous few hours.  Most importantly never become complacent, and I had.  As a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer this was unforgivable.  Cleaning my weapon and not refilling my chest webbing pouches with magazines was a cardinal sin, the same goes for not having a charged magazine on my weapon at all times.  Secondly, I had allowed myself to be drawn into a false sense of security after the patrol, believing we were inside some kind of fortified medieval castle, impenetrable to attack.  And thirdly……never underestimate the enemy……the guys that attacked us had balls for sure and we would find out later that this was the same group that had ambushed us previously and looking to finish the job.

First light came and normal camp activity slowly got underway.  A CASEVAC was organised for the wounded Sapper who had been hit by shrapnel.  He had been well cared for overnight by our medic and a Cyclone 7 arrived mid-morning to take him to a better-equipped medical facility.  He would be fine and back on his feet within days asking to get back to his mates.

We were aware that our tour in this part of the country was coming to an end and we would soon be replaced by an infantry unit, probably elements of the Rhodesia Regiment.  We got stuck into getting the battle scarred camp sorted, with a replacement for the downed water tower a priority that the District Commissioner got onto straight away using local labour and expertise.  Its amazing the skills that some of the local population living out in the bush have.  Carpenters, bricklayers and general handymen all over the place.

Tactically there was post-attack work to be done too.  I arranged for two mine clearance teams plus protection elements to sweep the road 2 kilometers either side of the gook firing positions to confirm there had been no landmines planted as part of this attack.   Gooks had a nasty habit of planting mines on likely reinforcements/recovery approach routes and we were not going to take a chance on this as the last thing we wanted was for our relief convoy to hit a biscuit-tin.  At the same time, we swept through the gook firing positions looking for evidence of the gang’s strength or any equipment they may have left behind…. being ever alert for booby-traps.  There was nothing of any value to be had though.  No blood spoor either so we can assume not casualties their side which is not surprising.

The drawing below is produced to the best of my recollection………not a masterpiece I know but hope you get the idea.


Stay safe, thanks for dropping by and see you all again soon.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  You can join us on the forums by using the following link:



© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2022.  Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Ambush (2)

February 20, 2019

After the ambush described in my previous post, we continued to patrol the general area with a new vigor and attentiveness as we now knew that we were being targeted by the resident gang of gooks.  However, nothing more was seen or heard of them, nor were any tracks or evidence of temporary camps found and we were eventually given the order to return to base.  After a quick map appreciation, we set a course and continued our patrol which would now eventually terminate at the Engineer base camp adjacent to the District Commissioners camp.

Our departure from the patrol area was uneventful and the closer we got to base the more relaxed one became which in itself is a dangerous attitude to take and the patrol commander continuously reminded us to stay alert and not to become complacent.  Fair enough and we all understood that any slip in security now could at the minimum cause casualties, and in a worst-case scenario, fatalities.  Sweaty palms tightened on our FN pistol-grips, eyes scanned more intensely to see through possible cover where gooks could be lurking……shadows playing tricks with our eyes, the cicadas continuously transmitting their high-pitched whining that punished our ears………and when they suddenly went silent the question was always…..why?

It had taken us a day and a bit to arrive at a position where it would be a good idea to let the base know we were getting close to our destination and from which direction we would be approaching from.  The trusty but rather heavy TR48 was set up and due to the short distance between us and the camp, only the whip antenna was required……no unwinding miles of coaxial cable this time.  There was no reason to assume that the guards were expecting us and might shoot first and ask questions later…..that’s fair enough but no reason to needlessly get a lump of lead in your belly.  We quite rightly chose to mitigate this possibility by making it absolutely clear where we were going to approach from, how many of us there were and our estimated time of arrival.

About thirty minutes out we stopped to make a final brew and have a smoke……this would also give the patrol commander a chance to make any final adjustments to course and accurately pinpoint our position to ensure our angle of approach was correct and as reported earlier.  I lay back and enjoyed the cigarette, looking up at the clear blue sky that had the occasional small cloud slowly drifting in whatever wind there was up there, its edges slowly evaporating by the heat.  It was good to be almost there, and it had been a fair old slog from start to end.  I looked forward to a hot shower, cold beer and a decent cooked meal, hopefully one of those famously huge army T-Bone steaks with chips and fresh salads.

The camp was situated beneath a long stretch of very high terrain and on the other side of a very well used dirt road.  I have done my best to illustrate the position from memory in a Visio drawing……..I believe it to be as accurate as possible given this all took place over 40 years ago.  I will release this amazing work of art in the follow-up post to this one as this is where it is needed.

We were almost there now, taking the final few steps to take us to the summit of the high ground mentioned in the previous paragraph….once there we would be in a good position to observe the camp from above and ensure we were seen by the sentries during our approach.  Once we had confirmed our presence we began the slip and slide descent to the road, which was made even more difficult by loose rocks and soft sand.  Much cursing and far too much noise accompanied us all the way down and it was a welcome relief to finally reach the flat surface of the road, despite being covered in dust from a passing bus travelling at the usual needle-off-the-clock speed.  Once safe to do so we crossed the road in single file, the patrol commander waiting patiently on the other side until we all arrived in one piece.

The camp was approached by a long track that stretched from the road to the base main entry point which was manned by one of our Sapper muckers.  As we filed through the gate, the usual derogatory remarks were made in his direction, accusing him of being a REMF and a waste of fresh rations….him firing back that we were shit shots and couldn’t hit a gook even with them running away from us….a fair one indeed.  All good banter and the type one can only find in the military.  There would be much of the same in the bar tonight for sure.

We were back in the main base…….finally.  All the stress of the patrol was quickly forgotten.  It was good to be here with all our mates, and that we could finally relax in the knowledge that we were safe, secure and being protected by the reinforced camp perimeter, sentries and a substantially large military force in presence.

There was, on the face of it, nothing more to worry about………however this was an extremely poor assumption as what was to follow was even more brazen and chilling than the ambush we were caught in a few days ago…..and an event that still haunts me even to this day.


© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to both the Rhodesian and South African Engineer Corps.  You can join us by using the following link:



July 18, 2017


It all started with manpower, or rather the lack of it.

In the mid-seventies Rhodesia found herself not out-gunned, but rather out-manned in the bush, specifically Infantry-wise.  The quick solution to this was to deploy specialist units (like the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers (RhE)), in the Infantry role.  Those of you who have been following my Blog will remember that all Rhodesian troops were primarily Infantiers and secondly specialists.

The RhE seemed particularly well-adapted to the pseudo-Infantry role and we often deployed into the hottest areas, at times taking over from “pure” infantry units including the Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR), Rhodesia Regiment (RR) and Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI).

In some instances we had more success in these areas than our Infantry Brothers.

We were carrying out advance-to-contact foot patrols from of a place called Tshiturapadsi, an unused District Commissioners camp that served us well as it had buildings, water and shelter.  There was also an airstrip nearby (See Figure 1 below).  It also happened to be located in one of the most gook-infested Tribal Trust Lands, the Matibi TTL, notorious for terrorist gangs.  We had been sent there to relieve a RLI call-sign that had been in the area for weeks and who had not even seen a track let alone a gook.

Figure 1

It had been a long day and an even longer patrol.  The sun was beginning to dip over the horizon, heralding the start of one of those wonderful picture-postcard African sunsets.  A cool breeze brushed my face, refreshing, and surprisingly, despite the heat, sending small shivers down my spine.  There was invigoration with coolness also.  We paced briskly now, still a little tired but no longer exhausted, rejuvenated with the thought that we would go into a temporary base as soon as it got semi-dark.  I was on the far left flank of our ten-man extended line and felt vulnerable with no one out on the left of me…….tall grass blowing in the wind played games with my imagination….I was seeing gooks where none existed.  I glanced across to my right, comforted by the presence of one of my mates in the dim light, a safe distance from me, ready to give mutual support if I needed it.  As the day turned slowly into night the patrol commander, a young RhE officer passed the signal down the line to move into our temporary base for the night.  We changed into single file formation (with me at the back), and took a wide dog-leg route into where the patrol commander had decided we would stay for the night.  I was never a great supporter of eating and sleeping in the same place at night and in fact this practice was against our training doctrine.  The gooks had Mujibas[i] everywhere and they would report our presence…..and then the gooks could come and fuck-up a pleasant evening.  A patrol should eat, carry out personal admin, and then move to a new location, moving into their night location after dark and then there should be absolute silence…..no tins being opened, food warmed, farting or talking.  We broke rules that night and within 12 hours we would break another one that would seem to bring hell itself upon us.

First light……always a magic time in the bush.  Wet grass, dripping trees, cattle bells and screaming children.  The smell of wood fires and fresh cow dung.  And all of these things also meant there were people close by.  The last guard had roused us all and we grudgingly extracted ourselves from our fart-sacks (sleeping bags).  Dog-biscuits soaked in tea or coffee would come later in the morning, but for now we needed to move from this place quickly as this was also a dangerous time when gooks liked to attack.  As it was the resident gook gang in the area had bigger plans for us on this specific day.

Still wiping the sleep out of our eyes we prepared to vacate the temporary base, taking care to cover our presence as best we could.  We were surrounded by thick bush, the site being chosen for this exact characteristic as it was ideal for a temporary base.  It was not however suitable for an extended line formation and so we exited in single file with me more or less in the middle of the patrol.  As if by magic we were walking on a well-used path and I soon realised the patrol commander was using the path purposely, leading us to a nearby kraal.  We had just broken another rule…..never walk on a well-used path……straddle it yes, but never have your entire patrol on it.

We entered the kraal and went into a well-rehearsed all-round-defence.  The entire kraal had one of us on its perimeter looking out for signs of the enemy.  The patrol commander and one of our Black Sappers found the Head Man and questioned him on gook presence in the area.  In the Matibi TTL there was little chance of the Local Population helping the Security Forces and we decided not to waste time on this place.  After searching all the huts for signs of gooks we got the signal to prepare to move on.  To my utter amazement the patrol commander put us back on a well-used track leading out of the kraal and once again we were in single file.  What was this guy thinking and no one challenged his judgement?

We had walked for about 500 meters when I noticed a single upturned munyatella[ii] next to the path.  This in itself was not really out-of-place but it struck a chord somewhere in my survival instincts and I became uneasy.  From my position in the patrol I could see we were about to take a right turn on the path.  To the right of us the ground rose sharply and soon we were walking parallel to a fairly high, boulder strewn, steep kopje.

There was no warning…..these gooks were good and had chosen their killing ground well…and we had walked right into it.

The gooks initiated with what I now know was a PKM[iii] light machine gun (see Figure 2), capable of firing 650 rounds per minute.  This was followed by a fair mix of AK47, SKS and RPD fire……initially.  We all instinctively hit the deck not quite sure where the fire was coming from.  These kind of events are pretty confusing at first and don’t believe what you see in the movies…..that’s all bullshit.  My most vivid memory of this attack was and still is the crack of high velocity rounds going over my head and dirt spraying up all around me and into my eyes.  We had all somehow remained in that rather silly single-file formation on the ground even though it was now pretty ragged and we were all horizontal, amazingly unscathed and all facing the kopje, the direction of the attack.  We were badly exposed but because we were flat on the ground the gooks could not bring really effective fire onto us although we were all getting near misses.  I began to think I was the sole target of a hundred gooks, and perhaps I was as I am quite a big bloke.

Figure 2

And then two things happened simultaneously…….firstly a new sound came from the kopje, a sound so specific that one ever forgets it….the sound of a mortar leaving a tube………and secondly the shouted order from our line to advance on the enemy using fire and movement.  The mortar bombs rained down one after the other, precisely straddling the path we were lying on……encouraging us to advance more rapidly.  It was clear to me the gooks had sufficient time to plan this ambush and had accurately estimated the distance from their base-plate position to the path.  There was now so much noise, smoke and dust in the air that it was difficult to see.  I remember clearly advancing a few yards up the kopje and taking cover, the second section following us while we pumped rounds into the gook positions.  Sweat running down my face, the saltiness burning my eyes…adrenaline pumping through my veins…..all fear gone now…….just the job of surviving at the forefront of my mind.  My hands were cut from the jagged rocks, the pistol grip on my FN sticky with blood.  We were moving higher up the hill, almost half way and we still couldn’t see any gooks……all we could hear was the firing of their weapons.  The whiplash of rounds hurting our ears.  The mortar was no longer a danger as we were too close to them for them to use it safely as we systematically moved up the kopje………and then there was a relative silence as if nothing had disturbed that cool African morning.  All we could hear was the tell-tale clinking of gooks running at high speed with loose kit jumping about in packs and pockets, shouting to one another.  We moved up the kopje faster, ignoring the threat of an in-depth ambush……over-running now empty enemy firing positions…the only occupants expended cartridge cases, discarded AK and RPD magazines, and empty cardboard ammunition boxes.  We worked through the position, wary now for booby-traps or mines but keeping our wits together.  Things were slowing down but the adrenaline was still hot in our veins as we reached the top of the kopje.  The gooks were gone and we had them running scared by using tried and tested infantry tactics.  I silently thanked those bastard Llewellin Barracks instructors for all the blood, sweat and tears they took from me.

While some of us collected any booty we could find the patrol commander finally found space to get a message off and give the direction of flight of the gooks…….there was hopefully a Fire-Force element with gun-ships somewhere around but I had my doubts.  Perhaps they could get an armed fixed-wing up to deal with the gooks but that was also doubtful.  These assets were just too thin on the ground and because there had been no recent sightings of gooks in the area, there was nothing positioned close-by.  Fair enough.

We gathered at the bottom of the kopje where it all began, carefully avoiding the track but recording the mortar strikes, easily found by the craters they made.  They were close to where a number of us were lying and I consider myself lucky not to have been seriously injured or worse.  As it was none of us sustained injuries serious enough to call a casevac.  We were lucky…..this time.

Still alert and in a form of all-round-defence we found shady spots to sit and reflect on what just happened……..the entire contact not lasting more than 5 or so minutes perhaps but seeming to take an eternity to end.  And now that sense of euphoria that only men just out of combat will know…….a great weight seeming to leave your shoulders as you sit back, shaking hands lighting-up a Madison, and let the calmness flow through you as the adrenaline wears off…….the calmness of knowing you survived a situation of grave danger where someone wanted to kill you and failed.  There is no feeling in the world like it…….and little did I know that within a very short space of time I would go through the whole process once again…….only this time we would not be so lucky.

[i] Teenage spies, normally unarmed who observed Rhodesian Security Force patrols and informed the gooks on our whereabouts

[ii] Munyatellas were African sandals made out of car tyres and widely used out in the bush as they lasted for ever.

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PK_machine_gun

Please also vist my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Please join us on the forums by using the following link:



© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.



July 18, 2017

I would like to apologise to all my loyal followers for the shoddy way in which I have neglected to write for you over the past year.  I know that time is always used as an excuse and although this was a contributing factor for my absence, travel to dodgy countries, changing work circumstances and business commitments have also played a role.  I won’t mention writers block but it does exist, believe me.  I am more settled and focused now and will make every effort to continue the journey with you.  I hope you continue to walk beside me.

rhodesian-engineers-poppy-rev2Brothers, Sisters and Friends of Fatfox9 and the RhE. I am having 100 of these poppy pins made up with the RhE Cap Badge superimposed. Anyone interested in having one before 11th November please order ONLY via fatfox9@gmail.com. Prices are as follows: UK via Royal Mail £3.20. RSA via Royal Mail ZAR70.00. When ordering please include your full shipping address. Ideally if someone in SA would take a bulk order we will all save on international shipping costs. Time is moving on so please place your orders as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

Any chance of a silent approach to the kraal in the small hours of the morning had well and truly evaporated.  The sound of the shot behind us had made sure of that.  Clearly someone had discharged a firearm negligently or as we termed it in the Rhodesian Army, had an Accidental Discharge (AD), not to be confused with nocturnal emissions.

Chris and I had gotten into the best cover we could find, but were by now very close to what we believed to be the targets hut.  Among all the negatives, a number of positives flashed through my mind as wet grass tickled my nose and ears:

  1. There had been no screaming after the shot went off.  This probably meant no one had been hit by the stray round.  It could also mean whoever was hit died instantly and never had a chance to cry out.  A grim possibility.
  2. There was no return fire, meaning it was not an ambush.
  3. No gooks came screaming out of the huts with AK’s blazing, possibly meaning there were none of them about.  They could of course be lying low and waiting to get us into a killing-ground.
  4. No one was shooting at me which was always a good sign.

The best tactic in this situation is to lay low for a while and not attract attention to oneself and that is exactly what we did.  As no one from the back-up force had contacted us we assumed the mission was still on.

As we were lying in wait for any developments, a door to one of the huts was opened and a tall African man emerged into the gloom.  A could hear a child crying from somewhere within the gloom of his home.

Someone approached from behind us, a dangerous thing to do under the circumstances and I reached into my pocket and felt reassured by the warm metal of the Browning.  The man coming towards us called out softly to us in English.  We could see he was African and dressed in civilian clothes.  I vaguely recognised him as being from the group of policemen who were to give us support in the case of trouble.

He motioned us to follow him and we approached the man standing outside the hut, who had up to now made no attempt to flee.  Speaking in the native tongue our new companion asked the man from the hut a number of questions that he answered calmly and without the quiver of someone who was anxious or afraid.  The conversation continued for some time until the policeman began to raise his voice.  Things seemed to be getting a little stressed.  I figured that if the man being interrogated was a gook sympathiser then he was a cool operator in the face of the enemy.  Looking at him he just did not strike me as being off-side, but one can never tell.  It was clear the policeman was not satisfied with the answers he was getting.  He pointed to the hut and apparently told the suspect to get his family outside which he hesitantly did.  His wife and a young boy of about 5 stood in thin clothing in the cool evening.  They were clearly scared.  The questions continued and the wrong answers were still coming leading to even louder rebukes.

By now a number of other huts had opened and instantly the situation changed.  The three of us found ourselves outnumbered quite nicely by kraal dwellers and it made me a little uneasy.  I could see that the policeman was becoming more and more pissed off and loud and said to us that he believed the man was lying and we should become tougher on him.  That’s when Chris ordered me to hold my Browning against the little boys head.  Clearly he thought this would encourage the suspect to talk and at the time he probably believed this was the right thing to do.  With instinctive discipline I removed the pistol from my pocket, and it was then the man from the hut looked at me directly and I saw something in his eyes.  He was pleading with me silently, tears in his eyes, and somehow I knew we should never have come here.  Sometimes we have to trust our instincts, and mine were now screaming out at me that this was all wrong.  The pistol was in my hand, my arm down my side, the barrel pointing at the dusty earth.  Chris stared at me urging me to carry out the order.  I looked at him for a few moments, and slowly shaking my head I returned the pistol to my pocket, out of harms way.  I was not going to do anyones dirty work that night and walked away towards the rest of the policemen who had now joined us.  For me the mission was over.

Soldiers are trained to observe a number of golden rules.  One of these is never to point a weapon at anyone or any creature unless you intend to kill them.  I had no intention of killing that young boy and I felt disappointed that we might stoop to such low tactics.  Now I know there may be some sage-like commentators who read this account who find justification for bullying a five year-old by shoving a weapon in his face quite acceptable.  To them I say we are all entitled to have our own set of principles and traumatising a child just out of nappies is not one of mine.  And indeed there may be a situation where I might agree this type of interrogation method would be acceptable, but this was not one of them.  I have been present during a number of interrogations including electric-shock via wind-up telephone and waterboarding.  It is not pleasant to witness or take part in unless you are a psychopath.

My thoughts are that this whole mission was badly planned and poorly executed.  Piss-poor briefings and even worse inter-service co-ordination.  I still do not know to this day who arranged for Sappers to be involved but one thing is very clear and that is that it was not very well thought-out.  Chris may well have known the background to the mission but I was the mushroom.  I don’t like being a mushroom especially when asked to take a life.

In times of conflict there are indeed many shades of grey and I will leave you with the following three scenarios to think about while you ponder lawful and unlawful orders and my actions:

“Shoot that boy”
“Shoot that boy who’s handcuffed and unarmed”
“Shoot that boy who’s about to fire an RPG”

Ultimately, it’s not whether or not I thought the order given to me was illegal or unlawful, it’s whether my military superiors(and courts) thought the order was illegal or unlawful.

So do you obey, or do you not obey? Military personnel disobey orders at their own risk, as I did.

They also obey orders at their own risk.

Strangely enough I never heard another whisper about this mission.  No reprimands and no questions.  In fact I was promoted soon afterwards.  This makes me think it was unauthorised and arranged without the authority of my Commanding Officer at the time.  A “jolly” thought up by a couple of cowboys that could have ended very badly indeed.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Join us on the forums by using the following link:



© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Few soldiers have the occasion to be given an order that goes so much against the grain that there is no option but to refuse to execute it.  Most military men I have known had strong principles and abided by the Geneva Convention and the laid down Rules of Engagement of the day.  Unfortunately things can get confused on operations and in the heat of the moment, or post-contact when the adrenalin is still flowing through the veins like a burning fire, the rules can be intentionally or unintentionally broken.  To a certain degree, and speaking from my own experience it is easy to understand why these breaches take place.  What I cannot understand is when men use war to kill, bully and intimidate just because they can.

Sadly I had occasion to refuse an order that under the circumstances I believed then, and still believe to this day was unlawful.  I would like to share this story with you……a story of a humble African farmer and his family living in the harsh bush, struggling for survival in a war-torn country where they were mere pawns manipulated to serve whichever of the protagonists threatened them the most.  This is one of those missions where it would not be prudent of me to mention the names of any of the other personnel who took part, or the location where the event took place.  It is one of those experiences a man never forgets, and nor should he.

I was still on indefinite call-up and had been spending a few days at home when the call came in.  I was instructed to report to a specific point in the Bulawayo city centre the following evening.  No uniform or FN’s and the mission would be carried out in civilian dress.  To me that meant jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and a faded German Army jacket from the surplus store.  Veldskoens were the obvious footwear of choice.

On arrival at the RV point the next evening I was picked up by a civilian Land-Rover driven by someone I did not know.  I recognised the front-seat passenger who we will call Chris and we exchanged greetings.  He was a Senior NCO who I had not worked with before but had seen around the Squadron HQ on occasions.  As we got underway to wherever we were going, he reached back and handed me a Browning 9mm High Power auto, assuring me the weapon was safe.  Instinctively I removed the magazine, made sure the chamber was empty and replaced the magazine anyway.  Placing the weapon on safe I slipped it into one of the large pockets on my jacket.

We travelled in silence except for one remark from the driver informing me I would be briefed later.  He made no attempt to introduce himself but I guessed he was BSAP Special Branch.  I could smell them by now.

We drove West, leaving the lights of Bulawayo behind us.  It was suddenly very dark, the only light coming from the candle-like head-lamps of the Land-Rover.  One of the beams was way out of alignment and aimed at the top of the trees to our left.

We had been driving for about an hour when the lights of a small town came into view.  I figured this to be Figtree.  The driver slowed as we approached the town limits and continued on to what seemed the main business centre.  The familiar blue light that glowed outside police stations in Rhodesia was just ahead of us and we stopped in one of the reserved parking spaces outside.  Time to find out what this was all about.

We were sitting in a smoke-filled office.  Coffee and cheese sandwiches wrapped in tin-foil were offered and accepted.  A large man smoking a pipe sat behind a scarred desk, a map of what was probably the area of responsibility hung on the wall behind him, covered by clear plastic.  Different coloured map-pins were dotted here and there and a legend at the bottom indicated what they represented.  He too was dressed in civilian clothes and was definitely not from the uniform branch.  Again no names were offered.

A quick briefing took place.  Apparently there was a good indication that one of the locals living in the area was a gook sympathiser.  We would be taken as close as possible to the suspects kraal and dropped off, from where we would approach the kraal, get the suspect out of his hut and interrogate him for information.  What I did not understand was that only the Senior NCO and I would make the final approach to the kraal while Special Branch would provide covering fire if required.  We would move just after midnight and as it was still a few hours away, I found myself somewhere to catch some sleep and dozed off.

In the early hours of the morning it was bitterly cold and I was thankful for the jacket I had.  We had been dropped off about 2 kilometers from the kraal.  This time there were more people in the team.  Uniformed police armed with FN’s had joined up with us as fire-support if needed.

The Senior NCO and I made sure we knew where we were going and we set off towards the kraal.  The back-up group would follow us at a safe distance and move into a position 200 meters from the kraal and wait for us to return.  As we walked towards the target I was beginning to think more and more about what the fuck this had to do with Combat Engineers.  A bunch of policemen were going to sit around while two Sappers went into a possible killing-ground, dragged someone out of bed they never knew, and make use any method necessary to get him to tell them something he may know nothing about.  To be entirely honest, I was beginning to get a bad feeling about this whole mission.  Possibly AK’s against 9mm pistols.  Talk about taking a knife to a gunfight!

We were getting close now, the smell of burnt wood stronger.

And then the dogs started to bark and a shot went off behind us.

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:



© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.












  • Red Track: Insertion Route (1 RhE HQ to Khami Prison (approx 35 kilometers))
  • Green Track: Sweep Route (Khami Prison to AIQ (approx 10 kilometers))
  • Blue Polygon: AIQ

We had been ordered to report to 1 Squadron RhE the following afternoon in civilian dress and told that our final mission briefing would take place at 16:00 hours.  We were also to bring our personal weapons and ammunition, together with our combat kit.  There was still no indication as to what the mission was as we were told very little at the briefing the previous evening except that we would be doing a reconnaissance for a possible CT presence.

The smelly little red and white Rixi Taxi dropped me off at the main gate to Brady Barracks.  I hoisted my kit bag onto my shoulder after putting on my webbing and picked up my rifle.  A grim-looking, red-sashed Colour Sergeant Duty NCO glared down at me as I passed the steps of the Brigade guard-room on the right.  Bracing-up to pay him respect the best I could under my load, I made my way to our Squadron HQ. He smiled and gave an exaggerated brace-up in return.

I was surprised to see a Rhodesian Prison Service 65-seater bus parked next to the traffic circle adjacent to our modest Squadron parade ground.  Some of the other S-Troop members had already arrived and were leaning against it smoking, talking crap amid loud bursts of laughter and a bunch of howzits greeted me as I arrived and some derogatory remark was thrown in for good measure.  We were always taking the piss out of one another and the camaraderie within the Troop was infectious.

There were about a dozen of us on this mission and once we had all arrived we were told to go to one of the lecture rooms behind our HQ and wait for the ops brief.  Terry Griffin came into the room and we all stood up and he saluted us, motioning for us to sit with a cursory wave of his hand.  He wasted no time in getting to the point.  In short there had been a report from one of our local African sources who also looked after our training camp at Khami Dam, that CT’s were visiting the camp at night asking for information with regards to Rhodesian Security Forces.  Apparently they had indicated that they would return this specific evening.  We could not be certain the source was on the level of course but we needed to either disprove or prove his information.  It had been decided at Brigade level that as this was a RhE facility and other resources were unavailable that we should do the reconnaissance ourselves. And rightly so too.

We were to be infiltrated by bus to the general area posing as prisoners being transported to Khami Prison, a large penal facility outside Bulawayo.  The map above shows the entire area of the operation as well as the route taken from 1 RhE HQ for infiltration to the Area In Question (AIQ).  Prison issued clothing would be worn on the bus to avoid any suspicion that security forces were moving into the area.  CT’s had eyes everywhere and the Mujiba system was well-developed throughout Rhodesia.  Mujibas were unarmed African children/youths who idolised the CT’s and often acted as useful intelligence sources for the gooks, indicating movement and the location of Rhodesian Forces.

Our mission was purely reconnaissance and we were not to make contact with the enemy unless compromised and our lives put at risk.  We wanted the big fish and not the plebeians feeding at the at the bottom of the pond.

With the briefing over all that remained was for us to change into prison garb, load up our kit and weapons into the bus and get ourselves seated comfortably.  It would be about a two-hour drive to Khami Prison and rush hour was upon us.  The gooks apparently always arrived after midnight and we needed to be in position long before then.

The journey took a little less than planned, the driver taking us through the western suburbs of Bulawayo including Luveve, one of the African townships.  On arrival at the prison the large wooden gates were opened and the driver stopped just inside the courtyard of the complex.  This can clearly be seen in the photo above when zoomed.  We did not enter the prison itself and we were hidden from any eyes looking out from inside.  We debussed with our kit and moved to a position along the prison wall where we could square things away.  The bus moved into the main prison area belching blue diesel fumes as it did so, leaving us in a smoky silence.

The plan was to wait until last light and then change into our camo-kit, blacken-up and move out to the planned target approach start-point.  Our civilian kit was taken to a secure area by a prison official for collection on our way out.  Up to now I had a feeling things were going to plan and we had a chance to sit back against the wall once we were prepared and just relax.  Most of us lit-up and I could smell gun-oil mixed with the cigarette smoke.

The Territorial Force Sergeant who would lead the mission was a good friend of mine and still is to this day.  He knew that for some of us, including me that this would be the first time we would be carrying out a task of this nature.  He talked to us and encouraged us, went over the plan again and made sure we all knew what we had to do and the Immediate Action Drills in the event of being ambushed on the way in.  All the last-minute confirmations……radio frequencies, where the medic would be, and general march discipline. Orders were given to check the Night Vision kit and I heard the high-pitched whine they made when warming –up.

We rechecked our weapons and cocked them; ensuring change levers were on safe, and prepared to move out.  Last light had come and gone……..it was now pitch black and there was a sharp, cool wind about.  There would be no moon until after midnight and this would help us on the way in.

As the high wooden gates swung open the prison perimeter floodlights were switched off.  Our departure was being coordinated from somewhere inside the prison.  We filed through one by one, out into the darkness.  As if on cue, the incarcerated prisoners began to sing one of their mournful songs. It was if they were bidding us a final farewell and a slight shiver ran down my back.

We walked parallel and close to the prison north wall until we reached the main road to the west.  We crossed this individually and quickly, headed off into the bush for 15 minutes and then stopped to regroup.  Once we were all accounted for we moved off to the start position which was adjacent to a wide stretch of water and began the march to the AIQ.  It had been decided that we would move into our Observation Post (OP) position in single file and this should only take a few hours with breaks in between.  As it was the approach was uneventful save for the odd curse when someone tripped on a root or got a thorn in the face from a low-hanging acacia.  The cool wind made it easy to keep up a good pace and we made it to the AIQ before we had planned, went into an all-round defence, and settled into silence.

The training camp itself was flat but surrounded on two sides by steep rocky kopjes. We had chosen one of these as our OP and it gave us a good view of the target area as well as good cover in case of attack. All was quiet. The moon had come up and we could see quite clearly without night vision equipment. There was no movement at all. It was so still that anyone approaching would be heard and we relied on this to give us an early heads-up of visitors. It struck me then that we would also have been heard moving into position on the kopje.

We had arranged that we would do 2-man watches for 30 minutes at a time. No one slept but it was nice to just lie down on the uncomfortable ground and stare up at the stars in the crystal clear sky above. The night wore on and when it came to my second watch the first golden slivers of a typical Rhodesian sunrise were visible low in the sky. Dogs barked in competition with children’s shouts in the distance and the sad sound of a cow-bell rang in the air. The smell of wood fires filtered through the air…….the smell and sounds of Africa, and a new day had dawned.

We had planned a first-light sweep through the camp to see if we could pick-up any sign that the gooks had been in the area previously. They definitely had not visited while we were there. The Sergeant gave us the signal to move back down the kopje, the same way we had gone up. We would wind our way around the kopje and then form a north/south extended line and sweep through the camp from west to east. We would be exposed now as the camp was on cleared ground with 5 or six rondavel arrangements as accommodation. Although we were fairly sure no gooks were around, first light attacks were common and we needed to remain switched on. This was not the time for complacency. As we swept through, each and every one of us knew that there was no cover except for the rondavels and most of us were a fair distance from them. If the gooks had somehow managed to get into a good position on the high ground last night without us knowing we would be in harm’s way. This was improbable but a man thinks strange thoughts in such situations. It also keeps a man alert. We were in a perfect killing ground for them, literally challenging them to have a crack at us. As it happened, there were no gooks to be found here today. We ended the sweep and moved back around to the back of the kopje, set up a secure temporary base and got the hot water on. It was time for coffee and doggos (dog biscuits) and soon the air was filled with the familiar fragrance of Esbit heating tablets and at that stage it was the sweetest smell of all.

We were to be collected by Squadron troop carriers close to the start position from the previous evening. Hopefully they would have remembered to load our left-over kit at the prison. On the walk back to the pick-up point we moved in extended line and had not relaxed our vigilance. Suddenly one of my mates on the flank called a halt and we stopped and got into a kneeling position. Ever observant he had located a chevron pattern boot print on the ground and the Sergeant confirmed this was gook spoor for sure. Sadly it was old and probably not worth following but we decided we would do so anyway, at least for a little way just to see if they led anywhere interesting. They didn’t and we lost them soon after. At least we now knew there was clear evidence that gooks, or at the minimum, someone wearing a gook boot had been in the area recently. Even though we never got any kills this was useful information for Special Branch and they deployed Ground Coverage assets into the area to sniff things out. I never heard any more of the gooks that came to visit us.

I learnt a lesson on this operation. Rhodesia has an approximate area of 391,000 square kilometres. It was not saturated with gooks. The odds of bumping into gooks every day was fairly remote unless you were on Fire-Force or just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

The wheel of chance was turning though…….and soon I would also learn that those 391,000 square kilometres were not so big after all.

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